Lost Man Creek finds its way back to Roaring Fork River

Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows shown heading toward Aspen, about 250 cfs, include  flow from  Lost Man Creek and  the main stem of the Fork.
Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows shown heading toward Aspen, about 250 cfs, include flow from Lost Man Creek and the main stem of the Fork.

by Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

ASPEN – On Tuesday, June 14 the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. turned out the flow of Lost Man Creek into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, instead of sending it under the Continental Divide to Twin Lakes Reservoir.

Lost Man Creek is a major tributary of the upper Roaring Fork River and nearly its entire flow is typically diverted through the Twin Lakes Tunnel.

The creek flows out of sweeping high country valley and runs into Lost Man Reservoir. It’s then diverted into a canal and dumps into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River behind a dam.

That dam doesn’t form a reservoir, but instead diverts water from both Lost Man Creek and the Fork into a tunnel under Green Mountain and then, after another stretch of canal, into Grizzly Reservoir.

Once water from Lost Man Creek and the main stem of the Roaring Fork reaches Grizzly Reservoir it joins water from Lincoln, New York, Brooklyn and Tabor creeks and normally flows into the Twin Lakes Tunnel. The water in the tunnel daylights into Lake Creek and flows down to Twin Lakes Reservoir in Twin Lakes, Colorado.

From Twin Lakes Reservoir, all of the water collected and diverted by what’s officially known as the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System is sent to Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Pueblo and fields in the lower Arkansas River basin.

But due to constraints in its water rights, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. is being forced to curtail its diversions from the Indy Pass system, which means in all, 600 cfs of native flows will be turned out Wednesday and will flow either into the main stem of the Fork or upper Lincoln Creek, which flows into the Fork just above the Grottos.

On Tuesday, just flows from Lost Man Creek and the Fork were turned out from the diversion system, adding about 250 cfs to the Fork as it flowed past Lost Man Campground.

On Wednesday, the flows from the Lincoln Creek side of the system will be added to the released native flow of water heading downstream toward Aspen.

The Twin Lakes Tunnel, which has been diverting over 600 cfs since June 6, is set to be closed at noon Wednesday, according to Kevin Lusk, the president of the board of Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and a senior engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities, which owns 55 percent of the water diverted from the upper Fork.

The Twin Lakes Tunnel is expected to be closed for two to three week and the return of native flows to the Fork – for the second year in a row – may flood the North Star Nature Preserve and create what some locals called “Lake North Star.”

Last year, when the Twin Lakes Tunnel closed, the Fork peaked at the “Roaring Fork Near Aspen” gauge at 1,680s cfs on June 18.

Tuesday evening, flows in the Fork at “Roaring Fork Near Aspen” gauge, at Stillwater Drive, were at 640 cfs, up from 400 cfs before the flow of Lost Man Creek was returned to the Fork.

With the addition of Wednesday of about 350 cfs coming down Lincoln Creek, the flows at Stillwater Dr. could reach the 1,000 cfs range. The Fork, at its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, was flowing at 4,150 cfs on Tuesday night.

Hot and sunny weather expected over the next week in the Aspen area will also likely drive up the flow in the river.

Lost Man Creek, on June 14, 2016, flowing out of the high country near Independence Pass in the upper Roaring Fork River basin. Just below this point the creek reaches Lost Man Reservoir.
Lost Man Creek, on June 14, 2016, flowing out of the high country near Independence Pass in the upper Roaring Fork River basin. Just below this point the creek reaches Lost Man Reservoir.
Looking upstream from the dam across Lost Man Creek that forms Lost Man Reservoir, on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
Looking upstream from the dam across Lost Man Creek that forms Lost Man Reservoir, on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
The canal that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir, under SH 82, and into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, just above a river-wide diversion dam across the Fork.
The canal that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir, under SH 82, and into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, just above a river-wide diversion dam across the Fork.
A view from the dam across the main stem of the Roaring Fork River - just above Lost Man Campground - and the entrance to the tunnel under Green Mountain. That tunnel normally leads the water to Grizzly Reservoir and to the Twin Lakes Tunnel.
A view from the dam across the main stem of the Roaring Fork River - just above Lost Man Campground - and the entrance to the tunnel under Green Mountain. That tunnel normally leads the water to Grizzly Reservoir and to the Twin Lakes Tunnel.
Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows, shown heading toward Aspen, include about 250 cfs from  Lost Man Creek and  the portion of the main stem of the Fork that was previously being diverted.
Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows, shown heading toward Aspen, include about 250 cfs from Lost Man Creek and the portion of the main stem of the Fork that was previously being diverted.
The flows in the half-mile-long section of Lost Man Creek between Lost Man Reservoir and the Roaring Fork River. The tail end of Lost Man Creek has been reduced to a trickle for decades. Above Lost Man Reservoir, the creek is too deep to wade across safely. Below the reservoir, it's easy to step over.
The flows in the half-mile-long section of Lost Man Creek between Lost Man Reservoir and the Roaring Fork River. The tail end of Lost Man Creek has been reduced to a trickle for decades. Above Lost Man Reservoir, the creek is too deep to wade across safely. Below the reservoir, it's easy to step over.

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