THE COLORADO DROUGHT
AND RESPONSE PLAN
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Assessment begins with activation
of the relevant Impact Task Forces (ITFs). These task forces convene to
determine impacts within specific sectors of the environment and economy.
Impact Task Forces include Municipal Water, Wildfire Protection, Agricultural
Industry, Tourism, Wildlife, Economic Impacts, Energy Loss, and Health.
The task forces are described in detail in Annex C.
Drought is a frequent visitor
to our semi-arid state. Annual average precipitation in Colorado is near
seventeen inches and yet varies from approximately seven inches in the
San Luis Valley to over fifty inches in small areas of the higher mountains
in the southern and northern parts of the state (McKee, Doesken and Kleist,
1999). Due to the natural variations in climate and precipitation sources
it is rare for all of Colorado to be deficient in moisture at the same
time. However single season droughts over some portion of the state are
quite common (McKee, Doesken and Kleist, 1999).
Drought is an ambiguous hazard
that defies a universal definition. Typically drought is a shortage of
water that is associated with a deficiency of precipitation. However,
water shortages can be human induced also. Perhaps it is easier to think
of drought as being a function of supply versus demand. Drought occurs
when a normal amount of moisture is not available to satisfy an area's
usual water-consuming activities.
There are several obvious problems
with drought, but the initial one is recognizing it. Drying trends tend
to be associated with "good" weather. The irony is that too much "good"
weather can wreak havoc on the environment, create serious water shortages,
and delay or stop business and industry. When droughts occur, the State
is impacted with a variety of ambiguous and complex problems, which, if
identified and evaluated, can be dealt with in a well organized and cost-efficient
way. The most significant impacts which typically confront the State are
related to such water intensive activities as: agriculture, wildfire protection,
municipal usage, commerce, tourism, recreation and wildlife preservation.
A reduction of electric power generation and water quality deterioration
are also potential problems.
Several times throughout this
century Colorado has experienced conditions of drought. The most dramatic
drought periods occurred in the 1930s and 1950s, when many states, Colorado
included, were affected for several years at a time. With the understanding
that conditions throughout the state vary widely, Table 1 shows five multi
year droughts experienced in Colorado since 1893.
Source: McKee, Doesken and
Since 1981 Colorado has been in a sustained overall wet period. A few localized exceptions include significant but brief drought in southwest Colorado during 1989 to 1990, a growing season drought in 1994 in northeast Colorado, and another localized drought in 1994 over southwest Colorado from late 1995 into 1996. The La Nina influenced weather patterns in the winter of 1999 left the statewide snowpack abnormally low as of April 1. While many parts of the country were experiencing drought conditions, abundant moisture in the second half of the 1999 water year resulted in wet conditions over almost all of Colorado (Colorado State University, Colorado Climate Center, 1999).
1.4.1 CONCLUSIONS FROM PAST DROUGHT EFFORTS
In the 1976-77 drought, Colorado State government assumed a lead role in coordinating Federal, State and local government response as well as promoting statewide public conservation practices. Conclusions from that effort include:
Governor Lamm took action in
February 1981 to initiate the process of dealing with the potential drought
situation. This included a planning process in State government to develop
means to deal over the long run with water shortage conditions. His memorandum
of February 5 required the accomplishment of the following tasks:
(1). Develop and activate a
data collection and assessment system which will identify the potential
impacts of a drought and track their occurrence and intensity. At some
point, this assessment process may result in a recommendation that a drought
emergency be proclaimed.
(2). Develop a drought emergency
response plan which would be activated by a drought emergency decision.
This task includes cataloguing existing state and federal response and
relief programs and authorities, and development of recommendations to
meet additional needs.
The initial Colorado Drought
Response Plan was completed in 1981 and revised in 1986, 1990 and 2000.
In 1981 it was one of three state drought plans in the nation. Since that
time the plan has received wide distribution and interest both nationally
and internationally and has served as a model for other states. Table
2 lists 10 recommended drought preparedness steps (University of Nebraska-Lincoln,
National Drought Mitigation Center, 1996) and summarizes the ways that
Colorado has dealt with each issue.
1.4.2 HISTORY OF PLAN ACTIVATIONS
Portions of the Drought Response Plan have been activated since its initial development. Some examples include:1989- As conditions worsened Governor Romer activated the Impact Task Forces and
1990 the Review and Reporting Task Force. Eastern plains dryland farming including the bean, hay and alfalfa crops took the biggest hit. Twenty Colorado counties declared drought disasters due to loss of winter wheat and hay for cattle. Losses to the agricultural community were estimated between seven million to one billion dollars. Emergency water hauling took place for a subdivision in La Plata County and the Towaoc Indian reservation. Wildfires were more prevalent over most of the state, including the devastating Boulder Canyon fire. Much activity was stimulated in the state's drought response system during this time period. This included an increase in funding for drought preparedness activities and other mitigation efforts, including public information brochures and an update of the Drought Response Plan.1994 In response to extremely arid conditions, the Governor activated several Task Forces to assess impacts, including Agriculture-Blowing Soils, Wildlife, Wildfire, Commerce-Tourism, and Reviewing and Reporting. Significant impacts reported ranged from an increase in wildfires statewide, losses to the winter wheat crop, difficulties with livestock feeding, and impacts to the state's fisheries.
1996 The Municipal Water Task Force was activated to review task force responsibilities under the plan and evaluate the potential impacts to potable water supplies in the southwest and northwest portions of the state. The State Drought Review and Reporting Task Force provided a Drought Status Report to the Governor's Office. The situation called for continued monitoring by the Water Availability Task Force.
Recently, Colorado participated
in a multi-state survey project conducted by the Western Drought Coordination
Council. The survey was completed in 1999 and is titled Historical
Drought Survey of Recently Impacted States. The purpose was to collect
historical drought information regarding impacts and actions taken.
As a result, information was collected from western states and others
across the nation which highlighted actions that were taken during times
of dry conditions. The information was organized by major impact sectors:
Agriculture, Drought Management, Water Resources, Wildfire - Forest Health,
Natural Resources, Health - Environment, Commerce - Economic, and Tourism
- Recreation. Each impact sector was further divided by section: Economic
Impacts, Environmental Impacts, Social Impacts and Lessons Learned. Examples
of Colorado responses are listed Annex A2. Lessons learned in previous
droughts will enable Colorado to anticipate drought problems and response
or mitigation actions.
Colorado Division of Disaster Emergency Services, About Drought, 1989.
McKee, Thomas B., Nolan J. Doesken, John Kleist, Historical Dry and Wet Periods In Colorado, Climatology Report No. 99-1 A, Part B: Appendices, Dept of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University; 1999.
McKee, Thomas B., Nolan J. Doesken, John Kleist, with Catherine J. Shrier and William P. Stanton, "A History of Drought in Colorado: Lessons Learned and What Lies Ahead" Water in the Balance No. 9, December 1999, Colorado Water Resources Research Institute, Colorado State University, 1999.
Stanton, W.P., Luckie, K., and Busto, J., Survey of Drought Planning in Colorado, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Dept of Natural Resources, Denver, CO, 2000.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, National Drought Mitigation Center, Basics of Drought Planning, 1996.
Western Drought Coordination Council. "Recently Impacted States Historical Drought Information" Western Drought Coordination Council Drought Response Working Group, 1999.
Woodhouse, Connie A., "A Tree Ring Reconstruction of Stream Flow for the Colorado Front Range", Journal of the American Water Resources Association (in review 2000).
Knutson, Cody, Hayes, Mike, Phillips, Tom. How to
Reduce Drought Risk. Western Drought Coordination Council, 1998.
Prepared by Colorado Department of Local Affairs
Division of Local Government
Office of Emergency Management
J. Truby, L Boulas 1981 Revised in 1986 to meetnational and worldwide demand
Revised by J. Truby, L Boulas, R. Kistner in 1990.
Revised by J. Brislawn, M. Gally, L. Boulas in 2000
Funding for this production
of this document provided by the State of Colorado
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