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Drought trend continues in the Wet Mountain Valley

While dazzled by clear fall air and spectacular aspen gold in the high country, county residents nonetheless continue to count up rainless days and wonder about dreaded drought. The immediate forecast is not indicating any drought-breaking storm front on the way; only slight to 30 percent chance of showers seem to lie ahead for the next few days.

Despite heavy rains during the summer, the worst drought in the Valley’s history continues. Above, a drying Lake DeWeese. – Trib Photo by Zakk Byers

“Right,” says Pueblo-based National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Paul Wolyn, “from seven to ten days out, that’s what we expect.” He indicated however, that the NWS Climate Prediction Center, which currently lists our area as on the borderline of “drought remains but improves” and “drought persists,” is tending to favor the odds of “a little bit of improvement” into the early winter months. “For the Sangre de Cristos, December through February,” Wolyn notes, “the latest odds are for a 38 percent chance of above normal precipitation, 33 percent normal, and only a 29 percent chance of drier than normal conditions.” The model the Center uses is banking on the usual fall tip towards an El Nino pattern, which holds out the prospects for wetter weather in the neighborhood.

In the meantime, the visual impact of continuing drought is most alarming at Lake DeWeese, where the “lake” is a trickle that can be jumped over at some places. The Lake, except for a 500 acre foot water conservation pool controlled by the Colorado Fish and Wildlife Conservation office, was intentionally drained last Monday, September 17 by the DeWeese Dye-Ditch and Reservoir Company for some of its roughly 735 shareholders’ last usage of the year.

In the current information published at, the announcement of the board of directors’ drainage decision includes the statement, “This will allow for some shareholders who are supplied water from the reservoirs to receive water one final day. Shareholders who normally receive water from the main ditch will not receive water, as we are only draining water from the reservoirs.”

The company further explains that “There is a misconception that if the dam is full we have plenty of water, this is not true. The spring runoff, snowpack remaining on the mountains and summer rain around Westcliffe is the critical factor [sic] in determining how much stream flow is available and how long it will last. Without the creek flow there is less than sixty days of water stored in the reservoir.”

Hence, when Grape Creek is severely under average flow, as it has been this year, the company goes to a one-day-a-week delivery to its roughly 735 shareholders, through its open ditch and piped channels to ponds in Lincoln Park, Canon City.

Beyond the appalling esthetics of it all, one of the drought driven concerns Justin Krall, Westcliffe District Wildlife Manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, shares is whether or not the conservation pool left there will sustain the Lake DeWeese fish population. “Hopefully we don’t get to the point where we’re seeing fishkill,” he notes, “but if we do, we’ll do a salvage operation.” He will oversee the annual fish survey at the Lake on October 4 and 5; “It will be a limited survey, as some of the places where we net are now dry ground,” he adds.

Overall, Krall concludes, “this is as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” reflecting back over his career here, but also referring to what longtime residents have told him about the life of the Lake since its total drainage, for dam repair, in the late 1990’s. Krall, like so many Valley residents, falls back on the inevitable dynamic that arises in the face of natural forces gone awry: hope. “We’re coming into fall now, temperatures will drop, we’ll continue to monitor the Grape Creek flow, hope it keeps flowing…and hope for good snows this winter.”

That relief is echoed in the DeWeese Dye-Ditch and Reservoir Company’s word to its shareholders: “We hope to receive snow and ample moisture for our 2019 irrigation season.” Annette Ortega, the Company’s secretary/treasurer added a personal note to the Tribune this week, stating, “We have had a really dry year and ended up irrigating one day per week per division, and have ended our irrigation season…The DeWeese Lake had a much lower water level this year, and we are hoping for a lot of snow, snowpack, and winter moisture, along with more rain for next year.”
So, the Valley waits…and hopes.

W.A. Ewing

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