Snowpack/runoff news: “Things are going to start happening fast” — Terry Dawson #COdrought

Statewide snowpack map April 17, 2014 via the NRCS
Statewide snowpack map April 17, 2014 via the NRCS

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Levels at Lake Pueblo have returned to average levels as the Bureau of Reclamation continues to move water from reservoirs near to headwaters to make room for spring imports. The content of the reservoir is approaching 200,000 acre-feet, or about 80 percent of its limit during flood season.

Meanwhile, Turquoise and Twin Lakes near Leadville are 80-85 percent full, as Reclamation prepares for a banner runoff this year.

“This is the fourth highest snowpack level since 1991,” said Terry Dawson of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Snowpack is 123-143 percent of average in the Upper Arkansas River basin, and 130-150 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River basin.

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Twin Lakes, Homestake Project and Pueblo Board of Water Works diversions all bring water from the Upper Colorado River basin into the Arkansas basin. The Fry-Ark Project was projected to bring in 73,900 acre-feet as of April 1, but snowpack has continued to build and the May 1 projection should increase, Dawson said.

Weather forecasts are calling for a warmer, wetter spring, meaning that runoff may begin sooner than usual and will be heavy.

“Things are going to start happening fast,” Dawson said.

Early summer is expected to be drier than usual, with heavier rains predicted toward the end of summer.

From the Boulder Weekly (Bob Berwyn):

The San Juan Mountains often feel the brunt of the dust events, but a recent surge of desert air brought a thick layer as far north as Summit County at the end of March. If you’ve been skiing in the high country lately and noticed the pinkish snow, no need to check your goggles. It’s red-rock dust from your favorite mountain bike trail in Moab, and the strongest storms can drop up to 419 pounds of dust per acre atop the mountain snow…

Last year brought record amounts of dust to Colorado. A single 16-hour dust storm on April 8, 2013 dropped more dust on the San Juans than the annual total from any previous winter since the start of detailed measurements, says Chris Landry, director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, which tracks the dust-on-snow events via a statewide network of observation sites.

The April 8 storm deposited about 419 pounds of dust per acre, or about 47 grams per square meter, Landry says, explaining that the melt-out equation also has to include year-to-year weather variations…

Real-time observations of dust-on-snow events just started recently, but scientists have other ways to track dust deposition back through the ages. Long sediment cores from alpine lakes with distinct annual layers show that dust in the mountains didn’t increase during known historic megadroughts in the Southwest.

But dust did increase starting in the mid-1800s, when settlement and grazing started in the Southwest. The findings suggest that human disturbance to desert soils are driving the increase. The depositions decreased in the late 1800s then leveled off at about five times the natural background levels due to continued disturbance.

The most recent spike starting in the late 1990s appears to be due to increasing aridity in the Four Corners source area and increasing human disturbance of the soils.

Physical and biogenic soil crusts make the deserts naturally resistant to wind erosion — but only if they are left in place. The crusts are easily disturbed by grazing, oil and gas exploration and drilling, agriculture, and off road vehicle use. Once disturbed, soil particles can be picked up by strong winds and transported hundreds of miles from the source.

From Steamboat Today (Larry Sandoval):

While it still is too early to tell what will come from the current above-average snowpack in the Yampa River Basin, it could mean many things for the Routt National Forest’s resources and visitors in the coming months. “Record-breaking” is how the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service described the 175 percent of average snowpack in the Yampa River Basin on May 1, 2011. Such heavy late-season snowpack resulted in delayed openings of forest roads and campgrounds as well as an essentially absent fire season.

Conditions were a stark contrast just one year later, with only 17 percent of average snowpack on May 1, 2012. This, of course, was the year that Colorado and Wyoming experienced significant fire seasons, including four large fires in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Although above-average spring snowpack is favorable for the Routt National Forest’s 2014 fire season, it still is early and conditions can change rapidly between now and the start of the season, which typically begins in late June.

As of April 2, the NRCS was reporting snowpack in the Yampa and White River Basins at 127 percent of average.

By comparison, these basins were at 78 percent of average on April 1, 2013, before recovering with above average April snowfall to about 99 percent of average by May 1.

Last year turned out to be a below-average fire season in the Routt National Forest…

Fire managers and meteorologists at this point are saying that snowpack has minimized any concern for an early start to the fire season and that a repeat of a season like we experienced in 2012 is unlikely. Based on early indicators, projections are for 2014 to be an average to slightly below average fire season across the Rocky Mountain Area. Visit for more predictive information about the coming fire season.

From the Estes Park Trail Gazette (Kara Lamb):

Spring runoff in the Estes Valley and surrounding area is slowly beginning to take off, according to officials who are monitoring it closely.

The Bureau of Reclamation sent out an email notification on Wednesday which was picked up and posted on the Town of Estes Park’s Facebook page.

The notification essentially said it had noticed an increase in water flow in the Big Thompson River coming into Lake Estes in the past couple days.

“It isn’t much water, just a few more cubic-feet-per second, depending on which guage you check, but late last night (Tuesday), we saw flows in the Big Thompson coming into Lake Estes inch up a bit,” said Kara Lamb, the public information officer for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office in Loveland. “We usually see runoff start to come on in mid-April; and, the slight flow increase has been happening the past few nights as the warmer weather during the day has melted snow in the high country.

“This morning (Wednesday), around 7 a.m., water through Olympus Dam out of Lake Estes bumped up from 26 to around 35 cfs.

“The full reason for this slight increase is two-fold: higher rising inflows and a required change via the state to meet a seasonal minimum flow below Olympus Dam. The state required minimum out of Olympus corresponds with typical seasonal changes in river flow. In spring, we see three such changes: one in mid-April, one on May 1 and another in mid-May.

“This spring, Big Thompson River ebb and flow above Lake Estes will correspond with warmer or cooler weather and snow melt as usual. However, below Lake Estes and Olympus Dam this spring, we will continue coordinating with the state and CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) contractors currently working on U.S. Highway 34 to follow the minimum flows as closely as possible while they finish work in the Narrows section of the canyon.”

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