Blue River snowpack sensor sites hit zero on June 17, five days earlier than the historical average

The mountains near Silverthorne are pictured on June 15, 2022. The snowpack has steadily melted as temperatures have warmed.
Eliza Noe / Daily Summit News

Blue River snow sensor sites are no longer measuring snow-water equivalent for the current hydrological year, but compared to 2021 data, local water is doing better despite drought conditions reported by meteorologists for Summit County and the State of Colorado.

Data from the National Resource Conservation Service shows that snowpack detection sites measured zero inches as of June 17. The 30-year median was just above that level on that date, 0.4 inches, and the median shows snowmelt completion as of June 22.

In recent weeks, this year’s snow-water equivalent levels have remained at the same level as the median after a snowfall in late May pushed levels several inches below. Before that, the snow-water equivalent had fallen below the median.

On May 20, just before the spring snowstorm, only 5.5 inches remained at the Blue River Basin, nearly half of what was mapped for the median of 10.2 inches. By May 28, snowmelt had begun to match that of the median again.

As of June 17, Blue River SNOTEL sites measure zero inches of snow-water equivalent. The black line represents 2022 levels and the green line represents the 30-year median.
National Resource Conservation Service / Courtesy Image

Last year, the snow water equivalent reached zero on June 13. Now, since the snow water equivalent is gone for the year, the Blue River is now considered base flow, or the flows that Summit County ends up with in the fall and winter.

“I would say it’s better than last year, for sure,” said James Heath, Colorado Division of Water Resources Engineer, District 5. “But it’s probably not as good as in the 80s, when we had very heavy snow years and very wet springs. We are still continuing in the 22 years of drought that we have known since around the year 2000. »

The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center reports outflow from the Blue River at Dillon was between 55 and 57 cubic feet per second, and forecasts for the next 10 days show that flow remaining steady at 58 cubic feet per second.

Tenmile Creek in Frisco measured 251 cubic feet per second. Future flows are expected to be between 227 and 388 cubic feet per second.

The inflow from Dillon Reservoir has declined steadily, with an inflow of 639 cubic feet per second measured on June 21. The 10-day forecast calls for flows as high as 848 cubic feet per second next week. According to Denver Water, the reservoir is 95% full.

“North of Tenmile Creek in Frisco, the average peak is around June 1, so June 6 is the average peak there,” Heath said. “We peaked a bit lower – still relatively high at this point. It didn’t work out very well, but it will come. »

Soil moisture has also improved over the past year. When the ground is dry when the snow begins to melt, this water is first absorbed by the ground before heading to rivers or streams.

“The snowpack was better over the past winter than it was the year before,” Heath said. “It also helped that we had monsoon rains last fall which helped to improve soil moisture conditions. is drained as the surface stream flows.

This weekend, local forecasts show Summit County has a chance of rain, a continuation of monsoon moisture that has hit Colorado. Monsoon humidity helped keep Summit County from entering wildfire restrictions, and conditions this weekend will likely do the same next week.

According to the US Drought Monitor, most of Summit County is considered to have “moderate drought” status, or three on a six-point scale. Other parts to the north and east of the county are rated as “abnormally dry”, which is two on the scale.

Across the Colorado River Basin, leaders are facing an ongoing drought that has depleted water supplies. Federal officials announced that the seven basin states, including Colorado, must quickly conserve a huge amount of water and threatened unilateral action if they failed to do so.

Currently, Green Mountain and Dillon Reservoirs are not expected to fill. Although monsoon humidity can affect reservoir filling, it is not guaranteed and depends on the location of jet streams and temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.

“Dillon’s releases are likely to stay where they are in the 50-75 (cubic feet per second) range. They are unlikely to increase releases,” Heath said. “Unless we have no more monsoons. They don’t anticipate fills, so it’s unlikely we’ll have any big flows below Dillon Reservoir on the blue this year.