Low flows on Crystal River lead to state officials’ action | VailDaily.com

Low flows on Crystal River lead to state officials’ action

Heather Sackett
Aspen Journalism

Editor's note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Vail Daily on coverage of water and rivers. For more information, go to aspenjournalism.com.

CARBONDALE — Extremely low flows on the Crystal River near Carbondale have led to action by state officials, including turning down a diverter's headgate and placing a call for water.

On Friday, Aug. 3, the Colorado Water Conservation Board placed a "call" on the Crystal River, asking Division of Water Resources officials to administer an instream flow right on the river. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has an instream flow right on the Crystal for 100 cubic feet per second between Avalanche Creek and the confluence with the Roaring Fork River from June 1 through Sept. 30 each year.

Too Low

The Water Conservation Board used the river gage near the state fish hatchery outside Carbondale to determine that flow conditions were too low. As of Friday morning, the Crystal at that location was running at roughly 8.8 cfs.

Instream flow rights are owned and used by the state to help preserve and protect the natural environment, ecosystems and aquatic life, especially fish.

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These rights, however, are junior to most agricultural and municipal rights in Colorado, which means the call may not do much to leave more water in the Crystal. The Colorado Water Conservation Board's right on the Crystal dates to 1975.

The goal is to make sure future augmentation plans take into account instream flow rights.

"We have a duty to protect these water rights that we hold for the people of the state, and we take it seriously," said Linda Bassi, stream and lake protection chief at the Colorado Water Conservation Board. "It's useful to have a record of when instream flow is not being met."

Water Restrictions in Place

Not having enough water in the lower Crystal River has been a concern in recent years. The 2012 drought left a section of the Crystal between Thompson Creek and the state fish hatchery dry during the late summer irrigation season. Several large diversions, including town of Carbondale ditches, are located on that section.

In response to the dire situation, the town last week imposed watering restrictions, requiring an every other day watering schedule and limiting outdoor water use.

This year, conditions are approaching a similarly dry state, despite a goal of the 2016 Crystal River Management Plan to leave an additional 10 cfs to 25 cfs in the river during moderate drought.

"It's a sad state of affairs," Bassi said. "There's nothing we can do to make more water appear in the river."

Carbondale watering restrictions in place

Due to decreasing flows in the Crystal River and due to increasing demands on

the town’s potable water system, the town has implemented the following restrictions:

• No outdoor irrigation between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. is allowed

• Odd/Even restrictions: Properties with an address that ends in an even

number or zero can water on even-numbered days of the month. Properties with an address that ends in an odd number can water on odd-numbered days of the month.

• No draining and refilling of swimming pools, hot tubs, spas or the like. Water may be added to replenish evaporative losses, but they cannot be drained and refilled.

• No washing of privately owned cars, other motor vehicles, trailers or boats except from a bucket. A hose equipped with a positive shut-off nozzle may be used for a quick rinse.

• No washing of sidewalks, driveways parking areas, tennis courts, patios or other paved areas.

Exceptions

• Irrigation systems in homeowners associations or other large systems that irrigate multiple properties are not subject to the odd/even restriction provided that the irrigation system does not irrigate the same piece of property more frequently than once every other day, or alternatively, they reduce their usage by 50 percent daily.

• Drip irrigation is not subject to the odd/even restrictions.

• Outside watering with a handheld container is permitted daily.

• Commercial car washes are not affected by the restrictions at this time.

The town expects river levels to continue to decline which, in turn, may result in lower ditch flows than normal. Ditch users should be aware of this potential and take appropriate measures with their equipment.

Typically, during irrigation season, flows in the Crystal River are lowest in September and October.

With the current drought conditions prevalent across the western part of Colorado, it is likely that that water supplies will continue to dwindle throughout the fall. Adherence to the above-listed restrictions will help delay the need for more stringent restrictions and help ensure that the town is able to provide potable water for domestic use and fire suppression throughout this unusually dry time. Failure to adhere to these restrictions may result in the declaration of a “Water Crisis” which, among other things, would prohibit all outdoor irrigation.

Source: Town of Carbondale