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Parchedpicturepersists

The five-year drought that continues to grip Colorado and much of the West shows no sign of letting up.”Things look bad; it’s bad as it has ever been for everybody,” said Scot Dodero, manager of the Silt Water Conservancy District, which coordinates water releases of the Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap reservoirs. By the end of February, a traditional snow-building month, “Things looked pretty good” for snowpack levels, said Brian Avery, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. But a warm, dry March and May caused the snowpack to decline instead of increase. And with most of the snowpack under 10,000 feet already melted, “we’ve seen the last hurrah as far as runoff,” Avery said.Most of central and western Colorado is currently classified as a D1, or moderate, state of drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. In this category, water shortages in streams, reservoirs or wells occur, with some damage to crops and pastures. Eastern and northern parts of the state are considered as being in a D2, or extreme, state of drought, which translates to imposed water restrictions and the probable loss of crops and pastures.Locally, reservoir levels are getting lower. On June 18, 2002, Rifle Gap reservoir held 5,542 acre feet of water, Dodero said. On June 15, 2004, the reservoir was measured at 3,609 acre feet. The continued drought has reduced the carry-over storage of the reservoir and created a condition where only 50 percent of possible water is available to the Silt Water Conservancy, Dodero said. Farmers and ranchers are also feeling the effects, he said.”The hardest thing this summer is a lot of the stock ponds in the high country are getting low, so some people will have to haul water to their cattle,” he said.But some farmers have seized on an innovative way to deal with drought. Charles Ryden, who owns a ranch on West Elk and leases two others in the area, uses an organic compound, polyacrylamide, to prevent water in his already-low ponds from seeping into the ground. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation first introduced Ryden to the substance in the bad drought year of 2002.Ryden, whose family has ranched in the valley since 1920, said he’s had “real good luck” in using the compound, called PAM for short.Farmers and ranchers have always dealt with changing conditions on their land, especially with the West’s 20-year cycle of drought, Avery said.”If you go back and look at the patterns, it’s just a normal cycle,” he said. “Being more in recent history, it seems worse because it’s fresh in everyone’s memory.”Even so, this provides little relief to farmers and ranchers who depend on water to keep their cattle and crops healthy. “You can’t do nothing with nature, just go along with it,” Ryden said. “And, just keep praying for rain.”Contact Christine Dell’Amore: 945-8515, ext. 535cdellamore@postindependent.com


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