Water restrictions

Boulder -- No mandatory restrictions

Longmont -- No mandatory restrictions

Louisville -- Watering restricted to two days a week, starting May 1. No watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. No installation of new turf sod/seed until Sept. 1.

Lafayette -- No watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. No installation of lawn, turf grasses.

Erie -- No mandatory restrictions

Superior -- No mandatory restrictions

Broomfield -- No mandatory restrictions

Snowpack level for South Platte River watershed

April 8 -- 70% of normal

Wednesday -- 83% of normal

Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service

Days between March 1 and April 17 that reached 70 degrees or higher:

2012 -- 19

2013 -- 3

Days in March when relative humidity was less than 20%:

2012 -- 25

2013 -- 5

Source: Rocky Mountain Coordination Center

Although March and April have delivered a series of spring snow showers, water managers say it isn't time yet to toss out recently passed water restrictions.


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"We're still well below normal, and our projections are still well below normal, but this moisture pushes us in the right direction," said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which serves most municipalities in Boulder and Broomfield counties. "It gives us a shot in the arm in both storage and in runoffs."

The moisture also promises to interrupt the wildfire season by a few months, at least compared to last year, which saw fire activity on the Front Range begin as early as March with the deadly Lower North Fork Fire in Jefferson County. But before the drought gripping Colorado can be considered a thing of the past, there is plenty of catching up to do.

Since the year started off in such bad shape -- blame it on 2012's warm and dry spring -- the recent precipitation has merely been pushing snowpack and reservoir levels closer to normal for this time of year.

"Things were looking pretty dire here," Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said Wednesday. "These are the first storms that have given the snowpack a real boost."

And a significant boost, at that. On April 8, the snowpack level in the South Platte River watershed was 70 percent of normal for that date. On Wednesday, it was measured at 83 percent of normal.

Statewide, the snowpack was at 67 percent of normal 10 days ago, and on Wednesday it hit 83 percent of normal, Hultstrand said.

As of Wednesday evening, Boulder had received 34.9 inches of April snow. The record for the month is 44 inches, set in 1957.

This month's snowfall follows nearly 23 inches in March.

'Thank you to Mother Nature'

But both Werner and Hultstrand said additional moisture-laden storms are needed this spring before water managers can consider easing up on water restrictions planned for the summer. Werner said storage levels in Northern Water's system were 25 percent above normal a year ago, and at the beginning of April this year they were 25 percent below normal.

"We're playing catch-up with our snowpack, and we're also playing catch-up with our reservoir storage," Hultstrand said. "Things can dry up really fast around here."

So far, Broomfield and cities and towns in Boulder County are holding their ground with water restrictions. Louisville, which imposed the strictest limits in the county earlier this month -- with a mandatory twice-a-week outdoor watering schedule starting May 1 -- doesn't plan to back off its restrictions for now.

"Things are looking better, and all this moisture means that no one needs to do any irrigating until at least early or perhaps even mid-May," City Manager Malcolm Fleming wrote in an email. "However, the snow pack is still down and it will take more than this to fill the reservoirs that are very low."

Lafayette Public Works Director Doug Short said officials aren't going to consider easing Lafayette's restrictions, which limit outdoor watering to between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., until they see the state's May 1 snowpack and runoff projections. That means the paddleboat and canoe program at Waneka Lake remains dry-docked for now.

Jody Jacobson, spokeswoman for the Boulder Public Works Department, said the city is also awaiting next month's hydrological data before making a final decision on whether to impose water restrictions.

"Typically we don't announce if we'll have any restrictions until May 1 because that's when we do our final snowpack reading," she said. "In general, we were around 70 percent of average before these recent storms, and now the snow we're getting up there is going to bump us up quite a bit. We don't know how much yet, but we believe we are making significant gains on achieving the average."

According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the snowpack in the Boulder Creek watershed on April 1 was at 69 percent of normal for that date, while the levels in the St. Vrain and Big Thompson watersheds were 55 percent and 59 percent of normal, respectively. The service wasn't able to provide updated numbers for mid-April.

Like much of Boulder County, Broomfield partly relies on supplies from the Colorado Big Thompson project, which transports water from the west side of the Continental Divide to the Front Range. Broomfield Public Works Director David Allen said Wednesday that he plans to recommend to the City Council next week that it stick with a voluntary twice-a-week watering schedule across the city.

"We've gotten quite a bit of snow, but we're still not where we would normally be," Allen said.

The timing of the storms, he said, has been close to perfect and will give Broomfield and other communities more breathing room.

"The greatest benefit is that this has really delayed people from turning on their irrigation systems early," he said.

Werner, of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said not only have municipalities on the Front Range been saving water because snow is covering lawns that might otherwise be getting doused by sprinklers, farmers on the Front Range and on the eastern plains will benefit as well. They can bring back into production fields they might have otherwise let lie fallow, he said.

"We say thank you to Mother Nature," Werner said. "There is no better time to have storms than right now."

Wildfires fewer, less severe

Nolan Doesken, state climatologist with Colorado State University, said spring storms are crucial to setting the stage for the summer to follow, not just in regard to water supplies but to the prevalence and intensity of wildfires. At a minimum, Doesken said the recent storms have had the effect of "buying time" for a state still healing from Colorado's worst wildfire season in a decade.

"This gets us through April and into May," he said. "But it is April 17, and there's the whole summer yet ahead. Come back later this summer when it's 95 degrees and 18 percent relative humidity."

Tim Mathewson, fire meteorologist for the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center, said the moisture and climate conditions of the last few weeks suggest the 2013 wildfire season will be nothing like last year, or 2002.

First, he said, temperatures in the Denver metro area have been much cooler this year leading into spring. Between March 1 and April 17 of 2012, there were 19 days with high temperatures 70 degrees or more. During the same period this year, there have been three days when temperatures went that high.

Conditions locally aren't nearly as dry this year as last, Mathewson said.

"Right now, these conditions do not line up with those in the most severe fire seasons we've had," he said.

Mathewson warns that long-term forecasts still call for an average wildfire season in the state. But the longer snowmelt and subsequent runoff is delayed, the better the chance that vegetation will green up, retain moisture and take longer to dry out later in the summer when the days heat up, he said.

"This really shortens the window of opportunity for fires, and large fires in particular, to occur," he said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389 or aguilarj@dailycamera.com.