Frying Pan River, we have a situation

Picked up via Moldy Chum, it seems the Frying Pan was blown out during the prime late summer season (I had no clue, but I’m sure you’re used to that by now). Water-related recreation in the area was non-existent. The City of Basalt and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority are up in arms and want answers:

The Basalt town government, Ruedi Water and Power Authority, and fishing guides want a detailed review and explanation of the reclamation bureau’s releases from Ruedi Reservoir. The releases created water levels that were too high for fishing in the gold-medal trout habitat of the Fryingpan River from late July to early September. The water level in Ruedi dropped too low to allow use of the Aspen Yacht Club docks on Labor Day weekend.

“In short, the six weeks between approximately July 26 and Sept. 6 was a disaster for water-related recreation in the Fryingpan Valley,” says a letter from Basalt and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority. The latter entity operates a small hyrdo-electric project at the reservoir and closely monitors Ruedi water issues for local governments.

No offense to those doing the talking, but after reading this I couldn’t help but wonder whether there really was something strange afoot at the Circle K, or that this was just an over-reaction to a one-time event, possibly driven by political circumstance. So I got geeked, and crunched some numbers.

First verify

Data taken from the USGS for the summer of ’09 looked like this…

Frying Pan River CFS Summer 09

Sure enough, just when anyone with half a brain and a fly rod (an easy to come by combination in our fair state) would have thought river flows should be coming down (at the end of July), the Bureau of Reclamation started cranking them up. The flow on the Pan reached a peak of 508 cfs on August 13th. Say what?

Next, I took a look at the mean flows by month for as far back as I could find, October 1968. I was looking for anomalies, and of course there were a few, but I couldn’t discern anything of significance, at least from a visual peek.

Frying Pan River CFS 1968-2009

Strange summers

It wasn’t until I began looking at yearly flow averages, and comparing it to summer averages, that the story became clearer.

Frying Pan River CFS Yearly Summer

For this case, summer meant the months of July, August and September. When I laid the yearly mean flow on top of the summer mean flow for the respective year, I noticed some trends. First, the mean flow coming on the Frying Pan has slipped over the years, likely due to the drought Colorado has experienced over the last decade. But, the mean flow in the summer months has actually gone up. Slowly but surely since the mid-90s.

The debate will continue

Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, remains hopeful that the Summer of ’09 was a freak occurrence and that things will return to normal next season. Some longtime residents of the area aren’t so sure:

[Bruce] Gabow said last summer’s issues hint at a greater problem facing the Fryingpan Valley. If available water from Ruedi is purchased — one possibility is to feed oil shale operations in western Garfield County — then summer flows in the river could regularly exceed levels that accommodate fishing.

From the looks of the numbers, broad brushed as they may be, I’m skeptical too.

Editor’s note: Just in case anyone else wants to churn and burn that which flows, data and charts are available for download in zipped Excel (Office 2008) format here.


In today’s world, it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. And how deep your pockets are when it comes time to influence said people.

Maybe in yesterday’s world too! Ah…but the information goes round and round. Where it stops, some ignore. Those that don’t get a leg up, even if they do wind up needing the services of an attorney.

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