Monday, September 24, 2018
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Outlook for local water supplies looking bleak as summer progresses

Area stream flows below normal

By Alissa Johnson

Despite heavy storms that wreaked havoc on local businesses and trails, the outlook for the valley’s water supplies is somewhat grim. Fill levels at area reservoirs are typical for this time of year, but stream flows across the basin are low—and that could result in some shortages this summer.

“We were fortunate in the upper Gunnison to have had a relatively efficient runoff for the modest amount of snowpack we had. The cool May combined with a hot June caused a very good flow rate as far as putting water in reservoirs. Both Blue Mesa and Taylor gained more storage than predicted,” said Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

“Which is the good news,” he continued. “The bad news is stream flows across the basin have been dropping dramatically.”

As of Monday, July 25, the Gunnison River at Gunnison showed a flow rate that was 72 percent of average. The East River at Almont, which is minimally impacted by water storage, was flowing at 176 cubic feet per second (cfs). Kugel said normal flows for this time of year would be 310 cfs.

By contrast, Blue Mesa Reservoir is at 94 percent of capacity and Taylor Park Reservoir is at 85 percent of normal.

“These levels are typical for this time of year, so we’re doing well with storage in our major reservoirs. But we’re expecting to see shortages on some of the higher tributaries, and there already are calls placed on streams such as Washington Gulch. We anticipate others to be coming over the next several weeks,” Kugel said.

Those calls are for agriculture, and given the forecast, Kugel doesn’t expect things to improve. He said the significantly low stream flows combined with the short-term and long-range forecasts for warmer than average temperatures could cause more evaporation—and that will have an adverse impact on the water supply.

Given the administrative calls on water rights, Kugel explained, it’s possible that the water commissioner for the Colorado Division of Water Resources will curtail junior water rights until senior rights have been met.

Additionally, Kugel said, “We anticipate that releases from our Meridian Lake Reservoir [Long Lake] may be required to augment well users in the valley… That doesn’t happen every year, just every few years and it appears that this year it is a likelihood.”

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