Drought/runoff/snowpack news: May 22, 2012 drought update from the CWCB


Here’s the drought update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Veva DeHeza):

April 2012 was the fourth warmest on record (records date back to 1895). While May has been slightly cooler, temperatures remain above average, exacerbating persistently dry conditions on the west slope and throughout the San Luis Valley. May precipitation along the Front Range corridor has improved. However, municipalities are reporting increased demand and expect to see storage levels drop if conditions persist. Evapotranspiration rates on the Eastern Plains resemble levels expected for mid-summer months. Many irrigators are using more water than normal for this time of year. All major basins have seen significant declines in snowpack. All continue to be below normal for the year. Extreme drought conditions have been introduced in the Yampa, Colorado and Gunnison River basins per the U.S. Drought Monitor. Governor Hickenlooper has expanded Drought Mitigation and Response Plan to include this region.

 The last two months temperatures have been five degrees above average for most of Colorado, with some areas experiencing temperatures 6-10 degrees above normal.

 The Colorado and Yampa River basins both have the lowest May 1st snowpack on record (45 year record), with 21% and 17% of average respectively. Both were also near record high this time last year.

 Reservoir storage remains strong throughout most of the state, at 112% of average. The Gunnison River Bain has thehighest percent of average storage at 124%, while the Rio Grande has the lowest at 70% of average.

 As of the May 22, 2012 US Drought Monitor, 96% of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought classification.D1, moderate drought, conditions remain in much of the southern Colorado, while the northern and central mountains are now classified as D2, severe, and D3 extreme drought conditions. Pockets of D2 also exist in the San Luis Valley and Crowley County.

 The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values range from -4 in the North Platte headwaters to -1.93 in the Big Thompson. The South Platte River Basin, which encompasses the Big Thompson sub-basin, is the only river basin that is predominantly weighted with reservoir storage this time of the year. With storage strong values appear slightly higher. All SWSI values throughout the state, utilizing the revised methodology, are negative.

 Some drought indicators, in portions of the state, show conditions worse than 2002, such as the SWSI for Yampa/White and Arkansas basins, which indicates less surface water supply in 2012 than 2002.

 La Niña conditions weakened to neutral. A full transition to El Niño is not expected this spring, but could occur later this summer. El Niño conditions would favor more moisture for the state.

 The long term forecast for late summer (July-September) shows a tilt towards wet conditions covering most of southern Colorado, near-normal moisture over the northwestern portion of our state, and a slight tilt towards wetness in northeast Colorado.

 Producers are already anticipating a low wheat harvest and rangeland conditions are poor. Dry land farmers are the most impacted at this time, although irrigators are reporting needing more water than normal for this time of year.

 Fire danger remains above normal for the western portion of the state.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

In response to conditions, Gov, John Hickenlooper has ordered expanded activation of the statewide drought mitigation and response plan. Counties in the Yampa, White, Colorado and Gunnison basins could see severe drought-related economic impacts, and other sectors of the state’s economy may also be affected if current weather trends continue, Hickenlooper wrote in a May 21 memo the heads all state government agencies.

Based on Hickenlooper’s order, a drought task force will start to meet regularly and state departments will assign senior-level managers to coordinate the drought response. More information on Colorado’s drought plans are online at the Colorado Water Conservation Board website.

A May 21 update from the Colorado Water Availability Task Force outlines other effects of the warm, dry spring, including evapotranspiration rates on the eastern plains that are normally seen in mid-summer. That means the soil is losing moisture fast, upping demand from irrigators. Some drought indicators, including water supply and runoff forecasts, are worse than in 2002, the last significant drought in the state. Producers in the agricultural sector are already anticipating a low wheat harvest and rangeland conditions are poor. Dry land farmers are the most impacted at this time, although irrigators are reporting needing more water than normal for this time of year.

Here’s a release from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):

Eagle River Water and Sanitation District customers are reminded that the normal Water Use Regulations apply year-round. The regulations govern how water is used, particularly outdoors, within Eagle River Water & Sanitation District’s service area.

“The district is responsible for protecting an adequate supply of water to its customers,” said General Manager Linn Brooks. “We promote efficient use of water at all times, but given this year’s potential water supply challenges, every customer can lessen the impact of the drought to our community by carefully considering their outdoor water needs.”

As part of the district’s general rules and regulations, the Water Use Regulations are rooted in Colorado water law and state that “water shall be used for beneficial purposes only and shall not be wasted.” This is primarily achieved by watering no more than three days per week and avoiding outdoor water use during hot and windy times of day, when water is lost to evaporation.

The complete Water Use Regulations are available at www.erwsd.org

The district encourages customers to have their irrigation systems properly maintained because water is wasted if sprinkler heads or lines are broken or are spraying onto driveways or roads.

From The Norwood Post (Ellen Metrick):

“We’re getting customers ready for whatever’s coming down the pike,” said Town of Norwood Administrator Patti Grafmyer. The water situation this year isn’t much different from 2002, the year of the Burn Canyon Fire and town water restrictions that eventually allowed only indoor water use. That summer, the town pulled water from the San Miguel River under its conditional water right, and trucked it up to the mesa, where customers could fill tanks to water trees and shrubs.

As for gardeners in this dry year, Grafmyer said, “Hopefully they will think about how and what they plant.”

From the Snowmass Sun (Jill Beathard):

With the low amount of snow this year, it’s a bit early to run commercial rafting trips on area rivers fed by runoff. But Snowmass-based Blazing Adventures is taking trips on the Colorado River, which has the best whitewater in the state right now, according to rafting guide Ben Whitaker. “Because it’s dam-controlled they can release the water,” Whitaker said. “They get it to a decent flow, and they can maintain that flow.”

From the Associated Press via Steamboat Today:

Matthew Aleksa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction forecast office, said a strong low-pressure system that moved through Nevada and into northern Utah before pushing its way toward Idaho overnight Saturday brought the strong and sustained winds that plagued much of Colorado, including Routt County, on Saturday. Those winds also blew dust into the sky, significantly reducing visibility in cities like Steamboat Springs. Aleksa said smoke from wildfires in neighboring states could have contributed to the haze but that the primary cause is airborne dust.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Scott N. Miller):

Diane Johnson, communications manager for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said people in her office have said Gore Creek through Vail seems to have peaked for the season. The same is true farther down the Colorado River system. Eagle County Public Works Director Tom Johnson has been told the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs peaked earlier in May. Rivers are running at a relative trickle for this time of year across Western Colorado. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey’s streamflow map showed just one local stream — Homestake Creek — running above its normal flow for May 25.

Streamflow is important for Eagle County, since there are only a few high-elevation reservoirs for use later in the season. That’s why water managers are keeping a close eye on streamflows.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Steamboat weather observer Art Judson said Thursday that he has recorded 0.62 inches of precipitation in May at his weather station between downtown and the ski area. That leaves a little less than a week to catch up to the average May precipitation of 2.08 inches. In a typical month of May, a little snow on Mount Werner translates into cold rain at lower elevations and hits the sweet spot for the grass hay that dominates the meadows of the Yampa Valley. This year is a little different.

“The soil temperatures have climbed to the point that the growth pattern is different this year,” Hagenbuch said. The hay is further along in its growth cycle than normal, and farmers and ranchers are scrambling to irrigate earlier than they typically would. Water is in the creeks and rivers now, but it won’t be for much longer.

If there’s a silver lining, Hagenbuch said, it’s that calving season was easy this spring and the fences didn’t need mending because of the scarcity of the snowpack. That gives hay growers more time to monitor their irrigation ditches…

He is wary that a little later in the summer, the return flows from hay fields that replenish the river in most seasons won’t restore enough water to the stream for each successive hay grower down the chain to get the water their fields need.

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