Time To Act
Late last week, Jim Fahey with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), came out with the Wyoming Hydrologic Update and Outlook for the 2021 year, which really reflected the drought Wyoming and the region suffered over the past two years.
The synopsis read, “Wyoming had one of the lowest runoff [by volume] years on record in the last 45 years, with only Water Years 1977, 2002 and 2004 lower than 2021.”
Anyone who irrigates probably has plenty of stories to tell on those years, along with the past two years.
Remember, in our region we have two types of droughts – forage drought and hydrological drought. Forage drought pertains to just forages and includes plants out on the range which are grazed. Hydrological drought, which is what this update is mostly about, is the lack of water in streams, rivers, reservoirs, lakes and anything associated with irrigation waters. Now, mind you, those are bunkhouse definitions.
The report explained the water year precipitation averages across Wyoming’s major basins were well below average for Water Year 2021. Water Year 2020 precipitation totals were also below average. As a consequence, Wyoming is entering its second year of significant drought with most of the state covered in the moderate to extreme category of hydrological drought.
As we have heard from Don Day, the “expert” on the history of our weather patterns, La Niña, translated from Spanish as “little girl,” is a natural ocean-atmospheric phenomenon marked by cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. These cycles tend to cause droughts in the western states, usually around every 13 years.
As I get it, the colder a La Niña cycle, or the longer it lasts, the more extreme the drought is. We’ve certainly felt it these past couple of years, and it is not expected to let up until late spring 2022.
Snowpacks are currently below median across almost all major basins in Wyoming, but the median numbers are slightly higher than last year at this time. Some areas had a wet month in October, which helped the snowpack get started, but warmer temperatures haven’t helped in some parts.
The report said reservoir storages across Wyoming have noticeably decreased during Water Year 2021, especially along the Snake, Upper Bear and Upper North Platte watersheds.
Early water year hydrologic conditions and trends, as well as temperature and precipitation outlooks for the winter into early spring, point to a normal to below normal snowpack across Wyoming. As a result, near normal to below normal snowmelt runoff volumes and a low potential for snowmelt flooding are expected across Wyoming during the runoff in 2022. Severe to extreme hydrologic drought conditions are expected across western and northern Wyoming.
I feel this information tells us we need to store more water in Wyoming. I believe we have built up quite a cash fund for storing water and enhancing the delivery systems for this water in the Wyoming Water Development Office.
These funds and other funds earmarked by the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Water Committee in draft bills need serious consideration in the next legislative session. The time to act is now, as the current drought is a strong reminder how precious our water is.
There are numerous major rivers that begin in our state, and most of them are appropriated already. If we don’t use our water, a downstream state will.