Reservoirs nearing capacity

Stagecoach expected to fill this week

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— The dramatic reversal in Routt County's water outlook will become clear later this week when water begins spilling over the top of Stagecoach Reservoir.

"We calculate the dam could perhaps spill over as soon as Wednesday," John Fetcher said Monday. "We are down 18 inches today."

Fetcher is the manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.

The reservoir on the Yampa River in South Routt County never reached its capacity of 33,275 acre-feet during the drought of 2002.

Consequently, plant manager Phil Eggleston was never able to spill any water over the top of the dam. Water continued to be released from the base of the dam last summer, however.

The reservoir was 13.5 feet below the full mark late in the winter of 2002 and only gained back six inches from spring runoff. Since last summer's drought, the reservoir has recovered more than 9,400 acre-feet of water.

Water managers were confident enough this week to put the dam's small hydroelectric plant into full production, generating 800 kilowatts of power, Fetcher said.

The area's water supply has been topped off by moisture that has fallen since April 1. Monday morning, the water stored in the snowpack on Lynx Pass, about 12 miles southeast of Stagecoach was at 173 percent of average. That compares to 113 percent of average exactly one week ago. The snow on Lynx Pass contains 7.8 inches of water.

There is much more water stored in the Park Range closer to Steamboat Springs. The snow standing on the ground in Buffalo Park south of Dumont Lake on Rabbit Ears Pass contains almost 12 inches of water compared to an average of 7 inches on May 12. This spring's readings are 175 percent of average.

Five miles east of Buffalo Park at the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass the water content is 32 inches, or 123 percent of average.

The summit of Buffalo Pass shows 54.4 inches of water, or 105 percent of average. The snowpack at the base of Buffalo Pass is more impressive. At Dry Lake Campground there is 21 inches of water stored in the snow. That compares to an average of 11.5 inches. One week ago, Dry Lake recorded 19.5 inches of water.

Fetcher said he can't predict whether Stillwater and Yamcolo reservoirs will fill this season. The two reservoirs are upstream from Stagecoach near the headwaters of the Yampa. Stillwater was down to just 300 acre feet of water last fall.

And the snow that feeds the reservoir hasn't begun to melt.

"Runoff in the high country hasn't really started with a bang yet," Fetcher said.

Bob Stoddard, manager of Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, said Monday's clear skies and mild temperatures could mark the beginning of spring runoff. However, he'd like to see moderate daily highs that would allow the heavy snowpack to melt gradually.

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