Aspen claims Fry-Ark Project creates ‘obligation’ for Castle Creek Reservoir

Freddie Fisher in his 1954 Winterskol float. Fisher was a professional musician who ran a ramshackle fix-it shop and yard in Aspen and sent in a regular stream of witty letters to The Aspen Times. In the mid-1950s, the proposed Fryingpan-Arkansas project was being reviewed at the local, state and federal level, and Aspenites were concerned about the amount of water that would be diverted from the Roaring Fork River watershed, on top of the amount already being diverted by the Twin Lakes-Independence Pass project.
Freddie Fisher in his 1954 Winterskol float. Fisher was a professional musician who ran a ramshackle fix-it shop and yard in Aspen and sent in a regular stream of witty letters to The Aspen Times. In the mid-1950s, the proposed Fryingpan-Arkansas project was being reviewed at the local, state, and federal level, and Aspenites were concerned about the amount of water that would be diverted from the Roaring Fork River watershed, on top of the amount already being diverted by the Twin Lakes-Independence Pass project.

Editor’s note: The following is the fourth and final part in a series exploring the city of Aspen’s historic intent in filing for and maintaining conditional water rights for storage reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

ASPEN – The city of Aspen has said for decades that legislation approving the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project gives a certain status to the potential Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs.

However, it’s hard to discern just what that status is, and federal and regional water officials are dismissive of the city’s claims.

Built in the 1960s and early 1970s, the Fry-Ark Project is one of the larger transmountain diversion systems in Colorado. It diverts water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, including Hunter, Midway, and No Name creeks, along with large amounts of water from the many tributaries in the headwaters of the Fryingpan River.

In all, the project includes 16 diversion structures that direct an average of 57,000 acre-feet of water a year to the Boustead Tunnel, which runs under the Continental Divide. The gathered water then flows to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville and into the Arkansas River basin, serving both Front Range cities and agriculture on the eastern plains.

A key component of the Fry-Ark Project is Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt, which was built in the early 1960s as “compensatory storage” for Western Slope water users. Water collected in Ruedi does not flow to the East Slope.

Plans to divert water from the Fryingpan River date back to the 1930s, but the Fry-Ark Project as largely configured today was the result of intensive planning efforts and discussions that took place throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.

Aspenites in the 1950s were well aware of the looming Fry-Ark Project, especially as the Twin Lakes-Independence Pass project, built in the 1930s, was already diverting large amounts of water off the top of the Roaring Fork River.

For example, in the 1954 Winterskol parade, local musician, letter-to-the-editor writer and junkyard operator Freddie Fisher created a witty float about the looming “rape of the Roaring Fork” that featured himself sitting in a bathtub-boat on skis while pondering the question, “Who pulled the plug?”

A detail of the cover of a 1975 EIS on the Fry-Ark Project that was prepared the Bureau of Reclamation.
A detail of the cover of a 1975 EIS on the Fry-Ark Project that was prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation.

In the legislation

As the city is often quick to point out, the federal Fry-Ark legislation does in fact state that a feasibility report on a reservoir on a “tributary of the Roaring Fork River” should be prepared by the Department of the Interior; and if such a reservoir made economic sense, then the feasibility report should be submitted to Congress for review.

“The secretary [of Interior] shall investigate and prepare a report on the feasibility of a replacement reservoir at or near the Ashcroft site on Castle Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River above its confluence with the Fryingpan River with a capacity of approximately 5,000 acre-feet,” the authorizing legislation states, “but construction thereof shall not be commenced unless said report, which shall be submitted to the president and the Congress, demonstrates the feasibility of said reservoir and is approved by Congress.”

The city maintains that the language, “at or near the Ashcroft site on Castle Creek,” still pertains to the potential Castle Creek Reservoir two miles below Ashcroft.

The operating principles for the Fry-Ark Project, which were hashed out by both entities on both sides of the Continental Divide, also address Ashcroft Reservoir.

“The Ruedi Reservoir shall be constructed and maintained on the Fryingpan River above the town of Basalt with an active capacity of not less than 100,00 acre-feet,” the principles state. “In addition thereto and in order to offset adverse streamflow conditions on the Roaring Fork River above the town of Aspen which might occur as a result of the project enlargement of the Twin Lakes Reservoir, the Ashcroft Reservoir on Castle Creek, or some reservoir in lieu thereof, shall be constructed on the Roaring Fork drainage above Aspen to a capacity of approximately 5,000 acre-feet: Providing, however, That the Ashcroft Reservoir shall be constructed only if the Secretary of the Interior after appropriate study shall determine that its benefits exceed the costs … ”

It also further defines Ashcroft Reservoir by stating that “‘Ashcroft Reservoir’ means not only the reservoir contemplated for construction on Castle Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River, but also, unless the context requires otherwise, any other reservoir that may be constructed in the Roaring Fork Basin above the town of Aspen in lieu of that reservoir.”

To better understand the city’s claim, it’s instructive to view the potential Castle Creek Reservoir as “son-of” Ashcroft Reservoir, which in turn is “son-of” Aspen Reservoir.

For much of the long planning stage of the Fry-Ark Project, it included an “Aspen Reservoir,” which would have stored 28,000 acre-feet of water behind a tall dam at the bottom of the North Star-Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River, just east of Aspen.

However, opposition to the Aspen Reservoir, primarily from James H. Smith Jr., owner of the North Star Ranch in Aspen, eventually caused Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt to be built instead of Aspen Reservoir.

One of the reasons Aspen Reservoir was attractive to water planners at the time was that it could be used to fill in low flows in the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch, a large irrigation ditch that diverts water at Stillwater Drive, near the entrance to Mountain Valley.

The combination of the Salvation Ditch, the Independence Pass diversions from the 1930s, and the coming Fry-Ark diversions meant the Fork through Aspen would be often dropped to exceedingly low levels, which is often the case today. And so it was felt that a compensatory reservoir east of Aspen, above the Salvation Ditch, would help keep more water, and fish, in the river.

But opposition by Smith, who was well connected in Washington, D.C., having served as assistant secretary of the Navy for aviation, helped kill the idea of Aspen Reservoir.

In the wake of the decision to abandon Aspen Reservoir, local, state, and federal water officials agreed to include a mention of another potential reservoir, Ashcroft Reservoir, or an alternate nearby reservoir, in the authorizing legislation for the Fry-Ark Project, as something of a consolation prize for Aspen.

Ashcroft Reservoir was once envisioned to be formed by a 140-foot-tall dam near the Elk Mountain Lodge property that would back up 9,056.7 acre-feet of water behind it.

The water right tied to Ashcroft Reservoir was eventually cancelled for lack of adequate due diligence in the 1970s, but today the city of Aspen still considers Castle Creek Reservoir, which is designed to hold 9,062 acre feet, to be the legitimate offspring, at least in the context of the Fry-Ark Project, of Ashcroft Reservoir.

But officials at the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the Southeastern Water Conservancy District all say that the language in the Fry-Ark approvals has no direct bearing today on either of the two potential reservoirs that Aspen says it still intends to build someday when necessary.

A large portion of the meadow in the North Star nature preserve east of Aspen was flooded in June 2015. The expanse of water offers a glimpse of what the long-planned Aspen Reservoir might have looked like.
A large portion of the meadow in the North Star nature preserve east of Aspen was flooded in June 2015. The expanse of water offers a glimpse of what the long-planned Aspen Reservoir might have looked like.

An ‘unmet obligation’

Officials at the city of Aspen, speaking on background, have characterized the tie to Fry-Ark Project as an “unmet obligation” to the city. The obligation, as the city sees it, is to at least prepare a feasibility study of a reservoir on a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.

That “obligation” has been referenced a number of different ways over the years by the city, including most recently on Oct. 10, 2016, when Aspen City Council unanimously approved a resolution declaring their intent to file a diligence application this year for the conditional water rights it holds tied to potential reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.

“Whereas, when these water rights were appropriated, this reservoir storage was an important component of Aspen’s long term water supply plan, particularly since the Fryingpan-Arkansas project was proceeding without the originally planned compensatory storage reservoir on the upper Roaring Fork River,” the council’s 2016 resolution stated.

The city filed two diligence applications on Oct. 31, one for Castle Creek Reservoir and one for Maroon Creek Reservoir. As of Wednesday afternoon, three environmental groups and three private landowners had filed statements of opposition in the cases, and Pitkin County, the U.S. Forest Service, and Trout Unlimited are expected to file statements by the end of the week.

American Rivers, Wilderness Workshop, and Western Resource Advocates have filed statements in both cases. In the Maroon Creek case, Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., which is controlled by billionaires Tom and Margot Pritzker, filed a statement. And in the Castle Creek case, Double R Creek Ltd and Asp Properties LLC filed statements. Double R Creek is controlled by Robert Y.C. Ho of Hong Kong and Asp Properties is controlled by Charles Somers, the CEO of SBM, a building services company located in McClellan, Calif.

Here’s how the city described the Fry-Ark relationship to the Division 5 Water Court in 2010, during the most recent diligence review of the water rights for the potential Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs:

“The Frying Pan-Arkansas Project, authorized by legislation dated August 16, 1962, authorized construction, operation and maintenance of a replacement reservoir on Castle Creek to furnish water required for protection of western Colorado water users,” states a proposed decree from the city’s water attorneys. “This reservoir was contemplated to have a capacity of 5,000 acre-feet, but this reservoir was never built.”

But not everyone agrees that the Fry-Ark legislation “authorized construction, operation and maintenance” of a reservoir on Castle Creek.

The city in 2010 also told the state there was a direct link between the Fry-Ark Project and its potential Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs.

“In 1965, taking precautions to ensure that its water rights were protected in the event the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project reservoir was in fact never built on Castle Creek, the city of Aspen filed applications seeking its own conditional water rights for storage on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek, i.e., the Castle Creek Reservoir and Maroon Creek Reservoir water rights for which diligence is sought herein,” the city’s 2010 diligence filing stated.

And in a 1990 water management plan, the city stated that “the authorizing act and operating principles of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project require the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare a feasibility study on a reservoir of up to 5,000 acre feet, in order to offset adverse streamflow conditions in the Roaring Fork River above Aspen.”

But while a feasibility study may be called for in the Fry-Ark legislation, it is difficult to find anyone outside of the city of Aspen who thinks the call is still relevant.

The end of the tunnel that delivers water diverted from Hunter, Midway and No Name creeks as part of the Fry-Ark Project. The City of Aspen says their is a lingering unmet obligation in the Fry-Ark Project to study the potential Castle Creek Reservoir.
The end of the tunnel that delivers water diverted from Hunter, Midway, and No Name creeks as part of the Fry-Ark Project. The city of Aspen says there is a lingering unmet obligation in the Fry-Ark Project to study the potential Castle Creek Reservoir.

Ancient history?

Sterling Rech, a public affairs manager with the Bureau of Reclamation, recently said, in response to questions about the city’s claim, that the Fry-Ark legislation “requested an investigation but explicitly did not authorize Ashcroft Reservoir unless the report demonstrated feasibility and subsequently, Congress approved it. There is no record of that approval in Reclamation law.”

Rech was asked to double-check with senior Reclamation officials on the point, and after doing so, stood by his statement that the Fry-Ark Project “did not authorize” a reservoir in the Castle Creek valley.

Given that officials at Reclamation would be the ones within the Interior Department to prepare a feasibility study on Castle Creek Reservoir, this would seem to be relevant to the city’s position.

Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District, said the mention of the Ashcroft Reservoir in the Fry-Ark legislation, or a nearby reservoir in lieu of it, “is ancient history versus current events.”

The River District played a key role in developing the operating principles that still guide the Fry-Ark Project. And it’s the entity that originally filed for the conditional water rights on Ashcroft Reservoir in 1959.

“Being mentioned and studied in the context of the Fry-Ark does not bestow anything special at this point in time,” Pokrandt said of the city’s claim.

Chris Woodka, the issues manager for the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, had a similar take. Southeastern was created explicitly to manage the water diverted by the Fry-Ark Project and was instrumental in shaping its authorizing documents.

But Woodka also dismissed any link between the potential Castle Creek Reservoir and the Fry-Ark Project.

“It really doesn’t have a direct connection anymore to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project,” Woodka said.

However, city officials still beg to differ.

The outfall of the Bousted Tunnel, which delivers water from the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers to the East Slope.
The outfall of the Boustead Tunnel, which delivers water from the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers to the East Slope.

Feds still obligated?

Officials at the city say, on background, that it is clear that a reservoir on a tributary of the Roaring Fork — somewhere above Aspen — was included in the Fry-Ark authorizing legislation, and it was done so by none other than legendary West Slope Congressman Wayne Aspinall, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949-1973.

And the city says that the obligation still remains for the Department of the Interior to conduct a feasibility study on such a reservoir.

City officials also point to a 2007 letter in regard to potential federal approval of new reservoirs in the Arkansas River basin to hold water diverted from the Fry-Ark project.

In that letter, the city and Pitkin County told the federal government that if it was going to study new reservoirs on the East Slope, it should also study reservoirs on the Western Slope, and by implication, the Ashcroft Reservoir or its successor, Castle Creek Reservoir.

“It is important that the Western Slope’s present and future water supply and storage requirements (for both consumptive and non-consumptive uses) be placed on a par with those of the Eastern Slope and included in all discussions on H.R. 1833,” the city and Pitkin County wrote in a letter to Congressman John Salazar in 2007 regarding pending legislation for the PSOP project, or Preferred Storage Options Plan. “Any feasibility study resulting from H.R. 1833 must address Western Colorado’s present and future regional water needs, not just investigate ways to mitigate impacts from an increase in trans-mountain diversions.”

According to city officials, the city felt it had leverage to ask for such a study because of the language regarding Ashcroft Reservoir in the Fry-Ark legislation. And that a study of Western Slope storage would have had to look at reservoirs such as Castle Creek Reservoir.

Be that as it may, the city’s claim of a lingering obligation in the Fry-Ark project is still out there, but with no clear resolution of how much standing it gives, or might someday give, the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs.

One reason it is uncertain is that the city has never directly asked the Department of the Interior to produce a feasibility study on the Ashcroft Reservoir, or a successor, based on the obligation claimed by the city in the Fry-Ark legislation.

As such, the “unmet obligation,” if it exists, is still outstanding. And city officials say they’ll see what value it has at some point in the future.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on the coverage of water and rivers. The Daily News published this story on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016.

@GlenwoodPI: Striving to head off water bankruptcy

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

Here’s a guest opinion (Eric Kuhn, Jim Light, Rick Lofaro, Louis Meyer) running in the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent:

In the Roaring Fork Valley, water is everyone’s business. Winter and summer, it fuels our economy and our fun.

The Roaring Fork, Crystal and Fryingpan rivers feed the Colorado River. Today, the Colorado River system supplies drinking water, irrigation, snowmaking, recreation and economic activity to 38 million Americans. It irrigates 4 million acres of rich farm and ranchlands and provides power to seven states. These rivers are everyone’s business.

And that system is in trouble. For 16 years, the Colorado River basin has seen dramatic drought. That, and overallocation of the river’s water, means that, since 2003, the demand for Colorado River water has consistently exceeded available supply. The few exceptional years, such as 2011, have saved the system – so far. Storage in lakes Powell and Mead has dropped to levels that threaten hydroelectric-power production and dramatic cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada by the end of 2017.

Simply put, if water in the West were a small business, we would be heading for bankruptcy.

And, yes, these challenges impact life here in the valley. Interstate agreements dictate Colorado can keep only a third of the water originating in our headwaters. Additionally, water rights owned by Denver Water and other Front Range water providers allow 30 diversions to send water from the Roaring Fork and other rivers through the Continental Divide to satisfy the Front Range thirst. Fill a glass of water in Denver and roughly half of the water started as snow on the Western Slope. In Colorado Springs it’s closer to 80 percent.

Our water future is challenged, a challenge we must address as a community, as a state and with our downstream neighbors. We must be water smart, and we have to do more with less.

That means being at the table where water decisions are being made. We need a Roaring Fork voice – and business is key to our voice. Why? Because when business talks, politicians and policymakers listen. Our Colorado River system supports a $26 billion recreation economy, with $3.8 million in local revenues from fishing on the Fryingpan alone. Elected officials and water managers from Aspen to Aurora to Anaheim need to know that.

That is why we sponsored the Business of Water summit here in the Roaring Fork Valley, gathering more than 50 business, nonprofit and community leaders to advance engagement on sustainable water practices and policies, and healthy rivers. We believe any plan to get the Colorado River out of the red must rely first on conservation, efficiencies and the full participation of the business community.

These facts are not lost on Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who crafted our first state water plan highlighting the community and economic importance of our rivers and the need to invest in them. The Colorado Water Plan outlines projected shortfalls in water supply in the state by 2050 and how to address them, including a conservation goal of saving 130 billion gallons of water a year from municipal and industrial efficiencies (the equivalent of just 1 percent per year).

We can do this. Alpine Bank, with 36 West Slope locations, cut water use by 18 percent, while saving money. Denver Water customers use the same amount of water today as they did in 1973.

Finally, implementation of the Water Plan and safeguarding our water future will require money. Current state funding for critical water and stream restoration programs is limited by declining severance tax revenues. New funding mechanisms must be found.

Our Business of Water summit was the first step, and we will keep going — working with chambers of commerce and business leaders to host sessions on water education and engagement, linking businesses to share water-saving innovations and technologies, educating those who travel here on what a precious resource water is in the West.

If you own or operate a business and would like join us, please contact: louism@sgm-inc.com.

Eric Kuhn is general manager of the Colorado River District; Jim Light is chairman of Chaffin Light Management; Rick Lofaro is executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy; and Louis Meyer is co-founder of SGM.

@COParksWildlife: Voluntary fishing closure in place at ‘toilet-bowl’, near Ruedi Reservoir, effective immediately

toiletbowlnearruedireservoirviacpw
“Toilet Bowl near Ruedi Dam. Photo credit Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Mike Porrus):

Effective immediately, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is instituting a voluntary fishing closure at a popular area on the Frying Pan River located downstream from the Ruedi Reservoir Dam. Water that normally flows from the dam and into the pool, known locally as the ‘toilet-bowl’, has been re-routed due to the need for dam maintenance. The conditions have left the fish in the pool isolated, vulnerable, and stressed.

Maintenance of the dam – owned and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation – could continue through Nov. 10; however, dam operators say it could take longer if additional work is necessary.

“We’ve received several reports from concerned anglers that fish in the pool are stressed due to the current lack of water flow coming into the pool,” said CPW Senior Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. “Due to these conditions, it’s just not very sporting to catch these fish right now. Releasing stressed fish that have been handled could result in them not surviving.”

Anglers can expect to see signage advising of the closure and are urged to find alternative fishing locations until conditions improve.

Although the closure is voluntary, CPW officials say a more stringent emergency closure enforceable by law is an option if angler compliance is minimal.

For more information about the voluntary fishing closure, contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Glenwood Springs office at 970-947-2920.

For more information about work on the dam and dam operations, contact Tim Miller of the Bureau of Reclamation at 970-962-4394.

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

Choices are narrowing for water development along Eagle River — Aspen Daily News

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via the Aspen Daily News:

Two Front Range cities along with Western Slope parties and the Climax Molybdenum Co. hope to narrow their plans during the next 18 months for new or expanded reservoirs in the upper Eagle River watershed near Camp Hale.

One configuration of a possible new reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River, would force a minor tweaking of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area boundary.

That adjustment along with the presence of ecologically important wetlands along where Whitney Creek flows into Homestake Creek are among the many complexities that partners — including the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs — face as they consider how to satisfy their projected water needs.

Work underway this fall and expected to wrap up next year focuses on technical feasibility of individual projects. None alone is likely to meet the needs of all the partners.

Also at issue is money. One set of projects would cost $685 million, according to preliminary engineering estimates issued by Wilson Water Group and other consultants in April.

Aurora Water’s Kathy Kitzmann likens the investigation to being somewhere between the second and third leg around the bases.

“We’re not in the home stretch,” Kitzmann said at a recent meeting.

Still to be decided, as costs estimates are firmed up, is how badly Aurora, Colorado Springs and other water interests want the additional storage.

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District has decided it only needs another several hundred-acre feet of yield.

John Currier, chief engineer for the river district, said that the less expensive studies have been done. Coming studies will be more expensive.

“I think we are to the point that the cost of investigations themselves are going to start driving the decisions, and I also think that the timing and need of the partners is helping drive those decisions,” Currier said.

At one time, the idea of pumping water eastward from Ruedi Reservoir was considered. That idea has been discarded as part of this investigation.

This exploration of water what-ifs is governed by a 1998 agreement, the Eagle River memorandum of understanding, or MOU.

The MOU envisioned water projects collaboratively constructed in ways that benefit parties on both Eastern and Western slopes, as well as Climax, the owner of the molybdenum mine that straddles the Continental Divide at Fremont Pass. Minimal environmental disruption is also a cornerstone of the agreement.

Long legal fight
The collaboration stems from a milestone water case. Aurora and Colorado Springs in 1967 completed a major water diversion that draws water from Homestake Creek and its tributaries.

Homestake Reservoir has a capacity of 43,500 acre-feet, or a little less than half of Ruedi, and is located partly in Pitkin County. The water is diverted via a 5.5-mile tunnel to Turquoise Lake near Leadville and into the Arkansas River.

Near Buena Vista that water is pumped 900 feet over the Mosquito Range into South Park for eventual distribution to Aurora and Colorado Springs.

But the cities left water rights on the table. In 1987, they returned to Eagle County with plans to divert water directly from the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980 that created Holy Cross left the legal door open for a new water diversion. The law specified that “this act shall not interfere with the construction, maintenance, and/or expansion of the Homestake Water Development Project of the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs in the Holy Cross Wilderness.”

But Colorado had changed greatly from 1967 to 1987 and state laws adopted in the early 1970s gave Eagle County expanded land-use authority. County commissioners in 1988 used that authority to veto Homestake II.

That veto, which was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with the denial of the Two Forks Dam southwest of Denver at about the same time, signaled that Colorado was in a new era of water politics.

Under Colorado water law, though, the two cities still owned substantial water rights in the Eagle River Basin. Guided by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, negotiations led to an agreement to develop projects to jointly benefit the former protagonists: 10,000 acre-feet of guaranteed dry-year yield for Western Slope users, 20,000 acre-feet of average-year yield for the cities, and 3,000 acre-feet for Climax.

Eagle Park Reservoir is an off-channel reservoir located on property formerly owned by the Climax Molybdenum Company (Climax) at the Climax Mine in the upper Eagle River Basin, which was originally used to store mine tailings. As part of the mine reclamation process, Climax removed tailings deposits from the reservoir and converted the facility to a fresh water storage reservoir. In 1998, Eagle Park Reservoir Company (EPRC) purchased the reservoir from Climax and began using it for municipal, industrial, irrigation, and environmental water supply purposes. Photo via Leonard Rice Engineers.
Eagle Park Reservoir is an off-channel reservoir located on property formerly owned by the Climax Molybdenum Company (Climax) at the Climax Mine in the upper Eagle River Basin, which was originally used to store mine tailings. As part of the mine reclamation process, Climax removed tailings deposits from the reservoir and converted the facility to a fresh water storage reservoir. In 1998, Eagle Park Reservoir Company (EPRC) purchased the reservoir from Climax and began using it for municipal, industrial, irrigation, and environmental water supply purposes. Photo via Leonard Rice Engineers.

Water supply options
Expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir is one option being studied.

Located near Fremont Pass at the headwaters of the East Fork of the Eagle River, it was originally created to hold mine tailings from Climax. In the 1990s it was gutted of tailings in order to hold water. A consortium of Vail Resorts, two-interrelated Vail-based water districts, and the Colorado River District combined to create a reservoir.

Aurora and Colorado Springs agreed to subordinate water rights in order to ensure firm yield for the Western Slope parties.

To expand the reservoir from the existing 3,300 acre-feet to 7,950 acre-feet could cost anywhere from $39.1 million to $70.8 million, depending upon how much work, if any, is needed to manage seepage beneath the existing dam. Test borings that began Sept. 12 will advance the design of the larger reservoir. Five possible configurations date from 1994.

Another option is to create a new relatively small dam on or adjacent to Homestake Creek, near its confluence with Whitney Creek. This is three miles off of Highway 24, between Camp Hale and Minturn.

Among the four possible configurations for this potential Whitney Creek Reservoir is a tunnel to deliver water from two creeks, Fall and Peterson, in the Gilman area.

A third option is restoration of a century-old dam at Minturn that was breached several years ago. Bolts Lake, however, would serve only Western Slope interests.

Still on the table is a new reservoir on a tributary to the Eagle River near Wolcott. That reservoir has been discussed occasionally for more than 30 years. However, like a Ruedi pumpback, it’s not part of the current discussion involving the Eagle River MOU partners.

Complex wetlands
Most problematic of the options is Whitney Creek. It would require relocation of a road and, in one of the configurations, water could back up into the existing wilderness area. For that to happen, Congress would have to tweak the wilderness boundary.

Wetlands displacement could also challenge a Whitney Reservoir. An investigation underway seeks to reveal whether those wetlands include areas classified as fens. Fens are peat-forming wetlands fed primarily by groundwater. As they may take thousands of years to develop, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifies that “every reasonable effort should be made to avoiding impact fens.”

“If fens are found, I expect a lengthy debate about the quantity and quality of fens required to be a fatal flaw,” said the river district’s Currier in a July memorandum. That determination will be made before drilling is authorized to determine whether a dam is possible.

Western Slope parties, said Currier in the memo, “believe an Eagle Park enlargement may ultimately become very attractive because the environmental and permitting issues are much, much simpler than a Whitney Creek alternative.”

Nearly all the alternatives being considered in the Eagle River Basin would require extensive pumping, as opposed to gravity-fed reservoir configurations. Water would have to be pumped 1,000 vertical feet into Eagle Park Reservoir, for example, then pumped again to get it across the Continental Divide.

A Whitney Creek Reservoir would require less, but still expensive pumping. Water in the reservoir would be received by gravity flow, but from there it would be pumped about seven miles up to Homestake Reservoir. Whether it can accommodate more water has yet to be determined, one of many dangling question marks.

Earlier, the parties had investigated the possibility of using an aquifer underlying Camp Hale as a reservoir. But drilling to determine the holding capacity proved maddening complex. Accounting for water depletions from pumping would have been very difficult. Further, operation of the system to prevent impact to other water users and instream flows would have been problematic. The idea was abandoned in 2013.

Currier, in his July report to the River District board of directors, outlined several questions that he said should provoke discussion among the Eagle River partners this fall: How much of the water outlined under the 1998 agreement does each party realistically need, and when? Are they ready to begin seeking permits after this new round of investigation to be completed next year?

Need for water?
This week, in response to questions from Aspen Journalism, the Eagle River MOU partners explained the need for the water to be developed between 2036 and 2050.

Both Aurora and Colorado Springs have added major projects in recent years. After the drought of 2002, a very-worried Aurora pushed rapidly for a massive reuse project along the South Platte River called Prairie Waters. It went on line in 2010 — far more rapidly than any project on the Eagle River could have been developed.

Colorado Springs last year began deliveries of water from Pueblo Reservoir via the Southern Delivery System, an idea first conceived in 1989. The Vail-based water districts also increased their storage capacity after 2002.

At a meeting in Georgetown in August, representatives of the two cities said they were unsure of the precise need for water.

Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, describes a “delicate balancing act” about what is “going to be most reliable and what is going to be most environmentally permittable and permissible.”

Brett Gracely, of Colorado Springs Utilities, said project costs are “still in the realm of other projects are we looking at.”

The 1998 agreement specified that costs of initial studies should be divided equally, four ways. As the project progresses, the costs are to be split according to percentage of yield that each party would gain.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

prairiewaterstreatment
Aurora Prairie Waters Project
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

Frying pan flows to stay at 300 cfs for next two to four weeks

The Fryingpan River just above Basalt, flowing at about 300 cfs. While many anglers prefer flows at 240 cfs, the river looks lively and pretty thanks to flows from Ruedi Reservoir meant to help endangered fish in the Colorado River.
The Fryingpan River just above Basalt, flowing at about 300 cfs. While many anglers prefer flows at 240 cfs, the river looks lively and pretty thanks to flows from Ruedi Reservoir meant to help endangered fish in the Colorado River.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

BASALT – The lower Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir has been flowing steadily at about 300 cubic feet per second since Aug. 12, when flows were increased by 50 cfs for the benefit of the endangered fish recovery program on the Colorado River below Palisade.

Flows in the Fryingpan are now expected to remain at about 300 cfs – 298 to 302 – at least until mid-September, according to Jana Mohrman, a hydrologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the fish recovery program.

Fly-fishing guides on the Fryingpan River say many of their clients prefer when the river is flowing at 240 cfs rather than 300 cfs, because higher water makes it harder to wade.

But flows may also stay at the 300 cfs level throughout September, Mohrman said. They could be lowered back to 250 cfs, however, if conditions – temperature, precipitation, irrigation return flows, plant growth rates – allow at some point in September.

“We look forward to it and we hope it happens,” Mohrman said of returning to flows of 250 cfs in the ‘Pan.

If favorable conditions do arrive, it could make it easier for Mohrman to reach the targeted flows of 1,240 cfs in the Colorado River near Palisade without the additional 50 cfs from Ruedi that she called for on Aug. 11.

Mohrman manages a pool of “fish water” stored in Ruedi Reservoir that can be released to flow down the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork, and Colorado rivers.

The water from Ruedi contributes to the flows in critical fish habitat in a 15-mile reach of the Colorado River between Palisade and the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers in central Grand Junction.

But not all of the water coming out of Ruedi Reservoir is fish water.

Of the 298 cfs flowing out of Ruedi Reservoir on Aug. 31, for example, 186 cfs was fish water, 107 cfs was to offset inflow to the reservoir, and about 5 cfs was coming in below the dam from Rocky Fork.

This year, the Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to ask for the release of between 21,412 acre-feet and 24,912 acre-feet of fish water from Ruedi, which can store 102,373 acre-feet of water.

As of Aug. 31, 12,184 acre-feet of fish water had been released from Ruedi Reservoir, leaving between 9,228 and 12,728 acre-feet of fish water yet to be released, according to a “state of the river flow sheet” prepared by the Colorado Division of Water Resources as part of a weekly conference call held by regional water managers about the 15-mile reach.

(The range of how much fish water is left depends on whether the Fish and Wildlife Service decides to use 6,000 or 9,500 acre-feet of water available to it through a contract between the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Ute Water, a water provider in Grand Junction that owns the storage right to 12,000 acre-feet of water in Ruedi.)

At a release rate of 186 cfs a day, there would be enough fish water left in Ruedi for 25 to 34 days of releases, depending on how much water from the Ute Water contract is used.

But Tim Miller, a hydrologist at the Bureau of Reclamation who manages the flows from Ruedi, said the rate of incoming water to Ruedi can vary quite a bit, and when it drops, more fish water is released to hit the proscribed release flows.

As such, nature has another card to play in how many days of fish water are remaining in Ruedi. For example, fish water flows could be higher than 186 cfs and that would reduce the number of potential days of flow.

But the water meant for endangered fish near Grand Junction is also causing some grumbling in another 15-mile reach, the one on the Fryingpan River between Ruedi Reservoir and Basalt.

The Fryingpan River flowing at 298 cfs on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. The river is likely to stay at 300 cfs for two weeks, and possibly four.
The Fryingpan River flowing at 298 cfs on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. The river is likely to stay at 300 cfs for two weeks, and possibly four.

Higher flows

Since the flows out of Ruedi were increased by 50 cfs on Aug. 12 from about 250 cfs to about 300 cfs, the manager of Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt said he has been hearing unprompted complaints about the river being up.

“I even heard it twice today,” said Marty Joseph of Frying Pan Anglers, on Wednesday.

While Joseph said he and other local guides on the river would rather see the river at 240 cfs throughout September for their fly-fishing clients, he also said the “hatches are still good and the fishing is great at 298” cfs.

But there could also be other water released from Ruedi beside fish water and base release flows, especially if it gets hot and dry. More water could potentially be released to meet demands for “contract water” held in Ruedi or if a call comes up the river from Grand Valley irrigators with senior water rights.

In any event, local anglers frustrated by the higher flows in the Fryingpan might appreciate knowing that in addition to water stored in Ruedi, the Fish and Wildlife Service also uses water stored in Granby, Williams Fork, Green Mountain, and Wolford reservoirs to help keep the Colorado River flowing at various targeted flows, depending on the season. And that the fish water is needed because of both upstream transmountain diversions and irrigation diversions just above the 15-mile reach.

For example on Aug. 31, at least 550 cfs of water from the Colorado River headwaters was flowing east through tunnels to the Front Range.

And 2,045 cfs was being diverted from the Colorado River above Palisade by various Grand Valley irrigators.

Meanwhile, flows in the 15-mile reach were left at 1,130 cfs on Aug. 31, below the target flow of 1,240 cfs, but still boosted by the fish water from Ruedi.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016.

High Fryingpan water flows are vexing anglers

An angler on the Fryingpan River, in the flat section not far below the reservoir, with a flow of 250 cfs. Releases from Ruedi for the benefit of endangered fish in the Colorado RIver near Palisade have brought the river up to 300 cfs.
An angler on the Fryingpan River, in the flat section not far below the reservoir, with a flow of 250 cfs. Releases from Ruedi for the benefit of endangered fish in the Colorado RIver near Palisade have brought the river up to 300 cfs.
A USGS graphic showing the increase in flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir from Aug. 11 to Aug. 13, 2016. The flows were increased 50 cfs from 250 to 300 cfs.
A USGS graphic showing the increase in flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir from Aug. 11 to Aug. 13, 2016. The flows were increased 50 cfs from 250 to 300 cfs.


By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

BASALT – Flows in the lower Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir were increased on Friday afternoon to about 300 cubic feet per second, much to the dismay of professional and private anglers who prefer a flow of no more than 250 cfs.

“We get cancellations at 250 and up,” said Warwick Mowbray, owner of Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt, during a meeting Thursday night in Basalt’s town hall on flows in the Fryingpan. “People say ‘We can’t wade.’”

Releases from Ruedi were increased Friday in order to send more water to the “15-mile reach” of the Colorado River between Palisade and Grand Junction for the benefit of endangered fish species struggling to survive in the river below several big irrigation diversions.

But the water released from Ruedi and sent down the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers to the 15-mile reach at the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erodes the quality of the trout-fishing experience on the lower Fryingpan, according to Will Sands, manager of Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Basalt and Aspen.

“Over 250 cfs changes the dynamic of the environment of the river for hatches and the abilities of the visiting angler,” Sands said. “It hits 300 and we start getting cancellations.”

Rick Lofaro, director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, seconded the concerns of the professional anglers.

“When you have additional water coming down, it challenges wading and changes the character of the river,” he said, likening higher flows in the Fryingpan to paying for a backcountry powder tour only to find no fresh snow. “I think there is a big difference between 250 and 300 from an accessibility and wade-ability level.”

The conservancy commissioned a study in 2014 that showed fly-fishing contributes $3.8 million to Basalt’s economy.

Thursday’s meeting in Basalt was called by officials from the Bureau of Reclamation and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and about a dozen citizens showed up to discuss likely releases from Ruedi for the balance of the summer.

Tim Miller, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation who manages Ruedi Reservoir, said releases below the reservoir would likely be around 300 cfs into September, but could be as high as 350 cfs if there is a call for more water from irrigators in the Grand Junction area.

Since July 18, flows in the lower Fryingpan have been running steadily at around 245 cfs, a sweet spot for anglers.

Jana Mohrman, a hydrologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a pool of water in Ruedi that can be released to keep enough water in the 15-mile reach.

She works toward meeting seasonal flow levels — now 1,240 cfs — in the Colorado River near Palisade by directing “fish water” to that point on the river from a variety of upstream reservoirs, including Ruedi, Wolford and Green Mountain.

This week, flows in the Colorado River near Palisade had dropped to the point where several fish passages designed to allow native endangered fish to swim upstream toward Rifle were not functioning due to low water levels.

“I’m using Ruedi to get my fish passages open,” Mohrman said.

As such, she directed the Bureau of Reclamation to release another 50 cfs from Ruedi starting Friday. That was on top of the 140 cfs of “fish water” that was already being released, which was in addition to about 110 cfs of routine releases from the reservoir.

The crest of the dam across the Fryingpan River that forms Ruedi Reservoir, which can hold 102,373 acre-feet of water.
The crest of the dam across the Fryingpan River that forms Ruedi Reservoir, which can hold 102,373 acre-feet of water.

Fish water

Mohrman’s pool of “fish water” in Ruedi equals about 15,000 acre-feet of water. But she can also use, for the second year in a row, about 9,000 acre-feet of water owned by the Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction and leased to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for use in the fish-recovery program.

On Wednesday, during a weekly conference call of regional reservoir managers and irrigators, Mohrman was pressured by irrigators in the Grand Valley to release more water from Ruedi along with water they were releasing for the fish from Green Mountain Reservoir, which serves as a back-up supply water for the Grand Valley.

Last year, 24,412 acre-feet of water was released from Ruedi to the benefit of the fish recovery program and a similar amount is likely to be released this year. In all, Ruedi can store 102,373 acre-feet of water.

Of that, about 41,000 acre-feet is owned by various entities, and can also be released upon demand in a dry year. Should that occur, flows in the Fryingpan could rise still higher, and not just because of the fish-recovery program.

“These demands on the reservoir are only going to grow,” said Miller of the Bureau of Reclamation. “This isn’t going away.”

The lower Fryingpan River on Thursday, Aug. 11, flowing at about 250 cfs.
The lower Fryingpan River on Thursday, Aug. 11, flowing at about 250 cfs.

Conflicting priorities

Dan Turley, a homeowner in the Fryingpan River Valley and an avid angler, asked Mohrman if the endangered fish program was a higher priority than the recreational economy of Basalt.

“This is not a trivial inconvenience,” Turley said of flows in the Fryingpan going up to 300 cfs. “It makes the river not viable to fish for a great majority of people.”

And Turley said it’s not just about Basalt’s economy.

“A lot of people from Aspen come down here and fish,” he said. “They are staying at The Little Nell. This is a big deal.”

“It’s always been considered,” Mohrman said, referring to the local fly-fishing economy and a targeted flow of 250 cfs in the Fryingpan. “And we have always said we would try to maintain 250. But we also have to recover these fish, and we’ve built all these structures to try and get them up to Rifle to get back into their natural habitat. And that is a higher priority than the 250 target.”

The goal of what’s called the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Program is to maintain populations of four species of large fish native to the Colorado River, the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail, and humpback chub.

If the program fails to maintain viable populations of native fish, diverters in the Colorado River basin could be faced with extensive environmental reviews of their diversion’s effects on the endangered fish — something regional water managers want to avoid.

As long as the fish populations are stable or growing, the recovery program provides blanket environmental protection. Trouble is, Mohrman said the fish are not doing all that great as they are being preyed upon by non-native fish in addition to struggling with low river levels.

A USFWS employee holding a smallmouth bass, caught via electrofishing, that just swallowed a native bluehead sucker. Non-native fish eating  young native fish is a big obstacle to developing healthy populations of native fish.
A USFWS employee holding a smallmouth bass, caught via electrofishing, that just swallowed a native bluehead sucker. Non-native fish eating young native fish is a big obstacle to developing healthy populations of native fish.

Bypass pipeline?

Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner who has focused during her tenure on water issues, attended Thursday’s night meeting.

She raised the idea of a pipeline or flume that would allow water to be released from Ruedi without flowing down the river itself.

“We’ve always talked a little bit about should there be a separate flume or waterway for the Ruedi releases so they are not destroying the Fryingpan,” Richards said.

She also said that Pitkin County and Basalt had voiced concerns in the past about releasing “fish water” from Ruedi and making Basalt a “sacrificial lamb for water needs elsewhere in the state.”

At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, Mohrman said she would work with irrigators and reservoir managers to see if more water can’t be released from reservoirs other than Ruedi.

“I’ll try and cut it back as the Green Mountain Reservoir ups its releases and our fish passages stay open,” she said. “I understand your very serious concerns.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water.The Daily News published this story on Saturday, August 13, 2016.

Basalt: Reclamation to Host Public Meeting for Ruedi Operations

Sunrise at Ruedi Reservoir October 20, 2015. Photo via USBR.
Sunrise at Ruedi Reservoir October 20, 2015. Photo via USBR.

From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting for Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations.

August 11: Basalt Town Hall, 101 Midland Avenue, Basalt, Colo., 7 to 8:30 p.m.

The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2016 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. 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.