How low will local rivers go?
Ryan Summerlin June 2, 2012
EDWARDS – It’s no secret that local streams will be running far below their historic averages this year. But how low can they go?
That was one of the topics at a May 30 “State of the River” meeting sponsored by the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the Eagle River Watershed Council and other organizations.
Speaking to a nearly-full house at the Berry Creek Middle School auditorium, Mage Hulstrand, of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, painted a dry picture for both the state and the Eagle River drainage.
Hulstrand said the state as a whole is actually in somewhat better shape than the Eagle River area.
Around the state, peak snow measurements came on March 12, a month earlier than the 30-year average. Statewide, the snowpack measurements on May 1 were the lowest on record, matched only in the drought year of 2002.
Hulstrand said the only bright spot in the state’s water picture is reservoir storage, with reservoirs at an average of 75 percent of capacity.
But the Eagle River drainage has very little reservoir storage, which means most local water supplies depend on streamflow. That requires melting snow for the most part, and there’s very little left on the hillsides. In fact, the snow measurement site on Vail Mountain was “melted out” by April 7. Like most areas, that’s week’s earlier than normal.
That’s going to add up to low streamflows from June through the end of August.
Hulstrand said the conservation service estimates that streamflows along the Eagle River and its main tributaries will be half or less of their historic averages. For instance, the Eagle River below Gypsum is expected to flow at just 43 percent of average through the summer.
Those low flows will be felt hundreds of miles downstream. Hulstrand said summer forecast for the Colorado River flowing into Lake Powell is just 32 percent of average between April and the end of June.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vail