Runoff/snowpack news: Water supply for Ag producers north of I-70 = OK, south, not so much #COdrought

Colorado Drought Monitor June 24, 2014
Colorado Drought Monitor June 24, 2014

From The Produce News (Lora Abcarian):

[Dick Wolfe] said I-70, which runs east and west through the Centennial State, has become something of a line of demarcation. Agricultural producers north of I-70 are seeing more favorable water supplies in 2014. Traveling south of the interstate, conditions begin to change and become more extreme.

“A large driver of the water in aquifers is snowpack and runoff,” Wolfe commented, adding that snowpack was generally good in the Rocky Mountains this year. “The lowest water levels on record are in the Rio Grande Valley. In the Rio Grande, runoff continues to be bad.” Much of Colorado’s San Luis Valley, known for its production of potatoes for the fresh market, lies within the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

The district saw the formation of Colorado’s first-ever groundwater management subdistrict which continues to take measures to reduce water consumption by agricultural interests and, at the same time, address ongoing depletions in the aquifer. “Mother Nature is that other part we have no control over,” Wolfe commented. “Over the last 10 to 15 years, the southern half of the state has been getting drier. And the Rio Grande has been consistently been in drought conditions.”

Elsewhere in Colorado, it’s another story. “The Arkansas River Basin is not looking too bad in the upper part of the state,” Wolfe noted. The headwaters of the river are located in northern Colorado, and the basin supplies water to agricultural producers in southeast Colorado.

Growers in Colorado’s Western Slope, located west of the Continental Divide, are generally reporting good water availability this season for their crops. The Colorado River and its tributaries flow through the region. “The Colorado and Gunnison rivers had great runoff conditions in the north,” Wolfe said. “The south [Western Slope] is in drought.”

There is considerable agricultural production in northeastern Colorado, the location of the South Platte River Basin. Last September, unprecedented flooding occurred in the area, with the greatest impacts affecting infrastructure and residential areas. “The runoff is now over, but we are not out of the woods yet,” said Wolfe of the potential for possible flooding attributed to rainfall.

There is concern in the South Platte River Basin about high water tables in the Sterling and Gilcrest/LaSalle areas. “That’s certainly a concern at the governor’s level,” Wolfe commented…

Officials continue with recovery efforts in northern Colorado following 2013 flooding. Wolfe said 27 dams were damaged. “That didn’t make those reservoirs unusable,” he commented. “Seventy-five percent of structures have been restored from last year’s damage.” Another 23 stream-gauging stations and 220 diversion structures were also damaged.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Inflow keeps coming up. As a result, we are upping the release from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue River, again. By 4 p.m. [July 2] the release from the dam to the river should be around 1700 cfs.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Not a lot of changes for the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project this week. Horsetooth and Carter are full and will stay full through the holiday weekend. Flatiron, Pinewood and Lake Estes all fluctuate slightly, due mostly to power generation, but remain at the upper end of their storage pools. In fact, the water elevation at Pinewood is on the rise again after going down last week.

The outflow from Olympus Dam to the canyon remains at 125 cfs.

Our big news is at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon. We have curtailed the release of water through the concrete chute to the river. Instead, we are once again running water through the Big Thompson Power Plant. This is an exciting moment for us as the plant had been off-line since the flood.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We have increased releases twice from Green Mountain since my note yesterday. Yesterday afternoon, we went up to about 1400 cfs. This morning around 9 a.m. we went up to about 1600 cfs. We are still storing in Green Mountain Reservoir. It is 97% full.

The reason for these changes is we are seeing the high elevation snow melt runoff come down the Blue River. It is very likely we will see another change or two before the Holiday Weekend.

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