Denver Water hopes to fill reservoir above 2002 levels
Season to-date snowfall measured in inches, across the Front Range and easternmost Colorado mountain ranges.
As of March 21, statewide snowpack was 77 percent of average, according to the NRCS.
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Denver Water officials say there’s a glimmer of hope that Dillon Reservoir might come close to filling this summer if there’s above average snowfall for the next few weeks.
With exceptionally wet conditions, the reservoir could reach an elevation of 9,015 feet by July and remain above 9,000 feet through the following spring.
With average spring precipitation, chances of the reservoir filling are less than 50 percent, according to Bob Peters, who released the outlook for Dillon Reservoir operations last Friday (March 22). Under the normal precipitation scenario, Dillon Reservoir would peak at about 9,002 feet in June, about 15 feet below full. All the projections can be affected by variable weather, including spring rain and temperatures.
In both outlooks, the water level would be higher than during the summer of 2002, the last big drought year, when the reservoir peaked at an elevation of 8,993 feet. Peters said the Stage 2 outdoor watering restrictions will help keep water in Dillon Reservoir in the late summer and fall. The utility must also hedge against the possibility, however unlikely, of a third dry year by maintaining as much storage as possible.
Going into the second year of a drought, those forecast water levels are critical for local recreation interests, especially the town-owned Frisco marina, where operations are hampered by low water levels.
Denver Water has been diverting water from Dillon Reservoir via the Roberts Tunnel all winter, and some local residents may be surprised at the water level when the ice melts. By the end of March, the elevation of the reservoir will be about 30 feet below full.
The thick black line represents this year’s snowpack.
The water level should start rising in April when spring runoff starts. Under the average precipitation scenario, Denver Water expects the reservoir level to peak sometime in June at about 9,002 feet, which is still 15 feet below full pool. By the end of summer, the water level would be back where it is now.
Continued drought conditions would have the most dramatic impact on Summit County. Reservoir levels would fall as low as 2002, when dust storms affected surrounding communities and boating access was limited.
With less than average precipitation, Denver Water projects that Dillon Reservoir would only rise about six feet from its current level by June, then start dropping again in July. By the end of the summer, the reservoir could be five feet lower than it is now.
The official spring outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is for warmer and drier than average conditions for the next three months, but so far, March has been delivering average to above-average snowfall and cooler-than-average temperatures.
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