Had it not been for a cool and wet April this spring, the Gunnison River Basin was headed for a devastating second consecutive year of historic dryness on par with the 2011-12 water year, and comparable with the severe drought years of 2002 and 1977.
About 50 people attending the annual State of the River presentation on Monday, June 3, in Montrose heard Bob Hurford, water engineer for the Gunnison Basin, and other officials deliver a sobering assessment of the basinwide water situation.
Hurford termed the current water year "a poor one."
Still, he noted there are good water years and there are poor ones. "We take it a year at a time and see what the next year brings," he said.
The snowpack, runoff and water supply situation for the 2012-13 water year that began on Oct. 1 could be summed up in these words — think dry and pray for rain.
The mild April weather didn't do much to improve snowpack levels in the basin. But what it did do was give the high country snow more time to melt into runoff thus extending the water supply into additional weeks for reservoir filling.
Even with April's weather reprieve, drought conditions in the basin will persist; there will be below average runoff throughout the Gunnison River Basin, and again next year there will be poor carryover storage in reservoirs left from this year's runoff.
In Delta County, Hurford said that in spite of the poor outlook, Surface Creek drainage water managers are working with resources they have. Worries over low snowpack readings early in the year were eased when a faulty snow gauge at Park Reservoir was repaired, indicating three to five more inches of water content than had been reported.
Still, low reservoir carryover from last year has water providers and users realizing that every drop has to count.
In the North Fork Valley where Paonia Reservoir "fills every year," it will fill again this year, Hurford said. However, last year's early runoff deprived the Fire Mountain Canal of natural flow at the end of June, almost the earliest point on record. The same scenario was headed for a repeat this year except for intervention of April's cool and wet spell.
The chances of Crawford Reservoir filling this year "don't look very good," others at the Montrose session reported.
Silver Jack Reservoir will fill. Filling of Ridgway Reservoir is questionable. But there will be no filling of either Taylor Park Reservoir or Blue Mesa Reservoir this year, reported Bob Pokrandt, an employee of the Colorado River District headquartered in Glenwood Springs, who also spoke at the event.
Hydrologist Erik Knight with the Bureau of Reclamation said that Blue Mesa will fill about halfway and that runoff inflow there this year is the fifth lowest on record. Blue Mesa began filling in the mid 1960s.
Basinwide, this year's snowpack measured 76 percent of average thanks again to a wet April. That compares with the prior year's snowpack of 68 percent of average, Knight reported.
Streamflow forecasts as of May 1 predict streamflows throughout the basin ranging from 40 to 60 percent of average. Effects of an apprent trend of drier years are clearly visible at Lake Powell where only 42 percent of the average inflow will be available to recharge storage. The lake level will drop a significant 37 feet from its 2012 level. "Powell will be down to reservoir levels that haven't been seen since 2001, or since it was first filling," Knight told his audience.
Other speakers at the State of the River conference included the following:
• Nolan Doeksen, state climatologist from CSU, who explained weather patterns in general and noted an apparent multi-year trend toward drier climate;
• Ken Spann of Gunnison County who reported on a study of proposals to transfer water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the Front Range; and
• Cary Denison of Ouray County who reported on successful "non-consumptive" water projects supported by the Gunnison Basin Water Roundtable that have benefitted wildlife habitat, improved river recreation, and increased water use efficiency.
Two of those successful projects have been completed on the Gunnison River in Delta County over the past two years: the Hartland Dam reconstruction and the Relief Dam reconstruction.blog comments powered by Disqus