Driving up Boulder Canyon, I measure the distance to Nederland by landmarks.
First, there’s the turnoff to Sugarloaf Road, then Magnolia Road. Later, I hit the parking lot for Boulder Falls. Then the road steepens as I wind through the Narrows, with steep granite cliffs surrounding me. Then Castle Rock on the south side of the road, jutting up between the road and the creek. Finally, I hit the meadow area below Barker Dam. Once I make it to the dam, I know I’ve made it to Nederland.
The normal scene is a lovely one. The snow capped Indian Peaks soaring in the background and the calm waters of Barker Reservoir in the foreground. But lately that image of a lake seems to be shrinking before my very eyes.
In the ten years, I’ve lived in Nederland, I’ve never seen Barker Reservoir this low. People are now walking their dogs into what used to be almost the middle of the lake. Most of the dam’s wall are now exposed with just a bit of frozen ice meeting it well down the wall. As you peer at the shoreline, you can see the water lines along the brown dried up ground, marking where the water line used to be. The reservoir looks like I feel — parched and thirsty. It’s hard to remember that just last spring, the water lapped up close to the parking lot on the west side, close to the post office.
But that’s what happens during times of drought. The Climate Prediction Center now shows the entire state of Colorado in drought. It’s just a matter of whether we are in “Exceptional Drought” or “Extreme Drought.” They both sound pretty awful, and you might wonder, “What’s the difference?”
According to the National Weather Service, it is literally a matter of extremes. Extreme drought is defined as: “suffering major crop losses, extreme fire danger, and widespread water restrictions or shortages.” Exceptional drought is just more of the same: “Exceptional crop losses, exceptional fire danger…” However way you slice it, it’s not good.
How did we get here? Last winter, both Boulder and Nederland at well above average snowfall — 189 inches for Nederland and Boulder at 151 inches. Well, the snow shut off early last year, without our typical May snow we had been getting. Then add in warm, dry weather from early June on, with no monsoon and no precip through the summer and fall and here we are.
To get some perspective, according to my husband’s website, www.indianpeaksweather.net, we are sitting at around 44 inches, and our seasonal average is 150 inches. And the outlook isn’t good looking forward with La Nina continuing to provide dry and windy weather and no big snowstorms. According to the National Weather Service, we would need up to 20 inches of precipitation to break some areas of drought in Colorado. In terms of snowfall, that would mean getting 20+ feet of snow!
But here’s a measure of hope to leave us with. The last time Colorado was suffering through such a severe drought was in 2002-2003. But March, 2003 brought a humongous, 3-day snowstorm that helped break the drought — let’s hope Mother Nature can help us out this spring!