Snow Surveyor Christine Shook visits a SNOWTEL site in North Routt County late last month. The SNOWTEL stations measure the amount of snow and water content and send the information to the state office, where the data is recorded and published online. The most recent reports have water stored in the snowpack in the combined Yampa and White river basins at 125 percent of the median for Feb. 12. On Rabbit Ears Pass, it is 142 percent of the median.

Photo by John F. Russell

Snow Surveyor Christine Shook visits a SNOWTEL site in North Routt County late last month. The SNOWTEL stations measure the amount of snow and water content and send the information to the state office, where the data is recorded and published online. The most recent reports have water stored in the snowpack in the combined Yampa and White river basins at 125 percent of the median for Feb. 12. On Rabbit Ears Pass, it is 142 percent of the median.

Above-average snowpack surrounding Steamboat needed by dwindling reservoirs in Utah, Nevada


If you go

What: Meetings of the Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Roundtable: A series of four public meetings in four Northwest Colorado towns to gather residents’ thoughts about the best ways to meet the increasing demand for water.

The local meetings will feed into a statewide effort to document a water plan for the future of Colorado.

When and Where: The Yampa-White-Green Roundtable will meet in three communities from 6 to 8 p.m. in the following locations:

• Thursday in Steamboat Springs at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave.

• Feb. 19 in Craig at the American Legion Hall, 1055 Moffat County Road 7.

• Feb. 24 in Meeker at the Rio Blanco Fairgrounds, 4-H building meeting room, 779 Sulphur Creek Road.

After this series of meetings, public input also will be welcome at the Basin Roundtable meetings held at the American Legion Hall in Craig on March 12, May 14 and June 18. All meetings begin at 6 p.m.

— The Park Range just east of Steamboat Springs has seen heavy snowfall during the first half of February, and every bit of water in the snow piling up in the mountains is critical because a couple of the largest reservoirs on the lower Colorado are below 50 percent of capacity.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported Wednesday that the snowpack on Rabbit Ears Pass is 142 percent of the median for Feb. 12.

However, contrary to some reports, Rabbit Ears Pass did not see 113 inches of snowfall Feb. 7, nor did nearby Buffalo Pass, at 10,500 feet on the Continental Divide, receive 70 inches in 24 hours Feb. 10.

The reports are attributable to automated sensing devices that primarily are used to measure snow density, and from that, the amount of water in the standing snow.

They also give snow depth readings that sometimes can give erroneous readings, said Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver.

“They are ultrasonic devices, and any time there is a lot of moisture in the air (heavy snow falling), they basically can’t send a signal, and because of that, they are reading their offset,” she said.

When she mentions the “offset,” Hultstrand is referring to the distance between the surface of the snowpack and the sensor on top of a 200-inch pole. That’s the false measurement that indicated the snow depth on Buffalo Pass on Feb. 10 was 195 inches deep, compared to 125 inches the day before.

The 125-inch reading probably was accurate: Nick Bencke, of the U.S. Forest Service, visited the Tower measurement site on Buffalo Pass on Tuesday and took snow depth readings in two spots. He came up with depths of 135 inches and 132 inches.

The automated measuring sites are useful, Hultstrand said, but her agency ultimately relies on visits to each site to confirm the data, which is important to planning for the summer’s water supply.

Late this winter, federal budget cuts threatened to reduce the number of snowpack measuring sites the NRCS could monitor in the future, but a consortium of water users has rallied to help fund the hand measurements.

Local snowpack linked to Western water shortage

Outside the scope of winter recreation, the snow on Buffalo Pass is significant to municipalities and irrigators all the way down the larger Colorado River Basin. The snow that melts from Buffalo Pass in June will flow into the Yampa River, which joins the Green River just east of Colorado’s border with Utah. The Green in turn flows into the Colorado in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, not far upstream from Lake Powell, which stores much of the water that is set aside for states such as California, Arizona and Nevada.

Steamboat Springs Attorney Tom Sharp, who recently completed his tenure on the Colorado River District board of directors in 2013, said Colorado’s snowpack is acutely important as the levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead (below the Grand Canyon) are in steep decline.

The River District’s January newsletter reported that Lake Powell was at 40 percent capacity and Lake Mead was at 48 percent, raising the possibility of crises at both reservoirs. River District General Manager Eric Kuhn said that at Lake Powell, the fear is that if the long-term drought pattern continues, water levels could fall below the intake for the turbines that generate electricity at Glen Canyon Dam. That could cause electricity rates across the West to spike.

At Lake Mead, the fear is that the city of Las Vegas could not access municipal water supplies.

“Unless those declines are reversed, there are major consequences to the river system, and it will be obvious to all that there is no hydrologic capability to have a new large trans-basin reservoir built on the west slope to divert (water) over to the east slope,” Sharp wrote in an email.

Anyone interested in the future of water supplies in the Colorado River Basin is invited to attend Thursday night's public meeting of the Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Roundtable at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


rhys jones 3 years, 2 months ago

Some people milk the system just by flapping their gums, they get damn good at it, and this is another classic example.

Short of a nuclear detonation, there is no way to destroy water, except by hydrolisis (sp?) and even then it will recombine. There is as much water on the planet today as there ever was -- more, in fact, since ice from space enters our atmosphere all the time.

Where God chooses to distribute it from one year to the next is entirely up to Him. All the yakking in the world won't change a thing.

Huge reservoirs to run hydro lose much (temporarily) to evaporation, and destroy unique ecosystems, burying them with a dead lake. But everybody wants pizza, so what are we to do?

I will use this occasion to drag out my soapbox and beat my national-water-redistribution drum. Bring the boys home, trade in their rifles for shovels, and build a massive system of piping, storage reservoirs (possibly underground, or covered) and pumping stations. Collect it in the flood-prone regions of the Mississippi and Ohio drainages, and ship it to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. Make the deserts bloom.

Stop being a victim of God's Whims, and f**k the rest of the world. My two cents.


John St Pierre 3 years, 2 months ago

actually you can destroy water.... ask the people in West Virginia at the moment.....


rhys jones 3 years, 2 months ago

John -- You detract from my point. Why, what's going on in WV? I'm lazy too.


john bailey 3 years, 2 months ago

boy , you are lazy ~;0) I think its contaminated water , separate the spilled toxins and what do you have ? well i'll be damned , water , how bout that.


Zac Brennan 3 years, 2 months ago

Harvey, where in Mr. Ross's article were the Democratic Party mentioned? I missed it.


mark hartless 3 years, 2 months ago


It's called the Hegelian Dialectic. If you have never heard of it then YES, you missed a very important day at school.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was a 19th century German philosopher and theologist who wrote The Science of Logic in 1812. For many historians, Hegel is "perhaps the greatest of the German idealist philosophers."

In 1847 the London Communist League (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) used Hegel's theory of the dialectic to back up their economic theory of communism. Now, in the 21st century, Hegelian-Marxist thinking affects our entire social and political structure.

The Hegelian dialectic is the framework for guiding our thoughts and actions into conflicts that lead us to a predetermined solution. If we do not understand how the Hegelian dialectic shapes our perceptions of the world, then we do not know how we are helping to implement the vision for the future.

Hegel's dialectic is the tool which manipulates us into a frenzied circular pattern of thought and action. Every time we fight for or defend against an ideology we are playing a necessary role in Marx and Engels' grand design to advance humanity into a dictatorship of the proletariat. The synthetic Hegelian solution to all these conflicts can't be introduced unless we all take a side that will advance the agenda.

The Marxist's global agenda is moving along at breakneck speed. The only way to stop land grabs, privacy invasions, expanded domestic police powers, insane wars against inanimate objects (and transient verbs), covert actions, and outright assaults on individual liberty, is to step outside the dialectic. Only then can we be released from the limitations of controlled and guided thought.


mark hartless 3 years, 2 months ago

And Rhys is, of course, exactly right. Water can not be destroyed.

Is the ocean "full"? Where is the "bathtub ring" on the Pacific Ocean??

De-salination plants or thirst are the future for places like California. If they are stupid enough to stay thirsty and refuse De-sal plant construction because of some "protected" fish out there in the water then they deserve to be thirsty...

Judging from recent history I'd be willing to bet they will tolerate more drought and economic ruin before they wake up to the environmental scammers making their lives poorer and more difficult than necessary.


rhys jones 3 years, 2 months ago

When Mom worked for the EPA in water treatment, she was one of the good guys, not one of the bureaucrats. Her responsibility was any public water supply in Wyoming which served more than 12 people or so, which included some hotels and guest ranches, as well as municipalities. She travelled to each, to assist in their filtration and chemical issues.

She told me once that the water which starts as runoff here, will be ingested by and expelled from an average of six organisms before it reaches the Pacific.

At my job, I have to run water into a bucket to supplement the machine I work with. Sometimes I get distracted, and send it straight to Utah, after a quick trip through our treatment plant.

Some salamander there will enjoy it, I'm sure. Just doing my part, and you're welcome.


doug monger 3 years, 2 months ago

Harvey and all of you doubters here is some more propaganda, but this isn't from the Democrats, and also the water doesn't really just come from the tap.

M E M O R A N D U M February 4, 2014 To: State of Colorado’s Colorado River Water Users From: John McClow Governor’s Representative on Colorado River Matters James Eklund Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board Re: Contingency Planning in the Colorado River Basin This memorandum is intended to inform Colorado stakeholders about the State of Colorado’s contingency planning efforts given the possibility of critically low Colorado River reservoir levels in the next several years. The Colorado River supplies water to most of Colorado’s 5 million people. Basin wide, it supplies 40 million people and irrigates over 6 million acres of agriculture in the Upper Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming), the Lower Basin (Arizona, California, Nevada), and Mexico. According to the United States Conference of Mayors, the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world's 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product per year. The Colorado River system relies on two large regulating reservoirs: Lake Powell in the Upper Basin and Lake Mead in the Lower Basin. Lake Powell is the main storage unit of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP), the “bank account” that allows Colorado and the Upper Basin to meet our Colorado River Compact obligations. Electric power generation from Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell helps supply the electrical needs of 5.8 million people, including a significant number of people in Colorado. Revenue from hydropower generation is applied to several beneficial purposes, including salinity control projects and important environmental programs (such as the Upper Colorado River and San Juan Endangered Fish Recovery Programs and the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program), repayment of the cost of constructing the CRSP facilities, and paying project operating costs.

Severe drought since 2000 and a supply-demand imbalance in the Lower Basin (i.e. more uses than inflow), have caused both reservoirs to approach critically low levels. The attached graph illustrates the impact on Lake Powell storage elevation if we experience continued drought conditions during the next few years that are similar to the hydrology witnessed during the 2000-2012 period. Unless something is done in response to these conditions, Lake Powell elevation could drop below the level at which the reservoir can generate hydroelectric power (minimum power pool).


doug monger 3 years, 2 months ago

2nd part of memo

Allowing Lake Powell to fall below minimum power pool would lead to the following consequences: • Dramatically higher electric costs (potentially, current rates could increase two to four times) for customers in cities and towns, farms and ranches throughout much of Colorado and the elimination of funding for the important programs noted above that protect current and future water use in Colorado. • Reduced capacity to make releases from Glen Canyon Dam, resulting in releases that are insufficient to keep the Upper Basin on course to comply with the Colorado River Compact obligations that increases the risk of a Compact violation. A Compact violation could result in protracted litigation with the threat of curtailment of water uses throughout Colorado and the Upper Basin. • Risk imposition of federal management of Upper Basin reservoirs with diminished Colorado primacy on the management of the River and water rights. Should extreme drought conditions persist, proactive steps are necessary to protect the Upper Basin. In addition, Lower Basin actions to address shortages at Lake Mead should be accompanied by Upper Basin actions. This basin-wide approach is in the best interest of Colorado for several reasons: 1) Colorado needs to protect its use of Colorado River water; 2) Colorado must vigorously guard state primacy over Upper Basin water management; 3) Colorado stands to benefit from synergistic benefits arising from Lower Basin efforts; and, 4) Colorado must strategically position itself for future negotiations with the Lower Basin—we are better positioned to do this if we can actively manage proper water elevations in Lake Powell. In light of these real and immediate threats, the Governor’s Colorado River representative directed a group of Colorado water advisors to engage with the other six Colorado River Basin States in confidential brainstorming and system modeling for the purpose of developing an emergency response plan. The Upper Basin group members evaluated options that could be deployed in the near term to address Lake Powell elevations, and concluded that the Upper Basin can respond to this emergency by taking two actions: 1) releasing increased amounts of water to Lake Powell from other CRSP reservoirs in the Upper Basin; and, 2) implementing demandmanagement programs to bolster Lake Powell (e.g. voluntary lease-fallowing or deficit irrigation). Continuation of existing efforts, such as weather modification and phreatophyte

removal can also contribute, but these actions are less reliable. The additional water delivered to Lake Powell would be “system water” and would be carefully managed so that critical storage levels are maintained without triggering greater releases to the Lower Basin.


doug monger 3 years, 2 months ago

Last of State Memo The Upper Basin Commissioners have created two work groups to analyze the technical and legal challenges to accomplishing extended operation of CRSP reservoirs in the near future should the need arise, and to suggest ways to overcome these challenges within the Law of the River. The legal and technical work groups will also begin exploring the potential for implementing demand management programs in the Upper Basin. The Commissioners will review the work groups’ progress in early March and direct their continued efforts toward implementation of a response to critical decline in Lake Powell storage. Then, once a framework for these analyses is approved by the Commissioners, interested stakeholders will be invited to participate. We will be closely monitoring this winter’s hydrology to determine whether any of these options must be exercised to keep Lake Powell from reaching a critically low storage level. Moving forward, we will continue to update Colorado River stakeholders within Colorado as circumstances warrant.


john bailey 3 years, 2 months ago

these water storage facilities are not that old wouldn't we need a few more years for analysis?. I would suppose that the if the lower basin would quit wasting the water allocated to them all would be better off but I have no facts to back that up just a gut feeling. but what do I know , i am a simple man and would like simple answers please. thanks in advance.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 2 months ago

The issue isn't a lack of water molecules. The issue is maintaining sufficient supplies of inexpensive clean water. Urban residents can pay far more for water than ag users. But ag uses such as watering hay fields could not afford paying $5 per 1,000 gallons.

The underlying issue for Lake Mead, Lake Powell and western water in general is that demand is increasing due to increased population. The situation is made more difficult because it appears that the recent growth in Nevada and Arizona occurred during a couple decade relatively wet period. They thought they had relatively plenty amount of water and now they don't.

Thus, the big water year a couple years ago didn't come close to filling Mead or Powell and that burst of water was quickly consumed.


john bailey 3 years, 2 months ago

it seems it is a lack of water molecules , as the SW is known for lack of rain and an arid section of the US. to overpopulate this region doesn't make sense . our Rocky Mountains moisture content varies so much year to year. we are causing our own problems. to be sure I am not against where people want to live but we can only support so many lives with the water we get in any given year. we have to find better ways of spreading it around and limiting it to best uses , not guilty pleasures of man. agreed the water year of 08 and was enough to bring Powell up to just over half pool 2011 was a good year too if I recall correctly , but they let it out to sustain the over population down stream. hasn't been close since . GO USA HOCKEY..~;0)


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