Drought/runoff news: Most diverters will get far less water than average this water year

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Projections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show many canals will have only about one-third of the average run of water…

The Catlin is looking at only about 30 percent of its average deliveries, according to USDA projections based on May weather conditions. By early May, the snowpack in the Arkansas Valley had plummeted to 12 percent of average as what little was left of it began melting off early…

Water rights are administered by the state according to when diversions were first put to beneficial use. That means inequities between canals. For instance, the Catlin has 1875, 1884 and 1887 water rights that come into priority as river levels rise. The largest volume of water is delivered from the 1884 right, which is in priority now. “With the conditions we have this year, the Catlin’s 1884 right will be on the bubble much of the time,” Tyner said.

Other canals may fare better or worse, depending on their own water rights, the amount of water in storage and location on the river. For instance, the Bessemer Ditch, which has several senior rights prior to 1870, and a large junior 1887 right. Still, deliveries are expected to be at about 60 percent. The Buffalo Canal, located near Granada, has an 1885 decree — one of the oldest rights below John Martin Reservoir. It is expected to receive a nearly average amount of water this year. For the rest of the canals, the numbers drop.

From the Summit Daily News (Diane Johnson/Hannah Holm):

The U.S. Drought Monitor classifies drought intensity on a scale of D0 to D4. Most of Garfield and Rio Blanco counties were recently elevated to D3, becoming the only region in Colorado currently categorized as extreme. The covered area comprises 9.89 percent of the state.

Governor Hickenlooper expanded the activation of Colorado’s Drought Mitigation and Response Plan on May 21 to include the Yampa/White, Colorado, and Gunnison River basins. Phase 2 of the State plan was activated over a year ago due to deteriorating drought conditions in the Arkansas and Rio Grande River basins and it remains active for those portions of Colorado. Activation of the plan involves convening high level agency officials into a Drought Task Force charged with identifying drought impacts and “expeditious and effective” remedial actions.

According to the latest drought update from Colorado’s Water Availability Task Force, April 2012 was the fourth warmest on record in Colorado. March 2012 was the third warmest for Colorado and tied 1966 for the driest on record. Records date back to 1895. The last two months temperatures have been five degrees above average for most of Colorado. This winter’s warmer and drier than normal weather resulted in record low snowpack, which has been melting earlier than normal, leaving streamflow forecasts well below average.

Data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) showed the Colorado River basin had its lowest May 1 snowpack on record (45 year record) at 21 percent of average for that date; by June 5, provisional data showed it was down to 2 percent. The Gunnison River basin snowpack was just 18 percent of average for the date on May 1, with many monitoring sites already snow-free; by June 5, provisional data showed that it was down to 5 percent. With most of the snowpack already gone, streamflows are unlikely to improve. In May, the NRCS expected most of the state’s streams to produce only 20-40 percent of average volumes, with northern Colorado streamflow volumes expected to be 15-30 percent of average.

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