Signs of Colorado snowpack disturbing Las Vegas water supply

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Without the water of the Colorado River, modern Las Vegas could not exist. Our community gets about 90% of its water from the river, but after two decades of drought and climate change, the river is in trouble.

Brian Domonokos was educated as an engineer, but you wouldn’t be wrong if you called him a professional snowman.

He is supervisor of the Colorado snow survey, a crucial program run by a little-known federal agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service. It monitors and measures snowfall in the Rockies.

“The critical period is pretty much now until April, end of April,” he told 8 News Nows. “It’s that maximum snowpack that gives us the best idea of ​​how much snow we’re going to have to run off into the streams and that will of course be our water supply for Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah.”

Tripping over snowshoes, we crawl beyond the 11,000 foot level of the Rocky Mountains, a stone’s throw from the Continental Divide, to discover one of more than 100 watch sites called SNOTEL.

Data from a SNOTEL sensor is sent around the world every hour. The team is carrying out tests to measure the thickness of the snowpack, but above all its weight. The weight is what gives them an idea of ​​how much snow will eventually melt and flow down the Colorado River.

Rocky Mountain snowpack. (KLAS-TV)

Ninety percent of the river’s water comes from rain and snow that falls on the west side of the Rocky Mountains. Ninety percent is also the number of the amount of water in Las Vegas that comes from the Colorado, which is often described as the most threatened river in North America.

Everything that happens in Las Vegas; all economic growth and activity depends on the river.

“We know that right now at this site the snowpack is 83% of normal,” Domonokos said.

While 83% of normal doesn’t sound that bad, it comes after more than two decades of prolonged drought in the West and temperatures have been climbing. The hotter, drier climate means the West is caught in a vicious circle, more wildfires, more dust storms, less rain and snow.

The particles that fall on the snow affect how and when it melts, and because the ground is drier, much of the snowmelt is absorbed and never makes it to the river.

The result is easy to see, Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at historic lows. Lower Colorado River states have already passed reductions in the amount of water they can take from the river, and further reductions are likely.

The Snow Survey Team doesn’t make weather forecasts, the job falls to other federal and state agencies, but 2022 had already proven to be a headache.

In January, it looked like the snowpack would be at or near the historical average. But the February snowfall kind of fell off a cliff. Is there still a possibility of enough snow to return to normal this year? Experts say it’s possible but unlikely.

Snow watchers hope that when Las Vegans frolic in the pools and water their lawns, they’ll appreciate just how valuable the resource is.

Lake Mead is experiencing record high water levels, resulting in the reservoir’s first ever Level 1 water shortage declaration, which has been in effect since early 2022.

“General awareness across the whole of the United States would really help stimulate and better understand how important this is and why monitoring it and being careful with the water we have with the snowpack is a such an important part of life,” he added.

The snow survey program was created nearly 90 years ago under the Department of Agriculture because the river’s water is crucial to irrigating millions of acres of cropland. in the West.

Click here for more information on the snowmaking program.

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