Fountain Creek: “The annual maintenance of the levee [in Pueblo] has been neglected” — Ken Wright

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It’s like adding insult to injury.

As if flooding on Fountain Creek weren’t bad enough, mountains of sand are stacking up north of Pueblo waiting to descend on the channel through the city.

Dealing with it will take cooperation from the north and decades to correct.

“It’s like a big anaconda eating an animal and moving it down,” said Ian Paton, part of the Wright Engineering team hired by Pueblo County commissioners to analyze the problem. Commissioners heard a status report on what will be an ongoing study on Friday.

The problem may be bigger than previously thought, Paton explained.

The net gain of sediment in Fountain Creek works out to about 370,000 tons a year between Fountain and Pueblo, causing the river to shift its flow in the channel as the increasing amount of material obstructs its path. It keeps piling up year after year as it eats away 20-foot cliffs.

And, it has become worse since 1980, when Colorado Springs started booming in population and major infusions of water from outside sources — Homestake, Blue River and the Fountain Valley Conduit — began putting more water into Fountain Creek.

Southern Delivery System, a 66-inch diameter pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, could increase Fountain Creek flows 60-100 percent, while depleting the Arkansas River through Pueblo. Water quality will become an increasing concern as more sediment is churned up.

“Population is the driving factor,” said Andrew Earles, Wright’s top water resources engineer. “To have growth, you need water, and since the 1970s, you’ve been putting more and more water into Fountain Creek.”

Additional water has allowed more growth, and increased base flow threefold.

But the growth also has increased impervious surfaces — roofs, parking lots and streets — by 10 percent of the total watershed area upstream of Security, and caused base flows, high flows (the kind seen this spring) and big floods to become more intense at all times.

The Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires of 2012 and 2013 have caused storms to generate up to 100 times the damage that would have occurred prior to Colorado Springs’ growth surge, Earles explained.

“We can’t turn back the clock. We can’t put it back to the way it was in the 1950s and ’60s,” Earles said. “We can put it in better shape for the future.”

A big part of that will be developing ways to deal with increased flows into Fountain Creek at the source.

That would include detention of floods, bank stabilization and control of tributaries in ways that reduce damage on the main stream.

Wright Engineers evaluated Colorado Springs and El Paso County estimates of 454 flood control projects that could cost $723 million to complete for their benefit to Pueblo County. About two-fifths of the projects totaling $537 million would reduce destruction to Pueblo.

Colorado Springs officials are proposing $19 million annually to bring stormwater control back to the level it was before its City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise in 2009.

“So far we agree with their list,” said engineer Wayne Lorenz.

Lorenz said a dam between Fountain and Pueblo is “worthy of consideration,” but cautioned that such a oneshot solution could fail.

“A dam is more of a treatment for a symptom rather than a cause,” Lorenz said. “We can’t put all our eggs in one basket with a dam because it might not happen.”

Commissioners are also concerned that projects be maintained.

In Pueblo, the Fountain Creek levees are in need of repair in order to provide the same protection they were designed to give 25 years ago.

“The levee is badly silted and vegetated, and it would take $2 (million)-$ 5 million to bring it back to standards,” said Ken Wright, head of the engineering firm.

“The annual maintenance of the levee has been neglected.”

The fear is new projects on Fountain Creek could sink in the same boat.

“We need to make sure we’re not just building projects, but have the money to maintain them,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.

Southern Delivery System testing to start up next month

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Decades of planning and an $829 million investment in Colorado Springs Utilities’ biggest water project ever will be put to the test next month, and the folks behind the Southern Delivery System can’t wait.

Like children anticipating new bicycles for Christmas, project leaders are eager – not anxious – for the tests to begin. Their confidence is matched only by their pride in the project…

The water will flow from the Pueblo Dam through three new pump stations to a 100-acre water treatment plant built in Colorado Springs. The plant’s developed area alone could hold 77 football fields, noted Kim Mutchler, of CSU government and corporate affairs.

The entire system is to begin water delivery next April. But before it does, more tests will be done through September and October.

Since pipeline construction began in 2011, every piece of pipeline has been tested upon arrival, with each section water-tested once installed. Pump station testing started in July and is continuing into the fall, and small tests have been done for several months at the treatment plant.

Next month, tests are expected to begin sending water through multiple stages of treatment. Then several system-wide tests will be done through the fall before SDS starts serving customers next year…

Some of the biggest savings, says SDS Program Director John Fredell, came from the 3.62 percent interest rate on $180 million in 40-year bonds issued in September 2010. In all, $475 million in bonds have been issued.

But unforeseen cost cuts came, too, as engineers and others reviewed completed designs and plans, then unabashedly pointed to better, less expensive ways to accomplish what needed to be done.

To wit:

– The sprawling campus envisioned for the water treatment plant and its 10 million-gallon tank was reconfigured to put all essential functions under one roof, saving 4 miles of piping and more than $65 million.

– A contract engineer from the Broomfield-based MWH insisted that the three pump stations could be built for under $100 million, contrary to the contractor’s contention. So the project was rebid and built for $75 million. “Those are the benefits of having a really experienced engineer on your projects,” Fredell said.

– Several million more dollars were saved when a program leader noted that single welds instead of double welds could be used on pipes not handling high pressure.

– Another $10 million was saved when Dan Higgins, then the SDS construction manager, decided the pipeline beneath I-25 and Fountain Creek should be one long tunnel rather than a series of short tunnels using extensive open trenches, as envisioned by a consulting engineer. The new method also minimized impacts to floodplains, wetlands and mature trees.

SDS leaders also changed the type of pumps used, opting for more expensive $1 million vertical pumps – 11 in all – that will last longer, have lower electric costs and produce a higher discharge pressure, so another pump station didn’t have to be built in Pueblo.

“The most expensive commodity is electricity to push the water,” Fredell said.

But the humongous project also has brought financial benefits hidden to the casual observer.

When the SDS started in 2009, along with the recession, “We wanted this to be our own stimulus,” Fredell said. “We went on the road to Pueblo and El Paso and Fremont counties and did workshops on how to work with us.

Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette
Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette

“Only one company in Colorado can build this size diameter pipe. We got other companies from out of state to bid. But they (the Colorado firm) got over $100 million worth of business during the recession. This project helped keep them from having layoffs.”

Contracts set a goal of giving 30 percent of business to Colorado companies, with a penalty for those that didn’t.

“They’ve exceeded the local spend,” Fredell said. “We’ve had over 300 Colorado companies involved and spent $650 million through June, total, and $550 million has stayed in Colorado – $269 million to employers in El Paso County” plus $73 million in Pueblo County and $208 million elsewhere in the state.

The toughest part of the project has been the permitting and planning, he said, with more than 200 major permits obtained, and about 350 total.

The greatest challenges there were creating the 3,000-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which took five years, and obtaining the 1041 Permit from Pueblo County.

The EIS was handled by Keith Riley, SDS deputy program director for CSU, with help from Bill Van Derveer, assistant SDS program director with MWH.

“The two of them were just brilliant in the way they approached it, got the science for the EIS, got all the people together, and worked well with all the agencies, including the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency),” Fredell said.

Two other key players, both now retired from CSU, were Gary Bostrom, chief water services officer, and Bruce McCormick, also a water services officer.

“That’s one of the things I’m proudest of, the people we’ve had work on this thing. They were just ingenious,” Fredell said. “The credit goes to people like that.

“This project has been so much fun. I’ve gotten all my white hair on this project. It’s definitely challenged everybody.”

Reclamation to Host Public Meeting for Ruedi Operations #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Ruedi Dam and Reservoir
Ruedi Dam and Reservoir

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Patience Hurley):

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

August 12: Basalt Town Hall, 101 Midland Avenue, Basalt, Colo., 7 to 8:30 p.m.

The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2015 spring run-off and deliver 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.

“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give” –WestSlopeWater.com #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

That theme of cooperation, including striking a balance between consumption and conservation, quickly rose to the surface Friday, as members of the whitewater, conservation and political communities met at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs to discuss the future of state water policy.

“To the best of our ability, we don’t want it to be West Slope against East Slope, “ said Heather Lewin, watershed action director for the Roaring Fork Conservancy. “We want to be working together to understand where water comes from, and how to use it most efficiently … so that we can do the best we can for the people who live here and for the environment.”

Members of the environmental group Conservation Colorado hosted the confab, which was set to coincide with Colorado River Day. The discussion largely revolved around local water issues and the recent release of the draft Colorado Water Plan. As water levels dwindle throughout the West, Colorado is formulating its first state water plan…

A benefit of the state effort is that many interest groups have gotten together to discuss the issue, creating new partnerships that before may never have been possible, said Kristin Green, Front Range field manager for Conservation Colorado.

“I think it’s important to recognize the diversity of holders we do have in this state, particularly in this area, that feel very direct effects from how we are managing our rivers,” she said. “Now more than ever we need to make sure all those different voices are being heard.”

More than 24,000 comments have been made concerning the draft water plan, and the public comment period doesn’t end until Sept. 17, Green said.

She noted that the second draft of the water plan begins to delve into potential solutions, and suggests a conservation goal of saving 400,000 acre feet by 2050. It’s the start of establishing the criteria officials may want to discuss, she said.

“There definitely was more meat on the bones,” Green said of the second draft…

Roaring Fork watershed increases 
quality of the Colorado

Lewin said that while the Roaring Fork River may be a small component of the overall Colorado River Basin, it still contributes around 1 million acre feet of water to the larger river each year.

She said the quality and quantity of that water can be very significant farther downstream in both an ecological sense and for its value to industries, municipalities and agriculture. But diversions strain that resource.

“Having high-quality water in the Roaring Fork makes a big difference of the water quality overall in the Colorado,” Lewin said.

She added that the river’s gold medal fishing designation is a huge economic boost to the valley. That lofty standard is met when there are at least 60 pounds of trout per acre of water, including at least 12 fish that are 14 inches or longer.

“That’s a lot of fat fish,” Lewin said. “But [keeping] those fish growing fat, healthy and swimming doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

These conditions occur when a river or stream consists of clean water, and is home to an abundant insect population and a healthy riparian area. Lewin said surrounding riparian areas provide shade to cool river temperatures; food for aquatic creatures; erosion control; and help to filter pollutants.

“As you increase development, and as we diminish stream flows, riparian vegetation becomes one of the first things to really suffer,” she said. “So it’s hard to regenerate cottonwoods without overbanking flows. Cottonwoods are a key part to that riparian vegetation piece.”

Lewin said the recent wet spring led to the term “miracle May,” a month with a huge amount of precipitation that helped make up for a dry and warm winter. The heavy flows also helped to clear out sediment that built up in areas of the Roaring Fork.

“One of the biggest transmountain diversions out of the basin, the Independence Pass Tunnel, was shut down for nearly two months,” she said (that was because the East Slope had ample water supplies). “It just started operations about a week ago or so. By closing down that tunnel we were able to really see the full effects of the spring flushing flow and the benefits to the river.”

Lewin added that old oxbows in the North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen were again filled with water this spring, putting the wetland area in a more natural state.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy has also engaged residents in the Crystal River Valley to work on addressing low stream flows. That effort has focused on looking at best practices to manage diversions and return flows, and studying the area’s physical features.

“We’re trying to see if we can use all of those pieces together in cooperation with the people who live on and around the river, and use that water to do the best we can for the Crystal,” Lewin said.

Dean Moffatt, a local architect, inquired about efforts to bestow the federal “Wild and Scenic” designation and its protections on the Crystal River.

“As an organization, we’re certainly supportive of the process,” Lewin replied. “We think that it’s really important and has the potential to be really beneficial.”[…]

‘No more water to give’

Aron Diaz, a Silt town trustee, said there’s a lot of interest among local leaders in the Colorado Water Plan.

“We’re really in a unique position and have the opportunity to craft Colorado’s water policy at the larger state level,” he said. “But we need to keep in mind how that affects the Western Slope.”

Diaz said the biggest point of concern is that Front Range basins are still adding placeholders, indicating that they may need more West Slope water to meet demands.

“We’re pretty tapped out for the amount of water that we have available to us,” he said. “Both with our obligations to stakeholders along the Colorado and those environmental, recreational, agricultural, industrial, municipal needs … as well as our downstream obligations with the compact, we’re really at the limit.”

There’s a need to set “achievable, but very aggressive conservation goals” to assure every avenue is studied before looking at new diversions, Diaz said. He urged the public to visit westslopewater.com to sign a petition that will be delivered to Gov. Hickenlooper and Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund. It requests that no new diversions of water be made to the Front Range…

“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give. We, the undersigned western Colorado residents, strongly urge you to oppose any new trans-mountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado, as you develop Colorado’s Water Plan,” the petition states. “We cannot solve our state’s future water needs by simply sending more water east.”

Lake Pueblo returning to normal as floodwater released — The Pueblo Chieftain

Pueblo Dam
Pueblo Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Maybe it’s time to slap a tag on the Arkansas River that says “shrinks when wet.”

Despite a rainy week, the flow in the Arkansas River is expected to be cut in half today, as the last of stored floodwater is released from Pueblo Dam.

“We started to cut the flows (Tuesday) afternoon,” said Roy Vaughan of the Bureau of Reclamation. “They should be around 2,500 (cubic feet per second) in the morning.”

Water levels have allowed most areas of Lake Pueblo to be reopened, although the sailboard area parking lot still is being assessed and some shoreline areas are soft, Lake Pueblo State Park Manager Monique Mullis said.

“There are still some logs in the water,” Mullis said.

The park is planning to announce wood collection opportunities in the near future.

After the water levels drop in the Arkansas River, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the city of Pueblo and Pueblo County will decide on whether to lift boating restrictions that remain in effect on the river to the Otero County line.

Wet weather returned to the Pueblo area this week, with storms leaving up to half an inch of rain in Pueblo Monday, an inch in areas west of Pueblo and up to 3 inches in the Beulah and Colorado City-Rye areas.

Similar rainfall totals were expected through Tuesday night, with even heavier rain expected today, according to Randy Gray of the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

“The heaviest precipitation should be in the mountain areas in the Sangre de Cristo (Range), Wet Mountains, El Paso and Teller counties,” Gray said. “It should move to the east by Thursday.”

Up to an inch of rain is expected in the Upper Arkansas Valley and the northern San Luis Valley.

The new rain kept water levels on Fountain Creek and in the Arkansas River high. Avondale briefly reached flood stage for the first time in a week Tuesday morning, but should return to lower levels as Pueblo Dam releases are cut.

Fountain Creek levels jumped slightly Tuesday, but were nowhere near the damaging levels in May and June.

The rain had not caused any new damage to county roads, although some private driveways washed out in the Rye area, said Alf Randall, Pueblo County public works director.

Fountain Creek continues to cut at Overton Road north of the Pinon Bridge, and negotiations with Pueblo Springs Ranch owners for a byoff pass route continue. The county this week began work on shoring up the northwest dike on the Pinon Bridge to prevent damage, Randall added.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

Southern Delivery System: Springs, Walker settle for $7.1M — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities and Gary Walker have reached a $7.1 million settlement for the damage to Walker Ranches from the Southern Delivery System pipeline.

The pipeline crosses 5.5 miles of the 63,000-acre property on its route from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. The $841 million SDS project is scheduled to go online next year and will supply water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

On May 6, a jury awarded Walker $4.75 million, which included a $4.665 million judgment beyond the $82,900 stipulated value of the easement across Walker Ranches. Damages plus interest would have brought the total payment to $5.78 million, according to a joint press release.

Utilities disputed the amount, and filed an appeal on May 7. Walker Ranches appealed the decision on May 14. Those appeals were dismissed as part of the settlement reached June 16, but announced on Thursday.

The final agreement resolves all claims for $7.1 million, the press release said.

Utilities will also install fencing on Walker Ranches to prevent cattle from entering the area of the SDS pipeline scar that is being revegetated, and will work with Walker to erect berms on the property to reduce erosion.

The agreement also commits both parties to work together in the future to protect the right of way.

Utilities said the settlement provides more certainty about the ultimate cost of the project, reducing the possibility of an expensive appeals process.

“It has always been our intent when working with property owners to use the court process as a last resort,” John Fredell, SDS program director, said in the news release. “By successfully resolving these issues with Mr. Walker, we can focus on completing the required revegetation on his property and finishing the SDS project on time and under budget.”

Walker, when contacted by The Pueblo Chieftain , declined to comment because of the conditions of the settlement.

During the trial, Walker claimed the SDS project had compromised a $25 million conservation easement on 15,000 acres he was negotiating with the Nature Conservancy. He has used about $13 million from past easements to expand the ranches, which is part of a long-term plan to prevent further urban sprawl in northern Pueblo County.

Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s special counsel, said he has not seen the settlement agreement, so he is uncertain about how the county’s 1041 permit for SDS would be affected. The county is teeing up compliance hearings later this year on revegetation and Fountain Creek flood control, which are referenced in conditions that are part of the 1041 permit.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Watching the mouth of the Roaring Fork River — Aspen Journalism

railroadbridgeoverroaringforkrivermay2015viaaspenjournalismjeremywallaceaspentimes

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

As my raft floated under the railroad bridge at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers last week, I was wondering just how much water would flow out of the Fork and into the Colorado this year.

Certainly less than average, given that the snowpack peaked in March and began melting off, I mused, taking a stroke to catch the big eddy that forms just shy of the mighty Colorado, where the Fork comes in across from Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs after draining 1,543 square miles of land.

Perhaps the wet and cold weather of late April and much of May will continue to forestall a sudden flash of melting snow, so what snow we still have in the high country will come off in a nice steady fashion.

But spinning around the eddy, I knew how easy it was, as a boater, to be wrong about water and weather. It is also, as it turns out, a tricky time of year for professional hydrologists to predict run-off, as data from low-elevation snow-measuring sites tapers off and daily weather conditions can play a big role in shaping how much water flows, and when it does.

In mid-March, which felt like summer already, a trip on the Green River starting April 12 seemed like a good bet this year to enjoy some warm weather. But a big storm swept in that week and blasted the river with freezing rain.

The same storm laid down 11 inches of snow on Aspen Mountain by Friday, April 17, making for a memorable closing weekend for some.

After warming up from that trip, I ventured optimistically out again during the first full week of May, this time on the Colorado River west of Loma. And I was soon engulfed in the downpours of May 5 and 6 that lead to river levels across the region jumping up.

Between May 5 and May 7, for example, the flow in the lower Fork doubled from a 1,000 cubic feet per second to over 2,000 cfs.

So when I went out on May 13 for my first trip of the season down the Roaring Fork from Carbondale to Glenwood, I wasn’t surprised that it started raining. It’s just been that kind of season so far — in fact, through May 19, total precipitation in the Roaring Fork River watershed was 204 percent, or double the normal amount of precipitation. according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

But the Fork was flowing that day at 1,110 cubic feet per second, which was enough water to have a perfectly nice float, especially as I did see some sun (and some red-wing blackbirds).

But will the river get much bigger this year, I wondered as I rowed toward Glenwood.

redcanyonfromroaringforkmay132015apenjournalimsjeremywallaceaspentimes

Below average flows

The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City forecast on May 19 that the Roaring Fork will most likely peak this year in mid- to late June at 4,300 cfs, as measured at Veltus Park, just above the Fork’s confluence with the Colorado.

That’s 73 percent of the Fork’s average annual peak of 5,920 cfs, which typically occurs between May 29 and June 23.

While this year’s likely peak flow of 4,300 cfs is certainly better than the lowest peak flow on record — 1,870 cfs on June 3, 2012 — it’s also way below the historic peak of 11,800 cfs on July 13 in 1995.

The forecast peak flow has increased given the cool and wet weather in May. So, if April showers bring May flowers, May showers are likely to bring better boating on the Fork in June.

“I would say it is very likely (the Roaring Fork) will see a below average peak flow this year,” said Brenda Alcorn, a senior hydrologist with the Forecast Center.

However, she added that what snowpack we do have “is in better shape than it was in 2002 and 2012, so I do not expect a record low peak.”

But just how much water comes, and when, is now weather dependent.

“Spring temperatures and precipitation play a significant role in the pattern of snowmelt runoff and consequently the magnitude of peak flows,” Alcorn said. “An extended period of much above normal temperatures or heavy rainfall during the melt period can cause higher than expected peaks, while cool weather can cause lower than expected peaks.”

On Friday, May 15, Julie Malingowsky, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the period to at least May 25 looked cooler and wetter than normal, and longer-range forecasts indicate that the next several months could be wetter than normal.

(Also, see the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard of indicators at Western Water Assessment)

But probably not wet enough make up for the skinny snowpack.

“Even though it has been a wet month, we are still drier than normal,” Malingowsky said.

confulenceroaringforkcrystalriver05132015aspenjournalismjeremywallaceaspentime

Below average supply

Another view of this year’s water picture is available from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s “Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report,” which was published on May 1.

The report shows that the “most likely” amount of water to reach the bottom of the Roaring Fork between April and the end of July is 450,000 acre-feet, according to Brian Domonkos, a data collection officer with NRCS.

That’s below the 30-year average of 690,000 acre-feet flowing down the Fork for the period from April to August. (The Roaring Fork delivers, on average, 871,100 acre-feet of water to the Colorado River over a full year, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources).

The water-supply report said that current conditions point to “a below normal streamflow forecast picture for much of the state heading into spring and summer of 2015.”

However, Gus Goodbody, a forecast hydrologist with NRCS, said the amount of water expected to flow out of the Roaring Fork is likely to increase from the May 1 forecast by five to 10 percent, given May’s weather so far.

“It’s going to go up,” he said.

Another indicator of potential run-off is the measure of the “snow water equivalent” at SNOTEL measuring sites in the Roaring Fork basin.

The average from the eight SNOTEL sites in the Roaring Fork basin was 108 percent on May 19, but that’s without complete data from four of the sites.

That number — 108 percent — has been climbing steadily since May 1, but it’s not an indicator that the snowpack has been growing. What it does show is that the cool and wet weather has slowed the run-off and moved the data closer to the historic average — which, again, bodes well for June boating. But in addition to the snowpack and the weather, there are other factors that dictate the flows in the Fork at Glenwood Springs.

lookingupthecoloradoriverconfluenceroaringforkaspenjournalismjeremywallaceaspentimes

Off the top

An average of 40,600 acre-feet of water a year is collected from the upper Roaring Fork River basin and sent through a tunnel under Independence Pass and into Twin Lakes Reservoir, destined for Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Pueblo West.

The Twin Lakes diversion takes 40 percent of the water out of the upper Roaring Fork basin above Aspen, according to the 2012 Roaring Fork Watershed Plan.

Another 61,500 acre-feet is collected on average each year from tributaries of the upper Fryingpan River and sent east through the Bousted and Busk tunnels. That accounts for 37 percent of the water in the upper Fryingpan headwaters.

As such, there are many days when there are rivers heading both east and west out of the Roaring Fork River watershed, and the ones heading east can often be bigger.

For example, on May 13, while I was floating on 1,110 cfs at the bottom of the Fork, there was 136 cfs of water running under the Continental Divide in the Twin Lakes — Independence Pass Tunnel, which can, and does, divert up to 625 cfs later in the runoff season.

And the Bousted Tunnel, which transports the water collected from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River, as well as Hunter and Midway creeks in the Roaring Fork basin, was diverting 101 cfs on May 13.

Meanwhile, the gauge on Stillwater Drive on May 14 showed the main stem of the Fork was flowing, just east of Aspen, at 111 cfs.

Then there is the water diverted out of the rivers in the basin and into one of the many irrigation ditches along the Fork, the Crystal and other streams in the basin.

Ken Ransford, a member of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, estimates that the 12 biggest irrigation ditches on the Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers divert about 115,000 acre-feet of water a year.

Most of that water eventually finds its way back to the rivers, but the diversions also leave many stream reaches lower than they otherwise would be, and few tributaries are left untouched.

According to the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan, “flow-altered stream reaches include the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan, and Crystal rivers, as well as Hunter, Lincoln, Maroon, Castle, West Willow, Woody, Snowmass, Capitol, Collins, Sopris, Nettie, Thompson, Cattle, Fourmile, and Threemile creeks.”

Another factor shaping the flows in the lower Fork are decisions made by regional water managers, including irrigators near Grand Junction and municipal water providers in Denver, that can shape releases from reservoirs such as Green Mountain and Ruedi.

Who needs water, and when, can also dictate the size of that eddy at the bottom of the Fork. So for now, I’m just glad it’s big enough to float a boat.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Aspen Times Weekly, and The Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. The Aspen Times Weekly published this story on Thursday, May 21, 2015.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.