Did you know that droughts are the most costly natural disasters affecting the U.S.?

With its semiarid conditions, drought is a natural part of the Colorado climate, and no portion of the State is immune from drought conditions.  Drought tends to be a complex and a gradual phenomenon.  It occurs when a normal amount of moisture is unavailable to satisfy an area’s usual water consumption.  The effects of drought vary based on where in the State it occurs, when it happens, and how long the drought persists. Although they can be characterized as emergencies, they differ from most natural disasters, such as floods or wildfires, because they typically occur slowly over a multi-year period. It is often not obvious or easy to quantify when a drought begins and ends.

Drought is one of the few hazards with the potential to directly or indirectly impact the entire population of Colorado. This can be from water restrictions, higher water and food prices, reduced air or water quality, or restricted access to recreational areas. For instance, droughts that occur in the mountainous regions of Colorado during winter months may impact the ski and tourism industry. Additionally, the lack of winter snowfall in the mountains can eventually lead to agricultural impacts on the eastern plains due to decreased water access. 

Explore the information below to learn more about this “creeping phenomenon!”

VIDEO: National Geographic: 


Within text photo courtesy of the NOAA Photo Library


  • Choose appliances that are more energy and water efficient. 
  • Repair dripping faucets by replacing washers.
  • Try not to pour water down the drain when there may be another use for it (i.e. use it to water plants).
  • Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, shrubs, and trees. Once established, plants adapted to your local climate do not need water as frequently and usually will survive a dry period without watering. Small plants require less water to become established.
  • Avoid over-fertilizing your lawn. Applying fertilizer increases the need for water.
  • Raise the lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture.
  • Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly. Set a timer to remind yourself to turn manual sprinklers off.  A garden hose can pour out 600 gallons in only a few hours!  You also have the option to invest in a weather-based irrigation controller—or a smart controller. These devices will automatically adjust the watering time and frequency based on soil moisture, rain, wind, and evaporation and transpiration rates. Check with your local water agency to see if there is a rebate available for the purchase of a smart controller.
  • Contact your local water provider for information and assistance.


  • Always observe state and local restrictions on water use during a drought. If restricted, for example, do not water your lawn, wash your car, or use water for any other non-essential uses. This helps ensure there is enough water for essential uses. 
  • Operate automatic dishwashers only when they are fully loaded. Use the “light wash” feature, if available, to use less water.
  • Operate automatic clothes washers only when they are fully loaded or set the water level for the size of your load.
  • Ensure irrigation systems are working efficiently so plants only get the water they need.
  • Water your lawn early in the morning or later in the evening, when temperatures are cooler. Also, water in several short sessions rather than one long one, in order for your lawn to better absorb moisture and avoid runoff.
  • Use a broom or blower instead of a hose to clean leaves and other debris from your driveway or sidewalk.


  • Where possible, maintain conservation practices that you have adopted during the drought even after restrictions have ended.

More Information:

References, Resources and More Information:

  • Ready.gov – Drought
  • Colorado Water Conservation Board
  • Red Cross – Drought Preparedness
  • NOAA Drought Information Center
  • National Drought Mitigation Center
  • Colorado Climate Center
  • U.S. Drought Portal
  • Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan

It Happened Here

Colorado has experienced widespread, severe drought since the late 1800s.  As of 2013, the drought of 2002 is considered the worst single year drought on record in Colorado‘s history. Statewide snowpack was at or near all-time lows. What made 2002 so unusual was that the entire state was dry at the same time.  These conditions were rated exceptional by the U.S. Drought Monitor and were the most severe drought conditions experienced in the region since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. During 2011-2013, some regions throughout southeastern Colorado have experienced persistent severe to exceptional drought conditions that are comparable to conditions seen during both the 2002 drought and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Fast Facts:

  • Annual precipitation in Colorado averages only 17 inches statewide, with the majority of the State receiving only 12-16 inches.
  • Droughts can reduce air quality and compromise the health of people with certain conditions.
  • In addition to the drought, human farming techniques contributed to the catastrophic Dust Bowl.
  • A sink that drips about a drop per second will waste about 2,700 gallons of water a year.
  • Most of the year, lawns need only 1″ of water each week.
  • A heavy rain can eliminate the need for watering your yard for up to two weeks.
  • No major rivers flow into Colorado, only out.
  • Colorado gets new water supplies from only one source, which is precipitation.
  • Drought is a slow-onset natural hazard that is often referred to as a creeping phenomenon.