From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):
The Independence Pass transmountain diversion system shut down for more than a month this year around the June peak runoff due to ample water supplies in the Arkansas River basin, only the fourth such time this has happened for these reasons since the 1930s.
Seeing rivers in this more-natural state has reinvigorated local interest in the health of the Roaring Fork watershed and how it is managed.
Recently, a group of more than two dozen interested locals and tourists met up at the Lost Man trailhead parking lot near Independence Pass to learn more about how water is diverted east from the watershed. The sold-out event was hosted by the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, and was led by both its employees and those of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which manages water flows through the transmountain diversion system…
Medved noted that there are 24 major diversion tunnels in Colorado, and two of the five largest are in the Roaring Fork watershed.
The fifth largest is the 3.85-mile-long Twin Lakes tunnel, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River to the Arkansas River basin. It is a bit over nine feet wide and boring began in November of 1933, with the workers “holing out” in February 1935.
The Boustead Tunnel is the third-largest diversion tunnel and is located on the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. It stretches 5.5 miles, and empties into Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.
Scott Campbell, general manager of the nonprofit Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which is privately owned and based out of Ordway, has worked with water for about 40 years and explained that the Twin Lakes diversion was originally a supplemental water right in the 1930s. He added that when water from the Arkansas River was coming up short on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Twin Lakes Reservoir water would help to fill the gap.
Each year, the transmountain diversion system collects water from the Roaring Fork River, as well as the Lost Man, Lincoln, Brooklyn, Tabor, New York and Grizzly creeks, and moves it through the Twin Lakes Tunnel into the Arkansas basin. From there much of it aids agricultural pursuits near Pueblo and Crowley counties…
The Twin Lakes Reservoir is owned and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, but the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. retains ownership of 54,452 acre-feet of space within to store water…
More storage on East Slope needed
When asked why Eastern Slope reservoirs aren’t being expanded to store more water, Campbell replied, “That’s a very good question.”
Alan Ward, water resources administrator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, explained that many of the reservoirs on the Front Range are under federal purview, and changes would require an act of Congress.
“As it turns out, we’ve been trying to do that for almost 15 years,” he said. “It’s not easy to get Congress all together and actually passing legislation that would allow us to study the enlargement of that.”
Ward added that while some potential reservoir sites may be good from an engineering point of view, they don’t always make sense environmentally.
“It’s just a challenge to be able to find a spot that you can get permitted, that you can afford to build on, and that you can get permission to build on, if it requires an act of Congress,” he said. “But something I think is very much in the forefront of the minds of water planners on the East Slope, is where and how can we build more storage to be able to better manage the limited supply [of water] we have.”
Into the Styx
Following a bumpy Jeep ride up Lincoln Creek, care of Blazing Adventures, to see the opposite end of the tunnel through Green Mountain, Campbell concluded the tour by leading people on a subterranean descent into the Twin Lakes Tunnel.
The concrete “road” dropped down quickly into the darkness, and constant seepage water dripped from above, creating the feeling of being caught in an underground monsoon.
Campbell noted that the site’s caretakers, Kim and Glenn Schryver, use the underground route in the winter to reach the outside world while Independence Pass is buried under the snowpack.
He explained that the workers boring the tunnel converged on each other from either side and averaged just under 50 feet in progress a day. When they met up, the holes were six inches apart, Campbell said, adding that the route was determined with a line of mirrors shot over Independence Mountain.