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Colorado: South Platte River tour set for this week

From the Rockies to the Plains …

The South Platte River. Colorado.

The South Platte River. Colorado.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The Colorado may be our state’s namesake river, but the the South Platte is the workhorse, draining most of the Front Range, coursing through urban Denver and spreading out into great trickling braids to sustain prairie farms and ranches.

This week, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s last river tour of the year (July 10-12) will explore the South Platte, staring in Berthoud and at Cameron Pass and ranging as far as Nebraska and Wyoming.

From the earliest days, the river of the plains has figured prominently in Colorado history, as a pathway for the early French and Spanish explorers who were part of that era’s geopolitical maneuverings in the New World. The Native Americans of the region, of course had a long-standing association with the river and their own name for it — the Niinéniiniicíihéhe’. Continue reading

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Colorado: Dillon Reservoir close to filling

Peak runoff helps boost water storage across the state


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

Colorado snowpack lingering in the northern mountains

Southern part of state still gripped by drought


Colorado’s June 5 snowpack map is a patchwork quilt of contrasts.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Springtime in the Rockies was a tale of two states in Colorado. The snowpack rebounded in the northern mountains, which benefited from a series of wet spring storms, but the southern half of the state was dry and warm, with serious drought conditions persisting in the Rio Grande, as as the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins.

This year’s statewide snowpack peaked April 21, several weeks later than the average date, and cool weather helped further delay snowmelt across the higher elevations, resulting in a statewide June 1 snowpack  at 92 percent of median, according to Randy Randall, acting State Conservationist with the NRCS.

“This respectable percentage is due mainly to the generous amount of snow that remains across northern Colorado. In contrast, the snowpack in the southern portion of the state is nearly depleted even at the higher elevations,” Randall said. Continue reading

Colorado: Dillon Reservoir may come close to filling this year

Wet spring brightens water picture

Will Dillon Reservoir fill this summer? Bob Berwyn photo.

Will Dillon Reservoir refill this summer? Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With the Roberts Tunnel turned off and Summit County’s streams starting to surge with runoff, the water level in Dillon Reservoir has already come up about two feet since May 1, according to Denver Water’s Bob Peters, who recently issued the latest update for Denver Water’s storage and diversion system.

The Roberts Tunnel is used to shunt water from the Upper Blue Basin beneath the Continental Divide and into the South Platte Basin, where it can be stored in other reservoirs until its needed for municipal use in Denver Water’s service area.

With average precipitation the next few weeks, Denver Water anticipates that Dillon Reservoir will peak at an elevation of about 9,010 feet sometime in July. That’s about seven feet below a complete fill, equal to about 235,000 acre feet. If wet weather continues through May, the reservoir could fill completely in July, rising to 9,017 feet, equal to about 257,000 acre feet. Continue reading

Colorado drought expected to persist through spring


Drought persists across all of Colorado.

Reservoir storage reaching historic low levels

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Heading into April, Colorado water managers say snowfall the next few weeks would have to be more than twice or normal for the snowpack to reach the average peak snowpack, which typically happens April 8.

A big swath of the high country, including Summit and Eagle counties, is still classified as being in extreme drought.

After spending the last few months hoping for more snow, water providers now say they are preparing for continued drought conditions in spring and summer. Some towns have already announced strict outdoor watering restrictions staring early in spring. More information on watering restrictions is online at  www.COH2O.co. Continue reading

Colorado: Roberts Tunnel turns 50 this year

23.3-mile aqueduct the key to Front Range development

On February 24, 1960, Roberts Tunnel construction crews from east and west “hole through” and meet. View is from the grant heading toward the east portal. Photo courtesy Denver Water.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — As much as we here in the high country like to grumble about “our” water going to the Front Range, the diversions are one of those facts of life that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

And while Dillon Reservoir is the visible symbol of that reality, that water wouldn’t be going anywhere without the Harold D. Roberts Tunnel, a 23.3-mile aqueduct that carries the water under the Continental Divide, as deep as 4,500 feet below the spine of the continent.

In Park County, the water empties into the South Platte River, feeding the Front Range Reservoirs that have enabled Denver to grow into a thriving metropolis at the cusp of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. Water diverted from the Blue River Basin in Summit County provides nearly 40 percent of Denver Water’s supply. Continue reading

Colorado: Dillon Reservoir dropping fast

Water level still 20 feet higher than during 2002-2003 drought

Even at a low level, Dillon Reservoir still shines at sunrise.

Dillon Reservoir’s water level has dropped to its lowest level since 2007.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Dillon Reservoir has dropped to its lowest level in about seven years — since May, 2007, when the elevation of the lake surface was at 9,002.21 feet and rising.

The current elevation of the reservoir (9,002.53) feet, is 15 feet below full and about 10 feet below the average elevation for this date, which is about 9,012 feet

Most recently, the reservoir dropped to near the current level in spring of 2009, when it hit 9006.72 just before the start of the runoff season in mid-March.

The current level may seem low, but the water dropped more than 40 feet lower in 2003 during Colorado’s last significant drought, reaching its lowest point on March 18, 2003, at 8,960.86 feet.

The reservoir will continue to drop the next few months, said Bob Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply, explaining that the combined current outflow through the Roberts Tunnel and the Blue River far exceeds the inflow of the streams that feed the reservoir. Continue reading

Colorado: Denver Water declares Stage 1 drought

Low runoff expected in key watersheds

Dillon Reservoir storage is in good shape for now, but Denver Water sees risks from continued dry weather.

A Denver Water resolution declaring a Stage 1 drought. Twitpic courtesy Drew Beckwith, Western Resource Advocates.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Denver Board of Water Commissioners is declaring a Stage 1 drought in recognition of low streamflows and projected low runoff. Anticipating the possibility of continued dry water, customers will be asked to voluntarily cut back on water use by 10 percent.

“Our intents is to maintain our system reserves in as good a shape as possible in case we are entering the first in a series of dry years,” the board wrote in its April 25 resolution. More details on Denver Water’s operating rules on irrigation and other uses are online here.

The document acknowledges that a record-low spring snowpack will result in well-below normal runoff, and the long-term weather outlook isn’t offering much relief at this point. Continue reading

Climate: South Platte flows could drop by 40 percent

New Colorado study examines potential impacts to water supplies

New climate report highlights dire impacts to Colorado's river flows.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —A new study by the Water Research Foundation projects potential climate change impacts to Front Range water supplies for the next few decades, showing that the total amount of water in several key river basins could decline significantly if temperatures continue to rise.

The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization  highlighted the report in its March newsletter, saying the starkest conclusion of the study is how much river flows could diminish in a hot and dry future — a future that is looking more and more likely as emissions of heat-trapping gases increase. Continue reading

Colorado snowpack still lagging

The Feb. 6 snowpack readings show below-average totals for all of Colorado.

January storms prevent the percentages from dropping even farther behind average

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite above-average January snowfall in a few localized spots in Colorado, the state’s snowpack recovered only slightly from the early winter snow drought, reaching just 72 percent of normal (and 62 percent of last year’s reading) as of Feb. 1.

The low readings were most evident in the Yampa and White river basins, where the combined snowpack was only 60 percent of average. Forecasts for spring and summer water supplies in these basins reflect the below average snowpack. Reservoir storage across the state continues to remain in good condition which should help ease potential shortages this season. Continue reading


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