Flows on Colorado River increase dramatically as reservoirs release water
Recreation conditions have been steadily improving on the Colorado River in recent weeks as flows have doubled since early July.
While the parts of the state surrounding the river are experiencing moderate to extreme drought conditions, the reservoirs above the river have been releasing more and more water into the river, contributing to cold water temperatures (good for anglers) and high flows (good for boaters).
In early July, flows on the Upper Colorado River on the popular Pumphouse to Radium section had dropped to below 700 cubic feet per second. By Sunday, July 29, the water level was up to 1,470 cfs.
Representatives with the Colorado River District say the trend should continue throughout August.
“By delivering water to the Grand Valley through Ruedi (Reservoir) and, in turn, saving a like amount of water in Green Mountain, that should preserve quite a bit of extra water for late-season recreation on the Upper Colorado,” Zane Kessler, with the Colorado River District, told the Vail Daily on Tuesday, July 31.
But it’s not just the Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs that are contributing to the increased flows.
As Wolford Reservoir, located just north of Kremmling, prepares for maintenance work to be performed on the Ritschard Dam, water has been released at 275 cfs in recent days.
Jim Porkrandt, with the Colorado River District, said while water calls from the Shoshone plant in Glenwood Canyon and agriculture diverters near Palisade have contributed to the need for more water to be released into the Colorado River, protecting endangered fish is also considered in the effort.
“This is the time of year where people start getting called out for water rights, and in order to keep diverting, they have to call for reservoir water,” Porkrandt said on Tuesday. “Another function is releasing water to protect endangered fish, and the so-called 15 mile reach, down by Grand Junction, between Palisade and where the Gunnison River meets the Colorado River. That’s where prehistoric fish are on the endangered list, and there’s a program to protect them, and that includes bolstering summer flows in that critical reach.
“And, what’s happening on top of all that, Wolford Reservoir is releasing more water than usual in order to lower surface levels by Sept. 1, so we can do some construction on the dam,” Porkrandt added.
‘KEEPS THINGS MOVING’
When senior water rights holders request more water, it’s known as a water call.
Peter Soeth, with the Bureau of Reclamation, said while the term is old water slang, sometimes it’s literally a phone call that’s occurring.
“(Rights holders) do have daily coordination calls with the state of Colorado … phone calls,” Soeth said. “The various entities get together and coordinate that on a daily basis.”
There are two major calls that contribute to the increased flows on the Western Slope: the Shoshone call and the Cameo call. The Shoshone call is made so the hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon can continue to function, and the Cameo call is made so farmers can supply water to crops.
“The Cameo call is really not one call, but a suite of calls in the Grand Valley, and their senior irrigation rights,” Porkrandt said.
Those rights holders are senior to the trans-basin diversions that occur in Colorado to supply water to the Front Range, and when they exercise their water rights, it’s usually a good thing for the Western Slope.
“It keeps things moving in a westerly direction,” Porkrandt said.