EAGLE COUNTY — The state has seen it all in the past few years as far as moisture goes. The year 2010 brought historic flooding as snowmelt came gushing down out of the mountains. A few years later, in 2012-2013, the state experienced the climax of one of the worst droughts in Colorado history.
This year, however, rainfall levels seem to be just about right. Some areas, such as Eagle County, are sitting at about average to above average rainfall. Other parts of Colorado are still considered to be in drought but less so than in previous years.
For the first time in more than 110 weeks, according to the Colorado Climate Center, none of the state is in “exceptional drought,” the direst level of drought, which has only been seen once or twice every 100 years.
“They are not out of the woods in southeast Colorado yet,” said Wendy Ryan, assistant state climatologist. “They have a long road to recovery after four years of drought. These are the first real rains they have seen in some time.”
Rivers hold steady in Eagle County
It’s been a good summer for the area’s waterways, as far as river levels go. So good, in fact, that the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District hasn’t had to make changes to its water operations in order to keep stream levels up.
The water district’s Diane Johnson said that in previous years, a combination of dry skies and hot temperatures have forced the district to pull the area’s drinking water from different parts of the river in order to maintain the minimum stream-flow levers.
“A benchmark for us is that both the Eagle River and Gore Creek have been above the median for the whole season, which is great,” Johnson said. “Once it peaked, it’s stayed above the norm, which is good for fishing and boating.”
Experts are calling the current wet cycle “monsoon” conditions, which they say is helping to alleviate the dry conditions that racked the state last year. In fact, statewide, precipitation was at 112 percent of average, and so far in August totals are 90 percent of the average.
Still, Ryan warns that end-of-summer and fall rains are crucial to keeping the state from drying out.
“Colorado always needs to be concerned about drought because it is a regular visitor. Things can turn quickly for the mountains if we don’t get the fall moisture we depend on to start up the snow accumulation season,” she said. “It’s very hard to catch up later in the season if you miss out.”
Residents should still be mindful of their water use through the end of the summer, said Johnson.
“For us, it is important to cut back on watering,” she said. “When plants start going into fall cycle, they take less water, and people tend to forget that.”
Fall forecast looks wet
Fortunately for the state, advance forecasts call for more rain.
“The three-month precipitation outlook is calling for above-average moisture for all of Colorado,” said Ryan. “This is due to both the suspected onset of El Nino in the fall, as well as the enhanced monsoon we’ve been experiencing.”
Early reports predict that it will be a weak El Nino, which is said to bring more snowfall to the southwestern part of the state and warmer temperatures. However, some reports have show that El Nino does not have a predictable effect on Colorado’s overall temperatures and precipitation.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.