#Snowpack/#Runoff/#Drought news: McPhee Reservoir won’t fill this season

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A Dolores Basin snowpack that came in at half its normal level means McPhee Reservoir will not fill to capacity, and farmers may receive 20 percent less water this season.

On Thursday, Dolores Water Conservancy District managers estimated that full-service irrigators will have 17 inches of water per acre available for their crops, down from 22 inches per acre when McPhee is full.

The shortage also will impact Ute Farm and Ranch water supplies drawn from McPhee, and the fishery pool reserved for habitat below the dam. Ute Farm and Ranch also is estimated to take about a 20 percent cut, with delivery at 18,900 acre-feet, compared with 23,300 acre-feet when there is a full supply.

The reserved fish pool, released from the dam over the year by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, dropped to 23,100 acre-feet from a supply of 29,300 acre-feet when the reservoir is full.

Municipal water supplies from McPhee serving Cortez and Towaoc do not share in the shortage and will receive full allocations.

Because of the dry winter and spring, there will be no recreational whitewater release this year below the dam.

Carryover storage of 125,500 acre-feet – active supply left in the reservoir from last winter’s above-average snowpack – is helping to buffer this winter’s lack of moisture, officials said…

The 2018 runoff forecast from the Dolores River into McPhee is comparable to the extremely dry years of 2013 and 2002, when farmers received just 6-7 inches per acre, a 72 percent shortage.

During an average winter, total runoff into the Dolores River from snowpack is 295,000 acre-feet. This year, models predict runoff of just 50,000 acre-feet…

Hurting this year’s McPhee supply is that there is no low-elevation snow. Feeders such as House and Beaver creeks are usually chock-full of rushing water this time of year, but they are now bone-dry.

Dry soil conditions left over from the fall are also negatively impacting supply.

Limited snowpack remains above 10,000 feet, but it might be absorbed into the ground before making it into the river.

The water-supply prediction is based on snowpack measurements in the mountains and runoff modeling. It is an inexact science, so final supplies could rise or fall.

Variables such as warm or cold weather, soil moisture, wind, dust on snow, spring precipitation and fall monsoons impact the final amount of water supply in myriad ways.

Farmers are closely watching supply forecasts in order to plan for the season. The amount of available water determines how many acres they will farm, and how much fertilizer, herbicide and seed they will buy.

From The Crested Butte News (Kristy Acuff):

The Bureau of Reclamation issued its preliminary summer operations plan for Taylor Park Reservoir and, while the numbers indicate low flows, water managers predict ample water for rafting and fishing enthusiasts alike.

The Bureau plans to release 250 cubic feet per second (cfs) during the month of June and then bump that up to 300 cfs for July. Flows will drop back down to 250 cfs during August…

In comparison, water managers released 757 cfs in the Taylor River during June 2017 and around 400 cfs during July and August 2017.

The release schedule is subject to change based on precipitation this spring. In May 2015, for example, the release schedule was forecast as 63 percent of normal (similar to this year), but after a month of heavy precipitation, the reservoir flows jumped to 87 percent of normal, prompting water managers to dub it a “miracle May.”

“We would love another miracle May,” says Frank Kugel, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. “In 2015 the area received between four and seven and a half inches of precipitation for the month, which boosted the flow levels considerably.”

The Bureau’s Taylor Park Reservoir April 1 forecast estimates 62,000 acre-feet of runoff between April and July 2018. This is 63 percent of average and officially categorizes this year’s runoff as “dry.” The Bureau of Reclamation will update this estimate in May with another forecast.

West Drought Monitor April 10, 2018.

From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

Drought conditions continued to evolve in Colorado this week, with improvements for north central counties, and extreme drought continuing to encroach on areas in the south.

Extreme drought increased slightly in northeast Prowers county. Extreme conditions also spread to cover most of Archuleta county, and much of the southern half of Mineral county in southwest Colorado.

Severe conditions continued to advance northward in eastern Colorado, encompassing the eastern third of El Paso county, most of Lincoln county, and southeast Elbert county.

The north central and northwest parts of the state continued to show improvement. Jackson and Summit counties are largely drought-free for the first time since December. Moderate drought conditions across the area improved to abnormally dry for Routt county and the northern half of Park county. Severe drought also gave way to moderate conditions in Eagle county. The area is under a winter weather advisory going into the weekend, with some potential for further improvement with the next update.

Overall, more than 12 percent of the state is drought-free, up slightly from last week. Abnormally dry conditions increased by about two percent as areas shifted out of higher drought categories. Moderate drought also improved from about 22 percent of the state to just under 16 percent. Severe drought increased to a bit more than 29 percent from just under 28 percent. Extreme drought increased to nearly one quarter of the state’s area.

From The Las Cruces Sun News:

Some of the lowest snowpack reports on record will mean difficult decisions ahead for water managers, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday in their annual operating plan for the Rio Grande.

The April forecast data released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows drought conditions throughout the state. The Jemez River Basin is at just 6 percent of average. The Chama River Basin is at 18 percent of average, and the Upper Rio Grande is at 50 percent of average. El Vado Reservoir could be nearly empty by July.

On the Rio Grande Project in southern New Mexico, the allocation to the two irrigation districts and Mexico is about 60 percent of a full allocation, the Bureau of Reclamation said. Both irrigation districts had some carryover water in storage from last year.

Little inflow is expected to Elephant Butte Reservoir this spring, and it could be left holding less than 5 percent of its capacity at the end of the irrigation season.

The federal drought map shows dry conditions have expanded in Arizona and intensified across northern New Mexico…

Some areas of Union and Colfax counties in northeastern New Mexico have received less that 5 percent of normal precipitation over the past six months, leaving wheat crops in poor shape. Many areas went over 100 days without moisture…

Overall, nearly half of New Mexico and Arizona are facing extreme drought or worse conditions while about 60 percent of Utah is under severe drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

The Bureau of Reclamation is working with its partners to implement a survival strategy for the Rio Grande silvery minnow, as outlined in the 2016 Middle Rio Grande Biological Opinion. They are coordinating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure fish rescue crews are active in the areas of the river that have dried. And, they are working with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Albuquerque Water Utility Authority, and other stakeholders to facilitate silvery minnow egg collection efforts.

Drought is prevalant across the American Southwest as extreme conditions spread from Oklahoma to Utah, according to new federal data released Thursday.

On the southern high plains, Oklahoma remains ground zero for the worst drought conditions in the United States. About 20 percent of the state is facing exceptional drought conditions — the worst possible classification.

Most of Colorado also is under severe drought and almost all of the Texas Panhandle is seeing extreme drought or worse conditions.

From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

As high winds whipped dust, Siberian elm seeds and recycling bins around Albuquerque Thursday afternoon, dozens of people filed into the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque office to hear the agency’s 2018 forecast for water operations on the Rio Grande.

“I’ll be the bearer of bad news,” said Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Manager Jennifer Faler. “This is the most extreme shift we’ve had from one operating plan meeting to another.”

Last year at this time, snowmelt was pouring down the river, flooding riparian restoration projects, filling out farm fields and even pressing against levees. This year, the lack of snowpack throughout the watershed’s mountain ranges has left the Rio Grande low and slow—and dry for 14 miles south of Socorro. Currently, the river is dry through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

“It’s fortunate we have those dams and reservoirs up there,” Faler said, referring to reservoirs in northern New Mexico that store water for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. “That’s why we have them,” she said.

But later this summer, the conservancy district’s water storage is expected to run out, as is Reclamation’s supplemental water. That refers to water the federal agency leases to boost flows in the river and protect endangered species like the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow.

“We do expect to see drying in the Albuquerque reach this year,” Faler said, of the stretch of the Rio Grande that runs through the state’s largest city.

“And misery loves company,” she said. “On the Pecos [River], we’re expecting zero runoff from snowmelt into the reservoirs this year.”


During his presentation of the 2018 operating plan for the Rio Grande, which is compiled each year by Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, hydrologist Ed Kandl offered more details.

In addition to the news about the conservancy district’s stored water, and Reclamation’s supplemental water, running out, Kandl said New Mexico will likely enter into what’s called Article 7 conditions on the Rio Grande by May.

Under the Rio Grande Compact—the agreement under which Colorado, New Mexico and Texas share the river’s water—New Mexico is not allowed to store water in upstream reservoirs if Rio Grande Project storage is less than 400,000 acre feet in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs. Reclamation’s Rio Grande Project supplies water to Texas, and also farmers in southern New Mexico.

Kandl shared slides forecasting flows along the Rio Grande based on the winter’s snowpack analysis. Of the Embudo gage in northern New Mexico, he said, “We’ll be flirting with 100 cfs throughout most of the year.” Already this year, that stretch of the river has been running at less than half what it normally does.

The “scariest” one, Kandl said, is the 2018 flows for the Rio Grande at the Central Avenue Bridge in Albuquerque, where the river will likely dry this spring and summer.

Kandl and Faler both said area residents should be prepared to see the dry riverbed. “The worst part is still coming,” Kandl said, “Though, maybe we’ll have a good monsoon.”

Over the next several months, Reclamation will also begin working with its stakeholders to update a basin-wide study of the impacts of climate change on the Upper Rio Grande…

The one “bright spot,” according to Reclamation officials on Thursday, is for rafters and recreationists on the Chama River. Because the agency will be releasing water from upstream reservoirs, the river’s flows will be good for rafting and kayaking.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 16, 2018 via the NRCS.

2 thoughts on “#Snowpack/#Runoff/#Drought news: McPhee Reservoir won’t fill this season

  1. […] A Dolores Basin snowpack that came in at half its normal level means McPhee Reservoir will not fill to capacity, and farmers may receive 20 percent less water this season. On Thursday, Dolores Water Conservancy District managers estimated that full-service irrigators will have 17 inches of water per acre available for their crops, down from 22 inches per acre when McPhee is full. The shortage also will impact Ute Farm and Ranch water supplies drawn from McPhee, and the fishery pool reserved for habitat below the dam. Ute Farm and Ranch also is estimated to take about a 20 percent cut, with delivery at 18,900 acre-feet, compared with 23,300 acre-feet when there is a full supply. To view the full article visit Coyote Gulch. […]

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