Drought persisting despite recent rainfall

As fire restrictions gradually drop away and precipitation brings some streamflows back toward normal, drought conditions still persist across Colorado.

Wednesday, all fire restrictions in the White River National Forest were lifted after restrictions in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests were lowered to Stage 1 on Monday, meaning campfires there are allowed in — though only in — permanent pits or grates in developed campsites.

Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s Gunnison or Uncompahgre offices were also moved to Stage 1 restrictions, while those managed by the agency’s Grand Junction and Colorado River Valley offices remain under Stage 2 restrictions, prohibiting all fires aside from pressurized-liquid or -gas stoves.

Many of those changes in restrictions were caused by the occasional precipitation seen over the past two weeks throughout western Colorado.

That precipitation also contributed to slow but sporadic rises in stream levels.

The Colorado River, measured at the Utah line, was back up to normal flow levels Wednesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Flows there had been down to the third percentile of their median flows in May.

Elsewhere, the Gunnison River, as measured near Whitewater, also was up to normal levels Wednesday afternoon, while the Colorado, measured at Cameo, was at “below normal,” up from “much below normal.”

Overall, half the stream gauges in the Upper Colorado River basin were reporting much below normal flows, essentially equivalent to the lowest on record, according to a weekly drought report put out on Tuesday by Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center.

That 50 percent figure has improved from 65 percent much below normal two weeks ago, the center said.

No stream gauges in western Colorado were reporting above normal flows on Wednesday.

And though decreases in reservoir volume are normal for this time of year, the major reservoirs Blue Mesa, Green Mountain and Lake Powell are all below their average storage levels for July, the climate center reported.

The U.S. Drought Monitor released last week still lists most of western Colorado as being in “extreme” drought, the fourth most severe of five drought classifications. It places most of the San Juan Mountains in “severe” drought, the third-worst classification, and about half of Moffat and Routt counties in “exceptional” drought, the worst classification.


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