U.S. Water News Online
FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Horsetooth Reservoir is full and is
now open for angling after being temporarily closed for dam repairs.
Such good news related to water in the West is becoming a rarity
these days as a dry and warm spring intensified the effects of a
lingering drought that has persisted in the region for five to six
On the negative side, both Powell and Mead are at less than half
capacity. Even at such levels, these massive impoundments still
contain trillions of gallons of water. But Mead hasn't been this low
in 40 years. Powell could be dry by 2007 if the drought persists at
this level for another year or two, according to resource managers.
"Continual loss of water in those two lakes, which in the past
always have served as a buffer for the whole system (Colorado River)
may have long-term future implications," said Robin Knox of the
Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Other consequences of the ongoing drought:
Tens of millions of pine and spruce trees have died from drought
and beetle infestation. "Absolutely unprecedented," said Mike Wanger,
a professor of entomology at Northern Arizona University. "We've
never had these conditions before. Never had that combination."
In Nevada and Southern California, recent heat and wind coupled
with drought have led to unseasonably early "very high to "extreme"
fire danger assessments.
Central Montana seems likely to experience one of its driest years
in a century.
In southeastern Colorado, John Martin Reservoir, a once popular
bass fishery, is at only 4 percent of capacity. Other impoundments in
the area are empty.
"Other popular bass lakes, including Bonny (41 percent of
capacity), McPhee (60 percent) and Navajo (60 percent) should be okay
this year, but will be drawn down," said Knox. "But accessing lakes
with dropping levels can be a problem later in the year."
All across Colorado, as in much of the West, impoundments remain
well below average in water storage. As a result, remaining reservoir
species, such as bass and panfish, are crowded into ever smaller,
warmer and more stagnant waters. And downstream, native coldwater
species try to survive in lower, slower flows.
"The legal consumption of water always comes ahead of preserving
instream flows, which means that natural habitats and the creatures
that live in them come last," the New York Times recently pointed out
in an editorial entitled "The Arid West."
Mandatory water rationing, meanwhile, has been implemented in many
places for that legal consumption. Watering lawns and washing cars is
restricted in the suburbs. Farmers are allowed such a meager amount
of water that they can cultivate only a fraction of their lands. City
managers are scrambling to buy water and/or build new reservoirs.
And still the people come.
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