Northern Colo. farmers using abundant runoff as fast as it’s coming down
May 11, 2014
River Flows In The Region
Colorado Division of Water Resources numbers showed this past week that, while river flows are historically high in the mountains and foothills, they’re historically low by the time they get to Greeley.
Poudre River May 6 flows (approx.) Historic Avg. (approx.)
At Canyon Mouth 950 cubic feet per second 450 cfs
Near Greeley 35 cfs 170 cfs
* Flows in the river near Greeley last week peaked at about 380 cfs — well above the average of about 150 cfs for those dates — before farmers started irrigating.
Big Thompson River May 6 flows (approx.) Historic Avg. (approx.)
Above Lake Estes 160 cfs 130 cfs
At its mouth, near LaSalle 80 cfs 125 cfs
St. Vrain Creek May 6 flows (approx.) Historic Avg. (approx.)
At Lyons 285 cfs 210 cfs
At its mouth, near Platteville 280 cfs 360 cfs
* Flows in the river near Platteville last week peaked at about 560 cfs — well above the average of about 280 cfs for those dates — before farmers started irrigating.
South Platte River May 6 flows (approx.) Historic Avg. (approx.)
Near Kersey 400 cfs 1,500 cfs
* By Kersey, all tributary rivers — the Poudre, Big Thompson and St Vrain, among others — have dumped into the South Platte River.
Where’s the rain?
Last September’s historic flooding gave northeast Colorado farmers good soil moisture heading into 2014 and, during the first two months of 2014, precipitation in the Greeley area was double what it is historically.
Since March 1, however, the area has only received about 2 inches of precipitation — about 40 percent less than normal — leading many farmers to start irrigating earlier than normal.
Rains arrived in the area on Wednesday and Thursday, and while stream flows around Greeley increased some at that time, they were still below normal.
A large snowpack in northern Colorado has river flows in the mountains and foothills well above average for this time of year, but that hasn't yet translated into historically full rivers farther downstream.
There's plenty of water coming down, experts say, but farmers in the region — having endured two dry and windy months — have been taking it out of the river about as fast as it's been coming down.
"It's been bone dry lately … so anyone who's in priority to take water is taking whatever they can," said Mike Hungenberg, a farmer near Greeley and Eaton, and president of the New Cache La Poudre Reservoir and Irrigation Co. in Lucerne. He noted that, in addition to it being dry recently, some farmers could be taking more water than normal now because they've planted more acres this year than in recent years because of the positive water outlook.
The biggest contrast in river flows this past week was in the Poudre River. At its mouth above Fort Collins, the Poudre River was seeing flows of about 950 cubic feet per second on Tuesday — more than double the historic average of about 450 cubic feet per second for May 6 at that location, according to Colorado Division of Water Resources numbers.
But by the time the river reached Greeley flows on Tuesday were 35 cubic feet per second, far below the historic average of about 170 cfs for May 6 at that location. It was a different story on the Poudre River near Greeley a week earlier.
Flows in the river near Greeley reached about 380 cfs on April 28 — well above the historic average of about 150 cfs for that date. Hungenberg noted that his ditch started delivering water to its local farmers a couple days later because they were in need, helping contribute to the sharp drop in stream flows in the river.
"A lot of factors play into it," said Dave Nettles, the Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 1 engineer, based in Greeley. "We've had some cooler temperatures that have helped slow some of the flows. But no doubt we're seeing farmers irrigating more than normal for this time of year because of how dry it's been lately."
With river levels historically low near Greeley and in Weld County, it could be a cushion the area needs to endure too much water coming this way later on.
"It could play a part in that," Nettles said.
A well above-average snowpack in the mountains — combined with rivers and streams that are still littered with debris and compromised banks from September's flooding — has caused concern for potential flooding in northeast Colorado during the spring run-off period this spring.
Local farmers said they don't like using this much irrigation water just to get their crops started, but they don't have much choice.
Last September's historic flooding gave local farmers good soil moisture heading into 2014 and, during the first two months of the year, precipitation in the Greeley area was double what it is historically.
Since March 1, however, Greeley has only received about 2 inches of precipitation — about 40 percent less than normal.
The recent exclamation point to the dryspell was a series of windy days that parched the soil even more so.
Local farmers say they're glad to have the abundant run-off to help them get their crops off to a good start, but added that they're eager for rain to come to the rescue, helping them reserve some of their run-off supplies for irrigating later in the year.
Rains arrived in the area on Wednesday and Thursday, and while stream flows around Greeley increased some at that time, they were still below normal. ❖