Snowpack/drought news: Statewide snowpack = 90% of avg, Upper Colorado = 103% #CODrought

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From 9News.com (Nick McGurk):

“Snow equates to water, and that’s good, so in the water business we’re happy. We’re smiling, and the farmers are smiling,” said Brian Werner with Northern Colorado Water.

Snowpack levels along the Colorado River are above average and the South Platte is at about 90 percent. Werner cautions that reservoir levels are still below capacity. “The caution here is that we had a lot of large holes going into 2013 that we’re not gonna get full. So, this is good. We like Mother Nature for this. As we like to say, there’s a lot of holes in there and no matter what happens we’re not going to get those full this year,” Werner said. Werner says Horsetooth Reservoir, a vital source of water for Fort Collins and Greeley, is about 18 feet below capacity but could rise roughly 5 feet more this spring.

One problem for reservoirs in Northern Colorado is that Lake Granby, the second largest reservoir in the state, won’t come close to filling this year because there isn’t enough snowpack in that area along the Western Slope.

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

When the dust layers deposited on mountain snow April 8, April 14 and the 61-hour monster of April 15-17 come under a scorching sun, the already measly snowpack could melt into nothing in no time, the director of the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies in Silverton said Thursday.

The albedo, the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface – dirt, sand, snow, ice – is key, Chris Landry said. Clean snow absorbs 5 to 20 percent of solar energy, but dust-covered snow absorbs 70 percent, Chris Landry said. The more energy absorbed, the faster the melt, he said. “Direct solar energy is bad news,” Landry said. “Air temperature is a relatively minor factor.”

The major dust event of the season so far – the sixth – occurred April 8, Landry said. The seventh occurred April 14. A break followed, then came the 61-hour assault. The dust arrives from northwest New Mexico and the Little Colorado River basin in Arizona, borne by wind from the south, southwest and west. “We’re retaining snow longer this year than last because of March and April storms,” Landry said. “But the water equivalent is no greater than last year.”

Runoff will surge when the three dust layers merge,” Landry said…

In a report to Montezuma County commissioners, John Porter, president of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, said mountain precipitation in the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel basins in March was 56 percent of average. Stream flow in the basins from April to July is expect to range from 46 to 61 percent of average, Porter said…

“There’s a potential that it’s going to be a less than average year,” Sterling Moss, director of the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Durango, said Friday. “Soil moisture – 18 to 20 inches of depth – is half to two-thirds of what we should have after a normal winter.”[…]

Tom O’Keeffe from the Durango Rafting Co. isn’t sweating it yet. “The snowpack is 72 percent of normal, and it was 44 percent this time last year,” O’Keeffe said, “The current cold is not pleasant, but it holds off the melt.”

From TheDenverChannel.com (Alan Gathright):

The snowpack in Denver Water’s watersheds is 87 percent of average in the Colorado River watershed and it is 78 percent of average in the South Platte River watershed, said Stacy Chesney of Denver Water, Colorado’s largest water utility. Chesney cautioned that, as spring warms up, it can be hard to use snowpack depths to accurately gauge the percent of average normal snowpack. The problem is that snow normally starts melting by mid-April. This means that the average snowpack level starts to decrease, while the percent of average normal snowpack begins increasing even in the absence of additional snow, she said. [ed. emphasis mine]

Even if this year’s snowpack reaches normal peak levels, Denver Water reservoirs remain below normal after two years of drought. At this point, Chesney said, “It is too early to say how full our reservoirs are going to get.”

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Greeley will not impose additional watering restrictions for residents this year, Greeley Water and Sewer Board members decided on Wednesday. Sufficient storage, recent water purchases and past conservation practices led water board members to declare this year an “adequate water year,” meaning residents can count on watering their lawns three times per week with the city’s regular schedule. Greeley will continue its long-term rental agreements, which include about 4,500 acre-feet for agricultural users, but the board said the city will not lease any additional water this year.

Jim Hall, Greeley water resources manager, said officials are still waiting to hear a projection for Greeley’s shares from the Greeley-Loveland Irrigation Co. Depending on how much precipitation the area gets over the next few months, Hall said those shares could prompt the water board to come back in July to implement some drought restrictions or, if snow and rain continue to fall like the last few days, to allow farmers and ranchers to lease some water.

The past few weeks of heavy snow across Colorado have boosted snowpack significantly, Hall said, pointing to a 10 percent increase in the South Platte River basin, which is now at 85 percent of the state historic average. “What really hurt us was we didn’t get any early snow,” Hall said, adding that the rest of the year followed a fairly normal pattern.

Snowpack this year is 162 percent of what it was last year, “so we’re in much better shape,” Hall said.

The water board’s decision comes less than a week after the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board of directors set a 60 percent quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, from which Greeley gets a hefty portion of its water shares. Northern Water cited low reservoir levels and lack of mountain snowpack for reducing the quota this year.

If the city implemented mild drought restrictions, residents would conserve an additional 2,000 acre-feet that could be leased to agriculture, said Jon Monson, director of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department. He said that would equate to about 800 acres of additional irrigated land — a blip of farmland on a map of the Greeley and Loveland farming areas. Monson said the drop in revenue due to a decline in water use would likely translate to a 0.75 percent increase in water rates for residents, and hiring “water cops” to ensure residents followed the additional watering restrictions would cost about $80,000. He said the total economic impact from leasing the water, including farmers buying seed and fertilizer and selling crops, would total about $900,000. While other communities implement watering restrictions, Greeley can enjoy a regular year because it has kept to a strict watering schedule since the 1900s, even during wet years, board members said. “I think the citizens of Greeley are going to benefit from that this year,” said Roy Otto, Greeley city manager.

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