Drops to drink: Metro North could skip dry trend this summer

Posted 4/2/18

While Denver and much of the state worries about drought conditions, communities in the Northern Metropolitan area find themselves in slightly more lush conditions. Thornton’s Water Resources …

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Drops to drink: Metro North could skip dry trend this summer

Posted

While Denver and much of the state worries about drought conditions, communities in the Northern Metropolitan area find themselves in slightly more lush conditions.

Thornton’s Water Resources Manager Emily Hunt said snowpack in the northern Rockies, which feeds the community via the South Platte River, is slightly above normal. That should mean enough runoff to meet the city’s water needs this summer.

“At this point, we are not anticipating restrictions for the summer,” Hunt said. “From a supply side we are set up pretty well. So it will really depend on what the temperatures do and how our customers respond.”

Hunt said she considers three things when making forecasts for summer water — snowpack, water supply in the city’s reservoirs and customer use trends.

“All of that stuff for us right now, is looking pretty good — with the exception of snowpack,” Hunt said. “Thornton’s reservoirs are in good shape, slightly above average, and our customers are using water they way we expect them to.”

The March reports for Colorado’s Front Range put snow pack depth at between 77 and 100 percent of annual averages in Colorado’s northern river basins, according to the National Resources Conservation Service. That includes the South Platte, Big Thompson, Boulder Creek and Clear Creek basins.

It’s one of several measurements local water officials monitor all year long as they prepare for the summer. The most important data comes from the April 1 stream flow projection, which has not yet been released by the state.

“It basically takes all the snow pack information, soil moisture reports and reservoir storage across the state and gives us a very specific basin by basin outlook,” Hunt said.

In Westminster, the city is not expecting as heavy runoff but they’ve compensated by keeping the Standley Lake Reservoir full. That should fulfill the city’s needs this summer, as long as the weather doesn’t get especially hot and dry early or residents don’t change their habits, according to Sarah Borgers, Westminster’s Water Resources and Quality Manager.

“It means we are little less reliant on what that snow is doing up in the mountains,” Borgers said. “We are not so dependent on the spring runoff.”

Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn and the Farmer’s Reservoir and Irrigation Company all rely on Standley Lake as one of their main water supplies, but each city has a number of other reservoirs and canals that feed municipal water treatment plants.

Currently, municipal reservoirs are more full than they were last year at this time. Borgers said Standley Lake is close to 100 percent of its capacity.

“We are not expecting to implement drought restriction, but we are keeping a super close eye on the how the rest of the season develops,” Borgers said.

Hunt said Thornton’s reservoirs — which includes smaller reservoirs and retention ponds along the South Platte River — are at about 72 percent. That’s ample room for the spring Thornton expects , Hunt said.

“In addition to Standley Lake, we have about 12 reservoirs along the South Platte as it goes through Thornton,” Hunt said. “They are all in pretty good shape and we should be able to store some water when it comes along in runoff. We are higher than we were last year, but from a supply standpoint we are in pretty good shape.”

Local water officials do have their eyes on the summer of 2019, however. Southern basins are dipping as low as 29 percent of average according to the NRCS statistics, leading to worries of drought in the rest of the state.

“If it stays extremely dry through the summer, we’ll start thinking about our next year,” Borgers said. “We’ll be watching what happens next winter very carefully.”

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