LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) – Winter storms arrived late in the Rocky Mountains this season.

But the final snowpack measurement of the year showed March brought enough precipitation to the Upper Basin of the Colorado River to lift it from drought status. But down here in the Lower Basin, it’s a different story.

“When we look at the health of our water system, and what’s coming into the reservoir for the year, it’s really the snowpack in what we call the Upper Basin, Colorado, and Wyoming primarily, that we monitor to see what the upcoming year is looking like, says Colby Pellegrino, Deputy General Manager of Resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

And this year, the snow arrived late.

“So it kind of has been this tale of two winters.”

Ben Livneh is the director of NOAA’s Western Water Assessment in Boulder, Colorado. He says the season started far more mildly than needed during a time of deep drought.

“It has been warm, and I think across the country, at least the December, January, and I think February, I think were the warmest, or among the warmest in recorded history.”

The lack of snow in the Rockies, and rain further south, held little promise of replenishing the waters of the Colorado River. Then March came back with a bang and lifted the snowpack to its usual level.

“I would say this winter, all things considered, has been pretty good, in the sense that the precipitation has been near normal, slightly above normal.”

But will that make a difference more than 700 miles downriver in the Las Vegas Valley?

“This is a good winter, in terms of some of what we’ve seen in the past, but because it’s been hot, we have 110% of snowpack, but we’re only projected to have around 84% runoff.”

Colby Pelligrino oversees water resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

“Any water is good, it’s better than years we’ve seen in the past, it’s certainly not enough to make huge changes in the reservoir system.”

Pelligrino says this winter has been enough to lift The Upper Basin, and most of northern Nevada out of drought conditions, but the Lower Basin won’t feel much effect.

“When we look at the water that’s coming down in the Colorado River, the situation really isn’t changing, or reservoirs remain incredibly low.”

And recovery is a still long way off.

“I think it will really take a lot more than one pretty good winter like we got to recover the system as a whole,” says Livneh.

“When we talk about an average year, we would need well over a decade of average years to fill the reservoir, probably maybe even two.”

Pellegrino says that means conservation will continue to be essential.

“We are still going to be in a shortage next year, regardless of what this year’s snowpack looks like, and that means it’s incumbent upon all of us residents to use our water wisely, especially outdoors.”

She urges people to follow outdoor watering schedules, to find and repair leaks inside and outside the home, and to report water waste when they see it.


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