HomeNews Dry summer ahead unless late season snows deliver
Dry summer ahead unless late season snows deliver
Written by Alissa Johnson
Wednesday, 06 March 2013
Taylor reservoir “ruler flat for last four months”
A foot of fresh snow like we had Monday morning helps the ski resort, but we need more than a few storms to bring back the potential for a wet, green summer. Conditions are getting more than a little bit dry in the Gunnison Basin—snow water content in local snowpacks is measuring between 63 percent and 65 percent of normal, and that has water experts taking measures to make sure there’s enough water in the basin to cover spring irrigation needs.
“The recent snowfall caused a measureable increase to our snowpack, but the bad news is we’re still well behind average snowpack levels for this date,” said Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (the district). He said that the three SNOTEL units above Taylor Park Reservoir show a snowpack at 63 percent of normal. Down at Blue Mesa, things aren’t much better, with the snowpack measuring 65 percent of normal. To put that into perspective, Kugel explained that winter releases out of Taylor Reservoir have been set at the very minimum level, 50 cubic feet per second, and water levels have not increased. “It’s just been ruler-flat for the past four months,” Kugel said. “That’s very unusual for us not to gain any storage in the winter at that low release rate, so it’s a precursor of things to come as far as runoff from our basin unless we get these late-season snows.” Based on the low water, Kugel said the district is anticipating a call on the Gunnison Tunnel from the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users, who manage water distribution near and around Montrose. The group has been taking measures to reduce water usage this spring but it might not be enough. “They’ve been taking significant steps in their project area, turning on two weeks later than normal and restructuring usage to 50 percent of normal deliveries to start out the irrigation season,” Kugel said. The group also discontinued 276 contracts with smaller users like landscapers and cemeteries for the 2013 season. “Those kinds of users have relied on those pumps for decades and just got word from the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users that they will not have access to that water this year,” Kugel explained. Locally, the city of Gunnison has approached the district with a willingness to turn on the city’s ditch system as much as ten days to two weeks late. The district itself is looking to purchase water out of the Aspinall or Ridgway Reservoirs in order to fulfill a call on the Gunnison Tunnel and keep water in the valley in April and May for critical irrigation, an unusual step for the district to take. But this is also an unusual year. Not only are things looking worse than last year, but conditions are compounded by two low snow years in a row. “We’re currently below last year’s snowpack for this date,” said Kugel. He added that things are “dramatically worse for water supply because we drew on the reservoirs throughout the summer last year and now they’re not likely to fill.” Taylor Reservoir is projected to, at best, hit about 80 percent of normal unless the late-season snows continue. The hope we all have now is for snow. As long as it keeps snowing, it seems, the situation will be a lot less grim.