5 Things You Should Know About Snowpack in the Gallatin

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Snow (or the lack thereof) is the conversation of the season. At our annual meeting last month, we heard from experts on local snowpack and water quantity.

In case you missed it, here’s five important things we learned from Lucas Zukiewicz, of USDA-NRCS Montana Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program; Tom Michalek and James Rose from Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology’s Ground Water Investigation Project; and Gregg Treinish, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.
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1. 50 to 80 percent of Montana’s annual water supply comes from spring snowmelt. In the Gallatin Valley, 72 percent of water comes from the upper Gallatin (via the main stem of the Gallatin River), 14 percent from the Bridger Mountains (via the East Gallatin River), 14 percent from the Gallatin Mountains (via Hyalite Reservoir).

2. Snowpack is measured by USDA-NRCS at Snow Telemetry sites (SNOTEL). There are two of these high-tech monitoring stations in the Bridgers, two in Hyalite, and three in the upper Gallatin.
10325719_840465739332393_7997336366150165187_n3. Wolverines, lynx, and marten thrive in the northern winters because they have adapted physically and behaviorally to thrive in cold temperatures and deep snowpack. But as climate and snow patterns are changing, these iconic species may lose their competitive advantage in the winter months.4. Melting snowpack recharges groundwater aquifers, providing base flow to rivers even when there isn’t snow on the mountains. Generally, aquifers have the most water in May and the least in September, at the end of the irrigation season. However, the aquifer around Big Sky has been slowly declining since at least 2008 for unknown reasons.

5. Finally, what you really wanted to know: alpine snowpack in the watershed is actually looking quite good this winter. The Gallatin River Basin is at 103% of average as of February 18.

So even though skiing may not be ideal, current forecasts call for a good water year in 2015.