Early signs point to drought

As the sun rises on the first day of summer in Craig, it brings some not-so-good news for area farmers and ranchers. According to weather professionals around the state, Northwest Colorado may be in for another dry summer and that has many people concerned.

"I really hope that I am wrong about this," said C.J. Murchlow of the Colorado State University Extension Office, "but it looks as though we are going to have another dry summer, and all that we can do right now is wait and see what is to come of this dry spell."

Many of the early warning signs stem from the quickly melting mountain snowpack. The latest data released by the state indicates the average snowpack has dropped to only 24 percent of average. This year's average snowpack is still slightly below last year's levels, which adds to the problem.

"If you couple this year, which is predicted to be dry, with last year, which was very dry, it has all of the warning signs of a very dry and hazardous summer in all of the Northwest Colorado counties," Murchlow said. "If we don't begin to see some rain soon, there is going to be good reason to be concerned, because most of the snow has melted."

As of June 1, the Yampa River was at 29 percent of its average. The state average is 24 percent for rivers and reservoirs.

"While this year's meltout may seem unusual, it's not as bad as last year when the state's snowpack was only 14 percent of average on June 1," John Knapp, acting state conservationist with the NRCS, stated in a press release. "The reduced amount of surplus water in reservoir storage may result in less water available for some water users than last year. In addition, we can anticipate that reservoir shortage will be below average as we enter the 2002 water year next year October."

In Rio Blanco County, things don't look much better. Many ranchers have already started to file with the county's flash report if they see signs that the drought is having long-term impacts.

"Right now there is now fund program or assistance set up for those who are having problems," Farm Service Agency representative Barb Vaughn said. "But, if enough people come in to the office with problems, it may be something that they will consider taking a look at."

In some areas of Rio Blanco County, it hasn't rained for more than a month, and with no precipitation in the forecast, concerns are running high.

"If this keeps up a lot of farmers are going to be seeing problems," Vaughn said. "They are not going to be getting their crops in, their hay is not going to come in and they are going to have trouble feeding the livestock that they do have.

"A lot of farmers are going to have to take precautions this year," she said. "Even just getting enough water to them is going to be a problem in itself."

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