$78,000 redirected to keep snow survey sites going

A federal agency has redirected $78,000 in operational funds to pay for the short-term funding of 47 Colorado snow survey courses that had been threatened by budget cuts.

Phyllis Ann Philipps, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado, announced the funding move today as a means of paying for the sites’ operation this winter. However, the agency says it will be working with more than 100 interested entities to try to find a permanent solution by next August.

It has been struggling with how to respond after suffering a 15 percent nationwide reduction in the agency’s Snow Survey Program for the 2013 fiscal year and facing further cuts due to sequestration. In October it raised the prospect of no longer operating 47 of 110 manual sites in the state, while continue to maintain automated sites.

That created an outcry from everyone from water managers to U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. Water entities cite the value of many decades of data from many manual sites, the backup role they serve when automated sites have problems, and the importance site data plays in dam operations, flood forecasting and other water management.

In November, William Shoup, acting snow survey supervisor in Colorado, said that based on that feedback, the manual site measurements would be continued for at least one winter. He said he was making managerial changes to help make that fiscally possible, such as having Denver office staff visit some sites that field staff previously monitored.

The agency said in November that under that streamlined approach, the cost of continuing to monitor the previously threatened sites was $78,000.

Petra Barnes Walker, NRCS spokesperson in Colorado, said it’s not yet clear what other program will suffer as a result of the reallocated funding.

“We didn’t get any more money from Washington, D.C. The shortfall is still what it is,” she said.

“… We will have to make amends somewhere else. It will probably mean NRCS doing more with less, which we’ve always done.”

Udall said in a news release, “Although this is a major win for Colorado’s water managers, it is only a short-term solution. This additional funding will help keep all the monitoring sites open this winter and give stakeholders additional time to work on a long-term solution to sustain this important program.”


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