Drought/snowpack news: Eagle County moves up to D1, Oy Vey, Rio Grande Basin #COdrought

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current US Drought Monitor, the current drought outlook from the Climate Prediction Center and the current statewide snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

During a week in the middle of this month, the snow-measurement site on Vail Mountain recorded 5 feet of heavy, wet snow. The snowfall through March and April, and especially in April, actually moved the needle on a drought scale that for more than a year has pointed resolutely toward dangerously-dry conditions. That needle in Eagle County has moved in just the past couple of weeks from D3 — “extreme” drought — to D1 — “moderate” drought…

“When we moved into moderate drought 15 months ago, it was a wake-up call,” Eagle River Water and Sanitation District spokeswoman Diane Johnson said. “Now, at least temporarily, the situation has improved.”

The improvement in the west’s water situation led one participant in a weekly conference call about drought conditions to wonder if the region might not be on the verge of a repeat of 1983, when late spring snow and a fast melt-off led to the first, and only, use of the overflow system at the Hoover Dam. That isn’t likely — snowpack in the region is just barely reaching or exceeding normal levels — but the speed of the seasonal warm-up could lead to some flooding…

Forecasts aside, the drought’s effects continue to linger, particularly soil moisture. Soil moisture is a key element of fire danger because once vegetation dries out, re-moistening those plants can be time consuming. Dry ground also means that snow on hillsides doesn’t always end up in streams and reservoirs, since ground takes its share first.

More from the Daily:

Until snow on the mountains melts, area streamflow is still very low. Here’s a look at Friday’s report from several measurement stations in the valley:

• Black Gore Creek: 26 percent of the historic median for that date.
• Gore Creek near Minturn: 28 percent of median.
• Eagle River near Milk Creek, west of Wolcott: 31 percent of median.
•Eagle River below Gypsum: 40 percent of median.
• Colorado River at Dotsero: 46 percent of median.

Remember, “median” is not “average.” Median is the middle data point in a set of numbers, average is the sum of those numbers, divided by the number of data points.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Thanks to a snowy April, Denver Water will no longer need to close Antero Reservoir in order to move the water and store it in Cheesman and Eleven Mile reservoirs during the ongoing drought.

“Managing water supplies through a drought is an ever-changing process,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “While we are still in drought and need our customers to save water, the recent snow has helped our supply situation. Keeping Antero open will be a benefit to Park County and those who love to fish there. If we drained the reservoir, it would take about three years to refill.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages the fishery and says effective immediately, the regular bag and possession limit — two trout per angler — at Antero will be reinstated.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

At mid-April, the Upper Rio Grande Basin’s snowpack was only 66 percent of normal. “We are anticipating we are not going to have as much water this year as we did last year, unfortunately,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten reported to water leaders during the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s recent quarterly meeting.

Stream flow forecasts for this year’s irrigation season are as low as 26 percent of average for the San Antonio River at Ortiz and 29 percent on Sangre de Cristo Creek to only 64 percent of average as the highest prediction on the Rio Grande at the Thirty Mile Bridge and 56 percent on the Rio Grande at Del Norte. Trinchera Creek is only expected to run at 44 percent of average this year.

Forecasts for the annual index flows on the Rio Grande have decreased each month to a current prediction of about 335,000 acre feet. Last year, which was not a stellar water year, the Rio Grande produced 470,000 acre feet. Of the 335,000 predicted to run downriver this year, 82,700 acre feet will have to be delivered to the downstream states of New Mexico and Texas to meet Rio Grande Compact obligations. To get the necessary water downstream to meet that obligation, the water division will have to curtail irrigators about 6.5 percent during the irrigation season, Cotten explained.

Currently there is zero curtailment on the Conejos River system, and that is not expected to change, according to Cotten, because the winter deliveries and credit from last year will ensure the Conejos meets its annual compact obligation. Cotten said zero curtailment is both good and bad news because ditches will not have to be curtailed during the irrigation season, but they may not have any water either. “We do have a dry river at Los Sauces on the Conejos right now,” he said. “No water is making it to the Rio Grande right now, and it will be like that through the summertime.” He said rivers that normally run 750 cubic feet per second (cfs) are only running about 300 cfs and those that should be running about 300 cfs are at about 100 cfs…

Adding even more pressure to an already difficult situation are the urgent requests from downstream states to send more water their way to help keep endangered species like the silvery minnow afloat. “We have told them we don’t have any water to send down,” Cotten said.

One of the main water repositories for Rio Grande Compact water is Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico. Currently it contains only about one-tenth its total capacity…

Rio Grande Water Conservation District General Manager Steve Vandiver reported that San Luis Lake was still dry with not much promise of it filling this year, given the low run off expected from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains this year.

From The Mountain Mail (Mike Potter):

Antero Reservoir will remain open this summer. Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said enough snow fell in April to cause the company to reverse its early March decision to drain the reservoir. “The amount of snow that we received wasn’t projected in the forecast,” he said.

When Denver Water decided to drain Antero Reservoir, South Platte Basin snowpack was at 49 percent of average. Recent snowfall improved the snowpack to 88 percent of average as of Monday.

When the original decision was made, Colorado Parks and Wildlife suspended the bag limit for fish at the reservoir. Now that Antero will remain open, Parks and Wildlife reinstated the bag limit of two trout per angler. No decision has been made about when motorized boats will be allowed on the water.

Because Denver Water had decided to drain the reservoir, it did not begin hiring inspectors to check boats to make sure they weren’t harboring aquatic nuisance species. Thompson said Denver Water would work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to get inspectors in place before any motorized boats would be allowed on the water. “Hand-launched vessels such as kayaks, canoes and belly boats will be allowed, but no trailered or motorized boats will be permitted until details about aquatic nuisance species inspections can be determined,” he said.

Thompson cautioned that although the reservoir would be open during the summer, things could change, forcing the closure in the future. “We don’t expect to have to drain Antero this year, but if conditions change drastically, we are always prepared to reassess our situation,” he said. “We are still in drought conditions.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

Officials with Denver Water announced Wednesday that the reservoir, a popular spot for anglers, will remain filled and will not be drained into Eleven Mile and Cheeseman reservoirs as originally planned. The reservoir provides water to Denver, and is one of two drought reserves tapped by Denver Water when the area is in a severe dry period.

Eleven Mile, also in Park County, is the other drought reserve, and Denver started to tap into its flow last month.

In early March, after facing low snowpack and dismal prospects for a wet spring, the utility decided to drain Antero for the second time in its history, and store its water in neighboring reservoirs.

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