Snowpack news: Gunnison Basin 73% of normal, Taylor Park Reservoir not expected to fill #codrought



Click on the thumbnail graphics for the Gunnison Basin High/Low graph and the statewide snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

Conditions are getting more than a little bit dry in the Gunnison Basin—snow water content in local snowpacks is measuring between 63 percent and 65 percent of normal, and that has water experts taking measures to make sure there’s enough water in the basin to cover spring irrigation needs.

“The recent snowfall caused a measureable increase to our snowpack, but the bad news is we’re still well behind average snowpack levels for this date,” said Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (the district). He said that the three SNOTEL units above Taylor Park Reservoir show a snowpack at 63 percent of normal. Down at Blue Mesa, things aren’t much better, with the snowpack measuring 65 percent of normal. To put that into perspective, Kugel explained that winter releases out of Taylor Reservoir have been set at the very minimum level, 50 cubic feet per second, and water levels have not increased…

Locally, the city of Gunnison has approached the district with a willingness to turn on the city’s ditch system as much as ten days to two weeks late. The district itself is looking to purchase water out of the Aspinall or Ridgway Reservoirs in order to fulfill a call on the Gunnison Tunnel and keep water in the valley in April and May for critical irrigation, an unusual step for the district to take. But this is also an unusual year. Not only are things looking worse than last year, but conditions are compounded by two low snow years in a row.

“We’re currently below last year’s snowpack for this date,” said Kugel. He added that things are “dramatically worse for water supply because we drew on the reservoirs throughout the summer last year and now they’re not likely to fill.” Taylor Reservoir is projected to, at best, hit about 80 percent of normal unless the late-season snows continue. The hope we all have now is for snow. As long as it keeps snowing, it seems, the situation will be a lot less grim.

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

The Colorado River Basin — that’s us — has 86 percent of last year’s snowpack and 70 percent of the historic normal, the NRCS said. The statewide snowpack is 73 percent of average.

“The snow this year has arrived with great timing for conditions on the hill,” said Diane Johnson from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. “From a water supply perspective, if current conditions continue, it’s setting up to be a more difficult summer than 2012, unless we get a bunch of summer storms.” Eagle County is still in “extreme” drought, Johnson said.

A warm and dry March could also mean trouble for this summer’s water storage. In the Colorado River Basin, reservoir storage is 66 percent of average and 57 percent of last year’s record levels…

Streamflow forecasts point to below-normal volumes for this spring and summer in all Colorado’s major river basins. Statewide, reservoirs are 71 percent as full as they usually are, the NRCS said…

In the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins, the snowpack dropped 5 percent as of March 1. The South Platte basin, which provides water to much of Colorado’s Front Range, is 63 percent of average…

“The core of warmth for the spring is going to center itself in the dry areas, the western plains, east-central Rockies, maybe extending down into the Southwest mid- to late-season,” said Paul Pastelok, a long range forecaster with Accuweather. “Unfortunately for the western plains and eastern Rockies, I think the drought is going to persist, and it is going to be strong going into the springtime.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Time is growing short if the snowpack — water content in the standing snow — surrounding Steamboat is to its historic norm by the end of the season, Mage Hultstrand, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, said Thursday. She said February and March typically combine to provide 36 percent of annual snowpack, with April contributing another 3 percent. With current snowpack in the combined Yampa/White River basin standing at 47 percent of the annual peak, mountains in the area would have to see 53 percent of the annual snowpack accumulate between now and the second week in April to reach the average…

The NRCS reported Feb. 1 that despite heavy snowfall in late January, Colorado’s snowpack was at 72 percent of normal for the date and 10 percent lower than where it stood at the same time in the drought winter of 2011-12.

The combined Yampa/White river basin, which includes most of Routt County, is doing a little better, according to the NRCS, at 77 percent of average and 115 percent of last year’s levels. Another encouraging sign is that reservoir storage across the twin basin currently stands at 103 percent of average for the date.

Focusing on specific locations in the Yampa River Basin, the snow measuring station at 9,400 feet on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass was showing 11 inches of water contained in 43 inches of snow Thursday, or 75 percent of average for the date. Those 11 inches of water also represent 42 percent of peak snowpack (water content); Rabbit Ears typically peaks at 26.1 inches of moisture April 28.

At the Tower site at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, there currently is 69 inches of snow on the ground containing 19.2 inches of moisture. The water content at the Tower site, which typically holds some of the most robust snowpack in the state, is just 66 percent of the average of 29.1 inches for the date and 37 percent of the seasonal peak. The Tower site peaks, on average, at 51.4 inches of water May 9…

“Any area can have crazy storms in late season,” Hultstrand said, “But usually by then the snow is so ripe, it’s already running off. So even though you’re accumulating more snow, you’ve already reached peak.”

From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Present snowpack levels are lower than last year at this time. March and April are typically the wettest months of the season…

Snowpack in the high elevation mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 59- 94 percent of the 30-year average, with the overall average for Middle Park at 75 percent. Last year at this time the same area was at 81 percent of average. Snow density is averaging 22 percent, which means that for 1 foot of snow there is only 2.6 inches of water. “This is pretty low snow density for this time of year,” [snow surveyor Mark Volt of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Kremmling Field Office] said. “Snow density for March 1 usually runs in the high 20s. Snow stability remains weak.”

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Stagecoach Reservoir east of Oak Creek has a chance to fill this summer, and Elkhead Reservoir outside Craig and Fish Creek Reservoir on the Continental Divide northeast of Steamboat Springs are expected to top out in spite of the persistent drought conditions. However, Yamcolo Reservoir near the headwaters of the Yampa River upstream from the town of Yampa is a bigger question mark…

Rossi said Yamcolo, with a capacity of 9,000 acre-feet of water, was tapped early by irrigators in the summer of 2012, when every drop of the reservoir’s water committed to agriculture was used. The recently expanded Stagecoach leased some water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board last summer, which drew it down farther than it might have been. The reservoir gradually has been gaining ground since September 2012…

The ability of Stagecoach to fill could depend upon how early the irrigation season begins this summer, he added. About 55 miles farther down the Yampa River system, Elkhead Reservoir can be expected to fill, said Ray Tenney, a water engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation District…

Jay Gallagher, manager of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District in Steamboat Springs, told the Steamboat Today on Wednesday that although Fish Creek Reservoir currently is less than 40 percent full, the 26.7 inches of water currently stored in the snowpack on Buffalo Pass is sufficient to fill the city of Steamboat Springs’ primary water supply this season.

From The Wet Mountain Tribune (Nora Drenner):

As of Wednesday, March 6, the snow depth at the South Colony SNOTEL site was at 13.1 inches as compared to 1.4 inches in November 2012, 3.6 inches in December 2012, 7.2 inches in January and 9.8 inches in February. There was 46 inches of snow at the site in March 2012. The site’s readings currently stand at 46 percent of long-term average while the entire Arkansas River basin is at 53 percent of long-term average.

Additionally, the snow/water equivalent right now at South Colony is 10.10 inches as compared to zero in November 2012, 1.90 inches in December 2012, 5.10 inches in January and 7.20 inches in February. There was 13.2 inches of snow/water equivalent in March 2012…

“Moisture is always a good thing” said Valley rancher Sara Shields.

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