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Wind River Basin snowpack stands at 96 percent of normal

May 2, 2013 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A water supply specialist said irrigators will have a better supply this year.

This week's snowstorm brought local snowpack within sight of average, and runoff forecasts are better. Officials have different opinions on how much the improvement will be, though.

"(Irrigators) will have a better supply this year than they did last year," said National Resource Conservation Service water supply specialist Lee Hackleman. "In fact, they should have a full supply this year."

Storms in April helped, said Midvale Irrigation District manager Jon Howell, but his organization expects to deliver about as much water this year as it did last year.

"Before these storms hit, we were pretty concerned about it," he said. "After these storms, we're looking at almost identical to last year."

Howell said water delivered last year was not spectacular, but it was adequate.

He said Midvale makes predictions by comparing current information from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Wyoming State Engineer's Office and NRCS to information from previous years.

On Thursday morning, snow water equivalent of snowpack in the Wind River Basin stood at 96 percent of average for the date, Hackleman said. In the Sweetwater River Basin, it measured 81 percent.

Snow water equivalent is roughly the amount of liquid water that snowpack in the basin would melt into, and the NRCS compares it to a 30-year average.

The numbers from Thursday are up over Monday's, when snow water equivalent measured 93 percent of average in the Wind River Basin and 80 percent in the Sweetwater River Basin.

Remote NRCS measuring sites showed that the recent storm dropped 5 to 13 inches of snow on the Wind River Mountains above the Popo Agie River and 3 to 6 inches on slopes in the northwest side of the Wind River Valley.

Normal snowpack hits its peak in April and is on the decline by this time. This year's snowpack never reached as high as a normal year's peak.

There is a portion of snowpack that the Wind River Basin would have received earlier and that would have already melted in a normal year.

"We lost some of that earlier so it would have to get above 100 percent," Hackleman said. "We're not going to get 100 percent runoff."

The total precipitation measured in the Wind River Basin is 81 percent of the 30-year average by this date, and in the Sweetwater River Basin it is 69 percent.

Hackleman said he would guess the Wind River Basin's runoff would be about 80 percent of normal.

"Last year we came in at 55 percent or so," he said. "So it's quite a bit better."

April has been colder than normal, and a similarly cool May would benefit runoff as well, Hackleman said.

"The longer it stays cool, the better runoff we seem to get," he said.

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