Colorado's Wet Water Year: A Look Back and Ahead

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The 2023 water year was a boon for Colorado, a state that draws 83% of its water supply from surface water.

Reservoir levels rose, and precipitation came in the form of rain, hail, and severe storms.

In Western Colorado, the atmosphere is sucking up more moisture than usual, and the lack of precipitation, drier air, and warmer temperatures are stressing the plant life on the Western Slope.

The above-average rain and snow this year lifted water storage levels in Colorado's reservoirs.

Yes, this has been true!

Water storage plummeted in 2021 and 2022 because of drought conditions, but in most river basins, water levels are back above the 30-year median from 1991 to 2020.

The only basin that's not at or above its median water storage level is the San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan combined basin in southwestern Colorado.

There, six of seven smaller reservoirs are near or above their 30-year median water level, but the huge Navajo Reservoir, which feeds the San Juan River in northern New Mexico, is lagging behind.

The 2023 water year helped stabilize massive reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin, but they are nowhere near full.

Lake Powell, on the Utah-Arizona border, was about 38% full, and Lake Mead, on the Arizona-Nevada border, was about 34% full on Monday, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Earlier this year, as officials saw the substantial snowpack in the Colorado River Basin, they dedicated some of this year's supply to reimburse Flaming Gorge Reservoir and Blue Mesa Reservoir.

At Vallecito Reservoir, Beck is looking at a solid carryover water supply for 2024.

In September 2022, the reservoir held about 47,000 acre-feet of water compared to 61,200 acre-feet this year.

It's too soon to tell what the conditions will be during next year's runoff and irrigation seasons, but Bolinger doesn't envision a repeat of 2023.

A repeat is less likely than a return of warm months, dry periods, and drought in parts of the state.

Some factors are promising. Colorado is heading into the snow season with an active precipitation pattern and the soils haven't dried out.

It's also an El Niño year. In September, October and November, El Niño weather patterns often bolster precipitation for much of the state, with the exception of parts of north-central Colorado.

These weather patterns haven't shown up yet, but they will over the winter and likely toward next spring.

Colorado's 2023 water year was a welcome relief from the drought conditions of previous years.

However, it's too soon to say whether the state will experience another wet year in 2024. Coloradoans should continue to conserve water and be prepared for the possibility of drought in the future.