Runoff news: A look ahead at operating the Arkansas River Voluntary Flow Program this summer

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“At some point this summer, we are going to ask to exceed the releases of 10,000 acre-feet,” Tony Keenan of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Thursday.

The releases are made under a 1990 voluntary flow management program among several local, state and federal agencies. It allows Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water and other supplies from Turquoise and Twin lakes to be released into the Arkansas River at strategic times to maintain flows for recreation through mid-August and for fish and wildlife during the winter months.

This year, flows surged in late May and early June and temperatures rose and began to melt snow in the mountains. Already, the flows are dropping. “We have about half of what we had in the river 10 days ago,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer. The Upper Arkansas River was flowing at about 2,300 cubic feet per second this week, down from more than 5,000 cfs earlier. The flow program calls for a target level of 700 cfs through Aug. 15.

While the program is capped at 10,000 acre-feet of releases, more has been released in the past, if the timing can benefit the Fry-Ark Project, or the needs of big water users like Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora. “I think the water is going to be plentiful, it’s space that concerns us,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. For the past two years, space in Lake Pueblo has been tight in the spring, meaning water stored by some users could spill. About one-third of the water in Lake Pueblo now is either excess-capacity or winter water. The lake level is about 131 percent of average. “We could be looking at the same problem next year,” Vaughan said, citing graphs that show Lake Pueblo inflows are running ahead of last year’s supplies.

At the same time, Reclamation is trying to make enough space in Turquoise and Twin lakes to contain water being brought in through the Fry-Ark Project. Projections for water this year are at about 56,000 acre-feet, slightly above average. So far, about 41,000 acre-feet have come over. “We’ve already lost some yield because of the hard runoff,” Vaughan said. When the Boustead Tunnel was carrying its maximum of 945 cfs of water, about 800 cfs was flowing into the Roaring Fork River at the tunnel’s diversion point on the other side of the mountains.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

[White River National Forest] engineers said the agency may not know for several weeks just how much damage occurred as a result of recent accelerated snowmelt that resulted from high temperatures. Meanwhile, the public is being urged to be careful when approaching bridges, especially those having significant accumulation of debris on piers and footings. Such accumulation has been spotted on several bridges and may have caused structural damage requiring significant repairs. People also are asked to report any damage to the Forest Service as soon as possible. The forest’s supervisor, Scott Fitzwilliams, said in a news release, “Flood-damaged infrastructure will be costly to repair but we are committed to doing so as funding becomes available.” Officials got their first idea of the possible damages sustained on the forest when a hiker reported last week that the Lower Cross Creek Bridge in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Vail had been washed out.

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