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Low flows into reservoir won’t sink sailing season

A fisherman casts into Ruedi Reservoir on Tuesday. Aspen Times photo/Nick Saucier.
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Ruedi Reservoir is expected to fill close to capacity again this summer even though the amount of water running into it from the melting snowpack will drop significantly from last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The water level should be high enough to serve the Aspen Yacht Club facilities and the Dearhammer boat ramp in early June, according to projections made by Malcolm Wilson, a water resources engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation. Ruedi Marina will be in water the entire summer.

Anglers should be able to count on flows in the Fryingpan River, below the Ruedi dam, of about 125 cubic feet per second from May through mid-July. The level is considered ideal by many fishing experts.

Wilson warned that it is impossible to anticipate when water will be demanded by agricultural interests with senior rights in the Grand Valley, or when Ruedi water will be required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for endangered fish in the far western part of the Colorado River. The best guess, he said, is that flows will increase from 125 cfs in mid-July to 250 cfs by mid-August and remain there into fall.

Although most locals agree that this season was much better than last season, that isn’t reflected in snowpack levels that feed Ruedi.

Bureau records shows that 70,500 acre feet of water flowed into Ruedi last spring. That was about 79 percent of average established between 1975 and 2003.

This year the forecast is for 57,100 acre feet to flow into Ruedi – only 64 percent of average, Wilson said. Peak runoff is anticipated in the first week of June.

The computerized snowpack measuring station maintained by the Natural Resources Conservation Service at Ivanhoe Lake, at an elevation of 10,400 feet, was at 72 percent of average yesterday.

The federal agency’s two other measuring stations at lower elevations in the Fryingpan Valley showed no remaining snowpack.

Despite the low inflow, Ruedi should fill to about 98,000 acre feet. Its capacity is 102,000 acre feet. When pressed by audience members at an annual Ruedi Reservoir operations meeting last night, Wilson said the peak capacity should come around July 11. It will stay at or close to that level through mid-August, when demands from water start drawing it down.

The reservoir dropped to its lowest level of the winter on March 20, when it hit 61,000 acre feet.

While the bureau is obligated to maintain a minimum streamflow of 39 cfs in the Fryingpan River during winters, it maintained a flow of about 85 cfs through most of the winter, according to Wilson.

The bureau faces constant pressure from conservationists and anglers to keep as high of level as possible during winters for the benefit of trout. Lower flows create anchor on the side of the stream and forces the water into one main channel with relatively strong currents. The trout must work harder to fight that current.

Wilson acknowledged that the water level of the reservoir was sacrificed to some degree to maintain that higher flow in the Fryingpan. That’s an example, he said, of how the bureau constantly tries to balance competing interests with Ruedi operations.

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


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