Lake Dillon to top out at 10 feet below normal |

Lake Dillon to top out at 10 feet below normal

Jane Reuter

Low snowpack, drought conditions expected to impact lake levels statewide

SUMMIT COUNTY – Snowpack is the lowest it’s been in 21 years, and that means Lake Dillon won’t look quite the same as it has in years past. Denver Water officials expect it will fill to about 10 feet below its normal levels.

That’s about 12 feet higher than its current level of 22 feet below normal. The additional water expected between now and summer comes from runoff.

But unless snowfall during the 2002-2003 season is significantly better than it was this past winter, the lake’s levels will drop even farther in 2003.

“It’s a pretty good bet that as our summer progresses, our reservoir storage will be depleted, making next winter’s snowfall just that much more critical,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

If current projections hold true, Dillon’s water will drop to 33 feet below normal this fall and winter, another 11 feet below its current level.

Denver Water’s other two major reservoirs – Williams Fork and Cheesman – aren’t likely to be filled either, said Mark Waage, Denver Water’s water resource coordinator.

“There will be a lot of low reservoirs around the state this year,” Waage said.

In Dillon, the lower-than-average levels will be most noticeable in the inlets, Waage said.

“Like Frisco Marina,” he said. “There will be a lot less water than normal there because it’s a shallow area of the reservoir.”

Dillon Marina, which is in a deeper portion of the lake, isn’t likely to be affected, said marina manager Bob Evans.

“It doesn’t really pose that big a problem for Dillon Marina,” he said. “Our slips start in 16 feet of water, and some of the outer slips in 50 to 60. If the water doesn’t come up by the time we open, we have larger ramps people can walk on to get down, or we can use a pontoon courtesy shuttle to take people out to their slips.

“We anticipate a very busy summer. The number of inquiries for rental boats is double what is normal for this time of year.”

Part of the problem water experts already see is that higher temperatures are triggering an earlier than normal runoff. Snowpack in the Colorado River Basin, which includes Summit County, stands at just 42 percent of normal.

“It’s an indication that our melt is progressing along quite a bit earlier than normal,” Gillespie said. “In some cases, we may have already peaked our flow for the year, and that’s a concern. It means our runoff is going to be over sooner than normal, so as we go into July and August, there will be essentially no water available for irrigation.”

County Commissioner Tom Long has lived in the county all his life. He’s also proficient in water issues, and this spring’s conditions unnerve him.

“This is looking like the drought year in 1977,” he said. “The lake is going to look different than it ever has, probably because there’s more demand. Denver Water, to their credit, has with the same amount of water served a much greater population in recent years than they ever had in the past through water conservation practices.”

The city agency is again encouraging its users to conserve water usage for the summer.

Long is among many who hopes for a change in the weather.

“If you get a good rainy wet spring and early summer, things could change,” he said.

Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at

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