Drought news: Farmers are feeling the impact to winter wheat #COdrought


From The Greeley Tribune (Kristen Schmidt):

Above average spring moisture normally would have been a good sign for Weld County wheat farmers, but the moisture proved to be too little, too late. With a late harvest now rolling around, local farmers find themselves with lack luster crops and the threat of subpar yields. Minimal production is expected for the entire state.

According to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report, Colorado winter wheat production in 2013 is projected at only 51 million bushels, down 31 percent from the 73.8 million bushels produced last year, and down 29 percent from the 10-year average crop of about 72 million bushels. The estimate for the 2013 Colorado winter wheat crop is based upon only 1.5 million acres being harvested, which is the lowest harvested acres since 1965, with an average yield of 34 bushels per acre.

Late harvests are also being seen statewide. The USDA’s report estimated Colorado as 7 percent harvested, compared with 81 percent at this time last year, when harvest was dramatically earlier than normal. The five-year average for harvest at the beginning of July is around 25 percent complete.

According to Bruce Bosley, Colorado State University Extension crop system specialist, soil conditions and weather are to blame for winter wheat’s poor outlook. He explained that when wheat was drilled last fall, the soil was too dry. Dry soil combined with winter’s bitter cold and lack of moisture stunted the crops growth and development.

Curt Wirth, a New Raymer-area farmer, agrees that dry conditions combined with excessive cold disturbed root-system development and are the key contributors to this season’s delayed harvest. Wirth is expecting his fields to yield only two-thirds of the crop they produced last year.

Roggen-area farmer Vern Cooksey plans to start harvest this weekend and is only expecting 30-40 bushels per acre. Cooksey attributes lower yields in part to the hot dry spell that plagued the month of June.

Southeastern Colorado wheat farmers even more so find themselves struggling to stay afloat.

The USDA’s most recent report stated that “farmers in the southeastern growing areas of the state have already abandoned a large portion of the acreage seeded last fall due to continuing drought and spring freezes.”

Colorado Wheat Executive Director Darrell Hanavan expressed his concern for winter wheat in southeastern Colorado and attributes many of the acres included in the state’s 32 percent abandonment rate to acres lost south of Interstate 70.

Even in the face of a projected record low in acres harvested since 1965, Bosley noted that, in general, years with smaller yields tend to have higher protein content.

While it may not be much, producers are eager to take hold of whatever silver lining they can find in the face of this year’s tough growing season.

Colorado River Basin: ‘The realities of drought and climate change are increasing’ — Lisa Iams #ColoradoRiver


Here’s a guest column written by Alex and Fred Thevenin running in the Arizona Central. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

In Arizona, 25 percent of us use Colorado River water, with Phoenix relying on the river for half of its drinking water, and the section of the river coursing through the Grand Canyon is the economic engine for a thriving Arizona tourism economy.

As owners of a third-generation rafting company in Flagstaff that guides more than 60 Grand Canyon trips per year, the condition of the Colorado River is crucial — to our employees, our bottom line, and the thousands of other businesses that rely on the river to attract visitors and outdoor enthusiasts. We must find ways to adapt the region’s water needs in the face of challenges like lean-snow years, drought, increasing demand and other factors stressing the river system.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently released the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. Taking their lead from the study, Congress and federal agencies must follow through and build a future that includes healthy rivers, state-of-the-art water conservation for cities and agriculture, and water reuse and sharing mechanisms that allow communities to grow, prosper and adapt to water demands and availability.

This year, Congress should continue funding programs that drive sustainable water management, while protecting the river system and the communities, businesses and wildlife it supports. Specifically, we should prioritize funding in the Colorado River Basin to:

— Implement management decisions that maintain and restore flows necessary for natural habitats, wildlife and recreation.

— Support cost-effective investments in water technology and delivery like piped sprinkler and drip irrigation to our farms and ranches.

— Provide for urban water education and conservation programs. Reducing urban water consumption by just 1 percent annually — a rate municipal utilities have averaged for two decades — produces significant savings at very low cost.

— Continue effective programs like the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART and Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse programs that drive water conservation and American jobs through adopting innovation and technology.

Bringing these approaches to the table can pull the Colorado River off the endangered list. We can refocus outdated ways of addressing our water supplies right now with cost-effective solutions that maximize water resources and prioritize conservation, reuse and efficiency.

Meanwhile a low Lake Powell impacts hydroelectric generation at Glen Canyon Dam. Here’s a report from Emily Guerin writing for The Goat. Here’s an excerpt:

The government entities that manage Glen Canyon Dam and sell the power its turbines generate are also distressed at Lake Powell’s retreat, albeit for economic and political reasons. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, in May the reservoir was only 48 percent full, and is expected to drop 11 feet before September, ending the summer at 44 percent capacity. Severe to extreme drought in much of the Colorado River’s watershed, plus record heat, isn’t exactly helping.

Despite the dismal conditions, Glen Canyon Dam is still discharging 8.23 million acre-feet of water this year (measured from Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30), as it does every year that lake levels stay above approximately 3,650 feet (the exact levels were decided in a 2007 environmental impact study designed to address water storage issues on the Colorado River in times of drought). But there’s a 50-50 chance that the lake will soon drop below that height, triggering a lower water release next year. If that happens, it would be the first time since Lake Powell’s creation that less than 8.23 million acre feet of water will pass from Glen Canyon Dam, according to Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson Lisa Iams. “It’s not a promising statement about the hydrology that all of us face,” she said. “The realities of drought and climate change are increasing.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.