Twin Lakes Tunnel closes, the Grottos erupts in whitewater

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The upper Roaring Fork River chundering through the Grottos around 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had been closed and the natural flows of Lost Man and Lincoln creeks had been turned back into the river. On Tuesday, the tunnel was diverting over 600 cfs. By Thursday, it was only diverting 2.74 cfs, which means the previously diverted water was suddenly bounding down through the Grottos instead.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The upper Roaring Fork River chundering through the Grottos around 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had been closed and the natural flows of Lost Man and Lincoln creeks had been turned back into the river. On Tuesday, the tunnel was diverting over 600 cfs. By Thursday, it was only diverting 2.74 cfs, which means the previously diverted water was suddenly bounding down through the Grottos instead.

ASPEN – For the second time in two years the native flows to the upper Roaring Fork River have been restored as the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. has had to curtail its diversions and close the Twin Lakes Tunnel, which since June 6 had been moving 600-plus cubic feet per second [cfs] of water under the Continental Divide.

After the tunnel was closed Thursday afternoon and the upper Roaring Fork River had regained the natural flow of its two biggest tributaries – Lost Man and Lincoln creeks – the river bounded down the slick granite in the Grottos area and erupted in a frenzy of churning whitewater.

The Grottos on June 13, and on June 16

The Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning, June 13, 2016.

The Roaring Fork River, at the top of the Grottos section, on Monday morning, June 13, 2016, with the Twin Lakes Tunnel diverting over 600 cfs.

Roaring Fork RIver, Grottos, at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, at the upper indicator rock.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The Roaring Fork River, at the top of the Grottos section, at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had closed.

Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. began diverting the headwaters of the Roaring Fork in earnest this year in late May. It ramped up diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel to above 600 cfs on June 6 and kept them in the 610 to 620 cfs range until Tuesday, June 14, when the diversions in the tunnel were reduced by about half.

By Wednesday, flows in the tunnel were around 250 cfs and were turned down to a trickle of 4 cfs by Thursday afternoon.

Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. first reduced the flow of water to the tunnel on Tuesday by letting the natural flow of Lost Man Creek run into the Roaring Fork River again, instead of diverting it to the entrance to the Twin Lakes Tunnel, which begins at Grizzly Reservoir.

The flows of Lost Man Creek added about 250 cfs into the main stem of the upper Fork as it ran past Lost Man campground.

Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows, shown heading toward Aspen, include about 250 cfs from Lost Man Creek and the portion of the main stem of the Fork that was previously being diverted.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows, shown heading toward Aspen, include about 250 cfs from Lost Man Creek and the portion of the main stem of the Fork that was previously being diverted.

Then on Thursday afternoon, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. took the next step and closed the tunnel. That sent another 200 cfs or so down lower Lincoln Creek, which runs into the Fork just above the Grottos.

Just after 5:30 p.m. on Thursday Lincoln Creek quickly went from a clear and docile stream that could be easily walked across to a turbid river flowing strong enough to lift a man off his feet.

Lincoln Creek, before and after

Lincoln Creek, before the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed on June 16, 2016.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Lincoln Creek, at about 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before the freshly turned out water from Lincoln, New York, Brooklyn, and Tabor creeks came rushing downstream, instead of being diverted through the Twin Lakes Tunnel.

Lincoln Creek, after 5: 30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. A surge of turbid pushy water came down Lincoln Creek and reached the Fork about 5:30 p.m. on June 16.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Lincoln Creek, around 5: 30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. Minutes earlier the stream could we easily walked across, but the flow above was enough to lift a man off his feet while crossing.

The four-mile long Twin Lakes Tunnel is now expected to remain closed for two to three weeks and the recent hot weather may keep the water rising in the Fork as the last of the high-elevation snowpack comes off.

Rising Stillwater

On Friday, a cold and swiftly moving Roaring Fork had risen above its banks in portions of the North Star Nature Preserve, flooding some areas but not to the extent of the high water in June 2015.

Last year on June 18, the Fork reached a peak flow of 1,680 cfs, as recorded by the gauge “Roaring Fork River Near Aspen, CO,” located at Stillwater Drive just east of Aspen proper.

Yesterday at 4:30 p.m., as the tunnel was closed, the Fork at Stillwater was flowing at 597 cfs.

But by midnight, with the strong flow from Lincoln Creek added to it, the Fork had climbed to 817 cfs.

It then hit a high of 927 cfs at 7:45 a.m. on Friday morning, before falling back to 857 cfs by 2:30 p.m. Friday afternoon.

The riverside cabin in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork did not appear to be flooded on Friday, June 17, 2016, but the river was lapping the edge of the porch. One year earlier the river had made itself at home and put about a foot of water in the cabin.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The riverside cabin in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork did not appear to be flooded on Friday, June 17, 2016, but the river was lapping the edge of the porch. One year earlier, the river had made itself at home and put about a foot of water in the cabin.

By midday Friday the swelling river was licking the porch on a small cabin on the banks of the Fork in the Stillwater section, but unlike last year, it had not yet flooded the inside of the cabin and a nearby art studio.

The river, however, had risen high enough to flood portions of the North Star Nature Preserve and other land along the river. So far, the high water had not produced flooding in scale with the dramatic size of last year’s “Lake North Star.”

Water in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River swelled over the river's banks on Friday after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed for two-to-three weeks on Thursday. The river hit 927 cfs early Friday morning. Last year on June 18 it hit 1,680 cfs.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Water in the Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River swelled over the river’s banks on Friday after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed for two-to-three weeks on Thursday. The river hit 927 cfs early Friday morning. Last year on June 18 it hit 1,680 cfs.

Turn Tunnel Off

The Twin Lakes Tunnel is the key component of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System, which was constructed in the 1930s and is owned and operated by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

Notably, the company does not own and operate Twin Lakes Reservoir, as it sold the reservoir on the east side of Independence Pass to the Bureau of Reclamation and the reservoir is now managed as part of the Fry-Ark project.

The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., did, however, retain the right to store 54,452 acre-feet in Twin Lakes Reservoir, which can hold a total of 147,500 acre-feet, or about a third again more than Ruedi Reservoir.

But under its water rights, after Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. reaches its storage allotment in Twin Lakes Reservoir as it did this week, it has to stop diverting if the Colorado Canal can still divert 756 cfs directly from the lower Arkansas River.

It’s rare that two of the constraints in the water rights held by Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. overlap and it has to stop diverting West Slope water, but it happened last year and again this year.

And both times were a reflection of the high levels of water in the lower Arkansas River basin.

If flows in the lower Arkansas drop, then the Colorado Canal will likely be called out by a senior diverter and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. can again divert water from the headwaters of the upper Roaring Fork and send it directly to the canal.

The Colorado Canal is near Ordway, Colo., where Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. is based. Most of the shares in the company are owned by Front Range cities, which receive the majority of the water normally diverted from the upper Roaring Fork.

Tunnel Diversion Graphics

A graph showing the stair-step reduction in diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel between Tuesday, June 14 and Thursday, June 16, 2016.

Source: USGS

A graph showing the stair-step reduction in diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel between Tuesday, June 14, and Thursday, June 16, 2016.

A graph showing the rate of diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel since early May. It shows the steady diversions above 600 cfs between June 6 and June 14, 2016.

Source: USGS

A graph showing the rate of diversions through the Twin Lakes Tunnel since early May. It shows the steady diversions above 600 cfs between June 6 and June 14, 2016.

Grottos, Broad View

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, with diversions into the Twin Lakes Tunnel at over 600 cfs. While impressive at this level, the whitewater frenzy that resulted after the tunnels were closed was far more intense.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, looking downstream, with diversions into the Twin Lakes Tunnel at over 600 cfs. While impressive at this level, the whitewater frenzy that resulted after the tunnels were closed was far more intense.

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 16, 2016, before flows from Lincoln Creek came into the Fork.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 16, 2016, looking upstream, before flows from Lincoln Creek came into the Fork.

The Fork, in frenzy, through the Grottos, on 6.16.16.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The Fork, in frenzy, through the Grottos, on June 16, 2016.

Grottos, Middle Indicator Rock

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 10 a.m. on Monday, June 13, 2016.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 10 a.m. on Monday, June 13, 2016. A view of the middle indicator rock.

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before the flow of Lincoln Creek was added to the Fork.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at about 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before the flow of Lincoln Creek was added to the Fork. View of the middle indicator rock.

The Roaring Fork River, through the Grottos, late on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had been closed.

The Roaring Fork River, through the Grottos, late on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had been closed. A view of the middle indicator rock.

Grottos, Lower Indicator Rock

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, before flows from either Lost Man Creek or Lincoln Creek were added to Fork and the Twin Lakes Tunnel was diverting about 600 cfs.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, before flows from either Lost Man Creek or Lincoln Creek were added to the Roaring Fork River and the Twin Lakes Tunnel was diverting about 600 cfs. Lower indicator rock.

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before flows from Lincoln Creek were added to the Fork.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, before flows from Lincoln Creek were added to the Fork. Lower indicator rock.

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after flow from Lincoln Creek was added to the Fork.

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after flow from Lincoln Creek was added to the Fork. Lower indicator rock.

Lincoln Creek, log indicator

Lincoln Creek, just above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, minutes before a surge of about 350s cfs came down Lincoln Creek and reached this location,. Taken about 5:20 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Lincoln Creek, just above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, minutes before a surge of about 350 cfs came down Lincoln Creek and reached this location. Photo taken about 5:20 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

Lincoln Creek, just above the confluence with the Roaring Fork, minutes after a surge of 350 cfs swept through the location after being turned out when the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. Shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Lincoln Creek, just above the confluence with the Roaring Fork, minutes after a surge of 350 cfs swept through the location after being turned out when the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

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