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New SNOTEL units to fill in data gaps in Taylor Park water forecasts

“We have had issues in recent years where there’s not enough data”

By Alissa Johnson

Predicting inflows into Taylor Park Reservoir could be easier next spring, thanks to the installation of five new Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) sites slated before next winter. Referred to as a “SNOTEL Lite” project, the new devices come at a significantly reduced cost and will fill in gaps in water supply data collection.

“We have had issues in recent years where there’s not enough data and the model misrepresents the actual amount of inflow,” explained Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD).

The National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder is partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Snow Survey Program, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and UGRWCD.

“The hope is that by having additional data we can provide the information necessary for the Colorado Basin Forecast Center to develop more accurate inflow forecasts,” Kugel said.

Those forecasts are used to develop operations plans for Taylor Park Reservoir, which outline the rate of release from the dam and influence the rate of flow in the Taylor River.

Unlike the SNOTEL installations at Park Cone and Upper Taylor, the SNOTEL Lite units will not include snow pillows, which measure the weight of snow as a means to calculate snow water content and significantly increase the cost of the site.

“Rather, [SNOTEL Lite units} measure snow depth and total precipitation to estimate snow water equivalent (SWE),” Kugel said. The units will also include sensors for temperature and other climate data, and transmit that data by satellite for distribution through the NRCS Snow Survey Program.

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