Where #Colorado’s #snowpack stands (April 28, 2022) as #water, fire concerns grow heading into summer — The #Denver Channel

Colorado snowpack basin-filled map April 28, 2022 via the NRCS.

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Channel website (Blair Miller). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado’s statewide snowpack sat at 82% of median [Thursday] compared to the last 30 years but is already past its peak amid water concerns in the Colorado River Basin and more than a dozen wildfires that have burned across the state over the past two weeks…

Colorado hit its median snowpack peak on April 8, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. It sat at 92% of median levels on Monday, with just two of the state’s eight river basins – the Gunnison (101%) and Upper Colorado Headwaters (100%) – at or above median levels. The Laramie and North Platte (98%), South Platte (92%), Yampa and White (92%) basins were all slightly below median levels. And the Arkansas (85%), Upper Rio Grande (84%), and the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan (80%) basins were slightly further below median levels. Statewide, the snowpack’s trajectory is about on par with median levels for the period of 1991-2020, according to USDA/NRCS data…

Colorado statewide snowpack graph April 28, 2022 via the NRCS.

The snowpack is in a slightly better place at this point than it was last year, slightly worse than this point in 2020, and about right in between the above-average year of 2019 and well-below-average year of 2018. It is at 81% of the median peak for the period of 1991-2020. Peter Goble, a research associate at Colorado State University who also works at the Colorado Climate Center at CSU, said the snowpack is slightly better than last year, and as the climate warms, the West should expect shorter snow seasons and lower peak snowpack levels…

State of Colorado water year precipitation April 28, 2022 via the NRCS.

Another dataset shows southern Colorado is well behind its normal precipitation levels for the month of April so far based on SNOTEL measurements. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan (48%) and Gunnison (49%) have both received about half the normal precipitation they typically receive by this point in April. And the Upper Rio Grande (59%) and Arkansas (61%) basins have fared slightly better this month but are still well below normal levels…

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 27, 2022 via the NRCS.

Meanwhile, the northern four basins are all near or above normal precipitation for the month. The Laramie and North Platte (138%), Yampa and White (106%), and South Platte (97%) were all close to or slightly above normal levels. The Upper Colorado Headwaters basin sat at 89% of normal in terms of April precipitation as of Monday, according to the USDA/NRCS data.

Southern Utah and eastern Nevada, part of the Colorado River Basin, have also been extremely dry so far this April and are seeing snowpack levels below 50% of median for this time of year. While snowpack in Wyoming and Colorado, where the headwaters of the rivers that feed the Colorado begin, is still close to median levels in most spots, every basin in Utah and Nevada was below 90% of median as of Monday…

An April 1 water forecast from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center said as of the start of the month, snow water equivalent levels were between 75% and 105% in the Upper Colorado River Basin and 65%-85% of normal in the Great Basin. But forecast ranges for water supply were all below 100% of normal. Monday’s latest water supply forecasts show levels in the 70-90% range generally across Colorado’s Western Slope, moving into the 50-70% range the further southwest one goes…

Colorado Drought Monitor map April 26, 2022.

Meanwhile, drought in Colorado has remained mostly unchanged over the past three months. Eighty-three percent of the state is experiencing moderate or worse drought – with only the metro area and parts of the Western Slope seeing abnormally dry conditions. Most of the western half of the state is seeing moderate or severe drought, according to last week’s U.S. Drought Monitor release.

Tattered Cover and Water Education Colorado present: Live Stream with Paolo Bacigalupi #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification @WaterEdCO @paolobacigalupi

Click the link to register and for the inside skinny:

Tattered Cover and Water Education Colorado are pleased to present this virtual event with Paolo Bacigalupi on May 11th at 6pm. This will be live streamed via YouTube Live. A link to view the stream will be emailed to you upon registration…

PAOLO BACIGALUPI is a Hugo, Nebula, and Michael L. Printz Award winner, as well as a National Book Award finalist. He is also a winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the John W. Campbell Award, and a three-time winner of the Locus Award. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and High Country News. He lives with his wife and son in western Colorado, where he is working on a new novel.

Unprecedented solutions coming to the #LakePowell crisis — 9News.com #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Flaming Gorge Reservoir July 2020. Photo credit: Utah DWR

Click the link to read the article on the 9News.com website (Cory Reppenhagen). Here’s an excerpt:

The Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA) identifies an elevation of 3,525 feet as a target level to take action because a level of 3,490 feet would threaten the infrastructure and hydropower resources at Glen Canyon Dam.

“We are concerned, we are watching,” said Becky Mitchell, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Governor Polis’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. “There are significant challenges facing the Colorado River system.”

She said that two unprecedented measures are being taken to help prevent Lake Powell from hitting that critical level of 3,490 feet. One, which has already been approved, is to move an unprecedented 500,000 acre-feet of water out of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in northern Utah and southern Wyoming, into Lake Powell over the next 12 months. A second proposal, which [was approved by the basin states this week], is to withhold nearly 480,000 acre-feet of water that is scheduled to be released from Lake Powell and sent to Lake Mead.

Las Vegas turns on low-level #LakeMead pumps designed to avoid a ‘Day Zero’ — The #Nevada Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

To address unprecedented drought conditions and provide long-term protection of Southern Nevada’s primary water storage reservoir—Lake Mead— the Southern Nevada Water Authority constructed a third drinking water intake capable of drawing upon Colorado River water at lake elevations below 1,000 feet (above sea level). Intake No. 3 ensures Southern Nevada’s access to its primary water supply if lake levels continue to decline due to drought conditions. It also protects municipal water customers from water quality issues associated with declining lake levels. Photo credit: Southern Nevada Water Authority

Click the link to read the article on the Nevada Independent website (Daniel Rothberg). Here’s an excerpt:

The country’s largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead, has dropped to such a historically low level that Las Vegas water officials have completed the process of turning on a pump station that will allow Southern Nevada to retrieve water, even under extreme conditions. The move — to turn on the pump station full bore — is an indication of how low Lake Mead has fallen over the past decade and serves as a bulwark against the possibility of Las Vegas losing physical access to its water as regional issues on the Colorado River become increasingly dire…

Intake #1 exposed. Photo credit: SNWA

Lake Mead is about 30 percent full, and the amount of water stored at the reservoir has ticked down over the last month. As of Tuesday, Lake Mead’s elevation sat at about 1,056 feet above sea level, roughly 163 feet below the reservoir’s maximum capacity. For the Southern Nevada Water Authority, that’s a notable number because the agency’s first pumping station — which removes water from the reservoir and siphons it off to customers in the valley — becomes inoperable when Lake Mead drops below 1,050 feet above sea level…

Las Vegas Lake Mead intake schematic, courtesy SNWA.

The water authority’s second pumping station allows for the retrieval of water up to 1,000 feet above sea level. But the third pumping station, the one fully turned on this month and known as the “low lake level pumping station,” allows Las Vegas officials to pump out water from even deeper, with the potential to access water when other Southwest cities cannot. Doa Ross, the water authority’s deputy general manager for engineering, said the pump station, which links to a third intake, or “third straw,” at the lake, will now serve as the city’s main pump…

At 895 feet above sea level, Ross said Lake Mead water can no longer pass through the Hoover Dam, a scenario that water managers refer to as “dead pool.” But because Las Vegas’s primary pump now extends to about 875 feet above sea level, the city will still be able to access water. In effect, Las Vegas watched the unfolding crisis on the river and prepared for the worst.

Pat Mulroy, a senior fellow at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Boyd School of Law and the former longtime general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, is an advocate for extensively rethinking how the Colorado River is managed. (Image: University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Boyd School of Law)

“We invested $1.5 billion in the third intake and the low-level pumping station for a reason,” John Entsminger, the water authority’s general manager said in a recent interview. “We knew very well that this day could come and if lake elevations continue to decline, the people of Las Vegas can take comfort in the fact that they are the most water-secure city in the desert Southwest.”


Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck.

“This isn’t a drought any more,” said Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. “Let’s not fool ourselves. It’s aridification. It’s the long-term drying and warming of the American West. And it’s going to continue, and it’s going to get worse.”

#Drought news (April 28, 2022): Extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) broadly expanding in #NM and moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) increasing in coverage across parts of #AZ and #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.

Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

Only about 10 days after a powerful, winter-like storm struck the northern Plains, a similar system delivered another round of heavy precipitation and high winds. With the more recent storm, which primarily unfolded on April 22-23, heavy snow was focused across a smaller area, primarily blanketing western North Dakota, southeastern Montana, northwestern South Dakota, and portions of Wyoming. Meanwhile in the Red River Valley, heavy rain falling on partially frozen soils resulted in extensive flooding, especially north of Fargo, North Dakota, with runoff further enhanced by melting snow. Farther south, high winds again raked the central and southern Plains and the Southwest, resulting in blowing dust and fast-spreading wildfires. Across the southern High Plains’ hardest-hit drought areas, hot, windy weather sapped any remaining soil moisture and further stressed rangeland, pastures, and winter grains. Meanwhile, a few severe thunderstorms dotted the Plains and upper Midwest, leading to localized wind and hail damage. The greatest concentration of severe weather occurred on April 22 from South Dakota to northern Texas. In contrast, little or no precipitation fell during the week across the nation’s southwestern quadrant, leading to further drought intensification. As the drought-monitoring period ended (on the morning of April 26), a significant rain event was winding down across parts of southern and eastern Texas…

High Plains

For the second week in a row, significant precipitation fell across parts of the northern Plains. Heavy snow blanketed western North Dakota, southeastern Montana, northwestern South Dakota, and parts of Wyoming, helping to further improve soil moisture. Still, by April 24, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported topsoil moisture was rated at least one-half very short to short in each of the region’s states except North Dakota (26% very short to short, down from 39% the previous week). Elsewhere in the region, topsoil moisture rated very short to short ranged from 53% in South Dakota to 82% in Nebraska. Still, parts of the eastern Dakotas have become very wet, with runoff enhanced by melting snow and rain falling on partially frozen soils. Following the latest storm, moderate to major flooding developed in the Red River Valley, extending northward from near Grand Forks, North Dakota. By April 27, the Red River at Oslo, Minnesota, was more than 11.5 feet above flood stage and less 10 inches below the April 2009 high-water mark. Farther south, however, drought continued to gradually expand and intensity, amid windy, mostly dry conditions and rapid temperature fluctuations. In Nebraska, daily-record highs for April 22 soared to 91°F in Sidney and 97°F in Valentine and North Platte, followed just 3 days later by a daily-record low of 14°F in Sidney. By April 24, more than one-quarter of the winter wheat in each of the region’s major production states was rated in very poor to poor condition, led by Colorado (47%) and Kansas (36%)…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending April 26, 2022.


Conditions were nearly identical those observed the previous week, with beneficial precipitation falling across the northern tier of the region and windy, dry weather dominating the Southwest. Given the Southwest’s low humidity levels, high winds, and drought-cured vegetation, two active wildfires—the Hermits Peak and Cooks Peak Fires—charred more than 50,000 acres of vegetation apiece in northeastern New Mexico. Northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, the Tunnel Fire—ignited on April 17—scorched nearly 20,000 acres of vegetation and destroyed more than 50 structures. At times, impressively high winds raked the Southwest, raising dust and fanning flames. On April 22 in New Mexico, wind gusts in Gallup, Farmington, Las Vegas, and Raton were clocked to 70, 72, 73, and 80 mph, respectively. By April 24, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, New Mexico led the nation—tied with Texas—with topsoil moisture rated 86% very short to short. By the 26th, Tucson, Arizona, reported a daily-record high of 100°F—only the fourteenth observance of triple-digit heat on record during April in that location. Tucson’s only earlier readings of 100°F or higher occurred on April 19-21, 1989, and April 22-23, 2012. Deterioration was common across the Southwest, with extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) broadly expanding in New Mexico and moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) increasing in coverage across parts of Arizona and Colorado. Farther north, however, periods of precipitation continued from northern California and the Pacific Northwest to the northern Rockies. Changes in the Northwestern drought depiction, although fewer than those noted the previous week, were driven by factors such as improving water-supply prospects and increasing topsoil moisture. In Oregon, topsoil moisture rated very short to short improved from 47 to 36% during the week ending April 24…


The region remained split between critically dry conditions on the High Plains of Oklahoma and Texas and wet conditions just to the east. During the drought-monitoring period, the axis of heaviest rain stretched from northeastern Texas into northern Arkansas, with additional rainfall maxima in parts of southern and eastern Texas. Those rains led to targeted, one-category improvements in the drought depiction, with highly localized two-category changes. Meanwhile, the region’s driest areas continued to experience deteriorating conditions, including a broad expansion of exceptional drought (D4), amid periods of extreme heat, high winds, and blowing dust. Temperatures reached 100°F—mainly on April 20 and 21—in parts of the south-central U.S., extending to the Texas-Oklahoma border near Childress (100°F on April 21) and Wichita Falls, Texas (99°F on April 20). In western Texas, peak gusts April 22 were clocked to 73 mph in Lubbock and Dalhart. On April 24, Texas led the country in several drought-related categories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including topsoil moisture rated very short to short (86%, tied with New Mexico) and winter wheat rated in very poor to poor condition (78%). On the same date, nearly half (48%) of Oklahoma’s wheat was rated very poor to poor…

Looking Ahead

The threat of frost and sub-freezing temperatures will linger at least into Friday in parts of the Great Lakes and Northeastern States. Meanwhile, a disorganized storm system will cross the western U.S. before intensifying on April 29-30 over the nation’s mid-section. With the storm’s path across the central Plains and upper Midwest, rainfall could reach 1 to 3 inches in the north-central U.S., with some of the highest amounts expected on Friday in the Dakotas. Meanwhile, windy, dry weather in the nation’s southwestern quadrant will lead to additional drought and wildfire concerns. Late in the weekend, however, portions of the southern Plains may experience some drought relief.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for May 3 – 7 calls for the likelihood of near- or below-normal temperatures across the North and Far West, while warmer-than-normal weather will prevail from the Four Corners States eastward to the middle and southern Atlantic Coast. Meanwhile, near- or above-normal precipitation across most of the country should contrast with drier-than-normal conditions in the upper Great Lakes region and parts of the Southwest.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending April 26, 2022.