Officials say homes will not slip again
HEENEY – Steve Dreiling of Heeney can rest assured.
Dreiling, who bought his “dream retirement home” in the hamlet near the county’s northern border, was astounded last year to learn his $300,000 home was in a historic slide zone.
He wasn’t alone. Numerous homeowners in Heeney deluged county commissioner phone lines as they watched the reservoir water levels go down last summer. Then, they noticed that houses were slipping, well pipes were leaning and foundations cracking. Most didn’t know their homes had been built in a slide zone – and some were dismayed to realize they’d have to disclose that fact if they ever sold their homes.
The water, they correctly deduced, was holding the town up.
Water officials at a “State of the River” forum Thursday night said they won’t let that happen again.
According to Malcolm Wilson, a water resource engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Green Mountain Reservoir was built to ensure adequate streamflows to the Colorado River below the dam, for diversions to the Colorado-Big Thompson system to the northeast and to provide water to the Western Slope.
Of the 153,639 acre feet of water the reservoir can hold, 66,000 acre feet is “owed” to downstream water rights holders. An additional 20,000 acre feet is owed to contractors – people who make agreements with water suppliers – and 5,000 acre feet is owed to the Silt Water Project. An acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land to the depth of one foot, or, 325,851 gallons of water.
But snowmelt and rainfall last year failed to fill the lake. It reached a high of 84,755 acre feet and a low of 35,941 acre feet – neither of which was enough to fulfill downstream water obligations.
The dramatic drop in water levels also didn’t give the shoreline time to dry and solidify, Wilson said. Combined with high demand from agricultural water users downstream, an increase in development along the reservoir and increased moisture in the soil due to irrigation, homes began to slip.
The last time that happened was in 1963, when a rapid drawdown of the water resulted in the loss of several homes, Wilson said.
That won’t happen again.
Officials with the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates the dam, decided to keep 20,000 acre feet of water in the reservoir to prevent more damage from occurring. They then leased 10,000 acre feet from Ruedi Reservoir north of Aspen and another 10,000 acre feet from the Colorado-Big Thompson replacement pool to fulfill their downstream obligations.
To address landslide issues, crews have increased the number of monitoring pins from five to 29. The pins measure movement in the land.
Officials also decided that the maximum amount of water they would draw from a full reservoir – at a 7,880 foot elevation – would be 1.5 feet per day. When the water level reaches 7,870 feet, it will only draw down a foot each day. Wilson said that should allow the soil in the slide zone to dry, preventing homes from sliding into the drink.
Water officials at the forum said they expect Green Mountain Reservoir to fill by Memorial Day. Snowpack in the Blue River Basin is 134 percent of normal – among the highest in the state.
But the soil is still very dry, said Scott Hummer, water commissioner for the basin.
“Ranchers that normally see a lot of water in their ditches this time of year aren’t seeing that yet,” he said. “I’m seeing water going straight into the ground.”
He said a slow snowmelt due to colder than usual temperatures could be to blame.
Denver Water’s Chips Barry said Dillon Reservoir should be 92 percent full this summer. But Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ Taylor Hawes said that water level will likely fluctuate throughout the summer, and people who recreate in the Lower Blue should expect lower than usual streamflows there, as well.
Denver Water officials said they will maintain the minimum streamflow from the dam to the Lower Blue River – 52 cubic feet per second – and that it could reach highs of about 100 cubic feet per second.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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