Colorado: Annual State of the River sessions include vital information on snowpack, stream flows and reservoirs

Colorado River Basin snowpack and streamflow forecasts now similar to 1977, 2002 and 2012 drought years


Statewide snowpack is just half of average going into the crucial phase of runoff season.


Don’t miss this year’s State of the River.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Continued drought in the Far West, along with Colorado’s push to develop a first-ever statewide water plan, should be reason enough for Coloradans to take an interest in the state of the Colorado River.

One of the best chances to get a user-friendly update is at the annual State of River meeting, sponsored by the Blue River Watershed Group.

Hands-on water experts will explain how this year’s snowmelt will play out and how that affects operations of Dillon Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir — both for water deliveries downstream and for onsite recreational use.

To accommodate a bigger turnout, the State of the River presentation has been moved to the Silverthorne Pavilion (Tuesday, May 5, 6-8 p.m.) Continue reading

Colorado: Forest Service to drop fees at Cataract Lake

Day-use at Green Mountain Reservoir will once again be free after years of wrangling over a federal lands recreation fee program.

Revised plan for Green Mountain Reservoir, Cataract Lake area gets provisional OK from advisory group

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — This land is once again your land for free, at least at the popular Cataract Lake trailhead in northern Summit County, where the U.S. Forest Service has been charging a feee to park and hike since the late 1990s.

But last week, a citizen advisory committee voted to a approve a revised recreation plan for the larger Green Mountain Reservoir area, including Cataract Lake, and the new plan ends the unpopular Cataract Lake parking and hiking fee, as well as day use fees at Green Mountain Reservoir. The new plan also reconfigures camping fees to a basic per-site charge, with extra fees for extra cars.

A couple of caveats: The vote by the Colorado Recreation Resource Advisory Committee apparently was incomplete, with a few members missing, so it’s not altogether clear if the vote will stick, Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forest Supervisor Rick Cooksey, the designated federal official on the recreation advisory panel. Cooksey said he will speak with the members who were absent from the meeting to try and get their approval for the Green Mountain-area plan. Continue reading

Water: Scrambling to sustain Colorado River flows

Cooperative releases from headwaters reservoirs will help sustain environmental and recreational values

A NASA satellite captured this image of the Colorado River flowing through Utah.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — With some of the lowest stream flows on record for this time of year, Colorado water managers are wrangling every last drop and trying to make them all count.

Upstream storage and diversions have exacerbated the low flows resulting from a meager snowpack and early runoff. As a result, water temperatures in parts of the Colorado River recently have already reached temperatures close to 60 degrees, which is borderline dangerous for trout. Those temperature readings were measured at a gage in the Pumphouse area, according to Jim Pokrandt, communications specialist with the Colorado River District.

Average Colorado River flows through Glenwood Canyon this time of year are about 6,000 cfs, but this year, the river has been flowing at less than 20 percent of that, at about 1,100 cfs.

Looking to raise stream flows, the Colorado River District, Denver Water and the Bureau of Reclamation are cooperating under the Shoshone outage protocol, which helps sustain flows along the Colorado River mainstem with water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, Williams Fork Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir — even when Xcel’s Shoshone power plant isn’t exercising a senior water right that historically keeps at least some water in the river during dry seasons and years. Continue reading

Drought Watch: Some Colorado streams at record low flows

Resource managers urge conservation

Mudflats along the shore of Dillon Reservoir signify a below-average moisture year.

*Editor’s note: Local water experts are writing a weekly series to raise awareness about potential drought impacts of low stream flows and falling reservoir levels. This is the first installment.

By Troy Wineland

“Uncharted territory.” “Driest year on record!” “Seeing things that have never occurred before.”

These were the headlines and quotes in 2002, the last time we experienced conditions comparable to the current dry spell.

Uncharted … The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Green Mountain Reservoir, placed its “start of fill” call April 1, the earliest possible date and the earliest on record.

The basis? Even assuming above average precipitation this summer, which is not in the forecast, Green Mountain will fall more than 20 feet short of filling this year. This equals a 40,000-acre-foot shortfall in wet water storage.

Driest year … The entire state is experiencing drought conditions to a varying degree, from abnormally dry to extreme drought. Summit County is under severe drought and will remain there, or worsen, without substantial precipitation.

Never occurred before … My conversations with ranchers revealed a mutual consternation. Not one of them can recall an earlier or drier spring. Headgates were opened weeks early and the irrigators are struggling to capture a fraction of what they typically divert. Continue reading

Summit County: Tree-planting volunteers needed

VOC is coordinating a family friendly cottonwood tree-planting day this weekend.

300 cottonwoods to go into the ground at McDonough Flats Campground, at Green Mountain Reservoir

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Reforestation efforts in the high country aren’t focused exclusively on lodgepole pines these days. In one of the first big projects of the year, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado will coordinate the May 19 planting of 300 cottonwood trees at the McDonald Flats Campground in Heeney, 15 miles north of Silverthorne.

Cottonwoods are iconic trees in Colorado’s riverside zones. They’re an incredibly important part of the riparian ecology, providing habitat for cavity nesting birds like rare Lewis’ woodpeckers and stabilizing soils along rivers and lakes. Being adapted to growing near Colorado’s fast-flowing streams, new cottonwood trees can grow from a sprig or a branch that breaks off and gets stuck in some sand or riverside cobbles. Continue reading

Colorado: Green Mountain Reservoir not likely to fill this year

Bureau of Reclamation starts filling the reservoir April 1, the earliest date possible

Recreation could be affected by low water levels at Green Mountain Reservoir this summer.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Green Mountain Reservoir is unlikely to fill this year, even though the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is already staking its claim to Blue River water with the earliest “start of fill” on record.

The reservoir at the north end of Summit County is a key piece of the regional water supply puzzle, helping buffer the Upper Blue when senior water rights holders downstream on the Colorado call for water, at Xcel’s Shoshone power plant in Glenwood Canyon and irrigation in the Grand Valley, for example.

Green Mountain Reservoir is currently about 43 feet below its maximum level and BuRec has shut the valve on outflows below Green Mountain Dam. Currently, only about 75 cubic feet per second are flowing past the dam and into the Blue River. Those low flows will likely persist until senior water rights holders down stream call for water from the reservoir. Continue reading

Forest Service eyes changes to recreation fees

Regional review identifies sites where area-wide fees may not be consistent with the legislation that authorized them

The U.S. Forest Service is considering some changes to recreation fee program.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Day use charges at Green Mountain Reservoir and Cataract Lake may be eliminated, while camping fees could go up, as the U.S. Forest Service considers changes to a sometimes controversial recreation fee program that requires visitors to pay for access to sites with developed amenities.

The proposed changes resulted from a region-by-region review of the fee program, with the Green Mountain/Cataract Lake sites identified as a place where the area-wide fees should be dropped, while continuing to charge site-specific fees for campgrounds with developed amenities. A stakeholder group that included fee program critics, local businesses and users of the area came to a similar conclusion years before the agency review.

Any changes are at least a year away, pending review by a recreation advisory committee. According to White River National Forest recreation staff officer Rich Doak, the review is required under the legislation that authorizes fees — a “gut check” to determine whether the existing fee structure at various sites is the best way to manage the areas for the benefit of the public. Continue reading


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