Wet winter expected to turn into heavy spring runoff
After the third-wettest winter in the past 35 years, San Juan County is anxious to see area reservoirs begin to fill and possibly overflow.
“Recapture Reservoir has already gone up 18 feet since October and not a bit of it is off the mountain,” said Ferd Johnson of the San Juan Water Conservancy District. “I am anxious to see what happens when the mountain snow – above 7,500 feet – begins to break up.”
The snowpack at the Camp Jackson Sno-tel site, which sits at 8,858 feet altitude north of Blanding and west of Monticello, holds 26 inches of water and is beginning to show signs of melting.
Johnson predicts that all of the local reservoirs will fill during the spring thaw, including Recapture, Third and Fourth reservoirs, Dry Wash, and Loyds Lake.
“I estimate that Recapture will reach the spillway in mid-May,” said Johnson. “Maybe sooner.”
The reservoir last reached the spillway nine years ago.
“It has gone up by five feet for three weeks in a row,” said Johnson.
While local reservoirs are likely to fill, the largest reservoir in the county will not reach its full capacity.
Lake Powell, which holds water from a massive drainage area, is currently at just 37 percent of capacity and is 43 feet below the water level one year ago. The lake would need to rise by nearly 131 feet to reach the full pool level.
The water level at the Bullfrog Launch is just 14 inches from the absolute minimum level for safe use, and the water level is still dropping a little every day. It is expected that the runoff will begin before the minimum level is reached.
A recent study by the Water Resources Group estimates that the water level at Lake Powell will rise 23 feet by the end of the year.
While the heavy winter would lead many to believe that the lake will rise more than 23 feet, water experts state that the extremely dry conditions in 2018 mean that thirsty soils will hold onto much of the precipitation in order to replenish ground water. As a result, less water will run off that would generally be expected.
The Monticello City Council is expected to address water rates at the April 9 council meeting
Monticello implemented stringent water rates in 2018. The new rates increased dramatically for high water users and helped the city cut water use.
Monticello City Manager Doug Wright said the Council raised the rates last year in part because of the dire water situation. He stated that the rates for 2019 could drop but may still be above previous rates.
Wright said that overall revenue for the water system increased in 2018, but was offset by the utility costs of pumping water.
The City of Blanding is considering a change in the rate structure for water use, with a similar goal of increasing efficiency in water use. See the accompanying article on page 2.
Through the month of March, precipitation continues to exceed average levels.
Blanding had 300 percent of normal precipitation for the month and the year-to-date totals are 200 percent of normal.
Monticello has received nearly ten feet of snow for the winter.
The difference is particularly dramatic when compared to 2018. At the same time last year, Bluff had just seven percent of normal precipitation. Currently, Bluff is at 163 percent of normal.
One year ago, Camp Jackson had 0.3 inches of water in the snowpack, compared to 26.0 inches today.