Snowpack/drought/runoff news: The South Platte Basin is sitting at 32% of average, statewide = 20%

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Statewide snowpack as of May 1 was 19 percent of the 30-year average, according to a report released by the Natural Resources Conservation Services office in Colorado late Thursday afternoon.

That ties for the state’s worst snowpack on record for May 1.

Only May 1, 2002, — a historic drought year for the state — was as bad.

At 21 percent of average, the Colorado River Basin’s snowpack on May 1 of this year was at a record low.

While the Colorado River flows from the mountains in the opposite direction of Greeley and Weld County, the river makes up a sizeable portion of the water that goes into the Colorado-Big Thompson River Project — which transports Colorado River water from the Western Slope and flows to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land and to about 850,000 people in eight northern Colorado counties.

This year’s May 1 report showed the South Platte River Basin’s snowpack — which accounts for the rest of the water supply in northern Colorado — was at 25 percent of average. That’s the third-worst mark on record for the basin on May 1.

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone) via the Leadville Herald Democrat:

Summer precipitation would be good news for state water managers and firefighters, but even Doesken acknowledged, “More than a week out, weather projections get really difficult.” Nonetheless, Doesken said data indicate the currently dominant La Niña weather pattern may be giving way to a wetter (for Colorado) El Niño pattern. Doesken presented data from around the state that shows below-average precipitation, which he described as “unsettling.”

March 2012, he added, is one of the three warmest and driest Marches on record in Colorado, similar to March 1910. Doesken said the Arkansas Basin has been “chronically dry since the wet summer of 2010.” Walsenburg, for example, “has large, Dust Bowl-type (precipitation) deficits.” With dwindling snowpack, Doesken said, conditions are similar to 2002.

Snowpack measurements at the Fremont Pass Snowpack Telemetry, or SNOTEL, station are slightly better than 2002 readings, he said. Unfortunately, Doesken said, snowpack at the Porphyry Creek SNOTEL station just west of Monarch Pass has already melted out, just as it did in 2002.

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I get alerts from the USGS when the Clear Creek at Golden gage exceeds 200 cfs. We’re seeing a bit of a meltout this weekend.

From the current Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District newsletter (Brian Werner):

Dry weather is a normal part of life in Colorado, and while we enjoy the abundant sunshine and humidity-free days, our arid climate brings risks. Farmers worry about crops getting enough moisture. Cities impose watering restrictions. Tap fees grow more costly.

This year, our snowpack is in many places lower than in 2002, the year of Colorado’s last significant drought. That’s when Colorado suffered the quadruple whammy of low snowpack, well below average stream runoff, lack of precipitation and high temperatures.

This is just part of life in Colorado. At the same time, the economic health of Colorado’s farmers, ranchers, businesses and citizens depends on a reliable water supply.

The current dry year has attention focused once again on water supplies and an opinion piece by Rep. Cory Gardner reiterates the need for storage to carry us through the dry years.

From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Typically, the 12,095-foot [Independence Pass} opens the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, which falls this year on May 24. Thanks to the below-average snowpack this year, which high daytime temperatures had melted by Tuesday, CDOT plans to open the pass by 11 a.m. on May 11. CDOT maintenance patrol supervisor Don Poole said there was a huge difference between clearing the road this year and last year, when his crews worked feverishly through late May to open the road on the afternoon of May 26, just in time for the traditional Memorial Day weekend start. “The difference between the two years was amazing,” Poole said. “It’s clear on both sides all the way to the top. We’re just taking advantage of the good weather and time we have to get some other maintenance done up there, mainly cleaning the ditches, fixing signs, repairing the potholes, getting some other stuff done.”[…]

“About the deepest we got into this year was 12 feet,” Poole said. He said the weather atop the pass has been good but breezy in recent days.

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