Northern Water reservoir levels at record highs

Northeastern Colorado is flush with water so far this year, and expectations are high that those conditions will continue with El Nino back in effect.

“We had record storage on Jan. 1, Feb. 1 and March 1, and I expect it will be a record on April 1, unless something incredibly dramatic happens to change that,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Besides the records for western and eastern slope components of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — the big buckets — Werner said that local storage is about 120 percent of normal, as well.

But while February seemed like a normal March — in terms of precipitation, not temperature — March seemed more like April, without the precipitation. Snowpacks were dwindling on the western slope, but Werner is confident that the reservoirs will still fill. Already Horsetooth and Carter Reservoirs, on the eastern slope, are full for all intent and purpose.
State Climatologist Nolan Doesken, who had just spoken with leaders of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, said continued good soil moisture in Northern Colorado has growers enthused about their prospects.

“If they could get one good, slow-moving drenching, they could be in really good shape for the year,” Doesken said.

And that’s exactly what people are hoping for with the advent of El Nino this spring. In addition to El Nino, a warming of tropical western Pacific waters, the addition of a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and warming of mid-latitudinal western Pacific waters, has hopes high for a wet spring across the southwest.

Doesken said the El Nino signal turned positive this year, but it was nearly positive last year, as well. Last year saw near normal spring precept in northeastern Colorado, followed by significant rains in June and July, which helped crops across the summer.

But of course, all of this is just speculation. Officials in California were enthusiastic about the onset of El Nino, but the drought has continued there.

“We have seen indications that this El Nino is having an effect,” Doesken said. “Winter storms did alleviate drought across Texas, but the closer you get to the west coast things become less clear.”

For instance, winter storms this year tracked north of California and hit the Pacific Northwest, but largely produced rain, which did not have a positive effect on snowpack there. Climate statisticians have also pointed out that El Nino is not a clear indicator of rain or drought in California, Doesken said.

“Really California has dramatic swings in precipitation during El Nino events,” he said. “It can be really wet or really dry.”

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