Talk about extremes. After a few weeks of consistent rain and this last week’s unpredictable, widespread and deadly flooding in the Front Range, it is really very difficult to believe that we are still in a drought. But there is no denying the fact that this 3-year-old drought won’t disappear as quickly as we hope our floodwaters recede.
During July 2012, most of the state of Colorado was categorized as being in a severe or extreme drought condition. And guess what? As of Sept. 10, 98.3 percent of the state was still categorized in some form of drought from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional” — which is a notch above “extreme.”
Especially hard hit areas include parts of the San Juans and the southeast corner of the state. From extreme wildfires to extreme floods, this summer has seen it all!
According to the most recent state-issued drought update, August and the early part of September have actually seen below average temperatures and strong steady rains — keeping our soils moist, evapotranspiration rates down and municipal demand for irrigation of our outdoor spaces lower. That is a good thing. It’s a great thing when you consider how this has alleviated drought conditions in the state, and mitigated another “hold your breath” wildfire season in these parts.
But digging a little deeper into the update, you’ll notice that there is less than 2 percent of the state that is finally listed as having no drought conditions. Look a little closer yet at that map and you see that the Eagle River watershed, including the Gore Creek drainage, and the Upper Colorado River region are still listed in the moderate drought category. Thankfully, much of the state is finally out of the extreme drought rank.
What’s more, reservoir storage — the water that both sides of the divide rely on for municipal water, firefighting, recreation, aquatic health, snowmaking and irrigation among many uses — is slowly making a comeback after three years of serious drought. Larger reservoirs in the Upper Colorado — which are particularly important for communities in the Front Range — are hovering around 85 percent of average.
Those numbers sure are better than what they could have been this time of year, but many water suppliers would argue that they aren’t “out of the woods” when it comes to guaranteeing a steady supply of water for their communities during the next several years.
So, what does all the new data really tell us about this winter, next spring and the summer season after that? Droughts and crazy-big variations in temperature and precipitation — whether rain or snow — are a normal part of our weather, especially in the high country.
You don’t need to live in severe drought conditions to practice water conservation in your daily routines. If you find yourself staring at a patch of Kentucky bluegrass struggling after a couple seasons of limited water, maybe it’s the right time to make that big improvement to a beautiful native landscape that fits our climate and leaves more water in our rivers and reservoirs.
Tambi Katieb is a professional land planner and serves as director of policy and planning with the Eagle River Watershed Council. The Eagle River Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Eagle River Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit www.erwc.org. You can sign up for the state drought monitor by emailing the Colorado Water Conservation Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.