Grand County reservoirs should fill despite subpar early snowpack |

Grand County reservoirs should fill despite subpar early snowpack

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand County, CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News | Sky-Hi News

Colorado River Basin snowpack levels are at 77 percent of average, in line with statewide averages this year, according to information shared at the annual State of the River Meeting.

“It’s been a poor year until recently,” said Senior Water Resources Engineer Don Meyer of the Colorado River District to a roomful of water stakeholders Tuesday at the Mountain Parks Electric meeting room in Granby.

Recent storms, he said, have brought the upper Colorado River Basin closer to spring 2009 levels – with 2009 deemed a comeback year for reservoir levels.

“We’ve come a long way in the last month,” Meyer said.

Forecasted elevation of Lake Granby is expected to be at 8,268 feet, according to Andrew Gilmore, hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that operates the Colorado-Big Thompson project.

That level equates to about 12 feet from full.

But Don Carlson of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the agency that delivers water to Northeastern municipalities, water districts, industries and farms, had a slightly less conservative prediction for Granby Reservoir.

Because of moisture on the East Slope, Northern may be able to use some of its low priority rights for water, he said, which will take some pressure off of West Slope supplies this year. Granby Reservoir may be closer to 4 to 5 feet below full, he said.

“And if this doesn’t stop in the next few weeks,” Carlson said, referring to spring storms as one was developing that very night, “it could put Granby on the verge of spilling.”

Northern plans to monitor weather closely in upcoming weeks, he said.

Snowpack has “been behind all year, although did make a nice recovery recently,” said Bob Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply. “The good news is, we think we’re going to fill all of our reservoirs anyway, despite the low snowpack.”

Because there is more water this year in the South Platte Basin on the Front Range, he said, it may mean less water taken from the Western Slope.

County challenge

Yet it was these testaments that reservoirs would be close to full that set off Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran in response to the Reclamation’s claims that there would be a reduction in releases this year from Granby Reservoir.

Releases are decreed in a 1961 federal document by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which governs the preservation of river water from the C-BT project to down a critical stretch of the Colorado River -referred to as the “1961 Principles.”

The principles were put forth, as the document states, “to insure an adequate supply for irrigation, for sanitary purposes, for the preservation of scenic attractions, and for the preservation of fish life.”

As it stands, releases this year are planned to be “20 percent below what would normally be released in an average year,” according to Gilmore of the Reclamation.

The reduction in releases, he said was due to a “depressed water supply” based on assessments that snowpack would be below average.

Although the Principles dictate 20 cubic fee per second (cfs) released from September to April, this year those releases would drop to 16 cfs, Gilmore said, and 75 cfs from April to July is being decreased to 60 cfs. In August of this year, the 40 cfs outlined in the Principles would be dropped to 32 cfs.

“We’re going to be pushing you pretty hard,” Underbrink Curran told Gilmore at the meeting.

“We have a Stake in the C-BT project, and if all the East Slope reservoirs are going to be full, we have a real hard time believing the West Slope should take the hit. So we are going to be pushing you hard on why you’re making that forecast and what your information is based on.

“We’re not real satisfied right now with the rationale, just so you know.”

The C-BT system, Underbrink Curran said, should provide benefits to both the East Slope and West Slope.

The State of the River

The Colorado River District, which operates Wolford Mountain Reservoir is extending its offering of bounty for anglers who catch northern pike, a predator to native species. Anglers will be awarded $20 for each Pike caught.

• Northern and the Bureau of Reclamation are planning to replace the dam structure between Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake this year. The dam/bridge at the eastern end of the canal is old, doesn’t perform well and poses safety concerns to boaters, said Northern’s Don Carlson. To avoid Grand Lake’s heavy summer traffic season during which many boaters use the canal, work on the dam project is planned for 30 days during the month of October.

• Pumping started at Windy Gap near Granby on April 29 to send 15,000 acre feet for storage to partners in northeastern Colorado, with another 40,000 acre feet from Lake Granby for their use.

• During the 25-year anniversary of the Windy Gap Reservoir, water will be taken down in mid-July through the end of September to address sediment build-up. Although sediment has been building up through the years, the reservoir was further impacted by a pond breach last year at the Orvis Shorefox property, which added silt to the reservoir.

• Denver Water customers are conserving more water due to a tiered rate structure that increases with increased water use per gallon. Graphs show that since Denver Water implemented its new rate structure, water use has plateaued even though the utility’s customer base has increased.

• Denver Water is redoing the outlet works at Williams Fork Reservoir and constructing a new auxiliary power plant at a cost of $17 million. The new outlet works should increase the capacity from 275 cfs to 750 cfs when completed. In the meantime, this summer the dam will operate with temporary outlet works with limited release capabilities, at 125 cfs. “We’ll get through this year as best we can with the limited release capabilities,” said Denver Water’s Steger.

• At the Vasquez Canal, Denver Water is replacing 1,500 feet of covered canal with pipe.

• There were several temperature exceedances in the Fraser River last year, according to the Grand County Water Information Network. They were upstream from Windy Gap and at the conjunction of Ranch Creek, she said. As many as 32 temperature monitoring sites will be in place again this year. Through partnerships, algae toxin monitoring and gathering of water clarity data will also continue at reservoirs and lakes this summer.

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