Shades of 2002 drought seen in valley |

Shades of 2002 drought seen in valley

Cliff Thompson

EAGLE COUNTY – If you look at a chart comparing snow moisture during the monster drought for 2002 and this year, there are some eerie parallels.In fact, it’s difficult to distinguish between the two years. The drought three summers ago was the worst in better than 300 years and forced water-use restrictions.The drought started in late March 2002 when no snow fell and the snowpack was stuck at 65 percent of average. It got worse from there when virtually no rain fell until July, and warmer than normal temperatures caused the snowpack to melt early, leaving little water for later summer.This year the moisture-yielding snowpack for streams feeding the eastern end of Eagle County is at 80 percent of the 30-year average. That’s exactly where it was in 2002.

“It was not so much the snowpack in 2002 as it was the lack of spring rains,” said Dennis Gelvin, general manager of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation Distinct, which supplies water 22,000 people in the eastern half of the county. “Our reservoirs are in pretty good shape,” he added. A total of 3,550 acre-feet is stored in three reservoirs at the headwaters of the Eagle River and Gore Creek. Most of the water in those, however, has been reserved for winter water releases. During the summer of 2002 there were timely summer rains that helped ease the drought.Snowpack is measured on Vail Mountain, Fremont Pass east of Camp Hale and at Copper Mountain in Summit County. The peak snow depth in the High Country usually occurs at the end of April.

“We’ve got our eye on it – and pray for snow,” said Mike Bauer, water conservation specialist for the district. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”If another drought hits, the water district will ratchet down the amount of water you can use for your lawns.The strictest watering restrictions for the eastern half of the county will be enacted when the water gauge on the Eagle River at Minturn registers 18 cubic-feet per second for 72 consecutive hours, Bauer said. In a normal runoff year that gauge can register three or four times that amount thorough most of the summer.The strictest restriction prohibits lawn watering but allows hand watering of ornamental shrubs and trees.

The dearth of snow in the Eagle River basin is not typical of the rest of the state, which has had average or above average snowfall.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or, Colorado

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