Water year 2011: Possible flooding from the monster snowpack, drought over the southeastern plains and San Luis Valley

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

State agencies have recommended to Gov. John Hickenlooper the activation of an agricultural impact task force in response to a drought that continues in 60 percent of the state. “It’s very weird to have this level of concerns about flooding and drought in the same year,” said Veva DeHeza, a Colorado Water Conservation Board staffer who co-chairs the state water availability task force…

Baca County is moving into the highest level of drought, while most of the Eastern Plains south of Interstate 70 are listed in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Precipitation is only 20-70 percent of average for the year in that area, and many places have not seen appreciable rain since last summer. Baca, Cheyenne, Kiowa and Kit Carson counties have been declared disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Along with Bent, Las Animas and Prowers counties, they also meet triggers for federal livestock assistance.

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From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Water experts at a State of the River meeting Wednesday night in El Jebel said that the Roaring Fork, Crystal, Fryingpan and Colorado rivers all have the potential to peak at higher than average levels because the snowpack is at 200 percent of average in parts of the Roaring Fork basin. However, only minor flooding is anticipated in areas like low-lying areas along the Crystal River, said Don Meyer, senior water resources engineer with the Colorado River District. But all speakers had a caveat in their comments. Tim Miller of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said that computer models on streamflows assume average weather conditions during the melting period. If the temperatures spike for a considerable time, throw the models out the window, he said…

[Tim Miller of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation] said the snowpack levels at three automated Snotel sites in the upper Fryingpan River Valley are the highest on record for mid-May. The bureau has reacted accordingly with the water level in Ruedi Reservoir…/p>

The bureau has been maintaining water releases of 360 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Ruedi into the lower Fryingpan River and will do so for the foreseeable future, Miller said. The agency projects that the reservoir will fill to a level to put the boat ramps into service by mid-June and fill to capacity by early July. Releases should be kept below 800 cfs, he said. Minor flooding can occur when releases exceed that level.

The bureau also anticipates significantly higher-than-average water diversions from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project this year. A system of diversion structures and tunnels sends water from a multitude of creeks in the upper Fryingpan River basin east to the Front Range. The annual average diversion is 54,000 acre feet. This year, it is expected to be 94,000 acre feet, Miller said.

Lake Powell, the popular reservoir in Utah, will also benefit from the central Rocky Mountain’s bounty of snow. Current models indicate its water level will rise 44 feet, or 5 million acre feet, by July, Meyer said.

From KJCT8.com (Don Coleman):

No businesses or homes have been hit yet, but many with the county worry that that will not last. All it would take is a few hot days in the mountains to raise the Colorado River to flood level. “Emergency management is checking the river daily,” Tanny McGinnis with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office explained…

“Really, the bigger issue isn’t so much what’s happening in Garfield County, but it’s what’s happening in Eagle County [with] the snow-pack.” Because of the high country’s deep snow-pack this year, the Colorado River is pushing thousands of cubic feet of water per second (CPS) more than it was this time last year. Authorities tell us that in Glenwood Canyon it was measured at 11,000 CPS on Wednesday compared to 7,500 CPS last year. With snow still waiting to be melted up in the mountains, that number will only increase.

From the Associated Press (Brian Skoloff) via the Anchorage Daily News:

“At this point, everybody is just sitting back chewing fingernails and waiting because the longer it stays cold and wet, the worse it’s going to get,” said Randy Julander, a supervisor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Julander said in a typical year the weather warms gradually, allowing snow in the mountains to melt slowly and ease into rivers and streams over time. That’s not the case this year.

“June is right around the corner and sooner or later, it’s going to warm up,” he said, noting that instead of gradually warming over eight to ten weeks, the West will likely see a rapid rise in temperatures heading into summer, a worst case scenario.

“And it’s not just Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. It’s basically all of the western states except Arizona and New Mexico,” Julander said. “We’re waiting for the chute to open and the bull to come out bucking, but he ain’t moving, yet.”[…]

The record snowpack levels are almost too deep to measure in some parts of northern Colorado and have officials concerned about major flooding across the state’s northern corners and down the eastern plains…

He said the last time the West saw such unusual prolonged cold weather with steady rain and snow was in 1983 when massive flooding across the region caused substantial damage. “That’s when we had terrible flooding in Utah and across the West. The Colorado River went absolutely wild for about a month,” Julander said. “The amount of water up there in the mountains is phenomenal and it’s going to melt sooner or later. You’re looking at an event that certainly only happens maybe once every 20, 30, even 50 years.”

Meanwhile, here are the presentations from last week’s Joint Water Availability and Flood Task Forces meeting from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

More CWCB coverage here.

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