Sunday, November 22, 2009

Colorado River drops to a record-low flow

Bob Berwyn in the Summit Daily News (Colorado): The latest predictions for a mid-winter dry spell may cause some headaches for Colorado water managers as they try to juggle supplies to maintain stream flows and fill reservoirs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting that a strong El Niño may lead to dry conditions in the state's northern and central mountains at least until March, based on historic patterns associated with above-normal sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific.

Stream flows in Summit County are not too far off seasonal norms, but the Colorado River at Kremmling recently experienced an all-time record low flow for that date, according to local water commissioner Scott Hummer. The Colorado was only flowing at 280 cubic feet per second on Nov. 16, and flows farther downstream were also well below average, Hummer said. The previous minimum for the date was 330 cfs in 1978.

“I can't find a rhyme or reason as to why we're starting to see these low flows so early in the season,” Hummer said. Statewide, and in the Blue River Basin, the snowpack is at 79 percent of average. Only the Arkansas (at 99 percent) and the South Platte (100 percent) have an average snowpack for the date, he said.

Some of the higher elevation sites in the Blue River Basin have a decent snowpack, including Fremont Pass, where an automated Snotel site shows the snowpack at 121 percent of average. But lower elevation sites are dry, with Summit Ranch, north of Silverthorne, coming in at just 33 percent of normal. On the upside, reservoir storage around the state is near normal for this time of year….

Let's all thank Wolfgang Staudt for this breathtaking shot of the Colorado River winding through the Grand Canyon, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

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