Drought across Western Slope can spell trouble for plants

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT)-- Another sunny, dry day graced the skies of the Western Slope Wednesday, but as the days grow longer and hotter, the drought we're in continues.

Wednesday, another red flag warning was issued for nearly all of the Western Slope. All this dryness, of course, means high fire danger, but it also means trouble for growing plants and crops.

This weather is having a big impact in Southwest Colorado, where they are in exceptional and extreme drought conditions. They also grow Anasazi beans, a dry crop.

"So they depend on a lot of winter moisture to provide the water," said Susan Carter, of the CSU Extension. "There's probably just not going to be a bean crop in Southwest Colorado this year."

It's so bad, seven counties in Colorado have qualified for natural disaster relief. La Plata, Ouray, San Miguel, Saguache, Montezuma, Dolores and Costilla counties all meet the requirements as primary natural disaster areas.

Montrose, San Juan, Mineral, Rio Grande, Las Animas, Huerfano, Hinsdale, Gunnison, Fremont, Custer, Conejos, Chaffee, Archuleta and Alamosa counties are all qualified as contiguous counties that can qualify for natural disaster aid as well.

While it's not as bad as the Southern part of the state, the Grand Valley is in a drought, which has some bad effects for peach trees and other plants.

Evergreens have had dry needles falling from the branches. The peach trees have had issues with a few buds, some didn’t make it.

Carter said that could be due to the prolonged dry winter and shocking cold temperatures.

“Plants are kind of like people, they like slow change,” said Carter.

Dry winters when irrigation isn’t possible can hurt the trees too.

"Obviously a big peach grower can't water in winter the irrigation is off," said Carter.

The warmer temperatures have brought in higher populations of problematic bugs, like aphids. However, with the canals and irrigation in the Grand Valley, growers should be in the clear.

"I'm not concerned about peach orchards not having enough moisture," said Carter.

Area agencies recently called for voluntary water restrictions. Nothing is mandatory, yet, but if the drought reaches conditions where water agencies have to put on mandatory restrictions, agriculture uses get the rights first.

"Certainly I think we want to keep in mind that ag should come first because we all want to eat and have fresh fruits and vegetables that we grow so well here," said Carter.

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