May 3rd, 2005

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Waiting for Spring

This has been wild and wacky Spring. It warmed up nicely a few weeks ago. The snow in the mountains started to melt. The trees leafed out. I planted the garden. And then things went to heck. We have been about 10-15 degrees below normal. Nothing has sprouted in the garden because I think the soil is too cold. The runoff coming from the mountains has dropped off considerably. Since most of us have only known drought, it's very scary to see the streams die off so quickly. The good news, however, is that the mountains are still full of snow. In fact, they're getting more! Every Monday I update my snowpack spreadsheet. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that some site picked up 2" of precipitation over the past week. That roughly translates into 20" of new snow! Sure enough, ski areas in southern Colorado will be staying open all month due to all of the new snow!

This has actually been beneficial to us. The snow started melting so quickly that the river channel had reached its capacity. The Corps of Engineers began flood operations and started storing the excess water. This was not a good thing. We need to get as much water into Elephant Butte Reservoir in the southern part of the state as quickly as possible. Once storage there hits a certain level, we will then be able to store water in the upper reservoirs. While Elephant Butte is beneficial to the farmers in the southern part, it does nothing for the farmers just south of ABQ. It also doesn't help us in keeping the river wet for the stupid endangered minnow. Now that things have cooled down, the Corps is able to evacuate that flood water and there is still a lot of snow in mountains to provide for some good flows later which we will hopefully be able to capture.

That's what I really love about this job. It's real-time hydrology. I was once put in a planning position. Talk about a square peg in a round hole. I am a terrible planner. They worry about stuff 5-10 years down the road. Most things don't come to pass. That's not me. I have to make decisions right now that will have an immediate results.

Surface water hydrology is also an inexact science. Why? Because so much is driven by the weather. Even the meteorologists with the PhD's and the supercomputers can't tell you if it's going to rain next week. How is little ol' me supposed to predict what the river is going to do next month or even next year? And yet, that's my job. I could have saved all of that money I spent going to college and bought a really nice crystal ball. ;oP
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