DENVER (AP) — Colorado is slogging through a wetter than normal spring, with heavy rains restoring much-needed moisture to parched rangeland and sending some rivers over the banks.
But the precipitation isn’t helping dry downstream states in the Southwest that rely on the Colorado River, which originates in western Colorado.
The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday a series of recent storms have dropped up to four times the normal weekly rainfall in some areas of the West. However, three-quarters of the region remains in a long-term drought.
Nearly half of California was classified as being in an exceptional drought — the most severe of five categories.
The Colorado River supplies water to about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in seven states, including California.
Much of the river’s water comes from melting snow in the Colorado mountains. At its deepest point last winter, the snow in the Colorado River Basin reached only about 82 percent of normal.
Lake Powell in Utah, one of two major reservoirs on the Colorado River, is expected to rise by only seven or eight feet this summer, said Rick Clayton, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages a series of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River. An average spring runoff would produce a 35-foot rise.
Some areas of Colorado have reported up to a foot of rain in a 10-day period in May. Creek beds that were dry for years filled to overflowing in Morgan County in northeastern Colorado, county spokesman Rogelio Segura said.
“Our ground is so saturated, there was no place for the water to go,” he said.
About 70 percent of the county-maintained roads were underwater, damaged or washed out, Segura said. Crews were assessing the damage.
The rain is helping pull grazing land in southeastern Colorado out of a years-long drought.
“This is the kind of moisture you need for rangeland recovery,” said John Stulp, a water adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper and a former state agriculture commissioner.
It could also reduce wildfire danger by keeping forests and grassland greener into the summer. State officials planned to talk about the fire outlook on Friday.
Western Colorado has also seen more rain than normal in April and May, but it hasn’t been as wet as the eastern part of the state, and it isn’t enough to make up for a sub-par snowfall last winter.
“We’ll take all the rain we can get, obviously,” Clayton said. “But a singular storm, even of that extent, is really a drop in the bucket.”