Wildfire mitigation projects help reduce damage from the #LakeChristineFire burn scar

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

A large catch basin that Eagle County sculpted into the mountainside above Basalt in recent weeks prevented significantly more water, mud and debris from swamping part of the Hill District during [the August 4, 2019] flash flood, officials said Thursday.

Eagle County Road and Bridge Department used heavy equipment to dig out a settlement pond and then used the dirt removed to regrade the hillside above the Basberg Townhouses. Boulders were placed in two drainage channels that led the water to the settlement pond. While water topped the pond during Sunday’s downpour, a lot of it was captured. Thick, sludge-like water was still in the pond Thursday.

This summer, the town of Basalt also created berms, added curb and gutter and installed a swale to direct water, all just uphill from the Basbergs…

The work was part of a $1.35 million Emergency Watershed Protection Program project. The federal government supplied a $1.23 million grant through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The state of Colorado contributed $153,359. Basalt, Eagle County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are undertaking in-kind projects valued at $153,359, or 12.5%, to cover a local match.

The grant was administered by Basalt. Projects were identified by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Engineering was provided by SGM, a consultant for Basalt town government.

Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said about 20% of the work has been completed. Additional projects have been identified above Basalt, on the hillside overlooking Ace Lane’s Tree Farm property in El Jebel and on Basalt Mountain where it drops steeply to Upper Cattle Creek where several historic cabins are located.

Mahoney said he felt work performed at and around a culvert at the intersection of Pinon and Cedar drives in the Hill District also softened the blow of the flash flood.

The town widened the area around the entrance to the culvert but it was still overwhelmed by the amount of water roaring down from a usually dry gulch on the mountain.

“We’ve got some river pigs — big concrete blocks — at the bottom of the drainage,” he said. “Those are to hold debris back.”

[…]

Governments teamed to install three rain gauges on Basalt Mountain so the risk of flash flooding can be better assessed in the future. Those rain gauges were calibrated this week to ensure accurate readings.

In addition, National Weather Service meteorologists visited Basalt Mountain with local emergency responders this week to get a better feel for the lay of the land. Thompson said Sunday’s storm demonstrated that different sections of Basalt Mountain can experience vastly different weather.

The projects funded through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program will continue through the summer and into fall. All told, work will be undertaken in nine drainages, Mahoney said.

Rain wreaks havoc on Lake Christine burn scar — The Aspen Daily News #stormwater

From The Aspen Daily News (Madeleine Osberger):

A storm that unleashed its power over the Lake Christine burn area beginning late Sunday afternoon triggered multiple debris flows and water on Frying Pan Road that temporarily trapped 20 different vehicles, but resulted in no known injuries, according to Scott Thompson, chief of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue…

A Pitkin Alert evacuation notice went out at 5:31 p.m. aimed at those who lived in the area of Pinon Road and Cedar Drive imploring them to “please take all necessary precautions,”which included seeking higher ground. “Do not enter flowing water or debris,” was among the initial warnings.

Frying Pan Road was closed intermittently Sunday from Riverside Drive to about 2 1/2 miles up the road, according to deputy chief Cleve Williams. The intersection of Cedar Drive and Two Rivers Road was reopened by 10 p.m. on Sunday…

According to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, an inch of rain fell over the first hour, beginning at 5 p.m. There were reports of heavy rain after the first 30 minutes and flooding started on the south end of the Lake Christine burn scar. By 8:30 p.m. the rain had subsided and, according to Chief Thompson, was expected to let up before midnight.

From The Aspen Times (Rick Carroll) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Click through to view the photo gallery):

One of the trigger points for the floods was at Pinon Drive and Cedar Drive, an area above Basalt from where the initial 911 calls were placed at approximately 5:30 p.m. Sunday…

All of the roads, including Frying Pan Road — where 10 vehicles had been stuck Sunday and later removed — had re-opened to traffic by Monday. Pinon and Cedar drives, as well as Two Rivers Road, also had been closed. Two Rivers Road opened late Sunday; Pinon and Cedar opened Monday morning.

Crews also on Monday determined the floods had not damaged the integrity of roads and bridges, said Birch Barron, Eagle County emergency manager.

Structural damage to the residences in the affected area appeared to be limited, according to Barron.

“We believe there were less than 10 private residences with debris in or around structures, and for the majority of those structures, the debris was in nonresidential spaces — garages and basement and property surrounding that,” he said.

The county had not received any reports of residences being uninhabitable, Barron noted.

The evacuation zone impacted about 30 residences; however, a number of individuals couldn’t evacuate because of dangerous road conditions, Barron said.

Sunday’s response was a collaborative effort among Eagle and Pitkin counties, the town of Basalt, area law enforcement and emergency response teams, as well as state and federal agencies, Barron said.

The flow out of Ruedi Reservoir was increased Monday by 50 cubic feet per second to help clear up the Fryingpan River, which had taken on a muddy hue from the flood’s debris and sediment.

“This should be a big help toward protecting fish and river health,” said Kris Widlak, Eagle County’s director of communications.

Screenshot from the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Photo credit: Anna Stonehouse via The Aspen times

@USBR to Host Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations Public Meeting

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting to discuss the Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations for the 2019 water year.

The meeting will be held on August 7, 2019, from 6:30-8:00 pm 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 2019 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) 461-5494, or tmiller@usbr.gov.

#Runoff news: Flood warnings for all major rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed

From The Aspen Daily News (Craig Turpin):

A flood advisory has been issued for all major rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed by the National Weather Service. The advisory is in effect until further notice.

According to a report issued Wednesday by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the rivers in this watershed are currently flowing at more than twice the average for this time of year.

On Monday, the Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs hit 9,030 cubic feet per second, which is the biggest peak of 2019, according to RFC’s report. While flows have declined slightly since July 1, they are expected to surge over the next week, the report continued.

The Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir was measured at 950 cfs on Wednesday, according to the RFC.

Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott said in his six years at the helm, he’s seen the Fryingpan River hit 950 cfs just one other time, which was in 2016.

Both Ruedi and Twin Lakes reservoir are expected to fill to capacity in the coming days.

“These elevated flows will cause the Fryingpan River to remain above bankfull levels,” according to the NWS. “Minor lowland flooding can be expected along the river.”

[…]

The July 3 report from RFC showed the Roaring Fork River in Aspen at 747 cfs and at a whopping 4,370 cfs in Basalt below the confluence with the Fryingpan River.

Waves in Basalt whitewater park still gnarly — @AspenJournalism

The first wave in the Basalt whitewater park, just below the low highway bridge and the small boat ramp at Fisherman’s Park, can surprise even experienced boaters. And it can flip rafts. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

As the flow in the Roaring Fork River at the Basalt whitewater park has climbed over 2,500 cubic feet per second this week, the park’s two “play” waves, produced by concrete structures embedded in the river, are still proving capable of flipping rafts and sending people for long, cold swims.

The two structures, built in late 2016 and early 2017 by consultants and contractors working for Pitkin County, were re-engineered last winter after complaints by experienced local boaters that the artificial waves were hazardous.

But the low flows in 2018 did not provide a fair test to see whether the rearranged waves were still a menace for rafters.

With the return of more-typical high spring flows, the two waves — meant to be fun to surf at low water and located in a section of river not otherwise considered difficult to run — are showing they can still be a challenge even for experienced boaters.

The second wave in the Basalt whitewater park, on June 19, 2019. There is a small sneak far river left, but otherwise, it’s just churning foam. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

3 of 9

On Sunday, three rafts in a group of nine boats piloted by noncommercial rafters, or “private boaters,” flipped in the upper of the two waves.

Both of the waves have steep drops that lead directly into a nearly riverwide wall of churning foam, save for narrow and hard-to-spot “sneaks” through relatively calm water on far river let, or the left side of the river looking downstream.

Emergency personnel from the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority responded Sunday to a 911 call about the flipped rafts and numerous people in the river.

“One of the first boats, if not the first, flipped in that first wave, and it’s a keeper, and it didn’t let them out,” said Robert “Sardo” Sardinsky, a volunteer with the rescue authority and who was downstream of the incident and was relaying the information he was given. “So, all of a sudden, there is a bunch of people in the water. And then, two more rafts flipped. And it sounds like the boats were being held in there.”

Sardinsky helped retrieve two of the flipped rafts, several miles downstream of the whitewater park, and he also talked with a number of the boaters in the party.

He said the group included boaters from both the Roaring Fork and Eagle River valleys, and he described them as calm, knowledgeable, experienced and well-equipped, wearing both wetsuits and personal flotation devices.

“They all appeared to be quite capable,” Sardinsky said.

The river was flowing through the whitewater park on Sunday at 4 p.m. at about 2,800 cfs, which can be calculated by subtracting the flow of the Fryingpan River from the flow of the Fork as measured downstream of the whitewater park in Emma.

“In my 30 years with the fire department and swiftwater rescue, it is the most dynamic rescue we’ve had,” he said. “It was the most number of people in river spread out over the most distance. And it’s incredibly fortunate that everyone got out.”

Sardinsky said about a week before Sunday’s events, a woman he knows had fallen off a paddle board into the first wave, at lower water, and had been trapped in the wave’s circulating hydraulic. The woman escaped by diving down to the bottom of the river, out from under the wave.

All of the boaters thrown into the river on Sunday either self-rescued or were rescued by their fellow boaters. None of them required emergency personnel to fish them out.

According to Kyle Ryan, who also volunteers with the rescue authority and was helping to coordinate Sunday’s response, the rafts that flipped were normal-sized whitewater rafts with oar frames, and were not especially small or lightweight.

“They were normal-looking whitewater rafts,” he said. “And everyone seemed to be pretty well-experienced.”

Ryan said two members of the rafting party asked to be transported to the hospital, but he said they did not appear to be seriously injured.

The first wave in the Basalt whitewater park on June 19, 2019, at about 2,500 cfs. Ut can stop, or flip, a raft, and it’s hard to gain momentum before the second wave. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Play wave?

Also on Sunday, a raft being run as a paddleboat by another group of experienced boaters flipped in the first wave of the whitewater park, throwing six people into the river for a “frigid and scary swim.”

According to a public post on Facebook by Mary Sundblom, she and the five other boaters, including at least one former raft guide, set out Sunday to paddle from Northstar, east of Aspen, to Glenwood Springs.

Along the way, they ran the Slaughterhouse section of the Fork below Aspen and the most technical part of the river, as well as the difficult Toothache section in Woody Creek before heading for Basalt.

She wrote that the group scouted the river before their run, “got intel from longtime river rats,” and had “great lines” and “no swims” through Slaughterhouse and Toothache.

“Then the Basalt ‘play’ wave got us, flipped the raft, dumping 6 of us in for a frigid and scary swim,” Sundblom wrote. “After floating through some big waves and getting tumbled over some shallow rocks … I was stoked to find myself next to my captain when the boat floated down to us after a few surfs of its own … where he was able to flip it back over and pull my ass in! Such a beautiful feeling of RELIEF!

“We all made it out just fine, slightly rattled, with a few bumps and bruises, but continued on. That’s how the river goes.”

Tyler Manchester, who grew up in the valley and has rowed the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon without difficulty, was in the boat with Sundblom on Sunday.

He said via text on Thursday that “we were told to sneak left, but it came up fast and we weren’t ready. We hit it a little sideways. Definitely got washing-machine tumbled in both (waves), but everyone was flushed immediately.

“Had to swim upstream to get the boat,” Manchester noted.

The Basalt whitewater park is located below the low Basalt “bypass bridge,” which crosses the Fork at the junction of upper Two Rivers Road, just upstream of downtown Basalt. Floating beneath the bridge is often dark and spooky, but the current does not usually send boats directly at the bridge’s pylons.

The whitewater park also can be described as being just below Fisherman’s Park, which has a small boat ramp, across from the entrance to Elk Run and upstream of the 7-Eleven in Basalt.

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

Watching it

Pitkin County Attorney John Ely, who has overseen the development of the whitewater park for the county, said Wednesday that he was aware of the recent raft flips, and he’s in touch with the consultants at River Restoration in Carbondale who designed the structures, oversaw their re-engineering and have been keeping a close eye on this year’s emerging waves.

Ely said he didn’t yet have enough information to determine whether the county needs to ask the consultants to do more work on the structures in the river.

The county chose the location for the park in large measure because it is just above the Fork’s confluence with the Fryingpan River, making it a good place to establish water rights tied to the wave-producing structures. Such water rights are called recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, rights.

County officials have said their highest priority in developing the park was to establish the recreational water rights, which carry a 2010 priority date, and that the resulting recreational experience was a secondary concern.

The water rights are tied to the design of the structures, which are supposed to create fun, recreational play waves at flows between 240 and 1,350 cfs. The river on Sunday in that section of river was flowing at about 2,500 cfs, which is not unusual for June.

At higher flows, the wave structures are not necessarily meant to produce fun play waves, but they also are not supposed to produce big keeper waves, either.

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Reservoir releases for endangered fish in #ColoradoRiver coming after peak flows — @AspenJournalism #COriver

A Colorado pikeminnow taken from the Colorado River near Grand Junction, and in the arms of Danielle Tremblay, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife employee. Pikeminnows have been tracked swimming upstream for great distances to spawn in the 15-mile stretch of river between Palisade and Grand Junction. Danielle Tremblay of Colorado Parks and Wildlife holding a Colorado pikeminnow collected on the Colorado River in Grand Junction. An apex predator in the Colorado, pikeminnows used to be found up to six feet long and weighing 100 pounds. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smity/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Colorado River east of Grand Junction in DeBeque Canyon is forecast to hit its annual peak Saturday, in a quick climb to about 21,000 cubic feet of water per second, as measured at the Cameo gage, before dropping over the next week as cooler weather arrives.

The operators of five upstream reservoirs have been closely watching this season’s large, and late, spring-runoff pattern, and they are now starting a coordinated release of water designed to improve habitat for endangered fish in a 15-mile stretch of the river below Palisade.

The reservoir releases, which collectively will add about 1,300 cfs of water to the river, are being timed to reach Palisade on Monday or Tuesday, after this weekend’s peak flows have subsided.

The goal of this year’s coordinated release of water is to extend the high flows, not add to the peak flow, as it is in most years, said Don Anderson, a hydrologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who said care is being taken not to increase the risk of flooding this weekend.

The releases from Ruedi, Homestake, Wolford, Williams Fork and Green Mountain reservoirs are designed to benefit four ancient species of fish.

The well-timed higher water will send spawning cues to Colorado pikeminnows, large powerful fish that swim upstream to spawn in the gravel beds of what’s known as “the 15-mile reach.”

Higher water will give the recent offspring of razorback suckers a chance to find refuge in calm side channels.

Higher, faster water will scour fine silt from gravel beds, flush away dry-year vegetation growth and help the river absorb nutrients from wet floodplains.

And the high water will also benefit populations of humpback chubb downstream of Grand Junction — at Blackrocks, in Westwater canyon and near Moab — and may also help the struggling bonytail chubb.

Managers of Ruedi Reservoir are participating in a voluntary release of water this week to boost flows for endangered fish near Palisade. Releases are also being coordinated from Homestake, Williams Fork, Green Mountain and Wolford reservoirs, but are being timed to come after this weekend’s peak flows. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

Ruedi releases

As part of this year’s effort, the outflow from Ruedi Reservoir into the lower Fryingpan
Reservoir will rise Sunday by 100 cfs, and over three days, the releases will climb from 354 cfs to 630 cfs or above, before stepping back down Wednesday.

The flow from Rocky Fork Creek, which runs into the Fryingpan below Ruedi Dam, was adding 75 cfs to the river Friday, which means the ’Pan could be 700 cfs or above by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Tim Miller, a hydrologist at the Bureau of Reclamation, said a flow of about 700 cfs is consistent with most of the other 10 years since 1997 that Ruedi has participated in what is called the Coordinated Reservoir Operations, or CROS, program.

Miller’s operational goals with this year’s CROS program include keeping outflow from the reservoir below inflow, so he can fill the 102,000 acre-foot reservoir in early July, while keeping flows in the lower Fryingpan below 850 cfs.

Water from Homestake Reservoir, on Homestake Creek in the Eagle River basin, will be sent this week down the Eagle to the Colorado River to benefit endangered species of fish. Half of Homestake is within Pitkin County’s boundaries, and the water is managed by Aurora and Colorado Springs. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Regional effort

Releases from Homestake Reservoir, which is on Homestake Creek in the Eagle River basin and is managed by Aurora and Colorado Springs, are going to climb in a similar timeframe as Ruedi’s, moving from 6 cfs to 100 cfs Monday and then stepping back down to 6 cfs by week’s end, according to a summary of the expected releases from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center.

Releases from Green Mountain Reservoir, which is on the Blue River north of Silverthorne and managed by Reclamation, are slated to rise from 800 cfs to 1,400 cfs and then drop back down.

Releases from Williams Fork Reservoir, which is on a tributary of the Colorado east of
Kremmling and managed by Denver Water, will increase from 350 cfs to 650 cfs and then drop.

And Wolford Reservoir, on Muddy Creek north of Kremmling and managed by the Colorado River District, is currently spilling about 400 cfs of water due to high inflows. The River District regularly participates in the CROS program, but this year is spilling water in any event and not releasing water just for the CROS program as it often does.

During a series of conference calls over the past several weeks, reservoir managers have
described this year’s snowpack as “bashful” and “tentative” and “well-behaved” due to colder temperatures in May and June. And while the snow is still deep in the Colorado River’s headwaters, more cool weather is in the forecast.

And every water manager sounds glad there is at least water this year to run after last year’s deep drought, and most now expect their reservoirs to fill, which gives them flexibility this week to release water for the fish and for the river.

This year’s high flow — 21,000 cfs, forecast for Saturday — is the opposite of last year, when the Colorado peaked, as measured at the Cameo gage, on May 19 at about 6,800 cfs.

Two meetings in June to address #runoff, flooding, debris flow — Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District

Map via the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District.

From the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District via The Aspen Daily News:

Two community meetings in June will address the threat of runoff, flooding and debris flow in the area.

A news release from the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District states that the first gathering will be held from 6-7 p.m. June 5 at the Redstone Fire Station. It will focus on the threat of flooding from the Crystal River Valley due to heightened snowpack and the delay in runoff due to lower than normal spring temperatures.

The public will get the opportunity to ask questions about how to prepare for flooding and other incidents. Representatives of the fire district will be present, as will emergency officials from Pitkin County government and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The release also says that a similar meeting is scheduled for June 10 starting at 6 p.m. at the Eagle County annex building, 20 Eagle County Drive in El Jebel. Officials plan to discuss the threat of runoff and debris flow in areas that were scarred by last summer’s Lake Christine Fire.

“Emergency officials are advising residents who live in and around the Lake Christine burn scar area to be aware of the high risk for flash flooding and mud and debris flows that could occur after heavy rainfall,” the release states. “The precipitation, coupled with the burn scar, warmer temperatures and above-average snowpack, is expected to produce a faster and heavier runoff period.”

Wildfires result in a loss of vegetation and leave the ground charred and unable to absorb water, according to the release, creating conditions for flooding.

“Even areas that are not traditionally flood-prone are at risk of flooding for up to several years after a wildfire. The prospect for a wetter-than-normal spring has emergency officials from Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties planning for mud and debris flows,” the release adds.

Following higher-than-normal snowfall, officials prepare for the likelihood of flooding that can occur in and around local creeks, rivers and reservoirs, the release says. The weather forecast through May indicates a higher chance of above-normal precipitation over western Colorado, including the central mountains, Aldis Strautins, a service hydrologist for the National Weather Service, said in a prepared statement.

“With the anticipated high water runoff, potential flooding and increased risk of debris flows, it is important that all of our public safety and support agencies work together to plan and coordinate our response before there is an emergent need. We also want to make sure our communities are aware of the above-average risk for these events and prepare for them this year,” Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said.

Midvalley residents, regardless of whether they live in Eagle or Pitkin County, are encouraged to register for Pitkin alerts. When the weather service issues a flash flood warning in the Lake Christine burn areas, the alert system will send out notifications to users who are registered via pitkinalert.org. Registered users of EC Alert also will receive notifications.

Those who only want to receive information about the threat of flash floods, mudslides and debris flows from the Lake Christine burn scar are invited to text LCFLOOD to 888777, the release says.

“People should remember to use caution around fast-moving streams and rivers, especially in a high runoff year,” the release says. “Those who live near the Lake Christine burn scar should be prepared to quickly move to higher ground or evacuate if necessary.”

A map of the Lake Christine burn scar area can be found at https://www.carbondalefire.org/2019/05/07/lcf_map/.