Snowpack/runoff news: Pueblo has no plans for watering restrictions

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

Western Slope reservoirs that provide water to Colorado Springs Utilities are comfortably at average, but Utilities will be watching the spring runoff, said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman. If runoff levels are low, Utilities will focus on water levels for 2016, Berry said.

This year had a good start when it comes to water levels in southern Colorado. Record snowfall in February made for high snowpack levels in the Arkansas River Basin.

Although snowpack levels around the state can’t compare to the extremely high levels of 2014, Colorado is at 67 percent of its average snowpack statewide, the latest measurements from the Natural Resources Conservation Service show.

But March has shifted the positive outlook. Drought encroached on Colorado in March, and the latest runoff forecasts to be released this week are expected to offer a poor prognosis for runoff in the south and southwestern parts of the state.

From (Aisha Morales):

Twice a month Mark Hanratty heads up the mountain in Homestake Valley near Tennessee Pass.

“The season so far has been just above average we started out way above average because we had good early snows,” said Mark who measures snowpack totals.

While snow in town is great, Colorado Springs Utilities really has its eye on what’s happening up here.

“We take the water from here through a tunnel that goes underneath the Continental Divide, and flows into tourquiose resevoir, so we’re bringing water to our community in Colorado Springs from nearly 200 miles away,” said Abby Ortega, planner with Colorado Springs Utilities.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While California is bracing for record drought, the Arkansas River basin in Colorado will probably see a fairly typical year when it comes to water supply.

“We have no plans to implement restrictions,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “Conditions here are certainly nothing like in California.”

Pueblo gets some of its water from the Colorado River basin, which is in a long-term drought. But the area from which Pueblo takes water is in relatively good condition, compared with the rest of the basin.

Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River basin is just 74 percent of median, but key sites to Pueblo Water’s collection system range from 84-103 percent, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel sites.

The Arkansas River basin snowpack is 80 percent of normal, but sites in the Upper Arkansas, which provides streamflow to the river later in the year, is at 95 percent.

The Cucharas and Purgatoire basins are only at 58-69 percent.

In all cases, snow at lower elevations already has begun to melt.

Pueblo Water also has plenty water in storage, about 40,000 acre-feet (13 billion gallons), or more than a year’s supply. Pueblo is leasing water this year in order to make space to refill its reservoirs.

“Our philosophy going forward is that we’re trying to avoid rationing and inconveniencing our customers,” Ward said. If storage is drawn down in the next year, Pueblo Water could cut spot leases, as it did in 2013. “We’re trying to avoid doing that as well. It’s a supplemental source for farmers.”

The outlook for the next three months calls for wetter than usual conditions in Colorado, according to the National Weather Service. Water watchers are having a hard time believing that, since March was supposed to fall into that category, but came up dry. As it is, Pueblo precipitation for the year is slightly above average, thanks to record snow in February, but lagging behind last year.

Farmers who have filed augmentation plans, either for wells or surface supplies, should get all they asked for this year, said Steve Witte, Division 2 engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. The state will monitor water conditions before giving final approval on June 1. “We’ve not altered the plans,” Witte said.

The Bureau of Reclamation has scaled back its projections for imports through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, to 53,000 acre-feet. That’s down from 68,560 acre-feet at the beginning of March and assumes normal conditions from here on out, said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark manager.

“Our workers are already opening the system with heavy equipment,” Vaughan said.

Runoffs have been occurring earlier than they have historically for the past eight years, and most of the snow from lower elevations has melted in the Fry-Ark collection system, Vaughan said.

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