This winter's lackluster snow pack was well below average and has melted about four to six weeks earlier than usual. Phyllis Philipps, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) state conservationist, reported that "statewide snowpack looks to have peaked around March 12, a month ahead of the average peak date, and began melting in late March at rates typically not observed until May."
As of May 14, the snow pack in the Gunnison River Basin was at 11 percent of average. As a whole, the state's snowpack is at just 19 percent of average. Both April and March had snowpack conditions similar to those measured in 2002, which resulted in record setting drought conditions. Gary Shellhorn, hydrologist for the U.S. Forest Service, has observed from stream gauge data "that this spring we have gone from winter base flow conditions in the mountain streams to summer flow conditions, there was essentially no peak flow this spring, much like stream flows in 2002."
The U.S. Drought Monitor for Colorado (released on May 15), a report produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center indicates that drought ranges from moderate to severe in Montrose, Delta and Ouray counties. Conditions in the headwaters of the Gunnison River Basin are also problematic. Currently portions of Gunnison, Saguache and Hinsdale counties are in severe drought.
The valleys of Lower Gunnsion Basin rely on water stored in the snowpack and reservoirs found throughout the upper portion of the basin. Because of increasing drought conditions, it's likely our water use this year will rely even more heavily on water stored in local reservoirs. Since April 1 water storage in Blue Mesa has fallen just over 2 percent, which equates to a loss of about 15,000 acre-feet. The NRCS warns "stored water may help alleviate conditions early in the season; however water users should be aware of the potential for late season shortages."
Wise water use practices are more critical than ever and you are essential in this effort. An irrigation investigation by Colorado State University extension staff in the Grand Valley found that home owners often apply up to 40 percent more water than their lawns actually require. This indicates there is a substantial opportunity for water conservation and savings.
What simple changes can you make to save water? Start with the basics — do you efficiently deliver a proper amount of water to your lawn or plants? It's been universally tested sidewalks, driveways and paved areas will not grow . . . so there's no need to water them! Water your lawn during the cooler portions of the day and avoid water application from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when a significant portion of the water will be lost to evaporation. To save additional water, use drought tolerant plants in your next landscaping project.
For additional information check out these websites: CSU Extension provides detailed lawn and garden recommendations at westernslopeturf.org or www.ext.colostate.edu/drought/water_wise.html
For indoor and outdoor water use the Colorado Foundation for Water Education created the Citizens Guide to Colorado Water Conservation. The Citizen's Guide is available at www.cfwe.org.
The Grand Valley Irrigation Providers has an excellent website with suggestions for wise water use in western Colorado at www.
Your efforts to save water will pay dividends. The Lower Gunnison Basin has outstanding natural resources and high quality agriculture which fosters excellent water-based recreation and a strong economy. Wise water use will ensure clean water and sufficient flows in our rivers, canals and spigots. Specifically, wise water use prevents pollution (e.g. more efficient irrigation minimizes deep percolation and can limit salinity and selenium mobilization and inputs to local waterways). Efficient water use will also ease other pollution problems such as stormwater runoff and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. And perhaps more importantly, wise water use can save you money by reducing utility bills.
This article is provided by the Lower Gunnison Basin Wise Water Use Council.blog comments powered by Disqus