Two of three boat ramps will be high and dry on Ruedi
Get used to Ruedi Reservoir looking like a dirt-ringed bathtub after a grimy kid hops out of the water.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said last night that they expect the reservoir to only reach about 80 percent of its capacity.
Storage will likely peak at about 79,000 acre feet by mid-June, according to Malcolm Wilson, the Bureau’s water resources engineer. The reservoir’s capacity is 102,369 acre feet.
Ruedi isn’t filling as fast nor will it reach as high a level as typical because Colorado’s snowpack was so low this winter. The Bureau is anticipating a total inflow of about 38,800 acre feet this year – only 41 percent of normal.
“It’s pretty grim,” said Wilson. “It’s nowhere near as grim as other parts of the state.”
Agency officials believe Ruedi can fulfill contracts with water-users and also supply water to endangered fish on the Colorado River. But recreational-users of Ruedi and the Fryingpan River are in for mixed conditions this summer.
Boaters will be left high and dry at two of three ramps on Ruedi, Wilson predicted. The Ruedi Marina just past the dam will likely be usable through Labor Day weekend, he said.
The ramps at the Aspen Yacht Club and Dearhammer Campground at the east end of the reservoir probably won’t be usable this summer, according to Wilson.
Anglers on the Fryingpan River can expect pretty consistent flows. Wilson said his best guess is that releases will peak in mid-June at about 225 cubic feet per second.
He anticipates that the Bureau will have to keep the Fryingpan flowing at about 190 cubic feet per second after July 1. The consistent release will be necessary to provide water to contract-users and to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s fish-recovery program for four endangered species on the Colorado River.
Wilson said water demand from Ruedi falls into three main categories: senior water rights of agricultural-users in the Grand Valley near Grand Junction; long-term users who have contracts for water; and the fish-recovery program.
Drought conditions in Colorado have already required unprecedented “calls” for water from Ruedi. The agriculture interests in the Grand Valley typically don’t require Ruedi water until July or August, when the Colorado River level drops, Wilson said.
This year, calls were made in late April and early May. He anticipates more calls to come in June.
At the same time that water is being demanded to the west, diversion projects are sending water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan drainages to the Front Range via the Boustead Tunnel through the Continental Divide.
When Western Slope water is diverted to the Front Range and a call is made by the Grand Valley, Ruedi Reservoir must be used to replace what would normally flow into the Colorado River.
“The only time this has happened before is 1977,” Wilson said.
Colorado hasn’t experienced a drought as severe as the present in 25 years, he said. And Ruedi was in better shape in 1977 because its water level was higher at the time of spring runoff.
Ruedi’s water level will steadily decrease after mid-June, unless there is an extremely wet summer. Wilson anticipated it will be down to 60,000 acre feet, or 60 percent of capacity, by Labor Day.
Wilson said water managers and users have been cooperating to try to make sure some of the liquid gold exists for all. For example, the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon has reduced its call down to 1,000 cubic feet per second from 1,250 cfs. That benefits other users because there’s more available.
That type of cooperation will be needed throughout the summer, Wilson said.
“[Otherwise] this could degenerate into a ‘I’ve got the senior water right, you can go to wherever,'” he said.
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