Drought news: ‘Historic flash drought of 2012 to continue into 2013’ — University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Here’s the release from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Kelly Smith/Steve Smith):

The drought that swept across wide areas of the United States in the past year was historically unusual in its speed, its intensity and its size, climatologists at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said this week.

And, they said, those dry conditions are expected to last at least through winter: Forecasts show little hope of quick improvement, deepening the negative effects on agriculture, water supplies, food prices and wildlife.

“We usually tell people that drought is a slow-moving natural disaster, but this year was more of a flash drought,” said Mark Svoboda, a center climatologist and an author of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor. “With the sustained, widespread heat waves during the spring and early summer coupled with the lack of rains, the impacts came on in a matter of weeks instead of over several months.”

The result, according to year-end Drought Monitor data: More than 60 percent of the contiguous 48 states and 50 percent of the entire country was in severe to extreme drought for significant portions of 2012, Svoboda said. This year marked the first occurrence in the 13-year history of the monitor that all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico experienced drought. In the past few months, it has receded slightly in the Midwest but remains entrenched in the Great Plains.

‘Almost the perfect storm’

While the current drought has been brutal, it has been short from a historical perspective, said Brian Fuchs, also a monitor author and center climatologist. But unique conditions earlier in the year set the stage for the unusually intense and widespread drought.

“It was almost the perfect storm this year, a mild winter without much precipitation and with early green-up, so plants were using moisture a month or more earlier than usual,” Fuchs said. “Then we had the heat of the summer, plus the fact that it was dry from mid-May onward.”

Earlier this year, forecasters expected an El Nino weather pattern would be in place, bringing rain to the southern United States. But the pattern fizzled, leaving North America with neutral — neither El Nino nor La Nina — conditions, making it difficult to anticipate a single large-scale weather pattern for this winter.

Neutral conditions indicate a lack of an established weather pattern, likely meaning big swings in temperature and precipitation across the country through the winter, Fuchs said. Many parts of the country would need a tremendous amount of snow and a very long winter to start putting a dent in this year’s moisture deficits. The odds for that type of winter to occur are roughly two in 10 at best, according to Al Dutcher, Nebraska state climatologist.

Effects of this year’s — and next year’s — drought

The first wave of drought impacts has been agricultural: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency said Dec. 10 indemnity payments for 2012 were at nearly $8 billion. The winter wheat crop outlook across the Great Plains has been reduced, and ranchers are scrambling to find feed for cattle. Hay prices have risen, likely meaning bigger grocery bills as meat and dairy prices climb in response.

The second wave of impacts is often hydrological: Lack of water flowing down the Missouri River is prompting states along the lower Mississippi to challenge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ river management, anticipating hardships for the river navigation industry and all who depend on it to deliver commodities to markets, and some of the Great Lakes are at or near record lows. Fuchs said it is likely those basins are going to be fairly dry through winter and into next year.

As of late December, 82 percent of the Missouri River basin and the upper Mississippi basin and a third of the lower Mississippi basin were in moderate drought or worse, drought center data showed.

Fuchs said that while severe hydrologic drought hasn’t yet hit the majority of the country, those who depend on older or single wells should check reliability now, before hot weather and the growing season increase water use. Farmers and ranchers may also consider potential savings from using better irrigation technology and no-till practices.

“In the Southeast and southern Plains, multiple years of drought have resulted in widespread hydrological drought issues with water supply and water quality as well as with declining storage and water tables,” he said. “In areas where the drought has been shorter, such as in the Midwest and Plains, there are some water systems that are already under stress and more impacts related to hydrologic drought will develop as the drought continues.”

Pueblo West Metro District approves 8% increase in water rates and a 13.5% increase in sewer rates


From The Pueblo West View (Christing Ina Casillas):

Water and wastewater rates…will change come Jan. 1 for Pueblo West residents now that the budget process has been completed and approved unanimously by the Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors.

The 2013 proposed budget calls for an increase in both water and wastewater rates. A rate study presented to the board in early 2012 anticipated an eight percent increase in water rates and a 13.5 percent increase in wastewater rates, according to the budget.

Four new staff members will be employed in the Water and Wastewater Department and will consist of three utility workers and a water conservation/pretreatment coordinator. The coordinator is tasked to develop, implement and evaluate conservation measure and programs, develop manageable water-use plan for high water consumption customers, among other duties, according to the budget.

Along with water and wastewater, the district approved capital projects in this year’s budget, including $1 million for the Southern Delivery System, $1.8 million for river pump station connection to SDS, $4.2 million for the construction of the Wild Horse pipeline and $1.5 for the completion of the construction of the bio-solid stabilization pons in the wastewater enterprise fun.

More infrastructure coverage here.

The Water Information Program winter 2012 newsletter is hot off the press


Click here to access a copy of the newsletter.

More education coverage here.

Snowpack news: Yampa and White River Basins still lead Colorado at 86% of today’s median value


Here’s the Colorado SNOTEL Snow/Precipitation Update Report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The snowpack in all but one of Colorado’s river basins is at least 15 percent below normal for this time of year, according to Friday morning U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service snowpack measurements.

“Most locations, we’re running 20-35 percent below average” for the water content of the snow, said meteorologist Mark Heuer, of DayWeather in Cheyenne.

The water content of the snow across the South Platte Basin, including the Poudre River watershed, was 74 percent of normal Friday. Locally, the best snowpack reading was at Joe Wright Reservoir along Colorado Highway 14, where the snowpack is 92 percent of normal.

The wettest river basin in the state is the Yampa River Basin, where the water content of the snow is only 12 percent below normal. The driest is the Arkansas River Basin, where the water content averages 36 percent below normal…

Statewide snowpack measuring stations associated with Colorado State University show that the deepest snowpack anywhere in Colorado on Friday was near Steamboat Springs, where 30 inches of snow were on the ground. Heuer said many places are seeing snow depth six to 12 inches below normal for this time of year.

Colorado Water 2012: ‘An inadequate supply of clean water threatens our economy and our way of life’ — Nicole Seltzer


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Nicole Seltzer):

When I embarked on planning a year-long celebration of Colorado’s water, I honestly did not know what to expect. Were there others out there who would help seize the opportunity? Would anyone pay attention to water for an entire year? As dozens of Colorado water professionals now help to wrap up Colorado’s “Year of Water,” I can proudly say, yes, we made a difference! More than 100 communities held Water 2012 events this year, reaching almost 550,000 Coloradans with a message of “celebrating water.”

There were library displays in Fort Collins, author talks in La Junta and Steamboat, fine art shows in Denver and Durango, newspaper series in Alamosa, Pueblo and Grand Junction, proclamations by Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and several city councils, children’s water festivals in numerous towns, and so much more.

When asked what difference Water 2012 made, those involved said it increased the exposure of residents in their communities to water information, which in turn strengthened their basic knowledge of the importance of water. The increase in water-related programs available in Colorado communities grew participation at water related events, as well as the number of people discussing water. All in all, Colorado is more “water literate” at the end of 2012 than it was at the beginning.

We also had an unexpected success. Nearly 90 percent of the water educators involved in Water 2012 strengthened their ties with other water educators. Never before had those charged with teaching Coloradans about water’s importance come together on a consistent basis to learn from each other.

Aside from increased water awareness and linkages between water educators, what is the legacy of Colorado’s Year of Water? I believe that the Colorado Water 2012 volunteers started something that will only grow bigger and better. While we won’t have “Water 2013” to keep us focused, Colorado’s water educators have seen what is possible when they come together as a community and create something whose whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.

Water is the lifeblood of Colorado. An inadequate supply of clean water threatens our economy and our way of life. From the family farmer to the ski resort executive, we all rely on this undervalued and often underappreciated resource.

My hope for Colorado in 2013 is that we sustain the momentum created in 2012 to continue educating our children and community leaders that we must make smart water choices in our lives.

I posted more that 100 times about Colorado Water 2012. You can take a trip down memory lane here.

CWCB annual instream flow workshop January 30


From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

The CWCB’s annual Instream Flow Workshop will be held on the afternoon of January 30, 2013 at the Marriot Denver Tech Center in conjunction with the Colorado Water Congress’ Annual Convention. While there is no fee for this particular workshop and registration with the Colorado Water Congress is not required, it is necessary to RSVP to rob.viehl@state.co.us by January 18th if you plan on attending.

Each year, the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section hosts an annual workshop that provides state and federal agencies and other interested persons an opportunity to recommend certain stream reaches or natural lakes for inclusion in the State’s Instream Flow (ISF) program. The entities that make ISF recommendations will present information regarding the location of new recommendations as well as preliminary data in support of the recommendation. There will be an opportunity for interested stakeholders to provide input and ask questions. This year’s workshop will include: (1) an overview of the ISF program and the new appropriation process; (2) discussion of pending ISF recommendations from previous years; and (3) discussion of the potential for CWCB staff, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM and other entities to form partnerships with the Basin Roundtables to use the ISF program as a potential mechanism to meet non-consumptive needs.

For a general overview of the new appropriation process, please visit: http://cwcb.state.co.us/environment/instream-flow-program/Pages/InstreamFlowAppropriations.aspx

Date: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Time: 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

  • Location:Marriot Denver Tech Center
  • Longs Peak Room
  • 4900 South Syracuse
  • Denver, Colorado 80237
  • More CWCB coverage here.

    Drought news: Colorado is not out of the woods yet, despite recent snowfall #COdrought


    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Don’t be fooled by all that cold snow covering the mountains overlooking the Grand Valley — the drought is still on.

    “It’s going to help out with every flake we get,” said John Kyle, data acquisition program manager for the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service. “But the drought is a much longer period” than the snow-covered days of recent weeks.

    The spate of snowstorms that covered western Colorado in recent days slowed, but hardly reversed, the dry trend of the last year.

    “Snowstorms this time of year don’t add much moisture” to the overall amount of water that collects in the high country over the winter and spring, Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “At this point we’re really waiting for March and April to bring real content to the picture.”

    The numbers so far bear that out, Kyle said.

    As of Wednesday, the Grand Valley had seen 9.2 inches of snowfall so far this water year, which began in October, and the moisture total of a little more than 4 inches was the third driest on record.

    For December so far, the valley has seen an accumulation of 0.97 of an inch of moisture.

    Even though forecasts called for 6 to 14 inches of snow to fall in the high country, and 2 to 6 inches in the Grand Valley, through Wednesday night and this morning, the long-term outlook is less than bright.

    Weather watchers had pinned some optimism on the development of an El Nino condition in the Pacific Ocean.

    The El Nino pattern feeds moisture from warm waters into the weather pattern that dominates the west side of the Continental Divide, “but those warm waters just disappeared,” leaving behind no discernible weather pattern, Treese said. “There’s no nino so far.”

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Snowfall in the West Elk and San Juan mountains has a long way to go before it begins making up for an arid 2012.

    The snows that blanketed western Colorado “just kept us on an average accumulation track,” said Erik Knight, hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation office in Grand Junction. “We didn’t really gain any ground back. Outside of a big change with the storm at the start of next week, I see December as an average snow accumulation month.”

    For the entire Gunnison Basin, snowpack is about 73 percent of average, while on the Colorado River side, it’s about 72 percent of average, Knight said.

    In the Upper Gunnison River Basin, the snowpack is 60 percent of average. The total is buoyed by high snowpack on Grand Mesa and the Uncompahgre Plateau, neither of which feeds into the major reservoirs the bureau operates on the Gunnison, including Blue Mesa. That reservoir, the state’s largest, was filled to 39 percent of capacity as of Thursday.

    The higher snowpack on Grand Mesa stands to benefit water suppliers in the Grand Valley, Knight said.
    Grand Junction officials will take their own measurements next week as the new year begins, said Rick Brinkman, water services manager.

    “We expect good numbers on the west side,” but the question mark is the east side of the mesa, Brinkman said.
    Two sites tracked by Ute Water Conservancy District show Mesa Lakes at 84 percent of average and Park Reservoir, farther east, at 79 percent of average.

    On the Colorado River side, where snowpack was reported to be 72 percent of average, the reporting sites tend not to be those over reservoirs, Knight said.

    From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Durango Herald:

    “It’s not quite good enough to pull us out of the drought, but at least (it’s) bringing temporary relief and optimism,” State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

    Snow levels were as low as 40 percent of average earlier this month in the state’s eight major river basins.

    On Thursday, the levels ranged from a low of 63 percent of average in the Arkansas River Basin to 85 percent in the Yampa and White river basins.

    “While those numbers aren’t great, they’re a big improvement over 2½ weeks ago,” Doesken said.

    A Christmas Eve storm brought widespread snow to Colorado, including 20 inches on some parts of Grand Mesa in western Colorado.

    On Thursday, Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 11 inches of new snow from another storm. Steamboat Springs reported 9 inches of new snow Thursday, and Winter Park reported 8 inches.

    Doesken said the forecast for the first part of 2013 doesn’t include much moisture, and the longer-range outlook is uncertain…

    “It doesn’t bode snowy, it doesn’t bode drought. It doesn’t bode average, either. It just bodes ‘We don’t know,’” he said.

    From ACCUWeather (Jillian Macmath):

    Following a year of severe drought across the United States, the precipitation from winter 2013 may not be enough to eradicate dry conditions and return the water supply to normal levels.

    The snow cover compared to last year on this date for the contiguous U.S., is significantly wider: approximately 65 percent versus last year’s 25 percent.

    The highest percentage of snow coverage in any month last year just barely reached 48 percent.

    But despite the seemingly wide coverage right now and talk of more snow to come, the U.S., will not be quick to recover.