Area utilities are urging customers to go easy on their water consumption this year to help the Grand Valley better absorb the impacts of continuing drought.
Water providers and other officials gathered Wednesday at a press conference to discuss the expected below-normal spring runoff this year and the need for everyone to work together to help safeguard precious water supplies.
The event was a project of the Drought Response Information Project, or DRIP, an effort involving local water providers and others to inform the public about the importance of conservation.
“Drought conditions are expected to be similar to 2020” this year, said Andrea Lopez, external affairs director for the Ute Water Conservancy District.
That dry 2020 has carried into this year. Lopez said the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that in January, 84% of the Upper Colorado River Basin was in extreme to exceptional drought, the highest percentage since 2002. Mark Ritterbush, water services manager for the city of Grand Junction, said the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center is predicting total Colorado River runoff volume at Cameo will be 66% of normal this year. Low soil moisture from the continuing drought is part of the problem, as that dry soil will soak up some of this year’s runoff from below-average snowpack.
Ute Water relies on runoff from Grand Mesa. Lopez said two measurement stations that Ute Water keeps an eye on there currently show snowpack amounts of 85% and 78% of normal.
“However, it’s still too early in the season to determine what our runoff will look like,” she said.
She said it won’t be until mid-April that there will be a good indication of runoff to expect.
The Climate Prediction Center is saying there is a 50-50 probability of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation between April and June in Colorado. Megan Stackhouse, a local National Weather Service forecaster, said that so far this year, Grand Junction has received 1.21 inches of precipitation, 0.73 inches below normal.
Ritterbush said that the area Grand Junction gets its water from, on the western edge of Grand Mesa, is currently one of the driest spots in the Colorado River and Gunnison River basins, with snow-water equivalent of about 80% of normal. He said that’s improved from about 50-55% in February, but it would still take about six or seven more storms like the one last week to bring the snowpack up to normal.
He said the city has more than a year of water supply in storage even before runoff starts, but only about 75% of what it had in storage at the same time last year. And it’s unlikely that the city’s primary reservoir, Juniata, will fill this year due to low flows of Kannah Creek.
“So it’s for these reasons the city of Grand Junction urges residents to be wise with their water usage, especially as we head into the irrigation season in the summer months,” he said.
Said Palisade Mayor Greg Mikolai, “If you’re a citizen of Palisade, please, please be careful and observe sound water practices for outside uses.”
He said that with the lack of snow on Grand Mesa, Palisade is concerned about whether its auxiliary sources will provide an adequate water supply for the entire year. While its main reservoir provides a good reserve, the town would prefer not to dip into that reserve, he said.
Dave Reinertsen, assistant manager of the Clifton Water District, said that even with projections of adequate water supplies this year, the district is calling on its customers to conserve.
“What we save today we’ll use for tomorrow, so we’ve got to keep that in mind,” he said.
Susan Carter, an area extension agent in horticulture for Colorado State University, said there’s something wrong if a local lawn that isn’t being newly started must be watered each day.
“It might be that you need to rethink your landscape, or maybe the soils have an issue, but you shouldn’t need to water every day,” she said.
She encouraged people to consider making more use of native plants that need less water.
Grand Junction’s City Council has proclaimed April Water Conservation Month, the city’s utility director, Randi Kim, noted.
“We would encourage all our residents to take an active role in water conservation not only in April but throughout the year,” she said.
Kim said the city is encouraging residents to go to www.mywaterpledge.com to make a water-conservation pledge this month. The site is encouraging a competition between cities in terms of the percentage of residents taking the conservation challenge, with participants also having the chance to win prizes.