Gunnison River: New flow regime in Black Canyon takes effect

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

[May 12], a combination of Morrow Point Releases and high side-inflows caused Crystal Reservoir to spill and flows in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge to reach over 7,000 cfs by this morning. Flows at Delta are currently in the 12,000 cfs range. The May 1st forecast for the April through July runoff into Blue Mesa Reservoir is 690,000 ac-ft. consequently, the Black Canyon Water Right calls for a 24 hr peak flow of almost 6,000 cfs (5,864 cfs according to the decree). This flow was achieved starting at about 16:45 May 12th. To insure a 24 hour peak is obtained and to make efficient use of water, Reclamation will start to slowly ramp down releases today. As a result, the spill at Crystal will start to subside and probably be complete by Sunday May 17th. A more detailed schedule is being developed and additional information will be distributed as it becomes available.

More coverage from the Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

“This is the beginning of repairing and healing the park’s ecosystem,” said Michael Dale, a Park Service hydrologist. Before the federal Bureau of Reclamation began gradually building up the flow last week, the Gunnison River was flowing at about 1,000 cubic feet a second. This morning, the flow was at about 7,500 cubic feet a second. The stronger flow — which is trying to mimic natural spring runoff — will remove sediment and algae, help breakdown riffle pools and whisk away vegetation encroaching on the river bank, Dale said. “One year’s high flow won’t do it all, but now we can hope for a spring flow most years,” Dale said…

“This has been one of the longest, most complex water-right battles in Colorado,” said Drew Peternell, an attorney for the sportsmen’s group Trout Unlimited. To win that right, the concerns of hydropower agencies, ranchers and farmers, and downstream towns fearful of flooding had to be addressed…

The decree filed in January with the Colorado water court guarantees irrigation water, hydropower water and a spring flow to the park based on the size of the snowpack each each year. “No one got everything they wanted, but no one is out of business,” said the Park Service’s Dale.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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