Grizzly Reservoir update

Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism
Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

The effort to repair the gate at Grizzly Reservoir that forced the lake to be drained, sending water laden with heavy metals into the Roaring Fork River in August, began Friday.

And there are now protocols in place so officials, residents and river users are not caught off guard, as they were when the river turned from its usual gin-clear shade to an ugly yellowish-brown on Aug. 11, if future reservoir work is expected to impact the Roaring Fork.

There could again be some discoloration in the Fork and Lincoln Creek from silt stirred up during the “dewatering” of the work site, according to a Roaring Fork Conservancy press release. The dewatering must occur so the gate can be fixed.

But crews with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., the owner and operator of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System that has purview over Grizzly Reservoir, have set up a silt fence and straw bales and wattles (a formation involving stakes interlaced with slender tree branches) to trap sediment.

Grizzly Reservoir had to be drained because the nonfunctioning gate could have led to a much more serious incident in which the dam failed, said Scott Campbell, the reservoir company’s general manager, shortly after the drainage.

Tests of water and soil samples showed there were levels of iron and aluminum that exceeded state standards for aquatic life. But officials do not believe the material from the 19th-century Ruby Mine will have a long-term impact on the Roaring Fork ecosystem.

Still, the fact that the drainage and discoloration happened so soon after the Animas River pollution disaster alarmed many people, and Campbell has acknowledged that notification about the reservoir work should have been better.

More coverage from The Aspen Times (Jason Auslander):

Those who criticized Grizzly Reservoir officials for draining the lake in August and sending polluted water down the Roaring Fork River for days take note: You’ve been heard.

“I get it,” said Scott Campbell, general manager of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. “And I’m sorry I didn’t make those calls” in August warning downvalley communities of the impending drainage.

Now, as repair work is slated to begin on a broken reservoir gate — the reason for the drainage in the first place — officials from Twin Lakes and from downvalley governments and other organizations have established protocols designed to prevent similar surprises in the future.

The new protocols were laid out in a meeting Tuesday at Grizzly Reservoir. They call for government officials in Aspen and Pitkin County as well as those with the Roaring Fork Conservancy to be notified if any changes occur in the operation of Grizzly Reservoir that might affect the Roaring Fork Valley, said April Long, stormwater manager for the city of Aspen.

“They were apologetic and wanted to take the proper steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Long said.

Long said she’s satisfied that the new protocols will prevent another surprise discharge from occurring.

More coverage from Jason Auslander writing for The Aspen Times:

Grizzly Reservoir is a “toxic waste pond,” and if it is ever drained again, people and governments downstream need to know in advance.

That was the word Thursday from Healthy Rivers and Streams Board Chairman Andre Wille, though his fellow board members seemed to agree with the sentiment.

“This is the single biggest water-quality disaster we’ve ever seen in the Roaring Fork River,” Wille said during the board’s meeting Thursday evening. “I just don’t think it was thought through.”

Officials with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which runs Grizzly Reservoir, decided to drain the lake around Aug. 8 in order to fix an outlet gate that was jammed by a tree, according to a report that analyzed water samples taken from the discharge.

Basalt approves whitewater kayak park — The Aspen Daily News

Proposed Basalt whitewater park via the Aspen Daily News
Proposed Basalt whitewater park via the Aspen Daily News

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

Pitkin County plans to install concrete structures and place boulders in the Roaring Fork River near the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Elk Run Drive to create the wave feature for kayakers, and help secure an in-stream diversion water right to keep more of the precious liquid in the river.

But whitewater enthusiasts will have to wait just a bit longer to ride the waves, after construction was delayed until next year so that more public input can be taken into account and amorous trout have time to do their thing.

John Ely, Pitkin County attorney, told the council that Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials had concerns over spawning trout in the river where the construction is to occur. This sentiment was echoed by members of the local angling community who urged caution on moving forward, and asked that the project be delayed.

David Johnson, member of the Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance and guide at the Crystal Fly Shop in Carbondale, said more public input needs to be reeled in before construction occurs.

“Our official position on this issue is that, as an entity, we’d like to see the town of Basalt delay construction on this project so the public can be more fully informed and engaged,” he said. “Pitkin County has had this on the drawing board for a long time, many years, but there hasn’t been outreach to the fishing community.”

Johnson added that the “washing-machine effect” of the feature could be detrimental to fish in the river, and that many locals are skeptical of just how much water the junior right would put in the river, even though any would be a benefit…

Laura Makar, assistant Pitkin County attorney, noted that the cubic feet per second associated with the right would entail an extra 240 CFS from April 15 to May 7; 380 CFS from May 8 to June 10; 1,350 CFS June 11 to June 25; then down to 380 CFS June 26 to Aug. 20; and 240 CFS from then until Labor Day…

Ely said that construction will be delayed until 2016, and that the Army Corps of Engineers, which provides the 404 permit for the project, has been amenable to a delay. The permit has already been granted but is scheduled to expire on Dec. 7…

Denise Handrich, an adjunct professor at Colorado Mountain College’s Aspen campus, said the whitewater park will provide a wonderful location to teach her students how to kayak…

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said that while safety must still be addressed in the area, she was relieved by the delay to allow for the spawning trout to procreate, calling fishing the top economic driver for Basalt.

“I’m really happy that we’re going to slow down,” she said. “I think this issue with the spawning is a big deal. … Fishing is a really, really big deal for this community.”

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

Public review for new floodplain maps for Aspen and Pitkin County

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

From Pitkin County via the Aspen Daily News:

Pitkin County and the city of Aspen will roll out preliminary floodplain maps to the public at an open house next week.

The new maps, also known as flood insurance rate maps, had not been updated since 1987. The latest effort was the result of an extensive, multiyear study of the Roaring Fork watershed, and surrounding creeks and drainages, according to a Pitkin County press release.

“Floodplains change over time, and with that the risk of flooding can change for people who own property in floodplains,” said Lance Clarke, the county’s assistant director of community development.

The unveiling of the maps is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 29, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Plaza 1 meeting room, 530 East Main St. in Aspen.

At the public event, participants will be able to see their properties online using GIS technology with a floodplain map overlay. Property owners will have the opportunity to review the maps with advice and counseling by FEMA, Colorado Water Conservancy officials and flood insurance experts.

The new maps are preliminary, and FEMA has not yet adopted them. Officials want local residents and business owners to review the drafts to identify any concerns or questions.

Experts will be available to explain what should be done if properties are located in a floodplain and what property owners can do to protect their home or business from the consequences of a flood.

“This is a rare opportunity for local property owners to meet one-on-one with FEMA officials and insurance experts to find out how these new maps may affect their property,” Clarke said.

In 2009, officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommended the new study to the city and county. FEMA contributed 75 percent of the $517,220 price tag. The remainder of the cost was funded by grants from Pitkin County Healthy Rivers, the city of Aspen, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and an in-kind contribution from the Pitkin County GIS Department.

The public can access the preliminary maps on FEMA’s website:

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project operations update: Surplus supply going into water year 2016

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

What to do with all the water?

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District tackled the question Thursday by approving additional allocations requested by cities and farms in the Arkansas Valley.

But more than half of additional water brought in by the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project will be carried over to next year and added to next year’s allocations.

In May, the district allocated about 46,000 acre-feet (15 billion gallons), with about one-third going to cities and two-thirds to farms. But continued wet conditions added another 22,500 acre-feet to the amount available for allocation.

A total of 72,000 acrefeet were imported, but some of it goes for other obligations or to account for losses.

Wet conditions and the way water has to be delivered or accounted for cut down on demand for the additional water, Executive Director Jim Broderick explained.
Most cities had plenty of water in storage and not many places to store additional water.

“A lot of people were at their limit and not making request,” Broderick said. “It’s been a wet year and there is no place to put the water. Everything got full.”

The big exception was the Pueblo Board of Water Works, which did not take any water from the first allocation. Pueblo Water took 6,500 acre-feet. All told, cities added 8,200 acre-feet to their supplies.

The large canal companies downstream did not jump at all of the additional water either, because there was no way to store it for when it would be needed. About 2,600 acre-feet were allocated during the second round.

That still leaves about 11,700 acre-feet that was brought over from the Fryingpan River basin through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake for later distribution in the Arkansas River basin.

“It will be applied to the first allocation next year,” Broderick said. “My guess is that a lot of the water is going to be available to agriculture.”

That could create a problem even with average moisture next spring, raising the possibility that water stored in excess capacity, or if-and-when accounts, could spill.

About 55,000 acre-feet of if-and-when water is stored in Lake Pueblo now, about one-quarter of the water in the reservoir.

Some winter water could also spill, if the amount exceeds 70,000 acre-feet. About 24,000 acre-feet are now in storage. However, winter water could be stored downstream as well.

Turquoise and Twin Lakes are nearly storing at capacity. Lake Pueblo is at 80 percent of capacity, but 145 percent of average for this time of year, according to Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

If water conditions are typical, 26,000 acre-feet could spill next spring, but it is too soon to make an accurate prediction, Vaughan said. But he said most forecasts are calling for at least 100 percent of snowpack.

“Part of the question is are we bringing water in and using it that year, or are we storing it?” Broderick said. “For the past few years, we have been using other water and storing (Fry-Ark) water.”

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

#ColoradoRiver: Colorado Water Conservation Board to Release Ruedi Reservoir Water for Endangered Fish — CWCB

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Linda Bassi/Ted Kowalski):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) today [September 2] initiated the release of water from Ruedi Reservoir for the month of September for the benefit of the Colorado River endangered fish.

On August 31, the CWCB entered into a lease agreement with the Ute Water Conservancy District (UWCD) for water stored in Ruedi Reservoir, located on the Fryingpan River near Basalt, to supplement flows for existing instream flow water rights on the Colorado River. The CWCB approved entering into the Water Lease Agreement with the UWCD during a regular CWCB Board meeting in May 2015. This agreement allows the CWCB to lease between 6,000 acre-feet and 12,000 acre-feet of water from Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow use on the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River, located near Palisade, Colorado. No releases will result in overall flows from Ruedi exceeding 300 cfs.

The so-called 15-Mile Reach provides critical spawning habitat for the following endangered fish: Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub, and bonytail. It was determined that the water would be best utilized to preserve the natural environment at rates up to and exceeding the current instream flow rights to meet U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) flow targets for the four endangered fish species in the reach. “These types of ‘win-win’ agreements are needed to assure that Colorado can beneficially use water within Colorado and help recover endangered fish that use the Colorado River for habitat,” said James Eklund, the Director of the CWCB.

The UWCD was established in 1965 for the purpose of supplying domestic water service to the rural areas of the Grand Valley, encompassing roughly 260 square miles and servicing over 80,000 people. The UWCD originally entered into a Repayment Contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in September 2013, through which it purchased 12,000 acre-feet of water annually from Ruedi Reservoir. By entering into this lease, the CWCB has access to this water on a short-term basis for the benefit of four endangered fish species. Water released from Ruedi Reservoir under this lease will also be available for non-consumptive power generation immediately above the reach, providing additional late summer benefits to the local area.

“This is the first time that the Species Conservation Trust Fund has been used to purchase stored water to supplement flows to critical habitat for endangered fish. We are excited that we have been able to use this particular funding source and our instream flow program for this purpose,” said Linda Bassi, Chief of the Stream and Lake Protection Section of the CWCB. Currently, the CWCB holds two instream flow water rights on the reach. Jana Mohrman, Hydrologist for the USFWS for the Upper Colorado River Recovery Program, added that “it’s outstanding to see the initiative and cooperation on behalf of the endangered fish by Ute Water and CWCB.”

“Colorado has always been on the leading edge of balancing the development of water resources with recovery of endangered species, and this lease is another example of how Colorado has been able to creatively balance those competing interests,” said Ted Kowalski, Chief of the Interstate, Federal & Water Information Section,

The CWCB has already coordinated with a variety of stakeholders within the affected reaches to implement the releases of this water from Ruedi Reservoir. This coordination will continue throughout the month of September.

Pitkin County ponies up $35,000 to help the Colorado Water Trust

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

From the Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

A three-pronged approach to restore local water flows got a shot in the arm on Tuesday when Pitkin County supported a $35,000 Healthy Rivers and Streams grant to help a Front Range nonprofit’s plan to keep more water in the Roaring Fork River.

The project looks to provide a pathway for water right holders to leave more of their allocation in the Roaring Fork without being penalized, and assess availability of other water sources to combine the total for maximum benefit for the river.

The Denver-based Colorado Water Trust is spearheading the project, which aims to extend a non-diversion agreement for the city-owned Wheeler Ditch; look into the utilization of up to 3,000 acre-feet of water that would otherwise be diverted through the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System to bolster flows near Aspen; and study ways to use more water in Grizzly Reservoir to benefit the Roaring Fork.

The funding will go toward coordinating the project; the completion of a feasibility analyses; forecasting instream flow needs for the upcoming irrigation season; performing outreach; and monitoring and reporting of streamflow and project benefits, according to a supplemental budget request from Lisa MacDonald, of the Pitkin County Attorneys Office.

Amy Beatie, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust (CWT), said this is a “real opportunity” to put water back in the Roaring Fork River, especially in the stretch between the Salvation Ditch and Castle Creek…

Wheeler Ditch non-diversion agreement

Aspen City Council partnered with the Colorado Water Trust in 2013 on a one-year Wheeler Ditch non-diversion agreement to improve streamflow conditions on a section of river that flows through the city. This area stretches from the ditch, which is located near the eastern edge of town, down to the Rio Grande Park, the CWT grant application noted. The agreement was also renewed in 2014.

When the water level in the river fell below 32 cubic feet per second (CFS), the city reduced the Wheeler Ditch diversions to keep water in the river, leading to an increase of about 2 to 3 CFS from mid-July through the end of the irrigation season.

Under the new proposal, this Wheeler agreement would be extended for 10 years, but only five of those years are covered under SB-19.

The water trust’s hope is that once others with water rights see the success of non-diversion agreements, they too will allow more water to remain in the Roaring Fork without penalty.

Beatie added that the city of Aspen has given the CWT a “resounding thumbs-up” in its efforts.

“[The non-diversion agreement] is an informal agreement where a water user decides not to use its water right for its decreed purposes,” she explained. “But can instead leave it in the river. There’s no transfer obligations, it’s a very simple and private process and it’s a private contract between the trust and the city to experiment with leaving water in this section of river.”

More water from Grizzly Reservoir

Beatie said a right to 800 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir was acquired in a settlement by the Colorado River Water Conservation District in an application for a junior right enlargement.

John Currier, chief engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, explained that out of the first 2,400 acre-feet that’s diverted in any given year under the junior water right, 800 goes to the river district.

“Through agreements with the city and county, that water is to be used in various ways, primarily for instream flow purposes,” he said.

Currier added that the real task of the overall project is figuring out how to marry the three sources and maximize the benefit.

“This was water that the river district secured,” Beatie noted. “It’s 800 acre-feet, about 750 of which can be used by a combination of the river district and Aspen for environmental purposes.”

Beatie said the river district is allowing CWT to analyze how the water can best be used and “sow this supply together with the Wheeler Ditch project.”

The CWT then intends to investigate how to best utilize the Grizzly water to enhance Roaring Fork streamflows, especially in years in which the Wheeler Ditch isn’t being diverted.

According to the CWT grant application, the first 40-acre feet of Grizzly Reservoir water would “be held in a mitigation account for subsequent release to enhance flows in the Roaring Fork during the late irrigation season.”

“The remaining water is to be stored either in Grizzly Reservoir in a Colorado River Water Conservation District account (up to 200 acre-feet) or held in [Twin Lakes Reservoir] storage,” the application continued.

Commissioner Steve Child asked if Grizzly Reservoir could be enlarged to provide more water on the West Slope.

Currier said that while nothing is in the works yet, the idea has “been on the radar screen.”

Water from the ‘Exchange’

In the third part of proposal, known as the “exchange,” the CWT will also investigate, in partnership with the water district, how to restore flows via the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System.

This could provide up to 3,000 acre feet of water “in exchange for equivalent bypasses from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River,” the CWT grant application noted.

But Beatie said that while this arrangement has been implemented, it’s never been formally approved.

“The state engineer cannot administer an agreement, they need to administer a water right,” she said. “There may be more steps that need to be undertaken, both to secure this water right as instream flow, and then to have it protected.”

Wide support for effort

The Pitkin County commissioners supported the HRS grant allocation for the project, and praised the city’s involvement.

“From the bottom of my heart I want to applaud the city for taking the lead on this during the drought and continuing and following through,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards. “It’s just been fabulous.”

Dave Nixa, vice chair of the Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, said data from this project could provide a huge opportunity to increase local flows, calling it the most comprehensive grant request that HRS has ever received.

“We’re talking about, could some of those places be Snowmass Creek and the Crystal [River]?” he said. “Where we could use the value of this as a catalyst to encourage others to participate.”

April Long, stormwater manager for the city, said Aspen is looking at creating a river management plan for the Roaring Fork, calling it a top priority.

“It’s something that we’ll be working with the county very closely on, and all the other stakeholders in the suburb section of the watershed in the next two years to develop an operational river management plan for how we can maintain flows in drought years,” she said.

The CWT had already attained a matching grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the total budget for the project is approximately $70,000, according to a letter from Beatie to the HRS board.

“The idea behind this application is that it’s a really good start,” Beatie said, “Our experience is that one step forward into solving flow shortages is often the catalyst to bring more energy and enthusiasm and other water rights and water users into the program.”

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.