Snowpack continues to lag; water restrictions could come to Steamboat Springs earlier this year
March 6, 2013
Steamboat Springs — It would take an unusually snowy March to break Colorado's drought, according to the federal agency that monitors snowpack across the state, and local water officials already are preparing for a summer much like that of 2012, when they asked residents and businesses to curtail their water consumption.
Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District General Manager Jay Gallagher said Wednesday that he plans to consult the Steamboat Springs City Council about invoking Stage 2 water restrictions four to six weeks earlier than in 2012, when the watering restrictions that went into place June 29 cut back consumption by 14 percent in July.
"We're right on last year's snowpack at Buffalo Pass and I'm leaning toward putting Stage 2 water restrictions in place Memorial Day, or maybe May 15," Gallagher said. "What we found last year is that it took almost three weeks for (commercial) landscapers to go back" and reset their clients' automatic lawn irrigation systems.
Moving up the watering restrictions, which prohibited lawn irrigation on Wednesdays and divided the other six days of the week between homeowners with odd and even addresses, could save homeowners money by eliminating the need to pay landscapers to readjust their automated systems, Gallagher added.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver reported Tuesday that although the statewide snowpack increased in February, the storms that regularly blow through the state were not enough to restore the amount of water contained in the standing snow to typical levels.
"As of March 1, the state snowpack was 73 percent of normal and 83 percent of last year's reading at this same time," Colorado state conservationist Phyllis Ann Phillips said in a prepared statement.
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The combined Yampa and White river basins are outpacing the statewide snowpack figures, with this year's snowpack standing at 76 percent of average and 95 percent of last year's level as of March 1.
However, it's worth looking closer at individual snowpack measuring sites in the area. The most disappointing numbers are at one of the most productive locations in the entire state — the Tower measuring site on Buffalo Pass northeast of Steamboat stands at just 71 percent of average.
Still, Gallagher said the 26.7 inches of water in the snowpack there is more than enough to fill nearby Fish Creek Reservoir, which is the primary source of domestic water in the city.
Elsewhere in the Yampa Valley, snowpack numbers are more robust at isolated measuring sites. The Crosho site, southwest of Yampa on the edge of the Flat Tops, for example, stands at 102 percent of average. And Lynx Pass, southeast of Stagecoach, is at 96 percent of average.
The Rabbit Ears measuring site, with 15.5 inches of moisture compared to an average of 20.2 inches, stands at 77 percent of average. Dry Lake, at the western foot of Buffalo Pass, is at 84 percent of average.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com