Tracking snowpack is a vital part of managing Denver Water’s water supply. But, with sample sites in remote locations throughout our watersheds, this is no easy task.
Take a journey with Jay Adams, from Denver Water’s Communications and Marketing Department, as he joins Denver Water crews to take on this adventurous mission.
What a difference a year makes in snowpack levels
By Jay Adams
It’s a trek not many people take, but one that provides critical information to more than 1 million people. The journey begins just below the Continental Divide in a Trooper Snow Cat. The ride leads up the side of a mountain, past a group of snowmobilers and two wandering moose. Onboard the Snow Cat heading into the forest are Denver Water employees Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman; and Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker. The task today is to get a firsthand check on the snowpack by poking a few holes in the snow-covered forest.
This trip yields better results than one year ago when Colorado was facing one of its driest winters on record. “We have more snow this time,” Clark said. “Right now it’s definitely up, but you never know what can happen.”
Clark plows the Trooper up until they reach the Ranch Creek snow course. The Denver Water trio straps on their snowshoes, grabs their tube and gets down to business.
“Forty-four – 41 – 33. That’s good for Ranch,” Olsson calls out after spearing the snow and pulling out a plug. Clark holds the scale, while Holinka jots down the snow depth and calculates the water content and snow density — two critical numbers that will be called down to Denver and used for projecting the yield from this winter’s snow.
Next stop, the Arrow course. Ten tests are taken on the top of a hill where the old railroad town of Arrow once stood. Denver Water has been taking samples from this hill since 1938.
Olsson has been running snow courses for 23 years. “You want to do a good job and get a good reading,” he said. The group takes pride capturing good samples. “We are very serious about how we do it because it’s so important (for managing water supply),” Holinka said.
Measurement of the snowpack is extremely critical for Denver Water said Bob Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply. “Without snowpack readings, we’d have no way of estimating what the spring runoff would be. It’s important to have boots on the ground as a rough check on the automated readings,” Steger said.
Twenty samples were taken on this day. At the Ranch course, the snow water equivalent measured 12.9 inches, compared to 6.3 inches last year. “They’ll like that down in Denver,” Olsson said, referring to the strong readings.
More stories about measuring snowpack:
- The hard work of measuring snowpack – H2O Radio
- Snowpack way above normal in Colorado; Concerns about runoff raised – KDVR
- Evaluating snowpack’s impact on water supply – 9News
- Fewer Colorado cities adding watering restrictions in 2014 – KUNC
So, how are we looking this year?
Last year at this time, Denver Water needed about 6 feet of new snow in its mountain watersheds over a two- to three-week span just to have a normal snowpack. Fortunately, we experienced snowstorm after snowstorm throughout the rest of that spring and, along with customers’ reduced water use, water supply conditions improved.
This year is a new story, which is evident by the current snowpack charts for both of the watersheds that feed Denver Water’s supply.