February 2018 Early Season Outlook

Since our January update, winter storms have largely stuck to the expected pattern throughout Colorado, bringing little snow to parts of our state. The farther along we get in water year 2018 (in Colorado, the “water year” starts on November 1 and ends on October 31 the following year), the less likely it seems we will see a return to normal conditions. With conditions expected to be warmer and drier than average across much of the state for the remainder of winter, it’s time to start thinking about the negative impacts these conditions can have on our streams and rivers.

The Colorado Water Trust works to restore flows to Colorado’s rivers in need. As a part of that work, we closely monitor snowpack data and streamflow forecasts to determine which projects might operate, and which projects will wait for another year. This year, we anticipate the implementation (pending partner approval) of up to seven temporary projects that can bolster flows in the Gunnison, Colorado, and Yampa River basins. While each temporary project looks different, many agreements have triggers related to streamflow forecasts, snowpack conditions, or streamflow conditions. In coordination with our partners, it’s important for us to make determinations about which projects to implement early in the year, usually by April 1st. This offers certainty to agricultural producers and allows time for critical tasks, such as planning for project implementation, fundraising, or negotiations with water providers.

The information presented below represents some of the data we use to make implementation decisions about whether to operate temporary projects each year. While current snowpack conditions make us concerned for rivers and streams around the state, we are excited about potential opportunities to help rivers and streams through our Request for Water Acquisitions (RFWA) Pilot Process with the Colorado Water Conservation Board that was unveiled last month at the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention. This new process creates a front door for water right owners who might be interested in exploring opportunities to use their water rights to help rivers, and some of the transaction options were specifically designed for use in drought years.

In the RFWA process, the initial water right review by the Water Trust is entirely confidential, and as always, any streamflow restoration outcome will be voluntary and market-based. Details about the Pilot Process and available transaction tools can be found here on our website.

For all the data and charts as of February 20, 2018, click on the document below. We’ll update these numbers again in a few weeks. Keep your fingers crossed for more snow!