Fish Creek Reservoir is full -- for now

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The first two weeks of June have been kind to Steamboat Springs in terms of producing some cold fronts and afternoon cloudbursts that have conserved moisture in residential gardens.

Bob Stoddard of Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District is hoping people will back off their automated lawn irrigation systems when natural precipitation occurs. That action might forestall the day when domestic water use begins drawing down Fish Creek Reservoir.

Stoddard, like many area residents, keeps an eye on the ski slopes to gauge how the water season is going. He's optimistic municipal water use won't begin drawing down the reservoir until after July 1.

"I watch the snow on Storm Peak," Stoddard said. "Most years, there's still snow on July 4. In 2002 (a severe drought year), it was gone by June 1. I think we have a week or so more" before the snow disappears from the face of the ski area.

Even after the snow leaves the summit, drifts will continue to feed tributaries of Fish Creek and the Yampa River, Stoddard said.

Fish Creek Reservoir is Steamboat's primary source of water for human use and filled earlier than usual this year, on May 23. It would have filled sooner, but Mount Werner Water opened a gate and began releasing water before the reservoir filled.

Between 30 and 40 cubic feet per second were spilling over the top of the brimful reservoir June 15.

Stoddard checked the National Resource Conservation snowpack site Tuesday and saw that 5 inches of snow-water equivalent remains at the "Tower Site" on Buffalo Pass, about four miles north of the reservoir.

"I think within two to three days, it's going to be down to zero," Stoddard said.

The water spilling over the reservoir this week represented 10 percent to 20 percent of the water in Fish Creek at the confluence with the Yampa River. When the snowpack on the Continental Divide gives up the remaining 5 inches of water it holds, the flows in the Yampa could see a significant drop.

Fish Creek had been yo-yoing between about 200 cfs and 375 cfs during its daily cycle early this week. As recently as June 8, it was flowing at 700 cfs, and by June 10, it was at 400 cfs.

Stoddard interprets the signs to mean streamflows in the Yampa close to Steamboat won't be as robust as they were during the summer of 2003.

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