Drought/snowpack news: Pueblo taps stored water in winter for the first time in years, Arkansas Basin = 53% of avg #codrought

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo had to dip into its water storage during winter months for the first time in years because of continuing drought conditions. “Typically, we see storage levels come up during the winter,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “We’re at the lowest level for this time of year since 2003, when we were recovering from the 2002 drought. We still have double the storage we had coming into 2002.”

Pueblo has more than 27,000 acre­feet of water in storage, which is about a year’s supply for potable water service. Storage water had to be used, rather than direct flow, to supply water to Xcel’s Comanche power plant during December because direct flow deliveries are capped under a 2004 intergovernmental agreement designed to keep water in the Arkansas River.

While the water board is not yet contemplating water restrictions in 2013, it will not lease much water to farmers, as it has in recent years. “We are at the point where we’re taking action, and that means cutting outside demand in 2013,” Ward said. “We won’t have water on the spot market.”

The water board will fulfill several long­term leases or contracts which bring in more than $8 million annually — about a quarter of total revenues.

Pueblo increased its water usage by 11.5 percent in 2012, with 9.3 billion gallons, 1 billion gallons more than the five­-year average. The outlook for water in 2013 is not good so far.

Snowpack is about 54 percent of average in the Arkansas River basin and 60 percent in the Colorado River basin, which supplies about half of Pueblo’s water through tunnels and ditches that bring water over the Continental Divide. Shortand long-­term weather forecasts aren’t providing much hope. “Nothing on the horizon tells us anything is going to change soon,” Ward said.

From The Greeley Tribune:

The winter storm that rolled across Colorado this weekend didn’t give any significant boost to the state’s snowpack figures. In fact, snowpack recently has fallen further behind historic averages, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

On Monday, snowpack in the South Platte River basin was 54 percent of average for Jan. 14. Two weeks ago, NRCS figures showed snowpack in the South Platte basin was 70 percent of average for the beginning of January.

Additionally, snowpack in the Colorado River basin — where the northern Front Range also gets much of its water supplies — is struggling to keep up so far this year. Snowpack in the Colorado River basin was at 68 percent of average two weeks ago, but was down to 59 percent Monday. Snowpack for the entire state was at 63 percent of average Monday.

Of the eight major river basins in Colorado, the Arkansas River basin continues to have the lowest snowpack figures, with its levels at 53 percent of average.

The lack of snow in the mountains has created headaches for farmers and ranchers and water providers for several months. Greeley, like many other cities in Colorado, depends heavily on snowmelt from the mountains to meet its water needs. Many farmers and ranchers, too, depend on winter and spring snowpack to provide runoff that fills irrigations ditches during the growing season.

At the end of last spring, snowpack across the state was just 2 percent of the historic average for that time of the year.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chacón):

Colorado Springs’ water storage system encompasses 25 reservoirs in various parts of the state. On average, the system is 65 percent full. But after a year that was the hottest and fourth driest on record, coupled with increased water usage, the system at the end of December was at 48 percent. In 2002, reservoir storage levels dropped to 46 percent.

“The mountains look great and it’s snowing today, but long-term, it’s just not making the difference we would like to see,” Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier said Monday. “It looks real pretty. It just isn’t doing what it should do for us.”[...]

The city-owned utility will give the Utilities Board another update on the water situation and its drought response plans Wednesday. The board, which is made up of the City Council, is scheduled to take action in February. Two days of outdoor watering restrictions a week is “very realistic,” Lehermeier said.

The board also may be asked to consider a water rate increase and changing its pricing structure to encourage conservation by charging customers who use more water a higher rate…

Lehermeier said the strategy includes an extensive communications campaign to educate the community. Ratepayers used about 78.3 million gallons of water a day in 2012, about 7.6 percent more than in 2011.

From the Associated Press via KRDO:

Two days of outdoor watering restrictions a week and a fee hike may be on tap for residents in Colorado Springs this summer. The proposals are in response to a drop in water storage that are approaching levels not seen for a decade. Colorado Springs gets its water from 25 reservoirs in various parts of the state. On average, the system is 65 percent full. The system at the end of December was about 50 percent.

From The Greeley Tribune (D. Bruce Bosley):

Colorado landowners weathered through 2012’s record year of heat and drought. The high temperatures we experienced along with low rainfall made 2012 the record for plant evapotranspiration demand and consequently water use. Irrigation applications for most fields used record irrigation amounts just to keep up for crop water needs, and even then crops wilted early each day.

Making this situation worse, national weather forecasts for the western half of the United States and all of Colorado are not favorable for 2013. The seasonal drought outlook for Colorado and adjacent states predicts that the dry climate will persist or intensify over the next three months. Six- and nine-month forecasts also appear bleak, but as we know and hope, things can change. Colorado farmers and ranchers will need to cope with short irrigation water availability, dry soils and limited rainfall for the near future and possibly throughout the 2013 growing season.

Colorado State University Extension provides research-based information on how to reduce the drought impacts on farming and ranching businesses. CSU Extension’s mission is to help people meet the challenge of change through education leading to enhancing people’s knowledge, skills and coping strategies. CSU researchers have been conducting limited irrigation studies for several years. That research can be adapted by farmers to optimize profits through dry and water-short times.

I regularly write about and offer education programs that offer cropping system alternatives that can help farm producers meet drought and other challenges. Some alternatives require farmers to make major shifts in how they manage crops and fields and their whole farm operation.

For example, many dryland farmers in eastern Colorado have shifted from wheat-fallow to rotations including one or more summer crops before or after the wheat crop. These farmers use no-till system or a much-reduced tillage to reduce their costs and enhance their soil moisture capture. This very widespread change was initiated by research findings and the experience of a handful of innovative farmers. Although some farmers continue the traditional wheat-fallow system, the dryland farmers who are growing their operations are those who have succeeded in making the transition to these no-till multi-crop rotational systems. Dryland farmers make these new systems work. They also educate other farmers on the practical farming techniques through organizations such as the Colorado Conservation Tillage Association.

I feel it is my role to challenge the status quo farming practices with new agricultural ideas and techniques. Not all fit every farm and some do not fit any. It’s my conviction that if a farm manager is going to remain profitable, transition changes effectively and grow their business, they will need to keep abreast of the alternatives and try out a few of the most promising techniques and farming systems.

The same principle applies to each extension agent.

We also need to keep up with new and alternative research-based agricultural ideas and techniques. I encourage you to challenge me with your crop or crop system questions or ways I can improve my service to farmers.

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