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July 9, 2012
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Valley still dry after several days of rain

EAGLE COUNTY - It was nice to have a few days of rain showers, and more may be coming at the end of the week. But the county and state remain in a deep drought.It's hard to measure these things precisely - our region is too geographically big and has too diverse a climate for a quick handful of numbers - but the bottom line is we would need something like a "40 days and 40 nights" kind of weather pattern to get moisture in our soil and plants to levels that would be considered normal.From October through June 20, the Colorado River basin, which includes Eagle County, was at just 62 percent of its average seasonal precipitation. Mage Hulstrand, of the National Resources Conservation Service, the federal agency that measures these things, said precipitation over the past few days will help that figure but not by much.Part of the problem is freakishly low precipitation levels being recorded in much of the state so far this year. For instance, the Colorado River basin received just 9 percent of its average precipitation in June.Still, the rain does help - in places where it falls. Wendy Ryan, a research assistant at the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins, said thunderstorms in the mountains tend to move slowly, which means the precipitation will soak into the ground in most places. The problem, though, is that our afternoon thunderstorms tend to be isolated. A storm that drops a quick inch of rain in one neighborhood might leave another with just a few tenths of an inch, if anything. For instance, between Wednesday and Sunday, the west weather station at the Vail Golf Club - near the sixth tee - reported 1.4 inches of rain. The east weather station - the 13th tee - recorded just 0.48 inch.Besides the scattered nature of summer storms, Ryan said summer generally isn't the time for stream-building precipitation. And in Eagle County, streamflows are the source of most of our domestic water.Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Communications and Public Affairs Manager Diane Johnson said the weekend rains brought streamflows on Gore Creek and the Eagle River at Avon to about the same levels they'd had a week before the rains. The big question, Johnson said, is how quickly the streamflows drop again.While the Eagle River was running chocolate-milk brown through Gypsum after the storms, indicating runoff from tributary creeks, much of the past rainfall has gone straight into the soil because it's so dry.That increase in soil moisture is going to take some time to show up in trees, which remain nearly firewood-dry. That means we're likely to stay under Stage 2 fire restrictions."It all helped, but it didn't solve the problem," said Ross Wilmore, the area management officer for the U.S. Forest Service. Still, the added moisture and lower temperatures have somewhat eased the immediate fire danger for now, Wilmore said. But that danger could go right back up as grasses green up, and then dry out, from rain.While its value may be limited in the short run, any rain in any amount is welcome. But some people take one bite and then imagine a whole apple."We've had people asking if the drought's over now," Johnson said. "We're not done - not even close."Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jul 10, 2012 12:16AM Published Jul 9, 2012 11:46PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.