From The Crested Butte News (Seth Manning):
Even during rainfall events over the summer that would double the amount of water in the valley’s rivers and streams overnight, often the amount of water in the reservoirs remained largely unchanged. According to Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District general manager Frank Kugel, that’s what happens after two years of below-average precipitation.
Kugel told the Gunnison County Planning Commission at a meeting on Friday, September 6 that there were several peaks in the amount of water in Blue Mesa Reservoir over the summer, with some dramatic drops in between. He also said the localized rainfall is less important to the overall water equation than a good winter snowpack.
“The entire Gunnison River basin got less than a quarter of its normal inflow but the good news is that much of that inflow, percentage-wise, came from the East River and Taylor. Those are the two biggest contributors as far as basin inflows, percentage-wise,” Kugel said. “As grim as it looked we were actually doing better than some of our other neighbors in other basins. In the end there was a significant volume above what we had last year. That’s the good news.”
The bad news is that after two consecutive years of below-average precipitation in the winter months, Blue Mesa isn’t going to recover anytime soon and, Kugel said, will probably drop lower than it was at the end of last year.
“We’re anticipating by late October it will hit a low point. Likely not as low as 2002, but close,” Kugel told the Planning Commissioners. “So it’s going to be a long look out from the Lake City Bridge to where the lake actually starts.”
Even the heavy rains and snow that have swept across the Western Slope throughout September have yielded only modest gains in stored water, with Blue Mesa holding steady at 350,000 acre-feet.
And while the Gunnison River, the East River and Ohio Creek have all shown tremendous, temporary spikes in streamflow this summer, even doubling in size over night, Kugel said the years of drought have drawn down aquifers to a point where they can easily absorb any amount of water dropped during a rainstorm…
But through some litigation and inter-basin agreement, the UGRWCD has made great strides in securing the water already in use in the Gunnison Basin. Now it’s focused on providing the state with a clear plan for the basin’s water as part of the governor-initiated State Water Plan.
“Our number-one priority at this point is to protect existing uses within the basin, be it by overdevelopment from here or particularly to any export to other basin,” UGRWCD board member George Sibley told the commissioners. “We want to make sure we’re operating and managing our existing resources as effectively as we can and are prepared for other circumstances that may have dramatic impact on how much water is available.”
To accomplish that, the UGRWCD hired Lakewood-based Wilson Water Group—with a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board—as a contractor to help develop a water-use plan for the entire Gunnison Basin that will be submitted to the state for consideration as part of a statewide water plan to be drafted over the course of 2014.
At the same time, the UGRWCD is trying to keep information about the valley’s water supply flowing, through manual snowpack observations that are under threat of being defunded by the National Resources Conservation Service.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.