The Crestone Eagle, February 2006:

Snowpacks foreshadow another dry year in the Valley

by David Nicholas

Current snowpack data promises a difficult time in the San Luis Valley if things do not turn around soon. Michael Sullivan, the Acting State Engineer for Water Division 3 (San Luis Valley) reported that the snowpack for the Rio Grande River basin was just 34% of normal, the driest of any river basin in the state. “We are just not doing very well,” Mr. Sullivan said.

By comparison, river basins in the northern part of the state are about 130% of normal, while both the Gunnison and Arkansas River are at about 94%.

Since the drought of 2002, the trend had been an increase in the snowpack every year, but unless we have better than average to good snowfalls in March and April, when we get most of the moisture needed to go for the rest of the year, 2006 could be as bad as four years ago. Residents back in 2002 may remember that most of the creeks around Crestone/Baca went dry, except for Cottonwood Creek which kept running due to the many springs located in the drainage.

Customers of the Baca Grande Water and Sanitation District have little to be concerned about, at this point, because the district draws water from South Crestone Creek and Cottonwood Creek, along with a newly dug well near the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, which draws water from the unconfined or shallow aquifer, as well as its well out near Casita Park.

Stream flow forecasts released the first of January predicted 74 percent of normal, or about 395,000 acre-feet, for the Rio Grande at Del Norte from April-September, Sullivan said.

But if the snows do not come as hoped in the next few months, that figure will be revised downward.

“This forecast is based on normal precipitation from the time this forecast was done through the rest of the year,” Sullivan said. In the 17 days since the forecast was issued, however, the basin has not seen normal precipitation, so the forecast is already off, Sullivan added.

“We have got to have something turn around, start dropping some good snow in the mountains,” he said.

That may not happen anytime soon, however, Sullivan added. He referred to national weather service outlooks, which predict hotter-than-normal temperatures through April and not much precipitation for that time period. “I am not seeing a lot of storms come through,” Sullivan said.

The fire departments are putting out an early warning of high fire danger (see article on page 9), and for more information on why the snows are few and far between read Keno’s article on page B-24. As to what each of us can do right now is pray, pray for snow. Now more than ever.