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Spring runoff continues to fill the Taylor Reservoir

Gunnison River from Almont to County Road 10 remains closed

By Aimee Eaton

Hot daytime temperatures and above-freezing nighttime temperatures are continuing to melt high-elevation snow, resulting in high runoff into area rivers.

As of early this week, water was flowing into the Taylor Reservoir at 1,300 cubic feet per second (cfs), bringing the elevation of the lake to one foot below spillway crest. That’s high, and it prompted managers to bump releases from the dam to 1,200 cfs.

“It remains possible that additional release increases will be necessary to prevent the reservoir from spilling,” said Erik Knight, a water manager at the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that controls water flows out of the dam.

Prevention of spilling at the Taylor Reservoir is important for three primary reasons, added Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservation District.

The first reason is to keep the mices shrimp, which live in the reservoir, from being flushed downstream through Taylor Canyon, down the Gunnison River and into Blue Mesa, where they could potentially upset the ecosystem.

The second reason to avoid spill, said Kugel, is due to a problem with the spillway itself.

“Because of a small structural problem in the spillway, it’s best not to be spilling on a long-term basis,” he said.

The last reason to avoid topping the spillway has to do with the ability to control flows in the river itself. The Bureau of Reclamation manages the river by controlling the amount of water being released at the bottom of the dam, but should spill occur the bureau loses control of the river and cannot effectively manage the river.

“There is still a lot of water coming into the reservoir,” said Kugel. “There’s still a great deal of snow up high in the trees, but it appears we’ve hit the peak. We anticipate flows beginning to drop down over the weekend.”

The high flows out of Taylor Reservoir, coupled with flows above 2,000 cfs coming out of the East River, have kept the main stem of the Gunnison River running high at over 4,000 cfs, roughly five times its July norm.

Those numbers prompted the Gunnison County Sheriff to close the stretch of the river from the put-in at Almont to County Road 10 during the first week of June due to safety concerns related to a low bridge.

“You can float from County Road 10 down; however, all the land is privately owned with no public access,” said Gunnison County sheriff Rick Besecker. “It is open from there down, but if you see people floating it is highly likely that those floaters have been granted access from landowners.”

The first public put-in for the open water on the Gunnison is at North Bridge across from Garlic Mike’s. People who choose to access the river by crossing public land are trespassing and Besecker said the sheriff’s office is prepared to issue citations.

As far as when the closure on the upper Gunnison River will be lifted, Besecker said he relies on recommendations from staff at Three Rivers Resort and Scenic River Tours.

“My rule of thumb would be to lift the restriction when the Gunnison River at Almont is between about 2,200 and 2,500 cfs,” he added. “Right now, it’s a safety issue because of one low bridge on the river. The high-water level is being impacted the most by the water coming out of the Taylor Reservoir. Once that gets down closer to the normal flow it should drop the Gunnison and we’ll lift the closure.”

In the meantime, the sheriff’s office suggests that people wanting to get on the river obey private property rights, wear life jackets and use proper safety equipment.

Those safety warnings are a good reminder for everyone, including boaters and river lovers looking to take part in the Gunnison River Festival this weekend.

“We’ve had no reports of damage from high water at this point,” said Kugel, whose organization is behind the river festival. “However, it has affected our river festival activities. The river events for the Friday night including the community raft float have been postponed indefinitely.”

The festival will still have live music, food and beer Friday night, and the Saturday activities will continue as scheduled, said Kugel. (For more information about the Gunnison River Festival, see page 33.)

While the runoff has been tough on the recreation and fishing community, the water has been a boon for the Gunnison Valley’s summer water outlook.

“Currently we’re looking good,” said Kugel. “Reservoirs are full or filling. Blue Mesa has been rising at one foot per day for the last two weeks and is now currently back within 12 feet of spilling. Taylor Reservoir is currently being managed to avoid spilling.”

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