Blizzards help farmers, hurt ranchers, snowpack slightly up
DENVER (AP) ” As is usual in the nation’s highest state, there are winners and losers when the snow falls.
The same blizzards that killed up to 15,000 cattle on the plains and snarled traffic in urban areas could produce an above-average wheat crop with prices at their highest levels in years. “We haven’t had this kind of winter moisture since 1981 and 1982,” said Darrell Hanavan, executive director of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers.
Although the mountains have received only an average snowfall, ski resorts appear headed to a record for the second year in a row.
“Last year we were dry in the southern mountains and we were above average up north. This year it is an east-west division ” a dry west and a wet east. This kind of scenario is rather rare really,” said Mike Gillespie, who tracks the snowpack for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Gillespie noted the snow season, which provides 80 percent of Colorado’s surface water is three-quarters over and western areas of the state were unlikely to recover.
Eight major Colorado river systems also provide water to 10 western states.
“Dry prospects in western Colorado are particularly worrisome if the recent dry spell were to continue right into spring,” said Klaus Wolter, a climate forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He said the decline of El Nino and possible emergence of La Nina conditions later this spring could increase the threat of renewed drought in western Colorado.
On Wednesday, the statewide snowpack was 91 percent of the 30-year average, compared with 88 percent on the same date last year.
The Colorado River basin itself was 96 percent of average. The southwest reported the lowest with 77 percent in the San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan Basin.
The blizzards filled up plains reservoirs and Denver Water, the state’s biggest municipal water provider, reported its system was 89 percent full as of Monday. The average for the date is 78 percent.
The snow also ended two years of extreme drought for wheat farmers. Hanavan said the area entered a drought in 1999 that was only temporarily broken by heavy snow in the spring of 2003. Demand for ethanol has driven up prices for wheat and corn.
The 116 percent average reported in the Arkansas River Basin and 111 percent in the South Platte were a mixed blessing. Colorado ranchers lost an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 head of cattle to blizzards. So far the federal government has declined to provide any aid.
U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said Wednesday that the Internal Revenue Service will grant ranchers and farmers waivers for any penalties for payments delayed as a result of losses from the blizzards.
Barb Timock of the Forest Service said it was too early to make predictions on the wildfire threat.