Ruedi Dam operations update

Ivanhoe Reservoir, in the headwaters of the Fryingpan RIver basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

Releases from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River are scheduled to decrease from 350 to 300 cubic feet per second on Monday, September 24 at 8 a.m.

This release rate maintains “fish water” deliveries to the 15-mile Reach for endangered fish species. Routine updates to follow. Feel free to contact me with any questions at jbishop@usbr.gov or by phone at 970-962-4326.

@USBR revises release forecasts for Olympus and Ruedi dams

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

Due to revised demands, releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River are scheduled to rise from 83 to 101 cubic feet per second (cfs) tonight at midnight (cusp between Thursday and Friday), 21 September. Earlier this week I announced releases from Olympus Dam were planned to rise to 225 cfs and that figure has since changed significantly.

At this point in our forecast, we do not anticipate releases to the Big Thompson River rising above 150 cfs as we use the river to deliver C-BT Project water. On that subject, use of the Big Thompson to make project water deliveries is slated to run through October 12, and those deliveries vary frequently. I will of course continue to provide updates while keeping in mind the old adage: “Plans are disposable. Planning is indispensable.”

A map of the Fry-Ark system. Aspen, and Hunter Creek, are shown in the lower left. Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities.

From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

Yesterday, I messaged you that we at Reclamation no longer planned to increase releases to 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River but would instead be maintaining releases at 355 cfs. That change holds, but I wanted to further explain this.

Due to the persistence of very low river flow conditions in the Colorado River, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with Reclamation engineers and other Program partners, has decided to reduce the rate of release of Endangered Fish Recovery Program water stored in Ruedi Reservoir to allow these releases to be extended further into October. The reduced rate of release will enable a longer duration of “fish water” to be delivered to the 15-Mile Reach over the upcoming weeks, optimizing its benefits to the endangered fish.

Ruedi releases are bolstering Fryingpan River streamflow

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

While most local rivers are flowing at levels far below average, the Fryingpan is the exception. Releases from Ruedi Reservoir are supplementing low flows downstream, in the Colorado River.

The Bureau of Reclamation controls the amount of water that flows out of Ruedi dam, and announced this week that flows in the Fryingpan will increase to 400 cubic feet per second (cfs), more than double the average.

The increases will mean more water delivered to irrigators with senior water rights in the Grand Valley. It will also provide water to four endangered fish in an area known as the 15-Mile Reach near Grand Junction.

Flows in the Fryingpan River are expected to remain at 400 cfs through the end of September.

@USBR: Releases from #Ruedi Reservoir Increasing September 4, 2018 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #drought #aridification

The dam that forms Ruedi Reservoir, above Basalt on the Fryingpan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth)

The release from Ruedi will be increased Tuesday morning by approximately 45 cfs. After this change, the flow at the Fryingpan River gage below Ruedi Reservoir will increase from 178 cfs to approximately 223 cfs.

This flow increase was requested by the USFWS to support fish recovery efforts in the 15-Mile reach of the Colorado River.

This release rate will continue until further notice.

@USFSRockyMtns opposes Fry-Ark conditional water rights in Holy Cross Wilderness — @AspenJournalism

Pristine Halfmoon Lake, shown here under hazy skies in August 2018, is on Lime Creek within the Holy Cross Wilderness and is near the location for a potential diversion dam and tunnel back toward the existing Fry-Ark Project to the south. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The U.S. Forest Service is questioning whether the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District ever will be able to get approval to build six potential diversion dams and related tunnels and conduits in the Fryingpan River basin that are located on USFS land above 10,000 feet within the Holy Cross Wilderness.

In a statement of opposition filed last month in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs, attorneys for the USFS said it “cannot authorize development of these six conditional water rights … because they lie within a congressionally designated wilderness. Only the president has authority to approve water developments within the Holy Cross Wilderness.”

The USFS statement of opposition, which was the only one filed in the case (18CW3063), also said “as currently decreed, the subject water rights raise questions as to whether they can and will be perfected within a reasonable time.”

The opposition statement was submitted July 31 in response to a periodic diligence application filed with the water court by Southeastern on May 28.

Southeastern is seeking to maintain its conditional water rights that are part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. The rights were decreed in 1958. Six of the rights are within the Holy Cross Wilderness, which was designated in 1980, but most are outside of it.

Southeastern, which is based in Pueblo, owns and manages the water rights for the Fry-Ark Project, which was built by the Bureau of Reclamation.

A detail of map of the Fry-Ark Project prepared by the Colorado River District, showing potential diversion points as purple circles. The map does not show the wilderness boundary.
A map prepared as part of a study by Wilson Water Group showing the locations of six potential diversion dams in the Holy Cross Wilderness, shown in light purple. The diversion points would be connected with tunnels and conduits and connected to the existing Fry-Ark Project system at Carter Creek, the most northern dam and tunnel in the existing system.
A map filed as part of Southeastern’s diligence application that shows the extent of the Fry-Ark Project. On its southern end, it diverts water from creeks near Aspen. The conditional rights within the Holy Cross Wilderness are on its northern end.

375 cfs

The six diversion dams inside the Holy Cross Wilderness would allow for the diversion of 10 cubic feet per second from an unnamed tributary of the North Fork of the Fryingpan River, for diversion of 135 cfs from Last Chance Creek and for 10 cfs from an unnamed tributary to Last Chance Creek, for 85 cfs from a creek called Slim’s Gulch and for 85 cfs from an unnamed tributary of Slim’s Gulch, and for 50 cfs from Lime Creek.

In all, the six conditional rights in the wilderness would allow for 375 cfs of additional diversions in the Fry-Ark Project.

The diversion structure on Lime Creek would be near pristine Halfmoon Lake, which is above Eagle Lake.

Chris Woodka, who is the issues management coordinator at Southeastern, said the conditional water rights in the wilderness “are like a bargaining chip that we really don’t want to give up.”

“If they could be developed at some point, we would still be interested in developing them, as far as getting the yield from there,” Woodka said. “But can we get more of a yield from the system using the mechanisms we have in place? Probably.”

The entrance to the Chapman Tunnel on the creek in Chapman Gulch, part of the existing Fry-Ark diversion system.

Maximizing limited yield

The Fry-Ark Project today includes 16 diversion dams and 26 miles of tunnels and conduits on the Western Slope that move water from the Hunter Creek and Fryingpan River basins to the centrally located Boustead Tunnel, which can divert as many as 945 cfs under the Continental Divide.

The water is sent to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville and then farther into the Arkansas River basin for use by cities and irrigators.

The six potential dams and tunnels in the Holy Cross Wilderness would connect to the existing Fry-Ark Project at the Carter Creek dam and tunnel, which is the most northerly point of the system. It was completed in 1981.

James DuBois, an attorney in the environment and natural resources division at the Justice Department and who filed the USFS statement of opposition, said he could not discuss the case.

DuBois filed a similar statement of opposition in a 2009 diligence filing for Southeastern’s conditional rights.

In that case, the USFS eventually agreed, in a 2011 stipulation, that Southeastern would study “the potential for moving its conditional water rights off of wilderness lands” during the next six-year diligence period, which ended in May.

It also would look at other ways to increase the project’s “authorized yield.”

A view of the Slim’s Gulch area in the upper Fryingpan River basin. The Lime Creek basin is on the other side of the jagged ridge in the background, and a tunnel under the mountain would move water from Lime Creek to Slim’s Gulch.

Yield limits

Under the project’s operating principles, the authorized yield of the Fry-Ark Project is limited to diverting 120,000 acre-feet in any one year, and to diverting no more than 2.35 million acre-feet over a 34-year rolling average, or an annual average of 69,200 acre-feet.

From 2010 to 2015, the project diverted an average of 63,600 acre-feet, indicating there is more yield to be gained.

This year, a dry year, about 39,000 acre-feet was diverted. In 2011, the last really wet year, 98,900 acre-feet was diverted, according to an annual report on the Fry-Ark Project prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation.

A view of the Last Chance Creek basin in the upper Fryingpan River basin. The main stem of Last Chance Creek wraps around the forested mountain in the middle of the photo, and a tributary to the south is off to the right, just out of view in the photo. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

Improving existing facilities

In accordance with the 2011 stipulation, a study on how to get more water out of the system was done by Wilson Water Group and presented to Southeastern in April.

In the presentation slides, Wilson Water told Southeastern’s board of directors that “analysis indicates contemplated project yield could be met through existing infrastructure and software upgrades.”

Another option studied was to move the six rights in the Holy Cross Wilderness downstream and out of the wilderness. However, Wilson Water said it would require pumping stations to lift the water back up to Fry-Ark system and the “cost per-acre feet is likely prohibitive.”

Despite the finding that improving the existing system would increase the yield on the project, Southeastern voted in April to file for diligence on the six conditional rights within the wilderness, along with other conditional rights, telling the court that “while the construction of certain conditionally decreed project features has not yet been started, there is no intent to abandon these features or any of the conditional water rights … .”

A sign marking the boundary of the Holy Cross Wilderness in the Last Chance Creek basin. The trail up the basin does not see a lot of hiking traffic. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

‘Inappropriate location’

Upon learning of the diligence application this week, Will Roush, the executive director of Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale, said “the Holy Cross Wilderness is a completely inappropriate location” for the development of the conditional water rights.

“Lime Creek, Last Chance Creek and the surrounding lands and tributaries provide amazing opportunities for solitude and the rare opportunity to experience a landscape and alpine watershed free of human infrastructure and without the diversion of water,” Roush said.

An informational memo on the diligence case was presented to the Southeastern board of directors on Aug. 16, and there was no discussion of the case by the board.

An initial status conference in the diligence case has been set for Sept. 18.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Roaring Fork and Colorado river basins in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Saturday, August 19, 2018. This version of the story corrected the date of the earlier stipulation between Southeastern and USFS, which was reached in 2011, not 2012, when the case was closed.

@USBR approves “coordinated” approach to increase #ColoradoRiver streamflow in the Grand Valley #COriver

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

From The Aspen Times:

The Colorado River District is working with state and federal water managers to increase flows in the Fryingpan River by as much as 100 cubic feet per second (cfs), helping trout in the watershed survive warm temperatures while supplying water for downstream irrigation needs in the Grand Valley.

Anticipated releases are expected to range between 50 cfs and 100 cfs and will be coordinated between the River District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase flows in the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers downstream from Ruedi Reservoir.

“This should significantly benefit flows below Ruedi Reservoir,” said John Currier, chief engineer for the district. “We expect that the supplement flows may also help to mitigate water-quality problems anticipated from fire-related ash and debris flows stemming from the Lake Christine Fire on Basalt Mountain.”

Technically, the water will be delivered downstream for Grand Valley irrigation needs while creating environmental benefits as it flows downstream. Green Mountain Reservoir releases will be reduced by an equal amount in order to conserve storage for late-season releases, which in turn will be needed to help endangered fish near Grand Junction.

The coordinated approach was given final approval by the Bureau of Reclamation on Monday. In order to boost Fryingpan levels while the plan awaited approval, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented a 50 cfs release from its dedicated endangered fish pool in Ruedi on Friday. Those flows were supplemented by 30 additional cfs Monday, bringing the flow in the Fryingpan to 200 cfs.

Both Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs contribute water to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. In this case, the changed water release plan will benefit trout below Ruedi while endangered fish still receive water from upstream Colorado River reservoirs.

Increased flows of cold water out of Ruedi should also help to alleviate some stress on trout fisheries in the watershed brought on by higher-than-normal water temperatures. Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced voluntary fishing closures earlier this month on sections of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers.

Basalt: @USBR to Host Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations Public Meeting, August 9, 2018

Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting to discuss the Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations for the 2018 water year.

The meeting will be held on August 9, 2018, from 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the following location:

Roaring Fork Conservancy River Center
22800 Two Rivers Road
Basalt, CO 81621

The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2018 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. Also, representatives of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give a presentation on the upcoming implementation of the Ute Water Conservancy District lease of Ruedi Reservoir water to the Board for instream flow use in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.

For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 962-4394, or tmiller@usbr.gov.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District