SNOWFALL AND SNOWPACT IN COLORADO
A new Earth Economics report, The Economic Benefits and Costs of Snow in the Upper Colorado Basin, points to some surprising ways that snow and snowpack benefit both the regional and national economy.
The Colorado River Basin supports about one fifth of the nation’s GDP, mainly via the water supplied to agriculture, hydropower, and western industry.
The aesthetic value of snow has significant impacts on real estate prices; low snowfall years were associated with declines of up to 8.8% of a home’s value.
Pine beetle outbreaks, correlated with drier and longer summers, have cost $5 and $61 million in lost recreational income (2016 dollars).
And of course, snow significantly supports the region’s outdoor industry. According to one report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), winter recreation provides Colorado with about 37,800 jobs. Across the state, the difference between high and low-snowfall years accounts for over 1.8 million fewer skier visits, translating to a loss of $170 million (2016 dollars).
The diverse benefits of snow put into perspective the damages underway due to this winter’s historically low snowfall. As of February 2018, Colorado’s snowpack levels are about 63% of their historical average. Though currently abnormal, low snowpack numbers appear increasingly likely to become the new norm. Over the entire basin, spring snowpack is projected to decline nearly 70% by 2070. One NRDC model projects that late spring snow could disappear entirely by the end of the century.
Although the economic outlook related to snowpack looks gloomy, our report sheds some light on how policy mechanisms can incentivize smarter and more efficient water usage. As the climate continues to warm, and as snowmelt occurs earlier during the winter, the region needs policies that can manage risks stemming from declining snowpack, earlier snowmelt, and water shortages.