Below average winter snow accumulation in Wyoming may result in some of the lowest spring runoff flows in years.
The State Drought Committee recently was informed that snow levels in many areas of the state are between 50 and 70% of normal, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service's snow surveys show that areas like the Wind River Mountains are at only 40% of normal levels.
The State Drought Committee is co-chaired by Ron Micheli, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and Tom Osterman, state forester. The committee recently heard reports from agency officials about the prospects of adequate moisture for this summer.
There is concern about spring runoff, due to the low snow pack. "It comes at a bad time, because of the moisture shortage from last year," Micheli said. Hay production was low last year, and demand for hay was high, because of the drought. Based on spring runoff estimates, hay supplies probably will be below average this year as well.
"There only is a remote possibility that the snow pack will reach an average level this late in the year," said David Taylor, water supply specialist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. "Even though we may get spring storms, snow usually does not accumulate in significant amounts in the mountains at this time of year," Taylor added.
Kirk Miller, U.S. Geological Survey, reported that lower than normal stream runoff is likely. Bureau of Reclamation estimates show that although reservoir storage is nearly average, low inflows will result in very low reservoir levels in the fall. However, most irrigation needs could be met with existing water amounts.
Gov. Jim Geringer appointed the State Drought Committee to monitor and coordinate the state's response to drought. Seventeen state and federal agencies have input on the committee. Last year, Geringer requested and received U.S. Department of Agriculture drought disaster area declarations for 23 Wyoming counties. Currently, several federal drought assistance programs are in effect, in Wyoming.
Bill Gentle, director of the Division of State Parks and Historical Sites, is chair of the Drought Monitoring Subcommittee of the State Drought Committee. Gentle reported that the committee met over the winter to develop a long-range state drought plan. "We have made progress," Gentle said. "While we hope it doesn't happen, if a drought does occur, we are better prepared to deal with it this year than last. After examining New Mexico's efforts and Colorado's drought plan, we have some ideas of what will work best for Wyoming."
The State Drought Committee's next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m., Friday, May 4, in Cheyenne, at the Barrett Building, Room 470. The committee will review the current moisture status for Wyoming.