Fryingpan-Arkansas Project 50th anniversary: Ruedi Reservoir created for compensatory water storage for the Western Slope

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Here’s an in-depth look at the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project from Scott Condon writing for The Aspen Times. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The Fry-Ark water diversion plan was hatched shortly after World War II ended, when the cities and counties of Colorado’s Arkansas River Valley started looking for water to fuel growth aspirations. The initial plan was to divert 357,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Gunnison River and other tributaries of the Colorado River to the Arkansas Valley, according to the website of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

The proposal sparked a political battle in the 1950s between Western Slope residents who didn’t want “their” water taken and Arkansas Valley resident who saw the water as the key to their future. [Mark Fuller, executive director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority] said residents of the West Slope of Colorado had an ingrained “mistrust” of the Front Range, which had more people, more money and more power…

The Roaring Fork River basin’s loss is the Arkansas Valley’s gain. Reclamation bureau spokeswoman Kara Lamb said Fry-Ark water irrigates 265,000 acres of some of the most productive farm land in Colorado. “This is Rocky Ford cantaloupes and the onions that the Arkansas Valley is so famous for,” she said.

In addition, 720,000 residents of the southeastern part of the state receive supplementary water from the project. They live from Salida in the west to Lamar in the east, and from Colorado Springs down to Pueblo…

The Fry-Ark system diverts an annual average of 54,000 acre feet. To put that amount in perspective, it’s a little more than half the total held by Ruedi Reservoir when full. Last year, when the snow kept piling up late into the spring, the system diverted its second highest amount of water ever at about 98,000 acre feet. This year, during the drought, it diverted only 14,000 acre feet…

Ruedi Reservoir — which now dominates the Fryingpan Valley’s identity — wasn’t in the initial plans for the diversion system. “It was a political solution,” Lamb said. The reservoir was created for compensatory water storage for the Western Slope. To a layman, the legal purpose of Ruedi is essentially a way for water attorneys to make the books balance. In a practical sense, the reservoir has created one of the biggest recreational draws in the Aspen area…

Aspen residents get a direct benefit from the Ruedi dam. The hydro-electric plant owned and operated by the city of Aspen produces 20 to 25 million kilowatt hours of power per year. That is the equivalent of 35 to 40 percent of Aspen’s annual demand, according to Fuller.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.

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