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Water officials cautiously optimistic about drought

Ample snowpack points to sufficient water for summer


Heavy high country snows have local water officials happy but cautious about this summer’s water supply.

“The big snow events in the metro area honestly do not help us,” said Emily Hunt, Thornton’s water resources manager. “We’d really much rather see the snow up in the mountains. But if we can keep cold weather down here through March, with the trees barely starting to come out in April and people not turning on their irrigation systems until May, that’s ideal for us. Ideally, we don’t want people to have to water their lawns and trees until after Mother’s Day.”

The latest reports for Colorado’s Front Range put snowpack depth at between 120 and 160 percent of annual averages, according to the National Resources Conservation Service.

It’s one of the several measurements local water officials monitor all year long as they prepare for the summer.

“It’s great when the snowpack tracks its normal route, or it’s above-normal route like this year,” Hunt said. “But the other measure is the snow water equivalent, and that really tells us how much water is actually in the snowpack. For us, that usually maxes out about 15 inches.”

NRCS measures show the Snow Water Equivalent along the Front Range at between 13 and 17 inches.

“If we get to 15 inches or higher, then we feel like we are having a normal year,” Hunt said.

Those show that the Denver metro area should avoid drought conditions and water restrictions for another summer.

It’s not a given, however, according to Sarah Borgers, Westminster’s water resources and quality manager.

“We are little more comfortable, but there are still things that can happen that mean that water in the mountains does not make it down to us in spring runoff in a way we can use it,” Borgers said.

Borgers said she’d like to see a snowy spring for the mountains and continued cold, followed by slowly warming weather. A sudden switch, from cold to warm, would be a bad thing.

“Sometimes that snow can disappear,” she said. “That means it’s evaporating, rather than melting. It’s happened before, where we’ve had a decent snowpack that has not materialized into stream flow down here. It’s the dynamics of the weather up there.”

Hunt said the weather down here can have just as much impact. People use more water when it gets warm. She’d prefer that waits until the local reservoirs have started filling up.

Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn and the Farmer’s Reservoir and Irrigation Company all rely on Standley Lake as one of their main water supplies, but each city has a number of other reservoirs and canals that feed municipal water treatment plants.

Currently, municipal reservoirs are at about 65 percent of their capacity. That’s still good.

“That’s good, considering we are getting ready to go into spring runoff in about a month or so,” Borgers said. “We want to be empty enough so that we can collect the water next spring, so this is a good spot for us at this time of the year.”


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