Community Agriculture Alliance: Above average snowpack doesn’t necessarily mean a good water year |

Community Agriculture Alliance: Above average snowpack doesn’t necessarily mean a good water year

Kent Vertress
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For those who love snow, this winter has been one to remember. Since November, we have seen weekly storms hammer Northwest Colorado, creating an above average snowpack and some incredible conditions for those who enjoy winter recreation in our mountains.

One of these storms in particular was from Feb. 13 to 15. This three-day cycle deposited 16 inches of snow along with 3.8 inches of water at the Tower SNOTEL site on top of Buffalo Pass. Now, that’s a lot of water and a big boost of water into our snowpack. For perspective, we typically see about 1 inch of water deposited when 12 inches of our lighter, dryer snow falls.

Due to these consistent storms, our snowpack as of today is above our historical average. This is great news, but what does this mean for our future Yampa River runoff?

It’s really too early to say.

March and April, even early May, are key snowpack building and maintaining timeframes for us in Colorado. As we slide into March, temperatures will start warming due to longer hours of daylight and the sun rising higher on the horizon. We will soon see the Yampa River and its tributaries ice off, open up, and our annual spring runoff will begin with or without frequent storms.

Recent trends show that western rivers like the Yampa, Elk and Little Snake rivers will start running off earlier and earlier annually as our climate becomes hotter and dryer. Snow today in our lower elevations already comes off our ranch lands earlier than it did a few decades ago, and our average peak runoff date has already shifted from early June to late May.

An above-average snowpack in our mountains is not only critical for our enjoyment and economy here during the winter months, but it’s even more essential for us in the summer. It helps maintain our forest health by suppressing forest fires, creates a healthy river environment that can maintain itself, provides reliable water to support our ranchers, our lifestyles, water supplies, recreation and many other uses.

Let’s all keep our candles lit, do our snow dances, sacrifice something (not really) or do whatever you can do to keep these storms coming into the valley and our snowpack above average as life is way better when it snows.

Kent Vertress is the president of Friends of the Yampa.

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