‘If we’re in the same situation at the end of January, we can start worrying’ — Rege Leach #CODrought

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The total flow in the Animas through Durango during November was 9,209 acre-feet, the lowest in 102 years of records, Rege Leach, the state Division of Water Resources engineer in Durango, said Thursday. The second-lowest flow in the Animas was in 1934, when 9,374 acre-feet flowed through Durango, Leach said.

Other area rivers didn’t fare much better, Leach said. The November flow in the La Plata River was the fourth lowest in 103 years of record keeping, and the Dolores River carried its third-lowest flow in 96 years of records…

“It’s too early to tell because SNOTEL sites in the San Juan and Dolores basins don’t tell that much right now,” Leach said. “If we get a couple of good storms in the next weeks, we can be back to an average snowpack.

“You can’t say it’s going to be a dry winter now,” Leach said. “But if we’re in the same situation at the end of January, we can start worrying.”

From the Christian Science Monitor (Pete Spotts):

Less than 18 months after the US Army Corps of Engineers blasted gaps in a levee on the Mississippi River to cope with a record flood, it’s getting ready to detonate explosives for the opposite reason – to clear rock outcroppings on the bottom of the drought-depleted waterway so cargo can keep moving…

Even in a year that saw hurricane Sandy, the drought could be the headline severe-weather event of 2012.

Initial estimates range from $60 billion to $100 billion, with a first official estimate from the US Department of Agriculture expected in February, says Steven Cain, a specialist with Purdue University’s Agriculture Communications Service in West Lafayette, Ind.

By some estimates, Sandy inflicted at least $75 billion in damage…

Graineries in St. Louis reportedly loaded their last barges until further notice Friday, according to Lynn Mench, a senior vice president with the American Waterway Operators (AWO), based in Arlington, Va. Grain shippers are opting to halt their work rather than send barges down partially loaded, which gets them down river but at a higher cost to the grain’s buyers. Sending them fully loaded could result in the barges running aground and remaining stuck until water levels rise.

Restrictions on barge capacity also affect winter-friendly commodities coming up river – from road salt to coal that power plants need to keep generators humming. Other forms of transportation will try to pick up the slack, but at higher cost.

One inch in a barge’s hold represents about the same capacity as one semi truck, Ms. Mench notes. Where normally barges will be loaded to a 12-foot draft, conditions now are limiting them to about 7-1/2 feet – a loss of about 54 trailers’ worth of capacity per barge.

To help keep the St. Louis-to-Cairo run navigable for as long as possible, the US Army Corps of Engineers is getting set to blast away rocks on the river bottom near Thebes, Ill. But that may not happen until early January.

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