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

March 4, 2015
Upper Colorado River Basin February 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal

Upper Colorado River Basin February 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Snowpack news

March 4, 2015
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal via the NRCS

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal via the NRCS

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

In this era of erratic winter weather, the wild swings are not limited to temperature and precipitation. The roller coaster ride also extends to the spring runoff.

Whitewater lovers planning spring floats and fishermen attempting to assess conditions on surrounding rivers have already experienced an ebb and flow worthy of Dramamine merely by tracking the statewide snowpack graphs that predict Colorado’s surface water.

The 2015 calendar year rang in as one of the slowest starts for precipitation since 1992, according to U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel data. Colorado mountain precipitation during January fell well below the normal mark, amounting to only 45 percent of the 30-year average.

Recognizing that snowfall is the main ingredient for water in Colorado, heads hung low in the local boating community. But after one of the warmest, driest Januarys any nearby river rat cares to remember, an equally slow start to February ultimately resulted in record snowfall for Denver and respectable totals elsewhere in the northern portions of the state.

By Tuesday, the numbers saw a noticeable bump in each of Colorado’s eight major basins, leading to a statewide snowpack measuring at 91 percent of average. With mountain snow continuing to fall throughout the day, that number almost certainly increased overnight.

Unsurprisingly, to anyone who has spent the past few weeks in or around Denver, the South Platte River Basin leads Colorado’s snowpack statistics at 113 percent of average as of Tuesday. That bodes well for Front Range recreation as South Platte feeder streams such as Clear Creek, Boulder Creek and the Cache la Poudre River are poised to flow at traditional levels, and major reservoirs linked throughout the South Platte corridor are likely to fill.

The excess snowpack in northeast Colorado could also help bolster runoff in the Western Slope’s Colorado River basin now sitting at 98 percent of average because there is likely to be less demand for transmountain diversions, at least in the early season.

The same holds true for the Arkansas River basin, which saw snowpack measuring at 105 percent Tuesday and has enjoyed open water fishing along many stretches for months now. With March, traditionally the state’s snowiest month, just underway, Colorado’s favorite river for both boating and fishing would seem well situated to meet demand by the time snowpack levels typically peak in mid-April.

The state’s only other basin registering above 90 percent of average is the North Platte surrounding Walden with 91 percent snowpack as of Tuesday. Just to its west, the combined Yampa and White river basin measured at only 85 percent, although that number is expected to climb with snowfall in northwest Colorado this week.

Colorado’s upper Rio Grande basin offers a good news/bad news scenario. The bad news is that snowpack in the long-underperforming watershed remains at just 87 percent of historical average. The good news is that is a significant improvement from years past, and even recent weeks, when snowpack has lingered closer to 50 percent of average.

The neighboring Gunnison River Basin also climbed to 87 percent of average snowpack as of Tuesday, with snowfall still accumulating in the surrounding mountains. Despite seeing the largest snowstorm of the winter last weekend, the combined Animas/San Juan/Dolores/San Miguel basin in Colorado’s southwest corner remained the driest in the state, measuring at only 75 percent of average Tuesday.

All things considered, it’s a much better snow and water scenario than we were looking at as recently as two weeks ago. Just don’t be surprised when it all changes again in another few weeks.

From the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Mark Volt) via Sky-Hi Daily News:

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Kremmling Field Office snow surveyors Mark Volt and Vance Fulton took the March 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of February, and even with the recent warm weather, the survey shows that the Upper Colorado River Basin is in pretty good shape!

Snowpack in the high elevation mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 78 percent to 128 percent of the 30-year average, with the overall average for Middle Park at 102 percent.

Last year at this time the area was at 141 percent of average. Snow density is averaging 25%, which means that for one foot of snow there is 3.0 inches of water, which is normal for March 1, though lower elevation/valley snowpack appears to be suffering.

Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1940s. Snow course readings are taken at the end of each month, beginning in January and continuing through April.

March is historically the snowiest month, and the April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most high country snowpack peaks around that time.

For further information, including real-time snow and precipitation data for SNOTEL (automated Snow Telemetry) sites, visit http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.


United Water and Sanitation and CSU team up to test subsurface irrigation efficiency and crop yield

March 4, 2015
SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation

Bob Lembke thinks that irrigation technology developed in Israel to grow crops in the Negev Desert should have application here in the US and particularly in the South Platte Basin. To that end United Water and Sanitation has dedicated 165 acres of their 70 Ranch property for a 30-40 year pilot project with Colorado State University researchers. Their plan is to test cropping patterns, deficit irrigation, and other variables to assesss the potential for subsurface irrigation as an alternative to “Buy and Dry” in the basin.

Project participants hope to grow more with less and also help drought harden operations that have been water short traditionally.

According to Skip Dinges from HMD Consulting subsurface irrigation has many benefits:

  • Better control of water resources and fertilizers.
  • Subsurface irrigation reduces groundwater infiltration and therefore pollution of the environment from herbicides and fertilizers.
  • Subsurface irrigation is 25% to 30% more efficient than center pivots and up to 60% more efficient than flood irrigation.
  • The dry farming surface reduces weeds that require herbicide application for control.
  • Subsurface irrigation reduces fungus and pests on plant surfaces by not having to wet the plants during irrigation.
  • Dr. Ramchand Oad is the CSU researcher helping with the project. He emphasizes that subsurface irrigation lessens evaporation as compared with surface irrigation. He also mentioned that farmers should be able to bring more acreage into production with their available water.

    Efficiency if is a double-edged sword however. South Platte irrigators divert far more water each season that is available from natural streamflow and transbasin diversions. The reason that they can do that is the return flows from flood irrigation.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

    Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

    Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM


    Snowpack news: Central Rockies snow cover = 95%

    March 3, 2015
    Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal March 3, 2015

    Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal March 3, 2015

    From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    Snowfall from the latest storm to hit Colorado’s mountains has already surpassed 4 feet around Wolf Creek Pass.

    The Wolf Creek Ski Area says it has received 52 inches of snow as of Tuesday morning from the storm that moved in Friday.

    The National Weather Service says another 3 to 6 inches of snow are expected there and other spots above 10,000 feet in the eastern San Juan Mountains Tuesday. A blizzard warning remains in effect there through 5 p.m. because of gusty southwest winds.


    EPA: Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most wide-spread and costly environmental problems

    March 3, 2015


    Colorado Water Congress: If you missed an original screening of one of our webinars, they are now available for viewing

    March 3, 2015


    You Can Believe the Senator With a Snowball or Every Major American Scientific Society

    March 3, 2015

    Senator Sheldon Whitehouse mocks Senator Inhofe from Oklahoma.


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