Drought/runoff news: Greeley June precipitation = 1/3 of an inch #COdrought

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Well below average rainfall in June put the Greeley area back in the “drought” category, and also evaporated some of the optimism local farmers had earlier in the growing season.

Weld County and the rest of the South Platte River basin entered June with a snowpack that was about 50 percent above normal. The snowmelt from the mountains, farmers thought at the time, would keep their irrigation ditches running with water well into the summer.

But the Greeley area last month received about one-third of an inch of rain — less than 20 percent of the historic average — and the dry conditions forced some local farmers to use more of their irrigation water than originally anticipated.

Northern Colorado is now back in a “moderate drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, after it had briefly shaken its drought status in early June.

The lack of rain and increased use of irrigation water last month now has ditch levels dropping, local farmers say. “If we don’t get some decent rains in the next 10 days to two weeks, things could get ugly pretty quickly,” said Dave Eckhardt, a LaSalle-area grower of corn, onions, sugar beets and wheat.

Storm clouds rolled into the Greeley area only a few moments after Eckhardt made those comments Monday afternoon, and rains were expected again Friday and Saturday. Local farmers are hoping it will be enough to keep their crops growing, since irrigation water for some of them might run out before the end of the growing season.

Artie Elmquist, a Mead-area farmer, said he’s wanting to see 60-70 percent of his sugar beet crop survive. He got a late start planting this year because rains in April and May muddied his fields. The June dryness set in not long after he finally planted his beets. He’s typically finished planting in April, and then uses May rains to get the crop growing out of the ground. But this year, with June giving him little moisture to work with, he had to irrigate his crop out of the ground — something he has to do only once every 10 years or so, he noted. Crop insurance can help, if it stays dry and his crops suffer, Elmquist said. But, in many cases, insurance payments only help re-coup some of the farmer’s input costs. “You’re certainly much better off if you can just grow a crop,” Elmquist said.

Despite the lack of rain last month and increased water use, overall conditions are so far better now than they were a year ago, Eckhardt and Elmquist said. In 2012, the two irrigation ditches that run water to Eckhardt’s fields ran dry by mid-June. On one ditch, the Eckhardts could use extra water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado. Last year, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board of directors, which oversees C-BT operations, set a high water quota, and that freed up additional water for the Eckhardts and other farmers in the region. However, the other irrigation ditch used by the Eckhardts doesn’t have access to C-BT water, and last year the Eckhardts had to let 700 acres of crops along that ditch dry up.

Since the C-BT Project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota each year to balance how much water could be used through the growing seasons and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The Northern Water board upped its water quota to 100 percent last year, because reservoirs were filled to historically high levels, thanks to a record snowpack in 2011. But that extensive use during the 2012 drought drained some of the C-BT Project’s 12 reservoirs to historically low levels, and they now need to be filled back up, Northern Water board members have said.

Cities in the area, which in many years lease extra water to local farmers, are also holding on tight to their water, trying to re-fill their low reservoirs. Additionally, a number of farmers in the area are limited in their ability to pump water out of the ground to make up for any lack of rain. In the mid-2000s, augmentation requirements were made more stringent in Colorado. Augmentation water is required to make up for depletions to the aquifer. With those changes, many farmers and their irrigation ditch companies today can’t afford enough augmentation water to get their wells pumping at full capacity. With groundwater-pumping limitations and city officials and Northern Water board members reluctant to release water from their reservoirs, farmers are left to hope that Mother Nature cooperates better in the upcoming months than it did in June.

Helping a number of farmers, including Alan Frank, who farms near LaSalle, is the fact that they planted more acres of wheat — a crop that requires less water. Many farmers in Weld County doubled or even tripled their wheat acres back in the fall, anticipating water-availability issues when the spring and summer rolled around. “It’s helped save water,” Frank said of growing more wheat this year. “But we’re still going to need more help from the weather to make sure everything else can survive.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

If you thought June was exceptionally hot and dry . . . Not even close. In terms of temperatures, it was just the seventh hottest June since record-keeping began in the 1890s. But June can be very dry in many years, and it was only the 16th driest on record. The average temperature for the month was 74.3 degrees, which is well above the average of 70 degrees. The hottest June was 77 degrees in 2012.

Just 0.27 inches of rain fell in June. In June 1990, the driest, there was no rainfall. Try telling that to your lawn or garden. So far this year, Pueblo has received just 2.2 inches of precipitation, even less than at this time last year, which ranked right behind 2002 as the driest.

Puebloans poured water on their lawns, but not as much as last year. The 1.3 billion gallons pumped by the Board of Water Works was 3 percent above average, but 7 percent lower than last year. Pueblo is not under water restrictions, but wise use of water still is encouraged and customers are advised to avoid watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Meanwhile, flows on the Arkansas River have dropped as runoff slowed in the past two weeks. The flow near Salida was 776 cubic feet per second at the end of June, about one-third of the peak reached earlier in the month.

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project is close to meeting its goal of 47,231 acre-feet of imported water across the Continental Divide. So far, about 44,750 acre-feet have been brought over, which is helping to fill some of the holes left in reservoirs by three years of drought. But hot, dry weather is expected to continue, so levels should continue to decline until winter storage begins in November.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

After a short-lived burst of late spring moisture, much of Colorado is veering back toward drought conditions, with soil moisture declining in many parts of the state. Even the north-central mountains, which saw above-average precipitation in late April and May, are drying out again, and parts of Summit and Grand counties are once again designated as experience “moderate” drought conditions, according to the June 18 drought monitor. The far southwestern corner of the state slipped back into “extreme” drought conditions…

Nearly all of the state (with the exception of a tiny area in the far southeastern corner) saw less than 50 percent of average June precipitation, which isn’t very high to begin with. A significant portion of western Colorado received less that 25 percent of average precipitation for the month.

June temperatures were near average across much of the mountains, but slightly warmer than average to the west and east of the Continental Divide…

For Summit County, the second half of July and the first part of August is often one of the wettest periods of the year — if the Southwest monsoon develops normally to deliver periodic afternoon thunderstorms.
Late August and September can go either way. An extended monsoon can sometimes persist through late August, and a developing El Niño can bring autumn moisture, but there’s no indication yet that an El Niño is forming out in the Pacific Ocean. In fact, most long-term climate models are suggesting that the equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures will continue to hover near neutral or perhaps slightly below, with better odds for yet another La Niña year, continuing a string that’s somewhat unprecedented in recent times.

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