Colorado’s healthy snowpack promises to offer some relief for strained water supplies |

Colorado’s healthy snowpack promises to offer some relief for strained water supplies

Colorado’s statewide snowpack is above average weeks ahead of normal seasonal peak

Shannon Mullane
The Colorado Sun
Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun
Fresh snow covers the Sawatch Range along Colorado 24 outside Twin Lakes, near the headwaters of the Arkansas River on Feb. 21, 2023.
Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun

The Western Slope snowpack has piled up to its normal peak weeks ahead of usual, and with more snow in the forecast, the healthy supply promises some relief to receding Colorado reservoirs, experts say.

Rivers in western Colorado help feed the Colorado River Basin, which provides water to 40 million people across the West. The basin is experiencing its worst drought in 1,200 years — by some estimates, it would take three average snow years with zero consumption to get reservoirs in the basin back to normal. This year, the snow is deep in the mountains that serve as headwaters for the Colorado River with some areas even reporting historically high snowpack levels.

“To me, the most impressive thing about this year’s snowpack is that, typically, in a normal year we reach our normal peak around April 1. We’ve already reached that peak snow value in early March, and we’re still trending upward,” said Paul Miller, service coordination hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. “So we’re well ahead of schedule, so to speak, and we still have some time to add to the snowpack.”

As of Monday, Colorado’s statewide snowpack was 127% of median from 1991 to 2020, according to SNOTEL data compiled by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The numbers were looking even better on the Western Slope. The snow-water equivalent — the amount of liquid water in snow — was at 147% of the historical average in the Gunnison Basin, and 136% of the average in the Yampa and White basins as of Monday. The snow-water equivalent in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins in southwestern Colorado was 149% of average, the highest statewide.

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