Editor's note: This is the last in a series of articles that the Summit Daily ran over the summer to keep the community informed about ongoing drought conditions in the county.
While the western United States is suffering through one of the warmest, driest summers ever, Summit County got lucky. Statewide we went into another serious drought, but thanks to an extraordinarily wet season the previous year, our reservoirs were full and we had wet soil conditions. We may not be as fortunate next year. If the drought continues and snowpack levels are low for a second year, then we could be facing conditions similar to 2002.
As Jennifer Schenk, High Country Conservation Center, pointed out in her August Drought Watch 2012 article "... recent rains have made our trails and gardens a little soggy," but according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Summit County is still in a severe drought, while other areas of the state remain in an extreme drought, and some of the far Eastern Plains are experiencing exceptional drought conditions.
Overall, the state and the Colorado River Basin have had a tough year. As we learned from Jim Pokrandt, Colorado River District, in his September DW 2012 editorial, "Lake Powell (our water storage "bank account") is a good indicator of drought on a regional basis." Jim noted that that the lake was at 70 percent of average for this time of year, and is at about 58 percent of capacity, yet another indicator of the current situation.
Troy Wineland explained how we got here when he started off the DW 2012 series in May, "Snowpack in the Blue River basin peaked at about 85 percent of average on March 1. Since then, high winds and warmer temperatures had literally vaporized an already deficient snowpack to 9 percent of average as of May 15."
Moving into the winter, there are concerns not only about reservoir levels, but if drought conditions continue, wildfire danger will increase. While Summit County, again, got lucky this year, we watched in sadness as other parts of our state suffered from some of the worst fires Colorado has experienced. Steve Lipsher, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, laid out the current situation in his July DW 2012 commentary, "Extended drought, beetle-killed pine trees, unnaturally dense forests and increased development along the forest boundaries all have contributed to the intensity, scale and destructiveness of modern-day wildfires."
By now you might be feeling a bit anxious, wondering what can be done, or what will happen if we remain in a drought? Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier and Summit County manager Gary Martinez described in their August DW 2012 piece, the county's efforts to respond to drought conditions, noting "... water policy planning, water rights acquisition and resource development takes years to implement, requiring political will and significant financial commitments that go well beyond whatever current weather pattern we might be experiencing." Fortunately the county has been proactive: they have an extensive water portfolio to help meet current and future needs; and they also recently signed the much talked about Colorado River Cooperative Agreement that benefits Summit County in a variety of ways, most importantly with additional water and money for environmental enhancements and wildfire mitigation.
Throughout the summer, the towns of Silverthorne, Breckenridge, Frisco and Dillon contributed to DW 2012. They outlined actions they were taking to ensure they were encouraging conservation and that their citizens were using water wisely. Then in July we heard from Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water, about what they are doing to ensure their users are using only what they need, "In an extremely dry year like this one, the importance of our customers valuing water is even greater. In April, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners declared a Stage 1 drought, asking customers to reduce outdoor water use."
As we dust off our skis and that white stuff finally begins to fall out of the sky, we need to remember we are in a drought - so please continue your water conservation efforts. As Drew Beckwith and Becky Long, with the 90 by 20 campaign, reminded us earlier this month, "These rivers are more than just spectacularly beautiful gifts of nature; they are the lifeblood that supply water for Summit County's recreation, communities, irrigation, ski industries and fisheries." We depend on every drop and every snowflake for our faucets, enjoyment, recreation and economy.
We hope you have found this series of water articles informative, and that it's helped you to understand the wide-range impacts of the drought. From all of the authors, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality/Quantity Committee and Summit County (who helped to organize the series), the Summit Daily News (for hosting), and the Blue River Watershed Group, thanks for reading!
Due to drought conditions in the Blue River watershed, water providers in Summit County are implementing increased levels of water conservation. Please go to your water provider's website to see how these changes will affect you. For additional water conservation tips, visit: www.blueriverwatershed.org.