Reservoir operators make room in anticipation of high runoff

Federal dam managers have been releasing extra water from two Colorado River Basin reservoirs to make room for possible above-average spring runoff.

“We thought it would be better just to send a little extra water down right now,” Kara Lamb, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman, said of the extra 25 cubic feet per second the agency began releasing from Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt this week.

The agency made the release because of above-average snowpack in the Fryingpan River watershed above the reservoir.

Lamb said the bureau made similar releases last week at Green Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling because of snowpack in the Blue River Basin.

Lamb said deciding whether to release or hold on to reservoir water is always a balancing act, and that the spring runoff outlook remains contingent on snowfall in March and April, the two highest-precipitation months for snowpack.

“Those are big, heavily weighted factors that still have to come into play in this year’s scenario,” she said.

But she said the Bureau of Reclamation is confident Ruedi will fill this year and thought it prudent to release some water now.

Last year, the agency initially thought the reservoir wouldn’t fill, but was caught by surprise by high precipitation late in the season and a hot spell that quickly melted snow. It ended up having to increase releases at the height of runoff season to keep high inflows from overfilling the reservoir.

As of Feb. 3, the National Weather Service Colorado Basin River Forecast Center was predicting an above-average potential for flooding during spring runoff in the Yampa/White, Upper Colorado and Gunnison basins.

But its forecast included the caveat, “It should be emphasized that it is very early in the snow accumulation season, and conditions could change quite a bit before the runoff begins.”

As of Wednesday, the Natural Resources Conservation Service was reporting the following basin snowpack levels as a percentage of average: Gunnison, 120 percent; Upper Colorado, 129; Yampa/White River, 134; Arkansas, 96; San Miguel/Dolores/Las Animas/San Juan, 104; Upper Rio Grande, 89; Laramie/North Platte, 141; South Platte, 134.


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