Storms boost snow's water

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The snowstorms that blanketed North Routt this month boosted the snow water content near Columbine by 5 inches. And Fish Creek Reservoir, Steamboat Springs' main source of drinking water, is more than 90 percent full.

North Routt was getting snow last week when rain was falling in downtown Steamboat, and the result is that the snowpack (moisture stored in the snow) at the Elk River measuring site rates 137 percent of average.

The Elk River site, monitored by the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service, is about a half-mile south of Columbine on Routt County Road 129. The snow on the ground there contains 13.4 inches of water compared with 8.5 inches on Jan. 7 and the historical average of 9.8 inches.

Closer to Steamboat, the snowpack at the tower measuring site on Buffalo Pass contains 23.5 inches, or 93 percent of average. That moisture is more than the amount needed to fill Fish Creek Reservoir when the snow melts in May, said Bob Stoddard, manager of Mount Werner Water and Sanitation.

"It's something I haven't seen in four years here," Stoddard said. "It all started with a very wet fall."

On Jan. 1, 2002, the level in Fish Creek Reservoir stood at about 65 percent of what is typical and was headed down another 10 points. The reservoir filled that spring despite the deep drought. Stoddard, who observes the beginning of the "water year" on Oct. 1 each season, said that during each of the past two years, the reservoir stood at about 72 percent full in the beginning of January. The reservoir, which is on the Continental Divide about 10 miles northeast of the city, typically begins filling rapidly about May 3.

This year, Stoddard is allowing more water than usual, about 4.25 cubic feet per second, to flow out of the reservoir's gate. That compares with about 2.25 cfs most years. Fish Creek, below the falls, was flowing at 8.5 cfs on Monday.

The reason Stoddard is allowing a little more water to escape the reservoir is to give him a better chance of managing spring runoff with the reservoir control gate rather than seeing water escape over the dam spillway.

The snowpack numbers for 18 measuring sites combined in the Yampa and White river basins reflected 106 percent of average Monday. The snowpack on Rabbit Ears Pass varies. At the Rabbit Ears site, snowpack is 83 percent of average. But a few miles away in Buffalo Park, the amount of water stored in the snow is 107 percent of average.

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