All American Canal Construction circa. 1938 via the Imperial Irrigation District
The American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.
Spray irrigation on a field in the Imperial Valley in southern California. This type of irrigation is a lot better than the extremely water inefficient type of flood irrigation that is popular in this region. Still, in the high temperatures of this desert region a lot of the water evaporates, leaving the salts, that are dissolved in the colorado River water that is used, on the soil.
Caption: Imperial Valley, Salton Sea, CA / ModelRelease: N/A / PropertyRelease: N/A (Newscom TagID: ndxphotos113984) [Photo via Newscom]
Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs
Water experts say that if the ongoing drought persists, Lake Powell could be empty within three years, and call could be placed on the upper basin to curtail water rights. To avoid the chaos such an unprecedented call might bring, state officials are discussing how a more orderly, but still mandatory curtailment of water uses, might need to be implemented. A wall bleached, and stained, in Lake Powell. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith @AspenJournalism.
The river basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, has been drying out during what scientists say is one of the driest 19-year periods in the past 1,200 years.
Its largest reservoir, Lake Mead, now stands just 39 percent full. And the federal government has warned that the likelihood of the reservoir dropping to critical shortage levels is growing.
With all indicators pointing to increasing risks of a water crash in the Southwest, the top official of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation came to the Imperial Valley with a message for the district that holds the largest single entitlement to Colorado River water: It’s time for action to avert a worst-case scenario, and everyone will need to pitch in.
Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told the Imperial Irrigation District’s board that she wants to see water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada restart stalled talks on a “drought contingency plan,” under which all sides would agree to temporarily take less water from Lake Mead to keep it from falling to disastrously low levels.
“It’s very important for us to start thinking about, what do we need to do to protect Lake Mead and to protect the water users?” Burman told the IID board on Tuesday. She pointed out that four states in the river’s Upper Basin are working on a regional drought plan, and that during the past three years, the three Lower Basin states had, until recently, been negotiating their plan, too.
“Those talks have sort of fallen off. And I’m here to say for this secretary, for this administration, those talks need to be starting again,” Burman said.
“We need to be talking about what does a drought contingency plan in the Lower Basin look like? And we need action. We need action this year,” she said. “If you take one message from what I’m saying today, it’s that we face an overwhelming risk on the system, and the time for action is now.”
Stressing the urgency of her appeal, Burman showed a chart with a range of possible reservoir levels for Lake Mead in the mid-2020s, including a worst-case scenario in which the reservoir falls to “dead pool” — too low for [releases].
Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor May 22, 2018.
West Drought Monitor May 22, 2018.
Colorado Drought Monitor May 22, 2018.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
The active weather pattern persisted across most of the nation, though unfavorably dry, hot weather lingered over parts of the South and Southwest. During the 7-day period ending Tuesday morning, areas of heavy to excessive rainfall provided widespread drought relief across the central and southern Atlantic Coast States and from Texas northward into Montana and the Dakotas. Conversely, short-term dryness intensified along the central Gulf Coast, while worsening drought conditions were noted in portions of Arizona and Oregon. Likewise, short-term dryness continued to develop in parts of New England. Please note the wet weather pattern continued through the week; any rain that fell after 12z Tuesday (8 a.m., EDT) will be incorporated into the following week’s drought assessment…
The overall trend toward improving conditions in the south contrasting with increasingly dry weather in the far north continued, though some northerly areas benefited from locally heavy rain. In southern Kansas, another week with moderate to locally heavy showers (1-3 inches, as high as 3.72 inches in Longton, KS) led to widespread reductions of drought intensity and coverage. Nevertheless, 6-month precipitation in the state’s lingering Extreme Drought (D3) was less than half of normal, while the Exceptional Drought (D4) in the state’s southwestern corner stood at less than one third of normal over the same time period. Moderate to heavy rainfall (locally more than 3 inches) in northeastern Colorado likewise trimmed the coverage of Abnormal Dryness (D0). In south-central Nebraska and north-central Kansas, heavy rain (2-3 inches; Phillipsburg, KS, reported 3.95 inches) yielded a corresponding reduction of D0. In southeastern Nebraska, increasingly dry conditions over the past 90 days (40-60 percent of normal) led to a modest increase of Moderate Drought (D1) southwest of Lincoln. Farther north, sharply wetter conditions between Bismarck, ND, and Aberdeen, SD, (6.17 inches in Java, SD) resulted in a considerable reduction of D0. Beneficial rain (1-2 inches) was also reported in northeastern Montana, where D0 was reduced accordingly. Meanwhile, D1 and D2 were increased somewhat in North Dakota from Bismarck to the Canadian border, where 60-day rainfall shortfalls (locally less than 30 percent of normal) have added to the region’s lingering long-term drought…
Outside of beneficial rain in eastern-most portions of the region, lackluster water-year precipitation and unusual warmth have led to increasing drought despite the cool wet season having drawn to a close. Beneficial rain was reported during the period in northeastern portions of Montana and Colorado, resulting in reductions of Abnormal Dryness (D0) and as well as Moderate (D1) and Severe (D2) Drought. However, the overarching theme in the West continued to be the ongoing and intensifying drought in the lower Four Corners as well as the interior Northwest. In the latter region, Moderate and Severe Drought (D1-D2) were expanded over much of Oregon’s Harney Basin to reflect a sub-par water year (50-75 percent-of-normal precipitation, or 10-25th percentile) as well as protracted dryness over the past 60 days (less than half of normal). Farther south, Extreme (D3) and Exceptional (D4) Drought were expanded over Arizona. The numbers from the Four Corners Region as a whole tell a dire story, with water-year precipitation totaling a meager 10 to 30 percent of normal in the hardest-hit areas; the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), which puts these values in a drought-intensity equivalent, are D3- and D4-equivalent over much of central and northeastern Arizona. A sub-par snowpack and above-normal temperatures have left little water available through snowmelt. Furthermore, the satellite-derived Vegetation Health Index (VHI) — which incorporates both vegetation greenness and thermal stress — shows extremely poor conditions over most of Arizona as well as neighboring portions of southern California and southern New Mexico. This region will be in need of a robust Southwest Monsoon beginning in early July to help offset the impacts brought on by this season’s Extreme to Exceptional Drought in the lower Four Corners Region…
An active pattern will continue, with two significant areas of wet weather over the next 5 days. Forecast data continues to show a tropical or subtropical system developing over the eastern Gulf of Mexico and lifting slowly northward over the Memorial Day holiday weekend; if this were to verify, the potential exists for another round of heavy to excessive rain (2-6 inches, possibly more) over the lower Southeast. Meanwhile, a pair of slow-moving storms system will produce moderate to heavy rain (1-4 inches) from the northern Rockies eastward across northern portions of the Plains and Upper Midwest. A trailing cold front will trigger showers over the western Corn Belt and Mississippi Valley. Despite the continuation of a generally active weather pattern, the Southwest will remain unfavorably dry. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for May 29 – June 2 calls for below-normal rainfall over the Northwest and from Texas and the southern High Plains into the Great Lakes and New England. In contrast, wetter-than-normal conditions are expected from the northern Great Basin into northern portions of the Rockies and Great Plains, with a second higher-likelihood area of above-normal rainfall over the southeastern quarter of the nation. Abnormal warmth is expected over most of the nation save for near-normal temperatures in the aforementioned rainy and cloudy Southeast.
Despite the start of spring thunderstorms, Colorado’s drought situation continued to deteriorate. One-third of the state is in the two worst categories of drought.
Some areas showed improvements, with the northeast and north central areas continuing to lead that trend as the area benefitted from moderate to heavy rain, with some locations receiving up to three inches of rain.
Morgan county moved into drought-free conditions, while parts of Elbert, Lincoln, Cheyenne and Kiowa counties shifted to moderate drought from severe. Northern Douglas county is now abnormally dry, an improvement from moderate drought last week.
Extreme drought expanded northward over the southeast plains to cover the remainder of Otero and most of Bent county. Extreme conditions expanded into Crowley county, as well as a larger part of Pueblo county. Fremont and El Paso counties saw severe drought overtake areas previously in moderate conditions.
Minor changes were observed in northwest Colorado.
Overall, more than one-fifth of the state is drought-free, a slight improvement over the previous week. Abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions also decreased slightly to about 14 percent each. Moderate drought dropped to about 17 percent of the state, while extreme drought increased to nearly 26 percent, both changing roughly three percent over the prior report. Exceptional drought was steady at about eight percent.
One year ago, 94 percent of Colorado was drought-free, while about six percent was abnormally dry.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The Colorado River at Cameo hit its peak May 15 with flows of 8,500 cubic feet per second.
The average seasonal peak for the Cameo gauge is 13,600 cfs and it usually takes until June 9 to hit that high-water mark.
“So not only is our seasonal peak below the average, it occurred over three weeks early and did not even reach the average flow on a day that is typically three weeks before the average seasonal peak date,” Knight said…
Fontanelle Reservoir, which can hold 345,000 acre-feet of water, was 65 percent full on Wednesday and Flaming Gorge, which can hold back 357,000 acre-feet, was 87 percent full.
Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado with a potential volume of 830,000 acre-feet, was 61 percent full.
Grand Valley water agencies already are asking consumers for voluntary reductions as they look forward to a long, dry summer.
Steven Miranda is fire staff officer for the Coronado National Forest. He says drought is bringing the threat of wildfires from the country to the city.
“I would not say it could never happen,” said Miranda. “But when you look at some of the other places, like Colorado a couple of years ago, when things get in alignment, it’s very challenging.”
Colorado suffered two straight years of deadly fire seasons in 2012 and 2013. In each case, more than 250,000 acres burned, and hundreds of homes were lost. More than three-quarters of Colorado baked under drought conditions just ahead of the wildfires.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s forecast for Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico for 2018 is warning of a similar setup. U.S. drought experts have categorized the region’s outlook as “exceptional,” and not in a good way. “Exceptional” is the worst drought condition. The forecast is leaving farmers, ranchers and water planners preparing for a tougher situation than last year, when only a fraction of the region was experiencing this much drought.
Forestry officials are trying to get in front of wildfire danger. This week, they started closing parts of three national forests: Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino and Tonto…
Southern Arizona received some rainfall in the winter months, but forecasters maintain it wasn’t enough. The Arizona Department of Water Resources reported last winter was the driest on record.
Arizona Game and Fish Department officer Karen Klima says the lack of moisture is significant for the state’s wildlife. She says desert wildlife can adapt to dry conditions, but animals are not accustomed to going through an entire season with little water.
“Normally, when we have our monsoon precipitation, there are areas where water collects, and wildlife can use those areas in the drier months,” according to Klima. “We didn’t have that this year, so now they are really working down into areas where we have water, into areas where people have water out. People with fountains may see wildlife coming into their yard.”
Klima says residents living near forest land shouldn’t be surprised to see unexpected visitors seeking to quench their thirst.
Governor Hickenlooper was in Pueblo introducing the Mussel-Free Colorado Act.
It provides funding for inspections of boats to help keep invasive species of mussels out of Colorado water.
The mussels often create problems as they attach to rocks, docks and boats — clogging pipes.
Under the law, Colorado residents will be required to buy a $25 Aquatic Nuisance Species sticker for their boat, while non-residents will pay $50.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director, Bob Broscheid explains how this fee will help.
“It’s paying into program that will allow us to continue to monitor, prevent any infested vessels from coming into the state of Colorado,” Broscheid said. “It’s basically the inspection system that we funded at all of our state parks that tries to intercept any contaminated boats.”
Invasive mussels have not been a big problem in Colorado and lawmakers hope this act will keep it from becoming one.
The fee will help pay for the cost of decontamination.