Snowpack still low |

Snowpack still low

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS ” Colorado has just a 10 percent chance of reaching its average snowpack in 2008, and another early snowmelt is likely, a Natural Resources Conservation Service official said.

Melting snow contributes much of the state’s water supply.

At the Colorado Water Congress’ 2007 Summer Convention, NRCS snow survey supervisor Mike Gillespie said Friday that this year’s sub-average snowfall and early melting could be an ominous sign for the future.

“Our statewide snowpack dropped to 75 percent of average on April 1. That’s a critical date,” Gillespie said. “That’s not good news for the water supply.”

Early snowmelt can mean shorter irrigation seasons for farmers and ranchers. Meanwhile a faster snowmelt can dump high levels of sediment into rivers and streams, hurting water quality.

Still, after recent precipitation, water storage is “in pretty good shape,” at 99 percent of a statewide average as of Aug. 1, Gillespie said.

He said the snow on the Continental Divide on Friday as a sign of hope.

“The season’s first snowfall has occurred,” Gillespie said. “Hope springs eternal for another good snow year.”

Other speakers at the convention said the epidemic of beetles infesting lodgepole pines in Colorado forests could harm water quality.

Gary Severson, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, said bark beetles could affect about 1 million acres in 15 Western Slope counties, killing up to 90 percent of the lodgepole pine trees there.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said dying forests open natural sluice gates for sediment to flow unimpeded into watersheds.

In April, Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a bill allowing municipalities and counties to create tax districts, with voter approval, to fund bark beetle mitigation and forest management measures.

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