From CBS Denver:
“You have to be really careful how you use your water this year,” said Fagerberg Farms employee Rod Weimer. “This year it’s been really tough because the ground started off really dry.”[...]
Weimer said the water situation is concerning but they’ll have to wait until harvest to see how their crops will yield without the benefit of enough water.
From the Associated Press (Jim Suhr) via The Durango Herald:
More than half of U.S. counties now are classified by the federal government as natural disaster areas mostly because of the drought. The U.S. Agriculture Department on Wednesday added 218 counties in a dozen states as disaster areas. That brings this year’s total to 1,584 in 32 states, more than 90 percent of them because of the drought.
From the Grand Junction Free Press (Denis Reich):
In 2012, we’ve had the worst year for snow-pack runoff in some time, perhaps since the late 1970s. Many stream beds are already down to a trickle. Still, irrigators aren’t sure how to classify 2012 as a water year. In some ways, it’s clearly a bad drought: scarce snow pack, warm winter, low soil moisture, dry conditions and large wildfires. But the picture is complicated by reservoir storage and, to a lesser degree, the recent monsoon rains.
From high altitude tributaries all the way to Mexico, there is a network of reservoirs in the Colorado River basin. There’s a largely invisible world of horse-trading that allows water to be released from one reservoir to the next so rivers and canals can flow, regardless of what conditions might have naturally been. Perhaps your grandfather remembers the confluence of the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers being dry in August, but it’s been many decades since it’s happened.
One of the wettest years on record in 2011 left local reservoirs nearly full heading into 2012. This is what’s keeping water flowing now, unlike in 2002, which followed a dry year. Releases from Taylor, Blue Mesa and Ridgway reservoirs are maintaining just enough flow to prevent the Gunnison Tunnel, which carries water into the Uncompahgre Valley, from putting a call on the river that would cut off water to junior users upstream. It’s a good thing, too, for hay producers. Prior to recent rains, the Gunnison County hay crop was under serious threat. As it is, they will probably get a cutting of sorts and limp into the fall.
What is truly concerning is the risk of a curtain call from the drought in 2013. In 2003, we were about two months from apocalyptic drought and were saved mid-March by a record-breaking snow storm. With residual soil moisture only slightly replenished by the recent rains, another below average year would create significant problems. Consecutive years of drought are unusual in Colorado, but not unheard of. We just had two 30-year extremes back to back and that is exceptionally unusual.