John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program, says there are signs that years of work could be at risk.
The normal staid diplomacy of Colorado River managers was upended in a spat between Denver Water and the Central Arizona Project.
Most of Colorado also is under severe drought and almost all of the Texas Panhandle is seeing extreme drought or worse conditions.
“In an extreme dust year, we can see the snowpack disappear on the order of 2 months early,” said Jeff Deems of the University of Colorado.
Snowpack is decent near the Continental Divide. But places farther south are setting new records for lack of snow.
"We still remain behind typical conditions for this time of year in terms of open terrain and base depth," said Vail CEO Rob Katz.
Overall, the river serves more than 40 million people in cities, farms and tribes in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Mexico also gets a share.
2016 was the hottest year on record since scientists began tracking global temperatures in 1880. In Colorado, it was the 5th hottest year on record.
One of the worst recorded droughts in human history has stretched water supplies thin across the far-reaching Colorado River basin, which serves 40 million people.