Arkansas River: Managing the water resources in winter

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

With a low snowpack — 75 percent of average statewide — and Lake Pueblo filling rapidly, some are questioning why so much water is being moved from the higher location. Bureau of Reclamation and Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials say the move is in the best interests of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, however. “We’re not willing to risk curtailing Fry-Ark imports,” said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark Project manager. “The needs of the project come first.”

A low snowpack this early in the season does not mean the project will yield less water later this spring, he added. “We can see an increase in the yield of 30,000 acre-feet in a month,” Vaughan said. “With the operational changes we’ve made on the West Slope, we can increase the yield (over historic levels) 10-15 percent.”

Water users were stirred up last week at a meeting to discuss flows by a draft of a routine letter from the Department of Natural Resources on the Upper Arkansas River flow management program. Under a voluntary agreement, Reclamation now moves water in the Upper Arkansas during the winter months to improve fish habitat. It also props up flows for rafting during summer months. A five-year extension of the 1990 agreement ends this year, and is expected to be renewed. Moving the water also helps balance the reservoirs in order to make room for imports through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake during runoff, primarily in May and June. Along the way, there are several environmental concerns to consider, Vaughan said. The largest, and the reason for creating the program, is to prevent a large slug of water moving down the river at one time. In Lake County, where Turquoise and Twin Lakes are located, there is concern about keeping Turquoise levels high for recreation and flows in Lake Fork Creek, which connects the reservoirs, manageable…

Pueblo Reservoir is nearing its capacity and is about 96 percent full, and filling every day. Right now, it’s storing winter water for downstream irrigators and needs to store even more in order to satisfy needs of ditches like the Bessemer, Catlin and High Line. Ditch companies like the Holbrook, Fort Lyon and Amity have other options and are being encouraged to use them to preserve space in Lake Pueblo, said Division Engineer Steve Witte…

There is also an agreement to leave 100 cubic feet per second (including fish hatchery flows) in the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam. Finally, the level in Lake Pueblo technically could increase further than the conservation level of 256,949 acre-feet. The dam can actually hold almost 350,000 acre-feet, but must reach the lower level by April 15 to allow for the possibility of flooding upstream. Winter water storage ends March 15. Winter water held over from 2009 must be evacuated from the dam by May 1.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas coverage here.

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