Ruedi Reservoir

Amid a cool spring, the winter runoff is taking its time filling Ruedi Reservoir, shown here on a recent day.

Ruedi Reservoir on Friday was just under 63 percent full as it continues to recover from the recent drought, but the wet, cool spring — more snow and rain is possible today — means there is plenty of snow remaining in the upper Fryingpan River Valley.

Gauges at and near the reservoir show winter is loosening its grip, albeit slowly. The Ivanhoe Snotel site, which sits at 10,400 feet, had a snowpack Friday that is 185 percent of normal for the day, while the Kiln site (9,600 feet) stood at 161 percent of average.

That simply means more snow is locked in at high elevations than normal for this time of the year, said John Currier, chief engineer with the Colorado River District.

“This year the snow is melting out a little later higher up,” he said. “I do expect water to be fairly high for the reservoir.”

Currier predicted Bureau of Reclamation officials, who control releases from Ruedi, to keep flows in the Fryingpan at around 300 cubic feet per second (CFS) for most of the summer. That level, which will increase drastically as snowmelt increases and fills the tub, is preferable for “fisherman wade-ability reasons,” he said. “They are typically going to have to bypass [that CFS rate] because there’s much, much more water during runoff.”

Ruedi being roughly three-quarters full in mid-May is somewhat below normal, said Mark Fuller, who recently retired after nearly four decades as director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority. That’s a sign of both a stubborn snowpack and the reclamation bureau “trying to leave plenty of room for late runoff in anticipation of a flood out of the upper Fryingpan when it gets warm,” he said.

“The bureau usually tries to have Ruedi at 100 percent full on or about July 1 so they will be adjusting outflow on a day-to-day basis between now and then,” Fuller said.

As of Thursday, outflow was tracking at 177 cfs from just above 120 in mid-April, according to reclamation figures. Inflow from the upper Fryingpan has fluctuated fairly wildly with spring’s temperature swings — rising steeply from 90 cfs or so in mid-April to over 400 at the month’s end, before dropping to 240 shortly thereafter. Inflow as of Thursday was 472.

He added that water officials are planning on a “coordinated reservoir operation” this year. That involves all of the upper Colorado River reservoirs releasing water in a systematized fashion “as a way of simulating natural peak flows in the 15-mile reach above Grand Junction,” Fuller said. Besides fulfilling water rights, such releases help to protect endangered fish in that stretch.

Releases from Ruedi may make fishing the gold-medal waters below the reservoir a bit more difficult when they occur, but greatly aid the river environment in the long term, said Scott Montrose, a guide with Frying Pan Anglers.

Higher flows make it harder to gauge weighting and get flies in front of the fish, but he reiterated how important “flushing” flows are for rivers. Higher flows rid the waterways of stagnant sentiment and debris, making rivers much healthier.

“These rivers are used to having huge runoffs,” Montrose said, adding that Ruedi releases makes for cooler water temperatures and a longer float season for fly-fishermen.

“It will throw off the fishing at the time, but in the long run it’s a lot better,” he said.

Chad is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at chad@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @chad_the_scribe.