Snowpack/drought news: Northern Water may kick up the C-BT quota Friday #COdrought




Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map along with the basin high/low graphs for the Upper Colorado River Basin and the South Platte River Basin.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The two river basins that provide water to the northern Front Range saw the biggest snowpack upswings in the state during April, according to a report released this week by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board of directors will take those improvements into account when it convenes for a meeting Friday, when board members will discuss increasing the water quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado.

According to the NRCS report, snowpack in the South Platte River basin stood at 99 percent of historic average on May 1, after sitting at just 69 percent of average on April 1. Snowpack in the Colorado River basin was 98 percent of average on May 1 — up from 74 percent of average on April 1.

Because snowpack numbers were low prior to April’s barrage of snow storms, Northern Water board members set a lower-than-average water quota of 60 percent at its meeting last month.

If the board were to increase the C-BT water quota by 10 percent, for example, that would make available an additional 31,000 acre-feet of water — or about 10 billion gallons — to northern Colorado cities, industries, farmers and ranchers. But Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said this week there’s no guarantee that will happen.

“It’s still probably about 50/50,” Werner said. “We’ve seen some big improvements in snowpack, but we still have some big holes to fill.” Those “big holes” are the C-BT Project’s reservoirs, which were depleted throughout 2012, as water users heavily relied on water in storage to get through an extreme drought.

The reservoir levels listed in the NRCS’s recent report were a mixed bag for water users in northern Colorado. The South Platte River basin’s collective reservoir levels were at 87 percent of average on May 1, but the Colorado River basin’s reservoir levels were at just 67 percent of average. While the Colorado River flows in the opposite direction of the northern Front Range, some the C-BT Project’s 12 reservoirs are located in that river basin, with that water tunneled from the West Slope to East Slope users.

Since the C-BT project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent, according to Werner.

Before setting its quota in April, the Northern Board listened to input from its water users. That meeting drew about 250 people — a record-high attendance for Northern Water’s April meeting, Werner said. At the meeting, officials from cities generally pushed for a quota of about 50-60 percent, wanting to keep it relatively low and save as much water as possible for the future. However, many farmers in attendance — those who are planting crops and need to know soon how much water they’ll have for the growing season — asked for a quota of about 70 percent.

Many area farmers are hopeful that April’s abundance of snow will convince the Northern Water board to increase the C-BT quota on Friday. Not only would releasing more water increase direct flows to the region’s rivers and irrigation ditches, it might convince cities to lease more water to agricultural users, some farmers and ranchers said. “It would make a substantial difference,” Randy Knutson, who farms in the Greeley area, said of an increase in the C-BT water quota. “Every little bit will help.”

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