Heavy snow is good but still a ways to go to fill reservoirs

We’ve sort of forgotten what ‘normal’ looks like…

[ by Mark Reaman ]

The Gunnison Basin is now above average in terms of snow for the season but it isn’t as much as you might think. The current multi-day storm has put the area at close to 120-percent above average for the end of December. Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District general manager Sonja Chavez said that while “the snow has been wonderful and anything is a blessing,” it would take more than one big storm to fill the local reservoirs like Blue Mesa and Taylor.

“I think we have been in drought so long that we’ve forgotten what good snow looks like,” she quipped this week. “We need our snowpack to stay well above 150-percent through April in order to replenish the soil moisture profile and see average stream flow conditions. If we can do that, we should be able to fill Blue Mesa again. We’ve experienced so many back-to-back years of drought that we’ve sort of forgotten what ‘normal’ looks like.”

Chavez said preliminary Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) data indicates that this winter’s snowfall is only about 119-percent of normal for this time of year but 169-percent of what was on the ground at this time in 2020.

“Because our soil moisture conditions were so poor heading into this winter, we need a sustained late season April snowpack of above 150-percent of average in order to fill the soil profile again and then hopefully see healthy stream flows,” she explained. “Looking back at historical Blue Mesa Reservoir levels similar to where we are at now (27-percent full), the reservoir did recover and fill with average stream inflow conditions, so cross your fingers.

“We’re not complaining and we like what we’re seeing so far and hope it continues,” she concluded.

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