#Drought/#Snowpack news: Conditions improving across S. #Colorado

From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

Extreme drought – the second most severe category – dropped to the severe category for all or most of Chaffee, Pitkin, Gunnison and Saguache counties, as well as large portions of Montezuma, La Plata, Dolores, San Juan and Hinsdale counties. Northeast Conejos County and northwest Archuleta County also saw severe drought overtake extreme conditions. A sliver of southwest Archuleta also retains the state’s only remaining trace of exceptional drought.

Colorado Drought Monitor February 19, 2019.

Overall, areas of drought-free, abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions were unchanged in the most recent report, holding at eight, 25, and 27 percent of Colorado, respectively. Severe drought increased from 18 to 29 percent of the state, while extreme conditions dropped from 22 to 10 percent. Exceptional drought was unchanged at less than one percent of Colorado. The total does not equal 100 percent due to rounding…

Colorado Drought Monitor February 12, 2019.

Colorado’s river basins continue a strong showing in the wake of recent snowfall that continues into this weekend. Statewide, snow water equivalent – the measure of water in the snowpack – stands at 115 percent of the median for this time of year, up from 108 percent one week ago. All basins are reporting 108 percent of median or greater. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin leads the state at 124 percent. At the start of the year, the basin was one of the weakest at around 80 percent of median. Similarly, the Upper Rio Grande basin has improved to 118 percent.

Statewide basin-filled map February 23, 2019 via the NRCS.

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

What a difference a year makes. In 2018, hot and dry conditions fueled the 416 Wildfire that destroyed homes and slowed down tourism. Farmers and ranchers sold cattle and lost crops to the drought. This week the U.S. Drought Monitor map upgraded conditions for Montezuma, La Plata and other southwestern counties.

West Drought Monitor February 19, 2019.

Assistant state climatologist Becky Bolinger calls conditions, “a stark difference from what we saw last year.”

The San Juan Mountains saw one inch more of precipitation compared to average for February 2019. Snow pack is well above average in the region. But there’s still cause for concern. Soils beneath the snow are still bone dry from drought. That means spring runoff will first seep into the soil. There could be less runoff water available to fill up the reservoirs.

And after a severe 2018 drought, thirsty reservoirs need water. The largest in the region, McPhee, is just 7 percent full.

Despite the lag in water storage, the picture feels more hopeful for agricultural producers like Brian Wilson, who grows hay in Montezuma County. In 2018 he grew about 3 tons, down from about 4 tons in an average year.

“Production was down, but the price [of hay] was better so the bottom line was about the same,” Wilson said…

Still, the extra moisture in the soil will mean better grazing for rancher Matt Isgar’s cattle. He has a different problem as he looks to recover from last year’s disappointing season. A more productive 2019 will mean he’ll need more workers.

“It’s kind of hard after drought year. You typically don’t have all the same help you had because they didn’t work as much on a drought year,” Isgar said. “So now you have to get it geared backed up and try to get help back on track.”

Around town in Durango, Blake has her eyes on another logistics problem. She said the city’s nearly run through the $47,000 budgeted for snow removal this year. [Amber] Blake says the city will a have to ask the Durango Council to approve more money for additional snow removal.

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