Snowpack declining in valleys where Colorado River begins; Weld County officials not worried
Snowpack and reservoir levels across Colorado. Figures represent percentage of historic average on (closest date possible).
Basin - Snowpack - Reservoir Storage
South Platte - 98 - 117
Colorado - 89 - 120
Gunnison - 79 - 111
North Platte - 85 - NA
Yampa/White - 78 - 122
Arkansas - 96 - 80
Rio Grande - 77 - 72
San Miguel (others in SW Colo.) - 72 - 89
Statewide - 83 - 105
Note: Reservoir numbers represent data up until the end of February. Snowpack numbers are as of Tuesday.
Source: National Resources Conservation Service.
The snow ranged between 89 and 91 percent of the long-term average, depending on which measurement is used.
“We dried out relatively significantly here since the beginning of March,” said Brian Domonkos, supervisor of the Colorado Snow Survey for the U.S. Agriculture Department.
Domonkos told the state task force on water availability that recent warm weather had begun to melt the snow at lower elevations in parts of the Colorado River basin.
However, in Weld County, water officials said they weren’t concerned at this point.
Brian Werner, of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said they watch two basins. He said the conservancy district provides somewhere between a quarter and a third of the water in northeastern Colorado.
“We’re not half but we are a big part of the water supply,” he said.
Werner explained that northeastern Colorado, including Weld County, relies on the South Platte River Basin and the Upper Colorado River Basin.
As of Tuesday, the South Platte was at 98 percent of its historic average and the Upper Colorado was at 89 percent, he said. It’s not at 100 percent, but there still is time to bring that number up, and Werner said he’s not worried about this year for another reason.
“We have all kinds of high storage levels,” he said. “We’re in pretty good shape at this time.”
Werner said that while it wouldn’t be ideal, Weld would make it through a drought year fine at this point.
“We could actually do OK with a dry year,” he said. “We’d never want a dry year but if we’re going to have one, this is a good year to do it.”
Werner also said that the state is only halfway through the first of two typically wet months, so there’s still time to collect more water.
“March and April are out two wettest months,” he said. “I think we’d like to get a few more wet storms this spring. It helps the farmers with the moisture content (in the ground).”
But not too much rain or snow, he said.
“We don’t want it to get too wet or they can’t get into the fields to plant,” Werner said.
Early indications are that the risk of flooding in Colorado will be lower this year than last but still higher than average, said Klaus Wolter, a climate scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in Boulder.
Wolter said little dust appears to have accumulated on Colorado’s snow this year. Because of its darker color, dust can absorb more heat than snow and hasten melting and the spring runoff.
Ultimately, Werner said they are optimistic at the water conservancy district.
“You never want to say we don’t have anything to worry about,” he said. “Now, having said that, we’re in pretty good shape storage-wise.” ❖
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