During September, the NDMC added 134 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter, with 30 of those for Texas, mainly about agriculture, plants and wildlife. Drought persisted and worsened in Colorado, where 18 user submissions described impacts related to water, plants and wildlife. There were 10 impacts for New Mexico concerning agriculture, water, and responses to drought.
Hay prices climbing
Nationally, for every month of 2018 so far, hay prices have been at least 10 percent higher than 2017 levels. In some states, the increases were much higher. In Kansas, prices were up 43.7 percent; in Nebraska, up 26.6 percent; and in South Dakota, up 16.5 percent. Missouri hay prices have risen more than 50 percent since the start of 2018.
Hay prices soar after drought, by Scott Brown, Missouri Ruralist (St. Charles, Illinois), Sept. 6, 2018
Texas drought hurting cotton, pumpkins
Drought was extremely hard on Texas cotton. In the Abilene area, of the more than 100,000 acres of cotton planted in the Big Country region, just 40,000 acres survived, meaning that about 60,000 acres were lost to the dry weather. The previous winter and spring were dry, leaving too little moisture to produce a crop. The loss there and elsewhere in Texas increased national figures for cotton abandonment.
Nationally, 14 million acres were planted in cotton, but the estimate for harvested cotton acreage was 10.55 million acres. The divergence between planted and harvested acres is greater than it has been in a few years and was attributed to cotton abandonment in Texas due to drought, according to Warren Preston, deputy chief economist for USDA.
Fewer pumpkins were planted in the central and southern Texas Panhandle as drought earlier in the year did not bode well for the crop. A Donley County grower chose to plant only 75 acres, whereas he would normally plant 120 to 150 acres of pumpkins, because he feared insufficient water to produce a good crop. With fewer pumpkins grown this year, there was a shortage of pumpkins, which might translate to higher prices for the consumer.
Dry weather affecting cotton harvest in the Big Country, by Jillian Grace, KTXS-TV Abilene (Texas), Sept. 17, 2018
Drought, rains hurt Texas cotton, by Jessica Domel, Texas Farm Bureau, Sept. 14, 2018
Drought conditions impact local pumpkin crop, by Ryan Coulter, ConnectAmarillo KVII (Texas), Sept. 10, 2018
Colorado experiencing poor water year
Colorado’s water year, ending September 30, had the third-lowest unregulated flow into Lake Powell, at 43 percent of average for 4.62 million acre-feet, according to preliminary figures from the Bureau of Reclamation. The average annual inflow is 10.8 million acre-feet. Thirty percent of U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges in the Intermountain West were at record-low seven-day average stream flows during the last two weeks of September as drought took quite a toll on water supplies.
Southwest Colorado was on track to have its second driest water year, behind 2002, which was the driest year in recorded history. Drought began in the fall of 2017 and has persisted since with poor snowpack during the winter, low rainfall during the spring and summer, and little in the way of monsoonal precipitation during the 2018 summer.
The lack of rain was apparent in rain gauges and reflected in river flows. The Animas River fell to a record low the last week of September, with flows slipping below 100 cubic feet per second on September 26. A weather station at Mesa Verde recorded the least precipitation in 120 years. A gauge on the San Juan River near Bluff, Utah, showed its lowest flow in 92 years.
The dry water year also meant a dry landscape and greater fire danger in Colorado. The unusually warm, dry days of September intensified wildfires burning in Colorado. Autumn leaves fell earlier than usual from drought-stricken trees, providing additional fuel for fires. The drought also prompted a number of counties in western Colorado to return to stage one fire restrictions to protect forests from wildfires.
Colorado’s 2018 water year closes as one of driest on record, by Heather Sackett, The Aspen Times (Colorado), Oct. 2, 2018
Animas River appears to have hit all-time low, by Jonathan Romeo, The Cortez Journal (Colorado), Oct. 3, 2018
Colorado wildfire update: Heat, fall leaves and winds increase fire activity, by Jackson Barnett, The Denver Post (Colorado), Sept. 19, 2018
New fire restrictions across Western Colorado, by Stephanie Bennett, KJCT-TV ABC 8 (Grand Junction, Colorado), Sept. 21, 2018
New Mexico’s low rivers causing fish kills, problems for farmers
To Colorado’s south, waterways in New Mexico were little better. Toward the end of September, New Mexico’s rivers were flowing at a fraction of their usual rate after the previous winter’s poor snowpack. In Albuquerque, the Rio Grande River was flowing at 133 cubic feet per second, compared to the average of 410 cfs. Natural flows of the Rio Grande ceased in July, but the river was still flowing because of supplemental water from the San Juan-Chama Project water from the Colorado River Basin.
Elsewhere in New Mexico, the Elephant Butte Reservoir in the south central part of the state was at 3 percent of capacity. The Animas River at Farmington in northwestern New Mexico was at a record low of just above 0 cfs.
Numerous dead brown trout were observed in the Pecos River between Cowles and Pecos east of Santa Fe. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish was looking into the decline in brown and rainbow trout, which officials thought was related to the current drought. The flow of the Pecos River was about half of normal. Statewide, Game and Fish typically investigates 8-10 fish kills annually, but this year has already reviewed nearly 20 kills.
While monsoon rains were helpful, it was too little, too late for many farmers. In the Santa Fe area, some farmers got smaller crops after drought and spotty monsoon rains did not reach all farms. A farmer from the Nambé area planted just half of his land, given the drought, and his yield was still down about 40 percent. Another farmer who gets water from the Rio Grande River said the river was so low that he had to temporarily close a head gate on the river to divert its flow into his ditch.
Drought lingers across New Mexico, by Maddy Hayden, Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico), Sept. 28, 2018
State investigates trout die-off in Pecos River, by Olivia Harlow, Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 25, 2018
Monsoon aids farmers, but for many, damage is done, by Sarah Halasz Graham, Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 3, 2018
Agricultural challenges, fewer cases of Lyme disease in Maine
Maine was gripped by abnormal dryness over portions of the state during the summer and suffered some agricultural challenges as a result. In northern Maine, drought provided ideal conditions in Aroostook County for the spread of an invasive plant species called bedstraw. The dry weather slowed the growth of Timothy and other grasses, allowing weeds a head start. Since weeds often have deep taproots, they can reach moisture that hay cannot, and ultimately crowd out the hay. One farmer reported that bedstraw had taken over 20 acres, depriving him of hay.
After another summer of drought and a freeze, blueberry production was halved in Rockport in Knox County. Across the state, drought, freezes, diseases, foreign competition and a long-term price drop were challenging the wild blueberry industry.
On the bright side, fewer cases of Lyme disease were reported in Maine this summer, with experts theorizing that the hot, dry weather was the reason, prompting ticks to enter a dormant state. Deer tick surveys have found fewer ticks in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. There were fewer Lyme disease cases in 2018, compared with 2017, and far fewer than the 5-year average.
Invasive plant takes over County hay fields, by WAGM-TV CBS 8 (Presque Isle, Maine), Sept. 3, 2018
With industry in decline, wild blueberries sing the blues, by Patrick Whittle, The Associated Press, Sept. 4, 2018
Hot and dry weather apparently hampering ticks that carry Lyme disease, by Joe Lawlor, Portland Press Herald (Maine), Sept. 4, 2018
For more details, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.