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Current Theme: Waterworks
2002 Drought in the Boulder Creek Watershed


The year 2002 proved to be of the most severe drought years in Western North America's period of hydrologic records. Stream flows and mountain snow pack experienced record low measurements and agricultural and domestic water supplies were severely strained. BASIN maintains this page to summarize water supply conditions in the Boulder Creek watershed and provide quick access to local response to current and anticipated shortages. Please use the BASIN comment form to pass on comments, corrections and additional information.

Mountain Snowpack and Water Supply

The primary source of water in the Boulder Creek Watershed is the mountain snow pack that accumulates during the winter and spring in the Indian Peaks at the top of the watershed. In January, 2002 the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service reported the snow water equivalent in the Boulder Creek watershed at around 47 % of the average snow water equivalent for January over the last 30 years. This mountain snowpack continued to decline precipitously as late winter and spring snows remained significantly below normal.

By the middle of May, 2002 the the snowpack at 12 stations in the South Platte watershed was reported as having a snow water equivalent of 13 % of the average water content measured on these dates over the last 30 years.

The May 20th, 2002 detailed NRCS report indicated the snow pack at three sites in the Boulder Creek watershed as near zero, significantly below average values for this time of year.

In 2003 snowpack conditions are significantly improved but reservoir storage remains historically low. BASIN is now posting monthly reports on the local snowpack as provided by Mark Losloben of the INSTARR research program on Niwot ridge.

SNOTEL StationMay 20th measurements
30 year
Niwot Ridge 6.4"0.0"
Lake Eldora 2.8"0.1"
University Camp 16.3"3.6"

While water supplies on the Colorado Front Range are highly dependent on eastern slope snow pack, many domestic water districts in the Boulder Creek Watershed supplement local supplies though the Colorado Big Thompson Water Project. This transmountain diversion, built by the US Bureau of Reclamation and managed by the Northern Colorado Conservancy District transfers water through a series of tunnels, pipelines and canals from the upper Colorado River watershed to the Front Range. Unfortunately snow pack in the Upper Colorado River was also significantly below normal. SNOTEL measurements for 21 stations in the Upper Colorado River basin were reported at 8% of the average reading for the last 30 years in middle May, 2002.

In late June, 2002 the NCWCD announced below normal western slope precipitation would reduce 2002 deliveries to approxmately 70% of normal allocations and warned that 2003 supply might fall to as little as 30% of those allocations ( Boulder Daily Camera - June 29, 2002).

Current snow pack values are available from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Site . Snotel sites in the Boulder Creek Watershed can be accessed through the BASIN SNOTEL site map.

Drought Response

Most residents in Boulder County rely on a water district to supply potable water. All of the major plains water districts in Boulder County have extended mandatory restrictions though the winter months as water supplies will not recharged unless significant snow fall occurs this winter. The following links report on some of the efforts of local municipalities and water districts to address ongoing shortages.

Other impacts of the 2002 drought

Information and assistance on dealing with drought

State and National Drought Conditions