Drought Strengthens Its Hold on Much of West, Colorado Snowpack Declines

When we last visited the Western snowpack readings at the end of February, California’s Sierra Nevada was suffering greatly, as were the Cascades in Oregon and Washington. The Olympics in Washington were in single digits compared to long-term average.

Meanwhile, parts of Colorado had received record February snowfall, and we wished everyone a snowy March. That didn’t pan out.

Since then, California Gov. Jerry Brown has announced a $1 billion emergency drought relief fund, and more recently declared the first-ever mandatory statewide water restrictions. Water districts in the Golden State have been ordered to slice usage by 25 percent, with Brown calling it “the new normal.”

Levels across the entire Sierra Nevada range are at a historic low of 6 percent of average, according to the Western Governors’ Association, which has recently produced a series of webinars on the drought and has one-stop shopping for other drought-related information. It’s worth checking out, if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, both Oregon and Washington have record low snowpacks. And Colorado has slipped to 70 percent of average after a warm, dry March.

The so-called Snotel readings, which measure the moisture content of snowpack, are a product of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They started in the late 1970s, and now have 885 reading sites Westwide. The percent of average is based on the last 30 years.

In Colorado, the lowest readings are in the southwest quadrant of the state, at 54 percent of average. The highest reading is at 88 percent of average on the South Platte basin side of the northern and central Rockies.

Particularly along the ranges in the Pacific Coast states, the readings are disastrous, of course, for summer water supplies to both urban areas and agriculture, and set up the potential for another brutal fire season.

And it’s not inappropriate for us to feel a little apprehension, as we wait for what April will bring.




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