Snowpack sagging in mountains |

Snowpack sagging in mountains

Cliff Thompson

Before this weekend’s storm, the water-yielding snowpack that’s accumulated in the mountains to feed area rivers and streams was 20 or more percent below than normal.

Even if this was a huge dump, it’s still too early to determine if there will be lawn watering restrictions, local water experts said.

But long-term forecasts have not been favorable. Less than 25 percent of the snow season remains, while more than 70 percent of the water in area streams comes from melted snow.

“We’ve got another month of precipitation,” said Mike Bauer of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which supplies much of the eastern half of the county with water and sewer service. Bauer said the watering restriction decision will be made after April 1.

Snowpack at the headwaters of the Eagle River, at the 11,400-foot elevation near Fremont Pass, is at 76 percent of the long-term averages. It’s slightly better – 80 percent – on Vail Mountain. It’s much worse over Vail Pass at Copper Mountain where the snowpack is just 67 percent of average.

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Eagle County and much of the West is still emerging from the worse drought in 300 years. That drought lowered the level in many reservoirs and they’re still not full.

“The Colorado (River) hasn’t done all that well,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “It’s at 84 percent, which is down from a month ago.”

Gillespie said he’s more concerned about the snowpack in the South Platte River drainages that are the major water supply for Denver. Snow moisture there is 71 percent of normal. Worse yet, the reservoirs storing water in that drainage are only 81 percent full.

“It’s vulnerable and time’s running out,” he said. “The only thing in our favor is that we typically get most of the wet storms in March and April. Last year we were saved by a big storm in March.”

But the long-range forecast isn’t predicting as much snow as last year, Gillespie said.

This year’s precipitation pattern is different for last year’s, Gillespie said. The southern mountains last year were still in the grip of a drought while this year those mountains are near or above average. Colorado’s eastern plains appear to be experiencing a drought, he said.

“It’s not as bad as 2002,” he said, “But it’s not a whole lot better either. There’s not a lot we can do about it.

Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.

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