Runoff predictions not optimistic |

Runoff predictions not optimistic

Greg Masse

After a promising start to the snow season, the latest indicators show that Colorado could be headed for another poor spring runoff.

In a Jan. 1 water supply outlook released Tuesday, the National Weather Service predicts runoff for the main stem of the Upper Colorado River to range somewhere between 61 and 88 percent of normal.

Dry soil conditions from the record drought of 2002 are partly to blame, the weather service said, possibly turning what has so far been a near-average snow year into a skimpy runoff year. This is because the dry soils will absorb much of the moisture before it runs into area rivers.

The runoff season lasts from April 1 to July 31, four months when 90 percent of the state’s runoff volume will be seen.

Colorado River Water Conservation District engineer Dave Merritt said he and others at the district think the report is “a little bit optimistic.”

“They’re predicting about 86 percent (of average) into Wolford Reservoir,” Merritt said, referring to the district’s reservoir on Muddy Creek north of Kremmling.

Once the weather service released the prediction, Merritt called Wolford Dam operator Jack Osburn.

“He just doesn’t see that volume,” Merritt said.

If the dry weather continues, reservoirs such as Wolford – already drained to below-normal levels last summer – could get even lower.

“Everybody is, frankly, extremely nervous about this year,” Merritt said. “All the reservoirs are being pulled down.”

Rivers in the area are expected to have runoffs anywhere from 80 to 89 percent of normal.

And while weather prognostications, snowpack forecasts and runoff predictions vary widely at this early point in the winter, Merritt said none are particularly optimistic.

“The weather patterns setting up right now aren’t looking good,” he said.

According to the federal Climate Prediction Center, the chance of Colorado seeing a continued drought is high. A seasonal drought outlook forecast map shows western Colorado as having some improvement through March. But it also calls for scattered water shortages, and warns that the drought will be ongoing.

As of Dec. 31, most of Colorado was still in the “extreme drought” category according to the Climate Prediction Center.

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext 511

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