Drought news: No #COdrought along the northern Front Range #COflood

US Drought Monitor January 7, 2014
US Drought Monitor January 7, 2014

From the The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

With snowpack and reservoir levels across the northern part of the state at or above their average levels for the start of January, climatologists say Coloradans can point to one major event as the source of drought relief — the devastating fall floods.

“Our area is completely out of drought and that was largely due to rains that we had in September,” said Wendy Ryan, the assistant state climatologist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center. “We also got just a year’s worth of precipitation in just a few days.”

Unlike recent Januaries, none of the reservoirs that provide water to Fort Collins or Northern Colorado hold below-average water levels.

Mountain snowpack — the amount of water held in Colorado’s high-altitude snow — is more than double what it was in January 2013, when Colorado suffered through a dry, warm winter and a record-breaking hot summer.

Northern Water’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which typically supplies Fort Collins Utilities with half of its water supply, has an excess of 100,000 acre feet of water thanks to the September floods, said Donnie Dustin, a water resources manager. With the blessing of a wet March and April, Fort Collins will likely have no water restrictions this year, he added.

For farmers east of Fort Collins, soils on the eastern plains retained much of their September water, which has some feeling optimistic about their upcoming growing season…

The water conservancy district that manages Horsetooth Reservoir, Northern Water, is cautiously optimistic about the early winter snowpack, said spokesman Brian Werner. Although snowpack levels in the Colorado and South Platte river basins are double what they were last year, the long-term water outlook depends on the spring, he said.

“I guess we don’t want to get too overconfident at this point,” Werner added…

…the floods hit at the best time possible, said Ryan.

“The timing of the September event was really good,” she said. “Drought is highly dependent on what time of year you are in.”

By September, the summer heat had dissipated, and most of the rainwater soaked into the ground instead of evaporating. With a cold winter hitting Colorado, the frozen ground will hold that water until the spring thaw, Ryan said. That’s a good sign for the spring, but that water won’t be enough to prevent a drought.

“If we get into the point where it gets warm really early into the spring and we don’t get spring moisture, that could put us back into drought pretty quickly,” Ryan added.

While Northern Colorado reaps the benefits of last fall’s rains and early snow, southeastern Colorado is suffering through a relentless “exceptional drought”— the most severe level on the U.S. Drought Monitor scale.

“The exceptional drought presence in Crowley and Otero (Counties) has been completely missed by the storms,” Ryan said.

On Christmas Day, dust storms roared through the bone-dry town of Lamar.

“It’s going to take them a long time to dig out of the drought that they are in,” Ryan said.

From the High Country News (Cally Carswell):

What’s happening around El Nido – the sinking – is, in technical terms, known as “subsidence,” and it’s common in the San Joaquin Valley. Subsidence is caused by farms that pump large amounts of water from aquifers to wet their crops. Their thirst for groundwater tends to grow in drought years, when water supplies in above-ground canals are constrained. (“That’s possible,” explains Legal Planet blogger Richard Frank, “because California, unlike other Western states, has no statewide system of groundwater regulation.”) Ironically, reports the USGS, groundwater mining and the rapid subsidence it causes now threatens to crumble aboveground water infrastructure, quite literally.

Absent rapid delivery of major groundwater regulation reforms — and don’t hold your breath for those — this year is shaping up to be another in which drought begets subsidence in California, among other undesirable things. Last year was the driest in the state’s recorded history. Now, California’s statewide snowpack holds only 17 percent of the water, or “snow water equivalent,” that it typically does on this date. For California, this will mark the third consecutive drought year. And each year hurts a little more than the last. As the Modesto Bee recently reported: “In 2013, State Water Project allocations were at 35 percent of requested deliveries. The initial allocation for 2014 is 5 percent, the lowest on record.”

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