Gov. Hickenlooper expands drought response activities
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — After a couple of months with temperatures running 5 to 10 degrees above average and the snowpack at only 2 percent average for this time of year, parts of northwestern Colorado have been designated as being in extreme drought conditions.
The drought is widespread throughout the interior West, according to the weekly report from the National Integrated Drought Information System.
In response to conditions, Gov, John Hickenlooper has ordered expanded activation of the statewide drought mitigation and response plan. Counties in the Yampa, White, Colorado and Gunnison basins could see severe drought-related economic impacts, and other sectors of the state’s economy may also be affected if current weather trends continue, Hickenlooper wrote in a May 21 memo the heads all state government agencies.
Based on Hickenlooper’s order, a drought task force will start to meet regularly and state departments will assign senior-level managers to coordinate the drought response. More information on Colorado’s drought plans are online at the Colorado Water Conservation Board website.
According to the U.S. drought monitor, 96 percent of Colorado is experience some level of drought, with a dry bullseye in the northwest corner of the state covering most of Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, covering about 7 percent of the state.
April was the fourth warmest on record in Colorado. March 2012 was the third warmest for Colorado and tied 1966 for the driest on record. Records date back to 1895. The last two months temperatures have been five degrees above average for most of Colorado.
A May 21 update from the Colorado Water Availability Task Force outlines other effects of the warm, dry spring, including evapotranspiration rates on the eastern plains that are normally seen in mid-summer. That means the soil is losing moisture fast, upping demand from irrigators.
Some drought indicators, including water supply and runoff forecasts, are worse than in 2002, the last significant drought in the state.
Producers in the agricultural sector are already anticipating a low wheat harvest and rangeland conditions are poor. Dry land farmers are the most impacted at this time, although irrigators are reporting needing more water than normal for this time of year.