Ruedi playing greater role on Western Slope | AspenTimes.com

Ruedi playing greater role on Western Slope

Ruedi Reservoir is likely to take on an expanded role next week as a savior for the water-starved Western Slope.

A proposal being negotiated would use water from Ruedi to make up for the “limitations” Green Mountain Reservoir may be facing, according to Kara Lamb, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

That is a polite way of saying Green Mountain Reservoir, located in Summit County, probably won’t be able to meet its contractual obligations to water users.

The bureau operates Green Mountain Reservoir, but the “sponsor” agency is the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District in the Front Range city of Loveland, Lamb said.

The water district is negotiating to purchase water from Ruedi and make it available when it is “called” or demanded by downstream users with senior rights, according to district spokesman Brian Werner.

“We’re looking everywhere we can,” said Werner. “We’re trying to find ways to cooperate.”

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Part of the purpose of reservoirs like Ruedi and Green Mountain is to compensate the Western Slope with stored water when water that would naturally flow west is diverted to Denver, the Front Range and other parts of the state east of the divide.

If Green Mountain Reservoir cannot meet its obligations to contracted users, it must find other sources. Werner said the proposal would provide a solution to a water shortage without getting lawyers involved, or at least the courts.

Ruedi would provide 10,000 acre-feet through a temporary agreement, Lamb said. About 5,500 acre-feet of stored water from Ruedi has already been released by ExxonMobil to ease drought concerns. Releases from the reservoir 14 miles east of Basalt are also probable to assist the recovery of endangered fish on the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

Calls on the Colorado River by agricultural interests in the Grand Valley have required the Bureau of Reclamation to release additional amounts from Ruedi because it isn’t available from other sources.

The release of an additional 10,000 acre-feet to bail out Green Mountain Reservoir would affect anglers by creating higher flows on the Fryingpan River and boaters and other recreational users by drawing Ruedi lower in a year it already looks like a dirty, draining bath tub.

If a deal is struck with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, there are two options for its release. One option would boost the flow in the Fryingpan River to 200 to 250 cubic feet per second through September, then require a bigger bump to about 400 cfs through October, according to Lamb.

The current flow is slightly more than 200 cfs.

The second option is to release a “flat rate” of 250 to 300 cfs from now through October.

“I realize that this latest agreement will not necessarily be favorable to those of you who base your businesses and recreation around our normal operations,” Lamb wrote in a recent e-mail to “stakeholders” like fishing guides and members of the Aspen Yacht Club. “I ask that you please remember this water is to help offset, to what extent we can, the drought-related impacts in western Colorado up and down the Colorado River.”

The bureau is seeking comment from the stakeholders and finding most want the flat rate rather than a larger release in October, Lamb said.

Even though Ruedi is lower than usual in this dry year, it has more water available than many reservoirs in the state.

The reservoir’s capacity is 102,369 acre-feet. It hit peak capacity for this year during the last week of June at about 78,000 acre-feet or 80 percent, according to the bureau.

The current level wasn’t available Monday, but the bureau projected that the level will drop to 38,000 acre-feet by the end of October. Maintaining a stream flow of about 40 cfs on the Fryingpan during the winter will reduce the reservoir to about 32,000 acre-feet by April 2003.

The bureau’s gamble, Lamb acknowledged, is releasing too much stored water this year and then having another poor snow runoff season next year.

The snowpack was only about two-thirds of normal in the Roaring Fork drainage this year. Many streams that flow into the upper Fryingpan and feed the reservoir are dry.

The average flow into the reservoir for this point in July is 240 cfs, Lamb said. It was 40 to 50 cfs last weekend.

Nevertheless, Ruedi still has water available. It has 10,825 acre-feet that are uncommitted through contracts. It has another 1,666 acre-feet designated for contracts but currently not contracted, according to Lamb.

If a deal is cut for 10,000 acre-feet, it would probably come within the next week or so, said Werner. A purchase price wasn’t disclosed.

ExxonMobil’s gift of 5,500 acre-feet had an estimated wholesale value of $700,000.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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