Denver Water still cautious following recent snowfall
Ryan Summerlin April 16, 2013
Recent snowstorms may have winter recreation enthusiasts jumping for joy, but the snowfall doesn’t necessarily equate to a cheery projection for Dillon Reservoir.
Meteorologists say areas of Summit County received between 12 and 20 inches of snow over the last several days after two of the most powerful storms of the winter pushed in on the tail end of the ski season.
The snow closed roads and catapulted the avalanche danger to “high” this week, but skiers and snowboarders are celebrating unexpected extensions to the season at local ski resorts.
Forecasters say it might not be over yet. Up to an additional 10 inches of snow could fall today in Summit. Weather watchers say areas around the Gore Range to Rabbit Ears Pass could see 8-16 more inches before the weather clears out later this week.
Representatives at Denver Water said the precipitation probably won’t make a big difference in summer water levels at the Dillon Reservoir.
Ideally, the reservoir levels would be full by early summer, but right now, it is too early to know exactly how full (or low) it will be.
“Because we rely on mountain snowpack and runoff to fill Dillon Reservoir, the recent snowfall will certainly help,” said Travis Thompson, a media coordinator at Denver Water.
But, he said, it’s too early to know how much of the snowpack will become water in our reservoirs.
Some will soak into the ground, depending on how dry it is and what plants need. Some will evaporate and some may be passed downstream to senior water rights, Thompson reported.
Temperatures and precipitation in May and June also will be factors in how full the reservoir will be this summer.
Denver Water takes twice-daily measurements at the reservoir. The reservoir is currently 63 percent full. The historic median is 90 percent full, and last year at this time it was 95 percent full.
This is also the second year in a row the area has received below-average snowpack and above-average temperatures.
“We never know what future weather is going to be like, so we need to manage our water supply carefully,” Thompson said.
Because of the drought conditions, Denver Water declared a Stage 1 drought in spring 2012. This month, it elevated that declaration to Stage 2 mandatory drought restrictions, which mean customers may water no more than two days a week, and must follow a set schedule.
“Even if the next couple of weeks bring us to our average snowpack levels, we still expect to have the mandatory restrictions to save as much water as possible in our reservoirs this summer,” Thompson warned.
Frisco Marina manager Phil Hofer said he’s hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst when it comes to marina operations.
The marina operates on the shallow end of the reservoir, so it’s easily impacted by changing water levels.
“We have about 8-feet of water to work with when the reservoir is full. When we get down 4-feet that’s when things start happening,” he said. “It gets difficult to launch boats off the ramp, and the docks don’t reside where they normally would reside.”
Based on current projections, marina employees don’t plan on offering slips for boaters to park their boats.
“That is a big impact to us,” he said. “We want to provide as much service to as many people as possible, so it’s difficult to say we are not going to do it – not only based on reputation – but also financially it is going to affect us.”
The marina manager said instead of using slips, which are connected to land, boaters will use moorings in the lake. The marina will provide transportation to and from the vessels during open hours.
“We are going to put boats where they are safe and secure and they will stay floating,” he said. “It’s not as convenient, but it’s peaceful and a lot quieter.”
If projections change and the reservoir fills, the marina will bring the slips back.
Caddie Nath contributed to this story.