Snowpack levels critically low across Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY — After the driest March on record in Colorado, Denver Water and other Front Range water providers may have to consider water-use restrictions during the coming months if the weather stays dry.
Statewide, the snowpack is only 50 percent of the historic average; the Colorado River Basin snowpack is the lowest in the state, at 47 percent. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is showing above average chances for dry weather to continue the next three months, with above average temperatures, which could further debilitate the spring snowpack.
Even those water providers whose storage appears to be in good shape for this year are carefully watching the numbers because if warm dry weather continues through this summer, they may need to stock up for what could be a dry year in 2013, according to the Front Range Water Council.
“During the drought 10 years ago, water providers learned it’s difficult for reservoir storage to survive multiple-year droughts,” said Jim Lochhead, Front Range Water Council chair and CEO/manager of Denver Water. “As a result, municipalities pushed more comprehensive conservation efforts, and we’re seeing those positive results today. But conservation alone is not enough. We need strategies that also include reuse and new supplies,” Lochhead said.
The Front Range Water Council is a collaboration between Aurora Water, Denver Water, Colorado Springs, Northern Water, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company. The members, all of whom pull various amounts of water from the Colorado River, are looking at options should the snowpack levels remain low.
In Colorado, the year round water supply is dependent on the winter snows and the ability to store the snowmelt runoff for later use. Because each provider also pulls water from additional sources — some of which are in better shape than others — individual providers will likely need to address their supplies in different ways:
Aurora Water — Aurora Water’s supplies are in relatively good shape, in part because of the Prairie Waters project, which recaptures river water from the South Platte, as well as higher than normal reservoir levels. However, staff is keeping a close eye on reservoir levels to determine if Aurora needs to keep extra supply in the event dry weather continues into 2013. Aurora has permanent conservation measures in place which prohibits residents from watering more than three days a week or between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., but no additional restrictions are planned.
Colorado Springs Utilities — Colorado Springs Utilities is well positioned to manage its water situation this spring and summer thanks to adequate storage levels and customer conservation. Staff continues to carefully monitor the dry weather conditions and below average snowpack.
Even though Colorado Springs Utilities is not looking at mandatory restrictions this year, it reminds its customers that the City remains in voluntary water restrictions. Customers should be even more diligent in managing their water use this irrigation season by following conservation tips, attending free xeriscape classes and taking advantage of rebate programs at www.csu.org.
Denver Water — Denver Water gets about half of its supply from the Colorado River and half from the South Platte River, snowpack levels in both basins are very low. Officials have not yet implemented additional restrictions, but could if its system reservoir levels drop. In the meantime, Denver Water asks residents to conserve as much as possible.
Denver Water is proposing several projects to meet its future need. It is building out its recycled water treatment system and has an aggressive conservation program. In addition, the utility is pursuing new supply. Following the 2002 drought, Denver Water nearly ran out of water in the north end of its system, which is more susceptible to water supply problems during a dry year. The utility currently is in the permitting process to enlarge Gross Reservoir near Boulder to help avoid running out of water any given year and put water where it is needed.
Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District – Northern Water and its Municipal Subdistrict provide water to Northeastern Colorado through the Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects. The C-BT Project has above average water in its storage reservoirs due to recent high snowpack years and will be able to fulfill this year’s deliveries despite lackluster snowpack. In addition, two proposals – the Windy Gap Firming and Northern Integrated Supply projects – would add even more reliable annual supply to this growing region.
Pueblo Board of Water Works – The Board has worked diligently to maintain an ample reserve supply in storage at Clear Creek, Twin Lakes, Turquoise and Pueblo Reservoirs so that it can continue providing a reliable water supply to all of its customers, even during severe droughts. The Board currently has over 3 times as much water stored in these reservoirs than it did going into the irrigation season in 2002. For this reason the Board does not anticipate any watering restrictions or curtailment of extraterritorial water leases for this coming summer.
Wise water use by Puebloans has saved millions of gallons of water since 2003. The Board acknowledges our customers’ help in preserving this vital resource, and encourages them to continue doing so.
Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company – Twin Lakes provides water to municipal and agricultural users in the Arkansas River and South Platte basins including several Front Range Water Council members. Twin Lakes is closely monitoring the snowpack and runoff forecasts and is preparing for a below average year.
Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District – A majority of the water supply to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project comes from the Colorado River, where snowpack levels are very low. By May 1st the Bureau of Reclamation will notify the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District as to the amount of project water available to the District’s domestic, municipal, and irrigation entities that have applied for project water. Since the supply of project water is to supplement the supplies available to the users from privately-owned water rights, the use of project water increases during years in which there are lesser supplies of privately-owned water within the basin. The Allocation Committee then meets to review the applications, and prepare recommendations concerning the applications received as related to the amount of water available. Recommendations from the Allocation Committee are considered at the next meeting of the board of directors of the District, and appropriate allocations are made.