#Drought news: D4 (Exceptional Drought) expanded in Four Corners

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


The southern High Plains’ second wildfire outbreak in less than a week preceded the arrival of storm system that provided much-needed rainfall on April 20-21. Rainfall in the Plains’ drought-affected areas generally totaled around an inch or less. (Additional rain fell across portions of the central and southern Plains on April 24-25 but will be largely reflected next week.) The fires peaked in intensity on April 17, when southwesterly winds fanned flames amid soaring temperatures, but continued into the following day when winds shifted to a northwesterly direction. Oklahoma’s two largest April wildfires—the Rhea Fire (in Dewey County) and the 34 Complex (in Woodward County)—were nearly fully contained by April 24 after destroying more than seven dozen structures and charring approximately 350,000 acres of brush and grass. Meanwhile, drought continued to intensify in parts of the Southwest, where dry, windy weather prevailed. In contrast, another round of heavy rain struck portions of the South and East, as the slow-moving storm system that had produced beneficial rainfall on the southern Plains eventually drifted eastward…


A striking contrast between drought and non-drought areas persisted in a southwest-to-northeast oriented band stretching across north-central Texas and central Oklahoma. Rain provided modest drought relief in Oklahoma and northern Texas, but did not reach most of the region’s other drought-affected areas. Amarillo, Texas, received precipitation totaling 0.49 inch on April 20-21, boosting its year-to-date total to 0.74 inch (20 percent of normal). Meanwhile, some expansion of dryness (D0) and moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3) was observed across western, central, and southern Texas. By April 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated that topsoil moisture was rated 67% very short to short in Texas and 53% very short to short in Oklahoma. The value in Oklahoma represented a 19-point improvement from the previous week’s value of 72% very short to short. The southern Plains’ rain also aided wildfire containment efforts. Through April 24, U.S. year-to-date wildfires had consumed 0.96 million acres of vegetation, compared to the 10-year average of 0.85 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Just to the east, wet weather persisted in the mid-South, where topsoil moisture was at least one-third surplus on April 22 in Mississippi (49%), Tennessee (46%), and Arkansas (35%)…

High Plains

Following the previous week’s significant drought reductions across the northern Plains, there were no further changes during the drought-monitoring period that ended on the morning of April 24. However, some short-term precipitation deficits have been observed during the last month near the Canadian border in North Dakota and Minnesota, and this area will be closely monitored. Through April 24, month-to-date precipitation totaled 0.15 inch (21 percent of normal) in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and 0.28 inch (25 percent) in International Falls, Minnesota. Farther south, high winds and dramatic temperature fluctuations preceded the April 20-21 rainfall event. For example, Dodge City, Kansas, notched consecutive daily-record lows (19 and 23°F, respectively) on April 15-16, followed by a daily-record high of 94°F on April 17. Dodge City also clocked a wind gust to 66 mph on the 17th, shortly after the passage of a strong cold front ended the short-lived hot spell. By April 19, daily-record lows were observed in Kansas locations such as Russell (26°F) and Wichita (31°F). (Russell and Wichita had also reported daily-record lows on April 16—with 18 and 21°F, respectively.) Some additional precipitation arrived on April 24, as the monitoring period ended. In most cases, the precipitation was highly beneficial but did not provide significant or sustained drought relief. On April 22, topsoil moisture was rated 64% very short to short in Kansas and 53% very short to short in Colorado. For both states, that represented an 8-point improvement (from 72 and 61% very short to short, respectively). Winter wheat condition actually declined during the week ending April 22, with the portion of the crop rated very poor to poor increasing from 24 to 29% in Colorado and from 46 to 49% in Kansas…


Mostly dry weather prevailed during the drought-monitoring period that ended on the morning of April 24, except for some snow in the central Rockies. In eastern Oregon, moderate drought (D1) was expanded where recent dryness has reduced topsoil moisture and caused a deterioration in rangeland and pasture conditions. Statewide, Oregon’s topsoil moisture was rated 26% very short to short by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 22, up from 18% the previous week. On the same date, USDA rated 28% of Oregon’s rangeland and pastures in very poor to poor condition. Farther south, ongoing and intensifying drought continued to threaten water supplies in portions of the Four Corners States. Exceptional drought (D4) was expanded in the Four Corners region, as two smaller D4 areas were merged. Extreme drought (D3) was expanded in parts of eastern Utah and southern Colorado. On April 22 in New Mexico, topsoil moisture was 90% very short to short, while subsoil moisture was 92% very short to short. New Mexico’s winter wheat was rated 71% very poor to poor, while rangeland and pastures were 58% very poor to poor. Arizona’s rangeland and pastures were in even worse shape-79% very poor to poor on April 22, compared to the statewide 5-year average of 34%. In the hardest-hit drought areas, Southwestern snowpack remained abysmal-or had already melted-leaving little hope for spring and summer runoff. Meanwhile, statewide reservoir storage on April 1 stood at 72% of average for the date in Arizona and 70% in New Mexico. Arizona’s Verde River system contained just 44% of its average April 1 storage, down sharply from 133% at the same time a year ago…

Looking Ahead

A storm system crossing the Southeast will drift into the Mid-Atlantic States on Friday and reach eastern Canada during the weekend. Meanwhile, a Pacific storm will traverse the Northwest and northern Plains, bearing rain and snow. Five-day precipitation totals could reach 1 to 2 inches or more along the northern Atlantic Coast and from the Pacific Northwest to the northern Rockies. In contrast, dry weather will prevail during the next 5 days in much of the Midwest, as well as southern California and the Desert Southwest.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for May 1 – 5 calls for the likelihood of above-normal precipitation in the Southwest, as well as the central and southern Plains, mid-South, and Midwest. In contrast, generally warmer- and drier-than-normal weather should prevail in the middle and southern Atlantic States, the Pacific Northwest, and northern California.

From the USDA via The FencePost:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Mesa and Otero counties in Colorado as primary natural disaster areas due to losses and damages caused by a recent drought.

Farmers and ranchers in the following contiguous counties in Colorado also qualify for natural disaster assistance. Those counties are: Bent, Delta, Gunnison, Las Animas, Pitkin, Crowley, Garfield, Kiowa, Montrose and Pueblo.

Farmers and ranchers in the contiguous counties of Grand and San Juan in Utah also qualify for natural disaster assistance.

Qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for the Farm Service Agency’s emergency (EM) loans, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration of April 12, 2018, to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from the impacts of this disaster.

Other FSA programs that can provide assistance, but do not require a disaster declaration, include: Operating and Farm Ownership Loans; the Emergency Conservation Program; Livestock Forage Disaster Program; Livestock Indemnity Program; Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program; and the Tree Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA service centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

From the Associated Press (Ken Miller) via WeatherBug.com:

Extreme and exceptional drought conditions have contributed to wildfires in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, delaying the growth of or destroying grass and wheat used to feed cattle in spring.

“Finding hay out here in this part of the state is next to impossible,” according to rancher Darrel Shepherd of Custer, Oklahoma, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) west of Oklahoma City. “Pastureland is really hard to find right now … the wheat, with the drought and all, the wheat is no good.”

Northwestern Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Panhandle — nearly 20 percent of the state — are rated in exceptional drought, the most severe category. Exceptional drought is also reported in parts of the Texas Panhandle, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and in Utah and Arizona.

Federal agriculture officials in New Mexico said ranchers may not have feed to maintain their herd sizes and that some are already trimming their herds, while farmers along the Rio Grande are bracing for less water to irrigate their crops.

In northwestern Oklahoma, two large wildfires that burned about 545 square miles (1412 sq. kilometers) destroyed pastures, but rains this past weekend helped firefighters bring the flames under control and began the process of restoring grassland.

“This last weekend was a godsend … not enough to erase the drought,” said Oklahoma State University agricultural economist Derrell Peel. “But it’s a first step and the time of year is right for the grass to green up in the next few weeks.”

Rains are needed to continue through at least the beginning of June in order to prevent Oklahoma ranchers from being faced with downsizing herds, Peel said, but even if that happens, he doesn’t expect any impact on the price of beef.

“I don’t think this area is big enough,” Peel said. “We’re still seeing an increase in beef production” nationwide.

Both Shepherd and Woods County Extension Agent Greg Highfill said ranchers in surrounding states are donating as much hay as possible to help keep livestock fed.

“Because of the drought there isn’t as much extra hay to be donated as in other years,” according to Shepherd. “People are being very generous and giving what extra hay they have.”

Shepherd said he doesn’t know where the hay is coming from, but is thankful for what has been provided.

“There’s a lot of hay from out of state being shipped in. We don’t have all we need but we’re getting more in each day,” he said. “You just can’t thank those people enough.”

From The Associated Press (Kelly P. Kissell):

The drought is rooted in a dry spell that began in October and is considered “extreme” from southern California to central Kansas. Conditions are even worse in the Four Corners region and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, warranting their description as “exceptional.”


Climatologists consider the months from October to April to be a “recharge” period, with showers and snow replenishing water supplies in the Southern Plains. However, the most recent significant rain in the area came in early October.

“The memory of that precipitation has long went out the back door,” Fuchs said. Temperatures have largely been above normal over the same period, triggering evaporation that can carry a lot of moisture away before it has a chance to soak into the ground. There is very little snowpack remaining except on the highest peaks.

A map Fuchs presented during a conference call with reporters showed a sharp distinction on either side of a line from near Fort Worth, Texas, to near Chicago. Moist areas of Arkansas and Missouri were within 100 miles of arid conditions in Kansas and Oklahoma…

Wildfires have scarred many areas of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Oklahoma forestry officials said Monday that the Rhea fire, which had burned 448 square miles (1,160 square kilometers) was 74 percent contained but not expected to spread beyond existing fire lines because of higher humidity and lighter winds.

#Colorado water managers studying #LakePowell levels issues — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

About 120 water managers gathered Wednesday to discuss how to keep enough water in Lake Powell and avoid a demand from downstream states for more water under the Colorado River Compact, and they agreed to keep studying potential solutions.

The meeting, held at the Ute Water Conservancy District, brought together members of four Western Slope basin roundtables to discuss the third phase of an ongoing “risk study” that seeks to define how much water might be needed to flow toward Lake Powell during a sustained dry period instead of being put to use growing crops.

Basin roundtable boundaries

The basin roundtables operate under the guise of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency charged with planning to meet the state’s water needs and its obligations under the interstate water compact negotiated in 1922.

If Lake Powell — which today is 52 percent full and at 3,610 feet in elevation — drops below 3,490 feet, then the hydropower plant in Glen Canyon Dam, which backs up the Colorado River to form Lake Powell, won’t be able to continue producing electricity.

And as the water level in the reservoir falls, it also makes it increasingly hard to release the volume of water necessary for the upper Colorado River basin states to meet their obligation to the lower basin states under the compact.

“I don’t want to project that it’s coming, but the possibility of it happening exists,” said Karen Kwon, an attorney at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office who works on Colorado River issues, about the potential for a “compact call.”

And she told the audience of water managers and users that the “hydrology is tanking” as the upper Colorado River basin continues to be mired in an 18-year dry period.

An ongoing study conducted by a consultant for the Colorado River Water Conservation District has found that a series of severely dry years could produce the need to send 1 million acre-feet — about 10 Ruedi Reservoirs full of water — down to Lake Powell to keep it at sustainable levels.

“Those are big volumes of water,” Carron said, and not easy to find in a pinch, especially after water in big upstream reservoirs such as Flaming Gorge also has been released to bolster water levels in Lake Powell.

The water is envisioned to come from ranchers who voluntarily agree to fallow their fields, which in Colorado are mainly fields of alfalfa, in exchange for money, and send the water toward Lake Powell instead of using it for irrigation.

But there is a long list of unanswered questions about the concept, including where the water from the “conserved consumptive use” effort could be stored until needed.

John Carron of Hydros Consulting of Boulder, who is leading the water-modeling study, showed a graphic Wednesday of a “hypothetical” reservoir, or “water bank,” near the Colorado-Utah state line that would hold 1 million acre-feet of water, but he also said the saved water could be stored in Lake Powell itself or in existing reservoirs in Colorado.

“The best place to put it is in Lake Powell,” said Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River District, who continues to work part-time for the district.

However, right now there is no way, at least from a policy or legal standpoint, for the upper basin states to store water in Lake Powell in a designated, and protected, pool of water within the reservoir, as there is in Lake Mead.

And, Carron said, trying to “bank” 1 million acre-feet of water in existing reservoirs in the upper basin states is problematic.

Alden Vander Brink, the manager of the Rio Blanco Water Conservation District in Rangely, and a board member at the Colorado River District, asked why not work toward building new “wet water” storage projects.

Vander Brink is currently leading an effort to gain approval for a dam and reservoir called the Wolf Creek Reservoir, which would hold up to 1.2 million acre-feet of water from the White River.

A lot of questions were posed but left unanswered at Wednesday’s meeting, including the true cost of trying to reduce the risk of Lake Powell dropping too low, how water left in rivers and streams could be guaranteed to reach the big reservoir, how a compact call would actually unfold and who it would affect, and how much money it might take to entice ranchers to fallow fields and participate in a large water banking or “demand management” program.

Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County Commissioner who serves on the Colorado River Basin roundtable, said Wednesday she was concerned that a demand management program doesn’t try to solve a water shortage problem while at the same time allowing new growth and development to make the problem worse.

She also said the solution to the state’s water shortages should be equally shared on both sides of the Continental Divide.

At the end of the meeting, none of the attendees disagreed with the proposal to keep studying the issue. A proposed outline of the next phase of the study is to be brought back before the basin roundtables and then to the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board for their review and approval.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

2018 #COleg: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB18-1008 (Mussel-free Colorado Act)

Zebra and Quagga Mussels

From email from Colorado Parks and Recreation:

On Tuesday, April 24, 2018, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the Mussel-Free Colorado Act into law in a short ceremony at the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver. The new law provides a stable funding source of $2.4 million for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Program for 2019 and beyond.

In February, the House passed the bill 44 – 20. The bill passed the Senate 24 – 10 in March.

“This is a huge win for protecting Colorado’s water,” said CPW Director Bob Broscheid. “Stable funding for the ANS program means a stable future for Colorado.”

The law requires Colorado residents to purchase a $25 ANS stamp for their boat. Non-residents must purchase a $50 stamp. The new law also:

  • Continues Tier 2 Severance Tax appropriations, when available, to cover the remainder of the $4.5 – $5 million annual cost of ANS program implementation
  • Increases fines for ANS-related violations. The fine for unlawful boat launches without inspection will be raised from $50 to $100. The fine for knowing importation of ANS into the state will be raised from $150 to $500 for a first offense.
  • Allows CPW to charge labor/costs incurred to store and decontaminate intercepted vessels.
    Encourages federal partners to take responsibility for ANS inspection funding at their reservoirs.
  • Why do we need a mussel-free Colorado?

    Zebra and quagga mussels are not native to the nation’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs and are considered our most serious invasive species threat. Adult infestations harm aquatic ecosystems and fisheries by disrupting the food web and outcompeting native species. They cause enormous problems for water infrastructure used for municipal, agriculture and industrial purposes by attaching to, clogging and impairing water storage, treatment and distribution systems.

    Eradicating an adult mussel infestation in an open water body is nearly impossible. Controlling infestations becomes a permanent and expensive part of normal operations post invasion. Colorado has implemented an effective prevention program to stop mussel introduction by inspecting and decontaminating watercraft before they enter our waters and ensuring that users clean, drain and dry their own watercraft in between each use.

    Almost all the states east of Colorado have a zebra or quagga mussel infestation. A mandatory watercraft inspection and decontamination program, coupled with monitoring and education, is the best approach to keep Colorado free of the invasive mussels and other ANS.

    In 2017, Colorado inspectors intercepted 26 boats infested with adult mussels coming in from out of state – a new record. Colorado has intercepted more than 145 boats infested with adult mussels since the ANS Program began in 2008. The number of infested boats increase each year and there have already been six infested boats intercepted in 2018.

    Colorado’s ANS Program was in Jeopardy

    The Colorado ANS Program was authorized by the Colorado Legislature in 2008 utilizing severance tax funds. CPW has leveraged those funds with federal and local grants to fund the ANS Program since inception. However, severance tax is a fluctuating source and federal funds have been reduced in recent years. The Mussel-Free Colorado Act is essential to providing a stable base of funding for the ANS Program to be leveraged with other dollars for the continued protection of water infrastructure, natural resources and maintaining recreational access to lakes and reservoirs. This funding source is critical to protecting our waters and water infrastructure from irreversible invasion.

    For more information about CPW’s ANS Program and the Mussel-Free Colorado Act, visit http://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/ISP-ANS.aspx.

    #ColoradoRiver: The Pueblo Board of Water Works pulls out of 2018 System Conservation Program #COriver

    From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

    Pueblo Water’s decision comes after four states and Denver’s municipal water agency accused the Arizona agency — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District — of undermining Lake Powell elevations by manipulating the complicated supply-and-demand rules that govern water orders.

    “Given our recent knowledge of the actions taken by [CAWCD] we cannot, in good conscience, participate in the program,” Seth Clayton, Pueblo Water’s executive director, wrote in the letter.

    The letter, dated April 18, comes as the Arizona agency is set to meet next week with negotiators for the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The Colorado River is split into two basins with two main reservoirs. The Upper Basin stores water in Lake Powell and the Lower Basin stores water in Lake Mead, 30 miles outside of Las Vegas.

    The Arizona agency at the center of the controversy, CAWCD, has kept quiet in recent days, despite increasing media attention, so as not to affect the outcome of those discussions.

    The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada are also scheduled to meet on May 2, although that meeting had been scheduled before the letters to CAWCD were reported last week. The commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation had been invited to that meeting.

    The Pueblo letter confirms what Upper Basin water managers feared — that Arizona’s actions would dissuade water users from joining the conservation program. The program, which is in its pilot phase, pays water users to conserve. The hope is that the conserved water, by not leaving the system, will boost the elevation of Lake Powell. The Arizona agency has said it wants to maximize the amount of water it gets from the Upper Basin, which stores water in Lake Powell.

    “[Upper Basin water users] do not want to be putting water into Lake Powell if it gets immediately pulled down to feed this policy that the district is trying to advance,” said James Eklund, who represents the state of Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    CAWCD has said its strategy is to help Arizona prepare for shortage, noting that its actions are permissible under current Colorado River rules. In a statement last week, a spokesperson said: “We have been reaching out to our partners in the Upper Basin, hoping to clarify apparent misunderstandings, and to facilitate in-person, collaborative discussions aimed at finding solutions that will benefit the communities and environment served by this mighty river.”

    First #Ogallala Aquifer Summit recap

    From The High Plains Journal (Jennifer M. Latzke):

    The inaugural Ogallala Aquifer Summit was April 9 and 10. Its goal was to bring together agricultural, municipal, research and industry stakeholders in one room to look at the realities of the aquifer today and create solutions to work toward conserving this vast resource for the future.

    The summit was a product of the state of Kansas’s 50-Year Water Vision Plan, created in 2013. It recognized that the Ogallala Aquifer’s future not only directly affects Kansas, but also neighboring states and that any conservation efforts would need to be multi-state.

    “People are impacted in all eight states by the aquifer,” explained Kansas Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann in his welcome. “The Ogallala Aquifer is the source of water for one-third of our state, and 44.5 percent of our economy is tied to agriculture. We have 3.5 million irrigated acres in Kansas, and 1.4 million of those are irrigated through the Ogallala Aquifer.”


    John Stulp, special counsel to the Governor of Colorado on water, and a former Commissioner of Agriculture of Colorado, farms in eastern Colorado and understands firsthand the importance of the Ogallala Aquifer to agriculture…

    Attendees at the first Ogallala Aquifer Summit, April 9 and 10, Garden City, Kansas, were broken into diversified focus groups by the organizers to better hash out issues that affect all eight states that sit above the aquifer. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

    “We have 12 million irrigated crop acres over the Ogallala Aquifer,” Stulp said. “About $12 billion of revenue is created out of this asset that we sit on top of here.”

    Robert Mace, associate director and the chief water policy officer at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, laid out the history and the current status of the Ogallala Aquifer for participants.

    Large irrigated region

    Today, about 43,000-acre feet of water is pumped each day from the Ogallala Aquifer across the High Plains. It accounts for the largest area of irrigated cropland in the world and is 31 percent of the total irrigated land in the U.S., Mace said.

    “We have seen more than 150 feet of decline in parts of Texas,” Mace said. While there are some parts that are rising, overall the saturated thickness of the aquifer has declined. In some areas of Texas, that’s more than 50 percent of the aquifer now depleted.

    Over the two-day summit, participants shared information about scientific research into the status of the aquifer, the politics of the eight states above the aquifer, and measures that can be taken to extend its life.

    Producers look to innovate

    Darren Buck farms on the border between Kansas and Oklahoma, and he is staring at the end of the useful life of the aquifer under his farm ground. To extend the life of his wells to the next generation and beyond, he’s switched to no-till and strip-till farming, which helps him conserve as many drops of 17 inches of annual rainfall as is possible.

    “We also have telemetry on our center pivots,” he said. This allows him to be able to stop and change the speed and direction of his pivots. By monitoring his pivots remotely he can catch wasteful situations quicker, thus preserving the water he’s pumping.

    “On one of my pivots, I can apply an amount of water comparable to two days water supply for a town of 2,000 people,” Buck said. “One pivot, over 10 hours.”

    Additionally Buck practices track management, which sounds simple but can save a lot of water when properly applied in clay loam soils like his.

    “We run our pivots routinely 1,500 or more hours a year, and we get tracks,” he said. “At the end of the season, the evapotranspiration need of the corn starts to tail off, so the need for water on the corn goes down. But, if you get a rain shower, you don’t let the pivots stop because they’ll get stuck if you shut them down. And if you need them in a hot and dry snap to help corn fill properly to the end of the season, it could be a problem. That’s why you see pivots running when it’s raining.” Being able to shut down the water and start back up again saves a lot of water.

    Summits help, official says

    Jim Butler, of the Kansas Geological Survey, brought home the importance of summits like this. The survey has new modeling framework that accounts for the water levels of the aquifer and the water use data from the wells on it to answer the question of how much do we need to reduce pumping on the aquifer to keep it at current levels?

    The survey found that on the far western third of Kansas, directly over the bulk of the aquifer, pumping would have to reduce by 27 to 32 percent to keep the aquifer at current levels.

    “If you want to reduce the rate of decline by half, then you take those numbers and divide by two and see that a relatively modest reduction in pumping could have a large impact on the decline rate,” Butler said.

    Regulating the aquifer through state statutes and policies can be tricky because each state deals with individual water rights by judicial precedence and politics that go back a 100 years or more. Organizers said that was one major reason it’s critical to have summits like this regularly to get stakeholders actively involved in solving problems and sharing knowledge.

    Garden City, Kansas, back in the day

    From Kansas State University:

    Meeting helps citizens, officials from eight states to share ideas and concerns

    More than 200 people from agriculture and other industries came together April 9-10 to discuss the challenges and opportunities for preserving groundwater in the Ogallala Aquifer region, a large resource that touches parts of eight states from South Dakota to Texas.

    The Ogallala Aquifer Summit marked a key accomplishment in the 50-year water vision for Kansas, a plan set forth in 2013 by then Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

    “The Ogallala was one of the two marquee parts of the governor’s 50-Year Water Vision, along with the reservoirs in the eastern part of the state,” said Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, which organized the summit along with Kansas State University and Colorado State University.

    “This conference is very important in helping us achieve our goals under the 50-year water plan that the governor set us on three years ago.”

    Dan Devlin, the director of the Kansas Water Research Institute at Kansas State University, noted that the meeting was also in response to citizen’s requests.

    “It was really interesting back when Gov. Brownback was doing the meetings for the 50-Year Water Vision for Kansas, we heard at meeting after meeting from citizens that they wanted to talk to the other Ogallala states,” Devlin said. “They said, ‘we want to know what they’re doing. We want to know what we can learn from them and we can also share things.’”

    The Ogallala Aquifer underlies 175,000 square miles, or about 112 million acres in parts of eight states. For nearly 80 years, farmers and communities have been using the aquifer for agriculture and public water supplies. The Ogallala supports about 30 percent of all U.S. crop and livestock production, accounting for an estimated $35 billion in agricultural products annually.

    But the resource is dwindling…quickly. Southern parts of the aquifer – including many areas of Texas and New Mexico – are nearly dry and in western Kansas, an extremely productive agricultural region, wells are slowing down as the amount of water available to farmers is becoming increasingly scarce.

    “When we are dealing with issues like the Ogallala Aquifer, addressing them from one state’s perspective is just not the best way to get something done,” said Jackie McClaskey, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, who participated in the two-day meeting.

    “By pulling together all of the states impacted by the Ogallala it allows us to bring lots of great ideas and lots of minds and lots of folks together to really say how can we work together to address concerns in the Ogallala, whether that be decline or economic conditions surrounding the Ogallala…all the different types of issues that not only Kansans are concerned about, but all of the folks that live on the Ogallala.”

    Summit participants heard presentations on science and research, technology, producer practices and water policy, and shared their views on each during small group sessions. Their opinions were compiled and will be part of a report due out later this year.

    “For me, the importance of this meeting is just kind of listening to some of the concerns in the other states,” said Harold Grall, a farmer near Dumas, Texas. “We’re all pumping out of the same aquifer. Each of the states has its own set of rules and regulations on how they conserve water and I like hearing those different ideas.”

    He added: “At times, it just seems because we’re depleting a finite source, that our time is limited, but talking to the people around here helps us to be hopeful that maybe we’ve got a longer time than we think.”

    A common theme at the meeting was that farmers want to do what’s right and sustain the resource for generations to come. It wasn’t a message lost on 16-year-old Grace Roth, an officer in FFA and a Kansas Youth Water Advocate.

    “It encourages me and also makes me feel kind of relieved because these people have a genuine care for the future and these people want to do something for our generation,” Roth said. “They want to take action today so that we can ensure our future; we can ensure the future not only of agriculture but also the future of our world.”

    Roth, who gave an impassioned 10-minute talk during the meeting, said every person should be interested about issues that help to preserve and protect water.

    “Just imagine if one day you turn on your sink and nothing came out,” she said. “How would you continue on with your life? It’s a very scary thought of not being able to prosper in the future.”

    Much of the university research currently being conducted in the Ogallala Aquifer region is a result of a Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. CAP grants are designed to involve researchers from many universities and organizations, and to communicate information to citizens.

    “We want producers to be the voice that is spreading the message,” said the Kansas Water Office’s Streeter. “It’s one thing for ag departments, universities, water office folks to get up and tell these success stories, but it’s much better for the producers themselves to do it, and that voice does get heard by other producers.”

    McClaskey added: “What I think is unique about (the Ogallala Summit) is that we have universities engaged, we have government agencies engaged, but most important we have farmers and ranchers engaged. And those are the folks that are going to hold the rest of us accountable to keep moving forward and make sure that progress happens.”

    Learn more about work in the Ogallala Aquifer region by visiting https://www.ogallalawater.org.

    @CWCB_DNR: April 2018 #Drought Update

    Here’s the update from the CWCB/DNR (Taryn Finnesey/Tracy Kosloff):

    Exceptional drought has been introduced into the four corners region of Colorado as persistent precipitation deficits continue. While early April storms have helped improve conditions throughout northern Colorado, the southern half of the state remains extremely dry. Conditions are somewhat tempered by strong reservoir storage, but water providers are already seeing increased demands and implementing restrictions. Agriculture is also seeing loss of winter wheat and strong winds have fueled early fires. Water year-to-date accumulation at Mesa Verde is the lowest in its 95 year record.

  • As of April 19, exceptional drought has been introduced in southwest Colorado, covering 4 percent of the four corners region, primarily in Montezuma and La Plata County. Extreme drought, D3, covers 21 percent of the state; severe drought 29 percent and 16 percent is classified as moderate drought. An additional 15 percent of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions (see image on reverse side).
  • As of April 19, statewide snowpack at SNOTEL sites is 69 percent of average. However, there is a stark contrast between conditions in the southern half of the state and the northern half. The Gunnison basin has the lowest snowpack on record while the Southwest basins and Rio Grande have already achieved their peak snowpack and have now seen a 50 percent melt off of their snowpack.
  • Many southern basins’ year –to-date precipitation, based on SNOTEL is tracking near 2002; while other sites have the lowest in the nearly 40 year record (see image on reverse side).
  • Reservoir storage statewide is at 114 percent of normal, with all basins above average. The Arkansas basin is reporting the highest average storage at 131 percent. The Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan have the lowest storage levels in the state at 101 percent of normal. While still above average, storage levels have begun to decline from previous months.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values have declined for April 1, with much of the western slope classified as extremely dry. These values are largely driven by below average streamflow forecasts. The sub- basins with the highest values are a result of large reservoirs such as Lake Granby and John Martin Reservoir (See image on reverse side).
  • Streamflow forecasts are well below average for the vast majority of the state with the South Platte the only basin with any near normal projections. The southern half of the state continues to see declines, and the southwest corner has streamflow forecasts below 50 percent of average.
  • Longterm forecasts indicate below average precipitation into May coupled with increased likelihood of above average temperatures.
  • Statewide snowpack basin-filled map April 23, 2018 via the NRCS. Note Rio Grande did not render correctly. It was at 31% of normal on April 22, 2018.

    Statewide SNOTEL water year-to-date precipitation is below average across much of the state but particularly in the south with some sites in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basins recording all time lows.

    Colorado Drought Monitor April 17, 2018.

    Southern Colorado has continued to see an expansion of drought conditions through the snow accumulation season, with exceptional conditions now present in Montezuma and La Plata counties.

    April 1 Surface Water Supply Index values are well below normal for the western half of the state, with the driest regions in the four corners area.

    #Snowpack/Runoff news: North Platte River Basin best in state = 102% of normal

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April, 24, 2018 via the NRCS.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    Despite subpar snow accumulation in the heart of winter 2017/18, the snowpack in the mountains near Steamboat Springs — and with it, the water supply that refresh the river — has continued deeper into the spring than is normal.

    Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service told Steamboat Today in May 2017 that snowpack typically peaks in this region April 10. The good news for irrigators and paddlers is that the snowpack has continued to build into April 2018.

    Improbably, the meager snowpack that accumulated in January and February has been compensated for by heavy spring snow at elevations above 9,000 feet. And that bodes well for filling reservoirs and fueling kayak play parks.

    The Yampa peaked at 2,640 cfs in 2017.

    The view of the upper Yampa Valley from the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass this week belies the amount of water yet to flow from the southern end of the Park Range and feed spring runoff in the Yampa River.

    From a pullout on U.S. Highway 40, it was plain to see April 21 that the valley floor was completely devoid of snow and low elevation runoff from the hay meadows is complete.

    The Yampa River was flowing well below the median for the date at 320 cubic feet per second April 22, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. But that same day, the river began to rise steeply until it reached 600 cfs on April 24.

    That flow was still a little more than 200 cfs below median for the date. But the current trend doesn’t necessarily signal a weak spring runoff.

    The Conservation Service was reporting Tuesday that the water stored in the remaining snow in the mountains of the Yampa/White River Basin has climbed to 89 percent of median this spring. On the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass, the number is 93 percent of median.

    Colorado snow survey supervisor Brian Domonkos reported this month that Northwest Colorado represents the healthiest snowpack in the state. And the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, predicts the Yampa will begin to climb through April 29 to almost 700 cfs when the National Weather Service expects daily high temperatures on the valley floor to range into the mid- to high-60s on Friday and Saturday.

    From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

    After a winter of below-average snowfall, Steamboat Springs water providers have implemented Stage 2 water restrictions that will go into effect Tuesday.

    The restrictions will impact customers of Mount Werner Water, the city of Steamboat Springs, Steamboat II Metro District and Tree Haus Metro District.

    Among the restrictions, homeowners will only be allowed to water their lawns on certain days in an effort to conserve water…

    As of Tuesday, the snowpack on Buffalo Pass was 91 percent of average. For most of the winter the snowpack was below 80 percent of average.

    Before enacting restrictions, water providers also look at long-term weather forecasts.

    According to the three-month outlook prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there is a 33 percent chance that precipitation in the region will be below average during the next three months. There is a 40 percent chance that the temperatures will be above average…

    During Stage 2 water restrictions, no outdoor watering is allowed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

    People with an odd-numbered address are only allowed to water on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Those with an even-numbered address can water Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. No one is allowed to water on Wednesdays.

    If one irrigation system is used by multiple addresses, either schedule can be used.

    Special permits can be issued for new lawns and trees.

    People washing their vehicles at home should use a bucket and a spring-loaded hose nozzle.

    Drinking water should not be used to clean hard surfaces like driveways and sidewalks.