Ruedi: Will it fill or not?
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says Ruedi Reservoir will come close to filling this summer, but the agency acknowledges that it botched its projection last year.
Tim Miller, a hydrologist with the bureau, said the agency thought the reservoir 13 miles east of Basalt would come close to filling by late July 2012. Water releases by the bureau from the Ruedi Dam into the lower Fryingpan River during the 2011-12 winter were adjusted based on that forecast. It turned out that too much water was released, and the amount coming in from snowmelt didn’t match expectations. The inflow was only 58 percent, Miller said.
As a result, it was the first time since 2006 that the reservoir didn’t fill. Ruedi holds slightly more than 100,000 acre-feet of water. It peaked near 90,000 acre-feet in late July. The Aspen Yacht Club, where sailboats and other private vessels are docked, had an adequate water level for one month less than the bureau anticipated.
Despite the sophisticated forecasting tools, Mother Nature still throws curves to water managers. In 2010, temperatures climbed so quickly in the Roaring Fork Valley in early June that the bureau cranked up releases overnight to the highest level possible without flooding Basalt, Miller said.
“It definitely caught us by surprise,” Miller said.
There was a possibility of the water level topping the dam that year, he said, but the potential for disaster was averted. The bureau prefers to boost water releases by increments of 50 cubic feet per second per day rather than by more drastic amounts.
Miller said there was some speculation that there was so much dust on the Colorado snowpack in 2010 that it drastically affected the melting. Dust blew in from windstorms in Utah and the Southwest. Dust also could be a factor this year. Late April snowstorms covered dust layers, but they are now becoming exposed.
While the Bureau of Reclamation believes the data points to Ruedi coming close to filling this year, other federal agencies aren’t as optimistic, Miller said. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency in the Department of Agriculture that tracks snowpack levels throughout the West, projected on May 1 that Ruedi would reach only 90,000 acre-feet again this year. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center issued a May 1 forecast that Ruedi would only reach 75,000 acre-feet this summer. Miller said his agency anticipates Ruedi reaching 98,000 acre-feet in late July. The reservoir is currently around 69,000 acre-feet.
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