Runoff eases just in time for Basalt |

Runoff eases just in time for Basalt

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesA path along the Roaring Fork River just outside of downtown Basalt was under water Tuesday evening, but flood waters have not affected homeowners.

BASALT – Basalt dodged a bullet last weekend when the snowmelt runoff tapered off just as Ruedi Reservoir filled close to capacity, according to officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the town of Basalt.

Heading into the holiday weekend, it looked like the reclamation bureau would have to release an amount of water from Ruedi dam that would cause at least minor flooding along the lower Fryingpan River and in the town of Basalt.

“We were pretty concerned,” said Andrew Gilmore, lead water scheduler for the reclamation bureau.

Here’s why: The inflow to Ruedi Reservoir surged when a heat wave hit the Aspen area starting June 25. The inflow peaked at 1,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) that day, and it peaked at or near 1,300 cfs each day through July 3. The Reclamation Bureau responded by boosting the releases from the Ruedi dam up to about 870 cfs – close to the maximum without causing flooding.

The reclamation bureau sent out a notice Wednesday alerting people that it expected Ruedi Reservoir to fill July 4 or 5. And once it filled, the agency would have to pass along whatever amount of water was flowing into Ruedi Reservoir.

“The heat, the lingering snow pack and the resulting nightly inflow peaks to Ruedi Reservoir could make for an interesting holiday weekend,” wrote bureau spokeswoman Kara Lamb.

Behind the scenes, the bureau was preparing Basalt officials for the bleak prospect of releases of 1,200 cfs down the Fryingpan River.

Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane emailed Town Council members Thursday afternoon alerting them of the possible flooding: “1,200 will cause localized flooding and will resemble 1983 conditions,” he wrote. “We have a chance to dodge this bullet, but we better plan for the worst. I think homes on Swinging Bridge and the Clark’s [Market] parking and the Gold Rivers complex [at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers] will experience some inundation of decks, water in garages and lawns underwater.”

On Sunday, the inflow was 1,300 cfs, and the reservoir had filled to 98 percent of its capacity, or about 2 feet below the spillway. But in a scenario that couldn’t have been scripted better, the inflow dropped to a peak of 1,100 cfs on Monday and slightly lower Tuesday, and it’s fading fast. The flow was approximately 750 cfs at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The reservoir water level remained 1 foot, 6 inches below capacity Tuesday.

Gilmore said he is confident the peak inflow from runoff has passed. Large rainstorms could still make balancing the inflow and outflow difficult, he said.

Gilmore said he is just “glad” he doesn’t have to come to a regularly scheduled meeting in Basalt next week and explain why the town was flooded.