Staff reports

New Report: Northern Colorado water supplies still looking good; Outlook not so great for southern half

Northeast Colorado’s water supplies are still looking good after the end of a critical snowpack month, according to a Natural Resources Conservation Service report.

Snowpack on April 1 in the South Platte River Basin — which supplies northeast Colorado, where the bulk of the state’s ag production takes place — was 142 percent of historic average, according to NRCS figures released Thursday evening.

At those levels, the South Platte basin boasts the highest basin wide total in the state.

The basin has not recorded snowpack levels this high since 2011, which was a historic water year.

Reservoir levels for the basin were also above normal as of April 1, according to the report. Collective reservoir levels in the South Platte basin were at 108 percent of historic average.

Snowpack and reservoir measures have been at normal levels or better for a while, but many water users were reluctant to get their hopes up, for months saying there was still a long way to go before the water outlook would be clear enough for farmers and cities to know what they’d be working with during the 2014 growing season.

But those good numbers are really starting to mean something now that we’re into April, water experts said.

A healthy water supply is vital for Colorado’s agriculture industry that, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, uses about 85 percent of the state’s water.

And it’s especially critical for northeast Colorado, which includes nine of the state’s 10 most ag-productive counties, like Weld, which leads the state in production and ranks eighth nationally.

Like other water users, March is particularly critical for the ag industry — which makes a $40 billion impact on the state’s economy — as farmers typically begin spring planting in April, and make their planting decisions largely based on water-supply forecasts.

In addition to being good for the South Platte basin, the NRCS report showed that water supplies are in good shape on the western side of the state, which has an impact locally.

The Colorado River Basin — which flows in the opposite direction of Greeley and Weld County, but still supplies a large chunk of the region’s water needs through transmountain tunnels that cross the Continental Divide — had similar numbers to those of the South Platte basin.

Snowpack for the Colorado basin increased to 131 percent of average on April 1, while reservoir levels were 93 percent of average.

Statewide Outlook

The latest snow measurements indicate that Colorado’s statewide snowpack continues to track above normal.

Surveys conducted on April 1 show statewide snowpack at 115 percent of normal, which is 156 percent of the snowpack measured one year ago.

March brought a continuation of previous weather patterns, with most storms favoring the northern mountains ranges while storm systems in the southern mountains were few and far between. Unfortunately, the storm systems passing through during March lacked the moisture that the previous month’s systems had.

As a result, the majority of snowpack totals for the major basins across the state showed slight decreases in percentages compared to the previous months. In fact only two of the major basins — the Colorado basin and the Yampa, White and North Platte combined basin — recorded snowpack percentages that improved.

With all the northern basins continuing to report above normal snowpack percentages, the outlook for spring and summer water supplies in these regions is excellent. Across the Colorado, South Platte, Yampa, White and North Platte basins and the headwater portions of the Gunnison and Arkansas basin’s, runoff volumes are currently anticipated to be well above normal this season.

Also, at the end of March reservoir storage across the state was holding steady at 89 percent of average. The northern basins are all reporting storage above or near normal for this time of year, while the Arkansas, Upper Rio Grande, and southwest basins all have below normal storage.

NO REBOUND FOR SOUTHWEST COLORADO

The latest measurements show snowpack conditions across the southern mountains continuing to track below normal for the third consecutive month.

April 1 measurements put the Upper Rio Grande basin at just 79 percent of median, and the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins at 80 percent of median.

The effect of this is that spring and summer streamflow volumes are expected to be below normal across southwestern Colorado this year.

While there is still a possibility for spring snowstorms to improve conditions in these basins, the chances are extremely low given that the normal maximum snowpack is typically reached in the first week of April. ❖


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The Fence Post Updated Apr 17, 2014 12:41AM Published Apr 5, 2014 12:13PM Copyright 2014 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.