Drought/snowpack/runoff news: Upper Colorado River Basin down to 36% of average

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Click on the thumbnail graphics to the right for the statewide snowpack map and the basin high/low graph for the Upper Colorado River basin from the Natural Resources Conservation Service along with the current U.S. Drought Monitor map.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

At 37 percent of average snowpack so far in April, which is when snowpack levels hit their maximum in the Colorado mountains, 2012 in the Upper Colorado River Basin is looking even drier than its two drought-ridden companion years. In 1977, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snowpack readings in April fell from 54 percent of average to 38 percent in May. In 2002, April snowpack dropped off more precipitously, from 63 percent of average to 27 percent in May. The water content of snowpack on Grand Mesa, which supplies water to two utilities in the Grand Valley, is better, 59 percent of the 24-year average, as measured on April 4…

The Colorado River already is running “so low that we’re not being able to get a full ditch of water” into the canals that lace the Grand Valley, connecting the Colorado River to the fields and orchards along its path, Proctor said…

One factor that could play a role in how the summer plays out is whether Green Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling fills this year, [ Ute Water Conservancy District General Manager Larry Clever] said. Green Mountain Reservoir is frequently a source of water for the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River through the Grand Valley, to aid four endangered fish species, including the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

“We’re not going into this summer empty,” said Greg Trainor, utilities director for the city of Grand Junction, noting Juniata and Purdy reservoirs are full right now.

From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Aspen City Council will hold a preliminary hearing Monday on an amendment to the city’s water shortage ordinance. The existing legislation allows the city to enact temporary higher water rates if a user takes more than a prescribed level, and it spells out policies to be enacted corresponding to three stages of drought severity. For example, if council declares a “Stage 2” drought, no lawn or garden watering is allowed between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“It is too early to know if actual conditions this year will cause streamflows to drop below [drought stage], but initial snowpack estimates indicate this will be a very dry year,” according to a memo to the council from the city’s water department, which notes that precipitation on Independence Pass is 61 percent of average this year as of April 16.

With the water rates, the ordinance aims to encourage conservation in drought years by instituting surcharges if water usage goes above a certain level for individual accounts. But the ordinance has not been updated in more than a decade, and the higher fees it provides for are lower than existing rates, according to the city’s memo.

The proposal would allow the city to impose surcharges of 175 and 200 percent, respectively, for users in “Tier 3” or “Tier 4,” which are the highest categories of water use for city customers.

The city last enacted the water shortage ordinance in 2002, the last severe drought year, when council declared a “Stage 1” drought.

Stage 1 seeks to cut city water usage by 10 percent, Stage 2 sets the target at 20 percent and Stage 3 aims for 50 percent. City Council must vote on whether Aspen falls under those categories.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

To-date, April precipitation at the Dillon weather observation site is 88 percent of average, at .65 inches. For January through March, the Dillon site has measured 1.94 inches of water compared to the average 2.74 inches, which is 71 percent of the historic average. On April 1st, 17 Colorado SNOTEL sites set new record lows, while 16 others were near-record lows. By April 9th, several sites had either melted out with record early melt-out dates or were on a likely trajectory to do so.Spring and summer runoff in some areas may approach record-low volumes…

In Colorado, April 1 streamflow forecasts call for much-below-average runoff conditions throughout the state. Most forecasts fall in the 40 percent to 60 percent of average range. The highest forecasts in the state are barely above 70 percent of average, for areas of the Upper Rio Grande and portions of the Front Range near Boulder. The lowest forecast in the state is for the North Platte near Northgate, at 20 percent of average. Forecasts decreased very significantly in most areas from the March 1st forecasts due to extremely poor conditions in March. Spring and summer runoff in some areas may approach record-low volumes.

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