Snowpack/drought/runoff news: Dillion Reservoir at 94% of average, Green Mountain Reservoir = 59%

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map, the Yampa/White Basin High/Low graph and the Gunnison Basin High/Low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From The Aspen Times:

Some long-range forecasts call for a wet July and August following extremely dry weather in May and June — which is why Denver Water officials are using a mid-range forecast to dictate their management decisions. Still, others take a more cautious approach…

Dillon Reservoir is just one of the municipal water provider’s storage units, but it will be affected, said Bob Steger, manager of water resources for the utility. Typically, the South Platte River is the go-to source for Denver’s water, but though the basin fared better with snowfall than the Colorado River basin, it wasn’t by much. Even with modest forecasts, the Dillon Reservoir is expected to drop below Frisco Bay Marina’s operating levels — causing it to anchor docks in the deeper water to maintain customer service. Estimates are a drop of as much as 25 feet by September. Downstream from Dillon Reservoir, Green Mountain Reservoir is 59 percent full. Dillon Reservoir is 94 percent full. The average is 84 percent full.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

A flow management program [ed. Arkansas River voluntary flow program] developed in the 1980s serves as a statewide model for cooperative agreements on how to meet recreational, environmental and municipal and agricultural needs during years when water is in short supply. White said he’s hopeful the stakeholders will be able to make the agreement work to the benefit of boaters this year…

The voluntary flow program was crafted in the 1990’s by what is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Trout Unlimited, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Arkansas River Outfitters Association. Administered by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Flow Program provides water management guidelines that benefit the fishery and provide for whitewater flows in the Arkansas River for recreation users, including commercial outfitters and private boaters, in the spring and summer months. Meetings throughout the month of May will help determine how much water municipalities and other water managers will be able to contribute to this year’s program.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

On Wednesday, it was time for Firestone’s town board to take up a dry topic — namely, the town’s drought management plan. Still in its draft stages, the plan would allow for restrictions if Firestone’s water supply slips below 110 percent of its demand. The restrictions could deepen further if the water supply reaches genuine shortages, getting below 100 percent or 90 percent of demand…

Both Steve Nguyen of Clear Water Solutions (who prepared the draft) and town manager Wes LaVanchy said it was good to see the town developing a plan ahead of a drought…

The plan soon will be available on the town’s website, ci.firestone.co.us/index.html. Public comment on the plan will be taken for 60 days, beginning today. A preliminary version, which will receive some minor editing this week, is already on the site in the town board’s packet; click on “Town Board,” “TB Agenda/Packet” and then “Meeting Packet.”

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten reported to members of the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday that the Rio Grande Basin snowpack is about 18 percent of average right now. He said the basin is about a month early as far as runoff. Many of the rivers have already peaked or are at their peak this week. “It is not looking real good,” he said.

He added that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) forecasts for both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems dropped significantly from April to May. Last month the NRCS was predicting an annual flow for the Rio Grande of 465,000 acre feet. This week that forecast was down to 380,000 acre feet…

Of the forecasted flow, 93,200 acre feet must be delivered to the state line to meet Rio Grande Compact obligations. A large portion of that has already been delivered or will be delivered through the winter months, so the current curtailment on the Rio Grande is only 2 percent.

On the Conejos, the current curtailment is 0 percent, Cotten said. He said the Rio Grande Compact obligation to downstream states on the Conejos will be met with what has been delivered so far and what will be delivered after the irrigation season ends this winter, “so we don’t need to curtail ditches on the Conejos system at all to get water to the downstream states.”

The NRCS forecast for the Conejos River system also declined from April to May, he added. In April the NRCS predicted 215,000 acre feet on the Conejos, and this week the forecast was only 180,000 acre feet, about 54 percent of the long-term average.

From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjin):

“The long-term weather forecast is for warmer, drier weather in the foreseeable future,” said Troy Wineland, the district’s new water commissioner. “The picture isn’t altogether pretty at the moment.” Wineland was one of the speakers at Tuesday’s State of the River, an annual meeting hosted by the Colorado River District and its partners. Blue River Watershed Group helped to put on the Summit County event. It’s held every spring to give citizens a chance to understand what’s happening in their watershed, the demands on water resources, and projects that are underway to facilitate water management…

Listeners at the State of the River annual meeting suggested Denver Water officials raise the drought stage to stay ahead of the problem. “It’s not good enough,” said Matt Wade of Ten Mile Creek Kayaks in Frisco. “If we don’t have a crystal ball, shouldn’t we be proactive and have stricter water regulations in Denver to play it safe?” His comment was met with a smattering of applause.

“The philosophy of our drought response plan are that our actions are commensurate with the situation,” [Bob] Steger said, adding that Denver Water board members may choose to heighten the alert, but that hasn’t happened yet.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

Snowpack measurements for the Upper Colorado basin are the lowest in 45 years, according to the latest Natural Resources Conservation Service readings. At 21 percent of average, the Upper Colorado is at 6 percentage points lower than the previous record set in 2002. The “melt-out at many sites in Colorado this year has been four to six weeks earlier than normal,” states a May 1 Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report produced by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “It is likely that, barring well above-average spring and summer precipitation, peak flows have already occurred in many basins,” the report reads…

…Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, cautions Front Range and West Slope utilities not to be “lulled into inaction by relatively good reservoir storage,” according to a Colorado River District April newsletter reporting on the district’s quarterly board of directors meeting.

“One of the lessons of 2002 was that municipal users of West Slope water were slow to recognize the drought that year and institute watering restrictions,” the newsletter states, paraphrasing Kuhn. “The result was that reservoirs were hit hard that summer before restrictions were implemented, putting the utilities in a poor storage position for the ensuing year.”

The majority of the state’s streams and rivers are poised to produce just 20 to 40 percent of average volumes during the high water-demand season.

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