Officials delay flushing flow for Fryingpan
BASALT The state Wildlife Division has decided against boosting the flow on the Fryingpan River next week to flush out sediment that accumulated during a flash flood in early August.The Colorado Division of Wildlife had planned to ask the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to increase flows from Ruedi Reservoir from the current 250 cubic feet per second to 800 cfs during the week of Sept. 10. The Bureau of Reclamation manages the reservoir.Wildlife division officials reversed their direction after gathering opinions late last week. “There are some folks who think we should wait until spring,” said Randy Hampton, public information specialist for the wildlife division.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to water quantity and quality issues in the Roaring Fork basin, advocated waiting. If the Fryingpan River was free-flowing, a flushing flow wouldn’t be an option, noted Tim O’Keefe, education director for the conservancy. Some rainstorms might boost the river’s flow at this time of year, but not to the 800-cfs level proposed for the flush.The conservancy conferred with numerous scientists about the flushing proposal before reaching its conclusion to ask the agency to wait until spring, O’Keefe said. He stressed that the conservancy wasn’t in an adversarial position with the Wildlife Division. Numerous interested parties – including fly-fishing guides – worked with the agency to determine the best course of action, he said.The Wildlife Division initially wanted to act fast after an Aug. 3 flood caused Seven Castles Creek to pump tons of red sandstone mud and other debris into the river about five miles outside of Basalt. The lower Fryingpan River and middle Roaring Fork River ran a chocolate-red color throughout most of August. Red sediment settled in riffles and pools where the water slows.Wildlife Division officials proposed boosting the flow in hopes that the sediment would be carried downstream to the Colorado River and dispersed without harming fish habitat. They felt a fall flush would be the best way to prevent a slow degradation of fish habitat over the next several months. The sediment suffocates insects, which the fish depend on for food.
The scientists the conservancy contacted raised doubts that a flushing flow of 800 cfs would solve the problem or just move it downstream, said Roaring Fork Conservancy Executive Director Rick Lofaro. The Roaring Fork River always has a low flow at this time of year, so 800 cfs might not be high enough to wash the sediment all the way to the Colorado River, he said.The conservancy and other parties felt a flushing flow would be more natural and potentially higher in spring, when melting snow would swell the Roaring Fork and require higher releases on the Fryingpan River. However, there is a risk there won’t be enough water in spring for a flushing flow, Lofaro said.With the delay of the flushing flow until spring, interested parties have time to determine whether humans should intervene and use machinery to remove some of the debris at and below the confluence of Seven Castles Creek and Fryingpan River.Some observers are concerned that sending the larger debris downstream could hit bridge pilings and potentially cause other problems, said Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.
Although the Roaring Fork Conservancy believes the mudflow was a natural event, it agreed to take a leadership role in studying debris should be mechanically removed before a spring flushing, Lofaro said. “We’re not certain that’s the best solution yet,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org