Snowpack news: Weld County supplies looking good, so far

Snow Water Equivalent as a percent of normal February 6, 2014 via the NRCS
Snow Water Equivalent as a percent of normal February 6, 2014 via the NRCS

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A month deeper into the year, the water supply outlook for northeast Colorado keeps getting better. Snowpack on Feb. 1 in the South Platte River Basin was 126 percent of historic average — an improvement from a month ago, when snowpack was right at about normal, sitting at 99 percent of historic average, according to figures released Thursday by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Additionally, reservoir levels were above normal as of Feb. 1, according to this morning’s report. Collective reservoir levels in the South Platte basin were at 111 percent of historic average, also an uptick from Jan. 1, when reservoirs were at 105 percent of average.

There’s a long way to go before the irrigation and lawn-watering seasons begin, but water providers and users in the region can’t help but be a little optimistic, with water supplies much better at this point than during the past couple years.

A healthy water supply is vital for northeast Colorado’s large agriculture industry that, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, uses about 85 percent of the state’s water.

And it’s especially critical for Weld County, where the ag industry makes about a $1.5 billion economic impact annually and ranks eighth nationally.

The recent NRCS report also showed that water supplies are in good shape on the western side of the state, which has an impact locally.

The Colorado River Basin — which flows in the opposite direction of Greeley and Weld County, but still supplies a large chunk of the region’s water needs through transmountain tunnels that cross the Continental Divide — had similar numbers to those of the South Platte Basin.

Snowpack for the Colorado Basin was 116 percent of average on Feb. 1, while reservoir levels were 98 percent of average.

Many have stressed that with reservoirs already full in northern Colorado, the snowpack in the mountains should make a more direct path downhill in the spring, possibly allowing farmers to get an early start on irrigating.

There’s also optimism that cities will be more willing to lease some of their extra water to farmers and ranchers this year, if the water situation still looks good down the road.

In 2013, most cities leased little or no water at all to ag users, because cities had to refill their reservoirs, which had been depleted during the 2012-13 drought.

Thanks to significant early-season snowfall across Colorado, the state as a whole is enjoying the best start to a winter season since 2011, according to the NRCS report.

From the Summit Daily News (Kelsey Fowler):

Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor, said the southwest basins and the Upper Rio Grande basin were especially in need of the boost from the recent storm, having received very little snow since early in December.

Summit County is part of the Colorado basin, which reported snowpack 116 percent of the median. That’s 177 percent over the snowpack at this time last year. The reservoir storage in the Colorado basin is at 98 percent of average, better than last year’s 66 percent of average storage.

Across Colorado, the Feb. 1 snowpack was reported to be 107 percent of the median.

“The snowpack is above where it typically is this time of year,” Hultstrand said. “So 107 percent statewide just means it’s up 7 percentage points from the median. It’s not a lot above where we normally are.”

Across the rest of Colorado, the Feb. 1 snowpack ranged from 100 percent of median in the Arkansas basin, to 126 percent of the median in the South Platte. The reservoir storage in Colorado has improved since the last measurement; statewide storage is currently at 90 percent of average…

The snowpack is measured two different ways — the first is 120 automated SNOTEL sites, mostly at higher elevations, functioning as weather stations and generating hourly reports. The stations can weigh the snow to see how much water is in the snowpack, Hultstrand said.

There are also 102 manual sites people travel to once a month, to fill in the gaps from the SNOTEL sites. They stick a hollow metal tube in the snow, and weigh the core to get the snowpack. The type of snow can also drastically affect the snowpack measurements: A light fluffy snow doesn’t contain as much water as the heavy, denser snow, Hultstrand said.

In areas like Upper Colorado, the current percentage is higher than the state average, 121 percent of the median, Hultstrand said. That’s a comfortable number, she said, so that the next few months don’t have a lot to make up for.

“Having this early season be really good so far — and this last storm really helped — that good base will help us not go into February and March worried about a deficit,” Hultstrand said.

However, there still has not been enough snow to bring the snowpack in some regions back to normal. Two basins, the Upper Rio Grande and San Juan, were the only ones in the state to report below-normal snowpack: 82 percent of median for Upper Rio Grande and 79 percent for San Juan basin.

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