Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current U.S. Drought Monitor map and the July 24, 2012 map. We are seeing improvement over the central and southwestern mountains. Exceptional drought is expanding on the eastern plains. Let’s hope that Klaus Wolter’s forecast (presented Wednesday at the Water Availability Task force meeting Twitter hashtag #cwcbwatf) for a wetter fall over the northern and eastern part of Colorado holds up.
Here’s a report about last week’s CWCB Statewide Drought Conference from Hannah Holm writing for the Grand Junction Free Press. From the article:
Meteorologists told us that some signals are good, and some are bad, but it’s quite possible that we’ll have more dry times ahead — maybe up to a decade before Colorado gets significantly wetter, or not, depending on which models end up working best. The good news is that the scientists are beginning to get a better understanding of how warming and cooling temperatures in various ocean locations affect Colorado. They’re keeping an eye on a lot more than just “La Niña” and “El Niño,” and better long-term forecasts could be coming soon, which would help ranchers and farmers make better decisions about when to sell cows and when to plant.
So, what to do? We heard about that, too. Planning might help, particularly if we implement our plans. Disaster aid actually does soften economic impacts. Given that agriculture uses upwards of 80% of our water, a lot of attention is going to getting more efficient with water use in that sector. New tools are coming online that help farmers get a lot more precise about irrigation. Restoring damaged rangeland with native vegetation can help improve the soil’s ability to hold water and slowly release it back to streams.
Cities can mitigate their vulnerability by interconnecting with neighboring systems and adopting a “one for all and all for one” philosophy, like Grand Valley domestic water providers do. Even the seven states that share the Colorado River are starting to figure out ways to share shortages. Collaboration and creativity will clearly be important if we are to do more with less water. Several speakers, including Gov. Hickenlooper, pointed out that more reservoir storage could help us better adapt to increasing volatility between wet and dry years. And, of course, we all need to conserve.
Most of this sounded familiar to me from other water meetings. I did hear some things I hadn’t heard before, though, at least not from featured speakers at meetings like this. Hickenlooper commented that at some point, we will have to ask: “What is the carrying capacity of the state?”
Keynote speaker Steve Maxwell, author of “The Future of Water,” argued that increasing prices for water will begin to impact business development and individuals’ location decisions — which could be good news for the nation’s rust belt. Another speaker commented that the market may take care of some of our looming supply and demand imbalances by shifting water demand away from dry regions like this one.
More coverage from Steamboat Today (Todd Hagenbuch):
Climatologists from Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are working on ways to determine how various environmental conditions across the world affect weather patterns in Colorado. We all are familiar with how El Niño and La Niña affect local weather patterns, but climatologists now are understanding how similar conditions in the Atlantic, Indian and other oceans conspire with one another to affect how much moisture our area receives. Such information could prove invaluable to farmers who could know in advance what type of crops to plant for appropriate moisture levels or for ranchers to know how to alter stocking rates in advance of a drought.
Part of becoming a more resilient business is to plan for the long term. Ranchers know that managing range for health will reap long-term benefits, even when a tough year makes an appearance. This point was driven home at another workshop I attended this week.
The CSU Extension Service, in partnership with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and multiple other partners, has developed the Colorado Rangeland Monitoring Initiative. The group presented a workshop in Walden this week to educate landowners and range managers about how to monitor range health with those long-term goals in mind.
More CWCB coverage here.