Officials are guardedly optimistic that the 2014 runoff season in Colorado’s high country will be a good one. A potential for flooding does exist, however, if meltdown comes too quickly as a result of sustained hot temperatures during the prime runoff months of May and June.
Craig Cotten, division engineer for Div. 3 of the State Engineer’s office in Alamosa, CO, said conditions in the Rio Grande River Basin and Colorado’s San Luis Valley have improved somewhat this year. As of April 1, snowpack was 80 percent of normal. “We’re the lowest basin in the state,” he told The Produce News. “But that’s actually higher than the last two years.”
This is the sixth consecutive year for below-average stream flows in southern Colorado. “Runoff will be closer to normal,” he added. Agricultural producers have been complying with ever-tightening water regulations governing use. According to Cotten, the level of the region’s aquifer continues to drop owing to drought conditions.
Cotten said water quality will likely be affected as a result of ash content from last year’s devastating West Fork Fire. He said the potential for flooding also exists due to the fire.
Turning to northern Colorado, Dave Nettles, division engineer for Div. 1 of the State Engineer’s office in Greeley, CO, said, “We’re running well ahead of average snowpack [in the South Platte River Basin].” As of the beginning of April, snowpack was 133 percent of normal. “We have more snow water equivalent than our average peak,” he told The Produce News.
The good news about anticipated runoff could be dampened if the snowpack melts too quickly. Meltoff typically begins in May and peaks in June. Last September, northern Colorado experienced extreme flooding, and the impact of the devastation continues to be felt today. “It depends on temperatures and how the flow moves,” Nettles stated about the coming runoff. “A quick flush, if it happens, could contribute to potential for flooding. But many areas will be fine.”
Another complicating factor, which could contribute to the potential for flooding in the South Platte River Basin, stems from the fact that last year’s flooding was so severe that rivers jumped their banks, creating new flow channels. Debris, Nettles added, may also disrupt flow and create potential for flooding.