Eagle River Watershed Council: There’s more to streamflow than snowpack
Spring is beginning to emerge in our beautiful valley and here at the Eagle River Watershed Council, like many others in our community, we are looking ahead to what the summer will bring for our rivers.
All the rivers here in Eagle County — the Gore, Eagle, Colorado and their tributaries — are primarily snowmelt-fed streams and rivers. Their flows are dependent upon how much snow accumulates in the mountains throughout the winter. The Natural Resources Conservation Service recently published its April Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report which discusses the current snowpack and predicts the summer streamflow for the state of Colorado and for each basin within the state.
As of April 1, the Eagle, a sub-basin of the Colorado Headwaters Basin and where our valley is located, is at 92.7% of median snowpack, the Colorado Headwaters Basin as a whole is at 94% and the state of Colorado is at 90%. Though there are still storms rolling through that could elevate the snowpack within our watershed, it is forecasted to likely remain below the median.
Based on the current snowpack conditions and the forecasted spring trends, streamflow within the Colorado Headwaters Basin, including the Eagle, are forecasted to be 61%-83% of normal. Statewide, all basins are forecasted to have flows below average.
If our snowpack is at nearly 93%, why would our rivers run at 61-83% of average?
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Before snowmelt can make it to the streams and rivers, water is pulled to refill aquifers, parched soils and the dry atmosphere. All these water-depleted systems are made worse by the extended drought in the Eagle Valley and the whole Colorado River Basin. Though it is possible we will see higher flows than last year, it is looking like they will be below average for another season.
This is not just an issue that the Eagle Valley will face. As Dave “DK” Kanzer, the Colorado River District’s director of science and interstate matters, put it in his February 8 report to the Colorado River Districts Board of Directors: “The Millennial Drought has been going on for 22 years now, and it is affecting not just Colorado, but the entire West. 100% of the Colorado River Basin is abnormally dry or worse.” The state of Nevada is currently at 46%-66% of median snowpack and parts of California, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Utah are at or below 75% of median snowpack. Across the West, everyone is gearing up for another dry summer.
Facing complicated, widespread environmental issues like drought and reduced streamflow can often be overwhelming. But, you can take an active role in protecting our rivers. Here are a few ways you can prepare for another potentially drier summer.
- Reduce your outside water use and what you do use outside, use efficiently. Indoor water use is surprisingly efficient — 95% of water used in your home makes it back to the rivers and streams. In comparison, only 15-40% of water used outside makes it back. Additionally, water used outside is not treated before entering storm drains and returning to the river. Therefore, the excess water used may carry fertilizers, pesticides, sediment and other pollution in the river which reduce the quality of the water.
- Know (stream temperatures) before you go (fishing). Last summer our local rivers experienced critically-high water temperatures that resulted in voluntary fishing closures. To assist our local anglers and fish populations alike, the Watershed Council created a real-time temperature monitoring and alert system to spread awareness to our community. You can sign up now to be prepared for later this summer and be sure to keep an eye out for closures in later summer months.
- Get involved with volunteering for restoration projects with the Watershed Council to help us improve water quality, aquatic habitat and more. Please reach out to email@example.com if you are interested. If you are looking to test some of what you learned in this article and have chance to win some fabulous prizes, check out our Peak Flow Prediction Contest that is happening now at erwc.org/peakflow-2022.
Anna Nakae is the Projects Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit ERWC.org.