Will Vail Valley see a water shortage? | VailDaily.com

Will Vail Valley see a water shortage?

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” It’s too early to tell if Vail’s in for a water crunch this summer, local water officials say.

But, it’s hard to ignore what we feel and see. Some warning signs are there.

The weather is warmer and some snow is melting earlier than usual. Gore Creek is running high with water. March, traditionally a great month for snowfall, hasn’t delivered much white stuff. And April, usually another good month for snow, doesn’t look promising, forecasters say.

The snowpack at Vail Mountain is way below average, according to weekly reports from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. Overall, Colorado’s snowpack is melting earlier and quicker than usual and is currently at 77 percent of its 30-year average.

So, what could this mean for Vail Valley’s water supply come summer?

“If it were the end of April right now, and these were the conditions, it would be difficult to recover, but we’re not there yet” said Diane Johnson, spokeswoman for the water and sanitation district. “Every day that we aren’t getting snow is more we have to catch up with, so I hope we get some of our normal weather back and a lot of precipitation.”

There is another month of snow season left, and weather can surprise you, Johnson said.

“Mother Nature has helped us out before,” Johnson said. “A couple good rainfalls or snowfalls can raise the levels.”

Melted snow from the mountains makes up more than 80 percent of Colorado’s water supply, so the snowpack really is a big deal, said Kevin Lusk, a water engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities.

March was a much drier month than forecasted, but Lusk said that most mountains in our area had ample amounts of snow going into the dry spell, and that not much snow was lost overall. Other checkpoints, like at Fremont Pass and Copper Mountain, had a much better snowpack than Vail Mountain, and that helps.

He predicts that the snowpack in the Vail area will end up being below average this year, but that in itself isn’t much to be worried about. Because the snowpack will likely be just a little below average, we’ll have almost the usual amount of water, he said.

What could make more of a difference is how fast that snow melts, Lusk said.

When melted snow flows into streams slow and steady in the spring season, it provides a long-lasting and continuous water source that can last through dry months.

If temperatures really heat up, and the snow melts quickly and all at once, the water overwhelms rivers, and it passes through before we get good use out of it. Lusk said there is a chance that a fast runoff could happen this year.

“Ideally, you want water to come pretty steadily all year,” Lusk said. “But if the runoff is fast and early, then the flow is lower later in the season, and then you’ve missed your opportunity for the water.”

If that happens, water from reservoirs is used to keep people happy. Lusk said the reservoirs in our area are in pretty good shape. Homestake Reservoir, which is at the top of the Eagle River Watershed in southern Eagle County, is about full.

“There may be less water than normal coming in, but it won’t be as big of a deal as years past when our storage was low,” Lusk said. “You can handle tough weather years when you have your reservoirs built up.”

If our water supply does take a hit, it’s not the end of the world. Most likely, you would see some limitations on your water use.

During the summer, restrictions would be placed on lawn watering to make sure people had enough water in their homes, Johnson said.

Regardless if there is a water crunch, people need to be more conscious of their faucets and showers.

“You always need to monitor how much water you’re using, even if it’s not a drought season,” Johnson said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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