Low water levels predicted


June numbers don't bode well for the summer growing season.
Snowpack, runoff and reservoir storage numbers are at 2002 numbers, indicating this year's drought could be as bad as two years ago -- often touted as the worst drought in a century.
"Last year was a little bit of relief and it's not often you say below average was a relief in this kind of drought," Natural Resources Conservation Service spokesman Mike Gillespie said. "This year is pretty close to what we saw in 2002."
A severe drought is predicted for most parts of Moffat County, with the far northwest corner at extreme drought conditions.
Measurable snowpack is nearly gone -- about five weeks ahead of schedule, but more concerning, Gillespie said, is the runoff and streamflow numbers.
"At this point, I wouldn't be concerned about actual snowpack percentages, it's not an indicator of anything other than how fast it's melting," he said.
NRCS is predicting streamflow in the Yampa River at 53 percent of average through July and the Little Snake River at 49 percent.
Most Colorado rivers are running between 45 percent and 60 percent of average, Gillespie said.
"We just didn't get the snow we needed," he said. "It peaked early in the season and melted fast.
"It could be that the runoff has already come and gone around much of Northwest Colorado."
Gillespie recommends that residents initiate water conservation measures.
The Craig City Council adopted a water conservation plan in 2002. Water conservation measures will be put into effect once the officials determine they have to draw from its reserves in Elkhead Reservoir -- something they'll do only after placing a call on the river.
The plan calls for the city to institute voluntary conservation efforts once it begins to release its stores from Elkhead Reservoir. Efforts in Phase 1 will be voluntary for the first 500 acre feet of water released.
Phase II involves mandatory lawn water restrictions, which would go into effect when the city releases more than 500 acre feet of water from the reservoir.
Once the city releases more than 1,000 acre feet of water -- 60 percent of the city's total active reserves in the reservoir -- stricter mandatory restrictions will be put in place that limit outdoor use of water to twice a week.
When 1,500 acre feet of the city's storage has been released from Elkhead Reservoir, the city will ban all outdoor watering.
Violations of the restrictions outlined in Phases II, III and IV will incur a fine of $15 to $300.
The city of Craig uses six million gallons of water a day during peak usage in the summer months and 1 million gallons per day during the winter.
The city owns six water rights on the Yampa River, two of which are very senior rights. The city also owns 1,668 acre feet of water in Elkhead Reservoir and 3,000 acre feet in the reservoir's "dead pool" --water below the release point that must be obtained using a pump.
An acre foot is equal to 300,000 gallons of water.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com

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