Update on #AnimasRiver water quality, Gold Medal Waters status

Screen shot of Animas River debris flow July 2018 aftermath of 416 Fire (CBS Denver).

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

Colorado has more than 300 miles of streams with Gold Medal status, which is intended to highlight the state’s rivers and creeks that provide outstanding fishing opportunities.

To qualify, a waterway must meet two criteria: have a minimum of 60 pounds of trout per acre and at least 12 trout measuring 14 inches or longer.

In 1996, a 4-mile stretch of the Animas River from the confluence of Lightner Creek down to the Purple Cliffs by Home Depot gained the Gold Medal tag and, ever since, has been marketed as a premier destination for fishing…

The water quality issues in the Animas are complex, said Jim White, an aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife based in Durango.

A combination of factors – heavy metals leeching from abandoned mines in the Animas headwaters around Silverton, above-average water temperatures, sediment loading and urban runoff – have had a detrimental impact on aquatic life.

As a result, fish in the Animas River are unable to naturally reproduce, and the waterway must rely on annual stocking of rainbow and brown trout by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

In 2014, the Animas River started showing signs it was not meeting Gold Medal criteria, when a fish survey found a disappearance of large, quality-size trout in the stretch.

It was thought aquatic life would take a devastating hit from the Gold King Mine spill in 2015, which sent an estimated 3 million gallons of mine wastewater down the Animas River. Ultimately, however, subsequent studies showed the tainted waters had no effect on fish.

But in 2018, “everything went to hell,” White said.

Fish and other aquatic life were already stressed from low flows and high water temperatures when torrential rains in July 2018 hit the burn scar of the 416 Fire, sending a torrent of black mud and ash down the Animas River, which killed most of the fish in the waterway downstream of Hermosa Creek.

White said it may take up to four years to again meet Gold Medal standards in the Animas as the river recovers. Still, there’s been no discussion about delisting the impaired waterway, he said…

…Scott Roberts, an aquatic biologist with Mountain Studies Institute, has said it generally takes one to 10 years for a watershed to recover after a wildfire, but because only a small percentage of the 416 Fire burned at high intensity, he expects the timeline for recovery to be on the short end.

And, many wildlife officials, like Japhet and White, are hopeful the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup of mines around Silverton will help with metal contamination issues. EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Peterson said the work in the Bonita Peak Mining District will reduce the frequency of elevated metals in the Animas River, as well as the pulses of metals the agency suspects are being released from the mines.

White said this year’s high runoff will do wonders for aquatic life in the long run. He said wildlife officials plan to stock the Animas this summer and early fall.

#Runoff news: With Twin Lakes diversion off the Roaring Fork will see an extra 550 cfs for a while

Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, well above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River. The reservoir briefly stores water before it is diverted under the Continental Divide.

From The Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Diversions from the Roaring Fork River’s headwaters to the Eastern Slope ceased on Thursday and are expected to be offline until the seasonal runoff slows down, possibly weeks from now.

Bruce Hughes, general manager of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., said that his entity, which controls the diversion of water from the upper Roaring Fork Basin to the Arkansas River Basin, is hitting the maximum amount of Western Slope water it can store in Twin Lakes Reservoir. In addition, water users on the East Slope that typically rely on Roaring Fork flows are able to meet their needs with native Arkansas Basin runoff.

“Legally we cannot take anymore,” Hughes said, adding that “we are still looking at quite a spell” before diversions can resume — possibly two or three weeks.

That means that as much as 550 cubic feet per second of water that is normally diverted through a 4-mile-long tunnel underneath the Continental Divide will stay in the watershed, adding to the already high flows coming down the Roaring Fork.

Add that to the impacts of a historic winter snowpack, which, thanks to a cold and wet spring, is in the top 10 of longest-lasting snowpacks, according to records kept by the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

The Roaring Fork River, measured at Aspen, likely saw its natural seasonal peak early Tuesday morning, when it hit 1,020 cfs. Flows began trending down after that, but they shot back up when the transbasin diversions ceased. Flows through Aspen cracked the 1,000-cfs threshold again on Friday, creating the fourth distinct peak since June 15.

The river will continue to flow naturally until the tunnels are turned back on. The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. manages the system that collects water from the Roaring Fork River and from Lost Man, Grizzly, Lincoln, New York, Brooklyn and Tabor creeks, and delivers the water to Grizzly Reservoir. From there it is sent through the 4-mile-long Twin Lakes Tunnel, under the Divide, into Lake Creek and down to Twin Lakes Reservoir, on the east side of Independence Pass and a short distance from­ the confluence of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River.

Lincoln Creek. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

There was a bit of an unknown when the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. announced earlier in the week that diversions to the Front Range would cease Thursday, resulting in an increase in the water in Lincoln Creek and the Roaring Fork River. The water company’s allotment at Twin Lakes on the other side of the Continental Divide filled Thursday. As a result, an additional 550 cubic feet per second of water started flowing into the Roaring Fork River starting at about 1 p.m. Thursday.

Pitkin County Emergency Manager Valerie MacDonald said higher flows in the Roaring Fork River were evident Friday morning compared with Thursday evening. Twin Lakes officials told her the water levels released into the Roaring Fork wouldn’t exceed 550 cfs. In addition, runoff levels are easing. As a result she doesn’t expect problems with flooding.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood advisory for the Roaring Fork River near Aspen, but only minor lowland flooding is expected.

“This heavy runoff will cause the Roaring Fork River to hover near to above bank full stage into early next week,” the weather service office in Grand Junction said in a notice. Bank full stage is 4.0. Flood stage is 5.0. The river was expected to rise to 4 feet by early morning today, according to the weather service…

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decreased releases from Ruedi Reservoir from 917 cfs to approximately 717 cfs on Friday morning. Ruedi Reservoir is expected to fill to capacity today or tonight. And right on cue, inflow to the reservoir is expected to plummet. The forecast by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center showed in the inflow falling below 900 cfs starting today.

Basalt Police Chief Greg Knot said no problems were reported on the Fryingpan River through Basalt during the period of highest releases…

A flood advisory was canceled Thursday for the Crystal River. The weather service said the river crested at 4.5 feet near Redstone and would continue to fall. Flood stage is 5.0.