Sustainability Tip: 80 inches of snow at our ski areas doesn't mean tons of water in Colorado |

Sustainability Tip: 80 inches of snow at our ski areas doesn’t mean tons of water in Colorado

By Kate Manzer
Sustainability Tip
The amount of water Colorado sees from snowpack is usually less than half the amount of winter snow.
Special to the Daily

Did you know Colorado is one of the most water-scarce states in the U.S.? The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations classifies water scarcity in the Colorado Hydrologic Basin as high, considering water use in our dry climate compared to our renewable freshwater resources.

On the Front Range, this high stress for water resources is largely due to unsustainable groundwater withdrawals, which have depleted our groundwater table about four centimeters per year: According to the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Water Risk Atlas Tool, this qualifies the Front Range as having high groundwater decline. This tool also shows Colorado overall at high water risk, while western slope cities and towns are considered to be at medium water risk.

More localized analyses from the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) concluded that nearly one million Colorado residents are in drought or abnormally dry areas as of last Tuesday.

This tool shows that currently, 40.5% of Colorado is in moderate drought, 28.5% is abnormally dry, and 3.3% is in severe drought. The majority of western Colorado falls into one of these categorizations. This may come as a surprise given that state-wide, we’ve enjoyed a higher than average snowpack so far this water year – some of our luckier ski areas have more than 80 inches.

Here are three ways to avoid being caught as a Coloradan surprised by the severe lack of water we are all affected by in our beautiful state.  

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  1. Spread the Word. Share your newfound expertise on Colorado’s water scarcity by correcting friends’ and family members’ confusion about snow water equivalent (SWE). Snow water equivalent is, as you may have intuitively guessed, the equivalent amount of water that will remain once our snowpack has melted. The important thing to know is that because snow density can range from fluffy 5% density snow to 50% density California spring snow, the equivalent amount of water we’ll see will be less than half the amount of snow we are graced with. Most likely, significantlyless than half. 
  2. Use Your Noggin. Consider how you can use less water. Whether you prefer to look to the super-desert experts in Arizona for a list of tips and tricks to start checking off, or get creative with your own solutions, there are plenty of ways to use less water.
  3. Skip the Rinse. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to clean your recyclables before sending them “away” to the Materials Recovery Facility. All recyclables will go through a rinsing process after departing with you. Save the water, skip the rinse. 

Kate Manzer is the Actively Green coordinator at Walking Mountain Science Center. Contact her at

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