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Colorado: Breckenridge, Vail areas now in ‘extreme’ drought

Weekly update highlights ‘dramatic’ lack of water in Blue River Basin

Colorado drought monitor map, released June 14.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Near record-low stream flows and dry soils and vegetation in northwest Colorado mean that even more of the area is now designated as being in extreme drought, including most of Summit County and nearly all of Eagle County.

The National Integrated Drought Information System is reporting a “dramatic lack of water” in the Blue River Basin, where streams are all flowing near record low levels. Read the weekly update at the Summit Voice Scribd.com feed.

The only part of Summit County not under extreme drought conditions are in the southeast, closest to the high terrain around the Continental Divide. All of the agricultural areas in the Lower Blue, north of Silverthorne, are in the extreme drought area.

Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, and parts of Grand, Jackson, Larimer, Summit, Pitkin, and Mesa counties are all now in the extreme drought zone, with the rest of the West Slope under severe drought conditions.

In Eagle County, most streams are flowing at about 30 percent of historical averages and peak runoff was early and hardly noticeable in some streams, according to a release from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.

As opposed to Summit County, where water providers have been largely silent — at least in public — on worsening drought conditions, The Eagle County utility has been proactive about informing users and customers about the situation and providing information on mitigating potential drought impacts.

Here’s part of the latest message from the district:

“Our community water supply is largely dependent upon adequate flows in local streams and rivers. Eagle River Water and Sanitation District encourages community members to lessen the impact of drought by efficiently using water, especially in outdoor areas.

 “Should drought conditions persist, water available for irrigation and other outdoor uses may be less than normal, or unavailable, this year. Currently, normal year-round Water Use Regulations apply, which allow outdoor water use up to three days per week, before 10 am or after 4 pm.”

In addition to the winter’s low snowfall and early melt-off, rainfall has continued below average and temperatures have been above average for several months running. During May, most of Colorado’s northern and central mountains only received about 50 percent to 70 percent of average precipitation. The West Slope and the southwest corner of the state were even more dry, with only 20 percent to 50 percent of average precipitation.

More than 85 percent of the streamflow gages in the Upper Colorado River Basin are reporting below-average readings, with the exception of the Upper Green River in Wyoming, where flows are above average.

The short-range forecast calls for a slight chance of some afternoon thunderstorms, mainly around the Continental Divide, to start the weekend, but generally dry conditions for the seven-day forecast period, along with continued above-average temperatures.

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