Water managers prepare for heavy spring runoff | SkyHiNews.com

Water managers prepare for heavy spring runoff

With the average snowpack for the area already at 140 percent of normal with two more months of possible precipitation ahead, area water mangers are predicting spring runoff will fill local reservoirs. While it is too early to say whether this year's above normal snowpack will bring the area out of the long-term drought that has plagued much of the western states since 2000, the increased snowmelt could put the area at risk of flooding. Water managers that operate within Grand County have already begun to plan for the increased amount of spring runoff, though filling the reservoirs while not allowing them to spill is more of an art than a science, according to Brian Werner a public information officer with Northern Water. Water managers look to fill their reservoirs without allowing them to spill while at the same time helping to manage stream flows to prevent flooding. The art comes from releasing only enough water from reservoirs before the snow melts that can be replaced with spring runoff. So calculating the amount of snowpack and the water that will come down as runoff from that snowpack is paramount for water managers. Preemptively releasing water and actively managing water throughout the runoff season helps to reduce the risk of flooding. Snowpack levels are slightly higher this year than they were at this time during 2011, the highest runoff year to date, according to Werner. In 2011 the Colorado river was above its water line and considered flooded for three months, according to Mark Volt, district conservationist for the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Kremmling Field Office. While water managers will work to divert water during runoff to help alleviate the risk of flooding, they can only take as much water to fill their reservoirs. There are three water operators in Grand County; Denver Water, Northern Water, and the Colorado River District. All three expect to fill the reservoirs they operate in the area. Denver Water will divert water through the Moffat Tunnel system during peak runoff times to both add water to their reservoir system that serves the Front Range and to help ensure the Fraser Valley doesn't experience flooding. The risk of flooding depends heavily on the weather during the coming months and if a spell of hot weather where to sweep through the area while there were still high levels of snow on the ground, the risk of flooding could increase, according to Stacy Chesney, manager of media relations for Denver Water. Earlier runoff seasons are becoming more normal due to recent changes in weather, which makes managing water an ever-changing chess game with Mother Nature. Looking to the future "We have been experiencing more climate uncertainty and weather extremes," Chesney said in an email interview. "In 2013, for example, we went from severe drought to unprecedented rain in a matter of months." Chesney is referring to rain storms that swept through the area in September of last year that caused devastating flooding along the Front Range. Those rains, while causing flooding along the Front Range, also helped to fill the reservoirs in the region. Denver Water reservoirs are currently 91 percent full, according to Chesney. Normally those reservoirs are only 80 percent full at this time of year and last year around this time, when the area was under drought conditions, their reservoirs were only 71 percent full. The combination of above-normal snowpack and current reservoir levels means Denver Water is expecting to completely fill their reservoirs this year. The extreme between wetter wet years and drier dry years makes it difficult for water mangers to plan ahead. Water managers need to store as much water as they can during wet years, such as the current year, in order to last through the dry years. For example, 2012 was the worst runoff years on record, according to Jim Pokrandt, communications manager for the Colorado River District, which operates Wolford Mountain Reservoir. Luckily, the reservoir levels were healthy from 2011, making lasting through the dry months of 2012 more manageable. "Our goal is to plan for the future as best we, and we are committed to working with the communities in which we have facilities to operate our system in a way that offers the most benefit to stakeholders and the environment," Cheseny said. "We are seeing extremes on both sides, wet and dry," Werner said. "If that is what mother nature is continuing to do, we better be ready. Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334

Bracing for the flood: High water expected throughout Upper Colorado River system

GRAND COUNTY – Spring flooding is likely in areas from the headwaters of the Colorado River all the way to northern Utah. That was the message shared at this year’s “State of the River” meeting on May 4 at Mountain Parks Electric in Granby. “Everything to Lake Powell is above 100 percent,” said Don Meyer of the Colorado River District, in an overview of May 1 forecasts for probable runoff volumes. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center indicates early to mid-May would be the optimum time for a prolonged warm period to melt snows and decrease the probability of spring floods. In a series of graphs and charts, water engineers addressed area reservoirs and talked about “leaving the envelope,” or snowpack that is exceeding what has been seen since Snotel measurements began in the early 1980s. Collectively, water engineers went out on a limb and guessed that peak runoff may take place from mid-June to the end of June, and that flows on the Colorado River at the Kremmling gauge below the confluence of the Blue River might reach around 12,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), which is about double the peak flow of last year and triple the historical average peak flow of around 4,000 cfs. Colorado-Big Thompson Project For Lake Granby, Andrew Gilmore of the Bureau of Reclamation said the reservoir is expected to see 25 percent higher inflows than runoff in previous years. With inflow forecasts on the rise since last month, the system is presently releasing water to ward off flooding downriver during peak runoff, Gilmore said. Although runoff may compare to the record 1985 season, he said, outflows from Granby Reservoir shouldn’t reach the 3,000 cfs as they did in 1985 due to the ongoing management of the Big-Thompson system. “This is unusual for the Reclamation as an agency,” Gilmore said. “We don’t generally do flood control. We’ll do the best that we can with the facility we have.” That said, operators at Willow Creek Reservoir, a much smaller impoundment constructed to pump water into Lake Granby, are taking it as “low as can take the reservoir safely,” Gilmore said. That’s in preparation for projected runoff from the Willow Creek Basin, which is sitting at a record-breaking 203 percent of average snowpack. Gilmore said Big-Thompson operators are preparing Willow Creek to capture an expected 97,000 acre-feet of runoff, or the equivalent of seven times the capacity of the reservoir. An acre-foot would cover one acre with one foot of water. The reservoir is expected to cap releases at about 1,100 cfs to keep “streams below the reservoir below flood flow.” Windy Gap Reservoir will “not be pumping water this year,” said Don Carlson of Northern Water and the Municipal Subdistrict. And Adams Tunnel on the east end of Grand Lake, which sends water to the northern Front Range for power generation and municipal and agriculture use, is running full right now, engineers said. At peak runoff, operators plan to close Adams Tunnel, allowing East Slope reservoirs to capture native runoff on the east side of the Continental Divide. Moffat, Willams Fork In the Moffat System operated by Denver Water, Jones Pass has tied the record for the most snow on May 1, said Bob Steger of Denver Water. Steger said Denver Water plans to reserve a certain amount of space in Gross Reservoir to prepare for peaks on the Fraser River. But the “wild card,” he said, is Denver Water’s junior water rights on South Boulder Creek, the water from which is also stored in Gross. At Williams Fork, Denver Water is conducting repairs on the reservoir’s outlet works, which means it is “limping on 70 to 80 cubic feet per second with temporary outlet works,” Steger said. By next week, repairs should be completed, allowing the reservoir to release more water at that time in preparation for capturing runoff. Wolford Mountain Reservoir Recently, Wolford Mountain Reservoir began releasing 400 cfs. Asked why reservoir operators of the Colorado River District haven’t increased releases in preparation for flooding on ranch land downstream of Wolford, Don Meyer of the Colorado River District said erosion concerns were the main reason. Also, “We don’t feel we’re going to impact any instantaneous flows into the reservoir,” he said.

Officials urge caution as runoff-swollen rivers rise

GRAND COUNTY – Warmer temperatures in the high country since the start of the month are intensifying runoff in mountain valleys. Forecasters are saying the Colorado River could peak by Wednesday of next week, then after a slight dip in flows, peak higher still in mid-June. The Upper Colorado River may rise another 1.5 to 2 feet by next week, with flows in the 8,700 cubic feet per second (cfs) range at the Kremmling gauge. The river basin snowpack is sitting at a whopping 277 percent of average for early June, with a much later start of the runoff than in average years. Rather than experiencing a series of sustained high temperatures that can cause serious flooding, like last year, the hope among river watchers is for a pattern of warm temperatures followed by cooler temperatures to slow down runoff. “We’re at the mercy of the temperatures.” said Don Meyer, senior water resources engineer of the Colorado River District. “We’re hoping for temperatures fluctuating between the higher- and the lower-than-average.” Along the main stem of the Colorado River in higher elevations, residents can expect most tributaries to leave their banks. Most vulnerable to Colorado flooding are the downstream cities of Palisade, Grand Junction and Fruita, Meyer said. And, the area’s reservoirs are expected to spill. “Everybody’s spilling,” he said. Brian Werner of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which manages the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in Grand County, agrees. Not only is there an abundance of snowpack, analyses show the snow to be heavy with water. “There’s way more water in those hills than we have buckets to put it in,” he said. “We will never see another runoff like this in our lifetimes.” Safety Water is running near or at bank levels along most rivers and streams, with some flooding in low-lying areas from Parshall to Kremmling. Already, a few culverts have been replaced, according to Trevor Denney of the Grand County Office of Emergency Management. Muddy and Troublesome creeks are flooding, and Wolford Mountain Reservoir has been spilling. Williams Fork Reservoir may spill next week, which would increase Colorado River flows, Meyer said. Meanwhile, inflows into Colorado-Big Thompson reservoirs increased over the weekend, and releases out of most reservoirs are at maximum safe levels right now. As of Thursday, Lake Granby was about 27 feet from the top of its spillway, releasing at maximum flow from the outlets below. Northern is expected to conduct a controlled spill by opening the dam’s top gates when the lake rises another 6.5 feet, according to Werner. And releases from Willow Creek dam had been increased to a robust 1,200 cfs over the weekend due to accelerated snowmelt. Water levels at Willow Creek were rising by a foot per day, according to Kara Lamb of the Bureau of Reclamation, and property owners along the creek are reporting widespread flooding. The Fraser River as of Wednesday was “just getting going,” Denney said. “We haven’t started melting yet on the east end up high.” The Grand County Office of Emergency Management is warning citizens to be cautious around the area’s fast-flowing rivers, especially to keep pets and children away. And although there are free sandbags available for properties threatened by high water, they are meant to “protect homes, not flowerbeds,” Denney said. – Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext.19603

Granby Dam flows to increase May 1

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Northern Water will be increasing the water releases from Lake Granby on Friday, May 1. Operators will ramp up releases to 430 cubic feet per second through the outlet valves, which will enable reservoir operators to better manage peak spills later this spring. With the Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoirs at record storage levels for late April, the likelihood of spills at Lake Granby are a near certainty. "What we are trying to do by increasing releases now is reduce the peak of the runoff to alleviate flooding concerns below Granby," said Noble Underbrink, Collection Systems Department manager for Northern Water. Northern Water and Reclamation are completing a maintenance and repair project on the Lake Granby spillway. Once complete by mid-May, reservoir operators will route the peak flows through the spillway to the Colorado River downstream. "Working together, we can alleviate the flooding concerns below Granby and maximize the amount of water we can store in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, " Eastern Colorado Area Office Manager Jacklynn Gould said. Lake Granby is currently at 92 percent of capacity, about 6 feet from full. The current forecast is that operators will be able to keep the spills to below the amount at which downstream flooding occurs. Underbrink said the pre-emptive releases have been used many times in previous years. "With the C-BT reservoir system nearly full, the forecasts indicate there will be more runoff than the reservoirs can hold." The flows and forecasts will be monitored and adjustments made accordingly as inflows pick up during the next few weeks.

Flooding causing problems along Fraser River from Winter Park to Granby

Residents along the Fraser River awoke Monday to the highest water levels seen in roughly two decades, with flooding in some areas within reach of condominium buildings and lodging units. In Winter Park, guests at the Beaver’s Village Lodge staying in long-term rental units that historically were part of a fish hatchery near the river evacuated around 6 p.m. Sunday evening to relocate to the main lodge situated uphill. Beaver’s Village General Manager Mark Johnson said the water levels are at the highest he’s seen since the 1980s. Johnson was told by local officials that the river was expected to rise another 8 inches by Tuesday Where the Fraser River was supposed to bend near Beaver’s Village at the south end of Winter Park, raging flows from runoff caused the river to leave its banks, flooding low-lying areas and expanding a small pond at Beaver’s Village. Winter Park’s town engineer examined the dam at the 100 year-old Beavers Pond upriver. The dam held out into Monday, but with water running over the top, a greater emergency was still possible. “We’re trying to take as many precautions as we can to preserve life and property,” said Winter Park Town Manager Drew Nelson on Monday. “We’re dealing with situations we haven’t seen for quite some time.” Winter Park officials were seeking advice from dam experts and from the state, he said. Heavy and high river flows washed out a concrete culvert and driveway that accessed a vacation home near Old Town Winter Park. The same driveway washed out back in 1984 when the Fraser River reached similar levels, recalled Mike Wajeck, district manager of the Winter Park Water and Sanitation District. Downstream at the Hi Country Haus three-story condominium complex in Winter Park, residents and visitors – including one couple on their honeymoon – evacuated voluntarily Monday evening. Some stayed with friends or family, others were put up for the night at the Pinnacle Lodge in Fraser through emergency efforts of the Red Cross. The voluntary evacuation was put in place Sunday evening with concern for residents being unable to access emergency services if the nearby bridges were to wash out. Sandbags surrounded Hi Country Haus building 12 on two sides on Monday as water crept closer to first-level units. Building 11 resident Bryce Poe said he felt relatively safe on the second floor, but had heard that an evacuation could be reinstated if water levels continued to rise. Both the Ski Idlewild bridge and a bridge connecting from the Telemark Condos to the Hi Country Haus neighborhood were blocked off on Monday. Raging flows could cause damage to smaller bridges especially, according to East Grand Assistant Fire Chief Dennis Soles. A reverse 911 call was sent out to many district residents Sunday to warn them of potentially weak bridges and to give people an option to evacuate, according to Soles. Box culverts are also in danger of being clogged by debris, he said. Large beetle-kill trees along the banks may fall into the river with the potential to block stream flows and cause further flooding in areas. Soles has even seen railroad ties being carried downstream, he said. In Granby at the River Run apartments, the Fraser River flooded wetlands and water rose in the River Run parking lot knee-deep on resident Meghann Bridge. “We were going to get the inflatable kayak out and float the parking lot later,” Bridge said. Water from neighboring wetlands covered more ground overnight, according to Bridge, as water moved closer to lower-level apartments. Raging River The rampant runoff is from high temperatures that rapidly melted high-elevation snows, creating flood hazards throughout Colorado. The National Weather Service out of Denver on Monday issued a “small stream flood advisory” for Eastern Grand County until 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The advisory warns individuals with interests along the river to use “extreme caution” due to high river flows making river banks unstable. “We weren’t expecting this high of a peak,” said Dave Bennett, Water Resources Project Manager for Denver Water. The rapid increase in runoff is happening at a time when reservoirs are already near full from East Slope water supplies and transmountain diversions. Gross Reservoir, the recipient of Fraser River Basin diversions, “should be full today,” Bennett said. Denver water was diverting a small supply of water on Monday, but as soon as Gross filled, the utility would cease its diversions. Although the forecast calls for continued warm weather, the peak runoff should start subsiding within a day or two, Bennett said. “There’s not a lot of snow left,” he said. That remaining quantity of snow could determine whether Granby Reservoir fills. By Monday, the reservoir was 14 feet from full, officials said.

Spring runoff likely to fill reservoirs

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. Meyer's goals at Wolford for the coming season include work to benefit fisheries within the reservoir, Muddy Creek and farther downstream for endangered species in the Grand Valley. He'll also be working to monitor and collect data on the reservoir's dam, which has been moving since 2008. Northern pike remain a problem in Wolford Mountain Reservoir, and the Colorado River District will continue to offer a $20 bounty for any of the predatory fish caught there. Meyer also noted he expects the reservoir to fill to its 66,000 acre-feet capacity. "This year it won't be a problems, but other years it was a problem," he said. 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. "In Colorado, we can't divorce ourselves from the rest of the basin," he said. "If we're going to use more water on the Front Range, someone else is going to use less. There is no surplus."

Grand County flood advisory is extended in Grand County to Thursday

With rivers already running high and temperatures expected to rise, the National Weather Service has extended a small-stream flood advisory for Grand County until 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 29. Nowell Curran with Grand County's Office of Emergency Management said her office gave the go ahead to extend the advisory due to a possible increase of runoff into the already swollen Upper Colorado River and its tributaries. "The rivers and the reservoirs are high right now and are expected to get higher in the next couple of days," she said. Curran said her office has bolstered communication with law enforcement, town public works and Grand County Road and Bridge to monitor roadways in the county and to identify alternate routes for problem areas. "To have this well-rounded communication is what's going to be key to how we respond to anything that happens here in Grand County," Curran said. Grand County Road and Bridge is currently on high alert for the Colorado River for the rest of the week, said Ken Haynes, Grand County Road and Bridge superintendent. His office just finished repairs on a section of County Road 57 that was inundated by the Fraser River on Sunday, May 25. "We're also getting a lot of smaller culverts in the mountain subdivisions that are getting pretty full," Haynes said. Curran said each of the county's towns has identified bridges and roadways that are susceptible to flooding. Haynes said his office is keeping an eye on County Road 491 in Rocky Mountain National Park and roads below Lake Granby, in Walden Park. It's also working to clear culverts of debris brought by high water. "The big thing is trying to keep all of your drainages clear," Haynes said. The Office of Emergency Management is monitoring the runoff situation on a "day-by-day basis," Curran said. "We're watching those culverts, we're watching those bridges," Curran said. "We're keeping an eye on the road." Runoff could top 2011 Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin was over 140 percent of its normal level in April, according to a Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey. Officials said earlier this year that they were preparing for a run-off season comparable to 2011, but Curran said that the worst case scenario could now surpass the destructive flooding Grand County saw that year. "At this moment in time we're expecting more water this year than in 2011, and that's how we're operating right now," Curran said. Haynes said Grand County Road and Bridge is on standby "24/7" until the end of July this year. The Office of Emergency Management is currently monitoring information from the National Weather Service, the Colorado Northern Water Conservancy District and Denver Water to stay on top of the latest developments in runoff and water levels, Curran said. Haynes encouraged residents to be cautious when approaching water that's crossing the roadway and to report any flooding to Grand County dispatch or his office. Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.

Minor flood warnings issued around Colorado

DENVER (AP) – Officials say parts of Colorado west of the Continental Divide and most of the eastern plains should expect minor flooding as rainfall and warmer temperatures begin to melt the season’s record snowpack. The Colorado Water Conservation Board said Monday that minor flooding watches have been issued for the Western Slope down to Montrose County and the eastern plains. Officials say thunderstorms and runoff could cause minor flooding and rivers and streams could overflow their banks. Flooding is also possible in urban areas from Colorado Springs north to Wyoming. Officials say warmer temperatures predicted for the weekend could see the runoff reaching levels not yet seen this season.

Guest opinion: Northern Water did what it could to minimize flooding

Although this year’s record-breaking snowpack and streamflows made for an impressive display of Mother Nature’s capabilities, they also posed concerns for property owners along streams, including the Colorado River below Lake Granby, a Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoir. Under federal authorization, the C-BT Project is not a flood control project. However, years come when operators still have the opportunity to reduce flooding. This has been one of those years. As the snow piled high this winter, Bureau of Reclamation and Northern Water forecasters and operators began talking about how to make downstream flows manageable and less damaging once runoff hit. Federally-developed standard operating procedures call for Lake Granby to rise to six inches below full, at 8,279.5 feet in elevation, and then spill or release all incoming flows back to the Colorado River. Forecasters suspected this year’s record-shattering snowpack would result in significant inflows that would make this procedure cause higher downstream flows than alternative operations that could reduce flooding. They were right. The flows in the Colorado River above Lake Granby from April through July reached 195 percent of average, producing 429,000 acre feet, shattering the 1984 record of 355,000 acre feet. For perspective, 429,000 acre feet could fill 92 percent of Lake Granby’s active storage capacity. Reclamation and Northern Water modified normal procedures and made extra storage space available ahead of peak runoff by releasing water out of Willow Creek Reservoir and Lake Granby. These pre-emptive releases meant downstream residents saw steadier, lower river flows over a longer period of time. As runoff peaked, the amount of water released from Lake Granby topped out in late June at about 2,300 cubic feet per second, and we reached that rate again in mid-July after rainstorms produced inflow peaks for the second time. Without these modified operations, downstream residents would have seen flows hit high, hard and fast, reaching about 3,900 cfs in early July. If operations had not been modified, the outflow would have exceeded 2,500 cfs for nearly 20 days, creating the potential for sustained flooding. As it was, we exceeded 2,000 cfs for only 10 days. We will continue to make higher-than-normal Lake Granby releases through mid-September to allow water levels to drop to lower winter season levels to prevent freeze damage to facilities. We are coordinating these releases with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to prevent impacts to brown trout spawning. The two purposes of the C-BT Project are to provide water for agricultural, municipal and industrial use and to generate hydroelectric power. In our operating partnership with Reclamation, we strive to continually meet these Congressionally-authorized needs. We also understand residents’ concerns about flooding. In response Northern Water and Reclamation worked diligently this year to balance rapidly-changing conditions with required operations, keeping our neighbors in mind. To learn more about the C-BT Project, I invite readers to visit both Northern Water’s and Reclamation’s websites at http://www.northernwater.org and http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao. Eric Wilkinson has been Northern Water’s general manager for 17 years and has spent the last 30-plus years working in water resources management in Colorado.

Snowpack exceeds records

With storms at the end of April, sites in the northern central mountains have reached record-high snowpack, causing water officials to pay special attention to water management at systems like the Dillon Reservoir.A graph by the Blue River Watershed Group shows that the 2011 snowpack in the Colorado River Basin reached about 165 percent of average at the end of last month, surpassing 1984’s snowpack which hit about 160 percent of average in May. Natural Resources Conservation Service data has the Colorado River Basin at 151 percent of average.Water content at Copper Mountain, which flows into Ten Mile Creek, is at its highest this year, and the snow survey site on the Snake River above Keystone is at 231 percent of average.”It’s pretty spectacular,” Denver Water’s Bob Steger said at Tuesday’s State of the River meeting. “It’s right up there with past wet years.”Other record years include 1995 and 1996 – but up until the end of April, the snowpack hadn’t exceeded ’96 amounts. Figures more than double those of last year.”The last two weeks in April were when we really got pounded with some of the biggest storms of the season – pretty relentless – at some of these locations,” said snow survey supervisor Mike Gillespie of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.Snowpack at the Tower SNOTEL site on Buffalo Pass in the Park Range northeast of Steamboat Springs set the all-time state record for total snowpack at a single Colorado site with snow depth of more than 200 inches with 72.6 inches of water content. It exceeds the previous record of 71.1 inches of water equivalent measured in 1978.The North Platte, Yampa and White river basins have all hit 165 percent of average snowpack, and the South Platte is at 150 percent of average. The Arkansas River is at 112 percent of average.The high snowpack is causing water officials, like Steger, to take precautions in water management. Steger has a balancing act on his hands – not drawing Dillon Reservoir down so much so it can’t fill, but trying to mitigate overfill and downstream flooding.He estimates there’s a 90 percent chance the May through July total inflows would exceed 210,000 acre-feet, and a 10 percent chance inflows could reach 290,000 or more. The 30-year average is about 160,000 acre-feet.To reduce the risk of flooding below the dam, he plans to leave space in the reservoir before runoff occurs, topping it off after peak inflow. It enables him to better manage the flow out of the dam before and during runoff – benefits not just to flood mitigation, but to rafting, fishing and flat water recreation on the reservoir. However, the fill delay may also delay full operations at the Frisco Marina – which is in shallower water than the Dillon Marina – until mid-June.”This year, rafting should be great,” Steger said, adding that water levels below the dam will soon be too high for good fishing.As of Wednesday, the flow below Dillon Dam was 457 cubic feet per second, a draw that’s balanced with the 363 cfs through the Roberts Tunnel transmountaindiversion. It’ll likely be re-evaluated before the end of the week, Steger said.”If we continue to get rainy, snowy weather, we’re going to have to go up with the outflow,” Steger said.Steger and others aren’t sure how runoff will behave this year – it’s entirely dependent on temperature and precipitation in upcoming weeks. The highest snowpack on record was in 1984, but the peak inflow wasn’t extremely high because weather was temperate, Steger said. On the other hand, 1995 and 1996 were fast melts, with 1995 being the highest peak inflow rate ever.Above the reservoir, Denver Water has no control. And Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Kalsoum Abbasi said her company will be skimming a mere 15 cfs off natural Upper Blue River runoff.”It could be really full this year,” Steger said.Statewide, snowpack is at 135 percent of average, and at 175 percent of last year. That reflects a less bright situation in southern Colorado, where “it’s a totally different story,” Gillespie said.The Rio Grande and southern Arkansas rivers below Canon City are seeing below average runoff and are already well into the melt season. That trend extends into southwestern Colorado – the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers, Gillespie said.