Middle Park snowpack remains above average as spring runoff begins | SkyHiNews.com

Middle Park snowpack remains above average as spring runoff begins

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Kremmling Field Office snow surveyors endured 60 degree days and burning sun to take the May 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of April. This is the final snow survey of the year, as the spring runoff has begun. Snowpack in the high-elevation mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 30 percent to 169 percent (average 123 percent) of the 30-year average. This is the highest May snowpack since 1996 and 1997, and considerably more than last year when it was 24 percent to 113 percent of average on May 1. Year-to-date precipitation in the Upper Colorado River Basin is 118 percent. Irrigators and river runners can look forward to above average spring runoff, which is now governed by temperature, wind, and possibly a few late spring storms. Today’s storm confirms Mark “Doctor” Volt’s thesis that “the only trouble with spring in this country is that winter is just around the corner.” Snowpack at low- to mid-elevation in Middle Park has been above average all winter, but is melting fast and is already gone at the lowest elevations. Deer and elk remain on their winter and early spring ranges, foraging on south and west slopes melted or blown clear of snow. Snow density is averaging 38 percent, which means that each foot of snow contains 4.5 inches of water. Statewide, snowpack is average to above average, with the highest snowpack in the Arkansas, Gunnison, and Colorado River basins. Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows: – The upper Colorado River Basin averages 119 percent – Gunnison River Basin, 122 percent – South Platte River Basin, 101 percent – Yampa and White River Basins, 112 percent – Arkansas River Basin, 125 percent – Upper Rio Grande Basin, 109 percent – San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basins 109 percent – Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 107 percent of average for this time of year. Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1930s. Snow course readings are taken at the end of each month, beginning in January and continuing through April. March is historically the snowiest month, and the April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of our high country snowpack peaks around that time. For further information, visit http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.

Lack of March snow likely to bring drought to parts of Middle Park

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Kremmling Field Office snow surveyors Mark Volt and Matt Barnes took the April 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of March, when the monthly precipitation for the upper Colorado River Basin was a scant 68 percent of average. Snowpack in the mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 59 percent to 107 percent of the 30-year average, with the highest readings on the southeast side of the valley, and the lowest readings along Rabbit Ears Divide on the north side of the valley. This is slightly more snow than on April 1 in the drought years of 2002 or 2004. “This resumes the pattern of weak spring snows observed during 2005-2007, despite the fact that March is historically the snowiest month,” said Mark ‘Doctor’ Volt, District Conservationist. “The April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of our high country snowpack peaks during April.” Snow density is averaging 31 percent, which means that for a foot of snow there are 3.7 inches of water. This is less water than normal for this depth of snow on April 1. Muddy, Troublesome, Corral, and Willow creeks in Middle Park, and the North Platte River in North Park, have the lowest snowpack in the state. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Grand County and adjacent parts of Jackson and Routt counties are now in moderate drought, with northern Summit County and most of the rest of northwest Colorado abnormally dry. The highest snowpack, relative to normal, is in the upper Rio Grande Basin in south-central Colorado. Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows: • Colorado River Basin, 76% • Gunnison River Basin, 94% • South Platte River Basin, 83 • Yampa and White River Basins, 77% • Arkansas River Basin, 111% • Upper Rio Grande Basin, 115% • San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basins 101% • Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 74% Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1940s. Snow course readings are taken at the end of each month, beginning in January and continuing through April. For further information, including real-time snow and precipitation data for SNOTEL (automated Snow Telemetry) sites, visit http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.

Granby " Middle Park snowpack mostly well above average

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Kremmling Field Office snow surveyors Mark Volt and Matt Barnes took the March 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of February, when the monthly precipitation was about 140 percent of average. Snowpack in the high-elevation mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 96 percent to 133 percent of the 30-year average. This is similar to 2006, when it was 102 percent to 144 percent of average, and more than last year when it was 77 percent to 121 percent of average on March 1. Snowpack at the lower elevations in Middle Park is well above average, as anyone who has been plowing or shoveling snow, or feeding livestock, can attest. Snow density is averaging 27 percent, which means that for a foot of snow there are 3.2 inches of water. In Colorado, the northern basins are above average, and the southern basins are substantially above average. Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows: – The upper Colorado River Basin averages 129 percent – Gunnison River Basin, 146 percent – South Platte River Basin, 111 percent – Yampa and White River Basins, 112 percent – Arkansas River Basin, 160 percent – Upper Rio Grande Basin, 165 percent – San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basins 159 percent – Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 111 percent Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1940s. Snow course readings are taken at the end of each month, beginning in January and continuing through April. March is historically the snowiest month, and the April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of Colorado’s high country snowpack peaks around that time. For further information, visit http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.

Protecting Colorado’s water future

Water is an essential ingredient to what makes Colorado special. Whether one lives on the West Slope, the Front Range, North Park or the San Luis Valley, it is what makes Colorado's productive businesses, farms and ranches, our thriving recreational industry, our beautiful environment, and our vibrant cities possible. Water is in short supply. In the coming decades, there could be a gap between water supply and demand by as much as half a million acre-feet or more per year. The entire state is put at risk by this scenario, but it is particularly threatening to Colorado's rural communities. Unless we do something to manage our water future differently than we do today, more and more agricultural water will be bought to supply our growing cities, thereby drying up hundreds of thousands of acres of productive farmland and jeopardizing the economy and livelihoods of rural Colorado. Northeastern Colorado alone is expected to lose about 20 percent of agricultural land currently under production from purchase agreements already in place. This water supply future is unacceptable. We must have a plan that uses our best thinking and problem solving to provide an adequate and secure water future for all Coloradans. In May of this year, the governor issued an Executive Order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop Colorado's Water Plan. This is an unprecedented undertaking for Colorado, but fortunately much of the work that is needed to develop the plan is already done. During the drought of 2002-03, the state commissioned the most comprehensive study ever done of Colorado's current and future water demands and supplies, a study which is continually being updated so it includes the most current information available. In addition, in 2005 the state legislature created the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), a group of 27 water leaders representing every major river basin and water constituency. It also created nine Basin Roundtables, groups of water leaders in every major river basin that have been taking an in-depth look at their basin's water challenges. For the last several years, these groups have been engaged in thoughtful dialogue while working hard to understand Colorado's water challenges and ways they could be addressed. The CWCB, IBCC, and Basin Roundtables have reached consensus on a variety of actions that will lead to a better water future, including support for alternatives to permanent "buy-and-dry" of agriculture, conservation, projects that meet certain criteria, and more. Colorado's Water Plan will not be a top-down plan full of state mandates and requirements. Instead, it will be built on the foundation of the work of the CWCB, the IBCC and the Basin Roundtables. And that is a strong foundation. The citizens in each basin are in the process of developing a water plan for their region. Because this effort is under way, we don't yet know all that Colorado's Water Plan will include. What we do know is Colorado's Water Plan will be balanced and will reflect Colorado's best values. The Governor's Executive Order specifies that Colorado's Water Plan must promote a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable businesses and cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry. The plan must further efficient and effective water infrastructure promoting smart land use and a strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife. Colorado's Water Plan will reaffirm the Colorado Constitution's recognition of priority of appropriation while offering recommendations to the Governor for legislation that will improve coordination, streamline processes and align state interests. With the help of many stakeholders and interested persons the CWCB will deliver a draft of Colorado's Water Plan to the Governor's Office by Dec. 10, 2014. The CWCB will then work with the Governor's Office to finalize Colorado's Water Plan no later than December 2015. To provide your insights and perspectives, please participate in the next meeting of your Basin Roundtable. To learn who the members of your Roundtable are and when they meet, visit http://www.cwcb.state.co.us and go to the IBCC and Basin Roundtable link. You can also submit your comments to the CWCB by emailing cowaterplan@state.co.us. For more information, visit Colorado's Water Plan online at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com – a new website is planned for release on Nov. 1.

Snowpack above Middle Park exceeds long-term average despite warm, dry February

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Kremmling Field Office snow surveyors Mark Volt and Matt Barnes took the March 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of February, when the monthly precipitation was about 82% of average. Snowpack in the high-elevation mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 93% to 146% of the 30-year average, with the highest readings on the south side of the valley and the lowest readings on the north side. This is similar to last year when the moisture content was 96% to 133% of average on March 1, although last February was much snowier than this February. Snow at the lower elevations in Middle Park has undergone a February thaw and does not reflect the above-average snowpack conditions at higher elevation. Snow density is averaging 28%, which means that for a foot of snow there are 3.3 inches of water. In Colorado, the snowpack on the western slope exceeds that of the eastern slope, and all major basins are above average except for the South Platte. The highest snowpack, relative to normal, is in the Roaring Fork sub-basin of the Colorado River Basin. Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows: The upper Colorado River Basin averages 115%; Gunnison River Basin, 109%; South Platte River Basin, 96%; Yampa River Basin, 112%; White River Basins, 107%; Arkansas River Basin, 109%; Upper Rio Grande Basin, 108%; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basins 107%; and the Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 102% of average for this time of year. Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1940s. Snow course readings are taken at the end of each month, beginning in January and continuing through April. March is historically the snowiest month, and the April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of our high country snowpack peaks around that time. For further information, including real-time snow and precipitation data for SNOTEL (automated Snow Telemetry) sites, visit http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.

Snowpack remains way above normal

Even as temperatures climb with spring on the horizon, snowpack in Middle Park remains in good shape. According to the most recent USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Kremmling Field Office snow surveys, snowpack in the high elevation mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 115 percent to 194 percent of the 30-year average, with the overall average for Middle Park at 141 percent. New record highs were set at both the Granby and Buffalo Park snow courses. At this time last year, the area was only at 75 percent of average. Snow density is averaging 28 percent, which means that for one foot of snow there is only 3.3 inches of water, which NRCS surveyors said is normal for early March. All Colorado River basins are reporting above average snowpack, except for southwestern Colorado which is 5 to 15 percent below average. Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows: Colorado River Basin 137 percent; Gunnison River Basin, 114 percent; South Platte River Basin,145 percent; Yampa and White River Basins, 122 percent; Arkansas River Basin, 103 percent; Upper Rio Grande Basin, 85 percent; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins 95 percent; and the Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 132 percent of average for this time of year. Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1940s. Snow course readings are taken at the end of each month, beginning in January and continuing through April. March is historically the snowiest month, and the April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of our high country snowpack peaks around that time. For further information, including real-time snow and precipitation data for SNOTEL (automated Snow Telemetry) sites, visit http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.

Middle Park snowpack and spring runoff well above long-term average

Melting of the snowpacks in the Upper Colorado River Basin was delayed slightly by a few small storms during the first two weeks in May, but the melt began in earnest around mid-month and, except for a few days around May 23, continued through the rest of the month. By the end of the month, based on SNOTEL data, only 34 percent of this year’s peak snow water content remained. Almost half of the peak snow water content was lost during May. However, at 146 percent of average, June 1 snowpacks remain well above normal and significantly (over four times) higher than the snowpacks reported last year at this time. All the sub-basins report well above average snowpacks, ranging from 375 percent of average in the Willow Creek Watershed to 131 percent of average in the mainstem Upper Colorado Watershed (above Dotsero). May precipitation at the higher elevations of the basin was above average for the sixth consecutive month. In fact, November remains the only month of below average precipitation reported this water year. As you would expect, total precipitation for the water year is above average. Although slightly below the totals reported last year at this time, reservoir storage in the basin is 99 percent of average. Runoff forecasts were increased from last month at most points in the basin. June-July volumes are still expected to be above to well above average at almost all the forecast points. Streamflows for the next two months should range from 94 percent of average for the inflow to Lake Granby to 155 percent of average for the Roaring Fork at Glenwood Springs. Statewide, average snowpack is 111 percent, with the highest snowpack in the Gunnison and Colorado River basins. Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows: – Upper Colorado River Basin averages 146 percent – Gunnison River Basin, 145 percent – South Platte River Basin, 119 percent – Yampa and White River Basins, 85 percent – Arkansas River Basin, 130 percent – Upper Rio Grande Basin, 86 percent – San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basins 95 percent – Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 122 percent of average for this time of year. For further information, visit http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.

February survey shows above average snowpack

It's been a good year so far for Colorado's snowpack. The Feb. 1 snow survey found that snow pack above Middle Park is 112 percent of the 30-year average, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Kremmling Field Office. The average is based on readings taken between 1980 and 2010. February's reading shows snowpack is currently sitting above last year's, which was at 100 percent of the average in February. "This is the Feb. 1 reading, and we've got quite a bit of the winter still left, so stuff can still change," said Mark Volt with NRCS Kremmling. "Either we can get lot more than normal or a lot less than normal." March is typically the snowiest month of the year. The average snow density is 24 percent, meaning there are 2.9 inches of water per foot of snow, according to NRCS Kremmling. There was much anticipation as to how a strong El Niño system in the Pacific Ocean would affect snowpack across the state. So far, major river basins across Colorado are also reporting higher than average snowpack. The upper Colorado River Basin is at 104 percent, the Gunnison River Basin is at 109 percent, the South Platte River Basin is at 101 percent, the Arkansas River Basin is at 109 percent, the Upper Rio Grande Basin is at 102 percent, and the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins are at 110 percent, according to NRCS Kremmling. Statewide snowpack was at 111 percent of normal on Feb. 1, according to NRCS Denver. Two large storms that painted the state white at the end of January made up for less than stellar snowfall throughout the month, said Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor Brian Domonkos in a press release. "Without these two storms January precipitation totals would have only been near 70 percent normal, however as a result of these late January storms, precipitation closed out the month at 98 percent of normal and 109 percent of the year-to-date total," Domonkos said. The April 1 snow survey is typically the most important in terms of characterizing the state's runoff, Volt said Hank Shell can be reached at 970-557-6010.

Conversation with… James Newberry, Colorado River District

James Newberry is starting his second year as the Colorado River District board president, and has represented Grand County on the board since 2004. Through his time on the board and serving as a county commissioner, Newberry has made protecting the area's valuable water resources a high priority. Chief among water concerns are developing Colorado's first water plan, which is currently being drafted, and obligations from the 1922 Colorado River Compact. As drought menaces water supplies in downstream states, those obligations could spell trouble for those living at the Colorado River's headwaters in Grand County. Newberry spoke about the challenges facing the state's water supply and thoughts about our water future. What are you goals as president of the Colorado River District board for the coming year? I don't know it's a goal, but what's been laid out in front of us is the Colorado water plan, and we as a district have been involved in formulation of that plan. We're also looking into compact calls to lower basin states, and how that integrates into the Colorado water plan. For example, how do we match up being able to divide up water on the East and West slopes within Colorado, while still managing those compact agreements? I think the Colorado River District will be a leader in advocating for different methods, such as water banking and risk-management in the different river basins. Statewide, we're looking at what it means to develop a water plan while meeting a compact call, should it go into place. As a river district, we don't believe it's just a West Slope issue. Explain the problems Grand County could face from drought issues farther downstream. That truly is the problem with a compact call. The only water rights that wouldn't be subjected to a compact call are those made before 1922, the very senior water rights. Some people say if we get compact calls it's great for Grand County, because not as much water will go to the Front Range as we send it down river to meet our obligations. But there are going to be a lot of junior rights that people wouldn't be able to use. The bottom line is, it works in all water users' interests to work on a water plan. That way if there is a call, we'll have water stored up or credited, and we can work out those preexisting diversions. One thing the Colorado River District is fighting for is to make sure whatever the risk of that future that call is, it's not just going to be the West Slope bearing the brunt of meeting compact obligations downstream. The West's water future is looking grim. Is there anything that makes you feel optimistic? We're now taking a hard look at the water situation we'll have in the future. When they decided the Colorado River Compact, it was one of the wettest periods in the history of the Colorado River. I don't think that model is viable. Whether you believe in climate change and its effects or not, maybe this is making us aware of the amount of water we really do have, and it's getting us to do a better job of managing it. Is that optimism? Maybe not, but it's the reality we're facing. What projects are you advocating to increase conservation of Colorado River water? We're always looking at ways of conservation. In the next 30 years or so, the state projects we're going to have a 500,000-acre-foot water shortage. One of our engineers looked at the study (the Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2010), then turned around and said we could address that gap without further diversions from the West Slope, some of that through conservation. There is no 'new water,' and we'll have to go back to conservation, like installing low-flow faucets and lining irrigating ditches. We're always backing ways to better use water we have. Are there any accomplishments you're proud of during your time on the Colorado River District board? I think the involvement with the Windy Gap firming project in Grand County. Without the river district, I don't know how far we would've gotten back at the federal level and the Bureau of Reclamation, the heavy hitters, without their help. The Colorado River District has also been heavily involved in Vail Ditch water shares and trying to move water to the upper Fraser River. And they've done a huge amount of work on the Colorado River here. The river district basically came into existence to be a watchdog on the Colorado-Big Thompson project. That's truly the root of their existence, and we have held true to that. For example, we're working on water clarity in Grand Lake, and the river district is helping hand-in-hand.

Colorado River tops American River’s most endangered

American Rivers announced last week its annual list of America's Most Endangered Rivers, naming the Colorado River the Most Endangered in the country. The river advocacy group named the Colorado River endangered due to outdated water management that is too inadequate to respond to the pressures of over-allocation and persistent drought. "American Rivers is calling on Congress to fund programs that encourage 21st century water management, while protecting rivers and the people, communities, and wildlife they support across the Colorado Basin," states American Rivers in a press release. "This year's America's Most Endangered Rivers report underscores the problems that arise for communities and the environment when we drain too much water out of rivers," said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers, in statements. "The Colorado River, the No. 1 Most Endangered River in the nation, is so over-tapped that it dries up to a trickle before reaching the sea. We simply cannot continue with status quo water management. It is time for stakeholders across the Colorado Basin to come together around solutions to ensure reliable water supplies and a healthy river for future generations." According to American Rivers, 36 million people from Denver to Los Angeles drink Colorado River water. The river irrigates nearly four million acres of land, which grows 15 percent of the nation's crops. Over-allocation and drought have placed significant stress on water supplies and river health, and the basin is facing another drought this summer. Lower river flows threaten endangered fish and wildlife, along with the $26 billion dollar recreation economy that relies on the Colorado River. There is not enough water in the Colorado River to meet the basin's current water demands, aaccording to the Bureau of Reclamation's Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study (December 2012), let alone support future demand increases. Scientists predict climate change will reduce the Colorado River's flow by 10 to 30 percent by 2050. American Rivers and its partners urge Congress to immediately follow the Bureau of Reclamation's recent study with "bold action and funding to build a future that includes healthy rivers, state-of-the-art water conservation for cities and agriculture, and water sharing mechanisms that allow communities to adapt to warmer temperatures and more erratic precipitation." Awareness for Upper Colorado For Grand County Commissioner James Newberry, president of the Colorado River District board, the designation comes as no surprise. "We realized that quite a long time ago, that the Fraser was in trouble and the Colorado River was in trouble. We're trying to do something to fix it," he said, referring to negotiations with water utilities attempting to divert more water from the Upper Colorado River basin. "We're doing what we can to make the Colorado and the Fraser better," he said. This year's American Rivers designation, "shows how important that effort has been. "It's an awareness," he continued. "It shows the work we have ahead of us." The 2013 list of America's Most Endangered Rivers also highlights other rivers across the country threatened by outdated water management. The Flint River in Georgia is going dry due to excessive agricultural withdrawals in its southern reaches, as well as increasing municipal demands. The San Saba in Texas is running dry due to excessive agricultural withdrawals. The Little Plover in Wisconsin is at risk due to withdrawals from high capacity wells. The annual America's Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers' fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur some successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.