Snowpack/runoff/drought news: The Eagle River is melting out early, statewide snowpack slumps to 39% of the thirty year average



Direct irrigators operations can become a casualty of drought when the snowpack melts out before they need water. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the latest snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service along with the April 10, 2012 drought map from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

The Eagle River basin is melting four to eight weeks earlier than normal this year because of below average snowfall, warm spring temperatures and wind, according to the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, presenting what could be the worst water supply year in Eagle County history…

“2002 was the worst thing we had seen,” said Water District General Manager Linn Brooks. “It was the worst drought Colorado had seen since like the 1750s, according to tree ring data, and this one is so much worse, or at least shaping up to be much worse.”

While Front Range water supplies rely heavily on reservoirs that are currently full or near-full because of an above average snowpack in 2010-11, Eagle County relies on streamflows for its water supply, Brooks said. “The Front Range is worried about next year, but that’s not true for us — we’re worried about this year,” Brooks said…

A lot of the outlook still depends on the weather, though. Water district spokeswoman Diane Johnson said the snowpack story is essentially over — we know what we’ve got in terms of the snowpack, and the answer is bad news.

Click through to the website. They’ve got all the links you need, streamflow, SNOTEL, etc.

From The Durango Herald (Seth Borenstein):

Temperatures in the lower 48 states were 8.6 degrees above normal for March and 6 degrees higher than average for the first three months of the year, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That far exceeds the old records.

The magnitude of how unusual the year has been in the U.S. has alarmed some meteorologists who have warned about global warming. One climate scientist said it’s the weather equivalent of a baseball player on steroids, with old records obliterated.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The snow is sparse this year, but rafting companies are optimistic that won’t mute the roar of the Poudre…

…rafting companies are counting on late-season irrigation releases from brimming mountain reservoirs to sustain the rafting season through what is expected to be a tepid mountain runoff this spring. The mountain snowpack this week has reached low levels not seen in years, with the Upper Colorado River Basin 63 percent below normal for snowpack water content and the South Platte River Basin at 47 percent below normal. The snowpack levels could mean decent flows for rafting early in the season as rivers and streams swell with a brief shot of snowmelt, but all bets are off for later in the summer.

“It’s going to affect our late season, our late July and August, to the effect that we’ll probably only be rafting on irrigation water by then,” Rothwell said. The good news for the rafting industry is that the reservoirs are full of water leftover from 2011’s above-average snow season, much of which will be sent down the Poudre to farmers on the plains.

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins) via The Durango Herald. From the article:

U.S. ski resorts posted record visitation in the last few years, reaching more than 60 million nationally and more than 12 million in Colorado. Diversified resort operations – from real estate to lodging to lessons to dining – buoyed bottom lines, and aggressive snowmaking pushed resorts away from a live-or-die reliance on bountiful snow. Then came this season, with snowfall so weak that Colorado’s snowpack is half its normal level. Skier visits were down around 7 percent before a record dry March effectively killed the season. “This year certainly puts the perspective back on how much we really do rely on snow,” said Ethan Mueller, general manager of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, which expects to see visits fall 10 percent. “Maybe the industry can trump the economy, but snow is king.”[…]

Michael Berry, president of the 321-resort National Ski Areas Association, said the nearly 10 million-visit drop nationwide mirrors the season of 1980-81, when a dearth of snow in the Northeast, California and central Rockies rocked the industry. “Usually, it’s just one or two (regions),” Berry said. “This is the first time in what, 30 years, that we’ve seen a line through all three. Our fundamental strengths remain strong, but this certainly was a weather-impacted year.”[…]

In Colorado, the Front Range’s Echo Mountain and Eldora saw strong gains in part because of heavy upslope storms that missed every other hill in the state. Still, Echo closed for the season last weekend because of warm weather. “As our owner says, it’s better to be lucky than good. I don’t think it’s anything special we did. The snow came at the right time,” said Rob Linde with Eldora, which saw huge storms in February that forced the ski area to turn away visitors for lack of parking. “We know it can be feast or famine. It might be the reverse next year.”

Farther south, where La Niña delivered some of Colorado’s healthiest storms, Wolf Creek is expecting to be up 17 percent. Silverton Mountain will be up and Durango Mountain Resort also is expecting visits to climb.

From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

Last month, water officials were anticipating a modest whitewater boating release based on 85 percent of average snowpack levels and a favorable forecast. Now they say it will be fortunate if McPhee Reservoir even fills.

“It kind of goes to show you how quickly a forecast can go south,” said Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “Something that looked like a promising year can take a turn for the worst.”

The good news, Preston said, is that due to reserves left over from last year, there should be enough water for drinking and irrigation for the coming year. Only if it is dry for several years in a row, will there be shortages.

There is also enough water to sustain fish populations on the Lower Dolores. An early ramp-up trickle release was initially planned to cool waters on the river to postpone the spawning of native fish species until after the rafting spill. However, now that a rafting spill is unlikely, the cooling waters are no longer needed, Preston said.

From USA Today (Doyle Rice/Julie Snider):

A mostly dry, mild winter has put nearly 61% of the lower 48 states in “abnormally dry” or drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal tracking of drought. That’s the highest percentage of dry or drought conditions since September 2007, when 61.5% of the country was listed in those categories. Only two states — Ohio and Alaska — are entirely free of abnormally dry or drought conditions, according to the Drought Monitor.

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