Pine Gulch Fire

Pine Gulch Fire among fires in the state that prompted a 30 day state wide open fire ban by Gov. Jared Polis on Aug. 18.

By Lisa Young

Staff writer

It seems almost silly to bring up the state’s drought condition following Sunday-Monday’s snowstorm that blanketed the county. However, the drought is real and increasing in severity as 77% of the state now falls in the “extreme drought” category or worse.

For the first time in eight years, 100% of the state is experiencing drought or at least “abnormally dry” conditions.

“What we’re seeing across the entirety of the Intermountain West following this brutal hot, dry summer is basically moderate drought to extreme drought,” said Peter Goble, a climatologist from Colorado State University in a recent webinar.

On Oct. 22 the United States Drought Monitor put 21.82% of Colorado, including most of Delta County, in “D4” the worst level on the drought scale.

According to the monitor, areas with a “D4” rating can expect dust storms with the removal of topsoil as well as widespread economic losses for both agriculture and recreational industries.

It’s no secret that hotter temperatures over the summer, below-average precipitation and winds have created soil moisture conditions that are much drier than normal across much of the state.

Beyond the obvious agricultural and recreational impacts, the 2020 drought has contributed to the devastating fire season including the Pine Gulch Fire near Grand Junction and the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins.

Governor Jared Polis recently moved the state into Phase 2 of the drought mitigation plan including a task force to assess initial damages and impacts in counties with severe drought or extreme drought conditions.

In August, 40 counties in Colorado were listed in severe or extreme drought category including Alamosa, Archuleta, Baca, Bent, Chaffee, Cheyenne, Conejos, Costilla, Crowley, Custer, Delta, Dolores, Eagle, El Paso, Elbert, Fremont, Garfield, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Huerfano, Kiowa, Kit Carson, La Plata, Las Animas, Lincoln, Mesa, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, Otero, Ouray, Pitkin, Prowers, Pueblo, Rio Grande, Saguache, San Miguel, San Juan, Washington and Yuma.

In response to the ongoing and increasing drought, Polis sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, asking for emergency relief for Colorado ag producers across the state.

“Farmers and ranchers in Colorado are suffering deep financial losses due to persistent drought conditions, extreme weather events, and compounding disasters. Our state’s producers report significant barriers to accessing financial relief from multi-year (2018 drought, 2019 freeze, 2020 drought), multi-faceted (economic, environmental and public health) disasters,” the letter from Polis reads.

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