BOULDER, Colo. –
Boulder County’s plains haven’t seen significant snow in weeks, but local officials and farmers aren’t panicking — yet.
While snowpack levels in Colorado’s high country are healthy, the prairies are parched, having seen just an inch of snow this month.
“We really need some good, wet spring storms, whether it’s snow or heavy rains,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which provides much of Boulder County’s water. “That’s the key as we go from here.”
Heading into March, Boulder was 19 inches behind its average winter snow total, according to Camera weather historian William Callahan. Typically Colorado’s snowiest month, March hasn’t been much help so far.
But April and May are the state’s wettest months, which leaves room for optimism.
Boulder meteorologist Matt Kelsch said a storm could bring some moisture to the Front Range on Sunday or Monday.
“For spring we’re way behind, but it could just take one storm. The month is not over yet,” Kelsch said. “It’s unlikely we’re going to catch up, but it’s possible.”
Colorado’s mountains are faring better than its flatlands. According to the latest basin outlook report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Lakewood, snowpack levels “remain above average nearly statewide.” But the report, released March 1, offered a troubling prediction.
“If March weather continues the pattern established in February, Colorado’s snowpack will be below average by the critical April 1 date,” the report said.
Clouds that covered Boulder on Wednesday didn’t produce more than a smattering of evening rain, and long-term expectations aren’t good for water content. According to an outlook released by the National Weather Service last month, the entire southern Rocky Mountain region is expected to see “below-median precipitation” for March, April and May.
Most municipalities will wait until May 1 to decide on water restrictions, if any. In a memo to the Boulder City Council last week, the city’s water officials said the snowpack levels serving Boulder are “about average.”
The city of Lafayette receives its water from South Boulder Creek and Boulder Creek, along with water from the conservancy district. Douglas Short, director of public works, said his city will likely be in good shape if spring moisture totals meet average totals.
“We’ll play the cards we’re dealt,” Short said. “We aren’t in panic mode yet. We’ll just wait until May and see where we’re at.”
If dry conditions linger, local farmers — and the water storage from which they draw — could feel the effects. A lack of direct precipitation would reduce soil moisture and force farmers to make early calls on irrigation water, according to Werner, the conservancy spokesman. Junior water-rights holders would be particularly affected because they would have to make do with whatever is left.
Wyatt Barnes, owner of Boulder’s Red Wagon Organic Farm, wasn’t worrying much Wednesday afternoon. He was planting sugar snap peas and hoping rain or snow will eventually fall on his Valmont farm.
“Well, we’re going to put the stuff in the ground, and once that’s in we’re hoping to get some rain or snow, or something,” Barnes said. “Maybe it won’t. We’ll just have to see.”