April storm boosts snowpack

Stillwater, Yamcolo reservoirs still not expected to fill

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— The city's domestic water supply is ensured for this summer. However, even the wet storms that swept the valley during the first week in April won't fill the largest reservoirs in South Routt County this spring. Elvis Iacovetto of the Colorado Division of Water Resources said he anticipates Stillwater and Yamcolo reservoirs south of Yampa in the Flat Tops will be between 50 percent and 60 percent full when irrigation season begins this year.

"I'm not expecting either one to fill," Iacovetto said. "I hope my prediction is wrong."

Iacovetto is a water commissioner who oversees the watershed from the confluence of Fish Creek and the Yampa River in Steamboat upstream to the headwaters. He's mindful that the moisture stored in the snow on the Flat Tops is above 100 percent of average in some cases. But he points out that two years of drought left the reservoirs perilously low last fall. Stillwater, above Yamcolo, was down to just 200 acre feet of water, Iacovetto said. That's out of its total capacity of 5,175 acre feet.

"If the reservoirs were already one-half to three-quarters full, it would be an ideal situation," Iacovetto said. He's concerned that the reservoirs won't be anywhere near full when farmers and ranchers begin irrigating their hay meadows this summer.

That leaves the possibility that when the growing season is over, water storage will be right back where it was in 2002.

Iacovetto expects Stillwater to fill to between 2,500 and 3,000 acre feet, and Yamcolo to reach about 5,000 acre feet of its total capacity of 9,600 acre feet.

The majority of Steamboat's domestic water supply is stored in Fish Creek Reservoir south of Buffalo Pass. Bob Stoddard, general manager of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, said the reservoir measured 74.5 percent full Tuesday.

He said the first week of April typically represents the bottom of the annual filling cycle.

Conditions in the reservoir should begin to change dramatically in about a month.

"The first of May is usually when runoff in the high country begins," Stoddard said. "That's when you really fill fast."

The snow that fell during the first week in April provided a 4-percent boost in snowpack, a term that signifies the amount of water stored in the snow standing on the ground.

Evan Vance Fulton was impressed with the amount of snow that piled up in the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs last week. And that's saying something -- Fulton makes his living measuring snow for the federal government.

"I was up on Buffalo Pass on Sunday and there's a lot of new snow up there -- maybe two to three feet in places," Fulton said.

His trip into the high country over the weekend was purely pleasure, but during the week, Fulton works with the local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. On April 1 he was reporting that cumulatively, the Yampa and White river basins were at 90 percent of the historic average in terms of snow moisture content. By Wednesday morning, that number had jumped to 93 percent.

Fulton said the amount of fresh snow in the high country might surprise people who remained in the valley and watched the weather alternate between periods of sun and periods of intense snow showers last week.

"I don't know if people realize it, but there was a lot of moisture coming out of the clouds up high," Fulton said.

A snowpack measuring site on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass reflected a gain of 4.4 inches of water in the last week. When Fulton's office conducted a snow survey April 1, the water content was 22.1 inches, or 81 percent of average. Wednesday morning the water measured 26.5 inches -- 93 percent of average.

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