Releases from Ruedi Reservoir are anticipated to remain at 125 cfs throughout the weekend. It is expected to fill next week. If the basin gets any significant rainfall, the reservoir may fill sooner and releases may have to be increased.
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.
ASPEN – Officials at the city of Aspen intend to hold at least one public meeting this summer to discuss the conditional water rights it holds that are tied to potential dams on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.
The city’s next diligence filing for its conditional water rights for the two dams and reservoirs is due in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs by Oct. 31. It’s highly unusual in Colorado for a city, or any other entity, to hold a public meeting on a pending diligence filing.
David Hornbacher, city of Aspen director of utilities and environmental initiatives, said that while holding a public meeting is indeed “different,” he is acting at the direction of the city council.
“These are important questions,” he said. “And it’s very much about looking into the future and how do we ensure Aspen has what it needs to continue to thrive and be the place that it is, and what’s the best approach.”
Paul Noto, a water attorney with Patrick, Miller and Noto, which specializes in water law and has represented many clients in the Roaring Fork River watershed, said it was “very unusual” for a city to hold a public hearing about a pending diligence filing.
“I’ve never heard of it, although that’s not to say it’s never occurred,” Noto said. “I’ve just never heard of it.”
If built as currently described by the city’s plans, which were first presented to a water court judge in 1965, the Maroon Creek reservoir would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks.
While only about a third of the size of Paonia Reservoir, which can hold 15,553 acre-feet when full, a Maroon Creek reservoir would still cover 85 acres of U.S. Forest Service land about a mile-and-a-half below Maroon Lake.
It would also inundate portions of both the East Maroon Creek and West Maroon Creek trails in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
The Castle Creek reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam located about two miles below the historic town site of Ashcroft.
It would inundate 120 acres of mostly private land between Fall Creek and Sandy Creek and flood a small piece of Forest Service land within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
Both reservoirs would be located in Pitkin County.
Since 1965, the city has told the state eight different times it intends to build two large dams in pristine locations in the upper Castle and Maroon creek valleys, and it is on the record that the city intends to file a diligence application this fall. In its September 2009 diligence filing the city told the water court “it has steadily applied efforts to complete” the reservoirs “in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner.”
A court official, known as a water referee, agreed.
“To date, the city of Aspen has not needed to construct the storage structures as it has devoted considerable resources to reducing per capita water consumption,” the unnamed referee wrote. (Please see related story).
Private and public meetings
Hornbacher said this week he will hold one private meeting with stakeholders in early July about the dams and at least one public meeting in July or early August, “depending on the level of public interest.”
After presenting information about the water rights and taking questions and suggestions at the meetings, Hornbacher said he would report back to the council in a work session in August or September to get its direction by the Oct. 31 filing deadline.
He said council could direct staff to proceed with the diligence filing and try and keep the water rights on the books for another six years.
Or it could direct staff not to file, or to file a modified application.
Hornbacher said a modified application could mean filing on one dam and reservoir, but not both, or it could mean filing on both reservoirs but changing their size and shape.
It’s not unheard of for entities to walk away from conditional water rights. The Colorado River District made the decision to abandon rights for two large dams on the Crystal River in 2013. And over the last five years, the district has stepped away from a number of other conditional water rights.
Among the stakeholders Hornbacher plans to invite to a private meeting are Wilderness Workshop, Roaring Fork Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service, and Pitkin County.
Wilderness Workshop first reported the city’s decision to hold public hearings in a newsletter it sent to members on June 1. The headline of the article read, “Potential dams on Maroon and Castle creeks still on the books” and a subhead read, “A diligence filing this fall would keep them alive; WW says, ‘No way!’”
Typically, owners of conditional water rights need to demonstrate to the court they meet the “can and will” doctrine – that they can build the proposed water supply project and that they will build it.
The city may also need to meet standards developing in the wake of a Colorado Supreme Court decision in Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation Dist. v. Trout Unlimited.
Alan Martellaro, the Division 5 engineer based in Glenwood Springs, told the city in May, in response to a separate conditional water rights application it filed, that “the applicant [the city] must demonstrate that speculation is overcome per the criteria in ‘Pagosa.’”
“The applicant must demonstrate the proposed appropriation can and will be diverted and put to beneficial use for each of the proposed uses: a) within a reasonable planning period; b) using normal population growth assumptions; and c) the amount claimed is necessary and unappropriated water is available,” Martellaro wrote.
In past filings, the city has left the state with the distinct impression that it intends to build the two reservoirs, especially in the face of the uncertainty of climate change. But it has also left citizens with another impression – that it is simply protecting its water rights, not warming up bulldozers in view of the Bells.
Noto, the Aspen water attorney, says “you can’t have it both ways.”
“It’s a really important point,” Noto said. “You either are moving forward toward completing your project, which is essentially the standard for keeping your water right, or you’re not. And there’s no in-between.”
Noto has represented clients in the past who successfully opposed the city’s proposed hydropower plant on Castle Creek, but said he is not currently representing a client regarding the city’s pending diligence filing.
As such, Noto was willing to talk on the record in the role of citizen and as an experienced local water attorney.
He said he doesn’t agree with the city’s reasoning that a hotter future may increase the need for the reservoirs.
“I don’t buy it,” he said. “To use climate change as a pretext for damming the Maroon Bells and damming upper Castle Creek is not appropriate.”
The city of Aspen recently completed a raw water availability study that concluded that Aspen has sufficient water to meet future municipal demands, but in one of out of 20 years it might have trouble meeting its goal of keeping instream flows of at least 14 cfs in Maroon Creek and 13.3 cfs in Castle Creek.
The language in the water availability study leaves open the door for the city to suggest that building dams on the upper sections of the creeks could help meet its instream flow goals on the lower sections of the creeks.
“What we’re talking about is trade-offs,” Noto said. “Is maintaining an instream flow worth building large dams at the Maroon Bells and upper Castle Creek? Absolutely not. There are other ways that the city could meet the instream flow such as eliminating some irrigation during times of shortage. There are better ways to meet your goals than building big dams. And the people aren’t going to stand for it.”
Noto was asked if he could see a reason why the city should hold on to its conditional water rights on Castle and Maroon creeks.
“I don’t see it,” he said. “I can’t, for the life of me, envision a scenario where it would be good planning or good policy to dam Maroon Bells and to dam upper Castle Creek.”
Wilderness Workshop told its members in its June newsletter that it would be working “to convince the city to abandon the rights to these reservoirs (and we’ll need your help).”
American Rivers is also on the record as opposing the city’s plans to build dams and reservoirs.
“We are absolutely and always will be opposed to new reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks,” said Matt Rice, director of the Colorado River Basin Program for American Rivers. “They contradict the values of Aspen and the state of Colorado — values we will fight for.”
American Rivers is a national nonprofit dedicated to river restoration and protection, which fought vigorously against the city of Aspen’s Castle Creek hydro power plant.
Rice said whether or not American Rivers will oppose the city in water court if it does decide to file a diligence application is a strategic decision to be made down the road.
“We think the city’s willingness to have an open, transparent process with citizens is a good thing, if indeed that’s what it is,” Rice said. “There needs to be a sincere and open examination of these projects and what people would be giving up if they were developed.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, Coyote Gulch are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, June 20, 2016.
Usually a water treatment plant just sits off to the side of a city, pumping along with little notice unless something goes wrong.
But more than 300 people gathered Friday at the Edward W. Bailey treatment plant on Colorado Springs’ east side to dedicate the Southern Delivery System.
A choir belted out “God Bless America” with its inspiration, Pikes Peak, as a backdrop. People who had worked on the project over its more than 20-year history reconnected. At the end, there was a grand toast with — what else? — a jigger of water from keepsake mini-jugs.
“The history of Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects,” Mayor John Suthers told the crowd. “Without those bold and ambitious water projects, Colorado Springs would be a city of only 20,000 or 30,000.”
Instead it has grown to 450,000, and with SDS makes it possible for the city to get bigger.
That made most of the people at the ceremony happy. Suthers and others praised the regional benefits of SDS, urging cooperation in areas such as economic development and transportation.
“Water has been our community’s greatest challenge and its greatest resource,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities. “Nothing happens without water.”
Forte detailed the history of the $825 million water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, explaining that planning dates back to 1996, when the idea crystallized in the Colorado Springs Water Plan. It was one of four alternatives in the document, but the only one that made it to the finish line.
It was a tortured run, however, filled with disputes in Lake, Chaffee, Fremont, Pueblo and Crowley counties. Forte nodded at the entanglements only briefly.
“There were lots of opportunity to build character and relationships,” he deadpanned as the crowd started chuckling.
Instead, he concentrated on the accomplishments that led to SDS, recognizing former officials such as Lionel Rivera, who was mayor of Colorado Springs when a deal was made in 2004 on Arkansas River flows through Pueblo. Seated next to Rivera was Randy Thurston, who pushed his fellow members on Pueblo City Council to approve the agreement. He enumerated the benefits of SDS to Colorado Springs’ partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.
Forte also lamented that SDS required 470 permits, which was a good set-up line for Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who joked: “How many of you thought SDS stood for Still Doing Studies.”
On a serious note, Gardner praised the collaboration it took to build SDS, saying more projects like it are needed, citing their importance in Colorado’s Water Plan.
“If we do not invest in water projects, Colorado will see a shortfall of 500,000 acre-feet per year,” Gardner said. “That’s five times the supply of Colorado Springs.”
While the event maintained a festive spirit, some from Pueblo County who attended were more low-key in their assessment of SDS.
“Technologically, it’s an amazing accomplishment,” said Bill Alt, whose property on Fountain Creek is being destroyed because of increased flows from the north. “I’m not sure all the cooperation they were talking about is there. I’d have to say the stormwater agreement probably benefit everyone.”
Jane Rhodes, who also owns land on Fountain Creek, said there are still challenges ahead in dealing with Fountain Creek flooding.
“The first of the $50 million payments will come, and one of those projects is on my land,” Rhodes said. “I’m glad SDS is done so the projects can get started.”
Fifty million gallons: it’s the amount of water that will be flowing through a new water system every day.
It’s called the Southern Delivery System, or SDS. It is the largest water system built in the western U.S. so far in the 21st century.
The planning for it began 20 years ago. After nearly a billion dollars and more than 470 permits later, it’s now a reality in Colorado Springs.
“In the whole western United States, water is probably the most precious commodity that we have and all of us need to do what we can to steward water,” Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said.
That is where the system comes in – it is designed to treat water efficiently, as more and more people move to southern Colorado.
“This is all the piping that goes put to the finished water tank to be delivered to the customer,” said Operations Superintendent Chad Sell. “One of the most state of the art facilities in Colorado.”
The system serves more than a half million people in Colorado Springs, parts of Pueblo and the communities of Fountain and Security. Within 50 years, though, 900,000 people are expected to get their water from SDS.
“I think the long-term vision that put this in place means we’re good for the next 50 years,” said Colorado Springs Utilities Board Chair Andy Pico. “We have water. Water in the West is critical.”
Even as they celebrate the opening of the SDS as it stands now, they’re already planning for a second phase that will eventually expand it to handle more water for more people.
Colorado Springs officials say the SDS project did not receive any state or federal dollars. The 830-million dollar project, which also came in more than $100 million under budget, is being funded through bonds and will be paid for by its water customers of today and the next 30 years.
After more than 20 years of planning and construction, Colorado Springs Utilities dedicated the historic Southern Delivery System water project at the Edward W. Bailey water treatment plant Friday morning.
On April 28, history flowed out of this historic Southern Delivery System for the first time.
It took decades of planning and six years of construction and Friday morning the hard work was recognized.
“I’ve been involved in this project for 14-plus years. To see it complete with excellence and all the people who contributed. I was overwhelmed,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities…
“It’s amazing for Colorado Springs and our partners. It means water for the future. We call Southern Delivery ‘water for generations’ and what that means is our children and grandchildren will be able to have water in Colorado Springs for 50, 60-plus years from now,” said Forte.
The water is pumped out of the Pueblo Reservoir and makes its way through 50 miles of pipeline going through three pump stations and ending at Colorado Springs…
It took more than 470 permits to finalize the project.
The Water Treatment Plant has approximately 200 miles of electrical wires and cables, enough to stretch from the Water Treatment Plant site nearly to the International Space Station or the Pueblo Reservoir four times.
The Water Treatment Plant used enough rebar to fill 54, 50-foot rail cars or a train half-a-mile
If the concrete masonry blocks used in construction of the Water Treatment Plant were stacked, they would be four-and-a-half times taller than Pikes Peak.
The raw water tank at the Water Treatment Plant has a capacity of 10 million gallons, enough to fill 200,000 bathtubs.
5,401 truckloads of pipe to SDS projects
Net tons of steel used for pipe furnished was 37,810.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
Some 400 to 500 people gathered at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, 977 N. Marksheffel Road, Friday morning to dedicate the Southern Delivery System pipeline project.
The project, 20 years in the making,d represents the service, safety, commitment and excellence brought to bear by hundreds, even thousands, of people, said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte.
He noted that the project adds another noteworthy item to Colorado Springs’ water history, which began in the late 1800s when city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer built the El Paso County Canal from Fountain Creek on what is now 33rd Street, Forte said.
SDS, he noted, will provide water for generations to come.
SDS first appeared in the city’s water master plan in 1996 and was geared to supply water to the 20,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch, which had been annexed into the city in 1988. Only a fraction of that property is built out, but SDS now is viewed as a crucial component of the city’s existing system to ensure redundancy. Most of the city’s water comes from transmountain systems built in the 1950s and 1980s. SDS brings water from Pueblo Reservoir.
Although Rep. Doug Lamborn heralded the project for not requiring federal money, the Pueblo Dam and reservoir project was part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas project built in the 1960s and 1970s by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, along with a special district that collected property tax money in the region. SDS, obviously, wouldn’t have been possible without that reservoir on the Arkansas River.
City Council President Merv Bennett demonstrated the span of time needed to plan and build SDS by noting 11 Councils have played key roles in the project. He recognized El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a former Council member, who he said laid the groundwork for relationships with Pueblo officials; former Mayor Lionel Rivera, who oversaw the project as both mayor and a Council member; Randy Thurston, former Pueblo City Council member; former Vice Mayor Larry Small, who now runs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which grew from SDS negotiations; and Margaret Radford, former Council member who now works for an SDS contractor, MWH Global.
CSU Chair Andy Pico boasted that the project was originally envisioned to cause water rates to increase by 121 percent, but it has required increases to rates of only 52 percent. The $825 million project came in $160 million under budget.
Mayor John Suthers also spoke. His role might have been one of the most pivotal, because he sorted out a mess created by his predecessor, Steve Bach, in terms of the city’s stormwater situation, which had become a nearly insurmountable barrier to the project.
First, Suthers had to deal with federal and state clean-water regulators who have accused the city of failing to comply with the Clean Water Act for years before Suthers took office in June 2015. Those negotiations are ongoing. Second, Suthers had to find a quick solution to stormwater improvements to satisfy Pueblo County commissioners, who threatened to reopen the city’s SDS construction permit. (Bach opposed a ballot measure in 2014 that would have funded stormwater work.)
Suthers finessed a deal in which the city agreed to spend $460 million in the next 20 years to upgrade and maintain the city’s drainage facilities. Pueblo officials accepted the deal, clearing the way for water to begin flowing through the SDS pipeline in late April, as scheduled. (Bach was invited to, but did not attend, Friday’s SDS dedication.)
Suthers said the city would have remained a tourist town of 20,000 but for its water resources. “Our future is bright, and we are poised for continued success,” he said.
In a surprise development, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., showed up and lauded the city for the project. “It can’t be said enough how important water infrastructure is to the state of Colorado,” he said. “It’s our past. It’s our present, and it’s our future. It’s my hope this [project] can be replicated throughout Colorado, because water will continue to drive our success.”
Others who spoke included CSU’s Chief Water Officer Dan Higgins, and the project director since 2007, attorney John Fredell, who became the face of SDS in the past decade through contracting, negotiations with neighbors, legal wrangling and interviews with the media. About 470 permits were required for the project.
As Forte said, “We never would have reached this point today without one person,” that being Fredell.
When Fredell stepped to the dais, he received a standing ovation from a crowd that included elected officials, contractors, project partners, officials from surrounding towns and Pueblo, Utilities employees and citizens.
Fredell, in turn, thanked Forte for his “trust and vision and leading every step of the way.”
After the speeches, the crowd was invited to open gift boxes at each chair which contained a commemorative coin and a little glass of SDS water, used to toast the project.
To take a trip back in time through the Coyote Gulch history of the Southern Delivery Click here and click here.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
While most rivers and streams in the San Luis Valley now have steady flows, peak runoff is in the rearview mirror.
Despite recent years in which high-elevation snowpack has offered some surprises for state officials managing Colorado’s obligations under the Rio Grande Compact, this runoff is looking somewhat more predictable.
Assistant Division Engineer James Heath was in the high country above Rio Grande Reservoir last week to take a look.
“There’s some but it’s not a large snowfield that would have a significant impact on the production of the basin,” he said.
Predictability is a bonus in managing the compact, which has a sliding delivery scale that increases with higher flows on the Rio Grande and Conejos River.
Projected annual flow on the Rio Grande now stands at 700,000 acrefeet, which, if it holds, would call for a delivery of 204,000 acre-feet at the state line. So far this year, 105,400 acre-feet have been delivered to New Mexico.
The Conejos River and its tributaries in the southwestern corner of the valley have separate compact requirements.
Its projected annual flows sit at 305,000 acrefeet and would require a delivery of 112,800 acrefeet by year’s end.
The Conejos has delivered 58,300 acre-feet so far this year.
Since the 1968 settlement of a U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit, Colorado has imposed restrictions on irrigators to make sure compact obligations are met.
Currently, the restriction on the Rio Grande comes in the form of an 18 percent curtailment on the amount of available water. On the Conejos, curtailment is at 28 percent.
Long-term forecasts from the National Weather Service call for a wetter than average June and July but hot and dry conditions in late summer and fall.
After a warm weekend that saw very high streamflows in places on area creeks and rivers, it looks like the streams have peaked. But those streams will still run high and fast for a while.
According to data provided by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Gore Creek and the Eagle River above Avon have hit their peaks for the season. In addition, the snow measurement sites the district uses have either melted completely or are expected to by the weekend.
While the streamflows seem to have peaked — barring a severe thunderstorm or two that could cause isolated flooding — local streams are still running well above their average flows for this part of June.
As of June 12, the Eagle River at Dowd Junction was running at 217 percent of its normal flow for that date. Gore Creek above Red Sandstone Creek was running at 142 percent of normal — median flows over a 30-year period.
The high flows are good news for rafting companies. Sage Outdoor Adventures is the only local company that runs raft trips on Gore Creek. Those trips depend on healthy streamflows, and don’t happen every year.
Weather rules streamflow — heat shrinks high streams more quickly and cool extends flows — but Cole Bangert of Sage said it’s possible the company could be rafting the Gore until the end of June or so.
That will leave the Eagle River, but only for another few weeks, Bangert said.
But while local streams are running fast, Bangert said the Eagle River has some of the “best whitewater in the state.”
“There’s a stretch between Kayak Crossing (in Eagle-Vail) and Edwards that’s 10 miles of Class 3 and 4 rapids — it’s great,” Bangert said.
John Packer is the owner of Fly Fishing Outfitters in Avon. Packer said while local streams are largely too fast to fish, a solid runoff season is a benefit for those who want to cast a fly later this season.
“The runoff cleans out sediment, and stuff that comes off the roads, and moves it out of the system,” Packer said. “It improves aquatic insect habitat, and healthy bugs mean healthy fish.
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.