Green Mountain Reservoir shortages could impact local towns
SUMMIT COUNTY – Those waiting for reservoir water levels to rise this summer might want to reconsider.
“It’s all down from here,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Though Green Mountain Reservoir is just a little over half full, it’s “probably at its highest for the season. And so is Dillon,” he said.
In fact, Green Mountain Reservoir water is in such short supply this year it will not be able to serve the needs of all its users.
During this time of drought, water rights are playing a large role.
“The first in time, the first in line,” Kuhn said, explaining how water rights are prioritized. “It all depends on when you started using.”
In the Green Mountain water user line, contract users come in last. And in Summit County, that includes the Copper Mountain metro district, Frisco, Silverthorne and other smaller users.
“This year there’s no water available for Green Mountain contract users,” Kuhn said.
“This is the first time it’s ever happened,” said John Sikora, assistant division engineer for the State of Colorado Division of Water Resources. “I think people have come to rely that Green Mountain will always fill, and it’s shocking.”
According to Kara Lamb, public information coordinator for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Colorado, there are two ways the reservoir can fill – on paper (though physical water levels might remain below normal because water is stored elsewhere) or physically. This year, it will do neither.
Lamb said the reservoir is approximately 70,000 acre feet below normal storage capacity.
“Three to four mountain homes will use an acre-foot in a year,” Kuhn said. “That’s a lot of water.”
Though water right priorities leave the Green Mountain contract users high and dry, so to speak, “we try to find available sources so we don’t have to cut people off completely,” Lamb said.
The River District is working with the Bureau of Reclamation to find alternative sources of water, and they are eyeing Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt as a possibility.
Water specialists met Tuesday with a group of Green Mountain contractees to find a solution to the water shortage, said Peter Roessmann, an education specialist for the River District.
“Ruedi’s in better shape than most of the reservoirs in western Colorado,” Lamb said, adding the reservoir currently is 30,000 to 35,000 acre feet below average.
According to Lamb, some Ruedi water users don’t use all of the water designated to them by right, and the River District is hoping to sublease some of the unused water to help with the Green Mountain contract users’ needs.
It’s not yet known whether the water at Ruedi can fulfill those needs completely, Lamb said, but it should supplement it.
In Silverthorne, public works director Bill Linfield said the town has historic user water rights (higher in priority), in addition to their contract user rights.
“Our contract water won’t be available, but we should be okay,” Linfield said. “Our best understanding is the reservoir will hopefully reach the historic users’ pool level – or come close enough – that we’ll be covered.”
However, the shortage has prompted Silverthorne town officials to begin water analyses to determine how the town might be affected if the drought continues into next year, Linfield said.
Bureau of Reclamation officials already announced they will not be able to provide water to contract users through June 2003.
“It’s a very significant sign of the severe drought we’re in,” said Scott Hummer, water commissioner for the Blue River basin. “I think people had it in the back of their minds, but they really didn’t think it would be as bad as it’s turning out to be.”
“I think everybody is in shock right now that it’s not coming out of Green Mountain,” said Lane Wyatt, co-director of Northwest Colorado Council of Government’s QQ committee. “People mostly plan on a three-year drought – this is worse than they’ve ever seen. They’re saying right now it’s the worst year on record.”
Up until now, the drought has mostly affected ranchers and agricultural users only, Sikora said. “This is impacting the average person and how they live their lives.”
“It will be a struggle to try and make some water available for everybody this year,” said Malcolm Wilson of the Bureau of Reclamation. “No one’s going to get a full supply. We’re trying to stretch water out this year to keep everybody satisfied.”
The Glenwood Post-Independent contributed to this article.
Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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