Rio Grande River basin: Water supply forecasters and San Luis Valley irrigators are eyeing a beefed up snowpack measuring network


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

While the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable did not consider a specific funding request, a presentation from a team of federal, state and private researchers laid out improvement areas that included more snow gauges, radar and a host of smaller steps.

Improving runoff forecasts is no small matter to ranchers and farmers in the San Luis Valley, where snowmelt accounts for roughly 80 percent of stream flows…

The first drink out of the Rio Grande and Conejos rivers go toward satisfying interstate compact requirements with Texas and New Mexico and varies in size, according to the snowpack. A larger snowpack means the valley will have to send a greater portion downstream. But inaccurate forecasts can create uncertainty among water users because of the timing of when they’ll be able to divert water and the amount diverted. This year, for example, runoff was larger than predicted in the spring, forcing the state to send a larger amount of water downstream to satisfy the compact. By mid-July irrigators on the Rio Grande were forced to part with 22 percent of their allotment, while water users on the Conejos were watching 46 percent of their rightful share head downstream.

Over the past five years forecasters have come to within 4 percent of the actual runoff. They’ve also been off by as much as 24 percent…

While a pilot project could operate out of the valley as soon as December 2012, the cost of a permanent system could be as high as $10 million, [Steve Vasiloff, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] said.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

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