Outlook for Colorado summer water supply improves
summit daily news
Vail, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY – In mid-April, the snowpack picture was looking bleak in Summit County, and elsewhere across Colorado. But weeks of snowy, cool weather has officials feeling a little more optimistic about the water-supply situation as the state heads into summer.
Denver Water, which supplies water to about 1.3 million people in the Denver Metro area, has 10 major reservoirs, including Dillon Reservoir, in its water-storage system.
“They’re all going to fill, so that’s good news,” Denver Water’s Bob Steger said.
As of May 15, snowpack in the Upper Colorado River basin, which includes Summit County’s Blue River, was 89 percent of average; year-to-date precipitation in the basin totaled 92 percent of average on Saturday. The Colorado River Basin’s peak snowpack this year was 83 percent of the 1971-2000 average peak.
Snowpack in the South Platte basin was 106 percent of average on May 15, and year-to-date precipitation was 91 percent of average, which is good news for Summit County. Denver Water gets about half its water from the South Platte basin, and about a quarter from the Blue River basin. So when the South Platte is dry, the agency draws more water from the Blue, including Dillon Reservoir.
According to Steger, forecasted inflow for Dillon Reservoir through July isn’t too far below average, and “flat-water recreation should be great.”
As for the quality of kayaking, rafting and fishing on the Blue River below Dillon Dam, that will depend on the next few months’ weather on both sides of the Continental Divide. If wet weather persists, Steger predicts the Lower Blue will have five to six weeks of good rafting and 14 to 15 weeks of good fishing. If the weather turns dry for the next few months, the Blue River will only be conducive to rafting for one or two weeks. But fishing, which is better at lower flows, will be good for 18 to 19 weeks during late spring and summer.
About half of residential water use in the Denver area is used for watering lawns and landscaping, so a rainy spring and summer in the Front Range means Denver Water draws less from the Blue River and other West Slope water sources.
Denver Water is now conducting research to quantify how dust storms affect the timing of snowmelt and peak river flows and the implications the storms have on its operations. Several dust storms have come through Summit County this spring. Drought and human development are the major causes of dust storms, as disturbances to soil allow it to be picked up more easily by winds.
“We’re having warmer springs, more dust storms and dirtier snow. Dirty snow absorbs more energy from sunlight, and I think we probably are seeing earlier melts,” Steger said.
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.