All you have to do is look toward the mountains to know something unusual is happening. It’s pushing June, and Colorado high country remains decidedly white. It’s not unusual to see snow on the mountains any time of year. What is unusual is the depth of that snow.
It is a situation that has some calling for the construction of new dams to allow Colorado to keep more water when there is more to keep. Others worry about flooding and mudslides when the snow starts to melt.
Frequent Colorado Independent contributor Allen Best documents the situation in an article published at NewWest.net.
Spring this year is looking over its shoulder at winter. But when the snowmelt finally begins in earnest, Colorado will have what kayakers and rafters call a big water year. The circumstances have some emergency service personnel a trifle nervous. Dam operators, worried about what will happen when the weather inevitably warms, have been draining reservoirs, confident that there’s plenty of water on the mountain slopes in replacement.
Downstream in the desert, the giant reservoirs called Powell and Mead should have higher water levels. Half of the Colorado River’s water comes from Colorado.
It’s a snowpack with dimensions not often seen in recent years. The most frequent comparisons are to big water years in the 1980s.
“This year the lateness of the melt out and the size of the snowpack approaches that of 1983,” says Mike Gillespie, snow survey coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado. Utah and Wyoming also have big snowpacks this year, he added, as do other Western states. “But we have the most critical conditions in terms of snowmelt.”
This year’s big water has also reinvigorated long-standing arguments about the best purpose of spring runoff. Farmers, cities and others say the record snowpack demonstrates, yet again, the need for dams and reservoirs to store water for the inevitable dry years.
“I think it’s one of those ‘duh’ moments,” says Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District. “Look at all the water that is going downstream, on both sides of the mountain (Continental Divide).”
That is, says Werner, water that could legally stay in Colorado – if it had the necessary dams. “We need to put some more buckets out there, and these are good years to illustrate why we need buckets.”
The district delivers water to 640,000 irrigated acres of farmland that extends to Nebraska plus cities in one of the West’s fastest-growing areas, between the university towns of Boulder and Fort Collins. To deliver reliable water, Northern proposes a new reservoir at Glade Park, adjacent to the Poudre River, where peak flows of 6,000 cubic feet per second are forecast this year, double the average.