Ruedi bumps up releases; reservoir expected to fill

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

BASALT – Water managers have bumped up releases from Ruedi Reservoir into the lower Fryingpan River this week but anticipate the reservoir will fill up this spring despite a quickly dwindling snowpack.

Flows out of Ruedi increase seasonally on May 1, according to Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The agency began increasing the release Monday, anticipating a hike in flows into the Fryingpan below the dam from 45 cubic feet per second to 80 cfs by the end of the day. Another increase Tuesday is expected to bring the flow on the lower Fryingpan to 110 cfs, which is typical for this time of year, according to Lamb.

In a normal spring, runoff from melting snow coming into the reservoir, located east of Basalt, would peak in late May or early June, she said. Next week, the bureau will have a better idea of what to expect this spring, after the latest data have been analyzed, but it’s a good bet flows coming into Ruedi won’t match the surge experienced last year.

“We’re in the opposite situation of what we had last year,” Lamb said.

The average release from the Ruedi dam in May 2011 was about 340 cfs, as managers kept pace with what was flowing into the reservoir.

In other years over the past decade, an average for the month of May of 100 to 110 cfs has been typical, though the average jumped to about 300 cfs in May 2008 and May 2009, according to Lamb.

In 2002, a drought year to which this season’s conditions have been compared, flows out of the dam averaged about 110 cfs during the month of May, she said. Flows hit a low of 78 cfs in May 2002 and a high of 225 cfs.

As of Monday, the elevation of the water in Ruedi stood at 7,738 feet, according to Lamb. When it’s full, the elevation of the water level is 7,766 feet.

The bureau expects Ruedi and the other reservoirs in the Fryingpan-Arkansas transmountain diversion system, as well as reservoirs in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, to fill up this spring, according to Lamb. Both projects transfer water from Colorado’s Western Slope to the Front Range.

The reservoirs started out in good shape because last year was a strong one for water collection, Lamb said.

“That’s the whole point of reservoirs. When you have a big year like last year, you can store water for when you have a year that’s shaping up like this year,” Lamb said.

Among Western Slope reservoirs that send water west instead of east, however, both Taylor Park and Blue Mesa reservoirs are expected to reach only 80 to 85 percent of capacity, according to Dan Crabtree, water management group chief for the bureau’s Grand Junction office.

Other, smaller reservoirs, including Paonia, Ridgway and Silverjack, are all expected to fill up, he said.

“Rifle Gap has been full through the winter based on the good water year we had last year,” he said.

Last year saw snowpacks that were well above average, but in the Roaring Fork River Basin on Monday, the snowpack was down to 19 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS.

The SNOTEL measuring site on Independence Pass, located southeast of Aspen at 10,600 feet in elevation, was holding 4 inches of snow Monday, down from 7 inches Sunday. Snow at the measuring site is likely to be gone by Tuesday, said Mage Skordahl, assistant snow survey supervisor for the NRCS in Denver.

That doesn’t mean snow has disappeared from the pass, but that it’s melted off the SNOTEL measuring station, she said.

Updated streamflow forecasts will soon be available, according to Skordahl, but projections based solely on snowpack put the flow into Ruedi Reservoir at 55 percent of average from April through July, she said. The Roaring Fork River flow at Glenwood Springs is expected to be at 45 percent of average for the same period.


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