Bracing for the flood: High water expected throughout Upper Colorado River system | SkyHiNews.com

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.

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."

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

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

Shoshone call agreement may benefit West Slope

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Two back-to-back, drought-plagued winters in Western Colorado have triggered an agreement to “relax” a senior water rights call on the Colorado River at the Shoshone Hydro Plant to allow water providers to store more water this spring, a move that benefits Denver Water and the West Slope. The Shoshone Hydro Plant is owned by Xcel Energy and is located in Glenwood Canyon. Its senior 1902 water right of 1,250 cubic feet a second, or cfs, when called, is administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources against junior water storage rights upstream that include Denver Water’s Dillon and Williams Fork Reservoirs, the Colorado River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Green Mountain Reservoir. The agreement “relaxes” the call to 704 cfs when river flows are low, or takes a Shoshone call totally off the river when flows are rising, which is the current situation. This practice gives the upstream juniors water rights holders the ability to store water once the spring runoff begins in earnest. “Relaxing the Shoshone water right in this limited way benefits the West Slope,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “It might make the difference between having a full supply at Green Mountain Reservoir and not having a full supply. In a year like this, every extra drop of water we can store now will help us later.” Currently, the Colorado River is flowing through Glenwood Canyon at about 825 cfs. (The long-term historical average for this date is about 1,150 cfs). Two tripping points activate the agreement: When Denver Water forecasts its July 1 reservoir storage to be 80 percent of full or less, and when the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts spring runoff flows at Kremmling in Grand County will be less than or equal to 85 percent of average. Currently, the reservoir forecast is 74 percent full on July 1 and the Kremmling forecast is 60 percent of average. Denver Water has already enacted its Stage 2 Drought Restrictions to limit outdoor water use and enact other conservation measures. The winter of 2012 was the fourth worst on record in the Colorado River Basin, and 2013 has been tracking just as poorly. The only improvement between the two winters occurred in March 2013 as storms continued to build snowpack. By this time in 2012, runoff was already under way. The relaxation period is between March 14 and May 20, in deference to boating season on the river and irrigation needs in the basin. As for the water that Denver Water gains by the relaxation, 15 percent of the net gain is saved for Xcel Energy power plant uses in the Denver Metro Area and 10 percent is delivered to West Slope entities yet to be determined by agreement between Denver Water and the Colorado River District. “This is a statewide drought, and we all need to work together to manage water resources for the health and safety of our residents, our economic vitality and the environment,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Shoshone Outage Protocol are great examples of the partnership between Denver Water and the West Slope to do just that. Last year, even though the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was not yet in effect, Denver Water released water to the river even though the Shoshone Power Plant was not operating and the call was not on. This year, under the Denver Water-Xcel Energy agreement, the Shoshone call will be relaxed.”

Middle Park snowpack remains above average as spring runoff begins

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Kremmling Field Office snow surveyors endured 60 degree days and burning sun to take the May 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of April. This is the final snow survey of the year, as the spring runoff has begun. Snowpack in the high-elevation mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 30 percent to 169 percent (average 123 percent) of the 30-year average. This is the highest May snowpack since 1996 and 1997, and considerably more than last year when it was 24 percent to 113 percent of average on May 1. Year-to-date precipitation in the Upper Colorado River Basin is 118 percent. Irrigators and river runners can look forward to above average spring runoff, which is now governed by temperature, wind, and possibly a few late spring storms. Today’s storm confirms Mark “Doctor” Volt’s thesis that “the only trouble with spring in this country is that winter is just around the corner.” Snowpack at low- to mid-elevation in Middle Park has been above average all winter, but is melting fast and is already gone at the lowest elevations. Deer and elk remain on their winter and early spring ranges, foraging on south and west slopes melted or blown clear of snow. Snow density is averaging 38 percent, which means that each foot of snow contains 4.5 inches of water. Statewide, snowpack is average to above average, with the highest snowpack in the Arkansas, Gunnison, and Colorado River basins. Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows: – The upper Colorado River Basin averages 119 percent – Gunnison River Basin, 122 percent – South Platte River Basin, 101 percent – Yampa and White River Basins, 112 percent – Arkansas River Basin, 125 percent – Upper Rio Grande Basin, 109 percent – San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basins 109 percent – Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 107 percent of average for this time of year. Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1930s. Snow course readings are taken at the end of each month, beginning in January and continuing through April. March is historically the snowiest month, and the April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of our high country snowpack peaks around that time. For further information, visit http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.

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.

Willow Creek Reservoir releases aim to make room for snowmelt

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is pre-emptively releasing flows out of Willow Creek Reservoir to lower water levels of the Colorado-Big Thompson system. “Right now, the Colorado Thompson Project, for this time of year, is fairly full, and we haven’t even hit runoff yet,” said Kara Lamb, spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that owns the project. The Colorado-Big Thompson Project as a whole is 71 percent of full, according to spokesperson Brian Werner of Northern Colorado Water, the agency that operates the project. Average snow levels on the Upper Colorado are at about 140 percent of average, with 154 percent of normal snowpack in the Willow Creek basin, he said. Willow Creek Reservoir is sitting just 2.5 feet from full. In preparation for runoff season, Northern plans to let water out of Willow Creek Reservoir into Willow Creek, which flows into the Colorado River near Windy Gap. “It’s to balance the water coming in with the storage space we have,” Lamb said. Where normal flows are at 7 cubic feet per second this time of year, flows from the Willow Creek dam will be bumped up to about 100 cfs, Lamb said. The first increase will bring flows up to 50 cfs, with a subsequent second increase of 50 cfs. The increased flows are expected to continue for several weeks. Also, because of the expectation for above-normal runoff around the corner, “We probably won’t be pumping Windy Gap water this year,” Werner said. – Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext.19603

Colorado River Basin expert: Low snowpack may pinch water supplies

A Colorado River expert is warning that there may be serious water shortages here and further west this summer, if the Colorado high country does not receive subtantial snowfall before the spring runoff. “We’re running way behind in snow pack,” said Dave Merritt, a board member of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. The snow depths of the Colorado River basin, as they melt starting in the spring, create the runoff that fills reservoirs, ditches and other water systems all the way to the Gulf of California. At a meeting of the Garfield County commissioners on Monday, Merritt said that the snow depths in the Colorado River basin is “a little bit better than 2002 right now.” He later described 2002 as “essentially the worst year we’ve had on record” for snow depths, when the statewide snowpack was essentially gone by June. One report indicated that the statewide snow depth on June 10, 2002, was only 2 percent of the average for that date. Currently, Merritt reported to the county commissioners, “Most of the basins are running in the 70 percentile range.” According to the online Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Colorado River basin contained 72 percent of average on Jan. 18. The Upper Rio Grande basin held the most, with 80 percent of average, and the statewide estimate was 74 percent. Merritt told the commissioners that the state’s water officials, worried about the prospect of another record drought year, already are discussing whether there will be sufficient water to raise Lake Powell above its present level of 60 percent full. Lake Powell, formed by the Glen Canyon Dam, is one of two primary storage reservoirs for the states that signed the Colorado River Compact of 1922. The compact governs allocations of the Colorado River’s water to seven states – Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada – and the Republic of Mexico. Merritt said the current regulations call for an annual release of 8.23 million acre feet of water from Lake Powell to satisfy the compact’s allotments, and 1.5 million acre feet for Mexico. Another large reservoir on the Colorado River, Lake Mead (Hoover Dam), “has been dropping pretty precipitously,” Merritt continued, and is counting on an “equalization” release from Lake Powell to boost the water level. But, if the spring runoff is insufficient to bring Lake Powell’s levels up by much, Merritt said, “there’s less than a 50 percent chance of equalization” in 2010. The “equalization” is determined by a complex series of calculations related to how the Colorado’s waters are managed, Merritt explained. Speaking by telephone after the meeting, Merritt conceded that “most of our snowfall comes in April and March,” which could invalidate his cautionary statements. “But we’re way behind where we should be” at this point of the year, he said. The CRWCD board will hold its first regular quarterly meeting of the year on Jan. 19-20 at the Hotel Colorado. For information about the meeting’s agenda and other Colorado River issues, go to the district’s website at http://www.crwcd.org.

January snowpack lowest since 2002

The Upper Colorado River Basin snowpacks got off to a great start during October, but Jan. 1 snowpack marks the worst percentages since 2002, according to data released by SNOTEL. On Nov. 1, SNOTEL data indicated basin snowpacks were over 130 percent of average. Unfortunately, a poor showing during November resulted in a drop in snowpack percentages by Dec. 1 to a mere 65 percent of average. Conditions improved during December and, as of January 1, snowpack conditions are below normal at 81 percent of average and only 64 percent of the measurements taken last year at this time. In 2002, January averages were at 72 percent. Snowpacks in the sub-basins are below to well below normal ranging from 63 percent of average in the Willow Creek Drainage to 91 percent of average in the Roaring Fork Watershed. After a spectacular 130 percent of average showing in October, mountain precipitation during November was a pitiful 40 percent of average. December provided a modest 92 percent of average precipitation figure. Total precipitation for the water year is currently at 84 percent of average and 72 percent of last year. Reservoir storage is 104 percent of average and 74 percent of capacity. This year’s storage figures are 8 percent higher than those reported a year ago. Forecasts call for below average runoff across the basin. April-July forecasts are expected to range from 75 percent of average for Muddy Creek below Wolford Mountain Reservoir to 85 percent of average for the Inflow to Ruedi Reservoir and the Roaring Fork at Glenwood Springs. On January 1, snowpack readings were below average in all of the state’s major river basins. Adequate runoff during the last couple of years has allowed reservoirs to recover from previous droughts and should provide relief if conditions don’t improve.