Snowpack/drought news: ‘Snowpacks [in March] were falling faster than a 3-year-old in high heels’ — Randy Julander

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Click on the thumbnail graphics to the right for the current snowpack map for Colorado and the Basin High/Low graph for the Rio Grande Basin, from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

“There are some water commissioners that think we could have a very, very dry season and possibly even worse than 2002 on some of the smaller creeks,” Division Engineer Craig Cotten said.

The biggest areas of concern are along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where snowpack stands at 43 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service…

The snowpack in the San Juans, which feed the valley’s two biggest and most heavily used rivers — the Rio Grande and the Conejos — stands at 45 percent of average. Before the warm and dry weather hit, snowpack in the San Juans was at 98 percent of average as of March 1…

As of now, water users on the Conejos are expected to face a 6 percent curtailment as the state is tasked with sending 12,100 acre-feet of water downstream during the irrigation season. On the Rio Grande, curtailment sits at 9 percent, while the expected delivery obligation downstream during irrigation season is 36,700 acre-feet.

From the Las Vegas Review Journal (Henry Brean):

One terrible month in the mountains that feed the Colorado River has erased almost 600 billion gallons from an already bleak outlook for Southern Nevada’s primary water source. Federal forecasters have slashed their projections for the river after an unusually warm, dry March sent mountain snow into full retreat. “Snowpacks were falling faster than a 3-year-old in high heels” last month, said Randy Julander, who supervises the federal snow survey program in Nevada, Utah and California. “They were tumbling left and right.” Julander said much of the range already looks like it usually does at the end of May. In places where snow should still be accumulating, there is barren ground and the threat of wildfires…

But there is a silver lining, according to Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s lower Colorado River regional office in Boulder City. Last year was so wet that Lake Mead won’t feel much immediate impact from this year’s sorry snowpack…

The surface of the reservoir is now expected to drop about 17 feet over the next year, according to a Bureau of Reclamation forecast released Tuesday. That’s not much worse than last month’s forecast, which predicted a 15-foot drop in Mead by next April.

From the Aspen Daily News (Dorothy Atkins):

Two documents that provide guidelines for what the community should do to manage the water supply during times of drought were released to the public on Thursday. The Roaring Fork Watershed Plan and a Water Conservation Report were presented by the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative at a meeting in Carbondale that drew about 65 people…

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

About 60 people in water-conservation groups as well as local, state and federal government agencies gathered in Carbondale on Thursday as part of a loose-knit effort called the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative. They discussed a variety of topics, but garnering the most attention were the short- and long-term prospects for drought and what can be done to protect rivers. “Last spring I was talking to you about flooding and flood risk,” Sharon Clarke, of the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, told the crowd. “What a difference a year makes. We’re in a short-term drought right now.”

The lower reaches of the Crystal River could go dry this summer if dry conditions persist, she said, as could the Roaring Fork River through Aspen. Hunter Creek, Woody Creek and East Snowmass Creek also are facing critically low streamflows, she said…

Pitkin County has already applied to work within Colorado’s water-rights laws to provide water to troubled reaches of the Roaring Fork River. The goal is to allow some landowners to forgo irrigating temporarily and essentially parking their water rights for a beneficial use. “There are quite a few folks that are willing and even anxious to talk to us about that prospect,” Ely said. If a legal path can be cleared, a section of the Roaring Fork River above the confluence with the Fryingpan River would be targeted for aid. Ely stressed Colorado water law is designed to remove surface water for beneficial uses. To reverse that is “bucking a trend,” he said.

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