River peaking, but it’s still low | VailDaily.com

River peaking, but it’s still low

Cliff Thompson
NWS Eagle River BH 5-25 Vail Daily/Bret Hartman The Eagle River, which is reaching high water as the last of the region's snow melts, flows past the Eagle Springs Golf and Country Club in Wolcott.

Successive days of heat have swelled the Eagle River to what may be its highest flows of the year.With temperatures in the mid-80s across the county and lows well above freezing at night, the remaining snowpack in the high country will last just a few more days. When it’s gone, the rivers and streams will begin to drop, heralding the start of what’s expected to be a long, dry summer.The flow of the Eagle River at Avon Tuesday hit 1,680 cubic feet per-second at Avon. That’s a far cry from what it does during big snow years when flows can double or triple that. Gore Creek at the confluence with the Eagle was running 476 cubic feet per-second Tuesday.It was a dry winter across most of Colorado. In the Colorado River Basin – of which the Eagle is a tributary – the snow was 70 or less percent of average. That snow provides 80 percent of the water used in the state.

Local water suppliers have implemented early lawn watering restrictions with more planned if the drought conditions continue. Current restrictions allow three-day-a-week lawn watering with no watering Mondays. Complete lawn watering restrictions will be triggered when the river at the flow gauge south of Minturn shows the river is running at 27 cubic feet per-second; and 40 cubic feet-per at the Avon water plant for 72 hours. During the unprecedented drought of 2002, timely late summer rains kept total lawn watering restrictions from being enacted.The three reservoirs serving Eagle County – Black Lakes on Vail Pass, Eagle Park east of Camp Hale and Homestake Reservoir southeast of Rd Cliff – all are expected to fill with this year’s runoff. Most of that water is used in the winter for snowmaking.Tuesday was the two-year anniversary of the Coal Seam Fire in Glenwood Springs, one of the region’s most disastrous fires in recent years. The fire started when dry brush and grass were ignited by an underground coal seam fire that made its way to the surface. It destroyed 29 homes in the Glenwood area and burned more than 12,200 acres of land. Despite a relatively wet spring in this year as compared to 2002, the National Weather Service listed fire danger in the White River National Forest on Monday as “very high,” its most dire classification.

“Over the last week, we’ve seen very warm temperatures and very dry conditions,” Weather Service meteorologist Dave Nadler said. “It doesn’t take long for that to happen.”Nadler said a wet spring can actually increase an area’s potential for wildfires. “During a wetter spring, there’s a better green-up, but with more grasses, it allows more fuel to dry up. So it’s kind of like a negative situation from a positive,” he said.Nadler said there have been no red flag warnings – a warning that indicates dangerously high fire danger – in the Glenwood area yet this year, but that could change in the coming days and weeks. “It’s mostly in southwest Colorado at this time, but it’s starting to spread north,” Nadler said of the red flag warnings.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, the entire state of Colorado is predicted to have above-normal fire potential through August. Nadler concurred, saying it doesn’t take long for the green grasses to “cure.””A week of 90-plus temperatures and relative humidities below 15 percent will dry it out,” he said. Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: cthompson@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.

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