Colorado’s strong #snowpack eliminated #drought conditions statewide. Here’s what that means for our rivers, reservoirs and wildfire risks — @MSUDenver

From Metropolitan State University of Denver (Amanda Miller):

Coloradans can retire the refrain, “We need the moisture.” At least for the time being.

For the first time in at least 19 years, no area of the state is experiencing drought conditions as measured by the U.S. Drought Monitor, which has been measuring conditions since 2000…

While the end of drought conditions is widely considered a positive, water experts warn that existing conditions could be a double-edged sword for Colorado.

On the positive side, the “amazing” June snowpack is good news for Colorado’s river-related recreation economy, said Tom Cech, director of Metropolitan State University’s One World One Water (OWOW) Center for Urban Water Education. Whether the snow melts gradually or in a late-spring or early-summer surge, it’s good news for tourists recreating on the state’s rivers and mountain creeks, though safety will be paramount as flows rise.

Rafters make their way down Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. Colorado’s rivers are running high after an epic winter and wet spring. Photo credit: Sara Hertwig via Metropolitan State University of Denver

Likewise, Colorado’s water infrastructure is capable of capturing large volumes of water in reservoirs for flood control and future use, said Thomas Bellinger, Ph.D., a hydrologist who teaches environmental science and policy, snow hydrology and water law in MSU Denver’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science.

“Past high-snowpack years – 1995 and 2003, for instance – proved that the state’s infrastructure can handle these conditions,” he said.

Reservoir storage remains generally low in anticipation of rising stream flows as rivers have yet to peak, the USDA NRCS said in a June 6 press release. Below normal reservoir levels will help in absorbing above normal stream flows.

Just don’t expect those full reservoirs to lead to lower municipal and commercial water prices, Cech said.

“In general, expect water prices to continue to escalate,” he said.

Steamboat Spring’s Fish Creek Falls, photographed the week of June 10, cascades 280 feet. Colorado’s rivers are running high after an epic winter and wet spring. Photo credit: Amanda Miller via Metropolitan State University at Denver

But a stretch of warm days in the High County – especially with rain added in – could melt a lot of snow quickly, sending a “pulse of water” into the Front Range via waterways such as Cherry Creek, Coal Creek, Boulder Creek and other tributaries that merge into the South Platte River north of Denver, Cech said.

Compounding the danger of a fast melt is the fact that the state’s snowpack is actually deeper than the data indicate, Bellinger said. Snowpack data cited in this story and other publications come from “snowpack telemetry” stations – known as SNOTEL – that are between 10,000 and 12,000 feet of elevation.

“There is a lot of snow above that elevation, and while it may melt slower because of cooler temps up there, much of it will melt into already-full rivers,” he said.

While it may defy logic, the current wet conditions in the mountains may increase the danger of wildfires, Bellinger said.

“The mountains are so green right now, and if this snowpack and a wet spring lead to a lot of undergrowth, that could become fuel for forest fires if it dries out in the late summer or fall,” he said.

Cech and Bellinger warn that the current drought-free conditions do not portend a drought-free future.

“This will likely be a good recovery year, but we’re coming out of an El Niño cycle, which tends to be wetter, and entering a La Niñacycle, which tends to be dryer,” Bellinger said.

El Niño patterns develop when water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator warm above average, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. La Niña conditions occur when that water is cooler than average.

Likewise, the long-term trends of climate change point toward extended periods of drought in Colorado, Bellinger said.

“With climate change, we can still expect these periods of relief,” he said. “But the trends point toward extended periods of drought in the American West.”

Project for rebuilding the Lower Beaver Creek Dam in Clear Creek County scores $3,987,750 from FEMA

Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

From CBS4Denver (Ben Warwick):

Today, Congressman Joe Neguse announced a FEMA grant will help rebuild the Lower Beaver Brook Dam in Clear Creek County. The dam is more than 100 years old.

The grant, worth $3,987,750, will fund a new concrete gravity dam to replace the highly-hazardous 114-year-old rockfill embankment dam. The purpose is to reduce risk of a future break and any related damage to communities downstream from a burst…

The dam is located just more than 7 miles northwest of Evergreen, on a Clear Creek tributary called Beaver Brook.

#Runoff news: Vallecito Reservoir is chock full

From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

On Wednesday, July 3, releases from Green Mountain Dam to the Blue River will increase according to the following schedule:

12:00 p.m. (noon): Adjust release from 2,100 cfs to 2,300 cfs
4:00 p.m.: Adjust release from 2,300 cfs to 2,500 cfs

Releases will remain at 2500 cfs after 4 p.m. until further notice.

Joellen Fonken the new representative on the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) has a recreation background

The Tomichi Water Conservation Program involves regional coordination between six water users on lower Tomichi Creek to reduce consumptive use on irrigated meadows as a watershed drought management tool. The project will use water supply as a trigger for water conservation measures during one year in the three-year period. During implementation, participating water users would cease irrigation during dry months. Water not diverted will improve environmental and recreational flows through the Tomichi State Wildlife Area and be available to water users below the project area. Photo credit: Business for Water.

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

A representative with a “recreational” background will replace the former manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD), who had been a board member for the last five years. Joellen Fonken will take the seat of Kathleen Curry as the Tomichi Drainage District representative.

Board members are appointed by the Gunnison District Court and judge Steven Patrick made four appointments to the board on June 20. In his order of appointment Patrick said all the applicants to the board were well qualified.

Patrick, along with 12th Judicial District judge Patti Swift, conferred and agreed on the appointments. The incumbents with no competing applicants were all reappointed and included Michelle Pierce, Rebie Hazard and Rosemary Carroll.

Curry is a rancher and was the incumbent in the Tomichi Drainage District, and was a previous manager of the UGRWCD, a former Colorado state representative and a local businesswoman.

Fonken is also a local businesswoman, as well as the director of the Gunnison River Festival and has served on several recreational boards including the Gunnison County Trails Commission.