Snow drought adds to Colorado River system woes

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The Colorado River Basin states are experiencing “snow drought” per the May 5 report published by NOAA and the National Integrated Drought Information SystemOpens in a new tab..

Early May shows that conditions became more severe in most of the Colorado River Basin. Drought.govOpens in a new tab. reports that snowpack in Southwest Colorado is particularly low, with the “median snow water equivalent” (SWE) in the Rio Grande Headwaters, Upper San Juan, and Upper Colorado-Dolores basins at 34%, 47%, and 45% of normal. “April SWE declines at several sites in the region were the greatest on record. Precipitation in the region was well below normal, but several major winter and spring dust-on-snow events, when blowing dust is transported and deposited on the snowpack surface, also occurred. These events accelerate snowmelt once the dust layers are exposed and accumulate on the surface by reducing the ability of the snow to reflect solar radiation.” states, “The impacts of snow droughtOpens in a new tab. are widespread, affecting ecosystems, reservoir levels and operations, water resource management, tourism, and winter recreation. Snowpack typically acts as a natural reservoir, providing water throughout the drier summer months. Lack of snowpack storage, or a shift in timing of snowmelt from that reservoir, can be a challenge for drought planning.”

The news does not bode well for the Colorado River storage and distribution system. Late last month, the Basin states agreed to cut, for now, 480,000 acre-feet of water normally released from Lake Powell to Lake Meade to save the hydropower generation at Glen Canyon Dam. The Bureau of Reclamation approved the norm-busting plan. Colorado Public Radio reportsOpens in a new tab.:

This is the first time the agency has moved to delay a release of water from Lake Powell that normally goes to Arizona, California and Nevada. Instead, the federal agency plans to keep more than 480,000 acre-feet of water in the reservoir to prop up supplies to protect hydropower production.

Lake Powell, the country’s second-largest reservoir, is fed by a Colorado River storage system that supplies water and hydroelectric power to millions of people across the West. Climate change is contributing to a steep and rapid decline in the available supply of water.



Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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