Fryingpan-Arkansas Project operations update

The blue expanse of Ruedi Reservoir as seen from the air. Students with the Carbondale-based Youth Water Leadership Program took to the air with EcoFlight to see how people have modified water in the Roaring Fork watershed. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Brittany Jones):

The release from Ruedi Reservoir will increase Friday afternoon by 25 cfs. The flow at the Fryingpan River gage below Ruedi Reservoir will change from 135 cfs to 160 cfs where it will remain for the near future.

For any concerns regarding Ruedi Reservoir operations please contact either Brittany or Elizabeth Jones at (406) 247-7611 or (406) 247-7618.

Friday, April 03 2020, 1400 hrs
Increase the reservoir release by approximately 25 cfs (carried out by High Country Hydro, Inc. personnel). After this change, the flow at the Fryingpan River gage below Ruedi Reservoir is expected to increase from 135 cfs to approximately 160 cfs, with a gage height of 1.76 feet.

Pitkin County moves ahead with $1 million river project — @AspenJournalism

The Robinson Diversion, located just upstream from the boat ramp on Willits Lane has long presented a hazard for boaters on the Roaring Fork River. Pitkin County Healthy Rivers has secured roughly $256,000 in grant money to permanently fix the area. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers board is moving ahead with a nearly $1 million project to fix a problem spot on the Roaring Fork River between old town Basalt and Willits.

For the past few years, the board has been steadily accumulating grant money to fix the Robinson Diversion, an area known to boaters as Anderson Falls. The diversion is a line of rocks across the river, designed to help water flow into a channel on river right and into the headgate of the Robinson Ditch.

The spot, just upstream of the small boat ramp on Willits Lane near the FedEx outlet, has long presented a tricky obstacle to boaters, especially at low water.

And although repairs last April by the ditch company created a much-improved boat channel, the area remains vulnerable to winter ice flows and spring runoff, which could rearrange the rocks. Pitkin County is hoping to fund a more permanent fix.

The headgate for the Robinson Diversion is located on river right, just upstream from the boat ramp on Willits Lane on the Roaring Fork River. The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board is moving forward on a nearly $1 million project to fix the Robinson Diversion structure. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Option A

Last month, Healthy Rivers board members informally decided to move forward with restoration project “option A” with an estimated cost of $935,000.

The work, by Carbondale-based River Restoration, would include creating two smaller drops in the river, instead of one large drop, which would still allow water to reach the Robinson Ditch’s headgate. The project also would make some improvements to the diversion structure and result in better fish habitat.

River Restoration also presented Healthy Rivers with an “option B,” which would modify the existing rocks and extend the drop downstream to make for a more mellow ride in a raft, ducky or kayak. That option would cost roughly $586,000 but would not include fish-habitat work or improvements to the diversion headgate.

Board members decided to stick with the more complete “option A.”

“We might be wasting money if we don’t go big on this project,” said Healthy Rivers board member Lisa Tasker. “Going big means finding a solution to the Robinson Ditch rearranging the river bed year after year. One of the biggest goals is to have less equipment get into the river.”

Pitkin County commissioners have to approve expenditures from the Healthy Rivers board, which is a recommending body.

Blazing Adventures runs commercial river trips from Snowmass Canyon to just below the Robinson Diversion structure, usually starting in July as spring runoff fades. Owner Vince Nichols said the boat chute last year was a great improvement, but he would welcome a more permanent fix.

“Our main takeaway would be safety and having a boatable passage,” he said.

It’s unclear yet whether the Robinson Ditch Co., which owns and operates the structure and headgate, will contribute monetarily to the project, but manager Bill Reynolds said he is in support of fixing the structure.

“I welcome anything that helps all the boaters, fisherman, all the users on the river,” he said. “And if the ditch company can gain a better structure out there, that will help everybody. It’s a win-win.”

The headgate for the Robinson Diversion is located on river right, just upstream from the boat ramp on Willits Lane on the Roaring Fork River. The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board is moving forward on a nearly $1 million project to fix the Robinson Diversion structure. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Rising costs

So far, Healthy Rivers has amassed $256,216 in grant money for the project: a $171,216 Colorado Water Plan grant, a $45,000 Water Supply Reserve Fund grant — both are state funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board — and a $40,000 Fishing Is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

These are matching grants, with the county currently committed to contributing at least roughly $246,000 toward the project.

According to Lisa MacDonald, a paralegal in the county attorney’s office, Healthy Rivers has no other grants in the works for the project, but it continues to look for more opportunities and funding. The project is still short of funding by about $430,000, and as time goes on, project costs continue to rise.

The price tag on the project in 2017 was $800,000. By this year, it had increased to $935,000.

“(The project) has a large footprint and we have to move the river during construction,” said Quinn Donnelly of River Restoration. “There are so few contractors that do the work, and it’s involved. There is risk involved.”

To make up the funding gap, MacDonald said the county could seek contributions from Eagle County, the town of Basalt, the ditch company and grants from Great Outdoors Colorado.

“The board does need to talk about exactly where the rest of that funding will come from,” Tasker said. “We are moving forward and will have discussions about how to cover what our grants do not.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 8 edition of The Aspen Times.

#NEPA turns 50 amid new challenges to public process — @AspenJournalism

A proposed trail connecting Redstone to McClure Pass is going through a federal environmental review. The existing trail switchbacks up McClure Pass. Photo credit: Pitkin County Open Space and Trails

From Aspen Journalism (Marci Krivonen):

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, turned 50 years old on Jan. 1. A fundamental component of the law is public involvement. Projects such as a new ski lift, trail or natural-gas lease each receives a NEPA review, and most of the time the public weighs in. NEPA has evolved over the years, but the biggest change may come in a new proposal from President Donald Trump.

Katherine Hudson looks over a map that features the proposed trail between Redstone and McClure Pass. Hudson plans to voice her concerns about the project during the public comment period required by NEPA. Photo credit: Marci Krivonen/Aspen Journalism

A NEPA case study: The trail between Redstone and McClure Pass

Katherine Hudson lives near the Crystal River between Carbondale and Redstone. She said she loves living close to nature but thinks a proposed multi-use recreation trail will disturb the river.

Proposed Redstoen to McClure Pass trail. Map credit: USFS

“For me, it’s not just about the view,” she said. “I value this incredible waterway and how lucky we are to have it.”

Hudson, a member of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board, believes bridges planned along the trail will constrict the river.

A five-mile section of the proposed trail sits on Forest Service land and will get, thanks to NEPA, a close review. Hudson was one of about 50 people looking over maps and visiting with Forest Service staff at an open house in Carbondale in late January.

Under NEPA, federal agencies must consider impacts to the environment when projects such as the Redstone to McClure Pass Trail are proposed on public land. The law applies to all major federal actions, including infrastructure permitting and road construction. One goal is to “create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Proposed changes from Washington

In January, the White House released a plan to streamline NEPA, marking the first major update in decades. The changes would impose strict deadlines on completing analyses; would more closely involve contractors in studies; and would eliminate requirements to consider climate change.

“It would make it really difficult to analyze the impacts on climate in any project,” said Will Rousch, executive director at Wilderness Workshop, a public-lands watchdog group based in Carbondale. “It would redefine what a major federal action is. That might eliminate some projects from going through the NEPA process.”

Also, he said, fewer projects undergoing a review means fewer opportunities for the public to weigh in.

But supporters say NEPA has become time consuming for federal agencies, project applicants and people seeking permits.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican from Colorado, points to a NEPA review of an Interstate 70 project near Denver that took 13 years to complete. He said lawsuits and reviews from multiple agencies kept it from moving forward more quickly.

“This was a good example of how we do need to make sure that we’re doing the right thing environmentally but also that we’re not creating roadblocks that stifle any kind of development at all,” Tipton said.

Katherine Hudson speaks with Roger Poirier of the White River National Forest at an open house in Carbondale in late January. The meeting was part of initial steps in the Forest Service analysis of the trail’s environmental impacts. Photo credit: Marci Krivonen/Aspen Journalism

Local efforts to make NEPA more efficient

President Richard Nixon signed NEPA into law in 1970. Two catastrophic events prompted its creation: Millions of gallons of crude oil leaked into the Pacific, and a heavily polluted river in Ohio caught fire. Now, agencies such as the White River National Forest use the law all the time.

“It’s part of our work daily, for sure,” said WRNF supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. “We use NEPA on almost every single project. But there’s varying levels of it.”

For large, complex projects, a team of scientists may analyze a project’s impacts and create alternatives informed by public input. Small-scale projects, such as replacing a trailhead sign, don’t get in-depth reviews and public comments. The Forest Service determines how a project is analyzed based on its significance.

The White River National Forest, like the Trump administration, sees ways to make NEPA more efficient. The agency has developed tools that reduce the time it takes to do an environmental analysis. Their work began with a Forest Service-wide effort in 2017. The White River National Forest’s efficiencies have reduced NEPA document size and planning by more than 80% compared with the national average.

“We’re trying to be more efficient with the taxpayer’s money and really streamline where it’s appropriate,” Fitzwilliams said. “That doesn’t mean we cut corners; we still have a responsibility to disclose impacts, consider alternatives and involve the public, but we want to do it in a way that’s a little less bureaucratic.”

Since the streamlining began, Fitzwilliams estimates his agency has saved time and money by not conducting three environmental-impact statements — the most-in-depth analyses — that would have been done before. An EIS is still utilized, he said, if a project is significant enough.

“We’ve been doing less EIS’s and more EAs (environmental analyses),” said Fitzwilliams.

The approach began with ski areas. Hundreds of NEPA analyses have been done on ski hills in the White River National Forest, so a new project, such as a lift, may receive a lighter review because previous studies help inform it.

“We know the ground really well, and so we really focus on what the key issues are,” said Fitzwilliams. “Instead of doing a full specialist report on all the wildlife potential impacts, we may just focus on elk-calving areas.”

The agency isn’t cutting corners, he said, and still focuses on considering impacts, alternatives and public involvement, the latter of which remains a high priority.

“People expect that of their government,” Fitzwilliams said. “They don’t expect government to waste time and money just because.”

The White River National Forest’s efforts to innovate NEPA earned the agency national distinction in December at the Under Secretary’s Awards and Chief’s Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

What’s next locally and nationally?

The NEPA process for the Redstone to McClure Pass Trail is just getting started. It will take one year to complete, partly because it’s contentious. It’s getting an environmental assessment — a middle-ground approach under NEPA. It’s neither the law’s deepest analysis nor its lightest-touch approach, and the public will have two chances to give feedback.

The concerns raised at the open house — river health, maintaining biodiversity and preventing habitat fragmentation — will inform the final assessment.

“It’s an issue that a lot of people care about, and I think without the NEPA process, you’d end up with a much worse project regardless of how it turned out because people wouldn’t get a say,” said Rousch.

Hudson said she’s glad for the opportunity to comment on the trail project.

“I’m in it for the long haul because there are a lot of things that are at stake,” she said. “The Crystal River is a jewel of this watershed, and decisions could be made with this project that could permanently alter that treasure.”

She said she will submit concerns during both comment periods.

Meanwhile, the Council on Environmental Quality, which oversees NEPA, is also taking public input on Trump’s proposed changes to NEPA until March 10.

Aspen Journalism collaborates with Aspen Public Radio and The Aspen Times on coverage of environmental issues. A version of this story ran in The Aspen Times and aired on Aspen Public Radio on Feb. 13.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Garfield County to lease its Ruedi Reservoir water to help endangered fish in #ColoradoRiver — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

The “braiding” of shallow water and exposed riverbed concerns biologists. The 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near 19 Road in Grand Junction is home to four species of endangered fish. Garfield County is leasing some of the water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir to help bolster flows during late summer and early fall. Photo © Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Through the release of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir, Garfield County will help endangered fish species in an often-depleted section of the Colorado River.

Garfield County will lease 350 acre-feet of water annually over the next five years to the Colorado Water Conservation Board under the CWCB’s instream-flow program. The water will bolster flows July through October in the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to the endangered humpback chub, bonytail, razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow. The CWCB board approved Garfield County’s offer at its meeting last week in Westminster.

Garfield County owns 400 acre-feet a year of Ruedi water as a backup source for the county, municipalities and other water users within its service area. Since the county does not immediately need the water, it will lease the water to the CWCB for five years at $40 an acre-foot for the first year and $45 an acre-foot for the second year. The price would go up in years three through five by 2% annually. The maximum price the CWCB would pay for the water is $14,000 in 2020 and $78,915 over the five years of the lease.

Water from Ruedi Reservoir flows down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork, which flows into the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs.

“We are really appreciative that Garfield County stepped up and offered to lease the water,” said Linda Bassi, CWCB’s stream- and lake-protection chief. “You never know what kind of water year we are going to have, so it’s great to have an extra supply to send down to the reach for those fish.”

The blue expanse of Ruedi Reservoir as seen from the air. Students with the Carbondale-based Youth Water Leadership Program took to the air with EcoFlight to see how people have modified water in the Roaring Fork watershed. Garfield County is leasing 350 acre-feet of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir to help bolster flows in the Colorado River for endangered fish. A section of fish habitat known as the 15-mile reach often has low flows in late summer because of two large upstream irrigation diversions. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Preserving Fryingpan fishing

Late summer, flows in the 15-mile reach are often lower than what is recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for healthy fish habitat mainly because of two large upstream irrigation diversions: DeBeque Canyon’s Grand Valley Project, known as the Roller Dam, and Palisade’s Grand Valley Irrigation Canal.

Gail Schwartz, who represents the Colorado River mainstem, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork region on the CWCB board, reminded staffers of the need to coordinate flows out of Ruedi to preserve conditions for anglers. When flows exceed about 300 cubic feet per second, it becomes difficult to wade and fish the Fryingpan’s popular Gold Medal Fishery waters. At critical wading flows of 250 to 300 cfs, Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends releases be capped at 25 cfs to avoid dramatic changes for anglers.

“We want to support the economy and the recreation on the Fryingpan and we want to support the success of the 15-mile reach for the species,” Schwartz said.

This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Water from Ruedi Reservoir flows down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork, which flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. Map credit: CWCB

More fish water

At its March meeting, the CWCB board will consider another lease of Ruedi water for endangered fish. The Ute Water Conservancy District, which provides water to about 80,000 people in the Grand Junction area, is offering to renew its lease of 12,000 acre-feet of water it stores in Ruedi Reservoir. The CWCB could lease the water at $20 an acre-foot for 2020, at a total cost of $240,000.

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story was published in the Feb. 6 edition of The Aspen Times.

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

Locals learn snow science during Marble class — The Aspen Times #snowpack #runoff

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

From The Aspen Times (Maddie Vincent):

On Sunday, a group of roughly a dozen locals took part in this snow science method as well, collecting core samples and learning about how snowpack contributes to watersheds during a “field trip for adults” in the Marble area.

Led annually by the Roaring Fork Conservancy and United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service officials for the past six years, the daylong, hands-on snow science education course has aimed to help locals see snow as integral to our ecosystems year-round, not just as a recreational benefit in the winter, according to Megan Dean, director of education for Roaring Fork Conservancy…

…[Megan] Dean said the Roaring Fork watershed contributes about 11% of the water that goes into the Colorado water basin, mostly because the valley’s mountains capture and hold a great deal of water via snow…

After Dean touched on geographic climate trends and key snow science definitions — like the snow water equivalent, which is the actual amount of water in a given volume of snow — soil conservationist Derrick Wyle jumped in to talk snowpack data.

According to Wyle, who works with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, snowpack, precipitation, temperature and other climatic conditions are collected consistently throughout the winter season at NRCS SNOTEL sites…

So far this year, Wyle said historic and current data for the Colorado water basin show snowpack is about average for this time of year, with a “coin flip chance” of being above or below average for the whole season…

Karl Wetlaufer (NRCS), explaining the use of a Federal Snow Sampler, SnowEx, February 17, 2017.

During the second half of the Sunday field trip on McClure Pass, Wyle and Dean showed the group both how to look at snow depth, density and the snow water equivalent manually using a [Federal Snow Sampler] and by digging a snow pit, and how the McClure Pass SNOTEL station works to collect the same data on its own.

From small measurements to big picture graphs and newer technology to traditional scientific methods, Wyle and Dean aimed to give the group a snow science crash course and to help put the snowpack numbers they may hear in passing or see online into perspective.

More #whitewater park work to begin this week in Basalt — The Aspen Times

An overview of the Basalt whitewater park. There is third wave now in the park, although it’s not as burly as the first two. At least not at 2,500 cfs. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Times (Jason Auslander):

Pitkin County will begin construction next week on the latest fix to a whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt that some said was too dangerous during high water last summer, sources said Wednesday.

“The primary goal of the adjustment is to improve high-flow navigation from runoff,” said Quinn Donnelly, an engineer with River Restoration of Carbondale, which designed the park. “(High water) was creating big holes and people were flipping.”

Contractors next week will begin altering two man-made concrete wave structures in the riverbed to make them less difficult to navigate during high-water conditions, Donnelly said. Crews will move around boulders and create ramps to better flush water through the area and create a wave-train, he said.

“The goal of this winter’s work is to strike a better balance between the fun surfability of the waves and their high-water navigability,” Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board Chairman Andre Wille said in a news release Wednesday. “The end result will be wave features that are easier for river runners to bypass at high flows.”

Despite repeated requests Wednesday for how much the project will cost and where the money will come from, a spokesperson for the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board declined to release it. The park was initially built for $770,000 with Healthy Rivers funds, though it’s not clear how much has been spent since then to tweak it.

This winter’s project will mark the second time the whitewater park has had to be re-engineered because of safety concerns.

#Snowpack news: #Aspen ~51% above average

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Snowfall in Aspen is pacing well ahead of average this ski season thanks to a big opening blast in October and above-averages dumps in December.

The Aspen Water Treatment Plant recorded 84.70 inches of snowfall for October through December, according to the monthly weather reports. That is 28.45 inches or 51% above the average of 56.25 inches, according to the water department’s records.

Each month has been well above average at the plant, which is situated at 8,161 feet, slightly above downtown Aspen’s elevation. The cold-weather months started with a bang when 26.70 inches of snow fell in October. The average is 9.20 inches.

November was closer to typical conditions when 23.50 inches fell, the water department reported. The average snowfall for the month is 21.90 inches.

December kept the trend going with 34.50 inches of snowfall, well above the average of 25.15 inches.

None of the months came close to breaking a record for snowfall. The December record, for example, is 72 inches in 1983.

More snowfall than usual at the 8,100-foot level hasn’t translated into a significantly higher snowpack than average at higher elevations. The snowpack at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen is at 107% of median as of Friday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency that has automated snow telemetry sites scattered around the Roaring Fork watershed.

The snowpack at the Independence Pass site was at 7.7 inches of snow water equivalent — the amount of water produced when the snow is melted. Last year on the same date it was 7 inches.

The snowpack at the headwaters of the Crystal River Valley was 97% at Schofield Pass and 97% at McClure Pass as of Friday.

The snowpack at the headwaters of the Fryingpan River Valley was 147% at Ivanhoe Lake and 131% at Kiln, according to the snow telemetry sites.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 7, 2019 via the NRCS.