May precipitation breaks records in southern Colorado

Wet spring boosts streamflow forecasts

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Miracle May?

Staff ReportFRISCO — Statewide precipitation was more than twice the average, federal water watchers said in their June update. The rain and snow, along with cool temperatures at higher elevations, delayed the onset of runoff and boosted streamflow forecasts for the summer. “This substantial addition of moisture, both in the form of snow and rain have notably increased water supply forecasts across the state from a month ago,” said Brian Domonkos, the Colorado snow survey supervisor for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Continue reading

Colorado: Water sharing a good deal for rivers

State water board, conservation group team up to create innovative new water rights agreement

By Bob Berwyn

Photos courtesy Colorado Water Trust

* Tools like the Little Cimarron agreement could be used to improve environmental conditions in many of the state’s rivers, and the evolving Colorado Water Plan can help identify places where deals like this could be used. Read more about the Colorado Water plan here.

FRISCO —For thousands of years, the Little Cimarron River trickled out of the snowfields of the San Juan Mountains, coursing unimpeded through steep alpine canyons and rolling sagebrush foothills before merging with the Gunnison River.

That changed when European settlers arrived in the region. Eager to tame the rugged land, ranchers and farmers took to the hills with shovels and picks, diverting part of the river’s flow to water hayfields and pastures. The back-breaking work brought the imprint of civilization to the area, but just as surely wrought huge changes to natural systems that had been self-regulating themselves since the end of the last ice age.

Like nearly every other river in Colorado, the Little Cimarron was free-flowing no more. Continue reading

Denver Water eases watering restrictions

Spring snow and rain helped boost reservoir storage

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Dillon Reservoir is about as close to full as it’s going to get this year.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Just a day after the Colorado Water Conservation Board described lingering drought conditions across much of Colorado, Denver Water eased watering restrictions, saying that the city’s water supply situation has “greatly improved” since Stage 2 drought restrictions were enacted in early April.

“Our customers have responded very well to the call to use even less water, and we can finally be confident that enough water from the late-season snows has reached our reservoirs to bring them to reasonable levels,” said Greg Austin, president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners.

“While the drought is not over, conditions have improved enough that customers may water a third day, if their lawns need it. We all still need to do our part to protect against the possibility of another dry winter, and we ask everyone to continue to use even less,” Austin said. Continue reading

Dillon Reservoir — what a difference four weeks makes

Water levels in Dillon Reservoir rise dramatically over the past month

Photos by Jenney Coberly

FRISCO — The water level in Dillon Reservoir has been climbing rapidly since late April at the average rate of about six inches per day. Denver Water now expects the reservoir to come very close to filling. More details in this Summit Voice story. Jenney Coberly documented the surging water level from the saddle of her bicycle, compiling this set of “before and and after” images in late May and mid-June.

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Frisco Bay, June 17

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Frisco Bay, May 22

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Frisco Bay Marina, June 17

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Frisco Bay Marina, May 22

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Buoy along Dillon Dam Rd, June 17

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Buoy along Dillon Dam Rd, May 22

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End of reservoir in Dillon, June 17

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End of reservoir in Dillon, May 22

Summit County: Dillon Reservoir Ice-off!

The last bits of remnant ice on Dillon Reservoir near the Dillon Amphitheater on May 21.

The last bits of remnant ice on Dillon Reservoir near the Dillon Amphitheater on May 21. Bob Berwyn photo.

Late winter delays melt-off a bit past the average date

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — It took a little longer than normal, but Denver Water’s water managers said Dillon Reservoir finally became fully ice-free on Friday, May 24, exactly the same date as two years ago, in 2011, after one of the snowiest winters on record. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1995 to find a later date (May 30).

Dillon-based reservoir-keepers have been tracking the dates the reservoir freezes over and thaws out completely since 1965 as part of their regular duties. The so-called ice-off date generally falls in the middle of May. In fact, the ice has only lasted into June once — after the monster winter of 1983, when it didn’t thaw until June 7.

The earliest ever full-thaw date was last year, when all the ice was gone by April 18 following all-time record March warmth. 2012 was one of only two years on record when the ice melted in April. The other April melt-off was in 2002, following another severe drought winter.

The earliest Dillon Reservoir has frozen over completely was Dec. 1, 1990, nearly three weeks ahead of the average date, which generally falls right around Christmas. This winter’s freeze-over date was Dec. 26, following two years 2010 and 2011) with unusually late ice-on dates. In both those years, the reservoir froze solid on Jan. 1.

The latest the reservoir has ever frozen over was Jan. 30, 1980, during another infamous warm and dry winter.

Currently, the water level in Dillon Reservoir is rising at the rate of several inches per day, with the Blue and Snake rivers, Tenmile Creek and the smaller tributaries all hovering around peak seasonal flows. As of May 21, the reservoir elevation was 8,989.11 feet, holding about 180,000 acre feet (capacity is 257,304 acre feet). That’s still about 27 feet below full (9,017 feet).

Full list of ice-on & ice-off dates (courtesy Denver Water)

Colorado Legislature may take sides in Forest Service-ski industry water rights showdown

Interim committee of Colorado lawmakers to grapple with several water-related bills this week.

Interim review committee to discuss several water measures this week

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado lawmakers may weigh in on a dispute between the ski industry and the U.S. Forest Service with a resolution opposing the federal agency’s efforts to protect publicly owned water rights originating on national forest lands.

The proposed resolution, under review by an interim legislative committee, would oppose a new Forest Service water rights clause in ski area special use permits that would bar resorts from transferring certain water rights to third  parties.

The Forest Service clause also requires ski areas to transfer certain water rights to the United States or to subsequent special permit use holders if a permit is terminated.

The measure is one of several water bills on the agenda during a session of the interim Water Resources Review Committee. The bills will be discussed by lawmakers Thursday (Sept. 27) morning, with public testimony in the afternoon. The session will be streamed on the web. Go to this Colorado Legislature website and click on the House Committee 0112 link. Continue reading

Water: Regional runoff picture not so bright

Lake Powell inflow projected to be less than half of average

Colorado's snowpack is in the red zone.

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By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal water managers have significantly lowered their expectations of runoff into Lake Powell this year in the past couple of months, as a lack of spring snowfall and an early snow-melt season combined to shrink the snowpack in the Upper Colorado Basin to just a third of average.

March inflow into the key reservoir was about 10,000 acre feet higher than forecast, mainly due to the early snow-melt season, but still only 84 percent of average. Through July, the inflow is only expected to be 49 percent of average. For the water year, the inflow is now projected to be about 63 percent of average. Continue reading

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