From Inside Climate News (Judy Fahys):
Drought is once again front-of-mind for rural leaders like Mineral County Commissioner Ramona Weber, who’s been talking with colleagues about the threat of water shortages and heightened wildfire risk…
In the wake of new research on megadrought in the West, and after an exceptionally dry spring, the Four Corners region is headed into the summer of 2020 with deep uncertainty. On top of the disruption from the coronavirus pandemic, summer forecasts suggest yet more heat waves, wildfire and water supply shortages.
A recent study in the journal Science concluded that global warming is responsible for about half the severity of the emerging megadrought, leaving the soil and vegetation parched and streams running low. Megadroughts are defined as dry periods lasting 20 years or more.
“My gut is that we are really at the beginning, that it’s going to get worse,” said Becky Bolinger, assistant State Climatologist for Colorado. “I hope I’m wrong.”
Ponderosa pine forests, redrock canyons and rolling desert vary the terrain in the region where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet. But heading into the summer, the water situation is grimly similar throughout the Four Corners.
Streams are projected to run about half full, and ranchers, farmers and communities dotting the area will be forced to rely on groundwater and will likely face restrictions. And the praying’s already started for generous monsoon rains to bring relief soon.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows a growing area of abnormally dry to severe drought conditions in the Four Corners as vast areas of “extreme drought” grow along Colorado’s borders with New Mexico and Nebraska. Moderate to extreme drought now covers more than two thirds of Colorado, Utah and Nevada, and parts of northern Arizona and New Mexico.
Nearly 4.7 million people live in these drought-stricken areas, including the entire Navajo Nation Reservation, where the battle to slow the spread of the coronavirus has been underway for months.
The combination of scant water and unusually high temperatures has left vegetation parched. “Crispy” is the word Bolinger recently used in a tweet to describe her state. For much of Utah, Nevada and northern New Mexico, vegetation is similarly dry.
Forecasters say 2020 could bring another busy wildfire season, which officially began last Monday. The potential for significant wildfires is above normal through August, they say.
In early May, like many county officials in the Four Corners, leaders of the Southern Ute Tribe issued a fire ban throughout the reservation along the southern Colorado border: Burning waste, agricultural burning, fireworks and all campfires except for sweat ceremonies are prohibited. The Navajo Nation also implemented a fire ban last month.
In nearby Mineral County, Colorado, people are on alert, said Commissioner Ramona Weber, who also owns the Wild Beaver Mountain Man Emporium in Creede. With the make-or-break tourist season underway and coronavirus restrictions already threatening to scare visitors away, local businesses are worried about the drought…
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center forecasts a good chance of a hotter-than-normal summer (60-70 percent likelihood) and drier than normal (40-50 percent likelihood).
Brent Bernard, hydrologist for the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, said the data suggests to him that this summer could rival epic drought years—among the top 10 in a 125 years of historical record-keeping. He pointed to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s most recent 24-month study of the Colorado River Basin, which found that flow into Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border was above average in only 4 of the past 19 years.
And the water supply forecast for the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam estimates that just 57 percent of normal flow will be available to recharge the reservoir this year.