Water supplies still tight despite early snow | VailDaily.com

Water supplies still tight despite early snow

Cliff Thompson

That’s good news because last summer’s drought dropped flows to unprecedented levels, causing concern that bitter cold would cause dwindling rivers to freeze and shut off water to domestic water plants in Avon and Edwards.

Heavy fall rains and snows, however, have recharged the river, prompting water releases from Eagle Park Reservoir east of Camp Hale only two days this month.

“I’m surprised we’ve had such a nice precipitation pattern since August,” said Dennis Gelvin, general manager for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. “Right now, we’re still concerned about what’s going to happen in January and February, when it’s cold and stays cold. There could be some really low flows this winter.”

Cold weather stops the snowmelt, which typicall begins anew in March.

The district is being conservative with a worst-case scenario, planning on regular reservoir releases in January, Gelvin said.

The state-mandated trigger for water release from the reservoir is river flows at Avon of 35 cubic feet per second, or cfs, or less. Friday it was flowing at 40 cfs, slightly more than 50 percent of normal. That minimum flow is designed to protect the rivers from being completely dried up.

The reservoir holds 2,013 acre-feet, but last spring and summer only 1,600 acre-feet was collected.

An acre-foot is enough water for a family of four for a year and can cover a football field roughly a foot deep. Designed for releases for snowmaking and domestic water use from November to March, the reservoir is owned by the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the Colorado Water Conservation District and Vail Resorts.

The operators of the reservoir released 3 cfs, 6 acre-feet, or slightly more than 1.9 million gallons a day to bolster the flows of the river.

The state has a minimum streamflow standard below which other water users are precluded from diverting it for use. By supplementing the river’s flow, the local water district can divert water for domestic use and Vail Resorts can continue to use river water for snowmaking.

Water authorities also are allowed to divert out of priority, provided they replace the water they used with water stored elsewhere.

Gelvin said the district has a 530-acre-foot water debit for out-of-priority diversions so far this year. He said he expects it could reach 800 acre-feet before regular releases of stored water begin reducing that debt.

Last year, water was released for snowmaking and other uses in November.

But even with the good early season snow and rain, the spectre of drought next summer continues to drive conservative water management, Gelvin said.

“It’s not what the snowpack is in December, it’s what it is May 1 that’s important.”

If the flow of the Eagle River is reduced by icing later in the winter, water from Vail’s wells could be used downvalley, Gelvin said.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com

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