Officials predict more water in reservoir |

Officials predict more water in reservoir

SUMMIT COUNTY – Dillon Reservoir could fill to normal levels this summer, if the skies release more water than normal between now and July 1. Even if that doesn’t happen, Denver Water officials say the reservoir levels are bound to rise instead of falling further.

The reservoir is now holding just 48 percent of its capacity, but as the runoff starts, that’s expected to change. Perhaps dramatically.

Thanks to heavy March snowfall, Denver Water’s newest prediction for summer reservoir levels is far brighter than many people had dared hope. The city agency, which owns Dillon Reservoir, released that forecast Wednesday.

The news leaves water-dependent locals like Frisco Bay Marina manager Bernie Baltich as near to giddy as he’s been in months. Baltich,

double-whammied last summer by drought and waterfront construction, suffered losses of up to 78 percent last summer. While he said he’s prepared for any conditions this year – including again shuttling marina customers nearly a mile to boats at the water’s edge – Baltich is hoping not to relive the summer of 2002.

“It would be an amazing thing (if the reservoir filled),” he said. “It could actually happen. I think this definitely makes everyone around here feel a whole lot better, whether you’re in the marina business or not.

“It has to keep improving from here, though. We don’t want to jinx it, so I don’t want to talk about it too much.”

Denver Water based its predictions on three weather patterns that could occur between now and July 1: dry, normal and wet.

If conditions are dry between now and then, Denver Water estimates Dillon will fill to 78 percent of its capacity; with normal precipitation, to 92 percent; and if the weather is wetter than normal, DenverWater says it will fill to capacity. Under normal weather conditions, it also predicts that Green Mountain Reservoir near Heeney will fill.

It’s important to note, however, that not even the dry forecast is based on conditions as arid as last spring, said Denver Water’s water resource manager, Marc Waage. That means reservoir levels conceivably could fall short of any of the current forecasts. That’s not likely, given the current snowpack and Denver Water’s recently announced strict outdoor watering restrictions, but it’s a remote possibility of which Waage wants people to be aware.

It’s not just Dillon that’s expected to improve. Denver Water owns 10 reservoirs throughout the state, and all of them should inch upward during spring runoff. All told, those reservoirs now hold 44 percent of their combined capacity. Even with dry weather between now and July 1, they should increase to hold 66 percent of capacity. In wet weather, that number jumps to 87 percent.

But Waage, along with many other water experts, hasn’t exhaled completely.

“At this time last year, we were predicting our reservoirs would be 87 percent full on July 1, and I was pretty confident we wouldn’t have to go on watering restrictions,” he said. “Our reservoirs actually were 66 percent full (on July 1, 2002) due to the record dry spring,” he said. “So to me, the lesson is we shouldn’t pretend like we know what’s going to happen in the future. We’re still at the mercy of nature.”

That’s why Denver Water dropped the hammer on its customers, announcing serious outdoor watering restrictions Wednesday that are sending shock waves through the metro area’s golf and landscaping businesses. Under the program, lawn-watering is allowed on two designated days per week, and customers are limited to 15 minutes per irrigation zone. A zone is the area covered by one setting on an automatic sprinkler system, or by a single sprinkler placement for manual sprinklers. That’s far more restrictive than last year, when Denver Water customers could water every third day for as much as three hours a day.

“Our board set the savings goals even higher for this year because our reservoirs are now at historic lows,” Waage said.

But, if the weather is wetter than normal, Denver Water will likely ease those restrictions.

It’s not just the reservoir storage predictions that are pleasantly surprising. Snowpack in the Blue River Basin is now 113 percent of average. Last year at this time, it measured 69 percent of average.

“Two months ago, I wouldn’t have thought we’d be at 100 percent of normal,” said Blue River Basin water commissioner Scott Hummer. “So I think we’re on the right track to alleviating some of the drought situation, but we’re not out of it.”

He estimates it will take at least two more years of good precipitation to call the drought over. And conditions that look good now could change rapidly during the next couple of months.

“There are more spokes in the wheel than just one,” Hummer said. “Snowpack, storage, soil moisture … those things have yet to play out throughout runoff season. We need to wait and see where we are come July 1.”

County Commissioner Tom Long pointed out that Denver Water’s forecast shows Dillon Reservoir has just a one-in-three chance of filling. That’s nothing to get excited about, he said, and it doesn’t mean people should stop conserving water.

“You can have a great year in the middle of a terrible drought cycle,” he said. “I’m guardedly optimistic.

“The lesson to be learned is we maybe should live life like we’re in a drought all the time, but without impetus of some sort, I think it’s not human nature to conserve anything.”

Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at

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