From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
Aspen and Pitkin County officials are raising questions about plans to send more water from Ruedi Reservoir down the Colorado River to benefit endangered fish.
The water is owned by the Ute Water Conservancy District, which purchased 12,000 acre feet of Ruedi water in 2012, in anticipation of growth and as a backstop for its more than 80,000 customers and others in the Grand Valley should Grand Mesa supplies dry up in a drought year.
With no need for Ruedi water this year, Ute approached the Colorado Water Conservation Board about leasing the water to benefit four endangered species of fish in the Colorado — a project that the state agency is considering.
“This is Ute trying to do something for the environment,” Ute General Manager Larry Clever said on Friday.
Aspen and Pitkin County officials, however, have questions about the deal and have asked the conservation board to explain it in a meeting Tuesday in Carbondale.
Aspen and Pitkin county officials want to know more about how the lease would affect the level of the reservoir, electricity generation for Aspen, and the Fryingpan River angling industry below Ruedi Dam, among other concerns.
Ute paid $15.5 million for the unclaimed water in Ruedi and, Clever said, can call it down the river anytime it wishes.
“We knew there would be outrage at the Aspen Yacht Club” when Ute told the water conservation board that water for the fish might be available if needed, Clever said.
“You know why they’re against it,” Clever said. “If I pull water out (of Ruedi), the Aspen Yacht Club wouldn’t be able to float so well.”
There’s more to it than that, said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority.
“We’ve worked for years with the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service to handle releases in a way that is compatible with the recreational use on the river, and that’s worked out fairly well under normal circumstances,” Fuller said.
“Depending how these supplemental releases get managed, that could all go out the window.”
The Ruedi Water and Power Authority supplies electricity generated at Ruedi Dam to Aspen and other communities. Fluctuating levels in the Fryingpan River also could make it impossible for flycasters to wade into the Gold Medal waters, officials noted.
Releasing Ute’s water from Ruedi would have another benefit, Clever said.
“My goal was to put the water in Lake Powell,” which some fear could drop so low as to hinder electricity generation at Glen Canyon Dam.
That could require the Bureau of Reclamation to take action to lower Upper Colorado River reservoirs to maintain the dam’s generating capacity.
“If I can put water in Powell, the whole upper basin is in better shape,” Clever said.
Generating capacity at Ruedi also weighs on his mind, Fuller said. “We would like to be able to work in a proactive and synergistic relationship on how to make different pots of water work together so the Fryingpan doesn’t just become a flume,” Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards said.
The water conservation board remains interested in reaching a deal with Ute.
“We applaud Ute Water’s willingness to work with us on an approach benefiting a recovery program that helps water users throughout the Colorado River Basin,” CWCB Director James Eklund said in an email. “We’re all connected throughout Colorado by our most precious natural resource as demonstrated by this important recovery program.”
More endangered/threatened species coverage here.