Below-average runoff still in forecast |

Below-average runoff still in forecast

Greg Masse
Post Independent Staff

Continued snowfall in Colorado has bolstered high country snowpack, but it would take 115 percent of the state’s average snowpack to yield normal river flows this spring, one expert said.

“We’re still looking at below-average runoff, even though there’s snowpack improvement,” aid Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Gillespie, who monitors snowpack levels for the NRCS, released parts of the March 1 spring runoff forecast on Wednesday. While streamflows are predicted to be bigger than 2002, the news is less than stellar – especially for basins in the southern half of the state.

“The ground’s dry; there’s a soil moisture deficit,” Gillespie said.

The runoff forecast for the Rio Grande River is 59 percent of normal.

“The bulls-eye for snowpack seems to be the Upper Colorado,” Gillespie said.

The predictions made on March 1 – coming before the Tuesday night storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on the mountains around Aspen – the NRCS predicted the Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs will run at 78 percent of average.

“There was a sizable increase overnight,” Gillespie said of the storm. “It was one of those storms we benefit from and nobody in Denver even knew it happened.”

The Eagle River at Gypsum is forecast to run at 82 percent of average, as is the Upper Fryingpan River into Ruedi Reservoir.

The runoff season lasts from April 1 to July 31.

The March 1 runoff forecast is important for planning by some water users and reservoir operators, but most eyes are looking to the April 1 runoff report. April 1 normally has the highest mountain snowpack levels of the year in Colorado.

River runoff forecasts are used by water managers, irrigation districts and other organizations to get an idea of how much water will be available to them in the coming year, Gillespie said.

Gillespie received one call on Tuesday from a whitewater rafting company owner in the southern part of the state.

“Unfortunately I didn’t have any good news for him,” he said.

Peter Roessmann, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, said although precipitation levels are up, there is still a long way to go before reservoirs can fill back up.

“We’re still waiting for the more important April 1 forecast to get a better idea of where we stand in terms of our water production on the Western Slope,” he said.

The district is cautiously optimistic that reservoir levels will get back to where they were at the beginning of summer 2002.

“We realize most reservoirs won’t be filling this year, but we’re increasingly optimistic that Green Mountain Reservoir will achieve what’s called a legal fill or a paper fill,” Roessmann said. “That would be a substantial benefit to the Western Slope.”

Some Front Range reservoirs won’t declare an end to the drought for two to five years, even if precipitation levels are average to above-average during that time.

“It took us a number of years to get into this drought, a number of years of sub-par weather,” Roessmann said, “and it’s most likely going to take a number of average to wet years to get out of it.”

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

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