This group was the “food base” team from the U.S. Geological Survey, led by Ted Kennedy and Jeff Muehlbauer. They had started their research trip at Lees Ferry, 87 miles upstream; they had already been on the river more than a week, and they looked it. Short-timers in the Grand Canyon, like me, wear quick-dry clothes and wide-brimmed hats only days or hours removed from an outfitter’s store in Flagstaff, Arizona. Long-termers like river guides and the USGS crew look like Bedouin nomads, with long-sleeved baggy clothes, bandannas, and a miscellany of cloths meant to protect every inch of skin from the sun — yet nevertheless with vivid sunburns, chapped and split lips, and a full-body coating of grime. Almost as soon as I got there, the ecologists wrapped up their work, packed their nets, buckets, tweezers, and other gear, and led me to their home: a flotilla of enormous motorized rubber rafts that held a mini-house of living essentials and a mini-laboratory of scientific essentials, all tightly packed and strapped to get through the rapids of the Grand Canyon.
Arizonans enjoyed beautiful, warm and sunny days in January, with only 0.59 inch of rain. Temperatures were 10 to 15 degrees above normal on several days.
The entire Southwest has experienced one of the warmest, driest winters on record. That’s great for golfing, but unsettling with the unprecedented lack of snowpack runoff in the Colorado River.
Forecasts call for continued dry weather into the fast-approaching spring season…
Based on current measurements in the upper basin of the Colorado River where most of the water is generated, there is a very real possibility that the snow-water equivalent is tracking lower than 2002, which was the lowest year in recorded history.
“We do know that the runoff is not linear to what the snow-water equivalent is showing, but it is pretty alarming that we are tracking at this point in 2002, or actually a little bit below 2002,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona Department of Water Resources.
The Bureau of Reclamation has declared that there is almost no chance of a shortfall in water delivered from Lake Mead next year. But there is certainly a chance that the forecast may change, Buschatzke said…
They need to address what is happening with the hydrology and the increasing risks of not just short-term impacts on Lake Mead, but potentially going into a shortage by 2019, Bushatzke said.
“If we can’t conserve enough water in Lake Mead to make up the difference, that will be a high bar to achieve between mid-April and the end of July, which would be the time period in which we’d have to do that conservation,” the ADWR director said.
As water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead drop, the potential for restrictions on water use in 2019 rise, but not for all Colorado River water users.
Under the 2007 drought plan guidelines Arizona adopted, Central Arizona Project will take the full hit for whatever that reduction is, said Mark Clark, Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District manager.
CAP’s hit, Clark said, is about 349,000 acre-feet of water.
“The local folk here along the river really won’t see any change due to a shortage declaration at a tier one level,” Clark explained.
In August, Bureau of Reclamation releases its 24-month study and projects out to January of 2019 whether or not Lake Mead is going to be at an elevation of less than 1,075 feet, Clark said.
“If Lake Mead is going to be at less than an elevation of 1,075 feet, a tier one shortage would be declared,” Clark said. “If it got below 1,050 feet — and the likelihood of that is pretty remote — a tier two shortage would be declared. But the likelihood of a tier one shortage declaration is pretty realistic right now.”
Arizona Department of Water Resources recently reported the entire Southwest has experienced one of the warmest, driest winters on record; snowpack in the mountain regions, which provide runoff into reservoirs like Lake Powell and Lake Mead may be at record lows…
For the past few years, the state has participated in negotiations on an updated plan known as the Drought Contingency Plan — which has not yet been signed — that would require states like California and Nevada to make earlier and deeper cuts to protect Lake Mead’s current water level, as well as an enhanced plan known as Drought Contingency Plan Plus, signed in 2017, an Arizona-based plan to help stabilize Lake Mead Water levels.
“DCP plus actually calls for more reductions before a shortage is actually declared, so that we can try and stay out of shortage, Clark said. “We were hopeful DCP was going to be signed last year, but the wheels came off the tracts a little bit and it wound up not getting signed. In fact, they’re getting further apart now than they were last year.”
Clark believes water entities, including MVIDD, will make voluntary cutbacks this year to try and keep water in Lake Mead.
“The problem with these types of voluntary programs has always been, [how do we do the accounting?],” Clark said. “If we volunteer to put water behind the dam, we don’t want to do it then have somebody else down the river takes it because we didn’t use it. We want to be sure that if we volunteer to not use water it stays behind the dam and doesn’t get used by somebody else.”
According to data taken from the NRCS, snowpack in Grand County currently sits at 102.5 percent of average. The NRCS uses a 30-year average to calculate percentage totals. Currently averages are based on snowpack figures from 1980 through 2010. In 2020 the NRCS will shift their data set and will begin using the years 1990 through 2020 as their data set for determining 30-year averages.
Those figures may come as a surprise to many residents of Middle Park who have seen local weather patterns over the past few months including seemingly below average snowfall. Vane Fulton, who works for the NRCS out of the Routt County offices, said he understands if the numbers confuse people but he is not surprised to see the current snowpack for Grand County.
“These numbers don’t surprise me,” Fulton said. “But anecdotally we don’t have low elevation snow. The SNOTEL sites are all pretty high in elevation. We don’t really track snowpack at lower elevations.”
Fulton said he recently accompanied Mark Volt, an NRCS official based out of the Kremmling office, on a series of “ground truth” snowpack measurements, wherein officials hike to predetermined locations to physically measure the snowpack. Most of the snowpack data information provided by the NRCS is taken from snowfall telemetry sites that record and log data remotely.
Volt was not available for comment Thursday morning but Fulton said that the figures found by conducting on-the-ground snow surveys confirmed the range of figures showing up on the SNOTEL data registers.
Basin-wide the snowpack for the upper Colorado River currently stands at 84 percent of average. That figure includes snowpack data from throughout north western Colorado including the Independence Pass area near Aspen and points further west as the Grand Mesa.
As the world celebrates the achievements of athletes gliding over, down and across snow, I’ve been reflecting on what I see in the mountains and for the future of these very Games. And for good reason. A team of researchers led by scientists at the University of Waterloo has found that if global emissions of greenhouse gases are not significantly reduced, only eight of the 21 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics will be cold enough to reliably do so again by the end of this century.
Closer to home, the snowpack in the Sierra is at just 14 percent of the historical average. I never imagined I would see this in the middle of February.
But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The past three years were the hottest ever measured since record-keeping began in 1880, with 2016 ranking No. 1, followed by 2015 and 2017, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Scientists are warning us that the winter is becoming shorter. First freezes are starting later. So when I look at my children, I am even more convinced that we must take immediate and aggressive action on climate if we want their generation to learn these sports and enjoy winters in the mountains. More important, we must act quickly to preserve the culture and economies that depend on winter and snow.
A report to be released this month by the group Protect Our Winters, which I founded, shows that tens of thousands of jobs are at stake in mountain towns as our climate warms. In total, the 191,000 jobs supported by snow sports in the 2015-16 winter season generated $6.9 billion in wages, while adding $11.3 billion in economic value to the national economy.
Here’s a guest column from Scott Yates that is running in The Salt Lake Tribune:
This year has given us a glimpse of our potential water future in the Colorado River Basin — and it’s not pretty. So far this winter, much of the Intermountain West is seeing below average snowpack in the mountains, where most of our water in the Upper Basin originates.
Even if we end up with a good snow year, the long-term trend is clear: drier and hotter and less predictable.
Left unaddressed, these trends could pose a perfect storm for both municipalities and agricultural producers who depend on healthy flows in our rivers. That’s why a few years ago, the Bureau of Reclamation, municipal utilities, conservationists and other river stakeholders banded together to launch an innovative, market-based program, called the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP).
The goal of the pilot program was to answer this question: Would ranchers and farmers, landowners and other water users in the Upper Colorado Basin be willing to be paid for voluntary, temporary reductions in water use — and, by doing so, help shore up water supplies in Lakes Powell and Mead while providing side benefits like increased flows for fisheries?
We are happy to report that the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Trout Unlimited has a long track record in the West of working with the farm and ranch community on water and habitat projects. We found strong interest among agriculture producers for leasing their water on a voluntary, short-term basis to boost healthy river flows and water supply levels.
Typically, these deals involve split- or late-season fallowing — ranchers and farmers agree to irrigate for only part of their irrigation season. Season-long fallowing is also an option. The conserved water is left in the stream, undiverted, and producers receive payments for the temporary conservation use of that water.
Here in Utah, for example, six members of the Carbon Canal Company on the Price River agreed to SCPP projects that have conserved nearly 2,000 acre-feet of water and helped keep healthy flows in the Price River. The SCPP payments have created a positive buzz among other farmers and ranchers in the area. They’re seeing this as an exciting new way to use their water “crop.”
For agricultural producers, income from these temporary water transactions can boost their bottom lines and help spur investment in upgraded and more efficient irrigation systems. At the same time, these water deals send more water downstream, enhancing local fisheries, shoring up municipal water supplies and protecting hydropower capacity.
Everybody wins. Moreover, innovative tools like SCPP reduce the risk that states will fight over allocations and see every drop of water that crosses a state’s border as an economic loss.
SCPP has launched an exciting new water market for the agriculture community in the Colorado River Basin. But these new approaches will require smart, sustained investment if they’re to take root and grow.
SCPP is funded (by the Bureau of Reclamation, municipalities and others) through 2018, but beyond that, its future is uncertain — despite the popularity and proven water savings of the program.
Our organization, and our broad array of partners in the Colorado River Basin, call on our state and national lawmakers to step up and help secure long-term, sustainable funding for commonsense programs like SCPP — or this promising idea could wither on the vine.
Many river stakeholders have realized that we’ve entered a new water era that calls for cooperation, not conflict, if we want to meet our diverse water needs, such as preserving a vibrant and viable agricultural lifestyle while meeting water demands from growing cities and sustaining healthy rivers.
SCPP shows that farm and ranch country can be a collaborative part of the solution. Working together, we can keep the Colorado River and its tributaries flowing, and our farm and ranch communities healthy and productive.
A federal judge in Albuquerque ruled Monday that certain claims can proceed in consolidated civil lawsuits filed against a contractor for the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill.
U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo dismissed part of a motion filed by Environmental Restoration LLC, one of the companies contracted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct environmental remediation at the mine.
The St. Louis-based company was among those named in separate lawsuits filed in 2016 by the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.
The state and the tribe claim environmental and economic damages have occurred due to the EPA and its contractors releasing more than three million gallons of acid mine drainage and 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River watershed as the result of a breach at the mine.
The state and the tribe are seeking compensation for the claims filed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA.
Environmental Restoration sought to dismiss the complaints and argued it was not liable for damages because it was not an operator, arranger or transporter as defined under CERCLA.
Armijo ruled Environmental Restoration cannot be released from the lawsuit, and the state and the tribe’s claims can proceed.
She also denied the company’s motion to strike the tribe’s request for punitive damages…
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate issued a joint statement on Wednesday regarding the court decision.
“We are pleased that our lawsuit against EPA’s contractor, Environmental Restoration LLC, will proceed and we look forward to continuing to work alongside the Navajo Nation to recoup the damages done to our environment, cultural sites and our economy,” the statement said.
The tribe called the decision “victorious” in its press release on Wednesday.
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:
What is Water Fluency?
Our Water Fluency program is a professional development course for non-water professionals. Learn the language of water and develop tools for navigating water management and policy issues so you can lead with confidence.
Water is critical for every aspect of community vibrancy, from industry to commerce to agriculture, tourism, health, and the environment—but it isn’t always clear how policy and management decisions around water trickle down to affect other sectors or vice versa.
This comprehensive program will help you make those connections.
Now in its fourth year, the program has rotated around the state. This is the first year it will be hosted in the southern Front Range…
Four in-person classroom days; water-focused site visits; and online discussions and homework between classroom days. The scheduled program dates are:
May 22 and 23 in Pueblo
June 22 in Colorado Springs
July 20 in Fountain
The online portion of the program is provided through a partnership with Colorado State University using their online campus to provide participants unique access to the same lectures, discussions and quizzes that degree-seeking students have.
Solar farms, wind turbines and hydroelectric dams are getting close to surpassing nuclear power plants contribution to the U.S. electrical grid, according to a new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Last year 18 percent of electrical generation came from renewable energy sources – more than double what they did a decade ago – the report said. Nuclear power plants represent 19.7 percent of the generation on the grid, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, surpassed only by coal and natural gas plants.
“The massive and historic transformation of the U.S. energy sector clicked into a higher gear in 2017, despite some new headwinds including policy uncertainties,” the report entitled “Sustainable Energy in America: 2018 Factbook” read. “Renewable deployment grew at a near- record pace.”
The growth comes even as the Trump administration has curtailed or eliminated restrictions on greenhouse gas restrictions while also trying to expand fossil-fuel production in the United States.
But so far it has done little to turn investors away from renewable energy, which is widely seen as an area of growth in the decades to come as countries try to limit the damage of climate change.
Investment in wind, solar and other renewable technologies totaled $333 billion in 2017, the second highest level on record, according to the Bloomberg report.
The impact on the atmosphere can already be seen. The expansion of renewables, as well as the shift away from coal to natural gas, has sent the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since 1991, according to Bloomberg.