Roaring Fork Implementation Plan
Developed as part of the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which in turn contributed to Colorado’s statewide Water Plan.
The Roaring Fork Region, a main headwaters region, consists of the Roaring Fork River and many sizable tributaries including: Maroon Creek, Castle Creek, Hunter Creek, Woody Creek, Fryingpan River, Crystal River, Cattle Creek and Fourmile Creek. The Roaring Fork Region consists of nine major water providers, three Water Conservancy Districts and four counties. Additionally, the region is characterized by strong watershed organizations including the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board. The Ruedi Water and Power Authority is a quasi-governmental agency made up of representatives from the five municipalities in the watershed, plus representatives from Pitkin and Eagle Counties. The region is very dependent upon tourism and recreation economies with a vibrant winter and summer recreation industry. There are five ski resorts contributing to the strong winter tourism in the region including Aspen, Highlands, Buttermilk, Snowmass and Sunlight Ski Resorts. These resort communities attract summer visitors as well through local Gold Medal fisheries, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking, cultural attractions and overall scenic mountain settings.
Water is currently diverted out of the Basin to Front Range communities including Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project and Twin Lakes Projects, amounting to an average annual yield of approximately 100,000 AFY. On average, 37% of the upper Roaring Fork Watershed (42,000 AFY) and 41% of the upper Fryingpan Watershed (59,000 AFY) is currently diverted annually to the Front Range. These are the 5th and 3rd largest transmountain diversions, respectively, in the state.
Water providers in the upper reaches of the Basin are dependent upon direct flow stream intakes and are susceptible to extended drought periods. Because the watersheds above these intakes are primarily located on U.S. Forest Service lands (USFS) the process for permitting a new reservoir will be rigorous. Due diligence to thoroughly investigate every option along with a detailed environmental mitigation plan, will be a necessary part of any permitting process. These water providers should also seek redundancy through other means including: enlargement of existing reservoirs, interconnects between regional water providers, development of well supplies and reliance upon multiple stream water supplies.
A recent issue in the Roaring Fork Region that may impact water development in the future is the complete allocation of Ruedi Reservoir augmentation water. Ruedi has been the source of augmentation and physical water for not only the Roaring Fork Region but the entire Colorado Basin. Ruedi Reservoir became 100% allocated in 2013 when the Bureau of Reclamation sold the remaining unallocated volume in the reservoir. Several entities including the Basalt Water Conservancy District, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and Garfield County have large water holdings in Ruedi that can continue to provide augmentation water for future growth in the Roaring Fork Region. Further study is needed to determine if the water under contract with these entities is sufficient for future needs in the region to the year 2050 or beyond. Many Roar-ing Fork water providers have relatively junior water rights that are augmented by Ruedi Reservoir. Roaring Fork water providers that have post Compact water rights (junior to 1922) should aggressively convert agricultural rights senior to 1922 to points of potable water supply diversions. These pre-1922 water rights will provide protection against a future Compact call. This will require change cases in water court.
The primary need of the Roaring Fork Region is to protect, maintain and restore healthy rivers and streams. Almost 140 of 185 miles of streams surveyed in the Roaring Fork Region have moderately modified to severely degraded riparian habitat. There are three critical reaches of mainstreams that have been targeted for restoration 1) the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch through the City of Aspen; 2) the Roaring Fork River upstream from the confluence of the Fryingpan River; and 3) the Crystal River upstream from Carbondale. These three main reaches do not include all the smaller tributaries in the upper Fryingpan and the upper Roaring Fork that have been dewatered due to TMDs. Active efforts are underway to restore these reaches with innovative methods including, but not limited to, coordinated efforts among irrigators to maintain stream flows, improvements to irrigation ditch infrastructure efficiency and legislation similar to Senate Bill 14-023 (not enacted) promoting voluntary transfer of water efficiency savings to instream flows.
Some of the top priority projects in the region are conservation focused. A Regional Water Conservation Plan for the Roaring Fork watershed is currently underway and is exploring water conservation measures on a regional basis. The Roaring Fork Watershed Plan (Roaring Fork Conservancy, 2012) has outlined additional actions and projects to protect and restore the watershed and riparian habitats. Additionally, consideration is being given to studying the viability of small reservoirs located along some of the small tributaries such as Fourmile Creek and Cattle Creek which have been subject of diminished late season flows from irrigation diversions, and out of basin diversions. These reservoirs could provide multiple benefits including instream environmental flows during times when the tributaries dry up. Finally, the region should collaborate more with unified constituencies in a cooperative effort to develop multipurpose projects. Regional efforts among water providers, irrigators, conservation organizations and recreational enthusiast are pivotal to the implementation of any future project.
|Protect and Restore Healthy Streams, Rivers, Lakes and Riparian Areas
|Secure Safe Drinking Water
|Develop Local Water Conscious Land Use Strategies
|Encourage a High Level of Basinwide Conservation
(The above information was extracted from the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan and edited slightly to fit)
℅ Colorado River Water Conservation District
201 Centennial Street, Suite 200
Glenwood Springs, Colorado 81601
Protecting Agriculture, Environment, Recreation & Water Supply for Western Colorado.