Snowpack is behind average for the year, but winter isn’t over yet
Colorado snowpack/reservoir levels
Figures represent percentage of historic average in January
Basin / Snowpack / Reservoir Storage
Gunnison / 40 / 104
Upper Colorado / 69 / 113
South Platte / 82 / 114
North Platte / 78 / 117
Yampa/White River / 67 / 117
Arkansas / 64 / 143
Upper Rio Grande / 31 / 123
San Miguel (others in SW. Colo.) / 27 / 105
Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service
A warm, dry start to winter has left snowpack in Colorado well behind the average total. But there’s still plenty of winter left for a comeback, experts said.
As of Jan. 8, the state sits at about 55 percent of the average snowpack, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Things are looking slightly better in northern Colorado, with the two basins that impact Weld County — the Upper Colorado and the South Platte — at 69 percent and 82 percent of the average year, respectively.
But Eric Brown, spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said there’s a lot of snow season left. Though he said Northern Water is paying close attention to precipitation levels and the subsequent impact on snowpack, farmers, ranchers and other water users in the area don’t need to worry quite yet.
“We’ve seen things turn around quickly with a big snowstorm or two as late in the year as April or even May,” he said. “We’re optimistic we’ll see that again at some point this year.”
WINTER ISN’T OVER YET
Historically in Colorado, the wettest snows of the year come in the spring, so it’s too early to make predictions about the impact a dry start to winter will have on the 2018 growing season.
Brown also said water users in northern Colorado can take some comfort in knowing that reservoir storage levels are at their 12th highest on record, with reservoir storage at 122 percent of average. That remains true statewide, according to the NRCS. Across Colorado, reservoir storage is at about 115 percent of the historic average.
Even if the winter remains relatively dry, Northern Water has a good amount of water in storage to make up for it this year. However, continued dry weather would put a question mark over future water supplies, since it would require Northern Water to tap into its storage.
In the next several months, as farmers pay just as close attention to precipitation as Northern Water, Brown said they may have to make some tough choices. The snowpack will be most important to those who rely directly on runoff for their water supply. Plus, direct snowfall on farmland is important to improve soil moisture and crop quality.
“In general, farmers who have access to some sort of water in storage should be okay for 2018,” he said. “But for the farmers who don’t have access to water that’s in storage, they really need snow in the near future.”
— Work is a freelance write from Lakewood, Colo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.