The expanding snowpack in the upper Fryingpan River Valley has spurred the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to boost water releases from Ruedi Reservoir to make way for anticipated inflow.
A massive snowstorm Jan. 31 through Feb. 3 boosted the snowpack in the upper Fryingpan Valley from right about average to 133 percent of average, according to Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the bureau’s office in Loveland.
There is a lot of winter left, so it’s difficult to project spring runoff from snowmelt. However, the reservoir’s storage level was already above average for this time of year, so the bureau’s water managers decided Feb. 7 they needed to start dumping more water out of Ruedi. The releases were boosted by 25 cubic feet per second to about 143 cfs total on Feb. 7. Last week, the releases were bumped by 25 cfs again to about 168 cfs, according to the bureau’s website for Ruedi Reservoir, available at http://www.usbr.gov/gp-bin/arcweb_rueresco.pl.
So far the flow on the Fryingpan River below the dam has remained ideal for anglers.
As of Feb. 7, the reservoir was about 78 percent full. That is about 110 percent of average for that time of the year, Lamb said. The average storage for early February is nearly 71,000 acre-feet. This year the reservoir was at 78,605 acre-feet. When it is full, Ruedi Reservoir holds 102,000 acre-feet.
The increased water releases have reduced the storage level to 76 percent, according to the bureau’s records.
Water managers face a balancing act every spring. They need to create enough space for spring runoff so they don’t overtop the dam, but they don’t want to release too much water and leave the level too low for the irrigation season.
“We are responding accordingly — adjusting releases with an eye on inflow, storage and snow pack, and spring run-off the last week of May or in early June [is] on our minds,” Lamb said in an email.
There have been five other times in the last 35 years that the bureau boosted water levels above 160 cfs in February because of a high storage level and blossoming snowpack. Those years were 1985-87, 1996 and 2008.
Water managers need to create enough space for spring runoff so they don’t overtop the dam, but they don’t want to release too much water and leave the level too low for the irrigation season.