Snowpack news: ‘This is the winteriest it has looked all year’ — Dave O’Brien

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From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (John Cordsen and Walt Hester):

Snow has been in short supply in the Big Thompson watershed as the spring melt approaches. Two recent fronts have helped, but by no means have they solved the problem.

“This is the winteriest it has looked all year,” said park ranger Dave O’Brien while he was taking snow measurements Tuesday morning at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Colorado is in the midst of an historic drought. The snow pack at Bear Lake in the national park currently sits at 8.2 inches. That’s 5.5 inches, or 40 percent below the normal average for this time of year. Willow Park, below Fall River Pass, is at 46 percent below normal.

Moisture totals in Estes Park paint the same picture. Through the first week in March, snow and precipitation totals are at a ten-year-low. Through March 6, only 11.1 inches of snow has been measured in town, this equates to a scant. .60 of an inch of moisture. At 2.01 inches, precipitation totals in 2003 were nearly 2.5 times greater than they are this year. One of the wettest years of the past decade occurred in 2011 when 2.08 an inch of precipitation had been recorded through the first week of March. That was also the year the Big Thompson River sloshed out of its banks, flooding low lying areas along the river through Estes Park. The high snow mark through the first week of March occurred in 2005 when 34.6 inches had been measured…

The Fern Lake Fire still smolders under the thin layer of snow in the park.

From the Boulder Daily Camera:

{Reservoir levels] are so low, only six reservoirs in the South Platte basin are holding more water than their average for this time of year. And some of the most prominent are well below average. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Union Reservoir is at 43 percent capacity, when in normal years at this time it is at 85 percent. Lake Loveland is at 31 percent, compared to its average for March of 85 percent.

This week, Fort Collins said it will enact watering restrictions on April 1, and many municipalities on the Front Range will likely follow suit.

Meanwhile, the Brighton City Council has approved the purchase of two shares in the Fulton Ditch for non-potable irrigation. Here’s a report from the Brighton Standard-Blade. Here’s an excerpt:

Council unanimously approved the purchase of two Fulton Ditch shares to be used as non-potable water. The shares will be purchased for $30,000 with the money coming from the Parks and Recreation Capital Improvement Fund.

‘We’re looking for collaboration rather than competition with municipal and industrial water providers’ — John McKowen

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Long-term partnerships to supply cities with storage space and farms with additional water are possible under plans that a water and farming company has set in motion. “Part of our plan is to develop gravel pit reservoirs on the Arkansas River. We’re looking for collaboration rather than competition with municipal and industrial water providers,” Two Rivers Water and Farming CEO John McKowen told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable on Wednesday.

Two Rivers has purchased farms, reservoirs and reservoir sites in Pueblo and Huerfano counties over the past three years. McKowen spoke to the roundtable for the first time this week in preparation for asking the Colorado Water Conservation Board for another loan to develop the gravel pit reservoirs.

Two Rivers used previous CWCB loans to rehabilitate Cucharas and Orlando reservoirs in Huerfano County. Earlier this month, some restrictions were removed on Cucharas Reservoir, allowing up to 10,000 acre-feet to be stored there. While that reservoir is slow to fill — rights are relatively junior and the Cucharas River relatively dry — there could be immediate benefits to reservoirs Two Rivers wants to build on the Excelsior Ditch east of Pueblo.

McKowen is talking to the recovery of yield group — Colorado Springs Utilities, Aurora Water and the Pueblo Board of Water Works — about storage in the Excelsior Ditch reservoirs if they are built. The cities have looked at purchasing sites in the area in the past because it would allow for more immediate recovery of flows that are bypassed under agreements to maintain Arkansas River levels.

While most members were hearing them directly for the first time, McKowen’s plans were met with skepticism from Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “What I’m afraid of is that he’ll dry up agriculture,” Winner said, noting that the cities now store water in other ditch company reservoirs. “I don’t think he should get a state loan without a study of the economic impacts on Crowley and Otero counties.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.