Crestone Eagle, May 2006:
Drought continues: fire danger rises as snow pack melts
drought that has plagued the Crestone area and southern Colorado
appears to be worsening, with long term forecasts showing
nothing for us to be encouraged about as far as any above
normal precipitation heading our way anytime soon.
Even along the Front Range, where precip has also been below
average, the dry conditions are already starting to take toll.
There have been numerous reports of firefighters from different
fire districts along the Front Range battling several wildfires
in the last few weeks alone. Warnings are already being given
for the southern part of our State that this fire season could
be as bad or even worst as what was experienced in 2002.
The latest reports coming from Colorado State’s Division
of Water Resources, Division 3 office in Alamosa, say that
our snow pack isn’t good news for this area, as the
Sangre de Cristo mountains snow pack is not only below normal.
To date it is the lowest it has ever been.
The Pacific Ocean La Niña effects we’ve been
experiencing this year have split the state in half—at
about highway US-50, according to Water engineer Pat McDermott.
South of US-50 we’ve had drought conditions; north,
it’s much wetter.
From the most recent reports of Colorado’s SNOTEL Snow/Precipitation
Update, of the eight basins in the state, our south-central
upper Rio Grande is the driest, with basin-wide snow-water
equivalent at only 62% of the norm. Some areas in this basin
alone are far worse off than others. The Medano Pass site
at 9,600 ft, just east of the Great Sand Dunes, was as of
April 17 at 0% of the average, with the Upper Rio Grande site
at 7% of the norm. The Wolf Creek Summit and Cumbres Trestle
sites are 71% of average, thanks mainly to heavy snows that
finally fell there from March 10 thru 13, with over 53”
of snow reported at Wolf Creek in those days alone.
Looking at Upper Rio Grande Basin Snowpack Time Series Summary
as of April 17, (which goes back to 2003) so far this year
is by far the driest (see chart). On the east side of the
Valley, our mountains have been hit the hardest. “The
spring runoff this season from the mountains around the Crestone
area will be of the lowest proportion ever,” says McDermott.
Back in 2002, people were calling that snow season and its
runoff a one in one hundred year event, one that many water
officials believed would not be see again in our lifetimes.
After this past winter, according to McDermott, this year’s
runoff will be worse than what we saw in ’02.
Our State meanwhile is once again involved in an ambitious,
multi-state cloud-seeding plan that is hoped to boost mountain
snow pack, which will potentially make available billions
of gallons of new water. The cost of the plan isn’t
at all clear, and the whole idea has plenty of critics.
The cloud seeding would be done in the northern half of the
state, along the Colorado River, where they did see a healthy
snow pack this past winter. The proposal has broad support
among water managers of seven drought-plagued Western states
that rely on the Colorado River. States such as California,
Arizona and Nevada would pay water utilities in Colorado to
expand existing cloud-seeding operations, or create new ones.
Serious questions remain however, about whether cloud seeding—the
practice of shooting silver iodide particles into winter clouds—really
produces more water on the ground and if it leaves other areas,
especially to the south and east, drier than normal.
So does cloud seeding north of here really reduce the amount
of snow that falls in our mountains? Does seeding clouds really
produce more precip to the mountains below? “The jury
is still out,” claims local scientist Jim Erdman, who
helped in compiling some data for this article.
There are only two things that are certain about this drought.
It is ongoing, and conditions are not improving. Everybody
in the Crestone area needs to be aware that the fire danger
at this time is critical and everyone should take steps now,
if they haven’t done so already, to make sure that the
area around their homes is as fire resistant as possible.
Be very careful when dealing with anything ranging from campfires
to cooking outdoors. Area wells going dry may continue to
be a problem. so it is good to be conservative in water usage.
to the Eagle!