From The Ark Valley Voice (Tara Flanagan):
The truth is, cold and wet weather this time of year can buy some time for the snowpack, which began to recede earlier this month as the weather warmed. That’s fairly normal, albeit a tad on the early side. The question is, how fast it will melt off and how much of that mountain water will go where we need it most?
The easy answer, perhaps another snappy comeback, is that nobody knows for certain at this point. But after a 2020 that saw record wildfires in the state, a no-show for the mountain monsoons, this year parched soils will almost certainly suck up runoff as it travels toward waterways. In a best-case scenario, Chaffee County needs a cool spring, regular precipitation and not a lot of wind.
If it’s warm, dry, sunny, and windy, as was the case in early April, that’s another situation. “When you put all four of those together, that’s when you’re really losing snow,” said Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt. He’s a longtime river outfitter who sits on numerous water-related commissions, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and was recently appointed to the board of directors for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District.
Felt said Chaffee County is looking relatively good in terms of municipal water supplies and assets coming into the Arkansas River for the summer season. That includes the significant supply from the Fry-Ark Project, which imports an average of 58,000 acre feet from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River to the Arkansas Basin. Waters from Fry-Ark get used for agriculture, well augmentation, and municipalities, as well as fisheries and meeting recreation goals in the Arkansas River Voluntary Flow Management Program. That program aims to keep minimum boating flows of 700 cubic feet per second(cfs) at the Wellsville Gauge each year between July 1 and Aug. 15.
Snowpack doesn’t guarantee stream flow, according to Felt. There’s the matter of soil condition and how much water it draws, as well as sublimation, where the snow is lost into warm, windy air.
So the past week’s cold and wet weather has been a blessing in that regard.
The Arkansas River Basin snowpack on April 1 was measuring at 105 percent of median, and to our south, the Upper Rio Grande was at 110 percent. To the west, the Gunnison River Basin lags at 89 percent of normal and has yet to stage a comeback.
The Front Range was certainly feeling less wrung-out after the record snowstorms in mid-March. The month came in as the second wettest March since 1872 and it toned down the U.S. Drought Monitor’s sea of red that depicted extreme drought in eastern Colorado. At the beginning of March, 99 percent of Colorado was in moderate drought or worse, with 56 percent in the extreme category.
As of April 15, however, 92 percent of Colorado remained in a moderate drought, and the extreme drought areas had scaled back to 32 percent. So the precipitation helped. The Drought Monitor is updated on Thursdays, so it’s too soon to say if the recent snow in the high country has changed the hot colors on the map.
It does appear that the precipitation and cold weather have boosted the snowpack for now. In the Arkansas River Basin, for example, snowpack was measuring at 77 percent of median on April 13, but was up to 85 percent April 20.