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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Why is the High Water Still Around?????

No, regardless of some reports from family, friends and subscribers, I have not yet fled the country. The thought has crossed my mind, but there are still many streams even in Colorado that I have not yet fished, so you're stuck with me for a while. The truth is, I have been fishing a little where I could and just haven't had the urge to communicate with much of anyone for a while. I guess its just an old man thing. Back in the 60s, we turned on, dropped out and went to find ourselves and the meaning of life. Not me, I turned on, left town and went fly fishing in the Rocky Mountains even then. I have yet to find the meaning of life other than to live it the best you can, and finding myself sounded awful scary to me. I know I'd hate to round a corner on a mountain trail and run into me, that would mean I had been walking in circles and I was actually quicker than me. Actually, in those days, I was always hoping to find a nice looking young woman that was lost and needed assistance. Heck, I'm still hoping for that, but I digress.

We are now living in the perfect storm of water flows in Colorado. In the last week, I have often fielded the question "Where is all this water coming from?" About 7 or 8 days ago, we were fishing the Arkansas and believed that the worst of the runoff was over. Fishing was excellent on Golden Stones, Yellow Sallies, and Caddis. Then all hell broke loose. First of all let's talk about how Mother Nature added to the big water. Last year, we had a banner snowpack and that resulted in Reservoirs being full going into winter. Some water was moved on most rivers, but evidently not enough. On the Arkansas, we needed to hold to minimum flows during the spring for the Brown trout fry emergence. Flows exceeded minimum recommendations during April and May and still evidently not enough water was moved downstream. Then last week, we had warmer than normal high temperatures on the snowpack that was remaining and afternoon thunderstorms generated heavy rain on what snow was left, scouring the granite crevasses and bringing small creeks such as Lake Creek well over 1000 cfs again. Now, that alone might not present such a large problem, but it seems that on the other side of the Continental Divide, the Frying Pan river was experiencing the same kind of thing....remaining snow and heavy rain. So much, in fact that it was spilling over at Ruidi Reservoir. In order to keep from losing water, the Fry Ark Project began pumping water over the Divide through the system into Twin Lakes which was already full. That 800cfs of extra water was sent on through the dam into the Arkansas and down to Pueblo reservoir. So added altogether with water spilling out of Turquoise Lake and Clear Creek Reservoir, we have the perfect storm of water if you will. The same thing is occurring on the South Platte system, just without the water imports being added to the mix. Lots of folks don't understand just what impact the Fry Ark Project has on the Arkansas. It is one of the early trans basin diversions to move water into the Front Range and be able to save it for development as well as agriculture.
The state of Colorado has always been subject to periods of natural drought as well as intense flooding. After the historic flood of 1921 that devastated towns along the Arkansas, including Pueblo, the need to have some control over natural water flows became quite apparent. In 1962 Congress approved the Frying Pan Arkansas Project, a trans-mountain diversion, collection and storage system which would create a reliable water source for southeastern Colorado. The Fry-Ark Project is meant to act as a supplemental source of water during periods of naturally low water levels for municipal as well as agricultural purposes. In addition, it also provides flood control and recreational benefits.
The system begins in White River National forest along the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. Water is diverted from the Frying Pan River and other smaller streams through the Continental Divide via a series of conduits, pump stations, and reservoirs to the Arkansas River. The Fry-Ark Project services 9 counties in the state which compose the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, including Bent, Chaffee, Crowley, El Paso, Fremont, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. The water diverted provides, "…an average annual water supply of 163,100 acre-feet for supplemental irrigation of 280,600 acres in the Arkansas Valley." It also provides municipal water supplies to several cities along the eastern slope including, 20,100 acre-feet to Colorado Springs, 8,040 acre-feet to Pueblo, and the rest to various towns which have a need for supplemental supplies. Although the tenants of the Project allocate 51% of the water to cities, and only 49% towards agriculture, there is a clause that states if cities do not claim all of the water allocated to them, then it can be used for agricultural purposes.
Now that you understand the intricacies of water movement on the Arkansas, don't you feel better about knowing why you can't fish this week? There is an upshot to all of this however. It seems that all the snow is basically gone, with freestone creeks dropping in flows over the last 48 hours. Project water has now been cut in half as well. The river should now start dropping like a rock if it stops raining hard each day. We could honestly see half this flow by next week if my projections are correct. However, each day I live, I realize I am not very smart and should have worked for the National Weather Service or the Bureau of Reclamation. Two places where being wrong all the time can still allow you to keep your job and even get a promotion. Instead, I have chosen to work in a fly shop and always try to see the bright side of things. That's more fun anyway even though the pay is bad.