State of the river: Winter snows dispel some Colorado drought woes

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Will El Niño bring a wet summer to Colorado?

Most northern reservoirs expected to fill with above average snowpack and runoff; southern basins, southeastern plains still under drought gun

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Reservoirs in the northern and central Colorado high country will fill on schedule this year, water managers said Tuesday at the annual Summit County state of the river meeting, outlining their expectations for river flows and runoff volume in the Blue River Basin, a crucial water source area for both sides of the Continental Divide.

Most speakers focused was on these headwaters, but statewide maps also showed much of Colorado’s southern tier with below to well-below average snowpack — down to 50 percent in the Upper Rio Grande Basin, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Colorado snow survey program.

The dry conditions in parts of the eastern San Juans are part of regional Southwest drought footprint, which is increasing demand for this year’s runoff. Southeastern Colorado’s plains are still experiencing Dust Bowl conditions, along with parts of the adjacent south-central plains.

Troy Wineland, water commissioner for the Blue River Basin, said headwater streams in the Blue River Basin are flowing at twice their average volume for this time of year, with peak runoff yet to come. Generally, the Blue River and its tributaries reach peak flows some time in mid-June, though the exact timing is weather-dependent, Wineland said. The state of the river meetings continue the next few weeks with sessions up and down the Colorado River. Details here. Continue reading

Environment: Feds release final study on Denver Water’s proposed new transmountain water diversions

Massive study evaluates and discloses impacts of new Fraser River diversions, expanded Gross Reservoir

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Will Denver Water get permission to divert more water from the West Slope?

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Not developing new water diversions from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range would increase the chances of a major Denver Water system failure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded in its final environmental impact study for the Moffat Tunnel Collection System expansion.

The federal agency, charged with evaluating and disclosing impacts of the proposal, claims that Denver Water customers could experience periodic raw water and treated water shortages in dry years, with Arvada, Westminster and the North Table Mountain Water and Sanitation District especially vulnerable to raw water shortages.

“Severe and more frequent mandatory watering restrictions, including surcharges, may result in a reduced quality of life and place financial burdens on customers. Though still infrequent, mandatory restrictions would reduce production, employment, and other business activity in the Denver Metropolitan area,” The Corps wrote in the executive summary of the massive study. Continue reading

Summit County: Happy Birthday, Dillon Reservoir!

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Dillon Reservoir, Summit County, Colorado.

Dillon Marina hosting a jubilee, with free boating, music and more

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — There may be a few old-timers left who remember what Summit County looked like in the pre-Dillon Reservoir era, but most residents take the 3.200-acre impoundment for granted.

The reservoir was completed 50 years ago as a key step in Denver’s growth as a regional metropolis. The reservoir is operated by Denver Water, which serves more than 1.3 million people as the state’s largest water provider.

This Sunday (Sept. 8), the Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee is hosting an anniversary celebration at the Dillon Marina. The free event includes pontoon boat tours, canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, as well as a preview of the 2014 air and water show. On land, there will be a free performance by the band Eyes Wide Open, balloon sculptures for youngsters and tasty treats from local vendors. 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

Colorado: Dillon Reservoir close to filling

Peak runoff helps boost water storage across the state

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Snowpack across most of Colorado dropped to below average as temperatures warmed to above average in June.

FRISCO — After a big weather turnaround in April and May, Dillon Reservoir is well on its way to filling, with the water level reaching an elevation of just about 9,008 on June 13, just nine feet below capacity. The last time the water level was this high was July 26, 2012.

“We think it’s likely we’ll fill or at least get within a few feet of full elevation,” Denver Water spokesperson Stacy Chesney said.

Peak inflow into the reservoir was June 10, with the mainstem of the Blue River and the rest of the basin tributaries combining to deliver 1,754 cubic feet of water per second. The inflow hovered around that level early in the week, and started to drop a little bit by Thursday and Friday as the snowpack at higher elevations dwindled. Continue reading

Environment: All eyes on the Colorado River

The paradox of water in the desert, illustrated by a NASA satellite image of the Colorado River.

The paradox of water in the desert, illustrated by a NASA satellite image of the Colorado River.

Projected water shortages spur more conservation and  collaboration

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Federal agencies say they will try to offer leadership, technical expertise and — perhaps most importantly — money, as southwestern states grapple with what could be significant water shortages in the Colorado River Basin during the coming decades.

At a major water powwow in California this week, all the major stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin said they’re ready to work together to find a long-term, systematic solution to the potential long-term imbalance between the Colorado River’s future supply and projected demands.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation‘s latest effort outlined three major areas — agricultural conservation and transfers, municipal/industrial conservation and reuse, and environmental flows — that will be the subjects of immediate focus in a series of ongoing work group sessions. Continue reading

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