Photo by Jennifer Blazis Photography

Have you ever found yourself by a river thinking, “Wow, this year, the river seems to be so much higher!” But what does “this year” really mean in the world of water and why should you even care about this concept known as a water year?

What’s a Water Year?

First things first, a water year isn’t your regular January-to-December kind of year. Nope, it’s a bit different. A water year begins on October 1st and ends on September 30th of the next year. Feels like a strange concept, right? But there’s a good reason for it—a scientific one! True water action starts in the fall, not in January, and precipitation that falls later in the year, combined with summer rain makes up the water year. Scientists use water years to keep track of how much water falls from the sky (in the form of rain or snow) in specific areas like the headwaters of the Colorado River. This information is used in determining how it is used or protected.

Why Does It Matter?

Now, you might be wondering why you should care about water years. Well, water is super important! It’s not just for drinking; it helps our crops grow, keeps our rivers flowing and supports wildlife like beavers, trout and elk. So, understanding how much water we have is crucial for all sorts of things, from farming to angling and rafting. It is also crucial to know the stream flows in order to protect the environment.

Measuring Stream Flows

Okay, here’s the fun part! During a water year, scientists use all sorts of sophisticated gadgets to measure how much water is in our rivers and streams. They use devices like flow meters and rain gauges to figure out how fast streams are flowing and how much water they carry. It’s basically embarking on a watery detective mission! 

Why Rivers and Streams?

They might just look like gentle, flowing ribbons of water, but they’re essential. They’re like nature’s plumbing system, carrying water to where it’s needed. They are measured to make sure there’s enough water for people, animals and plants to survive.

So, there you have it—a water year is like a special calendar for keeping tabs on Mother Nature’s waterworks. It helps us make smart decisions about how we use water and take care of our environment. Pretty cool, right? Next time you’re near a river or stream, you’ll know a little secret about how we keep track of water all year round.