Snowpack/runoff news #COdrought #COleg #ColoradoRiver


Colorado’s statewide snowpack is at 120 percent of average right now. Last year at this time, it was at 82 percent.

State and federal firefighting bosses say the current outlook for fire season in Colorado is expected to be normal, at least for the early part of the wildfire season.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said the “closer to average” prediction entails 3,000-3,500 fires, including about 300 of substantial size. All told, those fires could burn about 100,000 acres.

To help our state when fires happened, Hickenlooper signed three bills Monday related to wildfires:

  • HB14-1008: Allowing the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to make loans for forest health projects.
  • HB14-1010: Makes adjustments to the prescribed burning program under the Division of Fire Prevention and Control in the Department of Public Safety.
  • SB14-164: Creates an aerial firefighting fleet that will include four planes, four leased helicopters, and money for a center to study high-tech firefighting equipment like night vision goggles.
  • From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

    Drought has been on the tongues of many water managers for the last few years, but 2014 brought some relief, at least to Grand County.

    That relief comes from a high snowpack, which last month was 44 percent above average according to information from the National Resource Conservation Office in Kremmling. According to officials who spoke at the Grand County State of the River meeting on Tuesday, May 13, that means Middle Park residents should expect to see reservoirs easily fill to capacity. It’s also likely less water will need to be piped to the Front Range. Farther downstream, however, drought still plagues the West.

    “If it’s north of Glenwood Springs and east, it’s going to fill and spill. If it’s south and west, it’s not,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, at the meeting.

    According to Don Meyer, operator of Wolford Mountain Reservoir for the Colorado River District, that doesn’t mean locals should worry about flooding.

    “We’re not going to see a 2011 year in terms of runoff and flooding,” he said. “Instead, 1997 is more a comparable year to this year in terms of snow.”

    The 2010 and 2011 winter season brought epic conditions for skiers and snowboarders, but its high snowpack also brought a lot of flooding fears. As the snow melted, the Colorado River near Kremmling ran several times above 9,000 cubic feet per second, Meyer said. The 1997 season, however, only peaked at around 8,000 cfs once during the runoff period…

    With the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, Andrew Gilmore with the Bureau of Reclamation also expects plenty of runoff. His agency manages Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, pumping Colorado River water through Grand Lake to the Front Range.

    “We’re above average, but it’s nothing like 2011,” he said. “Cold weather will likely slow the runoff down.”

    Still, Gilmore noted recent snowstorms have likely built up the snowpack even more. While he expects Lake Granby to fill without spilling, he said a spill isn’t out of the question.

    Jeff Drager with Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which jointly operates the C-BT with the Bureau of Reclamation, agreed that it’s too early to predict how runoff will influence Lake Granby.

    “It’s a flip of a coin whether going to spill or not,” Drager said.

    Gilmore also noted the need for water managers to address runoff issues in a warming global climate.

    “Spring runoff is happening earlier in Colorado,” he said. “It’s one of the changes to our global climate season.”

    Denver Water is predicting plenty of runoff on the East Slope as well. According to Bob Steger, a manager with Denver Water, they’ll be trying to fill Gross Reservoir with water from South Boulder Creek. That could mean supplements from the Moffat Collection System, which pipes water east from the Fraser River, will be minimal. About a fourth of Denver’s water comes from the Moffat Collection System in typical years.

    “We don’t know how much of the South Boulder Creek Water we’re going to get to store, but we’re optimistic we’ll be able to store a lot of it, because there is a lot of snow on the east side of the Divide,” he said.

    Denver Water will also be trying to store water from peak flows in Williams Fork Reservoir, which is used to supplement downstream water rights calls.

    Those downstream needs are likely to be significant, as drought still plagues much of the southwest. California is facing its worse drought on record, causing its governor to declare a state of emergency this winter. The Colorado River, which feeds six other states besides Colorado as well as Mexico, is becoming a symbol of dwindling water in the West. Water levels on the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, have dropped drastically to historic lows, threatening water and electricity supplies for millions. Even as Colorado breathes a sigh of relief with its plentiful snow, Kuhn with the Colorado River District stressed the need for continued conservation.

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