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Low reservoir levels showcase extreme drought in SW Colorado

Posted at 7:25 PM, Sep 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-27 23:01:53-04

CUSTER COUNTY – The latest drought monitor released Thursday shows more than 85 percent of the State of Colorado is under unusually dry conditions. The worst affected areas are the 20 counties in the southwest corner of the state where all or parts of each county is experiencing exceptional drought.

An example of the impact can be seen in Custer County at the Deweese Reservoir. Large areas of dry cracked mud from what used to be lake bed now encircle the remaining water stored here.

Fisherman Kenny Long came up to Westcliffe from Pueblo to escape the heat for a few days. He’s fished here for the better part of 40 years and said he’s never seen the base of the dam before.

“I’ve never seen these rocks across the lake over here, I’ve never seen them be a part of the parking lot,” he added, pointing to an outcropping of boulders on the south shore.

The dam and the water are privately owned. It’s managed by the Deweese Dye Ditch Company in Canon City. The business began over a century ago to provide fresh water from Grape Creek to agricultural customers in Fremont County.

A dry weather pattern over the Rockies this spring melted the mountain snowpack earlier than usual. That early runoff, combined with prolonged periods of hot dry weather in late summer, have put the area under extreme drought.

“Everybody knows that we’re in a drought again and with all the fires and everything, it’s pretty obvious that people should be careful,” Long said.

The lake won’t go completely dry. Years ago, the Colorado Game and Fish Department bought a 500-acre-foot conservation pool here. Colorado Parks and Wildlife now keeps the lake stocked with fish.

Deweese’s Winter Water Storage Agreement allows them to close the headgate and begin storing water again on November 15.