Record drought parches the West

Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

The record drought of 2002 affected everyone in the Roaring Fork and Colorado river valleys, and led to one of the worst fire seasons in Colorado history.

In March, U.S. Natural Resources Conservation District officials knew they had a water shortage on their hands. Snowpack on March 29 was only 66 percent of normal.

By May, ranchers lost irrigation water, far too early in the season. It was the third year in a row of drought, and the 2002 water situation was the worst.

Some river runners remained optimistic. Rock Gardens Rafting owner Kevin Schneider was confident he could keep trips floating through the busy summer season, since the Glenwood Canyon section of the Colorado River has the second oldest water right on the river.

By May, towns imposed strict lawn-watering restrictions that were enforced throughout the entire fire-laden summer.

Rich Kolecki, manager of the Glenwood Springs Fish Hatchery up Mitchell Creek, worried about low stream flows in early June, before the Coal Seam Fire nearly took out the entire hatchery operation. However, by the end of this year, Kolecki and his brood stock of Colorado cutthroat and rainbow weathered drought and fire.

On June 1, a statewide fire ban was imposed and wasn’t lifted until the fall. July 4th came and went, but without a firework in sight because of the fire bans and overall fear of another disastrous wildfire.

By July, ranchers were really feeling the effects of the drought. Without irrigation water to grow hay, many had to sell off some or all of their livestock. By August, the Farm Service Agency in Glenwood Springs was inundated by hundreds of disaster relief applications from ranchers seeking drought aid.

With the end of the year came winter snows, and perhaps more than any other year in memory, it wasn’t just skiers were “thinking snow.”

The white stuff is a welcome sight to all who experienced the 2002 drought.

Each time the clouds gather, more than one person can be seen looking skyward, urging the moisture to fall on Colorado’s thirsty lands.

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