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Growing importance of outdoor recreation economy driving push
Three conservation groups aiming to keep more water in rivers for recreation are working on a revision to a state law.
American Whitewater, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates are proposing an amendment to legislation that would allow natural river features such as waves and rapids to get a water right. Under the state’s current statute, in order to get what is known as a recreational in-channel diversion water right, it must be tied to a man-made structure in the river, such as a design feature that creates the waves in many kayak parks.
Pitkin County Healthy Rivers is supportive of amending the existing statute to include natural river features and said so in an April letter to legislators.
“I think it’s kind of ironic that you have to make a man-made engineered structure in a river to make it somehow be of value to have a water right,” said Healthy Rivers board member and boater Andre Wille. “It would be nice to not have to put a structure in the river.”
According to numbers provided by the Department of Water Resources, there are currently 21 recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, water rights in the state, all of them tied to an artificial structure. In the Colorado River basin, that includes features in Vail, Silverthorne, Aspen and Avon. Glenwood Springs has an approved RICD for a series of waves. Durango, Steamboat Springs, Salida, Buena Vista and Golden also have whitewater features with RICDs.
This type of water right ties an amount of water necessary for a reasonable recreational experience to the man-made river features.
Hattie Johnson, southern Rockies stewardship director of American Whitewater, likens making the acquisition of water rights dependent on the creation of an artificial feature to protecting backcountry skiing by building a ski jump.
“Right now, we can only protect water in the river for recreation if we build a ski jump,” she said. “So, we are looking for a change that protects the resource to provide all the wide-ranging recreational activities that happen on the river.”
Hawaii Five-0 wave
Proponents aim to tie a water right to a specific naturally occurring river feature, instead of a stretch of river — for example, the wave known as Hawaii Five-0 in the lower reaches of the run that begins with Slaughterhouse Falls on the Roaring Fork, instead of the entire 4.5-mile section of rapids. Slaughterhouse is a whitewater reach that begins at Henry Stein Park in Aspen and ends at Wilton Jaffee Park downstream in Woody Creek. It is a popular after-work run with kayakers and commercial rafting companies. Its many fishing holes also attract anglers.
A water right at Hawaii Five-0 could help keep water in the river for most of this section, since it’s located about a half-mile upstream of the take-out at Jaffee Park.
Scotty Gibsone has been running this section of river for 26 years and is on it nearly every day in the summer. His rafting company, Kiwi Adventure Ko, takes paddlers down the Class IV rapids of Slaughterhouse and the Class III Toothache section on the Roaring Fork in Snowmass Canyon. He said the Slaughterhouse season is short; it’s not usually runnable in boats after July 4. He can sometimes eke out a few more weeks using tubes in low water, but he would like to see higher flows overall.
“More water is always going to help, especially for us in the tourism sector,” he said.
Most RICD water rights are held by municipalities — cities, towns and counties — and many have encountered opposition in water court. When Pitkin County began the process of securing an RICD for the two waves in the Basalt park on the Roaring Fork, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company, two entities that take water from the basin’s headwaters over to the Front Range, opposed the water right.
There will probably be opposition from Front Range water providers to any amended state legislation. That is because an RICD could limit their ability to develop more water from the Western Slope in the future.
American Whitewater has met with representatives from Denver Water, Northern Water and Aurora Water to discuss the legislation.
“We did inform them that we believe there will be significant opposition to the proposal, but Aurora Water would need a draft and go through our process to determine our position,” Greg Baker, manager of public relations for the city of Aurora, said in an email. “There is great potential for unintended consequences from even a modest proposal.”
To appease its opposers, Pitkin County agreed to a “carve out” provision that allowed up to 3,000 acre-feet of new water rights to be developed upstream of the kayak park, without being subject to the county’s new water right. (An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre 1 foot deep.)
Growing recreation sector
A growing recognition of the importance of the outdoor recreation economy to the Western Slope is driving proponents’ push for updating the RICD legislation. And as climate change continues to rob western Colorado of streamflows, there is an increasing sense of urgency to protect and maintain water for recreation into the future.
“What we are trying to do is say that recreation is part of this complex system and we need to take that type of use into consideration,” said Josh Kuhn, water advocate for Conservation Colorado. “When we think about the transitioning economy, especially on the Western Slope, we need to have the security that this economic driver is going to be there in the future.”
Proponents say an amended law would also open up the possibility of RICD water rights to river runners in less-wealthy areas. Rearranging a streambed to create an artificial wave can be problematic: It is expensive, it requires disturbing the river ecosystem with heavy equipment, and engineers don’t always get it right the first time. For example, Pitkin County has spent nearly $3.5 million on the Basalt waves. The county had to reengineer the structures twice after complaints from the public that the waves were dangerous and flipped boats.
Supporters plan to meet with stakeholders throughout the summer and fall to further refine their proposed modifications to the legislation. They hope lawmakers will introduce a bill during the 2022 legislative session.
Water rights for natural river features would represent a shift in a state where putting water to “beneficial use” has traditionally meant taking water out of the river for use in agriculture or cities. It could mean that the often-overlooked river-recreation economy gets a bigger seat at the water-policy table.
“Recreation is a huge part of Colorado’s economy, it’s a huge part of our future, and yet it’s barely recognized in Colorado water law — and to the extent it is, it’s limited to a real-small class of recreation that only some towns and places can afford,” said John Cyran, senior staff attorney with Western Resource Advocates. “I think it’s time for Colorado water law to catch up with what’s actually happening on the rivers.”
Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.
Members of the Water Quality Control Commission said they were shocked by the blowback to a proposed change that would have made it easier for industry, utilities to send more pollution downstream.
The state Water Quality Control Commission has delayed for at least a decade a controversial proposal that would have allowed further degradation of Colorado waters already challenged by pollution
In a scheduled review of the state’s “antidegradation” provision — a key to the federal Clean Water Act — some on the commission had sought to broaden chances for industries to discharge more pollutants into streams already considered heavily impacted by historic degradation. The rule currently in place says polluters must make a compelling argument that worsening the conditions of a stretch of river is unavoidable in creating economic growth for a community.
Colorado waters are divided into three categories: “outstanding” waters, where no degradation can be permitted; “reviewable,” meaning degradation is only allowed if there is no other way for the economic activity to move forward; and “use protected,” where industrial or city dischargers can degrade existing water quality in heavily impacted streams in order to maintain or expand their operations.
Conservation groups and multiple local and state officials argued last week that the commission’s proposed change would have allowed many more Colorado streams to fall under “use protected,” even when the entity seeking higher pollution permits was the one responsible for historic pollution.
Heavy industrial users, such as Metro Wastewater Reclamation, which treats all metro area sewage, could have used the opening to say they didn’t need to further clean up their discharge.
Citing the intense blowback against the proposed change by dozens of conservation and community groups testifying earlier in the week, the commission late Friday said current protections would stay in place until at least 2031.
“The decision comes after extensive stakeholder engagement with the EPA, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, environmentalists and regulated entities, and it maintains the regulations as they are for the time being,” the state Water Quality Control Division said in a statement…
Opponents of the change said it would open the door for existing permitted polluters such as Molson Coors, Suncor and Metro Wastewater to discharge more pollutants if they could show the water was already degraded beyond a chance for improvement. The industries could have asked for the leeway even if they were the ones whose waste had previously damaged streams, such as on the South Platte River through Adams County. In that stretch of river, discharge from Metro Wastewater’s treatment facility makes up most of the stream volume for much of the year.
Groups testifying against the change ranged from Adams County commissioners to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, to Trout Unlimited and Green Latinos. Industrial dischargers, meanwhile, had argued in submitted filings that their use of waters supported important economic interests for communities, and that some heavily used Colorado streams simply won’t support more aquatic life than they already do…
Conservation groups did not get the relief on Friday that they’d sought since a 2020 commission decision declining to upgrade protections for urban stretches of the South Platte River and Clear Creek, which flows past the Molson Coors plant. They said they will continue to seek ways to tighten down on pollution discharges into those waters and give them a chance to recover further.
A controversial water dispute in Laramie County that got held up last year because of the pandemic will see its day in court June 9-11 in Cheyenne.
17 ranch families are pushing back on a permit application by three members of the Lerwick family to drill eight high-pressure wells north of Cheyenne. These wells would appropriate 1.6 billion gallons of ground water from the Ogallala Aquifer, a water source that’s already gone dry in several other Western states.
Attorney Reba Epler owns a ranch in the area and said this case is crucial for establishing a more modern approach to water management in Wyoming…
The wells would use 4700-acre feet of water or the equivalent used by a town of about 10,000 people. Epler said her dad remembers fishing on some creeks that no longer flow in the area. Most local creeks have gone dry.
“Horse Creek is probably the last flowing creek in Laramie County,” Epler said. “And that creek sustains so much agriculture and so much wildlife, so many birds and fish and it is quite a magnificent creek and it is sustained by the base flow of the groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer.”
Epler said granting permits on these wells would endanger Horse Creek.
Like much of the southwest United States, western Colorado remains under extreme and exceptional drought according to the latest report from the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Portions of Gunnison, Pitkin and Delta counties in western Colorado saw severe drought degrade to extreme conditions, while the remainder of the state was unchanged.
Thirteen of Colorado’s 64 counties have a least some area in exceptional drought, with most or all of their remaining area in severe conditions.
Much of the western United States suffered under hot temperatures and continued lack of rain during the previous week. Like western Colorado, large portions of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico are experiencing extreme and exceptional conditions. Extreme drought stretches into central Oregon and southwest Washington. Much of North Dakota, along with smaller areas in northeast Montana and north central South Dakota are also in the two worst drought categories.
Last week, the National Weather Service issued a rare excessive heat warning for the Grand and Paradox valleys in western Colorado as temperatures in the area soared above 100 degrees and created risks for deadly heat-related illnesses.
Fire danger has been an increasing concern for agricultural producers in the western part of the state according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s weekly report.
In eastern Colorado, remaining drought and abnormally dry areas finished shifting to drought-free conditions over the past two weeks…
Overall, drought statistics are unchanged from last week despite shift in severe to extreme conditions in the three western Colorado counties. Fifty-five percent of the state remains drought-free, with an additional four percent considered abnormally dry. Moderate and severe drought both covered six percent of the state. Extreme conditions remained at 12 percent, and exceptional drought covers 18 percent of Colorado. Total does not equal 100 due to rounding.
The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s (PAWSD) lakes are full, but Archuleta County remains in moderate to severe drought and the snowpack is gone.
According to a June 14 press release from PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey, all five of Pagosa’s lakes are now completely full.
This includes Lake Pagosa, Hatcher Lake, Stevens Lake, Village Lake and Lake Forest…
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, no longer had a snowpack equivalent to any snow water amount as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 16.
The average amount of snow water equivalent for this date is 5.2 inches…
The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins were at 10 percent of the June 16 median in terms of snowpack.
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), 100 percent of Archuleta County remains in a moderate drought stage.
The NIDIS website notes that under a moderate drought stage dryland crops may suffer, rangeland growth is stunted, very little hay is available and risk of wildfires may increase.
The NIDIS website also notes that 99.36 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage.
According to the NIDIS, under a severe drought stage, fire season is extended.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 562 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 16.
Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 1,280 cfs.
The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1979 at 3,850 cfs. The lowest recorded rate was 44.1 cfs, recorded in 2002.
As of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 16, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 373 cfs.
Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 968 cfs.
The highest recorded rate for this date was 3,070 cfs in 1979. The lowest recorded rate was 18.3 cfs in 2002.
[June 18, 2021], President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate the following seven individuals to serve in key roles:
Xochitl Torres Small, Nominee for Under Secretary of Rural Development, Department of Agriculture
Laura Daniel-Davis, Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Department of Interior
Hampton Dellinger, Nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, Department of Justice
M. Camille Calimlim Touton, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Interior
Christi Grimm, Nominee for Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services
Xochitl Torres Small, Nominee for Under Secretary of Rural Development, Department of Agriculture
The granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, Xochitl Torres Small grew up in the borderlands of New Mexico. In 2008, she came home from college to work as a field organizer, working in colonias in southern New Mexico. She continued serving rural New Mexico as a field representative for Senator Tom Udall, where she collaborated with local grassroots leaders, business owners, elected officials, and regional and state economic development officials to help communities access American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Inspired by Senator Udall’s work on water in the West, Torres Small studied water law and worked closely with rural water utilities. In 2018, Torres Small became the first woman and first person of color to represent New Mexico’s second congressional district, the largest district that isn’t its own state.
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Representative Torres Small kept a rural hospital from closing its doors, improved constituent access to healthcare over the phone, and helped secure tens of millions of dollars for broadband in New Mexico through USDA’s ReConnect Program. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Torres Small raised the alarm on broadband disparities, serving on Majority Whip James Clyburn’s Rural Broadband Taskforce and as an original cosponsor of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Torres Small helped build the case for dairy farmers harmed by Canada’s violation of the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, and drafted legislation to help local farmers and rural communities invest in infrastructure to navigate new markets. Torres Small also partnered with Senator Udall to introduce the Western Water Security Act, and helped secure key provisions of the legislation in the FY 2021 Appropriations Omnibus. In addition, Torres Small worked closely with the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to secure New Mexico water priorities in the Water Resources Development Act, including Rio Grande ecosystem restoration from Sandia Pueblo to Isleta Pueblo and increased authorization for the Tribal Partnership Program within the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Throughout her career, Torres Small has employed her experience organizing in vulnerable, rural communities to achieve lasting investments that combat persistent poverty.
Laura Daniel-Davis, Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Department of Interior
Laura Daniel-Davis currently serves as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management, overseeing the important activities of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
Daniel-Davis has worked to conserve public lands, protect wildlife and address climate change for three decades, prioritizing a collaborative and partnership-based approach. She previously served in the Interior Department during the Clinton and Obama Administrations, serving as Chief of Staff to Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar in the Obama administration and Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton Administration.
She was most recently the Chief of Policy and Advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation and led NWF’s bipartisan efforts on implementing natural infrastructure solutions, including habitat restoration work, along with supporting enactment of the historic Great American Outdoors Act. Daniel-Davis also has experience working in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving as Deputy Chief of Staff to Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO).
Daniel-Davis lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, daughter, two dogs and a cat, and enjoys hiking on public lands and identifying bird calls. She holds a BA in Political Science from Wake Forest University.
Hampton Dellinger, Nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, Department of Justice
Hampton Dellinger is a former Deputy Attorney General in the North Carolina Department of Justice and served as Chief Legal Counsel in the Office of the North Carolina Governor from 2001-2003 where his responsibilities included overseeing the judicial appointment process. In the private sector, he has devoted a significant amount of time to pro bono matters including representing an international coalition of women’s soccer players challenging gender discrimination at the 2015 World Cup.
Dellinger has written on a wide range of legal topics including publications in the Harvard Law Review, the North Carolina Law Review, and for SCOTUSBlog. Other essays he has authored have appeared in Atlantic.com, Politico, Slate, and the National Law Journal.
Dellinger received his B.A. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1989. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1993 and served as a senior editor on the Yale Law Journal. He was a law clerk for United States Court of Appeals Judge J. Dickson Phillips, Jr. He and his spouse, Professor Jolynn Childers Dellinger, live in Durham, N.C. and have two grown children.
M. Camille Calimlim Touton, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Interior
M. Camille Calimlim Touton is a Nevadan who has spent her career focusing on water policy. Prior to joining Interior, Camille served as Senior Professional Staff for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Camille’s congressional experience also includes serving as Professional Staff for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, the authorizing committees for the Department of the Interior. Camille also served as the Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science under the Obama Administration.
Camille holds a BS in Engineering (Civil) and a BA in Communication Studies from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Master of Public Policy from George Mason University. While her heart is in the west, Camille, her husband Matthew, and their daughters call Arlington, VA home.
Christi Grimm, Nominee for Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services
Christi A. Grimm is the Department of Health and Human Services’ Principal Deputy Inspector General (PDIG) and has been performing the duties of the Inspector General since January 2020. As the senior-most executive for the largest federal Office of Inspector General, Ms. Grimm leads an independent and objective organization of more than 1,600 auditors, evaluators, investigators, lawyers, and management professionals who carry out OIG’s mission of protecting the integrity of HHS programs as well as the health and welfare of program beneficiaries. Ms. Grimm has more than 20 years of experience leading organizations, individuals, and teams to deploy creative solutions, overcome challenges, and achieve positive outcomes.
Ms. Grimm began her career with the Department of Health and Human Services at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services before joining HHS-OIG in 1999. She has held a number of leadership roles during her service at HHS-OIG including, Senior Policy Advisor to the Principal Deputy and Inspector General, Director of Policy and Programs, and Chief of Staff. In her current role, Ms. Grimm has led HHS-OIG through great challenges, while sustaining the agency’s mission and impact. She has been a crucial voice in guiding and informing key stakeholders, including those in the Executive and Legislative Branches, on important topics such as oversight of the Unaccompanied Children Program, federal health and human services’ response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the intersection of healthcare and technology. Further, she is a leading expert in HHS program integrity issues and has authored more than a dozen articles and delivered multiple speeches that have established her at the forefront of developments in the healthcare arena. In addition, Ms. Grimm spearheaded several programs within HHS-OIG to strengthen the organization and better serve the American people through important efforts such as creating the first-ever OIG Executive Engagement Committee and building OIG’s capacity to address diversity, equity, and inclusion. Ms. Grimm provides valuable healthcare oversight and program integrity expertise to the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) as HHS-OIG’s representative to the PRAC and the leader of the Health Care Subgroup.
Ms. Grimm has received numerous awards for her leadership and achievements, including the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency Award for Excellence in Management in 2019 and the Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Management in 2015. Ms. Grimm holds a Master of Public Administration from New York University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Senior Managers in Government. Ms. Grimm is a native of Denver, Colorado and currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and daughter.
FromColorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):
Lake Powell’s water level is the lowest it’s been in decades, and the latest 24-month projections from the Arizona and Utah reservoir show that it’s likely to drop even further — below a critical threshold of 3,525 feet by next year.
A 20-year megadrought and a hotter climate has contributed to shrinking water supplies in the Colorado River. If Lake Powell’s levels continue to dwindle, it could set off litigation between the seven states and the 40 million people that all rely on the Colorado River.
“This is really new territory for us,” said Amy Ostdiek, deputy section chief of the federal, interstate and water information section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board…
States agree Lake Powell must stay above certain level
Ostdiek said it’s a “universally-accepted goal” among the seven states to avoid that situation. That’s why they agreed to the 2019 Colorado River Drought-Contingency Plan, which includes the provision that if Lake Powell drops below 3,525 feet, the upper-basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation have a plan in place to send more water to Lake Powell.
Those meetings are happening. Ostdiek said the upper-basin states have recently switched to planning mode due to the low water levels forecasted for Lake Powell. The plan to protect Powell could involve releasing water from upstream reservoirs of Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, and Navajo in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
But the hope is to avoid the need for that plan by keeping Powell above the 3,525-foot threshold.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Because of the ongoing drought and no expectation that it will end anytime soon, the Ute Water Conservancy District is having to pump water directly out of the Colorado River.
That’s something it hasn’t had to do in its 65-year existence, district officials said Friday.
As a result, the district that supplies drinking water to more than 85,000 Grand Valley customers is imposing a special 2% “drought pumping rate” on all bills to cover the increased electrical cost of pumping that water…
Currently, the district rates the current drought at its highest “D-4 level,” which means extreme drought…
RESERVOIRS NOT ENOUGH
Normally, the district draws its water from snowmelt off of Grand Mesa, primarily through a Plateau Creek pipeline in a gravity-flow system, meaning it doesn’t need to be pumped. That water flows into two of the district’s terminal reservoirs, Jerry Creek No. 1 and No. 2, and then into the district’s water treatment plant.
A call on that water from water users with more senior water rights, however, is forcing the district to stop drawing from it, something that’s happened in the past, but never this early in the year, Clever said.
And because the water from the Colorado River is below the elevation of the treatment plant, by about 420 feet, it needs to be pumped uphill, which is done through two pump stations the district already has and recently upgraded…
USERS MAY SEE A DIFFERENCE
Despite the extra water treatment, consumers may notice the difference in how it tastes and the residue it leaves behind, such as mineral salts. They’ll see it with increased spottiness on their dishes and more residue in their swamp coolers.
Clever said the increase cost to consumers will be nominal, about 47 to 48 cents a month, or about $6 a year.
Rains forecast for the northern Midwest and Great Plains this weekend and next week will bring relief to some areas. But the severe moisture deficits suggest crop yields in key U.S. production areas remain at risk.
Drought has already scorched much of the U.S. West, prompting farmers in California to leave fields fallow and triggering water and energy rationing in several states.
Crop development in the central U.S. is highly watched this year as grain and oilseed prices hover around the highest in a nearly a decade and global supplies tighten…
About 41% of Iowa, the nation’s top corn producer and No. 2 soybean state, was under severe drought as of Tuesday, up from less than 10% a week earlier, according to the weekly U.S. drought monitor published on Thursday…
Conditions in North Dakota, the top producer of high-protein spring wheat that is used in bread and pizza dough, remained dire, with about two-thirds of the state under extreme or exceptional drought, the most severe categories.
October to April was the driest stretch in North Dakota history since record keeping began 127 years ago, Gov. Doug Burgum told a town hall meeting in Washburn, North Dakota, on Wednesday…
More than 100,000 acres, or 156 square miles, of North Dakota have already burned in wildfires this year, up from about 12,000 for the entire fire season last year, Burgum said…
Drought in the western Corn Belt has already likely trimmed the U.S. corn yield average by 2 to 4 bushels per acre, said Dan Basse, president of AgResource Co in Chicago.
However, conditions in July and August, critical months for corn and soybeans, respectively, will determine the extent of yield losses and the price response, he said.
Grain and soybean futures on the Chicago Board of Trade fell sharply on Thursday as rain in the near-term forecast triggered risk-off selling.
Researchers have found that Earth’s energy imbalance approximately doubled during the 14-year period from 2005 to 2019.
Earth’s climate is determined by a delicate balance between how much of the Sun’s radiative energy is absorbed in the atmosphere and at the surface and how much thermal infrared radiation Earth emits to space. A positive energy imbalance means the Earth system is gaining energy, causing the planet to heat up. The doubling of the energy imbalance is the topic of a recent study, the results of which were published June 15 in Geophysical Research Letters.
Scientists at NASA and NOAA compared data from two independent measurements. NASA’s Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) suite of satellite sensors measure how much energy enters and leaves Earth’s system. In addition, data from a global array of ocean floats, called Argo, enable an accurate estimate of the rate at which the world’s oceans are heating up. Since approximately 90 percent of the excess energy from an energy imbalance ends up in the ocean, the overall trends of incoming and outgoing radiation should broadly agree with changes in ocean heat content.
“The two very independent ways of looking at changes in Earth’s energy imbalance are in really, really good agreement, and they’re both showing this very large trend, which gives us a lot of confidence that what we’re seeing is a real phenomenon and not just an instrumental artifact, ” said Norman Loeb, lead author for the study and principal investigator for CERES at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “The trends we found were quite alarming in a sense.”
Increases in emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane due to human activity trap heat in the atmosphere, capturing outgoing radiation that would otherwise escape into space. The warming drives other changes, such as snow and ice melt, and increased water vapor and cloud changes that can further enhance the warming. Earth’s energy imbalance is the net effect of all these factors. In order to determine the primary factors driving the imbalance, the investigators used a method that looked at changes in clouds, water vapor, combined contributions from trace gases and the output of light from the Sun, surface albedo (the amount of light reflected by the Earth’s surface), tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols, and changes in surface and atmospheric temperature distributions.
The study finds that the doubling of the imbalance is partially the result an increase in greenhouse gases due to human activity, also known as anthropogenic forcing, along with increases in water vapor are trapping more outgoing longwave radiation, further contributing to Earth’s energy imbalance. Additionally, the related decrease in clouds and sea ice lead to more absorption of solar energy.
The researchers also found that a flip of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) from a cool phase to a warm phase likely played a major role in the intensification of the energy imbalance. The PDO is a pattern of Pacific climate variability. Its fingerprint includes a massive wedge of water in the eastern Pacific that goes through cool and warm phases. This naturally occurring internal variability in the Earth system can have far-reaching effects on weather and climate. An intensely warm PDO phase that began around 2014 and continued until 2020 caused a widespread reduction in cloud coverage over the ocean and a corresponding increase in the absorption of solar radiation.
“It’s likely a mix of anthropogenic forcing and internal variability,” said Loeb. “And over this period they’re both causing warming, which leads to a fairly large change in Earth’s energy imbalance. The magnitude of the increase is unprecedented.”
Loeb cautions that the study is only a snapshot relative to long-term climate change, and that it’s not possible to predict with any certainty what the coming decades might look like for the balance of Earth’s energy budget. The study does conclude, however, that unless the rate of heat uptake subsides, greater changes in climate than are already occurring should be expected.
“The lengthening and highly complementary records from Argo and CERES have allowed us both to pin down Earth’s energy imbalance with increasing accuracy, and to study its variations and trends with increasing insight, as time goes on.” said Gregory Johnson, co-author on the study and physical oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington. “Observing the magnitude and variations of this energy imbalance are vital to understanding Earth’s changing climate.”
I spent runoff season this year chasing whitewater along the spine of the Rockies, where the impacts of a long-range megadrought feel increasingly painful and obvious. More than half of the western United States is currently experiencing extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and it’s rapidly getting worse.
Although the Mountain West’s high-country snowpack—the source of water for a wide swath of land on both sides of the Continental Divide—was around 80 percent of its average this winter, the past 12 months have been among the hottest and driest on record there. As the snow melted, runoff was soaked up by parched soils, which are still dry from last year’s monsoon-free summer and fire-filled fall. When it’s as hot as it has been, every living thing needs more water, so plants sucked in moisture, too. In the same area of the mountains where the snow was 80 percent, river flows dripped out at 30 percent of their average. Ted was right: there’s not much water when there’s this level of aridity.
Paddling, for me, is a benchmark, a tangible way to understand what all those drought maps and numbers mean. And these days, the bottom-scraping springtime runs feel like a creepy indicator of how bad things will be downriver, where those waterways are used to grow food, maintain ecosystems, fight wildfires, and provide drinking water. I paddled Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River in Utah while it was running at one-tenth of its average flow, and I checked in on the dam-released drip formerly known as the Dolores River—a sight that made my stomach drop. On the other side of the Divide, I took a turgid run down Browns Canyon on Colorado’s Arkansas River—the most heavily commercially rafted section of river in the nation—and winced watching the guides trying to keep their clients paddling through the slack water, which was flowing well below the midsummer dam-released minimum of 700 cubic feet per second. It’s the scariest year I’ve ever been a river runner, and I’m not alone in thinking that…
“I’m nervous looking forward. It’s wishful thinking to assume it will get better,” says Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the Colorado River District and coauthor of Science be Dammed. Kuhn has worked in water management for decades and believes the way we’re currently managing rivers isn’t sustainable and hasn’t been for a while. It’s coming to an inflection point where things will really have to change.
The signs (like dry rivers) and symptoms (the wave of early-season fires) are cascading on top of each other. In 2019, I wrote a book called Downriver about water policy with a subtitle that now feels painfully flippant: “Into the future of water in the West.” That was two years ago. Now the future is here—hotter, drier, sooner than predicted, and scarier than imagined.
By June 1, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada was at zero percent of its average, and California’s governor had declared a drought emergency in two-thirds of the state’s counties. After a record-breaking fire year in 2020, wildfire risks were already high, and the state’s agriculture industry, which supplies a huge amount of the country’s veggies, fruits, and nuts, was facing shortages and cutting crops to compensate. In Oregon, fragile, threatened salmon are dying because streams and lakes are drying up. Wide swaths of northern New England and the upper Midwest are abnormally dry. Even Hawaii is at elevated risk for wildfires.
In the Colorado River Basin—a bellwether for dryland watersheds because it’s crucial to millions of people and drying fast—the two big reservoirs in the system, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, are crashing toward their lowest levels ever and approaching elevations that will trigger the first-ever federally mandated usage cutbacks. In other words, states, starting with Arizona, will have to start taking less from reservoirs than they’ve historically been legally promised.
A few glaring reasons indicate why we’re at this tipping point. The first is that we’re not operating within our limits. The Colorado River, for example, has been overallocated since the Colorado River Compact was signed in 1922. The agreement, often referred to as the law of the river, gave the seven states in the basin more water than exists in the river. Brad Udall, senior water and climate-research scientist at Colorado State University, found that we’ve been using 1.2 million acre-feet of water more than the river’s natural flow each year, which is one of the reasons why the reservoirs are plummeting. We’re also continuing to build rampantly in dry places and depleting groundwater as we do.
And we’re ignoring scientific limits and increasing demand while climate change is shrinking our supply even further. “This is the new baseline, and there’s no more water left in the system,” Kuhn says. According to a 2017 report coauthored by Udall, we can attribute at least half of the decline in water supply to greenhouse-gas-related warming. For every one degree Celsius of warming, he expects another 9 percent decline in the Colorado’s flow, and similar patterns are showing up in rivers globally.
We know that the supply is shrinking, and now the huge, complicated challenge is changing the way we operate within those limits. Kuhn believes that Mead and Powell are test cases for whether we can adapt to climate change, and what the realities are of doing that. He points out that we can’t call these climatic conditions a drought anymore, because that implies it will end. Years are variable, and snowpack, rainfall, and temperatures oscillate, but we have to look at the science and assume that the hot, dry trends we’re seeing will continue—and continue to get worse.
And then we have to get realistic about cutbacks. Demands have to shrink along with supply.
Part of that is reliant on state, tribal, and federal water managers, who are responsible for allocation. Right now on the Colorado River, those entities are renegotiating what are called interim guidelines, which outline the water levels that trigger those planned cutbacks and delineate which places have to sacrifice water first. Last year a voluntary set of shortages, called the Drought Contingency Plan, was put in place as a stopgap to keep the river from spiraling into crisis.
As the water managers come up with the next set of guidelines, which are slated to go into place in 2026, they’ll have to be much stricter, while also trying to be equitable. It’s going to be extremely difficult, because these decisions are tangled up in states’ rights, environmental equity, and philosophies about growth. Kuhn says he hopes desperation might drive more concession and collaboration than there’s been before. As those negotiations and cutbacks happen on the Colorado—which brings water to 40 million people in the western U.S.—they can be a template for other rivers and other dry places that are facing similar conditions.
Where once a river ran, the Dolores River has all but disappeared in its lower reaches below McPhee Dam this summer, another causality of an intense drought that has gripped Southwest Colorado.
Striking images of dried up streambeds, tepid pools filled with suffocating algae and vegetation encroaching into the historic channel of the Dolores River has incited deep concerns over the ecological collapse of an entire waterway.
“It’s pretty devastating,” Jim White, an aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said. “It’s going to be a tough year for fish.”
Farmers and ranchers that rely on water from the reservoir, too, are also coming up on the losing end. This year, most irrigators are receiving just 5% to 10% of usual water shares, with valves expected to be shut off by the end of the month, an incredibly early end to the growing season sure to have economic fallouts.
“Absolutely, it’s the worst in the project history,” Ken Curtis, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, the agency that manages the dam, said of the situation on the Dolores River this year.
Completed in 1985, McPhee Dam bottlenecks the Dolores River in Southwest Colorado, just west of the town that bears its name. At the time, the project was sold as an insurance bank of water for both irrigators and the downstream fishery.
But in the years since, a crippling, 20-year drought has exposed intrinsic flaws within the management system put in place. And it all seems to have come to a head this summer after back-to-back poor water years, which has forced a reckoning among water users who rely on the strapped river…
Montezuma Tunnel entrance.
Montezuma Tunnel steel arches.
The Dolores River tumbles south out of the high country of the San Juan Mountains, and takes a sharp turn west near the town of Dolores before it heads more than 170 miles north to the Colorado River near Moab.
Near Dolores, the river skirts the edge of the Montezuma Valley, a different drainage basin where water is incredibly scarce. In the 1880s, Western settlers, looking to irrigate these arid fields, constructed a series of tunnels and large diversions to bring water over from the Dolores River.
This system, known as a transmountain diversion, brought a whole host of its own issues. Some years, flows were so erratic, that after spring runoff, agricultural needs reduced the Dolores River to a trickle. On top of concerns for the fishery below the dam, farmers and ranchers further out near Dove Creek also started to eye shares from the river. 4
So, by the mid-1900s, as was custom at the time, a dam was proposed. Much has been written and said about the concept of McPhee; even top-ranking Bureau of Reclamation officials have expressed on record the ill-advised nature of the water project in such an arid environment. Ranchers and farmers, however, came to hold water reserves in McPhee as an economic lifeline.
But, even a few years after completion, the dam started showing proverbially cracks in its plan after low-water years in the late 1980s…
“Deal with the devil”
McPhee’s first and foremost priority is to serve agriculture in the Montezuma Valley. Today, water out of the reservoir irrigates the fields of an estimated 1,500 farms, which range in size from small, three acre tracts to 1,000 acre operations.
Early on in the project’s management, however, low snowpack years in the mountains, which resulted in less available water supply coming into the dam, created tension among the competing interests for agricultural and the health of the river…
Ultimately, a “pool” of water was dedicated for releases out of the dam to support the fishery. But as the region increasingly dried out, shares have had to be reduced, and in some years the water sent down river has not provided enough habitat to sustain fish populations.
This summer, the fishery will receive just 5,000 acre feet of water, far below its 32,000 acre feet allotment. As a result, releases out of McPhee are expected to drop as low as 5 cubic feet per second, the lowest amount ever recorded (for reference, summer flows tend to be between 70 and 90 cfs).
Further downstream, the picture is even bleaker as water is lost to evaporation, sucked up by the soil and even in some cases used for irrigation. As of Wednesday, the stream gauge on the Dolores River at Bedrock, about 100 miles downstream of McPhee, was reading an inconceivable 0.45 cfs, virtually a nonexistent flow…
Short end of the stick
Thousands of fish are expected to die this year on the Dolores River.
For the first 10 miles or so downstream of McPhee Dam, the river boasts a robust trout fishery. Further on, as the river cuts toward the towns of Bedrock and Gateway, the waterway is home to many native fish, like the bluehead sucker and roundtail chub. Survival rates, as expected, are grim.
CPW’s White said that before the construction of the dam, spring runoff would replenish pools for fish to find refuge in. But that’s not the case in the post-dam world, and many fish will likely succumb to high water temperatures and the evaporation of pools in the hot summer months. And, conditions have set up perfectly for the invasive smallmouth bass to take over…
The Dolores River has been so changed and altered by the construction of McPhee Dam, and compounded by the effects of climate change, that it’s also prompted a multi-year study to understand the ecosystem’s new normal. Gigi Richard, director of the Four Corners Water Center at Fort Lewis College, said vegetation is now growing in the river bed, and the channel is losing the diversification of flow that support so many species…
Cutting off the tap
Explaining water rights is never an easy task for reporters with a word count.
But here we go: the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., formed in 1920 to consolidate the earliest water users, hold the most senior water rights. The next tiers in the pecking order are those served explicitly because of the construction of McPhee: farmers out near Dove Creek, the downstream fishery and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
With McPhee receiving just a quarter of normal inflows from the Dolores this year, MVIC irrigators had their allocations slashed 50%, Curtis said. But that’s not the worst: all other users had their water supply cut to 5% to 10% from normal years, the worst project allocation in its history.
(The water supply for the towns of Cortez and Towaoc, which serves about 20,000 people, also comes from McPhee Reservoir and is expected to receive a sufficient amount this year.)…
Because of shortages, the Ute Mountain Ute Farm & Ranching Enterprise was forced to abandon most of its alfalfa, a profitable yet water-intensive crop, and focus on corn, less water dependent but also less valued…
All predictions show no signs of the drought in the Southwest reversing course, so what’s to become of a reservoir like McPhee that increasingly doesn’t have enough water to meet its own demands? It’s a question managers at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which also face record low levels, also are grappling with.
Curtis, for his part, said the water district is consumed with the emergency-response nature of this year’s drought. Montezuma County earlier this month declared a disaster emergency because of the lack of water, and funds are being sought to offset losses for farmers.
This fall, Curtis expects more serious, long-term conversations about the future of McPhee. Even further on the horizon, the dam’s Operating Agreement plan between DWCD and the Bureau of Rec expires in 2025, expected to reinvigorate the conversation. Still, Curtis doesn’t foresee any fundamental changes in the way the reservoir provides water to its customers.
“It’s not going to be fun, I can tell you that,” he said. “Fundamentally, the project didn’t anticipate this amount of shortages, so we’re having to think about what the longer-term implications are. I’m not authorized to make those decisions, no single party really is.”
By the end of the year, McPhee Reservoir is expected to drop to its lowest level since construction, at about 40% capacity. Most of that remaining water, Curtis said, is inaccessible because of topography issues.
State of Colorado Water Commissioner Scott Hummer, whose position administers water rights in south Routt County, said longtime ranching families fear this is the worst year for water availability in their lifetimes.
“No one living has experienced the extreme conditions we’re dealing with on the ground currently,” said Hummer, now in his fifth irrigation season as water commissioner for South Routt in his 31-year career in water administration in Colorado…
[Andi] Schaffner said a spring used to water livestock on her family’s rural property was running at 29 gallons per minute in mid-July 2020, while this week, the spring is running at only 2 gallons per minute.
Many agricultural water users in the Bear River drainage in South Routt have already had their headgates shut and water to ditches curtailed, which is sooner than in previous summers. Water officials say some agricultural water users are not going to be able to irrigate at all, or many may not be able to irrigate as they have in past years…
Local Water Division 6 Engineer Erin Light said the Yampa River below the town of Yampa has always relied on return flows of water, primarily from irrigated land up the Bear River.
“With limited reservoir water to put on this irrigated land and the extremely dry conditions, return flows to the Yampa River are reduced significantly or nonexistent.” Light said.
Officials note little return flows from upstream irrigation means little water returning to the river for concerns such as healthy fish habitat…
Holly Kirkpatrick, external affairs manager for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District that manages Yamcolo and Stagecoach reservoirs, said the district continues to work with the Colorado Water Trust, which will lease water later this summer and fall to release reservoir water into the Yampa River when the water drops below healthy levels and water temperatures spike.
One river drainage that had never been placed completely on call from senior water owners is the Hunt Creek drainage west of the town of Yampa in the Crosho Lake area. Usually, two of the five creeks in the drainage might go on call, but this year, already all five tributaries, or the entire Hunt Creek system, are on call, Hummer said. This means more than a dozen of those agricultural water users have no water flows in their ditches and diversions.
Hummer said many agricultural ditches are running at one-third normal capacity, which impacts livestock and hay production.
“The ditches, reservoirs and stream flows are between 25% to 30% of what would be normal this time of year,” Hummer said. “At least a half dozen creeks in my area have not produced any surface water flows at all.”
Any additional water for agricultural water users comes from a limited storage supply from higher reservoirs that are already suffering from lower water levels early this season, Light said. Yamcolo and Stillwater agricultural reservoirs southwest of the town of Yampa are popular with recreationists, yet Stillwater Reservoir currently is at about one-third full of normal capacity and Yamcolo Reservoir about 57% full, Hummer said…
Water officials say gauges and records show the current inflow of upstream water into Stagecoach Reservoir is at about 6% of the historic average. The inflow to Stagecoach this week has ranged from 6 to 7 cubic feet per second, with the minimum inflow this year so far at 4.66 cfs June 12, Kirkpatrick said. The historic average inflow to Stagecoach for this week is usually 104 to 108 cfs.
From email from Scott Hummer:
Local – River flow rates as of this morning:
Yampa River above Stagecoach Reservoir USGS Gage = 6.56 CFS
6% of the 40 year historic flow rate of 110.98 CFS
Yampa River at Steamboat Spring (5th St) USGS Gage = 198 CFS
12 % of the 114 year historic flow of 1793 CFS.
Elk River near Milner USGS Gage = 620 CFS
29% of the 114 year historic flow rate of 2282 CFS.
Yampa River near Maybell USGS Gage = 798 CFS
15 % of the 102 year historic flow rate of 5508 CFS.
Yampa River at Deerlodge USGS Gage = 1130 CFS
18% of the 39 year historic flow rate of 6309 CFS.
Stagecoah Reservoir Inlet June 16, 2021. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Hunt Creek below Barr Ditch June 14, 2021. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Yampa River at Phiips burg June 14, 2021. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Beaver Creek at Beaver Creek Ditch June 12, 2021. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Beaver Creek Ditch June 12, 2021. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Wheeler Creek above Wheeler Ditch June, 2021. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Wheeler Creek Ditch 6 & 7 diversion check June 2021. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Gunnison River flows have dropped off quickly over the last few days and there is a need for more water in the Gunnison River to meet the target of 1050 cfs, pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD). Therefore, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 150 cfs tomorrow afternoon, June 18th at 2pm.
Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1040 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 475 cfs. After these release changes, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 625 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
The drought situation in San Juan County may not be unprecedented when compared to the challenges of the last 10 years, but it’s plenty bad, county commissioners were told during their June 15 meeting in Aztec.
Commissioners heard from a variety of county employees, led by emergency manager Mike Mestas, about the severity of the situation and how much worse it could get if significant moisture doesn’t fall from the sky soon. Mestas was on hand to seek a disaster declaration from commissioners because of the drought, a measure that passed unanimously when Mestas and his associates had completed their presentation.
Mestas said the declaration will allow government organizations to seek funding from state and federal sources, if and when it becomes available, to help offset some of the issues that are expected to arise because of the drought. According to drought.gov, most of San Juan County is designated as being in exceptional drought, the worst category, while the rest of the county is either in exceptional drought or extreme drought, the second- and third-worst categories.
Mestas noted that two of San Juan County’s neighbors — Montezuma County in Colorado and McKinley County in New Mexico — also had made disaster declarations because of the drought. The state of New Mexico filed a drought declaration in December 2020, he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture already has declared a disaster declaration in 14 counties in the state, he said, with San Juan County being one of those. That designation will allow farmers, ranchers and some other residents who qualify for financial assistance to receive it, he said…
[Michelle] Truby-Tillen recalled the issues Animas Valley Water users experienced in 2016 when their system became largely inoperative and water filling stations had to be established for Crouch Mesa residents in Aztec and at McGee Park…
She explained that San Juan County is not just in a drought, it’s in what she termed a snow drought.
“We get our water from the mountains,” she said. “If there’s no rain here, yeah, it’s dry, we have problems. But as long as there’s snow in the mountains, we’re good to go. The big problem comes when there’s no snow. We’ve been in a snow drought this year comparable to several years ago when there was no snow at all on the mountains.”
In practical terms, the mountain snowpack in southwest Colorado was gone by April of this year, she said, and the ramifications of that are likely to be felt for quite some time.
Town outlines increased fines for periods of extreme drought
Bayfield has adopted the town’s first official drought management plan, creating a system of conservation restrictions and fines that would take effect during drought periods.
The board of trustees unanimously approved the drought plan during a board meeting Tuesday. The plan defines drought conditions and designates the corresponding response. In the most extreme drought conditions, the response will include strict conservation measures and increased fines.
No residents commented on the plan during the meeting, but several called Mayor Ashleigh Tarkington to express concerns about the fines, she said.
“Residents are just like, ‘Are you serious about these fines?’ They’ve always been there, but we’ve never really enforced them,” Tarkington said. “We do mean business. If we get that concerned about our water situation, we will go there.”
The plan outlines three drought phases: sustainable conservation, serious drought and extreme drought based on local conditions and water use.
Under sustainable conservation, the town restricts when households can use irrigation water. The restrictions include fines of $50 for the first offense, and $100 or $500 for second and third offenses.
During serious drought, the town helps high water users decrease use, discourages water-intensive landscape changes and initiates public awareness efforts. The same fines apply.
During an extreme drought, like 2002, all outside irrigation is reduced and all daytime irrigation is prohibited. Fines jump to $100 for a first offense and $200 or $500 for second and third offenses…
During six of the last 20 years, Southwest Colorado has found itself in a serious or extreme drought, according to criteria outlined by the plan.
Seven times over the last 20 years, Bayfield’s water allotment from the Los Pinos River has been restricted or cut off to ensure entities with more senior water rights could get their full allotment.
The town has water stored in Vallecito Reservoir, but increasing its use of the standby supply would lead to increased water bills for users.
The drought plan is meant to help town officials manage drought years like this one without increasing the water bill for residents, said Katie Sickles, town manager, in a previous interview.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor map June 15, 2021.
High Plains Drought Monitor map June 15, 2021.
West Drought Monitor map June 15, 2021.
Colorado Drought Monitor map June 15, 2021.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
Warmer than normal temperatures continued their hold this week on the northern tier of the Lower 48, particularly in the northern Great Plains and Upper Midwest. Across the north, widespread degradation of drought conditions occurred in areas where heavy rainfall missed. A few areas that received heavy precipitation and saw localized improvements were coastal Oregon and Washington, western Montana, and eastern Montana and western North Dakota. Widespread heavy rain occurred in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, where drought conditions improved or ceased in many locations. Scattered storms over the last few weeks in the southern Great Plains and eastern New Mexico led to isolated improvements to drought conditions, and a few degradations to drought conditions in western Oklahoma where heavier storms missed. Conditions improved after beneficial rainfall in eastern Puerto Rico. Continued drying in Hawaii led to degradation in drought conditions on many of the islands…
Precipitation across the High Plains region varied significantly this week, though very warm temperatures were consistent across the region. Notably, many places in the central and northern Great Plains have had warmer daytime high temperatures than much of the southern Great Plains, leading to potentially large losses of surface moisture to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration in the northern Great Plains. A few areas in the western half of North Dakota received enough rain from several thunderstorm events to improve their drought status, though this primarily occurred in areas with very heavy rain amounts (some locales received over 5 inches). For the most part, while welcome, the heavy rains have come after months of warm and dry conditions, and the widespread severe, extreme, and exceptional drought has been slow to improve as impacts to plants and livestock continue. In north-central and northeast South Dakota, and adjacent portions of North Dakota, moderate and severe drought expanded…
Three notable widespread precipitation events occurred in the northwestern United States this week, which led to limited improvements in northeast Montana, western Montana, and coastal regions of Washington and Oregon. Recent scattered rainfall from thunderstorms in the high plains and high desert of eastern and south-central New Mexico improved drought conditions locally, though widespread moderate-to-exceptional drought maintained its grip on most of the state. Northeast Montana received locally enough rain from severe thunderstorms for limited improvement from extreme to severe drought. However, similar to North Dakota and South Dakota, agricultural impacts and warm temperatures continued, limiting the rain’s benefit on conditions in the area. A swath of precipitation covered areas from southwest Idaho to the high country of western Montana, leading to a small area of improved conditions in western Montana. Finally, a late-season atmospheric river event delivered welcome precipitation to coastal portions of Washington and Oregon, which improved short- and long-term precipitation deficits enough for localized one- and two-category improvements in drought conditions. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the West received little to no precipitation, and warmer than normal temperatures plagued much of the region. Degradations to conditions occurred in northeast California and south-central Oregon, southern Montana, central and western Wyoming, far east-central Wyoming, and the high country of west-central Colorado. All of these locations saw short- and long-term precipitation deficits continue to mount. Most of the West region remained in moderate, severe, extreme, or exceptional drought. In central California, farmers have been warned about potential water cutoffs, while wildfire concerns and firework restrictions are prevalent in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico…
Scattered heavy rain fell across the eastern half of the region this week, while rains were much spottier (though locally heavy) in Texas and Oklahoma. Moderate and severe drought conditions shifted northwest in western Oklahoma in response to changing conditions after rain this week, leaving some areas improved and others degraded. Several areas in southwest Texas saw improvement this week after rain from the last couple of weeks improved conditions there. In southwest Texas, the Trans-Pecos, and along the Rio Grande to near Laredo, abnormal dryness and all drought categories continued…
As of June 16, the National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Prediction Center is forecasting two areas of significant precipitation through the evening of June 21. One area of forecast rain covers much of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions, and could be highly beneficial to southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois if it occurs. Large rain amounts are also forecast from the central Gulf Coast to Georgia, northwest Florida, and western South Carolina, in association with a tropical disturbance being monitored by the NWS National Hurricane Center as of the afternoon of June 16th. For more information on this system, please monitor forecasts from the National Hurricane Center, the Weather Prediction Center, and your local National Weather Service forecast. The NWS Climate Prediction Center forecast for June 22-26 favors above normal precipitation in the western Great Lakes, lower Missouri River Valley, and the Southeast (excluding South Florida), while below normal precipitation is favored in the Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West, and North Dakota. During this period, warmer than normal temperatures are favored in the western Great Plains and West, while below normal temperatures are more likely from the Great Lakes to the central and eastern Gulf Coast). In Alaska, above normal temperatures are favored in the north from June 22-26, below-normal precipitation is favored in east-central Alaska, while above normal precipitation is favored elsewhere in the state.
Here’s the US Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 15, 2021.
FromThe Associated Press (Anita Snow) via The Aurora Sentinel:
An unusually early and long-lasting heat wave brought more triple-digit temperatures Wednesday to a large swath of the U.S. West, raising concerns that such extreme weather could become the new normal amid a decades-long drought…
Scientists who study drought and climate change say that people living in the American West can expect to see more of the same in the coming years.
Metro Aurora is seeing consecutive days with temperatures above 100, which is abnormal.
“Overall, it has been fairly rare to have 2 consecutive days of 100 degrees or more (in Colorado). In fact, there have only been 14 occurrences since 1872,” National Weather Service officials said in a post…
A few clouds were holding the temperatures down slightly in the desert region of southwest Arizona and southeast California. But there was no real relief expected from the excessive heat warning in effect until at least Sunday…
Elsewhere in the West, triple-digit heat was forecast in Denver, which saw a record high of 101 degrees Tuesday. The weather service issued an excessive heat warning for parts of western Colorado, most of which is experiencing extreme drought conditions…
In Nevada, Las Vegas hit 116 degrees (46.6 Celsius), breaking the record of 114 degrees (45.5 Celsius) for the date set during a record hot spell on June 16, 1940…
In Montana, temperatures over 100 degrees (38 Celsius) have made it tougher to fight wildfires that have exploded in size, triggering evacuations and destroying an undetermined number of homes. Furious winds have stoked the flames and forced the crash-landing of a firefighting helicopter.
At least 14 new fires have been reported in Montana and Wyoming since Tuesday.
The dry weather was also being felt in Idaho, where authorities are preparing for what could be a challenging wildfire season.
Nick Nauslar, a meteorologist with the National Interagency Fire Center, told state officials this week that nearly 80% of Idaho is in drought and the rest will likely experience it in the coming months. He said Idaho had its second-driest spring in the last 126 years.
Since the 1970s, scientists have been interested in how runoff in the Colorado River Basin (CR Basin) would change as the climate warms. Many of these studies strongly suggested that the Colorado River (CR) would lose flow
with warming, but in the last few years, scientists have been able to analyze a de- clining 22-year flow record, the ongoing 2000-2021 “Millennium Drought”. Multiple studies since 2016 have now found human fingerprints on the nearly 20% loss in flow since 2000 and attribute up to half of that loss to the approximately 1.2°C or more warming that has occurred during the last century. This article summarizes six key peer-reviewed studies related to the topic of CR flow loss. These studies have found declines in runoff efficiency, investigated the causes of flow loss, and in some cases made projections about future flow declines based on the 21st-century climate model projected temperatures.
Ken Salazar, a Coloradan who served as interior secretary and in the U.S. Senate, will be nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, the White House announced on Tuesday.
Commisioner Salmon with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, at a November 2012 in San Diego (Tami A. Heilemann — Office of Communication, U.S. Department of Interior)
Beth Conover, director of CSU’s Salazar Center for North American Conservation and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
Minute 319 signing
Salazar’s nomination has been rumored for weeks. He’s a Colorado College graduate who has recently been working in the private sector at the Denver branch of the sprawling law firm WilmerHale.
In addition to his time in President Barack Obama’s administration and in Congress, Salazar served as Colorado’s attorney general.
Salazar grew up on a farm in the San Luis Valley where he spoke only Spanish at home. He is highly active in Democratic politics and in 2018 mulled a bid to become Colorado governor, ultimately deciding against launching a campaign, saying “my family’s well-being must come first.”
“President Biden has made a terrific choice in nominating Ken Salazar as the next ambassador to Mexico,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said in a written statement. “Ken is a tremendous public servant with a strong record of bipartisanship in the United States Senate. He has always led with integrity, and I have great confidence in his ability to represent the United States. We, in Colorado, are proud of him and grateful for his service once again.”
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the Colorado Department of Corrections joined the Governor and legislators today to celebrate legislation to invest $25 million in targeted wildfire risk mitigation and workforce development and $30 million in watershed restoration.
SB21-258, which marks a significant one-time, strategic investment to jumpstart work on wildfire mitigation in targeted locations that connect fuels treatments at landscape-scales to protect communities.
SB21-240 provides $30 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to be used for critical watershed recovery efforts, and to ensure our watersheds are more resilient to the growing wildfire and flooding challenges that we face.
“I greatly appreciate the leadership of the Governor and legislators for their commitment to investments to protect Colorado communities, secure our water resources from wildfire, while creating new jobs and opportunities in Colorado’s rural areas. Colorado’s wildfire crisis is at a critical juncture and immediate decisive action is necessary to protect lives, homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Although Colorado has been and remains committed to taking meaningful action to mitigate wildfire risk, past efforts have lacked the coordination, landscape-scale focus, and robust state investment required to properly address the size and behavior of catastrophic wildfires. The legislation will quickly move resources to on the ground projects and mitigation teams with a focus on protecting communities, watersheds and improving forest health.”
The wildfire stimulus bills involve interagency cooperation and collaboration to quickly move resources and workers to shovel ready projects, as well as priority areas for planning. This effort addresses the need to assess risk, plan and implement wildfire risk mitigation projects, expands workforce capacity through investments in the Colorado Youth Corps Association and the Department of Corrections, invests in the development of the forest products industry, and enhances the capacity and flexibility of programs at the Colorado State Forest Service. This bill also creates the hazard mitigation fund in the Department of Public Safety to assist local jurisdictions in obtaining the matching funds required for certain federal hazard mitigation grants.
“The individuals who work on these SWIFT crews have for many years provided a critical fire protection and prevention service during their incarceration,” said DOC Executive Director Dean Williams. “Being a part of SWIFT allows these individuals the opportunity to give back to the community while also learning skills that will help them successfully return to society once they are released. The bill signed today means that substantially more people can participate in this program. These individuals conducting fire mitigation services will be paid increased wages, providing them with some stability when they release, which in turn increases public safety. Many of these crew members have fought on the front lines of the largest fires that have happened in Colorado, and they find dignity and purpose in the work they do. We look forward to working with our partners at the Department of Natural Resources on implementing this legislation.”
Key components for the legislation include:
The deployment of a US Forest Service team to help identify the most critical landscapes in the state for fuels reduction and wildfire mitigation projects.
Increase the size of the State Wildland Inmate Fire Team (SWIFT) program to include up to 160 members and expand the focus of the program on forest restoration and wildfire mitigation work.
Support youth and veterans’ wildfire mitigation crews through a standing partnership between DNR and the Colorado Youth Corps Association.
The creation of a fund to support targeted fuel reduction and wildfire mitigation projects that would reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in priority areas.
Creation of a hazard mitigation fund in the Department of Public Safety to assist local jurisdictions in obtaining the matching funds required for certain federal hazard mitigation grants.
Substantial investments in the Colorado State Forest Service’s most important programs, and increasing the flexibility and impact of the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation grant program. State funds can now support capacity building for local forest collaborative groups to develop forest management projects.
Supporting the forest products industry:
One time investment of funds to the Colorado State Forest Service’s Forest Business Loan Program provides lending capital to businesses to help retain forest-based businesses, maintain or increase local jobs, and enhance the stability of local economies.
This legislation builds on a number of other initiatives which have moved through the Colorado legislature related to the state’s wildfire mitigation and watershed protection efforts. An early bill allocated $6.0 million of one-time funding to the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation (FRWRM) program within the Colorado State Forest Service for grants this fiscal year. Legislation also increased the annual appropriation to the FRWRM grants to $8.0 million and provided an additional appropriation of $2.0 million to the Healthy Forests Vibrant Communities (HFVC) Fund.
Senate Bill 21-240, signed by Governor Polis, transfers $30 million from the General Fund to the Watershed Restoration Grant Program managed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). This funding will specifically be used for critical watershed recovery efforts following impacts from Colorado’s 2020 wildfire season. Funds will be used to match funding from the Federal Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to local communities facing fires, floods, and other natural disasters that impair watersheds.
“The stimulus funding through Senate Bills 258 and 240 are critical for helping our on-the-ground partners restore watersheds following one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in 2020. Healthy watersheds are absolutely the foundation to Colorado’s water supply resources,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
This bill also directs the CWCB to conduct a statewide watershed analysis to investigate the susceptibility of life, safety, infrastructure, and water supplies to wildfire impacts, to ensure that future funding is strategically awarded to areas that are at the greatest risk.
From the Colorado Agriculture Alliance (Lyn Halliday) via Steamboat Pilot & Today:
A new name has been coined for the prolonged drought condition in the Colorado River Basin: Mega drought. Water conservation in the home and business can be part of the solution.
Here are some basic water conservation practices worthy of remembering as we navigate through prolific drought.
General rules of thumb to improve efficiency, reduce waste in the home include:
Leak detection and repair: Even small leaks can add up to significant water loss. Look for and repair leaks frequently.
Replace or retrofit appliances and fixtures: Install high efficiency plumbing fixtures and appliances. A large percentage of water is flushed down the toilet. Retrofit to code, 1.6 gallon toilets, or install ultra-low flow or dual flush units. Only run clothes and dish washers when full. Install on-demand hot water heaters or hot water circulating pumps.
Employ water-efficient landscaping practices: Only water between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. Use native grasses and shrubs or drought-tolerant plant species. Mulch plants, trees and shrubs. Plan landscaping based on sun, shade, and moisture. Consider xeriscape practices. Use drip irrigation instead of spray. Install rain shut off or moisture sensors on irrigation systems. Refrain from tree-planting and the seeding or sodding of new lawns from June 15 through Aug. 31. Avoid developing water-intensive landscapes. Sweep impervious surfaces such as driveways, parking areas, walkways instead of power washing or hosing down.
Pools and spas: Cover pools and spas with insulated covers when not in use to reduce evaporation. Detect and repair leaks. Minimize re-filling. Refrain from installing outdoor water features such as fountains. Track usage. Learn to interpret the water bill and compare to historic usage to improve water use management.
Water saving and associated cost saving ideas for businesses:
• Install water efficient equipment.
• Select water saving fixtures such as waterless urinals, low-flow and automatic shut off faucets in sinks.
• Recycle water. Check your local codes before implementing water re-use programs. Rainwater collection for irrigation is becoming common in certain locales. Re-use water from cooling towers, heating units, ventilation equipment, and air conditioners. Grey water can be re-used for toilet flushing.
• Identify and repair leaks. Leaking faucets, toilets, irrigation systems and other water conveyance infrastructure can waste many gallons of water a day. A schedule of checking for and repairing leaks will ensure that leaks don’t go unnoticed for long. Encourage staff to report any leaks or drips and repair them immediately.
• Make industrial process improvements with water savings in mind.
• Investigate various water conservation techniques tailored to your specific industry.
• Educate employees about water conservation.
• When cleaning with water is necessary, use minimal amounts.
• Minimize the water used in cooling equipment such as air compressors, in accordance with the manufacturer recommendations.
• Keep hot water heaters and pipes insulated.
• Avoid excessive boiler and air conditioner blow down.
• Consider dry carpet cleaning methods over wet or steam carpet cleaning.
• Instruct clean-up crews and contractors to be efficient when using water.
• Shut off air conditioning when and where it is not needed to reduce the load on equipment.
• Monitor the water bill monthly.
Tips for turf lawns:
• Only water before 9am or after 7pm every third day at 1-inch to 1 1/2 inches per week. If you have a controller, set it to avoid over-watering.
• Most area soils have a lot of clay and need slow water delivery for optimum infiltration; a maximum of 1/2-inch per hour. Select rotary nozzles that use stream spray with multi trajectory, slow delivery.
• Using a smart controller, ET based controller, wireless rain sensors, and/or adjusting timers properly saves water and results in healthier turf and plants.
• Cut your lawn no shorter than 3 inches to reduce soil moisture loss and to promote deeper roots.
• Avoid planting trees and shrubs or sodding new lawns during the drier, hotter months.
• Check your sprinkler heads. Are they broken? Clogged? Plugged? Overgrown with vegetation? Are there objects interfering with proper application? Make sure the spray heads turn properly. Adjust heads so that water does not reach streets and driveways.
• Check for uniform water distribution and infiltration. After a cycle, walk the property to determine if water evenly applied. Look for excessively wet spots or dry spots.
• Avoid watering if the soil is still wet.
• Check for obvious leaks and take immediate action to fix them.
• Does your system have optimum pressure? Too much pressure causes misting/atomizing, too little can cause dribbling.
• Change irrigated turf to native or drought tolerant plants and grasses and incorporate other xeriscape practices such as soil conditioning and mulching.
Other outdoor water saving tips:
• Use porous materials for patios and walkways to reduce runoff.
• Use a car wash that recycles water or wash your car on the lawn so you can simultaneously water your grass. Use a bucket instead of a hose.
• Being “water aware” can go a long way to achieving dramatic savings, both water and costs.
Lyn Halliday is an environmental scientist and consults locally on environmental issues. She was instrumental in the development of the first Water Conservation Plan for the city of Steamboat Springs and, as founder of the Steamboat Sustainable Business Program in 2006, has coached many local businesses to help them reduce their environmental footprint.
Responding to concerns from residents about the taste and smell of the town’s water, Johnstown officials have announced the planned installation of three new systems to help mitigate the issues.
The town is installing the three systems at the end of June with the goal to improve the water service, according to a June 14 news release. Residents can look forward to a new Granular Activated Carbon feeder system, a Powdered Activated Carbon filtration system and an ultrasonic buoy.
Residents of Johnstown should see difference in their water with the new installations, according to the release.
The GAC system, installed at the town’s water treatment plant, removes contaminant and controls taste and odor. The PAC system, located at Lone Tree Reservoir, will filter out organic components, which can contribute to taste and odor problems.
The last portion of the new systems is the ultrasonic buoy that will reside in the Johnstown reservoir. This system prevents algae’s growth in the surface of the reservoir, and reduces algae from impacting the water’s odor and taste.
This isn’t the first strive towards better-tasting water in Johnstown. At the beginning of this year, new water and sewer rates and fee schedule were created to provide better water service to residents.
Storage tanks at Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant taking shape.
The work started in the dark, at 2:30 a.m., continued through the dawn and lasted until noon on Friday, May 14.
Loaded concrete trucks trundled onto the site of the Northwater Treatment Plant, along Highway 93 north of Golden. A truck arrived every four minutes, delivering concrete that was pumped, then smoothed into place by an army of about 100 workers.
They shaped the round, concrete floor of what will be the first of the new treatment plant’s two water storage tanks. The tanks will hold clean, treated water to be delivered into Denver Water’s distribution system that sends safe drinking water 1.5 million people every day.
“It’s a big milestone day. Each tank can hold 10 million gallons of water — and to put that in perspective, that’s 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” said Bob Mahoney, Denver Water’s chief engineering officer.
“The project is going very well. It’s ahead of schedule and — in addition to pouring the floor of the new treated water reservoir — the overall project is about 38% complete.”
A look at the numbers behind the work:
23 feet, the height of the storage tank when finished, although most of it will be buried underground.
300-plus feet, the diameter of the tank, longer than a football field.
1,400 cubic yards of concrete were needed for the floor of the tank.
145 concrete trucks delivered the concrete.
100 workers were involved with the concrete placement.
The new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant, being built next to the utility’s Ralston Reservoir, is expected to be complete in 2024 and will be capable of cleaning up to 75 million gallons of water per day. Concrete for the floor of the second water storage tank is expected to be put in place July 2, weather permitting.
The Northwater Treatment Plant is part of Denver Water’s $600 million North System Renewal effort, which includes a new pipeline to carry water from the new plant and upgrades at the old Moffat Treatment Plant built in Lakewood in the 1930s.
The concrete work in mid-May drew a steady stream of curious onlookers, including workers building the new plant — and those who will run it when it’s finished.
“I had to come out. I really wanted to see how they do this,” said Nicole Babyak, a water treatment plant supervisor at Denver Water.
“The team and I, we’ve been involved in this project for years. We’re going to be running the plant and have seen parts of the facility being built from the ground up, but I haven’t seen a large concrete pour like this yet. It’s so neat to be here while they’re pouring the first tank.
Humanity must solve the climate and nature crises together or solve neither, according to a report from 50 of the world’s leading scientists.
Global heating and the destruction of wildlife is wreaking increasing damage on the natural world, which humanity depends on for food, water and clean air. Many of the human activities causing the crises are the same and the scientists said increased use of nature as a solution was vital.
The devastation of forests, peatlands, mangroves and other ecosystems has decimated wildlife populations and released huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Rising temperatures and extreme weather are, in turn increasingly damaging biodiversity.
But restoring and protecting nature boosts biodiversity and the ecosystems that can rapidly and cheaply absorb carbon again, the researchers said. While this is crucial, the scientists emphasise that rapid cuts in fossil fuel burning is also essential to ending the climate emergency.
They also warned against action on one crisis inadvertently aggravating the other, such as creating monoculture tree plantations that store carbon but are wildlife deserts and more vulnerable to extreme weather.
“It is clear that we cannot solve [the global biodiversity and climate crises] in isolation – we either solve both or we solve neither,” said Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway’s climate and environment minister.
The peer-reviewed report was produced by the world’s leading biodiversity and climate experts, who were convened by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, both which report to the world’s political leaders.
The report identified actions to simultaneously fight the climate and nature crises, including expanding nature reserves and restoring – or halting the loss of – ecosystems rich in species and carbon, such as forests, natural grasslands and kelp forests.
Food systems cause a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and more sustainable farming is another important action, helped by the ending of destructive subsidies and rich nations eating less meat and cutting food waste…
Protecting and restoring natural ecosystems was the fastest and cheapest way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the scientists said. Cutting fossil fuel emissions was essential, but not enough at this point in the climate crisis, said Parmesan. “We cannot avoid dangerous climate change without soaking up some of the carbon that we’ve already put into the atmosphere and the best way to suck up carbon is using the power of plants,” she said.
“The science of restoration of ecosystems has really blossomed over the last 40 years. We are now able to efficiently and effectively restore complex systems, tropical rainforest, coastal wetlands, kelp forests and seagrass meadows, natural American prairie, and UK meadows back to their near historical diversity.”
Prof Mark Maslin, of University College London, said the report was seminal: “The science is very clear that climate change and biodiversity are inseparable. To stabilise climate change we need massive rewilding and reforestation.”
The UK environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, said: “This is an absolutely critical year for nature and climate. With the UN biodiversity [and climate summits], we have an opportunity and responsibility to put the world on a path to recovery. This hugely valuable report makes it clear that addressing biodiversity loss and climate change together offers our best chance of doing so.”
Continuing the year’s warming trend, May 2021 tied with 2018 as the world’s sixth-warmest May on record, while the year to date (through May) ranked eighth warmest, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
Here’s a closer look into NOAA’s latest monthly global climate report:
Climate by the numbers
The average global temperature in May was 1.46 degrees F (0.81 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average, tying with May 2018 as the sixth-warmest May recorded.
May 2021 ended as the 45th-consecutive May and the 437th-consecutive month with average temperatures peaking above the 20th-century average.
Regionally, Asia had its second-warmest May on record behind May 2020, and Africa had its sixth warmest. Meanwhile, Europe and North America experienced their coolest May since 2004 and 2011, respectively.
Season | March through May
The average global temperature for the three-month season, March through May, was 1.48 degrees F (0.82 of a degree C) above average, making it the eighth-warmest such season for the world on record.
The Northern Hemisphere had its sixth-warmest spring, while the Southern Hemisphere had its 11th-warmest autumn on record.
Year to date | January through May
The year to date (through May) ranked eighth-warmest on record and logged a global temperature of 1.39 degrees F (0.77 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average of 55.5 degrees F.
Africa had its third-warmest YTD on record, behind the same period for 2010 (2nd warmest) and 2016 (warmest). Asia and South America saw their eighth- and ninth-warmest YTDs on record, respectively.
More notable climate stats and facts from the May global climate report
Arctic sea ice retreated at a slightly slower rate: Sea ice covered about 243,000 square miles of the Arctic last month — an area roughly the size of Somalia — making it the ninth-smallest May ice coverage in the 43-year record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center offsite link.
Snow cover was quite sparse: The Northern Hemisphere’s snow cover in May was 1.08 million square miles below average — the third smallest for May on record. Only May 2010 and 2012 had a smaller snow cover. North America’s snow cover placed 11th smallest on record, while Eurasia saw its fifth smallest.
Spring Born, a 3.5-acre indoor hydroponic farm, is breaking ground in the CEA industry. The company is one of the first leafy green greenhouses in Colorado to undergo USDA Organic Certification. Spring Born products will be available for retail distribution starting August 2021.
“Spring Born combines innovative technologies and hardworking individuals that, when put together, provide fresh, healthy, quality greens better than anyone on the market,” said Charles Barr, president. “We care about the state of our environment and building sustainable practices that leave a lasting impact on our local community. Our company looks forward to supporting the community with nourishment but also economically with jobs and added business.”
Their advanced technology supports an efficient and sustainable environment for the greens and the local community. All products are grown and packed hands-free, pesticide-free, and use significantly less land and water than farm fields. The indoor farm grows, packs and distributes products directly from the greenhouse to support a long shelf life of 14 days at retail.
“Our greens are grown in a protected environment, not susceptible to the risk of harsh natural elements,” Barr said. “Spring Born promises unique varieties with consistent quality and supply year-round.”
With consumer preferences in mind, Spring Born currently offers four unique varieties available in standard retail and club-pack sizes. Spring Born will open its doors for tours and variety testing in July 2021. Contact email@example.com or learn more at http://www.springborn.us.
The following story was supported by funding from The Water Desk and was reported by The Utah Investigative Journalism Project in partnership with The Salt Lake Tribune.
Utah politicians and water officials have for years insisted that there is ample water in the Colorado River to fill its planned 140-mile Lake Powell pipeline to St. George in the southwestern corner of the state.
Despite impacts from climate change that have resulted in an 18% decline in river flows during the past two decades and a drop in Lake Powell’s level to just 35% of capacity, they might just be right.
Utah’s consistent argument that it has nearly 400,000 acre-feet (roughly 130 billion gallons) of undeveloped water in the river is disputed by hydrologists who say it’s using all its allotted share under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Even so, legal experts and engineers point out that there could be room for additional development — if the state is willing to buy or take the water from someone else.
“If there is going to be a new pipeline,” Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the Colorado River District, said in an interview, “let’s not pretend that it’s going to be using new water. If they build a new pipeline, they’re going to get that from irrigation water.”
The most likely candidate is irrigation water from the Uinta Basin, said Kuhn, co-author of “Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River.”
And that is exactly what Utah plans to do.
There’s one problem: The water the state plans to tap for the Lake Powell pipeline was previously promised to the Ute Indian Tribe, which is now suing to get back its water and asserting that the misappropriation is one of a decades-long string of racially motivated schemes to deprive it of its rights and property.
Pulling the plug on the Central Utah Project
The dispute dates to the 1950s and the origins of the Central Utah Project (CUP), a series of pipelines and reservoirs that channels Colorado River water over the Wasatch Mountains to Utah’s population centers in Salt Lake and Utah counties.
Utah water managers at the time leveraged Ute tribal water rights to cut a deal for construction of the CUP. In exchange for the destruction of lands and fisheries essential to the Ute way of life, state and federal governments agreed to extend the project to tribal lands.
But once the first phases of the project were complete, Utah and its federal partners abandoned plans to build dams and pipelines for the Utes, citing excessive costs and underwhelming benefits.
“It is unclear why the costs and benefits varied so significantly,” the tribe’s 2020 federal lawsuit said, referring to the completed CUP phases delivering water to the Wasatch Front compared to the originally proposed tribal phases. “However, it is clear that as an exclusively tribal project — that is, as a project for the delivery of the Tribe’s Reserved Water Rights — [the Bureau of Reclamation] found poor economics, but when non-Indians were included as part of the project, the economics drastically improved.”
These decisions significantly curtailed the tribe’s expected economic benefits from the project, guaranteeing it would not grow as quickly as other communities that received CUP water, the complaint said. It cited, for example, a 2018 attempt by the tribe to enter into a contract with an oil and gas development company, which ultimately fell through because the tribe lacked access to sufficient water to make the project happen.
Moreover, in what the tribe sees as an illegal betrayal and violation of its rights, the state has reassigned the promised water to a variety of other projects, including the Lake Powell pipeline.
Starting in 1996, the Utah Board of Water Resources divvied up the unused CUP water, awarding tens of thousands of acre-feet to the Uintah Water Conservancy District, the Duchesne County Water Conservancy District, and other public and private water developers. Two final divisions plan to split the remainder. Roughly 86,000 acre-feet will be assigned to the 140-mile Lake Powell pipeline — a $1 billion-plus project that still awaits federal approval — and the last 72,641 acre-feet of water has been allotted to a conservation and storage project called the Green River Block.
In a statement to The Utah Investigative Journalism Project, the tribe called the approval of the Green River Block a “sham contract” that lacks “any legal authority.”
According to the tribe’s 2020 federal lawsuit, which names the Green River Block specifically but does not include the as-yet unfinalized Lake Powell pipeline transfer, Utah appears to derive its claimed authority to execute these transfers from the Central Utah Project Completion Act of 1992.
The congressionally approved compact, which required ratification of the state and Ute Tribe, has never won approval of the Utes, rendering it null and void in their eyes. The state Legislature only recently endorsed it.
The act, while promising protection for the tribe’s water rights and future financial compensation for economic losses associated with the incomplete portion of the CUP, said the Bureau of Reclamation no longer would fund the construction of pipelines and dams needed to store and access the water — a provision unacceptable to the tribe.
State moves forward despite tribe’s objections
In 1996, even as the Utes were still trying to negotiate a deal to help pay for the needed infrastructure, the bureau determined that the pledged water had not been put to beneficial use and deeded it to the Utah Board of Water Resources. This transfer took place, the tribe told The Utah Investigative Journalism Project, “without any prior notice to, or consultation with, the Tribe.”
When Utah lawmakers in 2018 finally decided to officially ratify and put into statute the congressional compact, state leaders were aware that the tribe objected to it but chose to move forward with SB98 regardless, records show. A month before the final legislative passage, the tribe sent a letter to then-Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, the bill’s sponsor, to express its view that the terms of the compact were “unacceptable to the Ute Indian Tribe in that it was substantially amended without any input from the Tribe.” The only saving grace of the congressional action that created it, the letter said, was that Congress “made the compact contingent upon ratification by the Ute Tribal members before it became a valid document.”
“We therefore request that your bill be withdrawn until such time as the Ute Tribe and the state of Utah have come to a compromise on the water compact that can be approved by both the state of Utah and the Ute Tribe and its members,” Ute Tribal Business Committee Chairman Luke Duncan wrote to Van Tassell.
Van Tassell responded in a letter dated Feb. 27, 2018, saying he had asked the tribe for proposed amendments to the compact that would address its concerns and expressed disappointment that it had not done so. He said he intended to move ahead with his bill.
“Please know I’m happy to continue to work with you and the rest of the Ute Tribal Business Committee throughout this year to improve the statute and address your concerns,” he wrote the same day the bill cleared its first Senate vote.
A few days earlier, Christine Finlinson, assistant manager of the CUP, appeared before a Senate committee to endorse SB98. “We’re anxious,” she said, “to have this part of our history concluded.”
The bill passed the Legislature without a dissenting vote — and with no testimony from any member of the tribe…
Utes seek a seat at the table
After the Ute Tribe watched the Utah Legislature act unilaterally to try to solidify and codify the never-ratified compact of 1992, it decided to pursue another avenue for defending its rights on the Colorado River. A few months after SB98 passed and was signed by then-Gov. Gary Herbert, Chairman Duncan sent a letter to the Upper Colorado River Basin Commission seeking appointment of a tribal representative to the body.
“We have studied the law of the Colorado River and its management, and we conclude that there will never be effective management of the river unless the Commission establishes a relationship with the Ute Tribe,” Duncan wrote in the July 24, 2018, missive. “This relationship must recognize that the Tribe has a sovereign, governmental interest in its apportionment of water in the Colorado River Basin with senior, reserved water rights that are held in trust by the United States for the Tribe, as the beneficial owner of these water rights.”
The letter requested a meeting at Ute Indian tribal headquarters in Fort Duchesne. Amy Haas, executive director of the commission, subsequently forwarded the letter to other members, saying she was suggesting some alternative locales. She signed off with a sarcastic quip: “Good thing we have nothing else going on!”
Representatives from the tribe met in December of that year with commissioners in Las Vegas. In his report back to the Utah Division of Water Resources, Eric Millis, then-division director and Utah’s representative on the river commission, noted the tribe’s request for its own member but disagreed with its argument.
“The Upper Basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah — believe that any tribe within any of the states’ boundaries are already and best served by their state representative on the Colorado River,” Millis wrote to his colleagues. “For the Ute Tribe, that is Eric Millis, Utah’s Upper Colorado River Commissioner. This has been expressed to the Tribe.”
(Gene Shawcroft, who was appointed in January by Gov. Spencer Cox to replace Millis as Utah’s Upper Colorado River commissioner, did not respond to questions regarding his position on the tribe’s request.)
Not surprisingly, the tribe had a different view:
“State representatives are not in a position to represent tribal interests, which is largely why we continue to face issues related to Indian water rights recognition, development, and water management today. … Time and time again, we are made aware of situations and decisions where the Tribe is not involved in discussions which have direct implications for our most valuable tribal trust resource — water.”
The operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead in this June 2021 24-Month Study is pursuant to the December 2007 Record of Decision on Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead (Interim Guidelines), and reflects the 2021 Annual Operating Plan (AOP). Pursuant to the Interim Guidelines, the August 2020 24-Month Study projections of the January 1, 2021, system storage and reservoir water surface elevations set the operational tier for the coordinated operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead during 2021.
The August 2020 24-Month Study projected the January 1, 2021, Lake Powell elevation to be below the 2021 Equalization Elevation of 3,659 feet and above elevation 3,575 feet. Consistent with Section 6.B of the Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell is operating under the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier for water year 2021. With an 8.23 million acre-foot (maf) release from Lake Powell in water year 2021, the April 2021 24-Month Study projected the end of water year elevation at Lake Powell to be below 3,575 feet. Therefore, in accordance with Section 6.B.1 of the Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell will continue to release 8.23 maf through the remainder of the water year 2021.
Consistent with Section 2.B.5 of the Interim Guidelines, the Intentionally Created Surplus (ICS) Surplus Condition is the criterion governing the ope ration of Lake Mead for calendar year 2021. In addition, Section III.B of Exhibit 1 to the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) Agreement is also governing the operation of Lake Mead in calendar year 2021.
Current runoff projections into Lake Powell are provided by the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and are as follows. The observed unregulated inflow into Lake Powell for the month of May was 0.543 maf or 23 percent of the 30-year average from 1981 to 2010. The June unregulated inflow forecast for Lake Powell is 0.750 maf or 28 percent of the 30-year average. The 2021 April through July unregulated inflow forecast is 1.800 maf or 25 percent of average. [ed. emphasis mine]
In this study, the calendar year 2021 diversion for Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) is projected to be 1.087 maf. The calendar year 2021 diversion for the Central Arizona Project (CAP) is projected to be 1.359 maf. Consumptive use for Nevada above Hoover (SNWP Use) is projected to be 0.248 maf for calendar year 2021.
Due to changing Lake Mead elevations, Hoover’s generator capacity is adjusted based on estimated effective capacity and plant availability. The estimated effective capacity is based on projected Lake Mead elevations. Unit capacity tests will be performed as the lake elevation changes. This study reflects these changes in the projections.
Hoover, Davis, and Parker Dam historical gross energy figures come from PO&M reports provided by the Lower Colorado Region’s Power Office, Bureau of Reclamation, Boulder City, Nevada. Questions regarding these historical energy numbers can be directed to Colleen Dwyer at (702) 293-8420.
Runoff and inflow projections into upper basin reservoirs are provided by the Colorado River Forecasting Service through the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and are as follows:
The exceptional drought in the U.S. West has people across the region on edge after the record-setting fires of 2020. Last year, Colorado alone saw its three largest fires in recorded state history, one burning late in October and crossing the barren Continental Divide well above the tree line.
Those fires didn’t just feel extreme. Evidence now shows the 2020 fire season pushed these ecosystems to levels of burning unprecedented for at least 2,000 years.
That evidence, which we describe in a study published June 14, 2021, serves as a sobering example of how climate change is altering the ecosystems on which lives and economies depend. A previous study nearly a decade ago warned that by the mid-21st century, climate warming could increase burning past historical levels and transform some Rocky Mountain forests. Our results show such changes in fire activity are now underway.
Entering uncharted territory
As paleoecologists – scientists who study how and why ecosystems changed in the past – we’ve spent decades researching how wildfires, climate and forests change over time.
Witnessing the exceptionally large fires burning in high-elevation forests in 2020, unusually late in the season, we wondered if we were experiencing something truly unprecedented.
In Colorado and Wyoming, the largest fires of 2020 were burning in a region where our researchteams have spent over 15 years developing records of fire history and ecosystem change from materials preserved in the bottom of lakes. This work has centered on understanding how climate change might one day affect wildfires. We looked to those records for an answer.
Evidence of past fires preserved in lake sediments
When a fire burns a forest, it sends tiny bits of charcoal into the air. If a lake is nearby, some of that charcoal will settle to the bottom, adding to the layers that build up each year. By plunging a long tube into the mud and extracting a core, we can examine the history of the surrounding landscape – revealed in the layers of everything that sank to the bottom over thousands of years.
Carbon dating of tree needles and twigs helps us determine the age of each layer in a core. Pollen preserved in the sediments can tell us what grew nearby. And dense charcoal layers tell us when fires burned.
We used such records of past fires preserved in the sediments of 20 lakes in the central Rocky Mountains. In total, the dozens of researchers who helped analyze these cores counted over 100,000 tiny charcoal pieces, within the thousands of 0.5-centimeter layers of lake sediments examined. Identifying distinct increases in charcoal accumulation within the cores allows us to estimate when fires burned around a lake, and compare today’s patterns to those of the distant past.
The result: The extensive burning over the 21st century is unprecedented in this region in the past 2,000 years.
Burning nearly twice as often as in the past
We estimated that fires burned the forests around each lake once every 230 years, on average, over the past 2,000 years. Over just the 21st century, the rate of burning has nearly doubled, with a fire now expected to burn a given spot once every 117 years.
Even more surprising, fires in the 21st century are now burning 22% more often than the highest rate of burning reached in the previous 2,000 years.
That previous record was established around 1,100 years ago, during what’s known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly. The Northern Hemisphere at that time was 0.3 C (0.5 F) warmer then than the 20th century average. Subalpine forests in the central Rockies during the early Medieval Climate Anomaly burned on average once every 150 years. To put that period’s temperature into perspective, the Northern Hemisphere in 2020 was 1.28 C (2.3 F) above the 20th century average.
Here’s a guest column from Jim Spehar that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
It’ll be hard to avoid the overwhelming desire for a tall glass of cool, refreshing water in the coming week while we’re flirting with record 100-degree plus temperatures here in the Grand Valley. In a broader sense, the daily blast of heat past the century mark will put another exclamation point on water issues along the Colorado River.
The first one came a few days ago. The water level at Lake Mead near Las Vegas hit its lowest level since filling in the 1930s. The Bureau of Reclamation expects the decline will continue until November, causing ripples upriver as agreements linking Mead and Lake Powell water levels come into play sooner than expected. Other recent alarms include massive drought-induced wildfires, resulting post-fire runoffs impacting water supplies, shorter irrigating seasons … the litany goes on and on while the Colorado River Basin is expected to post its second-driest year in more than a century of recorded history.
Before you complain about those fountains and golf courses in Sin City, consider what that desert community has done to alleviate its water use. Millions of dollars, as much as $3/square foot, is paid to residents to replace grass with xeriscaping. Building codes prohibit front lawns for new houses. A new state law will prohibit Colorado River water from being used to irrigate “non-functional turf” such as grass in office parks, at the entrances to subdivisions and in strips between sidewalks and streets.
That latest restriction, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, will save about 10% of the region’s Colorado River allocation, that 30,000 acre feet equal to the amount normally used by 60,000 homes. The Central Arizona Project is taking 30% less water from the Colorado River than in previous years. Further downriver, farmers in California and along the border in Arizona are being paid nearly handsomely to fallow cropland by cities clamoring for municipal water.
Here in Colorado, there are rumblings of what may become necessary steps for some communities in the not too distant future.
In Fountain, south of Colorado Springs, developers have applied for nearly 30,000 new water taps in the last year. The city currently serves 9,000 taps. According to Colorado Public Radio, Fountain is telling developers they need to support their applications with the millions of dollars necessary to obtain new water rights and storage and delivery infrastructure. Utilities Director Dan Blankenship is telling those developers “We can’t give you something we don’t have.”
Which spotlights the elephant (perhaps more appropriately the whale) in the room as water shortages are discussed — carrying capacity. It’s a question that’s been avoided for years but ultimately can’t be ignored. Is there a hard limit to how many of us can live, work, recreate in any one place along the Colorado River?
Of course there is. We just don’t want to acknowledge that, at least so far, though we live in an arid West where more than 40 million people in seven states and two countries depend, at least in part, on the Colorado River and its tributaries.
Twenty-five years ago, I worked for Gov. Roy Romer on his Smart Growth Initiative. One of his ideas was that developers wishing to build in the then-emerging area around Castle Rock ought to prove there was a 300-year supply of guaranteed water for their projects. That, of course, didn’t fly. Nor did a later 100-year proposed guarantee. But setting requirements like that, or such as Fountain is talking about, seems inevitable.
I’m both amused and frightened at suggestions the flawed 1922 Colorado River Compact needs to be renegotiated, hoping to keep more of “our water” in the Upper Basin. That’d take congressional action. Count the number of members from California, Arizona and Nevada and compare that total to those from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. Shouldn’t reopening the Compact be the option of last resort?
“Water, water, water…. There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount , a perfect ratio of water to rock, water to sand, insuring that wide free open, generous spacing among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.” — Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire”
Jim Spehar represented western Colorado communities for eight years on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Water Congress. Comments always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Temperatures soared to 98 degrees in Denver Monday afternoon – way above the average high of 82 degrees for mid-June, but shy of the record of 102 degrees, set on June 14, 2006.
Colorado is on the eastern edge of a huge bubble of hot, dry air that covers all of the southwestern United States. This hot, dry airmass has little thunderstorm potential, just a few hit or miss storms to bring brief relief from the heat…
Western Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California are all experiencing extreme drought conditions. The drought exacerbates the heat wave as the sun’s heat is simply heating up ground as opposed to evaporating water. This compounds the cycle of heat and dryness and is not likely to break for most of the summer.
The hottest weather of the year is typically in mid-July, so this is an early heatwave. With global warming we are seeing hotter weather earlier, so this type of event will become more frequent…
If we reach 100 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday, it would be the earliest ever Denver has had two straight days of triple digits.
June 2012 had 6 days of 100 degrees or hotter, with 2 days reaching 105 degrees – the all-time hottest temperature for Denver. (It has been reached several different days in June, July and August.)
Our hottest weather is typically in July, but we are seeing heatwaves coming earlier in the warm season, while our mid-summer heatwaves are tending to become longer and hotter in recent decades.
The role of climate change cannot be left out of the equation in this weather pattern. As the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) increases in our atmosphere, our world is getting warmer. The effect of increased CO2 in our atmosphere is well understood and has been known for over 150 years…
The role of carbon dioxide (CO2) in determining the temperature of our planet is established science, regardless of efforts to discount the impact of CO2.
In 1825, a French mathematician — Joseph Fourier — calculated that given the distance from the Sun, the Earth should be much colder. He theorized that it was the atmosphere that trapped enough heat to make our planet habitable.
In 1856, Eunice Foote, an American researcher, filled glass jars with different gases and set them in the sun. The jar filled with CO2 warmed the most.
In 1863, John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, did more elaborate experiments with carbon dioxide and discovered that CO2 was very effective at trapping long-wave or Earth energy.
In 1895, a Swedish researcher named Svante Arrhenius theorized that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause the Earth’s average temperature to increase by several degrees. The greatest impact would be in the far northern latitudes – which is exactly what we are seeing!
In the 1970s – CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who was famously known as the most trusted man in America, reported on the threat of global warming.
Even though CO2 is a TRACE gas in our atmosphere, it is highly effective at capturing infrared (Earth) energy from escaping into space. The CO2 molecule vibrates a little when infrared energy passes by, this tiny “wiggle” serves to trap that energy in the atmosphere instead of letting it pass through into outer space…
On timescales of millions of years, CO2 is mostly a balance between volcanoes that create it and “chemical weathering” (dissolving) of rocks that destroy it. The weathering of rocks creates calcium carbonate that returns the carbon to the soil, the oceans and the Earth’s crust.
When volcanic emissions exceed rock dissolving, CO2 increases and vice versa when volcanic emissions decline.
CO2 was extremely high (maybe 5 times current levels!) 55 million years ago (more volcanoes than dissolving rocks), and it fell steadily for 50 million years straight.
The main reason that CO2 dropped was that India crashed into Asia, raising the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau. All that fresh rock dissolved fast, sucking down CO2.
When the CO2 got low enough about 2 million years ago (about 300 ppm), we started having ice ages. We have had at least 20 since then.
During ice ages, about ⅓ of all the CO2 dissolves into the oceans, so CO2 drops to around 200 ppm. Then, when the ice melts, it shoots back up to about 300 ppm again. It’s done this 20 times in 2 million years.
During the last great global warming, CO2 rose from 180 to 280 ppm between 18,000 years ago and 8,000 years ago. That’s a rise of 0.01 ppm per century.
Now, as we dig up fossil carbon and light it on fire, the CO2 rises 3 ppm per year, 300 times as fast as it during deglaciation! It is not just the fact that the world is getting warmer, it really is the rate at which the warming is occurring. Since 1800, the CO2 has risen more than it did in 100 centuries after 16,000 BC.
With things changing so quickly, the big concern is how will we deal with the rapid change and whether many species will be able to survive, as there is not time for them to evolve…
Even though an individual severe weather event cannot be blamed on Global Warming, a warmer climate adds energy to the system — “juicing up” the atmosphere and will cause more frequent and extreme severe weather events in the future.
We can expect more intense rain events, such as the Front Range Flood in September 2013, but also more wildfires as the changing climate creates stress on our forests.
Our Colorado climate will become warmer over the next 100 years. Denver will have temperatures more like Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The result will be less snowpack, lower reservoirs and more frequent droughts. We know the population will increase and therefore the demand for water – we need to plan ahead! We have been blessed to have a few big snow years recently, the long-term prospects may not be so rosy.
FromThe Colorado Sun (Jennifer Brown, Michael Booth, and Jason Blevins):
The Western Slope has suffered a drought three of the last four years, and by now, it’s taken a toll on farmers and ranchers that is both financial and emotional. VanWinkle choked up as she spoke of the “crunch” she hears with every step through the pasture.
“It’s truly the grass and the flora crumbling into a million pieces with every step you take,” she said. “It’s brutal.”
Ranchers and farmers in western and southern Colorado are shipping livestock to greener pastures or selling them off entirely, as fast as the stream flows past their property are dropping. Late-season snowpack was bad enough: Half of the historical median in the Yampa and White River basins in the northwest, 29% in the Upper Rio Grande of the San Luis Valley, 42% in the Gunnison…
Runoff into the streams, rivers and irrigation canals that supply Colorado cattle operations is so low that ranchers are seeing their water supplies reduced to historically low levels or cut off completely.
Soil parched for years by drought is sucking down vital farm water before it hits a reservoir. On the Yampa, the flow into Stagecoach Reservoir this time of year usually runs 400 cubic feet per second. This year, it’s at 16.
The losses accumulate downstream. The major Colorado streams join the Colorado River, which leaves the state to deliver snowmelt to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles. The catch basin that is Lake Powell will see only [28%] of normal inflow this year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says. The next pool downriver, Lake Mead, on Thursday fell to its lowest level since the Hoover Dam gates were first closed in the 1930s.
Colorado water engineers are ordering groundwater wells shut down on some ranches for the first time in the history of the Rio Grande Water Conservancy District, said State Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, whose day job is head of the district. In Saguache County on the north end, one rancher refused to turn off groundwater pumps, and another rancher said the sheriff was sent out to cool tempers over the cease and desist order.
When ranchers can’t divert river water into irrigation ditches to flood pastures, or pump groundwater over hay meadows, their grass will stop growing by late June. Then, their choices are all money losers, and gut-wrenching ones at that. They can buy up other farmers’ land to get the water rights. They can put cattle in trucks to lease pasture in places where there is more water. They can buy hay at double or triple prices.
Or they can reduce their herds, selling cattle to market early in order to have fewer bovine mouths to feed. Those cuts are happening at nearly every ranch, from Mesa County to Mancos, from Saguache to the Flat Tops.
The San Luis Valley and the Rio Grande
Near Saguache, the cumulative drought means tangible consequences this summer, after decades of abstract debate over declining streamflows and whether pumping from wells depletes the aquifer…
[George] Whitten’s grandfather homesteaded the place in 1893, but his water right is still not all that senior. The ranch can flood pasture with Saguache Creek water when there’s enough to reach his priority level, which is 38th. As Whitten spoke Friday, during prime runoff season, there was enough water to reach only the 24th priority…
The pastures will produce 75% less hay than normal this year, he said. Across Saguache County, 22,000 acres of land are impacted by the well shutdown. Whitten will send some cows and finishing calves to other pastures, making cheap arrangements as often as possible with farmers who want the fertilizing from grazing cattle to regenerate fields.
He will try to avoid buying hay bales for $300 a ton, up from the usual range of $100 to $200. Selling high-quality beef directly to consumers means he can avoid some of the “fire sale” moves other ranchers will have to make this season. Selling live beef cattle into flooded markets by fall might bring only 30 cents a pound. One of the last options for desperate ranchers, Whitten said, is an organic dog food company that’s always willing to buy, at surprisingly competitive prices…
The Yampa Valley and the Flat Tops
On Bear River, a high creek that becomes the Yampa River below the Flat Tops, Andrea Schaffner’s family grows grass in flooded meadows at 8,500 feet. In a normal year, their 1910 water right lets them and six other ranchers take 30 cubic feet per second of river water for three to four weeks, through the Stillwater Ditch.
This spring, they got 3 cubic feet per second, for a total of 12 hours…
If the ranch is able to use some stored-water rights, and gets a little summer rain, they might grow 25 to 30% of their usual grass crop. The Schaffners also run about 30 cattle each year, which they graze on their son-in-law’s property. Their son-in-law is now on the hunt for grass for all the family’s livestock for the rest of the year.
The families have access to some federal grazing rights, but then they have to worry about potential drought-driven wildfires on those remote lands…
The North Fork Valley and Delta County
Fruit farmers and cattle ranchers in the North Fork Valley ran out of water early last year as they sipped from Paonia Reservoir in a dry July.
More than 220 farmers and ranchers rely on Paonia Reservoir and the Fire Mountain Canal. After three years of weak snow, broiling summers and high winds, the ground in the North Fork Valley is “just unbelievably dry,” said Dixie Luke, the president of the Fire Mountain Canal…
Many of those users have developed water-saving drip irrigation systems and built holding ponds to allow for late-season irrigation, which is critical for fruit trees…
Last year, Ed Tuft had about 21 acre-feet of water in his primary ditch — most of which he rented to augment his share of water from Paonia Reservoir — to irrigate the almost 400,000 fruit trees he’s growing on 400 acres above the North Fork of the Gunnison River. This year, he has only 7.5 acre-feet. He’s ripped out 5,000 to 7,000 trees from his Leroux Creek Farms.
“Anything that was not going to produce in the next few years is out,” he said…
A few decades ago, the valley had about 25,000 acres of apple orchards and now it’s closer to 3,000, he said. The apricot and cherry market in the valley has declined just as much…
The Eastern Plains from Limon to Wyoming
On the Eastern Plains, the grass is a lush green, tall and thick. Most of the rain that fell on Colorado this spring hit the ground in Denver and out to the east, on the farm and ranch lands around Fort Morgan and Limon.
But don’t think the ranchers there are expanding their herds based on the good fortune of two or three months of rain. They know better.
Technically, the drought isn’t over, said Kelsey Pope, who along with her husband manages her parents’ cattle operation, River Bend Ranch, just west of Limon. The ranch has been in a drought since 2017, and 2020 was the worst Pope has ever seen…
Back in 2017, River Bend had 1,200 head of cattle. This year, it has just 480, a downsizing that was the result of years of parched soil. Without steady rain, the buffalo and blue grasses don’t grow tall enough to shade the ground, and the soil is zapped of its biodiversity and nutrients.
The Geos Neighborhood packs dense, energy-smart homes against a forested creek in Arvada. Some of its green design elements are obvious. Unlike hulking mansions nearby, the units are long and narrow, so large windows can soak up winter sunshine. Each roof boasts a solar array. A herd of goats even grazes a shared open space…
Less noticeable is the complete lack of natural gas hookups. Klebl smiled as he opened the door to the utility closet in his townhome. Inside is an all-electric climate control system, which the Austrian-born engineer designed and perfected himself.
“Gas should be stopped in new developments,” Klebl said. “We have to learn to live in fully electric homes.”
Many energy experts have come to a similar conclusion. To meet international climate goals, a recent International Energy Agency report found almost all gas appliances must be replaced with electric alternatives. The thinking is electric stoves and water heaters can take advantage of renewable energy. Without rapid development of technologies like “renewable natural gas,” anything with a burner tip guarantees emissions.
Klebl said the Geos Neighborhood shows the transition is possible, but some recent events at the housing project show it won’t be easy. A divorce forced Klebl to sell the 25-acre site last year, where he has only built 28 of 282 planned homes.
The new developer has committed to carry out Klebl’s vision with one major exception. Despite objections from residents, the remaining units will likely include natural gas hookups.
An All-Electric Community
Jim Horan, a retired [fuel] cell researcher who lives in the Geos Neighborhood, said the concerns about natural gas hookups started after another resident spotted a worker with Xcel Energy. A conversation revealed the utility was looking for the best place to bring in gas lines.
Residents and Klebl quickly sought answers from the new developer.
Peak Development Group, a Denver-based housing developer, bought the land. In a press release last November, owner Chad Ellington said he planned “to build upon the project’s sustainability-driven vision” by building additional net-zero homes.
A group of residents wrote Ellington a letter last May to express their frustration. In correspondence shared with CPR News, Ellington explained he had conducted an “exhaustive process” to survey the market for home builders. All required natural gas to be part of the development.
He also noted the addition would not violate the design book used for the initial block of homes, which he had committed to follow. While it said the neighborhood should aspire to avoid fossil fuels, nothing in the standards forbids natural gas lines.
“The very passionate existing residents were apparently misled by the prior developer about what are ‘requirements’ vs. ‘goals,” Ellington later wrote in an email to CPR News.
Ellington added Dream Finders, a major national homebuilder, had been selected to build the remaining homes. Matt Childers, a vice president for the company’s Colorado division, declined to explain why the company had insisted on natural gas service but said it would include other green-building elements like solar panels and south-facing windows.
Many of the residents aren’t convinced all builders would require new natural gas hookups. In the last few weeks, they have pushed Ellington to consider some smaller local home builders, but he said those companies lack the “financial capacity” to take on the project.
Click here to read the report (Natalie K. Day). Here’s the abstract:
The Upper Yampa River Basin drains approximately 2,100 square miles west of the Continental Divide in north-western Colorado. There is a growing need to understand potential changes in the quantity and quality of water resources as the basin is undergoing increasing land and water development to support growing municipal, industrial, and recreational needs. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with stakeholders in the Upper Yampa River Basin water community, began a study to characterize and identify changes in streamflow and selected water-quality constituents, including suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and orthophosphate, in the basin. This study used streamflow and water-quality data from selected U.S. Geological Survey sites to provide a better understanding of how major factors, including land use, climate change, and geological features, may influence streamflow and water quality.
Analysis of long-term (1910–2018) and short-term (1992–2018) records of streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and tributary sites indicate downward trends in one or more streamflow statistics, including 1-day maximum, mean, and 7-day minimum. Long-term downward trends in daily mean streamflow in April (22 percent overall) at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, correspond to observed changes in streamflow documented across western North America and the Colorado River Basin that are predominately associated with changes in snowmelt runoff and temperatures. During the short-term period of analysis, decreases in streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and some tributary sites are likely related to changes in consumptive use and reservoir management or, at sites with no upstream flow impoundments, changes in irrigation diversions and climate.
Concentrations of water-quality constituents were typically highest in spring (March, April, and May) during the early snowmelt runoff period as material that is washed off the land surface drains into streams. Highest concentrations occurred slightly later, in May, June, and July, at Yampa River above Stagecoach Reservoir, Colo., and slightly earlier, in February and March at Yampa River at Milner, Colo., indicating that these sites may have different or additional sources of phosphorus from upstream inputs. Yampa River at Milner, Colo., and Yampa River above Elkhead Creek, Colo., had the highest net yields of suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, and total phosphorus, and are likely influenced by land use and erosion as the basins of both of these sites are underlain by highly erodible Cretaceous shales.
Upward trends in estimated Kjeldahl nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations and loads were found at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colo. From 1999 to 2018, the Kjeldahl nitrogen concentration increased by 10 percent or 0.035 milligram per liter, and load increased by 22 percent or 26 tons. Total phosphorus concentration increased by 20 percent or 0.0081 milligram per liter, and loads increased by 41 percent or 6.2 tons. Decreases in streamflow and changes in land use may contribute to these trends.
During multiple summer sampling events at Stagecoach Reservoir, the physical and chemical factors indicated conditions conducive to cyanobacterial blooms, including surface-water temperatures greater than 20 degrees Celsius and total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations in exceedance of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment interim concentrations for water-quality standards. Local geological features (predominately sandstones and shales) and additional inputs from upstream land use likely contribute to the elevated nutrient conditions in Stagecoach Reservoir.
Water volumes along the Colorado River are 55% of average for the amount of volume that would normally be seen from April to July, according to Aldis Strautins, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
That’s due to drought conditions that have persisted over the last year.
The Eagle River’s water volume is also at 55% of the average, and the Roaring Fork River is at 51% of the normal average volume, Strautins said…
Paula Stepp, executive director for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, said the drought will likely impact the Glenwood Springs area in many ways.
Stepp said there are concerns about how the drought and lower water volumes along the Colorado River will impact agriculture, recreation and aquatic habitat.
Water use by agricultural producers is already stressed by the drought, Stepp said…
Stepp said she’s already heard that there’s not a lot of water available and there’s a need to be conservative with water usage.
On the recreational side of things, Stepp said there could be a much shorter rafting season.
While Colorado east of the continental divide has shifted out of drought over the past three months, the western third of the state continues to suffer under extreme and exceptional conditions according to the latest report from the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Northwest Colorado has been particularly hard hit, with exceptional drought increasing in portions of Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco and Grand counties this week. Earlier in the year, a similar expansion impacted Moffat, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties…
Thirteen of Colorado’s 64 counties have a least some area in exceptional drought, with most or all of their remaining area in severe conditions.
The coming week’s forecast offers no hope for relief. The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for portions of west central Colorado for Monday through Friday. Such alerts are unusual for the state. Temperatures in the area – which includes Grand Junction in Mesa County – could reach 110 degrees, creating risks for heat-related illnesses, which can be deadly.
Along the continental divide, several central mountain counties, including Rio Grande, Saguache, Chaffee, Fremont, Park, Summit and Clear Creek, saw moderate drought improved to abnormally dry conditions.
Abnormally dry areas also declined near the improvements in moderate drought and disappeared from Las Animas County in the southeast.
Improvements in the eastern Colorado began in mid-March as significant snow provided relief. During May, thunderstorms continued to bring rain to the state’s eastern plains, resulting in drought-free conditions for most northeast counties by the end of the month.
The first drought-free area in Colorado since mid-2020 appeared in late April.
Overall, 55 percent of the state is drought-free, up from 51 percent last week, with an additional four percent in abnormally dry conditions, down from six percent in the previous week. Moderate drought covers six percent of Colorado, down from eight percent, while severe drought remains unchanged at six percent. Extreme drought dropped from 13 to 12 percent. Exceptional conditions expanded from 16 to 18 percent. Total does not equal 100 due to rounding.
With the impending closure of coal mines and power plants in northwest Colorado, Craig officials and river enthusiasts are hoping a long-overlooked natural resource just south of town can help create economic resilience.
The city has applied for a $1.8 million grant from the federal Economic Development Agency for the Yampa River Corridor Project, which will refurbish boat ramps, add parking areas and a whitewater park, in an effort to develop the Yampa River as a source of outdoor recreation and local pride. The project is part of a multi-pronged approach to help rural Moffat County transition from an extraction-based economy to one that includes outdoor and river recreation as one of its main pillars.
“(River use) has definitely grown in the last couple of years,” said Jennifer Holloway, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce. “Awareness that the river could be part of our future has grown. It had just not been on our radar as a town. We had the coal mines, we had the power plants. People tubed the river and fished in it sometimes, but it was not looked at as an economic asset until the last few years.”
An August 2020 preliminary engineering report by Glenwood Springs-based consultant SGM laid out the project components. The first phase of the proposed project would include improvements to Loudy Simpson Park on the west end of town, including a boat ramp, parking, a picnic area and vault toilet. The park is often a take-out point for tubers and boaters who float from Pebble Beach, just a few miles upstream. The project would also create better waves, pool drops with a fish passage, two access points and a portage trail at what’s known as the Diversion Park, as well as improve the city’s diversion structure.
The total project cost is roughly $2.7 million. A second project phase, which is still conceptual, would include bank stabilization and a trail connecting the river to downtown Craig.
Project proponents see the river as one of the town’s most under-utilized amenities and say it can add to the quality of life in the town of about 9,000.
Josh Veenstra is the owner of Good Vibes River Gear in Craig. The company rents paddle boards, rafts and tubes, runs shuttles on the Little Yampa Canyon and sells hand-sewn, mesh bags and drying racks, which are popular among the boating community. This is the fourth season for his company and Veenstra said the momentum is unbelievable.
“What it’s going to do is give Craig a sense of identity,” he said.
Transitioning from coal
Two of the region’s biggest employers and energy providers, Tri State Generation and Transmission and Xcel Energy, announced in 2020 that they would be closing their coal-fired plants and mines. Tri-State, whose plant is supplied by two local mines, Trapper and Colowyo, plans to close all three of Craig’s units by 2030. Xcel, whose plant is located in nearby Hayden, plans to close both its units by the end of 2028.
According to Holloway, the closures represent about 800 lost jobs.
“All of our restaurants survive off the power plant workers, all of our retail, all the rest of our businesses,” she said. “Most of our small businesses downtown are run by women whose husbands work in the mine. So I think we are going to see a mass changeover of people leaving.”
Holloway is focusing on ag-tourism, the arts and outdoor recreation as industries that can help replace lost jobs. Although she recognizes that tourism jobs generally don’t pay the high wages of extraction industries, outdoor recreation has been identified as an industry with a large potential for growth and is identified as a priority in Moffat County’s Vision 2025 Transition Plan.
In addition, the pandemic has shown that many white-collar workers can work remotely from anywhere that has internet. It has also increased interest in outdoor recreation. Project supporters say improving the river corridor could help attract a new demographic interested in the outdoors but who don’t want to pay the premiums of a resort community, like nearby Steamboat Springs.
“Entrepreneurs in the rec industry would be a great fit,” Holloway said. “A warehouse here would be so much cheaper than Steamboat. If we could get some of those entrepreneurs, that would attract those that have a remote job or business elsewhere but that want the rural outdoor lifestyle.”
Recreation water right
Although city officials are moving forward with plans to build the whitewater park, they are — for now at least — forgoing a step that could help protect their newly built asset and keep water in the river.
Many communities in Colorado with whitewater parks, including Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Durango, Silverthorne and Vail, have a water right associated with the man-made waves, known as a recreational in-channel diversion or RICD. This type of water right ties an amount of water necessary for a reasonable recreational experience to the river features.
A RICD can help make sure there is enough water in the river for boating, but it also has the potential to limit future upstream water development. Under Colorado water law, known as the prior appropriation system, older water rights have first use of the river and therefore, a RICD does not affect existing senior water rights.
“It’s something that we have had some discussion about and we are looking closely at; it can be kind of political,” said Craig City Manager Peter Brixius. “I have not personally heard from folks, but I know people are opposed to it.”
Brixius said the conversation about a RICD is on hiatus at least until the fall.
Without a water right, which would secure the whitewater park’s place in line, future upstream water development could jeopardize having enough water for the park.
Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said that while he can’t speak specifically for Craig, it makes sense for a municipality to protect its place in the prior appropriation system with a water right.
“If there may be some risk in the future that somebody is going to develop some water upstream that would either reduce or eliminate entirely the benefit of this expenditure, then yeah, you go to water court and try to protect this investment you have made,” he said. “Even if you don’t see anything on the horizon that is going to impact you, who knows what’s going to happen in 20 years.”
Looking to the future
The city expects to find out if it got the EDA grant in early fall. The project has also received funding from Moffat County, Friends of the Yampa, Trapper Mine, Northwest Colorado Parrotheads, the Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable, Resources Legacy Fund and the Yampa River Fund.
City officials are hoping the Yampa River Corridor Project will attract visitors, contribute to marketing efforts to rebrand northwest Colorado and build morale around the area’s economic future. For river gear shop owner Veenstra, that future can’t come fast enough. He hopes to hold swift water rescue courses and do environmental education using the new river corridor area.
“Craig is one of the coolest little towns,” he said. “The closure of the power plant, everybody says it’s going to be the downfall of Craig. It’s the best thing that could ever happen to us because it made people snap out of it and go, ‘oh, we need to do something different.’ That’s why the whitewater park is getting built. It was a blessing in disguise.”
Timely information is now available detailing drought conditions, current emergency declarations and useful resources for affected areas
Governor Mark Gordon has announced the launch of a new website that will provide detailed, updated information on drought conditions in Wyoming. Developed through a collaboration of multiple state and federal agencies, drought.wyo.gov will be a resource for multiple sectors that monitor drought conditions.
The site provides resources and information for specific sectors impacted by drought, including agriculture, tourism, recreation, municipalities and water utilities. It also offers information on federal and state resources and assistance available to those impacted by drought. Information on wildfire conditions and restrictions plus links to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) drought disaster designations for Wyoming are also available on the website.
“Our goal in developing this resource is to make relevant and timely information available in a single location,” Governor Gordon said. “This effort capitalizes on the collaborative partnerships already in place between state and federal agencies and allows us to better communicate program resources.”
The site is a cooperative effort between a state and federal drought conditions monitoring team comprised of State of Wyoming agencies, the University of Wyoming Extension, USDA, United States Geological Survey and the National Weather Service. Wyoming has been experiencing drought conditions since 2020 and this past winter’s average snowpack did not alleviate dry soil conditions that existed entering the winter.
According to the recent U.S. census, Utah was the fastest-growing state in the nation between 2010 and 2020, increasing its population at a blisteringly fast rate of 18.4%. And in its southwest corner, Washington County, with its stunning vistas, National Park access, recreation opportunities and warm, sunny climate led the state in that trend, attracting nearly 50,000 new residents over the last decade, a 36% increase over its 2010 population.
Those 50,000 new people are just the beginning of a growth pattern projected by the Gardner Institute to flood Washington County with 321,000 additional residents over the next 45 years, to reach a local population of 509,000 by 2065. That number of people — 80% of the current population of Las Vegas — will require a lot of water in this desert landscape, more than is locally available at our current rate of use.
The WCWCD, along with the Utah Division of Water Resources, saw this problem coming as early as the 1990s, and started making plans to import Colorado River water from Lake Powell via a buried pipeline that would stretch 140 miles through rocky desert terrain, crossing some tribal lands and sensitive habitats. The project has inched its way forward over the decades since, finally advancing its federally-required Environmental Impact Statement through the public review process during the Trump administration, which identified the pipeline as one of its infrastructure priorities…
What is most important to today’s Utahns?
Despite these sentiments about Utah’s cultural values driving water infrastructure decisions, there has never been a widespread, unbiased attempt to poll existing Washington County locals on their thoughts about the pros and cons of the Lake Powell Pipeline project and whether they are willing to bear its approximately $2 billion cost. So The Spectrum & Daily News, with funding from The Water Desk, designed and commissioned a survey to do just that.
Survey data were collected by the Utah-based market research firm Dynata, hired based on their reputation and reasonable cost quote. Employees of this company randomly selected residents of Washington County to contact for a phone survey and received responses f