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As of Jan. 1, 2014, snowpack in the southwest river basin including the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel rivers was at 100 percent of the calculated 30-year average.
Snowpack reports, generated by National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) monitoring equipment, are an important resource for water managers, emergency operations planners, recreationists, conservationists and climate researchers, among others. Snow monitoring is critical because snowpack is the primary source of water for the western United States. In fact, snowpack in the high mountain ranges of the west generally holds between 50 and 80 percent of the yearly water supply for drainage basins.
Despite holding this large amount of water as snowpack, high mountain ranges do not moderate variability in water availability throughout the year, which is why there are many reservoirs and canals in the west. These water storage facilities allow us to manage snow melt and stream flow to meet the varied needs of communities, industries and agriculturists year round.
The snowpack report is an important part of managing water resources because it is used to predict yearly stream flows along with precipitation and antecedent stream flow measurements and El Nino/Southern Oscillation indices. Snowpack information is especially crucial, however, because the majority of annual stream flow in drainage basins in Colorado and all over the West originates as snowfall.
The current amount of snowpack in the southwest basin is 146 percent of the amount recorded on Jan. 1, 2013, an improvement likely due to early season snowfall and accumulation in the high country. According to NRCS data and observations, above normal snow accumulation in October, November and early December contributed to increased snowpack this season.
These observations were made not just in the southwest region, but for the entire state, as each of the seven major river basins has higher snowpack than it did as of Jan. 1, 2013 — overall state snowpack was 103 percent of average as of Jan. 1, 2014.
Late in December, the southwest part of the state became much drier, while northern basins continued to receive snow. Despite this disparity, average snow accumulation across the state means the 2014 water year looks promising.
In conjunction with on-track snowpack numbers, statewide reservoir storage is currently 87 percent of average, a vast improvement compared to 67 percent at this time last year. In the southwest basin area, reservoir storage isn’t as good as the state average, but is sitting at 69 percent of average, an improvement over 66 percent at this time last year. In fact, deficits in water storage have improved each month since July of last year.
Overall, favorable early season snow conditions and accumulation have set up the state and the southwest basin for a water year more assuring than the last. Headed into the bulk of the snow accumulation season, it would be favorable for current trends to continue and snowpack to keep building up in the high country. If current patterns persist, 2014 will be a comparatively good water year in southwest Colorado.