Roaring Fork runoff likely to roar |

Roaring Fork runoff likely to roar

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

River runners who are licking their chops in anticipation of high runoff this year won’t be disappointed, according to preliminary estimates by the federal agency that monitors snowpack levels.

The runoff volume in the Roaring Fork River from April through July is expected to be 40 percent above average, Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), said Tuesday.

The NRCS currently is projecting that the runoff volume flowing into Ruedi Reservoir will be 30 percent above average.

Warm, dry weather could eat into the snowpack and alter projections, Gillespie cautioned. However, there is every indication that the runoff volume will be significantly higher than average based on the current snowpack level, he said.

The Roaring Fork River Basin’s snowpack level was 53 percent above average Tuesday. That was one of the highest levels among the basins throughout the state, according to NRCS data. Only a few areas in the southern mountains had levels that were a higher percentage of average.

Statewide the snowpack is 35 percent above average, according to a report released Tuesday by the NRCS.

“The state continues to report the highest snowpack levels since 1997,” the report said.

Gillespie said that 80 percent of the snowpack traditionally accumulates by March 1. The usual peak is April 14 for the central mountains. However, the snowpack level throughout the Colorado River Basin already is slightly above the usual peak, he said.

In other words, even if it quits snowing and warms up, the Aspen area already has reached its average peak snowpack.

The high runoff volumes will do more than thrill rafters, kayakers and other river runners. It will fill reservoirs with ease ” assuring farmers, ranchers and other landowners they will get their full allotments of water. It also will make landowners in low-lying areas nervous as stream levels rise.

Gillespie said there are no major flooding concerns at this point. But that, too, can change with the weather.

Peak runoff on the Roaring Fork River typically is around the third week of June, according to data tracked by federal agencies. It has been earlier in many recent years because of low snowpack levels.

“With low snowpack, it melts off quicker,” Gillespie said. Peak runoff takes longer when the snowpack is average or above average.

The best scenario for runoff in a high snowpack year such as this would be short periods of warm weather alternating with cold streaks, Gillespie said. That allows snow to melt in phases. The worst scenario would be cold weather up to Memorial Day, then an instant, sustained warm streak that melts the snow all at once.

Streamflow projections will be updated throughout late winter and early spring by the NRCS.