From The Denver Post (Jackson Barnett):
Colorado has suffered from drought that has parched much of the state, hitting the Four Corners area especially hard, since late 2017.
While the snowfall that pounded Colorado’s mountains in recent weeks has helped break the near-term drought, water experts aren’t declaring an end to the troubling long-term trend of low water levels as the state’s climate shifts to greater aridity.
“Snowpack is only one part of the mosaic of the climate in Colorado,” said Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director for the Colorado River District.
In Colorado, snowpack forms a strong pillar of water storage, but spring rains and summer monsoons will still be required to keep this year’s water at a needed high. If trends continue, 2019 will be only the fifth year the state’s water-storage level is at or above average since 2000, Pokrandt said.
“It is hard to tell if we are out of the long-term drought or still in the new normal,” he said.
At the beginning of 2019, much of Colorado was still covered in shades of red on the map created by the U.S. Drought Monitor, a database of drought conditions maintained by the University of Nebraska Lincoln. The dry soil hurt many farms and ranchers in the west and southwest of the state, where the red was its deepest shade, denoting the harshest drought.
With the large snow dumps this winter and early spring, much of the state is back to normal, with some “abnormally dry” and “moderate drought” conditions holding on to patches of the southwest, according to the drought monitor’s most recent update.
Farmers are getting their hopes up that the snowpack will nourish dry soil and return their falling crop yields to a more healthy return.
“After a year of extreme drought across the state, the above-normal snowpack is extremely exciting for farmers and ranchers around Colorado,” said Don Shawcroft, president of Colorado Farm Bureau. “However, recovery will mean much more. Low commodity prices, natural disasters and other pressures have made this a really difficult time for agriculture.”
In urban Colorado along the Front Range, the drought was less harsh. In February, Denver hit its 25th month of below-average precipitation. Now snowpack in Denver’s water collection system is at 145 percent of normal. It is the most snowpack Denver has seen this time of year in more than 20 years, said Jose Salas, a Denver Water spokesman…
“Mother Nature gets first dibs on the water in the snow, with the soil soaking up moisture like a sponge,” Salas said. Only after the soil is saturated with runoff does the snowmelt flow into streams and reservoirs.
The McPhee Reservoir on the Dolores River north of Cortez is expected to fill and have an extended period of managed release, said general manager Mike Preston.
The snowfall totals came as a surprise to those who work with Preston at the Dolores Water Conservancy District. Usually, the bulk of their snow accumulation that feeds the river falls in December and January. By mid-February, snow totals were just above average. Then came March.
Storm after storm battered the area, piling up historic levels of snow. The above-average year comes after nearly two decades of sustained dry spells.
“Since about 2000 has been one of the worst periods on record,” Preston said. “But you still have good years.”