Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack at 40% of average, South Platte = 52%, San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan = 37%

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From Accuweather (Jillian MacMath):

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the current snowpack is only 52 percent of average after suffering from a particularly dry March. Conditions have not been this poor since the drought of 2002, according to the Colorado Water Supply Outlook report. As of April 1, the water basin supply was at an above-average level, 108 percent of what it usually is this time of year. While the basins are resting at sufficient levels for the time being, they will not be replenished by the melting snowpack as they usually are, which could lead to shortages later on in the year…

“Snowpack is an integral component of assessing water supply availability in Colorado. However, it is not the only variable that water supply planners consider,” [Eric Hecox, Section Chief of Water Supply Planning in Denver] said. “Low snowpack itself is not necessarily a cause for concern. Statewide, our reservoirs are mostly full and this will help offset this year’s low snowpack.”

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

[Jord] Gertson, a hydrology consultant with SourceWater Consulting, said Arkansas Basin snowpack is at 52 percent of average. He provided Natural Resources Conservation Service water and snowpack data that show the basin is in better shape than it was at the same time during the 2002 drought. Nonetheless, Gertson said current data show cause for concern, especially in the upper Colorado River Basin, where snowpack is only 34 percent of average, based on readings dating back to 1971. For example, Gertson said the Vail Mountain snowpack telemetry, or SNOTEL, station should be reporting approximately 24 inches of snow-water equivalent for early April, but the station currently reports none. In the Upper Arkansas Basin, Gertson said the district’s Boss Lake gauging station reported a high temperature in March of 55 degrees. He said this is “quite warm” for March, given Boss Lake’s elevation of 10,860 feet above sea level. Additionally, Gertson provided stream flow data showing an early onset of spring runoff. He also said he observed runoff in the Leadville area occurring five to six weeks earlier than usual.

State of the Rockies Project: Whither climate variability in the Colorado River basin?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Climate variability was one of the areas student researchers at Colorado College included in this year’s “State of the Rockies” report card, unveiled last week. The students recommended legal changes and management options that maintain the sustainability of the river.

It’s important to the Arkansas River basin because more than half of the water supply for its largest cities, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, comes from the Colorado River. Some of the water for farms is also imported, and the additional water has improved recreation opportunities in the Arkansas River basin. Without imports from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Twin Lakes and other transmountain diversions, the cities would further dip into the water supplies used for agriculture and recreation that sustain the rest of the Arkansas Valley. “Generally arid climate makes the Colorado River basin particularly susceptible to climate variability,” the Colorado College report states.

The wide swing in water availability has little to do with the well-publicized — sometimes disputed — warnings of global warming in the 21st century. Instead, knowledge of past conditions is tied to a growing body of scientific evidence found in tree-ring studies. Trees add more growth when times are wet, and are an accurate indicator of drought…

In recent talks, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs said those who drafted the Colorado Compact realized the variability of flows in the river and tried to account for the difference in wet and dry years. “This idea that we don’t have to build new reservoirs — forgive me — doesn’t hold water,” Hobbs said…

“I’ve often wondered what the Anasazi thought when they packed up and left,” said John Stulp, water policy adviser for Gov. John Hickenlooper, at a water conference earlier this year. “If I could go back and tell the chief that Colorado would have a population of 5 million people in 2012 that would double in 50 years, what would he think? Yet today, we have the same water resources as Mother Nature chooses to drop on us.”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Snowpack news: The weekend storm will help with the wildfire outlook, five to 10 inches of new snow on the ground in the northern and central mountains

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for Friday’s statewide high/low snow water equivalent graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Note that the statewide snowpack is tracking very closely to 2002 with a slight positive jog since the start of April. The weekend snowfall is not represented.

From The Denver Post (Tom McGhee):

A Pacific storm that began Saturday night dumped 5 to 10 inches in the northern and central mountain areas and was expected to leave another inch or so before ending after midnight Sunday…

There was scarcely any precipitation in March, and it was the Front Range’s driest March in 124 years of records, according to the Colorado Climate Center…

Snowpack conditions around the upper Colorado River basin were well below normal as a result of lower-than-average seasonal accumulations and earlier snowmelt than normal, according to an April 10 report on conditions by the Climate Center.

From the Examiner (Regan Dickinson):

So, by the time this is completely over, probably tomorrow morning, those three-day totals may end up somewhere in the 12-inch to 18-inch range.

From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

Skier visit numbers through Jan. 2, compared with the same time period in 2010-11, showed a 15.3 percent drop across Vail Resorts’ six mountain resorts in Colorado and Lake Tahoe. At the time, CEO Rob Katz called the weather up until that point in the season “very unusual.” “For the first time in 30 years, a lack of snow has not allowed us to open the Back Bowls in Vail as of Jan. 6 2012, and for the first time since the late 1800s, it did not snow at all in Tahoe in December,” Katz said in a statement…

The snowpack in the Colorado River Basin, Eagle County’s river basin, started February at 69 percent of average and finished off the month at about 75 percent of average. The percentage is the snow-water equivalent, or the amount of water in the snowpack, so it doesn’t necessarily reflect snow depth.

Bob Berwyn has chronicled Colorado snowfall over the years at the Summit County Citizens Voice.

Roaring Fork Conservancy’s 14th Annual Fryingpan River Cleanup day April 28

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From The Aspen Times:

The Roaring Fork Conservancy’s 14th Annual Fryingpan River Cleanup day will be Saturday, April 28. Volunteers of all ages are welcome. The event will kick off with a free breakfast at 8:30 a.m. at Lions Park in the heart of Basalt. Participants should wear warm layers, gloves, long pants and a hat. They must supply their own sunscreen.

Prizes will be awarded for the garbage pulled from the river and the land along it. The categories are Best of Trash, Most Toxic, Most Useful and Most Unusual.

Visit www.roaringfork.org/cleanup for more information.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here and here.