It’s going to be a low water summer, according to local snowpack surveyor |

It’s going to be a low water summer, according to local snowpack surveyor

Mark Volt, Middle Park snowpack surveyor for the NRCS, takes a snow measurement near WIllow Creek Pass.
Courtesy photo

“Plan on a low water summer.”

Those were the words of local snowpack surveyor Mark Volt after calculating snowpack figures for Middle Park’s shortly before April 1. Volt noted that while snowpack in Grand County is low it is still at 89 percent of the historic 30-year average and much higher than most of the state’s river basins.

Across Colorado, snowpack figures range from a low of 51 percent in the San Juan River Basin to a high of 93 percent in the North Platte. Statewide Colorado’s snowpack stands at 70 percent of average with the northern portions of the state seeing higher snowpack figures.

“We were at 103 percent last year and only 58 percent back in the drought year of 2012,” stated Natural Resources Conservation Service officials in a recent press release announcing the April snowpack figures.

The Kremmling field office of the NRCS, a division within the federal Department of Agriculture, tabulates snowpack figures in Grand County. While all snowpack calculations provide valuable data the April 1 count is considered the most critical data set for predicting spring runoff figures and summer water supplies, according to Volt.

“Lack of snowfall and warm weather during March, which is usually our snowiest month, has melted all of the valley snow and most of the mid-elevation snow up to 8,500 feet,” stated NRCS officials. “Snow density is averaging 30 percent, which means that for every foot of snow there are 3.6 inches of water and that’s about normal for April 1.”

Officials said additional spring runoff will depend heavily on melting conditions such as temperature and wind as well as an additional spring snowfall or rainfall.

“It would take several good snowstorms to put us back up to average at this point in time,” officials stated. “Irrigators, water users and river runners should anticipate lower stream and river flows for the upcoming summer.”

Around Grand County the specific snowpack figures vary.

The Berthoud Summit SNOTEL site currently stands at 78 percent of average while Willow Creek Pass, north of Granby, stood at 88 percent. The Williams Fork River basin was among the lowest snowpack figures found in the Upper Colorado River Basin on April 1 with the SNOTEL site near the USFS’s South Fork Campground showing snowpack at just 55 percent of average.

The NRCS uses a 30-year average to calculate percentage totals. Currently averages are based on snowpack figures from 1980 through 2010. In 2020 the NRCS will shift their data set and will begin using the years 1990 through 2020 as their data set for determining 30-year averages.

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