Why the snowpack that feeds local rivers is disappearing
Despite a decent ski season this winter, the snow that feeds our local rivers is melting faster than usual and spring runoff could peak earlier than the historical average this year.
According to the watershed science and policy nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy, snowpack in the Roaring Fork River watershed fell from about 93% of normal in early May to about 44% two weeks later.
If this trend continues, it could impact everything from the length of ski and rafting seasons to irrigation restrictions and even wildfire danger.
“If the mountains and the backcountry areas are drying out quicker and we don’t start getting some summer rains, then we could see an elevated wildfire risk as well,” said reporter Scott Condon, who recently published The Aspen Times article, “‘Robbers’ eating up Roaring Fork Valley’s once-impressive snowpack.”
Condon and Times weekly columnist Ted Mahon have been talking to local experts who say strong winds, dust and a persistent drought driven by the human-caused climate crisis are likely to blame.
In a recent column, “Stuck in the Rockies: Making sense of the dust on snow phenomenon,” Mahon describes how a pronounced layer of dust on the backcountry ski slopes is accelerating snowmelt in the region.
“These issues are across the West, and they’re climate issues that are much broader than what’s going on in our valley, but we’re feeling the effects of it here,” Mahon said. “You can only hope that that will lead to other discussions on greenhouse gas and CO2 emission reductions.”
Aspen Public Radio talked with Condon and Mahon about the wider implications of our disappearing snowpack and what it might mean for the future of our watershed.
Listen to the conversation above.