D2 (Severe #drought) spreads to Summit County

West Drought Monitor July 24, 2018.

From The Summit Daily (Deepan Dutta):

Despite promises of a wet monsoon season, Colorado’s arid reality has spread into Summit, which is now part of the 60 percent of the state experiencing “severe drought.”

Nathan Elder, manager of raw water supply for Denver Water, said low water levels at the South Platte reservoir in Littleton created a need for a big draw from Dillon. Even though human consumption is Denver Water’s primary use, Elder said they do keep the marinas in mind.

“We are very concerned with how that affects the recreation industry and keeping marinas in the reservoir,” Elder said. “We plan to keep marinas operating from June to Labor Day, but this has been an exceptional year. The water levels won’t go back to normal this year, and what happens next year depends on the snowpack we get this winter.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which tracks drought across the country and assigns drought severity based on conditions, assigns dryness levels from D0 to D4. D0 is considered “abnormally dry” but not severe enough to be considered a drought, while D4 is considered an “exceptional drought” that means there is a serious water emergency that causes “exceptional and widespread” crop and pasture losses.

Summit County’s “severe drought” is at level D2. At that stage, crop and pasture losses are likely, water shortages are common and water restrictions are imposed.

Victor Lee is a hydrologist and civil engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the Green Mountain Reservoir in Heeney. Lee said that the monsoon is kicking in late due to less-than-ideal weather patterns.

“One of the reasons the monsoon has been slow to start is the high pressure system that normally forms over the southwest needs to be closer to Texas than the four corners region,” Lee said. “The high pressure system we’ve been experiencing is more to the west, and that’s bringing in warmer air but not more of the moist air from the Gulf of Mexico.”

Combined with an early spring, that makes for a long period without significant precipitation. Lee said that there is no threat to water supplies for human consumption, yet. A few years of healthy precipitation has meant that reservoirs across the state have managed to keep healthy levels in reserve and have been steadily releasing water to keep rivers and streams flowing.

“Without the reservoirs in the system, the stream flows we would be seeing throughout the upper Colorado would be much more dire,” Lee said.

If this drought persists into yet another year, the reasons for worry will multiply and tough decisions will be made.

“These are critical times in Colorado and the southwest,” Lee said. “If the drought goes into another year, there won’t be the same amount of carry-over storage, and it will become a much more complicated issue.”

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