Curious Nature: A healthy snowpack makes for a happy valley
Walking Mountains Science Center
The snowpack in Colorado provides many things for our community. For most of us, it determines how good our ski season is. We depend on the good snow to bring in revenue for our mountain communities. Without the snow, we probably would not have the people, businesses, and tourism which we depend on. But our snowpack is not just important for our ski resorts, it also has a major impact on our way of life and the environment around us.
Water is a life-giving molecule that all life needs in order to survive. It is what separates our planet from so many others. In Colorado, our snowpack determines the amount of water that flows through our rivers come springtime. We depend on a good snowpack to be able to not just live but to thrive. Without a healthy snowpack feeding our rivers we would not have many of the recreational opportunities we do, such as fly-fishing, kayaking, and river rafting.
The melting snowpack doesn’t just affect our community, but our ecosystem as well. All of the plants that thrive in this area depend on the runoff from a healthy snowpack.
A lower snowpack results in less water and drier climate come spring and summer. This can eventually lead to very bad wildfires. Our snowpack also provides water for the human and ecological communities downstream of us. We are in the upper Colorado River watershed, which is on the western part of the Continental Divide. All of our rain and snow end up running downstream to supply communities, including ours, that use the Colorado River for water.
Around 40 million people rely on the Colorado River for water. If we end up having a bad year with less snow, all of the states and environments downstream of us will feel the stress on their amenities, recreational opportunities, and economy. If drought becomes prolonged, we may also see problems with the landscape losing stability. Without root systems from trees and other vegetation, the soil will more easily erode, leading to ecosystem-wide changes
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The benefits of our snowpack extend beyond economic and recreational opportunities it supports. The snowpack provides important habitat for the animals that live here. The streams must be high enough for the fish to travel through and also deep enough for them to be able to hide from lurking predators.
The snow that falls in our mountains each winter builds a snowpack that forms the foundation of life in the Rockies. From supporting recreational opportunities in the summer to impacting the economy of communities many miles downstream, our snowpack gives life to our region and shapes the habitat for the wildlife that lives here.
Austin Averett is a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center working on his Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Science at Florida Institute of Technology.