Epic Streamflows In Western Colorado – Is It Sustainable?


Morrow Point Spilling PC | Joel Evans

Morrows Point dam is spilling at over 9,000 cfs! | Joel Evans

This year’s spring runoff in Western Colorado is bordering on epic! With the Shoshone Reach on the Colorado near Glenwood Springs running at over 16,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the three Aspinall Unit dams (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal) spilling at over 9,000 cfs, many rivers across the southwest are full, or even overflowing their banks.

Even Lake Powell is rising at over a foot a day, something we haven’t seen in years and provides a welcome sigh of relief for many fretting water managers in the southwest.

But while this seems like fabulous news, residents of the west should not get complacent about the newfound abundance of water in the rivers – it will be short lived. This immediate, heavy runoff is due to a number of factors, including a giant snowpack in central Colorado and a couple of above-average temperatures. Couple that with significant dust on the snowpack, and you have the recipe for what we are seeing now.

dust on snow | Sinjin Eberle

Dust fall on mountain snow pack contributes to early snowmelt runoff | Sinjin Eberle

Soon, we will be back to normal streamflows (or even lower, since the snowpack is blowing off so fast), which highlights our need to continue efforts towards better conservation and assisting agricultural users in promoting efficiencies in their operations. Throughout Colorado, there are many steps that residents and industry can take to keep more of the state’s water in the rivers every day.

One step that everyone can take is to participate in the State Water Plan. Unlike most western states, Colorado does not have a plan that drives how our water is managed – we have a cacophony of laws and regulations, but we don’t have a PLAN…but that is about to end, as Governor Hickenlooper has ordered state officials to come up with a plan – and part of that order is that the public be involved.

But isn’t water policy best left to hydrologists and politicians? No way – the public, YOU, have just as much right to direct the state government on how you think your rivers should be managed. Do you want your rivers to have plenty of water for agriculture, recreation, and our economy to thrive? Of course! Do you want to ensure that farmers have adequate and sustainable water supplies for growing our food and maintaining our landscapes? Of course! Should industry and municipalities prioritize conservation over pumping more water out of our rivers and shipping it over the divide to the Front Range? Yes.

Get involved with the State Water Plan – Tell Governor Hickenlooper that you want our rivers to run wet every day!