LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Snowfall has delivered a bright outlook for the Colorado River, stocking the mountains with water that should comfortably carry about 40 million people for another year.

And while we all know by now that it’s fleeting — as temporary as the weather forecast in spring — it’s still a good place to be after a couple of harrowing years on the edge.

(U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Snowpack has built the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) stored in the Colorado Rockies to 158% of average. That’s up about 8% in just one week.

April is almost here, and the forecast indicates only light snow at the end of this week. But the accumulations are impressive, surpassing record levels four years ago that were followed by three consecutive years below 100%, including last year’s dismal 83.9% on this date according to information from

The map above shows SWE above normal in every region of the Upper Colorado River Basin, including 134% in the critical Colorado Headwaters region and an astounding 477% in the mountains in the Four Corners area:

  • 477% — Lower San Juan (Four Corners area)
  • 106% — Delores (southern Colorado Rockies)
  • 206% — Dirty Devil (southern Utah plateau)
  • 202% — Lower Green (northeast Utah)
  • 187% — Upper San Juan (northwest New Mexico)
  • 165% — Gunnison (south-central Colorado)
  • 149% — White-Yampa (north-central Colorado)
  • 134% — Colorado Headwaters (central Colorado)
  • 117% — Upper Green (southwest Wyoming)

We will report the numbers again after April 1 passes — that’s the typical peak of snowpack accumulation, when snowmelt overtakes fresh snowfall.

If you think the deep snow will directly translate to more water in Lake Mead, temper your expectations. Water managers have already set the course for the next few months, planning to fill up reservoirs upstream from Lake Mead in an effort — some say a desperate effort — to preserve “normal” in the times of climate change.

Climate experts who have monitored the Upper Colorado River Basin through the “megadrought” that began 23 years ago are saying that water flow has decreased by 20% over the past two decades. That’s a result of a 2.5 degree increase in average temperatures along the river’s path.

And climate change isn’t temporary, climatologists say.

Unless there’s a drastic change, water managers will fill as many reservoirs as they can and keep as much water in Lake Powell as possible — at the expense of Lake Mead.

And a March 23 update to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s map of the West shows most of Clark County is merely in “severe drought,” along with parts of California’s Inyo County and San Bernardino County. Sections of southern Utah also remain in severe drought. One small swath in Utah along the border of Sevier and Wayne counties in Utah, remains in extreme drought.

Seven months ago, nearly all Clark County was under “exceptional drought” conditions that stretched into central Nevada.

The map shows the remarkable effect on California after the heavy snowfall this year in the Sierra Nevada. None of that water feeds into the Colorado River.

A summary of drought conditions in the West appears here.