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Farm News & Views - June 21, 2022

Summer has arrived. If you weren’t awake at 5:54AM this morning, you missed the sunrise, but you can still witness the sunset at 08:32PM this evening, that’ll give us an official day length of 14 hours and 39 minutes.

Although the Four Corners Region received a little rain over the weekend, it is still mighty dry. National Weather Service data indicate that the half inch of rain received over the weekend brings the total precipitation received in Cortez since January 1st to 2.59 inches. Last weeks Drought Monitor map indicates that drought conditions in the U.S. southwest continue to intensify, with areas in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California either expanding or moving into extreme drought, the highest level of drought designation.

While the current drought afflicting the Colorado River Basin is the worst since official records have been kept, there has been many references to this drought as being the worst dry spell in the last 1,200 years. But a new study by Researchers at the Bureau of Reclamation indicate that there was an even worse drought in the region that occurred in the 2nd century AD. Subhrendu Gangopadhyay, principal engineer for the Water Resources Engineering and Management Group at the Bureau of Reclamation and Connie Woodhouse, professor at the School of Geography, Development & Environment, University of Arizona, used paleoclimatic evidence from tree rings and indicators in bogs and caves to reconstruct stream flows 2,000 years ago. Their research indicates that during the 2nd century drought, stream flows on the Colorado River and its tributaries were at about 68% of average flows, which is considerably lower than the 84% of the normal flows during this current drought.

The conservation group American Rivers recently ranked the Colorado as No. 1 on its list of the country’s most endangered rivers. The Colorado supplies water to more than 40 million people in five states. Water diverted from the river flows from faucets in Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and dozens of small towns and minor cities in the U.S. Southwest. But the river’s water is also important to our nation’s food supply, because about 70% of the water diverted from the Colorado is used for production of much of the nation’s winter vegetable crops, and cotton and alfalfa.

Researchers point out that while part of the cause of this dry period may be human related climate change, another problem is that the population of three of the fastest growing states in the U.S., Nevada, Utah, and Arizona and the ever growing population of southern California depend on Colorado River water. But dry conditions are not just affecting Colorado River reservoirs. California’s largest reservoir, Lake Shasta is about 120 feet below full pool, which is 40% of its capacity, and most of the other major reservoirs the state are under half full.

Drought and dust storms in the Great Plains drove about 2.5 million people to California in the 1930s. If this historic drought continues, I wonder if it’ll send some of their descendants back to where they started almost 90 years ago?

Harry Truman wrote, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.