EAGLE COUNTY — Water is the life’s blood of the American West, and snow is the source. This year, that source is strong.
After a couple of dry winters, one of which set new drought records, snowpack in this part of the Rockies is back to normal — or above normal, actually.
The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service tracks snowpack and streamflows nationwide. That agency has several snow-measurement stations scattered around the area, all of which are closely monitored by water districts and others. For this “snow year” — a period that starts around Nov. 1 and continues into May — the graphs from the sites monitored by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District look very good indeed, especially compared to the winter of 2011-12.
Snowpack in any given year is compared to a 30-year median of measurements. The 2012 snow year was a historic low. The 30-year part of the chart shows the “snow water equivalent” — the amount of water in the snowpack peaking in late April, before runoff hits.
On average, the snowpack at the Vail measurement site is melted off about June 7. In the 2012 snow year, the snowpack peaked before March 20 at a paltry 12.5 inches of water, and was melted off before the end of April.
This year, as of Friday, the measurement site at Vail was already above the 30-year peak of 22.5 inches. More snow would likely drive the snowpack higher, although this week’s forecast calls for clear, warm weather.
GOOD FOR BUSINESS
Across the Colorado River basin, of which the Vail Valley is a part, snowpack was 31 percent higher than the 30-year average. And Sean and Cory Glackin at Alpine Quest Sports are loving life right now.
The Glackins’ business covers both winter and summer sports, from ski touring to kayaking. Sean Glackin said the people coming into Alpine Quest’s stores in Edwards and Vail are about equally split between cold-weather and warm-weather enthusiasts.
“The winter’s been great — we didn’t go through too many dry spells,” Glackin said. “The mountain is skiing great, and we’re expecting a long (backcountry) touring season this spring.”
Steve Visosky, who runs an ice-fishing guide business in the winter and an irrigation company in the summer, said it’s only been in the past couple of weeks that even high-elevation lakes and reservoirs have become too slushy for ice fishing.
On the flip side of the seasonal coin, Glackin said he’s already seeing kayaks on customers’ cars.
“For April, we’ve got good (river) flows,” Glackin said. “People are heading west and running the rivers, from Glenwood Springs down into Utah.”
RUNOFF SEASON APPROACHES
What the runoff season will be like is anyone’s guess, of course. We could have a cool, moist spring that slows the runoff to a relative dribble, leaving rivers rising but clear enough to fish, or we could see a string of warm days in April and May that quickly evaporates the snow and muddies the streams.
Visosky, whose company installs, runs and maintains home and commercial irrigation systems, said the local snowpack looks good now, but can change quickly.
Last year, Visosky was ready to start work in early April after another dry winter, but wasn’t able to get anything done until the month was about three weeks old thanks to the spring storms that gave us a bonus weekend at Vail Mountain. Conversely, in the monster snow year of 2010-11, an early spring let him start work close to April 1.
Given how quickly snow and water can ebb and flow, Visosky thinks the valley is probably in good shape for its water supply for the coming summer. But, he said, things could be better.
“I really think we should have more water storage,” he said. “You hate to see all that water just go down the river and not have it when you need it.”