Still plenty of time for more precipitation
By Kristy Acuff
In the midst of this low snow year, it appears our local reservoirs are holding steady—at least for now. According to Frank Kugel, general manager of Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, (UGRWCD), “All three reservoirs [Taylor Park, Blue Mesa and Meridian Lake] are near normal for this date.”
However, since the Upper Gunnison basin snowpack is only 70 percent for the year to date, it is possible those reservoirs will drop below normal levels once the draw-down of water begins in June after the spring runoff. But Kugel remains hopeful there is still plenty of time for more precipitation this year.
“I remember in 2015, we had a miracle May. The winter was way below normal in terms of snowpack but then May arrived and with it, lots of rain and snow and rain again. We entered the spring runoff and instead of having a below normal supply, we ended up above normal for the year,” recalls Kugel. “We still have an opportunity to get significant precipitation even though this is starting out as one of the driest winters on record across the central and southern Colorado Rockies.”
Should things not turn around, this year’s low snow could have significant adverse impacts for water users in the basin. In the 2002 drought year, ranchers with junior water rights were forced to sell off large numbers of their cattle due to a dramatically reduced hay crop.
In addition to the effects on ranchers, the 2002 drought forced the closure of several Blue Mesa boat ramps and led to the creation of the Meridian Reservoir augmentation plan that protects hundreds of wells in the East and Slate River valleys. Participating homeowners essentially purchase water from more senior water holders in what is called an “augmentation plan”—kind of like insurance in the event of a low water year.