From CBS Denver (Jamie Leary):
There are many ways to gauge the severity of a drought. This winter in Colorado, all you have to do is look around.
“The stream flows across the state have been really, really, really down throughout the whole fall season, so that is an indicator,” said Karl Wetlaufer.
Wetlaufer is a rafter, so he pays attention to stream flow. It’s also part of his job as a Hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey Program.
Wetlaufer met CBS4 near Clear Creek in Golden on Thursday, to talk about the data collected over the last several months.
“We really are seeing it in the data. It really was as dry as everyone is saying,” he continued. “Our May precipitation in the mountains since May 15th, about half of our sites in the state had the second lowest or lowest on record, going back about 40 years.”
This type of data can be collected in several ways, but for Wetlaufer, one of the methods is through the SNOTEL Network.
“Which stands for snowpack telemetry, and those sites have been across the west for a little over 40 years now, in varying lengths,” said Wetlaufer. “We also have a network of manual stations called snow courses, and those actually go back to the mid 1930s so we use those for snowpack, precipitation, mountain temperatures. They also monitor soil moisture conditions, which is a really big challenge this year.”
The challenge with the dry soil is just how dry it is. Not only for wildfire conditions but when it comes to spring runoff as well.
“We’re going into winter with such a severe drought, we’re anticipating once that snow starts to melt, those dry soils are going to soak up a lot of the water.”
Water soaked up by dry soil, can’t fill reservoirs, and while it doesn’t mean towns will run out of water, it’s not farfetched…
Overall, Denver Water says its reservoirs remain around 78 percent full, with the average for this date being 82 percent – slightly below typical.
Todd Hartman with Denver Water says Lake Dillon for instance, is lower than normal primarily because of the need to pull more water from the reservoir during the hot and dry fall, when demand was unusually high.
Hartman referenced the state drought monitor, which is covered in red. He says despite the current conditions, there was still time to make a dent in the deficit.