From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Charlottesville Daily Progress:
During a packed briefing in Albuquerque, the Bureau of Reclamation outlined its expectations for water supplies and management along the river system that flows through some of the state’s most populated areas.
The forecast is based on snowpack, soil moisture and climate predictions, but officials acknowledged it’s still a best-guess and that things can always change.
Bureau hydrologist Ed Kandl said temperatures are expected to be above average this summer across New Mexico and there are equal chances that precipitation will be average. Still, he said snowpack along the Colorado-New Mexico state line and the resulting runoff will bolster flows along the Rio Chama and Rio Grande.
“This year looks to be the best since 2008, which was the last good year,” he said.
At a monitoring site in Conejos County, Colorado, there’s as much snow as there has been since the station was established in the 1980s. Kandl said there’s still a lot of snow at the site.
However, the Sangre del Cristos near Santa Fe and other mountain ranges farther south have fallen below average thanks to hot, dry weather in March. A flash drought speeded up melting and dried out the soil in lower elevations.
In the Pecos River Basin, one of the key snowpack gauges has been below average all season.
Kandl pulled up a map of the western United States that detailed the results of the winter storm track over the Sierras and into northern Utah, where streamflow forecasts were 180 percent of average. From there, levels begin to drop off.
“It’s a very fine line between feast and famine,” he said, pointing to the sites in New Mexico that were below average. “A matter of 50 to 100 miles made all the difference in the world.”
Despite the positive streamflow predictions along the Rio Grande, nearly half of the state is classified as abnormally dry on the most recent federal drought map . Still, that’s a vast improvement over last year at this same time, when nearly every square mile of New Mexico was dealing with some level of dryness or drought.
From TheDenverChannel.com (Cory Reppenhagen):
The Colorado high country had well below average snowpack for the first two and half months of the snow season, and ski resorts were delaying their openings. The forecast for January called for a switch in the weather pattern. Colorado needed something big to get out of trouble.
“Through the end of January, it was a complete rescue and then some. It came back, and it came back with flying colors.” Domonkos said it was a record breaking dry spell, followed by a record breaking January, that brought the snowpack levels as high as 152% of average. Then a warm, dry March dropped the numbers back down to average, and drew the attention of some of the nation’s top snow scientists.
“We could potentially have a shift from high rates of melt to slower melt,” said Keith Musselman, a hydrologist with NCAR in Boulder.
Musselman and his team of hydrologists recently published research showing that early season snowmelt might not mean that runoff water just gets to reservoirs sooner, but rather it could get intercepted along the way. Musselman says warm, dry springs will likely slow the flow of that melt, leaving it more susceptible to evaporation and absorption by plants.
“It requires a certain amount of water to fill up cracks and divots and depressions before you have water connect, and then create the stream flow,” Musselman said.
With a booming population in Colorado and the western United States, it is becoming more and more important to know exactly how much water is in our snowpack, and when it will reach our reservoirs. It’s so important, in fact, that NASA is in the Colorado high country trying to find a better technique to measure it.
The SnowEx project in a multi-year project being conducted in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The goal is to combine current statistical methods with improved remote sensing and computer modeling to allow for better water planning. If successful, we could see soon have even more accurate snowpack measurements and runoff forecasts.
NRCS reported that Colorado’s reservoir storage was at 110% of average to start April, with an average snowpack still to melt off. Also, the majority of streams in Colorado are still anticipated to produce normal to above normal flows, with the exception of the Upper South Platte and streams in the Yampa and White River basins. Those streamflow projections are for current snowpack, and average spring precipitation.
From The New York Times (Elaine Glusac):
The early season on the Arkansas River in Colorado will serve “adrenaline-junkie guests looking for high water, big waves and big holes,” said Andy Neinas, the owner of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, based in Colorado.
But big water may also serve those seeking rides on the milder side. Mr. Neinas likened snowmelt to a block of ice on a sidewalk on a hot day.
“The cube of ice will obviously melt quickly,” he explained. “That’s our spring high-water season. Because there is so much more water, the block of ice will take a much longer time to melt, and that illustrates our long season of family-friendly flows.”
In southwestern Colorado, Mild to Wild Rafting plans to run its first full season on the Dolores River since 2008. It includes a Class IV rapid known as Old Snaggletooth that rafters ages 11 and younger must walk around when the water is high.
Water levels in some popular areas for rafting, like the Grand Canyon, are based on controlled dam releases, which are more predictable. Even among those that rely on nature’s tap, above-average snowfall doesn’t ensure higher water in rafting season, which is generally May through August.
Brian Merrill, the chief executive of Western River Expeditions, based in Salt Lake City, said snowpack had fallen sharply with warm March temperatures. This may affect trips on a stretch of the Colorado River in Utah known as Cataract Canyon, which cuts through Canyonlands National Park.
The Bureau of Reclamation said Monday it will release 9 million acre-feet from Lake Powell. The water will flow down the Colorado River into Lake Mead, which supplies Arizona, California and Nevada.
Last month, the agency projected it could release 11.1 million acre-feet, but a dry March reduced the amount of snow in the mountains that feed the river.
On average, Lake Powell releases 8.7 million acre-feet annually. An acre-foot can supply two typical homes for a year.
The two reservoirs are part of the Colorado River system, which supplies about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in seven states.