A low-to-no snow future and its impacts on #water resources in the western United States — Nature.com #snowpack #ActOnClimate

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 4, 2021 via the NRCS.

Click this link for web access to the paper.

From The Washington Post (Diana Leonard):

A new study provides a glimpse into the future of Western U.S. snow and the picture is far from rosy: In about 35 to 60 years, mountainous states are projected to be nearly snowless for years at a time if greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked and climate change does not slow.

Due to rising temperatures, the region has already lost 20 percent of its snowpack since the 1950s. That’s enough water to fill Lake Mead, the nation’s largest human-made reservoir. It stands to lose another half, and possibly more, later this century, from the Rockies to the Sierra Nevada and into the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest, according to a literature synthesis conducted in the study leveraging dozens of peer-reviewed climate model projections.

The current snow situation in the West offers a preview of what the future may hold. Snow water equivalent, or the liquid water from snowpack, is much lower than normal in much of the Western United States. Snow cover across the nation is only at 6 percent — the lowest since records began in 2003.

Decades ahead, the “potential for persistent low-to-no snow to disrupt the [Western U.S.] water system is substantial, potentially even catastrophic,” the study’s authors write…

Published in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment in October, the paper provides an overview of how Western snowpack has changed and what it will look like over the course of this century.

In addition to the 20 percent loss, snowpack is peaking and melting off earlier in the year and is expected to continue on that track. Atmospheric rivers are also warming and dropping more rain than snow, which increases flood risk.
The demands of a warmer atmosphere are already translating into water stress. Although this past year was not a “low snow” year for California, much less snowmelt made it to reservoirs because of an unusually warm spring.

From Denver Water (Kim Unger):

Snowpack: Here today, gone tomorrow?: A recent study finds that climate change means less water from melting snow. So what are we doing about it?

Denver Water employees stationed in Winter Park take measurements of snowpack in 2014. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Denver Water’s extensive reservoir system helps us monitor water supplies, even as a new climate change study warns of a shrinking snowpack.

A 2015 study from the Earth Institute at Columbia University found that the snowpack in the Northern Hemisphere has a 67% risk of declining — greatly reducing the amount of drinking water available from that source.

The study focused on river basins that rely on snowpack and are not adequately replenished by rainwater. The study identified the Colorado River basin among those at high risk for greatly reduced snowpack in the future, when demand for water will outpace availability. The river provides water to seven states, including Colorado.

As worrisome as that sounds, the study doesn’t provide a complete picture of how climate change may affect Denver’s water supplies, said Laurna Kaatz, Denver Water’s climate adaptation program manager.

She isn’t raising any alarm bells.

“This study is a big-picture look at how sensitive systems are to different conditions,” Kaatz said. “It’s not a deep examination into the full range of possible climate changes Colorado could experience in the future.” Nor does it dive into how water managers in Colorado are contending with those potential changes.

“We have to consider all of the local variables in our planning,” she said.

Those variables include population growth, how efficiently customers use water, environmental and ecosystem needs, and local climate and weather patterns.

Denver Water’s supply is mostly from snowpack. The snowpack — the total amount of ice and snow on the ground — fluctuates from year to year. In warm, dry years, it can be gone by mid-summer; in wet years it can last through the next winter season.

“Our region experiences huge fluctuations — or variability — in weather and climate conditions,” Kaatz said. “Fluctuations, especially in precipitation, mean that the rivers and streams that supply our water are also highly variable. This is why reservoirs are so important in Colorado. Colorado’s high peaks protect the snow for months out of the year, and our strong reservoir system protects our water supply against seasonal and annual variability.”

Making sure water is available when customers need it requires careful management of how water flows in and out of reservoirs. Kaatz explained, that when the snowpack melts, we capture what we need and store it for future use. In years of drought, reservoir levels go down, and customers need to be even more conscious of water use.

Denver Water works with the scientific community to stay up-to-date on the latest models and trends because we live in such a variable climate.

“As the climate continues to warm, we do anticipate that snowpack will not live as long into the summer and fall months, especially in warm, dry summer and fall seasons, and that variability will increase,” Kaatz said. “At Denver Water, we plan for the long-term and look at the many different challenges we could be up against in the future, including climate change.”

While the study gives a potential glimpse into our water future, the full story is really told in how well Coloradans have embraced water conservation. Water use by Denver Water customers between January and May 2021 represented the lowest usage for those months since 1968.

The American West went through #climate hell in 2021. But there’s still hope — The Los Angeles Times

Firefighter Lindsay Freitag sprays down a giant sequoia along the Trail of 100 Giants to extinguish heat.(Garrett Dickman / National Park Service)

From The Los Angeles Times (Sammy Roth, Tony Barboza, Anita Chabria, Ian James, Anna M. Phillips, Lila Seidman, Hayley Smith, Alex Wigglesworth and Rosanna Xia):

To visualize the hellishness of the climate crisis in 2021, look no further than General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, wrapped in fire-resistant foil to protect the legendary giant sequoia from flames burning a path of destruction through the Sierra Nevada.

California’s so-called Ancient Ones evolved with fire. It’s crucial to their reproductive cycle. But they aren’t prepared for blazes like those of the last year, which are burning hotter and more intensely as Earth warms, mostly because of the combustion of fossil fuels. Last year, flames killed roughly 10% of the world’s giant sequoias.

The General Sherman sequoia tree is wrapped in fire-resistant foil to protect it from the KNP Complex fire. (National Park Service)

The sight of General Sherman wrapped in foil this fall was a cry for help. It was also a sign that the American West has entered a dangerous new era of hotter heat waves, ever-more-brutal droughts and a growing threat of violent extremism on public lands.

There’s still hope for the future. But in a part of the country mythologized for its rugged individualism, going it alone will be a recipe for disaster, climate experts say. States and tribes, big cities and rural towns, liberals and conservatives alike will need to cooperate…

Though climate continued to polarize Washington, D.C. — see the near total lack of Republican support for the clean energy investments proposed by President Biden — there were at least some encouraging signs west of the 100th meridian.

Take the Colorado River and its tributaries, whose waters quench the thirst of tens of millions of people and irrigate millions of acres of farmland from Wyoming to Mexico…

West Drought Monitor map November 30. 2021.

The region has always whipsawed between drought and floods, but now global warming is exacerbating the swings, with an overall drying trend that scientists call aridification. As summer turned to fall, nearly 95% of the American West was saddled with drought conditions. The “bathtub ring” at Lake Mead outside Las Vegas kept growing, showing how much water had vanished from the nation’s largest reservoir…

In August, federal officials declared the first-ever water shortage on the Colorado, triggering cutbacks in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

The shortage declaration, while scary-sounding, was the result of a landmark pact in which Southwestern states agreed to forgo some of the water to which they’d otherwise be entitled, in an effort to keep Lake Mead from falling even farther and prompting a true emergency.

If the situation worsens, California will accept cutbacks too. John Fleck, a water resources professor at the University of New Mexico, has described the agreement as a model for the future cooperation that will be needed as the Colorado dwindles.

“The river’s future is not all dark,” Fleck and Eric Kuhn wrote. “Innovation, cooperation and an expanded reliance on science are now the foundation for basin-wide solutions.”

There were signs of long-overdue action on the wildfire side of the climate equation too, as the Biden administration raised pay for federal firefighters and worked with California to reduce fire risk by thinning overgrown forests — a stark change in approach from President Trump, who bluntly blamed the Golden State for not “raking” its forests. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $15-billion climate package that included money to fight fires, droughts, extreme heat and sea level rise.

Officials also increasingly agreed on the need to set intentional, low-intensity fires — known as “prescribed burns” — of the type that helped protect Lake Tahoe this summer…

Record temperatures compounded the threat, drying out landscapes and making fires harder to put out. California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah endured their hottest summers on record, with the nation as a whole tying the Dust Bowl for the hottest summer in modern history.

In the Pacific Northwest, a heat wave killed hundreds of people, whose bodies failed them as they roasted in their homes, or on the streets — a dark reminder that heat waves are deadlier than hurricanes and fires, and are only getting more dangerous…

The combination of heat, fire and drought wreaked havoc on the electric grid. A blaze in Oregon took down an interstate power line and nearly forced much of California into rolling blackouts…

Declining reservoirs, meanwhile, produced less hydroelectricity, which in a cruel twist forced utilities to burn more natural gas, one of the fossil fuels heating the planet.

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.

Federal officials warned that by 2023, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border will fall so low that Glen Canyon Dam, one of the region’s largest producers of cheap, zero-emission power, won’t be able to generate electricity at all…

Though some Western states at least tried to follow California’s lead on climate — Colorado, Oregon and Washington in particular — others followed a different playbook…

In Arizona, regulators backtracked on a plan to require 100% clean energy, only to backtrack again and offer a preliminary sign-off — but with a deadline of 2070, decades beyond what global climate commitments will require. New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, talked a big game on climate but also criticized President Biden for attempting to limit oil and gas production. Wyoming lawmakers kept up a years-long effort to protect the state’s coal, oil and gas companies from economic headwinds.

Then there was Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who responded to worsening drought by declaring a need for “divine intervention” and asking Utahns to pray for rain.

The same worldview that led some elected officials to dismiss the urgency of the climate crisis fueled a burgeoning movement that protested pandemic-era vaccine mandates, demonized public health officers and sought to wrest control of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands from the federal government…

Rising demand for sprawling solar and wind farms created new pressure on public lands, forcing the Biden administration to balance the needs of conservation and climate action…

Rising temperatures threatened iconic species, with a federal judge ordering the Biden administration to reconsider its decision not to protect Joshua trees under the Endangered Species Act.

Coastlines weren’t spared, either: The Pacific Ocean kept rising, hastening a reality of vanishing beaches, dangerously eroding cliffs and saltwater intruding on precious groundwater supplies. Nobody wanted to confront the possibility of “managed retreat,” but some communities finally felt they had no choice. Marine heat waves took a deadly toll on ocean ecosystems already stressed by a history of overfishing and pollution…

Environmental activists rallied around the idea of “30 by 30,” a campaign to protect 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030. The goal is to protect habitat, promote biodiversity, preserve landscapes that keep carbon in the ground and otherwise save some semblance of the natural world as we know it. Biden endorsed the concept…

In one positive development, firefighters managed to protect General Sherman and other iconic sequoias from this fall’s fires.

But thousands of the giants were still killed by flames. And the climate emergency is just getting started. 2021 will probably go down as one of the coolest years this young century. There’s still plenty of time for the rest of the Ancient Ones to meet their match.

USBR awards $3.1 million in grants to develop #water data, modeling and forecasting tools and information for water managers

Grand Mesa Colorado sunset.

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation selected 20 projects to share $3.1 million in applied science grants to develop tools and information to support water management decisions. These projects in 11 western states include improved water data, modeling and forecasting capabilities.

“Water managers today need more accurate and reliable information to make the best water management decisions in a changing climate,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “Applied Science Grants are an important tool to assist water managers getting the information they need so they can make those informed decisions.”

Projects selected range from $48,000 for the Big Bend Conservation Alliance in Texas to develop a common data management platform for shared aquifers to several receiving the maximum of $200,000. Texas A&M University-Kingsville is receiving $107,497 to develop a web-based tool to simulate post-wildfire hydrologic changes in Northwest Montana.

To view a complete description of all the selected projects, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/appliedscience.

Applied Science Grants are for non-federal entities to develop tools and information to support water management for multiple uses. Selected projects must provide at least a 50% non-federal cost-share. Project types include:

Enhancing modeling capabilities to improve water supply reliability and increase flexibility in water operations.
Improving or adapting forecasting tools and technologies to enhance management of water supplies and reservoir operations.

Improving access to and use of water resources data or developing new data types to inform water management decisions.

For more than 100 years, Reclamation and its partners have developed sustainable water and power future for the West. This program is part of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Program, which focuses on improving water conservation and reliability while helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. To find out more information about Reclamation’s WaterSMART program, visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart.

One Colorado award was listed:

Colorado

Reclamation Funding: $200,000 Total Project Cost: $440,000

The Grand Mesa Water Users Association, located on the Grand Mesa in Delta County, Colorado, will produce digitized capacity surveys for 50 reservoirs. The reservoirs on the Grand Mesa were built to capture and conserve available water from snowpack for irrigation and municipal use. This project includes conducting reservoir capacity surveys using drone technology, installing water measuring sensors at each reservoir to monitor water level heights, and developing a water distribution control system with multiple functions such as an interactive map of the reservoirs, a database with data on the reservoirs, a dashboard showing water administration activity, and a forecasting tool. These tools will enhance the management of water supplies and reservoir operations.

USDA Updates Crop Insurance to Respond to Producer Needs, Support Conservation and @Climate Mitigation Efforts

Yampa River. Photo credit: Yampa River
Integrated Water Management Plan website

Here’s the release from the USDA:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making updates to crop insurance to respond to the needs of agricultural producers, including organic producers, as well as to support conservation of natural resources on agricultural land.

Specifically, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) is making permanent a new provision that allows producers to hay, graze or chop cover crops and still receive a full prevented planting payment. To accommodate the different farming practices across the country, RMA is also increasing flexibility related to the prevented planting “1 in 4” requirement, as well as aligning crop insurance definitions with USDA’s National Organic Program.

“We are responsive to the needs of producers, and we are updating several key policies to encourage the use of cover crops and other conservation practices,” RMA Administrator Marcia Bunger said. “We want to provide producers tools to help mitigate and adapt to climate change as well as ensure crop insurance works well for a wide variety of producers, including organic producers.”

Haying, Grazing, and Chopping of Cover Crops

In July, RMA announced producers can hay, graze, or chop cover crops for silage, haylage, or baleage at any time and still receive 100% of the prevented planting payment. Previously, cover crops could only be hayed, grazed or chopped after Nov. 1. Otherwise, the prevented planting payment was reduced by 65% if producers took those actions on the cover crop.

RMA added this flexibility starting with the 2021 crop year as part of a broader effort to encourage producers to use cover crops, an important conservation and good farming practice. Cover crops are especially important on fields prevented from being planted because they cover ground that would otherwise be left bare, which helps reduce soil erosion, boost soil health and increase soil carbon sequestration.

This change builds on the advanced research and identified benefits cover crops have supporting healthy soils and cropland sustainability efforts. Studies also show that cover crops provide increased corn and soybean yields. While results vary by region and soil type, cover crops are proven to reduce erosion, improve water quality and increase the health and productivity of the soil while building resilience to climate change. Additionally, RMA provided a premium benefit to producers who planted cover crops through the Pandemic Cover Crop Program to help producers maintain cover crop systems amid the financially challenging pandemic.

“1 in 4” Requirement Flexibilities

For the 2020 crop year, RMA implemented a policy stating that for land to be eligible for prevented planting coverage, the acreage must meet the “1 in 4” requirement, which means the land must be planted, insured and harvested in at least one of the four most recent crop years. Now, RMA is adding flexibilities to recognize different farming practices and crops grown, as well as the availability of risk management options.

New flexibilities allowed in order to meet the “1 in 4” requirement include:

  • The annual regrowth for an insured perennial crop, such as alfalfa, red clover, or mint, to be considered planted.
  • Allow a crop covered by the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to meet the insurability requirement.
  • If crop insurance or NAP coverage was not available, allow the producer to prove the acreage was planted and harvested using good farming practices in at least two consecutive years out of the four previous years to meet the insurability requirement.
  • Aligning Organic Terms

    RMA is revising four organic definitions to be consistent with USDA’s National Organic Program. Consistency across USDA programs is important to eliminate the potential for confusion between the various programs that USDA is committed to providing to the producers.

    This change builds on other RMA efforts to expand and improve current options for organic producers. In Sept. 2021, RMA announced several updates to Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP), including increasing farm operation growth limits for organic producers to the higher of $500,000 or 35% over the five-year average allowable income, and to allowing a producer to report acreage as certified organic, or as acreage in transition to organic, when the producer has requested an organic certification by the acreage reporting date. In addition, RMA announced it will be offering the new Micro Farm policy through WFRP that specifically targets coverage for small, diversified farmers, including organic growers.

    Other Changes

    RMA made other changes to Common Crop Insurance Policy Basic Provisions, Area Risk Protection Insurance Regulations, Coarse Grains Crop Insurance Provisions, and other insurance provisions, which published today:

  • RMA is providing an option for producers to delay measurement of farm-stored production for 180-days through the Special Provisions, similar to flexibilities already available to grain crop producers.
  • RMA added earlage and snaplage as an acceptable method of harvest for coarse grains. During the 2020 Derecho, many producers salvaged their damaged corn crop by harvesting as earlage or snaplage instead of grain or silage.
  • “By recognizing earlage and snaplage, we are providing confidence to producers that their crop is covered when a disaster changes their planned harvest method or if they choose to harvest in a manner other than reported on their acreage report,” Bunger said.

    More Information

    Crop insurance is sold and delivered solely through private crop insurance agents. A list of crop insurance agents is available at all USDA Service Centers and online at the RMA Agent Locator. Learn more about crop insurance and the modern farm safety net at http://rma.usda.gov.

    USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit http://www.usda.gov.

    #Colorado State #Water Leaders Issue Statements on Passing of Justice Greg Hobbs

    Greg Hobbs

    From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):

    The Directors of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and its Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Division of Water Resources released the following statements on the passing of Justice Greg Hobbs.

    “Few people have had such a profound and broadscale influence on the landscape and character of Colorado as Justice Greg Hobbs. His energy, his brilliance and his inclusiveness ensured that all people, no matter their status or background, had access to understand and influence water and natural resource policy. His wisdom lives on in those of us in the natural resources field that he guided, mentored, and empowered to serve the people of this state justly and effectively. May the landscapes he so prolifically praised in his poetry and prose persist for generations as a tribute to his fair and thoughtful approach to managing Colorado’s water resources and natural landscapes.”

    – Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources

    “If you worked in the Colorado water world, then you have been inspired by Justice Hobbs. A truly dedicated and passionate water leader, he had the unique ability to convey the complexities of western water issues in a creative and artistic manner. Justice Hobbs is a leader who will be missed and whose legacy will live on.”

    – Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board

    “Greg Hobbs has led us as we’ve dealt with the most difficult water issues of our time; as a Supreme Court Justice, as a teacher and mentor, and as a friend who elevated all of those that he met. His legacy will be a body of inquisitive and critical thinkers with an inspired passion for learning.”

    – Kevin Rein, Colorado State Engineer and Director, Colorado Division of Water Resources

    #Drought news (December 2, 2021): Drying soils, high evapotranspiration, low mountain #snowpack, and mounting precipitation deficits resulted in expansion of moderate to extreme drought in many parts of #Colorado

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

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    Several Pacific weather systems moved across the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. An upper-level ridge over the western CONUS directed the systems across the northern states, while a cutoff low trekked across Texas then into the Gulf of Mexico. The Pacific systems dragged cold fronts with them that stretched the width of the CONUS, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico coast. The fronts triggered rain and snow over parts of the country, but they were starved of precipitation by the western ridge and its northwesterly flow over the central CONUS. As a result, the week was wetter than normal only in parts of the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, Great Lakes, and Texas. The weather was drier than normal across the rest of the CONUS with large parts of the West, Great Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, and Southeast receiving no precipitation. Most of the West and Great Plains were warmer than normal thanks to the western ridge. The persistent above-normal temperatures contributed to excessive evapotranspiration in western portions of the Great Plains as well as parts of the West, as seen in EDDI and ESI indicators. Lack of precipitation, excessive evapotranspiration, and windy conditions further dried soils, again especially in western portions of the Plains, as seen in several soil moisture indicators. Drought indicators such as the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) and Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) reflected the mounting precipitation deficits. The continued dryness expanded or intensified drought in parts of the southern to central Rockies, Great Plains, Lower to Mid-Mississippi Valley, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic states, as well as Puerto Rico…

    High Plains

    Little to no precipitation fell across the High Plains region this week. Reassessment of the last 2 months’ precipitation led to contraction of moderate drought in northeast North Dakota and severe drought in the central part of the state. But water levels in ponds and dugouts remained low in spite of late summer to early fall rains, thus prompting expansion of severe drought in other parts of central North Dakota. Above-average temperatures and no precipitation for the last 2 weeks resulted in expansion of moderate drought in southern parts of North Dakota and adjacent South Dakota. In Wyoming, many basins had below to well below normal snowpack with no snow across the High Plains portion of the state, and snow, where it has occurred, was confined to the highest peaks (above 8500 ft). The snow conditions combined with excessive evapotranspiration, drying soils, short-term dryness, and longer-term dryness to prompt expansion of moderate to extreme drought in parts of the state. In Colorado, drying soils, high evapotranspiration, low mountain snowpack, and mounting precipitation deficits resulted in expansion of moderate to extreme drought in many parts of the state. November 28 USDA statistics had 84% of Colorado’s topsoil short or very short of moisture and 33% of the winter wheat in poor to very poor condition. Abnormal dryness and moderate drought expanded in southern and western parts of Kansas…

    Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending November 30, 2021.

    West

    Pacific weather systems brought 0.5-3.0 inches of precipitation to coastal portions of Oregon and Washington, with 5 inches or more falling in non-drought areas of northwest Washington. Half an inch to locally 2 inches also fell over parts of the northern Rockies, while locally up to half an inch occurred over a few parts of the southern Rockies. Otherwise, much of the West was dry. Drying soils and mounting 3-month precipitation deficits prompted expansion of moderate to extreme drought in parts of New Mexico. November 28 USDA reports had 81% of New Mexico’s topsoil short or very short of moisture. Otherwise, no change occurred to the vast areas of moderate to exceptional drought which covers the West…

    South

    Half an inch to 1.5 inches of rainfall was widespread across coastal to eastern Texas, and into adjacent parts of Louisiana, and locally over 2 inches fell over parts of Texas. Smaller swaths of half an inch of rain occurred over north Texas and parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. But the rest of the region had less than half an inch, with much of western Texas to most of Oklahoma receiving little to no precipitation. Moderate to severe drought contracted in a few parts of Texas where the heaviest rains fell, but much more of the state, as well as parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana, saw expansion of abnormal dryness and moderate to severe drought. Areas of abnormal dryness expanded in western Tennessee and developed in eastern portions of the state. With every passing day of no precipitation, low humidity, high evapotranspiration, the wildfire threat continued to grow in Texas and Oklahoma. According to November 28 USDA statistics, 64% of the topsoil moisture in Texas was short or very short (dry to very dry) and 45% of the winter wheat crop was in poor to very poor condition. In Oklahoma, the statistics were 59% for topsoil moisture and 16% for winter wheat condition…

    Looking Ahead

    The upper-level ridge will dominate the weather over the western CONUS for the first half of the next USDM week, with a couple Pacific frontal systems moving in later in the week. For December 2-7, the fronts will bring an inch to locally 3 inches of precipitation to parts of coastal Washington and Oregon and the northern Rockies, with 1 to 2 inches in a wide swatch from eastern Oklahoma to the southern Appalachians and north across the Ohio Valley to parts of New England. Half an inch to an inch will spread from the swath to the central Gulf of Mexico coast and across the Great Lakes. Most of the Plains and Southwest, as well as much of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Florida, will receive little to no precipitation. Temperatures are expected to average warmer than normal across most of the CONUS during this period. For December 7-15, odds favor above-normal precipitation across the West and Ohio Valley, with lesser chances for above-normal precipitation in the northern Plains and along the East Coast. Odds favor near to below-normal precipitation in the southern Plains and southern Florida. Much of Alaska is likely to be wetter than normal. Odds favor warmer-than-normal temperatures across most of the CONUS, with near to below-normal temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and early in the Great Lakes. Alaska is likely to be colder than normal, especially in southern portions of the state.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending November 30, 2021.

    R.I.P. Greg Hobbs: “The water ditch is the basis of civilization”

    Greg and Bobbie Hobbs

    I learned that Greg Hobbs had passed from an email sent out yesterday by Water Education Colorado (reproduced below).

    Greg was a friend of Coyote Gulch and I will always be grateful for his encouragement and appreciation of the work I do here on the blog. When our paths would cross he took the time to say hello and catch up a bit and I will miss him dearly.

    I’ve published many of his poems and have dozens of his photographs in the archives here.

    Red Rocks from Ruby Hill in Denver. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    RED ROCKS

    We gathered here for farming,
    for mining and for trees,
    came to work the traplines
    and gold upon our knees,
    we prayed to God for guidance
    and mapped a thousand peaks,
    built the gleaming cities
    and plugged the wildest creeks.

    The Rockies have a hold of us
    and of our ancestry,
    plains and rivers tell us
    there’s granite in the sea,
    an ocean where the canyons are,
    each rock a history,
    Colorado is as old as us
    as young as we might be.

    Now each of us has had a day
    we’ve done our best and worst,
    said our share of lying
    and placing mankind first,
    we’ve but to see that lupine
    is the future at our feet
    and marmots running sprightly
    over Rocky Mountain peaks.

    Thunder’s booming sharply
    across the plains below,
    we see the lightning flashing,
    hear the wind begin to blow,
    mountains all are burning
    in sunset’s awesome glow,
    it’s all up there before us
    in clouds piled up like snow.

    Red Rocks, Justice Greg Hobbs,
    Colorado Mother of Rivers, Water Poems at 26
    (Colorado Foundation for Water Education 2005)

    Will Hobbs, Greg Hobbs, Dan Hobbs, and a string of fish for dinner, Mary Alice Lake, Weminuche Wilderness, 1986 via Greg Hobbs

    Here’s an article that I wrote for Colorado Central Magazine on the occasion of his retirement from the Colorado Supreme Court:

    Hobbs to Say Adiós to the Colorado Supreme Court

    Greg Hobbs is calling it quits after 19 years as the Colorado Supreme Court’s “water expert.”

    Early in his career he clerked for the 10th Circuit, worked with David Robbins at the EPA, and worked at the Colorado Attorney General’s office. AG duties included the natural resources area – water quality, water rights and air quality issues. He represented the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy district before forming his own firm, his last stop on the way to the Court.

    He told the Colorado Statesman that he always had his eye on the Supreme Court. While serving at the 10th circuit, Judge William Doyle told encouraged him to set his sites on the Supreme Court, saying “They do everything over there.”

    When he appointed Hobbs to the court, Governor Roy Romer told him to “get a real tie,” according to the Statesman. A bolo tie, as Hobbs usually wears, didn’t seem to qualify.

    The justice is hardworking outside his court duties. He is often asked to speak at conventions and meetings around the state. He is deeply driven to learn about others and to share his knowledge of law and history.

    A few years ago, over in Breckenridge, the Summit Daily News reported that Hobbs said, “The water ditch is the basis of civilization.”

    His passion is to explain current opportunities and problems within a historical context. He describes himself as a “failed PhD,” having dropped out of a PhD Latin American History program at Columbia University.

    One opinion in particular illustrates the importance of history to Hobbs:

    The University of Denver Water Law Review honored Justice Hobbs at their annual shindig. Former Justice Mike Bender told attendees about a case where a man had been arrested after police entered and searched his zippered tent in a campground.

    In his opinion, Hobbs detailed the history of Coloradans that lived in tents. The plains Indians and their teepees, the miners camps dotted all over the mineral belt and elsewhere, and more than a few homesteaders, also. He said that in Colorado, there is an expectation of privacy when you close up your tent dwelling, and that it is no different from the expectation for a more permanent structure.

    The police violated the man’s Fourth Amendment rights by not obtaining a search warrant, he said.

    The justice credits luck for his interest in water law. He got in on the ground floor of the environmental movement during the early days of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

    He has a deep and abiding respect for Colorado water law.

    During his time on the court, there were two interesting cases dealing with the “speculation doctrine” – that is, a water diverter must put the water to beneficial use, not hold on to it and auction it to the highest bidder.

    Pagosa Springs Water and Sanitation District was told it was not allowed a 100-year planning horizon. High Plains A&M was denied a change of use – agricultural to municipal and industrial – for lower Arkansas Basin water on the High Line Canal, because they didn’t have any firm customers for the water they were changing.

    The Court recognized the Legislature’s legal ability to create whitewater parks as a beneficial use.

    Perhaps one of the most remarkable insights that Justice Hobbs realized pertains to environmental flows within Colorado water law:

    When Amy Beatie, director of the Colorado Water Trust, was clerking for the justice, she told him that her primary interest was working for the environment. He advised her to go into private practice, learn about the workings of water law, the mechanics and hydrology of diversions, and the art of finding common ground at water court. Then, he said, have faith that there will be a way to work for the environment within the water rights system.

    Ms. Beatie paid attention.

    Her organization just secured an instream flow right for the Colorado Water Conservation Board on a tributary of the Gunnison River, the Little Cimmaron River. The trust purchased shares of the McKinley ditch and assigned them to the CWCB – the only entity under state law that can hold rights for instream flows.

    The water rights are senior and near the confluence with the Gunnison. Therefore, in times of low flows they are capable of calling out diversions above them. Water bypasses the McKinley headgate and stays in the stream for the fish and other critters. Further development of junior water rights won’t affect the arrangement, since the instream flow will always be in line ahead of newer ones.

    This agreement and decree were a big deal since they were the first of their kind, with a willing seller, an organization dedicated to finding deals that benefit instream flows, an entity that can legally hold those rights, and an active water rights market.

    At this summer’s Martz Conference hosted by the CU law school, Justice Hobbs spoke about Colorado’s water market. Many groups and individuals decry the current state of water in the western U.S. Brad Udall, for example, told attendees at last fall’s Colorado River District Annual Symposium, that we are living with 19th-century laws, 20th-century infrastructure and 21st-century problems.

    Hobbs reminded attendees at Martz 2015 that Colorado has the most active water market in the U.S. and it evolved under those 19th-century laws. Colorado water law is there to protect all appropriators and works very well, albeit slowly. Things move along more quickly as case law grows.

    The basis of Colorado water law is the “doctrine of prior appropriation,” which is really a doctrine of scarcity, as just about anyone can administer a stream with average or above average flows. The art comes when there are low flows, so the state engineer has the priority system in his toolbox for those dry times.

    Greg is also a prolific poet. I’ve published many of his poems over the years on my blog, Coyote Gulch. Here’s one of my favorites:

    Coloradans

    (Reprinted with permission from
    Colorado, Mother of Rivers by Greg Hobbs.)

    To each of us
    The land, the air, the water,
    Mountain, canyon, mesa, plain,
    Lightning bolts, clear days with no rain,

    At the source of all thirst,
    At the source of all thirst-quenching hope,
    At the root and core of time and no-time,
    The Great Divide Community

    Stands astride the backbone of the continent,
    Gathering, draining, reflecting, sending forth
    A flow so powerful it seeps rhythmically
    From within,

    Alive to each of us,
    To drink, to swim, to grow corn ears
    To listen to our children float the streams
    Of their own magnificence,

    Out of their seeping dreams,
    Out of their useful silliness,
    Out of their source-mouths
    High and pure,

    The Great Divide,
    You and I, all that lives
    And floats and flies and passes through
    All we know of why.

    Greg has become a friend to me over the years and I already miss him on the court.

    He assures me that he will keep writing and speaking. After all, he asserts, “Coloradans love a good story.”

    You tell a good story, Greg.

    Greg Hobbs. Photo credit: Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Brian Werner, Amy Beatie and Jayla Poppleton, on behalf of the Hobbs Family):

    The Colorado water community lost a legend yesterday with the passing of Justice Greg Hobbs. Greg, who would have turned 77 on Dec. 15, passed away peacefully with his family – wife Bobbie, son Dan and daughter Emily – by his side after suffering a pulmonary embolism.

    For both the legal and water communities, and really all whose paths crossed his, the loss is heartbreaking. We not only lost one of our most knowledgeable legal minds, but also lost one of our most able and accomplished speakers, teachers, writers and historians. Those who knew Greg understand.

    Greg, who first began practicing law in Colorado in 1973, retired as a Colorado Supreme Court Justice in 2015 and continued to share his water expertise and speaking and writing eloquence in a variety of ways.

    He was the longstanding Vice-President of Water Education Colorado, an organization he helped create in 2002 and for which he was a tireless advocate and ambassador. For the past 19 years, he served as WEco’s Publications Chair, where he oversaw the publication of its well-known Headwaters magazine and Citizen’s Guide series. He was known to greet each new publication with a celebratory, “This is our best issue yet,” and was always championing the publications’ distribution, even toting boxes around in his trunk so that they were always at the ready. He was also a frequent presenter in WEco programs, mentored numerous individuals through the Water Leaders Program, and provided sound guidance in the organization’s strategic growth and evolution over the years to ensure it stayed true to its nonpartisan mission.

    In recent years Greg served as a senior water judge working as a mediator for water rights cases and continued to mentor current and future water lawyers with his knowledge of the legal nuances of Colorado’s water rights system. He taught a water court practice seminar and continued to write and speak about all matters water.

    Greg wrote extensively, whether about the legal intricacies of water or his beloved poetry. He authored a number of books, the most recent of which was published in 2020 entitled Confluence: The Story of Greeley Water, which he co-authored with Michael Welsh.

    During his nearly two decades on the bench, he authored more than 250 majority opinions, many of which dealt with water law. He was an exceptional jurist, principled and deliberate, noting that every word in every opinion mattered. As a perfect reflection of his generous spirit, he hired nearly 60 law clerks over his time on the bench, and ensured that they all knew each other, supported each other professionally, and treated each other like family. He always talked about how proud he was of his clerks and where they are now, many of whom, like him chose careers as public servants.

    Greg’s early legal career included stops with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked for two years beginning in 1973, followed by nearly four years with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office in the Natural Resources Section, where he became a leader in environmental law specializing in air and water quality issues.

    In 1979, he became a partner with Davis, Graham and Stubbs and soon after the principal counsel for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, where he became well-known for his advocacy and protection of Northern Water’s water rights. In 1992, he helped form the law firm of Hobbs, Trout and Raley with two other well-known water lawyers – Bob Trout and Bennett Raley.

    In 1996, Gov. Roy Romer appointed him to the Colorado Supreme Court where he took his water knowledge to an even higher level. Greg was a staunch supporter of Colorado’s system of water rights and wrote extensively and spoke often of his support for the unique water law system that has evolved since the state was created in 1876. He had a studied and nuanced approach to the prior appropriation system and defended it against those who felt it no longer suited Colorado.

    Greg did his undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame. After Notre Dame, he attended Columbia University to study Latin American history. Following their 1967 wedding, Greg and Bobbie joined the Peace Corps, moving to Colombia. The couple returned in 1968 and had Dan. Emily followed in 1971.

    Greg spent his early years of family life in law school at Berkeley Law, completing his degree in 1971. He then clerked for Judge William Edward Doyle of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, a critical part of his career and his interest in the bench. In 1973, the Hobbs family returned to Denver and made it their home for good.

    There will be a celebration of Greg’s life at a later, more COVID-safe time. The family asks that in lieu of flowers donations be made to Water Education Colorado. You can donate in Greg’s memory online at http://wateredco.org/greg-hobbs-memoriam.

    Or, mail a check with your donation to:
    Water Education Colorado
    1600 N Downing St., Suite 200
    Denver, CO 80218

    Please include Greg’s name in the check memo line.

    Now for a gallery of photos of and by Greg Hobbs from the archives.

    Final Topsoil Moisture Short/Very Short for the Year! — @usda_oce

    Comparisons (bottom number in each state) are to this time last year.

    MT still leads the US in short/very short. CO/NM also above 80%. Huge jumps in the Southeast are from recent dryness. #drought

    November 2021 Departure from Normal Temperature map for #Colorado via the High Plains Regional Climate Center #ActOnClimate

    Map credit: The High Plains Regional Climate Center

    #California, #Arizona and #Nevada in talks on new plan to save #ColoradoRiver water — The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridification

    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.

    From The Los Angeles Times (Ian James):

    Two and a half years after signing a deal aimed at averting a damaging crisis along the Colorado River, water officials from California, Arizona and Nevada are discussing plans to take even less water from the shrinking river and leave it in Lake Mead in an effort to prevent the reservoir from falling to dangerously low levels.

    Representatives of water agencies from the three states said they are firming up the details of a deal that would leave an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water in the reservoir next year, and the same amount again in 2023 — about double the quantity of water used annually by Las Vegas and the rest of southern Nevada.

    For California, the deal would mean participating in water reductions prior to Lake Mead reaching levels that would otherwise trigger mandatory cuts.

    The talks took on urgency this summer after federal projections showed growing risks of Lake Mead falling to critically low levels, despite plans for mandatory cutbacks throughout the Southwest that the states agreed to in 2019.

    With the reservoir in a first-ever shortage and those cuts still insufficient, water management officials settled on a goal of together leaving half a million acre-feet of additional water in the reservoir instead of sending it flowing to farms, cities and tribal lands. The stored water would be roughly as much as 1.5 million average single-family households use in a year.

    “We’ve got to stabilize the lake with this plan,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. He said representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada developed the framework of the deal within about two months after they saw projections showing growing risks of Lake Mead dropping to lows that would trigger much larger water reductions in all three states.

    “I think coming together in that short a period of time is indicative of urgency we’re feeling to do more,” Buschatzke said. “If the lake keeps falling, cuts are going to be deeper and deeper and deeper. So I think it’s indicative of the risks.”

    The deal would nearly double the reductions in planned water deliveries next year among the three states beyond those already planned under the 2019 agreement, called the Drought Contingency Plan. This new proposal, dubbed the 500+ Plan, would partially involve securing money to pay some water users to voluntarily relinquish water.

    The water would come from various sources, including farmers who would be paid for leaving portions of their land dry, tribes that would contribute water supplies, and water agencies that would leave some water in Lake Mead instead of taking it out as planned.

    Negotiations on the details are continuing, and officials from California and Arizona said they hope to have the overarching agreement ready to be signed next month at [the Colorado River Water Users Association] conference in Las Vegas.

    Arizona has pledged $40 million toward the deal. Board members of the Southern Nevada Water Authority are scheduled to consider approving up to $20 million in contributions this week.

    The board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is scheduled to consider the proposed agreement next month…

    If the details of the proposal come together as planned, 500,000 acre-feet of water over two years would translate into water levels about 16 feet higher in Lake Mead…

    For now, the talks have focused on lining up funds and water for two years. But Buschatzke said it’s intended to be a five-year plan, lasting until the current agreement expires at the end of 2026, by which time the states will need to have negotiated new rules for dealing with shortages.

    If the winter were to bring heavy snow to the Rocky Mountains, it could still help ease the shortages. But the region’s water managers said they’ve decided to plan for more of the dismal runoff they’ve seen in the watershed during the past two years of extreme heat and parched conditions.

    Bill Hasencamp, MWD’s manager of Colorado River resources, said if such extreme dryness persists for another year or two, then Mead could end up at such low levels that cuts would become “unmanageable.”

    […]

    When Buschatzke testified in a congressional hearing on the Colorado River last month, he noted that snowpack in the Colorado River Basin peaked at 89% of average this year, but runoff in the watershed was only 33% of average.

    “This phenomenon is likely the result of the hotter and drier conditions caused by climate change,” Buschatzke said in his written testimony. “This trend is one that water managers must take into account as we plan for the future of the Colorado River.”

    […]

    Since 2000, the Colorado River has been ravaged by a series of mostly dry years, which have been compounded by the heating of the planet with the burning of fossil fuels. In that time, the flow of the Colorado River has declined nearly 20% below the 20th century average.

    Scientists have estimated that about half the decrease in runoff in the watershed since 2000 has been caused by unprecedented warming. And this heat-driven aridification is projected to significantly worsen as temperatures continue to climb.

    Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, recently likened the planned water reductions under the existing deal to a parachute — one that is too small and being opened too close to the ground…

    Given the alarming declines in the river’s reservoirs, the flaw with the parachute analogy is that the end of the story would put the parachutist safely on the ground, Udall said.

    “We’re landing on the edge of a cliff, if you will. And there’s still further to fall. We need another parachute here,” Udall said.

    Hopefully that next parachute will be ready well before 2027, he said, when the existing rules expire, and the Southwest needs to have long-term plans in place for adapting to a hotter, drier watershed and a river that yields less water.

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. Lake Mead last month [May 2021] fell to its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built in 1936. The shoreline has dropped 45 meters since the reservoir was last full in 2000. Photo by Ken Neubecker via American Rivers

    #Colorado issues cease-and-desist order for #Nederland-area mine that’s leaking heavy metals into water — The Colorado Sun

    Barker Meadows Dam Construction

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Tests at the Cross and Caribou mine that drains into drinking water supplies show elevated levels of lead, cadmium and other toxic minerals, as the state threatens high fines.

    State water quality officials have issued a cease and desist order and threatened substantial fines against owners of the Caribou gold mine above Nederland because of heavy metals leaking into drinking water sources, hammering Grand Island Resources over repeated violations.

    The dripping heavy metals are not a current threat to Middle Boulder Creek, Barker Reservoir or the parts of Boulder County downstream, state officials said. But they ordered the owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and threatened to impose fines of up to $54,833 per day for each of multiple violations for the toxic metals and for failing to report test results.

    “A notice of violation is one of the most serious actions we take, and I think this shows that we really are committed to protecting the resource up there,” said Kelly Morgan, an environmental protection specialist for water quality in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This is a big deal to us.”

    In a statement from a Nederland address, Grand Island Resources acknowledged the violations, and said that it had been moving since before the state’s notice to solve the problems and “replace the last 50 years of antiquated and obsolete water purification methods and treatments.”

    “We are working hand in hand with federal, state and local agencies. . . to make all the necessary investments and capital improvements that were not made by previous operators of the Cross and Caribou Mines,” the statement said. The company said it has hired a top engineering team to design new water capture and treatment facilities as ordered by the state.

    Nederland wants the Boulder County Commissioners to help monitor the situation, and is keeping careful track of water supplies fed by Coon Track Creek, where the mine discharges water, and downstream waters, town trustee Alan Apt said. Nederland over the summer passed a “natural rights of rivers” resolution for exactly this reason: protecting western Boulder County’s natural resources for the public, he noted…

    The once-thriving mine is near popular backcountry attractions a few miles northwest and northeast of Nederland, including Eldora ski area, to the Rainbow Lakes and Fourth of July trailheads, to the Caribou Ranch Open Space playgrounds…

    Apt said Grand Island wants to increase the amount of ore it mines at Cross and Caribou and hopes to build an ore crushing and processing plant at the site…

    The company’s attorney Ed Byrne said Boulder County approved an ore processing facility in 2008 and Grand Island still plans to build it, which would save dozens of truck trips a day…

    In terms of how high the eventual fines might be, Byrne said, “there was no chemical spill or release of ore processing water. The higher fine levels are typically reserved for damaging or reckless releases, not rare exceedances of stringent numerical aquatic life standards.”

    […]

    The state’s cease and desist order says mine owners failed to make some required pollutant reports in March and April of this year. When the state looked deeper, it found pollutant violations in those months but also many more alleged violations before and after, spanning a period of December 2020 through August 2021.

    In April, for example, Cross/Caribou self-reported copper traces of 50 micrograms per liter of water, when the state standard is a daily maximum of 20. In January, the mine reported lead of 10 micrograms per liter, when the state 30-day average limit was 3.8. The state’s order charges the mine with violating the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. The notice of violations and cease and desist order in early November say the state is continuing to investigate and may have “additional enforcement actions.”

    […]

    Grand Island Resources must also answer to the state’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, and will be subject to a hearing in front of the division’s board in mid-December. The company was trying to make improvements in recent months, Morgan said, but the state hasn’t found them effective…

    The violations related to failing to report tainted water were not intentional, Byrne, the company’s attorney, said. Some were “a misinterpretation on our part of the state reporting protocols,” he said, and others were related to weather delaying timely deliveries to a lab in Montana.

    Greeley wastewater plant uses the (nitrification) force for sustainability — City of #Greeley

    Wastewater treatment basin construction. Photo credit: City of Greeley

    From the City of Greeley:

    There’s a feeding frenzy going on in east Greeley and it has nothing to do with cows. Rather, Greeley’s “bugs” are chomping away while keeping the city’s wastewater environmentally sustainable.

    These bugs — what our wastewater treatment operators lovingly refer to as the “Nitrifiers” and PAOs — have been happy little workers for decades. But soon, their microscopic lives will change for the better.

    Wastewater treatment basin construction. Photo credit: City of Greeley

    Keeping the bugs happy

    Let’s face it, cleaning wastewater has never been glamorous, but these bugs might as well have a red carpet to an all-star premiere where they will munch away in the all-you-can-eat line at the buffet. Put simply, the city is working to expand their buffet table. In wastewater terms, the city is building new treatment basins where microorganisms that make up the city’s nitrifying force can eat more alongside a lot more friends.

    Removing nutrients to meet new state regulation

    A new regulation, also known as “Reg. 85” by the Water Quality Control Division, mandates that municipalities work even harder to reduce the amount of “nutrients” that are put back into bodies of water such as the Poudre River after treatment at the Greeley Wastewater Treatment and Reclamation Facility. There, the waste is cleaned and filtered out, with remaining treated water pumped back downstream of the Poudre River.

    The regulation mandates municipalities reduce nitrogen and phosphorous levels in their effluent (treated wastewater). Nutrients — nitrogen and phosphorous — are byproducts of human and animal waste and common fertilizers. Excess nutrients in water creates blooms of algae, which use up the oxygen in the water that marine life need to survive. Too much algae can kill off an entire food chain in bodies of water such as the growing ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Creating the right conditions for biology to work

    The city’s job is to keep the feeding frenzy going, using biology to keep the algae fuel to a minimum. In the right conditions, monitored 24/7, nitrifiers and PAOs (phosphorous accumulating organisms) feed on the nutrients present in the municipal waste. That leads them through a complex biological process in which the nitrifiers convert ammonia into nitrogen gas, which is released into the atmosphere. PAOs collect phosphorus in the waste and congeals where operators can remove it. That is later applied to agricultural land as fertilizer.

    Construction of new basins to meet regulation

    To meet the new requirements, the city is undertaking a $35.5 million construction project at the WTRF. Greeley is constructing specialized treatment basins that will upgrade the site’s organic treatment capacity. The city also is rerouting the water flow in the basins, allowing the ability to take a basin off line while keeping the bugs happy and complying with the new state regulations. This is the first phase of scheduled plant improvements through 2036.

    What the construction and enhancements do now to remove more nutrients will potentially earn the city extra time before having to implement even stricter nutrient removal guidelines that will come into play in the future.

    Treating wastewater is getting more complicated, but Greeley operators are on top of making the entire process more environmentally sustainable so not only the state but Mother Nature can be happy – just like the bugs.

    Quest begins to drill Antarctica’s oldest ice — BBC

    Antarctic ice core waiting to be shelved at the National Ice Core Lab March 2010

    From BBC (Jonathan Amos):

    Efforts are about to get under way to drill a core of ice in Antarctica that contains a record of Earth’s climate stretching back 1.5 million years.

    A European team will set up its equipment at one of the highest locations on the White Continent, for an operation likely to take four years.

    The project aims to recover a near-3km-long cylinder of frozen material.

    Scientists hope this ice can help them explain why Earth’s ice ages flipped in frequency in the deep past.

    “Beyond EPICA”, as the project is known, is a follow-up to a similar venture at the turn of the millennium called simply EPICA (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica).

    The new endeavour will base itself a short distance away from the original at Little Dome C, an area located roughly 40km from the Italian-French Concordia Station, on the east Antarctic plateau.

    At an altitude of 3,233m above sea level and over 1,000km from the coast, Little Dome C will be an inhospitable place to work. Even in summer, temperatures won’t get much above -35C.

    The camp where the drill team will base itself was set up in the 2019/20. This coming season will largely be about putting in the necessary drilling infrastructure. But the technicians do aim to at least start on their core quest by getting down beyond the first 100m.

    This should take the borehole past the lightly compacted snow layers, or firn, into the impervious ice layers that are the real interest for scientists.

    The deep ice in Antarctica contains tiny bubbles of air. These little gas pockets are a direct snapshot of the historic atmosphere.

    Scientists can read off the levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping components, such as methane.

    Analysing the atoms in the water-ice molecules encasing the gases also gives an indication of the temperature that persisted at the time of the snowfall that gave rise to the ice.

    When researchers drilled the original EPICA core, they uncovered a narrative of past climate temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide stretching back 800,000 years.

    It’s become one of the key climate data-sets of recent decades.

    It showed that CO2 and temperature moved in lock-step. Whenever the Earth went into an ice age and temperature fell, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would also decline. And when the climate warmed back up again, the CO2 rose in parallel.

    These cycles occurred roughly every 100,000 years – a phasing that is most likely linked to slight shifts in the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit (a larger or smaller ellipse) around the Sun.

    But it is recognised from an alternative record of past climate, which has been deciphered from ocean sediments, that deeper back in time the ice age cycle was much shorter – at about every 41,000 years.

    That is a period probably dominated by the way the Earth tilts back and forth on its axis. But why the switch occurred, no-one is really sure. The new Beyond Epica core may contain some clues if its ices can extend the climate narrative back to 1.5 million years ago.

    “We believe this ice core will give us information on the climate of the past and on the greenhouse gases that were in the atmosphere during the Mid-Pleistocene Transition (MPT), which happened between 900,000 and 1.2 million years ago,” said team-leader Carlo Barbante, the director of the Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Research Council of Italy.

    “During this transition, climate periodicity between ice ages changed from 41,000 to 100,000 years: the reason why this happened is the mystery we hope to solve.”

    To achieve an 800,000-year record, the original EPICA project drilled to a depth of 2,774m. The bedrock at Little Dome C is just over 2,800m down. The extra 700,000 years being sought by the new project should be in the additional metres of layered ice.

    Hope seen for Western water storage in infrastructure bill — The #Montrose Daily Press #GunnisonRiver

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    No amount of planning or legislation can make more water — but it can help the parched Western Slope make more use of the water it has.

    The trillion-dollar Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorizes, as part of an overall $55 billion for water infrastructure, $8.3 billion under its Western Water Infrastructure title for the Bureau of Reclamation between Fiscal Years 2020 — 2026.

    On the laundry list of designated funds for Western Water Infrastructure are $3.2 billion for aging infrastructure, $1.5 billion for storage, $1 billion for the Drought Contingency Plan on the Colorado River and $400 million for WaterSMART and energy efficiency grants.

    “All in all, it’s certainly the most meaningful investment in Western water resources that we’ve seen in my generation,” said Zane Kessler, director of Government Relations for the Colorado River District. The district sees an opportunity to fight for some of those dollars to flow into western Colorado, he said — and there are several meaningful investments that Colorado and the Western Slope are well-equipped to pursue…

    The act provides additional funding to the Aging Infrastructure Account created in 2020’s Consolidated Appropriations bill. This funding helps the Bureau of Reclamation provide direct loans to finance the non-federal share of major, nonrecurring maintenance of water infrastructure owned by the bureau, in water projects across the West that require major upgrades or replacement.

    “As those facilities, most of which are more than 50 years old, continue to age, the issue of storing and delivering water effectively, efficiently and in a timely matter only increases,” a summary from The Ferguson Group states. The Ferguson Group represents the Family Farm Alliance, of which the Colorado River District is a member.

    Of the $3.2 billion, $100 million is to be available for dam rehabilitation, reconstruction or replacement. Another $100 million is to be available for reserved or transferred works that have suffered a critical failure, per the summary.

    Water storage, groundwater storage and conveyance projects receive a $1.05 billion boost and of that, $100 million is to fund grants to plan and build small-surface water and groundwater storage projects.

    There is $1 billion available for water projects authorized by Congress before July 1 of this year in accordance with the Reclamation Rural Water Supply Act of 2006.

    The river district is pleased overall with the package of options the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act opens up, Kessler said, and it will be working to bring some of those dollars here.

    The infrastructure act’s passage comes at a time of dire drought in the Gunnison Basin and Colorado.

    The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Earlier this year, Blue Mesa Reservoir was drawn down a total of 36,000 acre-feet between August and October and Flaming Gorge in Utah released 125,000 acre-feet. Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico is set to have released 20,000 by December — a trio of infusions mandated by the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement to keep hydropower operational at Lake Powell…

    The earlier drawdown at Blue Mesa took 17,000 acre feet from the reservoir in August; 16,000 acre feet in September and 3,000 acre feet in October, according to BuRec numbers.

    That provided the requisite 36,000 acre feet to Powell from Blue Mesa, but at the end of October, Powell was 156 feet from full pool, with an elevation of 3,544.25 acre feet. It had 7.18 million acre feet in storage — 30% of live capacity, as Catlin noted.

    He and others eye the weather and potential snowpack. They wait. They hope.

    Catlin said that as it is, the entire Gunnison Basin is drying so much, it’s hard to say what the overall impact might be — but more than agriculture would suffer…

    Taylor Park Reservoir

    Blue Mesa has about 218,000 acre feet in storage, he said. Taylor Park, another pot of water in the BuRec-managed Aspinall Unit, sits “OK” at 59,000 acre feet in storage, Knight said. Ridgway Reservoir has 63,000 acre feet in storage, a bit low, but in light of how dry the year was, not as bad it could be, he also said…

    Blue Mesa’s elevation sat at 7,431 this week — ideally, it would reach 7,490 by the end of December.

    “We’ll be nowhere close to that,” [Erik] Knight said.

    Indy Q&A: Southern #Nevada Water Authority General Manager on the #ColoradoRiver and preparing for a drier future — The Nevada Independent #COriver #aridification

    Lake Mead low elevation. Photo credit: Department of Interior via ensia

    From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

    Colorado River officials face a math problem.

    Already, there is not enough water flowing through the Colorado River to meet all of the demands on the watershed, which spans seven U.S. states and crosses into Mexico. And as the climate changes, scientists warn that those who depend on the watershed should plan to receive even less water each year…

    Already, the Lower Colorado River Basin states that rely on Lake Mead — Arizona, California and Nevada — have been meeting to discuss and find funding for a program that would keep more water in the reservoir in an attempt to stave off further shortages and cuts. That plan would keep about 500,000 acre-feet in the reservoir next year and in 2023…

    The states came together to develop the plan as part of a consultation clause in an existing 2019 agreement, known as the Drought Contingency Plan. That plan builds off of a set of operating guidelines for the river, approved in 2007 and set to expire in 2026. At the same time that water officials from the seven Colorado River states tackle near-term issues, they are all positioning to negotiate a new set of guidelines.

    The Colorado River is governed by a series of overlapping laws, contracts, compacts and agreements, including the guidelines. Working within these structures, the states face a major challenge — to reduce use on the river and prepare for the worst-case scenario of a future with far less water to go around. Next month, water officials from across the basin are set to meet in Las Vegas to discuss that challenge and other issues facing the river.

    John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the states will be able to find a way to lower use “because of the structures we’ve already put in place.” He noted that if Lake Mead were to hit 1025 feet above sea level, current agreements would already trigger cuts of about 1.3 million acre-feet of water.

    The Nevada Independent spoke to Entsminger about the negotiations and how dry of a future Colorado River water officials should plan for. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

    What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the Colorado River moving forward?

    I hate to be obvious, but the biggest challenge for the river is we have a lot less water than people have legal entitlements.

    How does that play into discussions around management as they’re evolving right now?

    It makes the interstate and international discussions much more difficult, because really what you’re ultimately doing is negotiating to divide up a far smaller pie than what was believed to be the case in the 20th century.

    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.

    You mentioned not that long ago, testifying in Congress, that “the river community is far from a consensus about how dry of a future to plan for.” What are some of the differing opinions right now? And where are people on establishing that baseline of what the future looks like for the river?

    I was on a panel at the University of Colorado Law School within the last six weeks or so. And a couple people on the panel were asked that question of how dry a future should we be planning for, and I said I thought an 11 million acre-feet annual flow of the river is probably a good place to start based upon what I’ve heard from folks like Jonathan Overpeck and Brad Udall and other smart climate scientists.

    But there were some folks on that panel that threw out a number of 13 to 14 million acre-feet, which, frankly, is quite a bit more water than the average of the last 20 years. So I think just from that exchange, you can see that there isn’t currently a consensus on what sort of worst-case scenario should we be planning for, as we negotiate operating guidelines for post-2026.

    Let’s take that number, 11 million acre-feet. What would it mean in terms of water use to get to that number?

    As a basin (seven states plus the country of Mexico), we’re currently using about 14 [million acre-feet]. So it would mean finding a way to cut current uses by three million acre-feet and not add any new uses, at least without retiring a commensurate amount of existing uses.

    Knowing how hard it is to reduce use, that sounds like a very big challenge. Do you think that’s an achievable goal?

    That’s the amount of water that Mother Nature gives us. We don’t really have a choice whether or not to achieve it. You have to find a way to live within the amount of water that nature actually gives you.

    Signing ceremony for the Colorado River upper and lower basin Drought Contingency Plans. Back Row Left to Right: James Eklund (CO), John D’Antonio (NM), Pat Tyrell (WY), Eric Melis (UT), Tom Buschatzke (AZ), Peter Nelson (CA), John Entsminger (NV), Front Row: Brenda Burman (US), and from DOI – Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tim Petty. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

    #Denver still without snow but climatologists say they’re more concerned by #snowpack levels out west: #LaNiña conditions likely means little snow for southern #Colorado this year, experts say — The Denver Post #ENSO

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map November 30, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

    With each passing, snowless day, Denver extends its new record of the latest date at which the first measurable snow falls, busting through the old record of Nov. 21, set in 1934.

    Climatologists are watching as the record climbs, estimating Denver’s dry spell could last until early December. But that’s not nearly as worrisome as the lagging snowpack levels in southwest Colorado, they say, specifically in the Sangre de Cristo, San Juan and San Miguel mountains.

    Colorado needs an above-average snowpack year to start recovering from a dry summer this year and last year, Climatologist Becky Bolinger of Colorado State University said. Without that snowpack, water levels along the parched Colorado River will likely remain low…

    “We’re not off to a very good start,” Russ Schumacher, another CSU climatologist and director of the Colorado Climate Center said.

    Data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service shows that snowpack around Alamosa sits at 37% of normal levels. Further west, around Durango, snowpack sits at 34% of normal levels.

    Mountains further north are faring better, the data shows. Snowpack around Ouray and Gunnison is 61% of normal. Snowpack around Aspen and Glenwood Springs is 72% of normal.

    The gap between current conditions and normal snowpack is concerning, Bolinger said, but it’s also early in the season. Peak snowpack levels don’t come around until mid-April, and between now and then the difference will shrink as storms pass through…

    Schumacher said he expects snow to accumulate better in the northern portion of the state this winter while the southwest is more likely to remain drier and warmer…

    Basically, La Niña years typically translate to a good supply of winter storms in Colorado’s northern mountains, Schumacher said…

    If La Niña conditions persist, Schumacher said he’s worried about a dry winter. Plus, what little moisture might fall during that time could also be lost as warmer temperatures melt snow prematurely and it’s absorbed by the dry ground, he said.

    La Niña intensifies the average atmospheric circulation—surface and high-altitude winds, rainfall, pressure patterns—in the tropical Pacific. Over the contiguous United States, the average location of the jet stream shifts northward. The southern tier of the country is often drier and warmer than average. NOAA Climate.gov illustration.

    #Snowpack news: Where’s Ullr?

    Westwide SNOTEL November 21, 2021 via the NRCS.
    Colorado snowpack November 29, 2021 via the NRCS.
    Illustration from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript shows Ullr on his skis and with his bow. Credit: Wikimedia

    Some Coloradans’ drinking water still has highest radium levels in the nation — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Evan Wyloge):

    Some of the highest concentrations of radium-contaminated drinking water in the nation are clustered in rural southeast Colorado, according to a recent compilation of data.

    The problem is hardly new. The presence of radium in the area’s groundwater, which is linked to an increased cancer risk particularly for children, has been known for decades. The newly compiled data shows that out of the 50,000 water systems included in the research, six of the ten worst radium levels in the nation are in Colorado.

    The water providers are required to inform their customers of the contamination, and they say they’d like to fix the problem, but providing clean, radium-free tap water in the most remote areas comes with an untenable price tag.

    A massive infrastructure project that promises to largely resolve the problem, the Arkansas Valley Conduit, broke ground this year, but its completion is years away and the bulk of its funding hasn’t materialized yet.

    For now, most are hopeful that the conduit will be fully funded and fully built, but until then, the faucets in the area will still provide water with as much as four times the legal radium limit…

    Radium poses a unique risk to children, because it is treated by the human body like calcium and deposited into developing bones, where it remains radioactive and can kill and mutate cells.

    Although the area’s groundwater was known to have contaminants, high levels of radium in Colorado’s groundwater became a regulatory problem around 20 years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated new radionuclide standards. Federal law allows up to 5 picocuries of radium-226 or radium-228, the most common versions of the element, per liter of water…

    Rocky Ford Melon Day 1893 via the Colorado Historical Society

    According to the Environmental Working Group’s new drinking water contamination data compilation, the worst radium content in the nation is found in Rocky Ford, where there was an average of 23 picocuries of radium per liter of water.

    Eighteen other water systems in Colorado contain more than the legal limit. Most are clustered around the small rural towns of Rocky Ford, Swink and La Junta, about an hour’s drive east from Pueblo. The new data show one in every six Otero County resident has tap water above the federal limit.

    After years of testing, studies and planning, the solution that‘s emerged is one proposed sixty years ago: The Arkansas Valley Conduit, the massive clean water delivery system proposal that stalled for decades over the project’s equally massive price tag.

    Elsewhere in the state the Peak View Park mobile home park, situated on a wooded hillside along U.S. Route 24 in Woodland Park, registered more than twice the legal limit of radium for years, as the owners struggled to get the problem fixed…

    But a key feature of the system Peak View Park installed is the access to Woodland Park’s sewer system. LaBarre said he had to make arrangements with the city’s wastewater treatment officials about the timing of their extraction system’s wastewater disposal, so that they can send the radium-saturated byproduct of the extraction process into the sewer when the system can adequately handle it…

    The lack of a sewer system is what cripples any similar efforts in the more rural areas around La Junta. There, where many of the residents use septic tanks, storing an extraction byproduct would be prohibitively expensive…

    Bill Long, the president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the towns along the first 12 miles of the [Arkansas Valley Conduit], Boone and Avondale, should be getting clean water from the conduit by 2024.

    More funding will be needed to finish the project, and Long said he believes there will be money allocated from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, and that the funds could help get the conduit finished, but that the details aren’t yet clear.

    Arkansas River Basin alluvial aquifers via the Colorado Geological Survey

    #Drought, land development take their toll on the San Luis Valley’s natural habitats — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

    THROUGH their research on the San Luis Valley wetlands and bird migration patterns, Cary Aloiaand Jenny Nehring can tell you ducks that are divers are arriving on average 1.24 days earlier in the Valley, and ducks that are dabblers 1.7 days earlier.

    WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

    “Means that every year the peak migration is occurring 1.5 days earlier,” said Aloia. “If we look at historic records, peak migration was end of March-ish and now we’re looking at getting close to the beginning of March. What’s significant to that is that the irrigation season starts April 1. That means that farmers aren’t putting water out on their properties, they aren’t flood irrigating when the peak number of birds are there.

    “What that also means is because peak numbers are March, the beginning of March, the birds start coming in the end of January now and February, and so we’ve got this period of time where we’re really limited because of an irrigation system.”

    It’s complicated, but then it isn’t. Simply, climate change – where we experience extreme weather events hot and cold, and experience an overall warming to the seasons – is having a damaging effect on the natural wildlife of the Valley, the natural lands of the Valley, and how we all use it.

    Photo: Ryan Michelle Scavo

    The complication enters with solutions put forth to address the changing climate and how far the Valley is willing to go to address it. Spending time with Aloia and Nehring helps in understanding the circumstances and conditions.

    The Alamosa Citizen visited recently over a Zoom call with Aloia and Nehring to talk about their research and ongoing work to address the Valley’s changing environment. Aloia and Nehring are biologists who work together as Wetland Dynamics and consult with companies and governmental agencies to preserve and conserve wetlands, riparian areas, and ecosystems like the San Luis Valley.

    Their study, “San Luis Valley Wetland and Wildlife Conservation Assessment” published in 2019 and updated in 2020, is in the category of must reading if you care an iota about the San Luis Valley and how it’s faring in the first decades of the 21st century as climate change makes its presence more acutely felt.

    “I would say we’ve got the climate change aspect, but we’ve also got sort of this urban push into wildlife habitat and the change in not only conversion of different types of wetlands, but the complete loss of wetlands,” said Aloia. “As the assessment pointed out, we have about a third of the wetlands that we had historically, and we continue to keep pushing that envelope, converting wetlands, and part of that conversion is, of course, the drought that we’re going through. We’ve lost a lot of wetlands because the water doesn’t get where it was historically.

    Now we’re getting into climate change, human migration patterns as people seek out lesser-known and less-crowded spaces, land development, and intersecting it with the natural habitats that are being impacted by it all.

    Here’s how Nehring follows up her partner Aloia’s comment when she said, “‘We have an exponential number of people coming here.”’

    “I was reading a book on migration this last year,” Nehring said, “and they were talking about how if you watch a warbler foraging through just trees on the bank of a river, and it’s a bird that’s migrating. Neotropical songbirds migrate at night and they land in the morning, and they’ll feed and rest through the day, and then they’ll take off and fly another stretch that night. Or maybe they’ll stay two days. And it’s very weather dependent, and they follow rivers. Rivers are huge landmarks for migrating birds, and so if you watch a warbler foraging during migration, about once every three seconds, it’ll glean a little bug off a leaf and it’s eating.

    Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo
    Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

    “And if an area is cleared of that vegetation, and maybe the bird has to fly a bigger distance between clumps, and maybe their foraging goes from once every three seconds to once every four seconds, seemingly minuscule, but that means it’s a 25 percent increase in its energy expenditure to just eat.

    “So if you think of the development Cari has referenced, people have moved to the Valley and there are a lot of rural areas across Colorado and the U.S. that have seen this shift because of COVID. If you just drive from South Fork to Creede, or anywhere along our river ways, you can see where a new house is, and you can see that people clear vegetation to the water because it gives them a better view, better access or whatever. But if you imagine, if you add all that cleared vegetation up, you’re having a huge impact in foraging areas for neotropical migrants and other wildlife.”

    “And the same goes for grassland species,” Aloia adds, bringing more context and perspective to the conversation. “Nationally, continentally, we’ve seen a huge decline in grassland species. They took it really hard with that September snow that we had a year ago, and if you drive down the (county road) 8 South between Monte Vista and Alamosa, if you drive that road, the amount of clearing that has gone on just with greasewood, rabbit brush, sort of the more upland species that you don’t usually equate with wetlands, and having those sort of temporarily flooded areas that we identified in the assessment as being something that we’ve lost significantly, those areas are being cleared, and what we have is exposed ground now and weeds, and all kinds of things.

    Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

    “If you drive that in the spring and the fall, or if you’ve ever walked through a greasewood area, the amount of birds that are utilizing those types of areas is astounding. And we’re losing that habitat. As we know, at least 82 percent of all wildlife species use riparian areas or wetlands in some capacity during their life history. So even though we may look at those as really upland species, there is a lot of crossover between different habitat ecosystem types. So then we can’t just focus on a specific riparian or wetland area, we have to look at the system as a whole and see how we’ve really fragmented everything.

    This year Nehring and Aloia noticed what they characterized as a “huge change in the bird migration for water fowls coming to the San Luis Valley.”

    “We saw a three week shift in when the geese were breeding and bringing off their broods,” said Aloia. “We didn’t see the water fowl coming into the Valley as early as they usually do in the fall. It’s much later, and honestly I don’t even know that we’ve really seen it yet.

    Sandhill Cranes West of Dunes by NPS/Patrick Myers

    “We obviously have the cranes coming through and they sort of straggle in, in the fall. But in terms of water fowl they know that our water resources this year were low, they have a sense for that, and can just pass us by. Because they have wings, they are able to shift and go where resources are and I think we’re going to see that more and more.”

    Nehring referenced a widely publicized study first reported in the journal Science that documented the loss of 3 billion birds, or one in every four birds, since 1970. “I’m thinking now, 3 billion birds in 30 years, that’s really dramatic but I think we’re entering into a new time period where we’ll have equally dramatic losses in a shorter period of time,” she said.

    “And I think it’ll not only be birds,” said Aloia, “but it’s going to be other bigger wildlife species that may garner more attention because they’re more identifiable, more people know about them. We as biologists have definitely seen how the birds have changed in their movements and numbers, but I think that it’s definitely going to become more apparent to a bigger part of the population.”

    Their important work continues.

    Become a member of The Alamosa Citizen.

    During An Historic #Drought, Higher Temperatures Helped a Beetle Kill More #California Pine Trees — North Carolina State University

    Dead ponderosa pine trees in California. Credit: Charles Koven, University of California, Berkeley.

    Here’s the release from North Carolina State University (Laura Oleniacz):

    A new study shows climate change can have cascading effects on forests. Using computer modeling, researchers from North Carolina State University, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and other institutions found increased temperatures during an historic drought in California contributed to the death of large numbers of giant pine trees by speeding up the life cycle of a tree-killing beetle.

    Published in the journal Global Change Biology, the study found a nearly 30% increase in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) tree death during California’s 2012-2015 drought due to attacks from the western bark beetle. Researchers said the findings highlight how climate change can compound threats forests face, and raise questions about their ability to act as reservoirs for greenhouse gases.

    “This has huge implications for how we manage forests – not just in California, but everywhere,” said study co-author Robert Scheller, professor of forestry and environmental resources at North Carolina State University. “With climate change, it’s not just wildfires and weather events, but also how changing climate conditions can impact insects, fungi and other biological agents of tree mortality.”

    Pinus ponderosa subsp. ponderosa. Photo credit Wikimedia.

    During the drought, researchers documented widespread tree death throughout the central and southern Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. The ponderosa pine, a large tree that lives at higher elevations, suffered the most, as it’s the only host for the western pine beetle in the region. In some areas, nearly 90% of large ponderosa pine trees died, U.S. Forest Service researchers found.

    “There are dead trees snaking across the landscape – dead, giant trees,” said Zachary Robbins, the study’s lead author and a graduate student at NC State. “We estimated that this mortality event would have occurred during the drought, but it would have been less severe under historic temperatures.”

    To understand how temperature influenced the beetles’ attacks on the trees, researchers created a computer simulation of the beetles’ life cycle, their attack behavior, the number and size of trees, tree defenses and likelihood of death during certain stages of the drought. Then they combined all of those variables to model the beetles’ attack behavior and tree defenses under contemporary (2001-2018) compared with historical (1895-1945) temperatures. They compared and tested their model using data gathered in the field.

    While the trees can defend themselves against attacks by the beetle, their defenses were down during drought, researchers said. To save water, the trees put the brakes on photosynthesis, which could affect their ability to expel the beetles as they try to chew through bark. The beetles kill the trees when they dig intricate tunnel systems to lay their eggs into the trees’ circulatory system, preventing nutrients from flowing through the tree.

    “These beetles primarily live in trees that are weakened or dying, but when weather events occur, they start spreading across the landscape, and multiplying rapidly,” Robbins said. “The beetles can develop more quickly when it’s warmer. Also, lower temperatures in winter keep the populations in check. They die when winters are cold, but as temperatures warm, that may occur less often.”

    They attributed a 29.9% increase in tree death to the beetles’ attacks – primarily from increases in development rates of the pine beetle, and to a lesser degree, to reductions in the beetles’ death over the winter.

    They also reported that each degree increase in temperature may have increased the number of pine trees killed by more than 35 to 40% – if increased beetle populations and declines in host tree defenses act separately.

    “Higher temperatures increased the number of beetles that existed on the landscape by speeding up their life cycle by about a half generation,” Robbins said. “It lowered the over-wintering mortality a little bit, but not in a very pronounced way. Overall, what this means is that the beetles were able to reproduce more efficiently because they had these quicker generation times, and killed trees more quickly during the drought period.”

    The researchers are also concerned that small changes in the beetle population could have big effects.

    “Even a slight increase in generations can increase tree mortality considerably,” Robbins said.

    The researchers said the findings raise multiple questions about forests in the future. It creates a more nuanced picture of the role they could play in storing, or releasing, carbon. The ponderosa pineis thought of as a fire-resistant species that’s less likely to burn in wildfire events.

    “These old trees are large stores of carbon that could be released back into the atmosphere either slowly as they decompose, or rapidly through wildfire,” Robbins said. “As you have new species replacing them that might be more fire prone, that can be a big deal in terms of how much carbon we’re storing in these forests versus what we’re releasing back into the atmosphere.”

    Scheller said the death of the trees is likely to leave a lasting mark. It also raises questions about forests as long-term tools for controlling climate change.

    d
    Mountain Pine Beetle kill via USGS.

    “We’re talking about a mass mortality event of incredibly large and old conifers,” he said. “There will be new species to replace those, but the forest won’t recover right away. And those original tree species may not return for hundreds of years, if ever.”

    The study, “Warming Increased Bark Beetle-Induced Tree Mortality by 30% During an Extreme Drought in California,” was published online in Global Change Biology. In addition to Robbins and Scheller, the other authors were Chonggang Xu, Brian H. Aukema, Polly C. Buotte, Rutuja Chitra-Tarak, Christopher J. Fettig, Michael L. Goulden, Devin W. Goodsman, Alexander D. Hall, Charles D. Koven, Lara M. Kueppers, Gavin D. Madakumbura, Leif A. Mortenson, James A. Powell. The study was supported by the UC National Laboratory Fees Research Program under grant No. LA-UR-20-30376, the McIntire-Stennis project MIN-17-095, grants from the Pacific Southwest Research Station Climate Change Competitive Grant Program, PSW–2016–03, PSW–2017–02), and the NC State Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program…

    Abstract

    DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15927

    Abstract: Quantifying the responses of forest disturbances to climate warming is critical to our understanding of carbon cycles and energy balances of the Earth system. The impact of warming on bark beetle outbreaks is complex as multiple drivers of these events may respond differently to warming. Using a novel model of bark beetle biology and host tree interactions, we assessed how contemporary warming affected western pine beetle (Dendroctonus brevicomis) populations and mortality of its host, ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), during an extreme drought in the Sierra Nevada, California, and United States. When compared with the field data, our model captured the western pine beetle flight timing and rates of ponderosa pine mortality observed during the drought. In assessing the influence of temperature on western pine beetles, we found that contemporary warming increased the development rate of the western pine beetle and decreased the overwinter mortality rate of western pine beetle larvae leading to increased population growth during periods of lowered tree defense. We attribute a 29.9% (95% CI: 29.4%–30.2%) increase in ponderosa pine mortality during drought directly to increases in western pine beetle voltinism (i.e., associated with increased development rates of western pine beetle) and, to a much lesser extent, reductions in overwintering mortality. These findings, along with other studies, suggest each degree (°C) increase in temperature may have increased the number of ponderosa pine killed by upwards of 35%–40% °C−1 if the effects of compromised tree defenses (15%–20%) and increased western pine beetle populations (20%) are additive. Due to the warming ability to considerably increase mortality through the mechanism of bark beetle populations, models need to consider climate’s influence on both host tree stress and the bark beetle population dynamics when determining future levels of tree mortality.

    Some of the threats climate change poses to Colorado: shorter winters, forests killed by invasive pine beetles, and habitat loss for the Pika, which thrives in cold, high-altitude environments. Photo credit Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates.

    #PiedraRiver sets record low — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    River report

    The Piedra River near Arboles set a new record low for this date with a flow rate of just 28.9 cubic feet per second (cfs) as of noon on Tuesday, Nov. 23, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

    The previous record low for this date was set in 1990 at 44 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was 490 cfs in 1987.

    Based on 59 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for that date is 107 cfs. According to the USGS, the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 44.4 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of noon on Tuesday, Nov. 23.

    Based on 86 years of water records at this site, the lowest recorded flow rate for this date is 34 cfs, recorded in 1976.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1987 at 360 cfs. The average flow rate for this date is 87 cfs.

    Snow report

    According to the U.S. Depart- ment of Agriculture (USDA) Na- tional Water and Climate Center’s snow pack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of eleva- tion, had 3.6 inches of snow water equivalent as of noon on Tuesday, Nov. 23.

    The San Miguel, Dolores, Ani- mas and San Juan river basins were at 34 percent of the Nov. 17 median in terms of snow pack.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map November 23, 2021.

    Drought report

    The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) was last updated on Nov. 16.

    The NIDIS website indicates 100 percent of Archuleta County is abnormally dry.

    The percentage of the county in a moderate drought is listed at 70.86, which is consistent with the previous report.

    The NIDIS website also notes that 47.66 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage, consis- tent with last week’s report.

    Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 10.33 percent of the county remains in an extreme drought, consistent with last week’s report.

    No portion of the county is in an exceptional drought.
    For more information and maps, visit: https://www.drought.gov/states/Colorado/county/Archuleta.

    Middle Colorado Watershed Council project completed to expand habitat for native fish on East Divide Creek

    Bluehead sucker. Photo credit: USFWS

    From the Middle Colorado Watershed Council:

    Imagine life as a small fish. Your world is confined to swimming in creeks, rivers and streams searching out food, seeking shelter from predators, finding resting spots and, of course, fulfilling the biological urge to reproduce. For the female, finding just the right spot to lay one’s eggs is instinctual, and mosttravel great distances in search of suitable habitat.

    Now image swimming along and encountering a structure the size of the Glen Canyon Dam – relatively speaking. There’s no going further – it’s pretty much the end of the road. This is the dilemma of a small fish as it confronts a water diversion structure.

    Today one small fish, a native Bluehead Sucker, has cause for celebration. A completed project on East Divide Creek, a tributary to Divide Creek that flows into the Colorado River south of Silt, has opened up more than five miles of its historic habitat unreachable to the fish before now. Five miles is a considerable distance in which the fish population can expand, increasing resiliency for the species and reducing the risk of local extinction.

    The project involved the reconfiguration of a diversion structure to make it easier for fish to swim upand over it. The King Heatherly diversion structure, located on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Colorado River Valley Office, but owned and operated by the Spring Creek Ranch, is critical for providing water to raise local crops and livestock. The structure needs to operate effectively and efficiently, but if designed properly, can continue to do so while accommodating fish passage. Scott Schreiber, an engineer with Wright Water Engineers (WWE), knows just how to do that.

    Scott and his team of engineers and biologists developed a design with a rock ramp gradual enough for fish to swim up. The ramp has a rough bottom, mimicking a natural stream, complete with small boulders for fish to rest behind on their way upstream. The ramp also acts to stabilize the diversion structure and includes improvements to make annual maintenance easier for Spring Creek Ranch.

    “The opportunity to connect these habitats provides great pride for WWE and myself as we look for ways to reconnect our sensitive watersheds for future generations. Using creative solutions and advanced hydraulic modeling, my team was able to understand velocity distributions across theproposed rock ramp to verify they were within the Bluehead Sucker’s burst and prolonged speedranges,” Scott said.

    Brian Barackman, owner/operator of Diggin’ It River Works, was the local contractor selected to construct the project. His crew utilized heavy equipment outfitted with state-of-the-art electronics and GPS systems that allowed for precision placement of rock, pipe, fabrics, and vegetation. The resulting structures appear natural looking and should blend into the surrounding environment as they revegetate with native willows and grasses.

    Bluehead Sucker, along with Flannelmouth Sucker, and Roundtail Chub are imperiled Colorado River basin native fish species. Collectively called “the three species,” their conservation is a cooperative effort across their range which includes New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. The three species currently only occupy a fraction of their historic range in large part due to habitat fragmentation by dams and water diversion structures. Other threats to the species include climate change, altered water quality, introduction of predatory and competitive species, and for the two sucker species, hybridization with non-native sucker species. All three fish species are found throughout the Middle Colorado Watershed and are part of an Integrated Water Management Plan that seeks to restore habitat for these species through projects like the King Heatherly Fish Passage project.

    Fisheries biologist from the BLM and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) will be closely monitoring the success of the project by surveying for fish both below and above the structure, to determine if upstream movement is occurring. Documented successes from the project will be used to inform the design of subsequent projects like this in the watershed and across these species range, of which dozens have been identified.

    “King Heatherly is the first project in Colorado focused on fish passage specifically for bluehead suckers. We hope this project lays a foundation to provide a blueprint for future fish passage structures for native fish in western Colorado and illustrates the feasibility of modifying structures to include fish passage,” says Jenn Logan, CPW Native Aquatic Species Biologist.

    Also key to the success of projects like King Heatherly is the cooperation of a number of partners from private landowners to federal land management agencies, state resource agencies, and watershed organizations. As Tom Fresques, BLM Fish Biologist, noted “The Bluehead Sucker is a such a cool fish and the BLM is excited to have such a diverse collaborative partnership working to improve and expand habitat for this native species on public lands managed by the BLM.”

    Paula Stepp, Executive Director for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council added, “Working collaboratively with local farmers and ranchers allows MCWC, BLM and CPW to enhance the water management capabilities of irrigation systems while providing native species the infrastructure to increase their long-term survival.”

    Project funding came from a series of grants from the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, BLM, CPW, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Project management was handled by the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Please contact MCWC for more information or interest in a tour.

    Improving the King Heatherly diversion dam for the health of native species

    King Heatherly diversion structure. Photo credit: Middle Colorado Watershed Council

    THE TARGET

    Located south of Silt, CO on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the King Heatherly Diversion Dam is a structure that has operational issues and needs to be improved. The project objectives are to:

  • Improve habitat connectivity for resident fish by improving upstream passage of the structure during the spring flow regime
  • Reduce maintenance needs and costs associated with the structure
  • Demonstrate the viability of projects of this type in the Middle Colorado watershed (Glenwood Springs to DeBeque)
  • Secondary objectives include:

  • Enhance hydraulics of the diversion structure, thereby improving width to depth ratios, as well as minimizing plunge pools and undermining of the structure;
  • Reduce or eliminate entrainment of fish into the ditch during the spring diversion period.
  • The bluehead sucker is primary native species that will benefit from this structural improvement project. The bluehead sucker has an impressive jump for a sucker, which still isn’t that impressive. They are listed as a ‘sensitive’ species by the Bureau of Land Management for Colorado. This dam is located on East Divide Creek, and would connect three miles of habitat along that creek.

    THE PLAN

    In 2018, the Middle Colorado Watershed Council contracted Wright Water Engineers to make modifications and to improve the structure. The BLM is sponsoring the improvement, as the structure is on public land. Picture updates will be coming soon to document this project.

    The location of the King Heatherly Diversion Improvement project. Graphic credit: Middle Colorado Watershed Council

    Click through to view the construction photos.

    Long-Term Environmental, Instream, and Recreational Water Storage Contract Approved for Stagecoach Reservoir — @COWaterTrust #YampaRiver

    Yampa River. Photo credit: Yampa River
    Integrated Water Management Plan website

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust (Dana Dallavalle) and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (Holly Kirkpatrick):

    Steamboat Springs, Co., (November 18, 2021) – On Wednesday November 17th, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (UYWCD) board of directors approved a 10-year contract with the Colorado Water Trust (Water Trust) for the purchase of stored water in Stagecoach Reservoir. The water supply contract, deemed for environmental, instream and recreational use, is the first long-term contract that extends beyond temporary one-year contracts between UYWCD and the Water Trust in years past.

    Since 2012, the Water Trust has purchased and released 14,500 acre-feet of water into the Yampa River from Stagecoach Reservoir. Water Trust releases help maintain healthy streamflow and water temperature from Stagecoach Reservoir downstream through the City of Steamboat Springs during hot and dry summer months.

    Historically, UYWCD and the Water Trust have worked together to negotiate contract terms as needed on an annual basis using state legislation that allowed for environmental water releases to be loaned for instream flow use in 3 out every 10 years.

    In 2020, Colorado House Bill 20-1157 was passed, allowing for the establishment of amended rules governing the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program, previously governed by the 3 in 10 rule. Effective March 17, 2021, the amended rules provide potential for increased flow rates and expand the temporary loan of water rights for instream flow use from 3 years to 5 years out of every 10 in addition to potential loan renewals for up to three 10-year periods.

    Renewable loans through the program could allow environmental releases to bolster flows in the Yampa River for up to 15 out of 30 years if needed.

    For the past year, UYWCD and the Water Trust have been working towards a longer-term contract that could help support the Yampa River during low flows and utilize the new state legislation. The new 10-year contract ensures 100 acre-feet of water in the general supply pool of Stagecoach Reservoir will be allocated to the Water Trust each year if supply is available. The contract also allows for the Water Trust to purchase additional water from two other contract pools in Stagecoach Reservoir at various volumes as needed. Payment for water contracted outside of the general supply pool will only be collected if the water is released.

    “As drought conditions and water scarcity continue to challenge our basin, having this 10-year contract in place will help minimize some of the recurring challenges we typically face each year when we revisit temporary contracts without constraining UYWCD water supplies or Water Trust funds. Developing longer- term solutions frees up time and money for all our partners to be even more innovative in their collaboration to keep the river flowing,” said Andy Rossi, General Manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.

    UYWCD and the Water Trust will be one of the first in the state to utilize the newly amended statute and rules when they present the 10-year contract as part of their joint application to the CWCB program, which is anticipated to take place in January of 2022. Following completion of the CWCB application review, UYWCD and the Water Trust hope to secure a loan of water rights for instream flow use by spring of 2022, making the first 10-year contract effective through 2032.

    “UYWCD and the Water Trust have forged something new here. It’s a big step forward for the Yampa River Project and collaborative water management in general. We can now focus our efforts on the new instream flow loan application, and if we are successful, to expanding the Project’s benefits downstream of the instream flow reach where it can benefit even more of the river and all those who rely upon it,” commented Alyson Meyer Gould, Staff Attorney for the Water Trust.

    The success of the Yampa River Project involves many partners and dedicated donors including: The Yampa River Fund, Yampa Valley Community Foundation, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and individual donors as well as key project partners: The City of Steamboat Springs; Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District; Catamount Development, Inc.; Catamount Metropolitan District; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; Colorado Water Conservation Board; and the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Without these generous donations and the collaborative work of numerous local and statewide entities, water releases to support the health of the Yampa River would not be possible.

    #Aurora and other #Colorado communities push past ‘toilet-to-tap’ reluctancy — The Aurora Sentinel

    Prairie Waters schematic via Aurora Water.

    From The Associated Press (Brittany Peterson and Sam Metz):

    hen Aurora buys one bucket of water, it’s really buying multiple buckets of water. Each drop of water will likely be used over and over again.

    The growing city approaching 400,000 residents isn’t interested so much in acquiring single-use water anymore, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. With its Prairie Waters potable reuse system, Aurora can recapture and reuse about 95% of the city’s water, so having multiple uses written into water rights agreements has become a top priority as water rights are likened to gold in the West — expensive and often hard to come by.

    Aurora’s method — sterilizing wastewater from toilets, sinks and factories and then piping it back into homes and businesses as tap water — is catching on across the U.S.

    In the Los Angeles area, plans to recycle wastewater for drinking are moving along with little fanfare just two decades after similar efforts in the city sparked such a backlash they had to be abandoned. The practice, which must meet federal drinking water standards, has been adopted in several places around the country, including nearby Orange County…

    The shifting attitudes around a concept once dismissively dubbed “toilet to tap” come as dry regions scramble for ways to increase water supplies as their populations boom and climate change intensifies droughts. Other strategies gaining traction include collecting runoff from streams and roads after storms, and stripping seawater of salt and other minerals, a process that’s still relatively rare and expensive.

    Though there are still only about two dozen communities in the U.S. using some form of recycled water for drinking, that number is projected to more than double in the next 15 years, according to WateReuse, a group that helps cities adopt such conservation practices.

    In most places that do it, the sterilized water is usually mixed back into a lake, river or other natural source before being reused — a step that helps make the idea of drinking treated sewage go down easier for some.

    In Aurora, the process is thanks to the Prairie Waters system, which was opened in 2010. It starts south of Weld County along the Platte River, where Aurora holds water rights that can be used “to extinction,” meaning nearly endlessly.

    “Essentially, this means that the water residents use for washing, laundry, showering, as well as some of the water from lawn watering, stays in the South Platte River Basin,” Aurora Water explains…

    A few dozen wells on the basin pull water through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel to purify the water. Next, the water is pumped into basins of more sand and gravel where filtration continues. Finally, pipes take the water to three different pump stations, which lift the water 1,000 feet over a ridge and back to the Peter D. Binney Purification Facility, near Aurora Reservoir.

    From there the water is treated and pumped back out to the city’s thousands of homes and businesses, where the cycle begins all over again…

    Currently, the facility treats about 50 million gallons of water each day…

    Funding for more wastewater recycling projects is on the way. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress has $1 billion for water reuse projects in the West, including the $3.4 billion project in Southern California.

    And tucked into the federal budget reconciliation package being debated is $125 million in grants for alternative water sources nationwide that could include reuse technologies.

    Plans for expansion of the Aurora Prairie Waters project are ever-evolving and so there isn’t a build out budget attached, Baker said.

    New breakthrough in surface-based groundwater measurement — Aarhus University

    Credit: CC0 Public Domain

    From Aarhus University via Phys.org:

    Based on recent breakthroughs in instruments and data modeling, researchers from the Department of Geoscience and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Aarhus University have collaborated to develop an effective technology to measure groundwater accurately from the surface.

    The new technology sends very much cleaner signals than have so far been possible using NMR-based (nuclear magnetic resonance) measurements, and this enables the researchers to make a detailed map of the hydrogeological and geological structure of the subsurface, even in inaccessible areas.

    The research has just been published in Geophysical Research Letters.

    “Using this new technology, NMR measurements are now a cheap, fast and, above all, very accurate tool for mapping and characterizing groundwater systems. There are problems with groundwater all over the world, and the really good news is that, using this tool, we can better map the groundwater and thereby take better care of it,” says Assistant Professor Denys Grombacher from the Department of Geoscience.

    Groundwater is a critical source of freshwater for many billions of people, but climate change, pollution and over-exploitation are making it more difficult to find suitable areas as a groundwater source.

    NMR measurements are the only technique available today that enable direct non-invasive measurements of the water content and pore properties of the soil.

    NMR is short for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and in short it means that we influence the hydrogen atoms in water molecules in the subsurface using a man-made magnetic field on the surface.

    Hydrogen atoms have a nuclear spin which, in principle, aligns with the magnetic field of the earth, either with or against the field—just like small magnets. A pulse from the artificially created magnetic field changes the spin direction of the hydrogen atoms, and when the pulse fades out, the atoms return to the direction they had before. This realignment emits an electromagnetic field that can be measured.

    NMR measurements have a disadvantage, however, in that background noise from the electricity grid, for example, can interfere with the signals, and this can make it exceedingly difficult to measure the very weak electromagnetic field in the realignment.

    Roughly speaking, the researchers are looking for a whisper-like voice among the audience at a Motörhead rock concert, and this is where the new technologies in the field of data transmission and modeling come into play.

    “We can sort of direct the microphone towards the specific sound source we want to hear, and through a number of identical pulses almost ‘force’ a clear signal from the hydrogen atoms in the soil. The computer can piece together the signal we receive to an accurate reproduction of the original signal using data modeling,” says Associate Professor Jakob Juul Larsen from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

    The research team sees the new technology as a breakthrough in groundwater modeling, and as a quick, stable, reliable and inexpensive alternative for mapping groundwater throughout the world.

    The research is being headed by Associate Professor Jakob Juul Larsen from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and support is from a grant from the Independent Research Fund Denmark of DKK 5.9 million.

    Top #climate scientists are sceptical that nations will rein in #globalwarming — Nature

    From Nature (Jeff Tollefson):

    A Nature survey reveals that many authors of the latest IPCC climate-science report are anxious about the future and expect to see catastrophic changes in their lifetimes.

    As a leading climate scientist, Paola Arias doesn’t need to look far to see the world changing. Shifting rain patterns threaten water supplies in her home city of Medellín, Colombia, while rising sea levels endanger the country’s coastline. She isn’t confident that international leaders will slow global warming or that her own government can handle the expected fallout, such as mass migrations and civil unrest over rising inequality. With such an uncertain future, she thought hard several years ago about whether to have children.

    “My answer was no,” says Arias, a researcher at the University of Antioquia in Medellín, who was one of the 234 scientists who wrote a climate-science report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August (see go.nature.com/3pjupro). That assessment, which makes clear that the world is running out of time to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, will figure prominently in climate negotiations over the next two weeks at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, UK.

    Many other leading climate researchers share Arias’s concerns about the future. Nature conducted an anonymous survey of the 233 living IPCC authors last month and received responses from 92 scientists — about 40% of the group. Their answers suggest strong scepticism that governments will markedly slow the pace of global warming, despite political promises made by international leaders as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

    Six in ten of the respondents said that they expect the world to warm by at least 3 °C by the end of the century, compared with what conditions were like before the Industrial Revolution. That is far beyond the Paris agreement’s goal to limit warming to 1.5–2 °C.

    Source: Nature analysis

    Most of the survey’s respondents — 88% — said they think global warming constitutes a ‘crisis’, and nearly as many said they expect to see catastrophic impacts of climate change in their lifetimes. Just under half said that global warming has caused them to reconsider major life decisions, such as where to live and whether to have children. More than 60% said that they experience anxiety, grief or other distress because of concerns over climate change.

    #Aspen officials release plan laying out 50 years of #water projects 5,820 acre-feet of storage — mostly for emergency use — could cost over $400 million in today’s dollars — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    An aerial view showing the 63-acre parcel of land, located to the left of the racetrack and gravel pit, purchased by the city of Aspen due to its being a potential site for a new reservoir contemplated as part of an 50-year Integrated Water Resources Plan. A new reservoir in Woody Creek would require an 8-mile pipeline to convey water to the city’s treatment plant.
    CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The city of Aspen’s recently released integrated water resource plan outlines the strategy for an adaptable, phased approach to meet increasing demands and a large pool of “emergency” storage to protect against threats to supplies from Castle and Maroon creeks.

    Aspen Utilities Director Tyler Christoff, Utilities Resource Manager Steve Hunter and John Rehring of Carollo Engineers, the Denver-based firm that the city hired to complete the study, presented the IWRP to City Council members at a work session Monday night. The report, which looks 50 years to the future, uses projections about population growth and climate change impacts to determine that the worst shortfalls could occur in two consecutively dry years and be about 2,300 acre-feet total over the course of both years.

    To make up for that gap, the report offers six different portfolios of potential new water sources, including storage, nonpotable reuse, groundwater wells, Hunter Creek, enhanced water conservation and drought restrictions. The IWRP says storage is included in five of the six portfolios because no single supply option or combination of supply options can completely mitigate shortages without the use of at least some operational storage.

    Two storage pools

    The plan proposes two separate storage pools to meet demands under projected conditions in 2070: a 520-acre-foot operational pool and a 5,300-acre-foot emergency-storage pool to provide up to 12 months of water.

    Since the report recommends a phased approach with each additional implementation coming after a predetermined trigger is reached, the first phase of operational storage would be for just 130 acre-feet to buffer the seasonal shortage. Streams are highest with runoff in the spring, but demands on Aspen’s water system are highest in late summer, when streamflows are low — and this is the gap operational storage aims to fill.

    The construction of the combined 5,820 acre-feet of storage and its associated pipelines and pumps comes with a hefty price tag — it is estimated to cost more than $400 million in 2021 dollars as it is implemented over the coming decades.

    Aspen Utilities Resource Manager Steve Hunter stands at the city’s Castle Creek water diversion in this February 2021 file photo. Castle Creek is the source of most of Aspen’s potable water, but the city recently released a report laying out options for increasing its access to water supply from other sources in case something prevented the city from using its diversion infrastructure tapping Castle and Maroon creeks, or flows on those creeks were greatly reduced due to climate change.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    “We want to make it flexible and adaptable so that we are ready for that worst-case condition,” Rehring told council members. “We implement as needed as we see those conditions unfold over time.”

    The report says the emergency-storage pool must be full and ready for use when the need arises — if, for example, an avalanche makes the city’s supplies in Castle and Maroon creeks unusable. “Regardless of siting and co-location, emergency-storage volumes would be filled and maintained at their defined capacity until needed for an emergency,” the IWRP reads.

    Storing water specifically until an emergency occurs is not a decreed beneficial use under Colorado water law. But municipal water providers often have a lot of leeway to plan for future needs, which could include storage projects.

    Part of the goal of the IWRP is to narrow the city’s options for moving its conditional water rights for reservoirs in Castle and Maroon valleys. After a lengthy court battle, in which 10 entities opposed Aspen’s plans, the city gave up its water rights in those particular locations. One of the places to which the city could move them is a 63-acre plot of land that it bought in Woody Creek in 2018. If the city stores water there, it would have to pump it back uphill to the water-treatment plant via an 8-mile pipeline.

    City Council member Ward Hauenstein asked about the timeline for storage and renewing the city’s conditional water rights.

    To keep these rights, the city will have to show, through a 2025 filing in water court, that it still intends to use them and that it is making progress on a project.

    “Recent history across Colorado shows that it could take decades to implement a storage project, even after sizing and siting analyses are completed,” the report reads. “Therefore, reservoir planning must start immediately.”

    Aspen City Council will vote on whether to adopt the IWRP at a later meeting. Mayor Torre thanked the staff, consultants and community members who weighed in on the plan.

    “The work you guys are doing on this is some of the most important work Aspen is going to have the benefit of over the coming 10, 20, 30 years,” he said. “Thank you.”

    Infrastructure Bill will Help Address Declining #Water Levels and #Drought in the West — Audubon

    Bald Eagles. Photo: Jaime Lyons/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon (Caitlin Wall):

    The recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) brings hope for birds, ecosystems, and communities in the arid West. The Act is a cornerstone of the Biden-Harris Administration, addressing long-awaited infrastructure needs with historic amounts of funding for transportation, electricity, and broadband internet projects. Audubon widely supported this bill, especially funding that will address the ongoing climate crisis, including for clean energy projects, climate resiliency upgrades, transit, and electric vehicles. But more funding, including many of the proposals in the current reconciliation bill, is needed to more completely address our changing climate and water security challenges.

    In addition to these more “traditional” projects, the infrastructure bill includes a significant number of programs aimed at addressing the challenging drought conditions of the West. This funding comes none too soon, as the situation becomes more dire—the result of ongoing, multiple, connected crises: long-term megadrought, crippling heat waves, and disastrous fire seasons. The bill includes funding to address water and drought in the West through a variety of programs; Audubon is extremely pleased to see the following included:

    • $300 million for Drought Contingency Plan implementation, including $50 million for Upper Basin States
    • $400 million for WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grants, including $100 million for natural infrastructure projects
    • $100 million for the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, focusing on natural feature or nature-based feature improvement projects
    • $250 million for the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program
    • $100 million for multi-benefit watershed projects
    • $50 million for Colorado River fish species recovery programs
    • Reauthorization of the Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds (SRFs) and supplemental appropriations for the following:
      • Clean Water SRF: $19.9 billion
      • Drinking Water SRF: $17.3 billion
      • Lead Line Replacement funds: $15 billion
      • PFAS targeted funds: $1 billion through the Clean Water SRF, $4 billion through the Drinking Water SRF, $5 billion through the Small and Disadvantaged Communities drinking water program
    • And $1.9 billion in supplemental funding for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aquatic restoration projects.

    (note: all funding amounts are for five years)

    The bill also includes funding for water recycling and reuse, rehabilitation and replacement of aging infrastructure, rural water projects, and water storage projects. There are also significant increases in funding for existing Tribal water settlements and provisions to address climate resilience, especially in Indigenous communities. Altogether, the variety of funding amounts to a historic investment in natural, technical, and built solutions for the ongoing water crisis.

    We are actively engaged in supporting drought response and water conservation to protect birds and people. The federal funding provided in the infrastructure bill supports our long-term efforts to improve science, provide federal engagement, deliver clean drinking water, and protect natural resources to promote solutions that benefit birds and build resilient communities and ecosystems. Audubon looks forward to the distribution of this funding and the implementation of projects and programs to support birds and people throughout the West.

    Colorado launches #PFAS takeback, emergency grant programs — @WaterEdCO

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    This fall Colorado has launched two new programs, one aimed at removing firefighting foam containing so-called “forever chemicals” from fire departments, military bases and other properties and an emergency grant program aimed at helping communities where the chemicals have appeared in drinking water.

    The chemicals, known broadly as PFAS or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances, have long lifespans and have been linked to certain cancers. Contained in such common substances as Teflon and Scotchguard, they are also widely used to fight fires, particularly those involving jet fuel.

    “We’re learning more every day about PFAS and its exposure in our environment,” said Erin Garcia, a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    The unregulated substances were once thought to be rare, but since at least 2015 have shown up at alarming levels in communities such as Fountain and Security, where groundwater was contaminated by runoff from the nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Those two communities were forced to shut down their water systems, find temporary substitute supplies, and build new treatment systems.

    The chemicals have also been found in groundwater wells that serve Commerce City and in areas near the Suncor Refinery in Adams County and Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, among other sites.

    Two years ago, as more testing revealed more contaminated sites, the CDPHE vowed to boost its oversight. Since then the Colorado Legislature has provided the health department with more authority and money to combat the problem, including conducting surveys to identify contaminated sites and drinking water systems, and providing as much as $8 million to buy contaminated firefighting foam and store it, and to help communities whose water has been tainted by the compounds.

    Sugarloaf Mountain fire station.

    Dozens of fire departments, military facilities, water utilities, and commercial properties as diverse as hotels and apartment complexes, are now monitoring and testing for the substances.

    As Colorado has ramped up its oversight, last month the EPA announced it would begin work on a regulation that will, for the first time, set a limit on PFAS compounds in drinking water. It is set to be available for public review next fall and would be finalized by the fall of 2023.

    Ron Falco, CDPHE’s safe drinking water program manager, said he’s pleased the EPA is moving to regulate PFAS, but he said fast action is critical.

    “We want the EPA to hit that timeline,” he said.

    The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District, which serves Commerce City, is watching the state’s progress carefully. It discovered PFAS contamination in 2018 when it began testing voluntarily for the substances after the crises in Fountain and Security.

    It already had in place a carbon filtering system and was able to strengthen it to reduce PFAS contamination in its system to 35 parts per trillion (ppt), half of the EPA’s voluntary 70 ppt guideline. It also had to shut down wells whose contamination levels were so high, 2400 ppt, that no amount of carbon filtering could remove the chemicals fast enough to keep the drinking water safe.

    “The key here is that we can treat the current levels,” said Kipp Scott, manager of drinking systems at the South Adams County district, but better treatment will be needed once the federal regulation takes effect.

    And that means the district will need to install a new system that uses an ion exchange technology to remove the chemicals. Its estimated cost is $70 million. Scott said the district hopes the state’s emergency grant fund and new federal infrastructure dollars will help cover the cost.

    “I hope this moves in the right direction, and we can continue to provide safe water to our customers,” Scott said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Why you should care about the state of the river — The Rio Blanco Herald-Times #WhiteRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69281367

    From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times (Lucas Turner):

    No matter your background, water plays a vital role in your day-to-day life. Like other necessities, it can be easy to take for granted, but a lack of it will quickly impact every facet of life. Businesses, for instance, can’t operate without reliable running water, lawns/fields go brown as municipal and agricultural users alike cut back on irrigation to prioritize critical needs, industrial operations weigh costs of doing business, and regional ecological health suffers as stream flows drop below levels sustainable for aquatic organisms.

    In Rio Blanco County, the primary source of water is, well, the Rio Blanco, Spanish for “White River.” Historically, the White River has been “un-managed” compared to many other streams and rivers in the state.

    Though irrigators, industrial users and municipalities are still expected to abide by mandated water allocations, residents in the Northwest Colorado region have so far enjoyed water use that is loosely monitored, if at all. Due to state legislation, declining precipitation/stream flows and Colorado’s obligation to deliver a certain amount of water to lower-basin western states, that state of affairs is set to change.

    “The White River is part of a bigger system,” said Liz Chandler, coordinator of the Planning Advisory Committee for the White River Integrated Water Initiative (WRIWI). The locally-driven effort, which involves community stakeholders aims to establish a framework to guide future water use decisions and maintain some level of local control over water. Chandler explained the importance of the process amid mounting pressure on the Colorado River, its tributaries and by extension 40 million Americans who rely on its water as a result of declining snowpack/runoff and record low water levels in the nation’s largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

    “Those big river issues may come back upstream into the White River,” said Chandler, “and so the more people [that] can be involved in this water initiative, the more control the White River basin is going to have of its own water,” said Chandler…

    “‘The future is unknown, and yet with that given, we need to be prepared,’ said [Kari] Brennan, adding ‘whether you are involved in agriculture, or just use it municipally in your home, recreational, any of that, it’s good to know what’s going on, and also have a voice. This is the opportunity to have a say in what the White River Basin does with our water.'”

    The White River Integrated Water Initiative is now in its second phase, and comes as a result of the 2016 Colorado Water Plan, which among other things, set a goal to have 80% of the state’s rivers, streams and critical watersheds under “management plans” by 2030…

    The four goals of the initiative.

    • Protect and preserve existing water rights and other beneficial water uses.

    • Protect and enhance water quantity and quality through promoting best management practices for a) forest health b) riparian health c) rangeland health d) favorable conditions of streamflow.

    • Identify opportunities for creation of infrastructure to support efficient consumptive and non consumptive uses.

    • Support the development and maintenance of efficient and necessary long term storage solutions that will improve, enhance and ensure irrigation, river health, water quantity, water quality and native/recreational fisheries…

    To learn more about the White River Integrated Water Initiative, go to https://wrcd-dccd.colorado.gov/projects/white-river-integrated-water-initiative

    You can also reach out to reach Project Coordinator Kari Brennan at kari.districts@gmail.com and PAC Coordinator Liz Chandler at liz.districts@akvwallergmail-com

    The Clean Energy Transition Enters Hyperdrive: Researchers argue that the shift to carbon-free energy is gaining momentum, largely because of economic benefits — Inside #Climate News

    A solar-covered parking lot at the plant of Anhui Quanchai Engine Co., Ltd. in Chuzhou, China. IMAGINECHINA VIA AP IMAGES

    From Inside Climate News (Dan Gearino):

    After decades in which governments and industry groups have often assumed that the shift to renewable energy will be a financial burden, economists and analysts are increasingly making a case that the opposite is true: The transition will lead to cost-savings on a massive scale that will add to its momentum.

    A recent paper by University of Oxford economists and mathematicians finds that a rapid transition to renewable energy would lead to global savings of $26 trillion compared to the costs of maintaining the current energy mix.

    Another recent paper, published by the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, looks at previous technological revolutions to help understand the implications of rapid growth and falling costs of renewable energy.

    The findings are providing some analytical heft to ideas that clean energy advocates have long argued about how the transition will lead to vast economic benefits as renewable energy continues to get cheaper.

    The researchers who wrote the Oxford paper looked at how wind and solar power have gone from some of the world’s most expensive energy sources to some of the cheapest, and extrapolated those results to chart a future in which prices continue to plummet…

    The paper’s authors sought to understand why so many high-profile forecasts have underestimated the pace of cost decreases for renewable energy, especially solar power. They found that most economic models do not adequately grasp the tendency of technologies to get much cheaper at times of rapid expansion and competition, and that models tend to be built in ways that are more likely to show gradual change.

    The underlying idea is based on Wright’s Law, a concept developed by engineer Theodore Wright in the 1930s who wrote about how the costs of a technology declines as production increases.

    “The more you deploy, the more the costs come down,” said Matthew Ives, an Oxford economist and co-author of the paper. “You get a feedback dynamic, which is runaway change.”

    Forecasts that show a slow and expensive transition are harmful because they help to reinforce the idea that fossil fuels will continue to dominate our global energy supply for decades, Ives said. This idea can steer decisions for governments, companies and institutional investors.

    Ives and three of his colleagues wrote the paper for the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School. It is a working paper, which means it has not yet gone through peer review.

    Historically left out of #ColoradoRiver negotiations, 20 Tribes urge Interior Secretary Haaland to include their voices — #Colorado Public Radio #COriver #aridfication

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Leaders of 20 Tribes in the Colorado River basin signed a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, urging for inclusion in the upcoming negotiations on how to manage the Colorado River system in a changing climate.

    Daryl Vigil, water administrator for the Jicarilla Apache Nation, has pushed for increased tribal participation in Colorado River renegotiation discussions. Courtesy of Bob Conrad via The High Country News

    “As the legal structure exists in terms of the policy of the Colorado River, we don’t have any formal inclusion,” said Daryl Vigil, a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation with Jemez Pueblo and Zia Pueblo affiliation.

    Vigil is the water administrator for Jicarilla Apache Nation and the co-facilitator of the Water and Tribes Initiative, a group of Tribal members and water experts working together to build capacity of Tribes to participate in Colorado River negotiations. The efforts of the initiative helped create the letter to Haaland.

    Leaders of the two Tribes in Colorado, Chairman Manuel Heart of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Chairman Melvin Baker of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, both signed the letter.

    When the Colorado River Compact was signed in 1922 by the seven states in the basin, the Tribes were not included in the allocation of Colorado River water. Since then, the states have continued to leave the 30 federally recognized Tribes in the basin out of the decision making process on how to manage the river.

    In 2007, the states adopted interim river management guidelines to respond to worsening drought conditions without input from the Tribes. The guidelines will be replaced by a new framework in 2026.

    The letter to Secretary Haaland calls for the Tribes to have an “essential role” throughout the process of developing the new guidelines.

    Vigil said since the Tribes are sovereign governments, they should be invited to a “sovereign table that doesn’t exist” to discuss how the Colorado River is managed. Instead, the states act as a trustee to represent tribal water interests, he said.

    #Drought along a #ColoradoRiver calls for extreme efforts to enforce #water laws: A badge and a gun — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Dolores River watershed

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Carol McKinley):

    water scarcity driven by drastic climate-change along the Dolores River in southwest Colorado has been a real jaw-grinder for folks who bear a century’s worth of grudges over who gets water, how much and when.

    After 22 years of drought, the river is down to a trickle this late fall and the water storage it feeds, McPhee Reservoir, has shrunk to its lowest level in decades. Even when the runoff was flowing last spring, the Dolores project was already in water shortage mode and farmers only got 10% of what they’re normally allocated, which means they were only able to grow 10% of the crops they’re used to producing.

    Much of the farmland lays fallow…

    The water that was released from McPhee Dam tells the story, said Colorado State University senior water and climate scientist Brad Udall: “The agreement is for 25 cubic feet per second minimum flow release and they were releasing 1/5 of that.”

    Colorado Drought Monitor map November 23, 2021.

    The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows Colorado’s Four Corners region in bright red, in the extreme drought category.

    “I have said for years that the southwest portion of the state is very much at risk for these kinds of drought,” Udall said. “We should expect for them to occur repeatedly throughout the 21st century.”

    […]

    Desperate times

    At the mouth of the Dolores, one of the only things standing between a shovel to the head and civility is a Montezuma County sheriff deputy whose job it is to keep watch on water robbers.

    Dave Huhn is a tall, silver-haired deputy with a bad back from 12 years of ditch riding. He sips from a Big Gulp-sized iced tea as he travels miles of county roads; a badge, a gun and a tablet of citations are his shield.

    “Communication is everything and just because you’ve lived out here 100 years doesn’t mean you’re doing it right,” explains Huhn, who was given the responsibility of enforcing complicated Colorado water laws by the county commissioners in 2009. “You can’t steamroll these people. You’re not out there talking with a physicist. You’re out there talking with someone who needs to produce your food. You’ve got to listen to the problem.”

    […]

    [Marty] Robbins is the keeper of the ditch deeds, which are the official record of water rights. He opened a drawer and pulled out a thick leather-bound dossier of evidence. It is the smoking gun in the world of water crime.

    “My whole world changed when Dave took over ditch issues,” Robins said. “Around here, you have a whole lot of attitude and very little forgiveness.”

    Regional #water planning partnership in the works — The #Telluride Daily Planet #SanMiguelRiver #DoloresRiver #ColoradoRive #COriver

    Lone Cone from Norwood

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Regan Tuttle):

    District 3 San Miguel County Commissioner Kris Holstrom and Norwood Mayor Pro-Tem Candy Meehan are working together to make sure Norwood has water in the future.

    Currently, Holstrom with the West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) and April Montgomery are collaborating to bring groups together, including the Lone Cone Ditch Company, Farmers Water Development, Norwood Water Commission, Norwood Fire Protection District, the Town of Norwood and San Miguel Watershed Coalition.

    In a grant application that is due Dec. 1 to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the collaboration, with WEEDC as the fiscal agent, is going after a 75-25 percent match of what could be millions of dollars.

    Holstrom and Meehan said the grant is for bringing a third-party engineer to Wright’s Mesa to examine major water projects, layer them and “plan and prioritize” for sustainable water for the region. Holstrom said it can help with water supply and storage.

    Holstrom said the engineer won’t be hired to come and take over water on Wright’s Mesa. She said each organization can still go after its own grants. She said “buckets of money” are soon going to be available in the near future, though, and the grantors want to see collaboration.

    For a region in extreme drought, Meehan said it only makes sense to do this work…

    Should the collaborators on Wright’s Mesa be awarded — and they just might considering officials at CWCB were described as being “very enthusiastic” regarding the incoming grant application — the organizations who’ve contributed then become stakeholders. Only then would a regional partnership be established. Next, a regional comprehensive water plan could also be done…

    Holstrom said Monday that she’s pleased various organizations on Wright’s Mesa are agreeing to go for the collaborative grant. She said the “yesses and nods” are an indication that it’s time to look into getting the funding to sustain water in the Norwood area.

    These four metrics are used to track #drought, and they paint a bleak picture — KUNC #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    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.

    From KUNC (Alex Hager):

    Drought has tightened its grip on the Western U.S., as dry conditions tick on into their second decade and strain a river that supplies 40 million people. Experts agree that things are bad and getting worse. But how exactly do you measure a drought, and how can you tell where it’s going?

    Brad Udall is an expert on the subject, studying water and climate at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center. Lately, his forecasts for the basin haven’t been particularly uplifting.

    “You cannot look at these and not be concerned,” Udall said. “The climate models tell us this is going to get worse. There’s every reason to believe it’s going to get worse. It’s gotten worse since 2000. The spooky thing is that it seems to be getting worse at a faster rate.”

    He cites four specific metrics that scientists use to quantify drought. They’re all connected, and they all paint a bleak picture of what the future might have in store.

    It all starts with heat

    All over the globe, temperatures are rising. In the Colorado River basin, hotter days are the first domino in a cascade of numbers that tell the story of drought. In the 21st century, average temperatures in the upper Colorado River basin are more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the previous century…

    Dry soil keeps water out of rivers

    You don’t have to be a scientist to notice changes in temperature and precipitation. But another metric that has an outsized influence on drought is harder to spot without specialized equipment. The amount of moisture in soil plays an important role in drought, and high temperatures are making conditions drier…

    Precipitation is dropping, too

    As much as high temperatures and dry soil are contributing to drought, recent years have also brought bad news for perhaps the most obvious metric: there’s less water falling from the sky…

    Flows are low

    Across the West, a sprawling web of streams and creeks carries water into the Colorado River. And across the West, they’re all carrying less…

    So where do we go from here?CSU’s Brad Udall has some good news and some bad news. He thinks it’s within our technological capability to turn around some of the effects of climate change. But disagreements over policy and the very facts of climate change are standing in the way.

    Uncompahgre Valley slated for a second #water supply source by 2025 — The #Montrose Daily Press

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Cassie Knust):

    When Project 7 began drawing up plans for a water resiliency program in 2019, its leaders didn’t plan to invest in connecting a raw water line from the Ridgway Reservoir to a new treatment plant in Ridgway.

    The new treatment plant and water line would be designed so additional capacity can be added in the future, allowing a maximum capacity of approximately 10 million gallons per day, more than a 30% increase in drinking water supply for the region.

    The plan to construct the Regional Water Supply Program in conjunction with the Ridgway Water Treatment Plant is a decision driven by water supply security. The project will add a second water source to the region while serving all Project 7 members.

    The valley hasn’t yet experienced water supply interruption, but Project 7 intends to stay ahead of a slew of risks that could potentially affect over 50,000 people and thousands of local businesses.

    The new treatment plant would allow direct access to existing water rights in the Ridgway Reservoir while building a system resilient to wildfire, drought and transmission interruptions in the Gunnison Tunnel.

    Project 7 Water Authority is a wholesale water treatment provider that supplies to the City of Montrose, City of Delta, Town of Olathe, Tri-County Water Conservancy District and the Menoken and Chipeta water districts, although each entity owns its own water rights.

    Although geographically the second smallest entity in the cooperative by size, the City of Montrose uses roughly 50% of the water supply due to population density, with about 8,000 residents using water services from Project 7…

    As it stands, the Gunnison River remains the only water supply source for the region, with one treatment facility to provide to the six entities within the cooperative.

    The cooperative projected the overhead cost of the project to be between $50 – $70 million. The estimate includes the raw water line, but will become more specific as the design process progresses, said Miles Graham, spokesman for the resiliency program.

    City of Montrose customers will see an increase in water rates on Jan. 1, 2022, due in part to Project 7’s elevated fees. Huggins noted that the impact of increasing wholesale rates for customers depends largely on the size and budget of the district…

    Montrose residential water bills will increase by $4.86 per 3,000 gallons of water used per month and increase $1.35 per 1,000 gallons used per month, due in part to the water supplier raising its own fees by 15%.

    At this stage in the planning process, it’s impossible to predict the cost for each entity without knowing the ultimate program cost or the amount of outside state and federal support, said Graham.

    By using a uniform rate structure for all entities to provide local funding, the cost will be shared equally throughout the valley and supplemented by aggressively seeking grants and low-interest loans.

    As the process moves forward, the team will be able to test and determine which treatment technology is best for the new plant and raw water line, as well as finding opportunities to make use of existing water distribution infrastructure near the new facility site.

    The cost may be higher to build the raw water line, but overall, the cost to run and operate will be lower since the water quality leaving the reservoir will provide a stable water supply, Huggins noted. The water will also be easier to treat, with less influence from rain events washing mud and silt in the river that have to be removed, allowing for mitigated operation costs…

    Water treatment plants often use electrical backup generators that run on diesel or natural gas, which is typically banned in the event of a wildfire, the engineer said. Because a gas-run generator on a tank of fuel presents a dangerous risk, utility companies usually shut off any natural gas in the area if a wildfire is present.

    “So if you think about an emergency situation, having the ability to bring water down to this site and continue operations at the plant without having to pump it up from the river made a lot of sense. [It’s] a more sustainable solution than the other options for getting water to the site.”

    Construction for the project is expected to begin in 2023. The new water line and treatment plan is slated to go online by 2025.

    For more information on Project 7 and the resiliency program project, visit https://www.project7water.org/

    Happy Thanksgiving

    Turkeys in Waterton Canyon. Photo credit: Denver Water

    I am thankful that there is a chance that the climate will once again become stable if we stop greenhouse gas emissions.

    Topsoil Moisture Short/Very Short by @usda_oce

    The Southeast all saw increases as parts of the region dry out. Same with the Southern Plains.

    MT is still in the lead (in a bad way) at 99% short/vert short

    #Drought news: Worsening SPI and SPEI indicators led to expansion of D3 in N.E. and S.E. #Colorado and S.W. #KS, D0-D2 in E. portions of Colorado and W. portions of Kansas

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

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    A couple Pacific weather systems moved across the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. The storm track kept to the northern states, but the systems dragged cold fronts with them that stretched the width of the CONUS, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico coast. The systems spread rain and snow to the coastal Pacific Northwest and parts of the northern Rockies, but they weakened as they moved through a western ridge. This circulation pattern starved them of moisture, so much of the West to Great Plains received little to no precipitation, but the fronts picked up Gulf of Mexico moisture as they moved east, spreading precipitation across the Lower Mississippi to Ohio Valleys, eastern Great Lakes, and Northeast. Only a few areas received above-normal precipitation for this time of year, including spots in the Pacific Northwest, Ohio Valley, Deep South Texas, and the southern half of Florida. Weekly temperatures averaged near to cooler than normal in the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, and Mid-Atlantic states. Much of the West, Great Plains, and Southeast were warmer than normal. Persistent above-normal temperatures in the Plains contributed to excessive evapotranspiration in western portions of the Great Plains as well as parts of the West, as seen in EDDI and ESI indicators. Lack of precipitation, excessive evapotranspiration, and windy conditions further dried soils, again especially in western portions of the Plains, as seen in several soil moisture indicators. Drought indicators such as the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) and Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) showed dry conditions at long-term time scales in the West to northern Plains, at short-term time scales in the Southeast to Mid-Atlantic and Lower Mississippi Valley regions, and both short- and long-term time scales from the Southwest to southern and central Plains. Precipitation over the last 4 weeks lessened drought intensity slightly in parts of the West, but continued dryness expanded or intensified drought in parts of the Plains, Deep South, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic states…

    High Plains

    Except for half an inch or more of precipitation over the mountains of northern Colorado and northwest Wyoming, a tenth of an inch to no precipitation was observed across the High Plains region. Drying soils, high evapotranspiration, and worsening SPI and SPEI drought indicators led to expansion of D3 in northeast and southeast Colorado and southwest Kansas, and D0-D2 in eastern portions of Colorado and western portions of Kansas. Decreasing soil moisture, lack of snow, and dry long-term SPI/SPEI indicators prompted expansion of D3 in north central Wyoming and D1 and D2 in southeast Wyoming…

    Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending November 23, 2021.

    West

    Half an inch to locally 2 inches of precipitation fell along coastal areas of Oregon and Washington, with half an inch over eastern Washington to northern Idaho. Less than half an inch occurred further south to northern portions of California and the Great Basin. Areas further south received no precipitation this week. Dry soils, high evapotranspiration, and severely dry SPI and SPEI values prompted expansion of D4 in northern Montana. According to November 21st statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 99% of Montana’s topsoil moisture was short or very short (dry to very dry) and 42% of the winter wheat crop and 99% of the pasture and rangeland were in poor to very poor condition. D1-D3 expanded in eastern New Mexico. Even though California and Nevada were mostly dry this week, the impacts from the atmospheric river event and frontal rains of October continued to be felt. With moist soils, wet SPI and SPEI indicators for the last 1 to 6 months, and slightly improved reservoir levels and snowpack, a reassessment of conditions resulted in the pullback of D4 in the Sacramento River Valley in California, and a pullback of D2 and D3 in northern Nevada. D3 was also pulled back slightly in southwest Montana and adjacent Idaho…

    South

    Half an inch to locally an inch of rain fell over Mississippi, Tennessee, eastern parts of Arkansas, and parts of Louisiana. Half an inch to locally over 2 inches was observed over Deep South Texas. Other than those areas, most of the South received no precipitation this week. Drying soils, high evapotranspiration, and worsening SPI and SPEI drought indicators prompted expansion of D0-D3 in western parts of Oklahoma and Texas, while D0-D1 expanded in eastern portions of Texas and Oklahoma to western parts of Mississippi. The rains in Deep South Texas eliminated moderate drought and contracted abnormal dryness along the southern Rio Grande River…

    Looking Ahead

    A frontal system will sweep across the eastern CONUS during November 24-30 with another Pacific weather system moving into the Pacific Northwest near the end of the period. They will be moving through a circulation pattern consisting mainly of an upper-level ridge in the West and trough in the East. An inch to 2 inches of precipitation is forecast to fall along the Texas coast to east Texas and over northern portions of the Northeast, with half an inch or more stretching from the southern Rio Grande Valley to New England. Half an inch to an inch of precipitation is expected over the northern Rockies and coastal sections of Oregon and Washington, with up to 5 inches in the forecast for northwest portions of Washington. Up to half an inch is predicted for parts of the Four Corners states in the Southwest, parts of the Great Lakes, and coastal parts of the Mid-Atlantic to Northeast states. Little to no precipitation is expected for much of the West, Great Plains, and Upper Mississippi Valley due to the circulation pattern associated with the western ridge. With the storm track to the north and systems moving into the Great Lakes, much of the Southeast will receive little to no rainfall. Temperatures are expected to be warmer than normal in the western and central CONUS and cooler than normal along the East Coast. The outlook for December 1-6 shows drier-than-normal weather favored from the Southwest to Great Lakes, from the Ohio Valley to Southeast, and western half of Alaska, with wetter-than-normal weather favored over the Pacific Northwest to northern Rockies, parts of southern Texas, and southeast Alaska. Odds favor colder-than-normal weather over the East Coast and warmer-than-normal weather over the western and central CONUS, with the warmer-than-normal conditions shifting eastward as the period progresses. Colder-than-normal temperatures dominate Alaska in the outlook.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending November 23, 2021.

    The threat to #Colorado’s acequias and the communities that depend on them: In the San Luis Valley, the communal and egalitarian resource offers a way of life — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News [November 23, 2021] (Sarah Tory):

    Every summer in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a long, high desert valley ringed by mountains, Jose Martinez watches in admiration as water flows from an irrigation pipe across the contours of his land, feeding the eight acres of alfalfa he grows near his home in San Francisco, a town of less than 90 people. The water comes from a network of communal irrigation ditches, or acequias, which comes from an Arabic word meaning “water bearer.” The acequias were built in part by his ancestors who arrived in southern Colorado more than 150 years ago with other Hispanic families from what is now New Mexico, establishing seven villages around Culebra Creek.

    “I get to thinking, back in the day, these men dug it all by what we call pico y pala — pickaxe and shovel,” Martinez, 76, told me when I visited recently. We were sitting in his kitchen on a cold October day with his wife, Junita, 70, while the two of them explained how acequias work.

    Unlike normal irrigation ditches, acequias are a communal resource, collectively owned and governed by their parciantes, or members — the group of small-scale farmers with water rights to the ditch. Acequias are egalitarian, too: whether you irrigate one acre or 100 acres, you get one vote in decisions about the ditch in exchange for helping to clean and maintain the acequia. The parciantes elect a three-member commission to make decisions around ditch maintenance and operations, as well as a mayordomo to manage the irrigation infrastructure and tell people when they can irrigate and when they have to shut their gates.

    Junita and Jose Martinez on their vara land, which is pipe irrigated with acequia water. Jose remembers when his family would plant vegetables on their plot, but now he plants hay, which requires less labor, and yields a larger profit.
    Luna Anna Archey

    In Colorado, acequias are found in four of the southernmost counties and irrigate only a tiny fraction of the state’s agricultural output. But in a region where some water rights have been sold to the highest bidder and private gain is sometimes prioritized over collective well-being, acequias remain a powerful antidote to the forces threatening rural communities — a way of valuing local resources beyond their dollar amount and a catalyst for sharing them in times of scarcity. During dry years, acequias work to ensure that everyone weathers the shortages equitably; occasionally, Jose has opted to forego his water entirely when he sees no prospect of a decent crop, so that other parciantes can have more.

    “Our concept is community,” Junita explains. “If I can’t get something, why should I hurt my neighbor, if I could just let him have my water — maybe he can grow something?”

    The Culebra-Sanchez Canal, a feeder ditch in the acequia system in the San Luis Valley.
    Luna Anna Archey

    THAT COMMUNAL MINDSET originates in part from the families who arrived in the southern San Luis Valley in the mid 19th century to settle the one-million-acre Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. Drawn by promises of land and resources, they established small farming communities on land where the Cuputa band of Ute people had roamed for thousands of years, until they were gradually killed or forced out by European colonizers beginning in the 1600s. The families settling the valley beginning in the 1850s were primarily from Mexico, which had sold the territory now known as New Mexico — including the southern end of the San Luis Valley — to the U.S. government a few years earlier at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War.

    Families built acequias and shared access to a mountainous tract of land in the nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains, known locally as La Sierra, which they relied on for water, firewood and foraging. The land grant was eventually sold, but its subsequent owners honored the historical rights of local families to access La Sierra.

    Growing up, Jose Martinez remembers how families built cellars to store the vegetables grown on the land nourished by the acequias, as well as meat from deer and elk hunted in La Sierra — food that would last them the winter. Although they live in what is now one of Colorado’s most impoverished counties, “we ate like kings,” he said.

    That all changed in 1960, when John Taylor, a North Carolina timber baron, bought 77,500 acres of La Sierra, renaming it the Cielo Vista Ranch and closing it off to the local community to create a logging operation. Taylor’s logging wrought lasting damage on the land. Poorly constructed roads created erosion, reducing the amount of water that flowed from the mountains into the acequias, according to area residents.

    One of many gates blocking public access to privately-owned Cielo Vista Ranch. Residents with ancestral rights to the land won access in a Supreme Court ruling. They now have keys to the gates, but are only able to use the land for specific purposes, like gathering firewood, and they often face harassment by Ranch employees.
    Luna Anna Archey

    The water wasn’t the only resource reduced or eliminated as a result of Taylor’s actions. Without access to La Sierra for grazing, local families lost their herds and the culture of self-sufficiency that had sustained them for decades. Many, like Jose Martinez’s family, moved out of the valley. Those that stayed saw their health and well-being deteriorate. People went on food stamps and rates of diabetes soared. There were psychological impacts, too.

    “You lose the relevance of what your land means,” said Shirley Romero Otero, the head of the Land Rights Council, which formed in the town of San Luis in the late 1970s to stop Taylor from denying access to the property. (A group of San Luis community members are participating in The Colorado Trust’s Community Partnerships strategy; Romero Otero previously was part of this effort.)

    In 1981, the Land Rights Council mobilized local residents to sue Taylor for blocking their historical right to access the property. The ensuing legal battle lasted 40 years, fought by generations of the same families and leading to an April 2003 Colorado Supreme Court ruling, Lobato v. Taylor. The ruling granted people the right to graze their animals, cut timber and gather firewood on the land, if they could prove they were heirs to property that was part of the original Sangre de Cristo land grant.

    The privately-owned Culebra Range in the background of San Francisco, Colorado. Residents call the mountains La Sierra.
    Luna Anna Archey

    “WE’RE SUCH DIEHARDS,” Junita told me, pointing to an old black-and-white photo from the early days of the land rights struggle taped to their refrigerator. Her husband was among the roughly 5,000 people given keys to access the ranch gates after a nearly 15-year process of identifying the land grant descendants.

    “We won’t let go,” Jose added.

    The Martinezes owe their persistence in part to the acequias, which are the lifeblood of each village, binding people to the land and to each other. Every spring, acequia communities gather for an annual ritual called La Limpieza to clean the ditch in preparation for the irrigation season. For families, it serves as a de facto reunion — regardless if someone has moved to Denver or to California, people come back for La Limpieza.

    For Junita, that communal aspect is why acequias are important: working together to cultivate a shared resource. It’s also why she feels so strongly about protecting those resources from wealthy outsiders who threaten that culture. “We’re a land- and water-based people,” Junita explained.

    The current owner of the Cielo Vista Ranch is William Harrison, heir to a Texas oil fortune, who bought the Cielo Vista property in 2018. According to its real estate listing, the ranch was listed at $105 million and encompasses 23 miles of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including 18 peaks over 13,000 feet and one over 14,000 feet, Culebra Peak — the highest privately owned mountain in the U.S., and quite possibly the world.

    Harrison’s ranch hands have intimidated and harassed local people who tried to access the property, according to court filings and residents — despite the legal rulings affirming the rights of the land grant heirs. With the threat of a violent confrontation growing, Jose and Junita’s children told their father they don’t want him going up onto the ranch alone to collect firewood, which he, like many locals, uses to heat their home.

    A week before I visited, the Land Rights Council filed a motion in Alamosa Municipal Court to safeguard local residents’ rights to access the ranch. During a two-day hearing, a judge heard testimony about how the ranch’s aggressive surveillance tactics infringed on the community’s hard-won traditional land rights, including tracking people with drones and armed ranch hands approaching people with dogs. The ranch denied use of such tactics.

    In an email, Harrison, through his lawyer, wrote that he believes that a few “bad apples” have abused those rights on occasion, illegally hunting, joy-riding ATVs and sneaking onto the property to fish. “That being said, we are fully committed to bringing the animosity of the past to a close, and are making a good-faith effort to bring healing and peace,” he added.

    A sign in the town of San Luis provides notification of a community meeting about accessing La Sierra.
    Luna Anna Archey

    IF ACEQUIAS are the seams holding communities together, they are also what makes them vulnerable: the stitching that can come undone. In recent years, developers have approached communities elsewhere in the San Luis Valley to buy their water rights and then move the water from the aquifer below the valley over Poncha Pass and into the Arkansas River for growing Front Range cities.

    “Some of those places look like ghost towns because of that,” said Peter Nichols, a lawyer with the Acequia Project, a pro-bono legal assistance program supported by the University of Colorado Boulder Law School.

    Thus far, acequia communities have resisted those efforts, ensuring their water stays with the land. With the help of the Acequia Project and Colorado Open Lands, an environmental nonprofit, acequias have adopted bylaws that protect acequias from outside buyers.

    Still, like any collaboration, acequias are not perfect, said Sarah Parmar, the director of conservation at Colorado Open Lands. “It’s messy because there are human relationships involved, and anytime you have a community that goes back multiple generations, there are going to be grudges and things that have happened that they’re going to bring into those situations,” Parmar said.

    But more than anything, acequia communities recognize that water is not just an asset; “it’s a piece of everything,” Parmar told me. “If you pull on that thread, the whole sweater unravels.”

    Junita and Jose Martinez at their home in San Francisco, Colorado. Nana Ditch, the “mother ditch,” runs through their property.
    Luna Anna Archey

    JOSE GRABBED JUNITA’S ARM to steady her as the two walked outside to show me the Nana Ditch, the “mother ditch” that gurgles beneath the willow trees in their backyard.

    “It would kill me to see water flow by that doesn’t belong to us,” Junita said. “We’d have to go away.”

    Today, abandoned houses are scattered amongst the roads and villages of the Culebra watershed — a reminder of how this community, like so many rural communities, has changed. North of the villages, giant agricultural operations have replaced the smaller family-run vegetable farms that once filled the San Luis Valley, while their high-tech center pivot irrigation systems are depleting the aquifers beneath the valley floor at an alarming rate.

    Meanwhile, so many people have left, with the population of Costilla County nearly half what it was in 1950. When their children were growing up, Jose and Junita moved to Colorado Springs so the girls could get a better education. But people are returning to the valley, too, like Martinezes did in 2002. Jose began growing alfalfa on his family’s eight acres again, and a few years ago, two of the girls bought the lots on either side of their parents, where they hope to one day build their own homes.

    In the Spanish dialect spoken in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, there is a term called querencia, which translates roughly to “heart home or place.” Even after they left the valley, Jose and Junita would bring the girls back to San Francisco every summer to remind them: “This is where you come home.”

    Junita and Jose Martinez’s land on the periphery of San Francisco, Colorado.
    Luna Anna Archey

    This story was republished with permission from Collective Colorado, a publication of The Colorado Trust.

    Sarah Tory writes from Carbondale, Colorado. Follow @tory_sarah