After a record start for snowpack across the Interior West earlier this year, the region is once again experiencing drought conditions and two main reservoirs remain far from full. Western Resource Advocates experts are tracking snowpack trends across the region and have studied the impacts of climate change on this vital Western resource, which feeds rivers and lakes and provides water for most of the region:
- Over the last half-century, many Western states have experienced a higher percentage of winter precipitation falling as rain compared to snow. This is primarily due to increased temperatures, driven by climate change.
- When more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow, the timing and quantity of runoff changes, often resulting in less runoff which leads to lower streamflow, especially in the late summer months. This affects stream health, fish, river ecosystems, and outdoor recreation.
- Despite bountiful snowpack in 2019 in the Colorado River basin, the river’s two main reservoirs – Lake Powell and Lake Mead – remain at 53% and 39% full, respectively. Low water levels in Lake Mead triggered the first-ever mandatory cuts in 2020 for Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico under the Drought Contingency Plan.
- Since 2002, water elevation in Lake Powell, which receives the vast majority of its water from snowpack, has not yet recovered above its historical 50-year annual average despite above-average snowpack years like 2008, 2011, and 2014. Visit WRA’s Lake Powell resource to explore Lake Powell water trends and challenges.
- For the current water year, which began on Oct. 1, snowpack is off to a great start in some river basins and a slow start in others. To find current snowpack conditions and track them throughout the year, visit WRA’s website.
- The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor shows the Four Corners is experiencing severe drought, and large portions of the West are facing some form of drought conditions. This comes on the heels of a dry monsoon season and above-average temperatures in Arizona and New Mexico, and a lack of precipitation in parts of Nevada and Utah, according to the Drought Monitor.
Our Healthy Rivers Program experts are available to comment on the West’s snowpack and drought conditions, trends, and challenges. For more information or to reach our experts, contact Jamie Trafficanda at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-763-3737.
WRA Snowpack and Drought Experts:
Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program Director
Charlotte Roehm, Deputy Director of Water Planning
Kim Mitchell, Senior Water Policy Advisor
John Berggren, Water Policy Analyst