Subterranean Ogallala Blues — @BigPivots

Horizontal sprinkler. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

A Kansas farm boy goes home to understand his role in groundwater depletion. He finds the culture and politics as confused and confounding as the geology of the Ogallala Aquifer itself.

Simple metrics of the Ogallala Aquifer astound. This somewhat interconnected body of water underlying the high plains accounts for one-third of all irrigation in the United States. It supports one-sixth of the world’s annual grain production.

Water in the underground sands, silts, and gravels stretching from South Dakota to Texas – including parts of eastern Colorado — was deposited over millions of years. Now, in not even a flutter of geologic time, barely more than the lives of the oldest baby boomers, this most precious resource has been mined nearly to extinction across broad swaths of the High Plains.

This is particularly true along its edges, such as in New Mexico, but even in some central portions, including southwestern Kansas. Wells can be drilled deeper, but that can only hasten the reckoning that many seem to want to deny. The seeming plentitude of today manifested in the many circles of hay and alfalfa irrigated by center-pivot sprinklers simply cannot continue indefinitely. Evidence of precipitous decline abounds.

Lucas Bessire, an anthropologist and native son of southwestern Kansas, explores this depletion in his masterful “Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains.” For good reason it was a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award.

Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer has produced several books plus other journalism. Bessire has a more narrow but interesting approach. Instead of trying to tell this across the eight-state region, he focuses on southwestern Kansas through the lens of four generations of his family: a great grandfather who was a pioneer in this new groundwater mining of the mid-20th century, his grandmother who was at its ragged hard-to-reconcile edges, and a father from whom Bessire was at least semi-estranged but who becomes, in this book, a partner in detective work.
Not least Bessire’s book is of his own journey to the place of his upbringing to examine it with new eyes, as if a stranger, and in that way probe his own complicity.

Always in these pages Bessire looks over his shoulder, both to his family but also of the region’s history, rife with depletions of earlier times. In this, he seeks to make sense of the present so as to take responsibility for the future. In this struggle to define what it will take to live in a more sustainable way in the world, he takes guidance from his long-departed grandmother. She had in her life struggled to end her dependency on alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. The first step, she wrote in notes now a half-century old, “is to admit that I am not responsible for the past, but that I am accountable to tomorrow.”

That observation borne of his grandmother’s pain is one for all of those of Ogallala Country – and, although Bessire does not dwell on this, all of humanity.

Working through the many big ideas in “Running Out” never taxes. Every page has sentences to be savored and, in my case, paragraphs to be highlighted in yellow, for later savoring and deepened understandings.
“Running Out” has a dreamy, confusing theme, one clearly intended. In his quest to understand, Bessire finds mazes of depletion, layers of deception, a dried river, and a waterless spring that was part of his family’s operation, an area where hydrologists now estimate three-quarters of the water has been removed. There are clouded memories, a strange mist, a numbing vapor, and a ghostly presence.

Always, there is ghost of his grandmother who in her life was subjected by her handlers to electroshock therapy in an attempt to create amnesia. She spent the rest of her life, says Bessire, trying to recapture the water of her youth that had disappeared.

There are also blurred boundaries, conundrums, and contradictions, plus the confounding logic used to justify the depletion. Meetings of the groundwater management districts that he and his father attend showcase this distorted logic.

These districts, under Kansas Law, have authority over the depletion. At one meeting, he attends in expectation of debate about the future of the aquifer, he instead finds blandness, words, and a mood “strangely flattened and trivial, as if veiled behind some gauzy medium that muffled words and distorted time.” The gatherings of aging white men he describes as dishonesty disguised by dullness.

Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

At one of these meetings, “John,” whom he describes as the official playing the part of emcee, belabors the distinction between “impairment,” a word he discourages, and his strong preference, “drawdown allowances.” The talk then extends to the solution, imported water.

Another meeting produces more fuzzy logic: Imposing limits on pumping does not provide an answer because it would force the transition of irrigated land to less valuable non-irrigated farm land and hence a yanking of the economic platform for the region. As such, depletive irrigation must continue. Again, the answer to the inevitable lies in importing water from elsewhere, presumably with the federal government footing the bill for a canal (and pumps) from the Mississippi River.

Ogallala Aquifer. Credit: Big Pivots

That solution is only slightly less improbable than the giant machines that some envision for sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
The federal government played a role in creating this mess through its insurance programs for crops that favor irrigation, says Bessire. Even more clearly he blames corporate agriculture, the majority owners of the land in this county of southwestern Kansas and the mostly hidden influence that makes the groundwater districts forums for doublespeak. A few farmers use disproportionate amounts of water, and those farmers advocating for restraint in pumping have little voice. The exploitation, he says, is anti-democratic.

Bessire’s four chapters – Lines, Bones, Dust, Clouds – are carefully crafted, at least partly a result of a year’s fellowship at Harvard University. The prose constantly delights. Driving in the night with his father, he observes “the spinning pivots, under the turning stars.” On another trip through “towns with courthouse squares and false fronts” he sees “emptied houses (that are) falling down in arrested motion.”

Exploitation, extinction, and extermination are subthemes to his focus on depletion. He tells of the killing of the once vast bison herds that virtually disappeared in a burst of gluttony in 1872-74. The buffalo bones at the railroad siding in Granada, in southeastern Colorado, were 12 feet high, 12 feet wide, and a half-mile long. Most of the buffalo hunters made no money, he observed – a metaphor, if you will, for the farmers depleting the aquifer today.

The buffalo extermination was also a somewhat conscious decision, a way to force Native American tribes off the land so it could be farmed and ranched. Part of this was the Sand Creek Massacre, whose site in Colorado, just across the border from Kansas, he visited in the company of his grandmother in the 1990s. He wonders at his own lack of understanding of this history that was prelude to his existence there, a child of the plains. “We lived among the rubble of genocide and dispossession in a landscape that had been transformed,” he says.
No mention is made of critical race theory, but this conclusion does invite comparisons.

The book has no spare baggage. It has disciplined focus reflected in its relative brevity that belies enormous research. There’s no fat here. The bibliography cites more than 400 books and other sources. His telling of the Sand Creek Massacre, something I have ready deeply about, illustrates this depth.

One might have wished for just a bit more in two areas. A groundwater district in northwestern Kansas in 2017 voluntarily adopted restrictions on the pace of decline. Bessire explains this but does not identify what was different there, why corporate interests did not prevail.

The second element is about the end result of the water pumping. Most crops grown with Ogallala drafting feed livestock. Bessire addresses this – really, it’s at the heart of his book:

“The scale of industrial farming is staggering,” he says. “Southwest Kansas is home to some of the nation’s largest corporate feeders, beef- and poultry-packing plants, slaughterhouses, dairies, milk-drying plants, and hog farms. Multinational meat-packing companies operate slaughterhouses that process several thousand cattle each day. All are billion-dollar businesses. They drive farmers’ choices to produce corn, silage, sorghum, or alfalfa. Their profits depend on aquifer deletion. In other words, there is a multibillion-dollar corporate interest to prevent regulation and to pump the water until it’s gone.”

I might have liked to have seen this livestock story developed more fully, another full chapter, actually. Maybe it’s another book, a sequel.

Trucks deliver the corn harvest at a feedlot near Imperial, Neb. Photo/Allen Best

The cost of eating meat is heavily, heavily subsidized and cannot continue at its current pace. We are borrowing against the opportunities of future generations with no clear way to pay that debt. I am, by the way, a meat-eater.

This conclusion was derived in part from my own research into the Ogallala in the context of eastern Colorado. My work has been marginal. My commissioned assignments have been to extol the efforts made to innovate. I was not given a blank check to investigate, nor did I take a second-mortgage on the house while I asked the hard questions that Bessire did (he camped out in the barn of his father).

But I sensed what Bessire explains in his opening, that “depletion of the High Plains aquifer is a defining drama of our times. Within it, planetary crises of ecologies, democracy, and interpretation are condensed. It demands a response.”

To that I will add a quote from my most recent interviews, a water district official who said that ultimately Ogallala farmers are selling water. As such, he said, they should be mining the groundwater for high-value crops.

Truth searching rarely comes easily. Geology can be very complex, too. In his opening passage, Bessire tells us about the difficulty of working through the politics and cultures of depletion.

“The sediments are vertically stacked in layers. They are patchy and unevenly spread. Repetitive themes run between them: memory and amnesia, homelands and exile, holding on and letting go. At times, the layers flow together and connect. At others, they are interrupted and blocked.”
That he emerged with a book worthy of being considered for the nation’s top book-writing award testifies to his success in navigating these physical and other subterranean passages.

Salt Scourge: The Dual Threat of Warming and Rising Salinity — Yale Environment 360

Rice paddy in the Mekong River Delta. By Thomas Schoch – http://www.retas.de – Own work (http://www.retas.de/thomas/travel/cambodia-vietnam2013/), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34366345

Click the link to read the article on the Yale 360 website (Fred Pearce):

The Mekong Delta is under a chemical threat arguably more deadly for the long term than the Agent Orange deployed across it during the Vietnam War half a century ago. By the middle of this century, it could be engulfed by a toxic onslaught from which there is no recovery — salt.

As sea levels rise, salty ocean water is pushing ever further into the delta, one of Southeast Asia’s most densely populated and productive rice-growing regions. During this year’s spring dry season, the salinity boundary — where salt levels exceed 4 grams per liter — reached up to 40 miles upstream, more than 10 miles further than it has historically.

The saline influx is in part caused by faltering flows of fresh water coming down the Mekong River into the delta, as China fills giant hydroelectric dams far upstream. But a new and pioneering modeling study of the delta, which is home to more than 20 million people, has concluded that by around 2050, rising sea levels in the South China Sea will be the dominant driver of salinization, making wide areas uninhabitable for rice farmers long before they are inundated by the ocean itself.

Coauthor Piet Hoekstra, an expert on coastal dynamics at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, says the study is the first to combine a range of natural processes, from climate change and land subsidence to river and sediment flow, to predict the future of a major delta. “We think it will become a benchmark for other delta studies,” he says.

A lot will hang on the outcome of such studies. For the Mekong is one of dozens of large, fertile river deltas — many the breadbaskets of their national economies — that face similar salt invasions.

And climate change will drive salt scourges far from the ocean too, especially in arid regions, where climate scientists warn that higher temperatures will result in much faster rates of evaporation. This will combine with longer dry seasons and more pervasive droughts to desiccate continental interiors, raising the current trace levels of naturally occurring salt to concentrations where crops will die and freshwater ecosystems will collapse.

Among the vulnerable places are the Mediterranean countries of Southern Europe, where temperatures are already rising faster than the global average and climate models predict a 25-30 percent decline in rainfall by 2080. Ecologist Erik Jeppesen of Aarhus University in Denmark recently reported that a coming buildup of salt in the region’s lakes, wetlands, and rivers poses “a major threat to the functioning and biodiversity of inland aquatic ecosystems.” Crops will die, too. And many underground water reserves on which the region’s half-billion people depend may become undrinkable, warns Micol Mastrocicco, an expert on water pollution at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli in Italy.

There is a surge in saltiness across all inhabited continents today. Climate change is far from the only cause. Deltas are left wide open to incursions of seawater by dams upstream, by pumps that remove fresh water from underground for faucets and irrigation, and by sand mines that lower river beds. And in dry regions, irrigation systems delivering water to crops bring salt onto fields, which is left behind in soils as the crops absorb the water.

Humans also add salt directly to landscapes too, for instance by pouring saline drainage water from mines into rivers and by dosing roads with rock salt to prevent icing in winter. “In cold regions, road de-icing salts can be the major contributor to rising salinity of freshwater ecosystems,” says William Hintz, an ecologist at the University of Toledo.

But in the Mekong, the Mediterranean, and elsewhere, there is growing concern that climate change is replacing these local factors as the dominant cause. “It will affect almost every human populated region around the globe,” says Hintz.

A modeling study using climate, soil, and hydrological data — carried out by Amirhossein Hassani and colleagues at the University of Manchester and the Hamburg University of Technology and published in 2020 — pinpointed hotspots for climate change-induced salinization across wide areas of southern and western Australia, Mexico, South Africa, the U.S. Southwest, and Brazil — with central India, the desert soils of Mongolia and northern China, and the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Morocco, and Algeria not far behind.

The damage is likely to be so severe that salinization will become a major cause of environmental refugees, as people flee land that will no longer sustain them. Low-lying Pacific islands may become uninhabitable because their fresh water turns salty long before the waves engulf them, the U.S. Geological Survey has warned. In the giant delta of the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna, which occupies much of Bangladesh, salinization is already a more important cause of migration than the much more heavily publicized exoduses from floods and other natural disasters, development economists Joyce Chen of Ohio State University and Valerie Mueller of Arizona State University wrote recently.

Of course, some ecosystems are adapted to saline environments. Many lakes and wetlands in arid regions are naturally salty. But even here the desiccation caused by climate change is raising salinity and altering the balance between saline and fresh water, creating growing problems for ecosystems, lake fisheries, crop growing, and sometimes human health.

Hintz reported in February that salt has triggered a “massive loss of important zooplankton” in lakes in North America and Europe. This loss has a “cascading effect,” resulting in blooms of algae at almost half the sites studied. Once salt gets into wetlands, he says, it is “incredibly difficult to get out, even assuming you’ve stopped the source of salt pollution. It can persist for decades or longer, depending on how long the water in a lake or wetland sticks around.”

A third of U.S. rivers have become more salty in the past quarter-century, according to an analysis by Sujay Kaushal, a biochemist at the University of Maryland, College Park. The highest salt levels are often downstream of mining areas, such as the northern Great Plains, that discharge large volumes of saline water from underground into rivers, and in the irrigated regions of the Southwest, where salty drainage water concentrates in soils and rivers.

The Rio Grande has seen a fourfold increase in salinity, according to John Olson, a freshwater ecologist at California State University Monterey Bay. In the Colorado basin and California, salt buildup results in crop losses put at billions of dollars per year. De-icing salt alone, by one estimate, causes $1,000 in structural damage, mostly through corrosion, for every ton spread onto roads and parking lots.

In Australia, more than 2 million hectares of farmland is damaged by salt, primarily in Western Australia and the heavily irrigated Murray-Darling basin, the country’s breadbasket in the east. This has an estimated economic impact of more than $700 million per year. A growing part of the problem is a reduction in rainfall that is widely blamed on climate change, and leads to desiccation of the land. A federal government audit of the country’s drylands predicts a threefold increase in soil salinity by 2050.

But while economic impacts have sometimes been assessed, researchers admit they often don’t have a good handle on the gravity of the growing salt threat to freshwater ecosystems. A recent international analysis of published research, headed by David Cunillera-Montcusi, an aquatic ecologist at the University of Barcelona, found that while there had been 93 studies of salinization of freshwater ecosystems and its causes in North America since 2017, there had been only five studies in all of Africa and six in South America.

Health problems too are seriously under-investigated. Salty drinking water is a major public health problem in many regions. It was water from a salty local river that mobilized lead in old water pipes, poisoning supplies in Flint, Michigan. Around the Aral Sea, a victim of decades of water abstraction for irrigating cotton in Central Asia, salty underground waters and salt-rich dust storms from the dried-up seabed have left the majority of the population suffering from anemia.

Mofizur Rahman, an environmental scientist currently at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, says that in his native Bangladesh, high levels of salt, especially sodium, in water supplies are causing epidemics of pre-eclampsia and hypertension, which affects one in three women in parts of southwest Bangladesh. A 2015 study by Jacob Levi, then at Imperial College London, estimated that salty drinking water in coastal Bangladesh causes up to 10,000 deaths a year, a figure that climate change will dramatically increase.

As climate change gathers pace, salt will be a growing threat to the world’s food supplies, particularly where farmers rely on artificial irrigation. Water poured onto fields always contains some salt, eroded from mountains where the rivers rise. But when plants absorb the water, they leave the salt behind in the soil, where it eventually forms a white, toxic crust.

Around a third of the world’s food is grown in irrigated fields, and a fifth of those fields are reckoned to be salt-contaminated. Climate change will dramatically worsen this, researchers agree, because in a hotter, drier world, more crops will need more irrigation water, aggravating the buildup of salt.

In some places, farmers are leaving their lands. Saline intrusion in Bangladesh, as sea levels rise and storm surges from the Bay of Bengal become more intense, has reduced rice production by up to 30 percent in the past 15 years, according to Rahman. It is fueling an exodus of farmers to the country’s capital, Dhaka.

Similarly in Pakistan, saline waters have intruded more than 30 miles into the delta of the Indus River, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to depart for nearby Karachi. This has contributed to the influx of people into Dhaka and Karachi, which have, partly as a consequence, become two of the fastest growing megacities in the world, adding 11 million and 7 million to their populations, respectively, in the last two decades.

Other farmers try to adapt to saltier waters and soils. In both Bangladesh and the Mekong delta, rice growers have switched to raising prawns in brackish ponds. But there are downsides to this adaptation strategy. The ponded water only adds to soil salinity in the surrounding areas, note Chen and Mueller.

Taking a different approach, plant breeders are working on more salt-tolerant crops, either by genetic engineering or by searching among existing crop varieties for those that are most tolerant of their salt. The Dutch aid agency Cordaid has been working with crop scientists and farmers to identify and plant varieties of carrots, potatoes, and cabbages that can grow in the increasingly saline soils of coastal Bangladesh.

But adaptation can only go so far. The salt has to be held back. In the United States, Hintz says, it is urgent to curb the spreading of de-icing salt onto roads. Controls of drainage from mines could often help too. On many rivers round the world, including the Mekong, improved management of upstream dams could maintain river flows to deltas during the dry season when saline invasion from the ocean is most intense. And there is huge potential for better management of irrigation systems so they require less water and have drains to remove salt from soils.

But ultimately only a halt to climate change will be capable of ending the great salinization.

Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in the U.K. He is a contributing writer for Yale Environment 360 and is the author of numerous books, including The Land Grabbers, Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World, and The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming.

#Water for the #ColoradoRiver Delta in a Dry Year: Binational agreement a model for river management in a #climatechange world — Audubon #COriver #aridification

Water flows in the Colorado River Delta. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Jennifer Pitt):

The Colorado River is once again flowing in its delta. The flows, which began on May 1, are the result of binational collaboration and deliberate management. The water is dedicated to supporting the ecosystem and local communities in a landscape where the river has not flowed for most years in the past half century. It is a heartening bit of good news for the Colorado River, which earlier this year was designated as America’s most endangered river.

This year’s flow will be very similar to the managed flow in the delta in 2021. The water purposefully bypasses the driest reaches of the delta, diverted from the Colorado River at the border into Mexico’s irrigation system, where it travels via concrete lined canals to be reconnected with the river some 40 miles downstream. From there water flows down the river’s channel, past more than 1000 acres of painstakingly restored riverside forest, towards the Upper Gulf of California. Like last year, this year’s flow is about 35,000 acre-feet of water (11.4 billion gallons), delivered over nearly 5 months from May 1 to September 20. In a year where we cannot seem to escape horrible news about climate change, wildfires, and water shortages, the delta flow is a sign that it is still possible to improve management on the Colorado River. As climate change impacts continue to bear down on the region, this type of management will be more important than ever.

Dozens of scientists are deployed to the field to measure the impact of this water delivery and provide suggestions for how to use a managed flow to improve environmental benefits in a region known to support some 380 bird species including Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Heermann’s Gulls. With continued input of scientists over the years, the design of these flows aims to optimize the location and timing of water deliveries to support restored and remnant river habitats, the birds that use them, and residents of nearby Mexican communities that are rediscovering a river in their midst.

The managed delta flow is the result of improved hydro-diplomacy between the United States and Mexico. The U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission, along with federal water agencies in both countries—the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and CONAGUA—today operate under Minute 323, a 2017 treaty agreement that modernized Colorado River management first established in a 1944 Treaty. Minute 323 recognizes the value of water for the environment, for the river itself, a value the original Treaty did not consider.

Minute 323 may sound like an arcane bit of law, but consider its impact: in 2022, for the first time, a shortage was declared on the Colorado River, and Mexico along with Arizona and Nevada received less than its full allocation of water (there is a parallel U.S. domestic agreement, the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan). This could have been the beginning of a major international conflict—in the 1960’s more than 10,000 Mexicali farmers protested for days on the steps of the American consulate in response to degraded Colorado River water quality from the United States, and eventually Mexico’s President Echeverria brought the concern to an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon. But in 2022, the United States reduced deliveries of Colorado River water to Mexico, and with Minute 323 in place, it was implemented without remark.

As climate change continues to aridify the Colorado River basin, and water availability continues to decline, the provisions in Minute 323 to share water shortages proportionally – equitably – stands as a model of good management. It might even be a helpful model for the seven U.S. states (Ariz., Calif., Colo., N.M., Nev., Utah, and Wyo.) that must develop shortage-sharing agreements among themselves sufficient to adapt to the river’s declining water supply.

The managed delta flow is the result of improved hydro-diplomacy between the United States and Mexico. The U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission, along with federal water agencies in both countries—the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and CONAGUA—today operate under Minute 323, a 2017 treaty agreement that modernized Colorado River management first established in a 1944 Treaty. Minute 323 recognizes the value of water for the environment, for the river itself, a value the original Treaty did not consider.

Minute 323 may sound like an arcane bit of law, but consider its impact: in 2022, for the first time, a shortage was declared on the Colorado River, and Mexico along with Arizona and Nevada received less than its full allocation of water (there is a parallel U.S. domestic agreement, the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan). This could have been the beginning of a major international conflict—in the 1960’s more than 10,000 Mexicali farmers protested for days on the steps of the American consulate in response to degraded Colorado River water quality from the United States, and eventually Mexico’s President Echeverria brought the concern to an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon. But in 2022, the United States reduced deliveries of Colorado River water to Mexico, and with Minute 323 in place, it was implemented without remark.

As climate change continues to aridify the Colorado River basin, and water availability continues to decline, the provisions in Minute 323 to share water shortages proportionally – equitably – stands as a model of good management. It might even be a helpful model for the seven U.S. states (Ariz., Calif., Colo., N.M., Nev., Utah, and Wyo.) that must develop shortage-sharing agreements among themselves sufficient to adapt to the river’s declining water supply.

Minute 323’s impact goes further: under its provisions, the United States committed millions of dollars to help upgrade agricultural water supply infrastructure in the Mexicali Valley, and Mexico has conserved and stored more than 150,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead in the United States, helping to prop up water storage in a reservoir that is dwindling too quickly.

Under Minute 323, the United States and Mexico successfully began to manage the declining Colorado River water supply, helping to improve conditions for water users in both countries, while also making environmental water commitments. Colorado River water users and river lovers alike owe a debt of gratitude to the leaders who negotiated Minute 323, and should ask for nothing less from future Colorado River management agreements.

Upper #SanJuanRiver #drought #snowpack #runoff conditions (May 22, 2022) — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

A May 16 press release from Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) District Manager Justin Ramsey urges residents to reduce water consumption due to worsening drought conditions.

It states, “The NRCS SnoTel station reached a Snow Water Equivalency (SWE) of 0” on May 10th a full three weeks quicker than the median. The median date for reaching a SWE of 0” is May 31st.

“Per the Districts Drought Management Plan we would have triggered the Voluntary Drought Stage had the SWE occurred 2 days earlier on the 8th of May.

“Although we are not in a Voluntary Drought Stage, the unseasonably high temperatures and winds will make for a high water use season. Our weekly water use has increased by 2 million gallons over last years weekly usage.

“The District is requesting everyone conserve water and use outside irrigation sparingly. Please do not water between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. Watering during the hottest part of the day wastes water as a significant portion of the irrigation water evaporates prior to percolating into the soil, wasting not only water but your money.

Drought outlook

Stream flow for the San Juan River on May 18 at approximately 9 a.m. was 1,120 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geologi- cal Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard, down from a nighttime peak of 1,320 cfs at 2 a.m.

These numbers are down from May 11, when the river flow was at 1,390 cfs at 9:15 a.m. with a nighttime peak of 1,830 cfs at 12:15 a.m.
As referenced in Ramsey’s press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report at the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had zero inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 18. The report also notes that the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 4 percent of the May 18 median in terms of snowpack.

Colorado Drought Monitor map May 17, 2022.

2022 #COleg: #Colorado legislature scores notable wins on energy efficiency, climate, and transit — The Ark Valley Voice #ActOnClimate

Colorado State Capitol. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Ark Valley Voice website (Jan Wondra). Here’s an excerpt:

HB22-1362 (Energy-Efficient Building Codes) This landmark bill increases the statewide minimum performance requirements for building energy codes, requiring cities and counties to increase efficiency and cut pollution from homes and commercial buildings when updating their local codes.

The bill requires local governments to introduce electric- and solar-ready code language beginning in 2023, followed by low-energy and low-carbon code language beginning in 2026. Finally, the bill invests more than $20 million in energy efficiency and building decarbonization projects. SWEEP thanks Representatives Tracey Bernett and Alex Valdez along with Senators Chris Hansen and Faith Winter for leading this effort…

SB22-206 (Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Resources) This bill was crafted in the wake of the devastating Marshall Fire. It provides $20 million to the Colorado Energy Office to distribute as loans and grants to help Coloradans rebuild efficient, resilient, and high-performance homes after wildfires and other climate disasters; and $15 million to the Department of Local Affairs to help fund resilient recovery efforts after disaster emergencies.

It also establishes an Office of Climate Preparedness to coordinate the state’s post-disaster recovery efforts and develop a statewide climate preparedness plan.

HB22-1218 (EV-ready Building Codes) This bill requires builders to future-proof new and renovated commercial and multifamily buildings for electric vehicle (EV) charging. For parking spaces in these buildings, adding such infrastructure during the initial construction phase is up to six times less expensive than adding charging later as a stand-alone retrofit.

Colorado anticipates nearly one million EVs on its roads by 2030, requiring more than half a million EV charging stations at homes, businesses, shopping centers, and highway corridors, so it makes sense to future-proof new buildings with the panel capacity and wiring to accommodate EV charging…

HB22-1026 (Transportation Options Tax Credit) This bill will help employers support employees that commute to work using an energy-efficient mode such as transit, a bicycle, or a vanpool. The credit is available for two years and covers 50 percent of the cost of providing clean transportation options.

To receive the tax credit, employers must offer clean transportation options to all employees, including part-time and contract workers, which will ensure the benefits are available to all workers including those who don’t have the option to work from home.

SB22-118 and HB22-1381 both focused on geothermal energy. The first bill passed, and the second was laid over. These two bills would help building owners and communities deploy energy-efficient geothermal heat pump systems to heat and cool buildings and/or provide hot water.

HB22-1151 (Turf Replacement) This bill would reduce water use for lawn irrigation and conserve electricity that otherwise would have been used for pumping. The Colorado Water Conservation Board would be required to create a program for Coloradans that would financially incentivize them to voluntarily replace their irrigated turf with water-wise landscaping. Rep. Dylan Roberts one of its sponsors, has been one of the many voices behind recent efforts in Eagle County to move toward drought-tolerant landscaping there.

Photo gallery: Dust on snow event on Big Flat Tops — Scott Hummer

Scott writes in email, “Some locals say it’s the biggest dust on snow event they’ve seen…”

Flat top mountain May 19, 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Dust on Snow – Big Flat Tops May 19. 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Dust on Snow – Big Flat Tops May 19, 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Dust on Snow – Flat Top Mountain May 19, 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

In case your memory about conditions in the high country has been dulled by yesterday’s beautiful snowfall.

Update: Here’s a photo 24 hours after the dust on snow event in the photos above.

Flat Top Mountain May 20, 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

Federal judge stops 35,000-acre fracking plan in western #Colorado — Wild Earth Guardians #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

The North Fork Valley in Colorado. Photo by EcoFlight.

Click the link to read the article on the Wild Earth Guardians website (Jeremy Nichols):

The North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan would have allowed 35 new fracking wells in the North Fork Valley and Thompson Divide areas

A U.S. District Court judge vacated a federal plan that allowed fracking across 35,000 acres of Colorado’s Western Slope on May 20.

The North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan would have allowed 35 new fracking wells in the North Fork Valley and Thompson Divide areas of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests that provide habitat for elk, black bear and the imperiled Canada lynx and drinking water for downstream communities. Judge Marcia K. Krieger’s order prevents new drilling and fracking in the area.

“This is a victory for the integrity of a biologically and economically diverse area,” said Melissa Hornbein, a senior attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “It reinforces that the federal government can’t skirt disclosing the environmental impacts of its actions. The Bureau of Land Management has to confront the dissonance between its proposal for fracking in an area already disproportionately affected by climate change and the reality that, to maintain any chance of keeping warming below the critical 1.5°C threshold, the government cannot approve any new fossil fuel projects.”

Today’s order stems from a 2021 lawsuit by conservation and climate groups challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service for failing to analyze potential water and climate pollution, or plan alternatives that would prevent such harm. The plan would have caused about 52 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution, equivalent to the annual pollution from a dozen coal-fired power plants.

“In this case, BLM acknowledged deficiencies in its analysis. Based on the court’s ruling, the agency must start over if they’re going to approve fossil fuel development in the area,” said Peter Hart, an attorney with Wilderness Workshop. “This will give BLM a chance to reconsider whether this is the right decision in the first place, and to contemplate alternatives that don’t destroy the headwaters of the North Fork, pristine roadless areas and our climate.”

Colorado’s Western Slope is already suffering from severe warming. The Washington Post featured the area as the largest “climate hot spot” in the lower 48 states, where temperatures have risen more than 2 degrees Celsius. The temperature rise is reducing snowpack and drying Colorado River flows that support endangered fish, agriculture and 40 million downstream water users.

“Today’s ruling is an important victory for the North Fork Valley community because it ensures government accountability and protects our vital public lands, water resources and climate from misguided oil and gas development plans,” said Natasha Léger, executive director, Citizens for a Healthy Community. “The government’s concession that its analysis of the project was inadequate would not have occurred without this citizen-led lawsuit.”

“We’re thrilled that today’s decision protects the spectacular public lands, wildlife and waters of the Upper North Fork,” said Matt Reed, public lands director for Gunnison County-based High Country Conservation Advocates. “Furthermore, this ill-conceived project would have impacted critical headwaters that sustain a significant organic agriculture industry immediately downstream in Delta County, whose farms are an important source of produce for Gunnison County individuals and businesses.”

Several analyses show that climate pollution from the world’s already-producing fossil fuel developments, if fully developed, would push warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that avoiding such warming requires ending new investment in fossil fuel projects and phasing out production to keep as much as 40% of developed fields in the ground.

“The judge’s order has spared forests, creeks and wildlife from fracking industrialization and prevented dangerous climate pollution along Colorado’s spectacular Western slope,” said Taylor McKinnon at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now It’s time for President Biden to keep his promise and stop all new oil and gas expansion on our public lands and waters. His urgent action can help save the Colorado River basin, and the planet, for future generations.”

Thousands of organizations and communities from across the United States have called on President Biden to halt federal fossil fuel expansion and phase out production consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Climate action starts in places like Colorado’s North Fork Valley, where it’s absolutely vital to keep fossil fuels in the ground and protect the region’s clean air and water, public lands and wild places,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “This lawsuit win is a critical victory for the climate and for western Colorado’s North Fork.”

Plaintiffs Citizens for a Healthy Community, Wilderness Workshop, High Country Conservation Advocates, Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians are represented in this litigation by Western Environmental Law Center.

Background: Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide fossil fuel leasing ban on federal lands and oceans would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals.

Oil, gas and coal extraction uses mines, well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroy habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills and other harms from offshore drilling have inflicted immense damage to ocean wildlife and coastal communities. Fracking and mining also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.

Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from the world’s already producing oil and gas fields, if fully developed, would push global warming well past 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Is #ColoradoRiver demand management unfair to farmers? It’s complicated — @Land_Desk #COriver #aridification

Sprinklers and Four Corners Power Plant. San Juan County, New Mexico, 2022.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

Last week, [a Colorado online daily] ran an opinion piece about the dwindling Colorado River and what role agriculture may or may not play in helping to shore it up. It was written by Don Schwindt, a Cortez, Colorado, farmer, and Dan Keppen, Executive Director of the Family Farm Alliance. Along with praising a Southwestern Colorado dam, they argue that agriculture is important and “must be protected by ensuring water remains on-farm.”

They go on to say:

“Now, the narrative in some recent media coverage is even more troubling. For some, the current severe drought provides a platform to advocate taking water from farmers to make more available for cities and the environment.

“The hydrology of the West may be changing, but that should not drive hasty decisions. Agricultural water cannot be simply viewed as the default “reservoir” to meet other growing water demands.”

They are referring to “demand management,” which can include encouraging farmers to plant less thirsty crops, to increasing efficiency, to paying farmers to stop watering their fields and leave the water in the river (either buying water rights and permanently transferring them, or leasing them when needed on a temporary basis).

As I read the piece, I was struck less by the arguments, which were fairly predictable, than by my reactions to the arguments. One sentence would have me scoffing, the next nodding in agreement, and another both nodding and snorting derisively. That’s not because I’m insane. It’s because these issues—the “Law of the River,” agriculture’s role in culture and ecosystems, and the Colorado River system—are complicated as all get out. And that sometimes means that the only workable solutions to the growing problems on the river are not always vary palatable. I like farmers, for example, but I also like rivers and the fish in them. It’s getting more and more difficult to have both.

The following is an attempt at a Data Dump response of sorts to the column.

The Colorado River is facing a serious supply-demand imbalance. A century ago, when the framers of the Colorado Compact got together to divvy up the river’s waters, they made a few mistakes. First, and most egregious, they didn’t include tribal nations in the negotiations, despite the fact that tribes are sovereign nations and collectively are entitled to first rights to all the water in the river. That was just wrong. Second, they overestimated the amount of water in the river, which in some ways was an honest screw up, given the records they had to work from. And, third, they parceled out too big a portion of the water they thought was in the river, leaving too small of a buffer in case their calculations were off (they were).

Natural Flow is an estimate of how much water would have naturally run past Lee’s Ferry if there were no dams or diversions upstream. It is calculated using the actual flow, historic flows, and upstream consumptive uses. Bureau of Reclamation modeling is complete to 2019; I extrapolated 2020 and 2021 based on Lake Powell inflows. The 1922 Colorado River Compact gave 7.5 million acre feet to the Upper Basin, 7.5 MAF to the Lower Basin, and (in the ‘40s) 1.5 MAF to Mexico, based on early 1900s observations. As the graph above shows, the average flows dropped below that level a decade later and stayed there aside from a brief respite in the 1980s. Source: USBR

The result: The river is over-allocated, and would be even if climate change were not a factor. So, supply was already lagging behind demand two decades ago, when the Southwest entered the megadrought in a dramatic way (i.e. 2002, the year of our desiccation). Now the supply is diminishing while demand holds steady, which is rapidly drawing down Lakes Powell and Mead (and other reservoirs). With those huge water “banks” at a critically low level, the Colorado River Basin is at its breaking point. Demand must be slashed, quickly and significantly.

While overall demand on the Colorado River trended upward from 1970 to the late 1990s, it plateaued when the region entered the current megadrought. Although this data only goes to 2010, the plateau has pretty much held. But at over 14 MAF per year, demand is significantly higher than what the river has supplied most years. Note that more water is lost to reservoir evaporation than is sent to Mexico. Source: USBR Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.

The logical way to make big cuts in consumption is to go to the biggest consumers. And the biggest user of Colorado River water, by far, is not lawns, not golf courses, not the Bellagio fountain in Vegas. It is agriculture: all of those orchards, cornfields, alfalfa fields, ranches, and so on. It’s true in the Upper Basin, in the Lower Basin, and in each state except Nevada, which uses virtually all of its relatively minuscule portion of the river to keep Las Vegas from shriveling up and dissolving back into the desert.

Please visit this post at http://LandDesk.org to see larger, higher resolution images. Note that in New Mexico energy takes up a relatively large share of water. This is mostly for the coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners region, which use billions of gallons of water each year for cooling, steam-generation and other purposes. In some cases, some of this water is returned to the river, but the San Juan Generating Station—scheduled to close this year—is a zero-discharge facility, meaning all of its water use is “consumptive.” Source: USBR.

Farms’ outsized water guzzling may seem surprising, especially since residential development has been gobbling up farmland in recent decades and ag makes up a smaller and smaller portion of these states’ economies. But crops need water in the arid West and, besides, the farmers tend to have most of the water rights. And Western water law and custom encourage folks to use all of the water they have a right to, conservation be damned—the motto, “use it or lose it,” is pounded into many a Western irrigator’s head: Take all of the water to which you’re entitled and then some, whether you need it or not, or else it might end up on your neighbor’s field or, God forbid, flow back into the river!

Montezuma Tunnel entrance.

Schwindt/Keppen write, in reference to diverting Dolores River water onto the farms of Southwest Colorado’s Montezuma Valley:

“The valley’s irrigated ecosystem also improved, further enhancing critically important environments for wildlife and generating other cultural benefits. Irrigated agricultural lands provide groundwater storage, open space, and riparian habitat and wildlife corridors. They also serve as important buffers between public wildlands and expanding urban and suburban areas.”

And it’s true, kind of. It’s a stretch to say irrigation enhances the existing ecosystem, but it certainly creates its own, new ecosystems which can be quite vibrant and beautiful. Leaky ditches are especially good at feeding new wetlands, willows, cattails, cottonwoods, and birds and other wildlife. But what irrigation bestows on previously arid landscapes, it takes from once wild rivers. That is especially true on the Dolores, where in the late 1800s irrigators began diverting its waters out of the Dolores River watershed and into the San Juan River watershed, meaning the runoff did not go back into the river. That essentially dried the lower Dolores right up.

The same was happening all over the region. In the late 1880s ichthyologist David Starr Jordan surveyed area rivers. Here’s what he observed, not about the Dolores, specifically, but about the general state of streams in Colorado at the time:

Via The Land Desk.

But then came the Dolores Project, McPhee Dam and Reservoir, which Schwindt and Keppen say “put water in the dry Dolores riverbed.” Well, no, not really. What it did is take water out of the river during spring runoff and then release some of it later in the year into the riverbed that had been dried out by irrigation diversions.

McPhee Reservoir. JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

The dam started impounding water in 1983, in the midst of a string of unusually wet years. During that era, the dam did its job. The current irrigators got a more stable supply of water. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe got both drinking water from the project as well as enough to irrigate a major agricultural enterprise near the toe of Ute Mountain, providing much needed economic development. The Town of Dove Creek receives water from the project as do the formerly dryland farmers, allowing them to diversify their crops. And still the year-round flows below the dam were enough to build and sustain a cold-water fishery for trout in the first dozen or so miles below the dam and a habitat for native fish below that. In some ways the dam had set the stage for a win-win-win situation.

The Dolores River shows us what’s at stake in the fight to protect the American West — Conservation Colorado

Until it didn’t. That riverbed below the dam? It’s dry more years than not. Last year farmers had to fallow some or all of their fields. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe received only about 10 percent of its usual irrigation water, forcing it to fallow fields; the Town of Dove Creek faced the prospect of losing its drinking water supply altogether; and releases from the dam for the lower river were cut to 10 cubic feet per second, a mere trickle. For several consecutive weeks in June and July the river gauge at Slickrock registered zero. Fish died off, boating has been nearly non-existent most years, and the dearth of high spring water has allowed tamarisk and Russian olive to proliferate.

This spring’s flows on the Dolores River above the dam have actually been somewhat healthy, peaking out (rather early) at nearly 2,000 cubic feet per second.

And yet virtually none of that is making it past the dam (yes, that flat black line at the bottom represents releases. It’s at about 7.5 cubic feet per second, a mere trickle, and water managers say they will increase it to a whopping 25 cfs later this year, which is about enough to float a stick):

And even with good flows and low releases, Dolores Project irrigators are expected to get only 18% of their allocation this year. That’s up from 10% last year, but still. The dam isn’t doing the job it’s meant to do, which is to insulate users from drought. And yet, Schwindt and Keppen say the solution is not to try to reduce demand, but rather to “seriously assess projects that enhance water supplies.” They and the Farm Alliance suggest forest restoration, as well as building more water storage, i.e. dams. That won’t be enough.

Anyway, back to demand management. I think most of us can agree that farms shouldn’t be dried to allow cities to grow heedlessly, or to allow urban folks to water big lawns or keep parks green. And we can also all agree that everyone needs to manage their own demand, from the coal power plants to cities and towns to ski areas. Cities need to enhance efficiency and incentivize conservation by banning lawns, structuring water rates to discourage waste, requiring water-efficient appliances in new homes, and limiting growth. Reusing treated wastewater should be the norm. Coal plants should be shut down. Data centers, which can use as much as 1 million gallons of water per day, probably shouldn’t be sited in water-scarce areas (i.e. the Southwest).

But as the consumption graphs above make clear, all of that will only go so far. Agriculture is the biggest consumer of water, so demand management in that realm will also pay the highest dividends. This doesn’t necessarily mean fallowing vast tracts of farmland. It might just mean irrigating more efficiently, plugging leaks on ditches, or switching to less water-intensive, more nutritionally dense crops. Land Desk readers will probably know what I’m saying: Maybe plant a little less alfalfa, instead of more of it!

I know, I know, we need that alfalfa to feed the cows to make our cheeseburgers. I get it. But here’s the thing: A lot of that alfalfa is going overseas.

In other words, we are exporting our increasingly scarce Colorado River water—in the form of hay bales—to China, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. I think the agriculture industry can probably handle a little bit of demand management.

Dolores River watershed

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Investments for Dam Safety Programs in Tribal Communities — DOI

Men working on the Oglala Dam project, 1940. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17409996

Click the link to read the article on the Department of Interior website:

The Department of the Interior today announced $29 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to invest in Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) Irrigation, Power, and Safety of Dams programs.

President Biden’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests more than $13 billion directly to Tribal communities across the country. Today’s announcement includes funding to repair the Oglala Dam in South Dakota, and develop designs for six other dams that currently exceed safety guidelines. This is the first allotment of approximately $150 million the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest over the next five years to address safety deficiencies at dams.

“Through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are making critical infrastructure investments in Tribal communities across the country,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “In addition to the resources we have allocated for irrigation power systems and water sanitation systems in Indian Country, today’s announcement will further safeguard Tribal water supplies, supporting families and communities. This is yet another step in the Biden-Harris administration’s effort to put investments into communities that need them most.”

“Maintenance and repairs on our dams have been postponed for many years, leading to deferred maintenance costs of more than a billion dollars,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “This important funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is an important step to addressing these problems, which will make communities safer and provide additional water for irrigation and other purposes.” 

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Fiscal Year 2022 investments will fund designs and construction projects to address known dam safety deficiencies at the following locations:

  • A1, Bootleg, Cooley and Davis Dams, Fort Apache Reservation, Arizona
  • Willow Creek Dam, Crow Reservation, Montana
  • Allen Dam, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
  • Oglala Dam, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
  • Assistant Secretary Newland and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Wizipan Garriott will highlight today’s announcement while visiting the Oglala Dam. The reservoir formed by Oglala Dam was drained in 2019 to protect communities downstream following flood damage that compromised the spillway and outlet works. The project will address these damages at a cost of more than $20 million. Upon completion in 2026, this work will restore an important local water supply for the Pine Ridge community.

    “It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time, about how we adjust the [#ColoradoRiver Compact]…in the most careful way” — Bruce Babbit via The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridfication

    Bruce Babbitt, former secretary of the Interior and Arizona governor, said modifying the Colorado River Compact was not necessary for long-lasting solutions in 2019 but has now acknowledged the need. (Source: Water Education Foundation)

    Click the link to read the article on the Los Angeles Times website (Ian James). Here’s an excerpt:

    Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who oversaw management of the river under President Clinton, said it’s become clear that the 1922 Colorado River Compact should be revamped to adapt to the reduced amount of water that is available as global warming compounds the 22-year megadrought in the watershed. Babbitt said that a few years ago, he had thought the seven states could get by while leaving the agreement unchanged. But the Colorado River Basin has been drying out so rapidly with rising temperatures, he said, that the pact should be updated to allow the states to proportionally scale back their water use to deal with what scientists describe as the aridification of the West.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck.

    “While I once thought that these aridification scenarios were kind of abstract and way out in the future, I don’t think that anymore,” Babbitt said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time, about how we adjust the compact, the regulations, the necessary reductions, in the most careful way so that we limit the damage, which can really be extreme.”

    […]

    Babbitt said problems in the Colorado River Compact include how it was written, based on assumptions of much larger flows, and how certain provisions become unworkable under such dry conditions…One big reason they no longer work, Babbitt said, is that the century-old agreement includes a provision requiring the Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet per year to the Lower Basin, the largest share of which goes to California. The Upper Basin states face future scenarios in which they would be required to make huge and disproportionate reductions in water use, Babbitt said.

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    The marinas at #Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir won’t open this season as the threat of a #water release to #LakePowell looms — Colorado Public Radio #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
    (Courtesy photo/National Park Service) August 2021.

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    Last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior [dropped the reservoir level] 8 feet…from Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison to be sent downstream to Lake Powell. The emergency action was needed to prop up water levels in the nation’s second-largest reservoir, which has hit its lowest level on record amid a 20-year, climate change-fueled megadrought in the Colorado River basin. The drop in water levels led to an early closure of the marinas, cutting six weeks out of the lake’s five-month tourism season. The National Park Service told everyone who stored their boats at the marinas that they had 10 days to remove their boats from the reservoir.

    Federal and state officials said the plan is to leave Blue Mesa alone this year so it can start to recover. But they acknowledge the Colorado reservoir might be tapped again if Lake Powell needs more water to protect its ability to produce hydropower for millions of people across the West. Because of this possibility, the National Park Service has decided not to open Blue Mesa’s marinas this year…

    Loken worries that the closures will hurt the local economy, which depends on recreation and tourism. While the ramp at Elk Creek will remain open, closing the docks means hundreds of people won’t be able to keep larger boats in the water for summer. Loken said many of those boat owners live out of town and don’t want to drive back and forth with their boats each time they want to visit.

    Lake Powell does need more water to protect its ability to keep producing hydropower. This year, the federal government plans to take water out of the Flaming Gorge reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming border while also holding back releases to downstream states. Loken said since projections show the drought will remain and likely worsen with human-caused climate change, people need to change how the Colorado River and its reservoirs are used.

    A fleet of rafts makes its way down the Green River toward its confluence with the Yampa River. Future potential releases of water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to boost levels in Lake Powell shape the flows on the Green River, although it’s not clear how the releases may change flow levels. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smity

    #Drought news (May 19, 2022): Most of #Colorado received no precipitation this week and very little occurred over S. #WY and W. parts of #NE and #KS. Moderate to exceptional drought expanded in Colorado

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    In the upper levels of the atmosphere, a strong ridge of high pressure dominated the contiguous U.S. (CONUS), from the southern Plains to Northeast, at the beginning of this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week, while an upper-level trough dominated the West. The trough moved east as the week progressed, dragging a surface low pressure system and cold fronts across the northern Plains to Great Lakes, while another upper-level low moved over the Southeast and weakened. Weekly temperatures averaged much warmer than normal beneath the ridge and cooler than normal in the West beneath the trough. The fronts, lows, and upper-level troughs brought above-normal precipitation to parts of the Pacific Northwest, northern Plains to western Great Lakes, and spotty areas in the South, New England, and along the Atlantic Coast. The week was drier than normal across the rest of the CONUS. The continued lack of precipitation further dried soils, lowered stream levels, and stressed crops and other vegetation, while the excessively warm temperatures increased evapotranspiration and added to the stress. Drought or abnormal dryness contracted where precipitation was above normal, especially in the Northwest, northern Plains, and Mid-Atlantic. Drought or abnormal dryness expanded or intensified where it continued dry, especially in the Southwest, southern to central Plains, Southeast, and parts of the Northeast…

    High Plains

    Northern and eastern parts of the High Plains were wet this week while western and southern parts were dry. Two inches to locally over 4 inches of precipitation fell over parts of North Dakota and eastern Montana, and half an inch or more was widespread over the Dakotas, northern Wyoming, and eastern parts of Nebraska and Kansas. But most of Colorado received no precipitation this week and very little occurred over southern Wyoming and western parts of Nebraska and Kansas. Moderate to exceptional drought expanded in Colorado, extreme to exceptional drought expanded in Kansas, extreme drought expanded in Nebraska, and abnormal dryness expanded in western Montana. To the north, abnormal dryness and moderate to severe drought contracted in North Dakota, eastern Montana, and northern Wyoming. Severe to extreme drought expanded in Meade County, South Dakota, to reflect impacts and moisture conditions that included low or no surface water, very short pasture and range conditions, and general poor vegetation. The widespread D3 degradations through southeast Colorado and into the San Luis Valley were a result of very dry and windy conditions over the last few months. According to USDA statistics, in Colorado, 52% of the pasture and rangeland and 45% of the winter wheat were in poor to very poor condition, and 41% of winter wheat in Kansas was in poor or very poor condition, with the statistics 77% for pasture and rangeland in Montana, 49% for pasture and rangeland in Wyoming, 44% for pasture and rangeland in South Dakota, and 41% for pasture and rangeland in Nebraska. The USDA statistics show 60% of Colorado’s topsoil short or very short of moisture, 73% for Montana, 58% for Wyoming, 51% for Kansas, and 37% for Nebraska…

    Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 17, 2022.

    West

    Pacific weather systems brought 2 or more inches of precipitation to the coastal ranges and windward portions of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington, with half an inch or more from northeast Oregon to northern Idaho and in eastern Montana. Less than half an inch fell in other parts of the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies. Little to no precipitation occurred across the southern states in the West region, from California to New Mexico. Weekly temperatures averaged cooler than normal except in the Four Corners states. The hot temperatures in New Mexico continued to increase evapotranspiration and dry soils. The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire exceeded 298,000 acres burned, becoming the largest wildfire in modern New Mexico history. Moderate to exceptional drought expanded in New Mexico; extreme drought expanded in Utah; moderate to extreme drought expanded in Arizona; and exceptional drought from Nevada crept southward into northwest Arizona. Further north, extreme drought was removed from Washington, while abnormal dryness and moderate to exceptional drought contracted in Oregon. The precipitation of recent months in the Pacific Northwest has helped refill some reservoirs, especially the smaller ones. But larger ones remain depleted, including Oregon’s Crescent Lake reservoir, which is 12% full, Prineville (32%), Phillips (13%), Warm Springs (18%), Owyhee (46%), Howard Prairie (16%), Emigrant (26%), and Hyatt (20%). According to USDA statistics, 89% of the topsoil moisture was short or very short in New Mexico, 47% in Utah, and 40% in Nevada, and 51% of the pasture and rangeland was in poor or very poor condition in New Mexico…

    South

    All of the states in the South region had areas of rain with amounts of half an inch or more, but large areas also received no rain. Temperatures were persistently hot throughout the week, increasing evapotranspiration, further drying soils, and stressing crops and vegetation. On May 15, Abilene, Texas recorded 8 days in May with 100-degree-F temperatures. This set a new record for the highest number of days in May with 100 degree temperatures. The previous highest number of days for Abilene was 7 days, set in 2000 and in 1927. Recent dryness is compounding long-term dryness, especially in western parts of the region. By some measures, Culberson County in Texas had the driest September-April on record and second driest December-April, and that is not counting the dryness so far in May. Corpus Christi, Texas recorded the third driest February-May to date out of 136 years of record. According to USDA statistics, 86% of the topsoil moisture in Texas was short or very short, and 53% was short or very short in Oklahoma and Louisiana; 74% of the pasture and rangeland was in poor or very poor condition in Texas; and 81% of the winter wheat in Texas and 52% in Oklahoma was in poor or very poor condition. Drought or abnormal dryness contracted in the few areas in Texas and Oklahoma where more than an inch of rain fell on Dx areas. But abnormal dryness and moderate to exceptional drought expanded in many more areas of Texas. Abnormal dryness and moderate to extreme drought expanded in southwest Louisiana, and abnormal dryness grew in Tennessee…

    Looking Ahead

    The upper-level circulation will continue to bring Pacific weather systems across the CONUS during the next USDM week. Temperatures are forecast to be below normal from the Pacific Northwest to Great Lakes and southward into the central Plains. An eastern ridge will keep temperatures warmer than normal along the East Coast. An inch or more of precipitation is predicted to fall through Tuesday morning for some of the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and central to northern Rockies. An inch or more is expected from the southern Plains to Great Lakes and eastward to the East Coast, but some areas along the East Coast will have less than an inch and some areas from the Lower Mississippi Valley to Ohio Valley, as well as much of Florida, can expect 2 or more inches. Most of the Great Plains will see less than half of an inch of rain. Much of the Southwest, from California to New Mexico and including parts of the Pacific Northwest, will receive little to no precipitation. For the period May 24-28, odds favor above-normal temperatures for the Southwest, Deep South, East Coast, and southwest Alaska, and below-normal temperatures in Washington, the Upper Mississippi Valley, and eastern Alaska. Odds favor below-normal precipitation from California to the western portions of the central and southern Plains, as well as western Alaska, while above-normal precipitation is likely in Washington, east-central Alaska, eastern portions of the southern Plains, and from the Mississippi Valley to East Coast.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 17, 2022.

    Pueblos again seek inclusion in #RioGrande decision-making: Experts say 2022 looks grim for the river, and irrigation season is likely to be brief and dry — Source #NM

    Some parts of the Rio Grande already experience a dry river most of the year. Photo by WildEarth Guardians.

    Click the link to read the article on the Source NM website (Danielle Prokop). Here’s an excerpt:

    Members of six New Mexico Pueblos are calling for a seat at the table from the body that oversees how the Rio Grande’s water is split, managed and used between states. A coalition representing Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Sandia and Isleta attended the annual Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting on May 6. Gov. Vernon Abeita (Isleta) spoke on behalf of the coalition, saying the Pueblos should be included in all correspondence and meetings that may impact access to Rio Grande water. They should also be invited to future commission meetings, he said.

    The headwaters of the Rio Grande River in Colorado. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    “In the past, Bureau of Indian Affairs represented Pueblos at commission meetings,” Albeita said. “It is now time the coalition interacts with the commission directly, and for the commission to engage the coalition Pueblos, so that our voices can be heard.”

    Cochiti Pueblo between c. 1871-c. 1907. By John K. Hillers, 1843-1925, Photographer (NARA record: 3028457) – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17208641

    He said the Pueblos have cultivated and lived on their land “for time immemorial” and want a formal relationship to manage the water they depend on. This also the first time the Pueblos have sought “a seat at the table,” a direct quote from a 1999 request to join discussions on the operating contract between the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation. The U.S. Department of the Interior relaxed rules last month to allow tribes more control over their water rights. The department also established a federal assessment team to help the six Pueblos resolve water claim issues between the state of New Mexico and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Abeita said.

    Native land loss 1776 to 1930. Credit: Alvin Chang/Ranjani Chakraborty

    #Colorado, #Nebraska Jostle Over #Water Rights Amid #Drought — The Associated Press #SouthPlatteRiver

    Thornton near the South Platte River November 6, 2021. Photo credit: Zack Wilkerson

    Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (James Anderson). Here’s an excerpt:

    [Don] Schneider and [Steve] Hanson find themselves on opposite sides of a looming, politically-fraught dispute over water resembling the kind that until now has been reserved for the parched U.S. states along the Colorado River Basin. As climate change-fueled megadrought edges eastward, Nebraska’s Republican-controlled Legislature this year voted to move forward with a plan that stunned Colorado state leaders. The Cornhusker State wants to divert water in Colorado by invoking an obscure, 99-year-old compact between the states that allows Nebraska to seize Colorado land along the South Platte River to build a canal. Nebraska’s plan underscores an increasing appetite throughout the West to preemptively secure water as winter snows and year-round rainfall diminish, forcing states to reallocate increasingly scarce flows in basins such as the South Platte and its better-known cousin, the Colorado River…

    Governor Clarence J. Morley signing Colorado River compact and South Platte River compact bills, Delph Carpenter standing center. Unidentified photographer. Date 1925. Print from Denver Post. From the CSU Water Archives

    Nebraska’s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, gave precious few details in calling for $500 million in cash reserves and one-time federal pandemic funds to be spent on the project, other than to say it will benefit agriculture, power generation and municipal drinking water. Ricketts decried proposals in Colorado to either siphon or store more South Platte water, especially in the rapidly-growing Denver metro area, saying they threaten Nebraska’s water rights hundreds of miles downstream. The announcement sent Colorado officials scrambling to dust off the 1923 compact, which both Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court signed off on and still stands as the law of the land. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis vowed to “aggressively assert” Colorado’s water rights, and state lawmakers lambasted the proposal. GOP Rep. Richard Holtorf, an area cattleman, declared: “You give Nebraska what they’re due but you don’t give them much else.”

    For now, Colorado is not going to legally challenge Nebraska’s right to a canal under the compact, said Kevin Rein, Colorado’s state engineer and director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “The other side of that coin is that we’ll make every effort that their operation is in compliance with the compact” and protects Colorado’s rights, Rein said.

    2022 #COleg: Turf replacement, wildfire, #groundwater sustainability funding among #water wins as #Colorado legislative session ends — @WaterEdCO

    Colorado State Capitol. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Larry Moriandi):

    The Colorado General Assembly adjourned its 2022 session on May 11. Among the water bills that passed, four share a common theme—funding. A rare confluence of new revenue sources led to strong bipartisan support of bills dealing with groundwater compact compliance and sustainability, state water plan projects, wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration, and urban turf replacement. A bill designed to strengthen Colorado’s water speculation laws failed.

    An orangethroat darter, one of the nine remaining native fish species in the Arikaree River. Photo: Jeremy Monroe, Freshwaters Illustrated.

    Groundwater compact compliance and sustainability

    Senate Bill 28 creates a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund to help pay for the purchase and retirement of wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican and Rio Grande basins in northeast and south-central Colorado. It appropriates into the fund $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) revenue that had been transferred into the state’s Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will distribute the money based on recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, with approval by the state engineer. These are one-time dollars that must be obligated by the end of 2024; if not spent by then, they will be used to support the state water plan.

    The bill seeks to reduce groundwater pumping connected to surface water flows in the Republican River to comply with a compact among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. It will also help meet aquifer sustainability standards required by state statute and rules in the Rio Grande Basin, home to the San Luis Valley. To achieve those goals, 25,000 acres of irrigated land must be retired in the Republican Basin, and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande, by 2029. If the targets are not met, the state engineer may have no choice but to shut down wells without compensation.

    Water sustains the San Luis Valley’s working farms and ranches and is vital to the environment, economy and livelihoods, but we face many critical issues and uncertainties for our future water supply. (Photo by Rio de la Vista.)

    Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, noted that agricultural production coming out of the two basins benefits the overall state economy, not just the local communities. “The state has some skin in the game,” he said, and the availability of ARPA revenue “presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to support the districts.

    Simpson emphasized that neither district is looking for a handout. The Republican has already assessed its water users over $140 million since 2004 to retire irrigated land and purchase or lease surface and groundwater to meet Colorado’s water delivery obligations. The Rio Grande district has taxed its farmers nearly $70 million since 2006 to take irrigated land out of production and has cut groundwater pumping by a third. Simpson requested $80 million from the Economic Recovery Task Force and, by demonstrating the interconnectivity between the state and local economies and the commitment already shown by the districts—along with strong bipartisan support from legislators—was able to secure the $60 million appropriation.

    State water plan projects

    Each year the Colorado General Assembly considers the CWCB’s “projects bill,” which, among other things, has included appropriations from CWCB’s Construction Fund to support grants for projects that help implement the state water plan in recent years. The funding source for those grants is different this year, with gambling revenue from Proposition DD, which the electorate passed in 2019, becoming available for the first time. Proposition DD legalized sports betting and levied a 10% tax on sports betting proceeds, with the majority of that revenue going into the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund.

    House Bill 1316 appropriates $8.2 million from the fund for grants to help implement the state water plan; $7.2 million of that amount is from sports betting revenue. Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, said, “This is the first appropriation of funds from Proposition DD … and it looks like it’s starting to grow into what we had hoped.”

    The bill also appropriates $2 million to CWCB from its Construction Fund to help the Republican River Water Conservation District retire irrigated acreage. Rod Lenz, district president, said the district has doubled its water use fee on irrigators but that “we’re in need of short-term funding while we wait for that rate increase.” The $2 million in state revenue will help the district meet its 2024 interim target of retiring 10,000 acres of the 25,000 acres necessary to comply with the Republican River Compact by 2029. This is on top of the funds the district will receive from Senate Bill 28.

    A forest fire next to the Bitterroot River in Montana. UCLA-led research revealed that larger fires tend to be followed by larger increases in streamflow. | Photo by John MacColgan/Creative Commons

    Wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration

    Like Senate Bill 28, House Bill 1379 takes advantage of ARPA revenue by appropriating $20 million from the Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund for projects to restore, mitigate and protect watersheds from damage caused by wildfire-induced erosion and flooding. Testimony on the bill in the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee emphasized how investing mitigation dollars now helps avoid spending even more on very expensive recovery efforts later.

    The bill allocates $3 million to the Healthy Forests and Vibrant Communities Fund to help communities reduce wildfire risks by promoting watershed resilience. It moves $2 million into the Wildfire Mitigation Capacity Development Fund for wildfire mitigation and fuel reduction projects. And $15 million goes to CWCB to fund watershed restoration and flood mitigation projects, and to help local governments and other entities apply for federal grants under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act related to water and natural resources management.

    Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

    Turf replacement

    While most of the focus at the Capitol in reducing water use has been on agriculture through retiring irrigated farmland, House Bill 1151 elevates urban turf replacement in importance. The bill requires CWCB to develop a statewide program to provide financial incentives for residential, commercial, institutional and industrial property owners to voluntarily replace non-native grasses with water-wise landscaping. It appropriates $2 million in general funds to a newly created Turf Replacement Fund and authorizes local governments, nonprofits and other entities to apply to CWCB for grants to help finance their programs. Landscape contractors, to whom individuals can apply for money to replace their lawns, are also eligible.

    Rep. Catlin pointed out that “50% of the water that comes from the tap and goes through the meter and into the house is used outside.”

    “We’re building ourselves a shortage,” he warned, “by continuing to use treated water for irrigation.” Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, added, “For too long the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains have borne the brunt of water conservation … but this is a bill that will give the tools to metro areas for them to play their fair part in this problem that is our drought.”

    WAM bought this 57-acre parcel as part of a $6 million deal in January 2020, leading some to suspect the company was engaging in investment water speculation. WAM’s activity in the Grand Valley helped prompt state legislators to propose a bill aimed at curbing speculation.
    CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Investment water speculation

    Senate Bill 29 was an attempt to strengthen protections against investment water speculation, defined as the purchase of agricultural water rights “with the intent, at the time of purchase, to profit from an increase in the water’s value in a subsequent transaction, such as the sale or lease of the water, or by receiving payment from another person for nonuse of all or a portion of the water.” It was aimed at curbing outside investors who may have little or no interest in agriculture from using the water right to maximize its value as the price of water increases during drought. It authorized the state engineer to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and, if found, to levy fines and prohibit the buyer from purchasing additional water rights for two years without the state engineer’s approval.

    The 2021 interim Water Resources Review Committee recommended the bill, but it was never viewed as more than a “placeholder.” Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, a co-sponsor of the bill, expressed her disappointment that the bill did not generate more engagement between the water community and policymakers. “I was certainly hopeful that by having a bill we would force conversation,” she said, “but it did not result in having some forthright ‘let’s get around a table and hammer this out.’” Members struggled with trying to balance concerns over speculation with protecting property rights. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, the other co-sponsor of the bill, emphasized, “We are certainly not trying to take a farmer’s or rancher’s ability away from selling that water. In many cases that is their 401K, their retirement.”

    Opposition from water user groups in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee sent a clear message: Existing legal requirements provide the necessary safeguards to address water speculation. Travis Smith, representing the Colorado Water Congress, said what’s needed is “having more voices, taking more time.”

    Senate Bill 29 was amended to strike the language in the bill and refer the issue to interim study. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who was chairing the committee, expressed his frustration: “We have an ineffective water group that won’t have a conversation with lawmakers anymore. When they have a bill they just take a position and quit working with people.”

    With that said he carried the bill over for further consideration, effectively killing it since this was the last committee meeting of the year. It’s unclear whether the issue will be studied this interim since it’s an election year and fewer committee meetings will be held.

    Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

    Assessing the Global Climate in April 2022: Month tied as the fifth-warmest April on record for the globe — NOAA

    Cattle egret in tree Australia. Courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

    Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website:

    The global surface temperature for April 2022 tied with 2010 as the fifth highest for April in the 143-year NOAA record, which dates back to 1880. The year-to-date (January-April) global surface temperature was also the fifth warmest such period on record. According to NCEI’s Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook, it is virtually certain (> 99.0%) that the year 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record.

    This monthly summary, developed by scientists at NCEI, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.

    Global Temperature for April

    The April 2022 global surface temperature was 1.53°F (0.85°C) above the 20th-century average of 56.7°F (13.7°C) – tying with 2010 as the fifth-warmest April in the 143-year record. The 10 warmest April months have occurred since 2010, with the years 2014-2022 all ranking among the 10 warmest Aprils on record. April 2022 also marked the 46th consecutive April and the 448th consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th-century average.

    Temperatures were much above average across parts of southern North America, the Atlantic Ocean, central South America, northern and eastern Africa, southern Asia, Australia, and across much of the Indian Ocean and northern and western Pacific oceans. Meanwhile, near- to cooler-than-average April temperatures were observed across much of central and northern North America, southern South America, central Europe, southern Africa, and central, eastern tropical and southeastern Pacific Ocean.

    Asia, as a whole, had its warmest April on record, dating back to 1910, with a temperature departure of 4.72°F (2.62°C) above average. This value surpassed the now-second warmest April that was set in 2016 by 0.09°F (0.05°C).

    Oceania had its fifth-warmest April on record, while Africa and South America had their ninth and 12th-warmest April on record, respectively. Despite Europe having a warmer-than-average April, it did not rank among the 20 warmest Aprils on record. North America was the only continent with a cooler-than-average April, and it was the coolest April for the region since 2018.

    Sea Ice and Snow Cover

    According to data from NOAA and an analysis by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during April was above the 1981-2010 average at 11.92 million square miles. North America also had an above-average April snow cover extent, ranking as the 13th-largest in the 56-year record. Meanwhile, Eurasia had a below-average April snow cover extent.

    The April 2022 Arctic sea ice extent averaged 5.43 million square miles, which is 243,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average and was the 11th smallest for April since records began in 1979. Despite being below average, it was the largest April sea ice extent since 2014. Regionally, the Bering Sea had its largest April sea ice extent since 2013.

    The Antarctic sea ice extent for April 2022 was 2.25 million square miles or 390,000 square miles below average, tying with 1981 as the fourth-smallest April sea ice extent on record. Only the Aprils of 1980, 2017 and 2019 had smaller sea ice extents.

    Global Tropical Cyclones in April

    Five tropical storms formed globally in April, which is above average. The Northern Hemisphere had two named storms during the month, and they formed over the West Pacific. Of the five tropical storms that formed during April, only one reached cyclone (hurricane) strength. This was Typhoon Malakas, in the West Pacific Ocean, which intensified to an equivalent Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The South Indian Ocean had two tropical storms, while the Southwest Pacific basin had one storm for the month. There have been a total of 23 tropical storms during January-April 2022, which is near average.

    #ClimateChange is causing glaciers around the world to recede at an alarming rate. The loss of Rocky Mountain glaciers will affect the Prairies’ freshwater supply — and that’s a big problem — CBC News

    Athabasca Glacier on the Columbia Icefield, Jasper National Park July 2020. By Ethan Sahagun – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92222404

    Click the link to read the article on the CBC News website (Christy Climenhaga). Here’s an excerpt:

    A drive through the Canadian Rockies will treat you to views of blue mountain lakes, wildlife and, of course, glaciers. But with our changing climate and warming winters, glaciers are receding at an alarming rate in Canada and around the world. Globally that will impact sea levels while here on the Prairies, the loss of our Rocky Mountain glaciers will affect our freshwater supply.

    “We’re past the tipping point for the glaciers in the Canadian Rockies,” says John Pomeroy, professor and Canada Research Chair in water resources and climate change at the University of Saskatchewan.

    Pomeroy says over the last few decades, almost all the world’s glaciers have shrunk and the rate of decline is accelerating.

    “Even if somehow, magically, we’re able to stop global warming tomorrow and return the atmosphere to more normal CO2 concentrations, we would lose most of the Rockies’ glaciers.”

    […]

    High rate of melting

    Warmer winters aren’t the only factor driving glacier melt. A deep purple algae, likely linked to forest fires, has been collecting on Canadian glaciers over the last few decades. The algae looks like dark dust and causes the glacier to absorb solar energy, causing even more rapid melting.

    “I went through my photographs in the 1970s and ‘80s just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” says Pomeroy.

    “Glaciers were very, very white back then. And they’re not like that now.”

    […]

    Strain on our rivers

    What does all this mean for our water supply? Kavanaugh says glaciers keep our rivers flowing when other water sources dry up, like late summer when the snowmelt is gone and rainfall is at its weakest.

    “They carry us through the hottest months into the winter.”

    During particularly hot and dry years — like last summer, for example — glacier-fed rivers can actually see higher-than-normal flow.

    “Though the streams that relied on the snowpack and groundwater dropped to very, very low levels, the streams that were fed by glaciers — like the Athabasca River or the North Saskatchewan — had very high flows,” Pomeroy says

    The next few decades could be marked by high flows in our glacial rivers, which will continue as long as the glaciers are voluminous enough to contribute a lot of water, Kavanaugh says.

    Hydropower’s future is clouded by drought, flood and #climatechange – it’s also essential to the US electric grid — The Conversation


    Lake Powell’s water level has been falling amid a two-decade drought. The white ‘bathtub ring’ on the canyon walls marks the decline.
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Caitlin Grady, Penn State and Lauren Dennis, Penn State

    The water in Lake Powell, one of the nation’s largest reservoirs, has fallen so low amid the Western drought that federal officials are resorting to emergency measures to avoid shutting down hydroelectric power at the Glen Canyon Dam.

    The Arizona dam, which provides electricity to seven states, isn’t the only U.S. hydropower plant in trouble.

    The iconic Hoover Dam, also on the Colorado River, has reduced its water flow and power production. California shut down a hydropower plant at the Oroville Dam for five months because of low water levels in 2021, and officials have warned the same thing could happen in 2022.

    In the Northeast, a different kind of climate change problem has affected hydropower dams – too much rainfall all at once.

    The United States has over 2,100 operational hydroelectric dams, with locations in nearly every state. They play essential roles in their regional power grids. But most were built in the past century under a different climate than they face today.

    As global temperatures rise and the climate continues to change, competition for water will increase, and the way hydropower supply is managed within regions and across the power grid in the U.S. will have to evolve. We study the nation’s hydropower production at a systems level as engineers. Here are three key things to understand about one of the nation’s oldest sources of renewable energy in a changing climate.

    Hydropower can do things other power plants can’t

    Hydropower contributes 6% to 7% of all power generation in the U.S., but it is a crucial resource for managing the U.S. electric grids.

    Because it can quickly be turned on and off, hydroelectric power can help control minute-to-minute supply and demand changes. It can also help power grids quickly bounce back when blackouts occur. Hydropower makes up about 40% of U.S. electric grid facilities that can be started without an additional power supply during a blackout, in part because the fuel needed to generate power is simply the water held in the reservoir behind the turbine.

    People look at a partially rusting turbine set up for display outside. It's about twice the height of the tallest person in the crowd.
    Tourists look at an old turbine that was replaced at the Glen Canyon Dam.
    AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca

    In addition, it can also serve as a giant battery for the grid. The U.S. has over 40 pumped hydropower plants, which pump water uphill into a reservoir and later send it through turbines to generate electricity as needed.

    So, while hydroelectricity represents a small portion of generation, these dams are integral to keeping the U.S. power supply flowing.

    Climate change affects hydropower in different ways in different regions

    Globally, drought has already decreased hydropower generation. How climate change affects hydropower in the U.S. going forward will depend in large part on each plants’ location.

    In areas where melting snow affects the river flow, hydropower potential is expected to increase in winter, when more snow falls as rain, but then decrease in summer when less snowpack is left to become meltwater. This pattern is expected to occur in much of the western U.S., along with worsening multiyear droughts that could decrease some hydropower production, depending on the how much storage capacity the reservoir has.

    The Northeast has a different challenge. There, extreme precipitation that can cause flooding is expected to increase. More rain can increase power generation potential, and there are discussions about retrofitting more existing dams to produce hydropower. But since many dams there are also used for flood control, the opportunity to produce extra energy from that increasing rainfall could be lost if water is released through an overflow channel.

    In the southern U.S., decreasing precipitation and intensified drought are expected, which will likely result in decreased hydropower production.

    Some grid operators face bigger challenges

    The effect these changes have on the nation’s power grid will depend on how each part of the grid is managed.

    Agencies known as balancing authorities manage their region’s electricity supply and demand in real time.

    The largest balancing authority in terms of hydroelectric generation is the Bonneville Power Administration in the Northwest. It can generate around 83,000 megawatt-hours of electricity annually across 59 dams, primarily in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The Grand Coulee Dam complex alone can produce enough power for 1.8 million homes.

    Much of this area shares a similar climate and will experience climate change in much the same way in the future. That means that a regional drought or snowless year could hit many of the Bonneville Power Administration’s hydropower producers at the same time. Researchers have found that this region’s climate impacts on hydropower present both a risk and opportunity for grid operators by increasing summer management challenges but also lowering winter electricity shortfalls.

    Balancing authorities and the number of hydropower plants in each.
    Lauren Dennis, CC BY-ND

    In the Midwest, it’s a different story. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, has 176 hydropower plants across an area 50% larger than that of Bonneville, from northern Minnesota to Louisiana.

    Since its hydropower plants are more likely to experience different climates and regional effects at different times, MISO and similarly broad operators have the capability to balance out hydropower deficits in one area with generation in other areas.

    Understanding these regional climate effects is increasingly essential for power supply planning and protecting grid security as balancing authorities work together to keep the lights on.

    More change is coming

    Climate change is not the only factor that will affect hydropower’s future. Competing demands already influence whether water is allocated for electricity generation or other uses such as irrigation and drinking.

    Laws and water allocation also shift over time and change how water is managed through reservoirs, affecting hydroelectricity. The increase in renewable energy and the potential to use some dams and reservoirs for energy storage might also change the equation.

    The importance of hydropower across the U.S. power grid means most dams are likely here to stay, but climate change will change how these plants are used and managed.The Conversation

    Caitlin Grady, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Research Associate in the Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State and Lauren Dennis, Ph.D. Student in Civil Engineering and Climate Science, Penn State

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    The #DoloresRiver and the #RioGrande are melting-out quickly (May 17, 2022) — @Land_Desk

    #RoaringForkRiver and #CrystalRiver streamflow well above average: Roaring Fork basin snowpack drops to less than 50% of average — @AspenJournalism #runoff

    Click the link to go to the Aspen Journalism Data Dashboard (Laurine Lassalle):

    The USGS gauge on the Roaring Fork River near Aspen at Stillwater, located upstream of town, measured streamflow at 247 cfs on May 15, which is 148.8% of average. That’s up from last week, when the riveu,r was flowing at 144 cfs. On May 15, 2021, the river ran at 92 cfs.

    The ACES gauge, located near the Mill Street Bridge in central Aspen, measured the Roaring Fork River flowing at 223.66 on May 15. That’s lower than the Stillwater reading because the Wheeler and Salvation diversion ditches are again operating for the season. It’s also up from 128.6 cfs last week.

    The Crystal River above Avalanche Creek, near Redstone, flowed at 1,340 cfs, or about 195.9% of average, on May 15. The warmer temperatures of the past week increased the streamflow of the river as the Crystal jumped from 1,060 cfs on May 13. The Crystal River at the CPW Fish Hatchery bridge ran at 1,650 cfs on May 15, up from 1,300 cfs on May 8.

    Snowpack in the Roaring Fork Basin was at 48% of average, according to NOAA on May 15. It’s been below average since April 20, reaching that designation for the first time this season, the Roaring Fork Conservancy wrote on April 21.

    Winter #wheat conditions fell to 27% good to excellent this week & 41% very poor to poor overall nationally, per the @USDA

    2022 #COleg: To help refill two struggling underground aquifers, #Colorado lawmakers set aside $60 million to retire irrigation wells and acres of farmland — #Colorado Public Radio

    Subdistrict 1 Program Manager Marisa Fricke clears paths for water to flow onto land the subdistrict owns. The property is one of the subdistrict’s investments in recharging the aquifer. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado lawmakers unanimously voted to set aside $60 million of federal COVID relief money to create a fund to help water users in two river basins meet groundwater sustainability targets. If signed by Gov. Jared Polis, the legislation would create a groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The money would be used to buy and retire groundwater wells used to irrigate farmland in the Rio Grande River basin in the south and the Republican River basin in the east to keep the water in underground aquifers that are struggling to keep up with drought and overuse…

    Farmers and ranchers in both river basins face rapidly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use, which are necessary to maintain interstate river agreements and preserve underground water supplies. If these goals aren’t met, state water officials say there could be alarming consequences — and thousands of well users could face water cuts.

    In the San Luis Valley, the state water engineer is requiring some groundwater well users to limit pumping because too many wells are all pulling from the same groundwater source. Chris Ivers, the program manager for two subdistricts in the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said farmers and ranchers have levied property taxes on themselves to fund similar local efforts to meet groundwater sustainability goals.

    #Snowpack nearly gone in parts of S. #Colorado as #drought worsens and fire danger persists (May 16, 2022) — TheDenverChannel.com #runoff

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map May 15, 2022 via the NRCS.

    Click the link to read the article on TheDenverChannel.com website (Blair Miller). Here’s an excerpt:

    Southern Colorado’s snowpack is already on its last legs, reaching levels for this point in May only seen twice in the past 20 years – 2002 and 2018, which were both marked by large and destructive wildfires and widespread drought. The Upper Rio Grande basin was at just 9% of median levels Thursday compared to the past 30 years – with just 0.6 inches of snow-water equivalent (SWE) remaining, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data…

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin was at 18% of median snowpack levels Thursday, with 1.4 inches of snow-water equivalent remaining. In 2002, the worst year in the basin in terms of snowpack melt since 1991, the snowpack reached that level on April 26…

    The Arkansas basin was 35% of median levels compared to the past 30 years as of Thursday, sitting at 2.5 inches of snow-water equivalent, according to the USDA data. This time in 2020, it was at similar levels. In 2018, the basin’s snowpack reached 2.4 inches of SWE on May 7, and in 2002, the worst year over the 30-year period, it reached 2.5 inches SWE on April 16…

    The Gunnison basin was at 49% of median snowpack levels Thursday, with 4.3 inches SWE left. The Gunnison basin reached the same levels on May 6, 2018, and April 28, 2002, which was the year the snowpack there was gone the earliest.

    The Upper Colorado River basin was at 66% of median snowpack levels as of Thursday…

    The snowpack in the northern half of the state is faring better than southern Colorado’s, with the South Platte (76%), Yampa and White (84%) and Laramie and North Platte (92%) basins all above three-quarters of median levels as of Thursday. Statewide, the snowpack was at 64% of median as of Friday.

    Story map: The #ColoradoRiver is in crisis, and it’s getting worse every day — The Washington Post #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

    Click the link to read the article on The Washington Post website (Karin Brulliard) and for the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado River begins as mere streams in a marshy meadow 10,000 feet high in Rocky Mountain National Park. A few miles south, crystal-clear waters burble through the Kawuneeche Valley, its banks flanked in summer by wildflowers, spiky fallen trees and a dusty hiking trail. Small fish flicker over the stony bottom. The river is ankle-deep and narrow, hardly hinting at its outsize role as it twists down mountains, through canyons and across Southwestern deserts. But climate change, population growth, competition and other threats to the entire waterway are also vivid here in the headwaters region.

    As temperatures rise, the mountain snowpack that feeds the Colorado river is diminishing over time and melting earlier. That decreasing runoff is more quickly soaking into Western Colorado’s parched terrain and evaporating into its hotter air. Less water is flowing downriver, depriving the ranchers, rafters, anglers and animals who depend on it.

    “It feels to me like the future is accelerating really quickly now,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, which spans 15 Western Colorado counties. “We’ve been talking to our water users about the impacts of climate change and decreasing supply of water on the river for probably eight or nine years now. It’s really kind of hitting home.”

    […]

    Middle Dutch Creek near the Grand River Ditch. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

    But even before the Colorado lands in the valley, distant demands on its water begin. About 30 percent of the runoff from the nearby Never Summer Mountains, which would naturally flow into the river, is diverted by a channel called the Grand Ditch and delivered to Colorado’s arid and fast-growing east.

    It is one of dozens of ditches and tunnels and reservoirs that underlie a common complaint on this side of the Rockies: About 80 percent of Colorado’s precipitation falls here on the Western Slope. About 80 percent of the state’s population lives on the other side — and those residents think too little about where their water comes from, people in the west say.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Far from #LakePowell, #drought punishes another Western dam — The Los Angeles Times #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    View below Flaming Gorge Dam from the Green River, eastern Utah. Photo credit: USGS

    Click the link to read the article on The Los Angeles Times website (Sammy Roth). Here’s an excerpt:

    Flaming Gorge is clearly a marvel of engineering, from pendulum-like “plumb lines” that help Reclamation employees ensure the 60-year-old concrete structure isn’t moving around too much, to “weep holes” that reduce pressure buildup by allowing water to seep through fissures in the canyon walls on either side of the dam. Electric lines extend upward from the blockish power plant, soaring out of the canyon through a series of transmission towers that send carbon-free energy to the Black Hills, Burbank and beyond…

    The Biden administration said this month it would release an extra 500,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir over the next year, as part of a desperate effort to stop Powell from falling so low that Glen Canyon Dam can no longer generate power. That’s on top of the 125,000 acre-feet that Flaming Gorge contributed to Powell in a first-of-its kind series of releases last year…

    Hydropower has long been a backbone of the Western power grid, with rivers from the Colorado to the Columbia fueling the growth of cities including Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle. And even as some environmental activists campaign to demolish certain dams and restore the ecosystems they destroyed, hydropower turbines have become an increasingly valuable tool for keeping the lights on after sundown, when solar panels stop generating electricity. The threat of power shortages is real — especially on stiflingly hot summer evenings when the entire West is baking, and people have no choice but to keep blasting their air conditioners after sundown. Those are the kinds of conditions that prompted rolling blackouts in California in August 2020, with state officials warning that the potential for outages could be worse this summer.

    Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com
    Utah Rivers map via Geology.com

    Aspinall Unit Forecast for Spring Operations (May 13, 2022)

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight). Click to enlarge:

    Upper #SanJuan River #snowpack, #runoff, and #drought report: The Upper San Juan is pretty much melted-out — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

    Stream flow for the San Juan River peaked on May 8 at approximately midnight at 1,970 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This peak matches almost exactly the timing of last year’s peak flow of 1,280 cfs, which occurred on May 8 at approximately 1 a.m. As of 10:45 a.m. on May 11, the river flow was at 1,360 cfs, down from a nighttime peak of 1,830 cfs at 12:15 a.m.

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 9.9 inches of snow water equivalent as of noon on Wednesday, May 11. The Wolf Creek summit is at 30 percent of the May 11 snowpack median. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 19 percent of the May 11 median in terms of snowpack.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map May 10, 2022.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports that 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought, with April 2022 being the eighth driest April in 128 years, with 1.22 fewer inches of precipitation than normal, and with 2022 being the 11th driest year in the last 128 years, with 4.15 inches of precipitation below normal. The NIDIS places the entire county in a moderate drought, which the website notes may cause rangeland growth to be stunted, very little hay to be available, dryland crops to suf fer and wildfires to increase. The NIDIS also shows 18.8 percent of the county, primarily on the southern edge, in a severe drought, which may cause farmers to reduce planting, producers to sell cattle and the wildfire season to be ex tended. The NIDIS also notes that a severe drought is associated with low snowpack and surface-water levels and reduced river flow.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map May 14, 2022 via the NRCS.

    As #LakePowell dries up, the US turns to creative accounting for a short-term fix — The #Water Desk #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on The Water Desk website (Jake Bittle, Grist). Here’s an excerpt:

    A new agreement calls for Western states to leave their drinking water in the reservoir — and act as if they didn’t.

    Late last week, the states agreed to forfeit their water from Lake Powell in order to ensure that the reservoir can still produce power. The deal puts a finger in the metaphorical dike, postponing an inevitable reckoning with the years-long drought that has parched the Colorado River — and a wrenching tradeoff between power access and water access for millions. It does so, in part, through an unusual act of hydrological accounting.

    The deal has two parts. The first and more straightforward part is that the federal government will move 500,000 acre-feet of water (about 162 billion gallons) from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir into Lake Powell, bumping up water levels in the latter body. Flaming Gorge, which stretches across Wyoming and Utah, is mostly used for water recreation, so the immediate effects of the transfer will be minimal. The feds could do more of these water transfers later in the year if things get worse, drawing on water from other nearby reservoirs.

    The second part is more complicated — and less helpful. In ordinary circumstances, the Bureau of Reclamation releases water from Lake Powell into an even larger reservoir called Lake Mead, from which it then flows to households and farms across the Southwest. As part of the deal, the states that rely on Mead water are agreeing to leave about 480,000 acre-feet of that water in Lake Powell, thus lowering the water levels in Mead. (Reclamation already announced earlier this year that it would delay the release of 350,000 acre-feet of water in Powell in anticipation of spring snow runoff.)

    Douglas County to release redacted Renewable #Water Resources memo with their decision — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    San Luis Valley irrigation crop circles. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website:

    DOUGLAS County will release a redacted version of an attorney memorandum at the same time it gives its decision on whether to move ahead with a proposal by Renewable Water Resources to transport water from San Luis Valley aquifers to the affluent metro-Denver suburb.

    The three county commissioners met for over an hour in a closed-to-the-public executive session Thursday to discuss which portions of water attorney Steve Leonhardt’s analysis and recommendations on the RWR plan would be redacted.

    “We will release our decision alongside this redacted memorandum,” said Commissioner Abe Laydon, chair of the board. A disappointed Commissioner Lora Thomas said she was under the impression a redacted version would be released as early as Thursday but now the release will occur at a future board work session.

    SLV WATER: Find more coverage of the RWR plan and other Valley water issues HERE

    Laydon said a “large majority” of the information contained in Leonhardt’s memorandum to the commissioners would be made public. Redacted would be any information privileged to Renewable Water Resources or any information that would harm Douglas County in any future water discussions. Personal information of individuals Laydon and Leonhardt said they met privately with in the San Luis Valley would also be redacted.

    Meanwhile, the SLV Ecosystem Council submitted 255 signatures to the Douglas County commissioners in opposition to the water exportation plan. In the letter, SLV Ecosystem Council Director Chris Canaly slammed the commissioners for canceling a public meeting in the San Luis Valley and for their treatment of water and environmental experts who took time to educate the commissioners on the Valley’s dire water situation.

    “… SLV representatives compiled critical research and presented significant facts and valuable findings that embody generations of historical water knowledge of the Rio Grande basin. Your reaction to this good faith effort has been complete dismissal, even disdain.”

    2022 #COleg — @ColoradoDNR

    Click the link to read “2022 Colorado General Assembly session: Legislators wrap up work after tackling fentanyl, passing largest budget in history” from Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland, Hannah Metzger, Pat Poblette and Luige Del Puerto) via The Colorado Springs Gazette website. Here’s an excerpt:

  • Record spending. Legislators passed and the governor signed a $36.4 billion spending plan — the biggest in Colorado’s history — that funds state priorities in the upcoming fiscal year. The budget allocates roughly $2.5 billion more than current spending levels. The budget includes major increases in several areas, notably health care and public safety…
  • Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County
  • Wildfires. The nature of the Marshall fire, which tore through a suburban neighborhood in the dead of winter, horridly illustrated Colorado’s new reality: a state that could face its worst wildfire season in history…
  • HB 1132 requires all controlled burns on private property to be reported to local fire departments. SB 7 implements an enhanced wildfire awareness month outreach campaign over the next two years. HB 1011 allocates nearly $27 million to match money that local governments designate for forest management or wildfire mitigation efforts, and HB 1012 spends over $7 million on forest health and restoration. Earlier this session, the legislature also passed HB 1007, which creates a grant program funding wildfire mitigation outreach; HB 1111, which increases insurance coverage of wildfire losses and SB 2, which spends $5 million on volunteer firefighting resources.

    We’re catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene — @rahmstorf #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    May 1, 2022 #Colorado #Water Supply Outlook Report: “With the ablation season well upon us, it is unlikely that we will see any more major gains in this season’s snowpack” — @NRCS_CO

    Click the link to read the report on the NRCS website. Here’s the summary:

    Mapping #snowpack from the skies brings new precision to #water forecasting — KUNM

    Click the link to read the article on the KUNM website (Emma Gibson):

    As climate change shifts the norms of water management, a company is mapping the West to collect more accurate snow depth data. Airborne Snow Observatories flies planes over watersheds and beams hundreds of thousands of laser pulses each second to the snowpack below using a laser scanner or airborne lidar system. They’re creating elevation maps that aid in calculating snow depth and the water supply forecast across the West…ASO co-founder Jeffrey Deems says by comparing these maps to ones done in the summer, they can calculate the snow’s depth throughout the whole watershed, bringing more precision and scope to water forecasting and management.

    “What can you do when you have higher confidence in your snow inventory and therefore your water supply forecast?” Deems said of the possibilities. “Can you start to make more informed decisions earlier in the year? Do you get early warning of floods or droughts within the year that can improve decision making come snowmelt season?”

    SNOTEL automated data collection site. Credit: NRCS

    Conventional methods used by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service monitor snowpack via SNOTEL stations. A mountain watershed in Colorado could have several of these stations that continuously monitor snowpack weight and estimate the amount of water available when snowpack melts. But this method, Deems says, relies on comparisons to past data and can be less dependable as climate change alters snow accumulation and melt patterns.

    “What we’re doing is mapping the snowpack everywhere,” Deems said. “It gives us an accurate snow volume and therefore decouples us from that reliance on the historic record.”

    #Drought news (May 12, 2022): In E. #Colorado, conditions degraded in response to continued dryness over the past several months with reports of little new growth of grasses, blowing sand and dust, and very dry soils as well as crops being abandoned in some areas

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

    Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s a excerpt:

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    This U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week saw continued improvements on the map across the Pacific Northwest and the northern Plains in response to another round of unsettled weather during the past week. In the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, and the northern half of the Intermountain West, a series of disturbances starting last weekend brought cold temperatures and significant snowfall accumulations to the higher elevations of the Cascades, Klamath Mountains, Sierra Nevada, ranges of the northern Great Basin, and the Northern Rockies. Storm totals ranged from 6 to 18+ inches, providing a much-needed boost to mountain snowpack levels. In addition to the late-season snowfall, temperatures plummeted well below normal levels. Minimum temperatures dipped into the teens in the Sierra Nevada as well as across areas of the Intermountain West including Peter Sinks, Utah (Bear River Mountains of northern Utah), which registered the national low of 7 deg F on May 11, according to the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center. In Northern California, recent storms and cooler temperatures helped to temporarily delay further deterioration of the already shallow snowpack, which was only 22% of normal statewide on May 11. In the Southwest, unseasonably warm, dry, and windy conditions exacerbated fire-weather conditions where nine large fires are currently impacting the region, including the Hermits Peak Fire which has scorched ~204,000 acres (43% contained) in the southern Sangre de Cristo Range, northeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the northern and central Plains, isolated showers, and thunderstorm activity led to continued modest improvements in drought-related conditions. Meanwhile, in the southern Plains and Texas, the first heat wave of the season brought 90 to 110+ deg F temperatures to the region as well as periods of critical fire-weather conditions. In eastern portions of the southern Plains, isolated heavy rainfall accumulations (3 to 8+ inches) helped to ease drought conditions. However, drought-stricken areas of western Kansas and Oklahoma largely missed out on recent storm events. In the Midwest, light to moderate rainfall accumulations (1 to 5 inches) were observed in the southern and western portion of the region this week with most of the region remaining drought-free. In the Mid-Atlantic, rainfall accumulations ranging from 2 to 4 inches across areas of Pennsylvania, Maryland, northern Virginia, and West Virginia boosted area streamflows and helped to improve drought-related conditions on the map. In the Southeast, short-term dryness during the past 30 to 90 days led to minor degradations in the Lower Savannah River Basin along the Georgia-South Carolina border, while another round of isolated storms in southern Florida led to improvements in drought-affected areas…

    High Plains

    On this week’s map, improvement in drought conditions continued on the map in areas of eastern Kansas, Nebraska and eastern South Dakota where another round of storms helped to alleviate short-term deficits as well as provide a modest boost to soil moisture levels and streamflows. However, the longer-term impacts of the drought in western portions of the region are still causing impacts including areas with poor pasture and rangeland conditions and low stock pond levels. In eastern Colorado, conditions degraded in response to continued dryness over the past several months with reports of little new growth of grasses, blowing sand and dust, and very dry soils as well as crops being abandoned in some areas, according to the Colorado Climate Center. For the week, average temperatures were above normal across most of the region with positive departures ranging from 2 to 8+ deg F and the greatest departures observed in eastern portions of Colorado and Montana. According to NOAA NCEI, North Dakota logged its 2nd wettest (+2.3-inch anomaly) April on record (as evidenced in severe flooding observed in eastern portions of the state). Likewise, precipitation in South Dakota and Montana was also both above normal (32nd wettest) for April. In contrast, April was very dry, with Kansas seeing its 3rd driest and Colorado its 5th driest on record…

    Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 10, 2022.

    West

    Another round of Pacific storms impacted northern portions of the region with beneficial late-season snowfall observed in the Cascades, Klamath Mountains, Sierra Nevada, ranges of the northern Great Basin, and the central and northern Rockies. In response, improvements were made on the map in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. In Northern California, precipitation has been above normal during the past 30-day period. However, the recent precipitation did little to make up for significant shortfalls observed since January 1 as well as in the broader longer-term context with 20+ inch precipitation deficits across Northern California during the past 24-month period. According to NOAA NCEI statewide climatological rankings, the January-April 2022 period was the driest (-9.7-inch deficit) on record for California while the last 24-month period (May 2020-April 2022) was the 2nd driest on record. Looking at the latest region-level (2-digit HUC) snowpack data across the West, the NRCS SNOTEL network (May 10) was reporting the following median SWE levels: Pacific Northwest 124%, Missouri 96%, Souris-Red-Rainy 113%, California 68%, Great Basin 61%, Upper Colorado 66%, Arkansas-White-Red 30%, Lower Colorado 10%, and Rio Grande 18%. According to NRCS National Water and Climate Center’s reservoir summary report (May 1), statewide reservoir storage levels remained below normal across all western states with exception of Washington state. In the Colorado River Basin, Lake Powell was at 24% of capacity and Lake Mead 30% of capacity on May 10, according to the USBR. In the Rio Grande Basin, New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir was 13% full and Caballo Reservoir 10% full. In Arizona, the Salt River system was 76% full while the Verde system was 33% full with the total system at 71% full―down 2% from a year ago, according to the Salt River Project. Looking at region-level climatological rankings, the West Climate Region (California and Nevada) logged its driest January-April period on record while the Southwest Climate Region (4-Corners states) observed their 3rd driest. Longer-term, the May 2020-April 2022 period was the driest on record for the Southwest Climate Region and the 2nd driest for the West Climate Region…

    South

    In the South, drought-related conditions improved in eastern Oklahoma and areas of northeastern Texas. In eastern Oklahoma, very heavy rainfall accumulations (ranging from 3 to 8+ inches) led to improvements on the map. However, this week’s heavy rains largely missed the western part of the state. Likewise, much of the western half of Texas was very dry combined with extreme heat, leading to further expansion of areas of Extreme Drought (D3) and Exceptional Drought (D4). Average temperatures across the region were well above normal. The most extreme heat was observed across Texas (6 to 10+ deg F above normal) with high temperatures soaring over 110 deg F in the Trans-Pecos region. Since last Tuesday (May 3), Big Bend Village (Big Bend National Park) logged the national high temperature six out of the seven days, with highs ranging from 102 to 112 deg F. Likewise, the heat wave that impacted much of the region saw temperatures rise above 100 deg in the southern Plains. The excessive heat this week continued to dry out already parched soils across much of Texas as well as in western Oklahoma where negative soil moisture anomalies (20th percentile) showed up on various soil moisture models. Moreover, 7-day streamflows at numerous gaging stations across the Hill Country of Texas and southwestern Oklahoma dipped below the 10th percentile, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Also notable, Oklahoma saw its windiest April on record (1994-present) statewide, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet. According to NOAA NCEI, average temperatures were above normal across Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana with Texas logging its 11th warmest (+4 deg F anomaly) April on record…

    Looking Ahead
    The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate-to-heavy liquid (liquid = rain + SWE) precipitation accumulations ranging from 2 to 5+ inches across western portions of Oregon and Washington while lighter accumulations (< 1 inch) are forecasted for areas of the Northern Rockies. The remainder of the West is expected to be dry during the next 7-day period. In northern portions of the High Plains, light to moderate accumulations (generally < 3 inches) are expected while light accumulations (< 1 inch) are forecasted for areas of the Midwest, South, Mid-Atlantic, and the Northeast. The CPC 6-10-day Outlooks calls for a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal temperatures across the lower two-thirds of the conterminous U.S., while below-normal temperatures are expected across the Pacific Northwest and the Upper Midwest. In terms of precipitation, below-normal precipitation is expected across Northern California, much of the Intermountain West and Southwest, South, and the Upper Great Lakes region. Conversely, above-normal precipitation is forecasted for portions of the Pacific Northwest and the northern Plains.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 10, 2022.

    There are so many things I find devastating about how #Earth breakdown is playing out — Peter Kalmus @ClimateHuman #ActOnClimate

    Construction kicks off at Gross Reservoir: Denver Water’s critical project to raise the dam by 131 feet gets underway — News On Tap #BoulderCreek #FraserRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Jay Adams):

    Construction began April 1 on Denver Water’s five-year project to expand Gross Reservoir by raising the height of the dam.

    The reservoir and dam, located in the foothills west of Boulder, were named after former Denver Water Chief Engineer Dwight Gross. The dam was completed in 1954 to store water from the West Slope for Denver’s growing population.

    The dam was originally designed to be raised in the future when needed.

    Now, Denver Water is raising the height of the dam by 131 feet to help ease a storage imbalance in the utilities’ water collection system. Once completed, Gross will be the tallest dam in Colorado.

    The dam was originally designed to be raised in the future when needed.
    Now, Denver Water is raising the height of the dam by 131 feet to help ease a storage imbalance in the utilities’ water collection system. Once completed, Gross will be the tallest dam in Colorado.

    “We’ve been busy bringing trucks, cranes and other heavy equipment to the site to prepare for construction,” said Doug Raitt, construction manager of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project for Denver Water. “A lot has to be done just to prepare the site for all the work that has to happen.”

    Crews navigate a winding road near the dam to bring a large crane to the construction site. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Early work involves blasting rock on the sides of the canyon to make way for the additional concrete that will be placed over the downstream face and above the existing dam.

    A machine drills holes into the rock above the dam to place explosives for blasting operations. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Crews also are building a walkway on the upstream side, or reservoir side, of the dam to provide access for workers to walk from one side of the dam to the other.

    Upcoming work includes hydroblasting 2 to 3 inches of concrete from the face of the dam so the new concrete will adhere to it. Part of the dam’s spillway will also be removed to prepare for the addition.

    Early work involves installing walkways on the upstream side, or reservoir side, of the dam. The walkways are needed because the top of the dam will be removed to make way for the addition. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    To raise the dam, crews will start at the bottom and extend the base of the dam out. Then they will build a series of steps up to the dam’s new height — similar to what you see on the sides of an Egyptian pyramid.

    The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project involves raising the height of the existing dam by 131 feet. The dam will be built out and will have “steps” made of roller-compacted concrete to reach the new height. Image credit: Denver Water

    “When it’s done, it will be the largest dam in Colorado and nearly triple the storage capacity of the existing reservoir,” said Jeff Martin, manager of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project for Denver Water. “We’re really excited to begin construction on this important project.”

    Doug Raitt, construction project manager for Denver Water, stands next to a 60-ton dump truck at the construction site on April 20, 2022. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Martin said that work conducted during 2022 and 2023 will be mostly site preparation for the on-site concrete production and foundation work on the rock on the sides of the dam and around the bottom.

    At the height of construction there may be as many as 400 workers on site at a time, Raitt said.

    “Raising a dam is often trickier than simply building a new one,” Raitt said. “We have to continue sending water through the dam during construction while transforming the dam into a new structure.”

    Crews remove rock that has been blasted away on the north side of the dam. The area near the red machine at the top of the picture will be the new crest of the dam. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Throughout the project, safety will be the No. 1 priority at the site.

    “Denver Water and our construction partners have an emphasis on safety for the public and our workers every day,” Raitt said. “We all go through safety training and will continue to evaluate our operations throughout the project.”

    Workers take part in safety training with Kiewit-Barnard, the general contractor for the expansion project in April. At the peak of construction, up to 400 workers will be on-site at the dam during the day. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Protecting the environment and wildlife is another important part of the project. Denver Water worked with biologists to make sure there were no bird nests in the area before the start of construction and will continue to do so throughout the project.

    Additional environmental mitigation efforts were put in place to protect South Boulder Creek and the reservoir from sediment and erosion washing in during the work. These efforts will continue throughout the project.

    Erosion control measures are put up around construction areas to protect dirt and rocks from falling or washing into South Boulder Creek and Gross Reservoir. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water also is spending time updating community members around the reservoir.

    “It’s important that we let them know what’s happening with the project,” Raitt said.

    “For months, we’ve been doing outreach to the community with public meetings, newsletters and emails. We’ve received a lot of feedback from our neighbors letting us know what’s important to them and we’ll continue to work with them and update them throughout the project.”

    Denver Water is hosting community meetings with residents who live around Gross Reservoir to update them on the project and answer questions. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Assessing the U.S. #Climate in April 2022: April was an active month for tornadoes, wildfires and late-season winter weather — NOAA

    Key Points:

  • The average temperature of the contiguous U.S. in April was 50.7°F, which is 0.4°F below average, ranking in the middle third of the 128-year record. Generally, temperatures from the Northwest to the Great Lakes and into the mid-Mississippi Valley were below average, with much of the Southwest, Deep South and portions of the East Coast above average
  • .

  • April precipitation for the contiguous U.S. was 2.58 inches, 0.06 inch above average, ranking in the middle third of the historical record. Precipitation was above average across portions of the Northwest, northern Rockies and Plains, Great Lakes and Northeast and below average across the Southwest as well as the central and southern Plains.
  • Two late-season winter storms brought blizzard conditions to the Northern Rockies and Plains during April with reports of 1-2 feet of snow and drifts of 4-8 feet from Montana to the Dakotas. A late season nor’easter brought more than a foot of snow to portions of the Northeast in mid-April.
  • Dry and windy conditions across the Southwest and Plains contributed to an active start to the wildfire season. As of May 3, the largest fire across the U.S., the Hermits Peak Fire in New Mexico, consumed more than 145,000 acres and was 20% contained. Across all 50 states, 1.1 million acres have burned from January 1 through May 3 — 160% of average for this time of year.
  • Several tornado outbreaks occurred during April, contributing to an above-average tornado count for April.
  • According to the May 3 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 53.8 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought. Severe to extreme drought was widespread across the western half of the CONUS and parts of Hawaii.
  • Other Highlights:

    Temperature

    Washington state ranked third coldest on record for April while Montana ranked fifth coldest.

    The Alaska statewide April temperature was 25.2°F, 1.9°F above the long-term average. This ranked among the middle one-third of the 98-year period of record for the state. Temperatures were below average across much of the Southeast Interior and Panhandle regions and above average across much of the West Coast and Aleutian regions.

    For the January-April period, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 39.9°F, 0.8°F above average, ranking in the warmest third of the record. Temperatures were above average across parts of the West and also along the East Coast. California ranked sixth warmest on record for this period. Temperatures were below average in parts of the Upper Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes.

    The Alaska January-April temperature was 13.5°F, 3.3°F above the long-term average, ranking in the warmest third of the record for the state. Above-average temperatures were observed across much of the western and southern half of the state with the warmest departures from average occurring in portions of south-central Alaska.

    Precipitation

    Multiple late-season snow events contributed to a wet April for North Dakota, which reported its second wettest such month on record. Oregon and Minnesota ranked seventh wettest. In contrast, New Mexico had its second-driest April on record and Kansas ranked third driest.

    April is climatologically one of the driest months of the year across Alaska. Even so, the state of Alaska, as a whole, ranked as the fourth-driest April in the 98-year record. All regions other than the North Slope received below-average precipitation for the month.