The latest briefing (June 10, 2021) is hot off the presses from the Western Water Assessment

Click here to read the briefing:

Latest Briefing – June 10, 2021 (UT, WY, CO)

  • During May, much above average precipitation removed drought conditions across Colorado east of the Continental Divide and in southwestern Wyoming. Regional drought conditions persist west of the Divide where D3 and D4 drought cover 90% of Utah and much of western Colorado. Streamflow forecasts for much of the region are among the five driest on record and the forecasted April-July inflow forecast for Lake Powell is 25% of normal.
  • May yielded drought-busting precipitation amounts east of the Continental Divide in Colorado, especially southeastern Colorado where precipitation was over 200% of normal.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Slightly above normal precipitation fell in northwestern Wyoming. Utah was extremely dry in May; nearly the entire state received 50% of normal precipitation and two-thirds of the state received less than 25% of normal May precipitation. Most of Wyoming and western Colorado received slightly below normal precipitation.
  • Temperatures during May were slightly below normal in eastern Colorado and the northeast two-thirds of Wyoming.Western US Seasonal Precipitation In Utah, western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming, May temperatures were 1-2 degrees above normal.
  • Regional snowpack conditions were below to much-below normal except for the South Platte River basin in Colorado and Wyoming river basins east of the Continental Divide.Western US Seasonal Precipitation On June 1st, snow was completely melted in southern Utah and almost gone along the Wasatch Front and the southern slope of the Uinta Mountains. Snowpack lingers west of the Continental Divide in Colorado, but is less than 50% of normal. Western Wyoming snowpack conditions are a mix of much below normal to slightly below normal.
  • June 1st streamflow volume forecasts from the CBRFC were less than 50% normal for nearly the entire Upper Colorado River and Great Basins.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Streamflow volume forecasts in the Upper Colorado River and Great Basins are mostly among the five driest on record. Nearly all of the major reservoirs of the Upper Colorado River basin are forecasted to have less than 50% of normal inflow with Lake Powell forecasted to have 25% of normal inflow (1.8 MAF), a 3% decrease from the May forecast. Streamflow forecasts east of the Continental Divide in Colorado are higher than the rest of the region, but still below normal in the South Platte and Arkansas River basins.Western US Seasonal Precipitation
  • Drought conditions during May were very different east and west of the Continental Divide. An extremely wet May completely removed drought conditions east of the Continental Divide in Colorado and in southwestern and north-central Wyoming.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Western US Seasonal Precipitation Below average temperatures and much above average precipitation drove drought removal. At the end of April, drought conditions covered 89% of Colorado and 85% of Wyoming. By June 1st, drought conditions improved significantly, covering 49% of Colorado and 68% of Wyoming. With the exception of northwestern Wyoming where drought conditions improved by one category, drought persisted west of the Continental Divide and conditions remained largely unchanged. D3 and D4 drought continues to cover 90% of Utah.Western US Seasonal Precipitation
  • La Niña conditions, present throughout winter 2021, ended during May as eastern Pacific Ocean temperatures warmed to 0.3° C below normal. Neutral ENSO conditions are expected to continue at least through July.Western US Seasonal Precipitation The NOAA seasonal forecast predicts an increased probability for above average regional temperatures during June, except for the Eastern Plains of Colorado. There is also an increased probability for below average June precipitation in Wyoming and northern Colorado and northern Utah. On the three-month timescale, NOAA seasonal forecasts predict an increased probability for above average temperatures across the entire region Western US Seasonal Precipitation and below average precipitation except for southwestern Utah. Western US Seasonal Precipitation
  • Significant May weather event. An unexpectedly wet May led to dramatic improvements in drought conditions in eastern Colorado and central Wyoming. Drought was completely removed from Colorado east of the Continental Divide and in southwestern Wyoming. The NOAA seasonal forecast for May projected an increased probability for below average precipitation in Colorado and Wyoming, but many areas east of the Continental Divide received 150-300% of normal precipitation. Large areas of eastern Colorado and central Wyoming experienced a two-category improvement in drought conditions during May with isolated areas improving by three drought categories.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Since mid-February, above average precipitation caused a five-category improvement to drought conditions in parts of Arapahoe, Jefferson and Douglas Counties, Colorado.Western US Seasonal Precipitation A large swath of eastern Colorado experienced a four-category improvement in drought conditions over the same time period.
  • #Drought news: Improvements were made to the D0 (abnormally dry) and D1 (moderate drought) conditions in the central portion of #Colorado

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

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

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    Warm and dry conditions dominated the West while the southern Plains and South recorded the most precipitation for the week as well as cooler than normal temperatures. Temperatures were 3-6 degrees below normal over much of the southern Plains, and into the lower Mississippi Valley. Warmer than normal temperatures dominated from California to the Dakotas with departures of 9-12 degrees above normal and even higher in the northern Plains. With the active pattern continuing over the southern Plains, conditions have flipped over the last several weeks from one of drought to ample precipitation. A reassessment of conditions in several places in the West and northern Plains led to improvements, in light of some of the wetter conditions recently…

    Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 8, 2021.

    High Plains

    A mostly dry week for the region, with some late precipitation in the period over North Dakota that will be addressed next week when the full extent of the rains can be taken into account. Some areas of Colorado had above-normal precipitation for the week. Temperatures were well above normal in the Dakotas where widespread areas of 12-15 degrees above normal were observed, with several places over 100 degrees F. Farther south in the region, the temperatures across Kansas were below normal. Portions of southwest North Dakota and northwest South Dakota were reassessed this week to take into account the wetter pattern lately. Improvements to the severe and extreme drought conditions were made based upon this reanalysis of data. In Nebraska, moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions spread over the northeast to central portions of the state, with some severe drought being introduced in the far northern counties. Southeast South Dakota had drought expand and intensify, with more moderate and severe drought being introduced. The plains of Colorado remained wet and further improvements were made to the abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions in the central portion of the state. Degradation took place in Wyoming where extreme drought was introduced in the northeast and moderate and severe drought expanded in the central and southwest portions of the state, with just a small pocket improved in the southwest…


    A very dry week for the region, with only areas of New Mexico, northeast Arizona, western Colorado and northwest Washington having above-normal precipitation. Temperatures were well above normal with most areas 3-9 degrees above normal for the week. A reassessment of conditions in eastern New Mexico took place after the most recent rains, and this led to improvements in the region, with some being multi-category for the week. Eastern Washington saw conditions continuing to decline, and an expansion of moderate, severe, and extreme drought took place this week. Oregon was similar with widespread areas of degradation in the state and expansion of exceptional, extreme, severe, and moderate drought. Idaho also had widespread degradations with expansion of extreme, severe, and moderate drought and also a new introduction of exceptional drought. California continued to see the impacts of drought increase, and there was expansion of extreme and exceptional drought in the northern and central areas as well as along the coast of central California. A small area of exceptional drought was expanded in central Utah. As with the conditions in the northern Plains, some areas of eastern Montana were reassessed this week and a large area of extreme drought was removed while other areas of the state had an expansion of severe and moderate drought. Some of these same areas improved in Montana received rain after the cut-off for this week and could see further improvements next week…


    With a continued wet pattern, temperatures were well below normal, with departures of 6-8 degrees below normal in portions of Texas and Oklahoma. The greatest rains fell from east Texas into the lower Mississippi Valley, but there were pockets of heavier rain from south Texas into the central portions of the state. As in past weeks, the wet pattern of the current week as well as a reassessment of conditions over the last 6-8 weeks allowed for continued and multi-category improvements over portions of Texas. The only extreme and exceptional drought left in the state is in the Trans-Pecos region…

    Looking Ahead

    Over the next 5-7 days, it is anticipated that the best rains will be over the South, Southeast and into the Mid-Atlantic with some relief continuing in the northern Plains. Most all of the West remains dry, especially in the southwest, with some rain possible in the northwest. Above-normal temperatures will dominate the country with most areas from the West into the Midwest anticipating above-normal temperatures. Near-normal temperatures in the Southeast as well along the West Coast are expected.

    The 6-10 day outlooks show the high probability of above-normal temperatures over most of the country from the Midwest and southern Plains to the West. Cooler than normal temperatures are anticipated in the East and to the Gulf Coast as well as into the lower Mississippi Valley and Texas. Below-normal precipitation is anticipated over most of the country, with the highest probabilities in the Midwest, northern Plains, northern Rocky Mountains and into the Great Basin. The highest probabilities of above-normal precipitation are along the Gulf Coast, northern Alaska and in Arizona.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 8, 2021.

    Funding shortfalls, bureaucratic barriers hobble efforts to restore Colorado’s fire-scarred water systems — @WaterEdCO

    Land scarred in Rocky Mountain National Park from the East Troublesome Fire, October 2020. Credit: Northern Water via Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Major funding shortfalls and bureaucratic barriers between state, federal and private entities are hobbling efforts to clean up watersheds and protect drinking water for more than 1 million Coloradans this summer.

    Berthoud-based Northern Water is Colorado’s second-largest water provider, behind Denver Water. It operates the federally owned Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which serves a number of Front Range cities as well as hundreds of farms, and its collection systems were devastated last summer by the massive East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires. It estimates that it will cost more than $100 million over the next three to five years to clean up some 400,000 acres of its mountain system, which spans the Continental Divide in Grand County and Rocky Mountain National Park.

    Federal funds that have been used in the past have been depleted as states across the American West have turned to the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for help restoring burned forest lands.

    Colorado lawmakers this week stepped in to help, approving SB21-258, which creates two new grant funds totaling nearly $30 million designed to help utilities and local governments do more to address forest restoration and wildfire risk mitigation.

    And while agencies like Northern say the cash is critical, it’s only a down payment on what is going to be needed to restore mountain water collection systems embedded in national forests.

    “We’re very worried,” said Esther Vincent, Northern Water’s manager of environmental services. “The runoff season is upon us and we’re starting to see the black water.” She’s referring to the water laden with sediment and toxins entering streams from burn areas.

    Colorado’s 10 largest fires on record have occurred since 2000, with seven of them happening in the last 10 years. The red circles indicate the number of acres burned in proportion to one another. Locations are approximate. Credit: Chas Chamberlin via Water Education Colorado

    Vincent said working through Congress to get emergency funds and to address federal agency rules that limit how funds can be used on private and federal lands will take months and, more likely, years.

    “There is a reasonable chance that the U.S. Forest Service may not see funding for this until 2022. But it’s really urgent that we do some of this work now,” Vincent said.

    To address the crisis, Northern, as well as a number of cities and agencies across the state, have turned to Colorado’s congressional delegations for help. But so far, little progress has been made.

    U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and his staff are working on finding small pools of cash across a variety of federal agencies in various states to help fund work this summer. And there is some hope, staffers said, that emergency cash might be set aside by Congress later this summer through a special disaster appropriation or through a national infrastructure bill.

    But longer-term fixes are needed, said Troy Timmons, director of federal relations for the Western Governors Association.

    “There is no one thing that is broken. There are statutory issues, like how the [NRCS] Emergency Watershed Protection Program operates, and the limitations on what the forest service can do. There are cultural issues with how all of these agencies interact with one another,” Timmons said. “There are a lot of threads here that need to be worked on.”

    But for this summer, Northern and other water utilities across the state are focused on restoring their watersheds and finding the cash needed to fix them.

    “It’s a vast landscape,” said Northern General Manager Brad Wind. “How do we fix a burn and at the same time keep looking forward and investing in our watersheds for the future?”

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