ARWC River Report: Arkansas Basin drought lessens but snowpack remains low

January was the coldest month since 1988 in Denver, bringing winter storms that produced above-average snowpack for the state, but snowpack in the Arkansas River Basin remains below average at 81% of median.

As reported by the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that almost half of Colorado (45.65%), including the Upper Ark Valley, is no longer under drought conditions. Lower Ark Valley conditions range from abnormally dry in the foothills to extreme drought at the Kansas state line.

Arkansas Basin Snowpack Telemetry (SNOTEL) readings for snow-water equivalent range from 36% of median snowpack at the Apishipa site near the Spanish Peaks to 127% at St. Elmo in western Chaffee County.

The Brumley SNOTEL site, near Independence Pass, reports 91% of median snowpack, while Fremont Pass reports 94% and Glen Cove, north of Pikes Peak, is at 108%.

Hayden Pass, in the Sangre de Cristo Range, reads 49% of median, and Buckskin Joe in South Park reads 62%.

Reservoir Storage
Pueblo Reservoir is 64.1% full. January saw water storage in the reservoir increase from 195,933 acre-feet to 207,047. 

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operations reduced water storage in Turquoise Lake by almost 8,000 acre-feet to 58.7% full. At Twin Lakes, storage levels also decreased in January, to 70.5% full. 

Thanks in part to the Winter Water Storage Program, John Martin Reservoir water levels increased from 23,462 acre-feet at the end of December to 30,097 acre-feet at the end of January.

River Flows
As is common during winter, the flow gauge near Leadville is not currently reporting Arkansas River flows. The gauge at Granite in north Chaffee County reports a flow of 162 cfs with ice, and the gauge at Wellsville, downstream from Salida, reports 328 cfs, up slightly from December.

River flow at  Cañon City is 434 cfs, and the flow below Pueblo Reservoir remains little changed from last month at 113 cfs. River flow near Avondale is 267 cfs, also little changed from a month ago.

The gauge at Rocky Ford reads 23.8 cfs, a drop of about 80%. Flow below John Martin Reservoir remains low at 0.46 cfs, and the gauge near Lamar reads 14.7 cfs.

Calling Water Rights
Calling water rights in the Arkansas Basin remain unchanged from the end of December with eight calls for water, and the Maria Stevens Reservoir is authorized to divert water from the Cucharas River under its 1887 storage right. 

The most senior calling right is the 1862 Chilili Ditch, which began calling for Purgatoire River water Dec. 30, 2022. Otherwise, with the Winter Storage Program in effect, calling water rights are limited to:

  • Gonzales Ditch, 1866, Apishapa River.
  • Coleman Ditch, 1867, Hardscrabble Creek.
  • Fernandez Ditch, 1868, Turkey Creek.
  • Upper Huerfano No. 2, 1869, Huerfano River.
  • Doris Ditch, 1870, Fourmile Creek.
  • Fort Lyon Storage Canal, 1910, Arkansas River.
  • Arkansas River Compact (with Kansas), 1949, Arkansas River.
Joe Stone