Dwindling #snowpack and #water levels — @Land_Desk

From The Land Desk (Jonathan Thompson):

The Western U.S. 2022 winter has been a bit manic so far, swinging from a snow-sad October and November to jubilant late December storms that cranked snowpack levels from about 30 percent of normal to 150 percent of normal over a few weeks’ time. And then it just stopped. A relentless blue sky has hovered over most of the region for weeks. The high altitude sun has baked south-facing slopes daily and plummeting nighttime temperatures freeze it solid, setting the stage for a nasty avalanche cycle when—or if—big February snows arrive.

This has left the snowpack levels across the Upper Colorado River Basin close to average for this time of year. Levels are healthier to the north—the North Fork of the Gunnison is sitting at 125 percent of median—and thinner in southern zones such as the Rio Grande Headwaters, which are only at 86 percent of normal. While ski slopes are icy, the snow generally is holding up for skiing and nordic (and kick-sledding) conditions are super fast. Folks in the snow-removal business, however, are hating it, and water managers are on edge once again.

This graph shows not only the manic nature of this year’s snowfall, but also illustrates the decline in median snowpack over time, seen by comparing the period-of-record (POR) median with the median level over the last two decades. Source: USDA NRCS via The Land Desk

To prepare for what thus-far promises to be a mediocre spring runoff, federal Bureau of Reclamation officials are getting ready to implement a drought response plan which will kick in when (not if) Lake Powell’s surface level drops below 3,525 feet above sea level. It is currently sitting at 3,531 feet, 45 feet lower than a year ago. Officials have already nearly drained upstream reservoirs and then decreased release flows from Glen Canyon Dam in hopes of keeping levels above the minimum needed to produce hydropower. Yet the decline continues nevertheless: The Reservoir has lost 371,840 acre feet (12 billion gallons) of water in the last month.

Maybe if a bunch of upstream farmers got together and stopped irrigating for a few weeks this summer they could solve Powell’s Problem? That seems to be what this advertisement I stumbled across in the High Country Shopper out of Delta County, Colorado, is proposing:

It is for content like this that I religiously read the High Country Shopper whenever I’m in Delta County. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson/The Land Desk

If you know about Western water and the feelings it inspires, then you’ll realize how magnanimous this offer really is. No one in the arid West wants to give up their water. Ever. Which is why it’s highly unlikely that this person can convince enough farmers to shut off their ditches for long enough to make a difference. And you also have to wonder what they’re trying to save. Do they hope to bolster lake levels enough to get the boat ramps back open? Or do they simply want to preserve hydropower generating capacity for as long as possible?

Whatever the case, I’d encourage them to go forward with the plan. It may not mean much to Lake Powell, but a bit of extra water in the rivers sure would be nice for downstream boaters and fish.

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