Crestone Eagle, June 2002:
by David Nicholas
We are still in the worst drought in living
memory here in the San Luis Valley.
We did have some rain and snow in May, which in some places
in the mountains actually touched the ground. But in most
places if moisture actually hit the ground, it didn’t
stay for long. The water did not noticeably alter or add to
the streamflows down the mountain. What snow fell and stayed
on the higher elevations, was made a memory by the wind in
Fire bans and El Nino
The county fire ban is still in place and while the Rio Grande
National Forest is only at a Stage 2 alert, which allows people
into the forest but bans all fires, the Carson National Forest
to the south has a stage 3 alert, which has closed the forest
entirely to all. It is likely a stage 3 alert for the Rio
Grande National Forest will go into effect soon, if conditions
do not improve.
Currently the National Weather Service (NWS) gives the Southwest
a D3 Rating, Extreme Drought. From now until August, the Climate
Prediction Center is saying that there may be some short-term
improvement in the seasonal outlook, but it will be spotty
(to use their term). Their forecast says that there will be
substantial water shortages and very low streamflows.
A quick and random check of people with domestic wells in
Crestone and the Baca Grants revealed that the average depth
is about 50 feet. These are shallow wells. Farmers are drawing
water from the unconfined aquifer for irrigating their crops
in the central part of the valley at this time. The water
table in the unconfined aquifer may drop significantly as
a result. People may need to monitor the water levels of their
wells. Water drilling companies do offer it as a paid service
to check well levels, or you might want to call Ralph Curtis
at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District at 589-6301
and ask who does perform this service, if the well existed
when you bought your land.
As of May 15, the El Nino condition, which was seen earlier
this year forming around the islands of Indonesia, has spread
eastward. Intense areas of warming waters at the surface are
between 29 to 30+ degrees Centigrade and now cover most of
the Pacific Ocean between the Tropics east of New Guinea.
However, separately there is intense warming of surface waters
off the coast of Central America, just south of Mexico, and
if this moves north, which is predicted, it should begin influencing
our weather within the year. Earlier this year, the NWS long
range forecast said that the El Nino would send rain north
of us and south of us, but not in our area.
Help from the Gov.
On Thursday, May 23, Gov. Bill Owens focused primarily on
what the state is doing to address current drought and fire
hazard issues, during an hour-long stop Wednesday at a luncheon
hosted by the Trinidad-Las Animas County Chamber of Commerce
at Trinidad Holiday Inn.
Calling this year's drought the worst the state has ever
faced, Owens said the state was at 11 percent of the average
year's snowpack with the odds of significant rainfall before
year's end "slim at best. This year we're in a late August
environment in mid-May and won't have any snow for another
four months," Owens said.
The governor told the audience of about 150 that the extremely
dry conditions could lead to another summer like two years
ago when huge forest and grassland fires devastated many areas
of the state, including two huge fires that scorched western
Las Animas County.
"We've already had three to four times as many fires
year-to-date as we normally would have in a whole year,"
Owens said. "We now have four times the fire personnel
benefiting the state this summer compared to last summer—120
full-time fire professionals waiting on call to fight these
A water helicopter is stationed at the Saguache airport during
this time, and two slurry tanker aircraft on call at the Pueblo
Gov. Bill Owens also signed two water bills on May 23, that
he said will help us battle a worsening drought. Under HB1414
by Rep. Diane Hoppe, R-Sterling, and Sen. Lewis Entz, R-Hooper,
the state engineer will be able to approve substitute water
supply plans much faster than in the past.
"There appears to be situations where water may be available
from various sources that can supplement water supplies in
an area where resources are running extremely low," Owens
said. "Without this legislation, approval for this emergency
'rental' of water would have to go through a lengthy, cumbersome
process. Now these requests can be expedited."
The other legislation, HB1152 by Hoppe and Sen. Jim Isgar,
D-Hesperus, is the annual Colorado Water Conservation Board's
projects bill. The bill authorizes millions of dollars in
new low-interest loans for water projects—more than
$30 million in new loans and nearly $5 million for satellite
monitoring of rivers and streams, water supply studies, watershed
and flood control plans.
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