Water managers hope for wet finish to winter

If March stays in like a lion, there’s a chance that western Colorado could emerge from the winter in slightly better shape than it did last year.

“As long as we don’t get a repeat of March last year, we should come out ahead,” Erik Knight, hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said Tuesday. “Anything would be better than the hot, dry wind we saw last March.”

One bright spot, such as it is, is Grand Mesa, Knight said, noting that snows piling up on the mountain overlooking the Grand Valley make it one of the better spots in the state.

“The next six weeks will determine a lot of things,” said Joe Burtard, spokesman for Ute Water Conservation District.

One of the measurement sites that Ute relies on for its water-supply estimates is at Trickel Park Reservoir on the mesa, where the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s records show snowpack at 72 percent of normal.

That’s bad enough, but at this time last year, the same station was at 92 percent of normal.

“So we’re in worse shape than we were last year,” Burtard said.

Grand Junction will conduct a snow survey of its watershed next week.

Ute and Grand Junction supply their customers with snowmelt stored on the mesa, while Clifton Water District relies on water pulled from the Colorado River.

It’s looking as though the high-country reservoirs that Clifton counts on will fill to about the 70 percent mark, said Dave Reinertsen, assistant manager.

The coming weeks will tell the tale, he said.

“We’ll be in a better position at the end of March if there needs to be local consideration” of enforcing drought-related conservation measures, Reinertsen said.

Redlands Water and Power, which serves irrigation customers on 4,500 acres on the Redlands with water pulled from the Gunnison River, put its customers on notice that the 2013 irrigation season might look much like the 2012 version.

Redlands Superintendent Kevin Jones said he plans to put water into the irrigation system on April 15 and anticipates the system operating normally for 30 days.

If he doesn’t have the water, though, Redlands will divide its service area into two sections, each to get 3 1/2 consecutive days of service a week.

Until then, however, Jones said would keep a watch on the high country.

“All we can do is hope that some wet storms roll through,” Jones said.


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