From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):
For the Arkansas River Basin, which is a big water contributor to southern Colorado, the snowpack is more than 40% behind where it needs to be. “Right now everything looks pretty bleak. Everybody is seeing the really low numbers, the really low snowpack and expecting very low run-off,” said [Abby Ortega].
Water managers with Colorado Springs Utilities are scheduled to present a water restriction plan next week. It is up to the Colorado Springs City Council to make a decision.
From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):
Typically this time of year the mountains receive an inch of moisture a week, yet weekly totals through Jan. 23 mostly ranged from 0.1 to 1 inch along the Western Slope, with a few isolated pockets receiving 1 to 2 inches, the Water Availability Task Force’s January drought update reported…
Despite beneficial moisture in December that boosted snowpack to 70 percent of normal, a very dry January has resulted in snowpack declines in all of the state’s major river basins since Jan. 1. In Salida January yielded only 0.01 inch of precipitation throughout the entire month. January usually has an average precipitation of 0.33 inch, historical Mountain Mail records show…
If the Chaffee County area has a drought this year similar to last year’s conditions, “that would be a record,” Terry Scanga, Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District manager, said Jan. 31. This area has never seen two back-to-back drought years of last year’s severity, he said. If the drought continues, irrigation rights will see the impact first, probably near July…
For the first time in 9 years, ENSO-neutral conditions are likely to dominate through the winter months, which means neither El Niño nor La Niña is influencing weather patterns. Without their influence, it is difficult to determine when the current drought regime will be broken in Colorado, the Water Availability Task Force report said. While a strong intraseasonal event could help transition back to El Niño by spring, it could also bring additional moisture before then, Klaus Wolter reported Jan. 23 to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Water Availability Task Force. “There is currently no capability to predict such an event more than a week or two in advance. There is nothing on the horizon for now, despite one brief flicker of hope earlier this month,” he said…
Positive AMO and negative PDO values go a long way toward explaining our dry fall and early winter. Given the continuing PDO-AMO setup for drought, pessimism remains justified for at least the next few months, he reported.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
January 2012 will go down as one of the driest Januaries on record at the official National Weather Service site in town, where long-time observer Rick Bly measured just 6.55 inches of snow for the month. Bly said that total was one of the five lowest January readings in the books. Going back more than 100 years, the average January snowfall in town is nearly two feet. The little bit of snow that did fall during the month was also excruciatingly dry. Bly said the snow-water equivalent was just 0.11 inches, compared to the historic average of 1.53 inches. That means precipitation for the water year to-date (starting Oct. 1) is just 60 percent of average.
Snowfall for the year to-date is also lagging well behind last year, at 43.85 inches. Normal for this time of year is 78 inches. Last winter, Bly had tallied 62 inches by this time of year…
The best hope of getting out of the current drought conditions is for a super-wet February or a March miracle, which isn’t out of the question — the early 2000s drought was at least partly busted by a mid-March storm that dropped more than seven feet of snow on some parts of the Colorado mountains. But an average February (23.5 inches in Breckenridge) wouldn’t even bring the snowpack back to normal, and have there’s no guarantee that late winter will deliver relief.
Meanwhile, New Mexico snowpack is in very bad shape. Here’s a report from John Fleck writing for the Albuquerque Journal. Here’s an excerpt:
Farmers who depend on the state’s rivers for their irrigation water are preparing for the worst after new forecast numbers call for abysmal runoff for a third year in a row. “The bottom line is, that sucks,” said Phil King, a New Mexico State University professor who serves as an adviser to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, after seeing the latest forecast for runoff headed his way. The agency provides water for farmers in Doña Ana County, New Mexico’s largest agricultural producer.
While there is still uncertainty about how wet or dry the next few months will be, the mostly likely runoff, if we get normal precipitation through spring, is 39 percent of the long-term average flowing into Elephant Butte Reservoir, according to forecasters at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In a normal year, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District begins running that water through its system as early as late February, with an irrigation season that runs through October. This year, farmers shouldn’t expect to see any irrigation water until the first of June, and the district could run out by the end of July, King said Wednesday.
— Pat Mack (@CPRMack) February 8, 2013
From The Grand Junction Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Late-January precipitation in Colorado salvaged the month, but statewide snowpack budged little from where it was at the year’s start, the Natural Resources Conservation Service said this week.
Mostly dry, high-pressure weather systems persisted for much of the month before the arrival of a storm that particularly benefited southwest Colorado, the agency said. As of the start of this month, the statewide snowpack was 72 percent of normal and 90 percent of the same time last year, which ended with snowpack well below average.
Statewide snowpack had been 70 percent of average Jan. 1.
The recent moisture boosted snowpack in the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins to 88 percent of normal, up from 70 percent a month earlier. The Rio Grande and Arkansas basins also saw gains in snowpack. “With the storms focused mainly in the south, the northern portion of the state saw snowpack percentages remain constant or decline during January,” the NRCS said.
The South Platte fared the worst, dropping 13 percent, to 54 percent of normal, the state’s lowest. The Colorado basin was at 67 percent at the month’s start, which is 89 percent of the same time last year. The Gunnison started the month at 75 percent of average.
“This recent snowpack data directly reflects what the state can expect for surface water supplies this coming spring and summer,” the NRCS said in its release. “Current streamflow forecasts continue to point towards well below normal runoff volumes in all the major river basins in Colorado. Adding to this bleak water supply outlook, reservoir storage across the state remains below average. Unless Colorado sees weather patterns that bring above average snowfall and precipitation to the state over these next few months, it is not likely that there will be much relief from the current drought conditions.”
Statewide reservoir storage is at 70 percent of average, and 63 percent of the same time last year. The Colorado basin’s storage is at 67 percent of average and 59 percent of last year. For the Gunnison, those figures are 72 and 61 percent, respectively. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins are still at just two-thirds of average.
The National Integrated Drought Information System said in its weekly report, “Though recent beneficial snowfall has accumulated in the higher elevations of southwest (Colorado), benefits may only be short term. These areas are still running large precipitation deficits from last year.”
From The Delta County Independent (Hank Lohmeyer):
Surface Creek Valley water managers began looking ahead during last year’s dry spell and made plans to help ensure there will be supplies of water available for domestic providers if a second low-snowpack year is in store for 2013.
During last week’s water forums in Orchard City and Cedaredge, Austin Keiser, president of the Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District board, announced that the district had held back reservoir water for domestic use this year if needed. Keiser explained to the Delta County Independent that a survey of domestic providers last year determined they might expect to draw 480 acre feet from their reservoir reserves on Grand Mesa during 2013. So, to provide an additional backstop for that use, the district has held 500 acre feet in reservoir storage as a down payment against the chance reservoirs may not fill with snowpack runoff this year.
The announcement may help quell any concerns the valley’s domestic water users have about available supply during the coming summer months.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Scott Condon):
As of Wednesday, the snowpack at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen was at 50 percent of average, the conservation service reported. For the Roaring Fork River basin as a whole, which includes the Fryingpan and Crystal river drainages, the snowpack is 68 percent of average. The highest snowpack within the Roaring Fork drainage is at McClure Pass and North Lost Trail outside of Marble, according to the conservation service. The snowpack at McClure Pass is 83 percent of average while it is 80 percent at North Lost Trail. This winter is starting to make last winter look good, at least at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. The snowpack east of Aspen on Wednesday was only 71 percent of the level on the same date last year…
Two of the traditionally snowiest months for Colorado are still to come, but time is running out. Colorado’s mountains usually accumulate about 60 percent of their snowpack by Feb. 1, Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the conservation service, said Wednesday. Another 20 percent of the snowpack usually accumulates in February and 20 percent in March. The below average snowpack produces a “bleak” water supply outlook, the conservation service said. “Current streamflow forecasts continue to point towards well below normal runoff volumes in all the major river basins in Colorado,” according to the agency. Reservoir storage across the state is below average, the agency noted. Ruedi Reservoir was 61 percent full Wednesday and Fryingpan Valley has weak snowpack levels.
From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):
A federal agency this week released statistics detailing the low reservoir levels in the South Platte basin, but one regional water expert had a simpler way of getting the point across. “Compared to how much water we had in storage at this time last year, we’re now short two entire Horsetooth reservoirs,” said Brian Werner, public information officer at the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, referring to the 157,000acrefeet bucket near Fort Collins.
Werner then used a simple adjective to describe the region’s water supplies. “It’s ugly,” he said of the situation facing many, including the Northern Water district, whose ColoradoBig Thompson Project provides supplemental water to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land and about 850,000 people in northeastern Colorado, including Greeley residents. Werner made those remarks Wednesday — a day after the Natural Resources Conservation Service released statewide reservoirstorage numbers and snowpack figures for Feb. 1. According to the numbers, the South Platte River basin’s collective reservoir storage was 82 percent of the historic average for Feb. 1, and just 67 percent of what it was a year earlier.
While the situation isn’t great, it’s not dire, some local water officials say. Eric Reckentine, deputy director of water resources for the city of Greeley, said Greeley’s water storage is still “adequate to meet demand this year.”
But without abundant snowfall in the mountains in the near future, there will be challenges. The region’s reservoirs filled to high levels following the historic snow year of 2011, but much of those supplies were used up last year as northern Colorado, like much of the U.S., went into drought. With Mother Nature offering little moisture, cities and farmers relied on stored water. Now — in addition to having the equivalent of two less reservoirs to work with compared to last year — snowfall in the mountains isn’t on pace to replenish the area’s reservoirs when spring runoff rolls around.
NRCS reports showed that snowpack in the South Platte basin — which melts in the spring to refill northern Colorado cities’ reservoirs and farmers’ irrigation ditches — was 54 percent of the historic average, and 58 percent of where it was at this time last year. In the Colorado River basin, where the Front Range and other northern Coloradans also get some of their water supplies, snowpack was 67 percent of average, and reservoir storage, too, was 67 percent of historic average.
Werner, with Northern Water for more than 30 years, said if snowfall is limited for the remainder of the winter and spring, Northern Water officials — who will set a quota in April to determine how much of their water can be used — will be in a tough spot. Spring planting for farmers begins in April, and if it’s dry then and looking to stay that way, farmers will likely want a high quota set, Werner noted, to ensure they have enough water for the growing season.
At the same time, though, Werner said Northern Water officials will have to keep an eye on the future, and make sure some of their stored water will still be around the next year if drought persists. “Bottom line; we just can’t take many more 2012s” Werner said.
Like Werner, other water officials — like Harold Evans, chairman for the city of Greeley Water and Sewer
Board, and Lynn Fagerberg, a farmer near Eaton who serves as board president for a pair of irrigation ditch companies — are in waitandsee mode until April. “After March, you really have a good idea of what you’re going to be dealing with the rest of the year,” Evans said. “Right now, we’re hoping for big snowstorms that can get us back up to normal.”
From The Chaffee County Times (Casey Kelly):
From January through December last year, Chaffee County only recorded a total of 16.7 inches of snow. That isn’t even half of the 44.9 inches the area receives on average each year.