Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack is 60% of the thirty year average, a year ago the statewide figure was 115%

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The snowpack map for Colorado now shows snowpack across the entire state at below 70% of the thirty year average. The April 1st snowpack is important for planners across the state and this year’s picture is cause for reflection. There is hope, but not much, looking at the 30 day forecast from the Climate Prediction Center. Readers may remember the Saint Patricks Day storm in 2003 that brought the Front Range out of the 2002 drought with record snowfall in some areas.

Click on the thumbnail graphics above and to the right for the current snowpack map and the April 1, 2011 snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service along with yesterday’s U.S. Drought Monitor map.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

There’s no mud in Leadville, much less snow. That’s at 10,152 feet above sea level. On the other side of the mountains, in Glenwood Springs, the water slide opened at the Hot Springs pool this week, much to the delight of local school children on spring break. Higher up in the mountains, there still is snow — skiers were adroitly avoiding the rocky places on slopes at Vail — just not as much as would be expected at this time of year. “February was a good month, but in March it just stopped,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “Usually at this time of year, we’re building a snowpack.”[…]

All of the state’s basins are below average — ranging from 67 percent in the northwest corner of the state to 83 percent in the Arkansas River basin. “Typically by this time of the year Colorado has reached 92 percent of its average peak snow water equivalent for the season,” said Veva DeHeza, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board in the latest state drought planning report. “However, to date, the state has only achieved 67 percent of the peak and 72 percent of the average statewide.” The Arkansas River basin is now in its 18th month of drought and as spring arrives is again susceptible to fire. Water storage levels remain near average.

From The Mountain Mail (Cailey McDermott):

Decreased snowpack in the Arkansas River Valley basin, 70 percent of average as of Tuesday, threatens agriculture and the tourism economy in Chaffee County. Mage Skordahl, assistant snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said this time last year the snowpack in the Arkansas River Valley basin was 95 percent of average…

Skordahl said lower tributaries, which don’t contribute much to the overall flow of the Arkansas River, skew overall numbers for the Arkansas River basin. More telling numbers, she said, are those for just the upper portion of the basin where snowpack level is 60 percent of average – down from 78 percent March 1. Feb. 1 the entire basin was 81 percent of average and the upper basin was 71 percent. “We usually receive 20 percent of our snowpack in March, but we’ve had little to no snow across the state – and it’s been warm,” she said…

“The good news is we’re having below-average snowpack following an above-average year, so we have plenty of water stored in reservoirs,” Skordahl said. March snowpack was lower in 2000 and 2002, she said.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

According to figures provided by the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins, this month has so far been the driest and hottest March for Greeley since the city’s climate records started being kept in 1967. And the effects are seemingly sparing no one, from farmers — some of whom have been forced to replant wheat and may have to irrigate their spring crops sooner than normal — to municipal water users — who could potentially see lawn-watering restrictions this year or increased water fees next year as a result on the ongoing dry times. In a month in which Greeley averages about 8.3 inches of snow, there has been none this March — which has only happened two other times, in 1972 and 2004, according to Wendy Ryan with the Colorado Climate Center. And the .01 inches of precipitation recorded during this month match the all-time low, also set in 2004. Even March 2002 — in a year that, according to some measures, was the driest for the area in centuries — had more moisture to offer Greeley than this month. There was .51 inches of precipitation that month…

National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin said temperatures are expected to drop in the first week of April, with highs in the 50s and 60s. But precipitation is an uncertainty…

Most wheat farmers in the area said their crops have so far survived the dry, hot and windy conditions and still look decent, but they need rain soon so damage is prevented. Farmers who are planting their spring crops or soon will be — producers of corn, onions, sugar beets, potatoes, dry beans — are also hoping for moisture. Without snow or rain, farmers will soon have to start tapping into the stored-water supplies to irrigate their crops, doing so ahead of their normal schedule.

Municipal water officials, too, could be forced to tap into their stored-water supply ahead of schedule if rains don’t come soon. Jon Monson, director of the city of Greeley Water & Sewer Department, said the ongoing dry spell — at a time residents either are or will soon begin watering their lawns — has led water officials to look at whether or not to send more water from the city’s reservoirs, or save that water for the future and, in doing so, put watering restrictions in place for Greeley residents. Already, Monson said, the city is producing about 20 million gallons of water a day from its Bellvue Treatment Plant — a water-usage mark the city typically doesn’t hit until later in April — and the city could be forced to begin producing water from the Boyd Lake Treatment Plant as early as next week, about two weeks ahead of most years. That move would increase costs for the city, an expense that could trickle down to the city’s water users next year…

“At this point, we’re holding out hope for a wet April,” Monson said. “That’s about the only way we’re going to avoid these potential problems we face.”

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The water in the snowpack 10 miles east of Aspen was 8.6 inches Thursday, only 52 percent of the average between 1971 and 2000, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported. On March 29, 2002, the snowpack was at 78.5 percent of average. The snowpack disappeared quickly that year because of high temperatures and dry soil conditions that persisted from 2001. The central mountains and much of Colorado were in the grip of a severe drought through half of July. This year, the U.S. Drought Monitor, operated by the federal government, officially classifies the Aspen area as “abnormally dry.” The center’s outlook says more severe drought conditions could develop in Colorado in the next few months. “It’s looking horrid,” said Sharon Clarke, a land- and water-conservation specialist with Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit that focuses on water quality and quantity issues in the valley. “I haven’t seen anything that looks very hopeful.”[…]

The Colorado River District, a Glenwood Springs-based public water-policy agency, is urging water providers to come up with a contingency plan in case of drought. Reservoir operators, for example, can scale back releases in anticipation of less snowmelt this spring, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the river district. Water providers can get customers thinking in advance of conservation. Property owners who are considering installing new sod and other landscaping that requires watering might want to consider delaying plans. “I think it’s not too early to talk about it now,” Kuhn said about the possibility of drought…

Streamflow forecasts, based on snowpack levels and weather forecasts, will be updated by federal agencies during the first week of April. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center says Colorado’s mountains can expect continued warmer and drier weather over the next eight to 14 days, with only a small disturbance creating the chance of precipitation on Sunday and Monday.

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