#Drought news: Low streamflow in the #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado Drought Monitor June 12, 2018.

From The Vail Daily (Megan Webber):

Lake Powell is expected to drop to just 45 percent full by the end of 2018, says Andy Mueller, the new general manager for the Colorado River District based in Glenwood Springs.

The lake, which Coloradans rely on as a water source when the rivers are low, will not have enough water in it to supply all of Colorado and its surrounding states, such as Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico…

Locally, the Colorado River east of Glenwood Canyon was declared unboatable last weekend.

The Colorado River below the Roaring Fork River confluence dipped below 4,000 cubic feet per second this week, and hovered around 3,200 to 3,400 cfs on Thursday, June 14. That’s well below the historical 50-year mean of around 10,300 cfs for this week of June.

In this extremely low spring runoff season, the Colorado at Glenwood Springs at Two Rivers Park peaked at less than 7,000 cfs back in mid-May.

As temperatures rise upstream on the Roaring Fork River in Aspen and Basalt, particularly in July and August, the Parks and Wildlife Commission may prohibit fishing in the area due to overheated waters, which will endanger the fish.

Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon is expected to release water on June 20, which will sustain boatable flows throughout Glenwood Springs for the rest of the summer, Mueller said.

From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

As intense drought continues to plague southern and western Colorado, two more counties have received designations as primary natural disaster areas by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This week, Elbert and El Paso counties were added to the list of designated counties. Primary counties now account for 33 of the state’s 64 counties. Ten more counties are eligible for assistance as neighboring counties…

Since December, drought conditions have been increasing across the state, with over one-third of Colorado in extreme or exceptional drought – the two worst categories.

As counties have been designated in groups since early March, varying eligibility dates have been created as neighboring counties received designations at different times. For example, a county surrounded by four other counties could become eligible up to five times: four if each of its neighbors receives a primary designation on different dates, and once for its own primary designation.

Further confusion arises when a county receives a primary designation, and a neighboring county is designated later. In most cases, the more recent date – whether primary or as an adjoining county – will determine the deadline for assistance applications. Applications are due eight months after the most recent designation date.

KiowaCountyPress.net has developed the interactive map below to help sort through designation and eligibility dates. Red shading indicates a county which has received a primary designation, while yellow shading indicates a Colorado county that neighbors a primary county. Counties in other states that share a border with a Colorado primary county are also eligible to apply for assistance. Counties shaded grey do not currently have a designation for drought. San Juan county is shaded blue since it received an SBA-only primary designation.

Additionally, the USDA has designated a number of Colorado counties eligible for disaster assistance due to blizzard, fire and high winds that occurred earlier in the year. Separate maps available here show those counties.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Hotchkiss-area ranchers Dixie and Dion Luke raise hay and registered Angus cattle, and sell some bulls and bred heifers.

But they’d never sold cows before. Not until this year, with its woefully low snowpack. They have second-in-line water rights on a creek at the bottom of McClure Pass in the upper North Fork Valley, and the creek never had enough water to let them irrigate and raise hay on some 60 acres of pastureland that Dixie Luke’s family owns there. Less than usual irrigation water also meant the Lukes got behind in watering some of their hay acreage near Hotchkiss.

After initially telling someone looking to buy cow-calf pairs that she wasn’t selling any, Dixie Luke reconsidered, deciding to part with some late-calving and older cows to take some pressure off when it comes to feeding their herd…

This is the kind of calculation a lot of area agricultural producers are having to make these days after one of the driest winters in memory in much of western Colorado has robbed streams of spring runoff that is counted on by irrigators. They face choices ranging from selling cattle at a discount, to looking to buy hay at premium prices for feed because of poor hay-growing and range conditions, to leasing water to others and fallowing land.

All the while, ranchers and farmers can only look to the skies for rainy relief this summer and hope for improved precipitation next winter so that what’s now a crisis doesn’t turn into a catastrophe…

[Bret Neal] said that irrigators will drain reservoirs on the Grand Mesa this year.

Jason Ullmann, assistant division engineer for state Water Division 4, based in Montrose, said that while it’s going to be rough for agricultural producers in the region this year, he thinks most will get through it. But it will be important to get adequate snowpack to refill reservoirs that will be drawn down this year, such as on Grand Mesa, or it could be hard for people to get through another such year, he said.


While snowpack levels held up better in northern Colorado basins this year, other river basins all had peak accumulation levels of less than 60 percent of normal, with southwestern Colorado faring particularly poorly, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has reported. The particularly low accumulations occurred as far north as Grand Mesa, resulting in paltry runoff in streams such as Surface Creek in the Cedaredge area and Plateau Creek in the Collbran area. And Ullmann noted that May and this month have continued to be dry and also have been windy, which exacerbates drought.

Ullmann said cumulative runoff flows in Surface Creek for April through July probably will end up around 26 percent to 29 percent of average. That would be less than in 1977, the driest in most people’s lifetimes in that area, he said.

While it’s hard to say how this winter fits in historically, “you hear some people say it was as bad as their grandparents said it was in the 1930s, back in the Dust Bowl years,” he said.

Ullmann’s office works as far south as the San Miguel River and Lower Dolores River region. He said some of the areas in the office’s jurisdiction are about as bad off for moisture as people have ever seen. The year 2002 was generally worse than 1977 in those areas in terms of snowpack and streamflows, “and we’re at or below 2002,” he said…


[Paul] Kehmeier irrigates some of the land he grows on with water from Surface Creek, but his allocation this year is less than half of normal, he said.

He said that in April, conditions were dry and there was no lower-elevation snow to melt to satisfy irrigators. At the same time, headgates were still frozen on reservoirs on Grand Mesa. State water commissioners later began belatedly releasing that reservoir water, Kehmeier said…

But Kehmeier was speaking early this week, and he said those water releases were expected to end by late in the week, leaving little water in the creek as it runs just on natural flows.

Kehmeier said a reservoir his family owns on Grand Mesa almost always fills but filled to only about a third of capacity this year.

Kehmeier has about 105 acres he irrigates from Surface Creek but decided to put water on just 20 of those acres, to get one cutting of hay. He has better water rights in the nearby Tongue Creek drainage, so the situation is better there, he said…

He said he could have used reservoir water to irrigate more land, but instead decided to lease some water to orchard owners. He said there are more serious consequences for orchard growers if their trees die than if he temporarily stops watering crops like alfalfa.

Kehmeier also is leasing water to Orchard City for domestic uses. His actions are partly a community service and partly a business decision because he can make good money leasing water, although it still will be a financially tough year for him, he said.

He’s harvesting far less hay than normal.

Still, “I’ve been selling hay for the highest price that I’ve ever sold it for, and the highest price my dad (Norman) has ever sold it for,” he said.


Dixie Luke said that last year on July 4 they paid $120 a ton for hay.

“If you can buy hay now, it’s every bit of $250” a ton, she said…

[Carlyle] He said a lot less hay than normal likely will be raised in Plateau Valley this year, meaning people will have to either pay high prices for hay or sell cows. And cow prices currently aren’t that good, as cattle owners in Colorado and beyond have been moving to cull herds.

Currier said he culled heavily this spring, just this week sending to market cows that failed to have good calves. He didn’t want to buy hay for unproductive cows…

Kehmeier said he knows of cattle people who are trying to decide between selling cows before prices get worse, or hoping for rain that would improve range and hay-growing conditions. The decision is complicated by the fact that most ranchers have built up a good set of cows, he said…

Currier, who is involved in water policy as a member of Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee, said Vega Reservoir filled to about 85 percent of capacity, which was probably a bit better than he expected. But with low creeks in the Plateau Valley, even water for most senior water right owners has been curtailed, and everyone is relying on reservoir water, he said.

A lot of years those senior water flows will last into late July or even August, he said. But this year, reservoir water that normally is being used later in the summer is being used now…

For now, Luke is glad that federal officials allowed Paonia Reservoir to begin filling Dec. 22 of last year because of forecasts for a below-average snowpack for the winter. That ensured it reached a full level now. Normally operators don’t begin filling it until the spring so it can play a role in flood-prevention during runoff…

She said that once the canal company begins pulling water from the reservoir, it will have about 45 days of supply, depending on factors such as wind and monsoon moisture. She said most farmers and ranchers have been cutting their first hay crop in anticipation of irrigating fields and growing a second crop, unlike the typical three crops in a normal year.

She said the drought is having other impacts on ranchers. Her nephew ranches on the Uncompahgre Plateau and has been hauling water up to a cow camp because of a lack of water there, she said…

That’s why Luke decided to sell some of her cows early.

“There will be a lot of cattle in the sale barn down here in Delta and in Loma the first of October if this thing doesn’t turn around,” she said.

From The Kiowa County News Press (Chris Sorensen):

A week after extreme drought expanded in southeast Colorado, conditions have also deteriorated in the northwest.

Jackson, Grand and Summit counties, which had been largely drought-free, shifted to abnormally dry. Moderate drought expanded to cover most of Moffat county and a larger portion of Eagle county. Severe drought expanded further into eastern Garfield county.

Slight improvements were observed in southeast Kit Carson and northeast Cheyenne counties…

Overall, 20 percent of the state is drought-free, down from 25 percent one week earlier. Abnormally dry conditions increased slightly to 12 percent, and moderate drought increased to 16 percent from 13 percent. Areas of severe, extreme and exceptional drought are unchanged from the previous week.

One year ago, 94 percent of the state was drought-free, while six percent was abnormally dry.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ellie Mulder):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday designated drought-stricken El Paso County a primary natural disaster area, making agricultural producers eligible for emergency loans.

The agricultural producers “who suffered losses and damages caused by a recent drought” can apply for the Farm Service Agency’s emergency loans until Feb. 4.

Much of El Paso County is in severe drought, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday. A northwest portion of the county is in moderate drought.

Producers in contiguous counties – Crowley, Douglas, Elbert, Fremont, Lincoln, Pueblo and Teller – also are eligible to apply.

“FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability,” a USDA news release says. “FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the emergency loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from the impacts of this disaster.”

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