#Snowpack news: Not much of a bump from the recent snowfall

From The Alamosa News (Ruth Heide):

With a basin-wide snowpack sitting at 31 percent of normal and the National Weather Service calling for dry conditions in coming months, “It’s not looking real great for us right now,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said during a water meeting in Alamosa on Tuesday.

“We are a little bit lower than 2002 at this point,” he said. That was one of the San Luis Valley’s worst drought years.

However, Cotten said that last year looked about the same until storms came in December to boost levels. “We could get something like that happening again,” he said, adding that a storm was supposed to be coming in on Wednesday…

Although the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley) is not the worst in terms of snowpack right now — the San Juan Basin is lower at 27 percent of normal — the snowpack as of Tuesday morning was only 31 percent of normal in the Rio Grande Basin. The basin with the highest snowpack on Tuesday was South Platte with only 82 percent of normal…

The current annual flow forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers are 54 percent of the long-term average, Cotten told members of the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday. The preliminary annual flow for the Rio Grande at Del Norte is 345,000 acre feet, or 54 percent of the long-term average and about half of what the river produced in 2017 (690,500 acre feet), while the NRCS is currently predicting an annual flow on the Conejos River system of 165,000 acre feet, also 54 percent of the long-term average and significantly below the 2017 total of 439,6000 acre feet.

The only upside of those lower numbers, Cotten added, is that less would be required to be sent downriver to comply with the Rio Grande Compact. Of the currently predicted 345,000 acre feet on the Rio Grande, the state would only owe 85,000 acre feet to downstream states, and curtailment during the irrigation season would likely be nil.

The same would be true on the Conejos River system, with no curtailment necessary during the irrigation season if the current prediction of 165,000 acre feet holds. The state would have to send 27,500 acre feet downstream to meet compact obligations, “which can be met without curtailment on the Conejos,” Cotten said…

Cotten said Colorado ended 2017 in the black as far as Rio Grande Compact accounting on the Rio Grande, with about 1,850 acre feet credit, while the Conejos River couldn’t keep up with its increased obligation due to higher flows and ended the year with about 3,050 acre feet in debt.

“The Compact allows that,” Cotten explained. “It’s not a problem. You can go into debt and make it up the next year.”

The Conejos experienced an above-average year for the first year in a long time last year, Cotten said, at 143 percent of normal. It has a higher obligation to the compact than the Rio Grande and had to send 51 percent of its annual flow downstream, or 222,800 acre feet of the total 439,600 acre feet.

The Rio Grande also experienced an above-average year in 2017 at 108 percent of normal, which was the third year in a row for an above-average year on the river, Cotten said. Its obligation to the compact was 29 percent, or 199,800 acre feet of the total 690,500 acre feet.

On a legal note, Cotten said the trial over the groundwater rules/regulations will begin with opening arguments on January 29 and is currently scheduled for four weeks. He said five or six objectors are still in the case. The case will revolve around groundwater rules promulgated by the state engineer for water users in this basin. The case will present its arguments first, Cotten explained.

Chief District/Water Judge Pattie Swift will preside over the case, which will be heard in the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s building at 8805 Independence Way in south Alamosa.

From The Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

With Wednesday’s storm possibly followed by a quick hitter on Friday, and possibly followed by another the middle of next week, this Colorado winter might begin at least looking like a Colorado winter.

“An active pattern might be setting up by the end of next week,” said Mike Meyers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via the The Santa Fe New Mexican:

A small amount of rain fell over the state’s largest metropolitan area Wednesday, ending one of the longest dry spells in recorded history. Albuquerque had logged more than three straight months without any measureable precipitation — a stretch that threatened to break records that had been set decades ago…

So just how much rain was measured Wednesday morning? Only three-hundredths of an inch, or less than one millimeter.

The recent dry spell marked the fifth longest on record, according to the weather service. The record of 109 days was set in 1902.

While the moisture is welcomed, water managers and environmentalists are most concerned about snowpack levels in the mountains along the New Mexico-Colorado border that feed the Rio Grande basin.

A recent forecast issued by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows Rio Grande flows at various spots in Northern New Mexico could range from 15 percent to 24 percent of average this year. It’s early in the winter season, but it still marks a dry start to things.

The most recent federal map that tracks drought shows much of the American Southwest is dealing with conditions that include moderate to severe drought. Every square mile of neighboring Arizona is affected, while it’s dry across New Mexico but for a sliver of its southeastern border with Texas.

Jen Pelz with the group WildEarth Guardians said it appears from January’s stream-flow forecast that 2018 could be similar to the lean years earlier in the decade where the Rio Grande’s flows were less than half of average.

From The Albuquerque Journal (Ollie Reed Jr.):

“The outlook from late winter through spring is below-average precipitation,” said Kerry Jones, a meteorologist with the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service. “The odds are tilted that way. It’s not good.” Wednesday’s rain, 0.03 inch recorded at the Albuquerque airport by midafternoon, broke a city dry spell that had stretched to 96 days without measurable precipitation, the fifth-longest such period since 1891. The longest such period is 109 days in 1902.

Although there wasn’t much measurable precipitation at the airport, the storm left wet streets and plenty of puddles around the city.

“If we had not had (Wednesday’s) precipitation, we could have given that longest stretch a run for its money, maybe even broken it,” Jones said. While Wednesday’s moisture is welcome, Jones said, it’s not much help.

“We would need unprecedented wetness, almost equivalent to the dryness we have experienced, to make up the ground we have lost,” he said.

At the start of 2017, slightly more than 4 percent of New Mexico was experiencing some degree of drought. At the start of this year, 46 percent of the state, mostly in the extreme north and in the west, had some level of drought. And Jones said the condition of mountain snowpacks, the source of spring runoffs that feed the state’s streams and rivers, is dismal.

“Up north, most basins have snowpacks that are at from zero to 6 percent of median,” he said. “Up on the state border, some basins are at 15 percent of median.”

He said a gauge at Bobcat Pass, an area just below 10,000 feet between Red River and Eagle Nest, is indicating that location’s lowest measurement since 1980.

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