Buff Pass water content retreats to below average

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— The amount of water stored in the snow on Buffalo Pass has increased over the past three weeks, but not enough to keep pace with seasonal averages.

The pass is along the Continental Divide, about 12 miles northeast of Steamboat Springs. The snowpack (conservationists' term for moisture contained in the accumulated snow) at the "Tower" measuring site at the summit of the pass was at 126 percent of average on Nov. 14. By Thursday, that figure had slipped to just 85 percent of average.

Water content at the Tower site totaled 11.7 inches late this week. That compares to an average of 13.7 inches by this date. The average is taken from data collected between 1971 and 2000.

Despite the trend of the past three weeks, Bob Stoddard of Mount Werner Water and Sanitation said he's optimistic about the condition of Fish Creek Reservoir, which represents the majority of the water supply for the city of Steamboat Springs.

"We're now ahead of last year on this date by a three-week differential," Stoddard said.

Fish Creek Reservoir was 73 percent full on Thursday, he said. That compares to 70 percent in early December 2001. The 3 percent differential between last year and this year converts to about three weeks of water storage.

Coincidentally, Mount Werner Water began drawing down Fish Creek Reservoir during the first week of July this year, about three weeks ahead of schedule. The reservoir rebounded from the summer drought during the fall.

"September, October and November were very good precipitation months, but we still need it to snow," Stoddard said.

The winter of 2001-02 was slightly below average in terms of snowpack ? water stored at the Tower site on the Continental Divide peaked at about 30 inches. With Fish Creek Reservoir standing at 55 percent full on April 1, 2002, there was still ample water to fill the reservoir.

Stoddard said the reservoir level will gradually decline throughout the winter, but he thinks it has a good shot at being 60 percent full on April 1, 2003. That means, given anything close to average snowfall this winter, the reservoir should fill.

Elsewhere around Routt County, Crosho Lake is bucking the trend. Crosho is at 9,100 feet on the edge of the Flat Tops in South Routt. The 4.3 inches of water stored in the snow there is 172 percent of average. Buffalo Park, on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass, is also above average. The snow in Buffalo Park holds 3.8 inches of water, 112 percent of average.

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