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Experts look to winter for water level improvement Print
Written by Alissa Johnson   
Wednesday, 03 October 2012
CBMR still projects good snowmaking conditions

On Monday, October 1, the Bureau of Reclamation reduced the flow in the Taylor River from 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 75 cfs. In two weeks, the agency will reduce it further, to 50 cfs. That’s half the typical winter flow, and as low as the bureau can go without affecting the fishery.


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“We’re hoping for a lot of snow this winter,” said Frank Kugel, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. “If things don’t improve we could have significant shortages in the basin [next summer].”
According to Kugel, the Gunnison Basin received 65 percent of its normal precipitation in September. Over the course of the 2012 water year beginning last October 1, it received only 71 percent of normal precipitation. The effects can be seen across the Gunnison Valley: flows into Blue Mesa Reservoir were 50 percent of normal during September, and the reservoir is currently at 41 percent of capacity. Flows into the Taylor Reservoir were 58 percent of normal last month, and that reservoir is at 53 percent of capacity.
Last week’s rains brought about a modest increase in flows, Kugel said, but not enough to make a significant improvement in area stream flows. According to his manager’s report, prepared for the district board, “The Gunnison River at Gunnison is currently reporting a daily average flow of 137 cfs (the long-term average is 424 cfs and the record low flow for this date is 165 cfs, recorded in 1975). On September 23, flows in the Gunnison River dropped to a daily average of 80 cfs, tying the all-time low flow recorded on December 27, 1962.”
Kugel said in an effort to stem the flow of water out of Blue Mesa Reservoir, releases through the Gunnison Tunnel are being shut off two weeks early on October 15. The tunnel is currently running at 706 cfs.
“Shutting it off two weeks early saves more than 1,400 acre-feet [af] per day that can be stored in Blue Mesa, so that has a significant impact in the basin,” Kugel said.
According to Dan Crabtree, water management chief with the Bureau of Reclamation, that will preserve almost two feet of depth in Blue Mesa. “We’re almost up to 20,000 acre-feet that would be saved in Blue Mesa,” he said.
That water would typically go to farmers in the Uncompahgre Valley.
Steve Fletcher of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association said they’re trying to store as much water as possible before the tunnel diversions are shut off.
“Basically, we are just trying to conserve on storage water to carry extra water over for next year because we used heavily out of storage water this year,” he said. “We should have a little more [water stored] than we did during the drought years of 2002-2003, is what we’re hoping.”
Closer to home, in the Gunnison Basin, water levels in the Taylor Reservoir are projected to reach 56,235 af by the end of October and 40,000 af by the end of March 2013. The short-term forecast over the next one to two weeks calls for above normal and normal precipitation, an improvement according to Kugel. The forecast for October through December calls for warmer than normal temperatures and near normal precipitation.
So far it seems that Crested Butte Mountain Resort is one of the only local water users that feels okay about current water supplies. According to the resort’s mountain operations manager, Chris Corliss, “The recent wet weather has helped and there is still plenty of water in the East River for us. We anticipate a favorable forecast over the next six weeks that should help our snowmaking efforts.”

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