Pre-emptive releases make room in Ruedi Reservoir
Colorado water managers are taking pre-emptive actions against flooding, and river runners are enjoying sweet dreams thanks to the above-average snowpack this spring.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation boosted its releases earlier than usual from Ruedi Reservoir in anticipation of the tub filling. The reclamation bureau wants to avoid a scenario like last year when the reservoir filled quickly in June and threatened to send water into the dam’s spillway.
“We’re doing pre-emptive releases this year because we are anticipating the reservoir to fill,” said reclamation bureau spokeswoman Kara Lamb. “Last year we didn’t do that because we didn’t anticipate the reservoir filling.”
The snowpack in the Upper Fryingpan Valley was 118 percent of average yesterday, with another snowstorm barreling down on the Colorado mountains. The upper snowpack is showing little sign of melting – the inflow to Ruedi was 105 cubic feet per second on Monday. During peak runoff in early June last year it surged to between 1,200 and 2,000 cfs.
The reclamation bureau increased releases from Ruedi Reservoir into the lower Fryingpan River to 240 cfs on April 8 to drain more water and prepare for a large amount of water flowing in. The agency’s website reported Monday that Ruedi was 52 percent full. That is only slightly above average for the date, but heavy runoff is anticipated.
The forecast as of April 1 was for a wetter month than usual, Lamb noted, so more snowstorms could require greater water releases.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center foresees an impressive runoff for the Roaring Fork drainage this year. Its April 1 forecast indicated there was a 50 percent chance the flow of the Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs will exceed 7,400 cfs and a 25 percent chance peak flow will exceed 8,400 cfs. The average flow is 6,150 cfs.
Last year the river peaked at 8,710 cfs in Glenwood Springs on June 11. It was an unusual year: unseasonably warm temperatures in June melted out the high country snowpack in a hurry, creating an intense but brief peak.
This winter was odd as well – a lot of precipitation fell as rain in lower and middle elevations but the snowpack is well above average from 9,000 or so feet in elevation and higher, said Dave Kanzer, senior water resources engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
“Folks might remember, we didn’t have a white Christmas, we had a rainy Christmas,” Kanzer said.
But the snow started falling in the higher elevations right before Thanksgiving and it rarely stopped. About a quarter of the automated Snotel sites operated by the federal agency that measures snowpack logged record levels in the Upper Colorado River region, Kanzer noted. Heavy snowpack translates into ample runoff. The forecast is for reservoirs to receive 110 to 130 percent of average runoff, he said. The inflow to Lake Powell is expected to be about 9.7 million acre feet from the start of April through the end of July. That is a level that hasn’t been experienced since the mid-1990s, according to Kanzer.
The prospects of high runoff has rafters and kayakers looking forward to the season.
The heavy snowpack in the high country and ongoing snowstorms could produce a single, more prolonged peak runoff, Kanzer said, but that will depend on the weather in May and June. The only certain factor is that the snowpack is as much as 130 percent of average in parts of the state.
“What we don’t know is how it’s going to run off and when,” Kanzer said.
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