If you think this year’s drought is one for the record books, you’re right. Especially for southwestern Colorado.
The Colorado water year, which ends Oct. 31, looks to be the fourth driest in 123 years, since the state started tracking water supplies.
Southwestern Colorado is expected to set a record for the lowest precipitation and driest water year on record, said water officials who met Tuesday to review supplies. Statewide, 2018 likely will be the fourth worst, behind 1934, 2002 and 2012, with precipitation (rain and snow) about 4.55 inches below the statewide average of 16.67 inches.
The Water Resources Task Force meets monthly to review precipitation and water levels at about 80 reservoirs throughout the state. The water year runs Nov. 1 to Oct. 31.
This year started badly with the warmest November on record, said Zach Schwalbe of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. And it’s shaping up to be the third-warmest year on record, behind 1934 and 2000, at about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the yearly average of 47.1 degrees.
Southwestern Colorado has had record heat in addition to being exceptionally dry, Schwalbe said.
Delta and Ouray counties were 4 degrees warmer than usual in August, he said.
And moisture is lagging badly. At Mesa Verde National Park, one precipitation station has recorded 7 inches of water this year. The average is 20.
The opposite has occurred in the opposite corner of the state, though.
Northeastern Colorado has received above-average precipitation over the past two months, albeit with hail that damaged crops. One task force member from the area said baseball-sized hail dented his rain gauge.
Some hope springs from experts who cite a 70 percent chance for a “moderate” El Niño year, which would bring above-average moisture through winter, primarily to northeastern and southeastern Colorado.
But Colorado weather for the next three months will be warmer than average, said Schwalbe, citing predictions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Colorado’s reservoirs have taken major hits this summer, with higher water demands, municipal water officials report.
Thornton is expected to join Colorado Springs and other Front Range communities with voluntary water restrictions, limiting lawn watering to three days a week.
And the water restrictions could become mandatory next month, said John Orr of Thornton.
Demand on reservoirs for agricultural, residential and recreational water has drawn down levels almost everywhere in the state.
Statewide, reservoir levels are at 82 percent of average and about 50 percent full, said Brian Domonkos, a hydrologist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Yet at this time last year, levels were at 120 percent of average.
The South Platte River basin, which has 32 of the state’s 80 reservoirs, is at 105 percent of average; 19 reservoirs are above 50 percent full and only one — Elevenmile — is full.
The Arkansas River basin, which covers southeastern Colorado, is also in good shape, thanks to above average rainfall in August.
But reservoirs tied to the San Miguel, Dolores, Las Animas and San Juan rivers are dramatically low.
And the Blue Mesa reservoir in the Gunnison River basin is at only 39 percent of capacity.
Domonkos said the Gunnison basin has seen record low precipitation this year but got above average-rainfall in the first 10 days of September.
“It’s the best piece of news the Gunnison has had all year,” he told the task force.