From KUNC (Luke Runyon):
The Colorado River Basin is likely to see one of its driest spring runoff seasons on record this year, according to federal forecasters.
Scientists at the Salt Lake City-based Colorado Basin River Forecast Center say current snowpack conditions are set to yield the sixth-lowest recorded runoff into Lake Powell since the lake was filled more than 50 years ago.
The April forecast projects inflow to Lake Powell, the first major reservoir that impounds the river’s water as it flows from the Rocky Mountains to Mexico, to be 43 percent of average.
As the winter progressed, water managers, farmers and cities hoped for a “miracle” month to boost dwindling snowpack. Those storms never quite materialized. Now, a few days into the historic runoff period, forecasts are less of an educated guess about the far off future and more a reflection of the almost present…
Climate and weather records give little hope of spring weather robust enough to make a difference, according to Smith. At this point, the Colorado River Basin has less than a 3 percent chance of catching up to an average year.
This pattern will feel familiar to those who watch the Colorado River closely. Of the 15 driest years on record in the river’s Upper Basin, which includes the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and a small portion of New Mexico, nine of those years have occurred since 2000. Of the top five driest, three have been since 2002.
From KOAA.com (Sam Schreier):
To be short and sweet… both the drought monitor and snowpack aren’t in great shape. The drought monitor shows at least 90% of the state is suffering from at least some form of drought ranging from abnormally dry to extreme drought. The snowpack, thanks to a few decent March snows, is below normal, but just under one quarter below normal.
Surprisingly, the water supply is pretty great! Colorado Springs Utilities is reporting that the Pikes Peak reservoir is at 68% capacity, the Rampart reservoir is at 75%, and the system total is at 81% capacity. 80% capacity is generally considered full capacity as they always leave room at the top for overflow or unexpected heavy rain/snow. Colorado Springs Utilities is also reporting they have more than 3 years of water demand in storage. The Pueblo reservoir is also showing great results with a current capacity right near 80%. This is high enough that the Pueblo reservoir is going to release over half a million gallons on April 15th to compensate for upcoming mountain snow melt…
Southern Colorado is for sure in a drought, and the blame for that drought can be placed on a La Nina pattern that brought very dry conditions to our Fall and Winter. At the same time, we did so well last Spring and Summer than our water supply is actually in terrific shape, so we really don’t have to worry a water shortage any time soon. Do we still need to worry, for some things absolutely we do. The plains and higher terrain are dry from the lack of moisture and the rest of April through early July will probably continue to be warmer and drier than normal. Our La Nina pattern should return to a neutral pattern by the end of May, and that will hopefully lead to a normal, thirst quenching monsoon season.
From The Aspen Times (Carolyn Sackariason):
Three levels of water conservation are being contemplated and will be discussed at an upcoming Aspen City Council meeting, Long said.
The first phase of water restrictions would be a 10 percent reduction in use and almost all of it is voluntary. The second phase involves a 15 or 20 percent reduction and requires mandatory restrictions, like when homeowners can water their lawns. Restrictions ratchet up from there.
Long said water conservation will be inevitable this season.
“We will be acting on it in some form,” she said.
Also discussed is the snowpack and how it will affect the city’s storage and drinking water supply, trans basin diversions and why they are necessary and Aspen’s new landscape ordinance.
The council is expected to discuss water conservation and possible restrictions April 24.
From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):
Over the past week, extreme drought has increased to cover the eastern third of Las Animas county, along with most of the eastern half of Otero county and all of Bent county south from the Arkansas river.
Pueblo county, which had been experiencing moderate drought conditions has almost completely moved into severe drought. The southeast corners of Fremont and El Paso counties also moved into the severe category.
Overall, slightly less than 10 percent of the state – mainly parts of the northeast plains and north central mountains – is drought-free. About 22 percent of the state is in moderate drought, down three percent from the prior week as drought conditions deteriorated. Nearly 28 percent of the state is in severe drought, unchanged from the previous week, while about 24 percent is experiencing extreme drought, up three percent.
From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):
San Juan Water Commission Director Aaron Chavez has warned commission members that the region could experience extreme drought this year…
The mountains that feed the Animas River are at 47 percent of normal snowpack, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The San Juan River watershed is in slightly better condition at 53 percent…
The U.S. Drought Monitor, which is run by the University of Nebraska, has classified all of San Juan County as being in extreme drought. The Palmer Drought Severity Index, which the city of Farmington uses to gauge drought conditions, has San Juan County in a moderate drought.
In addition to the low snowpack, the river levels are also lower than normal. The U.S. Geological Survey stream flow gauges are showing the Animas River at 29 percent of the average flow for this time of year in Cedar Hill. In Farmington, the stream flow in the Animas River was down to 47.2 cubic feet per second, which is less than 10 percent of normal, according to the U.S. Geological Survey…
Chevez said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been releasing water from Navajo Dam to increase the flow in the San Juan River from 400 cubic feet per second to 500 cubic feet per second.
During its meeting Wednesday, the San Juan Water Commission unanimously approved its budget for fiscal year 2019, which starts July 1.
From Wyoming Public Media (Judy Fahys):
Drought has basically divided the Mountain West into two separate regions this year.
Storms kept Idaho, Montana and Wyoming wet over the winter, and the national Drought Monitor shows no drought in those states.
But high pressure dogged Utah and most of Colorado this winter. Now the ground is dry and the snowpack is lean, even though March was stormy…
Utah and Colorado have endured about a year of unusually dry weather, thanks to high-pressure systems that acted like storm barriers.
Brian McInerney, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said a wet winter last year helped top off the reservoirs that store water for drinking and irrigation.
From The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):
Colorado River forecasters say the Southwest should brace for the sixth-driest runoff season into Lake Powell since the government erected Glen Canyon Dam there 55 years ago.
Winter snowfall failed to measure up across most of the basin that supplies meltwater to the river, with the exception of Wyoming’s Green River watershed. The result is a projected April-July runoff season supplying just 43 percent of what Lake Powell receives in an average year…
But snowpack is so scant this year it would take something more miraculous than that to approach normal river flows, said Greg Smith, senior hydrologist at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.
There’s now just a 3 percent chance there will be enough precipitation to get the river back to its norm.
“It would take kind of a record spring,” he said. “We’ve just kind of run out of time.”
Forecasters project 3.1 million acre-feet will flow into Lake Powell this season…
The worst year on record was 2002, when the reservoir collected less than 1 million acre-feet.
From The Summit Daily (Antonio Olivero):
As of the end of last month, the Upper Arkansas River Basin is at 88 percent of its average snowpack. Local rafting operations, such as Performance Tours Whitewater Rafting — which has an office in Breckenridge — offer several whitewater rafting trip options off of the Arkansas River, namely out of Buena Vista.
The source for the Arkansas River, which is a major eastward tributary of the Mississippi River, is at an elevation above 11,000 feet, on the east side of Freemont Pass, near Leadville…
Based on the end of March snowpack reports from the United States Geological Survey, Performance Tours believes that the stretches of the Upper Arkansas River that flow through Chaffee County where the company drops in will have some of the best rafting in Colorado this spring and summer.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):
The mountain snowpack that feeds Northern Colorado’s water supply is ending the snow season on the same tune that has persisted for months: Worse than usual, but better than most of Colorado.
Snowpack in the Upper Colorado and South Platte river basins typically peaks in early to late April. As of April 3, those basins had 78 percent and 84 percent of the normal snow-water equivalent for this time of year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Laramie and North Platte River basins, which have some influence on Fort Collins water supply, top the state with 92 percent of normal.
“The South Platte and Upper Colorado basins are below average, but they are certainly in better shape than the southwestern and southern parts of the state,” where snowpack is barely half the normal amount, said Jeff Stahla, Northern Water public information coordinator…
Despite the lack of snowfall, Northern Water’s water storage sat at about 120 percent of the normal amount in March because of heavier snowpack in recent years, Stahla said. The Northern Water board will set the Colorado-Big Thompson project quota next week, a move that largely determines how much water is delivered to agricultural and municipal users…
Larimer County is one of the few exceptions to a widespread curtain of drought and drought-like conditions across Colorado, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.