Ask Eartha: Do snowfall and drought reducation go hand in hand?
This winter season has been great with loads of powder days. But is it enough snow to be drought-free this summer?
— John, Summit Cove
John, it’s great that you are thinking about the snowpack this winter and how it affects Summit County during the rest of the year. I’m also happy to hear that you’ve been enjoying some time on the slopes. While it may feel like we’ve seen more powder days than last year, the numbers aren’t adding up. Let me explain.
The state of our current snowpack
Snowfall has definitely improved this year over last. Snowpack in the Colorado River Basin (which includes all of Summit County) was 116 percent of normal as of Feb. 19, according to a report by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, an organization that is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s just slightly above the statewide average of 115 percent of normal. So yes, the state as a whole is faring better than last year. But when you look at the big picture, it’s still a pretty average year.
Back in November, the Summit Daily News reported that, at the time, snowpack was at 150 to 200 percent of average. The early season snow helped our drought-stricken cause leading into 2019. Much to my chagrin, the snow we’ve received since the New Year has not continued at the same rate. And this overall decline in snowfall is emerging as the trend rather than the exception.
The climate change impact
Climate change has had a huge impact on river basins across the U.S. and it’s taking a toll on the mighty Colorado River. Last year brought record-low snowpack, which added yet another year to our decades-long drought — 19 years and counting.
In addition, the river’s flow has declined more than 15 percent over the last 100 years. One of the biggest contributing factors to that decline is higher temperatures. As temperatures rise, evaporation increases. So a warmer future means more water leaving the river. In fact, under a high-emissions scenario, water flow in the river could be reduced by up to 40 percent. That would mean huge changes in how we allocate water for recreational, agricultural and municipal use.
What you can do about it
John, no matter the amount of snowfall we’re currently receiving, it’s important to keep in mind that we’re still in a drought, and we all need to act like it. Below are a few tips you can use in your everyday life to reduce your water use.
Spend five minutes or less in the shower. Cutting back by a few minutes makes a big difference. Even better, install a high-efficiency showerhead for a bigger impact.
Consider replacing old toilets with high-efficiency models. These can cut the water you use flushing the toilet by 50 percent or more.
Keep in mind that a few behavior changes can help, too. Turn off the water while shaving, brushing your teeth and lathering in the shower.
Finally, make sure washing machines and dishwashers are completely full for every load.
As the climate changes, increased temperatures will continue to limit water availability across the state and the Southwest. If you’re interested in doing your part to save water and decrease your emissions, take a peek at our community’s work on climate action. At HighCountryConservation.org, you’ll find a climate action toolkit with more ideas for saving resources and fighting climate change so we can protect our snowpack and our winters.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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