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Statewide snowpack tied for lowest on record; Colorado River Basin at all-time low

05/09/12 at 06:51 AM

 (Taken from the Greeley Tribune)


With this year’s snow season all but in the rear-view mirror and the paltry numbers recently updated, 2012 has officially taken its place near the bottom of Colorado’s dismal-snowpack history.

Statewide snowpack as of May 1 was 19 percent of the 30-year average, according to a report released by the Natural Resources Conservation Services office in Colorado late Thursday afternoon.

That ties for the state’s worst snowpack on record for May 1.

Only May 1, 2002, — a historic drought year for the state — was as bad.

At 21 percent of average, the Colorado River Basin’s snowpack on May 1 of this year was at a record low. 

While the Colorado River flows from the mountains in the opposite direction of Greeley and Weld County, the river makes up a sizeable portion of the water that goes into the Colorado-Big Thompson River Project — which transports Colorado River water from the Western Slope and flows to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land and to about 850,000 people in eight northern Colorado counties.

This year’s May 1 report showed the South Platte River Basin’s snowpack — which accounts for the rest of the water supply in northern Colorado — was at 25 percent of average. That’s the third-worst mark on record for the basin on May 1.

Snowpack numbers for much of this winter and spring have been well below average, but have only gotten worse as the state’s mountains remained deprived of any abundant snowfall.

Calming some fears throughout the winter and early spring has been the fact that water levels in the region’s reservoirs are above average — due to last year’s heavy snow in the mountains. Some reservoirs are filled to capacity.

However, even with that large amount of stored water, experts still predict flows in the rivers to be well below normal throughout the year. Some farmers — many of whom don’t own water in reservoirs and rely heavily on snow run-off to fill their irrigation ditches — aren’t sure there will be enough water to go around. 

Many producers — who are also dealing with historically low precipitation along the Front Range and Eastern Plains — have been holding off on planting certain crops this spring, waiting to see how the water and rain situations play out.




Below is a look at how this year’s May 1 snowpack report compares to that of 2002 — the year of Colorado’s historic drought — and to other record-low snowpack figures for May 1.
The numbers represent the percent of the 30-year average for snowpack on May 1 from 1981 to 2010.

Basin May 1, ‘12 (rank) May 1, ‘02 May 1 Rec. Low
S. Platte 25% (third-lowest) 23% 21% (1981)
Colorado 21% (Rec. low) 27% 21% (2012 — second-lowest, 27% in 2002)
Gunnison 18% (2nd-lowest) 19% 16% (1977)
N. Platte 27% (2nd-lowest) 44% 24% (1981)
Yampa/White 17% (Rec. low) 32% 17% (2012 — second-lowest, 18% in 1977)
Arkansas 25% (3rd-lowest) 24% 10% (1981)
Rio Grande 15% (2nd-lowest) 6% 6% (2002)
San Juan ... 22% (3rd-lowest) 6% 6% (2002)
Statewide 19% (tie-Rec. low) 19% 19% (2012 and 2002)

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services office in Lakewood, Colo.
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