Drought/runoff news: ‘We [Rio Grande Basin] are in trouble’ — Pat McDermott #COdrought



From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Current water conditions in the Rio Grande Basin are not the worst they’ve ever been — but close. “We are in trouble,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Staff Engineer Pat McDermott told members of the Rio Grande Roundtable yesterday.

He said runoff peaks in other parts of the state were about the third week of May. The Rio Grande Basin peaked in March. Of 10 SNOTEL (SNOwpack TELemetry) basin sites only one still had snow at the end of May, he said…

The June 1st forecast for the Rio Grande is only 300,000 acre feet, or 46 percent of the long-term average. Last year’s streamflow on the Rio Grande was 406,000 acre feet, and that was not a stellar year. A normal year would run 620,000 acre feet. That 300,000-acre-foot forecast puts 2013 as the fourth worst year on record, as long as records have been kept since 1890. The drought year of 2002 was the worst year with only 154,000 acre feet on the Rio Grande, 1902 the second worst year with 210,000 acre feet and 1977 the third worst year with 215,000 acre feet, “and now here we are on the Rio Grande with the fourth worst year ever,” McDermott said.

The only positive thing about not having much water is the obligation to downstream states is practically nil. McDermott said of the predicted 300,000 acre feet on the Rio Grande, only 75,000 acre feet will be required by the Rio Grande Compact to be sent downstream to New Mexico and Texas. That translates to a mere 4-percent delivery obligation during the irrigation season…

The forecast for the Conejos River system is currently 130,000 acre feet or 40 percent of the long-term average. Last year’s annual flow was 175,000 acre feet. Of the 130,000 acre feet, the Conejos system owes 12,000 acre feet to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact. That requires zero curtailments during the irrigation season, and Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten will likely extend the irrigation season on the Conejos well into December because no additional water will be required to go downstream in the winter months, McDermott explained.

Not that the downstream states couldn’t use additional water. The Elephant Butte Reservoir, the Rio Grande Compact’s main storage reservoir in New Mexico, has less than one-tenth its total capacity in storage right now. The reservoir can hold about 2 million acre feet and currently has 187,000 acre feet in storage…

Not able to create more moisture but hopefully make better use of the Valley’s water was a proposal for future funding to help improve snowpack and streamflow forecasting. The Conejos Water Conservancy District is taking the lead on a pilot project to improve forecasting in the Rio Grande Basin. The Colorado Water Conservation Board believes so much in its potential it has preapproved $215,000 towards the $544,000 project. Conejos Water Conservancy District Manager Nathan Coombs said his district would also be seeking $237,000 from state and basin water supply reserve accounts that along with some other funding will pay for this project.

From the Associated Press via the Carlsbad Current-Argus:

[New Mexico] Legislators were told Monday by the State Engineers Office that the precipitation outlook for June to August is likely below normal for the eastern two-thirds of New Mexico and the odds favor above normal temperatures for most of New Mexico. That’s based on the latest long-term forecast from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, which says drought is expected to continue or intensify in New Mexico through the end of August.

The State Engineers Office said precipitation was 47 percent of normal statewide from January to April.

From 9News.com (Kevin Torres):

Nearly 50,000 acres of land in Colorado have failed due to dry conditions, according to the State Department of Agriculture. Last year, that number was around 27,000. While the Department of Agriculture can’t pinpoint where all of that land has failed, the department does say it’s likely all along the eastern plains.

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