Demands for water for municipal uses, irrigation, recreation (including snowmaking) and energy production put pressure on both the quantity and quality of water in the Roaring Fork watershed. These demands, coupled with growing population and climate change in the decades ahead, make it essential that we develop a comprehensive system of stream gages to inform the wise management and long-term conservation of local rivers and streams.
The Roaring Fork Watershed’s operational and historic stream gages have been installed by different agencies for different purposes1 . The oldest gage in the watershed, located on the lower Roaring Fork River, was installed in 1905. There is a need to review and assess the performance and value of existing gages, and identify new stream monitoring needs, to create an intelligent, interactive and useful gaging network that will support immediate and long-term water management and conservation goals. Federal and state agencies, local governments and conservation organizations in the Roaring Fork Watershed have expressed keen support for such an effort. Furthermore, the 2012 Roaring Fork Watershed Management Plan sponsored by the Ruedi Water and Power Authority and their lead consultant, Roaring Fork Conservancy, identified the creation and maintenance of an adequate network of stream gages in the watershed as a “high priority”. 2
A comprehensive stream gaging network provides hydrologic information needed to help define, use, and manage the region’s water resources. An integrated gaging network provides a continuous, well documented, well-archived, unbiased, and broad-based source of reliable water data that may be used for a variety of purposes including the assessment of the health of these ecosystems, a basis for evaluating potential new diversions and impacts, and opportunities for wise restoration or mitigation. For more uses of stream flow data see Appendix 2.
Friends of Rivers and Renewables (FORR) has assumed the role of catalyzing, organizing and coordinating public and private involvement in an effort to design and implement a basin-wide system of stream gages. These gages will monitor flows and other indices of stream health in threatened or impaired reaches in the Roaring Fork Watershed. FORR will also coordinate the collection and distribution of real-time data from this network of gages so that it is available and useful to all interested parties through the Colorado Data Sharing Network or on USGS and other agency websites. By identifying technological approaches that are cost-effective and efficient in streamlining and integrating the collection of stream data, FORR hopes to demonstrate that accurate, useful and defensible stream flow data can be acquired within a reasonable timeframe and budget. At the same time, FORR hopes this collaborative planning process will generate broad public support for efforts to understand and improve the management of scarce water resources.
1 Appendix 1 is the current list of operational and historic gages in the Roaring Fork Watershed maintained by Roaring Fork Conservancy. 2 The plan identified the following: Highest priorities for stream gages in the watershed are: (1) Castle and Maroon creeks, (2) the Lower Crystal River (year-round), (3) the Upper Roaring Fork, and (4) tributaries in the Upper Fryingpan. Second order and higher streams in the watershed with significant diversions and no active stream gage or no gage located below the major diversion structures include: Brush, Fourmile, Threemile, Cattle, Woody, Sopris, Capitol, Maroon, Owl, Landis and Thompson creeks. Several creeks with by-pass flows associated with the Fry-Ark Project are not gaged. Gages at Cattle, Fourmile, Maroon, Thompson, Castle Lime, Cunningham, Middle Cunningham, Mormon, Carter, Granite, Sawyer, and Lily Pad creeks are no longer operating.