#Snowpack news: Still dry on the E. plains

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 6, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 6, 2017 via the NRCS.

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

Tracking what is happening with snow is important to the state’s water supply. The mountain snowpack ensures plenty of water filling reservoirs. The water supplies communities on the front range as well as agriculture happening out on the plains.

An extra snowy January piled up snow in the mountains150 percent of normal for this time of year. “A lot of really wet snow for January, we usually see these types of snow more in the March time frame,” said Colorado Springs Utilities, Water Resource Supervisor, Abby Ortega.

On the plains, snow so far has been scarce. It means little water soaking into the ground. That can end up causing higher demand on water supplies saved from all the mountain snow.

“We’re hoping that the spring brings a little more moisture to the Front Range and eastern side of Colorado, which will certainly help,” said Ortega. It is only midway through the winter tracking season and a lot can happen in the next couple of months out on the plains. March and April are important months often bringing heavy wet snow.

From the Arizona Daily Sun (Todd Glasenapp):

Heavy snowfall on Colorado’s Western Slope and Utah’s Wasatch Range in December and January boosted snowpack in the five-state Upper Colorado River Basin to 157 percent of average.

Increased spring runoff in the drainage area will make boat launch ramps more accessible and continue to help shore up the shrinking reservoir of [upstream] Lake Mead. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is projecting unregulated inflow to reach 126 percent of average…

But this winter started so vigorously as to rekindle memories of a “full pool” at Lake Powell. Before the drought, the surface elevation regularly approached 3,700 feet above sea level. At the depth of the drought, in 2005, the lake level dipped to 3,555 feet…

To reach 3,700 feet again, the lake would need four to five years of significantly-high inflow, assuming that many other variables line up perfectly during the period, said Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation in Salt Lake City.

The lake was measured this week at 3,595 feet. Last year it peaked at 3,621 feet in July. The average elevation for the life of the reservoir is 3,640 feet. The biggest single rise in recent years came following the 2005 low point, when the lake came up 50 feet. Ostapuk speculated that at least a 40-foot rise appears likely this spring.

Even if Lake Powell doesn’t rise to 3,700 feet in the near future, the reservoir is doing its job, said Ostapuk: “Lake Powell was never expected to operate permanently at full pool.”

“The reservoir has done its job quite well in dry years,” BOR’s Duke said last week. “There haven’t been any instances of shortages, due to its ability to store water.”

Complicating a movement toward full pool is the critical nature of downstream Lake Mead. The nation’s largest artificial lake continues to struggle during the drought to meet the needs of an increasingly thirsty population in the lower basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona. Mead has lost more than 100 feet in surface elevation since 2000 and is only 40 percent full.

If Lake Powell should build to 160 to 200 percent of average inflow — and reach 3,652 feet by August — a higher level of equalization with Lake Mead could be triggered, requiring Glen Canyon to boost releases from its current 9 million acre feet annually, Ostapuk said. The dam could increase to perhaps 11 MAF or 11.5 MAF under that scenario, he said…

The 30-day outlook of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration calls for February temperatures well above normal in the southern end of the basin. The forecast also projects precipitation near average in the northern end of the basin and slightly below average in the southern end.

Colorado Drought Monitor January 31, 2017.
Colorado Drought Monitor January 31, 2017.

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