From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area — the last resort still open in the state — reported more than 22 inches of snow over a four-day period to end the week, with the bulk falling very early Wednesday into Thursday and then most of the day Thursday into Friday. That total brings May’s snowfall in the area up to 24.5 inches, just the fifth time it has hit 24 inches or more since the start of the 20th century.
It’s the liquid-equivalent within the snow that matters most for water experts, however, and that remains difficult to determine until it eventually melts and can be properly measured. Even if historically this storm was a bit larger than those that typically descend upon the region in the spring, it is still not expected to represent more than 3 percent of the total moisture for the year.
“The runoff forecast doesn’t look at snow, it looks at total precipitation and the water content of the snow,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District. “Snowpack doesn’t tell you much, because cold weather can slow it and if it’s warmer it can accelerate it. It is a boost … but it could still end up average (levels) with this storm, it just depends on what happens in the next 10 days.”
Still, the approaching water year is predicted to remain at or perhaps slightly above average for the Colorado River as it snakes its way through Colorado and Utah (with allotments also for Wyoming and New Mexico) to Arizona’s Lake Powell before concluding in Nevada and California. The annual inflows into Powell function as the gauge of the West’s most recent runoff, and this year stands to be solid, but not considerable.
“It’s one of those years where we’ll take it,” said Kuhn. “It’ll bump Powell up 20-to-25 feet in elevation, which is good, but that’s still a long ways away from being full. It’s still down and there’s a bathtub ring.”
Another factor for what ends up in Powell, in addition to farther down in lower basin states, is what’s drawn off of it for drinking, recreation and crop irrigation en route. Transmountain diversions, which slurp up water off the Colorado River for the state’s dense population bases in cities like Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs, are part of the reality, and a new one could soon be added to the equation.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers firmed up its approval of the Windy Gap Firming Project in northern Colorado to pull at least 30,000 more acre-feet from the state’s headwater region. The venture would construct the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, with a proposed capacity of 90,000 acre-feet, near the city of Loveland, and further expend the Colorado River before fulfilling out-of-state demands guaranteed under federal law.