Basalt asks feds to do a better job of managing Ruedi water
BASALT, Colorado – Roaring Fork Valley governments have formalized a request to two federal agencies to limit the amount of water released from Ruedi Reservoir and the Fryingpan River for an endangered fish program on the Colorado River.
The Basalt town government and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, which represents some Roaring Fork Valley governments on water issues, want water releases from Ruedi kept below 250 cubic feet per second or less between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Flows at that level would not disrupt the trout fishing that Basalt’s economy depends on so heavily, says a letter sent to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The local entities also want the feds to pledge to keep water above the 85,000 acre feet level in Ruedi during the same period.
The reclamation bureau office in Loveland manages Ruedi water operations. The fish and wildlife service buys water that it “calls” virtually every summer, sending it downstream to boost flows on the Colorado River to benefit habitat for four endangered native fish. The amount varies because of complex agreements.
The local governments claim the water releases weren’t managed well last summer. There were 23 days between June 1 and Sept. 1 that water flows on the Fryingpan River exceeded 350 cfs. That was “unprecedented,” said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority.
Basalt fishing guides and town officials said poor fishing conditions hurt the town’s economy, which was already smarting from the recession. They want an agreement on flows with the federal agencies.
“The Bureau manages rivers elsewhere in the state, i.e. Arkansas River, under regulated flow agreements that recognize the needs of local jurisdictions and incorporates those needs into river management,” the letter says. “Given the importance of the Fryingpan to the local and regional economy and given its broader importance as a fishery and a recreational resource, is it possible to take a similar approach to managing Ruedi and the Fryingpan?”
The local governments also want releases timed to more closely follow natural patterns that the Fryingpan experienced before it was dammed.
“The artificially low winter flows and the artificially high late summer and fall flows that are part of the current management approach are at odds with the natural hydrograph and may be damaging the ecology and the hydrology of the Fryingpan over time.
“In our efforts to preserve endangered fish in the Colorado we may be degrading a world-class trout fishery below Ruedi,” the letter continues.
Efforts to reach reclamation bureau officials Tuesday for comment were unsuccessful. They are well aware of the concerns. Local and federal officials met Jan. 4 to discuss the water management issues from summer 2009.
Federal officials said unusual circumstances led to heavier than usual reliance on water from Ruedi last summer. Those circumstances included maintenance work on the Shoshone hydropower plan in Glenwood Canyon. That lowered water levels in the Colorado River and required more water from Ruedi for the endangered fish.
While unusual circumstances might not pop up again, federal authorities said they couldn’t promise that Ruedi releases and Fryingpan flows would always be ideal for trout fishing. Fish and wildlife officials said they need to take advantage of the tools that exist – including water from Ruedi – for the fish recovery program.
Fuller said the reclamation bureau has pledged one change to try to keep Basalt officials better informed about water management. The bureau already hosts a meeting in Basalt in May to discuss water management forecasts based on the snowpack level. Agency officials have pledged to hold midsummer meets in Basalt as well to update the water management plan.
Fuller said the extra meeting will help keep local officials better informed about changing conditions. “So hopefully we’re not taken by surprise like we were last summer,” he said.
Securing an agreement for summer flows on the Fryingpan River at or below 250 cfs might not be so easy. Fuller said the reclamation bureau and wildlife service have “a lot of mandates.” Placating officials in the Roaring Fork Valley isn’t necessarily one of them, he said.
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