Map shows Colorado's drought status as of Aug. 13.

Map shows Colorado's drought status as of Aug. 13. The areas in yellow at the state's corners are in "D0" drought status (or "abnormally dry").

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS • The unimaginable happened on May 28. Colorado, for the first time in the 20 years that drought conditions have been tracked, was 100% out of drought, said Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University.

It was "eight glorious weeks" out of drought, Schumacher told an audience at Tuesday's first day of the three-day Colorado Water Congress summer conference in Steamboat Springs.

Alas, it was not meant to last.

On July 23, the US Drought Monitor reported a small part of southwestern Colorado -- about 3% of the state -- was back to the "D0" level, or "abnormally dry," the least severe of five drought levels. At the D0 level, dryness slows planting and growth of crops, says the National Integrated Drought Information System's website,

As of Aug. 13, two more parts of the state were also creeping back into drought, in northwestern Colorado and a small portion of Baca County, in southeastern Colorado.

In total, 6.65% of the state is back in drought status, although there's still plenty of water that has filled reservoirs that have been thirsty for years, especially after last year's drought.

At this time a year ago, 81.37% of Colorado was in drought, including 8.5% of the state -- southwestern Colorado, primarily -- in the most severe drought conditions.

Take, for example, Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. In September of last year, it looked like this:

In 2018, Blue Mesa was at its lowest level since 1984, said Karl Wetlaufer of the National Resource Conservation Service, which monitors reservoir levels. 

This year's strong snowpack and precipitation, which includes a look at how much evaporation takes place, has filled Blue Mesa. Other reservoirs throughout the state are reporting spillway flows, which is what happens when a reservoir is overfull and has surplus water that flows down a spillway into a downstream area.

"We've resolved a lot of water concerns in short term but we won’t be out of drought for long," Schumacher said Tuesday. 

How good has this year's snowpack and rainfall been? Wetlaufer said Tuesday that by the first third of March, the state had as much water as it had in all of 2018.

The summer conference of the Denver-based Water Congress -- whose members include state and local agencies, businesses, conservation groups, consultants, lobbyists and other stakeholders -- continues through Thursday.

Watch for more water conference reports at






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