May snow means what?


The federal snow measuring site on Vail Mountain received 2.2 inches of “snow water equivalent” (SWE) in two days this week. Snow fell at about that rate in early March. Remember those pow days? The site has accumulated 3.7 inches of SWE since May 1. That’s how much it received between October 2018 and Thanksgiving – more than enough for Vail Mountain to open early with great conditions.


While May snow and cold temperatures have caused local rivers to slow down, we know the snow will eventually melt, which likely means some great whitewater. Beyond recreational pursuits, heavy May precipitation means lots of water has seeped into local soils. That’s a good thing for our forests and yards. And a big change from last year, when the Vail Mountain site “melted out” on May 15, summer rains failed to materialize, and soils quickly dried out, along with local waterways.


It’s unusual to get this much SWE in May, but not unheard of. It happened in 2008, 2003, 1999, 1995, 1984, 1983, and 1979 – the first year the federal site operated on Vail Mountain (on the heels of sustained, multi-year drought).


In other years – notably 1981, 2002, 2012, 2015, and last year – snow was rapidly melting or gone by now. Each of those years but 2015 turned out to be a big drought year in Colorado.


These differences in May weather demonstrate the variability in local precipitation and why it’s important to plan your landscape for that variability.


The water you use to sustain the outdoor spaces at your home or business depends on an adequate water supply. If you have native plants adapted to Colorado’s semi-arid climate, you probably don’t worry much about whether it’s wet or dry. If supplemental water is necessary for your landscape to thrive, that water comes from Eagle River Water & Sanitation District or your local water provider – which relies on that same variable snowfall and rain to produce clean water for indoor and outdoor purposes.


In years such as 2018, when drought caused local waterways to drop to very low levels, we prioritized river water over customers’ use of water for outdoor purposes. Outdoor areas use much more water than indoor areas and landscape irrigation has a greater impact on streamflows than indoor water use. Our staff contacted hundreds of customers who were using excessive amounts of water that disproportionately impacted our community’s limited water resource.


That scenario is unlikely this summer, but our priorities are the same. Healthy waterways are critical to our natural environment and recreation-based economy, so we strive to balance our customers’ water needs with the rivers’ needs.


Our commitment to efficient use of our community’s water resources is just as strong, so we urge our customers to modify landscapes to ones that use water efficiently. Over the years, we have worked with many customers who were wasting water and did not know it. Armed with some information about “normal” water use and irrigation system settings, many people have happily reduced their water use, saved money, and still enjoy having a beautiful yard.


One way to know whether you’re using a sensible amount of water, is to check the “usage tier” in which you are billed. Customers who use water in Tier 1 have low or normal water use and pay the lowest rate. Water used in higher tiers is progressively more expensive; use in Tiers 4 and 5 is considered excessive.


Another way to better understand, and control, the water used at your home or business, is to learn about, and sign up for, WaterSmart, which is a new online tool for our customers. Rather than waiting for a monthly water bill, WaterSmart will give you almost real-time information about your water use.



Sound interesting? We hope so. Your first opportunity to learn about it includes a free lunch! Just go to the town of Vail’s Lunch with the Locals program at noon on May 29 at the Lionshead Welcome Center. You can hear about it, ask questions, and learn how to take control of your water use.