Water outlook: State engineer provides update on snowpack and water storage
Cody – The Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD), held Nov. 30-Dec. 1, provided space for many important conversations regarding the state’s natural resources – and management of those resources.
On Dec. 1, Administrator of Interstate Streams in the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office Jeff Cowley provided an agency update during the general session. Cowley mentioned areas of more significant drought have moved around the state of Wyoming over the last couple years, though the entire state is currently experiencing drought.
“The December through February outlook for Wyoming doesn’t say much one way or the other for precipitation or temperature,” Cowley said. “But, we are gearing up for a second year of La Niña, which doesn’t look good for Wyoming.”
Remaining in the La Niña cycle typically means cooler, drier conditions, which Cowley shared will impact how many people across the state operate.
Along with the lack of precipitation, Cowley shared soil moisture has been another large topic of conversation in his office.
“We have to fill soil moisture first before reservoirs can be filled with runoff,” he said, noting this greatly impacts the amount of snowpack basins will require to meet certain runoff levels.
For example, Cowley shared information from the Bureau of Land Management which explained the Upper Green River Basin will need to see 160 percent of snowpack to attain 100 percent of runoff.
“We saw this in the North Platte this year,” Cowley continued. “We may get into a bind when we plan on water coming down from snowpack in the mountains, but it doesn’t show in the reservoir.”
While it is easy to think about the tough times in front of producers currently, Cowley reminded the WACD crowd Wyoming has seen much worse drought.
“The last year was bad, but we have lived through a lot worse for a lot longer,” he said. “The years 2002 through 2004 exhibited a serious lack of snow and precipitation.”
With an increase in climate variability, especially when it comes to precipitation and temperature, Cowley noted there is not much valid information people can plan with anymore.
He added, “Bad runoff leads to poor reservoir storage, which leads to ‘What are we going to do next year?’ If we don’t get snow this year, our reservoirs aren’t full enough to do anything with.”
Cowley explained there is roughly two years’ worth of storage from the North Platte, which is held in Pathfinder, Seminoe, Glendo and other sizable reservoirs in the system. However, if the state doesn’t receive snow this winter, Cowley said there will be implications, and irrigation reduction might be an option.
Colorado River water issues
Another issue for the Interstate Stream Department is the shortage in the Colorado River.
“In 2021, there was four million acre-feet worth of runoff, and the average is around 14 million acre-feet,” Cowley said. “This year is the first declared storage shortage in the lower basin. In the upper basin, we don’t declare a shortage, but if there is no snow and no runoff, we are in a shortage.”
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.