Colorado mountain snowpack still lags, at 72 percent of the norm

Could big spring snow enable catch-up? “Probably not.”

Bruce Finley / The Denver Post
High winds blow snow high in the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park on Jan. 22, 2018 in Estes Park.
Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

Colorado mountain snowpack still lags, at 72 percent of the norm, and federal forecasters project drought will persist across much of the southwestern United States, threatening agricultural producers.

Near-record low snow levels remained at 60 percent of the median or less Sunday in the southern half of Colorado in the Arkansas, Rio Grande, San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan river basins, the latest federal survey shows. In the northern half of Colorado, snowpack hovered around 84 percent of the median in the Upper Colorado River and South Platte River basins, data show.

Water utilities have been monitoring conditions closely since early January, counting on spring snow and relatively full reservoirs to supply residents during dry months this summer and fall.

“We have not caught up. Snowpack is below normal. That means stream flow is going to be below normal,” said Brian Domonkos, supervisor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Colorado snow survey.

“Things are not extremely bad. But in some cases they are teetering,” Domonkos said. “If we continue to have dry conditions, then people are going to be more concerned than we are now.”

Snowpack in Colorado’s high mountains serves as a reservoir, holding water until spring, when rising temperatures melt the snow, sending water into streams and rivers.

Precipitation levels this past winter also have lagged around the state, with 83 percent of average precipitation in the Upper Colorado River basin, 61 percent in the Arkansas River basin and 54 percent along the Rio Grande, data show.

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