While the water level of the reservoir may seem extremely low, Ion Spore, the dam supervisor at the reservoir, said the reservoir currently sits at approximately 70 percent full.
“A full reservoir has 84,410 acre feet of water and right now there are 59,000 acre feet of water,” Spore said. The water level, he added, has dropped 27 feet from its full water level mark. To put this level into perspective, in preparation for a large spring runoff, the water level would be dropped another 12 feet to about 39 feet below full capacity.
Spore isn’t alarmed by the low appearance of the reservoir and maintains it was actually a good summer for water in terms of the number of days the dam actually spilled over. The runoff was impressive, he said, but once it ended, it ended abruptly.
“The dam spilled for 39 days this summer,” said Spore. “The nice thing about this year is we had a full reservoir up until the Fourth of July and we normally try to do that. We were way ahead of schedule in doing that with the early runoff. That sort of depleted when the inflows dropped.”
While this past winter provided for an abundant snow pack, it melted sooner and faster than in year’s past. As a result, flows were extremely high for a period and then, once the snow pack melted; they dropped off to almost nothing.
“This could be the dust on the snow,” from last spring’s numerous dust storms, Spore said. “Everybody who seems to know, indicates that the dust caused it to start melting sooner. The runoff was earlier this year. With the snow pack quickly depleted, the flows were not able to extend later in the summer and as a result, the reservoir has less of an inflow right now. Without the inflow, the depleting storage shows up in the reservoir a little more quickly.”
According to the Tri-County Water Conservancy District, which began taking its block of water while the dam was spilling over, after the runoff suddenly dropped, it began pulling supplies from water stored in the reservoir. That was Aug. 5, just about the time that inflows to the reservoir were at some of their lowest levels of the year.
“Instead of using it [stored water] early on, we used it later on,” Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association Water Master Steve Fletcher said in an interview on Monday. He added that UVWUA was using most of that pulled water for irrigation but, as recently as this week, has started to back off on the flows coming from the Ridgway Reservoir and using water from the Gunnison Tunnel instead.
According to Spore, the released flows will go down to 75 cubic feet per second (cfs) until Oct. 31, when they will drop again to 45 cfs through the winter months.
“We are typically able to release more than that,” Spore said. “It’s good for the fish but this year it may be a little bit tighter depending on any moisture we get.
“If we are able to get some more rain and get the ground saturated and wet before the winter snow, it will improve how the snow will come off next year,” Spore continued. “We will have a better runoff and the reservoir will fill more quickly. We could use the rain right now.”
That rain could come in the next week or so as Hurricane Jimena makes landfall on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. The storm is projected to move to the north toward Southwestern Colorado.