Temporary budget fix ensures program through August 2014
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — For decades, hydrologists have been tromping through the high country of Colorado and around the West to make detailed snowpack measurements. Together with data from automated SNOTEL sites and other tools, the monthly snow-course readings help water managers develop accurate projections of spring stream flows, and how much water will be available for irrigation and storage.
The information is critical in arid regions, which rely on the winter snowpack as the ultimate reservoir. Federal budget cuts have threatened the program, raising concern among western resource managers, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week that it has found a way to maintain funding for the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program — at least through the end of Aug. 2014.
Th temporary fix will ensure Colorado communities and water managers continue to receive the most accurate information available to make smart water decisions, according to Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who intervened to try and ensure the funding.
“Water is the lifeblood of the West, and our water managers need the best information on snowpack to keep our rivers, farms and cities strong,” Udall said in a release. “Although this is a major win for Colorado’s water managers, it is only a short-term solution. This additional funding will help keep all the monitoring sites open this winter and give stakeholders additional time to work on a long-term solution to sustain this important program.”
“While we received our statewide operational budget for the year, the allocation for the snow survey program was far less than what is needed to fully implement the program even with the streamlining efforts we are implementing within the state,” said Phyllis Ann Philipps, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado. “Upon hearing about the potential cuts in snow survey courses, we were so pleased when so many stakeholders came together to help strategize a solution. We will need their continued input and support as the fix I’ve implemented is an interim one.”
Udall, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Congressman Scott Tipton urged the Natural Resources Conservation Service in a recent letter to prioritize funding for its Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program. The letter cited the critical need in Colorado and across the Rocky Mountain West “to accurately measure snowpack in each basin, using both SNOTEL and manual snow course data.”
In their letter, the elected officials explained the importance of detailed on-the-ground measurements:
“The ability to accurately measure snowpack in each basin, using both SNOTEL and manual snow course data, is essential for water districts and municipalities to meet the demands of competing users. Further, we know from the statewide water community that protecting both tools must be a priority, as automatic SNOTEL sites can often face mechanical failure mid-winter, leaving the manual snow courses as the only sources of reliable data to meet local demands and interstate compact deliveries.”