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All The Snow Already Raises Runoff Concerns

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Spring runoff in Vail (credit: CBS)

Spring runoff in Vail (credit: CBS)

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SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – All the snow in the high country has been great for the ski resorts, but some are already raising concerns about the spring runoff.

On nearly every corner of every mountain town there are huge piles of snow. As of Monday the snowpack was at 127 percent of the average. If that holds up through the winter, the spring runoff could be a very serious issue. But water managers around the state are a bit unsure.

“You hear all the time that nobody knows what average is anymore,” Scott Hummer with the Blue River Water Commission said. “We’re sitting in a good place, but we’re a long way from being able to fully see through the crystal ball.”

Experts say most forecast models show the snowpack across the state dropping before the winter ends.

“As far as our water supply is concerned, what happens between now through the end of May and even into June is all important, so there’s a lot of months left to come where we don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Bob Steger with Denver Water said. “So we’re monitoring the situation and we’ll take action as we need to.”

Denver Water says they are in better shape than this time last year. The Dillon Reservoir is low right now but will likely fill quickly by spring.

“If we have a really high snowpack in April we would look at letting out some water before the snow really starts to melt,” Steger said.

Weather around the time of the runoff is what everybody will be watching. Last June a flash of warm temperatures created flooding in Vail, but there was a below-average snowpack there. It didn’t cause much damage, but more water and an even later melt could make for even bigger problems.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to predict what’s going to happen based on what’s been happening with the climate,” Hummer said.

The important date is April 1. If there is an incredible amount of snowfall during the last few months of winter and the snowpack reaches around 150 percent of average by that time, there could be major flooding in mountain valleys.

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