For many in Southern Colorado, the Arkansas River is the lifeblood of healthy communities. But the region suffered through this year’s extreme and exceptional drought conditions. And as KRCC’s Andrea Chalfin reports, all along the Arkansas River, people are in some ways, holding their breaths to see what this winter brings.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Rob White, park manager at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in Salida, says a good snow year is critical for the river, and those who depend on water. While the current flow of the river is about average, during the summer, White says portions of the popular rafting destination were barely boatable.

“In an extremely dry year like we had in 2012, there wasn’t enough water to go around. Obviously, there wasn’t enough water for the farmers, there wasn’t enough water for the irrigators, so we also had to make do with a smaller amount of water.”

Typically the snow to water equivalency in the Arkansas River basin approaches around 5 inches by mid-December. Right now it’s only 57% of average. With so much riding on this year’s snow pack – the numbers are disturbing for farmers downstream who depend on the river for irrigation.

Mike Bartolo, Colorado State University Research Manager in Rocky Ford, says farmers make plans based on snowpack and water.

“So you try to know how much fertilizer you need to order, or how much seed you need to order, but you really don’t know because it’s so tentative.”

2012 got off to a promising start along the Arkansas River – but things gradually got worse. A lack of rainfall didn’t help the alfalfa and corn crops that are predominant here—one gauge in Rocky Ford shows less than 5 inches of total precipitation.

78-year old John Schweizer and his family farm hay near Rocky Ford. Schweizer says if you can’t get the snow, you can’t depend on rain, either.

“It might [rain]. And it could. But you don’t know that. And if we go through the winter like it is now, I doubt if there will be much activity at all.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Farmers like Schweizer are by nature, optimistic.

“We got all winter yet,” Schweizer says. “This is early. So, we’re not panicking yet because it can change overnight. We’ve seen it do it many times, and so we just have to go along with it and have faith enough to think that it’s gonna get better.”

And in the Upper Arkansas River Valley in Salida, park manager Rob White has a similar outlook.

“A lot can happen between now and May 15th when we start to experience runoff. I think what’s really important is that we get those snowstorms that we typically get in the spring months.“

Despite the optimism, a recent seasonal outlook from the Climate Prediction Center at the National Weather Service says drought conditions are likely to persist or even intensify through next March.

 

Comments are closed.

News

AFP/Getty Images
February 26, 2017 | NPR · The dose smeared on the face of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s half-brother was so high, even an antidote may not have been able to save him, according to the Malaysian health minister.
 

AP
February 26, 2017 | NPR · An apparent drunk driver careened into spectators at one of Mardi Gras’ biggest parades Saturday. “We are grateful that none of the injuries appear to be life-threatening,” New Orleans’ mayor said.
 

NPR
February 26, 2017 | NPR · Every five-letter answer in this week’s puzzle must complete a compound word or a familiar two-word phrase.
 

Arts & Life

February 26, 2017 | NPR · Actors and agents were involved in teach-ins and rallies in the past week to oppose President Trump. Award shows and other events have been peppered with political opposition as well.
 

February 25, 2017 | NPR · Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, co-showrunners of the acclaimed series “The Americans,” about Russian spies in the Washington, D.C., area, look ahead a season amid newly tense times with Russia.
 

February 25, 2017 | NPR · NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with tattoo shop owner, Dave Cutlip of Brooklyn Park, Md., who has offered to cover up any racist or gang affiliated tattoos at no cost. Cutlip says sometimes people change.
 

Music

February 26, 2017 | NPR · West African funk, disco, post-punk and electro-pop collide in the music of Ibibio Sound Machine. London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams talks about the band’s new album, Uyai.
 

February 25, 2017 | NPR · Chicago hip-hop superstar Chance the Rapper got his name because nobody believed a guy named Chancelor Bennett could rap. Originally broadcast Aug 1, 2015.
 

Courtesy of the artist
February 25, 2017 | NPR · Filmmaker Bruce Spiegel speaks with Weekend Edition about the eight-year process behind Bill Evans: Time Remembered.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab