Colorado Farm Show recap: ‘I believe the snows will come in February and March’ — John Salazar #codrought

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

To keep Colorado agriculture up and running, the state’s 50­year water plan must include smarter municipal use of the resource, in addition to conservation efforts by farmers and ranchers, Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar said Tuesday in Greeley. Salazar, a member of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s taskforce in creating the comprehensive, long­term water plan, said Coloradans, who each consume about 120 gallons of water per day, need to more closely resemble Australians, who use 36 gallons per day, if they want local farmers to remain capable of growing their food. Water-­storage projects, too, must be part of the state’s 50­-year water plan, which is in the works now and is expected to be complete by 2015, Salazar added.

On the opening day of the three­day Colorado Farm Show, Salazar, joined by Colorado Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Ron Carleton, gave his “State of the Union Address Regarding Colorado’s Water Issues.”

Water and weather are among the main topics of discussion this week.

Salazar’s presentation followed a “Drought Roundtable Discussion.” Needless to say, Salazar said in an interview following his presentation, a “massive” cooperative effort will be needed to prevent the 600,000­acre­feet shortage that’s expected to hit Colorado by 2050. A self-­described optimist, Salazar said he believes it can be done, but it will take compromise from everyone, including the farmers and ranchers who attended his presentation.

Crop growers will need to implement the latest irrigation technologies and take other conservation efforts.

To free up water for agriculture producers, cities must make the transition to xeriscape lawns, and “build up instead of build out” — a method of municipal growth that makes water reuse easier, and can amount to water savings of 50 percent or more.

“In developing our long­term water plan, we really need to take a hard look at what people are doing elsewhere, like Australia,” Salazar said.

This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 43 of Colorado’s 64 counties, including Weld, as disaster areas due to ongoing severe drought conditions. Additionally, the state’s snowpack in the mountains — the source of most irrigation water used by Colorado producers — was 67 percent of historical average for this time of the year. Statewide, reservoirs are only about two­thirds full, and some are empty, Salazar said. He said some water experts are telling him that Colorado needs 120-­140 percent of historic snowpack the rest of the winter and into the spring just to get back to normal.

“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I believe the snows will come in February and March.”

Farmers will find out today if Salazar’s optimism is warranted, during state climatologist Nolan Doesken’s weather outlook.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Colorado State University climatologist Nolan Doesken hoped he’d taken up all of his speaking time Wednesday at the Colorado Farm Show with historical climate data, and wouldn’t have to continue and deliver the weather forecast for which his audience had assembled. “D’oh,” Doesken said jokingly, looking at his watch after rehashing the effects of the 2012 drought. “Unfortunately, we still have time.”

Northern Colorado farmers and water providers need normal snowfall this winter and spring to get reservoir levels back to normal, after last year’s drought forced water users to consume much of the water that was in storage. However, at this point — about midway through winter — there’s only about a 10 percent chance of that happening, according to data shared by Doesken.

Doesken said snowpack in the South Platte River basin is likely to amount to about 75 percent of historic average by spring’s end.

In the Colorado River basin — where Front Range farmers and water users also get some of their water — snowpack is expected to amount to only about 80 percent of average. That’s at least a step up from where numbers are now.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snowpack in the South Platte basin on Wednesday was only 53 percent of average, and snowpack in the Colorado basin was 66 percent of average. Statewide, snowpack is at 72 percent of average.

The present and forecasted snowpack numbers are much higher than where they were last year. At the end of May, statewide snowpack was only 2 percent of average.

Because 2012 brought record heat and record-­low precipitation, ag producers and residents depended heavily on stored water from reservoirs to grow their crops and irrigate their lawns. At the beginning of the year, statewide reservoir levels were about 68 percent of average, according to NRCS numbers, and with extended drought into the growing season, water experts say, some reservoirs could empty, and some farmers would have little water with which to grow crops. For that reason, farmers and ranchers were hoping for plentiful rain and snowfall in recent months to get things back to normal.

Similar to forecasts given recently by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climatologist Klaus Wolter in Boulder, Doesken said the three-­month weather outlook calls for more of the same — hot and dry.

However, while snow is expected to be limited, the weather could bring surprises, Doesken said. In one past year, Doesken said, snowpack was lower than it is now, but, because of large snow storms, was well above average by the end of the spring. “You never know,” Doesken said. “We’ll hope for the best.”

More infrastructure coverage here.

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