As first seen in the Denver Post

The drought in Western Colorado has been ongoing since the end of 2019 and it has gotten very bad in recent months. Vegetation has been drying, fruit trees aren’t budding and flowering plants are struggling to produce seeds. These are just some of the observations from this Spring and Summer so far.

CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network) is a network of weather observers that input daily precipitation amounts into a neatly organized website. Weather observers can also input drought conditions for their area giving meteorologists and climatologists real-time drought conditions that they can use to verify impacts and severity levels. With the drought worsening across Western Colorado, the conditions have been very bad and the people that live in those extreme and exceptional drought areas paint a bleak picture of what it’s like on the ground.

Drought conditions report since May 1

7.1 SSE De Buque – “This time of year I usually collect seeds from native plants on our property. This year, most plants produced no seeds, and the ones that did produced very few. This is the second year in a row with poor seed production, but this year is much worse than last.”

22.8 SW Redvale – “I just started hauling water again for my horses, even with Disappointment Creek flowing. The 0.21 inch of rain in early May brought up some cool-season grasses and several varieties of wildflowers. The ground is dry, the air is dry. My big silver poplar tree, even as it is leafing out, still is holding on to dried leaves from last year. There are no ponds (there’s no water in any pond depressions). Thank goodness for seeps. The cattle ranchers are hauling water – they brought water up for their cows before they even brought the cows up to the allotment(s) – and hay, too. Poor winter, extremely poor spring. The wind is howling.”

3.0 NNW Parshall – “We’ve only had traces of precipitation the past 7 days. Cracks are forming in the soil. I’m seeing bare earth on hillsides near here that I haven’t seen in nearly 30 years of living on this property, a result of long-term drought.”

0.9 WNW Vail – “I have lived in Vail for almost 50 years and I have never seen it this dry, this early in the season. We walked the Lost Lake Road and typically this time of the year there are patches of snow along the road and little streams from snowmelt running across the road and this year there were none.”

6.2″ N Crested Butte – “In 49 years here there has never been two such consecutively severely dry winters”

5.9 ENE Carbondale – “Extreme drought. Our irrigation ditch has been turned off for the year due to no water at the source reservoir (first time in over 40 years). Pasture grass is dying. The only plants that are thriving are our non-native invasive weeds like Russian Knapweed and thistles.”

5.9 S Glenwood Springs – “We have ditch water to irrigate our lawn. Last year, it was used up in August. Today (6/18) it ran out. This may be partly due to it being hot, dry, and windy for an extended period of time.”

7.1 SSE De Buque – “Many native wildflowers on our property produced no seed this year, and few flowers. Other plants that have survived for years have died this year. Pinon pines are particularly dying from the drought.”

1.2 SW Cortex – “This is the driest spring I have remembered in the 19 years I have lived here. Moisture around my home and garden is nil.”

14.1 SW Hesperus – “Very dry here especially since Jan 1st–one of the driest periods in the last 20 years by my records. Just got a wetting rain last night — the first time so far in July. Our dryland fields are very dry with many in our area covered with weed growth from last year. Garden crops are struggling with drought and heat. Corn is shorter than normal. The number of bees pollinating squash and sunflowers seems unusually low in the last couple of weeks, compared to many bees on fruit trees this spring. No peaches or apricots this year in our orchard, and very few cherries and apples-likely a combination of spring frost timing and lack of water from our experience here.”

Drought concerns will likely last for months along the Western Slope since so much moisture is needed to eradicate the drought but this year, monsoon moisture has been aiding the formation of afternoon storms. The last few weeks have brought some rains to western Colorado and that has people hopeful for more monsoon moisture. The drought reports as of late offer a glimmer of hope for farmers, ranchers and locals alike.

Drought reports since July 1

0.3 N Bayfield – “Plants are really enjoying a new lease on life with the rains we have been having. People are happier, too.”

3.0 NNW Parshall – “0.25” Precipitation in the past week has kept things slightly green here. Hayfields that don’t have good water rights however are looking very poor.”

5.9 S Glenwood Springs – “The few small rain showers we’ve had over the last couple of weeks have kept our lawn from completely drying out.”

1.1 SW Pitkin – “Grass growth has slowed. Rain so far in July is only 50% of normal. Noxious weeds are thriving this year, but wildflowers are also doing well. Soil deeper than 4″ is very dry. Many springs and creeks that should be running in this area are dry. Total Precip for the Water Year (11.76″) is 70% of average thus far.”

0.3 N Bayfield – “The monsoon rains have changed our condition considerably. Fire bans are going to be removed according to the local paper. We are watering our plants much less frequently. Fire danger has been lessened. Before the rains, the soil was so dry that water just ran off the surface. The soil is not wet deep down but improving with every shower. The area has gotten much greener. I know people are feeling much better. I hope the rains came in time for the bears and assorted critters to be able to fill their bellies before winter.”

6.2 N Bayfield – “Rains have helped the short term conditions but much more is needed to replace groundwater.”

Overall, the recent stretch of moisture is really helping to green up the landscape and offer at least a bit of help to the dismal groundwater situation the west is facing. With more monsoon moisture on tap for this weekend, we can expect more encouraging reports from the folks that live in western Colorado.

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