Colorado’s Drought Worsens

Published online: Apr 23, 2002
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The drought gripping nearly all sections of Colorado is so bad that some residents are now praying for rain.

According to reports, the state would need at least 30 days and nights of constant rain to ever recover. If prayers aren’t answered soon, officials say it may be too late to reinvigorate the dry land.

Southern Colorado has been the worst hit. Not only economic but also environmental disasters are just around the corner. The area is as dry as it has been in 100 years. Officials there are saying that if the area doesn’t soon get rain, not only will the ’02 crops be history but the ’03 crop as well.

The Rio Grande River is but a small trickle. In the San Luis Valley, where the area depends on the river, the aquifer is sinking. The Rio Grande is only 13 percent of normal.

Hundreds of farmers and ranchers depend on it each year as well as many small cities and towns. The water is delivered through a 1,000-mile web of canals and ditches. This year system users won’t receive one drop.

The San Juan and Sangre de Cristos mountains have record low snow packs. What snow was there has evaporated with the spring winds. The two-million-acre Rio Grande National Forest is tinder dry.

All SLV law enforcement agencies have placed a ban on burning. At this point some towns are placing water restriction policies into use.

In addition, two weeks of high winds blowing through the valley have carried tons of topsoil from yet-planted fields into the air, blotting out the sun and forcing motorists to use headlights to see through the clouds of dust.

Near La Jara, CO, in the center of prime potato country, they used snowplows to clear highway U.S. 285 of sand that was several inches deep on the road.

According to water engineers, in 1976 the valley aquifer decreased some 500,000-acre feet. Now it has dropped some 300,000-acre feet [year to date]. In a normal year, the snow pack recharges the two million-acre feet in the watershed but it didn’t happen this year. Most potato growers rely on the aquifer for their irrigation water.