An April 9 blog post by Denver Water was headlined, "It's raining, it's snowing, the drought is still going." The post notes that it would take about 6 feet of new snow over the next couple of weeks in the mountain watersheds Denver relies on to have a normal snowpack - and even if the snowpack were normal, they would still be in drought because of low reservoir levels left over from last year.
So ... what did this past storm bring us? Practically nothing in the Grand Valley. 14.5 inches in Boulder. Over a foot in some mountain locations, but way less than six feet. Statewide, the storm bumped the total snowpack from 69% of the average for this time of year to 71%. So it's safe to say that Denver's drought is still on.
Why do we on the Western Slope care about Denver's water supply situation? We share a reliance on the Colorado River and its tributaries - their water supply situation mirrors our own. Also, the implementation of an agreement over how to share Colorado River water has already affected management of the river.
In March, dismal snowpack data and low reservoir storage levels triggered an agreement between Western Slope interests, Denver Water and Xcel Energy to "relax" the senior water rights call on the river exercised by the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon. This will reduce water demanded by the power plant in order to allow junior rights upstream to fill Denver Water's Dillon and Williams Fork Reservoirs, the Colorado River District's Wolford Mountain Reservoir and the Bureau of Reclamation's Green Mountain Reservoir.
Wolford Mountain Reservoir water is managed to help endangered fish recover efforts in the Colorado River, as well as to serve the needs of human water users on both sides of the Continental Divide. Green Mountain Reservoir was built in the late 1930s and early 1940s to compensate Western Slope water users for diversions to the East Slope through the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. It helps ensure that water will be available to Grand Valley irrigators late in the season, long after the snowpack has melted.
The relaxation period for the Shoshone Call starts March 14 and ends on May 20, in deference to downstream irrigation needs and the beginning of the rafting season.
In response to the poor water supply situation, Denver Water and several other Front Range water providers have limited outdoor watering to two days/ week. In the Grand Valley, water providers are closely monitoring the situation, but have not yet moved from "State I" drought response - voluntary conservation - to "Stage II," which would involve mandatory restrictions and rate hikes.
This could still happen - almost all of Colorado remains squarely within the area where the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center expects drought conditions to either persist or intensify. If you are interested in keeping up to date with drought conditions and response measures across the state, you can check out a new website established by the Colorado Water Conservation Board: www.coh2o.co.
This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter.
Hannah Holm is coordinator of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.