April showers bring smiles to water resource specialists

April showers bring May flowers — and brought a smile to the face of the Colorado state climatologist.

“I’m smiling,” said Nolan Doesken from the Colorado Climate Center’s headquarters on the Colorado State University campus in late April. “We finally got one of these (spring) storms to hit us here.”

Larimer County was missed by several of the earlier spring storms that have elevated mountain snow pack across much of the state, but the 72-hour storm that made Doesken a happy man in the third week of April hit us dead on. The CSU campus weather station had 22.4 inches of snow, containing just less than 2 inches of moisture, while 30-inch snowfalls were common in the foothills . Areas near Virginia Dale had a whopping 42-inch snowfall.

In all, the snowfall brought Larimer County close to average for April, but combined with a better runoff prediction for the Colorado River basin, things are definitely looking a lot better than was the case in the beginning of March. Snowpack in the Colorado River basin is now at 99 percent of average, compared to 72 percent in the beginning of March, and snowpack in the South Platte drainage is now at 88 percent, compared to 65 percent.

“We’re going to be above 100 percent (on the Colorado) if we get this (next) storm,” predicted Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “But we have to be a little careful when we see 97 or 98 percent in April, because usually that snowpack is going down by now.”

Werner said the Northern board will reassess the Colorado-Big Thompson quota in May, but increasing the amount each share of the intermountain diversion will yield this year is no slam dunk.

“The board said they didn’t want to close down discussion (of a supplemental allotment), but we’ve still got a long way to go in making up that reservoir storage,” Werner said.
The 60 percent quota issued by the Northern board April 12 was enough to make City of Fort Collins Water Utilities Manager Donnie Dustin a happy man, as well. The quota was raised from 50 percent to 60 percent, which was enough to allow the city to keep its water restrictions at Level 1, rather than raising them to Level 2, restricting residential watering to once a week.

Both Fort Collins and Greeley are counting on C-BT shares to get through the runoff season, when heavy sediment and ash from the High Park Fire area will probably preclude using water from the Poudre. However, Dustin said he won’t push the Northern board to up the quota again.
“I’d rather see the system replenished (by more reservoir storage),” he said. If the C-BT quota is raised to 70 percent, which is an historically normal allotment, the city will probably eliminate water restrictions.

“We don’t have anywhere to store that water, so we might as well use it,” he said.
Fort Collins cut all leasing of C-BT water to area farmers, which has caused a great many farmers to cut back on their planned irrigated acres for water-intensive crops, such as corn. That has been particularly true for the North Poudre Irrigation Company.

To help with the situation, and further enhance its C-BT portfolio in the short term, Fort Collins has offered to exchange its Poudre River rights for C-BT shares owned by NPIC and others, with offers ranging as high as two shares in the river for one C-BT share. However, with the recent storm likely to affect where NPIC sets its allotment in May, the city has stepped back from that program, waiting to see how much water is available.

“We didn’t have enough water to cover everyone who wanted to participate,” Dustin said.

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