Water watchers hope storm will heighten low snowpack

As of Thursday morning, Mark Nieslanik figured the winter’s accumulation of snow around the Carbondale ranch that he manages was about 16 inches.

“Right around average,” he said.

But the snow he counts on to irrigate hay next summer on the 800-acre Tybar Ranch comes from nearby Mount Sopris.

There, as elsewhere in the Colorado high country, snowfall this winter has been fairly lean. So, Nieslanik was hopeful a storm that was bringing snow to Mount Sopris even as he spoke might help turn things around.

“We rely on snowmelt to irrigate our hay crops, so if we’re short of snow we’re going to be short of hay,” he said. “Usually we’ll get snow in February. I usually don’t get too worried until about Feb. 15, so we have a couple more weeks.”

Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor in Colorado for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said snowpack was about 76 percent of average statewide as of midweek.

“We’re right about halfway through the winter accumulation season right now,” Gillespie said. “It’s not really too early, I don’t think, to be a little concerned. We’re starting off on a deficit right now.”

One question is whether this year’s El Ni&#241o weather pattern will bring much relief to the state. Usually, that weather pattern benefits the southwest corner the most, he said.

This week, a storm has been hitting that region hard, with the Silverton Mountain ski area reporting 17 inches of snowfall in a 24-hour period, and Wolf Creek Ski Area saying Thursday the storm had brought 29 inches, with a lot more snow still in the forecast.

But Dave Merritt, a board member of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, said he saw no new snow while driving Interstate 70 east to Denver on Thursday.

He’s worried about possible effects on water supply and recreation in western Colorado later this year if the snowpack trend continues.


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