Recent snowfall pushes river basin to 100% average snowpack

Experts are still watching levels as the water year continues toward summer

The lower Blue River is seen in a past spring. According to data from the National Resource Conservation Service, the Blue River Basin was steadily on par with its median over the last 10 days.
John Fielder/Courtesy photo

Last week’s snowfall has finally pushed local river basins to over the average median, a level that water experts have been following for months into this water year, which runs from October through September.

According to data from the National Resource Conservation Service, the Blue River Basin was steadily on par with its median over the last 10 days. Last week, the basin had been almost exactly along the median before dipping very slightly by Sunday, March 20.

Sunday’s most recent data shows that current levels have a snow-water equivalent of 13.7 inches, whereas the 30-year median is 13.9 inches. This puts the Blue River Basin at 99% of the median at this point in the year and 83% of the median’s peak. The median’s peak is set to crest on April 27, so it is possible that future snowfalls in coming weeks could keep the basin’s trajectory on track.

On Wednesday, March 16, members of the state’s Colorado Water Conservation Board met to discuss the state of each river basin in Colorado. Paul Bruchez, a Kremmling rancher who was recently appointed to the state’s board to represent the main stem of the Colorado River, which includes the Blue River, said that most of the basin is hovering close to the average range as of Wednesday. However, he said, it is important to watch and make sure that moisture in the ground lasts throughout drought conditions that are likely to happen this summer.

“Within our snowpack, most of the basin is bouncing around the 95% to 100% range,” Bruchez said. “Roaring Fork is a little above 100%, which is nice to see. I was working on a river project in December of this year and to speak of the soil moisture deficit, (we were) still digging into the first part of December in Grand County in soils that literally had no moisture to them. It’ll be interesting to see how the snowpack translates, so I’m quite concerned with that.”

Bruchez said that numerous projects in this part of the state are working to mitigate water distribution issues, and he hopes that those projects continue.

“We’re living in a very concerning time — obviously that’s recognized and identified by all of us — but I’ve also had the privilege of seeing firsthand on a number of projects that have proven to be a success with adapting to change and adapting to new circumstances that we live in,” Bruchez added.

One project that applied to receive funding was the Blue River Integrated Water Management Plan, based in Summit County. According to the application, this project aims to assess and improve the current habitat of the river in Summit County and protect those resources while also protecting water rights for the river’s users. The application requested $150,000 to help fund the projects and in total, the project will cost $310,000.

Since water year 2022 began in October, unpredictable snowfall has caused a “weather whiplash” for water experts and snow enthusiasts alike. Drought-like conditions in October and November worried specialists until large snow dumps in late December into January brought snowpack totals up. Early months in 2022 had the snow-water equivalent well above average, but a considerably dry February brought it back down to below the median. Still, this year’s snowfall has snowpack levels considerably above 2021.

Reports from the National Weather Service show that early this week, snow will develop starting Sunday night and through most of the day Monday, March 21. The most recent data has Summit County communities receiving between 1 and 3 inches.

“The attention of the weather world in the United States will now turn to Colorado as a strong storm sweeps across the Four Corners region and brings healthy precipitation and deep snow totals from Sunday night through Tuesday,” OpenSnow meteorologist Sam Collentine wrote in his most recent snow forecast. “There’s still some uncertainty but areas along and east of the divide could receive 10 to 20 inches, while most other mountain areas across the state receive 5 to 10 inches.”

This graph shows the current snowpack levels for the Blue River Basin. This year is marked by the black line, showing that the levels are up to the 30-year median, signified by the green line.
National Resources Conservation Service/Courtesy photo

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