Spring runoff to supply less water than expected in western Colorado

Matt Whittaker

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A center-pivot irrigation system in southern California.Steve Harvey/Unsplash

By Matt Whittaker / NewsBreak Denver

(Western Colorado) Federal hydrologists have lowered their forecasts for spring runoff in western Colorado as dry weather threatens to reduce irrigation and drinking water supplies for area farmers, ranchers and communities.

In the last three weeks of January, many recording stations in southwestern Colorado reported record- or near record-low precipitation, according to a Thursday report from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Combined with dryer than normal soil that will sponge up moisture, the lack of precipitation has led experts with the center to lower their water supply forecasts within some areas of the state by as much as 25% for the April-July runoff season.

"A ridge of high pressure settled over the region during the second week of January and persisted through the end of the month bringing very dry weather and a decrease in the spring water supply outlook," the report said.

Areas of southwest Colorado will be hit the hardest. The center, part of the National Weather Service, forecasts areas in the Gunnison River basin could have just 70 percent of normal water supply, based on the average from 1991 to 2020. Parts of the Dolores River basin may have just 65 percent. Areas of the San Juan River basin could see as little as 60 percent.

Water flowing into Lake Powell, a benchmark for the hydrologic conditions across the Upper Colorado River Basin, is forecast to be at 78% of normal. The basin includes southwestern Wyoming, western Colorado, eastern Utah, northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona.

The center expects the ridge of high pressure to keep most of the basin dry through Feb. 14, although some areas could see around a tenth of an inch. There are chances of precipitation for the basin from Feb. 14-20, but the amounts and locations are uncertain.

"It's something we're keeping a close eye on, hoping we see a weather pattern change bring us some precipitation," Cody Moser, a hydrologist with the center, said Monday in an online presentation about the report's findings.

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Matt Whittaker writes about natural resources industries, including oil and gas, mining, renewable energy, agriculture and cannabis. He's been based in the Denver metro area since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @mattswhittaker.

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