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Praying for rain

Lu Snyder

SUMMIT COUNTY – There was more talk of religion than rainfall at the State of the River meeting Tuesday night in Silverthorne. More than 10 regional water experts spoke on the state’s drought conditions and river, reservoir and water operations, from Hoosier Pass to Gore Canyon below Kremmling – and all agreed they’re praying for precipitation because weather forecasts do not look promising.

Water experts said it will take nothing short of a miracle to fill Lake Dillon reservoir this summer.

Judy Sappington of the Colorado Division of Water Resources said water experts across the state gather for a conference call weekly, which lately concludes with “a group prayer for rain.”

The year 2002 is on it’s way to making records. So far, water levels are hovering close to lows recorded in 1981 and 1977. It’s still possible this year might beat those records. According to Dan McAuliffe of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), 1951 is the driest year on record.

Andrea Ray of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said while annual precipitation levels have been recorded for only the past 100 years or so, experts can estimate the precipitation levels of previous years by measuring tree rings. Those records indicate most droughts last three to four years, but some have lasted 10 years or more.

Weather patterns aren’t promising much precipitation in the near future either, Ray told a room packed with worried citizens. While much of the country is experiencing drought or extremely dry conditions, most of Colorado is classified as suffering severe drought conditions (the highest category is extreme drought).

Some meteorologists are predicting another El Nino later this year, but Ray said there’s only a 50/50 chance of it happening. If it does, it won’t happen until later this summer, and El Nino doesn’t necessarily mean moisture for Colorado.

“Every El Nino effects Colorado and Utah differently,” Ray said.

The bad news, is most of Colorado receives its highest precipitation in the spring. But these past few months of precipitation also are below average, which means the state will likely move into the dry summer months with little hope of relief, Ray said.

Even if Colorado receives normal rain and snowfall for the rest of the year, Ray said the state would need an estimated 150 percent of average snowfall to get water levels back to normal.

Still, Summit Countians might consider themselves lucky.

The Highline Canal in Denver hasn’t seen a drop of water yet this year, said Mark Waage of Denver Water Board.

“It’s really bad on the South Platte,” Waage said, explaining this has been one of the driest April and May on record.

Lake Dillon was 26 feet below normal on Tuesday, but water levels are expected to increase before dropping again this summer – and Waage said it’s one of only three reservoirs in Denver’s systems that will gain water this summer.

At the beginning of May, Denver Water experts projected the lake would hit its peak at 9,001 feet. That’s only 10 feet higher than current levels and 16 feet below normal.

What’s worse, is now those experts said those projections were based on normal precipitation in May. Since this month’s precipitation levels have been far below normal, Waage said those projections are “a bit optimistic” and it’s more likely peak levels will be below the projected 9,001 feet.

Green Mountain Reservoir’s summer is looking even more bleak.

Green Mountain has two purposes, Malcom Wilson of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation explained – to replace depletions taken out of the system at Granby and to provide water to the Western Slope.

“(Last year) was not a great year,” Wilson said of Green Mountain’s water levels. “This year is going to be worse.”

Wilson said projections indicate the reservoir will be 20 to 30 feet below last year’s levels. Green Mountain has three boat ramps, Wilson said, “two of which won’t even see water.”

Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or lsnyder@summitdaily.com


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