Drought FAQ

Drought FAQ

Below are some of the common questions regarding Drought in Colorado.

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Annual Rainfall for Colorado

Annual precipitation in Colorado averages only 17 inches statewide, with the majority of the State receiving only 12 – 16 inches.

Colorado in a Drought

This is an all too common question in Colorado and there is no straightforward answer. Drought is a prevalent natural phenomenon in Colorado. Single season droughts over some portion of the State are common. Prolonged periods of drought develop slowly over several years and are cyclical in nature. With Colorado’s semiarid and variable climate, there will always be a concern for water availability within the State. 

Colorado Statewide Drought Plan

Yes, the State currently follows the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan, which was updated in 2018. The Plan provides an effective and systematic means for the State to reduce the impacts of water shortages over the short or long term. The plan outlines a mechanism for coordinated drought monitoring, impact assessment, response to emergency drought problems, and mitigation of long term drought impacts.

Drought Declaration

Drought declarations are traditionally made by public officials and may be made at the local, state and federal level. In Colorado, the Water Availability Task Force is responsible for assessing drought conditions and recommends to the governor when an official drought declaration should be made. Water providers can also officially declare a drought. Water restrictions and other drought response measures may be enforced following local drought declarations.

Drought Frequency

Historical analysis of precipitation and other drought indices show that drought is a frequent occurrence in Colorado. Short duration drought as defined by the three-month Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) occur somewhere in Colorado in nearly nine out of every ten years. However, severe, widespread multiyear droughts are much less common. Since the 1893, Colorado has experienced six droughts that are widely considered “severe.” These droughts affected most of the state, involved record-breaking dry spells, and/or lasted for multiple years.

Drought Mitigation Plan Requirement

No, currently there is no statutory requirement that any entity have a State-approved Drought Mitigation Plan. However, the CWCB strongly recommends that water providers and state and local governmental entities develop a plan. Drought mitigation planning is critical to preserving essential public services and minimizing the adverse effects of a water supply emergency on public health and safety, economic activity, environmental resources and individual lifestyles.

Drought Mitigation Plan vs. Water Efficiency Plan

It is common to confuse drought mitigation planning and water efficiency planning.

  • The goal of drought mitigation planning is to ensure an uninterrupted supply of water in an amount sufficient to satisfy essential needs. Drought response measures can include mandatory restrictions on certain water uses, water allocation or the temporary use of an alternative water supply. These measures are intended to be temporary responses to water supply shortages.
  • The goal of water efficiency planning is to achieve lasting, long-term improvements in water use efficiency. Water efficient measures can include managing landscape irrigation, implementing efficiency based water rate structures, replacing or retrofitting water fixtures and similar efforts.

Drought Triggers Definition

A drought trigger is the specific value of a drought indicator that activates a management response. For example, a drought trigger could be a reservoir decreasing below 50% of its storage capacity. In a drought contingency plan, trigger levels can be varied to alter the sensitivity of the response and the effectiveness of the plan. Defining drought triggers can be difficult. Trigger levels change over time, that is, an appropriate trigger level for a particular system may change dramatically if that system has an increase in available infrastructure or if water demands change dramatically. Urban water triggers are often quite different from agriculture drought triggers, as the urban infrastructure can often mitigate the impacts of short-term droughts.

Monitoring Drought Conditions

The Water Availability Task Force monitors drought conditions at a statewide level. Local water providers also monitor drought conditions by using data provided by various agencies and also by monitoring conditions within their own watersheds.

Monitoring for Drought

Drought indicators are any single observation or combinations of observations that contribute to identifying the onset and/or continuation of a drought. Drought indicators can include measures of streamflow, precipitation, reservoir storage, the Palmer Modified Drought Severity Index, which is a function of precipitation, temperature, and the available water content of the soil, and other similar measures. The effectiveness of drought indicators depends on the region and the resources. Often, the degree of infrastructure development in a region may define the most appropriate indicators.

Water Availability Task Force Meetings

The Water Availability Task Force (WATF) meets once a month throughout the water year (October 1 - September 30) except in October & December. During the month of March, the WATF meets jointly with the Flood Task Force. 

Water Availability Task Force Meetings Schedule and Attendance

Yes, meetings are open to the public and the public is encouraged to attend. To be notified, via email, of the upcoming meeting schedule, please see the DNR Portal to add your name to our email distribution list.