Colo. delegation backs snow-survey funding

WASHINGTON - Funding for the snow survey water supply forecasting program was renewed on Friday with the backing of Senators Mark Udall, D-Colo., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Representative Scott Tipton, R-Colo.

Funding will be renewed until August 2014, at which point stakeholders are expected to have a more sustainable method of funding, according to Udall spokesman Mike Saccone.

"(The current funding) is by design a short-term solution. . This (refunding) is meant to give stakeholders more time to find a more sustainable funding source for the program," he said.

The program covers 12 states in the Western United States, including Colorado.

"Water is the lifeblood of the West, and our water managers need the best information on snowpack to keep our rivers, farms and cities strong," Udall said in a news release.

In Colorado, the snow-survey program focuses on water-supply management, flood control, climate modeling, recreation and conservation planning, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service website.

The state river system in Colorado generates an average of 16 million-acre feet or renewable water annually, about two-thirds of which is required to leave the state, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

"Given Colorado's critical role in providing water, not just in state but also to other basin states this data is important to region," Saccone said.

Despite the temporary refunding, stakeholders still need to find a new method of sustaining the program before the expiration in August.

While we received our statewide operational budget for the year, the allocation for the snow-survey program was far less than what is needed to fully implement the program even with the streamlining efforts we are implementing within the state," said Phyllis Ann Philipps, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado. "We will need (the stakeholders) continued input and support as the fix I've implemented is an interim one."

Both Colorado senators as well as Tipton also have written a letter to the Natural Resources Conservation Services reiterating the importance of the continuation of the survey services.

"Our state contains nine major watersheds, each with its own distinct snowfall patterns and obligations to downstream states. For example, current water supplies across the state range from 100 percent of normal in some areas to 40 percent in others," the letter said. "The ability to accurately measure snowpack in each basin . is essential for water districts and municipalities to meet the demands of competing users."

Suzanne Gaber is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at sgaber@durangoherald.com.