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Snowpack not as deep

Cliff Thompson
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyLess snow than normal has fallen in and around Eagle County this spring, meaning area rivers could be low this summer. But long-term forecasts call for a wet March and April.
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EAGLE COUNTY – Snowpack feeding the Eagle River Valley is about 80 to 85 percent of the long-term average and there’s only about a month of heavy snowfall left to make up the difference.The moisture content of the snowpack on Fremont Pass at the headwaters of the Eagle River, just east of Camp Hale, is just 80 percent of average and the snow on Vail Mountain is 85 percent, according to manual measurements and satellite telemetry of the snowpack.That means unless more snow falls the flow of the Eagle River and other streams will be less than average. Rivers are used for recreation, irrigation, home water supplies and to fill reservoirs. It’s too early to tell if lawn watering restrictions will be enacted because enacting them is contingent on how much rain falls.At the beginning of March the Colorado River at Dotsero is forecast to be at 80 percent of 1971-to-2004 average while the Eagle River below Gypsum is forecast at 82 percent of average, said Mike Gillespie of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which tracks snowpack and runoff.

The Roaring Fork River, which flows north out of Aspen and meets the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs, will be flowing at 99 percent of average.Both the 300 acre-foot Black Lakes reservoir atop Vail Pass and the 2,000 acre-foot Eagle Park Reservoir east of Camp Hale on the headwaters of the Eagle River also are expected to fill this spring. Only 450 acre-feet were released into the Eagle for snowmaking and to augment winter flows of the river, said Dennis Gelvin of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. The southwestern and south-central part of the state has been hammered by heavy snows, Gillespie said. The snowpack in the Gunnison River basin is 133 percent of average; the Rio Grande, 147 percent; and Animas/ Dolores at 134 percent.Elsewhere across the state the snow isn’t quite as deep. It’s at 87 percent on the South Platte River basin; 84 percent on the North Platte River basin, 89 percent on the White River basin and 106 percent on the Arkansas basin.

“The upper Colorado River Basin is not doing as well as the southern part of the state,” Gillespie said. “The storms just didn’t travel that far north.”The long-term forecast from climatologist Klaus Wolter of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder is calling for a wet and snowy March and April. Statewide, the snowpack is 109 percent of average, but that’s misleading, Gillespie said, because the heavy snow in the southwestern part of the state has driven the average upward.”We’ve got a month to make up any lost ground,” Gillespie said.Over the last five years drought has gripped much of the West. The worst year was 2002 when at winter’s end snowpack was 65 percent of average in Colorado and no precipitation fell for three months.

The dry conditions also helped create some of the largest wildfires the state has experienced. The human-caused Hayman Fire southwest of Denver, burned more than 138,000 acres and destroyed 350 homes and other buildings.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


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