Monday March 28, 2022

Colorado State University

Nestled in the spires of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains lie acres of crystalline snowpack, slowly carving the granite formations where they rest. The snowpack feeds a litany of creeks and rivulets that form the Colorado River, the bedrock of the West’s water supply.

Snow is crucial to fulfilling the Colorado River Compact’s promise of 15 million acre-feet allocations split between the upper and lower basins. Nearly 40 million people among seven Western states depend on the river’s swift currents to power their daily lives – which snowpack monitoring helps inform by creating more accurate predictions of how much snowmelt will make its way downstream.

Guided by the Compact’s allocations, snowmelt is a critical facet of water history and planning that is not often considered in detail, though it directly influences outdoor recreation and hydrology.

“It’s been 100 years since the Colorado River Compact has been signed, and one of the issues … is that the conditions in the river that existed prior to 1922 (were) not constant. and they were more than what we see in the long-term average. They had a short window and used those quantities to estimate who got what,” said CSU Professor Steven Fassnacht, who studies snow hydrology.

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