Drought news: Southeastern Colorado — 2 years of drought is taking its toll

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the U.S. Drought Monitor nationwide maps from August 28 and last year on August 30.

Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

“If you have a well, you got some crop. The canal has been dry since mid-June,” said Dale Mauch, a Lamar farmer on the Fort Lyon Canal. “We started cutting corn (for silage) on July 5. It started out promising, with the first two cuttings of hay, but we didn’t get anything on the third cutting.”

This is the second year of drought in the Arkansas River basin, which is now listed in the exceptional drought category — the worst possible conditions — by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Farmers on some other ditches in the Arkansas Valley have been able to stretch native water supplies with water stored in winter water accounts, supplemental water from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project or water leased from Pueblo, Colorado Springs or Aurora…

The drought monitor this week listed two-thirds of Colorado in extreme drought, and the entire state in severe drought.

Precipitation in Pueblo has totalled 3.68 inches since January, about one third of average.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Even with drought conditions statewide this year, the city of Aurora is signing contracts to deliver extra water to customers outside the city — a dramatic change from the drought of 2002.

Then, as lack of snow sapped Colorado water supplies, Front Range cities and water districts instituted a wide range of water restrictions. Since then, many water providers — including Aurora — have ramped up water supply projects in hopes they won’t be caught short again.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

New Belgium Brewing is entirely at the mercy of Fort Collins’ water treatment plant when it comes to the viability of its business, and the speed with which the High Park Fire burn area is restored is vital to the brewery’s future, said Jenn Vervier, New Beligum’s director of sustainability and strategic development.

“The health of the watershed equals the quality of our beer,” she said.

That’s a big deal when it comes to being part of the High Park Fire Restoration Coalition, which held a public discussion Tuesday evening about the massive High Park Fire restoration effort about to kick off. The coalition, which also includes Colorado State University, Trout Unlimited, Poudre Wilderness Volunteers and other organizations, will embark on a years-long effort to stabilize the soil in the burn area, reseed the forest, restore trails and research post-wildfire ecological recovery. Restoration of the burn area is critical for Fort Collins’ water supply, much of which comes from the Poudre River, which runs directly through the burn zone.

Water quality in the Poudre, from which the city hasn’t taken any of its tap water since early June, is in trouble, said Fort Collins Water Manager Lisa Voytko. “Every time it’s rained, the river has turned black,” she said.

From the Thornton Sentinel (Tammy Kranz):

Thornton residents will be under mandatory water restrictions beginning Sept. 1. City Council unanimously passed a resolution Aug. 14 declaring a Stage 2 Drought Warning. A dry winter, low snowpack and earlier summer weather conditions have caused the city’s water storage to drop. The city is at 68 percent capacity, while usually by the end of August the city is at 80 percent, according to the city’s water resources manager Emily Hunt.

The water restrictions include banning watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., limiting turf irrigation to two days a week, and requiring people to obtain a permit for commercial and residential sod and seeding installation.

“Whenever you’re planning for your customers and for a community like Thornton, you always have to be looking to the future and making sure that the reserves…are as sufficient as you can make them to help you prepare going into the next year,” City Manager Jack Ethredge said.

From the Golden Transcript (Darin Moriki):

As the drought continues to plague the state, agricultural and livestock producers have seen feed prices skyrocket, causing many of them to thin their herds. That action may provide some temporary financial relief to consumers nationwide but also contributes to long-term concerns, experts say.

“When you reduce the size of your herd because of stressful conditions, you don’t rebuild that herd overnight,” Ron P. Carleton, Colorado Department of Agriculture deputy commissioner, said. “It takes time to build it back up, so we’re going to see the level of cattle probably drop here for at least a period of time.”

He said low precipitation and snowpack rates, combined with higher-than-normal temperatures, contributed to a low hay yield statewide. As a result, Carleton said, hay’s scarcity has forced stores to charge twice as much, if not more, for the crop than in other years.

At the American Pride Co-Op store in Brighton, farm store manager Dave Swanson said the store is currently charging customers $14 for a bale of alfalfa hay, $1 to $2 higher than last year. He said the store has enough locally produced alfalfa hay on hand for the winter months, but is only receiving about half of the cheaper grass hay that it would get in other years.

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