The West’s ‘Savings Account’ of Snowpack Could Use a Deposit

LAY OF THE LAND | March 2022

It’s that time again. Across the West, we’re looking expectantly to the high country in hopes that a deep snowpack is building.

There’s an element of self-interest: Deep snow means great skiing. But there’s a much more important reason to root for a huge pile of the white stuff: the West is thirstier than ever. And while snowpack serves as a “savings account” to be shared as it melts in the warmer days ahead, the region has been overdrawing that account for years.

The Significance of the Colorado River

The most obvious example is the Colorado River Basin, where the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has declared its first-ever water shortage for Lake Mead during 2022. The fact that Lake Mead provides water and generates electricity for more than 20 million people in the Lower Colorado Basin, half of the 40 million people total served by the Colorado River, illustrates the significance of that shortage. And the Colorado River is only one of many rivers critical to western water supply.

Source: National Resources Conservation Service

Current Snowpack Levels

So how does the current snow season look across the West? In our home state of Colorado, it’s been feast or famine. After a slow start, holiday storms boosted state snowpack to 129% of average in early January. Snow has since gone on holiday, with statewide snowpack closer to 80% of normal as of Feb. 20. (See the graphic to the left.) And most western states have experienced the same whiplash. 

Happily, those numbers look to improve in Colorado, thanks to a multi-day storm that dumped more than a foot of snow across much of the high country the week of Feb. 21. But even with a big finish to this season, the West still requires several more big snowpack years to reduce drought and significantly improve soil conditions in the region.

Private Landowners Continue to Make Strides

While we depend on Mother Nature to provide, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out there are private landowners in the West who sustainably manage water resources on their lands for the benefit of city dwellers, agricultural producers, flora and fauna, and the environment. Learn more in my report about this work at Idaho’s Silver Spring Ranch and The Cottonwood in Wyoming.

And by all means: We still encourage you to break out your best “snow dance!”

What else?

What’s a ranch worth? We get asked that question a lot. Do you have a couple of minutes? Check out this video and hear my thoughts about how to better understand the value of ranches. Watch now.

Speaking of land values: Did you see the recent story in The Land Report about how demand for agricultural land nationwide accelerated in 2021? And that increase is significant. See how much

Easements booming: Soaring land values are only one reason why Colorado just experienced a record year for conservation easements. And the coming year looks even busier. Learn more.

Location, Location, Location: It’s hard to resist the excitement of a resort town. But at the end of the day, wouldn’t it be great to kick back at your own quiet getaway? You’re not the only one thinking about that, which is why the value of ranches near resorts is soaring. Get the details.

Lay of the Land is a monthly column by Ken Mirr, the Founder and Managing Broker of Mirr Ranch Group, that highlights news of the West impacting the ranch lifestyle. Have a question about the West? Email him at

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