Flood concern rises in Basalt as Ruedi Reservoir nears capacity
Law enforcement officials will start going door to door at residences in low-lying areas of Basalt and surrounding neighborhoods to warn about the possibility of flooding, authorities said Thursday.
Ruedi Reservoir was 96 percent full at the start of Thursday and projected by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to fill by Monday. The reservoir holds about 102,000 acre-feet of water. As of Thursday, it was about 3,500 acre-feet from capacity.
Very little water can be diverted to the East Slope because reservoirs there are full, so releases were increased Thursday from Ruedi Reservoir dam.
The reclamation bureau posted this on its Ruedi Reservoir Facebook page at 10 a.m. Thursday: “The release from Ruedi will increase today by approximately 300 (cubic feet per second). After this adjustment, the flow at the Fryingpan River gauge below Ruedi Reservoir will increase to approximately 750 cfs.” Rocky Fork Creek just below the dam adds around 50 cfs more to the flow in the lower Fryingpan River.
Bureau of Reclamation officials have said past high-water years that the lower Fryingpan River can handle about 850 cfs before there is flooding of low-lying areas, so that leaves a little wiggle room.
Bureau officials were unavailable for comment Thursday on what will happen with flows once the reservoir fills on Monday.
Blair Weyer, public information officer for the Pitkin County Incident Management Team, said bureau officials have said the spillway at the dam will be able to handle the water release “without it becoming a big issue” as long as no unforeseen circumstances arise. The forecast calls for the rain to ease off for the next several days.
The inflow to Ruedi from the upper Fryingpan River was at 1,086 cfs Wednesday. When the reservoir is full, the bureau has to “pass through” that inflow through the dam.
Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott requested help from the multi-jurisdictional Pitkin County Incident Management Team with preparation, monitoring and public outreach Thursday after the bureau announced it was bumping up water releases.
“We are concerned that some low-lying areas along the Fryingpan and the confluence with the Roaring Fork are at risk for flooding,” Knott said in a statement released by the incident management team. “Our No. 1 priority is getting the word out to community members so they can take the necessary steps to protect their homes and have safety plans in place.”
The areas of greatest concern, authorities said, are residential neighborhoods on River Cove and Swinging Bridge Lane near downtown Basalt, River Oaks Lane in West Basalt and the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park on the banks of the Roaring Fork just below the confluence.
No mandatory evacuations are being planned at this time. However, law enforcement officials planned to go door to door to make sure people are aware of the risks. That effort was going to start today at the latest and possibly as early as Thursday night.
Officials also want to make sure children aren’t playing at popular destinations such as the Pueblo Bridge on the Fryingpan River and the 7-Eleven Bridge near the confluence. The incident management team is advising people to stay 25 feet or more from riverbanks.
Weyer said there are currently no plans for governments to provide sand at central locations. Concerned homeowners are encouraged to go to local hardware stores to get materials. In prior high-water years, sand was provided and homeowners had to provide their own bags and labor.
Ruedi Reservoir filled June 10, 2010, and water started going over the spillway. The reclamation bureau adjusted releases in its outlet infrastructure and the power plant at the dam to maintain flows at a consistent level. Flooding wasn’t a problem.
There was a large snowpack in 2011, but the water releases were managed in a way that flooding wasn’t a problem.
For developments this year, residents are encouraged to go to http://www.pitkinemergency.org. Emergency alerts will be sent to the public via Pitkin Alert. Residents who have not already signed up for this free service are able to do so at http://www.pitkinalert.org.
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Ron LeMaster was a ski instructor and race coach for more than 30 years, working with the U.S. Ski Team and ski schools at Aspen and Vail. His contributions to the technical art of skiing are immeasurable.