Snowpack is high possible drought conditions cease

Snowpack high
Snowpack high

Over the weekend the heavy snowfall topped two feet in some areas of the state.  Colorado’s water outlook is looking good for 2019. Snowpack statewide reached 106 percent of average as of Monday.

“I want to see this continue,” said Brian Domonkos, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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Domonkos’ comments came Tuesday at a Denver meeting of the state’s Water Availability Task Force.

Last year’s drought has sapped reservoirs and the soil is despairingly dry. So more snow is needed to be completely out of worry. Snowpack provides the majority of Colorado’s water supply. The deep dry conditions on parts of Colorado’s Eastern Plains and its mountains mean that when the snow melts this spring, may not produce as much water because the moisture will seep into the soils first.

The state has a long way to go to make up for last year’s deficits, officials said, despite thigh-deep snow in places like Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge.

The southwestern corner of the state remains in what’s known as an exceptional drought. The Rio Grande Basin remain in extreme drought. Some parts of the state are still classed as being dry by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“Even though we’ve seen pockets of improvement there are long-term consequences to the drought. We’re monitoring everything heavily,” said Taryn Finnessey, chair of the task force and senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Last year was Colorado’s second-driest on record. In May the state activated its drought plan in response to the devastation.  Agriculture, water, and weather agencies are in extreme monitoring mode making available additional federal insurance funds for crops and small businesses available to 34 drought-stricken counties.

40 out of 64 counties are still battling dry conditions and six more counties are on drought watch. The drought plan remains in effect, Finnessey said, with officials waiting to see what 2019’s spring storms may deliver.

“Right now we’re getting mixed signals,” said Peter Goble, a drought specialist with Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center. “2018 told us a clear story. Water year 2019 has yet to reveal its true form,” he said. The water year begins Nov. 1 and runs through Oct. 31. It is the standard unit of time scientists and meteorologists use to measure precipitation.

The Arkansas River Basin, which includes Colorado Springs, Pueblo and La Junta, has the best snowpack in the state right now at 129 percent of average.

The South Platte River Basin, which includes the metro area and Fort Collins, came in second with a snowpack of 113 percent of average.

Though Colorado and other states are seeing some drought relief, there is growing alarmed that conditions in the broader, seven-state Colorado River Basin will not improve significantly this year, due again to ultra dry soil conditions throughout the basin.

New reports indicate that Lake Powell and Lake Mead, both of which are less than half full, will fall to a crisis point this year, likely triggering major water cutbacks in Arizona, Nevada and possibly California.

Colorado’s snowpack is projected to peak around April 8, at which point water managers will begin to make final projections for this year’s runoff. The next task force meeting is scheduled for Feb. 19 in Denver.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Fresh Water News is an independent, non-partisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Their editorial policy and donor list can be viewed here.