‘Extreme’ drought expanding in Colorado

Snowpack is gone, streamflows forecast to be well below average

Some level of drought conditions encompass all of Colorado in this Ma9 update from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —Extreme drought conditions are expanding in northwest Colorado, covering most of Garfield, Rio Blanco, and Routt counties as well as portions of Moffat, Pitkin, and Mesa counties — encompassing about 10 percent of the state in a region with critical watersheds for downstream water users.

Eagle and Summit and Grand counties are designated as being in a severe drought, with streamflows forecast to be well below normal across the region.

The latest update from the U.S. Drought monitor shows all of Colorado now experiencing some level of drought, with Eagle County, for example, experiencing pre-drought, moderate drought and severe drought conditions, depending on the exact location.

The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District is warning that irrigation water could be limited this year. The Vail Mountain SNOTEL site melted out completely on April 7, 11 weeks ahead of schedule. Streamflows on the Eagle River are forecast to be just 43 percent of average and communities in the Eagle River Valley are largely dependent on streams and rivers for day-to-day supplies.

This map shows vegetation conditions, with the darker orange colors indicating dry conditions, a critical factor in fire potential.

While precipitation, soil and vegetation moisture are below normal, all major reservoirs above Lake Powell are still reporting above-average storage — but some saw storage drop during May, a month when they’re usually still filling up. Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs all saw water levels drop. Other reservoirs are rising, but at much lower-than-average rates.

Lake Powell, the key reservoir on the Colorado River system, is at 79 percent of average and only about two-thirds full. Daily inflows are well below average for this time of year.

For the next week, dry conditions are expected to continue under a strong ridge of high pressure, with precipitation confined to the highest terrain of Colorado. There’s a chance of significant precipitation at the western edge of the Upper Colorado River Basin during the coming week, as a Pacific trough approaches the region.


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