#Snowpack news: “The snow is our largest reservoir in the state” — Diane Johnson

Westwide SNOTEL February 11, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL February 11, 2016 via the NRCS.

From the Vail Daily (Ross Leonhart):

“The big thing for us, we want the snow to stick around,” said Diane Johnson, public affairs manager with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “The snow is our largest reservoir in the state.”


As of Wednesday, the SNOTEL site on Vail Mountain (not the Vail Resorts measuring site, but located near Eagle’s Nest) recorded the snow-water equivalent as 104 percent of normal (11.9 inches compared to the 30-year recorded median of 11.4 inches on Feb. 10).

“It means we’re in good standing right now,” said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “We still have a third of the season to go, and hopefully snowpack will be pretty close to normal.”

Snow-water equivalent at Vail Mountain was at 11.9 inches on Wednesday, and the median peak which comes in late April is 22.6 inches, so it’s about 52.6 percent of the way to normal with a third of the season to go.


With the recent high pressure systems in the valley bringing warmer temperatures and no snow, Domonkos said being slightly above normal snowpack acts as a buffer as the season goes along. With temperatures still dropping below freezing overnight, the snowpack is solid enough to stave off a dry spell, he said.

“There’s a bit of a forecast that states we’ll be relatively dry over the next few weeks,” Domonkos said. “And then usually we return to a wetter spell, especially these El Nino years, for the late winter, early spring months — March and April.”

In a small system such as Eagle County, one or two storms can really make a difference, Johnson said. January was at 70 percent of normal snowpack until the big storm that dropped over a foot of a snow at the end of the month and into February, bringing totals to above 100 percent of normal.

In 2013 when Vail Mountain reopened due to late-season snow, local water officials were on edge until the welcome dump of snow, which “totally changed the water picture,” Johnson said.

“One storm can make a difference,” Domonkos said, “but it’s pretty normal to see dry spells, decent storms and dry spells again and kind of get a more stair-step progression.”


Regional SNOTEL data from Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass also help local water officials get an indication of what will be melting off the mountains and flowing into local waterways.

As of Wednesday, the SNOTEL site at Copper Mountain read 10.1 inches, 117 percent of the normal, and the data from Fremont Pass measured 10.9 inches, 110 percent of normal.

Copper Mountain stats are indicative of snow-water equivalent in the Vail Pass area, which flows into Black Gore Creek before joining Gore Creek in East Vail. Fremont Pass presents an idea of what will eventually come down to Camp Hale and the Eagle River headwaters, Johnson said.

“We want the snow up high, and we want it to hang around,” Johnson said.

“The Poudre Runs Through It” forum recap

Cache la Poudre River
Cache la Poudre River

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

This was the third annual forum, but a first for me. I was asked to participate in the event by its sponsor — the Poudre Runs Through It, a local study/action work group associated with the Colorado Water Institute, which is an affiliate of Colorado State University.

My role was to moderate a panel discussion on how to “get to yes” on major water projects and initiatives. Three of the four panel members participated in long and tough negotiations that eventually hammered out significant operating agreements on projects affecting the Colorado and Platte rivers.

The other panelist was Pete Taylor, a sociology professor from CSU whose research includes studying environmental and agricultural water issues.

I found the discussion interesting, and I hope the roughly 240 people who attended the forum did, too.

I’ve heard mixed reviews: Some folks told me the panel tied in well with past forum discussions.

Others told me they wanted to hear more about the controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, and Glade Reservoir. NISP would draw from the Poudre and store water in Glade, which would be built northwest of Fort Collins.

NISP has been tied up in a federal Environmental Impact Statement process for many years.

Supporters say the project is critical for meeting the needs of growing cities. Some opponents say they will do whatever it takes to kill the project. And so it goes.

Certain words came up frequently during the course of the panel conversation: Collaboration, consensus, commitment, understanding, trust.

The speakers noted that during the course of a negotiation, it is important for participants to understand the perspectives of others at the table.

For example, water supply interests wanting more storage have to understand environmentalists want to keep enough water in rivers to ensure healthy ecosystems.

At the same time, environmentalists have to understand that agricultural interests need to have water flow their way to keep in business. You get the picture.

Achieving understanding between people with deeply different points of view is not easy, the speakers said. Neither is building trust that the entities represented by those people will do what they say they will do as part of an agreement.

But it must be done. And all parties involved have to be committed to reaching some kind of consensus, even if they don’t agree on every element.

Would such an approach work on the Poudre? I don’t know. When it comes to NISP and other projects proposed for the river, the parties seem pretty far apart.

The first step toward finding solutions is talking about them, and that is what the Poudre Runs Through It is trying to do.

Change Trickling Through #ColoradoRiver Basin — UNLV

The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada
The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada

Here’s the release from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas:

As water leaders contend with unprecedented drought and demand, will the river people of the Colorado band together as regional citizens? Water policy expert Patricia Mulroy weighs in.

It’s 6 am. In Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Tijuana, someone is stumbling into the kitchen to grab that first cup of coffee. In the wide-open spaces of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Baja, and Sonora, a farmer is opening his head gate to water his field and tend his herd. In the depths of the Grand Canyon, a camper is emerging from his tent to marvel at the sight of an eagle winging across the chasm. Mechanics are adjusting enormous generators sending hydroelectric power to countless communities. And the birds of the Cienga de Santa Clara are heading out to find their morning meal. As distant and different as all this awakening life is, it shares one vital ingredient: water from the Colorado River.

It is a river steeped in legend and lore and often its mere mention induces competition and conflict. For most of the 20th century our competing interests have been in constant collision. Each has jockeyed to advance his needs over those of his neighbors. We quickly forgot the underlying premise of the Colorado River Compact of 1922: that the river was to be developed and managed by seven equal partner states outside the framework of traditional Western water law. Only in the last 25 years have we begun to realize that the framers of this river “constitution” were not as misguided as we thought and that cooperation and joint management of the system would be the only thing that would make a modern 21st century existence on this river possible.

Our supply is dwindling and the demand pressures are not subsiding. As science became more sophisticated and informed, we have come to realize that the amount of available water from this river is not as great as we once imagined it to be. Lawsuits and decrees over the decade further cut into what is reasonably available. And the beginnings of a fundamental shift in the climate conditions affecting the Colorado River Basin are reducing what we do have available even further. We have emerged from one of the wettest centuries in the region to the stark reality of a much drier future. At the same time global food demand is on the rise, urban populations are growing, and an ever-growing environmental ethic is demanding more resources be left in the system to protect the ecosystem.

This interconnected river community has, and continues to be, in an intense period of transformation. The fiercely defended individual water right is beginning to be moved aside by the notion of a shared responsibility and recognized interdependence. Attitudes are slowly changing as water leaders engage their communities in difficult conversations about doing more with less. These changes go right to the heart of how we see ourselves as communities and whether we can envision ourselves as part of a larger region. Yet to be born is the notion of living as the citizen of a river community, enjoying all the rights and responsibilities that accompany that privilege.

Editor’s Note:
Patricia Mulroy, a leader in the international water community, will present the University Forum lecture “Forging a Common Future: Becoming A Citizen of the Colorado River Basin,” at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 16, in the Barrick Museum Auditorium. As the general manager of both the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Mulroy helped guide Southern Nevada through an unprecedented period of growth and one of the worst droughts in the history of the Colorado River. She is now the Senior Fellow for Climate Adaptation and Environmental Policy as well as a Practitioner in Residence for the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law.

The latest ENSO discussion is hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center

Mid-February 2016 Plume of ENSO predictions via the Climate Prediction Center
Mid-February 2016 Plume of ENSO predictions via the Climate Prediction Center

Click here to read the discussion:

ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory

Synopsis: A transition to ENSO-neutral is likely during late Northern Hemisphere spring or earlysummer 2016, with a possible transition to La Niña conditions during the fall.

Indicative of a strong El Niño, sea surface temperature (SSTs) anomalies were in excess of 2°C across the east-central equatorial Pacific Ocean during January. The Niño indices in the eastern Pacific declined, while Niño-3.4 and Niño-4 were nearly unchanged. The subsurface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific increased due to a downwelling Kelvin wave, but toward the end of the month weakened again in association with the eastward shift of below-average temperatures at depth in the central Pacific. Also, low-level westerly wind anomalies and upper- level easterly wind anomalies continued over much of the tropical Pacific. The traditional and equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values remained negative but weakened relative to last month. Convection remained much enhanced over the central and east-central tropical Pacific and suppressed over Indonesia. Collectively, these anomalies reflect the continuation of a strong El Niño.

Most models indicate that El Niño will weaken, with a transition to ENSO-neutral during the late spring or early summer 2016. Thereafter, the chance of La Niña conditions increases into the fall. While there is both model and physical support for La Niña following strong El Niño, considerable uncertainty remains. A transition to ENSO-neutral is likely during late Northern Hemisphere spring or early summer 2016, with a possible transition to La Niña conditions during the fall.

El Niño has already produced significant global impacts and is expected to affect temperature and precipitation patterns across the United States during the upcoming months (the 3-month seasonal outlook will be updated on Thursday February 18th). The seasonal outlooks for February – April indicate an increased likelihood of above-median precipitation across the southern tier of the United States, and below-median precipitation over the northern tier. Above-average temperatures are favored in the North and West, and below-average temperatures are favored in the southern Plains and along the Gulf Coast.

#Drought news: NE #Colorado sees a reduction in D0 (abnormally dry)

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


From February 2-3, a major low pressure system moved from the central Great Plains northeastward across the Great Lakes region and southern Ontario, accompanied by a variety of hazardous weather conditions to the central and eastern contiguous U.S. These hazards included heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions generally to areas north and west of the storm track, and severe weather to the Southeast. Straight-line and tornadic winds were responsible for most of the severe weather damage. Over the weekend, an area of low pressure developed off the Southeast Coast, accompanied by heavy rain over coastal areas, including most of Florida. This ocean storm tracked to the northeast, well off the Atlantic Coast, bringing heavy snow (generally 6-12 inches) to New England and eastern Long Island, NY. Some locations on Cape Cod also experienced high winds and blizzard conditions, with preliminary reports indicating peak wind gusts near 65 mph in Nantucket…

The Far West

Reservoir storage and Snow Water Content (SWC) data played a large role in the revisions made this week to the USDM map in northern California and southern Oregon. Following is a brief tally of the Percent of Capacity (PoC), and the Percent of Historical Average (PoHA) values for four key reservoir sites in northern California, as given by the State of California’s Department of Water Resources (February 9th): Trinity Lake (PoC 30 percent, PoHA 42 percent), Shasta (55 percent and 79 percent, respectively), Lake Oroville (47 percent and 70 percent, respectively), and Folsom Lake (62 percent and 117 percent, respectively). The Department of Water Resources also provides a Percent of April 1 average Snowpack and the Percent of Normal Snowpack for this date (February 10th), for the Northern Sierra/Trinity region (79 percent and 108 percent, respectively) and for the Central Sierra region (74 percent and 103 percent, respectively). As of February 10th, SNOTEL basin-average SWC values in the California Sierras range from 90-125 percent of average. SWC values in southern Oregon appear to be somewhat greater, ranging from 125-150 percent of average. The Northern Sierra 8-station precipitation index for Water Year 2016 (updated February 5th) shows the average value of this index is 8.4 inches in December, and 9.0 inches in January. For Water Year 2016, however, the December index value is 11.8 inches, and the January index value is 16.1 inches, both significantly above the long-term monthly averages.

Despite heavy rainfall in January, an above-average snowpack and rising reservoirs in many areas, the California State Water Resources Control Board recently approved an 8-month extension of existing drought-related emergency regulations. This is a reminder that although El Nino-related precipitation has been bountiful so far this winter, the drought situation in California remains very serious. Reservoir storage generally remains below-average and very significant groundwater shortages continue. There are also serious problems with tree mortality. The USDA estimates 29 million trees are already dead, and a Stanford group estimates another 29 million trees are showing significant stress. Given these various factors, it will take quite a while for improvements in the short-term to chip away at large, multi-year precipitation deficits.

Adjustments were made to the drought depiction this week in northern California and southern Oregon based on a wide variety of drought indicators and (mainly hydrological) feedback from drought experts across the region. Indicators used from the Western Regional Climate Center’s WestWide Drought Tracker (WWDT) included the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) and the Standardized Precipitation Evapo-transpiration Index (SPEI) at various time-scales, and the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). Current stream flows from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Percent of Normal Precipitation (PNP) values from both ACIS and AHPS, CPC’s drought blends (short-term, long-term, and “worst-case”), and as noted above, SWC and reservoir information. Feedback from drought experts in California and Oregon played a key role in determining the modifications made to this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor.

In northwestern California, the D0, D1, and D2 contours were adjusted slightly eastward. Moderate drought (D1) was extended southward as far as Sonoma and Marin Counties. The D1/D2 boundary (separating moderate from severe drought) was moved slightly to the east, to central Siskiyou County, and eastern Trinity County. Extreme drought (D3) was eliminated from eastern and northwestern Modoc County, and exceptional drought (D4) was trimmed out of Lassen County. In southern Oregon, the D0, D1, and D2 contours were shifted slightly eastward. The D3 in southern Klamath and southern Lake Counties was eliminated. In northeastern Oregon, improved conditions warranted a one-category upgrade for Grant County, from D2 to D1…

The Great Plains and Upper Mississippi Valley

The primary revisions made to the drought depiction this week were in Texas. Most of the state has been drying out the last 30-days, with only two areas receiving more than a half-inch of precipitation. According to the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (AHPS), far eastern Texas received moderate to heavy precipitation (0.5-3.0 inches), and the Trans-Pecos/western Edwards Plateau region generally received between 0.5-1.0 inch. However, many locations around the Abilene/San Angelo area have yet to receive measurable precipitation in 2016. Elsewhere, plant stress and elevated wildfire danger signaled either the expansion of, or introduction of, D0. In particular, deep South Texas has had very low dew points and strong winds. Topsoil moisture is rated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as very short to short. The additions rendered to the USDM map were guided by 1-4 month Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) blends.

Small changes were also made to the depiction in northwestern Kansas and northeastern Colorado. The eastern portion of the D0 band (straddling the state border) was removed, due to somewhat improved conditions. Abnormal dryness (D0) was retained in Washington and part of Kit Carson Counties in northeastern Colorado, based primarily on SPI and soil moisture considerations.

An area to watch over the next few weeks is northeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas. This region has been quite dry during the past 30-days, with less than 0.10-inch of precipitation reported. A few counties (such as Franklin and Polk in Arkansas) have issued bans against outdoor burning. Dry spells are not uncommon during the winter, and it is noteworthy that this particular area received 10-14 inches of precipitation in late December…

The Rockies and Intermountain region

In central Nevada, some improvements seemed warranted. Using some of the same tools and indicators noted further down for California and Oregon, a one-category improvement was made to parts of northern Nye, Eureka, Lander, southwestern parts of Elko, and western White Pine Counties. No adjustments were made to the western counties of Nevada, as it takes time for the short-term gains in moisture to have a significant impact on long-term deficits. In southwestern Idaho, snowpack has nearly reached median peak annual values for the period of record. One-category improvements (from D1 to D0) were made in the Weiser, Bruneau, Salmon Falls, Oakley, and Raft basins, yet not to the Owyhee basin. Despite good snowpack, there is a significant lack of reservoir storage. In addition, for a large, low-elevation, high desert basin, a good snowpack doesn’t necessarily translate into adequate runoff…

Looking Ahead

During February 11-15, a half-inch or less of precipitation (liquid equivalent) is forecast for far northwestern California and the western margin of the drought region in Oregon. One to two inches of precipitation is anticipated across northern Idaho and northeastern Oregon. Unfortunately, much heavier amounts of precipitation (3-7 inches) are predicted for parts of the Pacific Northwest which are no longer in drought. Precipitation amounts of a half-inch or less are predicted for the Dakotas and most of the Mississippi Valley, with perhaps an inch for the Ark-La-Tex region, and for downwind areas of the Lower Great Lakes region.

During the ensuing 5 days (February 16-20), the projected precipitation pattern generally favors above-median precipitation from the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies eastward across North Dakota, and continuing eastward and southeastward across the Great Lakes region, the Ohio and upper Tennessee Valleys, Appalachians, and Atlantic Coast states from Maine to South Carolina. Below-median precipitation is favored from California and the Southwest eastward across central and southern sections of both the Rockies and Great Plains, most of the Middle and Lower Mississippi Valley, and the Gulf Coast states including all of Florida. This pattern is what would be expected of a La Nina winter, not an El Nino winter. At any rate, some drought relief is at least favored across the northern U.S. during this period, but this is not the case for places like (most of) California, the Southwest, and Texas. Dryness is rapidly expanding across Texas, and some degradation in the drought depiction will probably be needed next week.

Take a walk down memory lane with early February US Drought Monitor maps since 2010.

Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation February 1 through February 7, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation February 1 through February 7, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.