Drought/snowpack news: Watering restrictions to start in April for Colorado Springs #codrought



From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Amy Gillentine):

A hot dry summer followed by low snowpack in the mountains this winter and higher-than-expected demand has created a water crisis for Colorado Springs Utilities. Trying to refill reservoirs that are at 48 percent of capacity, the city-owned utility is suggesting Stage 2 water restrictions for customers starting in April. That means that outdoor watering — lawns, trees, shrubs, gardens — can occur only two days a week…

Customers aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch. CSU expects a $17 million drop in revenue, thanks to the restrictions. Utilities officials say they aren’t expecting to increase water or electric rates, however. Instead, they’ll put off projects to stay within budget, Forte said.

Reservoirs are now around the levels of the 2002 drought, near historic lows. Utilities is not only looking at conservation, it wants to boost supply as well — moving water from other places and working with the Bureau of Reclamation to find needed supplies. According to Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager of water supply, some of the needed water is just down the road in the Pueblo Reservoir. Getting it here before Southern Delivery System is finished will be costly, he said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While the outlook for moisture looks bad for the state and within the Arkansas River basin, it’s worse in Pueblo’s water collection system.“It’s not any better than the basin average and in many cases worse. Conditions continue to be poor,” said Alan Ward, water resources administrator for the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

Snow course readings for the ditches, lakes and tunnels the water board relies on to move water are running at 38-­63 percent of average, and just 44-­88 percent of 2012 levels. Snowpack in the Arkansas River basin is 61 percent of average and 70 percent of last year. Things are a little better in the Colorado River basin — which supplies about half of Pueblo’s water — with 66 percent of average and 92 percent of last year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The NRCS information is based on Snotel sites throughout the basins, while the water board’s information is more closely linked to sites within its own collection system, Ward explained.
The water board has 27,700 acre­feet of water in storage — about one year of its potable water needs. That’s down 15,000 acre­feet from one year ago. The board has several long­term contracts to supply water, which it plans to fulfill in 2013.

It will cut spot-­market leases this year, but does not plan any mandatory watering restrictions yet.

Click here to read a KUNC interview with Dana Strongin from Northern Water (Nathan Heffel). Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Water managers across Northern Colorado are watching the winter season go by with little precipitation to replenish dwindling water reservoir levels. Northern Water is very concerned the season will not produce the amount of moisture needed to restore supplies.

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

The actual snowpack for the upper Colorado River basin is actually slightly below the mid-January readings from a year ago…

The National Resources Conservation Service, the federal agency that measures things such as moisture, reports that snowpack in the region is only 61 percent of the multi-year average, despite above-average snowfall in December. “This year we really started slow,” said Mage Hultstrand, the assistant snow supervisor for the Colorado office of the National Resource Conservation Service. “We got some snow around Veterans Day, and that was pretty much it until December.”[…]

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District provides water and sewer service from East Vail to Edwards. The district relies on a combination of streamflows and wells to handle indoor water needs for both winter and summer. That indoor use is remarkably efficient, too. District communications manager Diane Johnson said that the district is able to return 95 percent of all indoor use back to the streams. When the strain comes is in the summer, since outdoor watering returns far less back into the system. That use also tends to come when streams are running high with snowmelt.

Most years, snowmelt ends around the end of June. Last year, the streamflows started dropping in May. The district got by with its usual watering regulations but encouraged landscapers and homeowners to cut back or delay any new planting. Rains in July helped a lot, but water supplies remained tight through the rest of the growing and watering season…

During a recent presentation to the Avon Town Council, water attorney Glenn Porzak said there’s enough supply in the streams and reservoirs that the district uses to handle three years like the 2012 snow year. That estimate was for “normal use,” Johnson said. “If we really restricted outdoor use, we could stretch it beyond that. We can meet our demand.”

From the Summit Daily News (Caddie Nath):

Snowpack in the Blue River Basin, where shades of brown can still be seen at the top of peaks 9 and 10, is only at 59 percent of last year’s total at this point in the year, and 42 percent of the median snowpack for the area.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Drought Monitor continues to place Summit County, and much of northwestern Colorado, in an extreme drought.

After a dismal January for snowfall delivered only 6 total inches in Breckenridge, compared to an average 23 inches, it is becoming more likely that the winter season many hoped would pull Colorado out of one of the worst droughts in a decade will fail to do so. Without a significant increase in snowfall over the next several months, parts of the state may be on track to see another difficult summer marked by a lack of water and high wildfire danger.

Consecutive months of below-average snowpack accumulation are statistically decreasing the possibility of reaching normal conditions by April, a Feb. 1 Colorado State Basin outlook report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service stated. Last year’s below-average snowpack did not offer any buffer to our current situation. … Water users in all basins should start planning for below-average surface water supplies this season. The potential for shortages this season is great…

But Dillon Reservoir is now only 66 percent full, far from its 90 percent normal for this time of year, according to data from Denver Water, the utility company that owns the lake. Denver Water’s total storage system is at only 63 percent of total capacity, falling below levels recorded during the 2002 drought year, when the system dipped to 76 percent of capacity at the end of January.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Colorado’s snowpack is making a mini-comeback, with February snowfall running close to normal across the mountains, piling up at an average rate of 1 to 2 inches per day…

But for now, the statewide snowpack is tracking behind last winter, at 75 percent of average as of Feb. 15. The southwest corner of the state is reporting the highest readings, with the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan reading at 89 percent of average, the Upper Rio Grande and 79 percent and the Gunnison Basin at 76 percent.

Colder than average temperatures across the mountains in January helped maintain the snow that did fall during the month, but the state’s water managers are still concerned about summer supplies as storage levels have dropped to well below average. Some municipal water providers are considering mandatory restrictions before the lawn-watering season starts.

The South Platte Basin, key to Denver Water’s supply system, is the driest in the state at 40 percent below average. The Arkansas Basin, critical for agriculture on the southeastern plains, is 35 percent below average.

Up in the northwest corner of the state, snowpack in the Yampa Basin has crept up to about 80 percent of average thanks to a few sneaker storms that delivered more moisture than expected.

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