Leaders of youth-water program get bird’s-eye view of #RoaringFork watershed — @AspenJournalism

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 Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

On a recent, clear, cold Saturday morning, local students from Carbondale-based Youth Water Leadership Program packed into a six-seat, single-engine Cessna 210 piloted by Gary Kraft of EcoFlight.

From the cockpit and high above the Roaring Fork watershed, certain features jumped out — the long, straight line of Red Mountain Ditch cutting across the hillside; infrastructure of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. siphoning water to the Front Range; the ponds that feed Aspen Skiing Co.’s snowmaking system; and the glittering surface of Ruedi Reservoir.

One goal of the flight was to give students a firsthand experience of natural resources — in this case, rivers and water. Aspen-based EcoFlight flies policymakers, students and journalists over Western landscapes to highlight man-made impacts to the natural world.

“The best way to teach people about places is to get them in the places,” said Sarah Johnson, watershed-education specialist and founder of the Youth Water Leadership Program.

The plane took off from the Aspen airport, gaining altitude as it flew up Independence Pass to the headwaters of the Roaring Fork, down the Fryingpan River valley, around the white flanks of Mount Sopris and up the Crystal River valley before cruising past the Maroon Bells and Aspen Mountain back to the airport.

This snowmaking pond on the east side of Aspen Mountain as seen from the air with EcoFlight. Students from Carbondale-based Youth Water Leadership Program got a tour of water infrastructure in the Roaring Fork Valley. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

How humans modify water

Also evident from the air were the burn scars from 2018’s Lake Christine Fire on Basalt Mountain, as well as the many large homes near Aspen with ponds on the property. For Coal Ridge High School senior and youth-water program leader Aidan Boyd, it was striking to see the patterns of land use in the valley.

“It is really interesting to compare the remote mountains that seem completely untouched to as you get more into the towns it’s just a very different feeling,” he said. “We’ve talked a little bit about how a lot of really wealthy houses will modify water — houses with lakes and pools. It was really interesting to see that.”

From 13,000 feet, it also became apparent just how near to one another are the headwaters of the watershed’s three main tributaries: the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan and Crystal rivers — something that isn’t evident when one travels the region by car. All three begin as trickles in close proximity, high among the 14,000-foot peaks of the Elk and Sawatch ranges.

“I never really realized how close everything is to each other because I’ve always driven up to Aspen and Basalt,” said Isla Brumby-Nelson, an eighth-grader at the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork.

From left, youth water student leaders Aidan Boyd, Isla Brumly-Nelson and water education specialist and program founder Sarah Johnson in EcoFlight’s Cessna 210. Students got a bird’s-eye view of how humans have modified water in the Roaring Fork watershed. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Youth Water Leadership Program

The goal of the Youth Water Leadership Program is not only to increase students’ knowledge of their local watershed and Colorado River issues, but also to create student-driven, call-to-action projects. Students will present these projects — on topics that range from how drought affects small farmers to microplastics and desalination — at the annual Youth Water Leadership Summit in December.

The invitation-only event is sponsored by Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams. Representatives from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Sen. Michael Bennet’s office have already confirmed they will attend.

“The program is about teaching young people how to participate in public life,” Johnson said.

The Saturday field trip culminated with a tour of the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District and Zeigler Reservoir. But the bird’s-eye view of the watershed that students experienced with EcoFlight is the experience that is most likely to stay with them, Johnson said.

“I think that perspective is eye-opening,” she said, “when you start to see all the ditches and diversions, man-made lakes versus natural lakes and how many more water-storage structures there were than we thought. … They are going to have this reference point and bring that into the conversation, and I think that is powerful.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. This story ran in the Nov. 2 edition of The Aspen Times.

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

Basalt applies flood mitigation lessons learned in August flash flood — The Aspen Times

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Lessons learned from an Aug. 4 flash flood on the south side of Basalt Mountain educated a consortium of governments on what needed to be done to try to avoid a repeat performance.

A contractor for the town of Basalt is working at the intersection of Cedar Drive and Pinon Drive in the Hill District to better handle water spilling out of the Lake Christine burn scar…

He credited the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency, for looking at the road intersection and adapting a flood mitigation plan. The NRCS had to sign off on all work performed after the federal government awarded a $1.23 million Emergency Watershed Protection Program grant earlier in the year to Basalt, Eagle County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Basalt via Panoramio

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.