Snowpack/drought/runoff news: The Rio Grande Basin is at 20% of average as is the statewide snowpack

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map and the Basin High/Low graph for the Rio Grande Basin along with the current U.S. Drought Monitor map (a new one is due out later today).

From The Crestone Eagle (Keno):

Drought conditions are rated on a scale from abnormally dry (D0) to exceptional (D4). As of April 1, readings across the state were as follows: Both the entire Four Corners area, along with the South Platte Basin, were rated D0, while a D2 zone covered the northwest part of Colorado. Parts of the Rio Grande and Arkansas basins have been at D2 and D3 since last summer. For the San Luis Valley, the Northern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and the entire Crestone area, all of which is a part of the Rio Grande basin, the reading is D2.

The snowpack up in the mountains, which the entire state of Colorado relies on for its water, has been at record low levels across the state since March, thanks to the lack of snowfall. The statewide average for snowpack was at 39% as of April 19 and has been falling rapidly, dropping on average of around 10% in just a week’s time. That 39% reading is even lower for that date than what it was at in 2002, the year of one of Colorado’s worst droughts ever, when the early April snowpack measured back then was at 52% of average.

Here are a few snowpack reports from locations in Colorado: the Gunnison Basin was at 47% of average; the upper Colorado Basin, 37%; the Yampa Basin 38%; the Arkansas Basin 44%; the South Platte Basin, 52%; and the Rio Grande Basin at 45%. The Sangre de Cristo mountain peaks did see a nice amount of snow fall in mid-April that did help a bit in slowing down the snow melt, but we need to see a lot more of that in the next several weeks before any real improvement can be noted.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Yampa River, pushed by 0.71 inches of rain overnight Thursday, jumped to 1,570 cubic feet per second at 7:30 a.m. Friday where it flows beneath the Fifth Street Bridge in downtown Steamboat Springs. And with the benefit of hindsight, that may turn out to have been the river’s peak for spring runoff 2012. However, with high-elevation snowpack hanging on in the Park Mountains, water officials aren’t quite ready to commit.

The river had been on the way down since Friday night and was flowing at 797 cfs at 5 p.m. Monday. And the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City expects the river to remain at fairly consistent flows through May 9.

The river could rebound to just more than 1,000 cfs at midweek, then slip to 750 cfs May 8 to 9, based on the latest projections. Ashley Nielson, a hydrologist with the agency, said April 23 that based on historical data the Yampa River where it passed through Steamboat had a 90 percent chance of peaking at 1,200 cfs, and a 75 percent chance of peaking above 1,400 cfs. Thanks to last week’s rainstorm, the Yampa has beaten that 75 percent proposition. However, it might be a lot to expect it to rally to 1,800 cfs this season. Nielson rated that peak flow a 50-50 chance a week ago. The historic average peak flow for the Yampa is 3,070 cfs at the Fifth Street Bridge…

[Mage] Skordahl’s agency [NRCS] doesn’t look at peak flows in individual rivers. Instead, the NRCS is interested in the total volume of water expected to flow past the various stream measuring gauges in Colorado over the entire course of spring runoff. That number on the Yampa at Fifth Street is typically about 100,000 acre feet during the four months from April to July, Skordahl said. The river here already has seen 36 percent of that total flow in the first 25 percent of the timeframe, she said.

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

According to data from the Colorado Snow Survey, snowpack levels reported Tuesday for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were sitting at 29 percent of average. Statewide, the snowpack is at 25 percent of average. The levels represent the fifth lowest year to date since snowpack record-keeping began in 1968. Last spring, following heavy storms in April, snowpack levels for the area were reported at near 100 percent of average — bringing big spring runoffs to the region.

“I’d say based on the weather that we’ve been having, that snowpack levels are not going to improve by any great means,” said Mage Skordahl with the Colorado Snow Survey program. “It looks like, from our data, that we reached peak snow-water equivalent in early to mid March. That’s around two to six weeks earlier than average.”[…]

The San Miguel River near Placerville was flowing at around 220 cubic feet per second April 30, according the U.S. Geological Survey. The river hit a high in mid April at just over 400 cubic feet per second, but it has been in decline since then, according the Survey. Last year, the San Miguel was flowing at more than 300 cubic feet per second by May 1.

Local temperature records were also broken during the months of March and April. According to a blog run by Thom Carnevale, who compiles local weather data, the temperature in Telluride reached 73 degrees on March 25, tying the record set in 1986. On April 23, he reported, a high of 79 degrees was recorded in town, which broke the previous record of 78 degrees set in 1992.

Snowfall has also been sparse this spring. Carnevale measured a total of 15.5 inches of snow in the month of March, down from the month’s average of 33.9 inches.

From The Brighton Standard-Blade (Steve Smith):

City officials see no reason to change the watering schedule that’s been in place since 2000. That means another summer of circles, diamonds and squares, depending on the last two numbers of the address. Residents can water every third day but not between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. “That’s the warmest part of the day,” said city water specialist Dawn Hessheimer. “That’s when the water will evaporate the most.”

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