Outlook still dry with end of winter

In perhaps the surest sign of spring, water is flowing through the Government Highline Canal across the northern edge of the Grand Valley.

Already, though, water managers across western Colorado are taking measures to make the most of what water they can and acknowledge that lean, dry times aren’t far off.

And this week might see domestic water suppliers in the Grand Valley begin to prepare their customers for expensive water and restrictions on lawn watering and other non-essential uses of water.

“The end of March is going to be tale of the tape, or at least the tale of snow-ruler,” said Dave Reinertsen, chairman of the Drought Response Information Project. Reinertsen also is the assistant manager of the Clifton Water District, which relies on the Colorado River to serve its nearly 14,000 residential and commercial customers.

Low snowpack in the upper Colorado River Basin already has brought into play one of the key parts of an agreement governing the management of the Colorado River.

The Shoshone Generating Station in Glenwood Canyon is calling water down from the high country as though the station were operating at full tilt, said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The station, however, will draw only 750 cubic feet per second of water from the river, enough to spin one of its two turbines. That allows upstream users to set aside some water they would otherwise have to let flow by to allow for electricity generation in the second Shoshone turbine, Treese said.

“We are in a drought situation, so we agreed to exercise the Shoshone relaxation agreement,” which is part of an overall agreement between Denver Water and several Western Slope water agencies and governments outlining the management of the river from its headwaters in the Never Summer Range to the Utah state line.

Relatively cool temperatures as March neared its end appeared to have left the first line of the state’s water supply in slightly better shape than was the case in 2012, when hot, dry winds swept away much of the moisture tucked into the high peaks.

Runoff “is not coming down yet, and that’s OK right now,” Treese said.

A slower melt will provide a greater opportunity to store water in reservoirs, which still aren’t expected to fill this spring.

Upstream water users have only a limited time to take advantage of the Shoshone relaxation agreement because it lasts only through May 20.

Irrigators in the Gunnison River Basin also are moving to take advantage of what water they can, said Steve Fletcher, general manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.

The association’s quandary pretty much sums up the difficulties irrigators are facing across western Colorado.

“Taylor Reservoir is our storage,” Fletcher said. “Last year it was 100 percent and there was a second fill. This year it’s at 80 percent and there won’t be a second fill.”

Irrigators are lumping together their water, making the most of some pre-irrigation practices for their corn crops and taking other measures, Fletcher said.

“Everybody pretty much understands where we’re at,” he said.

Many customers have been notified that they will get only 50 percent of the water they usually receive, said Fletcher, who has worked for the association for 30 years.

So far, 2013 looks like early 2003, which also followed a drought year.

“We started at 50 percent then,” until we got some key storms, he said.

Grand Valley water managers will get together Tuesday to consider recommendations to their governing boards about whether to impose drought restrictions, Reinertsen said in an email, which he closed with, “Here’s to a VERY WET weekend,” then drily added, “(Probably not going to happen.)”

Sure enough, Grand Junction saw high temperatures around 70 degrees over the weekend — and no precipitation.


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Given future population growth, water demands from gas production, and the drought, should we start encouraging developers to install water-wise plants instead of bluegrass lawns? It’s easier to prevent growth in water use than to cut back on watering existing plants.

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