Snowpack/drought news: The storm last weekend helped but did not alleviate drought conditions #codrought



From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While a windy snowstorm made driving difficult last weekend, it did little to relieve drought conditions for Colorado. In fact, the state’s drought task force says it would have to snow nearly three times as much as normal just to bring snowpack to average levels by mid-April. “It is unlikely that this will be achieved. Consequently, water providers are preparing for continued drought conditions throughout the spring and summer and some have announced restrictions,” said Taryn Finnessey of the Colorado Water Conservation Board in the most recent state drought report Snowpack failed to improve much after storms Saturday through Monday, remaining at just 79 percent of normal statewide. In the Arkansas River basin, snowpack is at 75 percent, while it is at 80-82 percent in most areas of the Colorado River basin. The Rio Grande was listed at 78 percent and the South Platte at 70 percent.

If there is any good news, it’s that the snow has not begun to melt off, like it did at this time last year, because temperatures have been cooler than normal.

The bad news is that reservoir storage is only 71 percent of average and 39 percent of capacity statewide. Last year, storage was about normal. Streamflows are projected to be only 50-70 percent of average for the spring and early summer. The threemonth forecast is calling for hotter, wetter than average conditions across most of the state.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the entire state is in some stage of drought, with the most extreme levels on the Eastern Plains and in the Arkansas Valley.

Farmers are bracing for another tough year — the third in drought. “Some have got the ground bedded out, ready to plant if it starts to rain,” said John Schweizer, a Rocky Ford farmer for more than 50 years. He said most are trying to save the hay crops they have and would plant cheaper feed called “hay grazer.” Cattle selling is likely to continue as the drought deepens. “A lot of people have sold down their herds, and we will too if this keeps up,” Schweizer said. “This is as bad as I’ve seen it, and I’ve been around awhile.”

From The Mountain Mail (Casey Kelly):

Dry conditions continue to persist in Chaffee County and throughout the state, but forecasts of moisture and cooler temperatures this spring could ease the drought’s grip. Arkansas River basin snowpack is 75 percent of normal and 90 percent of the basin’s snowpack a year ago, according to a Thursday report to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Water Availability Task Force.

The average peak date for snowpack is April 10 but tends to come earlier in drought years, the report said.

Year-to-date precipitation as of Thursday was 70 percent of average and 80 percent of the basin’s precipitation a year ago, which was bolstered by February precipitation that was 92 percent of average for the month.

Reservoir storage in the Arkansas River basin is currently at 55 percent of average and 19 percent of capacity. This time last year, reservoir storage was at 89 percent of average.

Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Manager Terry Scanga said Friday it is still too early to forecast the full extent of the drought in the county and what impact it may have on those with water rights. “If we keep getting storms, it could turn around. It has happened before,” he said. “You always have to be optimistic. In 2001, we were on track for a horrible year all the way up until the first or second week in May, when we had 5 feet of snowfall. That changed our whole summer,” Scanga said.

The time in which snow runoff begins “is going to be critical,” he said, and if the county continues to see colder weather, especially at night, it could extend the snowpack runoff later into summer. If not, Scanga said water rights going back to 1884 or further could be affected this year, and the frequency and length of the impacts could be worse than last year. If agriculture water rights are affected, people can expect to see higher crop prices, which could lead to higher prices of food, especially since the drought is currently affecting much of the southwest U.S., Scanga said. If municipalities’ water rights are affected, Scanga said he expects to see more water-restricting measures in those areas.

Klaus Wolter, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Diagnostics Center and the University of Colorado Boulder, forecast an increase in moisture over the coming months in Thursday’s report. “My forecast for April-June 2013 is fairly confident that most of Colorado will see above-normal moisture, especially toward the Four Corners region,” Wolter wrote in his report. “This is in stark contrast to 2012, and supported by skillful forecasts over the last decade.”

Wolter said people should hope for the wettest outcome, but prepare for the driest, especially if this year’s growing season is as hot as last year’s. “The one saving grace of 2013 so far is much cooler weather than last year,” he said. He also reported the next 2 weeks could also bring cooler-than-normal temperatures. “The next 2 weeks hold the promise of an active storm track and ‘normal’ to much-below normal temperatures, especially over the next 5 days,” he said.

The statewide Surface Water Supply Index value for the Arkansas basin in February was minus 3.3, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ March 21 report. For context, a score of zero indicates near-normal surface water supply and a score of minus 4 indicates severe drought. The Surface Water Supply Index, known as SWSI, is developed by the Division of Water Resources and is used as an indicator of mountain-based water supplies in major river basins in the state. SWSI values for every basin in the state decreased last month, while “drought conditions continue to be widespread throughout the state,” according to the division’s report. The Arkansas basin’s SWSI value dropped 0.2 from January, making it the most drought-impacted basin in the state behind the Colorado basin, which recorded an SWSI value of minus 3.4 in February. “Snowpack accounts for the majority of the SWSI in the Arkansas basin and was very low,” the report said. “Water year cumulative precipitation, the other major component of the Arkansas basin’s winter SWSI, was also very low.”

Reservoir storage in the Pueblo Winter Water Program totaled 60,113 acre-feet at the end of February, which is 53 percent of last year’s storage to date and 48 percent of the past 5-year average, the report said. Conservation storage in John Martin Reservoir had accumulated 4,453 acre-feet through last month, 30 percent of the 15,070 acre-feet accumulated by the end of February last year. “Lack of availability of municipal leased water and expected reductions in yield of other replacement sources have caused each major well association to submit replacement plans at the end of February that project from zero to 30 percent pumping allocations,” the report stated.


Colorado’s largest water utility is poised to declare a Stage 2 drought, meaning mandatory watering restrictions would kick in Monday. Denver Water’s board intends to make the declaration Wednesday. That would mean that starting next week, customers will be assigned two days per week for lawn watering. Several watering rules also would take effect, including no lawn watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m…

Colorado Springs Utilities also is limiting outdoor watering to two days per week, on designated days, starting Monday.

From the Western Governors Association and NOAA (Carlee Brown/Toni Parham):

Drought conditions remain in much of the West, but improvement is likely for Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, according to the most recent Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook.

The Outlook features predictions for drought conditions through June, including drought development in Northern California, a region that experienced one of its driest January-February periods on record this year. Additionally, the Outlook includes a snapshot of recent precipitation and snowpack measurements, as well as a summary of climate events from the winter season.

The Outlook also highlights key bills in Congress that can help western states prepare for drought and flooding. Already, Congress has demonstrated the importance of weather and climate monitoring by including a $150 million budget increase for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Continuing Resolution (CR) passed last week. The funding will support satellites, monitoring, and weather forecasting.

The Outlook is a quarterly publication that was developed by the WGA and NOAA after the two organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in June 2011. WGA and NOAA have also co-sponsored two regional meetings, one in the Pacific Northwest and one in the Upper Missouri basin.

All of the maps and information presented in the Outlook are also available from the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), which provides a number of online drought information tools at Western Governors were instrumental to the passage of NIDIS in 2006. NIDIS is currently up for reauthorization by Congress.

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