GARDEN CITY – David and Claudia Cottle of Bear Lake Watch have been keeping a close eye on the snowpack in the high mountain ranges that can affect the 109 square miles of Bear Lake. The information they are collecting comes from National Resources Conservation Service’s National Weather and Climate Center SNOTEL sites.
Claudia said when they’ve been analyzing the SNOTEL site’s SWE (Snow Water Equivalent), the amount of water that would be expected if it melted quickly does not look good for the Bear River or for lake levels this year.
There is a link to unmanned SNOWTEL sites where data is gathered and uploaded in near real-time. SNOTEL sites use large pillows filled with an antifreeze solution with electrical sensors. As the snow accumulates on the pillows it exerts pressure and alerts sensors that can determine the water content of the snow.
“Most of the water that is diverted into Bear Lake comes from the very western part of the Uinta’s, but many years a good portion comes from the mountains near Cokeville, Wyoming. Both areas are calculated into the average SWEE for the Upper Bear,” she explained. “Right now, we are at 6.7 SWE; that number is near the lowest it has ever been for this date. In other similar years it turns out to be low water supply.”
She said sometimes it can turn around and in the spring we can get dumped on with snow in the high country, but when we get this far into a year, it is usually not likely to make up the difference.
“I’m afraid water is going to be in short supply this year in the Bear River system, so we will probably see an early call for water to be pumped out of Bear Lake with very little going in. Unless it is a very wet spring, we will see the lake go down,” Claudia warned. ”The lake level is 5916.36 UP&L datum. We’d like to see the lake elevation closer to 5918 or 19 – probably a more natural winter level.”
The technology to measure these lake elevations was upgraded a year ago with state-of-the-art equipment installed at the Utah State Marina by the US Geological Survey team, in cooperation with Bear Lake Watch, The Bear River Commission, and PacifiCorp. “There are a lot of triggers that ride on the elevations of Bear Lake, so it is important that our data is accurate and always up to date,“ Claudia said
“There are a lot of factors that go into the operations and storage decisions at Bear Lake and we hope to see improvements to the processes in the coming years. It would be easier if we had a crystal ball!”
People can find links to all of this data with graphs on their website bearlakewatch.com.