“Water supply data in this state is used as the Federal Government prepares for drought and flooding; there are numerous agencies who are very interested in this data. Its longevity helps us understand climate change. This is a critically important program. I would like to thank the Senator for his support on this. This program will exist in significant degree because of the support of partners like everybody here.” –Under Secretary Robert Bonnie
In one curled fist you have your SNOTEL, a program that began in the 1970’s. Positioned at 114 locations throughout the state, these unmanned instruments collect and transmit weather, snow depth, and water content data for each specific location. They provide real-time, point-scale, continuous data from remote locations often inaccessible during winter months.
In the other hand, you have Colorado’s 102 manual snow courses- a data record which dates back to the 1930’s. Scientists visit these sites once a month throughout the snow pack season to take incremental measurements of snow depth and density over their 1000 ft. length. The measurements provide a range of ground-truth data which take into account spatial variability of a mountain climate.
One hand alone is not strong enough accomplish its goal; where one data collection method falls short, the other steps in. In this way, our water managers are provided with the data they need to allocate flows year-round.
Representing the Colorado River District, Chris Treese explained, “We know we have an impressive snowpack; we are 40% above normal in this area [at Berthoud Pass] right now. Therefore we know we’ll have a good runoff. We look at this data and begin to manage. Already reservoirs have begun to release more than they typically would this time of year to make sure they have space for snowmelt. Having this time series of data and the ability to see our successes and mistakes from past years is invaluable.”
Senator Bennet explained, “This was a program I didn’t know much about until there was an attempt to cut the budget. All of a sudden I knew a lot about it because I heard from people all over the state who have relied on this data for so many years for so many different things. Because of all your voices we were able to get the money restored and, in fact, there will be an 8% increase to the program’s spending budget,” for this year.
He went on to stress the importance of cooperation. “We need to figure out over the long haul how we’re going to support this program. It will take cooperation from a number people to do this. Colorado’s the place where we can figure that out.”
As the group broke up I asked Senator Bennet what he saw as the next steps for water stakeholders. He replied that he would like to hear that answer from the stakeholders themselves.
CWC is designing a task force whose sole purpose will be to design and submit a report detailing which of our water data is most crucial to water managers and a proposal to sustain this data collection into the foreseeable future.
As Frank Kugel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District said, “I would like to thank the NRCS. We’ve gotten so spoiled by the data from their network.” The snow data program has so far been federally managed. The question is now how Colorado’s water stakeholders will become more involved in a program upon which they heavily rely.