We have begun our weekly coordination calls for reservoir operations across the upper Colorado River basin. Flows in the Colorado River are rapidly declining, as most of you know. As a result, we are upping releases from Green Mountain to the Lower Blue today in two phases. By late this afternoon, we’ll be releasing 150 cfs.
The road across the dam has also reopened as the bridge work is nearly complete.
For more information on Green Mountain Reservoir and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, please visit our webpage.
More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here and here.
As we continue to make adjustments to the Colorado-Big Thompson project system, there have been some changes to the release from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River. Late last night, we dropped the release from 325 cfs to roughly 250 cfs. Tonight, shortly after midnight, we will drop it again to around 125 cfs. The reason for the drop in release amounts is primarily because we have completed the inspections and related maintenance work scheduled for this week.
Park superintendent Vaughan Baker said a contractual requirement that the park retain the water rights assigned to the lake and maintain the dam forced the decision to repair the aging structure rather than remove it. “It turns out we are legally obligated to keep it,” Baker said in an interview Tuesday.
The decision is tentative based on the outcome of final consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Baker said. The lake is stocked with greenback cutthroat trout, which is a native but threatened species. Repairing the dam is expected to cost more than $800,000. Construction is expected to begin in the fall…
Lily Lake was a natural lake before a dam was built on its eastern edge in 1915. The dam raised the lake’s water level about 4 feet, increased its surface area from 14 acres to 17 and increased its capacity from about 39 acre feet of water to 75. The lake was added to the park in 1991 after it was acquired and saved from development by the Conservation Fund in 1989. The park acquired water rights for the lake about 10 years ago. An agreement with the Estes Valley Land Trust requires the park to retain the water rights and maintain the dam in perpetuity, Baker said.
More Rocky Mountain National Park coverage here and here.
Tributary contributions to the Gunnison River have continued to decline and it appears the last gasps of snowmelt have reached the rivers. Once again, the gage at Whitewater is forecast to drop below 900 cfs before this weekend. Therefore flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon have been increased to 700 cfs as of late this morning, Wednesday, June 13th.
Current forecasts suggest this will be enough water to keep the Whitewater gage above the 900 cfs target described in the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD) for a period that is hopefully longer than one week. River flows are projected to taper off more slowly as we exit the runoff period and enter into summertime baseflows.
The 2012 water year is definitely one that will be remembered for quite some time. Coming on the heels of one of the wettest and snowiest years in recent memory it began with great expectations and with well above average precipitation in October and significant early season snow storms across the state. Unfortunately hopes were thwarted by a very dry December which left our first snow surveys of the year measuring a below average snowpack. From that point, with the exception of some decent snow accumulation in February, the weather managed to conjure up some painful memories of the 2002 drought. In the end this season saw the lowest statewide snowpack accumulation since 2002 and in some basins, this year became the new minimum on record. This spring the entire state has experienced persistent warm and dry weather patterns contributing to dry soils and the early melt of an already anemic snowpack. The only part of the equation separating this year from conditions in 2002 is reservoir storage. Across the state storage volumes remain very close to average thanks to the abundant snowfall and runoff from the 2011 winter.
May ended up being another dry and warm month across Colorado. The continuation of this abnormally warm weather caused the snowpack to continue to melt out at a nearly uninterrupted pace. By June 1, the snowpack was nearly nonexistent in all of Colorado’s major basins with only 4 out of the 92 SNOTEL sites used in this report, measuring any snow. The statewide snowpack as of June 1 was a negligible 2 percent of average, and 1 percent of last year’s report on this date. Basin by basin only the Colorado, South Platte, Arkansas and combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins had any snow remaining and only at the higher elevations in the basins. Most SNOTEL sites were completely melted out about a month earlier than normal. The warm weather this spring in combination with dry winds and dry soils really decimated what little snowpack we had received. These conditions also result in a fair amount of sublimation which will likely have an impact on streamflow volumes.
Precipitation at Colorado’s SNOTEL sites was well below average this May. Six out of the last seven months have recorded below average precipitation across the state. Statewide totals for May were just 42 percent of average which dropped the water year to date precipitation to 71 percent of average and 59 percent of last year’s totals. The combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin received precipitation that was only 14 percent of average for the month and the Gunnison basin was also very dry at just 23 percent of average. The South Platte basin fared somewhat better with monthly totals at 62 percent of average. Water year totals range from a high of 85 percent of average in the Upper Rio Grande basin to 66 percent of average in the Colorado basin.
Reservoir storage in the state is slightly below average. In an average year the state’s reservoirs store 3786 kilo acre feet (KAF) of water at this time of year. This year storage levels are at 3716 KAF, which equates to 98 percent of average. Since May 1 storage volumes statewide have declined by 24 KAF. Typically storage volumes increase during May but water managers filled their reservoirs early due to low streamflow predictions and demand has likely increased with above normal temperatures. As of June 1 the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande reported the lowest storage volumes in the state at 78 and 57 percent of average respectively. All other major basins in the state are reporting near or above average storage. The Gunnison River basin’s reservoirs are storing 823 KAF which is 103 percent of average. The Upper Colorado basin is storing 905 KAF which is 113 percent of average. The South Platte basin is storing 930 KAF which is 95 percent of average. The combine San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan basins are storing 526 KAF which is 106 percent of average. And the Yampa basin is storing 34 KAF in Stagecoach reservoir which is 113 percent of average; Yamcolo reservoir was not included in this report due to a broken gauge.
Another dry month in May brought additional decreases to the streamflow forecasts across western Colorado. As a general rule, forecasts for the western basins range from about 25 to 50 percent of average. In the Upper Rio Grande, Arkansas, and South Platte basins seasonal predictions improved by a couple of percentage points for most forecasts due to higher than expected observed flows so far this spring. These basins can expect volumes of 20 to 60 percent of average. The lowest forecasts, as a percent of average, are in the headwaters of the Gunnison River, where the forecasted flow for the Tomichi Creek tributary is just 7 percent of average. The state’s best outlook, while still quite dismal, is for the Upper Rio Grande basin as a whole. Streams in this basin are expected to run at 40 to 60 percent of average from April to September. In summary, across the state, early snowmelt has translated to earlier than normal peak flows, which will likely be followed by an earlier than normal return to base flows in mid-summer.
This year’s light snow pack has prompted north metro water suppliers to ask residents to conserve. Cities from Arvada to Broomfield and Thornton, as well as South Adams County, are suggesting homeowners to water their lawns no more than two times a week. If there is extreme heat, they suggest watering your lawn three times a week–and if it rains even less. Do not water between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. And know your water use so you can track it.
“It’s very conducive to large wildfires spreading,” Skordahl said. “You are talking about drought conditions across the state. The soil is dry. The vegetation is dry. Precipitation is below normal and its windy.”
According to the June 1 Colorado Basin Outlook report released today, the snowpack in Colorado is 2 percent of average for the date, and 1 percent of the snowpack measured on June 1, 2011. Because of abnormally high snowpacks last year, reservoirs are not yet in trouble, still measuring at about 98 percent of average, she said. Still, water managers across the state are concerned that water demand from farms and municipalities will quickly drop reservoir levels across the state, she said.
Only four of 92 snowpack measuring spots across Colorado had any measurable amounts of snow at all and then only in the higher elevations, according to the June snowpack report. But Skordahl said its been so hot and dry the last several months that she was surprised there was measurable snow at any of the locations…
“A wet summer could turn things around,” she said.
The Weld County Commissioners — after declaring a drought emergency on Monday — are asking for a powwow with Governor Hickenlooper over pumping groundwater along the South Platte River alluvial aquifer. Here’s a report from Jack Minor writing for the Greeley Gazette. From the article:
On June 11, 2012, the Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution declaring a disaster emergency for Weld County and asked Governor Hickenlooper to order the pumping of some of the 8,400 restricted irrigation wells for 30 days to provide relief from emergency conditions. “This is a situation that requires immediate attention,” said Commissioner Chairman Sean Conway. “If water isn’t made available to the farmers in Weld County within the next couple of weeks, crops will fail and the economic impact will be felt throughout the state.”[…]
In the request for a meeting, the letter notes that the action is necessary to avoid the current disaster from getting worse to the county, which is the state’s largest agricultural county, producing over $1.4 billion to the state economy. As the Gazette previously reported, area farmers have testified on multiple occasions that the situation is desperate…
“We are like the tsunami warning system. You may not hear it coming, but we farmers are sounding the warning to you,” he said. “The good news is this disaster, which is both natural and man-made with the turning off of the wells can be avoided and it won’t cost the taxpayers one dime. All we have to do is flip a switch.”
From the Associated Press via the The Denver Post:
The town of Frisco is asking residents to voluntarily conserve water.
The town is preparing for possible drought conditions following a dry winter and spring with below-average snowpack. Town officials said Monday they are asking people to voluntarily limit how much they water their lawns and plants.
The Confluence Institute continues in its 3rd year with a new focus of study. This year we’ll concentrate on water in our urban settings.
The 4 day workshop for K-12 teachers will give you tools and resources to teach all aspects of water in a way that will complement the new state standards. The course can be applied for re-certification requirements. Two Continuing Education Credits will be available through Adams State College. Classroom materials and the Project Wet Activity Guide will be provided. Most important, it’s 4 days of fun! Highlights of this year’s conference include a water use tour, a canoe trip and the Graduation BBQ.
The workshop, your meals, and materials will be provided at no cost to you.
Space is limited to 30 teachers. Reservations are being accepted now. Look in your school emails, or contact Kathy Parker at 970-330-4540.
The workshop is sponsored by the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, the West Greeley Conservation District, the Poudre Learning Center and the City of Greeley Water Conservation and Stormwater Programs.
Click on the thumbnail graphic for this morning’s fire map from Larimer County. The file is quite large so it will take a while to download. Here’s a report from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue. From the article:
The nearby cities of Greeley and Fort Collins have closed their water intakes on the Poudre River, said Brian Werner, a public information officer with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which provides water to 850,000 people from a Bureau of Reclamation project. The cities are now drawing exclusively from the Bureau’s Horsetooth Reservoir. Lisa Voytko, water production manager for Fort Collins, told Circle of Blue that the fire has knocked out power at the utility’s Poudre River intake. “Because we can’t monitor water quality at the source,” Voytko said, “we switched to the reservoir.”
Werner told Circle of Blue that the High Park fire is by far the largest and most extensive ever in the district’s service area. “There will be impacts,” Werner said. “If you get a hard rain on these steep slopes, it’s going to bring all that gunk into your system.”
The Bellvue filter plant, which treats Greeley’s water supply, including the water you put in your coffee this morning, was in the mandatory evacuation zone from the High Park Fire. City workers, however, remained at the plant because of a considerable defense zone, which includes the concrete Hansen canal holding water and cornfields that were being soaked from sprinklers Sunday, not to mention a large chunk of open space, with only a couple of trees, around the plant. If the fire did somehow beat those barriers, it would essentially resemble a grass fire. Just for some additional comfort, the Greeley Fire Department sent a tanker and some firefighters to man it to keep watch over the plant, said Roy Otto, Greeley’s city manager.
So the problem isn’t the fire, it’s what it’s leaving behind. Actually, it’s both fires. May’s Hewlett Gulch fire is already causing issues. The runoff from Thursday’s heavy rains mixed with the remnants from that blaze, soiled the Poudre River beyond what Bellvue could treat, forcing the city to draw from its backup supply, the Hansen, which draws water from Horsetooth Reservoir.
But now Horsetooth could be soiled by runoff from heavy rains mixing with soot from the High Park fire, as well. If it does rain hard enough to cause both water supplies to fill with sludge, it’s possible the city would have to shut down the Bellvue plant and draw its water from the plant at Boyd Lake. The city typically only uses Boyd Lake in the summer months, when the demand for water is at its highest, said Jon Monson, director of water and sewer for the city of Greeley.
If the city does have to shut down Bellvue, Greeley residents would face tighter restrictions on water use. But Monson doesn’t believe it will come to that, as it would take a significant storm to force those problems. And even if some ash and soot finds its way into Horsetooth, the city draws water off the bottom, meaning the only drawback would be a smoky taste to Greeley’s drinking water.
Mitigation from both fires will be expensive regardless of what happens, Monson said, as the city plans to dump straw by helicopter to care for 400 acres blackened by the Hewlett Gulch blaze until the natural grasses can re-establish to help filter the dirty wash that runs into the river. That straw costs more than $1,000 an acre. Now the city may have to do a lot more to treat whatever the High Park fire scorches, and High Park is already much larger than Hewlett. The city is supposed to get 75 percent of its costs reimbursed from the federal government, Monson said.