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Colorado Water History

A guide to finding and using historical information about water in Colorado and beyond

Colorado Drought: Topic Breakdown

Drought is a recurring problem for communities across Colorado. Unlike natural hazards such as floods, which are distinct events, drought is a creeping disaster. Consequently, defining the scope, duration, and severity of drought is a complex problem. As a result, adequately preparing for and responding to drought is a difficult challenge.

In simple meteorological terms, drought is a shortage of water brought about by a lack of precipitation. Even so, the phenomenon has wide-ranging economic, environmental, political, and social impacts. In Colorado, drought affects agriculture, industry, municipal supplies, recreation, and fish and wildlife populations. Moreover, snowpack deficits in the Colorado mountains can affect water supplies in states across the southwestern U.S.

According to the Colorado Climate Center, Colorado endured five significant dry periods prior to the twenty-first century: 1893-1905, 1931-1941, 1951-1957, 1963-1965, and 1975-1978. Since the turn of the century, Colorado has experienced several years of severe drought. In fact, 2002, 2012, 2018, and 2020 were some of the driest on record.

On this page, find information about books and archival collections documenting Colorado drought history, along with a list of related organizations.

Photo: Lake Granby Dam and Reservoir, Colorado, September 2002. From the Photographs of Bill Green.

Colorado Drought: Read More

Colorado State University Extension. Drought-related resources.

Colorado Water. Focus on Drought. Vol. 19, No. 3 (June 2002). Colorado Water Resources Research Institute.

"Colorado Drought Stories." (March 4, 2021). Created by CO Water Conservation Board, CO Department of Agriculture & Colorado State University.

"Colorado's Historic Weather and Climate Events." Colorado Climate Center, Colorado State University.

Colorado's Water: Climate, Supply and Drought. Fort Collins, Colo: Colorado State University, 1990.

Headwaters. Drought 2002. Vol. 1, No. 1 (2003). Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

McKee, Thomas B. A History of Drought in Colorado: Lessons Learned and What Lies Ahead. 2nd ed. Fort Collins, Colo: Colorado State University, Colorado Water Resources Research Institute, 2000.

Colorado Drought: Relevant Collections

Cache la Poudre Oral History Project Collection
The oral histories in this project touch on a variety of water-related histories, issues and topics. Interviews with Fred Anderson, Len Boulas, and W.D. Farr address drought in particular.

Climate Data Collection
The Climate Data Collection contains more than 130 years of climate data from Colorado as well as the Rocky Mountain region. Precipitation and temperature data from weather stations across Colorado provide information about the meteorological conditions that give rise to drought.

Records of the Colorado Water Resources Research Institute
The Colorado Water Resources Research Institute (now the Colorado Water Center) was created in 1965 on the CSU campus to oversee water research in the state and disseminate information to citizens. The collection includes several studies on drought-induced problems and a series of files related to a 2002 conference on drought.

Papers of W. D. Farr
William Daven "W. D." Farr (1910-2007) was a leading water pioneer, cattleman, and businessman in northern Colorado. Farr's experiences during the early 1930s drought inspired him to work towards securing a more reliable water supply for northern Colorado. The collection contains several studies pertaining to drought in the South Platte Valley, the city of Fort Collins, and the city of Loveland.

Papers of Charles C. Fisk
After retiring as an engineer, Charles Fisk researched and wrote a book about Denver's water. The collection includes materials and research on drought in Colorado that Fisk compiled while working on his book The Metro Denver Water Story: A Memoir.

Papers of Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr.
A leading expert on Colorado water law, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr. (1944-2021), practiced environmental, land use, transportation, and water law for more than two decades before his appointment to the bench in 1996. The collection features several articles written by Hobbs on drought in the state as well as a series of files on the impact of the 2002 drought on the founding of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

Photographs of Bill Green
Bill Green, a water resources engineer and outdoor photographer, has photographed reservoirs, streams, and natural areas in the western United States. During the 2002 drought, he photographed the drought's impact on rivers, streams, and reservoirs. The photographs in this collection serve as an important visual document of the effects of drought in Colorado.

Your Archivist

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Patricia Rettig
Archives & Special Collections
Morgan Library
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1019
Subjects: Water

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