Gunnison Basin trying to get LiDAR flights off the ground

Leading edge snowpack data comes at a premium

By Katherine Nettles

Gunnison County commissioners agreed to sign a letter of support for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservation District (UGRWCD) applying to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for grant funding for Airborne LiDAR snow measurement data and analysis in the Gunnison Valley. 

LiDAR detects snowpack depth and water content at three-meter intervals, and according to the UGRWCD currently provides the most accurate real-time understanding of mountain snowsheds. 

The UGRWCD, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the North Fork Water Conservancy District (NFWCD) have proposed partnering with Airborne Snow Observatories, Inc. (ASO) to fund, conduct and manage up to 12 high-resolution aerial snow surveys during spring snowpack accumulation and ablation over the next three years (March 2025 through July 2027). The flights cost roughly $1 million per year, and if grant funding is secured, matching funds would be divided between Gunnison and Delta Counties.

“The proposed work will quickly expand advanced snow measurement and enhance forecasting capabilities, capitalize on a new localized high-resolution doppler gap weather radar site in the Upper Gunnison Basin. It will enhance our water supply and streamflow forecasting capabilities and inform critical climate and hydrologic studies in the Gunnison Basin being conducted,” the letter states. 

The snow survey flights would cover the highest water-yielding sub-basins within the Gunnison River. These are the Taylor River, East River, Lottis Creek, Muddy Creek and Anthracite Creek. The survey flights would be coordinated with other local, federal and state stakeholders.  

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