From Westword (Chase Woodruff):
“Water Year 2019 ended in an unfortunate whimper,” read an advisory from the Colorado Climate Center issued October 1. “What started out with a bang (cooler than average temperatures, above average snow, wet spring into early summer) shifted to hot and dry conditions for much of the Intermountain West, ending with an underperforming monsoon season.”
For hydrologists and water managers, each October 1 marks the start of a new “water year,” and in Colorado and across much of the Southwest, Water Year 2020 is off to a dry start. After several drought-free months earlier this calendar year, nearly a third of Colorado is now experiencing drought conditions, and 70 percent of the state is considered “abnormally dry,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The quick reversal is part of a long-term trend toward hotter, drier conditions in the state, particularly on the Western Slope…
The reduced stream flows, snowpack and reservoir levels experienced by communities across the West in recent years are here to stay, experts warn, and these drought conditions can’t be easily reversed by one year of high precipitation. After a good 2019 snow year, drought designations have returned to Colorado in large part because the North American Monsoon, a weather pattern that typically brings precipitation to the Southwest in late summer, was a no-show this year…
Scientists with the Colorado River Research Group suggested a new word for what the West is experiencing in a 2018 paper: “Perhaps the best available term is aridification, which describes a period of transition to an increasingly water scarce environment — an evolving new baseline around which future extreme events (droughts and floods) will occur,” the report’s authors wrote. “Aridification, not drought, is the contingency that should guide the refinement of Colorado River management practices.”
Better management of drought conditions — and ultimately, halting climate change — is a top policy priority for many Coloradans, from the farmers and ranchers who bear the brunt of water shortages and communities facing increased wildfire risks to resort towns that rely on good snowpack in the winter and healthy stream flows in the summer. Rice says that policymakers and members of the public should remember that — even in the good years.
“We lose our urgency when we have years like 2019,” he says.