Twin Lakes Tunnel opens for more transmountain diversions

The east end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel on May 16, 2016.
The east end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel on June 6, 2016.
A graph showing the level of water flowing through the Twin Lakes Tunnel this week. The tunnel began diverting water, after being closed for two weeks, on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.
A graph showing the level of water flowing through the Twin Lakes Tunnel this week. The tunnel began diverting water, after being closed for two weeks, on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.

ASPEN – The unnatural order of things was restored Tuesday as the Twin Lakes Tunnel began diverting water to the east again from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, after having been closed for two weeks.

The tunnel was closed temporarily after constraints in water rights required that it stop diverting from the Fork, Lost Man and Lincoln creeks, and other tributaries in the headwaters.

The tunnel under the Continental Divide had been diverting about 620 cubic feet per second (cfs) before diversions were stepped down over a three-day period from June 14 to 16, when the tunnel closed.

The reintroduced native flows down the Fork and Lincoln Creek added noticeable intensity to the river as it made its way through the Grottos, Stillwater and Slaughterhouse reaches near Aspen.

One of the constraints on the legal rights of the tunnel is that when the Colorado Canal in Ordway can divert freely because there is plenty of water in the lower Arkansas River, it cannot demand water from the Roaring Fork.

But the spring runoff has slowed, pinching the supply of water available to the canal from the Arkansas. As such, it can now legally call for water from the Roaring Fork.

“The Colorado Canal is being called out, so we can start diverting the tunnel under the direct flow portion of the right,” wrote Kevin Lusk, the president of the board of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and a principal engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities, in an email Tuesday.

The other constraint was that the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. had filled its storage allotment of 54,452 acre-feet of water in Twin Lakes Reservoir.

With that “bucket” filled, and the Colorado Canal still in priority, the tunnel had to be closed.

Not all of the water diverted from the Fork’s headwaters goes to the Colorado Canal, however, as the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, of which the Twin Lakes Tunnel is the key component, now also helps meet water needs in several Front Range cities.

The diversion system is technically owned by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which is based in Ordway. But Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, and Pueblo own almost all of the shares in the company.

On Tuesday, the Twin Lakes Tunnel, which begins at Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, was opened back up and about 200 cubic feet per second began flowing east, primarily from Lincoln Creek and the creeks in Brooklyn, New York, and Tabor gulches.

In response, levels in the Roaring Fork River near Aspen fell sharply.

The river at Difficult Campground, for example, was flowing at 390 cfs at 6 a.m., Tuesday morning, but had fallen to 244 cfs by 8 p.m.

And the measuring gauge on Stillwater Drive, just below the North Star Nature Preserve, showed the river flowing there at 510 cfs at 6 a.m. and at 311 cfs by 8 p.m.

On Wednesday, Lusk said that new calls for water from various shareholders in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. mean that water from Lost Man Creek and the main stem of the Fork would soon be added to the flow of water being sent east through the tunnel.

Lusk said he expected the tunnel to continue diverting water through the summer.

This marked the second year in a row the Twin Lakes Tunnel was forced to cease diverting due to wet conditions on the east side of the pass.

During most of the time the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed, diversions continued to flow as usual through the Bousted Tunnel, which sends water east from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River, as well as from Hunter, Midway, and No Name creeks near Aspen.

Around 800 cfs has been flowing through the Bousted Tunnel for most of June.

And according to the Pueblo Chieftain, the total diversion from the Fry-Ark project so far this year is about 51,000 acre-feet of water.

Add that to the approximately 25,000 acre-feet diverted so far by Twin Lakes, and it means about 76,000 acre-feet has been diverted from the Roaring Fork River watershed so far this year, not counting what may have been sent through the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel, which also diverts from the upper Fryingpan.

Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, can hold 102,373 acre-feet.

Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and waters. The Daily News published a version of this story on Thursday, July 30, 2016.

Twin Lakes Tunnel closes, the Grottos erupts in whitewater

The Roaring Fork River bounding down the Grottos on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed.
The Roaring Fork River bounding down the Grottos on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

ASPEN – For the second time in two years the native flows to the upper Roaring Fork River have been restored as the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. has had to curtail its diversions and close the Twin Lakes Tunnel, which since June 6 had been moving 600-plus cubic feet per second of water under the Continental Divide.

After the tunnel was closed Thursday afternoon and the upper Roaring Fork River had regained the natural flow of its two biggest tributaries – Lost Man and Lincoln creeks – the river bounded down the slick granite in the Grottos area and erupted in a frenzy of churning whitewater.

The Grottos on June 13, and on June 16

The Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning, June 13, 2016.
The Roaring Fork River, at the top of the Grottos section, on Monday morning, June 13, 2016, with the Twin Lakes Tunnel diverting over 600 cfs.
Roaring Fork RIver, Grottos, at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, at the upper indicator rock.
The Roaring Fork River, at the top of the Grottos section, at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had closed.

Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. began diverting the headwaters of the Roaring Fork in earnest this year in late May. It ramped up diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel to above 600 cfs on June 6 and kept them in the 610 cfs to 620 cfs range until Tuesday, June 14, when the diversions in the tunnel were reduced by about half.

By Wednesday, flows in the tunnel were around 250 cfs and were turned down to a trickle of 4 cfs by Thursday afternoon.

Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. first reduced the flow of water to the tunnel on Tuesday by letting the natural flow of Lost Man Creek run into the Roaring Fork River again, instead of diverting it to the entrance to the Twin Lakes Tunnel, which begins at Grizzly Reservoir.

The flows of Lost Man Creek added about 250 cfs into the main stem of the upper Fork as it ran past Lost Man campground.

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.

Then on Thursday afternoon, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. took the next step and closed the tunnel. That sent another 200 cfs or so down lower Lincoln Creek, which runs into the Fork just above the Grottos.

Just after 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Lincoln Creek quickly went from a clear and docile stream that could be easily walked across to a turbid river flowing strong enough to lift a man off his feet.

Lincoln Creek, before and after

Lincoln Creek, before the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed on June 16, 2016.
Lincoln Creek, at about 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before the freshly turned out water from Lincoln, New York, Brooklyn, and Tabor creeks came rushing downstream instead of being diverted through the Twin Lakes Tunnel.
Lincoln Creek, after 5: 30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. A surge of turbid pushy water came down Lincoln Creek and reached the Fork about 5:30 p.m. on June 16.
Lincoln Creek, around 5: 30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. Minutes earlier the stream could be easily walked across, but the increased flow above was enough to lift a man off his feet while crossing.

The 4-mile long Twin Lakes Tunnel is now expected to remain closed for two to three weeks and the recent hot weather may keep the water rising in the Fork as the last of the high elevation snowpack comes off.

Rising Stillwater

On Friday, a cold and swiftly moving Roaring Fork had risen above its banks in portions of the North Star Nature Preserve, flooding some areas but not to the extent of the high water in June 2015.

Last year on June 18 the Fork reached a peak flow of 1,680 cfs, as recorded by the gauge “Roaring Fork River Near Aspen, CO,” located at Stillwater Drive just east of Aspen proper.

Yesterday at 4:30 p.m., as the tunnel was closed, the Fork at Stillwater was flowing at 597 cfs.

But by midnight, with the strong flow from Lincoln Creek added, the Fork had climbed to 817 cfs.

It then hit a high of 927 cfs at 7:45 a.m. on Friday morning, before falling back to 857 cfs by 2:30 p.m. Friday.

The riverside cabin in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork did not appear to be flooded on Friday, June 17, 2016, but the river was lapping the edge of the porch. One year earlier the river had made itself at home and put about a foot of water in the cabin.
The riverside cabin in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork did not appear to be flooded on Friday, June 17, 2016, but the river was lapping the edge of the porch. One year earlier the river had made itself at home and put about a foot of water in the cabin.

By midday Friday, the swelling river was licking the porch of a small cabin on the banks of the Fork in the Stillwater section, but unlike last year, it had not yet flooded the inside of the cabin and a nearby art studio.

The river, however, had risen high enough to flood portions of the North Star Nature Preserve and other land along the river. So far, the high water had not produced flooding in scale with the dramatic size of last year’s “Lake North Star.”

Water in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River swelled over the river's banks on Friday after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed for two-to-three weeks on Thursday. The river hit 927 cfs early Friday morning. Last year on June 18 it hit 1,680 cfs.
Water in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River swelled over the river’s banks on Friday after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed for two to three weeks on Thursday. The river hit 927 cfs early Friday morning. Last year on June 18 it hit 1,680 cfs.

Turn Tunnel Off

The Twin Lakes Tunnel is the key component of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, which was constructed in the 1930s and is owned and operated by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

Notably, the company does not own and operate Twin Lakes Reservoir, as it sold the reservoir on the east side of Independence Pass to the Bureau of Reclamation and the reservoir is now managed as part of the Fry-Ark project.

The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., did, however, retain the right to store 54,452 acre-feet in Twin Lakes Reservoir, which can hold a total of 147,500 acre-feet, or about a third again more than Ruedi Reservoir.

But under its water rights, after Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. reaches its storage allotment in Twin Lakes Reservoir as it did this week, it has to stop diverting if the Colorado Canal can still divert 756 cfs directly from the lower Arkansas River.

It’s rare that two of the constraints in the water rights held by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. overlap and it has to stop diverting West Slope water, but it happened last year and again this year.

And both times were a reflection of the high levels of water in the lower Arkansas River basin.

If flows in the lower Arkansas drop, then the Colorado Canal will likely be called out by a senior diverter and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. can again divert water from the headwaters of the upper Roaring Fork and send it directly to the canal.

The Colorado Canal is near Ordway, CO, where Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. is based. Most of the shares in the company are owned by Front Range cities, which receive the majority of the water normally diverted from the upper Roaring Fork.

Tunnel Diversion Graphics

A graph showing the stair-step reduction in diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel between Tuesday, June 14 and Thursday, June 16, 2016.
A graph showing the stair-step reduction in diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel between Tuesday, June 14, and Thursday, June 16, 2016.
A graph showing the rate of diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel since early May. It shows the steady diversions above 600 cfs between June 6 and June 14, 2016.
A graph showing the rate of diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel since early May. It shows the steady diversions above 600 cfs between June 6 and June 14, 2016.

Grottos, Broad View

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, with diversions into the Twin Lakes Tunnel at over 600 cfs. While impressive at this level, the whitewater frenzy that resulted after the tunnels were closed was far more intense.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, looking downstream, with diversions into the Twin Lakes Tunnel at over 600 cfs. While impressive at this level, the whitewater frenzy that resulted after the tunnels were closed was far more intense.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 16, 2016, before flows from Lincoln Creek came into the Fork.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 16, 2016, looking upstream, before flows from Lincoln Creek came into the Fork.
The Fork, in frenzy, through the Grottos, on 6.16.16.
The Fork, in frenzy, through the Grottos on June 16, 2016.

Grottos, Middle Indicator Rock

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 10 a.m. on Monday, June 13, 2016.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 10 a.m. on Monday, June 13, 2016. A view of the middle indicator rock.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before the flow of Lincoln Creek was added to the Fork.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before the flow of Lincoln Creek was added to the Fork. View of the middle indicator rock.
The Roaring Fork River, through the Grottos, late on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had been closed.
The Roaring Fork River, through the Grottos, late on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had been closed. A view of the middle indicator rock.

Grottos, Lower Indicator Rock

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, before flows from either Lost Man Creek or Lincoln Creek were added to Fork and the Twin Lakes Tunnel was diverting about 600 cfs.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, before flows from either Lost Man Creek or Lincoln Creek were added to the Roaring Fork and the Twin Lakes Tunnel was diverting about 600 cfs. Lower indicator rock.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before flows from Lincoln Creek were added to the Fork.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before flows from Lincoln Creek were added to the Fork. Lower indicator rock.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after flow from Lincoln Creek was added to the Fork.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after flow from Lincoln Creek was added to the Roaring Fork. Lower indicator rock.

Lincoln Creek, log indicator

Lincoln Creek, just above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, minutes before a surge of about 350s cfs came down Lincoln Creek and reached this location,.  Taken about 5:20 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.
Lincoln Creek, just above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, minutes before a surge of about 350 cfs came down Lincoln Creek and reached this location. Photo taken about 5:20 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.
Lincoln Creek, just above the confluence with the Roaring Fork, minutes after a surge of 350 cfs swept through the location after being turned out when the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. Shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.
Lincoln Creek, just above the confluence with the Roaring Fork, minutes after a surge of 350 cfs swept through the location after being turned out when the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. Shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

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.

#Runoff #Snowpack news: Clear Creek closed to tubing, South Platte pretty much melted-out

Clear Creek at Golden gage April 1 through June 12, 2016.
Clear Creek at Golden gage April 1 through June 12, 2016.

From KWGN (Drew Engelbart):

Park Rangers were enforcing and informing visitors of the tubing and swimming restriction along Clear Creek on Saturday.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office announced the restriction on Thursday, citing dangerous conditions because of high water.

These temporary restrictions apply to Clear Creek in unincorporated Jefferson County, as well as those portions of Clear Creek within the City of Golden, including Vanover Park.

Colorado’s Own Channel 2 spotted two people with tubes ready to hop in the water were stopped short by onlookers who informed them tubing was restricted.

Water activities prohibited by the order include all single-chambered air inflated devices such as belly boats, inner tubes, and single chambered rafts, as well as “body-surfers” and swimming.

Kayaks, paddle boards, whitewater canoes and multi-chambered professionally guided rafts and river boards are exempt, but are encouraged to observe extreme caution due to the safety concerns surrounding swift moving water and floating debris.

Arkansas River at Moffat Street Pueblo April 1 through June 12, 2016.
Arkansas River at Moffat Street Pueblo April 1 through June 12, 2016.

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Authorities said the water of the Arkansas River where the rescue happened [ed. 3 young people rescued from the Arkansas River Tuesday, June 7] was flowing fairly fast. Earlier in the day, it was measured at 4,300 cubic feet per second — fast but not unusual during the annual spring runoff.

Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs gage April 1 through June 12, 2016.
Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs gage April 1 through June 12, 2016.

From The Aspen Times (Erica Robbie):

Rapids on the Roaring Fork River are expected to peak this weekend, said Aspen Fire Department Chief Rick Balentine, citing information from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Balentine said the currents are “dangerously high” now and cautioned those on the water to wear some form of safety flotation device.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 88 percent of people who drown in boating accidents are not wearing a life vest, Balentine said.

He cited another Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stat noting alcohol is a factor in 70 percent of water-recreation accidents.

“These are pretty stark facts,” Balentine said. “If you see somebody about to do something stupid, say something…

On Thursday, the river flow hit around 1,640 cubic feet per second, Ingram said.

River officials often draw a parallel between one cubic feet per second and one basketball — meaning 1,640 cubic feet per second is the equivalent to about 1,640 basketballs rushing down a river at once.

Ingram expects the Slaughterhouse area, one of the faster, more thrilling sections of the river, to reach between 1,800 and 2,200 cfs this weekend.

Cache la Poudre at Canyon Mouth water year 2016 through June 12, 2016.
Cache la Poudre at Canyon Mouth water year 2016 through June 12, 2016.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The National Weather Service in Denver extended a flood advisory for the Poudre in Larimer County and Weld County. The river isn’t projected to reach flood stage through early next week, but residents can expect minor flooding of low-lying areas along the river, according to the advisory.

South Platte River Basin snowpack sat at 194 percent of its historical average on Friday morning and was even higher earlier this week thanks to remnants from spring snows. That’s significant for the Poudre, which is fed by mountain snowpack in addition to water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project.

As temperatures soar into the 90s this weekend, snowmelt will push the river to 6.7 feet at the canyon mouth by Sunday morning, the advisory said. Flood stage is 7.5 feet, and the river stood at 6.2 feet Friday morning.

At 6 feet, water covers the bike path and trail along the river in and near Fort Collins.

southplatteriverbasinhighlo06112016

From The Greeley Tribune (Katarina Velazquez):

Colorado has twice as much snowpack than normal for this time of year, according to the latest snowpack report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The cool, wet weather in May contributed to the exceptional water supply Colorado appears to have heading into the summer. According to the report, as of June 6, the state was at 201 percent of the average for snowpack, compared to last year’s 95 percent.

“This should be a good year waterwise for cities and for farmers; that’s the bottom line,” said Brian Werner of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

The fact that snow is still visible in the mountains at this time of year means the runoff should last longer than it usually does, which in turn means less water will be pulled from reservoir storage later in the year, he said.

And the snowpack is especially good in the northern Colorado area. The majority of remaining snowpack in Colorado exists in the northern mountains, especially in watersheds such as the South Platte and Upper Colorado, which are above 10,000 feet.

As of June 6, both river basins that feed into northern Colorado — the Upper Colorado River Basin and the South Platte River Basin — were above 200 percent of the median snowpack.

As for reservoir storage, the state is currently at 108 percent of average, according to the June 1 update from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This is exactly where the state was last year, as well.

The Upper Colorado River Basin is at 110 percent of average for reservoir storage and the South Platte River Basin is at 112 percent of the average.

Werner said the Colorado-Big Thompson project is 20 percent above normal, which is promising at this point in the year. The Colorado-Big Thompson project is a series of reservoirs, pipelines, diversions and ditches that provides water to municipalities, farmers and other water users throughout northeastern Colorado.

Werner said going into summer, farmers and cities should be in good shape if nothing drastic occurs within the upcoming months.

“We shouldn’t have any major water worries this year,” he said.

Flows in upper Roaring Fork River could double with curtailed diversions

A little under 600 cfs of water flowing out of the east end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel on June 6, 2016. A similar amount of water could be heading west down Lincoln Creek and the Roaring Fork River next week if the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. closes the tunnel due to constraints on its water rights.
A little under 600 cfs of water flowing out of the east end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel on June 6, 2016. A similar amount of water could be heading west down Lincoln Creek and the Roaring Fork River next week if the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. closes the tunnel due to constraints on its water rights.
A graph showing the level of diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel so far in June 2016. The 618 cfs flowing through the tunnel could be turned back into the river within a week.
A graph showing the level of diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel so far in June 2016. The 618 cfs flowing through the tunnel could be turned back into the river within a week.

ASPEN (Brent Gardner-Smith) – The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. has alerted Pitkin County officials that it soon intends to stop diverting about 600 cubic feet per second of water through the Twin Lakes Tunnel near Independence Pass.

The non-diversion of water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, which could begin by midweek and last up to three weeks, could double forecasted flows in the Stillwater section of the Fork just east of Aspen, depending on weather and runoff levels. That may inundate the popular North Star Nature Preserve.

“We may see a couple of weeks or more where we are not taking anything through the tunnel, and hopefully that doesn’t cause too much flooding on that side,” said Kevin Lusk, a senior engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities and the president of the board of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

The Roaring Fork, as measured at Stillwater Drive east of Aspen on a federal gauge, was flowing in the 500-to-750 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) range on Friday.

Also on Friday, there was 618 cfs of water being diverted east through the Twin Lakes Tunnel and under the Continental Divide, bound for Front Range cities and fields near Ordway, in the lower Arkansas River basin.

The North Star Nature Preserve, with the Roaring Fork River still mostly within its banks, on Saturday, June 11, 2016. The view could change if th Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. turns back the 600 cfs it is diverting through the Twin Lakes Tunnel.
The North Star Nature Preserve, with the Roaring Fork River still mostly within its banks, on Saturday, June 11, 2016. The view could change if the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. turns back the 600 cfs it is diverting through the Twin Lakes Tunnel.

Doubling the flow?

If Twin Lakes does turn off the diversion tunnel by midweek as expected, the Fork could be flowing in the 1,100-to-1,200 cfs range, instead of the 500-to-550 cfs range, as forecasted by the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center.

The current forecast, which assumes the Twin Lakes diversions are in place as usual, shows the Roaring Fork at Stillwater reaching a seasonal peak flow of 755 cfs today. Flows are then forecast to drop to the 500-to-550 cfs range by Wednesday. (The river actually beat the forecast and reached 773 cfs on Friday).

This would be the second straight year that Twin Lakes has stopped its diversions from the Roaring Fork headwaters due to plenty of water in the Arkansas basin.

Last year, Twin Lakes was diverting 528 cfs when it suddenly closed the tunnel on June 4.

A couple of days later, it diverted about 200 cfs for a brief time to try to reduce flooding of an old cabin along the river, and then, out of options, it left the tunnel closed until July 20.

A graph showing the levels of diversion through the Twin Lakes Tunnel in May, June and July of 2015.
A graph showing the levels of diversion through the Twin Lakes Tunnel in May, June and July of 2015.

Last year’s non-diversion of water by Twin Lakes helped push the Roaring Fork at Stillwater to a peak flow of 1,680 cfs on June 18.

The only minor damage caused in Pitkin County by last year’s high water was to the little cabin. And to the delight of paddlers on the Stillwater section of river, the high water also formed “Lake Northstar” on the North Star Nature Preserve.

A cabin dating to the mid-1960s in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River was flooded in June 2015, with standing water in the living room and in a nearby art studio.
A cabin dating to the mid-1960s in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River was flooded in June 2015, with standing water in the living room and in a nearby art studio.
A large portion of the meadow in the North Star nature preserve east of Aspen was flooded in June 2015, allowing boaters in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River to expand their horizons.
A large portion of the meadow in the North Star nature preserve east of Aspen was flooded in June 2015, allowing boaters in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River to expand their horizons.

Non-diversions rare

It’s rare for Twin Lakes to stop diverting water, but it has constraints in its water-right decrees that can, in wet years, force it to stop moving water from the West Slope.

Twin Lakes operates what is formally known as the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System. It gathers water from the Roaring Fork River and from Lost Man, Grizzly, Lincoln, New York, Brooklyn and Tabor creeks, and delivers the water to Grizzly Reservoir.

From Grizzly Reservoir, the water is sent through the 4-mile-long Twin Lakes Tunnel, under the Divide, into Lake Creek and down to Twin Lakes Reservoir, on the east side of Independence Pass.

The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. is controlled by various municipal shareholders in the company, with Colorado Springs owning 55 percent of the shares, Pueblo 23 percent, Pueblo West 12 percent, and Aurora 5 percent. There are also other minority shareholders still using the water from the system for agriculture.

One constraint in Twin Lakes’ water rights, which date to 1936, is tied to the Colorado Canal, which diverts water from the lower Arkansas River under a relatively junior water right.

If the demands of the Colorado Canal can be met with “native” water from the Arkansas, then Twin Lakes cannot divert water from the West Slope to fill the canal.

This year, there is a lot of water running down the Arkansas, and so the canal does not need supplemental water from the West Slope, at least not yet.

The east end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel on June 6, 2016. The four-mile long tunnel brings water from Grizzly Reservoir to Lake Creek, Twin Lakes Reservoir, and on to Front Range cities and fields.
The east end of the Twin Lakes Tunnel on June 6, 2016. The four-mile long tunnel brings water from Grizzly Reservoir to Lake Creek, Twin Lakes Reservoir, and on to Front Range cities and fields.

Storage constraint

The other water-right constraint relates to how much water Twin Lakes can legally store in Twin Lakes Reservoir.

Once Twin Lakes, the company, has stored 54,452 acre-feet of water in Twin Lakes, the reservoir, the company has to stop diverting water from the Roaring Fork basin for storage.

Normally by the time Twin Lakes has reached its storage limit, the flow in the lower Arkansas has dropped and the Colorado Canal gets called out by senior diverters, so Twin Lakes can send supplemental water to the canal, allowing the Twin Lakes Tunnel to divert all summer.

But due to this year’s weather and snowpack, the constraints on Twin Lakes’ water rights have again come together, forcing the tunnel to be turned off as soon as the storage limit is reached, especially as the weather forecast suggests runoff into the Arkansas will remain high.

The Colorado Canal in March 2016.
The Colorado Canal in March 2016.

Timing uncertain

If cool and wet weather were to materialize over the next few days, however, cit ould delay when Twin Lakes reaches its storage limit and has to stop diverting. It could be midweek, or it could be next week.

And how long the tunnel stays closed depends on a range of factors, Lusk said, including weather, flows into the Arkansas, and the operation of Twin Lakes Reservoir.

Valerie MacDonald, Pitkin County emergency manager, said officials with Twin Lakes have done a much better job this year than last year in communicating about the likelihood of a non-diversion.

She also said local public safety officials are prepared to respond to high water and that concerned property owners can find information about flood readiness on the Pitkin County website.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch, are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Saturday, June 11, 2016.

A map of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, as submitted to Div. 5 Water Court by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.
A map of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, as submitted to Div. 5 Water Court by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

Roaring Fork Conservancy District Independence Pass diversion system tour recap

Independence Pass Diversion
Independence Pass Diversion

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

The Independence Pass transmountain diversion system shut down for more than a month this year around the June peak runoff due to ample water supplies in the Arkansas River basin, only the fourth such time this has happened for these reasons since the 1930s.

Seeing rivers in this more-natural state has reinvigorated local interest in the health of the Roaring Fork watershed and how it is managed.

Recently, a group of more than two dozen interested locals and tourists met up at the Lost Man trailhead parking lot near Independence Pass to learn more about how water is diverted east from the watershed. The sold-out event was hosted by the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, and was led by both its employees and those of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which manages water flows through the transmountain diversion system…

Medved noted that there are 24 major diversion tunnels in Colorado, and two of the five largest are in the Roaring Fork watershed.

The fifth largest is the 3.85-mile-long Twin Lakes tunnel, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River to the Arkansas River basin. It is a bit over nine feet wide and boring began in November of 1933, with the workers “holing out” in February 1935.

The Boustead Tunnel is the third-largest diversion tunnel and is located on the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. It stretches 5.5 miles, and empties into Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.

Scott Campbell, general manager of the nonprofit Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which is privately owned and based out of Ordway, has worked with water for about 40 years and explained that the Twin Lakes diversion was originally a supplemental water right in the 1930s. He added that when water from the Arkansas River was coming up short on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Twin Lakes Reservoir water would help to fill the gap.

Each year, the transmountain diversion system collects water from the Roaring Fork River, as well as the Lost Man, Lincoln, Brooklyn, Tabor, New York and Grizzly creeks, and moves it through the Twin Lakes Tunnel into the Arkansas basin. From there much of it aids agricultural pursuits near Pueblo and Crowley counties…

The Twin Lakes Reservoir is owned and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, but the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. retains ownership of 54,452 acre-feet of space within to store water…

More storage on East Slope needed

When asked why Eastern Slope reservoirs aren’t being expanded to store more water, Campbell replied, “That’s a very good question.”

Alan Ward, water resources administrator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, explained that many of the reservoirs on the Front Range are under federal purview, and changes would require an act of Congress.

“As it turns out, we’ve been trying to do that for almost 15 years,” he said. “It’s not easy to get Congress all together and actually passing legislation that would allow us to study the enlargement of that.”

Ward added that while some potential reservoir sites may be good from an engineering point of view, they don’t always make sense environmentally.

“It’s just a challenge to be able to find a spot that you can get permitted, that you can afford to build on, and that you can get permission to build on, if it requires an act of Congress,” he said. “But something I think is very much in the forefront of the minds of water planners on the East Slope, is where and how can we build more storage to be able to better manage the limited supply [of water] we have.”

Into the Styx

Following a bumpy Jeep ride up Lincoln Creek, care of Blazing Adventures, to see the opposite end of the tunnel through Green Mountain, Campbell concluded the tour by leading people on a subterranean descent into the Twin Lakes Tunnel.

The concrete “road” dropped down quickly into the darkness, and constant seepage water dripped from above, creating the feeling of being caught in an underground monsoon.

Campbell noted that the site’s caretakers, Kim and Glenn Schryver, use the underground route in the winter to reach the outside world while Independence Pass is buried under the snowpack.

He explained that the workers boring the tunnel converged on each other from either side and averaged just under 50 feet in progress a day. When they met up, the holes were six inches apart, Campbell said, adding that the route was determined with a line of mirrors shot over Independence Mountain.

Buying and drying: water lessons from Crowley County — The Colorado Independent #COWaterPlan

crowleycountydryupjennifergoodland

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

In Otero County, the corn is knee-high, the famous Rocky Ford cantaloupes are almost ready to pick and the onions, tomatoes, sugar beets and wheat are thriving in the fields.

But on the north side of the Arkansas River, over in nearby Crowley County, the landscape looks very different. The only bumper crops are “noxious and obnoxious weeds,” according to a county commissioner. This is what happens when a county sells its water rights.

As did many communities this year, the southeastern Colorado county had what locals are calling a “Miracle May.” Rainfall in that single month was just a couple inches shy of what the county gets, in total, most years. For the first time in recent years, Lake Meredith will have enough water for fish to survive and maybe even generate a little tourism from anglers.

Still, it wasn’t enough to resuscitate the once-thriving agricultural industry nor to save the county’s last remaining feedlot, which is scheduled to go up for bankruptcy auction later this month.

Water experts say Crowley is a parable for how bad things can get when cities and industry dry up farmland to buy rural water — a controversial practice known as “buy and dry” deals.

But the county’s dry landscape could change if, as proposed by a group of water users representing the Arkansas River basin, the state’s water plan includes a blueprint for bringing water back to the county.

crowleycountyheritagecenter

How Crowley County dried up

Water, and the agriculture industry that followed, didn’t come naturally to Crowley County.
The county was formed in 1911 out of a portion of northern Otero County – named in honor of state Sen. John H. Crowley, who represented the area at that time. The county is bordered on the south by the Arkansas River.

But the river wasn’t enough to irrigate local farms. The first irrigation systems came in through the Colorado Canal in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the state built a tunnel through the mountains to deliver water from the Roaring Fork River on the Western Slope and into a new reservoir at Twin Lakes, near Leadville. Crowley County farmers paid for the reservoir.

The county had its agricultural heyday before the dustbowl of the 1930s, but even after that farmers prospered.

Attached to Sweetness, a history of the county’s tiny town Sugar City, published in the 1980s, states “water created a Garden of Eden.”

The county easily rivaled its neighbors on crop production. It was known for tomatoes, onions, corn and wheat. It had two major feedlots for native Colorado cattle, and a sugar factory for processing sugar beets. And it was famous for cantaloupe. The juicy melons, known as Sugar City nuggets, were a “pink beauty,” according to Attached to Sweetness.

In the 1970s, more than 50,000 acres were irrigated in Crowley County.

But Crowley’s shares in the Twin Lakes reservoir earned it attention from thirsty Front Range cities.
In the late 1960s, with crops and cattle prices in decline, farmers and ranchers in Crowley County started thinking about selling their water rights. Some wanted to get out of agriculture. Others were ready to retire, and farmland was their 401(k).

crowleycountyjennifergoodland

In 1972, the Foxley Cattle Company bought water rights from farmers and ranchers all over the county. For a couple of years, that land stayed in agriculture and continued to be irrigated.

Then came the Crowley County Land and Development Company, which bought more water rights — both from Foxley and directly from farmers and ranchers willing to sell at the right price. CLADCO sold those water rights to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Pueblo West and Aurora to quench those communities’ sprawl.

According to the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, municipal and industrial users now own 90 percent of the water stored in Twin Lakes.

The terms of the water sales included a requirement that municipalities revegetate the fallowed farms and ranches to restore the county’s natural prairie grasslands. But several current and former residents say the contractors did a poor job of re-seeding the prairie grass, and it quickly died.

A county that once had more than 50,000 irrigated acres now has only about 5,000. In the drought of 2012, the number dropped to 2,500.

Even the few remaining farmers with water rights are not guaranteed water in a year when there is not enough to go around.

Asked if Crowley is still an agricultural county, County Commissioner Frank Grant paused, and then said, “Yes. We still have cattle.”

But according to one lifelong resident, it’s mostly dairy stock, not valuable cattle that can be sold for beef.

crowleycountycattle

The prisons of Crowley County

With dwindling agriculture, the county had to find another industry for its economic base. It turned to prisons.

There are two in Crowley County: the state-run Arkansas Valley Correctional Center, just outside the town of Crowley; and a private prison operated by Corrections Corporations of America near Olney Springs.
The county’s most recent property tax revenues totalled about $1.6 million – more than half of which came from the private prison.

The most recent census in 2012 counted more than 5,823 “residents” in Crowley County, but 46 percent of them are prison inmates.

Crowley County Commissioner Tobe Allumbaugh said that outside of the prison numbers, the county’s population has declined at about the same rate as its neighboring counties – about 1 percent per year.
The prisons have brought jobs, but not necessarily to Crowley County. Most of the prisons’ workers live in nearby counties or in Pueblo or Colorado Springs.

crowleycountyprison

Commissioners Grant and Allumbaugh attribute the lack of interest in living in the county to a housing shortage. Most of the homes are small, old and asbestos-laden. It’s too expensive to tear the houses down because they would need asbestos mitigation. No one is showing any interest in building homes in the county, either, they said.

While the CCA taxes contribute to the county coffers, prisons haven’t helped businesses survive in Ordway and other communities.

Ordway, the county seat, has a population of just over 1,000. There are a few businesses on the town’s Main Street – mostly county and town government offices – an insurance company, grocery store, pharmacy, the reservoir and canal company offices, a couple of medical facilities and Chubbuck Motor, the local Ford dealer. The nearest farm tractor dealer, John Deere, is in Otero County.

Mostly, buildings along Main Street are for sale or appear to be abandoned.

Darla Wyeno, clerk for the town of Crowley, was one of those who sold water rights to the big cities. She and her husband have 120 acres on which they used to grow onions, tomatoes and melons. Today, they graze cattle on their land. She says life might have been different if the cities that bought their water had done a better job of re-seeding their land with prairie grass.

The loss of water hasn’t been all bad, she said. Their son went to college on the earnings they made from the water deal. He’s now a successful banker in Colorado Springs. Her husband has an off-farm job, and both their careers mean two steady paychecks every month instead of one uncertain one at the end of the year when they cashed in their crops.

Still, Wyeno adds, “When we sold our water, we sold our future.”

Local residents now fight the rampant dust every day, never realizing that would be the impact of losing their water. Bees won’t come to Crowley; it’s too far a flight. The hay fields today have to be pollinated with bees rented from outside the county.

crowleycountyhorses

State water plan may hold promise for the county

The state water plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper two years ago, incorporates suggestions made by roundtable groups in each of Colorado’s nine river basins. The roundtables include representatives from agriculture, municipal water providers, industrial users, environmental and recreational interests and those who own water rights.

Under Colorado’s complex web of water laws, once water has been removed from the land through the purchase of a water right, it cannot be returned. It’s gone for good.

But that isn’t stopping the Arkansas Basin roundtable from trying to find ways to get water flowing back into Crowley County.

The roundtable suggests that the county should acquire water rights to maintain permanent water levels in its two major lakes: Lake Meredith and Lake Henry. Inconsistent levels have resulted in loss of fish, blowing dust and bad odors in both lakes, according to the basin’s recommendations.

Allumbaugh says replenishing the lakes could help the county become a tourist destination, although getting the water to a stable level is just one part of the solution.

Two more recommendations seek water rights for municipal, industrial and agricultural needs.

The roundtable’s recommendations don’t specify where that water will come from.
Engineer Rick Kidd represents Crowley County on the Arkansas basin roundtable. He says the group firmly supports any efforts to get and keep water rights in the Arkansas River valley.

Grant says what has gone down in Crowley County – which he has called home for the last 36 years – is pretty typical of rural communities all across the state.

“It just happened here sooner,” he says. “The water sales got us.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.