Report: Roaring Fork River under development strains

A report released Thursday gives Roaring Fork Valley residents a better idea of how their local river rates.

The State of the Roaring Fork Watershed Report intensively evaluates not only the Roaring Fork River, but also its tributaries. The report analyzes water quantity and quality as well as water-dependent ecosystems for the 1,453-square-mile watershed of the Roaring Fork.

The second-largest tributary to the Colorado River within the state, the Roaring Fork runs from below Independence Pass above Aspen to Glenwood Springs. The report identifies threats to local water resources from pollution, diversions, channel instability and other sources. It also points to gaps in existing data.

Totaling more than 500 pages, it’s the first phase of the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan. The next steps will be to develop goals aimed at preserving and improving local waters and to come up with actions that can be taken by water managers, governments and individual water users.

“We look forward to that process and to a healthy future for the waters of the Roaring Fork Watershed,” Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, said in the report’s preface.

The authority is the sponsor of the watershed plan, and the Roaring Fork Conservancy nonprofit group is its lead consultant. The plan had its origins in the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative, an informal group of planners, government officials and citizens.

The new report identifies global warming as one threat to the watershed. Warming will result in more rain rather than snow, earlier snowmelt and runoff, and decreased runoff, the report says. Besides causing effects such as increased fire risk and insect outbreaks,
it will create more water demand challenges for a watershed already heavily taxed in that regard.

“Overall, competition for water will increase among municipal, agricultural, recreational, industrial and ecological uses,” the report says.

Already, it notes, an average of 37 percent of the annual water yield of the upper Roaring Fork River is removed by a transmountain diversion project.

Elsewhere in the watershed, “Woody, Little Woody and Collins creeks are often dried up downstream of large diversion structures in the summer and fall, disconnecting them from the Roaring Fork River,” the report says.

But it also points to areas of improvement. For example, Aspen cut its municipal water use almost in half since 1993, to the benefit of Maroon and Castle creeks, both water sources
for the city.

The study is available at http://www.roaringfork.org.


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