Aspen: Snow creates water diversion bonanza
ROARING FORK VALLEY, Colorado ” A record amount of water might be diverted from the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river systems this summer to places such as Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and farms in the Arkansas River Valley.
About 60,000 acre feet of water was diverted through July by the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System. The annual average is about 39,000 acre feet, according to Allen Ringle, manager for the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.
“This [year] is probably in our top three so far since we’ve been in existence,” Ringle said. The company has tapped the upper Roaring Fork River and diverted water east since 1935.
This year’s water haul represents a 54 percent increase over the annual average. Diversion will continue this month, and possibly beyond.
Farther north on the upper Fryingpan River drainage, the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project has diverted 87,000 acre feet through July, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Kara Lamb. That is about 67 percent more than the 52,000 acre foot annual average for the system.
An acre foot is 325,851 gallons. Lamb said the average U.S. family of four uses about one acre foot of water annually.
Big snowpack, big runoff
Lamb said there has already been more water diverted so far this season than the total amount for May, June and July for any year back to 1991. Records prior to that weren’t immediately available. Water has been diverted through the system since 1972.
The near-record water diversions are a product of a beefy snowpack. After a dry November, the snowpack was between 50 and 100 percent above average from December into April. Rivers and streams ran high into July once runoff season started.
Water diversions are typically a sore subject ” Western Slopes interests don’t like to see water diverted to the Front Range. But the diversions probably helped avoid flooding below the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers this year.
Vast networks tapped
The Independence Pass Transmountain System taps the Lost Man, Lincoln, Brooklyn, Tabor, New York and Grizzly creeks along with the upper Roaring Fork River, all east of Aspen. Water is shipped via the Twin Lake Tunnel to North Fork Lake Creek, on the other side of the Divide. The water flows into the Arkansas River Basin for distribution to Colorado Springs, Aurora, Pueblo and water users in the Arkansas River Valley.
The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project uses 17 diversion structures and 27 miles of tunnels to collect water from the upper Fryingpan and Roaring Fork drainages. Its north collection system taps the Mormon, Carter, Ivanhoe, Granite, Lily Pad and Cunningham creeks while the south system plumbs the No Name, Midway, Hunter, Sawyer and Chapman Gulch creeks along with the south and main branches of the Fryingpan River.
Most of the water is diverted east through the 5.4-mile Boustead Tunnel and emptied into Turquoise Lake west of Leadville. That system benefits the same users as the Independence Pass system.
Dwarfs diversions during drought
A record amount of water was diverted during the month of June by the Independence Pass system, Ringle said. About 30,785 acre feet was diverted that month.
July’s diversion amount of 16,650 acre feet was probably in the top five for the month, according to Ringle.
To put that in perspective, the system diverted 20,574 acre feet during the entire spring and summer in the drought year of 2002.
The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., based in Ordway, Colo., is limited to diverting no more than 68,000 acre feet in a year, according to its water decree.
“There’s a chance we could hit that,” Ringle said, noting it is difficult to forecast how
much water will be diverted in August and into the fall.
The reclamation bureau forecast in a presentation earlier this year that the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project diversion could top 100,000 acre feet this year. The project typically diverts about 41 percent of the headwaters of the Fryingpan drainage, according to research by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit that monitors water quantity and quality issues.