Dwindling river gets a little relief
Flow of the Colorado River from Kremmling to Dotsero has gotten so low that it has prompted a rare emergency release of water stored in Wolford Mountain Reservoir northwest of Kremmling. The Colorado River District has authorized the release of 100 cubic feet per second – a volume equal to what’s currently flowing down Gore Creek in Vail – to boost flow of the river. Friday at Kremmling, 30 miles north of Silverthorne, the river was flowing at 315 cubic feet per-second. Average is 1,370 and the previous low was 347. At Dotsero in western Eagle County, the river was flowing at 938 cubic feet per-second. The average is 2,800 and the previous low flow there was 1,100.For John Cochran owner of Gorsuch Outfitters, who runs fishing float trips on the Colorado, the news that there will be more water in the river is good.”We’ve all been holding our breath waiting for the flow to kick in,” he said. “It’s so low it’s scary. The ironic thing is the fishing has been very productive.”
“It’s good for us,” added Darryl Bangert of Lakota Guides which runs raft trips on the Colorado. Bangert said it will allow better rafting later in the season below Shoshone Dam in Glenwood Canyon. The water released from Wolford is expected to increase flow through the popular Gore Canyon section of the Colorado by nearly 30 percent.
The cause of the low flow in the river is not entirely drought-related. Ironically, it’s the result of water not being used. The Shoshone Hydroelectric plant in Glenwood Canyon, operated by Excel Energy, is out of service for maintenance and equipment upgrades and it’s expected to return to service later this month. Its water right of 1,400 cubic feet per-second is one of the most senior on the river.It’s not being used so reservoirs upstream are storing that water instead of letting it flow down the river. The result: reduced flow.”This emergency release is definitely extraordinary,” said Peter Roessmann, a spokesman for the river district. “It’s vitally important to the economy of the Western Slope to maintain the flows. It’s time to give back to the river what we’ve been able to store.”The Colorado River below Shoshone Dam is one of its most heavily rafted sections. An estimated 60,000 people take commercial raft trips annually, and that business tied to the river generates up to $25 million annually.In addition to economic concerns, low flow causes the water to warm up, which can stress trout and aquatic creatures which prefer cooler waters. A portion of the Colorado affected by the low flows is a Gold Medal trout fishery that attracts thousands of anglers each year.A Cameo appearance
Roessmann said the release from Wolford will likely continue through mid-next week when dropping water levels on area rivers will cause another water “call” to be made. When that happens, water being diverted into reservoirs will be released into the river. The senior water call at Cameo, near Grand Junction, will demand the 1,950-cubic feet per-second it requires for irrigating the agriculture of the Grand Valley. Once that happens the river district will stop the Wolford Release. The total amount released, 1,000 or so acre-feet, will be less than 2 percent of Wolford’s total capacity of 66,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot can cover a football field about a foot deep and is enough water to meet the annual water needs of a family of four.Part of the river district’s responsibility is to enhance or maintain the economy of the communities of the Western Slope by regulating the flow of the Colorado River.Water from the upper Colorado River is also taken to the Front Range through diversion systems at Lake Granby and Grand Lake in Grand County, and from Lake Dillon in Summit County.