Snow brings smile to water expert’s face
SUMMIT COUNTY – Water commissioner Scott Hummer is smiling – for now.
He’s happy about the snowfall that blanketed the county Monday night, but he reminds people that it isn’t enough pull Coloradans out of the drought.
“It moves us in the direction of easing our drought situation,” he said, “but it doesn’t pull us out of the drought by any means.”
Snowpack is crucial, however. After Monday’s storm, Summit County’s six Sno-tel sites show snowpack in Summit County ranges from 83 to 122 percent of normal. Countywide, snowpack is 101 percent of normal.
“We got to normal – that’s a good thing,” Hummer said. “But there’s more to the drought situation than just snowpack. We’re not seeing any water passing a stream gauge. The combination of snowpack, dry soil and low reservoir storage are all factors that have yet to play out over the next few months.”
Denver Water’s reservoirs – of which Dillon Reservoir is one – are collectively 42.7 percent full. Two – Wolford Mountain and Antero – are empty. Only Chatfield is full. As of Monday, Dillon Reservoir held 120,394 acre-feet of water, meaning it is 47.4 percent full. An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land to the depth of one foot.
Hummer doesn’t think the existing snowpack will affect water levels in the lake much this summer.
“I’m not that much of an optimist, yet,” he said. “The water is going to go into buckets that are already drawn down and are going to be drawn down simultaneously with their fill, depending on demand on the east side of the Continental Divide.”
Yet, Summit County is looking better than most places.
According to Sno-tel sites throughout the state, Wolf Creek Pass – historically the snowiest place in the state – is at 67 percent of normal. In the Upper Rio Grande, snowpack is 26 percent.
“There is not a Sno-tel site in the Dolores, Animas, San Juan and San Miguels that is above 90 percent,” Hummer said. “And while we’re doing a little better in the northern mountains, look at Green Mountain Reservoir. It’s down to 36,000 acre-feet. Granby is 88,900 out of 543,000.”
Hummer said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials say there is a 95 percent chance Green Mountain Reservoir in Heeney will fill this summer – on paper. That doesn’t necessarily translate to a brimming body of water, however. The reservoir there is important to private and municipal water users, particularly when downstream, senior water rights holders put a “call” on the water they own in Green Mountain Reservoir.
According to Hummer, if there is, say, 90,000 acre-feet in Green Mountain, and an additional 60,000 acre-feet that belongs to Green Mountain but is being stored in Dillon Reservoir, Green Mountain is “full on paper” even though getting to the water’s edge might involve a long walk in the mud.
“Last year they said there was a 95 percent chance it’d paper-fill, and it did not,” Hummer said.
He added that he’s not overly worried that high winds forecast for the mountains this week will wick away moisture in the snow because such wicking requires heat, and temperatures have hovered in the 20s and 30s this week.
“Between March 3 and last Friday, I watched the snow just disappear,” he said. “I could see it leaving every day. But we shouldn’t lose too much of this. We need to think about when the sun comes back out and the wind blows.”
At that point, Hummer might not be smiling any longer.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
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