Dry fields ahead of the 2022 growing season at Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Farm & Ranch Enterprise in Towaoc on March 9, 2022 (Photo Credit: Corey Robinson, Special to the Colorado Sun)

Southwest Colorado’s ongoing drought hurts–and it’s not new.

Southwest Colorado has experience drought a majority of the past 20 years. While summer monsoons staved on wildfire and rejuvenated soils, the drought in southwest Colorado is not over.

In 2021, Montezuma County irrigators and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe suffered acute and devastating financial impacts from consecutive years of drought conditions. The Dolores Water Conservancy District had to enact penalties for water overuse and exhaust most of their reserves to keep water costs reasonable for strapped farmers. Fish populations and the recreationists that follow them suffered, with fishing bans on the San Miguel and Dolores rivers. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported the potential loss of a highly valued rainbow trout fishery on the lower Dolores River. The Town of Dove Creek had to act to ensure late summer municipal water supply was available when there wasn’t enough water to push deliveries through their canal.

How are local communities responding?

The severity and duration of the current drought has highlighted for SWCD the value of our reservoir storage in mitigating the impacts of variable snowpack. We can use this knowledge to look for opportunities to better manage our existing storage vessels in times of drought, as DWCD has done with dredging, and seek small scale reservoir opportunities like what the Town of Dove Creek has done. Local municipalities are also taking the lead in bringing awareness to drought. The Town of Bayfield, for example, adopted their first official drought management plan in summer 2021, creating a system of conservation restrictions and fines that would take effect during drought periods. The City of Cortez has limited outdoor watering in 2022 to the early morning and late evening and encourages residents to water every other day.

What is SWCD doing to help?

Advocacy

  • SWCD supported the state’s emergency drought declaration can enable key federal agencies to take action to support local growers and water managers.
  • The SWCD board supports increased state funding for implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan, including the completion of local projects that provide supply redundancy, improved infrastructure, robust water planning, and other tools that will help southwest Colorado build resiliency in the face of aridification.
  • SWCD along with other entities across Colorado came together to support the western water infrastructure package and projects in southwestern Colorado are working to access those funds.
  • Together, these and other programmatic and funding strategies can provide a framework that will help us to respond to the challenges faced in our District and across Colorado.

Education

  • “Navigating Shortage” was the focus of SWCD’s 2022 Southwest Water Seminar. Regional and local climate professionals relayed data showing southwest Colorado squarely in the bullseye of a regional aridification trend. Tribal leaders discussed their local and regional water future. Keen local negotiators reviewed Colorado water’s central aspiration: striking the balance between multiple needs in times of drought. Attendees also heard about several local efforts to improve water quality while flows drop. All these presentations are available on SWCD’s YouTube Channel and tell the story of drought in southwest Colorado.
  • SWCD is a regular source for local journalists reporting on snowpack, water supply, and drought.

Current conditions:

Southwestern Colorado’s drought story:

See reports from across our District on the acute impacts of drought. Please email additional articles to [email protected]: