Here’s the release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Brian Domokos):
According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) SNOw TELemtery network of mountain weather stations, Colorado statewide precipitation during February was the lowest in more than 30 years. The combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan basin only received 35 percent of the normal February precipitation. Statewide mountain precipitation, while still poor, was only slightly better at 56 percent of normal. “February in the mountains of Colorado is typically a slightly drier month than compared to say, April. But a dry February like this could have big ramifications should April and May not pan out” comments Brian Domonkos, Snow Survey Supervisor with the USDA NRCS.
As expected, snowfall came up short as well, statewide snowpack is thankfully near normal at 99 percent, down 13 percent during the month of February. Most major watersheds in the state currently fall within a narrow range from 102 percent in the Arkansas and South Platte to 97 percent in the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins. The numerical outlying basins are the combined Yampa, White & North Platte River basins at 93 percent of normal.
Reservoir storage has been very consistent since the beginning of the water year, not wavering one percentage point at 110 percent of the thirty year normal. Currently reservoir levels are far better than the deficits that were experienced during the winters of 2013 and 2014.
The majority of streamflow forecasts in the state fall between 75 and 105 percent of normal, yet are down from last month. With the two most significant precipitation months yet to come, spring and summer runoff are heavily dependent on March and April weather systems which leave room and the possibility for improvement.
For more detailed information about individual Colorado watersheds or supporting water supply related information, have a look at the Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report or feel free to go to the Colorado Snow Survey website at:
A warm, dry February led to a drop in snowpack numbers across the state, according to the latest numbers from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Still, all basins — including the South Platte and the Upper Colorado River Basins, which feed northern Colorado — are at or slightly below average for this time of year. Since the last snowpack update at the beginning of February, the state’s river basins dropped an average of nearly 19 percent. A month ago, numbers showed the state’s snowpack totals for all river basins was above average.
The reservoir storage numbers for the end of February for all the state’s basins had not yet been updated late Wednesday. But Sarah Smith, water resources engineer at Northern Water, said if the reservoirs for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project are any indicator — and they likely are — the state is still sitting pretty when it comes to water storage.
Though the state’s future water sources are still running close to average, if the streak of dry, sunny weather continues through March, that prognosis might change.
“February was just dry,” Smith said. “We had a pretty big storm in the beginning of the month and then after, that we just didn’t get the storms that we normally would.”
Smith said right now in the South Platte River Basin, which feeds into the Greeley area, snowpack is slightly above 100 percent of the historic average, but if the snow stopped right now, it would only be at about 70 percent of what’s needed for the year.
That’s why springtime storms are so important.
“We’re right around where we should be on March 1, but March and April are critical months for snowpack development,” Smith said. “I think we need to keep an eye on the weather during March and see if the storms come in. If the dry weather from February continues, we could be in a bit of a bind in terms of water supply.”
The Colorado Water Congress—a professional networking association providing a forum for Colorado water-focused organizations and businesses—held its annual convention Jan. 27-29 at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center. Leading the agenda after the opening of the General Session was a panel discussion entitled “Unwrapping Colorado’s Water Plan.” Discussion covered an array of topics, from the need for more risk taking in regards to partnerships between bodies that had not historically aligned to our debt to previous generations’ work on storage and other water-related infrastructure to the recent water supply problems in Flint, Michigan.
Immediately following, a second panel entitled “Securing Our Water Present” was tasked with discussing whether Colorado is committed to ensuring water supply in the face of current pressures. Pressures illustrated included aging infrastructure, natural disasters and water compact compliance.
Before discussion, moderator David Robbins of law firm Hill & Robbins reminded the audience of certain concrete water realities:
“On a large scale there is no new water supply for us to talk about,” Robbins said.
“There’s a certain amount of water that’s available in our state each year under various hydrologic conditions. The water in our rivers is governed by interstate compacts … [and] we must learn to live with what we have and manage our plans accordingly.”
“Knowing that agriculture controls 85 percent of the water kind of makes us nervous when a water plan comes out,” [Don Ament] said.
“I believe in collaboration, but it makes you kind of nervous. If [a neighbor] doesn’t have any water and I have a lot of water and we’re going to share, what do you suppose is going to happen to me? [Sharing] means we’re going to spend less water in agriculture.”
“The second contributor to this economy that we’re all worrying about is agriculture,” Ament added…
Others like “Securing Our Water Present” panel member Sean Cronin of the Saint Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District urge taking a broader view with regards to water usage in Colorado.
“If there’s a sector of the population laser focused on ensuring adequate flow and another segment of the population laser focused on consuming water up until our compact entitlement, I think the point of Colorado’s Water Plan is those are both values that Colorado needs to invest resources ensuring both happen for this generation and the next generation,” Cronin says.
“We’re all fighting for the same thing. We need to come together as stakeholder groups to ensure everybody has something.”
Most of the snow you see on Colorado’s Grand Mesa fell back in the early part of the season.
“It snowed for 9 weeks straight, on average 3 feet per week,” recalls Jeff Kieper. “We were trudging around in sometimes waist deep powder.”
While there was plenty of snow in Colorado’s high country in the early part of season, the snowpack numbers are starting to drop.
Bob Steger is the Manager of Raw Water Supply for Denver Water.
“Our snowpack is a little above average for this time of year,” he said. “But we are monitoring what is going on in the way in [sic] climate change.”
Climate scientists at Denver Water study changes to weather patterns that could impact that snowpack and our water supply.
Changes like less snow during the winter or melting earlier in the season.
“We are seeing a little bit earlier snow melt which so far has not had a huge impact on us because we are still able to store that melting snow,”
Our spring weather pattern will bode well for the snowpack and summer water supply for the state.
Expect a stormy weather pattern to resume across the central Rockies by late March and continue through early May. A series of storm systems will swing through Colorado and bring heavy snow to the mountains.
Experts share the good, the bad and the hopeful at panel hosted by ASU’s Decision Center for a Desert City
The Colorado River provides water for nearly 40 million people in seven western states, irrigating millions of acres of farmland, and generating thousands of megawatts of electricity.
And though an official declaration of water shortage on the Colorado River has never been declared, and that careful planning has ensured Arizona and Colorado are well-supplied with water, residents need to know it’s a precious resource.
That was the message Thursday as the water chieftains of Arizona and Colorado spoke before a crowd of about 100 at the Water/Climate Briefing Annual Keynote Event held by Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City.
Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, and his counterpart from Colorado, James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, held a discussion moderated by Wellington “Duke” Reiter, special advisor on urban initiatives to ASU’s Office of the President.
Among the topics: The states of the Colorado River Basin are developing strategies to address water needs but the question remains, can an over-allocated Colorado River Basin achieve water sustainability?
“What California does is curtailment,” Buschatzke said. “What we’ve done since the 1980s is conservation. … We took the slow and steady path. But they’re in a crisis. … Our goal is for that not to happen (in other states).”
Colorado’s population is projected to go from current 5.3 million residents to 10 million between 2050 and 2060. To prepare for that increase, the state came up with a flexible water plan last year with measurable objectives, guided by local users, Eklund said.
“We have more interest, more data, and more planning tools than we’ve ever had,” he said.
Arizona’s conservation policies have left the state with water security, Buschatzke said. When he is asked by California water managers why Arizona doesn’t have mandatory curtailment policies, Buschatzke tells them, “We don’t have to.”
Cooperation between basin states is critical, Eklund said. “We have to work together on these compacts, because if we go it alone there are no winners,” he said.
Water managers are well aware that the endless legal battles before the 1990s didn’t achieve anything.
“For many years the way the river worked was litigation,” Buschatzke said.
Water managers have dumped historical data sets used to predict rainfall and snowpack because they’re not representative of what’s happening now. [ed. emphasis mine] Arizona’s Department of Water Resources uses rainfall records going back to 1988 — what Buschatzke called a stress test period — plus models that incorporate climate change.
Predicting future water supplies is difficult in Colorado, Eklund said. Between climate change and a vacillating snowpack, “it’s a constantly changing thing that you can’t use to predict the future,” Eklund said.
Colorado residents have sat up and paid attention, Eklund said. If it rains, municipal water suppliers notice a significant drop in use because customers didn’t water their lawns. “There’s a really reactive ratepayer base,” he said.
In Arizona, municipalities are banking water underground. “There is some resiliency there in having water in the ground,” Buschatzke said.
Still, there is some concern that not enough people are aware water is such a precious resource.
“We have a long way to go on market penetration on that issue,” Eklund said. The Colorado native talked about arguments with his wife — a Bostonian — on whether to have a lawn or not. “We have a real disconnect between what people understand about the resource and reality,” he said.
“I agree with James,” Buschatzke said. “They just don’t understand where their water comes from.”
Sustainability and benefits can take different forms, Eklund said. He talked about how Coloradans go to Las Vegas and are horrified by the apparent waste of the Bellagio fountains. Attracting tourists is Nevada’s lifeblood, he said.
“That provides more economic benefit to the people of Nevada than growing a field of alfalfa.”