Drought news: ‘Everything is so dependent on late winter, early spring’ — Russ Sands,

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From the Boulder Daily Camera (Carol O’Meara):

“It’s a case of we don’t know what we don’t know,” says Russ Sands, City of Boulder’s Water Conservation Program Manager. “It’s way too early to say if we’ll have restrictions. If we have a few good storms, we won’t have to; everything is so dependent on late winter, early spring.”

Coming off of a record hot season, Sands says decisions Boulder made in 2012 to ramp up treatment plants and storage kept the city in good shape to meet needs heading into 2013…

Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District isn’t ready to push the panic button either, says Brian Werner, public information officer for the supplier of water to 33 cities and towns and 640,000 acres of farmland in northeast Colorado. “We’re always cautioning people to wait until March and April, because those are our wettest months.”

Werner acknowledges concerns, especially after last year’s low rainfall and this winter’s piffle of snow. After all, memories of the 2002 drought cast a shadow over the hearts of gardeners. “2012 was the second worst runoff year for us; you don’t want to put another year like that on top of it. But it’s followed three of the wettest years — 2009, 2010, and 2011. This is why we have water storage in this state.”

Yet storage is 25-percent below average in the district’s reservoirs, making the district cautious in its planning. “We have some big months (of moisture) ahead of us; Mother Nature’s given us that before. But with the way things are now, we’re casting a wary eye to the sky.”[...]

As one of the older cities in the region, Longmont has managed its water portfolio to ride out weather downturns like the current dry spell. Between its reservoirs and shares in the Colorado Big Thompson project, the city currently has plenty of water to meet needs for 2013.

“We track our water over a two year period and manage it conservatively, in case of dry year scenarios,” said Ken Huson, Water Resources Administrator with the city. “We project having 144-percent of need for 2013 and 136-percent for 2014. Our drought trigger is 135-percent or less, so right now we’re not projecting going into mandatory water restrictions.”

From The Washington Post (Brian K. Sullivan):

Forecast models suggest an area from parts of western Kansas south into Texas and west to New Mexico will probably see the drought continue until at least March, said David Unger, a meteorologist at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“The climate models have been quite consistent for below- normal precipitation amounts,” Unger said today in a conference call with reporters. He said he wasn’t confident about what will happen in other parts of the country, though there may be some relief in the Ohio Valley…

The drought reduced the corn harvest to the smallest in six years and sent prices up as much as 68 percent since June. The dry conditions also lowered the waters of the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi rivers, shrinking shipping channels and crimping the flow of goods along the nation’s largest inland waterway, which carries more than 14.5 million tons of agriculture products, chemicals and coal.

Dryness is expected to persist through March from Nevada to western Missouri and from southern North Dakota to Texas, according to the prediction center.

Drought conditions now cover 61.79 percent of the 48 contiguous U.S. states and 51.7 percent of the entire country, including Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska…

The drought is one of 11 natural disasters that cost more than $1 billion in 2012, said Adam Smith, an applied climatologist at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

From KRDO.com:

While the additional snowfall has helped, Colorado Springs Utilities said it is not enough to bring the state out of the drought. “It has helped some, but we are still in drought, and so we’re still looking at a very dry year,” said Abby Ortega, Colorado Springs Utilities water rights administrative supervisor.

Ortega said reservoirs that serve Colorado Springs are at 49 percent of capacity, adding that ideally they should be at 75 percent of capacity.

According to Ortega, the mountains would need to receive several feet of snow to prevent water restrictions this spring. She said that while the forecast indicates below-average precipitation chances for the first couple of months, there is still a chance the season could take a turn for the better. “We’re not running out of time at all. Typically, Colorado sees most of our snowpack in March, April and sometimes even in May.

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