Tue February 19, 2013

Dire: Northern Water Sounds Alarm Over Water Resources

Have you been left with the feeling there hasn’t been enough snow or that winter never really arrived? You’re not alone.

Nathan Heffel speaks to Dana Strongin of Northern Water on All Things Considered.

Water managers across Northern Colorado are watching the winter season go by with little precipitation to replenish dwindling water reservoir levels. Northern Water is very concerned the season will not produce the amount of moisture needed to restore supplies.

It’s a situation that Colorado water experts previously described as “pretty grim right now.” The following is my conversation with Northern Water spokeswoman Dana Strongin. We discussed how the agency is feeling going into 2013 and started off with a look at the current water situation.

Dana Strongin: We are getting increasingly concerned about the situation here. The storms in early February did give a little bit of a jump-start to the upper Colorado area, but  it really wasn’t enough for us to feel like we’re stemming the tide at all. That basin is about 70 percent of average of snow pack and the South Platte over here is even worse at 60 percent.  [Editor’s Note: See Northern Water’s West Slope water data.]

Nathan Heffel: Northern Water relies on reservoirs like Horsetooth. Are they where they need to be for this time of year?

Strongin: They are below average. You may see water filling up in both Carter Lake and Horsetooth, but that does not mean that we have any kind of abundance of supply.  We’re bringing that over from the West Slope from the other side of the mountains to make room for what we can expect for this year. But we aren’t expecting very much.

Screencap collage of current reservoir capacities, February 19th Source: http://www.northernwater.org/WaterProjects/EastSlopeWaterData.aspx?WDType=R
Credit Northern Water

Heffel: It appears that 2012 was tolerable water wise because the state was coming off a pretty wet year.  Seeing forecasts which show a weak January snowpack and we’re nearly through February and things still appear far from where they need to be, should we be concerned that 2013 will begin to look like 2002 the last time we were in a pretty severe drought?

Strongin: This is [the] time that we should start looking at this being a 2002 kind of year, which is dire.  Last year, there were some similarities but our reservoirs were well above average in storage so we knew we could easily meet demands.

Heffel:  What is Northern Water doing to prepare itself to be able to fulfill all of its obligations to water owners like farmers and towns this year?

Strongin: Our board of directors is going to face a tough challenge if this continues. [With] this lack of precipitation and snow pack they have to decide how much water can be released to each of our water users in terms of a percentage of their contract.  They don’t always get a full unit of what they own.  And this year may be one of those that they get much less of what they usually do which is in the 70 percent of units. So we’re looking for a tough decision for them. Do they give out a lot to their agricultural users to be able to plant their crops for the year and get through it? Or a little bit of dividing up for municipalities to feel like folks can turn their taps on?