#Drought/#Snowpack news: D4 (Exceptional Drought) introduced, covering the Sangre de Cristo Range

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw a series of storm systems track across the continental U.S. bringing beneficial rains to portions of the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and South. Out West, the storm systems brought rain and mountain snow to higher elevations as well as cooler temperatures to the northern half of the region coming into the weekend after a period of record-setting warmth across parts of the West last week. Unfortunately, the storm systems steered north of drought-stricken areas of the Southwest that saw further deterioration in conditions on this week’s map. In the southern Plains, light shower activity provided some minor relief to dry pasture and rangelands as well as helped to reduce wildlife danger. In Texas, some isolated heavy rainfall activity brought relief to the western Panhandle and Trans-Pecos region. Moving eastward, cool temperatures and scattered shower activity helped improve drought-related conditions in parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast…


On this week’s map, conditions continued to deteriorate in parts of the region, including southwestern Oklahoma and portions of Texas that have largely missed out on recent rainfall events during the past 30 days. In southwestern Oklahoma and north-central Texas, areas of Exceptional Drought (D4) expanded in response to poor soil moisture conditions and below normal precipitation during the past several months. According to the Oklahoma Mesonet, southwestern Oklahoma received only 37% of normal precipitation for the last 60-day period. The April 30th USDA NASS Oklahoma Crop Weather Report noted that 66% of the wheat crop was reported to be in poor to very poor condition while rye was worse off at 83% (poor to very poor). In Texas, some isolated shower activity helped to reduce areas of Extreme Drought (D3) in the western Panhandle and areas of Severe Drought (D2) in the Trans-Pecos region. According to the May 1st USDA Weekly Weather and Crop Weather Bulletin, topsoil moisture statewide in Texas was reported as 67% (short to very short). Elsewhere in the region, drought-free areas of northern Mississippi and southwestern Tennessee received 2-to-3 inches of precipitation during the past week. Average temperatures for the week were below normal (1-to-8 degrees) across the region with the largest negative anomalies observed in Mississippi and Tennessee…

High Plains

On this week’s map, areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) expanded in North Dakota including the introduction of Severe Drought (D2) in the northern part of the state in response to reported poor soil moisture conditions and precipitation shortfalls during the past 60 days. According to the April 30th USDA NASS North Dakota Crop Progress and Condition Report, topsoil moisture was reported as 45% (short to very short moisture) with subsoil moisture at 50% (short to very short). Additionally, hay and roughage supplies were rated 55% (short to very short). In northeastern Montana, improvements were made in areas of Abnormally Dry (D0), Moderate Drought (D1), and Severe Drought (D2) in response to overall improvement in conditions (streamflows, soil moisture, lack of drought-related impacts) since last fall. Since the beginning of the Water Year (Oct. 1st), precipitation across the region has been below normal with the exception of eastern Montana, northwestern Wyoming, and central/north-central Nebraska. During the past week, the region was generally dry and temperatures were generally above normal…


A series of storm systems passed through the region beginning late last week, bringing rain and mountain snow as well as cooler temperatures to the northern half of the region. In contrast, most of the drought-stricken Southwest remained warm and dry with areas of southeastern California and southwestern Arizona reaching the low-100s during the 7-day period. This continued dry pattern led to expansion of areas of Severe Drought (D2) and Extreme Drought (D3) in the western half of Arizona. In Mohave County, Extension Agents are reporting very poor rangeland conditions with stock ponds going dry and water hauling necessary. Despite record-to-near-record low snowpack conditions across the mountains of Arizona, the Salt River Project is not expecting shortages or restrictions. In north-central New Mexico and south-central Colorado, an area of Exceptional Drought (D4) was introduced, covering the Sangre de Cristo Range to reflect record-to-near-record snowpack levels since the beginning of the Water Year. According to the May 1st USDA Weekly Weather and Crop Weather Bulletin, topsoil moisture in New Mexico was rated 90% short to very short while subsoil moisture was rated 89% short to very short. During the past week, average temperatures were near normal in the Far West and above normal (5-to-15 degrees) across the remainder of the West…

Looking Ahead

The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate-to-heavy accumulations ranging from 2-to-3 inches across the eastern Central Plains, Texas, and the Midwest (Iowa, northern Illinois, Michigan, southern Wisconsin). Out West, lesser accumulations (<1.5 inches) are expected in parts of the Intermountain West, central Rockies, and southern portions of the northern Rockies. Similar accumulation totals are forecasted for the Northeast and portions of the Mid-Atlantic. The CPC 6-10-day outlook calls for a high probability of above-normal temperatures across the West, the Plains, New England, and the Southeast while below-normal temperatures are expected in Michigan and south Texas. In terms of precipitation, below-normal precipitation is expected across most of the eastern half of the continental U.S. with the exception of Florida where there is a high probability of above- normal precipitation. Above-normal precipitation is expected in a swath extending from west Texas through New Mexico and Colorado to Idaho. Further west, below normal precipitation is expected in northern California and much of the Great Basin.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map May 3, 2018 via the NRCS.

From Denverite (Andrew Kenney):

Winter Park Resort reported 10 inches of new snow last night, with up to 7 inches more expected today. Arapahoe Basin and Loveland also had significant new snow.

From the Summit Daily (Heather Jarvis):

According to meteorologist Joel Gratz at OpenSnow.com, between the official reports above, which were measured at 5 a.m., and when he wrote his report at 7 a.m., it appears an additional 2-4 inches of snow have already accumulated.

From Wyoming Public Radio (Ali Budner):

The so-called “Ag Barometer” is a survey of 400 agricultural producers representing corn, soy, wheat, cotton, dairy, pork and beef. It shows optimism among farmers has dipped dramatically.

David Widmar is an Agricultural Economist at Purdue University where the surveys are compiled. He pointed to NAFTA and trade tariffs with China as some of the main culprits for the uncertainty in US agriculture right now.

On top of that, he pointed out, we’ve had some “pretty tough weather” lately. He said warmer temperatures and droughts particularly in the West have discouraged farmers about their prospects this year. That makes them more cautious.

From RiverofLostSouls.com (Jonathan Thompson):

There you have it folks: It was a crappy winter in the Four Corners Country. As of May 1, the San Juan Mountain snowpack, also known as the gargantuan “reservoir” at the headwaters of the region’s major rivers, is just about drained dry. While the snow season is not quite over — a winter storm has settled into the San Juans as I write this — the current numbers almost guarantee that the spring runoff will be meagre and fire season will be rough.

The only bit of good news is that this winter is turning out to be only the second driest over the last three decades — at most monitoring stations, 2002’s numbers were even lower. Also, as one moves northward, the situation tends to improve somewhat. On Red Mountain Pass, for example, the snowpack is currently at about 50 percent of average for this date, and is tracking above levels of 2002, 2012 and 1981.

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

At the Vail Town Council’s afternoon meeting on Tuesday, May 1, representatives from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District provided an update about current snowpack, as well as the progress of a water-efficiency plan for the district.

As you’d expect, the snowpack on Vail Mountain is far below “normal” levels, based on a 30-year median. The most recent data shows that snowpack is still far below that level, but spring storms finally boosted Vail’s snowpack above the record-low snow year of 2011-12. Better yet, while snowpack on Vail Mountain had melted away at this point in 2012, there’s still snow on the hillsides right now…

The news is better at measurement sites on Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass, the sites nearest the headwaters of Gore Creek and the Eagle River, respectively.

At Copper Mountain, snowpack is very close to normal, while Fremont Pass’ snowpack is slightly above normal.

That’s good news for both Gore Creek and the Eagle River.

Still, water supplies won’t be plentiful, perhaps closer to the drought of 2001-02.

District communications manager Diane Johnson told council members that 2012 compelled the district to do some serious work on water conservation. District employees have kept up that work, she said.

In addition to day-to-day work, the district is also working on a water efficiency plan required by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Local districts that have those plans are eligible for grants and loans from that state agency.

@CAPArizona and the Upper Colorado River Commission meeting recap #COriver

From The Nevada Indpendent (Daniel Rothberg):

Following a Monday meeting in Salt Lake City, Colorado River water users are pledging to move past two weeks of public fighting between an Arizona agency and four states that divert water from the river. The Arizona utility — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) — said at the meeting that it regretted having used rhetoric that inflamed tensions…

On Monday, the agency apologized for its rhetoric and said it hoped to begin to repair its frayed relationship with the state agency, an arm of the governor’s office, to work on the drought plan.

“CAWCD regrets that intra-Arizona issues have impacted other parties in the Colorado River basin,” a CAWCD spokesperson wrote in a statement. “Specifically, CAWCD regrets using language and representations that were insensitive to Upper Basin concerns, and resolves to have a more respectful and transparent dialogue in the future. As a result of the meeting, CAWCD has committed to beginning a fresh conversation within Arizona, including with ADWR and other stakeholders, to chart a path forward for an effective Drought Contingency Plan.”

The meeting was less an attempt to resolve the conflict and more a chance to start talks.

“Our objective for this meeting was not to resolve all issues but, rather, to identify a path forward for our talks,” James Eklund, who represents the state of Colorado in the negotiations, said Tuesday in a statement. “Despite these encouraging messages, the jury is still out.”

He said that any progress forward would be in the district’s actions.

It’s unclear how much of an impact the meeting will have in solving the issue that upset the Upper Basin enough to send a rare letter that singled out CAWCD. While CAWCD said it regretted its rhetoric, the agency was quiet about whether it would change its strategy.

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The meeting didn’t resolve the issue, says James Eklund, the Colorado representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission, but CAP officials did offer an apology.

“District representatives expressed regret about their use of rhetoric in describing the policy of maximizing reservoir releases solely for the benefit of the [Central Arizona Water Conservancy] District at the expense of the rest of the Colorado River Basin,” Eklund said in a written statement.

States in the river’s Upper Basin — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico — accused CAP and CAWCD of manipulating how much water the project received to avoid a shortage, while still gaining more water from those states’ biggest reservoir, Lake Powell.

In response to a series of public statements and an infographic sent to CAP’s Twitter followers demonstrating this strategy, Upper Basin representatives sent a letter in mid-April saying CAP’s behavior, while within the rules, was a violation of the watershed’s collaborative spirit. The larger basin-wide feud was borne out of a dispute within the state of Arizona over which agencies have final authority to decide how to conserve water…

Meeting attendees did not schedule a follow up meeting to further address the issue, and a meeting between CAWCD and state of Arizona water officials has yet to be scheduled.

The dust up caused at least one city to pull out of a Colorado River conservation program meant to boost reservoir levels. The city of Pueblo, Colorado’s water department cited CAP’s behavior in rescinding its proposal to participate in the System Conservation Pilot Program.

“This river really only works and functions the way we’ve designed it if trust is in abundance and we’re truly viewing the entire basin as connected,” Eklund says. The discussion in Salt Lake City was a starting point, “but the proof of progress will be in [CAP’s] actions.”

#ColoradoRiver: @USBR runs the numbers for next winter #aridification

Credit: USBR

Here’s the release from US Bureau of Reclamation:

In addition to the April 2018 24-Month Study based on the Most Probable inflow scenario, Reclamation conducted model runs to determine a possible range of reservoir elevations under Probable Minimum and Probable Maximum inflow scenarios. The Probable Minimum inflow scenario reflects a dry hydrologic condition which statistically would be exceeded 90% of the time. The Most Probable inflow scenario reflects a median hydrologic condition which statistically would be exceeded 50% of the time. The Probable Maximum inflow scenario reflects a wet hydrologic condition which statistically would be exceeded 10% of the time. There is approximately an 80% probability that a future elevation will fall inside the range of the minimum and maximum inflow scenarios. There are possible inflow scenarios that would result in reservoir elevations falling outside the ranges indicated in these reports.

The projected Lake Mead elevations resulting from these three inflow scenarios are summarized in a graph located at the following link: https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/24mo/2018/April-Chart.pdf.

The water year 2018 unregulated inflow into Lake Powell under the April Probable Minimum inflow scenario is 4.32 maf, or 40 percent of average. Consistent with the Interim Guidelines, the Most Probable 24-Month Study set an April adjustment to balancing releases at Glen Canyon Dam for the remainder of water year 2018. With the Probable Minimum inflow forecast, the Probable Minimum 24-Month Study results in a projected annual release volume from Glen Canyon Dam of 9.00 maf in water year 2018 and 8.81 maf in water year 2019.

From InkStain (John Fleck):

A new Bureau of Reclamation analysis puts some numbers to the fear – a credible risk that Lake Mead could drop to elevation 1,062 by the end of 2019, just 20 short months away.

This nice chart put together by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, part of Met’s Water Supply Conditions Report (pdf), nicely illustrates what’s been going on in recent years:

Credit: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

There’s a point my friend and book-writing partner Eric Kuhn has been making that shows up nicely in this graph. We’ve had four consecutive decent years. From 2014 to 2017, we have’t been in “drought” (whatever that word even means any more). That string of relatively good years (or at least “not bad years”?) has enabled the 9 million acre foot per year releases that has so exercised the interbasin conflict between the Central Arizona Project and other basin water users. 9 million acre feet per year – well above the Law of the River-mandated 8.23 million acre foot release from Lake Powell – has bought time for negotiations over new management rules to reduce everyone’s demand on the system. But even with those big releases – the Upper Basin from 2014 to this year has delivered 2.3 million acre feet more than the Law of the River requires – Lake Mead has dropped 10 feet.