Snowpack levels remain below average

As of March 1, the Yampa Valley's snowpack was below historical average for the fourth year in a row. The shortage of snow could cause a chain of problems in agriculture, a local rancher says.

The Yampa and White Rivers Basin storage is currently 89 percent of the historical average, according to data compiled by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"At this point, making up the difference is pretty slim," said Mike Gillespie of the conservation service.

To recover from the shortage, the Yampa Valley would have to receive 150 percent of March's historical average. There is only a 7 percent chance of that happening , Gillespie said.

The Yampa River near Maybell and the White River near Meeker are both projected to flow at 78 percent of average from April through July. The Green River at Warren Bridge in Wyoming is projected to flow at 83 percent of average. Warren Bridge is one of the lowest gauges along the Green, Gillespie said.

The last time the Yampa and White Basins were at 100 percent of average snowpack was 2000. The basin is still recovering from 2002, when snowpack only amounted to 64 percent of average.

Across Colorado, as well as most of the Western United States, the melting snowpack accounts for as much as 80 percent of the annual surface water supplies.

But rancher Leon Fedinec remembers 1983 and '84 as the last years that the valley received enough snowpack to meet farmers' and ranchers' needs. He said three and one-half feet of snow still sat on the ground at this time in March during those years

The lack of moisture will create a chain of problems for ranchers, Fedinec said. Stock ponds will be low and could possibly go dry, forcing farmers to haul water. Hay won't grow so well and there will be a shortage of feed, causing cattle to be light in weight.

"There could be a considerable loss of money," Fedinec said.

Unfortunately, there is no way for ranchers to deal with a lack of water, he said.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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