‘Robbers’ eating up Roaring Fork Valley’s once-impressive snowpack | AspenTimes.com

‘Robbers’ eating up Roaring Fork Valley’s once-impressive snowpack

The watershed’s snowpack fell from 93% of normal to 44% in just two weeks

Dirty snow blankets Mt. Daly after the snowpack dropped to 44% in the Roaring Fork Valley on Thursday, May 19, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The bounty from a decent winter for snow in the Aspen area has disappeared quicker than expected this spring due to thirsty soil and “blow dryer” winds.

The snowpack in the Roaring Fork watershed fell from 93% of normal two weeks ago to 60% one week ago and just 44% as Thursday, according to the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy. A temporary reprieve is expected with precipitation and cooler temperatures forecast for Friday and Saturday.

Once upon a time, receiving as much snow as Aspen did this winter promised a lengthy runoff with plenty of water for agriculture, recreation and other uses, said Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Conservancy.

“Now we have all these interceptors, these robbers, between the snowpack and the rivers.”

This spring has been particularly windy in Colorado, with higher winds longer than usual. It’s had a “blow dryer” effect on the snowpack, Lofaro said.

The second part of a one-two punch is the dust the winds have deposited on the snow. The thin layer of dirty brown is visible on high mountains such as the saddle of Mount Sopris and Garrett Peak. The darker dust attracts sunlight and results in quicker melting.

The fast runoff has brought higher stream flows earlier than usual.

“In turn, local rivers are flowing 121 to 206% of normal for this time of the year — exciting for recreation, but also concerning, as early peak flows sometimes lead to low late-season flows,” the Conservancy said in its May 13 report.

Lofaro said the peak flow could come two to three week earlier than usual. Unfortunately, he said, that is becoming too common during a drought that has lasted 20 years, with occasional, temporary relief.

The U.S. Drought Monitor has rated all of Pitkin and Eagle counties in the moderate drought category, or a 1 on a scale of 1 to 4. Most of Garfield County is also in moderate drought, with the extreme western tip in severe drought.

High Country News reported May 16 that studies show the Western U.S. is experiencing its worst drought since 800 A.D.

Despite the dry conditions, the grass and other vegetation in the valley floor has greened up and looks great.

“It very cleverly masks the reality we have,” Lofaro said.

There are potentially widespread consequences of drought that range from the obvious to less apparent. There could be less water for irrigation. Municipalities could implement lawn-watering restrictions. Trout fishing on the Gold Medal waters of the Fryingpan and Roaring rivers could be affected, which has economic implications. Dry conditions also increase wildfire danger.

The dry conditions also provide the Conservancy plenty to talk about at its usually annual River Float on the lower Roaring Fork River. This year’s event will be held June 4 from Coryell Ranch to Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs. The float has been an annual event but was on hiatus in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19.

After the float there will be a party at Coryell Ranch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The cost is $75 for the public, $65 for Roaring Fork Conservancy members. Conservancy staff and river ambassadors will be on the rafts to answer questions about drought and other river-related issues. For details and registration, go to http://www.roaringfork.org/events/river-float-june-4/.



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