Waves crash against the shore of the Stagecoach Reservoir. An April Natural Resources Conservation Service report shows snowpack is down, but the reservoirs are expected to fill without any problems.

Photo by John F. Russell

Waves crash against the shore of the Stagecoach Reservoir. An April Natural Resources Conservation Service report shows snowpack is down, but the reservoirs are expected to fill without any problems.

Local reservoirs on track to fill despite low snowpack

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Waves crash against the shore of the Stagecoach Reservoir. An April Natural Resources Conservation Service report shows snowpack is down, but the reservoirs are expected to fill without any problems.

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Wind whips across the water at Stagecoach Reservoir on Friday afternoon. An April Natural Resources Conservation Service report shows snowpack is down, but the reservoirs are expected to fill without any problems.

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Waves crash against the shore of the Stagecoach Reservoir. An April Natural Resources Conservation Service report shows snowpack is down, but the reservoirs are expected to fill without any problems.

— Local reservoirs are expected to fill without any problems despite the combined Yampa and White river basins having a snowpack that is less than 50 percent of average.

“Right now, we’re trying to get the reservoir full,” said Kevin McBride, manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which manages the Yamcolo and Stagecoach reservoirs.

Stagecoach is three feet from reaching the spillway of the dam, which means about 2,300 acre-feet of additional water is needed to fill the reservoir. McBride said that according to projections, the reservoir should be full by the end of May.

According to a survey conducted April 1 by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, statewide snowpack is 52 percent of average and is the lowest it has been since 2002, when the April snowpack also was at 52 percent.

The difference from 2002 is that water storage this year is much higher, with storage volumes at 108 percent of average at the end of March, according to the NRCS.

Warm weather has caused the high-elevation snow to start melting earlier than typical this year. In the southern part of Routt County, where water fills Stagecoach Reservoir, the runoff might have peaked last week, McBride said.

“It looks to be one of the earliest peaks we’ve had as far as peak inflows,” McBride said.

Closer to Steamboat Springs, NRCS assistant snow survey supervisor Mage Skordahl said it is harder to say whether runoff has peaked. She noted that only about 30 percent of the snow has melted for the Yampa and White River basins.

Fish Creek Reservoir, which supplies drinking water for Steamboat Springs, is 75 percent full, said Jay Gallagher, general manager of Mount Werner Water District.

“We have more than enough water to complete the fill,” he said.

Once the reservoirs are filled, it then becomes a question of how much demand there is for the water.

If it remains dry as summer sets in, the concern then becomes whether water districts can keep up with the demand.

Gallagher said that Mount Werner Water has a steady supply but that there are demands put on the plant to make water not only potable but also available to customers who want to water their lawns or wash their cars.

“We’re in pretty good shape at the plant to handle the demand we currently have,” Gallagher said.

For Stagecoach Reservoir, the demand for water comes from the people who have purchased water rights. Water from Stagecoach, which became operational in 1989, is used for industrial, agricultural and municipal purposes across the valley.

“We store the water,” McBride said. “Whether it gets called for or not is really up to the people who have it under contract.”

He said that in a prolonged drought, the concern becomes being able to refill the reservoir as the volume is used.

“This is an earlier melt-off than it was in 2002, and that will probably put added strain on the system,” McBride said. “What an interesting contrast to last year, which was the most volume that’s ever come out of the basin, and then right to a dry year.”

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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