#Colorado winter snow outlook bleak after dry summer; emergency #drought plan activated — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #snowpack

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling for drought conditions across the state to persist and possibly worsen into next year as a La Niña weather pattern brings above-normal temperatures and dry conditions to the southwestern U.S., said David Miskus, a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center.

US Drought Monitor December 8, 2020.

The entire state is already seeing drought conditions, with more than two-thirds in extreme or exceptional drought. Most of El Paso County is in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

To help prepare, Colorado has activated its municipal emergency drought plan for only the second time in history as several cities say they need to prepare for what is almost certainly going to be a dangerously dry 2021.

For Colorado Springs Utilities, activating the drought plan means increasing its communication between other major water users about water storage, future water supplies, and operational plans, said Patrick Wells, general manager with Colorado Springs Utilities Water Resources and Demand Management…

Planning for drought and water supply in the state is becoming harder as supply becomes increasingly variable, Wells and other experts said…

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

For example, last winter’s snowfall was fairly strong across the state and, on April 1, the snowpack for the upper Colorado River Basin had reached 100% of average. But the basin saw only 52% of normal runoff when experts would have expected to see much, much more water, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

Colorado Springs relies heavily on water from the Colorado River basin.

Water in the Colorado basin was likely lost to thirsty soils because the fall of 2019 was so dry and some water likely evaporated in the warm spring temperatures, he said.

“It’s not typical, but it could very well be our future,” Udall said…

For water users along the lower Arkansas River, in counties like Pueblo and Otero, the runoff from the 2020 snowpack came fast along with higher temperatures that drove evaporation, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

But, he agrees with Udall, that higher temperatures and lower flows could be the new normal. Lakes east of Pueblo are seeing 50% of their capacity lost to evaporation and that could go up, he said. So projects to preserve water in the system need to get underway to help deal with it, he said.

“We are still managing water like we did 50 years ago,” Winner said.

Lining ditches and ponds can help more water reach the fields and once it gets there, center-pivot sprinkler systems and drip irrigation can also help farms water more efficiently, he said.

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