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Heavy Snow Puts A Dent In Colorado's Drought


April snow storms have certainly helped parched Colorado. The real question is, how big of a dent will it be?

Update 11:03 a.m. 04/17/13: Recent snowfall has boosted mountain snowpack in some areas to its highest level this winter. Both the Colorado and North Platte river basins are just below normal levels for this time of year, catching up dramatically since April 1.

Snowpack levels in many river basins have seen almost a ten percent increase since the start of April. That’s a huge boost, considering many basins in the state were thirty percent behind in March.

Water managers warn that even with the new snow, the snowpack in the mountains is still below average for this time of year. Streams will likely run lower than they usually do this summer.

The latest snow storm has been unable to assuage pessimistic attitudes about what lies ahead for the state's ongoing drought. 

Credit Colorado Climate Center and NRCS
Colorado Climate Center and NRCS
The latest dip shows an increase in mountain snowpack from the storm this week. Cold temperatures and increased precipitation has kept snow from melting off as quickly as it did in the spring of 2012.

“We need a March of 2003 snow storm, which was a one in one hundred year kind of event. But this week is certainly heading us in that direction," said Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Water - Colorado's largest water distribution system.

Werner said the state would need double or triple the amount of snow to reverse the drought.

Many farmers have already made planting decisions, with growers choosing to scale back the acres of water-heavy crops like corn and increase more drought-resistant plants like sorghum.

Cities along the Front Range take a longer view with water management, with most working off three-year plans. City water managers are much less likely to gamble on having a wet winter next year. Many of the watering restrictions in cities like Denver and Fort Collins, will remain in place until reservoirs fill back up.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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