Snowpack/drought: ‘It’s continuing to snow, but we’re not showing huge accumulations’ — Roy Vaughan #COdrought

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Snowpack in Colorado’s mountains continues to build slowly, but the state isn’t out of a drought yet. “It’s continuing to snow, but we’re not showing huge accumulations,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “Even though we may not see significant snowfall, as long as it remains overcast and we have flurries, it prolongs the snowpack.”

Statewide, snowpack has improved to 90 percent of average statewide, with normal levels in the Colorado River basin, but lower levels across the southern part of the state, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel sites. Those numbers can be deceptive, because snowpack normally has begun melting off by this time of year. Snow moisture is only at 90 percent of peak in the Colorado River basin. [ed. emphasis mine]

Drought conditions remain severe for Colorado and the Arkansas Valley in particular. Reduced soil moisture will soak up more water than usual during runoff.

Temperatures are expected to be above average through the summer, while most models are showing below-average rainfall through the summer, according to information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Reservoir storage is at about 70 percent of average statewide, compared with more than 100 percent at the same time last year.

A drought task force last week determined the state once again will be vulnerable to wildfires from May to July, both because of the drought and mountain pine beetle damage on more than 4 million acres of trees.

Precipitation for the year in Pueblo through Tuesday morning was only 1.07 inches, less than half of average and even less than Pueblo had received by this time last year. After light snow Tuesday, high temperatures are expected to climb into the 70s by the end of the week.

Here’s a post from Colorado Springs Utilities Re:Sources blog:

Lately, I’m feeling like a parent on a long road trip with an entire community in the back seat. You know the trip I’m talking about. It’s the one where the kids in the back seat ask “Are we there yet?” every five minutes. The difference is that the questions are “How’s our water supply with the recent snow; and is it enough to move out of restrictions?”

Yes, the snow is great; however we all need to be realistic about our expectations here. We didn’t get into this situation by simply missing a couple of good mountain storms. We got here with a couple of years of severely below average precipitation. While the recent snow fall is welcome relief from hot and dry conditions, we are not out of the drought yet. Even with all the recent snow, our watersheds are seeing a peak snowpack of about 85% of average. That means we still haven’t even reached an average winter yet, let alone a surplus of snow that will replenish our reservoirs.

There are 3 other key factors to consider.

1. Soil moisture. The ground has been extremely deprived of moisture for quite some time, meaning a lot of the snow is going to melt and sink into the ground.
2. Evaporation. When the temperatures do warm up and the snow begins to melt, a portion of that snow is lost to evaporation too.
3. Water rights. Not all of the water that makes its way into a lake or stream can be diverted to Colorado Springs. We can only harvest the water for which we have rights. The rest of it must be passed downstream to other users with senior water rights.
Not to be a negative Nellie, but we are in Stage 2 restrictions and expect to remain there throughout 2013. It’s a harsh reality, but we all need to come to grips with it.

On the bright side, we’re all doing a great job of conserving and we are currently meeting our savings goal! And, the snow and colder conditions locally mean customers will save even more because they will not need to water their landscapes.

So, don’t make me turn this car around. Let’s all appreciate the recent snow for what it is: an opportunity to make a few snowballs, a few snowmen (or women if you prefer) and a few trips down a hill on a sled. Let’s enjoy a brief winter wonderland, even if it is spring!

From the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):

The release of a voluntary watering schedule is a departure from some communities, which have implemented mandatory restrictions on irrigation, but Parker Water’s district manager, Ron Redd, is hoping that widespread cooperation will avoid the need for such drastic measures.

Recent snowfall has made for near-normal snowpacks and happy plants across Colorado, tempering drought conditions for now. But Parker Water is not affected by snowmelt like other communities because it relies on groundwater, and the inevitable Colorado dry spell could turn the tables on local vegetation.

First and foremost, customers are being asked to avoid watering their lawns until May, as the ground retains much of its moisture in the early spring months. Those with an address ending in an even number are instructed to water on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Property owners with addresses ending in odd numbers, as well as commercial properties, homeowners associations and multi-family residences, are being asked to water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. There should be no watering on Fridays so the wells can recharge.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

This week’s spring snowstorm is causing minor flooding around Fort Collins after heavy, wet snow last week caused a roof collapse.

Businesses along Pinon Street off North College Avenue have been struggling for several days with melting snow filling their parking lots and, in some cases, their stores. Wool Hat Furniture co-owner Danelle Britt said she discovered water pouring into the store at 104 Pinon St. last week and had to shut down on Thursday and Friday to deal with it. On Saturday, she said, she spent half her time helping customers buy handmade furniture made from recycled wood and half her time rolling up her pants and wading around trying to fix the sump pump that was helping keep her year-old store dry.

The snow last week collapsed the roof of Discount Tire at 1751 S. College Ave.

From Denver Water:

As a majority of Colorado begins to see some much-needed relief from two years of hot and dry conditions, we all are talking about the many numbers associated with drought, with hope that the snow this spring will get us out of it. But, what numbers matter?

Here’s what the experts at Denver Water are looking at:

The big one is snowpack. We get our water from the Colorado River and South Platte River watersheds. But, it isn’t as easy as pulling up the latest report from the National Water and Climate Center to see what the snowpack levels are for those watersheds. Why? Because we need the snowpack levels above our diversion points within these watersheds, not the entire watershed.

…the snowpack that feeds our reservoirs in the Colorado River watershed is at 87 percent and the South Platte watershed is at 78 percent of average. So, while the complete watershed numbers are higher — Colorado River watershed is at 103 percent of average and the South Platte River watershed is at 90 percent of average — the areas within those watersheds that feed into our reservoirs are much lower.

Obviously, we are very excited to see these numbers increasing each week, but the snowpack levels that feed our reservoirs are still well below the normal peak.

What else are the experts tracking? Because of the past two dry winters, our reservoirs haven’t been full since July of 2011. So as we move out of April, we will look closely at our reservoir levels, the temperature, and the amount of rain or snow we get.

We will also monitor the conditions that determine how much of this snowpack will become water in our reservoirs because:

• Some will soak into the ground, depending on how dry it is and what plants need
• Some will evaporate
• Some may be passed downstream to senior water rights

As we continue to evaluate the conditions and crunch the numbers, we will continue to manage our water supply carefully. At this point, we are still in Stage 2 mandatory watering restrictions. The good news is you don’t even need to think about watering your landscape right now, because Mother Nature is taking care of that for all of us.

From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krivonen):

Recent snow showers have boosted local snowpack levels much higher than at this time last year. Yesterday the snowpack in the Roaring Fork Watershed registered 107 percent of normal. It’s good news for anglers who dealt with warm and dry conditions last year…

The snowpack that feeds the Frying Pan River has increased too. The Frying Pan, along with the Roaring Fork River, are what make Basalt an internationally known fly-fishing destination. It’s an important sport for Colorado. In 2011, anglers spent $857 million in the state and supported more than 10,000 jobs. That’s according to a report by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation…

Typically the snowpack in Colorado’s high country peaks in mid-April. Last year, snowmelt was more than a month early. This year is still a question mark. Meanwhile, parts of Western Colorado continue to experience severe and extreme drought, despite the added moisture this month.

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