A month deeper into the year, the water-supply outlook for Colorado keeps getting better.
Snowpack on Feb. 1 in the South Platte River Basin — which covers northeast Colorado, the most ag-productive area of the state — was 126 percent of historic average. That’s an improvement from just a month ago, when snowpack was right at about normal, sitting at 99 percent of historic average, according to figures released Thursday by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Additionally, reservoir levels were above normal on Feb. 1, according to the report. Collective water levels in the South Platte Basin were at 111 percent of historic average, also an uptick from Jan. 1, when reservoirs were at 105 percent of average.
Across the board, it’s major improvement from this time of the year in 2012 and 2013, when drought was plaguing the entire state.
There’s a long way to go before the irrigation season begins, but water providers and users in northeast Colorado can’t help but be a little optimistic. A healthy water supply is vital for Colorado’s large 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 Weld, Morgan, Logan and Yuma counties — the top four ag-producing counties in Colorado, all of which are in the northeast part of the state.
The recent NRCS report also showed that water supplies are in good shape on the northwest side of the state, which has an impact on northeast Colorado’s massive ag economy. The Colorado River Basin — which flows in the opposite direction of Weld, Morgan, Logan and Yuma counties, 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 was 116 percent of average on Feb. 1, while reservoir levels were 98 percent of average.
Many have stressed that with reservoirs already full in northern Colorado, the snowpack in the mountains should make a more direct path downhill in the spring, possibly allowing farmers to get an early start on irrigating.
There’s also optimism that cities will be more willing to lease some of their extra water to farmers and ranchers this year, if the water situation still looks good down the road. In 2013, most cities leased little or no water at all to ag users, because cities had to refill their reservoirs, which had been depleted during the 2012-13 drought.
Still Room For Improvement in Southern Colo.
After 2014’s snowfall in Colorado started off strong in the early weeks of January, the faucet seemed to have turned off during the latter half of January — until a couple storms finally moved through the state during the very last week of the month. In just one 24-hour period, from Jan. 30 to 31, the historic-snowpack average percentage jumped by 9 percentage points.
“This storm system benefited the entire state, but was especially needed in the southwest basins and the Upper Rio Grande basin,” said Phyllis Ann Philipps, state conservationist with the NRCS. “These areas had received very little snow since early in December and the recent moisture was a welcome change.”
While the snow received in the southwest and Upper Rio Grande was beneficial, it was not quite enough to boost the snowpacks in these regions back to normal. Those basins are the only basins in the state that reported below normal snowpacks on Feb. 1 — 82 percent of average for the Upper Rio Grande, and 79 percent of average for the San Juan basins.
Elsewhere in southern Colorado, the Feb. 1 snowpack was 100 percent of average in Arkansas Basin that covers southeast Colorado, another ag-productive part of the state. Those normal snowpack levels are quite welcome in southeast Colorado, which has been battling drought in recent years, and, because of that, reservoirs were only filled up to about 55 percent of average as of Feb. 1. ❖