Late-winter surge boosts Ruedi’s prospects of filling | AspenTimes.com
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Late-winter surge boosts Ruedi’s prospects of filling

Just a few months after Ruedi Reservoir came close to plunging to a record low level, it is expected to bounce back and come close to filling to capacity this runoff season.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation anticipates that Ruedi will fill to between 90,000 and 95,000 acre feet, according to water resource engineer Malcolm Wilson. The capacity is 102,000 acre feet.

“That’s a huge recovery and totally unexpected,” said Wilson. “The weather’s just been awfully nice to us.”

Wilson oversees operations of the Ruedi dam. He cautioned that the projection is based on snowpack numbers as of April 1. May 1 data, which hasn’t been entered yet into computer models, could skew the projections.

However, information from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, another federal agency, shows the Aspen-area snowpack improved rather than decreased in April, further boosting prospects for a full reservoir.

Heavy snowfall in the late winter and early spring boosted runoff projections in the upper Fryingpan River drainage, which feeds Ruedi.

Digging out of a hole

Last year, the runoff was below average, and the demands for water stored in the reservoir came early. As a result, the reservoir only filled to about 78,000 acre feet. The reservoir fell to below 47,000 acre feet last winter.

The Bureau of Reclamation wasn’t optimistic about Ruedi’s chances for refilling close to capacity due to the lower level it was starting from and because it is a junior reservoir when it comes to water rights. That means Ruedi water is among the first sources to be used to satisfy “calls,” or demands, for water by downstream users, Wilson said. In a dry year, when calls come early, that gives Ruedi less time to fill.

So far, Ruedi hasn’t been greatly affected by calls this year. If a call comes from Western Slope ranchers and agricultural interests before July 15, that could force water storage projections to fall, Wilson said.

But as of now, he remains optimistic. The runoff into the reservoir has matched average levels. It also appears that the drought is easing for this part of the state. Aspen already has more precipitation in seven days of May than it had for the entire month last summer. So far, 0.80 inches of precipitation have fallen. Last year only 0.35 inches fell for the entire month.

The snowpack also saw a late surge. NRCS data shows that the snowpack on Independence Pass was at 107 percent of average as of May 7.

For the entire Roaring Fork River basin, which includes the Fryingpan and Crystal drainages, snowpack was only 83 percent of normal as of May 7.

Good news for boaters

Wilson said the current projections mean good news for people who sail, water ski and find other ways to use Ruedi. He said all three boat ramps serving the reservoir could remain in use all summer. Last year, two were left high and dry.

The good news extends to the Fryingpan River, below the dam. If no calls are placed during the first half of the summer, releases could be maintained at 110 cubic feet per second into July. That is a level preferred by anglers.

“I think it’s going to be a really good recreation year at and below the reservoir,” said Wilson.

The Bureau of Reclamation will update projections at a public meeting scheduled for Thursday, May 29, when it holds its annual Ruedi Reservoir operations meeting. That meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Basalt Town Hall.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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