LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin is more than double the average normally seen at this time of the year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s website.
A snapshot of the water situation shows above-average precipitation levels at five of the nine regions that make up the basin, and overall snowpack at 229% of average as of Oct. 24. Overall, precipitation is at 83% of average.
Snowpack is a critical factor in the water that flows from the Rocky Mountains down the Colorado River to Lake Powell and then on to Lake Mead. While nearly all the focus for the past several years has been on the plummeting Lake Mead levels, the focus at this time of year shifts to snowpack.
“We have a long way to go until spring 2023 –– the months that really matter for gauging potential elevations at Lake Mead and Lake Powell,” said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network. “We are only 24 days into the water year.”
Roerink urged caution about making too much of numbers so early in the cycle.
“Looking at today’s snowpack as a potential respite from the strife on the Colorado River is like being optimistic about a mediocre ballplayer who hits a home run on opening day,” Roerink said.
“There’s a long way to go before we know what this snowfall really means. A few warm days next month could eviscerate what we’ve gained so far in a matter of hours. Additionally, with more La Niña patterns expected this winter, we cannot afford to be overly optimistic. Let’s prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.
Lake Mead has been slowly rising — now at 1,046.3 feet — and is now about 5.5 feet above where it was near the end of July (1,040.6 feet). It’s about 21 feet below where it was a year ago today. Lake levels are expressed as altitudes — the number of feet the lake’s surface is above sea level — not as depths.
The seasonal fluctuations depend on factors including water use, the amount of water let out of the dam and evaporation. But it all begins with snowpack.
The 23-year drought has taken a heavy toll on Lake Mead, which is now 28.6% of capacity. A single year of heavy snowpack won’t recharge the water system that millions of people rely on, but any good news is welcome as climate change forces communities in the desert Southwest to re-evaluate how water is being used.
The “water year” begins on Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30 each year. The averages posted on the Bureau of Reclamation’s website use the previous 30 years to calculate average levels — and most of those years are during the current drought.
Another website that monitors snowpack indicates the level is at 222.7% in the Upper Colorado River Basin as of today.
Climate officials warn that a dry fall is expected with La Niña conditions.