Reservoirs expected to fill despite low snowpack

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At least two of Routt County's reservoirs are certain to fill this spring despite the low snowpack, their managers said Monday. However, the pace of the snowmelt this year raises questions about the summer of 2005.

"Stagecoach will quite definitely fill," said John Fetcher, manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.

Fetcher said he needs another three weeks before he can make a prediction about Yamcolo Reservoir. Yamcolo is near the headwaters of the Yampa River in the Flat Tops range south of Yampa.

Closer to Steamboat Springs, Bob Stoddard, manager of Mount Werner Water and Sanitation, is equally confident about Fish Creek Reservoir, the city's primary source of domestic water.

"It will certainly fill," Stoddard said.

The reassurances came even as the amount of water stored in snow in the mountains surrounding Routt County slipped to 77 percent of average. The snowpack, or water content of that snow, is 73 percent of average on Buffalo Pass, not far from Fish Creek Reservoir. At Crosho Lake, upstream from Stagecoach, snowpack is 80 percent of average.

Stoddard pointed out that in March 2002, when the mountains surrounding Steamboat had even less snowpack than they do this month, the reservoir filled.

On March 21, 2002, Fish Creek Reservoir on Buffalo Pass, northeast of Steamboat, was just 56 percent full and snow water content in the drainage that feeds the reservoir was 28 inches. This year, Fish Creek Reservoir is already 71 percent full and the water content stored in snow in the surrounding drainage stands at 31.5 inches.

Stoddard was concerned, however, that the snow water equivalent has dropped during the past two days.

This is a time when the snowpack on the Continental Divide is typically growing, not running downhill. But the signs of an early spring were as plain Monday as Fish Creek rushing by outside Stoddard's office. The creek was running at 30 cubic feet per second.

"We typically don't see 30 cfs until the 10th of April," Stoddard said. "It's unusual."

Stoddard already is looking beyond the coming summer to the summer of 2005. His concern is that, although the reservoir will fill this summer, the reduced runoff will mean Mount Werner Water will begin drawing the reservoir down earlier than usual this summer. In a typical year, Steamboat's municipal needs are met by water spilling over the reservoir until the week of July 15 through 20, Stoddard said.

There is a chance that date will be moved up on the calendar this summer. And that means the level of the reservoir could be lower than typical when it begins to gradually fill this fall.

"Therefore, it will impact next year," Stoddard said.

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