J3.3 NIDIS Upper Colorado Drought Early Warning System - Lessons learned

Thursday, 12 June 2014: 2:00 PM
Salon A-B (Denver Marriott Westminster)
Wendy A. Ryan, Wilson Water Group, Glenwood Springs, CO; and R. Bolinger, N. J. Doesken, and Z. Schwalbe

The Upper Colorado Drought Early Warning System pilot has been in place since late 2009 and graduated to a full drought early warning system (DEWS) in 2013. At the start of the project, stakeholder interviews were conducted to assess what climate products are used and how they could be improved upon to aid decision making. Many commonly available products were used one of which was the U.S. Drought Monitor, however many stakeholders viewed it as inaccurate for their area and used it mainly for assessing drought in other areas. In an effort to build upon and improve commonly used products, it was decided that more intensive, localized drought monitoring was needed particularly in the area that provides the water supply for 30 million people in 7 states and Mexico. Starting in 2010, weekly monitoring began for the Upper Colorado River basin and much of Colorado. Input is solicited from local experts and integrated into the U.S. Drought Monitor in order to improve the drought depiction in the basin. During the main snow accumulation and melt season (March-July) weekly drought and water assessment webinars are held. During less critical times of year, weekly summaries are emailed to a basin stakeholder list and input is solicited. Long lead climate forecasts are presented from various sources and while some have little skill, they are still widely requested from water managers in the basin as long as the skill is provided with the forecasts. The system is designed to keep water managers and decision makers informed and engaged in order to more effectively manage the finite water resources of the Upper Colorado River basin. While external evaluation of this process is still being conducted, drought response came faster in 2011 than in the previous large scale drought of 2002. Some of that is attributed to lessons learned from the 2002 drought, however constant monitoring allows water managers to make more informed decisions on the most recent conditions. This aids the progression away from the former paradigm of “wait and see mode” that many water providers operated under in 2002.
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