Lower snowpack means less Fryingpan to tap | AspenTimes.com

Lower snowpack means less Fryingpan to tap

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

BASALT ” Front Range cities and farmers in eastern Colorado won’t be able to tap the Fryingpan River basin for nearly as much water this summer as they did last year.

An estimated 64,200 acre feet of water from the upper Fryingpan Valley will be pumped through the Boustead Tunnel this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. That’s about 34 percent higher than the annual average, but significantly less than last year’s amount. An acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons, or about as much as the average U.S. family of four uses annually.

Last year ” with the snowpack at a near-record level ” about 90,000 acre feet was diverted from the Fryingpan basin, water officials said. That was the third- or fourth-highest amount since the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project began diverting in 1972.

A network of 17 diversion structures and 27 miles of tunnels taps water from 11 creeks and two branches of the Fryingpan River and sends the water east, according to reclamation bureau data. It is distributed to Colorado Springs, Aurora, Pueblo as well as farmers and other water users in the Arkansas River Valley.

Despite the diversion, Ruedi Reservoir, east of Basalt, will fill to capacity by about the second week of July this summer, the same as last year, according to Carlos Lora, a hydrologist with the reclamation bureau, which manages the reservoir. The U.S. Forest Service boat ramp just past the dam is already in water. The ramps at the Aspen Yacht Club and the east end of the reservoir will be in water by early June and remain until late September, Lora told a small audience that gathered in Basalt Thursday evening to learn about Ruedi Reservoir operations this year.

The differences in the snowpack the last two winters have drastically altered the reclamation bureau’s management of the reservoir. Last year, with a massive snowpack that melted out slowly, the reclamation bureau drew the water level down about 15,000 acre feet more than this year, Lora said.

This year, the snowpack rapidly disappeared starting in March. The water releases from Ruedi into the Fryingpan River peaked Thursday and will start decreasing Friday. Anglers will likely get back on the river earlier this year because high flows won’t last as long. That will boost Basalt’s economy, as will a full reservoir. Basalt heavily depends on anglers and boaters using the river and reservoir during the summer months.

An audience member credited the reclamation bureau for filling Ruedi so quickly last summer and keeping it full. She urged a repeat performance. Bureau spokeswoman Kara Lamb said the agency couldn’t take all the credit. The melting of the snowpack determines how quickly Ruedi fills, and the holders of water rights determine how quickly it gets released.

“We’re only slave to Mother Nature and downstream demand,” Lamb said.