Snowpack/drought news: Late season storms boost prospects for angling in South Park #COdrought

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“What an April we had,” Don Ament said to me Friday evening. The former Colorado Secretary of Agriculture was smiling big when we talked about April precipitation in Colorado.

Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map and the current statewide basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service along with the April 1-28 precipitation map for the Upper Colorado Basin from the Colorado Climate Center. It’s apparent that the melt out has started. Percent of average snowpack is less meaningful once the snowpack starts melting out but nonetheless the April snowfall was welcome.

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Not to say that Colorado is in the clear when it comes to drought conditions, but the bountiful snows of April have made a major impact on several drought-stricken drainages. And that makes for some sweet relief among anglers focused on Park County’s most popular fishing holes. Just more than a month after Denver Water announced it would be draining the fabled fishery of Antero Reservoir for drought mitigation beginning May 1, water managers pulled the plug on the plan and announced last week that the reservoir atop the South Platte River chain will remain open to recreational fishermen for the foreseeable future…

South Park fishermen had been facing a brutal one-two punch as the larger Spinney Mountain Reservoir near Hartsel, just downstream from Antero, also has fallen victim of drought to the point that water levels are not expected to reach boat ramps this spring. While Spinney Mountain State Park opened to shore fishermen and hand-launched boats last Monday, the outlook on ramp use for trailer launches remains grim for the time being. Even though snowpack within the South Platte River basin broached 100 percent of average late last week, park managers say it will take much more continued moisture to start filling the depleted Park County reservoir again…

The brightest star on the South Park map is nearby Eleven Mile Reservoir, which is near full water capacity and opened to boating after the ice disappeared last Tuesday. Dedicated fisherman Greg Sheldon offered evidence of Eleven Mile at its prime with a boast of three trout over 25 inches in a single day last week. The largest, Sheldon said, was estimated at 30 inches long and 12 pounds.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The snow was so good that the water levels in Larimer County’s snowpack piled up to normal last week for the first time since spring 2011. The moisture the region has received since the beginning of April will prevent many farmers from having to irrigate at the beginning of the growing season, and it’ll postpone many of the water shortage worries that preoccupied growers early this year when the notion that 2012’s devastating drought might persist in its most severe form for another year…

Everyone who’s anyone in Northern Colorado’s water community is hedging bets on what all the moisture the region has received lately really means for the growing season, the wildfire season and the lawn-watering season in Northern Colorado. Northern Water, the water district that oversees the water the city of Fort Collins receives from the Colorado River via Horsetooth Reservoir, decided Thursday to hold off on updating its April 12 decision to give its member cities only 60 percent of the Colorado River water they’re entitled to each year. The reason is simple: Even with all the snow we have right now, the reservoirs on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park — think of them as buckets of water in a savings account — aren’t expected to fill up this spring as the snow melts. Northern Water has to make sure there’s enough water saved up in those buckets to ensure farmers, Fort Collins and other cities have enough water if severe drought returns again soon…

But the good news is that, unlike last year when the snow disappeared quickly in the March and April heat, the snowpack this year has taken its time to begin melting. The longer it remains, the longer the spring runoff period and the better the ability for reservoirs to fill naturally, Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said. “It’s just a great way to quiet the drought,” he said…

“Full recovery from a drought takes some time,” said Joe Duda, interim director of the Colorado State Forest Service. Time to moisten the soil. Time to fill the reservoirs. Time to replenish aquifers. Time to get long-dormant mountain springs flowing again. “After a longer extended drought, one year doesn’t recover you from that,” Duda said. “You need several years so you not only get surface structures fully recharged, but you get that ground moisture up where it’s appropriate and adequate.”

It has been only a few months since the weather turned cooler and wetter than 2012, and all the fruits of such meteorological avarice could evaporate with only a few weeks of hot, dry weather…

Here’s how the two years compare: March and April 2012 saw 32 days of temperatures 65 degrees or higher in the Larimer County foothills; 15 of those days were warmer than 70 degrees, Mathewson said. During March and April 2013, the same area saw only eight days that were 65 degrees or warmer, four of which were above 70.

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

The San Juan-Chama project, which imports water from the mountains of Colorado for use in New Mexico’s most populous cities, is likely to see shortfalls in one of every six years by the 2020s, and four out of every 10 years by the end of the century, according to researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The study comes as federal officials are warning that for the first time in the project’s 40-year history, the San Juan-Chama project may not deliver a full water supply in 2014. Whether the current shortage is a result of climate change or natural variability is uncertain, but this year’s shortfall could be “a harbinger of things to come,” the study’s authors wrote…

The federal project diverts water from the mountains of southern Colorado through a series of tunnels beneath the Continental Divide. It allows New Mexico’s populated central valley to use some of New Mexico’s share of the waters of the Colorado River Basin.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

One billion gallons of water is no drop in the bucket. That amount of water could fill 1,515 Olympic-style swimming pools. And it is the amount Colorado Springs residents saved in April compared to water use in April 2012. It’s double the amount Colorado Springs Utilities managers hoped would be saved after instituting lawn watering restrictions for the first time since 2005. No doubt Mother Nature helped launch the conservation effort. April brought some precipitation to the city, although it was below average. On average, temperatures were 43 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, compared to last April when temperatures were 59 degrees.

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The drought that ravaged large sections of the Midwest and Great Plains is over, disappearing this spring in a dramatic weather reversal: heavy rains and floods swamping fields with mud in many areas. But some farmers and ranchers in parts of the West and the plains, including southwest Oklahoma, are pondering the prospect of another year of a desert-like landscape and a disappointing harvest.

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