Colorado Agriculture Forecast: Big snow in March show strong numbers for the water supply.

Yampa RiverAccording to the March Issue of the Fence Post Rocky Mountain Edition, the 2014 forecasts for Colorado farmers continue looking good. The Water-supply is already ahead of the norm a month ago. A healthy water supply is vital for Colorado’s agriculture industry that, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, uses about 85 percent of the state’s water. Snowpack on March 1 in the South Platte River Basin, which supplies northeast Colorado(the largest ag-producing area in the state: about a $1.5 billion economic impact annually), was 151 percent of historic average, according to figures released Thursday by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. That was an improvement from a month earlier, when snowpack was already at 126 percent of average.
Snowpack and reservoir measures for much of Colorado have been at normal levels or better for a while, but the month of march is a critical time and plays an important part in forecasting water supplies for the year. Reservoir levels were also well above normal as of March 1, according to the report. Collective reservoir levels in the South Platte basin were at 112 percent of historic average, a slight uptick from Feb. 1, when reservoirs were at 111 percent of average.

While the water supply in the South Platte basin seems to be in good shape, the recent NRCS report showed that western slope is also showing positive numbers.
The Colorado River Basin — which still supplies a some of eastern Colorado’s water needs through transmountain tunnels that cross the Continental Divide — had similar numbers to those of the South Platte basin. Snowpack for the Colorado basin increased to 130 percent of average on March 1, while reservoir levels were 97 percent of average. Statewide, snowpack totals increased considerably during February. As a whole, Colorado received above normal snow accumulation throughout the past month as multiple storm systems moved through the state. As of March 1, the state’s collective snowpack was 116 percent of average, and statewide precipitation total’s for February reached 133 percent of average. Reservoir storage across the state remains just below average, at 89 percent of average. However, this is a great improvement over last year’s conditions at this time when storage was just 67 percent of average. With the current snowpack conditions and storage volumes, drought conditions in most basins should be alleviated and reservoir storage should improve this spring, according to NRCS officials.

Farmers are even optimistic in southeast Colorado, where the water situation has been bleak for years. According to reports from The Pueblo Chieftain, the Arkansas Valley’s three largest irrigation well-owner groups have submitted plans to the state with varying degrees of optimism, after they were limited in 2013. Pumping levels depend on the availability of surface supplies for augmentation, and all indications at a still early point in the growing season are pointing toward more favorable conditions than farmers have seen in the last three years.
“It’s almost like we’ve been on an extended summer vacation,” Dale Mauch, a Lamar farmer and Fort Lyon Canal board member, told the Chieftain. “It would be so much fun to plant a corn crop again. You’ve got to stay optimistic in this business, if not just for your mental health.”
The Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, serving the eastern end of the Arkansas Valley, wants to pump its irrigation wells at 90 percent capacity, up from 10 percent last year. The Arkansas Groundwater Users Association, which augments wells on Fountain Creek and the area east of Pueblo, is a little more cautious, planning an initial allocation of about 65 percent for farms — up from 30 percent last year. The Colorado Water Protective and Development Association, which covers wells throughout the valley, is looking at something less than 65 percent, but better than 2013, when wells without an independent supply were shut down.
SW Colo. Still Struggling
However, the southwest part of the state — the Upper Rio Grande and the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins — is still experiencing below normal snow conditions for this time of year.
The combined San Juan basins did see a 3 percentage point increase from last month and are currently at 85 percent of median. The Upper Rio Grande basin on the other hand lost 5 percentage points, dropping to just 79 percent of median.