By Sonja Chavez for the Citizen
I don’t have to tell water users in the Rio Grande basin that the source of fuel for the economic engine that supports many small rural communities in Colorado is WATER. That goes for the Upper Gunnison River Basin as well.
Contrary to what many visitors and even residents think, the Upper Gunnison basin has only one major storage facility, Taylor Park Reservoir, in which we own second fill storage rights. As a headwater community it is therefore incredibly important that the UGRWCD utilize various tools for annually generating and measuring snowpack, the streamflow it generates, and then try to predict how long it may stick around.
We do this in partnership with a number of entities and through various programs including:
- Upper Gunnison Basin Cloud Seeding Program which consists of 11 generator sites and an icing meter operated and maintained by North American Weather Consultants. This program is partially supported by the Colorado Water Conservation Board which receives annual funding from lower basin states.
- Snotel and Snolite Stations Monitor Snowpack at Discrete Locations and help inform streamflow forecast models in the Upper Gunnison. There are five Snotel and four Snolite stations in the basin that measure snowpack and Snow Water Equivalent (SWE or liquid water within the snowpack)
This article was brought to you by the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable. The roundtable meets the second Tuesday of the month. If we are in-person, we are meeting at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, 8805 Independence Way, Alamosa, CO 81101. Due to Covid restrictions we are also offering a Zoom option. We welcome your attendance but encourage checking the Roundtable website at www.RGBRT.org prior to the meeting to see if an in-person option is available.
- Monthly Snow Course Field Measurements are collected at eight sites throughout the basin. This program is coordinated by our local BLM field office and implemented by a group of trained volunteers and the data is sent to NRCS. Data collected includes snow depth and SWE.
- Snow Albedo Studies are being conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) which operates a pair of upward/downward looking radiation sensors (in broadband solar and near infra-red) at a meteorological tower site above Lake Irwin near Kebler Pass.
- Meteorological Observing Network Stations exist at six sites and are being operated and rehabilitated by Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and NCAR.
- Long-Term Streamflow and Water Quality Data is gathered and analyzed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) via an annual Joint Funding Agreement. In addition, Upper Gunnison Basin was selected by USGS as a national priority site for intensive data collection to help inform future headwater models.
- A Taylor Reservoir WRF Hydro Model is being developed by UCAR and funded by the UGRWCD. The purpose is to develop an alternative model that does not rely on 30-year average hydrologic data to predict reservoir inflow thereby improving our forecasting and water management capabilities.
- Gap Weather Radar is being installed near Blue Mesa Reservoir and should be operational this fall. Thank you to Heather Dutton of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District for educating our board.
- Aerial Snow Observatory Flights are flown intermittently, are expensive, but highly valuable in predicting snowpack. Only portions of our basin are being flown at this time. The UGRWCD is also a member of a statewide consortium seeking to develop a permanent annual Colorado snow flight program.
In closing, we wish to sincerely thank the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable for your continued efforts to educate each other and share our rural water experiences!
Sonja Chavez is general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District