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Predictions: Reservoir could drop more

Jane Reuter

SUMMIT COUNTY – By April, Denver Water predicts Dillon Reservoir will be 35 percent full – or 78 feet from full. That’s another 48 feet down from its current level.

“Of course it depends on the weather,” said Marc Waage, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply. “But I estimate it would take near-record snowfall to fill up Dillon next year.”

Currently, water levels are dropping by about 2 to 3 inches a day, or 500 acre feet. By the end of September, Waage said, that puts the reservoir at about 55 percent full, or 45 feet down.

It may be cold comfort for Summit County residents to know they won’t be alone. Denver Water owns 16 reservoirs statewide.

“Dillon is going to be the same as all our reservoirs – about 40 percent full,” said Waage, who sighed heavily and often as he delivered the agency’s predictions. “That’s a sign of how severe this drought is.”

Nevertheless, Waage said he expects some water will remain in Dillon throughout the 2003 summer.

“If we have a low snowpack (this winter), Dillon will continue to go down next year,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to drain Dillon next year, but I can’t tell you how many years in a row we can survive without draining it.”

Dillon Marina manager Bob Evans believes he can keep the marina open next summer even if Denver Water’s predictions come true.

“That’s going to be comparable to 1975, and I’ve talked to someone who was here then who said they kept the marina open,” Evans said. “We’d have to move the docks out farther and use a crane to put the boats in and out. We might not be 100 percent, but I imagine we’d be open.”

If drought conditions worsen next year, Waage said it will mean tougher watering restrictions for Denver Water’s million-plus customers. “We have to find a way to make our water supplies last,” he said.

Denver Water’s board of directors put water restrictions into effect July 1, and Waage said customers are responding.

“We think we’re in the range of about 20 to 30 percent water savings, and our target was 30 percent,” he said. “My own observation is most of the grass is going brown. I haven’t seen a park yet that doesn’t have brown grass, and when I walk around my neighborhood, I notice most of my neighbors’ lawns are brown, too. We’re proud of the response we’re getting from our customers.”

In addition to the restrictions, Denver Water is tapping its “drought reserve” reservoirs – Antero, Elevenmile and the South Platte. Antero isn’t slated to get the same consideration as Dillon; that reservoir, Waage said, is scheduled to be empty by late this summer.

“Because they’re high in the watershed and they don’t get a lot of runoff, they’re hard to refill, so we don’t take water out of those reservoirs until we’re well into a drought,” Waage said. “The other reason we need more water downstream is to help protect Cheesman against the ash and sediment that’s going to come off of the Hayman fire. We’re going to be draining Antero by the end of August.”

Waage admits this year has been “a learning experience.” Denver Water, he said, considers this the first drought year because its reservoirs filled last summer.

“The drought has come so quickly and so severely it’s sort of caught us by surprise,” he said. “We really didn’t think we would be this low in the first year of a drought. We’re doing all we can to preserve our water supply.”

Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at jreuter@summitdaily.com


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