From KUNC (Luke Runyon):
Jeff Lukas, who authored the [Western Water Assessment] briefing, says water managers throughout the Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs left depleted at the end of 2018.
That dire prognosis comes even as much of the southern Rocky Mountains have seen a regular stream of snow storms this winter.
“The snowpack conditions for Colorado and much of the intermountain West don’t look too bad,” Lukas says. “They range from ‘meh’ to ‘OK.’”
Snowpack in river basins that feed the Colorado River range from 75 percent to 105 percent of normal. The entire Upper Colorado River Basin’s snowpack is sitting at about 90 percent of normal for this time of year.
So with an ‘OK’ snowpack in the mountains we should be in the clear, right? Not necessarily. If you’re just looking at snowpack to gauge how well a winter is going — you’re doing it wrong, according to Lukas.
The record hot and dry conditions throughout 2018 sapped the ground of its moisture. Leading into this winter, “that puts us in a deep hole,” Lukas says.
Put another way, throughout the southwest, we’re living in a drought hangover. And it’s going to take a lot more snow to pull us out of it.
Lake Powell, the first major reservoir the Colorado River hits on its journey throughout the southwest, is currently projected to see 64 percent of its average inflow. That translates to a one-year deficit of more than 5 million acre-feet of water. One acre-foot is enough water to supply roughly one to two households for a year.
“That’s not as bad as what happened last year, but it’s pretty close,” Lukas says. “That’s going to just drain the big reservoirs — [Lakes] Powell and Mead — even further.”