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
Following a harsh, early-season cold outbreak, which peaked from November 11-14 across the central and eastern United States, temperatures began to rebound. Although cool conditions lingered for several days in the East, above-normal temperatures quickly returned across the nation’s mid-section. In the days following the cold snap, significant precipitation was limited to areas from southern Texas into parts of the Southeast. The rain further eased Southeastern drought that had peaked in coverage and intensity during the first half of October. Meanwhile, patchy, generally light precipitation stretched across the northern U.S., including the Midwest. Higher totals were observed in a few spots, including western Washington and northern New England. Dry weather covered other parts of the country, stretching from California to the central and southern Plains, leading to further development, expansion, and intensification of dryness (D0) and moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3). In Western drought areas, warm weather aggravated the effects of ongoing dryness. As the drought-monitoring period came to an end, an approaching storm system brought the promise of Southwestern rain and snow—precipitation that will evaluated for next week’s Drought Monitor…
Drought in the High Plains region is limited to southern areas—parts of Colorado and Kansas. However, in areas experiencing drought, the situation continued to worsen. A new sliver of extreme drought (D3) was added in southwestern Kansas, where several locations have reported less than one-half inch of precipitation since September 1. Specifically, September 1 – November 19 precipitation in Kansas totaled 0.32 inch near Ulysses (Grant County); 0.40 inch near Lakin (Kearny County); and 0.48 inch at the Garden City Experiment Station (Finney County). Those values are less than 15% of normal. In the driest areas, winter wheat has struggled to emerge and become established, with the recent cold wave being a complicating factor. Overall, Kansas’ winter wheat was rated 18% very poor to poor on November 17, up from 13% at the end of October. On the same date, statewide topsoil moisture was 47% very short to short in Kansas and 44% very short to short in Colorado…
The end of this monitoring period (early November 19) came at an interesting time for southern California, the Great Basin, and the Southwest, as significant precipitation arrived the following day. Any impact of the precipitation on Western drought will be reflected next week. On November 19, however, Saint George, Utah, marked its 155th consecutive day without measurable rain—erasing a record originally set with a 121-day dry spell from September 8, 1929 – January 6, 1930. In other Southwestern areas where monsoon rains (largely) failed to materialize, moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) has developed. A new area of extreme drought (D3) was introduced in a small area centered on southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona. The drought is also being reflected in soil moisture shortages and poor vegetation health. According to USDA, California’s “foothill rangeland and non-irrigated pasture(s) were reported to be in poor condition.” One November 17, three-quarters of Arizona’s rangeland and pastures were rated in very poor to poor condition. USDA noted that topsoil moisture was rated 80% very short to short in California, along with 60% in New Mexico and 50% in Nevada. Subsoil moisture was similarly very short to short in many of the same states—80% in California, 66% in New Mexico, and 35% in Nevada. Farther north, there have been periodic autumn storms, although some Northwestern areas are being monitored for the need to introduce abnormally dry conditions. On the 17th, topsoil moisture was rated 45% very short to short in Oregon…
The South had a mix of degradations and improvements. Heavy rain dampened parts of southern Texas, where Harlingen netted 2.69 inches from November 11-14. One of the two remaining areas of extreme drought (D3) in southern Texas was removed due to rain, and reductions in the coverage of moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) were noted in some areas. Most other areas in the South either continued to experience no drought or had only minor increases in the coverage of dryness and drought. Among areas reporting dry weather during the drought-monitoring period, some of the most serious drought stretched across the Plains from western Oklahoma to central Texas. On November 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that topsoil moisture was 47% very short to short in Oklahoma and 42% very short to short in Texas. On the same date, Texas led the nation with 31% of its winter wheat rated in very poor to poor condition, compared to the national value of 14%…
A complex, two-part storm system will emerge from the Southwest during the next several days. Storm-total precipitation through Friday could reach 1 to 3 inches in portions of southern California, the Great Basin, and the Southwest, providing drought relief but possibly resulting in flash flooding and debris flows—especially in areas that have experienced wildfires in recent weeks. Meanwhile, a low-pressure system will cross the Midwest on Thursday and early Friday, delivering rain and wet snow and bringing renewed fieldwork delays. Farther south, another piece of the storm system should result in showers and thunderstorms, starting on Thursday across the southern Plains and shifting into the East during the weekend. Five-day rainfall amounts could total 1 to 2 inches or more in parts of the South. In contrast, mostly dry weather will prevail during the next 5 days in the lower Rio Grande Valley, southern Florida, and from northern California to the northern High Plains.
The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for November 26 – 30 calls for the likelihood of colder-than-normal conditions across the western half of the country, while above-normal temperatures will cover the East and areas along the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, wetter-than-normal weather across most of the nation should contrast with below-normal rainfall in central and southern Texas.
From The Military Times (Patricia Kime):
The number of places where the U.S. military spilled or suspects it discharged perfluorinated compounds has grown, Pentagon officials said Wednesday, but they did not say where or how many sites are under investigation for possible contamination.
The Department of Defense previously identified 401 sites on active and former military bases where the compounds — perfluorooctane sulfonate or perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOS and PFOA — were released or a suspected discharge occurred.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon said Wednesday that continued Department of Defense efforts to identify locations with potentially harmful levels of chemicals uncovered more sites, namely National Guard facilities.
He said the department will name the sites when it has verified the number and locations.
“As part of this process, we think there are probably more installations, and I’m not ready to tell you what that number is, but we found that we under-counted,” McMahon told reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon.
The chemicals, which are used in firefighting foams to battle aircraft and ship fires and also found in household items such as non-stick cookware, stain repellents and food wrappers, have been linked to some types of cancer and birth defects.
In July, Defense Secretary Mark Esper created a task force to determine the extent of the contamination and potential health risks to military personnel and families posed by the chemicals, which fall under a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The task force also is charged with finding alternatives to PFAS-free firefighting foams.
The group is expected to release an interim report on its findings this month. Originally, the final report was due by January, but Esper shortened the timeline for completion from 180 days to 120, and now, McMahon said, the goal is to release an interim report that will be an “accurate picture of the multitude of things we are doing.” With McMahon retiring from the Department of Defense on Friday, it’s unknown whether there will be a final report.
“I don’t know what will happen after 120 days, whether the task force continues to go or if it stands down. It’s irrelevant to me because the focus is on doing what’s right for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and their families and the communities. We are going to be just as aggressive,” McMahon said.
The Department of Defense established a new website Tuesday that focuses on its work on PFAS and includes congressional reports and other DoD initiatives addressing the investigation and cleanup.
The move comes the week that a movie about PFAS, “Dark Waters,” premiers. The film tells the story of attorney Robert Bilott’s 20-year fight against DuPont, one of the manufacturers of PFAS chemicals. On Tuesday, the movie’s star, Mark Ruffalo, testified before Congress about the dangers of these chemicals.
They are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down, and build up in blood and tissues if absorbed.
“It’s time to regulate PFAS chemicals,” Ruffalo told members of the House Oversight and Reform Environment Subcommittee. “It’s time to end industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water, it’s time to end needless uses of PFAS in everyday products like food packaging, it’s time to finally filter PFAS out of drinking water and it’s time to clean up legacy PFAS contamination, especially at our military bases.”
Also testifying at the hearing was Mark Favors, a former Army specialist whose extended family lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, near Peterson Air Force Base, and who can count 16 cases of cancer in his family, including 10 deaths, five of which were from kidney cancer.
Peterson is one of the locations where on-base and community water sources tested significantly above the EPA’s recommended PFAS or PFOA exposure limit of 70 parts per trillion.
“Colorado Health Department investigators found that lung, bladder and kidney cancer rates are significantly higher than expected in the same areas of the PFAS water contamination, yet the state has never offered contaminated residents medical monitoring or PFAS blood level tests,” said Favors, who respresented the Fountain Valley (Colorado) Clean Water Coalition.
Dozens of PFAS compounds are used in medical devices, pharmaceuticals and laboratory supplies. As such, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the subcommittee’s ranking member, said, caution should be taken when considering “sweeping action” against an entire class of substances.
“We should be careful of taking actions that have the potential to affect vast swaths of the economy, including hospitals and other [industries] that use lifesaving products made from PFAS compounds,” Comer said during the hearing.
Of the 401 sites named by the Defense Department as having a known or suspected discharge of PFAS, 36 on-base locations had contaminated drinking water and more than 90 had either off-base drinking water or groundwater contamination at levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s accepted threshold.
In cases where the Defense Department found drinking water supplies exceeding the 70 parts per trillion recommendation, the services supplied bottled water and in-home water filtration systems to ensure water quality.
“In some places, we had very marginal levels, so part of this is ‘You don’t have to worry about it.’ But in some places, we have levels that are higher … and we’ve reacted to that,” McMahon said.
Advocacy groups say that no amount of PFAS is safe; the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that has been sounding the alarm on the problem, says that 1 part per trillion is the maximum safe level, based on independent studies.
The EPA has released a draft proposing that the screening level of a contaminated site that would trigger further investigation of PFOS and PFOA should be 40 parts per trillion individually, and for remediation, 70 parts per trillion, combined, in groundwater.
The DoD follows the EPA’s current recommendation of 70 parts per trillion.
McMahon said this week that installation commanders can expect to receive letters instructing them to begin a dialogue, if they have not already done so, with their local communities on the DoD’s PFAS investigation, its findings and any clean up efforts within their communities, according to McMahon.
“One of the things we haven’t done real well is our transparency and activity in getting the message out,” McMahon said. I want our installation commanders to go talk to the community.”
The Environmental Working Group maintains a map as well as lists of the military installations and sites with known PFAS contamination. According to EWG, of the 100 most contaminated sites, 64 had groundwater contamination exceeding 100,000 parts per trillion. The highest known contamination was seen at the former England Air Force Base, near Alexandria, Louisiana, that measured 201.7 million parts per trillion of a PFAS chemical known as PFHxS.
From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):
Climate change will require municipal water planners to do a lot of planning in the 21st century.
Jeff Lukas, a water researcher at the University of Colorado, and Meagan Smith, water resource engineer for the city of Fort Collins, told the Northern Water Fall Symposium in Loveland Wednesday that water planners will have to think outside the box to keep up with risks to Colorado’s water supply.
Lukas told the more than 300 people attending the symposium, hosted by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, that traditional methods of water planning won’t serve as well going forward.
“Traditional water planning assumes history will repeat itself,” Lukas said. “It’s the ‘assumption of the stationary,’ and it looks at a single target for meeting water demand.”
The drought of 2000-2002 called all of those assumptions into doubt, Lukas said, when the Colorado River showed the lowest annual flows on record.
Meanwhile, northern Colorado experienced an increase in average temperatures of 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Projections are that Colorado will warm up by another 2 to 6 degrees by 2050. That means Colorado will become drier and the swings between wet and dry years will become greater.
“We can expect more variability from year to year,” Lukas said. “That means the future is inherently uncertain, but we have to keep planning.”
He said tree ring studies have yielded some information going back several hundred years and, if the conclusions are correct, Colorado may have endured much worse droughts than anything humans have recorded.
Smith said Fort Collins had embraced that uncertainty and has conducted a supply and demand study that yielded as many as 2,000 different scenarios the city could face. Smith said the study tracked 100 different river flows and 20 climate probabilities to try to find the variabilities her office might have to plan for. Looking at the Poudre River flows at the mouth of Poudre Canyon, Smith said the current average of 273,000 acre feet per year could shrink to as little as 190,000 acre feet, or about 30 percent less. But that’s not the number people should be focused on, she said…
While much of the concern about future water supplies tends to focus on the Colorado River, Lukas said, the headwaters of the Colorado and the headwaters of the South Platte Basin share the same climate.
From The Greeley Tribune (Joe Moylan):
The Poudre Runs Through It Action Work Group is seeking nominations for its annual Poudre Pioneer Award, and will recognize the honoree on Feb. 28, 2020 at the Poudre River Forum at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Loveland.
Each year, the Forum brings together those on the Poudre who farm, deliver clean potable water, drink beer, recreate and advocate for river health to learn from one another and to explore how we can move from conflict to collaboration. The awardee will be selected prior to the forum, invited to share a short acceptance speech and will be recognized through local media.
Those eligible are individuals or organizations, including businesses, public agencies, and non- profits, who have substantially contributed to the goal of making the Poudre a river that supplies the goods and services demanded by our complex society, within the existing and evolving water rights system and honoring existing property rights, while maintaining and improving ecological integrity and resilience.
Many contributions can further the goal of a healthy working river, including, but not limited to, fostering collaboration across water use sectors including agricultural, urban, and environmental, production of scientific or technical information, fundraising, engineering excellence, public outreach, water resources management, or water quality and quantity monitoring. These contributions may be judged on their degree of effectiveness, innovation, creativity, novelty, problem solving ability, ease of duplication by others, and leadership.
Nominees need not live or work in the Poudre Basin, but the tangible results of their efforts must be evident within the basin and have a direct nexus to our goal for the Poudre River.
Nominations can be made by anyone and are due on Sunday, Dec. 1. Nominations can be submitted online.
All of the materials for the nomination must be uploaded at once, so have the following prepared prior to accessing the online form:
Information about why you think your nominee should receive the Poudre Pioneer Award. Nominee’s notable accomplishments. Nominee’s impacts and contributions in the Poudre River Basin. Up to three letters of support.
For more information,contact nomination committee chairman Aaron Goldman at email@example.com.
Summary: November 19, 2019
Much of the Intermountain West, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming, experienced warmer than average temperatures and did not receive precipitation this last week. Eastern Colorado received spotty precipitation ranging from 0.01 to 0.50” while northern Wyoming, Big Horn/Sheridan counties, saw the most moisture with 0.50 to 1.50” of precipitation.
While the cold October was helpful in delaying exacerbating drought severity, continued dryness across the Four Corners region and extending north into Utah and Colorado, continues to be a growing concern. With a dry summer and poor performing monsoon, extremely dry conditions extend back to 120 days, with widespread 120-day SPIs below -2. For lower elevations that don’t benefit as much from the stellar spring snows and runoff, there is more of an immediate concern. Hydrologically, the concern isn’t as large right now either, for the reservoirs are still in good condition. Streamflows ended at base flow a little lower than normal. Soils show the very poor conditions that will again come into play during the spring thaw and meltoff. For the higher elevations, impacts right now aren’t significant, and the rest of the snow season offers plenty of time for recovery. San Juan Basin should have a SWE of 3.5” by this time, but is currently sitting at less than an inch. However, it appears the next upcoming storm could possibly make all that up next week.
Outlook’s placement of the next upcoming storm couldn’t be better. It looks like cool, low-intensity, long duration moisture is forecast for the Four Corners, as well as southwestern Utah, this week with generous snow totals for the San Juans. The Four Corners region as well as southern Utah are expected to see upwards of 3.00” while the rest of the IMW are expected to see at least 0.25”. Much of western Colorado and eastern Utah are expected to see 0.75-1.50”. The outlook is showing closer to average temperatures next week with cooler than average temperatures on the two week outlook.
From The Colorado Independent (Bravender):
Five of the most contaminated sites in Colorado are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to a new report from a government watchdog agency.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent agency that works for the U.S. Congress, assessed how impacts of climate change — including flooding, storm surge, wildfires and sea level rise — might impact some of the most dangerous hazardous waste sites around the country. The agency looked at 1,336 “active” sites on U.S. EPA’s National Priorities List and 421 “deleted” sites where EPA had determined no further cleanup was needed. The report’s conclusion lay in its title: “EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change.”
In Colorado, five of the 20 active and deleted sites surveyed and analyzed by GAO are in areas deemed vulnerable to wildfires or flooding.
Union Carbide Corp.’s Uravan Uranium Project in Uravan, Colo., is in an area with high wildfire hazard potential, GAO found. The Central City-Clear Creek Site in north central Colorado — where heavy metals from abandoned mines have contaminated drinking water — is also in an area with high wildfire potential.
The Lincoln Park section of Cañon City, Colo., which has been affected by the waste disposal activities of a nearby uranium mill, is vulnerable to flooding. The Denver Radium Site and the Captain Jack Mill in Ward, Colo., are also at risk of flooding.
GAO warned in its report that the impacts of climate change could pose risks to public health by spreading pollution from such sites. The agency pointed to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, when an unprecedented amount of rainfall dumped on Houston, damaging Superfund sites and releasing toxic materials.
According to GAO, EPA’s strategic plan from 2018 to 2022 “does not include goals and objectives related to climate change or discuss strategies for addressing the impacts of climate change effects.” EPA officials interviewed by GAO said that the agency doesn’t always include climate change when it’s assessing risks at Superfund sites. The agency is recommending that the EPA integrate climate information at the site level “to ensure long-term protection of human health and the environment.”
Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Monday expressing concern over GAO’s findings and over EPA’s response.
“We believe that EPA’s refusal to implement GAO’s recommendations could result in real harm to human health and the environment as the effects of climate change become more frequent and intense,” the lawmakers wrote. They asked EPA to answer a series of questions by next month about how it plans to address the risks climate change poses to Superfund sites.