Drought not as bad in Northwest Colorado

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With the lowest March snowpack totals reported in two decades, state officials reported last week half the state is in a severe drought.

But conditions, experts say, are better in Northwest Colorado.

"The outlook for Northwest Colorado is better than the rest of the state," said Dan McAuliffe, deputy director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Although snowpack levels in Northwest Colorado are higher than other parts of the state, the area is still experiencing a moderate drought.

The snowpack for the Yampa River and White River basins is 72 percent of average, compared to 45 percent in the South Platte River basin, 58 percent in the Gunnison River basin and 46 percent in the Rio Grande River basin.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also makes stream-flow forecasts for spring and summer.

Mike Gillespie, a snow survey supervisor with the NRCS, said Northwest Colorado's stream flow will not be as high as it should be but said it too will be better than other parts of the state.

"The Yampa/White rivers forecast is better than anywhere else," he said.

But the likelihood of the basin getting to its average annual level is almost impossible, he said.

"We've known for about a month and a half we had little or no chance of catching up. At this point it looks even worse," he said. "That's pretty typical for most of the state. We don't have much chance of catching up by April 1."

This will affect water usage for some.

"With these water projections there's going to be some water users that don't get their water in the agriculture community later in the summer," he said. "But municipal users don't need to worry yet."

The dry winter hasn't improved fire conditions in an area where fire danger was extremely high last summer, said Lynn Barclay, a fire mitigation education specialist.

"Fire danger was extremely high in 2001," she said.

But Barclay was hesitant to make any predictions yet for this summer.

"At this point it's a little early for us to predict," she said. "If we get some spring rains it could change everything. From what I've heard it seems that it would take quite a bit to get back where we need to be."

But if the area doesn't receive significant moisture soon, fire season could come earlier

than usual.

"Peak fire season is June and July," she said. "But in these drier years it can start as early as April."

According to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction Northwest Colorado is expected to see a slow improvement in precipitation through June. Through July and August above normal temperatures are predicted with normal

precipitation.

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