Snowpack levels create concerns

Experts believe low-moisture levels could affect southwestern United States


The snowpack levels for the Yampa River basin were below average last winter.

This winter, they're even lower.

The average snow depth across the basin is 35 inches, down from 42 inches at the beginning of February last year.

"It's not looking real good, but we still have some winter left," said Vance Fulton, a technician with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Steamboat Springs. "It's possible we could still make it up, but unlikely. We would really need a lot of moisture."

The Natural Resource Conservation Service closely monitors winter snowpack because nearly 80 percent of surface water supplies originate from melting snow each spring and summer.

Currently the water content in the Yampa River Basin is 9.1 inches, down from 10.6 inches last year.

This total is 69 percent of the average water content, which is 12.5 inches.

"Two years in a row of these conditions is kind of unusual," Fulton said.

Fulton predicted that the supply of water for irrigation will be short this year, as well as water for municipal use.

This is due to low reservoir levels that have resulted from consecutive dry years.

Those in the Yampa River Basin might see the affects, but not as severely as those farther south.

"If affects people more who are further downstream than we are," he said. "This could affect the entire southwestern United States."

Gordon Grandbouche, owner of Craig Grain Company, agreed that the lack of moisture is reason for concern.

"We've been depleting the last two or three years," he said. "It's been a pretty light winter. Unless we get a lot of snow we'll be in a pretty tight spot."

Prices were already well below average last year.

"It was a very poor crop last year," he said. "We need winter moisture to recharge the subsoil. Both the subsoil and reserves are pretty low. You need moisture to grow a crop."

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