Twin Lakes Tunnel opens for more transmountain diversions

The east end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel on May 16, 2016.
The east end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel on June 6, 2016.
A graph showing the level of water flowing through the Twin Lakes Tunnel this week. The tunnel began diverting water, after being closed for two weeks, on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.
A graph showing the level of water flowing through the Twin Lakes Tunnel this week. The tunnel began diverting water, after being closed for two weeks, on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.

ASPEN – The unnatural order of things was restored Tuesday as the Twin Lakes Tunnel began diverting water to the east again from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, after having been closed for two weeks.

The tunnel was closed temporarily after constraints in water rights required that it stop diverting from the Fork, Lost Man and Lincoln creeks, and other tributaries in the headwaters.

The tunnel under the Continental Divide had been diverting about 620 cubic feet per second (cfs) before diversions were stepped down over a three-day period from June 14 to 16, when the tunnel closed.

The reintroduced native flows down the Fork and Lincoln Creek added noticeable intensity to the river as it made its way through the Grottos, Stillwater and Slaughterhouse reaches near Aspen.

One of the constraints on the legal rights of the tunnel is that when the Colorado Canal in Ordway can divert freely because there is plenty of water in the lower Arkansas River, it cannot demand water from the Roaring Fork.

But the spring runoff has slowed, pinching the supply of water available to the canal from the Arkansas. As such, it can now legally call for water from the Roaring Fork.

“The Colorado Canal is being called out, so we can start diverting the tunnel under the direct flow portion of the right,” wrote Kevin Lusk, the president of the board of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and a principal engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities, in an email Tuesday.

The other constraint was that the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. had filled its storage allotment of 54,452 acre-feet of water in Twin Lakes Reservoir.

With that “bucket” filled, and the Colorado Canal still in priority, the tunnel had to be closed.

Not all of the water diverted from the Fork’s headwaters goes to the Colorado Canal, however, as the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, of which the Twin Lakes Tunnel is the key component, now also helps meet water needs in several Front Range cities.

The diversion system is technically owned by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which is based in Ordway. But Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, and Pueblo own almost all of the shares in the company.

On Tuesday, the Twin Lakes Tunnel, which begins at Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, was opened back up and about 200 cubic feet per second began flowing east, primarily from Lincoln Creek and the creeks in Brooklyn, New York, and Tabor gulches.

In response, levels in the Roaring Fork River near Aspen fell sharply.

The river at Difficult Campground, for example, was flowing at 390 cfs at 6 a.m., Tuesday morning, but had fallen to 244 cfs by 8 p.m.

And the measuring gauge on Stillwater Drive, just below the North Star Nature Preserve, showed the river flowing there at 510 cfs at 6 a.m. and at 311 cfs by 8 p.m.

On Wednesday, Lusk said that new calls for water from various shareholders in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. mean that water from Lost Man Creek and the main stem of the Fork would soon be added to the flow of water being sent east through the tunnel.

Lusk said he expected the tunnel to continue diverting water through the summer.

This marked the second year in a row the Twin Lakes Tunnel was forced to cease diverting due to wet conditions on the east side of the pass.

During most of the time the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed, diversions continued to flow as usual through the Bousted Tunnel, which sends water east from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River, as well as from Hunter, Midway, and No Name creeks near Aspen.

Around 800 cfs has been flowing through the Bousted Tunnel for most of June.

And according to the Pueblo Chieftain, the total diversion from the Fry-Ark project so far this year is about 51,000 acre-feet of water.

Add that to the approximately 25,000 acre-feet diverted so far by Twin Lakes, and it means about 76,000 acre-feet has been diverted from the Roaring Fork River watershed so far this year, not counting what may have been sent through the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel, which also diverts from the upper Fryingpan.

Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, can hold 102,373 acre-feet.

Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and waters. The Daily News published a version of this story on Thursday, July 30, 2016.

#Drought news: No change in depiction for #Colorado

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor websites. Here’s an excerpt:


Please note the Drought Monitor depicts conditions valid through Tuesday morning, 8 a.m., EDT (12 UTC); any of the recent locally heavy rain which fell after Tuesday morning (June 28) will be incorporated into next week’s drought assessment. For the 7-day period ending June 28, despite pockets of locally heavy rain (which led to catastrophic flooding in parts of West Virginia), above-normal temperatures and below-normal rainfall caused dryness and drought to expand or intensify across portions of the central and eastern U.S. Nationally, the percent of soil moisture rated poor to very poor climbed 5 points over last week to 31 percent (as of June 26, according to USDA-NASS), which was 14 percentage points higher than last year at the same time…

Northern Plains

Heat and dryness caused drought conditions to intensify locally. While showers were noted over northern-most portions of the region for a second consecutive week, drought intensified and expanded farther south. Areas hardest hit by the heat and dryness extend from northeastern Wyoming into western South Dakota. Severe Drought (D2) was expanded to encapsulate areas that have received less than 60 percent of normal (locally less than 50 percent) rainfall over the past 90 days. Furthermore, satellite-derived vegetation health imagery as well as rainfall data indicated conditions have rapidly worsened to Extreme Drought (D3) in a small area immediately adjacent to the Black Hills. Farther east, Abnormal Dryness (D0) also expanded across southern portions of South Dakota where 60-day rainfall was near or below 60 percent of normal. Likewise, D0 was expanded over northern Wyoming where similar short-term deficits were noted…

Central and Southern Plains

While much of the region remained mostly drought free, excessive heat (100°F or greater) coupled with pronounced short-term dryness necessitated the introduction of Moderate Drought (D1) in central Oklahoma. Over the past 60 days, this new D1 area has reported 30 to 55 percent of normal rainfall (locally less); rapid drought intensification in this area is likely if rain does not materialize soon…


Texas remained free of drought following a much-wetter-than-normal May. However, recent 100-degree heat and short-term dryness have raised concerns over the potential for a return to “flash” drought (rapidly occurring drought caused by a combination of dryness, high heat, and strong winds)…

Western U.S.

Due to the onset of the West’s “dry season”, changes to the region’s drought depiction during the summer months are usually minor, if any. However, Abnormal Dryness (D0) was expanded across northern Idaho to reflect declining soil moisture supplies brought on by a lack of rainfall over the past 60 days. Protracted short-term dryness — despite generally cooler-than-normal weather — has also been noted along the northern Pacific Coast. These more northerly coastal ranges typically receive some precipitation during the latter half of spring and early summer, and 60-day rainfall has tallied 30 to 50 percent of normal (deficits of 2 to 6 inches) from northwestern California to the Puget Sound…

Forest Service restores wetlands in Falls Creek — The Durango Herald

The north part of the valley floor area includes a wetlands area. The interpretive sign at the trail head mentions that the Basketmakers grew corn and squash in addition to hunting deer, rabbits, turkeys, and porcupine, and gathering. Photo via
The north part of the valley floor area includes a wetlands area. The interpretive sign at the trail head mentions that the Basketmakers grew corn and squash in addition to hunting deer, rabbits, turkeys, and porcupine, and gathering. Photo via

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The U.S. Forest Service has put the final touches on a project that effectively restores an almost 20-acre wetland in Falls Creek, adding a rich biodiverse area to the lush green valley northwest of Durango.

In the 1990s, it was discovered that the land in Falls Creek, at the north end of County Road 205, was for sale. Rumors circulated that the owner at the time, Utah Power and Light, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp Utility Co., was in talks with developers that were interested in constructing several hundred homes in the tucked-away valley.

Fearing the archaeologically rich area would be developed, a grass-roots movement lobbied for almost two years to save the open meadow, surrounded by white sandstone cliffs and ponderosa forests.

In 1992, Congress allocated about $1.9 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, securing the 53-acre tract from development. On March 31 of that year, the area, also known as Hidden Valley, was officially turned over to the Forest Service. And as part of the deal, the Forest Service received long-held water rights from Falls Creek.

To retain water rights in the state of Colorado, an entity must prove the water is going to “beneficial use” every 10 years or they run the risk of losing the allocation.

Rob Genualdi, an engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, Division 7, said water courts officially recognize the creation of wetlands from water rights as a “beneficial use,” although it’s generally a rare occurrence an owner would chose to do so.

“I would say it’s a much, much smaller use (of water rights),” Genualdi said. “Probably just a few dozen, if that.”

Yet for the Forest Service’s Columbine District, the determination to use about 420 gallons a minute from Falls Creek was an easy, logical decision. Wetlands would not only enrich the ecosystem with minimal effort, it would preserve the popular hiking area, follow the wishes of adjacent neighbors and be flexible to other water users of the creek.

Using a ditch constructed in the late 1880s to divert water for irrigation, the Forest Service made some improvements, and releases water from Falls Creek into the meadow to the south. For the most part, nature takes care of the rest.

Already, the area is lush with plant life, a variety of birds, and swarms of small mammals. The final piece of work completed last week, which expanded an earthen dam, will allow Forest Service officials to sit back and watch wildlife take control.

31st Annual WateReuse Symposium, September 11-14


Click here for all the inside skinny and to register. From the website:

Join us for the 31st Annual WateReuse Symposium in Tampa, FL on September 11-14. The annual event brings together water managers and industry leaders to network with the best and brightest in the field and learn what’s working and what’s next in water reuse policy, operations, technology and public perception.