Colorado’s water year ending on a good note | SummitDaily.com

Colorado’s water year ending on a good note

Scott N. Miller
smiller@vaildaily.com

EAGLE COUNTY — Most of us are ready for spring, but local water-supply and flood watchers hope the weather stays cool and cloudy for a while. Good snowpack can bring swollen streams if it melts too quickly.

At the moment, snowpack looks good on Vail Mountain, Fremont Pass and at Copper Mountain — the closest snow-measurement site to Vail Pass. That's good news, since much of the upper valley's water supply is stored in snowpack, not reservoirs.

As of Monday, those three snow measurement sites were all within 5 percent of the 30-year historic median levels. That's good, since we're within a week or so of the historic peak of what's called the snow year — roughly Nov. 1 through May 1.

Those peaks come near the end of the snow year, then fall off within just a few weeks.

Melting snowpack

Just how fast our snowpack melts depends on a handful of factors, primarily how quickly the weather warms up.

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Vail's mid-afternoon temperature was 48 degrees Tuesday, warm enough to start melting lower-elevation snowpack.

"Usually when we have five days over 50 degrees, that's when they really see the snow come off," said Tracy LeClair, of the Eagle River Fire Protection District.

Vail Fire chief Mark Novak said his department is laying in supplies for potential high water on Gore Creek and its tributaries. The next few weeks will also see local emergency-services crews start to buckle down on training for swift-water rescues.

PREPARING FOR SPRING

LeClair said crews in that department will also start training soon, but not quite yet.

"What we're focusing on right now is on flood insurance," LeClair said, adding that it takes 30 days for a new policy to take effect.

While much of the focus is on swift water right now, the Eagle River Fire Protection District covers the territory from Tennessee Pass to Wolcott. LeClair said that can mean that crews have calls for flooding and wildfire at virtually the same time.

While Eagle County is part of the Colorado River watershed, it's rare in that the Eagle River isn't dammed anywhere. Elsewhere, though, area reservoirs are in good shape.

STATUS OF RESERVOIRS

Peter Goble, of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, said Dillon Reservoir is at roughly 90 of its average capacity for right now. But fresh water there will be diverted down the Blue River to Green Mountain Reservoir, which is currently at 40 percent. Granby Reservoir, near the Colorado's headwaters, is releasing water into the river at normal rates right now, Goble said.

STORM HEADED THIS WAY

While snowmelt is on the minds of river-runners and others who depend on water levels right now, it looks like there's still more precipitation to come.

Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said a good-sized storm is headed for Colorado from the Pacific Northwest. That storm should hit in the next few days, Phillips said.

More important, Phillips said a low pressure system is expected to set up and stall over the Four Corners area. That system should remain into early next week.

That means there's a good chance of precipitation, some of it heavy at times.

LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE

Weather forecasting loses a lot of certainty more than about 10 days into the future, but the weather service does do longer-term forecasts, based more on probabilities than actual patterns.

This year, the probabilities look pretty good for a slow, sustained snowmelt. Phillips said the 60-day outlook shows this part of Colorado with an above-average change of above-average precipitation and below-average temperatures. Looking further out, the 90-day outlook shows an above-average chance of above-average precipitation and above-average temperatures.

That came as good news to Eagle River Water & Sanitation District communications and public affairs manager Diane Johnson.

"If it gets to mid-June and warms up, that would be great," Johnson said. "That means we've had a nice, slow snowmelt."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

By the numbers:

322 inches: Cumulative snowfall on Vail Mountain on April 12.

95 percent: Of 30-year median snowfall on Vail Mountain on April 11.

91 percent: Of average streamflow on Gore Creek at Dowd Junction on April 12.

117 percent: Of average streamflow on the Eagle River near Gypsum on April 12.