State of the River experts outline outlook for runoff and storage
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Recent forecasts by water experts suggest that stream flows could drop below levels seen in 2002, the last major Colorado drought.
With an early March meltdown of the snowpack and continued above-average temperatures, the outlook isn’t good, said Blue River water commissioner Troy Wineland, warning that the entire state and region are facing a severe drought.
“The time for action is now,” Wineland said, speaking at the annual State of the River meeting in Frisco, co-sponsored by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Blue River Watershed Group.
Wineland commended Denver Water for its early Stage 1 drought declaration and urged the local water community in Summit County to get on the same page with conservation measures. An inconsistent response to the drought could send the wrong message to residents and visitors, he added.
While reservoir levels are still higher than average, many high country reservoirs aren’t likely to get much fuller than they are now, said Bob Steger, manager of Denver Water’s raw water supply.
“My best guess is we won’t fill Dillon Reservoir,” Steger, said, pointing to a graph that suggested Dillon won’t climb much above the level it was as of May 8.
Steger said the snowpack in all of Denver Water’s key basins was well below average at the start of the runoff season and have fallen even farther since then.
A few Summit County residents suggested that Denver Water could immediately do more to conserve water by stepping up watering restrictions. Steger said the utility takes whatever steps it finds appropriate for conditions. Denver Water’s board may yet decide to move ahead with Stage 2 restrictions, he added.
So far, Denver has done more to respond to the early drought than any of the jurisdictions in Summit County, but the concern in Summit County is that low water levels in the reservoir are not appealing to tourists and hamper activities at local marinas, which are key economic drivers in the summer.
Federal officials said Green Mountain Reservoir is also likely to stay well shy of filling, by about 40,000 acre feet. That means it will remain about 22 feet below the high-water mark this summer.