Dam diverts floodwater to Rueter-Hess Reservoir

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Unusually heavy rains have dumped millions of gallons of water into Rueter-Hess Reservoir, and saturated soils have excess flows continuing to pour in.

The Parker Water and Sanitation District is taking advantage of the wet weather by using its diversion dam on Cherry Creek near Stroh Road. In the last two weeks, it has helped redirect 240 acre-feet of rainwater into Rueter-Hess. That’s 78,204,342 gallons, courtesy of Mother Nature.

It’s among the few upsides to the soaking rains that have resulted in historic floods, displacing thousands in the north metro area, decimating roads and homes and taking eight lives along the way.

Parker was spared the brunt of the monsoonal flows from the south, but experienced some minor flooding on roads and in basements, said Tom Williams, stormwater manager for the Town of Parker.

The PWSD, for the first time this year, raised its diversion structure and pulled off as much as 10,000 gallons per minute during the peak of the first day of storms.

Then, just as the weekend was approaching, Cherry Creek was “called out” — in other words, those with downstream water rights declared their privileges to the flows, said Ron Redd, district manager for the PWSD.

“We were pulling quite a bit off for a while,” he said. “When they put the call out, it was frustrating with all of that flooding.”

The district worked with a local water commissioner, who grants requests from water rights owners, and was able to lift the restrictions the following day.

“We’ve been pumping ever since then,” Redd said.

Some of the rainwater has entered Rueter-Hess through Newlin Gulch, the drainage channel into which the reservoir was built. But much of the work has been done with the diversion dam, which was finished in 2006. It has gotten little use in recent years because of the low water level in Cherry Creek; the PWSD, however, captures alluvial flows from the creek.

The reservoir is a tool for the district to store excess flows, but if there is a call out on the river, the district must release that water, as it did last summer after heavy rains deluged northern Castle Rock, Franktown and areas south of Parker.

“It wasn’t our water to keep,” Redd said.

But because Parker Water has been free to collect excess flows for nearly the last two weeks, it has put away $120,000 worth of water. It’s a “one-time shot,” but it’s one with long-term benefits, Redd said. The water will help fill reservoirs in eastern Colorado. It was so dry last year that it took a long period of time for the spring melt to fill the reservoirs.

Even the lightest rains are having positive consequences. The daily amount of water going into Rueter-Hess dropped from 50 acre-feet, to 12, to five, then went back up to 7½ acre-feet after a small shower. The saturated soils can quickly dry up, so Redd is enjoying the benefits of having the diversion dam and readily available storage.

“Right now, it’s good,” he said. “We might not be able to pull (water) off in the near future. I’m thankful we got our 240 acre-feet plus.”

An acre-foot, depending on the region and conservation efforts, is generally enough to supply a family of four for a year.

In the event of a major flood in the future, Williams said, the diversion structure could be a critical component in minimizing damage downstream.

“If this storm had hit farther south, it would have had a major benefit,” he said.

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