New year begins with a good snowpack
While the eastern plains of the state have been abnormally dry, the mountains have been pounded by winter storm after winter storm, putting the state’s snowpack at well above long-term averages in most areas, according to the first snow surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Reservoir storage is at or slightly above normal across most of the state and combined with the good start to the snowpack, that provides optimism for the state’s water providers. Statewide, the snowpack is 36 percent above the long-term average. For the South Platte River basin, it is 26 percent above average and for the Colorado River, it is nearly 50 percent above average.
This year marks the highest Jan. 1 snowpack measured since 1997 when it was 160 percent of average, and it is about double what it was a year ago in northern Colorado.
“This is a welcome start to the year for Colorado’s water users, and we’re hoping these conditions remain with us for the next few months,” Allen Green said in a news release. He is the state conservationist with the NRCS in Denver.
Brian Werner, spokesman with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, agrees.
The district provides a supplemental water supply to eight northeastern counties through the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which diverts water from the Colorado River to those counties, including Weld County.
“We’ll take those numbers any day,” Werner said. “The issue right now is that it’s pretty dry on the plains, but given the alternatives, we’d rather have the snow in the mountains. Wet spring storms will fill up the soil moisture profile on the plains.”
For some areas of the state, the buildup of the snowpack began slowly.
In southern Colorado, the snowpack was 57 percent of average on Dec. 16. But the weather pattern shifted, and those averages increased to 140 percent of average by Dec. 31. At one automated site on Coal Bank Pass north of Durango, storms delivered 78 inches of snow which resulted in an additional 6.7 inches of water.
In northern Colorado, Green noted, the storm track has been more consistent and productive throughout the season, gradually building. More winter storms are predicted for this weekend.
But, Werner noted, it is still early to get real excited, as conditions can change in the next few months.
“But, what we’ve got now pretty well assures that we’ll have water this year,” he said.
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This the first in a six-part series of articles covering basic water law in the United States, predominately in the western part of the country, and how it affects this finite resource.