Early signs show adequate water supply
Vail CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – You might expect local water authorities to be giddy over recent snow accumulations, but there’s still a lot of winter left before they can rest easy.
Truth is, water officials never seem to rest easy. Even when snowpacks and moisture levels within that snow are high, there are still so many variables that can affect the local water supply in the summer and fall months.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s latest report shows that Colorado is on track for a “very good water year in 2011,” but local officials are still keeping a close eye on snow accumulations and water levels in snow.
Diane Johnson, spokeswoman for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said as long as we don’t enter a dry spell or warm temperatures in the spring that cause a rapid runoff, things are looking pretty good.
While cities and towns that rely on reservoirs for their water supplies can take comfort in the above-average precipitation that has fallen across the state this winter, locales like Eagle County still have to pay attention to what happens during the remaining winter months.
“We are dependent upon adequate flows in the Eagle River,” Johnson said. “In order for us to produce tap water, we need water in our rivers.”
There are some small reservoirs in the county, but none function as a direct water supply to local drinking water plants. The water in local reservoirs is used to augment what is depleted from the rivers because water plants have to replace 100 percent of what they take out of the rivers.
“We don’t have these huge reservoirs – we don’t have the space for them,” Johnson said.
The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District takes water out of the Eagle River, for example, treats it so it can be used by the community for everything from showering to drinking to flushing toilets. What returns to the plant is about 95 percent of what it originally treated and sent out, so the reservoirs are then needed to provide that remaining 5 percent back into the river.
So if all the snowpack melts too quickly in the spring and the rivers really drop, it could put Eagle County at risk later in the summer, Johnson said.
Right now things are looking great, but Johnson said the reality of how our local water supply works means it’s just too early to say whether the water supply will be sufficient in 2011.
Above historical average
The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports the best outlook for summer water supplies in Colorado since 1997. The Jan. 1 report shows near to above average runoff forecasted statewide.
“With a few more months of adequate snowfall across the High Country, good runoff conditions should prevail across the state in 2011,” the report states.
Sarah Fleury, a water conservation officer with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said this winter is the ninth best winter in terms of the amount of water in the snowpack since the district began keeping records in 1979.
This is different than Vail Mountain’s recent report that it’s the fourth best snow year at the resort since it began keeping records during the 1963-64 ski season.
“Vail looks at snow depth, but we’re not looking at snow depth,” Fleury said. “We look at the snow-water equivalent, which is how much water is in that snow that falls.”
The snow-water equivalent is at 119 percent of the historical average year-to-date – last year at this time the snow-water equivalent was 73 percent of historical average.
And while skiers and snowboarders are already talking about this season as one of the best seasons, water officials aren’t quite there yet.
“You can’t say it was a good season until the end of the season,” Fleury said.
There has to be at least a little snow every single week to stay on track with the historical average, Fleury said.
“The key is to keep getting snow as long as we can, and hope that it doesn’t melt too fast,” she said. “That’s what we hope for in general.”
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.