What You Don’t Know About Snow: The USDA’s SNOTEL Network is Playing a Critical Role in Protecting Water Resources in the Western United States

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There are many complex political, social, environmental, and scientific challenges surrounding water resources in the western United States. Water is scarce and does not occur when and where people need it the most. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), about 80 percent of fresh water used in the western United States is appropriated for irrigation. Over the past 150 years, society has diverted streams, built wells and created reservoirs to better distribute water to where it is needed the most. 

Much of the water in the western United States comes from the winter snowpack in the mountainous regions. The snowpack in the mountains of western US can range from nothing or very little up to 30 or 40 feet of snow in the high Cascades. 

In order to help predict available water in the western United States, the US Department of Agriculture NRCS operates a network of snow monitoring stations, known as SNOTEL. 

This article covers the history and current work of SNOTEL, and how companies such as Stevens Water Monitoring Systems are helping to provide instrumentation that is vital to snowpack measurement and water availability forecasting.

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