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2005 U.S. Drought News

October, 2005

Denver Water unveils latest  conservation proposals

Denver Water Wednesday unveiled its newest proposals to cut water use in 2006, including year-long rebates for high efficiency appliances and buying back saved water from major industrial users. Denver Water customers have been remarkably cooperative in saving water since a drought settled over Colorado for the past several years. But now, Denver Water officials want to find ways to make those savings permanent and avoid the creeping increases and usage other utilities have found typically follow droughts. Rocky Mountain News_ 10/26/05

New water year begins with few clues for western U.S.

Forecasters had indications last year that a wetter water year might be forthcoming because of the presence of a weak El Nino system in the Central Pacific. Sure enough, Utah and the Wasatch Front were drenched with enough rain and snow to refill most of the state's major reservoirs and bring at least a temporary halt to what had been a nearly six-year drought.
No such indicators exist for the 2005-2006 water year, says hydrologist Brian McInerney, forecasting the next 12 months will be much more of a guessing game. Salt Lake Tribune_ 10/1/05

June, 2005

Wet winter eases drought in U.S. southwest

An unusually wet winter has led to the easing of the drought across much of the Southwest, officials said. With runoff from heavy snow feeding reservoirs, conditions in most of the region have been upgraded from drought to abnormally dry, officials said. "All of the Southwest has recovered significantly from the drought conditions," said Michael Hayes, climate impacts specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's National Drought Mitigation Center. "Parts of the Southwest have recovered completely." Varying degrees of drought continue elsewhere in the West and Southwest, including in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 6/2/05

May, 2005

Hefty winter means good water supplies for northern Nevada
A hefty snowpack in the Sierra means adequate water supplies for Reno-area residents, farmers, fish, wildlife and water sport enthusiasts.  The level of Lake Tahoe won't rise to its extended brim, but Boca Reservoir and Donner and Independence lakes will be full, according to federal watermaster Garry Stone.  "We should be able to maintain Floriston rates all summer," Stone said, "which we haven't been able to do the last couple of years."  Floriston rates are flow volumes mandated by federal law and used to ensure all downstream users are receiving their proper allotment of water.  Las Vegas Sun_5/23/05

Wyoming explores ways  to keep water

Mike Besson, director of the Wyoming Water Development Commission, said the decision by Interior Secretary Gale Norton last week not to reduce flows out of Lake Powell -- the storage basin for water flowing down from the Green River, among others -- highlighted the need to examine projects along the Wyoming river. One proposal is to increase the water capacity in the Viva Naughton reservoir on the Hams Fork River, a tributary of the Green River. Stan Cooper, a Lincoln County representative on the Upper Green River Basin Joint Powers Board -- a board created about three years ago specifically to address water issues in the basin -- said there are alternate proposals such as creating reservoirs in nearby sub-basins. Besson said if Lake Powell, which is now just 34 percent full, cannot meet its 7.5 million-acre-feet obligation, lower-basin states could call for curtailment of use up river. Casper Star Tribune_ 5/8/05

Recent rains douse talks of severe water shortages in Oregon

At the end of February, one of the driest months on record, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted that most of the Willamette Basin reservoirs would not fill and warned that fish might be deprived of minimum river flows. Now, water levels in six of the 10 reservoirs run by the corps have climbed swiftly to near normal levels for this date and are within 10 feet of filling. AP/Seattle Times_ 5/8/05

After years of drought, spring runoff will completely replenish three major Colorado reservoirs on the Gunnison River and hundreds more on Grand Mesa

Wayne Schieldt, an assistant engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, sad the small Grand Mesa reservoirs haven't been full for eight to 10 years. Denver Post_ 5/4/05

Interior Secretary Gale Norton settles dispute over water levels in Lake Powell

Saying winter storms had eased drought conditions somewhat in the Colorado River basin, Norton ordered federal dam managers to continue making normal water releases from Lake Powell, one of the West's biggest reservoirs. Norton's decision settles for now a dispute between the upper and lower basin states over levels in Lake Powell, which collects water from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and northern New Mexico, and its downriver sibling, Lake Mead. Led by Colorado, the upper basin states wanted the Interior Department to reduce releases from Lake Powell for the first time to slow a dramatic drop in the reservoir's levels. The lower basin states were concerned that if the releases were trimmed and Lake Powell's level increased, it would be at the expense of Lake Mead, which supplies water to Nevada, Arizona and Southern California. Los Angeles Times_ 5/3/05 (logon required)

April, 2005

Endless winter bodes well for California water supply

The magnificent Sierra snowpack is 152 percent of normal. The storms that have been rolling with regularity through California have not only filled reservoirs but also ensured a steady supply of runoff water through the summer from snowmelt. Frank Gehrke, the snow survey chief for the state Department of Water Resources, said he had not seen this much snow since 1998. The water content in the snow is 144 percent of normal in the northern and central Sierra and 174 percent of normal in the southern Sierra, he said. San Francisco has gotten 132 percent of normal rainfall since the start of the season July 1. San Francisco  Chronicle_ 4/29/05

West's water troubles getting worse

Entering the sixth year of a record dry spell in much of the West is bad enough. But what really worries John Keys, head of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which delivers water to more than 30 million people and 10 million acres of farmland, is what happens when the region's precipitation returns to normal. "The biggest fear we have is that when this drought breaks and leaves, we are still short of water," said Keys at the opening of a two-day forum in Boise, Idaho, on the outlook for Western water supplies. Increases in population and requirements to protect endangered species will make it difficult to balance demands for water in the West this summer, Keys said. Karl Dreher, director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, said the drought in the upper Snake River Valley has reached epic proportions. "We just never have experienced anything quite like it," he said. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 4/20/05

Farmers in Oregon's Klamath Basic told restraint now means water later

If Klamath Basin farmers voluntarily reduce irrigation by 15 percent this year, they may avoid forced water cutbacks that dried up fields in the drought year of 2001, the U.S. government said. Although that may seem modest in light of a looming drought that has parched much of the state, it comes atop other water limits spreading across the basin on the Oregon-California line. The Klamath water plan outlined by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation offers an early glimpse at how officials will balance water demand against drought gripping the state. Snow in mountains around Klamath holds 59 percent less moisture than the average for this time of year. Oregonian_ 4/9/05 (logon required)

Conveniently timed storms bring bounty to California's reservoirs

A series of perfectly timed storms throughout the winter has left reservoirs brimming throughout California and ensured a steady supply of runoff water through the summer. The snowpack is 135 percent of normal across the state, thanks to the latest batch of inclement weather in March. As a result, almost all of the state's reservoirs are full or close to full. San Francisco Chronicle_ 4/2/05

March, 2005

No drought relief seen this spring in the U.S. Northwest but northern High Plains drought could ease by June: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also said in its spring weather forecast the U.S. Southwest, extreme West and mid-Atlantic regions will get warmer-than-normal temperatures. Cooler weather and above-normal rain are forecast for western parts of the Great Lakes and the southern Plains. NOAA warned there is no sign that drought in the Northwest and northern Rockies will ease this spring. With snowpack as much as 75 percent below normal, it will be difficult to make up the shortfall as the region's annual wet season winds down. Also, a smaller-than-average winter snowpack will likely hinder reservoir levels in the Missouri Basin.The NOAA forecast covers the April to June period. Reuters_ 3/18/05

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire declares statewide drought emergency

Action comes in anticipation of what weather forecasters predict will be the Pacific Northwest's worst dry spell in nearly three decades. The last statewide drought emergency was declared by Gov. Gary Locke in 2001. In the declaration, Gregoire creates an interstate agency to coordinate the government's response, calls for $8.2 million more in drought-related state appropriations and orders the National Guard to prepare to combat wildfires this summer. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 3/11/05

Washington State could declare drought as early as this week

Gov. Christine Gregoire could authorize the state Department of Ecology to declare a drought, putting to the test just what state government learned from the last one in 2001. While then-Gov. Gary Locke quickly made money available to buy and lease water to leave in thirsty streams for fish, many felt the agency acted too slowly in approving relief measures for water users. State legislators also may create a committee to review water supplies and provide oversight of how state agencies manage droughts. Tri-City Herald_ 3/5/05

February, 2005

Storms soak Southern California but water supplies still not normal; Drought persists in upper Colorado River basin and Pacific Northwest

This year may set records for the most rain, but it won't be enough to reverse the impact of five years of drought on Southern California's water supplies, weather experts and water officials said. Colorado River reservoirs remain far below normal levels. About 70% of the water used in Southern California is imported from the river as well as from the California Aqueduct in Northern California and the Sierra Nevada, said Denis Wolcott, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which are fed by the Colorado River, remain at only about 59% and 34% full, respectively, said Debra Man, chief operating officer of the Metropolitan Water District, which manages the distribution of water to a plethora of districts serving 18 million people in Southern California. For the first time since 1999, hydrologists in the upper Colorado River Basin are predicting near-normal water flows into Lake Powell, one of the West's biggest reservoirs. Los Angeles Times_ 2/24/05 (logon required)

Northwestern U.S. has history of serious droughts

A new study of tree-ring data indicates the region has endured far worse droughts over the past 250 years _ and is likely to again. The study, published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association, said the region endured six multiyear droughts between 1750 and 1950, including one that started in the 1840s and lasted 12 years. The authors _ Dave Peterson of the U.S. Agriculture Department, Ze'ev Gedalof of the University of Guelph in Ontario, and Nate Mantua of the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group _ said the evidence shows a need for better drought planning in the Northwest. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 2/15/05

Trouble looms for Washington State's water supply

The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported this week that the state's snowpack remains dismal, with little hope of improving. Warm temperatures and near-record low snowfall combined to to severely cut the snowpack. At the same time, some locations received only 15 percent of their average precipitation for January, said Scott Pattee, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. But it still is too early to call the situation a drought. A drought is defined as less than 75 percent of normal water supplies, including snowpack, stream flows and ground water, and when hardships result from the low water conditions. AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer_ 2/10/05

Colorado legislative committee votes to give Front Range farmers more time to find water

Amid warnings of catastrophic drought damage to northern Colorado agriculture, the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee agreed to give North Platte Valley well owners more time to meet new requirements for replacing the water they take from other water rights owners. The committee approved a measure (House Bill 1185) that will allow temporary changes to water rights for five years. The measure, which passed 7-4, now goes to the full House for debate. AP/Denver Post_ 2/9/05

Western U.S. drought continues in Montana, South Dakota and Washington, snowpack suggests

Snowpack is at or near record lows in parts of Montana after an unseasonably warm spell in January, a discouraging report that -- along with similar reports from other northern states -- suggests the long drought may continue for yet another year. Snowpack in the Black Hills of South Dakota has tied the lowest reading in the last 62 years. In Washington state, January's snowpack was the lowest in 28 years. The U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly tracker of drought conditions in the country, showed continuing drought through most of the West this week, with California the only state escaping almost entirely.Extreme or exceptional drought, the worst conditions, were reported in much of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, with pockets of extreme drought in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 2/4/05

Nevada unlikely to see drought-busting winter snows

Jeff Underwood, Nevada's state climatologist, said long-range forecast models indicate a continuation of dry weather, at least for the next coming weeks. With Nevada in its fifth year of drought, water suppliers are hoping for a heavy winter to begin recovery. It looked like that might be happening when back-to-back snowstorms walloped the region in late December and early January. The mountain snowpack is about 150 percent of normal for the date. But the storms ceased in mid-January when a high-pressure ridge settled over the West, and Underwood said the pattern is unlikely to change soon. One positive side of the dry weather pattern is that cold night temperatures have slowed the melting of snow and reduced the danger of flooding and slides, Underwood said. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 2/4/05

January, 2005

Heavy rains in the West begin chasing the drought, but trend won't be clear until snowpack is measured in February and March

A report (with map) by the National Drought Mitigation Center declared that the unusually wet weather was delivering a small but critical punch to the drought, but it will take several years of similarly wet weather to end the drought, and some drought-stricken parts of the West, most notably Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, have been largely sidestepped by the storms. Water levels in many reservoirs across the region remain at half of capacity or less. Last year, many climatologists and water officials were encouraged by early winter snowstorms in the Rocky Mountains, only to see their hopes dashed in March and April, when the storms dried up and record warmth melted the snowpack. In terms of water supplies for homes and farms from Denver to Los Angeles, snowfall in the Rocky Mountains that feeds the Colorado River is more crucial than rainfall in the desert. And so far this season, the snowpack in most of the Rockies is not keeping pace with the extraordinary rainfall elsewhere. New York Times_ 1/8/05 (logon required)

Western U.S. drought remains despite storms       

It's going to take many more to end San Diego County's seven-year drought, forecasters and water experts say. The prolonged dearth of rainfall, reflected throughout the West, has resulted in a severe drought – one that scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey described in a June report as the worst in probably 500 years. Annual flows on the Colorado River, which San Diego County taps for imported water, were the lowest on record from 2001 to 2003. In San Diego County, several years of below-average rainfall have parched many of the county's reservoirs. Before last week, 12 of the county's 26 reservoirs were less than half full and four of them had less than one-tenth of their capacity.  San Diego Union-Tribune_ 1/2/05



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