Nevada still in drought despite full snowpack

LAS VEGAS - The 2016-2017 winter season dropped plenty of snow in the Rockies. 

For years, the decade and a half drought across southern Nevada and the lower Colorado River Basin has impacted water levels at Lake Mead, creating what locals have long dubbed "the bathtub ring."
Nevada is still considered to be in a drought, but the accumulation in snowpacks has experts hopeful about the health of Lake Mead.  However, the state's not out of the clear.

For years the lower Colorado River Basin has been in a drought impacting Nevada and California, but the snowfall in the Rocky Mountains this season has been significant causing much of the Great Basin to be well above average. 

The snowpack in the Rockies is up 150 percent to 200 percent above normal, so that will be a direct impact on runoff that eventually feeds directly into water levels at Lake Mead.

"We were just up at Kyle Lake yesterday, and thats a long time site for us.  It's a snow course that we measured back in 1940, and the amount of water in the snowpack yesterday was within two-tenths of the record high for that time of year," said Troy Brosten, assistant snow surveyor supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service for the USDA.

According to Brosten, the heavy snowpack, once it starts to melt, will flow downstream into the upper Colorado River, eventually hitting the lower Colorado River Basin before arriving at Lake Mead.

"With the snowpack accumulation that we have, we will see improvements in the drought situations," Brosten said.

"Right now the Colorado River, the lower parts are fairly stable, and we're seeing the levels of Lake Mead rise just a little bit," according to Rose Davis, Bureau of Reclamation, lower Colorado region.

Nevada's improving conditions are very defined in a climatology map which shows that the drought is just three months apart.

We're seeing the lake at 1,089 feet right now, Davis said.  "We saw it drop down to 1070 a couple of summers ago, and close to 1,073 feet last summer."

Water levels at Lake Mead generally fluctuate throughout the year, but since the 2016 summer, it has been noticeable.  Lake Mead water levels have risen over 14 feet since last June.

In fact, according to Davis, water levels have varied as much as 62 feet, which is about over six stories high,  since Jan. 2012.

"It's looking good right now," Davis said.  "We're looking good for an in-flow from the upper basin this year of about 9 million acre-feet.  We're getting a good snow pack. It's not going to undo 16 years of drought, but it is going to maintain our lake levels and perhaps let them come up a little bit."

But regardless of this year's heavy snowpack, Davis says "it's a very important concept for to remember that nobody's out of drought."  "I mean regardless of what you're seeing on the flooding in California and other places -- one year doesn't undo drought," Davis said.

The Rockies typically will experience another month of snow, usually up until about April 1.  However, the rate at which the snow melts is a concern because if it comes off too fast, we could have issues with flooding.

But if the snow melt is too slow, a lot of it could get absorbed by soil before it reaches the streams that eventually feed into the lower Colorado Basin, so it has to melt at just the right speed.

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