Local streamflows have likely peaked
SUMMIT COUNTY – Water Commissioner Scott Hummer has spent the past several nights watching the water in local streams rage.
“It’s like dejà vu all over again,” he said, referring to the floods in 1995. “I was surprised at the flows. Most of them are well above the means, some are pushing their (historic) maximums, and some areas are above.”
Recent hot weather combined with torrential rain Sunday to melt snow on the high peaks and fill rivers to their brim – and then some.
Sunday, the beaver ponds along Tenmile Creek in Officer’s Gulch expanded to within a foot of the interstate. French Creek east of Breckenridge is flowing at a record rate. Water is beginning to lap up against the decks of homes along the Tenmile in Frisco, and the bike path is flooded in numerous locations.
“The Snake totally blew me away as to what it was doing,” Hummer said.
As of Sunday morning, it was flowing 711 cubic feet per second (cfs). Its historic minimum is 63 cfs, its mean is 216 cfs, and its historic maximum is 622.
Many of Summit County’s higher streams and rivers – including the Snake and Upper Blue rivers and Straight, Miners and Soda creeks – might have already peaked, Hummer said. He determines that when a basin’s “Snotel” site zeroes out.
Snotel sites are specific locations throughout the state officials use consistently to measure snowpack and the water within that snowpack. Computers at those locations feed the information to water specialists.
Streamflow is higher in the middle of the night and at its lowest point in the middle of the day. But this past week, high daytime temperatures and low nighttime temperatures were 10 degrees higher than average for this time of year. Snowfall near 11,000 feet elevation Saturday night will exacerbate conditions when it melted.
That’s not good news for residents along Tenmile Creek, where water reached 1,490 cfs Thursday night. Frisco can have flooding issues when that creek reaches 1,100 to 1,200 cfs, Hummer said.
Hummer admitted he’s glad to see the water after years of drought, but he wishes it weren’t coming all at once. In 1995, when floodwaters poured into homes and took out bridges, water flows didn’t peak until June 17-19.
“I don’t think anything’s normal right now,” Hummer said. “We’ve definitely had some high flows in late May, early June. But the volumes we’re seeing have usually come on top of some pretty good snowpack years.”
As of Sunday morning, snowpack at the Snotel site at Copper Mountain was 42 percent of normal – down from 57 percent the day before – and has 1.5 inches of moisture. The average for this time of year is 3.6 inches.
Snowpack at Fremont Pass is 60 percent of normal and has 10.3 inches of water when it should have 17.3 inches. Grizzly Peak, near Keystone, has snowpack that’s 6 percent of normal and .4 inches of water when it should have 6.4 inches. Saturday, snowpack there was 22 percent of normal.
The low snowpack that remains on the mountain tops and the sudden runoff in the past week could spell trouble later in the summer. Ideally, snow would melt slowly and provide a steady supply of water to streams, rivers and lakes throughout the summer.
“It’s helping fill the buckets quickly, but it’s taking away streamflows that would be there in late June, July and August,” Hummer said. “If we get sustained moisture, we’ll keep streamflows in the late summer.”
Dillon Reservoir, which dipped to 46 percent of capacity this winter, is now 64.4 percent full – and filling rapidly.
But downstream calls on the river, primarily from Grand Valley farmers and from the Shoshone power plant near Glenwood Springs, could mean fluctuating lake levels, particularly in Green Mountain Reservoir at the north end of Summit County.
All this water does not mean the drought is over, though, Hummer said.
Snowpack in the Colorado River Basin is at 50 percent of normal for this time of the year. Other areas throughout the state range from 72 percent in the North Platte basin to 13 percent in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins. Statewide snowpack is only 43 percent of normal.
And snowpack in the Blue River basin, Hummer said, is 36 percent of normal.
“Here in the central mountains, we are in the most water-abundant place in the entire state,” he said. “It may look like the drought’s over locally, but our friends and neighbors throughout the state aren’t singing the same tune. We’re lucky. But we still have a long summer to go.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local streamflow as of noon Sunday
Stream Flow, in cubic feet per second
Upper Blue 250
Lower Blue* 52
Blue below Green Mountain Reservoir* 9
(*Flows measured at these two sites are controlled by dams above them.)
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