Community Agriculture Alliance: Let it snow in Northwest Colorado

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“Let it Snow” is a common song during the holidays, but in Northwest Colorado, we sing it well into the official start of spring. Although it might be hard to believe it’s winter right now, our calendars tell us it is. The below-average snowfall and above-average temperatures this season just haven’t provided that winter feel.

So how bad is the snow situation for Northwest Colorado? Unfortunately, we can’t compare this year’s totals to last year’s. Last year was an above-normal snowpack year, so comparing 2012 to 2011 indicates our water drainage basin is only at 38 percent of last year’s total. But to compare it to the norm, let’s consider a block of 30 years of data to get a more realistic picture.

Snowfall in the Yampa River basin currently is 61 percent of that 30-year average, which means we are just a little bit above half of where we should be at this time of year. So are you a glass half-full or glass half-empty person? To err on the side of caution, I am going to go with half-empty. According to all of the data collected by the Natural Resources Conservation Service during the past 30-plus years, we have only a 10 percent chance of reaching the average peak for this season. It looks like the odds are against us.

The good news is that because of our epic snowfall last year, our reservoirs are in good shape. Stagecoach Reservoir is at 118 percent of average, and at 93 percent of total capacity. Almost all other reservoirs are in a similar situation within the state, so that hopefully will help us in the dry months to come this summer.

However, at this point in the season, water users can expect below-average runoff in the spring and early summer. April to July volumes are forecast to range from 61 percent of average for the North Platte near Northgate to 82 percent of average at the Elk River near Milner. So hopefully we will not see the flooding this spring like we did last year.

If you are a livestock owner and farmer, it would be a good idea to have a drought plan in place for this year. Can you cut back your livestock numbers, lease additional pastures or buy more hay to feed? What does your livestock watering situation look like? Will you have to haul water? These are questions that you should be asking yourself now so you have the tools to make these decisions this summer. These also are questions that you should be thinking about for the 2013 grazing season as well, as drought conditions can often impact regions for consecutive years. I know these are not easy questions to answer, but you should be prepared.

All data was provided by the Natural Resource Conservation Service at www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/cgibin/bor.pl.

Jazwick is the district conservationist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service. She is based in Steamboat Springs. Jazwick can be reached at 970-879-3225, ext. 3, or at lori.jazwick@co.usda.gov.

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