Upper Rio Grande Basin Focus Area Study


Snow Processes

Recent studies have shown that the timing and availability of spring runoff is changing, which likely will affect the way surface water has to be managed in URGB. Because of the crucial role of the Rio Grande and its tributaries, it is important that water managers be able to plan for changes in the timing and availability of snow water resources and integrate knowledge of likely surface-water changes into a water-budget assessments.


Study Component Lead

Graham Sexstone

USGS Colorado Water Science Center

Through modeling snowpack evolution, this work will focus on characterizing snow accumulation and snowmelt dynamics within the basin headwaters and improving understanding of the water-budget in this region. The approach to complete this study component is:

Meteorological and Snow Equipment Installation

  • Install meteorological stations and SNOTEL enhancement equipment. Two SNOTEL sites (Beartown and Middle Creek) will gain additional equipment. One site (Snow Mesa) will be built with equipment to provide greater coverage of snow data collection within the basin.

Data Collection

  • Collect data from installed equipment as well as by manual snow measurements during the study period.


  1. Use collected data to aid model calibration of SnowModel for the Upper Rio Grande Headwaters subbasin in the defined model domain.
  2. Model snowpack evolution at a fine resolution (100 m), including snow water equivalent, snowmelt, and sublimation losses from 1984 - 2017.
  3. Compute long-term trends of simulated basin scale snow water resources across the study basin.