By Eilene Lyon
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
–Robert Frost Dust of Snow
March 14, 2019
The skiing at Wolf Creek was totally awesome! The layer of powder was perfection. The weather just super. A great time was had by all. Heading up the pass in the morning, the Texas-plated vehicles lined the road to put on tire chains, but we cruised on up in four-wheel drive. It’s good to be a Coloradoan on a day like today.
For once, I’m glad I bought a season pass for Purgatory Resort, our local ski area. It’s been a great winter. But not many places can boast the type of snow found at Wolf Creek, on the Continental Divide. It was really an epic day.
During most winters, frequent storms produce moderate amounts of dry, powdery snow. Consequently, the mountain resort developments of the Southern Rockies rank among the top destinations in North America for downhill and cross-country skiers and snowboarders. More important, however, the mountain snowpack is the lifeblood of the watersheds of the Rio Grande, the Colorado, the Canadian, the Pecos, the North and South Platte, and the Arkansas rivers, specifically because of its depth and water content. – Audrey DeLella Benedict The Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Rockies
That’s really the crux of it. The snowpack is key to holding enough moisture to get the state through the coming dry months. How fast or slow it melts is critical to our economy, not just for agriculture, but for tourism, an increasingly important sector. Warmer temperatures too early in the season are only one factor. Spring usually brings strong winds, and if they blow sand and topsoil from Arizona and Utah, the dun-coated snow will melt quickly.
It seems like the entire country, and certainly the western part, has had above-average precipitation this winter. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, in the first three months of this year the Upper Colorado Basin has had 123% of average precipitation. Compare that to last year’s 71%.
Nearly half the runoff came from Colorado and another third from Wyoming and Utah. Arizona and New Mexico contributed very little; Nevada and California, nothing at all. – Marc Reisner Cadillac Desert
The Colorado River Compact was devised in 1922 during a peak period of precipitation and runoff. California was, and is, the most populous of the basin states and claimed an out-sized portion of the river’s water, while contributing nothing. At the time, no large reservoirs existed.
Now we have Lake Powell and Lake Mead, but these enormous basins are both downstream from Colorado. Once the water leaves this state, it doesn’t return any time soon. Therefore, a slow, steady runoff can make or break us.
For now, we have exceptionally good snowpack. Whether it will be enough to ease the drought in the long run remains to be seen. The entire region depends so heavily on this one silty river.
If the Colorado River suddenly stopped flowing, you would have four years of carryover capacity in the reservoirs before you had to evacuate most of southern California and Arizona and a good portion of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. – Marc Reisner Cadillac Desert
Feature image: The Putterer on a beautiful ski day at Purgatory recently.
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