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Colorado Statewide Drought Situation Has Denver Water Officials Worried

DENVER (CBS4) - The weekly drought monitor released Thursday morning offered no good news for Colorado. About 91% of the state has at least severe drought and 28% of Colorado has exceptional drought which is the worse drought category. Experts agree recovery from this drought won't be easy.

(source: CBS)

Although many storms have brought significant snow to the mountains since the start of the season, it has not been enough snow to improve the current drought that started in the fall of 2019 and worsened considerably in the summer of 2020.

In Denver, snowfall for the season is about 6 inches below normal through January 20 and the biggest single day snowfall so far this season was only 5 inches on November 24.

(source: CBS)

Officials at Denver Water are monitoring the drought closely and report reservoir storage is currently at 78% full which is 4% below normal for the middle of January. The more troubling concern is how much worse storage could become later in the year.

"The hot, dry summer really impacted soil moisture. You saw that when one of the biggest wildfires we had in 2020, the East Troublesome fire, started in October," said Nathan Elder, Denver Water's water supply manager.

"We'll need above-normal snowpack to get to a normal runoff, because the soil will take a portion of the runoff before we see the water in the streams or our reservoirs," he said.

Recently collected soil moisture measurements indicate current conditions rank in the bottom five for moisture for 30 years of measurements between 1981 and 2010.

Colorado has experienced severe droughts in the past. Denver Water's Cheesman Reservoir during the 2002 drought. (source: Denver Water)

So while Colorado's wettest months (March and April) are still to come, the worry is dry soil will snatch water from the melting snow, meaning less water available for streams and reservoir storage.

Denver Water is already making contingency plans.

"We want to be ready, no matter what," said Jason Finehout, the coordinator of Denver Water's Water Shortage Committee. "If things don't improve, it's possible that Denver Water could move to drought restrictions at some point this year," he said.

The CBS4 Weather Team is expecting a good chance for snow in the mountains during the upcoming weekend but nothing more than flurries possible in the metro area Saturday night into Sunday.

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