One tough summer for Roaring Fork |

One tough summer for Roaring Fork

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado
The snowpack in the upper Castle Creek Valley is disappearing. The creek is a tributary to the Roaring Fork River, which is facing a challenging summer, according to at least one expert. (Janet Urquhart/The Aspen Times)

BASALT The Roaring Fork River, one of Colorado’s top quality streams, has a tough summer ahead of it.Winter snowfall, it appears, was below average, pointing toward another year of drought. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, below-average snowpack this winter will lead to below-average runoff this spring. We can look for a warm summer and dry conditions from May through July, Roaring Fork Conservancy executive director Rick Lofaro told a gathering of water users and officials Wednesday in Basalt. The Fryingpan River and Ruedi Reservoir are forecast to have 78 percent below normal flows this year. The Roaring Fork River will be 70 percent below average.Against this background of continuing, even mounting stress on the Roaring Fork, the Conservancy is preparing a watershed plan that Lofaro said will identify the current and potential impacts on the river and suggest ways to relieve them. The plan is in the data-gathering phase and includes a series of stakeholder meetings like the gathering Wednesday at Basalt High School.”The best defense of western Colorado water is an educated public,” Lofaro said, and he urged people to stay involved in the process.The meeting also included round-table discussions that gave people a chance to speak up about what they saw as threats to the river.Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards asked, “How can we achieve minimum stream flows when they are actually junior water rights?” Minimum stream flows were established by the legislature in the 1970s to ensure enough water flowed in a given stream to preserve aquatic life and vegetation. In many cases, those flows were based on junior water rights that in Colorado the law is that of prior appropriation, more commonly known as “first in time, first in right.””In a dry year, they become dry paper rights,” Richards said. The rights are precluded by senior rights. Decreased flows and rising water temperatures can be detrimental to fish. “It would be nice to see some sort of mechanism” to acquire senior rights to ensure minimum flows that would also be government-funded.Other folks at the meeting were concerned about the lack of water on Missouri Heights and the inadequacy of augmentation plans for new wells that don’t really bring actual replacement water to that area. Hugh Plant wondered about periodic “blow outs” – flows of very muddy water after thunderstorms – and whether or not they were natural or human-caused. “When the river blows out so does the fishing,” he said.”It’s natural,” said Sharon Clarke, water resource specialist with the Roaring Fork Conservancy. But construction along the river, which has destroyed streamside vegetation, has allowed sedimentation to increase.Comments and concerns about the Roaring Fork will be incorporated into the watershed plan, which is set to be completed in 2009.The watershed plan is a collaboration between the Roaring Fork Conservancy, county governments, conservation groups, the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Forest Service.

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