#Drought news: D4 (Exceptional Drought) introduced on the #Colorado West Slope

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

Tropical Storm Beta made landfall on September 21 about 10 pm CDT near Port O’Connor, TX, with sustained winds near 45 mph. Once inland, slow-moving Beta weakened and turned northeastward, crossing the Mississippi Delta before dissipating on September 25 over the Southeast. Nevertheless, heavy rainfall associated with Beta caused local flooding, especially along and near the middle and upper Texas coast. Beta’s heavy rain tracked across an area (centered on Mississippi) experiencing abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1), leading to a significant boost in soil moisture. Mostly dry weather covered the remainder of the country, aside from a few showers in the upper Great Lakes region and some beneficial precipitation in the Northwest. Across much of the Plains and Midwest, open weather favored agricultural fieldwork but further reduced topsoil moisture in drought-affected areas. In fact, worsening drought remained a major concern across much of the western half of the country, with adverse impacts on rangeland and pastures. In addition, the return of hot, windy weather fanned several new Western wildfires. Near- or above-normal temperatures prevailed in the West, with the hottest weather occurring in the Four Corners States. As the drought-monitoring period ended on September 29, approaching heavy rain brought the promise of relief to the Northeast, enduring its second major drought in 5 years…

High Plains

Dry, occasionally breezy weather led to a “flash-drought” situation, with rapid development or expansion of dryness and drought. Several days of summer-like warmth contributed to the drying; in Nebraska, daily-record highs rose to 95°F in Valentine (on September 22) and North Platte (on September 23). On September 24, East Rapid City, South Dakota, noted a daily-record high of 93°F. By September 27, topsoil moisture across the region rated very short to short ranged from 49% in Kansas to 77% in Colorado. Wyoming led the region with rangeland and pastures rated 64% very poor to poor. Colorado producers had planted 66% of their intended winter wheat acreage by September 27, leading the nation (and 9 percentage points ahead of the 5-year average), but only 19% of the crop had emerged (8 points behind average). These statistics—rapid planting but slow emergence—were indicative of dry conditions…


Precipitation in the Pacific Northwest aided wildfire containment efforts and brought slight improvement in the drought situation, mainly west of the northern Cascades. However, the remainder of the West remained warm and dry, with gusty winds and low humidity levels contributing to another round of dangerous wildfire activity in northern California. The much-needed Northwestern precipitation delivered daily-record amounts on September 23 in western Washington locations such as Hoquiam (1.32 inches); Olympia (1.23 inches); and Seattle (1.08 inches). Troutdale, Oregon, reported more than an inch of rain on September 18, 23, and 25—with totals of 1.13, 1.18, and 1.02 inches, respectively. Precipitation spread as far inland as the northern Rockies; in Idaho, daily-record totals included 0.55 inch (on September 25) in Stanley and 0.54 inch (on September 26) in McCall. Farther south, several new patches of exceptional drought (D4) were introduced or expanded in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. As the water year (October 1, 2019 – September 30, 2020) came to an end, extreme drought (D3) was expanded in northern California and portions of neighboring states. California’s two most dangerous new wildfires were the Glass and Zogg Fires, both of which started on September 27. The Glass Fire, in Napa and Sonoma Counties, and the Zogg Fire, in Shasta County, both scorched about 50,000 acres of vegetation a couple of days, with little containment. Meanwhile, very poor to poor ratings were indicated by USDA on September 27 on at least 50% of rangeland and pastures in all Western States except Idaho, Nevada, and Utah, led by Oregon (82% very poor to poor). On the same date, topsoil moisture was at least 60% very short to short in every Western State except Arizona, led by New Mexico (86% very short to short)…


The remnant circulation of Tropical Storm Beta tracked across the area of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) centered on Mississippi. September 21-24 rainfall topped 4 inches in locations such as Natchez, Mississippi (5.35 inches); Monroe, Louisiana (4.83 inches); and Texarkana, Arkansas (4.13 inches). Following Beta’s passage, D1 was eliminated from Mississippi. However, southeast of Beta’s area of influence, parts of eastern Mississippi saw mounting short-term precipitation deficits and a corresponding increase in D0 coverage. Farther west, parts of central Texas continued to benefit from recent heavy rainfall, while conditions rapidly worsened across the High Plains of Texas and Oklahoma. In fact, two new areas of exceptional drought (D4) were introduced in western Texas. Through September 29, year-to-date precipitation in Midland, Texas, totaled just 6.84 inches (59% of normal). In Texas’ northern panhandle, year-to-date precipitation had not yet reached the 9-inch mark in Borger and Dalhart. Borger’s 8.87-inch total was 48% of normal. On September 27, Texas led the country—among major production states—in cotton rated very poor to poor (35%). Oklahoma led the nation with 47% of its sorghum rated very poor to poor, according to USDA…

Looking Ahead

Unusually cold air will surge across the Midwest, eventually reaching much of the eastern half of the United States. By October 2-3, widespread freezes should occur from Nebraska and the Dakotas into the Great Lakes region. A secondary push of cold air will subsequently deliver additional freezes across the northern Plains and upper Midwest. In contrast, significantly above-normal temperatures west of the Rockies during the next 5 days will accompany completely dry weather. Elsewhere, periods of light precipitation may occur across much of the eastern half of the country, while locally heavy showers will linger for several days across Florida’s peninsula. A tropical wave over the western Caribbean Sea will continue to move generally westward with some potential for development during the weekend and beyond.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for October 6 – 10 calls for the likelihood of near- or below-normal temperatures in the eastern United States, except across Florida’s peninsula, while warmer-than-normal weather will prevail from the Pacific Coast to the Plains and upper Midwest. Meanwhile, near- or below-normal precipitation across most of the country should contrast with wetter-than-normal weather in northern Maine, much of Florida, and the Pacific Northwest.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 29, 2020.

Just for grins here’s a gallery of early October US Drought Monitor maps for several recent years.

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Getches-Wilkinson Center webinar: Meeting the Financial Challenges of Improved Water Management in the West — Session Three A Role for the Business Community

Click here for all the inside skinny, and to register:

Meeting the Financial Challenges of Improved Water Management in the West: A GWC Webinar Series

Session Three

A Role for the Business Community

Wednesday, October 14th
12:00-1:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Zoom Webinar

Many members of the business community are increasingly concerned that western water scarcity is a threat to producing and selling their products, and more generally, to maintaining the healthy social and economic conditions that are needed to sustain strong economies. A variety of initiatives are now underway to address this concern, and to address water management issues both within and outside of their sphere of operations.

Registration (Webinar access will be sent to the email address provided)

View the full suite of sessions here: GWC Water Webinar Series
All session are free and open to the public.

The Tomichi Water Conservation Program involves regional coordination between six water users on lower Tomichi Creek to reduce consumptive use on irrigated meadows as a watershed drought management tool. The project will use water supply as a trigger for water conservation measures during one year in the three-year period. During implementation, participating water users would cease irrigation during dry months. Water not diverted will improve environmental and recreational flows through the Tomichi State Wildlife Area and be available to water users below the project area. Photo credit: Business for Water.

Gov. Polis Takes Action on #Colorado #Drought, Calls on @USDA to Expedite Assistance for Farmers and Ranchers

Here’s the release from Governor Polis’ office:

As Colorado is experiencing extreme drought conditions, and farmers and ranchers are facing significant challenges as a result, Gov. Polis is taking action by expanding Phase 2 activation of the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the state’s remaining 24 counties and is calling on the USDA to expedite disaster aid payments to support Colorado producers.

In June, Governor Polis activated Phase 2 of the Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for 40 of Colorado’s 64 counties. Due to increased drought conditions, he decided to expand this to the remaining 24, which includes Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Gilpin, Grand, Jackson, Jefferson, Lake, Larimer, Logan, Moffat, Morgan, Park, Phillips, Rio Blanco, Routt, Sedgwick, Summit, Teller, and Weld.

Colorado Drought Monitor September 22, 2020.

“Exceptional (D4) drought conditions returned to Colorado and continue to hold in Kiowa county; 50% of Colorado is currently experiencing extreme (D3) drought conditions; and 39% of the state is under severe (D2) drought (according to the Sept. 17th US Drought Monitor). As of the September 4th record, USDA drought disaster designations are active for 59 of 64 Colorado counties. Record breaking temperatures statewide are projected to persist over the next three months, meaning imminent relief is unlikely,” the Phase 2 activation Phase 2 activation letter reads.

The Governor also sent a letter to Secretary Perdue, encouraging the USDA to provide emergency relief for Colorado producers as a result of persistent drought conditions. “Colorado producers, in all four corners, continue to experience dire ecosystem conditions with depleted soil health, pest pressures, rangeland damage, and a heavy reliance on declining groundwater reserves,” the letter reads.

#Water #conservation payments to #Colorado ranchers could top $120M; is it enough? — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This field near Carbondale is irrigated with water that eventually flows into the Colorado River. The state has wrapped up the first year of an investigation into a program that could pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

With another drought year draining the Colorado River system, a new economic study suggests that a wide-scale water conservation program in Colorado to reduce stress on the river could cost more than $120 million, depending on the amount of water saved for use in the program.

The study examined how much money it would take to adequately compensate ranchers and farmers who agree to temporarily remove water from Colorado’s West Slope hay meadows and corn fields using a practice known as fallowing. It also looked at how such a conservation program would affect the farm economy and the communities and workers who rely on it for jobs.

“Potentially the program could be beneficial to the participants,” said BBC Managing Director Douglas Jeavens, a principal with BBC Consulting, which conducted the work. “The payments have to be large enough to offset any losses,” he said.

The water saved would go into a special drought pool in Lake Powell. The pool is envisioned as a way for Colorado and other states in the Colorado River Basin’s Upper Basin—Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico—to further protect their ability to use the river’s water even as Lake Powell continues to shrink.

Kathleen Curry, a former lawmaker and rancher in the Gunnison River Basin, said the analysis covered all the variables at play.

“I thought they did a good job,” she said. “The numbers they came up with are reasonable.”

The study looked at two different scenarios. Under a moderate scenario it examined the impact of fallowing 25,000 acres of West Slope land annually over five years, and an aggressive scenario under which 100,000 acres of land would be fallowed for the same period of time.

The study, released Sept. 25, was sponsored by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, the Durango-based Southwestern Water Conservation District, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission. It adds important new detail to a statewide discussion about whether Colorado should participate in the drought pool.

Since the state began studying the pool’s feasibility in 2019, West Slope ranchers have said repeatedly that they can’t make a decision about whether to participate if they don’t know how much money they would be paid and how such a program would affect the local economy.

The study provides some preliminary answers.

Across the Yampa, Colorado, Gunnison and Dolores river basins, under the moderate scenario, ranchers would see a net benefit of nearly $9 million, while under the aggressive scenario, the net benefit would rise to $36 million over a five-year period. The water in the study was priced in a range starting at $194 an acre-foot and rising to $263 an acre-foot.

The Colorado, Yampa/White, Gunnison and Southwest basins were evaluated for secondary impacts of a demand management program that eventually could include the entire state. From the report: “Upper Basin Demand Management Economic Study in Western Colorado”. Source: Colorado River District

Individual ranchers who agree to fallow 100 acres of land could see an annual benefit, after expenses, of more than $50,000 under at least two scenarios, according to BBC’s analysis.

In modeling changes to the economy, the study found that 55 jobs would be lost under the moderate scenario, while 236 jobs would be lost under the aggressive scenario.

It also found that hay prices would rise 6 percent as supplies tighten and livestock populations would shrink by 2 percent.

Another key concern for ranchers and others is whether taking water off the fields could harm other water users on the river farther downstream.

“This is a critical issue,” said Jeavens. “But we think looking ahead we could design a program that either reduces or eliminates that risk.”

The pool would be filled with 500,000 acre-feet of water, roughly half of which would likely come from Colorado, should it, along with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, agree that filling the drought pool is doable.

Under a broader statewide study also underway, ranchers and cities would be asked to voluntarily set aside water for the drought pool and would be paid for whatever water they contributed to the program.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is conducting the statewide feasibility analysis, declined to comment on the West Slope economic study.

Whether Colorado’s Front Range will embark on a similar study focusing on its contributions to the conservation program isn’t clear yet.

Previously Front Range cities have said they would be willing to contribute whatever water and/or cash is necessary to fill the drought pool in a way that is fair to cities and agricultural producers, as well as to different regions of the state.

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The Colorado River, which starts high in Rocky Mountain National Park, supplies roughly half of the drinking water on the Front Range and is also used to irrigate millions of acres of hay meadows, corn fields and other crops on both the West Slope and Eastern Plains.

But if the drought-stressed river continues its decline, it could feasibly trigger involuntary cutbacks under the Colorado River Compact for the Upper Basin states, affecting both Colorado’s West Slope and Front Range.

Though such a scenario is still considered unlikely, policy makers and others want to see Colorado develop some kind of insurance against such a catastrophic event.

Who would pay for the conservation program remains to be decided. Some have suggested that thirsty state’s in the Colorado River’s Lower Basin—California, Nevada and Arizona—ante up any needed cash. Others believe that a new set of fees or taxes could fund the ambitious effort.

Don Schwindt, a rancher who sits on the board of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, said the study is a good step forward, but he wants more detailed analyses.

“These numbers are as good as any that have been generated. But the simple answer right now is that this is not enough money to generate the water. For my operation, I have to have a higher dollar than those averages or I am going to go broke.

“We’ve moved forward,” he said, “but we don’t have anything we can take to the bank yet.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck