Sen. Michael Bennet talks invasive mussels, water management at Ruedi Reservoir
Colorado’s senior U.S. senator Michael Bennet was part of a large contingent of officials who visited Ruedi Reservoir on Thursday. Bennet, a Democrat, headed up the Fryingpan River from Basalt to learn more about the region’s water and aquatic wildlife management.
He was joined by local electeds from every municipality in the Roaring Fork Valley, along with staff from federal and state agencies.
During the visit, representatives from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Ruedi Water and Power Authority (RWAPA) explained how they manage the water in the reservoir in unconventional ways.
The Fryingpan-Arkansas project, which established the reservoir, diverts some of the water that falls on Colorado’s Western Slope to communities on the Front Range. But the water doesn’t just go to users and irrigators on both sides of the Continental Divide. It also gets strategically released from the reservoir to a stretch of the Colorado River known as the 15-Mile Reach to help endangered fish, and to prevent anchor ice from forming and hurting ecosystems in the Fryingpan River.
RWAPA’s executive director April Long told Bennet that these issues have only gained urgency in the midst of a 1,200 year drought on the Colorado River.
“What we wanted to demonstrate to you [is] that climate change is affecting this area quickly,” Long said. “Ruedi has filled every year until the last four years, and then it didn't fill for three years in a row. Not filling means that we're dealing with low flows of water, which creates anchor ice, dealing with high temperatures in the summer. And we're trying to get really creative about, … ‘How do we use water that's available to us to meet lots of little individual needs that are benefiting our communities?”
Long thanked Bennet for the work he does in Congress to bring resources to Colorado to help manage water, and encouraged him to continue fighting for those resources — both for the state and the larger Colorado River Basin.
“We are working hard to solve these problems,” she said. “We just need all of the flexibility that we can have in policy and in funding to continue to work, to collaborate and kind of stretch as much as we can: stretch our policies, stretch our regulations, stretch our water and our contract to do these really cool things.”
Bennet said recent federal investments — like $4 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act for the Colorado River Basin — are crucial to helping partnerships that maintain projects like Ruedi.
“None of that would have happened without advocacy from the people that we’re meeting with today, saying, ‘Look, we are applying our imagination to this landscape, we need resources to support the fact that we are constrained in the face of this drought,’” he said.
He lauded the partnerships that go into managing Ruedi, between local officials with RWAPA, state agencies like Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and federal bodies like and the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bennet said creative solutions like the ones these groups engineer are the lifeblood of western water management.
“I never want Washington dictating any terms when it comes to water in the west — that’s not the role of Washington D.C.,” he said. “If we can support flexible and imaginative relationships and partnerships that people here create, I’m all for that.”
Bennet said visiting places like Ruedi and seeing how things work firsthand helps him explain to his congressional colleagues the complexity of issues surrounding drought in the Colorado River Basin.
During his visit, Bennet also got a rundown on boat inspections done by CPW, and the resources it takes to prevent zebra and quagga mussel infestation in Colorado’s waters.
Earlier this year, Bennet reintroduced a bill called the “Stop the Spread of Invasive Mussels Act” with his Republican colleague Steve Daines of Montana. It would give the Bureau of Reclamation more authority to partner with state and local agencies to fund and operate boat examination and decontamination sites, with priority given to basins where zebra and quagga mussels are already present.