Drought news: ‘Nine of the past 13 years have produced below-average flows in the Colorado River’ — John Hazlehurst



Click on the thumbnail graphics for Klaus Wolter’s graphical depiction of second-year La Niña natural streamflow at Lees Ferry in Arizona and a Summit Daily News photo of Dillon Reservoir in 2002. Klaus’ chart will need an update after this record breaking year. Let’s hope that Dillon Reservoir won’t get as low.

Here’s a column from John Hazlehurst writing for the Colorado Springs Indpendent. Here’s an excerpt:

Droughts are the new normal in much of the West. The effects of global warming are being felt in higher temperatures, smaller snowpacks, diminished runoff and reduced stream flows. We have fire — we don’t have rain. Ten years ago, it was possible to dismiss the most pessimistic predictions of climate scientists as theoretical scare-mongering, but no longer.

Reality conforms to those predictions, with one exception: It’s happening a lot sooner than predicted. Nine of the past 13 years have produced below-average flows in the Colorado River, and that pattern will likely persist and deepen. Last year’s bounteous snowpack filled reservoirs, but such events may become as rare as basin-wide droughts once were.

Colorado Springs gets 70 percent of its water from the Colorado River. Prolonged drought may mean permanent, severe water rationing, even with the Southern Delivery System online. Local water managers may make soothing pronouncements about water, saying the city has two years of consumption in storage, but on April 15 (the date of maximum readings), snowpack in the upper Colorado River Basin was 21 percent of normal. On June 1, it was 8.5 percent of normal. Those are the lowest levels ever recorded, rivaled only by those of 2002.

From the Summit Daily News (Caddie Nath):

Summit County water districts are preparing early for possible drought conditions this summer, implementing voluntary water restrictions, while the Summit Board of County Commissioners considers implementing a stage-one fire ban…The ban would apply only to unincorporated parts of Summit County, but Gibbs said the U.S. Forest Service is also considering a stage-one ban for the entire White River National Forest and it wouldn’t be unusual for the towns to follow suit…

Meanwhile, as dry conditions persist and the last of Summit County’s snowpack disappears, the Town of Frisco and the East Dillon Water District already have voluntary water restrictions in place. “We entered the year in our aquifer with higher than normal levels,” East Dillon Water District administrator Bob Polich said. “But they have dropped rapidly.”[…]

“In our case, we’re purely talking speculation because we’re in the peak of our aquifers right now,” Polich said. “We have to monitor when it gets to the end of July and August. There’re so many factors that are going to be involved (including) whether monsoonal flows come in July.”[…]

The Snake River water district is currently not under any kind of water restriction, although the policies are in place to implement restrictions if it becomes necessary. Water for the Snake River district is drawn from an alluvium and connected to a system of wells. Water levels have remained high enough to avoid restrictions…

Most of Summit County saw less than an inch of precipitation through the first three weeks of May, and some parts received less than half an inch. Recent drought maps put the better part of the county in the “severe” drought category, the third highest of six categories, according to data from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

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