Snowpack/drought/runoff news: Upper Colorado River basin drops to 25% of average, South Platte = 37%



Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map and the Basin High/Low graph for the South Platte Basin (the basins that millions of Coloradans depend on) from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The storm last week kept the South Platte about 1 inch of SWE above 2002 and moved the Upper Colorado River basin to the 2002 line. Keep doing your rain dances.

From The Denver Post (Kyle Wagner):

Colorado’s reservoirs are at normal levels, according to Denver Water, and state rivers are running at or below normal flows for this time of year. That means rafting, particularly for first-timers and families, could be just right.

“Here’s the thing that people forget,” says David Costlow, executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association. “Low season doesn’t mean no water. That snow still comes down that defined ditch. It might not ever get to the super-wild stage, but there’s water, and it flows. It will still be at an acceptable level for people to get out there and have a great time.”

Costlow says that despite rumors outside the industry, concerns that this season will be a repeat of the severe drought of 2002 are unlikely. “I make a point of keeping in contact with what I call the ‘water buffaloes,’ you know, Denver Water, CWC (Colorado Water Congress), to see what their take is. Well, it’s gonna be low, yes, but it’s not going to be 2002.”[…]

Outfitters on the Arkansas River are in especially good shape, Costlow says, because they’re on a voluntary flow-management program that allows for a dam release of water from the reservoirs upstream. “That water’s always there when they need it,” he explains. “Like last year, it wasn’t needed really until right at the end. This year, they’ll probably need it earlier.”

From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart):

Flows out of Ruedi increase seasonally on May 1, according to Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The agency began increasing the release Monday, anticipating a hike in flows into the Fryingpan below the dam from 45 cubic feet per second to 80 cfs by the end of the day. Another increase Tuesday is expected to bring the flow on the lower Fryingpan to 110 cfs, which is typical for this time of year, according to Lamb.

In a normal spring, runoff from melting snow coming into the reservoir, located east of Basalt, would peak in late May or early June, she said. Next week, the bureau will have a better idea of what to expect this spring, after the latest data have been analyzed, but it’s a good bet flows coming into Ruedi won’t match the surge experienced last year…

The bureau expects Ruedi and the other reservoirs in the Fryingpan-Arkansas transmountain diversion system, as well as reservoirs in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, to fill up this spring, according to Lamb. Both projects transfer water from Colorado’s Western Slope to the Front Range. The reservoirs started out in good shape because last year was a strong one for water collection, Lamb said…

Among Western Slope reservoirs that send water west instead of east, however, both Taylor Park and Blue Mesa reservoirs are expected to reach only 80 to 85 percent of capacity, according to Dan Crabtree, water management group chief for the bureau’s Grand Junction office. Other, smaller reservoirs, including Paonia, Ridgway and Silverjack, are all expected to fill up, he said…

…in the Roaring Fork River Basin on Monday, the snowpack was down to 19 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS. The SNOTEL measuring site on Independence Pass, located southeast of Aspen at 10,600 feet in elevation, was holding 4 inches of snow Monday, down from 7 inches Sunday. Snow at the measuring site is likely to be gone by Tuesday, said Mage Skordahl, assistant snow survey supervisor for the NRCS in Denver. That doesn’t mean snow has disappeared from the pass, but that it’s melted off the SNOTEL measuring station, she said.

Updated streamflow forecasts will soon be available, according to Skordahl, but projections based solely on snowpack put the flow into Ruedi Reservoir at 55 percent of average from April through July, she said. The Roaring Fork River flow at Glenwood Springs is expected to be at 45 percent of average for the same period.

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