Low water in dry conditions Colorado Wolford Mountain Reservoir

Low snow levels at Wolford Mountain Reservoir in the Rocky Mountains outside Kremling, Colorado.

Reservoirs levels dropped in August has hot, dry weather took hold, and there may have been a new record set for the hottest day in Colorado history in August.

The Colorado Water Availability Task Force, which meets monthly, took a look this week at reservoir levels, precipitation and the all-important drought forecast.

Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported low-level drought in a sliver of southeastern Colorado, the northwestern corner of the state, and a bigger chunk of southwestern Colorado. Reservoirs in southeastern and south central Colorado were draining quickly because of dry conditions. 

Average capacity for the seven reservoirs in the upper Rio Grande basin, which serves the San Luis Valley, was down to 40%. The basin's largest reservoir, Sanchez, near the town of San Luis, is well below 25% of capacity.

In the Lower Arkansas basin, reservoirs also have been drained; John Martin, where the 115 temperature was reported and the area's largest reservoir, was just above 20% of capacity. Pueblo Reservoir was just above 60% of capacity.

This week, the central mountains were added to the list of areas headed back into drought, and the southwestern region went from the lowest-level drought to a slightly worse condition.

US Drought Monitor week of August 29, 2019

U.S. Drought Monitor's review of Colorado drought conditions for week of August 29, 2019.

Russ Schumacher of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University reported that precipitation in July was below normal for much of the state, save the Front Range, northeastern Colorado and small pockets around the state.

But for the water year that began on Oct. 1, 2018, the state remains well above average on precipitation, with small sections of western Colorado at the wettest they've ever been. The typical monsoons expected in July and August have been something of a letdown except for some "very rainy spots on the plains," the report said.

For August, however, temperatures are creeping up above normal for much of the Front Range, all the way to the New Mexico state line. Pueblo County has seen the brunt of that a heat, with a six-day run in August when the temperature exceeded 99 degrees every day.

The Climate Center is investigating a temperature of 115 degrees, recorded at John Martin Reservoir in Bent County. If it bears out, it would be the highest recorded temperature in state history. It could take a month to verify the reading, the center's Noah Newman said.

The late start to summer is taking a toll on crops.

"Some agricultural producers are reporting that corn is behind schedule due to a late start to the season. They are hopeful that frost will not occur before the crops reach maturity," the water task force reported. 

Former state Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray is well-known for his watermelons, and he has been busily harvesting and delivering the crop during the past two weeks. He told Colorado Politics that because May and most of June were abnormally cold, the development of his crop was delayed. By the first of July, "we were about 10 days behind normal" but were about 5 days behind by the time the crop was ready for harvest. 

The El Niño weather pattern that dumped moisture into Colorado is officially over, according to Schumacher, and the state is expected to return to a "neutral condition" through the winter.

Long-term forecasts indicate other weather factors cloud create warmer and wetter conditions through January. The Climate Center put the chance of a wetter winter at 41%.

Precipitation July  2019

Precipitation averages, July 2019. 

There's good news amid the dry summer: Most state reservoirs, remain at or near capacity thanks to a heavy winter snowpack.

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