Ruedi Reservoir is ready for `miraculous’ turnaround, feds say | AspenTimes.com

Ruedi Reservoir is ready for `miraculous’ turnaround, feds say

One year after experiencing its worst year ever, Ruedi Reservoir is expected to bounce back in a “miraculous” way, according to the people who operate the tub.

The reservoir is expected to fill with enough water to keep all three public boat ramps in the water throughout the bulk of the summer, according to Malcolm Wilson, a water resources engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Last year’s drought left two of the three boat ramps high and dry.

Water releases from the reservoir should be low enough and predictable enough to avoid interfering significantly with fishing on the Fryingpan River, Wilson added. He acknowledged that there will still be a handful of days when water levels will exceed 250 cubic feet per second, which makes it tougher for anglers to wade and disperse.

Wilson shared the Bureau’s forecasts at a annual meeting held in Basalt to discuss Ruedi Reservoir operations. About 30 people attended.

Wilson said it is somewhat of a “black art” predicting what will happen during the runoff period, but the Bureau’s forecasts indicate the reservoir will fill to between 95,000 and 98,000 acre-feet. Its capacity is 102,000 acre-feet.

Reaching that level will require about 70,500 acre-feet of water to flow into the reservoir from April through July. Even though that’s only 75 percent of average, the reservoir can fill close to capacity due to manipulation of releases during the winter and spring.

Last spring and summer, only 36,306 acre-feet of water flowed into the reservoir 14 miles east of Basalt. That was only 39 percent of average. Ruedi never reached the 80,000-acre-foot level during the summer. “It’s a new benchmark,” said Wilson.

But heavy snows during the last half of the winter and into spring reversed the reservoir’s prospects. “We’re looking at a real miraculous turnaround,” Wilson said.

He predicted that the Aspen Yacht Club and Dearhammer boat ramps will be in use from about June 20 through mid-September. The Ruedi boat ramp is already in use.

He wouldn’t predict how many days the Fryingpan will be boosted above 250 cfs due to releases. Last year there were 18 days, including 11 days when flows exceeded 300 cfs.

That cannot be avoided due to factors such as releases mandated by the federal government to boost the level of the Colorado River near Grand Junction for the benefit of four species of endangered fish.

Last summer, nearly 11,000 acre-feet were released from Ruedi for those beleaguered creatures. This year up to 20,825 acre-feet could be demanded, according to Wilson.

But in response to protests by Basalt officials, Wilson and other Bureau officials assured the crowd that no Ruedi water will be required this year to make up for shortages in releases from Green Mountain Reservoir in Summit County.

That reservoir must hold at least 20,000 acre-feet because drawing levels lower may spur landslides that affect the town of Heeney, located on one of its flanks. Last summer, nearly 8,900 acre-feet were released from Ruedi to make up for Green Mountain’s shortages.

Basalt officials recently wrote a letter to the Bureau objecting to drawing more from Ruedi due to Green Mountain Reservoir’s problems.

“We don’t see a need for that at all,” Wilson said in regard to this year.

Indirectly responding to other town concerns, Wilson said flows on the Fryingpan will be kept below 250 cfs whenever possible, and flows will be ramped up by 50 cfs increments to lessen the effect on fishing.

The Bureau also faced criticism that its targeted flow of 40 cfs in the Fryingpan during winters is too low for the health of the fishery. Critics contend that leads to a buildup of anchor ice in the river bottom and scours habitat and spawning grounds.

Wilson noted the Bureau can reduce releases to 39 cfs or an amount equal to the inflow. The inflow dropped to severely low levels for a good share of last winter, but flows were kept at or above 40 cfs, he noted.

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


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