No, the drought is not over |

No, the drought is not over

Ken Neubecker

The Denver Water Board is considering easing up on the water restrictions that they put in place as a response to the drought. The reservoirs, after last week’s rains, are up to 83 percent full and are expected to be at 84 percent by July 1. Looking at Dillon and Williams Fork you just might begin to think that the drought has at least been suspended. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The drought is still very much with us and will be for the foreseeable future.Look at the flows in our rivers. The Eagle below Gypsum this morning is running at 778 cfs, or 38 percent of the mean flow for this time. Gore Creek is running at 40 percent and the Roaring Fork in Glenwood Springs is at 36 percent. And these are rivers without significant trans-basin diversions or reservoir filling going on right now. All these streams are running with flows less than half of normal. There is no more snow to melt and summer has only just started.Still the reservoirs and the rivers look full, or nearly so. The fish are jumping and the cotton is high, so hush little baby and don’t you cry … not until you take a closer look. The rivers that fill the reservoirs, irrigate large ranches and ease the thirst of the Front Range are in far worse shape.The Fraser River below Denver’s Moffat Collection system is running at only 6 percent of normal with a flow of 6.7 cfs. The flow improves further downstream at Tabernash where it doubles, to 12 percent. The same goes for the Fraser’s main tributaries: St. Louis Creek, Vasquez Creek and Ranch Creek. All are running far below normal. All have major diversions siphoning their water east, across the Divide.St. Louis Creek drains the Fraser Experimental Forest, established in 1937 as a laboratory to see what effects timber harvest had on stream flows and water supply. It is the experimental heart of the “Logging for Water” idea. This thinking looks at the trees as water thieves. The trees are taking “our” water! Patches of clear-cut forest still pattern the hills, easily seen from Highway 40 between Granby and Winter Park. St. Louis Creek below the diversion is flowing at 9 percent of the mean, 2 cfs below the historic minimum. The stream isn’t getting much of “our” water either.The Colorado River, the “Mighty Colorado” as visitors are told at Windy Gap Reservoir, is flowing 305 cfs at the gauge below Kremmling. That’s 1 cfs above the record minimum and only 9 percent of the mean. This is below the Blue and the Williams Fork rivers, two major tributaries, and two rivers with substantial reservoirs that are filling. The Blue below Lake Dillon has only had a constant 50 cfs for months. It is also below the significant diversions of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s huge Colorado-Big Thompson project and the many ranches that hold senior rights. Even in its diminished state the “Mighty Eagle” has more water, a lot more water, than the “Mighty Colorado”.Yes, the drought is still very much with us. It is reprehensible and irresponsible for any Front Range entity that diverts water from the West Slope to think about easing water restrictions. Denver should not consider loosening its belt while the folks in Grand County are voluntarily tightening their belts even more. We all still need to tighten up.The Colorado Foundation for Water Education, a worthy organization, just concluded a tour of the Upper Colorado River Basin. This tour covered the basin from the Colorado Big Thompson Project to Dillon and on into Glenwood Springs and the Grand Valley. Participants, mostly from the Front Range, got a close look at where their water comes from. The topics of discussion for the three-day tour were Urban Water Supplies, Recreational Water Use and Agricultural Water Use. Reservoirs, diversions, rafting and snowmaking were all on the agenda. They look at the river as plumbing, not as a River.Even with the low flows that we are seeing now it is hard to imagine anything wrong. The river looks good. Perhaps it might be more educational to tour the river again in late August when it is too shallow to raft, the temperatures are high and the fish are dying. The green lawns of the Front Range, and those in our own little valley, all come with a price. How much longer will we be willing to pay that price, the slow death of our rivers, just to maintain an “image”? Where is the “benefit,” the “economy,” in that?More storage might not be much of an answer when the streams have nothing left to give. A big new reservoir above Wolcott might be great for the lower Eagle. But again, at what price? Will even more water then be diverted from the Fraser, the Blue and upper Colorado? Robbing Peter to pay Paul is never a very smart way to operate, especially with water in an arid landscape. Not if you want any rivers or landscape left. VT

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