Area rivers approaching peak flows already |

Area rivers approaching peak flows already

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

The Colorado River in Glenwood Springs might have hit its peak for the season already, and the Roaring Fork River isn’t far behind, water managers said Thursday at the annual State of the River meeting for the Roaring Fork Basin.

The meeting was among sessions being conducted across western Colorado, hosted by the Colorado River District, as the state faces drought conditions that smack of 2002, when diversions left little water in the Roaring Fork as it ran through Aspen.

Thursday’s meeting at the Eagle County Community Center in El Jebel drew everyone from ranchers to fishing guides and boaters, along with others interested in the forecast for this year’s runoff and water levels at Ruedi Reservoir, east of Basalt.

This year’s dwindling snowpack and a forecast for drier- and warmer-than-normal conditions through June drew comparisons not only to 2002 but to last year, when a bountiful spring snowpack translated into epic whitewater in area rivers and had Basalt on alert for flooding.

This year’s runoff throughout the Colorado River Basin is expected to be about 50 percent of average.

No one is predicting flows of 870 cubic feet per second in the lower Fryingpan River below the Ruedi Dam this year (it was flowing at about 120 cfs Thursday), but Ruedi Reservoir could be employed to help ease late-summer drought conditions on the Western Slope, according to Don Meyer, senior water resources engineer for the Colorado River District.

The reservoir might not fill this summer but could inch above 100,000 acre-feet under the most optimistic projections, according to Tim Miller, of the Bureau of Reclamation. The reservoir is considered full at 102,369 acre-feet. Whether boat ramps at Ruedi will still be available at the end of the season is “highly uncertain,” he said.

The reservoir might send very little water to the Front Range this year through the Fry-Ark transmountain diversion, Miller added. On average, 54,000 acre-feet are sent from the upper Fryingpan drainage to the far side of the Continental Divide. Last year, 98,000 acre-feet went east, but this year, about 12,430 acre-feet are expected to be diverted.

“There’s not really much water we plan on taking to the East Slope – pretty slim forecast for diversions,” Miller said.

In 2002, 13,300 acre-feet were sent beneath the mountains, he noted.

The good news, Miller said, is Ruedi contains more water heading into this summer than it did in 2002.

“That’s going to help us quite a bit,” Meyer said.

In addition, owners of purchased but unused water in Ruedi are being contacted about donating that water to a “drought pool” that could be employed to help fulfill the Green Mountain Reservoir’s obligations, Meyer said. Such an effort also occurred in 2002.

Between drought mitigation and other calls on Ruedi, flows could bump up to the 300-cfs range on the lower Fryingpan come August, which is not unusual, giving a boost to the Roaring Fork below its confluence with the Pan. The upper Fork, however, could see low flows and high enough water temperatures to harm the fishery if dry weather persists, Meyer said.

The Roaring Fork at Glenwood Springs hit about 1,100 cfs last weekend, according to Meyer, and could do the same this weekend. A peak of about 1,500 is projected, he said.

“The peak isn’t going to be much greater than that,” Meyer said.

The Colorado at Glenwood hit about 3,500 cfs last weekend and could do so again in the next couple of days, matching what is predicted to be the peak this season, he said. The high water is about a month ahead of last year’s peak.

The Crystal River, like the Roaring Fork, is getting close to its projected peak, Meyer added.

Rafters and kayakers who turned to the Roaring Fork when they were shut out of the Colorado during last year’s crushing runoff might flock to the Colorado River in the Glenwood area this year, Meyer predicted. Outfitters who normally run the Arkansas might turn to the Colorado, as well, he said.

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