Aspen Journalism is compiling a data dashboard highlighting metrics of local public interest, updated at least every Friday. Check back for updates as we add more features.
This summer promises to be busy
“We are expecting to break some occupancy records this summer,” wrote Kristi Kavanaugh, Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president of sales, in the executive summary sent out on June 22 with the June 2021 occupancy report for Aspen and Snowmass lodges compiled by local tourism officials and reservations tracking firm Destimetrics.
After a nearly non-existent start to the summer season last year due to the pandemic — May 2020’s paid occupancy for Aspen was just 1.9%, followed by 7% in June for Aspen and Snowmass — this summer promises to get back on track and even exceed 2019’s occupancy rates. Reservations on the books for Aspen and Snowmass as of May 31 through October account for an occupancy rate of 40.2%. On May 31 of 2019, reservations through the summer season were at 34.3%.
Reservations on the books for the month of June as of May 31 were at 48%, down slightly from 2019’s mark of 51.7%. That near parity is all the more remarkable considering the absence of the Food & Wine Classic from the June calendar (it’s been moved to Sept. 10-12 this year) and slow starts for other local cultural institutions bouncing back from pandemic restrictions.
Low pool level at Lake Powell
On May 25, 2021, Lake Powell was 140.1 feet from full pool dipping to an elevation of 3,559.8 feet, which is 34.2% of full capacity and the lowest pool level for the reservoir since April 2005, when the elevation dropped to 3,555.2 feet. It was also the lowest pool level for the month of May in the reservoir’s history. On June 23, 2021, the lake’s storage was back up to an elevation of 3,561 feet and 34.52% of full, compared to 52.75% of full on June 23 of last year. The pool level went down from about 89 feet from full on June 23, 2020 to 138.9 feet below full pool on June 23, 2021.
If the surface elevation of the reservoir on the Utah-Arizona state line, which stores Colorado River water, drops below 3.525.5 feet, it would trigger a host of consequences, including changes to operations of Glen Canyon Dam affecting hydropower production, releases from upstream reservoirs to prop up Lake Powell, and potential litigation between the seven states that share water under the 1926 Colorado River Compact.
Stream flows keep dropping
Streamflows in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond continue to decline. The Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs flowed at 27.5% of average on June 23, and the USGS’s gauge at Stillwater near Aspen (located above the Salvation Ditch, which takes significant flows from the river before it flows through town) recorded that the Roaring Fork River was flowing at 28.8% of average on that same day. Outside the Roaring Fork Valley, the Colorado River near the Utah and Colorado state line flowed below 20% of average on June 23.
This year, stream flows peaked a few days earlier than their historic average peak. The Colorado River near the Utah and Colorado state line peaked on June 7, two days before its average peak, with flows at 40% of average. The Colorado River below Glenwood Springs peaked on June 5, three days before its average peak, with flows at about 59% of average.
As streams continue to decline, the water temperature will decrease the presence of dissolved oxygen in the water. “Low dissolved oxygen stresses trout and other aquatic organisms,” wrote the Roaring Fork Conservancy in its June 24 report.
Higher air temperature than usual
Air temperature has been higher than usual over the past month, up to 17.2°F above normal for the maximum temperature on June 14. That day, the maximum temperature reached 91°F, which is one of the highest temperatures ever recorded in Aspen in recent decades. The record for highest temperature recorded in Aspen since 1998, based on readings taken at the Aspen airport, was set on June 20, 2016, with 92°F, which is 16.1°F above normal.
Another recording station in Aspen posting data from 1980 until April 2021 showed a highest-ever recorded temperature of 92°F on July 1, 1983. Another recording station no longer in operation showed a highest-ever temperature of 94°F on July 27, 1917.
Minimum temperatures have also been elevated in the last month, particularly on May 21, when the low dipped to just 48°F, which is 12.9°F above normal. Minimum and maximum temperatures began cooling around June 19, but maximum temperatures are still higher than normal.
Fires have worsened air quality
As the number of fires have multiplied in Colorado and our neighboring states, the air quality in Aspen deteriorated in recent weeks, with a total of eight days in the “Moderate” air quality level over the past month. Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties implemented Stage 2 Fire Restrictions this week.
- Colorado’s Division of Water Resources
- Bureau of Reclamation
- Aspen Skiing Company and Destimetrics