Thanks to severely below average snowfall last winter, 81.53 percent of Colorado is now experiencing drought conditions.
At the end of February, the Federal Government’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) issued a shocking warning: 99.41 percent of Colorado was under some form of a drought warning.
Under the NIDIS classification system, there are five different tiers to measure drought conditions: Abnormally Dry (D0), Moderate Drought (D1), Severe Drought (D2), Extreme Drought (D3), and Exceptional Drought (D4).
While practically all of Colorado fell between D0 and D2 back in early February, there were no counties reporting Extreme or Exceptional Drought conditions. However, it is clear that the damage was done. While this past winter wasn’t the driest winter in Colorado history, it was one of the driest on record.
“Exceptional drought has been introduced into the four corners region of Colorado as persistent precipitation deficits continue. While early April storms have helped improve conditions throughout northern Colorado, the southern half of the state remains extremely dry. Conditions are somewhat tempered by strong reservoir storage, but water providers are already seeing increased demands and implementing restrictions,” the Colorado Water Task Force released late last month.
Lower precipitation totals during the winter months led to a lower snowpack, which in turn led to less runoff into the state’s rivers. Over the years, reservoirs have been built to ensure that river water is stored for distribution.
However, officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just announced that below average April rain/snowfall will result in Colorado’s reservoirs seeing less than 50 percent of their average inflow. Lake Powell, for example, is expected to only see a 43 percent inflow (compared to the average).
The Colorado River ultimately supplies water to 40 million people living in seven different states. Regional droughts over the past two decades have significantly reduced the river’s flow.
Data released by NIDIS shows that the dry spell isn’t limited to Colorado.
Extreme or Exceptional Drought conditions can now be found in Colorado, California, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. However, the most serious drought conditions for the regions water supply is in the Colorado Basin.
While other regions’ droughts are labeled “S,” for short-term, the dry spell in the Colorado Basin is being labeled as “SL,” meaning it could go on for longer than six months and could significantly impact the region’s ecology.
“Many communities throughout Colorado are currently experiencing below normal precipitation and above average temperatures; which can impact water supplies, our natural environments, and society. The state continues to closely monitor conditions for drought impacts, and will take additional action as needed,” the Colorado Drought Response posted to its website.
Since the Colorado Basin has been experiencing droughts for the past 18 years, state and local governments have taken steps to mitigate the effects of these droughts. That planning has paid off, as most of the state’s reservoirs are seeing at least 90 percent storage. Officials are warning that if these exceptionally dry conditions continue, especially into this next winter, mandatory water cutbacks may become necessary.
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