While California suffers, Colorado River Basin is in better shape -- for now

2014-02-03T11:08:00Z 2014-02-03T12:07:02Z While California suffers, Colorado River Basin is in better shape -- for nowTony Davis Arizona Daily Star
February 03, 2014 11:08 am  • 

Articles such as this one have appeared all over in recent days about California's drought-driven decision to halt all deliveries of water through its State Water Project to areas south of the Delta in northern California. The state is locked in a severe drought that's been called the worst of its kind in the past 500 years.

As virtually everyone here knows, the Colorado River basin that furnishes Tucson's drinking water supply has also been locked in a severe drought for 14 years.

But it's interesting to note that snowpack in the Upper Colorado Basin -- which supplies Lake Powell and ultimately, Lake Mead -- is actually not doing too badly right now, following two really bad years in 2012 and 2013. As of today, it's at about 95 percent of the median level, says Brenda Alcorn, a senior hydrologist for the federal Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City. The median level is the midpoint, between the highest and lowest snowpack levels on record for this day, between 1981 and 2010.

That doesn't mean the Colorado is home free for this year. The most reliable forecast for the important spring-summer river runoff into Lake Powell doesn't come until April. That's about the time in which most of the snows that will fall in the basin have already fallen, Alcorn said.

By then, forecasters can make runoff predictions that are at least not likely to change much over the following few months.

Lakes Powell and Mead store the water that is ultimately pumped 300 miles uphill to Tucson from the river for the Central Arizona Project, this city's main drinking water source.

Right now, we're still in a highly erratic weather season. As of Jan. 29, for instance, the Upper Basin's snowpack was at 85 percent of the median.

At the end of January, "a nice storm came through and we gained a couple inches" of snowpack, Alcorn said.

"Now, we have to wait and see what happens in the next two months," she said.

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About this blog

Star reporter Tony Davis covers topics in this blog that you have read under his byline for more than 30 years in the Southwest: water, growth, sprawl, pollution, climate change, endangered species, mining, grazing and traffic.

To reach Tony call 806-7746 (office) or 349-0350 (cell) or write him at tdavis@tucson.com.

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