An anemic snowpack in the southern San Juan Mountains this past winter is going to leave Southwest Colorado and the Upper Rio Grande basin to the east with stream flows well below average, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reports.
The outlook contrasts markedly with what the northern tier of the state can expect, the agency said in its June report.
In the combined Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel basins, the snowpack stood at 2 percent of the median as of June 1. The neighboring Rio Grande basin also was at 2 percent.
By contrast, the statewide median snowpack was 92 percent, with the South Platte and Colorado River basins at 153 and 108 percent, respectively.
It doesn’t look good for river-rafting companies, but Tom OKeeffe at Durango Rafting Co. isn’t sweating it.
“This time last year, the river (Animas) was flowing at 300 cfs (cubic feet per second),” OKeeffe said. “I did one run with 172 cfs, by using every trick in the book.”
The best trick is a large boat with a broad bottom because it draws less water, OKeeffe said. A skilled guide can get through with 2 inches of clearance on either side of the craft.
OKeeffe thinks rafting is possible at 160 cfs.
The Animas River has seen its best day this season, Jeff Titus at the Division of Water Resources office in Durango said Thursday.
The river flow peaked at 3,040 cubic feet per second on May 18. On Thursday, the flow was 1,300 cfs.
Titus said summer rain won’t increase the flow, but could reduce the amount drawn from irrigation ditches that take water from the Animas.
“The snowpack data shows the profound impact that a cool and wet spring can have on the state’s water supply,” the NRCS said in a release. “The mountain snowpack typically reaches its seasonal maximum in early April but this year reached its peak on April 21.”
Late-season snow in April and early May considerably improved the water-supply outlook in the northern basins, the NRCS said.
“Cool weather has helped delay snowmelt across higher elevations and continued wet weather patterns in the northern part of the state have contributed to additional snow accumulation in the high country,” the release said.
Despite the light snowpack last winter, the four river basins in Southwest Colorado in January had an average snowpack of 70 percent of median, exactly the same as the statewide average.
The 70 percent median in January 2013 in Southwest Colorado compared to 84 percent a year earlier. The statewide median in January 2012 was 91 percent.
Reservoirs also suffered from the scant snowpack. Reservoirs in Southwest Colorado were at 67 percent of median this month, but had hardly budged from 66 percent of median in January. The statewide median was 78 and 68 percent of median in June and January, respectively.
Jackson Gulch Reservoir near Mancos and Lemon Reservoir north of Durango are each at 36 percent of capacity; McPhee Reservoir north of Cortez is 57 percent full; Navajo Lake east of Ignacio is at 58 percent of capacity, and Vallecito Reservoir north of Durango is 64 percent full. Lake Nighthorse, southeast of Durango, which is filled from the Animas River, is 90 percent full.