Reports out of Colorado indicate that the state is in its worst drought for a decade. The comparison year is 2002 when huge wildfires engulfed the state. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a water conservation bill into law this week, out of necessity, it was reported, because 98 percent of the state is experiencing some level of drought conditions.

Snowpack is 7 percent of normal, which means low stream flows are in place, and temperatures are averaging about 10 degrees warmer than normal. More than half the state has been proclaimed as officially in drought, explained the Denver CBS television station.

“It’s dry and it’s not going to easily catch up,” state climatologist Nolan Doesken told the station reporter. “When you look back to 2002, we only got about one quarter of the average runoff in our major rivers and streams, and that’s the same sort of magnitude we’re looking at, and that’s down there at the level of worst of record.” Doesken said.

It has been estimated that there are about 4 million acres of beetle-killed trees, and that is much more highly flammable fuel than the drought of 2002 and subsequent wildfires.  

“We must protect our communities, we must protect our watersheds,” said State Sen. Gail Schwartz, (D). Schwartz has proposed a $60 million water bill to fund 14 projects, including building two new reservoirs, mitigating dead timber in watersheds, and satellite monitoring of rivers and streams to track how much water is flowing in any given area and at any given time.

“Being a headwater state we are required under compacts to deliver water across our state lines to other states,” Schwartz said. “We want to make sure we’re not over-delivering in any one of our basins.” New conservation methods and the completion of current federal projects are immediately needed, she contends.

Water storage by reservoirs won’t last long, even though considerably more water storage has been added in the state since 2002. June typically is a lower rainfall month.

In January, the governor proclaimed 2012 “Year of Water.” The governor’s resolution identifies a clean and sustainable water supply as an essential element to the health and economy of Colorado and its neighboring states. U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet recently sponsored a federal resolution honoring the governor for addressing the water issue head on. But it is obvious that resolutions and proclamations won’t do much to help get through this current problem.

How much agricultural production will be limited by the water shortage, especially since much of the state’s agricultural production is irrigated, has not been addressed in recent news accounts.