Drought/snowpack news: No watering restrictions for Pueblo #COdrought

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo is swimming against the tide in the current drought. No outdoor watering restrictions are planned because demand is decreased and snowpack improving to the point where the Pueblo Board of Water Works does not see its water rights being curtailed this year.

Many large water providers already have limited outdoor watering to 2 days per week. Pueblo continues to resist the trend. “Other Front Range cities rely on imported water, but our direct flow rights provide 90 percent of the water we use,” Executive Director Terry Book told the board Tuesday. Pueblo has transmountain water rights that could supply about half of its total water supply, but most of that usually is either stored or leased.

Demand is expected to increase as Pueblo grows. The demand for water on a typical winter day is about 11 million gallons, but it increases to more than 50 million gallons when the thermometer hits 100 degrees.

Water resources administrator Alan Ward and finance manager Seth Clayton expect the board will have enough water to cover that normal usage for several reasons:

● For the past 10 years, it has tripled its goal for water in storage to 45,000 acre-feet. Last year, about one-third of the water was pumped from June to October, and the board expects to recover some of that loss this year, improving storage to 32,000 acre-feet by this time next year, Ward said.

● Last year, the board leased 13,000 acre-feet of water to farmers. Those leases were discontinued this year, he added.

● Customer demand is 7 percent lower than at this time last year because of cooler weather, Clayton said.

● Pueblo will request its 10 percent share of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water this year. In most years, it has declined that water.

Snowstorms during the last week have improved snowpack in the mountains, and could mean a later runoff. In fact, the water board had been clearing its ditches that bring water from the Colorado River basin over the Continental Divide in anticipation of an early runoff such as 2012 before the latest round of storms, Ward said.

The water board is looking at a revised drought response plan that would be triggered if reservoir levels dip below certain triggers. It includes four stages designed to cut demand in order to manage the water supply.

Imposing restrictions now could mean unnecessary rate hikes in future years, Book added…

DROUGHT SCORECARD

Some indicators of what the ongoing drought means for the Pueblo area:

– Arkansas River levels are at near record lows for this time of year because of a dry winter and interrupted melt-off.

– Statewide snowpack remains low, at 77 percent of normal. However, it appears to be growing after storms this week. More may be on the way. Snowpack provides most of the water supply in Colorado.

– Precipitation since Jan. 1 has amounted to only 0.94 inches in Pueblo, less than half of the normal, 2.14 inches. It is below 2012, which was the second driest year since records began in the 1890s.

– Long-term weather forecasts by the National Weather Service are calling for above-average temperatures and below-normal precipitation through the summer months.

Click here for western Colorado and eastern Utah snowfall totals for yesterday from the National Weather Service Grand Junction office.

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Trevor Hughes):

The spring snowstorm that dropped more than 14 inches of snow on Fort Collins is officially the largest snowstorm this winter. The Colorado Climate Center at CSU confirmed this storm’s record of 14.9 inches at the university’s central campus. Higher elevation areas got significantly more snow, including 27 inches near Estes Park. Until this storm, the previous biggest storm of the year was March 23, when 6.7 inches fell…

“As nice as this is, and as much as this is helping with the drought, it’s not totally brought us out of the woods yet. But we’re in much better shape than we were last year,” said Noah Newman, a climate center research associate.

From the Canyon Courier (Sandy Barnes):

Residents in the Lookout Mountain Water District can anticipate dwindling water supplies in the coming months — a scenario created by extended drought conditions and low-priority rights. At the end of 2012, the reservoir on Squaw Pass Road was only 67 percent of capacity with 174 acre-feet of water, according to water district information. The 500 residents connected to the district system typically use 200 acre-feet of water a year collectively. “It’s a pretty sustained problem for us,” said Christina Shea, LMWD administrator. “This year is worse.”

In an effort to conserve the supply, the district is enacting surcharges for use over the standard amount, said Shea. The surcharges will begin with the May billing period and will continue through September. “We are desperate,” said Shea. “We are trying to help our customers understand.”

Shea said the upcoming charges will be added to water usage greater than 2,500 gallons a month per household. In a 60-day billing cycle, if a residence is over the 5,000-gallon limit, then surcharges are added to the standard fee of $42. Those who use greater amounts of water are subject to extra fees ranging from $1 to $200 per 1,000 gallons, depending on the total overage.

Adding to the problem of the ongoing drought, which has affected many area water supplies, is that the Lookout Mountain district has low priority water rights, said Shea. The water the district uses originally belonged to the city of Golden, she said. When Golden no longer needed this source of water, the Lookout Mountain Water District formed and acquired this supply, which has water rights dating from 1903. Whenever surrounding communities such as Arvada need water, they call the rights from the Lookout Mountain district, affecting its supply. Adding to this dilemma is that the state has become stricter in enforcing water priority usage, said Shea.

Because of this situation, the Lookout Mountain district will have to rely on its stored water in the coming months. The Beaver Brook watershed, which is the source of the Lookout Mountain water, is small in comparison to the one in Bear Creek that serves Evergreen, Shea noted. To get the message across to district residents about water shortages, they are penalized for using excessive amounts, Shea said. “I feel like our board has been very proactive,” she remarked. “It’s a severe situation.”

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

When Rocky Mountain National Park rangers plowed their way to the snowbound Bear Lake area Tuesday, they measured 29 inches of snow that had piled up there since the weekend. Fourteen inches of new snow had fallen since the last 15-inch measurement was taken Monday morning at the Bear Lake center at an elevation of 9,475 feet, park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said.

On the west side of the Continental Divide in the park, another 10 to 12 inches had fallen at the Colorado River Trailhead, bringing the total there to about 22 inches.

From Denver Water:

As of today, we would need 4 feet of snow in our mountain watersheds to get to a normal snowpack; however, even with a normal snowpack our reservoirs still would not completely fill this year. But, every little drop helps. Droughts are unpredictable. We don’t know what is in store for us next winter, or even the winter after that. We’ll continue to manage our supply and demand in case these drought conditions carry over into the next few years. So, even if the next couple of weeks bring us to our average snowpack levels, we still expect to have the Stage 2 mandatory drought restrictions in place to save as much water as possible this summer.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

The snow season saved its best for last this year, boosting snowpack in the reservoir-rich Colorado River basin from a woeful 72 percent of average on Feb. 2 to a promising 93 percent Tuesday. From Saturday to Tuesday alone, the percentage against the 30-year average jumped by 7 percentage points. “It’s not done yet,” state climatologist Nolan Doesken said Tuesday afternoon. “What we got yesterday and last night was just sort of a precusor to a big system that should arrive in the mountains Wednesday.”

Areas that saw more than 2 feet of very wet snow Sunday and Monday could pick up as much as 18 more inches Wednesday, he said. “It’s made a super strong comeback in the last four days,” Doesken said of the state’s snow supply, which provides most of the water Colorado needs for household use, irrigation and recreation all year long…

Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Lakewood, said the high percentage of normal is a bit misleading but in a good way. Colorado’s snowpack typically begins to melt on April 10, but a week later this year, the snowpack is still mounting, so the percent of average looks higher measured against past numbers that typically are shrinking this time of year…

Denver Water’s 10 reservoirs haven’t been full since July 2011, so there is a lot of ground to make up for last year, said Bob Steger, the utility’s manager of raw water supply.

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