‘Bathtub ring’ expanding at Colorado reservoirs as drought continues

GUNNISON COUNTY, Colo. -- There's something wrong with the stunning panorama at Colorado's largest waterway.

Blue Mesa Reservoir is dehydrating by the day with a 4- to 6-inch drop every 24 hours.

"You can see the high-water mark, it's very apparent after 52, 53 years of Blue Mesa being full," said Brant Porter, supervisory park ranger at Curecanti National Recreation Area.

They call the now-barren shore surrounding the reservoir the "bathtub ring," and it's expanding.  Blue Mesa Reservoir is barely a third full.

"Truthfully, in 1977, we were 16 feet below this. So this isn't a record, but as far as in recent history, this is something different," Porter said.

Just days ago, owners of large boats were warned to remove them. The water is too shallow to navigate. The water is down about 70 feet from where it should be.

And it's not just Blue Mesa. At Rifle Gap in Garfield County, boating and fishing season is drying out.

"We were here this spring and it was all the way up to the concrete barrier up there where the dam is," one boater said.

Not now. The lake down 35 feet this year and only half full.

"We're losing 3 inches of water a day," said Brian Palcer, park manager at Rifle Gap.

"It's the same story on lakes, reservoirs and rivers all across the state. Right now, Colorado is in the midst of its worst drought since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, and at places like Blue Mesa, they can't shut off the spigot.

"Demand downstream from farmers and southern Colorado cities hasn't relented. Even the picturesque cliffs and beautiful blue water can't disguise the ugly reality here.

"Western and southern Colorado is thirsty, and without a big drink this winter and beyond, this bathtub and others will drain ever closer to empty.

"We need cold, wet winters. And it may take a couple of those for the reservoir to come back up to full again."

Current water level conditions at some other lakes and reservoirs across the state:

Vega Reservoir (Grand Mesa)

All three boat ramps are closed for the season. Lake levels are low and receding rapidly.

Highlane Lake (Grand Junction)

The east boat ramp is closed for the season. The lake closes for the season on Sept. 30.

Rifle Gap (Garfield County)

Lake water levels are incredibly low and are dropping fast. The park is down to one functioning lane at the boat ramp. The courtesy dock is out of the water. Once the boat ramp is out of the water, boaters launch “at your own risk” because the patrol boat cannot be launched.

Harvey Gap (Garfield County)

The boat ramp is closed for the season. The lake is down about 20 feet.

Sweitzer Lake (Delta)

The boat ramp is closed for the season.

Crawford (between Aspen and Montrose)

The boat ramp is closed for the season. Because of the high water temperature and low still water, algae is starting to form. Algae might be harmful to dogs.  ​Water levels are very low. There are not any campsites that are close to the water.

Ridgway Reservoir (Ouray County)

The lake elevation down because of the release at the dam. The designated swim beach is closed because of low water.

Navajo Lake (San Juan County)

Because of lower-than-usual lake levels, the boat ramp will close Oct 14.

Chatfield Reservoir (near Denver)

Open to boating with inspections from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The south boat ramp is closed because of construction. The swim beach is closed for the season.

Cherry Creek Reservoir (near Denver)

Normal conditions.

Eleven Mile Reservoir (Park County)

Normal conditions.

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