Aspen Journalism is compiling a data dashboard highlighting metrics of local public interest, updated at least weekly by mid-day Tuesday.
Local school enrollment up from 2020 but still lagging from pre-COVID years
“Colorado’s preschool through 12th grade public school population grew slightly this fall compared to the year, when the state’s school enrollment numbers declined for the first time in 30 years,” noted a press release from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) published on Jan. 19.
A total of 886,517 students were counted across the state in October 2021, up from 883,199 in October 2020 — a 0.3% increase. The 2021 enrollment figures are still well below the 913,223 students who were counted in the fall of 2019 — the all-time high for Colorado, according to the press release.
In Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties, a total of 19,486 students were counted in October 2021 among the five districts, according to CDE. That’s up from 2020-21’s 19,270 and down from 2019-20’s 20,255.
The Aspen School District gained 58 students this academic year, a 3.6% increase compared to 2020-21, which was affected by the pandemic. The district’s enrollment is back to pre-COVID levels as 1,652 students were counted in October 2021. In October 2019, the head count was at 1,653.
The Roaring Fork School District, which serves the towns of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, counted 5,306 students as of October 2021. This is a 0.26% increase in the student population compared to 2020-21, but this figure remains 6% lower than pre-COVID levels. In 2019-20, the district counted 5,647 students.
Garfield RE-16, which serves students from Parachute and Battlement Mesa, is the only district in the region that is seeing a growth trajectory over the last six school years. In 2014-15, the district counted 1,038 students. In 2021-22, there were 1,225 students. Yet, the pandemic slowed down the enrollment increase as 2021 is 9% lower than in 2019, when there were 1,341 students enrolled in the district.
When the pandemic hit, the number of kids being homeschooled increased dramatically, from 135 homeschooled students in Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties in the fall of 2019 to 342 in the fall of 2020. In 2021, this figure decreased to 194 students. Most are in Eagle County RE-50 and Garfield RE-2. These two districts still have a higher number of homeschooled students in 2021 than before the pandemic. Garfield RE-2, which serves the communities of New Castle, Silt and Rifle, counted 66 homeschooled students in the fall of 2021 compared to 30 in 2019. Eagle County RE-50, where kids from Vail to Dotsero go to school, had 97 homeschooled kids. That’s up from 2019’s 68.
Snowpack numbers close to average
SNOTEL sites that monitor snowfall throughout the winter measured the snowpack at Independence Pass at 94% of average on Jan. 30, with a “snow water equivalent” (SWE) of 9.21 inches. With volume up only slightly since last week, the size of the snowpack relative to the 30-year average is down from at 98.9% on Jan. 23. Last year on Jan. 30, the SNOTEL station up the pass recorded an SWE of 7.01 inches.
The monitoring station at the lower-elevation McClure Pass recorded an SWE of 8.9 inches, or 87.2% of average, on Jan. 30. A week before, the station also reported 8.9 inches of water contained in the snowpack, or 95.7% of average. Last year, on that same day, the station measured a snowpack holding 6.18 inches of water, or 60.6% of average.
On the northeast side of the Roaring Fork Basin, snowpack at Ivanhoe contains higher water levels than the 1991-2020 average, with 10.59 inches on Jan. 30, which is 119% of the average of 8.9 inches. It’s also up from last year’s 6.69 inches of SWE.
Snowpack at Schofield Pass reached 25.2 inches on Jan. 30, which represents 131.2% of average. Schofield Pass, which sits at an elevation of 10,700 feet between Marble and Crested Butte, has gained over 15 inches of SWE since Dec. 23.
“It looks like the storm system at the end of December may have just hit the western half of the Elk Mountains with more snow than further east,” Karl Wetlaufer, hydrologist and assistant snow survey at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service, wrote in an email.
Snow water equivalent — the metric used to track snowpack — is the amount of water contained within the snowpack, which will become our future water supply running in local rivers and streams.
Lake Powell water levels keep getting lower
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced on Jan. 7 that 350,000 acre-feet of water will be held back in Lake Powell from January to April instead of being released downstream to Lake Mead. The 350,000 acre-feet of water will reach Lake Mead later this year, between June and September after the spring runoff occurs.
“Without the changes to monthly water releases, the reservoir’s elevation was projected to steadily decline below the target elevation through the winter months,” a bureau press release noted.
Lake Powell‘s storage reached its lowest level recorded since it began filling in the 1960s and ’70s on Jan. 30, when the reservoir was 26.11% of full.
Last week, on Jan. 23, the reservoir was 26.45% of full. The reservoir’s capacity has fallen since last year, when on Jan. 30, 2021, the reservoir was 39.67% of full.
The surface elevation of Lake Powell is only 6.8 feet above the target elevation of 3,525 feet as it hit a record low on Jan. 30, 2022, when the reservoir’s elevation dropped to 3,531.8 feet, or 168.3 feet from full pool. The reservoir has lost more than one foot since Jan. 23, when the elevation was at 167 feet from full pool. Last year, on Jan. 30, the reservoir reached 3,576.57 feet or 123.43 feet from full pool.
Air temperature dropped last week
Temperatures dropped last week, from a high of 36°F on Jan. 24, which is 3.1 degrees above normal, to a high of 27°F on Jan. 27, which is 6 degrees below normal, according to temperatures recorded at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. The minimum dropped from 7°F on Jan. 25 to -1°F on Jan. 26, which is 7.9°F below normal, before going back up to 5°F on Jan. 27.
Clean air reported in Aspen
The air quality in Aspen was “good” this past week. The AQI index for ozone ranged from 41 on Jan. 24-25-26 to 44 on Jan. 29 and 30.
- Colorado’s Division of Water Resources
- Bureau of Reclamation
- Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District
- Aspen Global Change Institute