Hydrologist: ‘Rain is the wild card’

Snow-covered mountains rise above the Medicine Bow National Forest in 2017 off Wyoming Highway 230. 

SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

Increased snowpack near the Wyoming-Colorado border could mean average water supply for the Laramie Valley this year, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration representative said.

Despite below-average snowpack at the Laramie River’s headwaters in Cameron Pass, Colorado, NOAA Hydrologist Jim Fahey said Albany County’s water supply prediction was unusually similar to 2017’s.

“It’s pretty peculiar, because last year at this time, the Laramie watershed was at 118 percent, and this year, we’re at 116 percent,” Fahey said.

Laramie Water Resources Administrator Darren Parkin said one reason the water supply is doing so well is an influx of precipitation around Dead Man Hill and Roach in Colorado near the Wyoming border.

“We were around 83 percent (of average water supply) on the Laramie River at the beginning of the month,” Parkin said. “Today, we’re at about 111 percent, so we’re tracking up.”

Only a small amount of the city’s water is supplied by snowpack in the Snowy Range, Parkin explained. Most of Laramie’s water comes from the headwaters of the Laramie River, which originate in Colorado around Cameron Pass, Chambers Lake and the Rawah Range.

While the city does not use reservoir storage, relying instead on groundwater wells on the Casper Aquifer in a time of drought, Parkin said Lake Hattie was about 67 percent full and Gray Rocks Reservoir near Wheatland was completely full, which would benefit Albany County’s agriculture industry.

“As far as regulation on the water rights, we should have a pretty good year,” Parkin said. “The ranchers and whatnot should be able to use a lot of water.”

Although snowpack is about average, both Fahey and Parkin said spring could make all the difference.

“It’s still pretty early to tell too much, because it’s the heavier spring snows that make or break us,” Parkin said. “Assuming we get a couple good wet spring snows, we should have a pretty average year. Really it only takes one heavy wet spring snow, and we could shoot up 30 percent, because they produce so much snow.”

In the long-range predictions, Fahey said April, May and June could be warmer, producing the possibility of flood conditions.

“The threat of flooding is pretty minimal,” he said. “If we have a brief warm up with rain on top of it, that could get something going, but if it’s regular runoff there shouldn’t be a problem.”

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