#Colorado State University and Colorado University researchers set course for innovations in #conservation to protect Colorado’s #water supply — @ColoradoStateU

Via Colorado State University: https://www.colorado.edu/today/2022/08/01/report-outlines-emerging-technologies-improve-colorado-water-management

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado State University website (Griffin Moores):

The report, Emerging Technologies to Improve Water Resource Management in Colorado, was triggered by the passage of HB21-1268. This empowered experts at the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering at CU Boulder and CSU’s Colorado Water Center, in partnership with the Irrigation Innovation Consortium, also hosted at CSU, to address a critical question: How can we use tools to better understand and conserve our water resources to address the most pressing needs across the state?

An ongoing megadrought in the western United States is stressing Colorado’s water resources. In July 2021, Lake Powell, which is fed by the Colorado River, reached its lowest level since it was filled in 1969.

To help focus the conversation around water conservation, support the efforts of legislators and spur innovation, the research team interviewed dozens of water experts statewide and surveyed nearly one hundred stakeholders across industries. The researchers assessed technologies like remote sensing, telemetry, digital water transaction platforms including blockchain, and advanced aerial observation platforms, such as high-altitude balloons and drones.

Their findings not only provide valuable insights to water conservation professionals, legislators and industry professionals looking to overcome barriers to tech adoption, but the report also paints a picture of how people in communities across the state could benefit from understanding the challenges around water management.

“Public perceptions … are integral to water management projects and can influence which projects receive funding,” write the researchers. “Studies consistently find that policymakers’ actions reflect public preferences and opinion.”

Drawing from real world successes

Beyond learning from statewide experts, the researchers also looked across the West for success stories. Their collection of case studies ranged from CSU’s educational efforts promoting irrigation conservation to a watershed management dashboard that optimizes economic and agricultural decisions in Southern Colorado, as well as advanced aerial observations using micro-balloons, comprehensive snowpack monitoring and more.

“The expansion of the immersive educational programs covered in this report, such as the Master Irrigator and Testing Ag Performance Solutions programs, provide producers with the knowledge to better understand the science behind these advanced technologies, access to incentives to help them adopt these technologies, and the development of a peer network to help them operate these advanced water management systems in a cost effective manner,” said John Tracy, director of the Colorado Water Center.

“A consistent theme when discussing these challenges was a desire to promote community and statewide collaboration in water management throughout Colorado.”

Learn more about the findings.

#Whitewater park receives $3.3 million Economic Development Administration Assistance to #Coal Communities Grant — The #Craig Daily Press #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround


The Yampa River Corridor Project is set to break ground in early fall 2022. Credit: Riverwise Engineering: https://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/20805850/yampa-river-corridor-project-engineering-report-sgm.pdf

Click the link to read the article on the Craig Daily Press website (Amber Delay). Here’s an excerpt:

Craig has been awarded a $3.3 million Economic Development Administration Assistance to Coal Communities Grant for construction of the Yampa River Corridor Project. The corridor project is the result of a multi-year planning process with local agencies designed to stabilize and diversify the economy in Craig and Moffat County after the closure of the coal mines and power plant. The city and county collaborated to secure this federal funding for the project, which will upgrade the city’s water intake infrastructure, as well as add new visitor amenities along the river.

The EDA funding will support approximately 70% of the project costs, which were estimated at $4.6 million this year. Yampa River Corridor Project Manager Melanie Kilpatrick said that match partners have committed to the remainder of the project funding, and the only variable could be inflation, which has affected other projects over the years.

Loudy-Simpson Park improvements. Credit: Riverwise Engineering

The corridor project encompasses several improvements to Loudy Simpson Park, including a new concrete boat ramp, access road and parking area, as well as improving the existing diversion dam site with a whitewater park, access road, parking area and park amenities. According to a statement from Kilpatrick, the project fits into Craig’s master plan for parks, recreation, open space and trails. It also fits within the Moffat County Vision 2025 Transition Plan, which outlines proactive strategies to help the community transition from a coal-centered economy.

The goal of the EDA funding is to support economic resilience by diversifying the region’s economic base. The idea is that having an outdoor recreational amenity so close to town will attract more visitors to spend time in town, creating a ripple effect in the local economy. While visitors bring in tourism dollars, the employees who serve those tourists then spend money on other goods and services in town. There have been studies in other communities where similar projects have taken place to measure the economic impact of whitewater parks.

  • A 2006 study in Durango estimated that whitewater recreation created 33 jobs for $1 million in annual sales from tourist dollars.
  • In 2009, the University of Idaho estimated that a whitewater park in Cascade, Idaho, generated $8.2 million annually from this ripple effect.
  • A whitewater park in Truckee, Nevada, reported economic benefits ranged from $1.9 million to $4.1 million annually.
  • Good Vibes River Gear and the Craig RV Park, local employers whose businesses would directly benefit from growth in river tourism, have committed to adding over 30 new full-time employees. And it’s estimated that the project will create approximately 129 new jobs in both direct and adjacent industries…

    Credit: Riverwise engineering

    Craig’s current city water intake diversion dam is a 200-foot wide and 10-feet high barrier made of concrete and rip rap boulders. Kilpatrick said in a statement that the existing diversion is in disrepair and needs to be updated. In its current condition, the diversion can also be a hazard for boaters, and it blocks passage for numerous fish species, several of which are federally listed endangered species. Replacing the current diversion dam with a natural channel design will allow the city to continue to draw its allotted water from the river and will improve boater safety and year-round fish passage.

    “This sustains the city’s water supply in a fiscally responsible way. That’s hugely important to us,” Kilpatrick said. “We get improved fish passage, and healthier aquatic and riparian habitat. We get better access to the river. And we get the economic development associated with whitewater recreation.”

    August 2022 #ENSO update: Summer Nights — NOAA #LaNiña

    Arizona monsoon cloud with lightning striking the beautiful Sonoran desert in North Scottsdale. Photo by James Bo Insogna. Title: Arizona Monsoon Thunderstorm. Taken on August 15, 2016. Used under a Creative Commons license.

    Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website (Emily Becker):

    La Niña continues! It’s likely that the La Niña three-peat will happen: the chance that the current La Niña will last through early winter is over 70%. If it happens, this will be only the third time with three La Niña winters in a row in our 73-year record. ENSO (El Niño/Southern Oscillation, the whole La Niña and El Niño system) has the greatest influence on weather and climate during the Northern Hemisphere cold season, so forecasters pay especially close attention when it looks like ENSO will be active in the winter.

    Hopelessly Devoted to You

    La Niña is present when the sea surface temperature in the east-central Pacific Ocean is at least 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) cooler than the long-term average, along with evidence of a stronger atmospheric circulation above the equatorial Pacific. In July, the sea surface temperature in the Niño-3.4 region of the tropical Pacific, our primary monitoring region, was 0.7 °C cooler than average (average = 1991–2020) according to the ERSSTv5 dataset. This makes 21 of the past 24 months with a deviation from average below -0.5 °C.

    Three-year history of sea surface temperatures in the Niño-3.4 region of the tropical Pacific for the 8 existing double-dip La Niña events (gray lines) and the current event (purple line). Of all the previous 7 events, 2 went on to La Niña in their third year (below the blue dashed line), 2 went on to be at or near El Niño levels (above the red dashed line) and three were neutral. Graph is based on monthly Niño-3.4 index data from CPC using ERSSTv5. Created by Michelle L’Heureux.

    We Go Together

    The average circulation of the atmosphere over the tropical Pacific—called the Walker circulation—makes a giant loop: rain and rising air over the very warm waters of the far western Pacific and Indonesia, west-to-east winds at high altitudes, descending air and drier conditions over the relatively cooler central/eastern Pacific, and the east-to-west trade winds near the surface. La Niña’s cooler-than-average central/eastern Pacific acts to strengthen this circulation, with more rain than average over Indonesia, less rain over the central tropical Pacific, and stronger upper-level and lower-level winds. In turn, those stronger low-level trade winds cool the surface further, and help to keep warm water piled up in the far western Pacific.

    Generalized Walker Circulation (December-February) anomaly during La Niña events, overlaid on map of average sea surface temperature anomalies. Anomalous ocean cooling (blue-green) in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean and warming over the western Pacific Ocean enhance the rising branch of the Walker circulation over the Maritime Continent and the sinking branch over the eastern Pacific Ocean. Enhanced rising motion is also observed over northern South America, while anomalous sinking motion is found over eastern Africa. NOAA Climate.gov drawing by Fiona Martin.

    July recorded all the expected strengthened Walker circulation features, including substantially stronger-than-average trade winds. The trade winds led to the cooler-than-average surface temperature strengthening over the month, a tendency we can see in the weekly measurements, which started July at -0.5 °C and ended at -1.0 °C. While the weekly anomaly is useful for monitoring current conditions, ENSO is a seasonal phenomenon, so conditions must remain for several months to qualify, and to affect global weather patterns. Michelle gets into this in more detail in her internet-ancient—but still entirely relevant—post.

    Rock ‘n Roll Is Here to Stay

    Another outcome of the stronger trade winds during July was the development of an upwelling Kelvin wave, cooler-than-average water that travels west-to-east under the surface of the equatorial Pacific. As the trade winds drag the surface waters westward, cooler water is drawn up from the deeper ocean.

    Difference from average temperature in the top 300 meters (~984 feet) of the tropical Pacific between June 7 and August 1, 2022. A deep pool of cooler-than-average water (blue) spread eastward and will continue rising to the surface in coming months, feeding the current La Niña. Animation by NOAA Climate.gov, based on data from NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

    This upwelling Kelvin wave will provide a source of cooler water to the surface over the next couple of months, which in turn provides increased confidence to the short-term La Niña forecast. With most of our computer models predicting La Niña will last into the winter, forecaster probabilities are fairly confident through December–February.

    NOAA Climate Prediction Center forecast for each of the three possible ENSO categories for the next 8 overlapping 3-month seasons. Blue bars show the chances of La Niña, gray bars the chances for neutral, and red bars the chances for El Niño. Graph by Michelle L’Heureux.

    Several models are predicting that La Niña will transition to neutral in January–March, and the forecast team provides even chances (47%) for either outcome (La Niña or neutral). It would be pretty rare for the event to terminate so early in the year. If La Niña does decay to neutral in January–March 2023, it would be only the 4th time in the 24 La Niña winters we have on record.

    Greased Lightning

    As I mentioned up above, La Niña’s greatest influence on weather and climate is during the winter. Also, of course, La Niña can be conducive to an active Atlantic hurricane season, something reflected in NOAA’s recent update to the outlook.

    During summer, local processes are more important for determining weather patterns, including the North American Monsoon. This year, the Monsoon has contributed to some devastating floods, but also provided much-needed rain for the drought-stricken Southwest. I checked in with our consultants for the North American Monsoon post, Zack Guido and Mike Crimmins. They have an excellent podcast with tons of fascinating detail about the Monsoon, so check it out if your interest is piqued!

    Rain and lightning over desert hills near Mesquite, Nevada, on August 30, 2021, during the summer monsoon. Photo by Flickr user John Getchel. Used under a Creative Commons license.

    Mike had this to say about this year’s Monsoon:

    “We just crossed through the typical middle of the season (early August), and the first half was really good for just about all of the Southwest. Over 80% of Arizona and New Mexico are observing near-average or better rainfall so far this season, and more than half of the region at above-average or better! The whole season started with some epic rains over New Mexico that helped end their record fire season, and the moisture and storms have kept coming ever since.

    “This year has been interesting and different from last year’s very wet monsoon. Last year we had great monsoon moisture and two unusual large upper-level low pressure systems bring several days of widespread rain in July and August of last year. We haven’t really had anything big like that this year, just sustained deep moisture and the occasional wiggle in the upper-level flow to help organize precipitation into lines of storms from time to time. It has felt a bit more like a solid, active season that hasn’t needed any special tricks to stack up the precipitation totals across the region.”

    The relationship between La Niña and the Monsoon is not strong , but I asked Mike if he could speculate a little. He had this to say:

    “I am not sure of the influence of La Niña this year, but it certainly could be there. Some research on ENSO and the monsoon suggest that La Nña is correlated with an early start to the season in Arizona and New Mexico and wetter-than-average conditions through July. The signal then decays through August. This season follows that pattern, but I’m not sure of the causal links.”

    July–August rainfall anomaly averaged over North American Monsoon region for every year 1950–2019 (y-axis) versus Niño-3.4 index (x-axis). Wetter-than-average monsoons (green dots) are slightly more common during La Niña years, while drier-than-average monsoons (brown dots) are slightly more common during El Niño years. Monsoon region averaged over all land gridpoints, 20°N–37°N, 102°W–115°W. Data from Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC) and ERSSTv5. Figure by Emily Becker.

    You’re the One That I Want

    The Monsoon has helped with the Southwest drought, something Tom discusses in his recent coverage of the August climate outlook. However, La Niña often contributes to dry winters through the West, so we’re far from out of the woods, drought-wise. Stay tuned here—we’ll keep you up to date on all things ENSO.

    West Drought Monitor map August 9., 2022.

    #LaNiña could persist this winter for the 3rd straight year, something that’s only happened two times in over 70 years — The Summit Daily #ENSO

    Click the link to read the article on the Summit Daily website (Luke Vidic). Here’s an excerpt:

    La Nina weather patterns are likely to continue into the winter according to the National Weather Service. La Nina was partially to blame for lower snowfalls through the month of December last year, and the pattern could return this year, although meteorologists say it’s too early to be certain…

    For Summit County, a mountain environment nestled in the heart of the state, predicting precipitation from La Nina can be tricky, Boulder’s National Weather Service Meteorologist Bruno Rodriguez said.

    “Realistically, it’s very hard to say what that means in terms of precipitation,” he said. Summit County should expect more accurate winter weather predictions closer to the winter season, he said. The combination of La Nina and the county’s location can create unpredictable outcomes. Last year’s lower December snowfall may not repeat this year.

    The National Weather Service expects La Nina to taper between December and February. The probability of La Nina is at 86%, but the percentage is at 60% in December through February, the National Weather Service predicted. While a majority of North American Multi-Model Ensemble models suggest La Niña will transition to a neutral impact between January and March 2023, forecasters are split on this outcome resulting in equal forecast probabilities for that season, the National Weather Service reported. La Niña’s greatest influence on weather and climate is during the winter, but National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Emily Becker indicated the climate pattern could have a minor role in the monsoon season by possibly creating an earlier start in the southwest U.S. If La Nina does persist, it will be the third time the climate pattern has repeated for three years in a row in the 73 years the National Weather Service has tracked it. The climate pattern appears when the sea surface temperature in the east-central Pacific Ocean is cooler than the long-term average by at least 0.5 degrees Celsius.

    Southern Nevada #Water Authority chief criticizes inaction on #LakeMead water — The Las Vegas Review-Journal #COriver #ColoradoRiver #aridification

    John Entsminger at the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference December 15, 2021.

    Click the link to read the article on the Las Vegas Review Journal website (Colton Lochhead):

    John Entsminger, general manager of the water authority and Nevada’s top Colorado River negotiator, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and other officials within the Department of Interior criticizing the lack of progress made during negotiations over recent weeks.

    “Despite the obvious urgency of the situation, the last sixty-two days produced exactly nothing in terms of meaningful collective action to help forestall the looming crisis,” Entsminger wrote. “The unreasonable expectations of water users, including the prices and drought profiteering proposals, only further divide common goals and interests. Through our collective inaction, the federal government, the basin states and every water user on the Colorado River is complicit in allowing the situation to reach this point.

    “We are at the stage where basin-wide every drop counts, and every single drop we are short of achieving two to four million acre-feet in permanent reductions draws us a step closer to the catastrophic collapse of the system, as well as draconian water management practices to protect health and human safety that we have successfully staved off in the past through cooperation,” the letter says.

    The letter comes two months after Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton told the seven Colorado River basin states — Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming — to come up with a plan to use between 15 percent and 30 percent less water from the river next year, or risk the federal government deciding those cuts on its own. Those talks have fueled growing tensions between the states, further exposing the political divides between the lower basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California, where most of the Colorado’s waters are consumed, and the upper basin states that have historically stayed below their legal entitlements…

    Entsminger said the proposal with the largest impact that he saw on the table came out to less than 1 million acre-feet in cuts — a proposal he said wasn’t actually firm and yet was still far short of the 2 million to 4 million acre-feet that Reclamation is calling for.

    “I feel like we never really got started in a meaningful way,” Entsminger said of the negotiations. “The entire two months between the commissioner’s Senate testimony and today, I didn’t see what I would consider any realistic proposals put on the table to help stabilize the system.”

    The upper basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico — submitted a plan to the federal government in mid-July, but that proposal contained no mandatory reductions in water use for those states.

    Opinion: The Coming Crisis Along the #ColoradoRiver — The New York Times #COriver #aridification

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

    Click the link to read the guest article on the New York Times website (Daniel Rothberg). Here’s an excerpt:

    …overuse and climate change have contributed to its reservoirs drying up at such a rapid rate that the probability of disastrous disruptions to the deliveries of water and hydroelectric power across the Southwest have become increasingly likely. Now the seven states that depend on the river must negotiate major cuts in water use by mid-August or have them imposed by the federal government.

    Those cuts are merely the beginning as the region struggles to adapt to an increasingly arid West. The rules for operating the river’s shrinking reservoirs expire in 2026, and those seven states must forge a new agreement on water use for farmers, businesses and cities.

    What’s worse, all of this is happening in a region that is one of the fastest growing in the United States, even as the signs of an impending crisis become more pronounced. Outside of Las Vegas, Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir by volume, fed by the Colorado and three smaller tributaries, is nearly three-quarters empty and at its lowest level since April 1937, when it was first being filled. The 22-year downward trend is “a stark illustration of climate change and a long-term drought that may be the worst in the U.S. West in 12 centuries,” according to NASA’s Earth Observatory program.

    A century of agreements, contracts and contingencies known as the Law of the River are meant to settle who gets water in times of scarcity. But this framework overestimates the availability of water; the legal rights to water held by the river’s users exceed the amount that typically flows into it. The law is also untested in key areas — for instance, the exact terms by which states along the upper reaches of the river must send water downriver for the states there to get their full allocation. All of this has created a great deal of uncertainty, and it’s hard to say how the federal government will go about reducing water allotments, if it comes to that.

    As a result, the Colorado River is hurtling toward a social, political and environmental crisis at a pace that surpasses the Law of the River’s ability to prevent it. In a world of less water, everyone who uses the river must adjust.

    Inevitably, every water user, from large irrigation districts to sprawling cities, has an argument for why it should not be cut. Arizona and California, which draw most of the water from Lake Mead, along with Nevada, make up the Lower Colorado River Basin. Their interpretation of the rules differs from how the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming see it. Together, those Upper Basin states use less water than their allotments allow but are eyeing more. The onus of any cuts, they argue, should fall on the downstream states. But federal officials have made clear they expect all states and users to compensate for the shortage.

    How We Got Into This Mess on the #ColoradoRiver — InkStain #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on the InkStain website (Jack Schmidt, John Fleck, and Eric Kuhn):

    On the eve of the release of the US Bureau of Reclamation’s August Colorado River reservoir forecasts – freighted with meaning this month because of Reclamation’s ultimatum to the states about the need to cut water use – we look back at the last four decades of water-supply management to pose the central question:

    How did we get into this mess? Our answer in brief:

    When the Colorado’s flow was up, we used it all.

    When it was down, we drained the reservoirs.

    The river’s natural flows have been down for a long time.

    And during the few stretches of somewhat higher flows, we did not significantly refill the reservoirs.

    A FAILURE TO SET WATER ASIDE FOR THE FUTURE

    Colorado River water use outpacing supply. Graph by Jack Schmidt, Utah State University

    Operating year to year, it is easy to get lost in the river’s annual ups and downs, and the immediate desire to get water to farm fields and cities – THIS YEAR! NOW!

    But the longer view, based on the best available data, makes clear our mistakes during the past 20 years. Since the year 2000, the blue line in the graph above has spent little or no time above the red line. That is water use outpacing supply.

    The result – the most recent three consecutive dry years have left us with headline-clear problems:

  • Reservoir storage is 66 percent less than it was in 2000.
  • Reclamation is concerned about the structural integrity of the river outlets at Glen Canyon Dam that will be continuously needed if Lake Powell falls below the minimum power pool elevation.
  • Las Vegas’s old water supply intakes – and dead bodies! – are emerging from the Lake Mead mud.
  • 21ST CENTURY COLORADO RIVER WATER USE HAS EXCEEDED SUPPLY BY 1.2 MILLION ACRE FEET PER YEAR

    The graph’s nuances are worth noting.

    Blue dots represent each year’s total natural water supply – the sum of the natural water yield of the entire Upper Basin and of the many springs and tributaries that flow into the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. This natural supply, not considering the Gila, Bill Williams, or Virgin Rivers, averaged 12.8 maf/yr (million acre feet per year) in the 21st century, 23% less than the average between 1981 and 1999.

    To help visualize longer-term trends and cycles, we statistically smoothed the data to create the blue line, which more clearly shows the longer-term ups and downs of the Colorado River’s flow. The smooth line makes clear the wet periods of the 1980s and 1990s, and the deep droughts of the early 2000s and of today. Importantly for our current mess – the “wets” of the 21st century were not as wet, and the “drys” were drier, than those of the late 20th century.

    The red line – total basin water use and reservoir evaporation loss (not including uses and losses in the Gila, Bill Williams, Virgin, or Little Colorado watersheds) – crept up through 2000 as the Central Arizona Project finally grew into the paper water allocations of the 20th century Law of the River.

    Total consumptive uses and losses, including treaty deliveries to Mexico, peaked in 2000 at ~15.8 maf and were reduced during the next 2 years. Thereafter, average basin-wide consumptive uses and losses remained ~14.2 maf/yr between 2003 and 2020, and individual years were consistently within 4% of the average of that period. Throughout the 21st century, total Upper Basin uses and losses were ~30% of the basin-wide total.

    Sustained consumptive uses and losses that exceed the natural supply can only be sustained by draining the reservoirs – but only so long as there is available water in the reservoirs. Thus, it is no surprise that the 21-year average (2000-2020) rate of water consumption and losses that exceeded the natural supply by ~1.2 maf/yr led to today’s crisis.

    There were a few opportunities to rebuild reservoir storage, especially in 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2017, and 2019, but a decades’ long water consumption rate that exceeds natural supply is unsustainable. The reservoirs are now mostly drained.

    THE FAILURE TO REFILL

    The reservoirs’ decline. Graph by Jack Schmidt, Utah State University

    The history of water storage, described in the two graphs, has gone like this:

  • The reservoirs were brim full in the mid-1980s and lots of water passed through the delta to the Gulf of California
  • Reservoirs were somewhat depleted in the late 1980s and early 1990s when basin-wide consumption exceeded natural supply, but the reservoirs refilled in the late 1990s due to three years when supply greatly exceeded consumption (1993, 1995, and 1997). Thus, the reservoirs were relatively full in 2000 when the Millennium Drought began.
  • Reservoir storage greatly decreased thereafter when the natural supply was never greater than 11.7 maf/yr (2001) and was as low as 6.39 maf/yr (2002).
  • Reservoir storage stabilized at a new lower level thereafter when there were a few wetter years between 2006 and 2011. The last relatively wet year was 2019, but our continued use of large quantities of water was such that this sequence of somewhat wetter years was not used to rebuild reservoir storage.
  • Natural supply has been especially low between 2020 to 2022, averaging 9.4 maf/yr, which is far less than the basin-wide consumptive uses and losses that are approximately 14 maf/yr (we note that basin-wide consumptive use data are not available for 2021.)
  • Thus, today’s crisis – two decades of low natural supply, including some short, very dry periods, cannot sustain consumption and losses that exceed the natural supply and that have not significantly changed since 2003.

    POLICY IMPLICATIONS

    What are the policy implications of this analysis?

  • There has been a natural cyclicity of somewhat wetter and somewhat drier years, but the recent wet periods, when the reservoirs might have been refilled, have not been as wet as in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • The recent dry period that we are experiencing today since 2020 is comparable to the dry period of 2000-2005.
  • Reductions in consumptive water use and losses mandated by Commissioner Touton will need to remain in place through the end of the present very dry cycle and well into any future wetter cycle in order to rebuild reservoir storage.
  • The call for an immediate reduction of 2-4 maf/yr in consumptive uses and losses is an unprecedented reduction in relation to the pattern of use in the watershed since 2003.
  • Anything less than sustained reductions of the scale demanded by Touton’s ultimatum risks crashing the system – certainly if we get another year or two of very low runoff from the Rocky Mountains.
  • AN EXPLANATION OF OUR METHODOLOGY

    The present water-supply crisis is a simple mass balance problem and we sought to describe this mass balance in the simplest way – averaging for the entire watershed

    How did we consider inflows?

  • We used Reclamation’s estimates of natural flow at Lees Ferry, including the provisional data that are available for 2022. We used ~40 years of data.
  • We estimated inflows downstream from Lees Ferry that flow into Lake Mead based on the difference between USGS measurements made at Lees Ferry at the upstream end of the Grand Canyon and near Peach Springs, just upstream from Diamond Creek at the downstream end of the Grand Canyon. These data are available for 1990-2021, and we used the average for the 1990s as the estimated inflows of the 1980s. We used the average for the 2010s as the inflow in 2022. These data include inflows from the Paria and Little Colorado Rivers.
  • We added these two data sets as the available natural supply available for water users. We did not consider the natural inflow of the Virgin, Bill Williams, or Gila River because these rivers, with only rare exceptions like year 2005, are fully depleted and considered the sole domain for use by the Lower Basin states. Note that 2001-2005, Lower Basin use of these three tributaries was 2.2 maf/yr (the last years for which these data are available).
  • How did we estimate consumptive uses and losses?

  • We used Reclamation’s Consumptive Uses and Losses reports and Water Accounting reports
  • For the Upper Basin, we used revised and peer reviewed data prior to 1995 and provisional data 1996 to 2020. Data for 2021 are not available.
  • For the Lower Basin, we used Colorado River system summaries prior to 2005.
  • For the Lower Basin, we used Water Accounting reports 2006-2021.
  • We assumed that Lower Basin mainstem reservoir evaporation 2006-present was same as the average for 2001-2005 (1.1 maf/yr).
  • We only considered Treaty deliveries to Mexico as a use, and large surplus flows of the 1980s and 1990s were assumed to have passed to the sea.
  • We assumed that the uncertainty of all values was 2 or 3 significant digits and rounded off our calculations accordingly.

    THE AUTHORS

  • Jack Schmidt is Janet Quinney Lawson Chair in Colorado River Studies, Center for Colorado River Studies, Watershed Sciences Department, Utah State University
  • John Fleck is Writer in Residence at the Utton Transboundary Resources Center, University of New Mexico School of Law; Professor of Practice in Water Policy and Governance in UNM’s Department of Economics; and former director of UNM’s Water Resources Program.
  • Eric Kuhn is retired general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District based in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and spent 37 years on the Engineering Committee of the Upper Colorado River Commission. Kuhn is the co-author, with Fleck, of the book Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River.
  • Credit: The Congressional Research Service

    Assessing the Global #Climate in July 2022: Earth had its sixth-warmest July on record — NOAA

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

    Globally, July 2022 was the sixth-warmest July in the 143-year NOAA record. The year-to-date (January-July) global surface temperature was also the sixth-warmest on record. According to NCEI’s Global Annual Temperature Outlook, there is a greater than 99% chance that 2022 will rank among the 10-warmest years on record but only an 11% chance that it will rank among the top five.

    A map of the world plotted with some of the most significant climate events that occurred during July 2022. Please see the story below as well as more details in the report summary from NOAA NCEI at http://bit.ly/Global202207.

    This monthly summary, developed by scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.

    Monthly Global Temperature

    The July global surface temperature was 1.57°F (0.87°C) above the 20th-century average of 60.4°F (15.8°C). This ranks as the sixth-warmest July in the 143-year record. July 2022 marked the 46th consecutive July and the 451st consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th-century average. The five warmest Julys on record have all occurred since 2016.

    July 2022 was among the top 10 warmest Julys on record for several continents. North America had its second-warmest July on record. Asia had its third-warmest July on record, and its second-warmest year-to-date. South America had its fourth-warmest July, while July 2022 was the sixth-hottest July on record for Europe.

    Temperatures were above average throughout most of North America, Europe, and Asia and across parts of northern and southern Africa, China, Japan, central South America, the Arabian Peninsula, and northern Oceania. Parts of Spain, Portugal, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, China, northern Africa, and central South America experienced record-warm temperatures for July. Sea surface temperatures were above average across much of the Gulf of Mexico and the northern, western, and southwestern Pacific, as well as parts of the Atlantic and eastern Indian oceans.

    Temperatures were near- to cooler-than-average throughout most of Australia and across parts of southern South America, western India, Pakistan, and central Russia. Consistent with La Niña, sea surface temperatures were below average over much of the south-central, central, and eastern tropical Pacific. None of the world’s surface had a record-cold temperature in July.

    Sea Ice

    Globally,July 2022 saw the third-lowest July sea ice extent on record. Only the Julys of 2019 and 2020 had a smaller sea ice extent.

    uly 2022 Arctic (left) and Antarctic (right) sea ice extent. Courtesy of NSIDC and NOAA NCEI.

    Arctic sea ice extent in July averaged 3.19 million square miles, which is 471,000 square miles — roughly the size of South Africa — below the 1981-2010 average and the 12th-smallest July extent in the 44-year record. Regionally, sea ice extent was well below average in the Barents, Kara, and Greenland seas, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Hudson Bay. Conditions in Baffin Bay and the Chukchi and Eastern Siberian seas were near-normal or slightly-below average, whereas the Bering and Beaufort seas had above-average extents for July.

    Antarctic sea ice extent for July was a record low at 5.75 million square miles, or about 409,000 square miles below average. According to an analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) using data from NOAA and NASA, low ice extent persists in the Weddell and Bellingshausen seas and the eastern Antarctic coast.

    Global Tropical Cyclones

    July 2022 produced nine named storms across the globe, which is near-normal activity for July. Five storms reached tropical cyclone strength (74 mph), and two (Hurricanes Bonnie and Darby) reached major tropical cyclone strength (111 mph). The global cyclone activity for January through July remains slightly below average by most metrics.

    #Colorado not ready for #ColoradoRiver #conservation specifics ahead of federal deadline — KUNC #COriver #aridification

    A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

    Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Luke Runyon). Here’s an excerpt:

    “Success is dependent on what happens in the Lower Basin,” [Rebecca] Mitchell said. “Anything we can do is meaningless unless there are actual cuts to what’s being used in the Lower Basin.”

    Mitchell’s comments come ahead of a federal deadline on Tuesday.

    In July officials from Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah submitted a five-point plan that did not provide specific targets for conservation. In their letter to the Bureau of Reclamation, the states called for the revival of a conservation program from 2015 that paid farmers to temporarily restrict their uses. The letter also endorsed the possibility of releases from reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell to bolster its flagging levels. Providing a specific volume to conserve would be unfair to water users in her state, Mitchell said, and any commitment would be premature given that the river’s Lower Basin states have yet to come to an agreement on their conservation plans. Negotiations have stalled among the river’s Lower Basin states, according to sources familiar with the talks, making a seven-state agreement on where to find the 2 to 4 million acre-feet in savings unlikely ahead of the deadline. It’s unclear how the federal government will respond if the states fail to meet their demands.

    #GlobalWarming isn’t uniform. The land has been #warming roughly twice as fast as the oceans. Consequently, nearly everyone lives somewhere where the temperature has been increasing faster than the global average — @RARohde

    Graphic credit: Dr. Robert Rohde

    Paper: #Climate Endgame: Exploring catastrophic #ClimateChange scenarios — PNAS #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Cascading global climate failure. This is a causal loop diagram, in which a complete line represents a positive polarity (e.g., amplifying feedback; not necessarily positive in a normative sense) and a dotted line denotes a negative polarity (meaning a dampening feedback). See SI Appendix for further information.

    Click the link to access the paper on the PNAS website (Luke Kemp, Chi Xu, Joanna Depledge, Kristie L. Ebi, Goodwin Gibbins, Timothy A. Kohler, Johan Rockström, Marten Scheffer, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, and Timothy M. Lenton). Here’s the abstract:

    Prudent risk management requires consideration of bad-to-worst-case scenarios. Yet, for climate change, such potential futures are poorly understood. Could anthropogenic climate change result in worldwide societal collapse or even eventual human extinction? At present, this is a dangerously underexplored topic. Yet there are ample reasons to suspect that climate change could result in a global catastrophe. Analyzing the mechanisms for these extreme consequences could help galvanize action, improve resilience, and inform policy, including emergency responses. We outline current knowledge about the likelihood of extreme climate change, discuss why understanding bad-to-worst cases is vital, articulate reasons for concern about catastrophic outcomes, define key terms, and put forward a research agenda. The proposed agenda covers four main questions: 1) What is the potential for climate change to drive mass extinction events? 2) What are the mechanisms that could result in human mass mortality and morbidity? 3) What are human societies’ vulnerabilities to climate-triggered risk cascades, such as from conflict, political instability, and systemic financial risk? 4) How can these multiple strands of evidence—together with other global dangers—be usefully synthesized into an “integrated catastrophe assessment”? It is time for the scientific community to grapple with the challenge of better understanding catastrophic climate change.

    Flowing funds: #Climate bill (Inflation Reduction Act) contains $4 billion to combat #drought on #ColoradoRiver — The #Aspen Times #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

    Photo shows the Colorado River flanked by fall colors east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Photo credit: USBR

    Click the link to read the article on The Aspen Times website (John LaConte). Here’s an excerpt:

    When the U.S. Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act on Sunday, Western legislators breathed a sigh of relief after feeling victorious in an effort to see funding included for the Bureau of Reclamation to combat drought in the Colorado River Basin. U.S. Senators Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., announced the agreement, which could see billions go toward “voluntary system conservation projects that achieve verifiable reductions in use of or demand for water supplies or provide environmental benefits in the Lower Basin or Upper Basin of the Colorado River,” over the next few years, according to the bill text.

    The announcement comes amid one of the hottest summers on record for the Colorado River, which saw temperatures hit 75 degrees Fahrenheit near Dotsero in July. That’s a full 5 degrees higher than the temperatures deemed safe for fishing, and full-day voluntary fishing restrictions were placed on the river in Eagle County.

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

    Andrew Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood, also testified at the hearing, telling the committee that the flows of the Colorado River have been 20% below average over the last 22 years….an original draft of the bill did not contain any money to combat drought in the Colorado River Basin. Bennet started advocating for drought money to be added to the bill, a source close to the negotiations told the Vail Daily, and found support from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., along with Kelly and Cortez Masto. The result is a $4 billion package that will flow through states and public entities like water conservation districts and tribes in an attempt to enact both short-term and long-term solutions for drought in the West.

    In the past, similar efforts have allowed conservation groups like Trout Unlimited to access funds for habitat work through the Bureau of Reclamation, and the climate bill passed by the Senate on Sunday also calls for funds to be used for “ecosystem and habitat restoration projects to address issues directly caused by drought in a river basin or inland water body.”

    The #ColoradoRiver comes alive even as it ebbs — Writers on the Range #COriver #aridification

    The water replenishing the delta takes a circuitous path. A maze of irrigation infrastructure and long-neglected side channels delivers water to the 160-acre El Chaussé habitat restoration site, located 45 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border in Baja California, and to downstream river segments. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

    Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the Range website (Char Miller):

    The Colorado River is revealing its secrets. For decades a World War II landing craft lay submerged 200 feet beneath Lake Mead’s surface — but now it’s beached, rusting in the sun. It’s become an unsettling marker of just how vulnerable the river is and how parched the Intermountain West has become.

    The immediate impact of what’s being called the most severe mega-drought in 1,200 years, has been sharp cuts in the allocation of water to downstream users, with southern Nevada’s take slashed by seven billion gallons. Then there’s the fear that if Lake Mead’s water levels continue to fall, it may not be able to generate the power it now supplies to 1.3 million people in Nevada, Arizona and California.

    Yet the diminished reservoirs tell another tale about the Colorado River, one of the world’s great plumbing systems, which enables downstream agriculture and sends potable water to an estimated 40 million residents. The story is that just where the river ends, at the Gulf of California, it has been slowly coming alive.

    For decades, the United States sucked so much water from the Colorado that only a trickle, if that much, ever reached its desiccated, sprawling delta in Mexico. Once covering 9,650 square miles, the delta has shrunk to less than one percent of its original expanse. Human diversions wrung it dry.

    It wasn’t always that way. In 1922, conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote about paddling a canoe through the delta’s green lagoons and marveling as “cormorants drove their black prows in quest of skittering mullets” and “mallards, widgeons, and teal sprang skyward in alarm.” When a troop of egrets settled on a far green willow, Leopold said they looked like a “premature snowstorm.”

    Leopold’s lyrical vision had the misfortune a century ago of coinciding with the signing of the Colorado Compact, which sealed the delta’s fate. Approved by Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California, the compact quantified the Colorado’s annual flow and set up the seven states to contend with one another to protect, if not expand, their individual shares. The compact turned the delta into a dust bowl.

    For decades, environmental and tribal activists and nonprofit organizations protested the devastation that massive diversions to fill the Powell and Mead reservoirs produced in the delta’s once-flourishing human and biological communities. They pushed hard for remedies from both the U.S. and Mexican governments and the river-hugging state legislatures.

    It wasn’t until 1993, when Bruce Babbitt became Secretary of the Interior under President Bill Clinton, that the political dynamic changed. Babbitt argued that the states must demonstrate how they intended to operate within their apportioned amount. If they failed to do so, he said, he would not approve surplus water, a threat particularly aimed at California, which routinely commandeered any surplus flow the other states didn’t use.

    River activists immediately demanded that some of the water savings should head down to the delta. They got nowhere until 2014, when Mexico and the United States acted on their earlier commitment to sluice more water into the delta’s riparian habitats.

    Since then, the two countries have periodically released water to mimic historic seasonal flooding. These tiny pulses of liquid energy, which constitute less than one percent of Los Angeles’ total annual water consumption, have had an outsized impact.

    With restoration ecologists to guide the process, some wetlands have revived, small woodlands have flourished and native plants and animals have taken hold. Remote-sensing cameras recently spotted beavers gnawing on cottonwoods.

    We don’t know how current drought-management solutions might cripple these recent interventions that brought the tail end of the river to life. Meanwhile, let’s recall Leopold visiting the delta where he watched burbling sandhill cranes circling overhead. The sight brought him joy as it made him feel he was joined with them in the “remote vastness of space and time.”

    That’s a compelling affirmation that the Colorado River must be kept alive to its very end.

    Char Miller

    Char Miller is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is an environmental historian at Pomona College; his upcoming book is Natural Consequences: Intimate Essays for a Planet in Peril.

    The San Juan Water Conservancy District presents #SanJuanRiver #water supply and demand analysis to public — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    San Juan Mountains December 19, 2016. Photo credit: Allen Best

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

    The study’s first task was to identify municipal demand, and in doing so, the analysis provided population projection ranges for Archuleta County. Using a variety of sources, the ranges project that, in 2050, the population could be at 16,623 (low), 21,652 (medium) or 24,979 (high). In 2050, these ranges put municipal water demand at 4,208 acre-feet (low), 5,481 acre-feet (medium) or 6,323 acre-feet, calculated using a constant of 226 gallons per capita per day, which reflects the current demand.

    [Wilson Water Group] also calculated demand needs in agriculture, environmental and recreation, using a variety of sources and data. Cumulatively, all of these demands (including municipal needs) were used to calculate different shortage scenarios and, ultimately, explore solutions for meeting these potential shortages. This included calculating potential reservoir sizes, which was met with contention at the event. The limiting factors in reservoir sizing are the legally and physically available water to fill the reservoir, the 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) filling constraint, and the demands driving reservoir releases, the analysis explains. The 50 cfs limit is based on the Dry Gulch Reservoir water right, and that the Dry Gulch environmental flow stipulations had to be met when the reservoir was filling, [Erin] Wilson explained…The recommendations for the reservoir size were 1,600 acre- feet to meet low demand and 10,000 acre-feet to meet mid-range demand. Wilson clarified these calculations are usable volume numbers, not the total volume of the reservoir…

    Other highlights of the report include:

    • Municipal water demands could more than double if the pace of population growth in Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s area continues at current rates.

    • Under historical climate conditions, agricultural demands are not expected to increase and may actually decrease due to urbanization.

    • The two largest concerns affecting current and future water uses are earlier runoff and the potential for a catastrophic fire. Having storage to help capture earlier runoff could continue to be important in the future, and additional storage could provide redundancy and help mitigate the effects of a fire.

    • Other alternatives, including stream restoration, fallowing and forest health, have the potential to improve streamflow and the SJWCD should continue to monitor on-going projects to see how the results could be applicable in the Upper San Juan Basin.

    The public comment period is open until Aug. 31. Comments can be sent to comment.sjwcd@ gmail.com.

    New research reveals that wildfires can influence #ElNiño — The Conversation #ENSO #ActOnClimate

    Apostolos Voulgarakis, Technical University of Crete and Matthew Kasoar, Imperial College London

    Wildfire is a phenomenon that has affected pretty much every vegetated environment on Earth for millions of years. However, during the past few decades, the planet has been experiencing extraordinary wildfire activity, with widespread devastation in diverse places such as the Mediterranean, North and South America, Southeast Asia, Australia and even Siberia. The current year has already shown troubling signs of massive fires – for example, Europe’s total burnt area for the 2022 fire season is four times greater than the 2006-2021 average, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

    In addition to causing direct damage to ecosystems and communities, wildfires also lead to enormous quantities of pollutants being emitted into the atmosphere. Globally, wildfire emissions upset the carbon cycle and the Earth’s radiation equilibrium; a phenomenon known asclimate forcing. They also influence temperature, clouds and rainfall, prompting air quality degradation and the subsequent death of around 300,000 people every year.

    Despite the fact that catastrophic wildfires are rapidly intensifying and that their effects on people and the environment can be drastic, it is one of the most poorly understood processes in the Earth system. Given that wildfires emit greenhouse gases and aerosols (tiny smoke particles) that affect radiation in the atmosphere, it is expected with high confidence that they also result in disturbances to global and regional climate.

    The limits of current models

    However, the extent of such effects is highly uncertain. Models currently used for predicting the evolution of future climate, such as those participating in simulation experiments in support of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) reports, either do not include a representation of wildfire effects or do so in a way that is not satisfactory. Without models that can accurately represent influences of climate change on wildfires, and, in turn, influences of wildfire-generated pollution on climate (i.e., fire-climate feedbacks), the future climate change predictions that we have available as a society might be suffering from significant biases.

    Fire emissions do not only have the potential to influence long-term climate, but they can also alter short-term weather conditions in different parts of the globe. This is also a poorly understood scientific topic, despite the existence of some sporadic studies that have attempted to examine it.

    A recent set of experiments by our team of climate scientists from the UK and Greece is shedding light on this question. The work involved a set of novel state-of-the-art climate model simulations of El Niño events, through which the impact of intense wildfire emissions over Equatorial Asia that have accompanied strong El Niño events in recent decades have been quantified.

    Longer dry seasons in Asia

    El Niño is a climate phenomenon with significant societal impact, altering weather patterns around the Pacific region, as well as in multiple regions across the globe. One consequence is a deeper and prolonged dry season in Equatorial Asia. During recent large El Niño events, such as in 1997 and 2015, this has combined with expanding agricultural land clearance to produce vast fires in peat-dominated areas. These are some of the largest fires on Earth, attracting both scientific and media attention due to the blanket of smoke they produce across the region lasting several weeks, impacting the health of millions of people.

    Smoke from wildfires hangs over the countryside.
    The 2015 fire season in Indonesia left behind a smoky pall that reached around the globe.
    NASA/Flickr, CC BY

    Previous literature has focused on the magnitude of these El Niño-driven smoke emissions and their serious health impacts. However, there has been surprisingly little research on the climate feedback of this transient but very large aerosol radiative forcing. The hypothesis of the new study is that these smoke emissions can drastically influence atmospheric conditions in the western Pacific and therefore modify the development of the El Niño phenomenon itself.

    The study represents the first time that the impact of intense smoke emissions over Equatorial Asia have been investigated in full-complexity climate simulations. These allowed the researchers to compare the development of El Niño events with and without the presence of large wildfire emissions from Equatorial Asia, using the intense 1997 fire season as a test case.

    Wildfires’ impact on El Niño

    The findings suggest that the intense smoke emissions result in a strong lower atmospheric heating over Equatorial Asia, which enhances local convection (ascending motion of air), cloud concentration and rainfall over the Maritime Continent. This in turn shifts cloud cover westward in the Pacific, and significantly strengthens the “Walker circulation”, which is the typical pattern of air flow in the tropical lower atmosphere. This opposes the typical El Niño circulation in the Pacific (which is a weakening of the Walker circulation) and results in a negative feedback on the El Niño event itself. The researchers find that the El Niño event is weakened by around 22% on average due to the wildfire emissions that the El Niño event itself produces.

    As well as being an indication of the climate impact that these exceptional El Niño-driven fire seasons in Indonesia can have, these findings also have clear implications for El Niño predictability. Including the impact of enhanced wildfire emissions during large El Niño events can significantly influence the progression and intensity of the El Niño itself. More generally, these findings pave the way for more such studies investigating the implications of fire-generated pollution for atmospheric circulation, rainfall, and temperatures, in a variety of world regions, both on short (weather) and on long (climate) timescales.

    In addition to the scientific significance of this research, it also has the potential to significantly impact a variety of economic sectors and societal stakeholders. Better weather and climate forecasts resulting from an improved representation of wildfires in models is expected to lead to better-informed policy making, and to higher-quality weather/climate information available to businesses and to society as a whole.


    Created in 2007 to help accelerate and share scientific knowledge on key societal issues, the Axa Research Fund has been supporting nearly 600 projects around the world conducted by researchers from 54 countries. To learn more, visit the site of the Axa Research Fund.The Conversation

    Apostolos Voulgarakis, AXA Chair in Wildfires and Climate Director, Laboratory of Atmospheric Environment & Climate Change, Technical University of Crete and Matthew Kasoar, Research Associate at the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society, Imperial College London

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

    2022 #Colorado Legislative review: Jerry Sonnenberg — The #Greeley Tribune #COleg

    Colorado Water Congress 2020 Legislative Forum. PHOTO: Chane Polo (CWC); Dianna Orf (Orf & Orf), Sen. Kerry Donovan, Rep. Dylan Roberts, Rep. Donald Valdez, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, Rep. Marc Catlin

    Click the link to read the article from the NoCo Optimist on the Greeley Tribune website (Kelly Ragan):

    With the 2022 Colorado legislative session done for the season and an election on the horizon, it’s important to take stock of what our representatives accomplished this year. The NoCo Optimist has looked at the bills each of the Weld County representatives were named prime sponsors of to illustrate what they got passed and what they didn’t. The other prime sponsors are also listed to give a sense of how bipartisan Weld’s representatives were this year. The focus here is on Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican representing Weld, Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson, Lincoln, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, and Yuma counties…

    Modification to Conservation District Grant Fund, SB22-195.

    This bill continues the Conservation District Grant Fund in the Department of Agriculture indefinitely. This means the fund will now get $148,000 added to it yearly. It was set to expire Dec. 31 of this year.The fund is required to distribute $2,000 to each of the 74 conservation districts each year.

    The conservation districts themselves were formed in 1937, during the Dust Bowl era, according to the Colorado Association of Conservation Districts. The goal of those districts, according to the association, is to “provide leadership for the conservation of natural resources to their stakeholders and their communities to ensure the health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens of the State through a responsible conservation ethic.” Signed: June 8, 2022. Other sponsors: Kerry Donovan, Democrat; Marc Catlin, Republican; Donald Valdez, Democrat.

    Equip Wind Turbine Aircraft Detection Lighting System, SB22-110

    This bill requires owners and operators of new wind turbines to install light mitigation technology that uses a sensor to detect approaching aircraft. The tech turns the lights on when aircraft approaches and leaves the blinking red lights off when there are no planes around.

    The International Dark-Sky Association called the bill a “big win for dark skies.”

    Signed: June 8, 2022. Other sponsors: Chris Kolker, Democrat; Rod Pelton, Republican.

    Supermoon over the San Luis Valley August 11, 2022. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

    Expand Water Resources Review Committee to include Agriculture, SB22-030

    This bill essentially changes the name and widens the scope of the Water Resources Review Committee to include agricultural issues. Signed: March 30, 2022. Other sponsors: Kerry Donovan, Democrat; Barbara McLachlan, Democrat; Marc Catlin, Republican.

    Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund, SB22-028

    This bill creates a fund to help finance efforts to reduce groundwater pumping in the Rio Grande river basin and help the Republican river basin meet its compact requirements.

    While the bill creates a mechanism to administer funding, according to the Alamosa Citizen, actual money would need to come from a legislative appropriation process.

    The bill passed as legislators voiced concern about a plan to divert 22,000 acre-feet of water from the Rio Grande Basin and a court decree to bring the Rio Grande to a sustainable level, according to the Citizen.

    Signed: May 23, 2022. Other sponsors: Cleave Simpson, Republican; Dylan Roberts, Democrat; Marc Catlin, Republican.

    Navajo Dam operations update (August 13, 2022): Bumping up releases to 650 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The outflow at the bottom of Navajo Dam in New Mexico. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The forecast for low flows on the San Juan River continues and actual looks a little worse today. Therefore, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 450 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 650 cfs for August 13th at 4:00 AM.

    Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    A big step for a small mountain town — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate

    Crested Butte

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

    “There was a lot of talk at council about it being a bold decision, but I don’t see it that way. Not only is it what we need to do, but we have all the tools to do it cost effectively.” — Mayor Ian Billick

    Crested Butte, that most lovely of Colorado mountain towns, now vibrant in summer flowers and always in the bold colors of Victorian storefronts, has now entered into the fractious national debate about natural gas.

    The municipality decided Aug. 3 that it will no longer allow natural gas in new buildings. Major remodels will be required to be electric-ready. It’s the first jurisdiction in Colorado to take this action.

    Others may soon follow, posing the question of whether Colorado will soon get more rambunctious in its debate about how to effectively achieve the reduction in emissions identified in a 2019 law. That law specified economy-wide emission reductions of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

    Buildings must necessarily be part of this drawdown, and that puts the focus on natural gas, which provides space and hot-water heating for more than half of Colorado buildings. Cars last 15 years or longer, but upgrades of buildings often don’t occur for decades.

    The Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Roadmap adopted in January 2021 identified emissions from buildings as a relatively small but vital sector. “Even though the emissions reductions from these actions will be relatively modest in the near term,” the roadmap says, “they will grow to become very significant in the period after 2030.”

    Berkeley in November 2019 became the first municipality in the United States to ban natural gas in new construction. Since then 80 other towns, cities, and other jurisdictions have followed, first in California but then in other states, too.

    In response, 23 states—including five of the seven states bordering Colorado—have adopted laws that prohibit such local regulations. That’s a ban on bans, if you will. An effort was underway in 2020 by oil-and-gas interests in Colorado to put a similar ballot measure, called preemption, before voters. The effort was withdrawn after negotiations with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

    Colorado legislators in 2021 instead passed several bills that collectively start squeezing natural gas from buildings without blanket bans. The most important of these bills, SB21-264, requires the four regulated utilities that sell natural gas in Colorado to submit clean-heat plans beginning in 2023.

    This clean-heat requirement along with other laws adopted in 2021 nudge Colorado’s four regulated utilities that deliver natural gas toward helping their customers convert their homes and businesses from natural gas to electricity. Xcel Energy, the largest, sells both gas and electricity, so the loss of gas sales will be offset by increased electricity sales. Atmos, the supplier of natural gas to Crested Butte, does not sell electricity, so it will have to cut its emissions in other ways.

    Crested Butte might seem an unlikely trailblazer. It’s smallish, with 1,334 full-time residents. The conventional wisdom holds that the big liberal bastions wade into changes first, which then get gradually introduced into the more rural outposts. But neither Denver nor Boulder, though they have started squeezing emissions from buildings in significant ways, have gone quite as far.

    Denver, for example, requires heat pumps for space heating and heat-pump water heaters for existing buildings — but not homes — at the time of system replacement, starting in 2024 to 2027. That’s not an explicit ban on natural gas, although it may come close,

    The most important aspect of Crested Butte’s example may be its colder climate. It sits at 8,909 feet. Other places that are actually lower in elevation lay claim to the dubious distinction of record cold, but Crested Butte knows chill, an average low of 6 below during January, its coldest month. Town officials, after examining the available technology, including air-source heat pumps, concluded that nobody will suffer in this transition to building electrification.

    If it can work in Crested Butte, surely it should work in Castle Rock or Colorado Springs or any number of other places.

    Mark Reaman, the editor of the Crested Butte News, called the measure “largely symbolic in the sense it will not save the world. Not even close,” he wrote in a column titled “Symbolism Matters.” “But it could send a message and set an example to those living and visiting here. It is tangible action applicable at the local level.”

    Crested Butte, he added, “is one of those towns that punches above its weight given the people it draws and the attitude that doing something locally matters.” His offered the metaphor of a seed now planted “that might grow beyond our little garden.”

    To get an understanding of how Crested Butte got to where it is and how it fits with the bigger picture now evolving in Colorado, Big Pivots conducted an e-mail interview with three people:

    Ian Billick is the mayor of Crested Butte. He ran on a platform of climate change action and housing. He is also a biologist who manages the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, where scientists from across the country gather during summers to study climate change and other topics at an elevation of 9,000-plus-feet.

    Christine Brinker is the senior buildings policy manager for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. She has been deeply involved with helping draft the state legislation and local policies that seek to pivot Colorado’s buildings to fewer emissions.

    Mike Foote is a public-interest environmental attorney from Boulder County who served in the Colorado Legislature from 2013 to 2021. As a Democratic legislator, he co-sponsored legislation in 2019 that set Colorado on its march to realize deep, deep decarbonization of its economy – buildings being a particularly knotty problem to solve.

    Big Pivots: As mayor of Crested Butte, Ian, can you identify a precise moment when the vision began to take place of eliminating natural gas in new buildings and those with major remodels?

    Ian Billick: Several years ago, and before I joined the council, Crested Butte adopted an aggressive climate action plan. New building codes are issued every three years and given how much buildings contribute to carbon emissions, it made quite a bit of sense to consider electrification in adopting the new code.

    Pivots: Let’s talk about that aggressive climate action plan. Crested Butte in around 2007 joined a great many towns and cities in adopting a resolution favoring renewable energy. It was my impression that nothing much then happened, perhaps because nobody knew where to start. What explains the more muscular approach?

    Billick: A combination of an experienced town staff that has identified meaningful leverage points and a Town Council that has collectively made climate action a top priority. Also, improvements in building technology, including air source heat pumps, along with increases in natural gas prices, make electrification more cost effective, independent of climate impacts.

    Pivots: Striking to me was the relative lack of discussion about the adequacy of alternative technologies to natural gas. Was there concern that air-source heat pumps would be unable to perform satisfactorily in Crested Butte’s relatively cold climate?

    Billick: The efficiency of air-source heat pump technology declines significantly with colder temperatures. However, the technology works much better in very cold temperatures than it did even a few years ago and can be effectively combined with supplemental heat systems. It’s an example of how recent improvements in technology have made this move possible.

    Pivots: The adequacy of the technology was not a major talking point? And do I understand that you had the support of local building contractors?

    Billick: We did not spend a lot of time talking about the adequacy of the technology. We had a consultant, August Hasz, with the Resource Engineering Group, which has substantial experience building fully electrified housing in similar, high-altitude, cold environments. We also had local builders who have built successfully here without natural gas express their support. For me, that was very compelling.

    Pivots: Let’s explore both of these. What other high-altitude, colder environments? And your local builders – if they are comfortable with the new technology, what do you think that says about places like Vail or Summit County?

    Billick: Resource Engineering Group cited projects in Basalt Valley and Telluride. An affordable housing project recently opened in Gunnison that is all electric.

    Pivots: You have cited analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute that electrification will usually reduce costs. Is that comparison of gas vs. electric in the completed building? Or is that in cost savings over time?

    Billick: One thing we learned is that the cost-benefit analysis of electrification versus natural gas is complicated; you can’t say that one technology will always be cheaper. But RMI has found that in many circumstances both up-front costs as well as lifetime costs will be cheaper with electrification. For example, there are costs to hooking a home up to natural gas that are avoided with full electrification.

    Pivots: How many unbuilt lots? Any potential annexations? What application might you see in remodels? Would this have been a harder decision had there been more real estate involved?

    Billick: We have about 60 unbuilt lots. Additionally, we have an affordable housing project involving 60-80 units coming online, which will be built to the new code. We have no annexations in the pipeline. Major renovations will trigger a requirement that buildings be electric ready. For me, the decision was not influenced by the number of units involved. There was a lot of talk at council about it being a bold decision, but I don’t see it that way. Not only is it what we need to do, but we have all the tools to do it cost effectively.

    Pivots: Your law allows an exemption. Please explain.

    Billick: We allow commercial kitchens to use natural gas for cooking.

    Pivots: The Crested Butte News reported the major pushback was from those who urged a go-slower approach. For other towns considering following in the footsteps of Crested Butte, how would you describe that pushback? And why did the council reject that go-slower approach?

    Billick: We had a working group analyzing this option through the spring, including holding a question and answer session for the public. The CB Town Council had a work session, as well as two public hearings. By the final public hearing while some disagreed with the policy, no new information was emerging, nor did council feel that it was missing any information. We had the information we needed to make a decision, so we moved forward.

    Pivots: I was struck by the fact that the council was unanimous. Can you explain the unity on this? Does it extend to other decisions?

    Billick: The council works very well together, but we don’t always agree. The council has been very clear, however, that climate action is a priority that is shared across the board.

    Pivots: What repercussions beyond Crested Butte do you hope your town’s actions will have?

    Billick: If we can make it work in an environment as extreme as Crested Butte, it is possible to make it work across the country.

    Pivots: Christine, when do you think we will hear about the next local government in Colorado to limit or ban natural gas in homes and buildings?

    Christine Brinker: Most likely in the next few months. While they may not outright prohibit natural gas, they will likely take steps to either gradually move away from it or at least reduce some of the negative impacts. For example, some local governments in the northwestern metro area are working together on a policy that would give builders a choice between either all-electric or, on the other hand, natural gas with extra energy efficiency.

    Having said that, Crested Butte’s example will surely give these and other local governments the courage to take stronger climate action and take bolder steps toward all-electric new construction.

    Pivots: Colorado has adopted several laws in the last two years that seek to reduce emissions from buildings. How would you describe the general approach?

    Brinker: The approach has been to recognize the urgency of the climate crisis while at the same time trying to orchestrate the transition in a way that protects our workers and families. Recent bills had extensive negotiations and “stakeholdering” with builders, building owners, labor, local leaders, equity groups, and more, because ultimately, the policies need to be workable, practical, and impactful for as many Coloradans as possible.

    From a policy standpoint, the original 2019 law set an overall emissions reduction goal 90% by 2050, and individual bills since then are going sector-by-sector to help reach those goals. That’s where these bills governing buildings fit.

    Pivots: How does the law passed in May, HB22-1362, titled “Building Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” define the paths forward for local jurisdictions? Do you see various paths for different communities?

    Brinker: That law sets the floor, the minimum, for resilient and energy-efficient construction when local governments update any other building codes. This is in recognition that many homebuyers and renters don’t have the ability to choose efficient and healthy homes – they have to “take what’s out there.” Better energy codes make sure homes and buildings are built right at the outset.

    Notably, the law still allows natural gas — but requires that new construction at least include the wiring for future all-electric appliances like heat pumps. And it allows local governments like Crested Butte to go above the minimum if they want.

    Pivots: Air-source heat pumps remain fairly expensive. Do you see this changing?

    Brinker: The costs of the technology have fallen significantly in recent years while performance improved. The next stage of cost reduction will partly come from contractors here getting more familiar with the latest heat-pump technology, something being helped along by trainings from Xcel Energy and others.

    Also, heat pumps have a new batch of incentives available because of how much they help our air quality and climate – including rebates from Xcel Energy and other utilities, a 10% tax credit from the state, and tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act.

    Pivots: As a former state senator, Mike, I would like your read on the political implications of this ban adopted by Crested Butte. Colorado’s policy so far has been a firm but still gentle squeeze of emissions, both methane and carbon dioxide, from buildings. The clean heat law, for example, stipulates that consumers will always retain choice.

    Does the mandate by Crested Butte put the Polis administration into a place it would prefer not to be? Or are the numbers in Crested Butte just too small to be consequential?

    Mike Foote: Local governments in Colorado have significant autonomy when it comes to their building codes. Crested Butte’s actions are consistent with that tradition of local control. Certainly some state actors and the oil-and-gas industry will take notice of it.

    It is highly unlikely, even after this fall’s elections, that there will be a successful effort in the legislature to limit the ability of local governments to do what Crested Butte did. Some gas proponents have advocated for a statewide “energy choice” ballot measure that would prohibit localities from requiring non-fossil energy in their codes. This is sometimes called a “ban on bans.” At some point that effort could get more traction if the industry decides to fund a statewide campaign. The threat of the industry going to the ballot is always there, but it shouldn’t dissuade local governments from taking climate action in my opinion.

    Pivots: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed to pass a statewide law that would ban natural gas by 2027. Assuming Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is reelected this fall, can you envision him attempting to do the same? Why or why not?

    Foote: We haven’t seen Governor Polis propose a policy like that during his first four years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some members of the General Assembly were thinking about it. The fact of the matter is new gas usage must be substantially curtailed within this decade for us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. There are not too many easy options left to achieve that, at least in Colorado.

    Funding available to support incubator projects on farms and ranches throughout #Colorado. These projects will demonstrate innovative options to sustain agricultural during #drought while maintain profitability — Colorado At #Water Alliance

    Click the link to go to the CAWA website for all the inside skinny:

    We announce that there is funding available to support incubator projects on farms and ranches throughout Colorado. These projects will demonstrate innovative options to sustain agricultural during drought while maintain profitability. These projects can include a wide variety of strategies that support drought resilience and adaptation to reduced water supplies: infrastructure upgrades, improved water measurement and management, water conservation, alternative crops and forages, soil health improvements, watershed and stream restoration, and herd size and stocking strategies.

    We strongly encourage you to reach out to us about your project ideas, so that we can work with agricultural producers to develop their ideas. Our goal is to implement these projects for the 2023 season.

    Deadline: December 1st
    Application available here
    Contact: coagwater@gmail.com

    #ColoradoRiver crisis: Dispute, #drought have local implications — The #Pueblo Star Journal #COriver #aridification

    A view across Lake Pueblo in Lake Pueblo State Park. The view is towards the south from Juniper Road. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61042557

    Click the link to read the article on the Pueblo Star Journal website (Joe Stone):

    Two decades of drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin have prompted dire warnings and alarming headlines about climate change and the Colorado River water crisis. Critically low water levels in lakes Mead and Powell now threaten the ability to generate electricity at Glen Canyon and Hoover dams and spurred Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton to issue an ultimatum: On June 14, Touton announced that Colorado Basin states would have 60 days to come up with a plan to reduce water use by 2-4 million acre-feet per year. (An acre-foot of water is the amount needed to cover an acre of land with one foot of water.)

    If Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California can’t agree on a plan, the bureau will use its emergency authority to make the cuts, Touton said.

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Click to enlarge)

    The Arkansas Basin receives about 130,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado Basin – up to 23 percent of Arkansas River flows, according to Colorado Division of Water Resources data. The Bureau of Reclamation operates the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which imports an average of 57,000 acre-feet of water per year. Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Pueblo West combine to import the other 73,000 acre-feet. Fry-Ark Project water supports local agriculture, cities, towns and industry. Fry-Ark water and infrastructure also underpin the Voluntary Flow Management Program, which supports the multimillion-dollar recreation economies of Upper Ark communities as well as the Arkansas River’s Gold Medal fishery.

    Water imports to the Arkansas Basin already face risks. Worsening drought conditions could impede Fry-Ark water imports as the project is required to meet minimum streamflows on the West Slope. A call for water on the Colorado River could also curtail water imports.

    ‘Living within our means’

    The 1922 Colorado River Compact divided Colorado River water between Upper Basin states – Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico – and Lower Basin states – Arizona, Nevada and California. The compact requires the Upper Basin states, where most of the precipitation falls, to deliver a 10-year rolling average of 7.5 million acre-feet, or maf, of water to Lees Ferry, Arizona, just south of the Utah state line. Of that water, California is entitled to 4.4 maf, Arizona 2.8, and Nevada 0.3. The compact also established a benchmark of 16.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water per year for Colorado River flows. However, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that average flows from 2000 to 2021 have dropped to 12.3 maf per year.

    To date, the Upper Basin states have consistently met the 7.5-maf compact requirement. At a recent meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell shared statistics showing that Upper Basin states have significantly reduced water usage while Lower Basin states have not.

    As the numbers reveal, Lower Basin states’ water usage – more than 2 maf per year beyond the 7.5 maf delivered by the Upper Basin – has trended higher, even as the 10-year rolling average dropped to 11.78 maf for 2012-21. Specifically, 2019 saw Colorado River flows of 17.75 maf, a rare yearly surplus of 3.8 maf. In 2020, flows dropped to 9.6 maf, 4.5 maf less than the water used that year. In 2021, flows dropped further, to 7.1 maf.

    Even with Upper Basin states reducing their water use by more than a million acre-feet, total water use in the basin exceeded flows by 6.4 maf in 2021.

    Colorado officials have indicated they have no plans to make additional cuts to meet the federal mandate. Amy Ostdiek, a section chief with the CWCB, told the Colorado Springs Gazette that sending water downstream from Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo reservoirs represents a significant sacrifice in water security for the Upper Basin states. At a recent Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District meeting, Ostdiek observed that, while the Upper Basin states have always lived with the need to limit water use to whatever is available, the Lower Basin states have “drawn down reservoirs instead of limiting usage. … We are living within our means in the Upper Basin, but that’s not happening in the Lower Basin.”


    Ostdiek acknowledged that Arizona and Nevada are taking cuts to their Colorado River water allocations “for the first time ever,” but what about California, the most prodigious user of Colorado River water? All seven basin states signed on to the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan, agreeing to reduce their use of Colorado River water, but the Imperial Irrigation District in Southern California’s Imperial Valley refused to compromise, according to an Aug. 27, 2021, story by ProPublica. With 3.1 million acre-feet of Colorado River water rights, the Imperial District accounts for 70% of California’s compact allotment and is by far the largest single water rights holder in the Colorado Basin.

    Imperial District Board President James Hanks expressed the district’s refusal to compromise when state officials gathered in Phoenix to sign the 2019 plan.

    “As champagne is being prepared for debauched self-congratulation in Phoenix, remember this: The IID is the elephant in the room on the Colorado River as we move forward. And like the elephant, our memory and rage is (sic) long,” Hanks said.

    As the Bureau of Reclamation’s mandate now makes clear, the 2019 plan proved insufficient to avert the current crisis and the Imperial District is indeed the elephant in the room, refusing to recognize the current reality on the Colorado River.

    Growing cotton in a desert

    The Imperial Valley lies within the Sonoran Desert and receives less than 3 inches of rain per year. It was uninhabited until 1901, when the Imperial Canal brought Colorado River water into the valley from Mexico. Because of the desert climate and poor groundwater quality, virtually all water demand in the Imperial Valley is satisfied with Colorado River water. The Imperial Irrigation District delivers that water, and 97% goes to agriculture.

    Food production is a critical use of water, but not all agricultural water uses produce food. Growing cotton is one example, and the Imperial District supplies Colorado River water to 463,721 acres of cotton fields, according to the District’s most recent crop report. Arizona also uses Colorado River water to grow cotton in the desert. U.S. Department of Agriculture data show that Arizona farmers grew 258,000 acres of cotton in 2021.

    Water consumption data from the University of Arizona shows that growing cotton in the desert requires 41.2 inches of water per year. In other words, cotton grown in the Imperial District and Arizona requires about 2.8 million acre-feet of water per year. But while one area of the federal government (Bureau of Reclamation) calls for reduced water use in the basin, another (Department of Agriculture) subsidizes those cotton fields, providing more than $4 billion between 1995 and 2015.

    Not a sudden crisis
    Mitchell and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser recently penned an editorial pointing out that Colorado is one of the few U.S. states that administers water rights based on “the availability of water supply in a particular location at a particular time.” Colorado’s water management system was key to the Upper Basin reducing water usage by 25% in 2020, “a huge reduction in water use of almost one million acre-feet.” When added to the “661,000 acre-feet of water provided from Upper Basin reservoirs in 2022, the Upper Basin is providing roughly 43% of its annual water use to help protect Lake Powell.”

    In spite of the disparities between Upper and Lower Basin water use, officials in Lower Basin states – like Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona Department of Water Resources, and Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – responded to the bureau’s mandate by urging collaboration. As the numbers show, the Upper Basin states, especially Colorado, have done much more to conserve water than the Lower Basin states, which have consistently taken more than their share of water under the 1922 compact.

    Another example of Colorado’s leadership in responsible water use is groundwater management. Since 1969, Colorado has recognized the physical connection between surface waters and most groundwater aquifers. The Lower Basin states have not. For example, rivers deposit rocks and sand along their channels and floodplains. River water fills the spaces between the rocks and sand, forming alluvial aquifers. These aquifers are an integral part of streams and rivers; pumping water from them reduces surface-water flows.

    In general, Arizona law does not recognize the physical connection between groundwater and surface water. From a legal standpoint, Arizona allows groundwater pumping that reduces streamflows to the detriment of senior water rights. California is just beginning to legally recognize the connection between surface water and groundwater, but groundwater extraction continues to deplete aquifers and cause subsidence, a gradual sinking of land. Ground currently is sinking more than a foot per year in some parts of California, according to ongoing research and multiple news reports.

    Finally, anyone reading the alarming headlines would be tempted to believe that the Colorado River crisis is a sudden, unprecedented result of accelerating climate change, but a report published in the May 2007 issue of Geophysical Research Letters indicates otherwise. The authors used paleo-climate data to reconstruct Colorado River flows at Lees Ferry dating back to the year 762. They document multiple “multi-decadal (Upper Colorado River Basin) droughts” during the past 1,260 years, including one “in the mid-1100s” that persisted for “about six decades.”

    This means that 15 years ago scientists demonstrated that, even without the effects of climate change, the current 20-year drought was not uncommon and the situation can get much worse, a reality that the Lower Basin states ignored.

    “It should be obvious to anyone: Trying to fill a bathtub with the drain wide open is foolish,” wrote Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District. “This is precisely what the operators of the Colorado River system (lakes Powell and Mead) have been attempting to do for the past 20 years. They have disregarded the increased withdrawals by the Lower Basin states and the ubiquitous arid nature of the Southwest.”

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

    The latest #ENSO discussion is hot off the presses from the #Climate Prediction Center: A #LaÑina Three-peat?

    Click the link to read the discussion on the Climate Prediction Center website:

    ENSO Alert System Status: La Niña Advisory

    Synopsis: La Niña is expected to continue, with chances for La Niña gradually decreasing from 86% in the coming season to 60% during December-February 2022-23.

    During the past month, below-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) expanded across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. The weekly Niño indices indicated renewed cooling, with the latest Niño-3.4 and Niño-4 indices reaching-1.0oC. Subsurface temperature anomalies also decreased rapidly in the past month, reflecting the reemergence of below-average subsurface temperatures across the east-central Pacific Ocean due to an upwelling Kelvin wave propagating eastward. Low-level easterly wind anomalies and upper-level westerly wind anomalies persisted across most of the equatorialPacific. Convection and rainfall remained suppressed over the western and central tropical Pacific and enhanced over Indonesia. Overall, the coupled ocean-atmosphere system remained consistent with an ongoing La Niña.

    The most recent IRI plume average for the Niño-3.4 SST index forecasts La Niña to persist into the Northern Hemisphere winter 2022-23. The forecaster consensus, supplemented with the latest models from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME), concurs that La Niña is the most likely outcome during the fall and winter. While a majority of NMME models suggest that La Niña will transition to ENSO-neutral in January-March 2023, forecasters are split on this outcome resulting in equal forecast probabilities for that season. In summary, La Niña is expected to continue, with chances for La Niña gradually decreasing from 86% in the coming season to 60% during December-February 2022-23.

    Assessing the U.S. #Climate in July 2022 — NOAA

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

  • The average temperature of the contiguous U.S. in July was 76.4°F, which is 2.8°F above average, ranking third warmest in the 128-year record. Generally, temperatures were above average and/or record-warm across nearly all of the Lower 48, with Texas having its warmest July, May-July and April-July on record.
  • July precipitation for the contiguous U.S. was 2.74 inches, 0.04 inch below average, ranking in the middle third of the historical record. Precipitation was above average in pockets across the West Coast, Southwest, Northern Rockies and Plains, Great Lakes and from parts of the Midwest to southern Appalachians. Precipitation was below average across portions of the Northwest, southern Plains, Upper Midwest and Northeast.
  • A stalled frontal system, combined with rich Gulf moisture, resulted in historic flash-flooding events across portions of Missouri and Kentucky on July 26 and 28, respectively.
  • Several heat waves, with daytime temperatures over 100°F, occurred across much of the U.S. during July, contributing to record energy demand and heat-related illnesses.
  • The wildfire season appears to be waning across Alaska, but is still going strong across the West and southern Plains. Across all 50 states, more than 5.7 million acres burned from January 1 through July 31 — nearly 1.5 times the average for this time of year.
  • According to the August 2 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 51.4 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought. Severe to exceptional drought was widespread from the Great Basin to the Pacific Coast and across portions of the central and southern Plains.
  • Other Highlights
    Temperature

    In addition to the record warmth across Texas, near-record warmth was widespread from the Pacific Northwest to the south-central U.S. and across parts of the Northeast. Oregon had its fourth warmest July, with six additional states experiencing a top-five warmest July on record.

    For the January-July period, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 52.7°F, 1.4°F above average, ranking in the warmest third of the record. Temperatures were above average from Oregon to the Gulf Coast and from the Gulf to New England. California and Florida each ranked sixth warmest on record for this period. Temperatures were below average across parts of the Upper Midwest.

    The Alaska statewide July temperature was 53.5°F, 0.8°F above the long-term average. This ranked among the warmest one-third of the 98-year period of record for the state. Temperatures were above average across portions of the Northeast Interior and across much of the south-central and southeastern portion of the state.

    The Alaska January-July temperature was 28.6°F, 2.7°F above the long-term average, ranking in the warmest third of the record for the state. Above-average temperatures were observed across much of the state with portions of the North Slope and interior regions experiencing near-average conditions for this seven-month period.

    Precipitation

    Record rainfall received during the last week of July contributed substantially to the fourth-wettest July on record for Kentucky. Conversely, a lack of precipitation received during the month resulted in Rhode Island ranking second driest while Texas had its fifth-driest July on record.

    The January-July precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 16.58 inches, 1.51 inches below average, ranking in the driest third of the historical record. Precipitation was above average across parts of the Northwest, northern Plains, Great Lakes and portions of the Mid-Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee valleys. Precipitation was below average across much of the West, central Plains and Deep South during the January-July period. California ranked driest on record while Nevada and Texas ranked second driest and Utah, fourth driest for this seven-month period.

    Alaska had the sixth-wettest July in the 98-year record. Much of the state received average to above-average precipitation during the month with portions of the Northeast and Southeast interior regions drier than average. The Cook Inlet region ranked wettest on record for the month. Talkeetna recorded its fourth-wettest July and Anchorage ranked fifth wettest on record. This rainfall put a quick end to most of the moderate drought across the state.

    Precipitation averaged across Alaska for the January-July period ranked in the wettest third of the record and was generally above average across the North Slope and southeastern Alaska.The Central Panhandle region ranked wettest on record for the January-July period.

    Other Notable Events

    On July 26, several locations in and around St. Louis received more rainfall than on any other day on record. A stalled frontal system combined with tropical moisture resulted in precipitation totals that rivaled daily records set by the remnants of the Galveston Hurricane of 1915. Lambert International Airport reported 8.64 inches and St. Peters, MO, measured 12.34 inches of rain from this event. The extreme rainfall caused flash flooding, resulting in at least one fatality, as well as extensive damage to homes and businesses.

    Flash flooding from the same stalled frontal system impacted portions of eastern Kentucky in the early morning of July 28. Heavy rain, enhanced by the terrain, accumulated rapidly, trapping many residents in their homes. Four to eight-inch totals were widespread across eastern Kentucky and the Kentucky River crested at all-time high levels in both Whitesburg and Jackson. At least 37 fatalities occurred with this event.

    Cooler and wetter conditions across Alaska helped to reduce the spread of wildfires across the state during July. Additional significant wildfire growth is not expected for the remainder of the season, which is likely to rank as the seventh-largest season since 1950.

    US Drought Monitor map August 9., 2022.

    Drought

    According to the August 2 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 51.4 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up about 3.7 percentage points from the end of June. Drought conditions expanded or intensified across portions of the Northeast, with flash drought rapidly expanding in the southern and central Plains, Ozarks and the mid-Mississippi Valley. Drought contracted or was eliminated across portions of the Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and northern Rockies, as well as Alaska and Puerto Rico.

    Monthly Outlook

    According to the July 31 One-Month Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center, much of the West and from the Plains to the East Coast have the greatest chance of receiving above-normal temperatures in August, whereas the greatest chance for below-normal temperatures is projected to occur across portions of the Southwest and the southern half of Alaska.

    Parts of the Southwest, central Atlantic Coast and southeastern Alaska are projected to have the greatest chance of above-normal precipitation, while the greatest chance for below-normal precipitation is expected to occur from Texas to the northern Rockies and from the central Plains to New England. Drought is likely to persist across much of Texas, parts of the West, central Plains and Hawaii with some improvement and/or drought removal likely across parts of the Southwest, central Rockies, south-central Plains and Puerto Rico. Drought development is likely across portions of the Midwest and Northeast.

    According to the One-Month Outlook issued on August 1 from the National Interagency Fire Center, Hawaii and portions of the West, north-central Plains, Midwest and southern Plains have above normal significant wildland fire potential during August.

    Aspinall Unit operations update (August 11, 2022): 550 cfs in Black Canyon #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Click to enlarge.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping up to 450 cfs August 12, 2022 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    SAN JUAN RIVER The San Juan River at the hwy 64 bridge in Shiprock, NM. June 18, 2021. © Jason Houston

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    In response to the forecast for low flows on the San Juan River, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 450 cfs for August 12th at 4:00 AM.

    Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    #Drought news (August 11, 2022): Temperatures averaged over 3 F above normal in a large area across the central Rockies, most of the Plains

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

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

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    Precipitation varied widely across the Lower 48 this week. Across the interior West, heavy monsoon rains set records in some locales, with tropical moisture streaming much farther north and west than normal (through southern Montana, the Great Basin, and parts of the Sonoran Desert). Death Valley, CA set an all-time record for 24-hour rainfall, being doused with 1.46 inches during August 5 and 6. The average annual rainfall in Death Valley is less than 2.5 inches, and the 24-hour total makes August 2022 the wettest month in Death Valley since February 2010, and more than half of all calendar years bring less rain than that 24-hour total.

    Farther east, many areas from the Mississippi River eastward through the Piedmont and Middle Atlantic States recorded moderate to heavy precipitation. Most areas from southern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas through central Illinois recorded over 1.5 inches of rain, as did parts of the Tennessee and southern Ohio Valleys, the Upper Midwest and western Great Lakes Region, the Central Gulf Coast, and northern Maine. In other areas from the Mississippi Valley eastward, heavy rain was less widespread. Still, numerous patches of land across the Upper Midwest, the middle Mississippi Valley, the Ohio Valley, and the Gulf Coast east of Texas received over 3.5 inches of rain, with isolated totals of 6 to locally 11 inches reported in a swath from the middle Mississippi and lower Ohio Valleys northward through the Upper Midwest and western Great Lakes Region. In contrast, many areas across these regions recorded only a few tenths of an inch of rain or less, with tight gradients between heavy rain and lesser amounts common. This variable rainfall pattern had a similar effect on areas of dryness and drought, with deterioration noted very close to improvement in many cases, and only a few broad swaths with a consistent pattern. Looking at the western half of the Lower 48, outside the areas affected by the monsoon, much drier conditions prevailed, though there were a few small areas recording moderate to heavy rainfall. Little or no rain fell on the central and southern Great Plains, much of the central Rockies, and the Far West. Temperatures averaged over 3 deg. F above normal in a large area across the central Rockies, most of the Plains, and the northeastern quarter of the country, exacerbating dryness in areas that missed the heavier rains…

    High Plains

    Most of the Great Plains recorded only a few tenths of an inch of rain at best last week, as did most of North Dakota. Rainfall was more abundant in central and southern Colorado, and in a swath across much of Wyoming and South Dakota. Totals of 0.5 to 2.0 inches were common in these areas, with isolated higher amounts of 2 to 5 inches soaking northwestern Wyoming, scattered areas in central and southern Colorado, and portions of central and eastern South Dakota. Fairly large areas of heavy rain were noted in south-central and parts of eastern South Dakota. Not surprisingly, parts of the wetter areas saw dryness ease somewhat while hot and dry conditions from eastern Wyoming and Nebraska southward promoted large areas of expansion and intensification there. In the last 60 days, much of this area received 35 to 65 percent of normal rainfall, but most locations recorded more. Periods of excessive heat have exacerbated the effects of the subnormal precipitation, and even some areas with near normal rainfall have seen conditions dry out due to the heat. Surface moisture shortages are now most acute in western Kansas and southwestern Nebraska, and a sizeable part of this area is in exceptional drought (D4), with the remainder in D3 along with northeastern Colorado, southeastern Kansas, northwestern Nebraska, and a newly-developed area in central South Dakota. Only the central and northern Dakotas, northeastern Kansas and adjacent areas, portions of the Colorado mountains, and part of central and northern Wyoming are largely devoid of drought, though abnormal dryness has been identified in some of those areas…

    Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 9, 2022.

    West

    The North American Monsoon remained robust in early August. This is continuing to bring slow relief to a region long affected by entrenched drought. Tropical moisture from the monsoon circulation reached unusually far west this past week, into the southern Great Basin and southeastern California. As a result, exceptional amounts of rain fell on the southern half of Nevada and southeastern California, resulting in a very broad area of 1-category improvement. The record rains in Death Valley brought severe flash flooding that closed about 85 miles of road for several days, making many spots in the Valley unreachable. Farther east, rainfall was less remarkable, but still above normal, improving conditions across parts of New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and parts of the southeastern quarter of Utah. Most locales in Arizona, New Mexico, the California deserts, southern Nevada, and a few other scattered areas have measured at least 200 percent of normal over the past 2 months. Portions of southeastern California, the Sonoran Desert, southwestern and northeastern Arizona, and a large area in northwestern New Mexico have been doused by 3 to 5 times normal rainfall. Farther north, central sections of Washington and Oregon also saw dryness and drought ease a little bit. The only area currently headed in the opposite direction is central and northern Montana. They are considerably wetter than normal for the past 60 days as a whole, but conditions have been changing rapidly since then. Rainfall has become scarce and temperatures have averaged well above normal. All this resulted in a significant expansion of D0 and D1 conditions into eastern and central Montana, although little change was noted in the areas already entrenched in severe to extreme drought…

    South

    The eastern and western portions of this Region are trending in very different directions. Abundant rains have been falling on much of Tennessee, Arkansas, western Mississippi, most of Louisiana, and adjacent areas, where many areas of dryness and drought are improving. Over most of Oklahoma and Texas, however, rainfall has been scare of late, and with periods of excessive heat also affecting these areas, dryness is intensifying. In the last 2 weeks, over 3 inches of rain fell on most of Tennessee, northern Arkansas, and southern Louisiana. A few areas received over 4.5 inches of rain, with totals topping out at nearly a foot at one spot in northeastern Arkansas. Farther west, the have nots from central Oklahoma southward through most of Texas saw only several tenths of an inch, at best. From south of the Red River Valley through most of Texas to the Deep South regions, few areas saw any measurable rainfall. Conditions are not as dry in the Texas Panhandle, where enough rain fell (generally 2 to locally 5 inches) to provide some tangible relief from the recent dryness. Moisture shortages date back at least 6 months over most of Texas south of the Panhandle and north of Deep South Texas, extending across the entire breadth of the state. During the last 90 days, less than half of normal rainfall has been observed in most of these areas, with a few scattered patches getting less than 25 percent of normal. This equates to 3-month rainfall deficits of 5.5 inches or higher across most of central and eastern Texas, with parts of northeastern and southeastern Texas accumulating rainfall deficits of 7 to 10 inches. And for the last half-year, much of central and southeastern Texas racked up deficits of 11 to 16 inches. Not surprisingly, drought intensified or at best persisted across the south half of Oklahoma and most of Texas, most of the state is in extreme (D3) drought, with large swaths of D4 covering a good portion of the state from the Red River to Deep South Texas…

    Looking Ahead

    Above-normal temperatures – with the potential for excessive heat – should cover the central Plains, northern half of the Rockies, the Intermountain West (except where the monsoon is active), and the Pacific Northwest during August 11-15, 2022. The largest departures from normal are expected in the central Plains, the northern Rockies, and part of the northern Intermountain West averaging 4 to 8 deg. F above normal. In the western U.S., the only area expected to be somewhat cooler than normal are in the southern Rockies, Southwest, and Great Basin, where the robust monsoon will continue, keeping temperatures down. It should also be somewhat cooler than normal from the Mississippi River to the Appalachians, possibly spilling over into parts of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

    Most of the Lower 48 should be drier than normal, with several tenths of an inch falling at best. But there are significant exceptions; A very robust Southwestern Monsoon should be in place through the period, bringing moderate to heavy rain to the Southwest, The eastern Great Basin, the western half of Colorado, and most of Wyoming. Portions of central Arizona, southwestern Utah, and northern Wyoming are forecast to receive 1.5 to 3.0 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts. The only other extensive areas where more than 0.5 inch is expected are south-central through southeastern Texas, the immediate South Atlantic Coast, and most of the Gulf Coast. But only east-central Texas should record over 1.5 inches of rain, except along parts of the immediate Gulf Coast. Little or no precipitation is anticipated along the western tier of the Lower 48, across a large part of the central Plains, and through much of the Upper Midwest north of the Ohio River. Little or no precipitation is also expected in southern New England. .

    The Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 day outlook (valid August 16-20, 2022) favors above-normal temperatures across a large part of the Lower 48 from the Great Basin and Southwest eastward through the lower Mississippi Valley, through almost all of the Appalachians and Eastern Seaboard. But wet weather is only weakly favored from the lower Mississippi River to the southern Atlantic States and across the Appalachians. Odds favor subnormal precipitation around the Great Lakes and across the northern tier of the Lower 48 from western North Dakota to the Pacific Coast.

    Odds significantly favor below-normal temperatures across the Ohio Valley and central Appalachians, with somewhat lower odds from the Upper Southeast northward through the middle Mississippi Valley, Great Lakes Region, Northeast, and southwestern New England. Farther west, slightly enhanced chances for milder than normal temperatures extend across the central Plains and the central and southern Rockies. Meanwhile, there is a large tilt of the odds toward warmer than normal temperatures – with the potential for excessive heat – from central California, the northwestern Great Basin, and the northern Intermountain West to the Pacific Coast and the Canadian border. The chances for warmer than normal weather exceed 80 percent across interior sections of Washington and Oregon, and adjacent Idaho. Enhanced chances for warmth are less dramatic through the rest of California, the Great Basin, and the northern tiers of the Rockies and Plains. There are also slightly enhanced chances for warmer than normal weather extend across most of Texas, the lower Mississippi Valley, the immediate Gulf Coast, and Florida.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 9, 2022.

    Using #water to fight lead in drinking water: How #Denver Water engineered a permanent solution to a legacy problem — News on Tap

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

    Protecting people from hazards that can lurk in their drinking water is the day-in, day-out job for water industry engineers, utilities and regulators.

    And at Denver Water, efforts to protect people from the health risks posed by lead from old, lead service lines getting into drinking water, has been part of the job for decades.

    There is no lead in the water Denver Water delivers to customers, but the utility regularly tests for lead in the drinking water of homes that are known to have lead water service lines, the primary source of lead in drinking water.

    Rachel Himyak, water treatment lead, collects a sample of water that’s been run through old lead service lines as part of ongoing studies at Denver Water of pH adjustment. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    In the first half of the 20th century, lead was a common, cheap and easy-to-work-with material to use when forming small pipelines that carry drinking water from utility pipelines in the street into customers’ homes. But these old lead service lines, which in Denver Water’s experience are more often found in homes built before 1951, pose a threat in the community, particularly to children, infants and pregnant women.

    Denver Water has tested for lead in customers’ drinking water for decades under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule. In 2012, the routine monitoring indicated the utility needed to investigate whether it could adjust the chemistry of the water it delivered to customers to better protect them from the risk of lead getting into drinking water.

    Read this 2019 story to learn about Denver Water’s efforts over the years to combat lead in drinking water, which culminated in the 2020 launch of its groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program.

    In short, the results of tests on customers’ drinking water launched Denver Water into years of study centered on one question: What more could it do to better protect at-risk customers?

    The first step was more testing.

    “For a utility of our size and the number of lead service lines we have, you can’t just test something by putting it into the distribution system that’s delivering water to 1.5 million people every day. That’s not acceptable to us,” said Ryan Walsh, manager of the water treatment engineering section at Denver Water.

    “We had to test things at a pilot scale, by doing the pipe loop study, before we could move forward.”

    Walsh’s team was in charge of testing various treatment options via the pipe loop study and later planned, designed and executed the treatment plant systems involved in increasing the pH level.

    Denver Water crews dug up old lead service lines from customers’ homes for years of study that led to the utility’s Lead Reduction Program. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    To build the pipe loop study, Denver Water used old lead service lines its crews removed from customers’ homes (replacing them with lead-free lines) as the crews found the old lines during their regular work on water mains across the utility’s service area.

    Denver Water plumbers connected the decades-old pipes together on racks and its treatment engineers ran water through them for hours, days and years. They tested different treatment methods to find out which worked best to reduce the risk of lead from the old pipes getting into the water passing through them.

    Watch this video to see Denver Water’s pipe loop study, which is still underway today.

    “That testing was so critical because we used the water that had been treated by our treatment plants, Moffat and Marston, the water that was going into our system to customers. The pipe loop study allowed us to test the adjustments we might do to the water to keep people safe,” said Patty Brubaker, a water treatment plant manager.

    Aaron Benko, water treatment lead, pulls a sample of water from the rack of old customer-owned lead service lines that Denver Water crews dug up from customers’ homes and researchers continue to study. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “We tried different pH levels, we tried different phosphate levels, and we tried all of them on the actual lead pipes that had been taken from our system,” Brubaker said.

    “There were so many people involved in putting this together. We had the crews who went out and pulled those lines, the plumbers that put them together on the racks, the people who made the adjustments and tested the water as it ran through the pipes.

    All of us were studying the impacts to figure out which would be the best method to use to protect our customers from those old lead pipes.”

    Decision time

    In March 2018, based on Denver Water’s studies, state health officials told Denver Water it had two years — until March 2020 — to get ready to start using a food additive called orthophosphate to tamp down the potential for lead to get into customers’ drinking water.

    The decision worried many people inside and outside of Denver Water.

    The concern wasn’t whether orthophosphate would reduce the potential for lead to get into drinking water. They knew it would.

    Denver Water treatment engineers and operators (from left) Ryan Walsh, Aaron Benko, and Rachel Himyak at the pipe loop rack, which continues to have water running through the old lead service lines for ongoing studies. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water’s years of tests on the old pipes had shown orthophosphate would work, and other water utilities use orthophosphate to reduce the risk of lead getting into their drinking water.

    But Denver Water, environmental groups and other water and wastewater utilities downstream of Colorado’s capital city worried about the widespread, long term — and expensive — consequences of adding orthophosphate to such a large system, including the increased potential for environmental impacts in and downstream of the Denver metro area.

    Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section, had been hired at the utility few months before the state’s 2018 decision on orthophosphate. From previous jobs involving water and wastewater treatment plants, she’d seen what orthophosphate could do at the plants and in the environment.

    Hector Castaneda, a water treatment technician, and Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section, at the Marston Treatment Plant filter beds, where water is filtered through tiny pieces of sand and anthracite coal as part of the treatment process. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “I’d seen the algae, which can grow faster when there are higher levels of phosphate in the water. I’d seen it coating the valves coming into the treatment plant so we couldn’t bring water in. I’ve seen how the taste and odor problems with the water were so bad that people bought and used bottled water instead of tap water,” Poncelet-Johnson said.

    “And in Colorado’s dry, arid environment, with our long, sunny days and the UV light, adding orthophosphate to our system would have created a primordial soup. Plus, after the expense of adding it to the water at the drinking water treatment plant, it’s hard, expensively hard, to get phosphorous out of the water when it arrives at the downstream wastewater plants,” she said.

    About half of Denver Water’s residential water use is outdoor water use used on lawns and gardens. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    On top of the expensive work that would be required at wastewater treatment plants, there simply was no way to recapture all the orthophosphate that would be added to Denver’s drinking water due to the way water is used in the metro area, she said.

    About half of Denver Water’s residential water use is outdoor water use, tied to the irrigation of lawns and gardens. That means some of the orthophosphate-treated drinking water was bound to run off of lawns, down the gutter and end up in the metro area’s urban creeks, streams and rivers.

    Water used for irrigation of lawns and gardens often ends up in urban creeks and streams that flow throughout the Denver metro area. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The groups worried that under the right conditions, that additional phosphate could accelerate the growth of algae not only downstream of the city, but also in the metro area’s urban creeks, streams and reservoirs.

    There had to be another way, they said.

    Alternative path

    “We went back to the data from the years of tests we’d run. We saw that if we raised the pH level of the water, instead of adding orthophosphate, we could protect people from the lead service lines,” Poncelet-Johnson said.

    “And if we combined a higher pH with replacing those lead service lines with new, lead-free copper lines, then the lead levels would drop to the point where the tests couldn’t detect anything.”

    In 2019, Denver Water formally proposed an alternative approach to state and federal regulators.

    Denver Water’s proposal, at its core, called for raising the pH of the water delivered to customers from 7.8 to 8.8 on the pH scale, and keeping it there with relatively little variance as it flowed from the treatment plant to the customers’ homes and businesses.

    Raising the pH of the water delivered to customers strengthens an existing protective coating inside lead service lines, which reduces the risk of lead getting into drinking water. Image credit: Denver Water.

    The higher pH level would strengthen an existing protective coating inside the lead service lines, reducing the risk of lead getting into the drinking water as it passed through the lead pipes.

    And that — combined with significantly accelerating the replacement of the old lead services lines — would 1) lower the risk faster than relying on orthophosphate alone, and 2) do so without the cost and environmental concerns posed by adding the phosphate.

    This graphic (not to scale) portrays how a higher pH level creates a stronger protective coating (shown in white and brown on the left) inside a lead service line (shown in grey), separating the water (blue) from the lead pipe and reducing the risk of lead getting into the drinking water. Image credit: Denver Water.

    “It was a better solution, a permanent solution to the problem of old lead service lines, which are the primary source of lead in drinking water,” Poncelet-Johnson said.

    “Because instead of a Band-Aid approach, instead of just adding chemicals to the system and then dealing with the widespread economic and environmental consequences of that decision for decades, we went the other way and proposed permanently removing the problem by raising the pH of the water and replacing the lead service lines,” she said.

    Listen to Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section, discuss Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program:

    Denver Water’s alternative proposal focused on five areas:

    Raising the pH of the water it delivers to 1.5 million people to 8.8, and keep it fairly constant, with very little variance, as the water flowed from treatment plant, through the distribution system, to customers’ homes and businesses.

  • Mapping the location of the customer-owned lead service lines in its service area and sharing that map with customers.
  • Replacing the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines in its service area with new lead-free copper lines at no direct cost to the customer.
  • Providing customers enrolled in the program with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use until six months after their lead line was replaced.
  • Launching the largest public health communication effort Denver Water had ever done to educate its customers about the risks of lead, the importance of using filtered water until the old lead service lines could be replaced, and the process for replacing those lead pipes.
  • Watch this video to learn more about lead service lines.

    Breaking new ground

    The proposal broke new ground in the water industry in two main ways.

    It attacked the legacy issue posed old lead service lines from all sides — by raising the pH level, replacing customers’ old lead service lines, providing water filters to customers enrolled in the program to use until six months after their line was replaced, and educating those customers about the program.

    And Denver Water said it would tackle all those steps on a scale and at a speed never before seen in the water industry.

    Communicating with customers enrolled in the Lead Reduction Program is one of five elements of the biggest public health initiative in Denver Water’s history. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Other cities had aimed to replace a few thousand lead service lines.

    But Denver Water proposed replacing up to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines estimated to be in Denver Water’s service area, doing it at no direct cost to the customer, and doing it in 15 years.

    And, the utility proposed sending water pitchers and filters to more than 100,000 households enrolled in the program to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead line was replaced.

    More than 100,000 households enrolled in the Lead Reduction Program were supplied with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead line is replaced. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    In December 2019, health officials at the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment agreed to Denver Water’s alternative proposal.

    Weeks later, in January 2020, Denver Water launched its Lead Reduction Program — and immediately faced a crucial deadline.

    The utility’s engineers, treatment plant operators and monitoring teams now had to implement the systems and processes that would raise the pH level of the water and maintain that level as the water flowed across more than 3,000 miles of pipe to 1.5 million people. And they had less than 90 days to do it.

    New bridge to connect #RioGrande trail system at Adams State and Cattails — @AlamosaCitizen

    Location of new pedestrian bridge over the Rio Grand in Alamosa. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Owen Woods):

    OU’RE walking along the Rio Grande trail at Cattails Golf Course and you see the campus of Adams State across the way but can’t get to the other side. Patience, dear trail user. A crossing is on the way.

    The city of Alamosa is moving forward with plans for a pedestrian bridge crossing at Stadium Drive behind the Adams State ballfields that will connect the west levee to the east levee at Cattails Golf Course.

    The city has applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program to help fund the $4.1 million project. Other funding coming into the project is $220,000 from local contributors to cover design and permitting; SLV GO! kicked in $100,000 from private donors; the city of Alamosa $50,000; SLV Health $25,000; and Alamosa County $40,000.

    Green bar shows location
    of proposed pedestrian bridge. Read the report HERE.

    This is a long-dreamt-of project, one that would no doubt change the way locals recreate. It would, with a seamless stitch, connect the most residential parts of Alamosa with the other side of the river, cutting down travel times and encouraging walking, running, and biking over driving.

    Increased visits to Blanca Vista Park, the city’s Disc Golf Course and nearby trailheads are among the benefits, according to project consultant THK Associates. In addition, the pedestrian bridge would allow people to avoid the heavier traffic of the Highway 160 bridgeand the State Avenue bridge, giving a more direct route for runners like those from Adams State.

    “The bridge will reduce vehicular traffic and result in reduced carbon emissions, potential traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths,” THK Associates said in its report. It added the State Avenue bridge was deemed a “High Conflict Area” and that runners, dog-walkers, and families with small kids could avoid potential danger with the new bridge.

    Bridge on the river grand

    THK presented three different bridge designs and locations, along with the costs. Of the three designs, the city chose to go with a more cost-effective, shorter bridge that will span just 370 feet at one of the river’s narrowest points. This particular design cuts down on the total overall cost, and also the impact to the river beneath it. The design proved to be the most direct line of access. To have this point of access, the city will have to purchase two properties on the west levee. As THK writes in its memo, “….the acquisition of additional land at this time is beneficial to allow for expanded parking, staging and access, and other possible benefits.”

    Southwest River Engineers designed the bridge type and outlined where it would be and what it could look like. It’s a tied arch free span design that will have only two concrete supports placed on each side of the river bed. Each will impact 100 square feet of area once competed.

    The earliest construction would begin is 2023, once funding is secured. An extensive design and permitting process is required before ground can be broken. A part of that permitting process is purchasing the two properties that border the west levee. After everything is moved along, permits are permitted and the Army Corps of Engineers is satisfied, construction could be completed by February 2024.

    “With RAISE grant monies, the City will provide a safe corridor for pedestrians and cyclists separate from motorized traffic and improve economic competitiveness and resilience by supporting a growing outdoor recreation economy,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet wrote in a letter of support to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

    Keith Baker and Vern Heersink from the San Luis Valley Transportation Planning Region wrote in their letter of support, “The City of Alamosa and Alamosa County for decades have been in need of and in pursuit of a pedestrian bridge to cross the Rio Grande near Adams State University’s campus…. Multimodal projects such as this have become increasingly important to communities within the region as they develop new initiatives to improve pedestrian and bicycle routes to recreational opportunities and commercial centers.”

    “The Rio Grande Intermodal Transportation Project builds on years of community planning with diverse stakeholders to develop the infrastructure needed to connect the public to multi-use trails along the river corridor,” said Emma Ressor, executive director for the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project in her letter of support. “This will increase sustainability and pedestrian accessibility, while creating space for the community to enjoy the Rio Grande and surrounding wildlife habitat.”

    Widespread support for the project may help with grant selection. For small Alamosa, a bridge like this is apt to dissipate fear of traffic bridges, create an easier avenue to enjoy the nature and the sky, and ultimately increase the value of the town. The economic benefits from this are outstanding, yes, but the recreation opportunities are tenfold more.

    Doing the math

    Perhaps one of the most desired benefits of this project is the slashing of travel times.

    Among the information studied by the city are two tables that show current travel times and estimated travel times after construction. The tables break down distance from Adams State, and travel times for driving, walking, and cycling to the North River Pavilion Trailhead, the Disc Golf Course, Blanca Vista Park, and the State Avenue Trailhead and Boatramp.

    Say you start at Adams State University and want to catch up with some friends at the Disc Golf Course. You’re again limited to two ways to get there, but the obvious choice would be to take State Avenue. Let’s say you’re on your bike. The distance is 3.3 miles and if you’re enjoying a leisure ride, that would take you roughly 20 minutes.

    With the new connecting bridge, the distance is cut by 2.5 miles and it would take you a mere 5 minutes to get there.

    Now, of course, travel by car won’t change much if you want to park at the specific locations.

    The flip side of this travel and distance also makes its case for anyone traveling from the east and north sides of town – the county side. Anyone can drive to these places and instead of taking the car downtown, they can take their own two feet. It encourages different means of travel for everyone.

    It encourages taking the scenic route.

    And for a community that relishes its outdoors, this bridge is a step toward making Alamosa’s wide open spaces and endless sky even more accessible and enjoyable.

    In this experiment Dr Rob Thompson of @UniRdg_Met shows just how long it takes water to soak into parched ground — @WMO

    Global heating has caused ‘shocking’ changes in forests across the Americas, studies find — The Guardian #ActOnClimate

    A Sphagnum bog with spruce trees on a forested ridge in Quebec. By Boréal – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6911882

    Click on the link to read the article on the Guardian website (Oliver Milman). Here’s an excerpt:

    Trees are advancing into the Arctic tundra and retreating from boreal forests further south, where stunting and die-offs are expected

    Forests from the Arctic to the Amazon are transforming at a “shocking” rate due to the climate crisis, with trees advancing into previously barren tundra in the north while dying off from escalating heat farther south, scientists have found. Global heating, along with changes in soils, wind and available nutrients, is rapidly changing the composition of forests, making them far less resilient and prone to diseases, according to a series of studies that have analyzed the health of trees in north and South America. Many areas of forest are now becoming more susceptible to ferocious wildfires, causing the release of further greenhouse gases from these vast carbon stores that heat the planet even more. “It’s like humans have lit a match and we are now seeing the result of that,” said Roman Dial, a biologist at Alaska Pacific University.

    Dial and his colleagues have discovered that a patch of white spruce trees in north-west Alaska have “hopped” north into an area of the Arctic tundra that hasn’t had such trees in millennia. The scientists’ new research paper, published in Nature, estimates the spruce are advancing north at a rate of around 4km a decade, aided by warming temperatures and changes to snow and wind patterns influenced by the shrinkage of sea ice in the region.

    “It was shocking to see trees there. No one knew about them but they were young and growing fast,” said Dial, who first spotted the shadows of the trees on satellite imagery and then took a single-engine plane journey, followed by a five-day hike, to find and study the advancing forest.

    “The trees basically hopped over the mountains into the tundra. Going by climate models, this wasn’t supposed to happen for a hundred years or more. And yet it’s happening now.”

    […]

    Farther south, separate research has found a transformation is under way at the boundary between the boreal and temperate forests, with species of spruce and fir increasingly unable to cope with the hotter conditions. Scientists estimate that even small amounts of further heating, caused by human activity, could cause up to a 50% die-off of traditional boreal forest trees in certain places, with many other trees becoming stunted in their growth.

    “Boreal species do very poorly even with modest warming. They grow more slowly and have greater mortality,” said Peter Reich, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who co-authored the research. “Intuitively, I thought they would do slightly worse with 1.5C of warming, but they do much worse, which is worrisome.”

    […]

    The impact of the climate crisis is also being felt in the heart of the Amazon, a further study has underlined. Scientists have raised concerns that the huge rainforest ecosystem is in danger of tipping into a new, altered state, eventually becoming a savannah, and the new research found that a lack of phosphorus in the Amazon’s soils could have “major implications” for its resilience to global heating.

    North Weld County #Water District eliminates #Severance’s 25% discount on water rates — The #Greeley Tribune #SouthPlatteRiver

    1st Street in Severance. By Jared Winkler – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66581912

    Click the link to read the article on the Greeley Tribune website (Christopher Wood). Here’s an excerpt:

    The district provides water treatment and delivery for Severance and other towns and unincorporated areas of Weld and Larimer counties. Severance was found not to be in compliance with a clause in its Water Service Agreement, specifically a requirement related to water-storage capacity.

    “Under contract, the towns are required to have above their max annual use,” North Weld district manager Eric Reckentine told BizWest. “Severance’s current storage volume is below that. They’ve been above their storage requirement for a couple years.”

    Reckentine said the requirements are “to reduce their usage off of our system, which helps control peak-hour flows.”

    He said that his calculations are that elimination of the discount will cost Severance an additional $25,000 per month during peak summer months. He said he has not calculated the effect beyond the summer.

    Severance Mayor Matt Fries addressed the North Weld board Monday, requesting that the board defer the increase to Jan. 1 to enable the town to budget and appropriate the funds. He noted that the town is preparing to build a third water-storage tower “to avoid these potential penalties.”

    Tourist haven #GrandLake asks state to intervene in federal #water quality stalemate — @WaterEdCO

    Shadow Mountain Dam, astride the main stem of the upper Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

    Fourteen years after Colorado adopted standards to restore Grand Lake, the state’s largest natural water body once known for its astonishing clarity and high water quality continues to deteriorate.

    Frustrated and worried about the future, Grand Lake locals are asking the state to intervene to break through a log jam of federal and environmental red tape that has prevented finding a way to restore the lake’s clarity and water quality, despite a 90-year-old federal rule known as Senate Bill 80 requiring that the work be done.

    At issue: Grand Lake serves as a key element of Northern Water’s delivery system, which provides water to more than 1 million people on the northern Front Range and thousands of acres of irrigated farmlands.

    Owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by Northern Water, what’s known as the Colorado-Big Thompson Project gathers water from streams and rivers in Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand County, and stores it in man-made Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there it is eventually moved into Grand Lake and delivered via the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide to Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir, just west of Berthoud and Fort Collins respectively.

    During that process, algae, certain toxins and sediment are carried into Grand Lake, clouding its formerly clear waters and causing algae blooms and weed growth, and harming recreation.

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    In a hearing before the Colorado Legislature’s Interim Water Resources and Agriculture Review Committee on Aug. 4, Mike Cassio, who represents the Three Lakes Watershed Association in Grand County, pleaded with state lawmakers to intervene and launch a study process that would help trigger federal action.

    by Jerd Smith | Aug 10, 2022 | Climate and Drought, Colorado River, Environment, Infrastructure, Recreation, Restoration, Water Legislation, Water Quality |

    Tourist haven Grand Lake asks state to intervene in federal water quality stalemate
    A woman paddles on Shadow Mountain Reservoir, which is caught in federal stalemate over how to improve water quality to help improve its neighboring Grand Lake. Credit: Daily Camera

    Fourteen years after Colorado adopted standards to restore Grand Lake, the state’s largest natural water body once known for its astonishing clarity and high water quality continues to deteriorate.

    Frustrated and worried about the future, Grand Lake locals are asking the state to intervene to break through a log jam of federal and environmental red tape that has prevented finding a way to restore the lake’s clarity and water quality, despite a 90-year-old federal rule known as Senate Bill 80 requiring that the work be done.

    At issue: Grand Lake serves as a key element of Northern Water’s delivery system, which provides water to more than 1 million people on the northern Front Range and thousands of acres of irrigated farmlands.

    Owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by Northern Water, what’s known as the Colorado-Big Thompson Project gathers water from streams and rivers in Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand County, and stores it in man-made Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there it is eventually moved into Grand Lake and delivered via the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide to Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir, just west of Berthoud and Fort Collins respectively.

    During that process, algae, certain toxins and sediment are carried into Grand Lake, clouding its formerly clear waters and causing algae blooms and weed growth, and harming recreation.

    In a hearing before the Colorado Legislature’s Interim Water Resources and Agriculture Review Committee on Aug. 4, Mike Cassio, who represents the Three Lakes Watershed Association in Grand County, pleaded with state lawmakers to intervene and launch a study process that would help trigger federal action.

    “We have the highest respect for all of our partners,” Cassio said, referring to ongoing remediation efforts involving Northern Water and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    “But due to the design of the system, you have this beautiful natural lake and then you fill it up with reservoir water. Usually, in July when spring runoff is going on, Grand Lake is flowing from east to west. It is extremely clear. But as soon as Shadow Mountain’s water sits and starts to cook and grow weeds and algae, and the pumps come on, this massive plume of nitrates, inorganics, just basic muddy water flows into Grand Lake,” Cassio said.

    In 2008, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission moved to set a clarity standard, but it has since been replaced with a clarity goal and the aim of achieving “the highest level of clarity attainable.” Instead of working under a regulated water quality standard, Northern Water and others have implemented different management techniques, including changing pumping patterns, to find ways to improve water quality in all three water bodies.

    In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation took the first steps required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) to do the scientific and engineering studies and public hearings that would be required to fix the system. But Reclamation stopped the process in 2020, saying that it could not definitively establish any structural alternatives that would work, nor could it find a way forward on funding what could be a project that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Jeff Rieker, general manager of Reclamation’s Colorado Eastern Plains office.

    During last week’s hearing, lawmakers said they want more information and that Northern Water’s system is too critical to the northern Front Range to do anything without careful consideration.

    “We are in a moment of time like none other,” said State Rep. Hugh McKean, a Republican who represents Loveland and other northern Front Range communities. He cited the warming climate and the effects of the massive East Troublesome fire in 2020, which engulfed lands around the three lakes and created additional water quality problems, which still impact the watershed today.

    “Is this the moment to create a long-term plan, when right now our water situation is in flux? I’m resistant to say let’s stop everything and study this,” McKean said.

    But Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron disagreed.

    “This is exactly the right time,” Kudron said. “Tourism impacts my community more than almost any other community in the state. One million people visited [Fort Collins’] Horsetooth Reservoir last year. Are we getting to the time when recreation on the East Side of the [Continental Divide] is more important than the West Side?”

    Grand Lake via Cornell University

    Northern Water’s Esther Vincent told lawmakers at the hearing that management efforts have improved clarity somewhat. In 1941, before the Colorado Big Thompson Project began operating, clarity was measured at 9.2 meters, Vincent said.

    “The [state’s] clarity goal is 3.8 meters,” she said. “We don’t hit it every year, but we’re doing a lot better. Over the past 17 years we’ve met the 3.8-meter goal 35% of the time and in the past five years we’ve hit the goal 60% of the time,” she said. “But East Troublesome complicates everything. We are still trying to wrap our heads around what this means for the system.”

    Still, she said Northern was committed to finding a path forward and indeed is legally obligated to do so under the terms of its operating contract with Reclamation.

    What that path may look like isn’t clear yet. Lawmakers did not recommend any action in the form of bills to authorize a study after Thursday’s hearing, according to interim committee staff.

    But Grand Lake advocates say the state rightly should step in because it was the Colorado water users in Northern’s system that repaid the federal construction loans on the project.

    “We have a lake unlike any lake in the country,” Kudron said. “The moment we start talking about closing the lake, it has a long rippling effect. There isn’t a Target [store] that will make up the tax dollars that would be lost. There are just 16,000 people in Grand County. If the natural resources that attract people to our county are interrupted, the county becomes interrupted. If we can’t rely on the water resource, we are in big trouble.”

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

    #Nebraska and #Colorado are sparring over #water rights. It could be the new norm as rivers dry up — @WaterEdCO #SouthPlatteRiver

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    Click the link to read the article on the CNN website (Stephanie Elam and Jason Kravarik). Here’s an excerpt:

    Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts in April signed legislation that, within the terms of the compact, would allow Nebraska to build a canal in Colorado to siphon water off the South Platte River. In response, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis described the plan as a “costly and misguided political stunt.”

    But it’s a conflict climatologists say could play out more often as drought expands in the West and Central US, draining water supplies and exacerbating strains between urban growth and agriculture.

    “We go through droughts every 20 years or so, but nothing of this magnitude,” said Tom Cech, former co-director of the One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University in Denver. “We are in for a wave of water rights battles through the West. This is the driest it has been in 1,200 years.”

    […]

    “Without this compact and our ability to enforce our rights, we will see the dramatic impact upon our state,” Ricketts said in an April press conference, pointing to Colorado’s ever-growing population and its estimate of nearly $10 billion for 282 new projects along the South Platte. “Should all the long-term goals be affected, they would reduce the amount of water flows coming to the state of Nebraska by 90%.”

    That rationale raised eyebrows in Colorado. “The fact is, many of those projects are not necessarily going to come to fruition,” Kevin Rein, Colorado’s state engineer and director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, told CNN, noting that the state curtails usage based on water-rights seniority to ensure that Nebraska still gets the water it has the right to…

    The South Platte River Compact allows Nebraska 500 cubic feet of water per second — with some conditions — in the fall and winter between October 15 and April 1. However, during the irrigation season in the spring and summer, from April 1 and October 15, Nebraska’s allotment drops to 120 cubic feet per second. Critically, though, the compact permits Nebraska to build a canal on Colorado land to divert water from the South Platte “for irrigation of lands in Nebraska” and “grants Nebraska and its citizens the right to acquire by purchase, prescription, or the exercise of eminent domain” any land necessary to build and maintain the canal.

    This week’s Topsoil Moisture Percent Short/Very Short by @usda_oce

    A concerning increase in the Missouri River Basin as MT, WY, and NE are all over 70%. Parts of the Northeast have been going in the wrong direction too for some time. Lower 48 increased 2% as a whole. #drought

    Tribes in the #ColoradoRiver basin say they’re ‘in the dark’ as states discuss #water #conservation — KUNC #COriver #aridification

    Agriculture is the main economic venture on CRIT’s reservation, where a range of crops like alfalfa, cotton and sorghum thrive in the rich soil along the banks of the Colorado River. (Source: CRIT)

    Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:

    A group of 14 tribes in the Colorado River basin is asking for a greater voice in ongoing negotiations about water conservation. In a letter to the Department of the Interior, those tribes write that they are not being adequately consulted as states ponder a plan to save an unprecedented amount of water amid this historic drought.

    “We should not have to remind you — but we will again — that as our trustee, you must protect our rights, our assets, and people in addition to any action you take on behalf of the system,” the letter reads…

    The tribes said a June pre-scoping notice about river negotiations was a good start — it mentioned a commitment to engage with tribes and consider their views— but the Interior Department has not kept its promise to keep tribes “appropriately informed.”

    Graphic credit: Chas Chamberlin/Water Education Colorado

    The Colorado River basin includes 30 federally-recognized tribes that depend on its water. Despite holding rights to about a quarter of the river’s flow, many tribes lack the funding and infrastructure to use their full allocations. They have historically been excluded from decision-making about how the river’s water is used, going back to foundational documents allocating the region’s water. They argue they are still being excluded during the unprecedented call for conservation…This is not the first time within the past year that tribes have come to the federal government with a call for greater inclusion. In November, twenty tribes within the basin sent a letter to the Interior Department broadly asking for greater inclusion in the long-term management of the Colorado River.

    North American Indian regional losses 1850 thru 1890.

    On Aug. 9, 1937, President Roosevelt signed a bill committing funds to the #Colorado-Big Thompson Project — @Northern_Water

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    Pushback on building emissions: A law passed by #Colorado legislators in 2021 requires natural gas utilities to start squeezing emissions from buildings. This could get very interesting — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #COleg

    The downtown Denver skyline from Arvada. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

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

    To be very clear, this is the biggest energy story of the year in Colorado, in my read.

    State legislators in 2021 adopted several laws that will, in various ways, begin squeezing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.

    Now comes the implementation as the three commissioners from the Public Utilities Commission do their required public engagement in meetings held in various locations in Colorado. All available evidence suggests to me that this will come close to fist-swinging before it’s all done, at least of the wordy type. From what I hear, it already has.

    I attended the second of the six meetings, the one at Montbello Community Center in Denver. It was a bilingual meeting structure designed for consumption by people who had mostly never heard of the PUC much less clean heat plans.

    In Montrose a week later, people had heard of the clean heat plans – or least that an effort was underway to remove natural gas from buildings. According to a report in the Montrose Press, many were not in the least bit happy. “Public Utilities Commission gets an earful over Clean Heat Plans,” was the headline.

    SB 21-264, which we’ll call the clean-heat law, requires Colorado’s four privately owned natural gas utilities – Xcel Energy, Black Hills Energy, Atmos and Colorado Natural Gas – to reduce greenhouse gases 4% by 2025 and then 22% by 2030. This is compared to emissions of 2015.

    How can they do this? The law provides four ways for the utilities to do so in the heat-clean plans they must submit:

    1) Demand-side management programs, especially including improved energy efficiency.

    2) Beneficial electrification, meaning that gas use in buildings for space and hot water heating is replaced by electricity. One way of doing that is through addition of air-source heat pumps or, in original construction, ground-source heat pumps.

    3) Improved efforts to reduce methane leaks from the natural gas infrastructure.

    3) Recovered methane, such as from landfills, to supplement the methane extracted from wells;

    4) Green hydrogen, which means made from renewable resources and after (but not natural gas);

    5) Pyrolysis of tires, the recycling of tires to extract heat and energy, as is being considered at Fort Morgan.

    The latter two are likely more difficult than the first three.

    The PUC commissioners have until December to draw up the rules governing the review of these clean-heat plans.

    I see four very, very big issues here:

    First, this is a lot of work in a short time. “A heavy lift for utilities,” John Gavan, the PUC commissioner who presided at the Montrose meeting, said.

    A Black Hills representative at the Montrose meeting said that the required reduction coming on top of demand growth means that instead of a 4% reduction it’s more like a 25% reduction. Nigh on to impossible, said Mike Harrigan, the Black Hills rep.

    Second, the gas utilities are being required to radically change their business models and, in the case of three of them, to essentially make themselves less relevant. Xcel Energy will sell more electricity as it sells less gas. For Black Hills, which sells both gas and electricity, the trade-off is not as easy. It sells gas in Aspen, for example, but not electricity.

    One of the attendees at Montrose summarized it in this way: “Let me get this straight,” said David Combs, speaking to the Black Hills Energy representatives. “The products you sell, you make money on, you’re trying to reduce and you’re giving people money to use less of it?”

    There always has been a strange tradeoff between regulated utilities. They enjoy monopolies in their service territory in return for regulation. This was once reliable money. Utilities are now being required to be far more inventive.

    Third, builders and real estate developers have been enjoying a subsidy as they build new subdivisions, the gas lines that are laid being subsidized by existing natural gas customers. At the end of the day, this may be the defining issue. High-spirited filings with the PUC began in December 2021.

    Fourth, there are equity issues here as we squeeze out natural gas, replacing it with electricity. Who will pay for the aging natural gas systems? Like so many things, it’s likely to be those who can least afford to pay.

    The meeting in the Denver neighborhood of Montbello was conducted in both Spanish and English. Photo/Allen Best

    I mentioned the Montbello meeting. It was designed to reach out to an area that met the definition of a disproportionately impacted community. I can’t disagree, but I must say that I felt very marginalized. I struggle to hear well normally, and the choice of room configuration left me with my back to the speakers and trying — and almost entirely failing — to hear the English translation of what was being said in Spanish. My impression was that the meeting was designed with the intent of honoring the law, and it did achieve that. But one meeting alone will not achieve the real purpose with this particular group.

    A meeting in Grand Junction was somewhat boisterous, I heard, which did not surprise me. The first filings of opposition to clean-heat plans in the PUC docket in this case were submitted by real-estate agents and others from the Grand Valley and Montrose. Weeks later they started arriving from places like Aurora.

    Again, as Gavan identified in the Montrose meeting, the key issue here is the subsidy for gas lines to homebuilders. Nobody likes to lose their subsidy.

    Sandy Head, executive of the Montrose County Economic Development Corp. told the Press that the cost of extending a gas line to a new house was previously $250 to $300 but will now cost $800.

    This led to charges that it would become too expensive to live in a place like Delta County – which, with the exception of now pricey Paonia, remains one of Colorado’s least expensive places to live west of I-25.

    Also balled up into this issue is the high cost of natural gas and the failure of Xcel Energy to adequately prepare itself for what happened in February 2021. Xcel ended up paying $600 million extra for high-priced natural gas. But there’s also the issue of Texans going without power – which some people, apparently, still think can be blamed on the dependency on wind turbines. (It was a part of the problem, but only a small part).

    “We’re not going to shut off fossil fuel generation in the form of gas overnight,” Gavan replied, as per the Montrose Press account. “No, our plan is to add another gigawatt of combustion technology to back up renewables. It’s a balancing mix. As we transition, the resource mix will change. It will become very different, more intelligent.”

    #Arizona and #California Farmers, Targets for #ColoradoRiver Cuts, Draft Their #Conservation Strategy — Circle of Blue #COriver #aridification

    The All American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. The Imperial Irrigation District holds more rights to Colorado River water than any other user in the basin. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.

    Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Brett Walton):

  • A plan is circulating among irrigation districts in southern Arizona and California to reduce Colorado River use by as much as 925,000 acre-feet.
  • Such a plan would require billions in funding.
  • These discussions foreshadow difficult negotiations in the coming years to balance water demand with a declining supply.
  • Knowing they are targets, farmers in southern Arizona and California who receive irrigation water from the Colorado River are discussing a plan that could go a long way toward meeting a federal conservation mandate in the drying basin.

    With key reservoirs Mead and Powell at record lows and despite the continued decline of the Salton Sea, federal officials are demanding historic cuts in water use next year, on the order of 2 million to 4 million acre-feet, or roughly one-third of the river’s recent annual flow.

    Irrigation districts in Arizona’s Yuma County and California’s Imperial and Riverside counties control more of the river’s water than any other entity in the basin. The Colorado River Indian Tribes, whose reservation abuts the river, also hold significant secure water rights.

    A plan is now circulating among those districts to forgo 1 acre-foot of water per irrigated acre next year. In the Yuma area that amounts to a 20 percent cut, according to Tom Davis, manager of the Yuma County Water Users’ Association.

    The emergency actions foreshadow difficult negotiations that will take place in the coming years as a river that irrigates 5 million acres and supplies 40 million people with a portion of their drinking water is decimated by a drying climate. Agriculture consumes about 80 percent of the basin’s water, making it a cornerstone for bringing demand in line with supply.

    The discussions today could set the tone. As many as 925,000 acre-feet could be part of the current deal, about half or a quarter of the total cuts the federal government is seeking.

    The forgone water would remain in Lake Mead, which is at its lowest level since 1937, when the big reservoir was being filled. Federal officials want to prevent a catastrophic outcome: the reservoir dropping so low that it can no longer generate hydropower or deliver water downstream.

    Irrigation districts are willing to contribute — as long as they are paid.

    “If agriculture steps up and makes it possible for the river to survive, they are taking a huge risk for their industry,” said Wade Noble, coordinator of the Yuma County Agriculture Water Coalition, which represents farmers in southwest Arizona. “And that risk and the cost analysis that goes into it is going to require some sort of compensation because they have a water right.”

    The dollars at play could be significant. A range of values are being discussed, but a center point is $1,500 per acre-foot. If all 925,000 acres participated in the program, the total cost would be $1.4 billion a year.

    It is unclear at this point how many irrigation districts are on board. Camille Touton, the commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, told the states to present a plan by mid-August. But observers in the basin do not consider that a firm deadline. Davis cited the accelerated timeline and delicate nature of the negotiations.

    Noble outlined the agriculture conservation plan at the July 13 meeting of the Arizona Reconsultation Committee, a group that is advising the state government on Colorado River negotiations. He suggested a four-year program with a total cost between $4 billion and $8 billion.

    “As we look at the risk to economies,” Noble added. “As we look at the risk to other industries. As we look at the risk to our urban areas, we don’t believe that you can say that is too much money.”

    Noble did not return multiple phone messages seeking comment.

    Robert Glennon, a water law and policy expert and professor emeritus at the University of Arizona said that though the dollar figures may seem high at first glance, they are miniscule compared with the risks involved.

    “Why should that be a deal breaker?” Glennon asked about a nearly $2 billion annual price tag. “I mean, it’s only a one-year deal. But it’s wet water that saves everyone’s bacon while you’re trying to develop some long-term criteria.”

    Aerial view of Imperial Valley and Salton Sea. By Samboy – I took a picture from the window of an airplane I was on, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76273834

    These irrigated areas are among the harshest climates in the United States, arid lowland regions of the Sonoran Desert that receive no more than 4 inches of rain in an average year.

    The Colorado River is the ingredient that turned these drylands green. Applying more than 5 feet of water per acre of land each year allows farmers in Imperial Irrigation District, Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation District, Palo Verde Irrigation District, and a half dozen others to produce a staggering bounty of vegetables, grains, forage, and seed crops. Growing more than 100 crops, these counties are among the richest farming regions in the country, each generating more than $1 billion in sales in 2021.

    The steady flow of the Colorado is the fuel that powers the ag machine. The threat that the spigot will be turned off has brought the irrigation districts to the table.

    If dividing the river during a period of shortage were based purely on the law, then the irrigation districts would not have to worry. They hold some of the most legally ironclad rights to the river, those that are last in line for cuts.

    Imperial Irrigation District, the largest of the bunch, has claim to 2.6 million acre-feet for irrigation, nearly as much water from the Colorado River as the entire state of Arizona. That water nurtures about 470,000 acres of alfalfa, Bermuda grass, Sudan grass, sugar beets, onions, lettuce, and other crops. Secured by a U.S. Supreme Court decree, Imperial’s water rights would be the last to be touched.

    The political reality, however, is altogether different, according to Michael Pearce, an attorney with Gammage and Burnham who has more than three decades of experience in Arizona water law and policy.

    “In a practical sense, you can’t see the cities of Phoenix and Los Angeles, and even Las Vegas and some of the cities on the Colorado River — Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City — have their water supply cut off so that you can grow alfalfa in Yuma and in the Imperial Valley,” Pearce told Circle of Blue. “This cannot be a practical solution.”

    Aerial photo – Central Arizona Project. The Central Arizona Project is a massive infrastructural project that conveys water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona, and is central to many of the innovative partnerships and exchanges that the Gila River Indian Community has set up. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=326265

    The Central Arizona Project, the 336-mile canal that supplies Phoenix and Tucson, has junior water rights to the Colorado River. But Arizona’s water leaders have publicly stated that they will not sign any agreement that allows the canal to run dry.

    Leaders in the four upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming are also looking downstream for solutions. In a July 18 letter they argued that the burden of the conservation mandate should be placed on Arizona, California, and Mexico, which together use more than double the water than the upper basin. Besides the irrigation districts, urban suppliers in the basin are also putting forward conservation plans.

    Another factor in the irrigation districts’ willingness to come to the table is that the mechanics of water delivery will eventually triumph over the law. Even the most secure legal rights are worthless if Mead sits at dead pool and no water can pass downstream.

    How might the farmers be paid off? Glennon and Pearce noted a number of options. Congress could appropriate money. A wildfire and drought response bill that the House passed at the end of July authorizes $500 million to prevent Mead and Powell from declining to unacceptable levels. Or the White House could declare a federal disaster. Any outcome, they said, would likely require states to contribute funds.

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

    Those are potential short-term actions. In the long run, the current water rights arrangement is untenable, Glennon said. The drying basin has a structural deficit — more promises of water than physical water to distribute. The states, tribes, and federal government will have to not only rebalance water supply and demand, but also address the shrinking Salton Sea.

    “That conversation has to take place,” Glennon said.

    Located north of Imperial Irrigation District, the Salton Sea is an agricultural sump, a desert depression that receives most of its water from farm runoff. Less irrigation means less water flowing into the sea. A receding shoreline exposes more seabed salts and chemicals to winds. The area has some of the nation’s worst air quality.

    Whether a system established more than a century ago that privileges desert agriculture is compatible with a hotter, drier, ecologically imperiled, urbanized 21st century is a question that will take years to resolve — but with little time to waste.

    City of #Aurora #Water #conservation ordinance passes first reading unanimously: Prohibits aesthetic #turf in new development

    From email from the City of Aurora (Greg Baker):

    At its August 8, 2022 meeting, the Aurora City Council unanimously approved on first reading an ordinance sponsored by Mayor Mike Coffman that will restrict the use of turf in new developments and golf courses. This ordinance is forward-looking, impacting new development and redevelopment by prohibiting aesthetic cool-weather turf. Parks would be permitted to use turf in sports fields, informal play areas and social areas.

    West Drought map Monitor August 2, 2022.

    Mayor Coffman noted that continual drought in the arid west and the impacts of climate change weighed heavily in his decision to sponsor this ordinance. “Colorado is in a crisis,” he said. “We need to take action to ensure that Aurora can continue to grow responsibly.”

    Credit: U.S. Women’s National Team

    The ordinance will allow cool weather turf for new development only in active or programmed recreation areas, such as sport fields and organized social/cultural gatherings. It would prohibit turf in common areas, medians, curbside landscape (“tree lawns”) and in most residential front yards, while restricting it in backyards to allow for 45% coverage or 500 sq. ft., whichever is smaller. The ordinance permits turf in the front yard in alley-loaded developments that do not include substantial backyards. It also creates a path for transition zones to allow developments with site plans that are currently approved to better blend in appearance with the new areas that will be covered by the ordinance.

    Broken Tee Golf Course via Golf Digest

    Finally, the ordinance prohibits the use of cool-weather turf for development of new golf courses and it restricts ornamental water features, such as exterior decorative fountains, waterfalls, basins and ponds. Warm weather turfs that use less than 15 inches of supplemental irrigation, such as buffalo grass, will still be permitted.

    Lindsay Rogers, Water Policy Analyst for Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder nonprofit conservation organization, provided support for the ordinance. “Aurora has long been a trailblazer and early adopter of water conservation and reuse programs and through this ordinance, Aurora is taking a critical step to ensuring water supply resiliency now and into the future,” she said during the City Council meeting.

    Assuming passage on final reading on August 22, the ordinance will go into effect beginning Sept. 30, 2022. Development with complete site plans submitted prior to that date will not be impacted.

    #Water Quality Sampling Techniques — USGS

    Water-quality sampling from Salt River cableway, Etna, Wyoming. Credit: Cheryl Eddy Miller, USGS

    Click the link to read the article on the USGS website (Water Science School):

    Checking the water quality of the Nation’s streams, rivers, and lakes is one of the main responsibilities of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Physical water measurements and streamflow are almost always taken, but often water samples are needed for chemical analyses, and sampling must follow strict guidelines to collect scientifically-viable samples.

    Water Quality Sampling Techniques

    Checking the water quality of the Nation’s streams, rivers, and lakes is one of the main responsibilities of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Physical water measurements and streamflow are almost always taken, but often water samples are needed for chemical analyses. Generally, it is imperative that water samples be representative of the whole stream, and so, sampling a stream means more than just dipping a coffee cup in at the stream bank and sending it to the laboratory. The USGS uses strict scientific methodology in taking samples of any water body.

    USGS scientists collect water samples for chemical analysis from an excavated pond in the New Jersey Pinelands. Credit: Kelly Smalling, USGS

    Sampling methodology depends on stream size

    The USGS has to utilize different methods and equipment when taking a sample of water from a stream—it all depends on the size of the stream, how deep the water is, and how fast the water is moving. Also, I should add, on the ability of the water scientist to be able to access the water. As the left-side pictures below show, often a hydrologist can simply step out into a small stream and dip a bottle in at the appropriate place, but on larger rivers, it might be necessary to build a cableway and take water samples from high above the water surface. Sampling methodology also depends on the type of water sample needed.

    Sampling a small stream

    For a small stream where the water is well mixed, it is sometimes possible to take a single “grab sample”, where the hydrologist just dips a bottle in the stream at one location, still trying to move the bottle up and down to sample the entire vertical column of water. Note how the sampler always stands downstream from the sampling point—don’t want to stir up any sediment that could alter the chemical analysis of the water sample.

    Quite often it is important to take a water sample that represents the stream as a whole. That entails taking small amounts of water from numerous horizontal sections across the stream, at regular intervals, as the middle picture shows. There is a bottle inside the white container at the end of the pole (bottom picture). The bottle has a small tube in it that allows only a small amount of flow into the bottle, and thus, the hydrologist can regulate how much water is sampled at various points in the stream. She can sample different horizontal sections separately by using a different bottle for each vertical section or use a single bottle for the whole stream.

    Sediment sampling and surrogates. Sediment work using samplers, laser diffraction, and acoustics on the Kickapoo Creek near Bloomington, Illinois, on April 22, 2011. Credit: Tim Straub, USGS

    Sampling a larger river

    It takes a lot more work to get a water sample from a larger river, as this picture shows. In larger rivers, there is more chance of variability in the water characteristics and quality across the river. There may be a tributary coming in from the left side above the sampling point or there may a wastewater treatment outflow pipe a mile upstream on the right bank.

    It takes longer for all the water in large rivers to mix together. So, to understand the water properties of the whole river it is necessary to obtain individual samples at set increments across the river. Bridges make this task very convenient, although samples can be taken using a boat, if no bridge is available.

    If the water is moving fast or if the depth is too deep, then a crane with an electric motor (or hand crank for especially hardy hydrologists) is used to obtain the water sample (above picture). The heavy metal “fish” which holds the sampling bottle is needed to keep the sampler from being pushed downstream, as it is important to representatively sample the vertical column of water at each sampling point across the river. The hydrologist has to move the sampler up and down at a steady rate until the bottle is filled, while at the same time being sure not to smash the nozzle into the mud on the stream bed!

    Sometimes only a cableway will do

    USGS hydrologists can’t always count on a nice, wide bridge being available for hydrologists to sample from, and sometimes it is too dangerous (due to high flows or floating debris) to use a boat for sampling. In these cases, a cable can be strung across the river, from which a hydrologist can move across and sample and measure the river as needed.

    Book: Tributary Voices Literary and Rhetorical Exploration of the #ColoradoRiver — University of #Nevada Press #COriver #aridification

    From email from Paul A. Formisano:

    I’m writing to quickly share a book that may be of interest to the Coyote Gulch blog audience: Tributary Voices: Literary and Rhetorical Explorations of the Colorado River https://www.unpress.nevada.edu/books/?isbn=9781647790424. It came out at the end of April and enlarges the conversation about the river’s sustainability to include historically overlooked perspectives. A timely read in light of the Compact’s 100th anniversary this year.

    From the University of Nevada Press website:

    The Colorado River is in crisis. Persistent drought, climate change, and demands from urbanization threaten this life-source that provides water to more than forty million people in the U.S. and Mexico. Coupled with these challenges are our nation’s deeply rooted beliefs about the region as a frontier, garden, and wilderness that have created competing agendas about the river as something to both exploit and preserve. Citizens and experts look to law, public policy, and science to solve worsening water problems, but today’s circumstances demand additional perspectives to foster a more sustainable relationship with the river.

    Through literary, rhetorical, and historical analysis, Tributary Voices considers a more comprehensive approach to river management. The book examines nature writing, women’s narratives, critiques of dam development, the Latina/o communities’ appeals for river restoration, American Indian authors’ and tribal nations’ claims of water sovereignty, and teachings about environmental stewardship and provident living. This innovative study models an interdisciplinary approach to water governance and reinvigorates our imagination in achieving a more sustainable water ethic.

    Click to enlarge.
    Click to enlarge.

    Releases from Stagecoach to #YampaRiver become more important as climate warms #Colorado: Water Trust has released more than 600 million gallons into the waterway since 2012 — Steamboat Pilot & Today #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Stagecoarch Reservoir outflow June 23, 2019. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

    Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Dylan Anderson). Here’s an excerpt:

    Near the end of July, flows into Stagecoach Reservoir from the Yampa River dropped below 40 cubic feet per second for a few days. That threshold is important because it helps, in part, determine how much water flows out of the reservoir and continues downstream to Steamboat Springs. If the flow coming in is more than 40 cfs, then at least 40 cfs is usually discharged at the bottom of Stagecoach Dam. If the inflow drops below 40 cfs, the outflow generally would as well, leaving less water for critical fish habitat below the dam and in the river in general.

    But on July 21, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District released reservoir water to bolster the river’s outflow — part of a 10-year deal for water releases with the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust meant to protect the health of the river…

    The long-term deal is one of the first in the state and was made possible by a 2020 state law allowing such agreements. Before, groups like the Water Trust and Upper Yampa district needed to rehash out a contract each year…

    But this year has been different. While the snowpack wasn’t impressive, spring precipitation slowed melting, and there was still snow in the basin until June 23, according to the Natural Resources Conservation service. Monsoon rains have further buoyed the river, with Steamboat measuring more than 10 inches of rain from May to July. While not necessarily a good roll, this year doesn’t seem like a bad one.

    “I think it is on the low side of average,” said Emily Lowell, the district engineer for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. “Runoff was pretty average, and I think monsoonal rains this summer have made it sustain that average.”

    But even in a close-to-average year, releases from the reservoir are still needed, though not to the same extent. Since the first releases at the end of July, inflows and outflows have both stayed above 40 cfs and more of the trust’s water hasn’t been needed.