#Snowpack news:

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From Weather Nation TV (Chris Bianchi) via The Cañon City Daily Record:

Colorado statewide snowpack levels are running well above average following a recent run of snowstorms, based on official data this week from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Statewide snowpack is running at 116% of season-to-date average, a slight boost from snow levels earlier this year. This is partially as a result of a recent run of February snowstorms that has ski resorts like Steamboat Springs (275 inches of seasonal snowfall, as of Friday), Breckenridge (273 inches) and Wolf Creek (261 inches) already closing in on 300 inches of annual snowfall.

Highest snowpack levels are in Colorado’s northern mountains, although each of the state’s eight major river basins were reporting above-average snowpack levels, as of Wednesday. In the South Platte river basin (east of the Continental Divide, including the Front Range), snowpack levels were running at 131% of average, the highest of the state’s eight basins.

A major storm system slammed much of northern Colorado with as much as 51 inches of snow last week, contributing to the increased snowpack figures.

Utah snowpack basin-filled map February 15, 2020 via the NRCS.

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Utah’s snowpack across the state is sitting at 121% of normal and the reservoirs on average are in pretty great shape — 80% full — but forecasters are still yearning for a cold and wet March.

Soils are pretty dry, and in particularly in the southwest region of Utah, precipitation activity has all but dried up since Thanksgiving.

At a water supply forecast meeting earlier this week at the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, senior hydrologist Brian McInerney emphasized there is much to be happy about, however…

In northern Utah, the weather pattern has been gracious when it comes to snowpack totals, with the Bear River drainage at 121% of normal, the Weber-Ogden river basin at 114% and Provo-Jordan at 122%.

Gary Henrie, with the Provo Area Office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said across Utah reservoirs are in much better position than they were a year ago — at 80% capacity compared to 60%.

The water year, in fact, has been a mirror image of the 2019 precipitation rate, with snow in northern Utah piling on with frequent storm activity.

There are have been some instances of extremes, however.

Northern Utah struggled through an extremely cold spell in October and November, and even though St. George endured 155 days during the 2019 calendar year without any measurable precipitation, it was the wettest calendar year on record and the second wettest water year logged there…

…officials with Salt Lake County Flood Control and Salt Lake City Department of PublicUtilities, in coordination with the State Engineer’s Office, announced plans to open gates on Utah Lake to allow more water to flow to the Jordan River and Surplus Canal.

Officials are taking the move this weekend to accommodate above-average snowpack and higher-than-average water levels in Utah Lake, Deer Creek Reservoir and Jordanelle Reservoir, a news release from the county stated.

West Drought Monitor February 11, 2020.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Colorado’s snowpack remains above-average this winter, with a wet start to February helping to make up for what, in much of the state, was a drier-than-normal January.

But streamflow forecasts for the state are below-average. That reflects in part precipitation that as of Feb. 1 was 88% of average statewide for the latest water year, which started Oct. 1 and includes rain as well as snowfall.

Snowpack was at 110% of normal Friday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. That’s down from 118% at the start of the year, but snowpack had dropped to 106% at the end of January before recent storms hit much of the state. Those storms made travel perilous but also blessed ski areas and bolstered the outlook for spring runoff and water supplies for irrigators, municipalities and other purposes…

It currently is above 100% of median for every major river basin in the state. The Gunnison River Basin is on the low end among basins, at 105%. The Upper Colorado River Basin in Colorado is at 114%, and the South Platte basin leads the state at 117%.

Levels on Grand Mesa are currently running a bit below-normal…

Even with the decent snowpack this winter, spring and summer streamflow forecasts look less promising, particularly in western and southern basins. According to the NRCS, streamflows for the Yampa/White, Arkansas and South Platte basins are expected to be at 98, 97 and 96% of average, respectively. But the forecast for the Upper Colorado River is for streamflows at 91% of average. For the Gunnison, the prediction is 81%. Streamflows for the Rio Grande and combined San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan basins currently are expected to be at 77 and 76% of average, respectively.

The federal Colorado Basin River Forecast Center says that as of Feb. 1, overall Upper Colorado River Basin flows into Lake Powell were expected to be about 80% of normal. Water storage in Powell is only at about half of the reservoir’s capacity, reflecting long-term drought during the 21st century.

The center says water-year precipitation so far is at 90% of average for the Upper Colorado River Basin above Powell. Precipitation is 85% of average for the Gunnison River Basin.

Much of western and southern Colorado, including all of Mesa County, is in moderate drought. In terms of snowfall, southern Colorado was the driest part of the state in January. Cody Moser, a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, noted that soil moisture conditions there are below average as well. That figures into streamflow predictions, as more snowmelt may percolate into dry soil rather than reaching streams…

Moser said precipitation in January and into this month has favored northern Colorado over southern Colorado. He said moist weather systems have been coming from the Pacific Northwest into northern Utah and southwest Wyoming, and into northern Colorado…

Statewide reservoir storage in Colorado was at 105% of average for Feb. 1. It was above 100% everywhere but in the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins. Storage in the Upper Colorado River Basin in Colorado was at 110% of average Feb. 1; in the Gunnison it was at 104%.

From The Sacramento Bee (Dale Kasler):

California’s alarmingly dry winter continues, with no meaningful snow or rain in sight. Although it’s far too soon to predict a drought, experts said wildfire risks could worsen this summer as a result of the shortage of precipitation.

And while the rainy season still has more than two months left, a persistent high-pressure ridge over the Pacific is keeping wet weather at bay, just as it did during the five-year drought, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. Swain said it’s possible parts of Northern California “could go completely dry in the month of February.”

Private weather forecaster Jan Null said there’s only a 15 percent chance of precipitation levels hitting normal levels. “That’s not where I’m going to put my money on the table,” said Null, founder of Golden Gate Weather Services in Half Moon Bay…

Sacramento could be heading into record territory: So far the city hasn’t received any rain in February, a month that normally sees 3.69 inches. The driest February in recorded history in Sacramento saw 0.04 inches of rain, according to Michelle Mead of the National Weather Service.

Fresno hasn’t seen any rain this month, either. The same with Merced.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack is 40 percent below normal. The Department of Water Resource’s eight-station index for the northern Sierra, a closely-watched gauge of precipitation in the mountains and foothills, is 42 percent below normal.

From Northern Water:

Northern Water’s Snowpack and Streamflow Comparisons reports show snow-water content comparisons and streamflow forecasts for the watersheds in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Northern Water publishes the reports on this page from the beginning of February through the beginning of May. Go to the SnoWatch Snowpack Data page for snowpack data from remote Snowpack Telemetry (SNOTEL) platforms in eight watersheds, covering an area from west of Loveland, CO to east of Kremmling, CO.

February 2020 Streamflow Forecast

February 1 snowpack is at or above average in most basins except for Willow Creek. Streamflow forecasts are generally a bit lower than we would normally expect with these snowpack conditions due to the impacts of the hot and dry conditions in late summer 2019 on soil moisture. The forecast for most basins is around 90-100% of average, though Willow Creek is lower due to the lower snowpack.

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

Snow water equivalency (SWE) [in the San Juan River wateshed] is currently 19.1 inches. Last week it was 18.7 inches.

The SWE median has gone from 19.5 inches to 20.5 inches this week.

This week, the SWE is currently 93.2 percent of median, when last week, it was 95.9 percent of median.

Precipitation data is currently 19.7 inches, when last week, it was 19.1 inches.

The precipitation average is 23.7 inches. Last week it was 22.2 inches.

This week, precipitation is 83.1 percent of median. Last week, it was 86 percent of median.

And, here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for February 15, 2020 via the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 15, 2020 via the NRCS.

South Fork #RepublicanRiver Restoration Coalition (SFRRC) meeting recap

The Republican River’s South Fork near Hale, Colorado, with the region’s seemingly endless fields. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jeffrey Beall

From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Deb Daniel) via The Burlington Record:

Over 60 people attended the meeting of the South Fork Republican Restoration Coalition (SFRRC) on Monday evening, Feb. 10 at the Old Town Museum meeting room, in Burlington.

Dave Hornung, Kit Carson County Commissioner, opened the meeting, welcoming everyone and thanking them for attending the meeting.

Hornung listed the members of the SFRRC: Three Rivers Alliance, Kit Carson County, Yuma County, The Nature Conservancy, the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) and the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.

He introduced members of each organization including MaryLou Smith, facilitator, formerly from CSU.

Hornung made it very clear that the meeting was not to discuss refilling Bonny.

He read the list of objectives the SFRRC compiled in the stream management grant for this phase of the project.

He emphasized that the focus of the meeting is to describe the best option to restore streamflow to the South Fork Republican River.

Rod Lenz, president of the RRWCD, gave a brief history of the SFRRC and talked about how much cooperation there has been with all the entities involved in this project.

Robin Wiley, Yuma County Commissioner commented on how much cooperation the SFRRC has received from the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), Senator Cory Gardner’s office and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

He especially thanked the TNC for all their work on the project and for supplying the $120,000 cash match for our grant CWCB application.

“We simply would not be as far along with this project if it were not for The Nature Conservancy being a big part of our project and we appreciate them partnering with us,” Wiley added.

Frank McGee, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), Area Wildlife Manager explained the CPW’s support of this project and how well the BOR has worked with the SFRRC.

He also mentioned the new area management agreement between BOR and CPW and how important it is to this project.

William Burnidge, from The Nature Conservancy, gave a presentation explaining the research and analysis that went into the options the SFRRC considered.

Burnidge stated that the option that the SFRRC has chosen is the most cost effective and leaves the ability for additional actions to be taken in the future, while restoring streamflow to the river and bringing back recreation to the area now.

Those in attendance had several questions including how to manage the silt and cat tails, concerns about EPA and restoring the facilities at Bonny, questions about funding, etc. were answered by SFRRC members.

Smith pointed out how cohesive this project has been. She explained that projects that have this much cooperation from all parties including state and federal legislators, federal agencies, CSU and all of our local entities that are in SFRRC — are usually very successful.

She commended everyone for their efforts and encouraged the public to continue to be involved and informed in this project. With everyone pulling in the same direction, she was certain we will be able to reach our goal.

The public was very receptive to the project and expressed how much they appreciated the efforts of the SFRRC. Anyone wishing to review the presentation can find it on the RRWCD website: http://republicanriver.com.

If you have questions or concerns about the project contact any SFRRC member or the RRWCD office at 970-332-3552.

@USFWS to start releases from Lake McConaughy on February 17, 2020 for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Platte River Recomery Implemtation Program area map.

From The Kearney Hub:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, plans to release water from Lake McConaughy to benefit downstream habitat used by threatened and endangered species.

Releases will start Monday and may continue through March 15…

USFWS, PRRIP and Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District staff will coordinate the releases, monitor weather and runoff conditions, and be prepared to scale back or end releases if required to minimize the risk of exceeding flood stage.

Current expectations include:

Environmental account water traveling down the North Platte channel below Lake McConaughy will be increased by approximately 300 cubic feet per second to 700 cfs.

– The river will remain well below the designated flood stage of 6 feet at the city of North Platte.

– Flows downstream of North Platte are expected to be significantly below flood stage.

– Flows at Grand Island should be approximately 700 cfs, or less than 6 inches higher than current flows.

– In the Overton to Grand Island stretch, the river stage is expected to be less than 1 foot above normal levels for this time of year.

The #ColoradoRiver Water Conservation District may move to put a mill levy increase on the November 2020 ballot #COriver #aridification #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Thomas Phippen):

River district Director Andy Mueller presented the commission with the possibility of asking taxpayers to double the existing mill levy for Garfield and 14 other counties. Currently, the River district levies about a quarter mill on properties, which has been enough since about 1992.

Under the 2019 assessment rate, the river district’s current quarter-mill levy comes out to $1.79 on a $100,000 home. If increased, the half-mill would cost the same home $3.58 in property taxes.

But with cost increases, decreasing revenues from oil and gas development, and several crises looming over the Western Slope’s water, the current tax is simply not enough, Mueller said…

Mueller said the river district has cut costs in recent years, but sustaining current operations requires an increase.

And the district wants to support important projects that are currently unfunded, like identifying and developing small high-mountain reservoirs.

Those reservoirs could play a role in keeping streams flowing, and supplementing water for agriculture and municipalities “during times of severe hot, dry summers that we’re having more and more of,” Mueller said.

“We can’t do it with the current revenue stream,” he added, which is why he again asked the district’s board to look into placing the tax increase on the November 2020 ballot.

The Garfield County commissioners expressed support for the mill levy ballot language…

If the river district’s board approves the ballot language, and voters approve the property tax in November, it would bring in an additional $4.9 million to the district.

Mueller suggests using most of that for the special water projects. One example is the Windy Gap bypass, which would reconstruct a channel around the reservoir to preserve fish habitats and river flows.

The river district’s mission is “to make sure we have water for all of our industries and economic activity, everything from recreation to agriculture,” Mueller said, but that’s impossible without sufficient funding.