Drought news: Another dry year for the San Luis Valley? #COdrought

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

It’s still early in the snowfall season, but at this point water administrators are predicting another below-average year.

“Most of our stations in the Valley are 80-90 percent,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten reported this week. The San Antonio site is at 66 percent, while Ute Creek is 99 percent of normal, he said, “but every day we don’t have snow that goes down.”

He added, “We are projecting another below-average year at this point for most of the rivers and streams here in the Valley, but we do have some months still to go. If we do get some moisture, we can definitely get above that 100 percent.”

Cotten said both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems were below average last year. The Conejos system produced about 152,000 acre feet or about half of the 300,000-acre-foot average, and the Rio Grande ran at 460,000 acre feet, also substantially less than the long-term average of 650,000 acre feet annual index.

The good news was that Colorado met its obligation to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact, Cotten said. The state ended the 2013 year with a credit, he said. The exact numbers will be finalized during an engineer advisors’ meeting next month and ratified during the annual Rio Grande Compact meeting in Santa Fe in March.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) released its first water forecast for the year. The NRCS is predicting limited water supply west of the Continental Divide and normal water supply east of the Continental Divide.

“Right now the West Coast is all red,” NRCS Hydrologist Tom Perkins said. “Early indications are it will be very dry in the western part of the West, but wetter as you travel east. There are some exceptions to this, as New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Utah and southern Colorado are also expected to be dry.”

He added, however, “But that could all change by the end of the season. This is early in the season who knows? It always changes.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center’s seasonal forecast is calling for a milder and somewhat drier winter for much of the West.

As of the first part of this month, the Rio Grande basin snowpack was in the 80 to 100 percent of normal range according to NRCS, with the same range in most of the basins in the state. The Upper Rio Grande basin currently has some of the lowest forecasts in the state. San Antonio River at Ortiz is forecast to flow at 66 percent of average for the April to September period and the Los Pinos River near Ortiz is expected to run at 77 percent of average for the same period. However, the Rio Grande at Thirty Mile Bridge is expected to run at 94 percent of average.

Snow accumulation in the mountains was above normal during October, November and early December, with the second half of December much drier.

NRCS State Conservationist Phyllis Ann Philipps was encouraged by the early winter moisture.

This is a great start to the 2014 water year,” she said. “As we saw in 2012 and ¦ See DRY page 3 2013, early seasons deficits are difficult to make up later in the season; so being right where we should be this time of year gives us a head start compared to the past couple of years.”

Snowpack totals for January 1 for the Rio Grande basin were at 99 percent of the median, an improvement over last year when the snowpack was just 67 percent of median on January 1.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District General Manager Steve Vandiver was also encouraged by moisture last fall that provided some recovery in the Valley’s aquifers.

The unconfined aquifer study prepared by Davis Engineering for many years reflected a recovery during the August-October time frame last year. Vandiver said there’s only been one other year, 2006, in quite some time that showed that same type of recovery. The unconfined aquifer study area reflected a jump of 80,000-85 ,000 acre feet, Vandiver said.

This proves “the aquifer can recharge if we have the water and we reduce the pumping,” he said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

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