On the subtleties of runoff

I took a quick dash out to see the Rio Grande yesterday at lunch. It’s easy to sit in my office and call and surf and think about water in the abstract, but it’s important to go out and see it as often as I can.

Rio Grande at Alameda, May 4, 2010

Rio Grande at Alameda, May 4, 2010

It’ s been up and down a bit over the last week because of day-by-day changes in releases from Cochiti Dam, but it’s really booming (at least for our little river) and it was fun to stand out on the bank and feel the water rushing past, all muddy and brown and looking like  a real river. This happens, of course, as warm weather melts off the snow. But there are nuances here.

Over at Ordinary High Water Mark, Coconino has a thoughtful riff on the subtleties, and how those subtleties make all the difference to the people who live on the water. The setup is a picture (click through to look) of snow on the mountains:

Mid to late March, looking west at the upper Sangre de Cristos. There was snow down to between 8-9K feet. It’s now between 9-10K feet, with bare stone showing on most of the high peaks. Most of the lower snow is now gone, and we’ve reached, essentially, the early low snow peak runoff. Many of the streams draining the Sangres have reached near bankfull. It’s hard to tell what the rest of spring will bring. A hard warm rain on the remaining snowpack will bring a rapid peak; a gradual rise in temp from now til June will slowly melt the remainder. All the folks I talk to prefer the latter. Better for towns with constrained streambanks, better for farmers dependent on acequias to water their fields, better for the riparian habitat to thrive through summer.

One Comment

  1. Colo runoff has been earlier due to the dust settling on the snowpack. Last week we had a light rain that precipitated red-pink dust from Utah way that got on everything. The first-grader had a classmate who hurt herself slipping on the wet, slick dust. Dust is still on the plants and we’re waiting for a shower to wash it all off.



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