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2010 water year had twists and turns; 2011 off to good start

Bill Jackson Greeley, Colo.

LOVELAND – The past water year, which ended Oct. 31, had many twists and turns, and this year is off to a better start on the Western Slope where water is collected for diversion to eight northern Colorado counties through the Colorado-Big Thompson project.

Going into the 2010 water year, water reserves were at 120 percent of average throughout the C-BT, Karen Rademacher told a crowd of about 150 during the Fall Water Users Meeting of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District at the Embassy Suites Hotel. Rademacher is a senior water resources engineer with the water district.

But, Rademacher said Thursday, it was late winter snow storms and early spring rain storms that really made the year. As a result, reserves going into the 2011 water year are at 150 percent.

Those late snow storms, however, caused a greater fluctuation to the spring snowmelt runoff, Rademacher said, and the heavy rains of early June added to the runoff, which led to flooding problems, particularly in the Windsor and Greeley areas.

Mike Applegate, president of Northern’s board of directors, said the heavy runoff resulted in 640,000 acre-feet of water leaving Colorado at the Nebraska line, which was another sign of the need for additional storage in the state. That additional storage, he said, would allow better management of water resources. The permitting process, however, for two new projects, the Northern Integrated Supply Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project, continue at a slow pace.

Rademacher said it was those late storms that came close to resulting in a spill from Granby Reservoir on the West Slope, as it slightly exceeded capacity in July. Had Northern been forced to release water from Granby, it would have gone back to the Colorado River and would not have been available for diversion to northern Colorado.

While the Front Range has seen dry weather conditions for the past three months, Rademacher said Grand County – where the C-BT collects water for diversion – has been hit with early wet, snowstorms. Storms Oct. 25-26 and Tuesday and Wednesday, she said, “have got us off to a great start; 30 percent of the entire snow season is already on the ground in our collection area.” There was an estimated 2 feet of snow on the ground near Grand Lake as of last week.

In response to a question, Rademacher said the bark beetle kill of pines in the mountains had an effect on this spring’s snowmelt runoff. It varied in different watersheds, however, depending on the destruction of the trees, she added.

Dust that collected on the snow also had an effect again this past year. Dust makes the snow melt quicker.

Dave Nettles, Division 1 Engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources in Greeley, said the peak flow on the South Platte River at Kersey came in June and was about twice the average for that time of year. However, by July, it was below average. Reservoir storage all along the South Platte basin is in pretty good shape, he said, despite the dry conditions of the past three months.

“Overall, it was a really good year, but by the end of the year it got a little trying,” Nettles said.


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