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Colorado seeing very dry conditions heading into summer

Colorado River Basin a bit above state averages

The bad news is Colorado is dry for a second month.

The good news is that the Colorado River Basin — which is basically bisected by Interstate 70 from Utah to the Continental Divide — is a little better off.

Precipitation well below normal coupled with above-average temperatures have led to early snowmelt, according to a news release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Streamflow forecasts predict between 72% and 79% of normal for the Colorado Basin, the release says. The forecast covers the period from June 1 through July 31, said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow survey supervisor.

A table in the release shows that the Colorado Basin was at 64% of median snowpack as of June 1. Three basins have a higher percentage, but the Rio Grande Basin was at 0%.

As compared to last year, the Colorado Basin has just 15% of the snowpack it had on June 1, 2019.

“Soil moisture can’t be understated as a condition that will affect snowpack. We went into this year’s snowpack with pretty dry soils,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District.

Reservoir storage numbers are much better. The Colorado Basin was at 115% of normal on June 1, with no basins having higher percentages. That’s better than last year, when storage was at 90% on June 1, 2019. The state average for reservoir storage this June 1 was 100%.

“When it comes to water users, the information that talks about reservoir storage, that’s where we have an advantage. We’ll have good reservoir storage for agricultural and other water users to get through this year,” Pokrandt said.

But some irrigators could face difficulties.

“Not every irrigator has reservoir storage to call upon. Irrigators in Garfield County that depend on run of the river, they’re the ones that will feel the greater effect of the tapering off of snowpack and the acceleration of drought,” Pokrandt said.

A map in the release shows statewide precipitation at just 50% of normal, with the Colorado basin slightly better at 53% of average. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins collectively are at the state’s lowest at 24% of average.

Less concerning is data for the water year, which Domonkos said starts Oct. 1. Precipitation statewide for those eight months is 82% of average, with the Colorado basin at 88%.

Precipitation for the first 10 days of June is 100% of normal, which Domonkos said “is still pretty good.”

Domonkos said that while these numbers aren’t great, they could be worse.

“Compared to the last 40 years we’re at the lower quartile for water-year-to-date precipitation,” he said. “I like to look at the ranking as where this year stands compared to other years. You’re not out of the realm of normal, but you’re starting to push the boundaries. It’s not that bad; 2012 and 2002 were particularly worse.”

Nevertheless, the state is suffering from drought.

“The water availability task force is activating the ag[riculture] portion of the state drought plan. It’s an indication that there is drought, and if you look at the U.S. drought monitor as of the 2nd of June a little bit less than 77% of the state is in some kind of drought,” Domonkos said.

As is typical in Colorado, a lot depends on late summer rainfall.

“Predictions are we’re going to have warmer temperatures and below-average precipitation through the summer, but you never really know until we get into the monsoonal season and see what happens,” Pokrandt said.

cwertheim@postindependent.com


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