Colorado River Basin reservoirs still face grim outlook despite healthy snowpack |

Colorado River Basin reservoirs still face grim outlook despite healthy snowpack

Winter snow accumulation offers water officials a breather as they face the basin’s long-term drought

Shannon Mullane
The Colorado Sun
Cassanda Spillane/Courtesy photo
A soft morning glow falls over the Dillon Reservoir.
Cassanda Spillane/Courtesy photo

The healthy snowpack whitening Colorado’s mountain peaks has given water officials some breathing room to manage the Colorado River Basin’s ongoing drought. The challenge will be not to squander it.

As winter storms wind down, water managers and policymakers are mulling over decisions about how to release and retain water in shrunken reservoirs across the basin, which supports 40 million people across the West. This year, many Colorado reservoirs will have the chance to refill, but the situation is still grim for the two largest reservoirs in the system, Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

“While having a decent year of snowpack doesn’t solve all of our problems, it does give us a little bit of breathing room to focus on longer-term issues,” said Amy Ostdiek, chief of the interstate, federal and water information section at the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s leading water agency.

Western Slope basins that feed the Colorado River have seen above-average snowpack this year, and some areas of the Colorado River Basin have reported record levels of snow, according to Natural Resources Conservation Service data.

“The challenge that the basin states face is, what will people do in response to this gift, this tremendous success?” said Chuck Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate water administration agency. “Are we going to squander it? Or are we going to store it and rebuild resiliency in this potentially once-in-a-decade, potentially once-in-a-century, type of runoff?”

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