Spring runoff, what runoff?
May 8, 2012
Snowpack measurements for the Upper Colorado basin are the lowest in 45 years, according to the latest Natural Resources Conservation Service readings.
At 21 percent of average, the Upper Colorado is at 6 percentage points lower than the previous record set in 2002.
The “melt-out at many sites in Colorado this year has been four to six weeks earlier than normal,” states a May 1 Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report produced by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“It is likely that, barring well above-average spring and summer precipitation, peak flows have already occurred in many basins,” the report reads.
In general, only sites above 10,000 feet in elevation, such as Rabbit Ears and Berthoud Pass areas, had measurable snow remaining during the May 1 surveys.
Specific to Middle Park, at all courses the Service measures during May 1 snowpack readings, “we had no snow” at any of them, according to Mark Volt of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Kremmling.
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One slight upside to the dismal news of low runoff is that all major basins in Colorado have above-average water storage for this time of year.
In fact, Wolford Mountain Reservoir has already filled.
But Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, cautions Front Range and West Slope utilities not to be “lulled into inaction by relatively good reservoir storage,” according to a Colorado River District April newsletter reporting on the district’s quarterly board of directors meeting.
“One of the lessons of 2002 was that municipal users of West Slope water were slow to recognize the drought that year and institute watering restrictions,” the newsletter states, paraphrasing Kuhn.
“The result was that reservoirs were hit hard that summer before restrictions were implemented, putting the utilities in a poor storage position for the ensuing year.”
The majority of the state’s streams and rivers are poised to produce just 20 to 40 percent of average volumes during the high water-demand season.
“With much of the meager snowpack already melted, we can only hope for abnormally wet conditions for the remainder of this spring and summer to alleviate shortages,” states the Service report.