Monday, September 16, 2019

Drought is officially over in Gunnison County

Miracle March, local reservoirs expected to be near full this summer

By Cayla Vidmar

The heavy March storm cycles helped push the area out of a long-standing drought.

After a dismal 2017/2018 winter season and a dry 2018 summer, Gunnison County was left in extreme drought, and the lower southwest corner of the county reached the highest drought category of “exceptional.” In January, Blue Mesa reservoir reached its lowest point at 7,438 feet, or just eight feet above the 1977 record low.

But Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD), stated Tuesday that Gunnison County is officially no longer in a drought, according to the Colorado drought monitor.

“The March storms were definitely very significant and in certain areas, in the first eight days of March we had a full month’s worth of precipitation,” said Kugel. “It was a great storm system for us, and has been very encouraging.”

The UGRWCD averages the five SNOTEL (Snowpack Telemetry) sites, which measures snowpack across the Upper Gunnison Basin. Kugel says, “We’re currently showing 150 percent of normal [snowpack] for this time of year.”

With the extended drought, some were concerned about the prospect of Blue Mesa refilling, even after a good snow year. But Kugel says they’re expecting the reservoir to fill to approximately seven-eighths of capacity, which, he says “is great considering it’s currently at 30 percent capacity.”

Kugel says Taylor Reservoir is expected to fill this year.

Significant snows and warm, sunny spring days have many worried about possible springtime floods, and warnings for potential flooding have been issued. Kugel says, “It’s too early to tell if flooding will be an issue this year.”

He says the UGRWCD has been looking at recent high snowpack years, and noted that the current snowpack is about the same as it was at this time in 2017. That year, there “wasn’t any flooding to speak of.”

However, that doesn’t mean flooding won’t happen, notes Kugel, who says spring flooding really depends on what happens in the next six weeks. The worst-case scenario making the area ripe for springtime flooding is “continued building of the snowpack with cooler, cloudy days and snowy, wet storms, followed by prolonged sunny warmer spells.”

But regardless of flooding concerns, being out of the drought is great news to go into the off-season. Look for a spectacular wildflower season this summer.

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