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Increased moisture this year does not fix state’s water woes

By Elise Schmelzer

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Colorado is drought-free for the first time since 2019 — a stark change from a year ago, when 98% of the state was under drought conditions.

A winter filled with heavy snow and a cooler, wetter-than-normal spring helped the state rebound from years of drought status, said Becky Bolinger, Colorado’s assistant state climatologist.

The U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday issued its most recent map showing a lack of drought in all regions of Colorado. The week prior, a small swath of the southeast corner of the state remained in drought conditions.

Colorado on Thursday was the only state in the Western U.S. and one of only four states in the country without any drought, according to the Drought Monitor. The other three states are Maine, South Carolina and New Hampshire.

About 23% of the U.S. is in moderate or more severe drought, according to the Drought Monitor.

Approximately 98 million people live in those drought areas. Colorado’s neighbors to the east — Kansas and Nebraska — are experiencing some of the most widespread and severe drought in the country.

In Colorado, meanwhile, record rains and a large snowpack have combined to refill reservoirs and create rushing rivers capable of washing out bridges.

But one good water year does not mean Coloradans should stop thinking about water consumption, Bolinger said. The Colorado River is still drying, and one year of ample moisture does not erase years of drought.

“We’re in a good place, and it’s significant.But it’s not going to last for long,” she said. “The question of when we go back into drought is not an if; it’s a when.”

As Colorado’s climate becomes drier and warmer, droughts will be more common and more severe, she said.

“This is not a problem that’s going away,” she said. Areas of Colorado where drought conditions could reemerge this year include the west and southwestern parts of the state, Bolinger said. Modeling suggests the summer’s monsoon season could be less strong there than in other years, leading to less rain than usual.

The wetter conditions will decrease the risk of large, destructive wildfires this summer, Bolinger said. But the increased moisture has meant vegetation is growing larger than normal, which creates more fuel for fire once dried out.

“The good thing about this moisture is it is good for vegetation, and the bad thing about all this moisture is it’s really good for vegetation,” she said.

 

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