From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Winter water storage was half of average at the end of January as drought conditions deepened. Under a water court decree, the winter water program allows nine large ditches, as well as two smaller ones, to store water in the winter months for use later in the irrigation season. Storage began Nov. 15 and ends March 15.
But snowpack in the Arkansas River basin is at only 64 percent of average, while stream flows have been at subpar levels since June. A little more than 45,000 acre-feet of water were in storage at the end of January, compared with a 20-year average of more than 94,000 acre-feet at the same time over the last 20 years. Last year at this time there were about 86,000 acre-feet in storage.
“It’s a mess. It’s not good,” said Lamar farmer Dale Mauch, who also sits on the Fort Lyon Canal board. “We’ve been battling this since 2002, and we’re looking at running out of water by June 1 if things don’t improve.”
In a normal year, the Fort Lyon Canal — the largest user of winter water — would wait until river flows drop in mid June to begin running water stored in lakes. Last year, in order to start crops, all of the water was run early and gone by June 1.
The drought, now in its third year, has left soil drier than usual as well, meaning the water won’t go as far. An average or wet spring could improve the outlook, because 2012 started better than 2013, until snow started melting off in March, rather than May.
“The good news is that a storm could get here by the weekend, and it could be a big one,” Mauch said. “You’ve got to have hope.”
From the Cortez Journal (Michael Maresh):
The nearly two inches of rain Montezuma County received from Jan. 25-28 had a positive impact on the high country snowpack, a local meteorologist is reporting. Meteorologist Jim Andrus said before the rain, the snowpack for the region stood at about 50 percent of average for this time of year. After the rainfall, the snowpack stood at 83 percent of the average. While rain fell around the county, snow was falling in the higher elevations.
“The amount of rain we had at the end of that weekend helped a lot,” Andrus said. “We had a ton of rain last weekend.” On Saturday, Jan. 26 Cortez received 1.19 inches of rain and the liquid amount of moisture from both rain and snow added another .69 inches of precipitation for a combined total of 1.88 inches over the three days…
The big factor for snowpack is the spring weather. If it’s a warm spring with rain and high winds, the snow would evaporate and the major drought concerns would return.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
An uneven water supply picture has the managers of the three big Grand Valley domestic water suppliers looking anxiously to the peaks in search of new snow, to weather forecasts for hope, and to each other for help.
The bright spot — and one that could fade quickly in the late winter sun — is the snowpack covering the Grand Junction city water supply, which began February at 98 percent of normal.
The farther east, however, the lighter the snowpack. Ute Water Conservancy District’s winter storehouse of snow is 75 percent of normal and the Upper Colorado River Basin overall is 77 percent of normal. The latter total is of greatest import to customers of Clifton Water District, which gets its water from the Colorado River.
The top managers of the three agencies are meeting regularly to prepare for the possibility that a dry winter and spring will force them to take extraordinary measures as the days grow longer and the Colorado River shrinks.
The specter of another disaster, such as the Pine Ridge Fire last year on the north side of the Bookcliffs, could require measures such as water rates designed to punish high water use, and prohibitions on the outdoor use of domestic water, such as for lawn watering. “We all might be one natural event from having to go to the other entities” for help with water, Clifton Water General Manager Dale Tooker said.
The three systems all are interconnected, largely as a response to the 1977 drought, but each agency forecasts its water use separately, meaning one would have to use its reserves to help out another provider. That would put unanticipated strains on the water delivery system. The three agencies cover one another “on a handshake,” said Greg Trainor, Grand Junction utility and street systems director. “There are no formal agreements.”
Another strain could arise if low river flows make it impossible for ditch companies, which serve agricultural interests, to draw water from the Colorado. In those circumstances, residents of subdivisions that use ditch water for their lawn watering, garden-tending and other outdoor uses will invariably start using domestic water for those activities. “Until they get their bills,” Ute Water General Manager Larry Clever said.
One bright note for Colorado River water users is that the Shoshone generating station is close to calling its full 1,200 cubic feet per second of water down the stream. It hasn’t demanded its full water right for the last several years, Clever said.
The three agencies would prefer to avoid confrontations with unhappy customers and are beginning to fashion ways of urging residents to hold down water use. No half-measures, such as odd-even watering schedules, are likely to be effective because of the difficulty in monitoring them, Clever said.
The domestic-water agencies are hoping to work with irrigation-water suppliers to better manage their response to the drought but have yet to drum up enthusiasm, Clever said. “We can make it,” Clever said, “If something happened to one of us, we might have to put restrictions on, but we can make it. But if we get three or four of these (drought years,) we’re in trouble.
From The Greeley Tribune:
With dry and warm weather expected to continue, management decisions will be critical for agricultural producers and families to maintain the resource base of their operations, according to Colorado State University Extension specialists. The Golden Plains CSU Extension office is planning to host its Drought Summit webcast series to provide critical drought management information to producers and their families.
Drought Summit dates, web cast origination locations and topics are:
» Tuesday, Burlington Community Center in Burlington (Weather updates and crop insurance issues)
» Feb. 19, Washington County Events Center in Akron (Crop production issues, forage production with limited irrigation, entomology and insect concerns during drought)
» Feb. 26, Yuma Community Center in Yuma (Livestock production issues, including herd liquidation and tax consequences and livestock disease during drought)
» March 5, Phillips County Events Center in Holyoke (Managing wind breaks, perennials and ornamentals during drought)
» March 12, Phillips County Events Center in Holyoke (Range management issues, pasture management, invasive weeds and insects)
» March 19, Sedgwick County Courthouse Annex in Julesburg (Human resources issues, family financial management and communications)
From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):
City Council is scheduled to hear from Fort Collins city staff on the matter at its meeting Tuesday. The restrictions would take effect April 1 if approved by City Manager Darin Atteberry, said Lisa Rosintoski, customer connection manager for the city. Water restrictions do not need approval from city councilors.
Level 1 water restrictions allow watering only two days per week and on a schedule. The restrictions bar watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and prohibit watering of surfaces such as sidewalks and patios except as necessary for health and safety. Level 1 restrictions would not affect water bill rates.
Officials anticipate having less water this year as snowpack remains well below average and also because of poor water quality in the Cache la Poudre from the High Park fire.
The National Resource Conservation Service said recently that it expects below average water supplies this spring and summer in the West, with Colorado especially hard hit.