Drought news: ‘Devastating drought forecast to persist through winter’ — USA Today


From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

For a massive portion of the nation — in almost every state west of the Mississippi River — drought is forecast to continue throughout the next several months: “The drought is likely to persist through the winter,” reports Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.

Beyond the winter, the forecast gets murky: “We’re expecting persistence of the drought through the winter months and through early spring, and with the climate signals being relatively weak … it’s very difficult to really say how the spring will materialize with regard to the drought outlook,” said Jon Gottschalck, a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center…

Parts of every state west of the Mississippi, except for soggy Washington state, are seeing some level of drought conditions. All of six states — Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado and Iowa — are entirely in a drought…

Other drought facts:

– In order for parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas to come out of their drought, they would need more than a foot of rain, according to the Climate Prediction Center.
– So far this year, Nebraska and Wyoming are enduring their driest year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
– NOAA reported that a drought severity index for the primary hard red winter wheat area (located mainly in Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas) last month reached its worst reading since the 1950s.

From the Associated Press via NBCNews.com:

While more than half of the continental U.S. has been in a drought since summer, rain storms had appeared to be easing the situation week by week since late September. But that promising run ended with Wednesday’s weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report, which showed increases in the portion of the country in drought and the severity of it. The report showed that 60.1 percent of the lower 48 states were in some form of drought as of Tuesday, up from 58.8 percent the previous week. The amount of land in extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst classifications — increased from 18.3 percent to 19.04 percent…

“What’s driving the weather? It’s kind of a car with no one at the steering wheel,” [Richard Heim, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center] said. “None of the atmospheric indicators are really strong. A lot of them are tickling around the edges and fighting about who wants to be king of the hill, but none of them are dominant.”[…]

The biggest area of exceptional drought, the most severe of the five categories listed by the Drought Monitor, centers over the Great Plains. Virtually all of Nebraska is in a deep drought, with more than three-fourths in the worst stage. But Nebraska, along with the Dakotas to the north, could still see things get worse “in the near future,” the USDA’s Eric Luebehusen wrote in Wednesday’s update. The drought also has been intensifying in Kansas, the top U.S. producer of winter wheat. It also is entirely covered by drought, and the area in the worst stage rose nearly 4 percentage points to 34.5 percent as of Tuesday. Much of that increase was in southern Kansas, where rainfall has been 25 percent of normal over the past half year.

The Eagle River Watershed Council is looking for restoration opportunities on the Colorado River in Eagle County #CORiver


From the Grand Junction Free Press (Tambi Katieb):

The Colorado River Restoration & Conservation Project is focused on identifying and implementing restoration and conservation projects on the Upper Colorado River reach in Eagle County. Identified projects will be ranked by ecological priority combined with community support.

The “blueprint” for the Colorado River project was the 2005 Eagle River Inventory & Analysis, also by CSU, which resulted in implementation of many habitat restoration, rehabilitation and conservation projects to the benefit of the ecological health of the Eagle River Watershed.

Literally, millions of dollars of investment have since been leveraged as a result of that work. Perhaps its most significant identified project — the restoration of the channelized Upper Eagle River through Camp Hale — has also just begun and already includes nearly 100 identified project stakeholders.

Field work for the Colorado River Restoration & Conservation Project began this fall to inventory and assess the state of the river, its tributaries, and surrounding riparian area. Data so far collected includes water quality and temperature, macroinvertebrates, and riparian plant survey. The Eagle River Watershed Council has held several stakeholder meetings and is finding that interest in the potential restoration projects continues to expand, especially in light of the many challenges the Upper Colorado River faces as it continues to serve often competing demands.

The project has received broad support including from the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Eagle County and its Open Space Program, and Colorado State University. The total project cost is $188,577. With the recommendation of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, $90,000 of the funding is coming from the Colorado Water Conservation Board through the state’s Water Supply Reserve Account.

While it is still too early for any preliminary results and recommendations of candidate restoration projects, data collection and analysis is well underway under the supervision of Dr. Brian Bledsoe.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

‘At the Kansas state line, the Arkansas River has been reduced to just a trickle’ — Chris Woodka

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flows in the Arkansas River are lower than usual this fall because of drought conditions and reservoir operations. In the Upper Arkansas River, flows are about half of normal for this time of year because the Bureau of Reclamation is not running the usual amount of water from Turquoise and Twin Lakes to free up space for storage of transmountain flows next spring. The reservoirs were drawn down this year in anticipation of refilling during spring runoff. But drought on both sides of the Continental Divide meant that the reservoirs did not fill to average levels.

Lake Pueblo was also drawn down throughout the summer months as water stored in accounts for both farms and cities was released. Winter water storage, which allows canals to store Arkansas River flows from Nov. 15­March 15, will begin to refill Lake Pueblo, but has not affected the flow below Pueblo Dam as much as it would in a typical year.

The river has been at minimal flows since late June.

“Our goal is to maintain 75 cubic feet per second below Pueblo Dam through the winter water program. That’s a little lower than usual, but those are the circumstances,” said Steve Witte, state Water Division 2 engineer.

The flow, measured by releases from the dam and at the state fish hatchery, usually would be targeted for 100

All exchanges of water into Pueblo from Fountain Creek are being curtailed.

The reusable return flows from Colorado Springs are being stored through the Colorado Canal in Lake Meredith. Winter water that normally would be stored on Holbrook or Fort Lyon systems also is being stored in Lake Meredith.

Some winter water also is being stored in John Martin Reservoir, both for the state program and under the Arkansas River Compact.

At the Kansas state line, the Arkansas River has been reduced to just a trickle

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo should be able to weather another year of drought, but was forced to draw down its storage in 2012.

“We’re in a good position if there is a continued drought,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager. “Water that is normally leased will be put in storage next year.”

Pueblo had 27,500 acrefeet in storage in mid­October, compared with about 43,600 acre­feet at the same time last year.
“It’s the lowest storage level we’ve had since May of 2005, but the lowest in October since 2003,” Ward said. “It’s still twice what we had in 2002.”

The difference is Fryingpan­Arkansas Project water. The water board had not used its 10 percent allocation of Fry​Ark imports prior to 2002. About two­thirds of the water that remains in storage is from Fry­Ark allocations over the past decade.

The Fry­Ark project brings water to the Arkansas River basin from the Colorado River, and provides 31,200 acre­ feet of storage space for the water board in Lake Pueblo.

So far this year, snowpack is 23 percent of average in the Arkansas River basin, and 28 percent in the Colorado River basin. It’s still too early in the snow season to determine what kind of year is ahead, however.

While the water board plans to fill long­term contracts for leased water next year, it will not offer spotmarket water leases. The long­term contracts have higher rates, partially offsetting the revenue loss from the spot leases.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Arkansas River Basin: Project hopes to show that Kansas v. Colorado consumptive use calculations are too low


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While a research project is attempting to determine better information on how much water crops use, its results are not directly applicable to farming realities in the Arkansas Valley. “There is a stark difference between irrigation on the lysimeter and the surrounding fields,” said Allan Andales, extension specialist for Colorado State University.

The lysimeter project at the Colorado State University Research Center at Rocky Ford uses a scale to weigh a 10­by­10­foot block of soil 8 feet deep to determine how much water is consumed by crops planted on it. So far, alfalfa has been the only crop tested.

The state is funding the project in an attempt to prove that consumptive use of water by Arkansas Valley crops is higher than assumed in the model adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Kansas v. Colorado case over the Arkansas
River Compact. That would mean well owners would have to repay less water.

The model adopted in the case relies on information from field tests in Idaho.

Area farmers are encouraged that the results have shown that nearly all of the water is consumed. This could also affect the model used in 2010 surface irrigation rules by reducing the amount of return flows in the state’s assumptions. In a presentation Wednesday to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Andales compared the lysimeter to a “flower pot” that has little interaction with the surrounding fields. Like plants grown in pots, it is likely the alfalfa grown on the lysimeter has become root­bound. Watering on the lysimeter is 99 percent efficient, because there is no way for the water to drain, as it does in the open fields. The efficiency in the fields is roughly 50 percent.

The lysimeter plants are watered at an optimal level, using a hose, while the furrow irrigation in the surrounding fields only captures about 64 percent of water running in the ditch, Andales added.

The lysimeter also fails to account for groundwater tables. Roots of alfalfa plants can use water 10 feet or deeper. Still, alfalfa grown on the lysimeter shows a consumptive use of up to 58 inches of water annually, more than twice what area farmers are able to apply in many years. At that rate, the yield would be about 8 tons per acre, dry weight — productivity that has rarely been seen in the valley. “It’s amazing that alfalfa can use almost 60 inches of water in a year,” Andales said.