Hoping For Snow

By Derf Soller, agronomist, Northwest Region
January 23, 2013

Snowpack is a critical source of water for the seven states in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The blue line indicates the snow water equivalent (SWE) for 2013.

It is January in the Rockies after all. Seeing an ad for The Masters gave me quite a jolt the other day. Mowed turf in the Rockies is not something we have seen for some time. Cold temperatures have been the norm, causing inversions to keep temperatures way below normal for the past month. Warming up to just freezing would be a welcome surprise in Grand Junction and many parts of the Intermountain Region.

While we do have some snow cover over much of Colorado and Utah, is it enough to help with our water shortages that were felt throughout a majority of the region last year? Not yet, based on recent snow study reports of the upper Colorado River Basin.

The Colorado River Basin contains seven western states. The four upper basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico are required to release downstream, or pass thru, 75 million acre feet of water in any 10 year period, to the three lower basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California. That is regardless of the amount the upper basin states receive from snowpack or rainfall. As a result, during a period of water shortages, the upper basin states feel the impact first.

Water use has been higher than the supply for the past ten years and the forecast is for that to continue according to a recent report of the Colorado River Water Conservation District . To view the complete report, visit: Risk Management Strategies for the Upper Colorado River Basin. And, with 2012 officially being the hottest on record in the region, planning should begin now to utilize water as efficiently as possible for all golf course facilities.

If your golf course has been considering upgrading its irrigation system, these statistics might just move the upgrade a little closer to reality. New irrigation technology can provide an instant improvement for water distribution, (putting the correct amount of water where and when it is needed) as well as decrease pumping costs. This is a giant first step in using whatever water you have most efficiently.

In the meantime, don’t put away those holiday carols quite yet, especially the ones that say, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!" 

The USGA Green Section is here to help your course evaluate not just water use, but your entire golf course operation to help make recommendations to improve its sustainability efforts, both for natural and financial resources. Contact Larry Gilhuly, director or Derf Soller, agronomist, to schedule a Turf Advisory Visit (TAS) to your course this spring.

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