USGS Report: Assessment of Streamflow and Water Quality in the Upper #YampaRiver Basin, Colorado, 1992–2018

Click here to read the report (Natalie K. Day). Here’s the abstract:

The Upper Yampa River Basin drains approximately 2,100 square miles west of the Continental Divide in north-western Colorado. There is a growing need to understand potential changes in the quantity and quality of water resources as the basin is undergoing increasing land and water development to support growing municipal, industrial, and recreational needs. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with stakeholders in the Upper Yampa River Basin water community, began a study to characterize and identify changes in streamflow and selected water-quality constituents, including suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and orthophosphate, in the basin. This study used streamflow and water-quality data from selected U.S. Geological Survey sites to provide a better understanding of how major factors, including land use, climate change, and geological features, may influence streamflow and water quality.

Analysis of long-term (1910–2018) and short-term (1992–2018) records of streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and tributary sites indicate downward trends in one or more streamflow statistics, including 1-day maximum, mean, and 7-day minimum. Long-term downward trends in daily mean streamflow in April (22 percent overall) at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, correspond to observed changes in streamflow documented across western North America and the Colorado River Basin that are predominately associated with changes in snowmelt runoff and temperatures. During the short-term period of analysis, decreases in streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and some tributary sites are likely related to changes in consumptive use and reservoir management or, at sites with no upstream flow impoundments, changes in irrigation diversions and climate.

Concentrations of water-quality constituents were typically highest in spring (March, April, and May) during the early snowmelt runoff period as material that is washed off the land surface drains into streams. Highest concentrations occurred slightly later, in May, June, and July, at Yampa River above Stagecoach Reservoir, Colo., and slightly earlier, in February and March at Yampa River at Milner, Colo., indicating that these sites may have different or additional sources of phosphorus from upstream inputs. Yampa River at Milner, Colo., and Yampa River above Elkhead Creek, Colo., had the highest net yields of suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, and total phosphorus, and are likely influenced by land use and erosion as the basins of both of these sites are underlain by highly erodible Cretaceous shales.

Upward trends in estimated Kjeldahl nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations and loads were found at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colo. From 1999 to 2018, the Kjeldahl nitrogen concentration increased by 10 percent or 0.035 milligram per liter, and load increased by 22 percent or 26 tons. Total phosphorus concentration increased by 20 percent or 0.0081 milligram per liter, and loads increased by 41 percent or 6.2 tons. Decreases in streamflow and changes in land use may contribute to these trends.

During multiple summer sampling events at Stagecoach Reservoir, the physical and chemical factors indicated conditions conducive to cyanobacterial blooms, including surface-water temperatures greater than 20 degrees Celsius and total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations in exceedance of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment interim concentrations for water-quality standards. Local geological features (predominately sandstones and shales) and additional inputs from upstream land use likely contribute to the elevated nutrient conditions in Stagecoach Reservoir.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

Low water volumes due to #drought could affect #ColoradoRiver recreational activities — The #GlenwoodSprings Post-Independent

From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Shannon Marvel):

Water volumes along the Colorado River are 55% of average for the amount of volume that would normally be seen from April to July, according to Aldis Strautins, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

That’s due to drought conditions that have persisted over the last year.

The Eagle River’s water volume is also at 55% of the average, and the Roaring Fork River is at 51% of the normal average volume, Strautins said…

Paula Stepp, executive director for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, said the drought will likely impact the Glenwood Springs area in many ways.

Stepp said there are concerns about how the drought and lower water volumes along the Colorado River will impact agriculture, recreation and aquatic habitat.

Water use by agricultural producers is already stressed by the drought, Stepp said…

Stepp said she’s already heard that there’s not a lot of water available and there’s a need to be conservative with water usage.

On the recreational side of things, Stepp said there could be a much shorter rafting season.

#Drought news (June 13, 2021): Drought continues to degrade in western #Colorado; very hot, dry week ahead — The Kiowa County Press

From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

While Colorado east of the continental divide has shifted out of drought over the past three months, the western third of the state continues to suffer under extreme and exceptional conditions according to the latest report from the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Northwest Colorado has been particularly hard hit, with exceptional drought increasing in portions of Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco and Grand counties this week. Earlier in the year, a similar expansion impacted Moffat, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties…

Colorado Drought Monitor map June 8, 2021.

Thirteen of Colorado’s 64 counties have a least some area in exceptional drought, with most or all of their remaining area in severe conditions.

The coming week’s forecast offers no hope for relief. The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for portions of west central Colorado for Monday through Friday. Such alerts are unusual for the state. Temperatures in the area – which includes Grand Junction in Mesa County – could reach 110 degrees, creating risks for heat-related illnesses, which can be deadly.

Excessive heat warning for portions of western Colorado June 14-18, 2021. – NWS via The Kiowa County Press

Along the continental divide, several central mountain counties, including Rio Grande, Saguache, Chaffee, Fremont, Park, Summit and Clear Creek, saw moderate drought improved to abnormally dry conditions.

Abnormally dry areas also declined near the improvements in moderate drought and disappeared from Las Animas County in the southeast.

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 8, 2021.

Improvements in the eastern Colorado began in mid-March as significant snow provided relief. During May, thunderstorms continued to bring rain to the state’s eastern plains, resulting in drought-free conditions for most northeast counties by the end of the month.

The first drought-free area in Colorado since mid-2020 appeared in late April.

Overall, 55 percent of the state is drought-free, up from 51 percent last week, with an additional four percent in abnormally dry conditions, down from six percent in the previous week. Moderate drought covers six percent of Colorado, down from eight percent, while severe drought remains unchanged at six percent. Extreme drought dropped from 13 to 12 percent. Exceptional conditions expanded from 16 to 18 percent. Total does not equal 100 due to rounding.

#Craig betting on #YampaRiver to help transition from #coal economy — @AspenJournalism #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

The Lefevre family prepares to put their rafts in at Pebble Beach for a float down the Yampa River to Loudy Simpson Park on Wednesday. From left, Marcie Lefevre, Nathan Lefevre, Travis Lefevre and Sue Eschen.

From Aspen Journlism (Heather Sackett):

With the impending closure of coal mines and power plants in northwest Colorado, Craig officials and river enthusiasts are hoping a long-overlooked natural resource just south of town can help create economic resilience.

The city has applied for a $1.8 million grant from the federal Economic Development Agency for the Yampa River Corridor Project, which will refurbish boat ramps, add parking areas and a whitewater park, in an effort to develop the Yampa River as a source of outdoor recreation and local pride. The project is part of a multi-pronged approach to help rural Moffat County transition from an extraction-based economy to one that includes outdoor and river recreation as one of its main pillars.

“(River use) has definitely grown in the last couple of years,” said Jennifer Holloway, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce. “Awareness that the river could be part of our future has grown. It had just not been on our radar as a town. We had the coal mines, we had the power plants. People tubed the river and fished in it sometimes, but it was not looked at as an economic asset until the last few years.”

An August 2020 preliminary engineering report by Glenwood Springs-based consultant SGM laid out the project components. The first phase of the proposed project would include improvements to Loudy Simpson Park on the west end of town, including a boat ramp, parking, a picnic area and vault toilet. The park is often a take-out point for tubers and boaters who float from Pebble Beach, just a few miles upstream. The project would also create better waves, pool drops with a fish passage, two access points and a portage trail at what’s known as the Diversion Park, as well as improve the city’s diversion structure.

The total project cost is roughly $2.7 million. A second project phase, which is still conceptual, would include bank stabilization and a trail connecting the river to downtown Craig.

Project proponents see the river as one of the town’s most under-utilized amenities and say it can add to the quality of life in the town of about 9,000.

Josh Veenstra is the owner of Good Vibes River Gear in Craig. The company rents paddle boards, rafts and tubes, runs shuttles on the Little Yampa Canyon and sells hand-sewn, mesh bags and drying racks, which are popular among the boating community. This is the fourth season for his company and Veenstra said the momentum is unbelievable.

“What it’s going to do is give Craig a sense of identity,” he said.

This boat ramp at Loudy Simpson Park will be replaced by a new one about a quarter-mile downstream as part of the Yampa River Corridor Project. The park is a popular place to take out after a day float from Pebble Beach.

Transitioning from coal

Two of the region’s biggest employers and energy providers, Tri State Generation and Transmission and Xcel Energy, announced in 2020 that they would be closing their coal-fired plants and mines. Tri-State, whose plant is supplied by two local mines, Trapper and Colowyo, plans to close all three of Craig’s units by 2030. Xcel, whose plant is located in nearby Hayden, plans to close both its units by the end of 2028.

According to Holloway, the closures represent about 800 lost jobs.

“All of our restaurants survive off the power plant workers, all of our retail, all the rest of our businesses,” she said. “Most of our small businesses downtown are run by women whose husbands work in the mine. So I think we are going to see a mass changeover of people leaving.”

Holloway is focusing on ag-tourism, the arts and outdoor recreation as industries that can help replace lost jobs. Although she recognizes that tourism jobs generally don’t pay the high wages of extraction industries, outdoor recreation has been identified as an industry with a large potential for growth and is identified as a priority in Moffat County’s Vision 2025 Transition Plan.

In addition, the pandemic has shown that many white-collar workers can work remotely from anywhere that has internet. It has also increased interest in outdoor recreation. Project supporters say improving the river corridor could help attract a new demographic interested in the outdoors but who don’t want to pay the premiums of a resort community, like nearby Steamboat Springs.

“Entrepreneurs in the rec industry would be a great fit,” Holloway said. “A warehouse here would be so much cheaper than Steamboat. If we could get some of those entrepreneurs, that would attract those that have a remote job or business elsewhere but that want the rural outdoor lifestyle.”

This small section of rapids known as the diversion wave will get upgraded into a whitewater park as part of the Yampa River Corridor Project. The city of Craig is betting on river recreation to help fill the economic void as local coal-fired power plants shut down in the coming years.

Recreation water right

Although city officials are moving forward with plans to build the whitewater park, they are — for now at least — forgoing a step that could help protect their newly built asset and keep water in the river.

Many communities in Colorado with whitewater parks, including Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Durango, Silverthorne and Vail, have a water right associated with the man-made waves, known as a recreational in-channel diversion or RICD. This type of water right ties an amount of water necessary for a reasonable recreational experience to the river features.

A RICD can help make sure there is enough water in the river for boating, but it also has the potential to limit future upstream water development. Under Colorado water law, known as the prior appropriation system, older water rights have first use of the river and therefore, a RICD does not affect existing senior water rights.

“It’s something that we have had some discussion about and we are looking closely at; it can be kind of political,” said Craig City Manager Peter Brixius. “I have not personally heard from folks, but I know people are opposed to it.”

Brixius said the conversation about a RICD is on hiatus at least until the fall.

Without a water right, which would secure the whitewater park’s place in line, future upstream water development could jeopardize having enough water for the park.

Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said that while he can’t speak specifically for Craig, it makes sense for a municipality to protect its place in the prior appropriation system with a water right.

“If there may be some risk in the future that somebody is going to develop some water upstream that would either reduce or eliminate entirely the benefit of this expenditure, then yeah, you go to water court and try to protect this investment you have made,” he said. “Even if you don’t see anything on the horizon that is going to impact you, who knows what’s going to happen in 20 years.”

Craig has applied for a $1.8 million grant from the federal Economic Development Agency for the Yampa River Corridor Project, which will refurbish boat ramps, add parking areas and a whitewater park, in an effort to develop the Yampa River as a source of outdoor recreation and local pride.

Looking to the future

The city expects to find out if it got the EDA grant in early fall. The project has also received funding from Moffat County, Friends of the Yampa, Trapper Mine, Northwest Colorado Parrotheads, the Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable, Resources Legacy Fund and the Yampa River Fund.

City officials are hoping the Yampa River Corridor Project will attract visitors, contribute to marketing efforts to rebrand northwest Colorado and build morale around the area’s economic future. For river gear shop owner Veenstra, that future can’t come fast enough. He hopes to hold swift water rescue courses and do environmental education using the new river corridor area.

“Craig is one of the coolest little towns,” he said. “The closure of the power plant, everybody says it’s going to be the downfall of Craig. It’s the best thing that could ever happen to us because it made people snap out of it and go, ‘oh, we need to do something different.’ That’s why the whitewater park is getting built. It was a blessing in disguise.”

This story ran in the Craig Press on June 11.

#Wyoming Governor Gordon’s Administration Launches New Wyoming #Drought Resources Website

Wyoming Drought Monitor map June 8, 2021.

Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office:

Timely information is now available detailing drought conditions, current emergency declarations and useful resources for affected areas

Governor Mark Gordon has announced the launch of a new website that will provide detailed, updated information on drought conditions in Wyoming. Developed through a collaboration of multiple state and federal agencies, will be a resource for multiple sectors that monitor drought conditions.

The site provides resources and information for specific sectors impacted by drought, including agriculture, tourism, recreation, municipalities and water utilities. It also offers information on federal and state resources and assistance available to those impacted by drought. Information on wildfire conditions and restrictions plus links to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) drought disaster designations for Wyoming are also available on the website.

“Our goal in developing this resource is to make relevant and timely information available in a single location,” Governor Gordon said. “This effort capitalizes on the collaborative partnerships already in place between state and federal agencies and allows us to better communicate program resources.”

The site is a cooperative effort between a state and federal drought conditions monitoring team comprised of State of Wyoming agencies, the University of Wyoming Extension, USDA, United States Geological Survey and the National Weather Service. Wyoming has been experiencing drought conditions since 2020 and this past winter’s average snowpack did not alleviate dry soil conditions that existed entering the winter.

Survey results: How Washington County, #Utah residents feel about the #LakePowellPipeline — The St. George Spectrum #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell Pipeline map via the Washington County Water Conservancy District, October 25, 2020.

From The St. George Spectrum (Joan Meiners):

According to the recent U.S. census, Utah was the fastest-growing state in the nation between 2010 and 2020, increasing its population at a blisteringly fast rate of 18.4%. And in its southwest corner, Washington County, with its stunning vistas, National Park access, recreation opportunities and warm, sunny climate led the state in that trend, attracting nearly 50,000 new residents over the last decade, a 36% increase over its 2010 population.

Those 50,000 new people are just the beginning of a growth pattern projected by the Gardner Institute to flood Washington County with 321,000 additional residents over the next 45 years, to reach a local population of 509,000 by 2065. That number of people — 80% of the current population of Las Vegas — will require a lot of water in this desert landscape, more than is locally available at our current rate of use.

A Solution?

The WCWCD, along with the Utah Division of Water Resources, saw this problem coming as early as the 1990s, and started making plans to import Colorado River water from Lake Powell via a buried pipeline that would stretch 140 miles through rocky desert terrain, crossing some tribal lands and sensitive habitats. The project has inched its way forward over the decades since, finally advancing its federally-required Environmental Impact Statement through the public review process during the Trump administration, which identified the pipeline as one of its infrastructure priorities…

What is most important to today’s Utahns?

Despite these sentiments about Utah’s cultural values driving water infrastructure decisions, there has never been a widespread, unbiased attempt to poll existing Washington County locals on their thoughts about the pros and cons of the Lake Powell Pipeline project and whether they are willing to bear its approximately $2 billion cost. So The Spectrum & Daily News, with funding from The Water Desk, designed and commissioned a survey to do just that.

Overlook of downtown St. George and adjacent Pine Valley Mountains. By St. George Chamber of Commerce – St. George Chamber of Commerce, CC0,

Getting Answers

Survey data were collected by the Utah-based market research firm Dynata, hired based on their reputation and reasonable cost quote. Employees of this company randomly selected residents of Washington County to contact for a phone survey and received responses from 400 of them. Respondents represented a balanced range of ages, gender, household income levels and length of time they had lived in Washington County. The results presented below have been weighted slightly by Dynata to best reflect the actual demographic makeup of the county.

Knowledge is lacking

Of the 400 people surveyed, nearly a quarter (22%) said they had never heard of the Lake Powell Pipeline, despite the fact that this is a decades-old project that will have major financial and lifestyle implications for all Washington County residents. 35% felt they “knew a little about it” and 12% felt they “knew a lot about it.” Only 52% of those surveyed said they felt they knew enough about the project to have an opinion on it.

Support is high

Support for the project outweighed opposition to it, with 59% expressing some level of support for it and 35% expressing some level of opposition to it. A majority held relatively mild views on the project, but 35% of all respondents were “very supportive” and 19% were “very opposed.”

But few want to pay

This high level of support, though, did not carry through to a willingness to help fund the project, which has been estimated to cost anywhere between $1.1 and $2.4 billion, to be initially bankrolled by the state and then repaid over 50 years by Washington County residents. In fact, some already-implemented increases in impact fees, property taxes and water rates are currently being put towards project expenses. The WCWCD estimates that the state has already spent around $40 million on planning costs and feasibility studies.

Only 40% of survey respondents answered yes to the question of whether, “knowing what you do about the project, and that the pipeline is proposed as a way to address potential water shortages in the future, are you willing to help fund it, either through increased water rates, higher taxes, or higher fees charged for new water hookups.” 44% answered no to that question and 15% declined to answer.

Among that 40% of people willing to help fund the project, just 8% said they would pay anything more than $50 per month in fees for it, though some estimates suggest the actual cost may be much higher than this. 22% of those who initially answered both that they supported the project and would be willing to help fund it then said that they would not be willing to contribute anything or refused to answer a question about specific amounts.

Overall, then, 50% of all surveyed residents indicated at some point — either in response to the initial funding question or when asked about specific amounts — that they would not be willing to contribute financially to the project at all, despite the fact that some fees are already being collected county-wide to support it. An additional 18% of all those surveyed said that they were unsure about contributing or refused to answer the question. Less than 1% were willing to pay amounts in the highest tier.

Instead, they show a willingness to conserve

In 2011, the Utah Division of Water Resources submitted a 256-page study to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission detailing how their water needs assessment justified pursuing the Lake Powell Pipeline project. In it, they outline how much water conservation they determined was “feasible for this area based on local conditions, development types, cost and public acceptance.” Conservation options that were considered but not deemed feasible to adopt included turf removal and some appliance rebates.

Survey results, however, indicate perhaps an increased willingness over the past decade to voluntarily adopt stricter water conservation measures.

When asked if they would be “willing to adopt any conservation practices in your own home or accept fewer amenities in your community if it would help avoid construction of the project,” 63% of survey respondents said they would, including 48% of those who had expressed support for the project. Only 26% said they would not be willing to conserve more water and 11% said they didn’t know.

Specific measures respondents said they would be willing to adopt included high levels of support for conservation measures previously ruled out by state and local officials as conflicting with Utah’s traditional cultural values:

  • 75% of people who were amenable to conserving more water said they would reduce the size of their lawn.
  • 88% were willing to take shorter showers.
  • 75% were in favor of requiring desert-friendly landscaping in new housing developments.
  • 67% thought we should stop building water features in parks and public places.
  • 83% would support scaling back lawns in public places or on golf courses.
  • 78% would be willing to update their home appliances.
  • 76% supported increasing water rates/accelerating a tiered pricing structure.
  • Summary

    Overall, results of our independent survey indicate that Washington County residents generally support the idea of the Lake Powell Pipeline project despite feeling that they don’t know much about it. But few want to contribute to it financially and instead they expressed a greater willingness to adopt new water conservation practices than has previously been recognized.

    The people of Washington County have spoken.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    The latest #ElNiño/Southern Oscillation (#ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion is hot off the presses from the #Climate Prediction Center

    Click here to read the discussion:

    ENSO Alert System Status: Not Active
    Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is favored through the Northern Hemisphere summer (78% chance for the June-August season) and fall (50% chance for the September-November season).

    ENSO-neutral conditions continued during May, with near-average sea surface temperatures observed across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In the last week, the Niño indices were all at -0.2oC, except for the Niño-1+2 index, which was -0.4oC. Subsurface temperature anomalies remained positive but decreased slightly due to the weakening of above-average subsurface temperatures around the thermocline in the central Pacific Ocean. Low-level easterly and upper- level westerly wind anomalies extended across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. At the Date Line, tropical convection was mostly near average, and enhanced rainfall was evident over the western Pacific Ocean. Overall, the ocean and atmosphere system reflected ENSO-neutralconditions.

    A majority of the models in the IRI/CPC plume predict ENSO-neutral to continue through the fall 2021. The forecaster consensus generally agrees with this model outlook, although lower probabilities are assigned to El Niño during this period (remaining less than 10%). By the late fall and winter, La Niña chances increase to near 50%, reflecting the historical tendency for a second winter of La Niña following the first, and also the predictions from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble. However, these cooler conditions are predicted to exist for a short duration (3 overlapping seasons) and these predictions are still over 6 months into the future. In summary,ENSO-neutral is favored through the Northern Hemisphere summer (78% chance for the June-August season) and fall (50% chance for the September-November season; click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chances in each 3-month period).

    #Colorado’s Water Scarcity May Finally Be Coming For Your Local Duck Pond — KUNC

    Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    To prevent waste and avoid sparking an interstate legal battle, Colorado has started cracking down on what may seem like a drop in the proverbial bucket — illegal ponds.

    Martin Mendine recently found himself in the state’s crosshairs. His family ranch is a wide, grassy expanse near southern Colorado’s Spanish Peaks. A fork of the Purgatory River meanders through the land which supports about a hundred cattle, and herds of elk. Migratory sandhill cranes pass through each year…

    It’s wet enough to support all this life in part because of a cascade of five small ponds, held in place by dams made of dirt. The ponds are more than 80 years old, Mendine said. They were built when his grandfather tended the ranch.

    “So we’ve been running this water now for, you know, damn near (a) century and they’re telling me I can’t use it,” Mendine said…

    He got a notice in the mail recently telling him the ponds have been identified as potentially illegal. It said the storage rights needed to create and sustain the ponds don’t exist. To be compliant, he either needs to drain them or come up with a state-approved plan to fill them from a different water source or replace any losses from evaporation…

    “Our basin has been over-appropriated for a long period of time,” said Bill Tyner, Colorado’s division engineer for the Arkansas River basin, where Mendine’s ranch is located. The Purgatory River is a tributary to the Arkansas, and runs across an arid stretch of southeastern Colorado…

    Using satellite imagery to build an inventory of human-made ponds in the basin, and then cross-referencing with water rights on the books, the state has identified about 10,000 illegal ponds just in the Arkansas basin, Tyner said. He likens it to a string of pearls. Each individual pearl isn’t that costly or consequential on its own. But when pulled together in a line, it’s highly valuable…

    His office is now in the midst of a systematic review of all ponds in the Arkansas basin. Using the satellite data, water commissioners, the people who enforce water law on the ground, have been following up with pond owners, letting them know they’ve ended up on a list of potentially illegal ponds, and laying out their options to make them legal…

    Purgatoire River in Picketwire Canyon. By cm195902 –, CC BY 2.0,

    The ponds in question encompass everything from pools for livestock watering to decorative fountains in business parks to duck ponds scattered across the grounds of a mountainous mansion.

    It’s not just the Arkansas basin that’s seeing increased enforcement. State officials have pursued illegal ponds in the upper reaches of the Colorado River basin as well.

    The problem with ponds, Tyner said, is evaporation. Water in a shallow pond evaporates more than when it’s flowing through a narrow stream. The state views evaporated water as wasted water…

    Without money or access to new water supplies, a landowner’s options to make their ponds legal are limited. There are some exceptions for ponds used for erosion control or livestock watering, but they’re limited in scope. And because the Arkansas basin is one of the most over-appropriated in the state, there’s very little excess water to tap into…

    A recent dispute over ponds went to the Colorado Supreme Court last year, where the state prevailed. The ponds in question aren’t allowed to be filled, and the owner was ordered to pay $92,000 in civil penalties, plus attorney’s fees. Machado’s takeaway from that ruling?

    “Once the state finds an illegal pond and says you need to drain it, you better do it,” he said.

    Arkansas River headwaters. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    #Drought status update for the #MissouriRiver Basin — NIDIS

    Map of the Missouri River drainage basin in the US and Canada. made using USGS and Natural Earth data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

    Click here to read the report. Here are the key points:

    Extreme Summer Heat Amplifies Impacts of the Northern Plains Drought

  • Drought conditions continue to persist across the Missouri River Basin, most severely affecting North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Excessively early summer heat is now an added concern on top of the dry conditions that have been an issue since the fall of 2020. Record-high temperatures dominated the Northern Plains from June 3-5, with 100+°F temperatures in areas of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
  • Drought impacts in the areas with extreme to exceptional drought are affecting many sectors through increased wildfire activity, decreased livestock forage and water availability, increased livestock heat-stress, reduced rural water supply and quality, reduced recreation and tourism, increased mental stress, decreased air quality, and ecological impacts due to reduced water levels. The recent extreme heat made drought impacts worse by increasing fire risk, inhibiting plant growth, and enabling harmful algae blooms.
  • In the short-term, extreme summer heat is expected to return from June 18-24, with the peak of the heat occurring on June 18-22 when temperatures could reach the upper 90s°F to low 100s°F. Beyond the upcoming extreme heat, NOAA’s summer outlook (June-August) for the Northern Plains is currently leaning towards above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for much of the region throughout the rest of this summer.
  • The extreme summer heat will continue to worsen drought issues by further increasing fire risk, limiting water supply for livestock and societal uses, intensifying water quality issues, and continuing to cause stress on farmers, ranchers, recreationists, vulnerable or disadvantaged populations, and others affected by the drought.
  • 2020 #COleg: Water for Colorado Coalition Celebrates Legislature’s Allocation of $20 Million for State Water Plan Implementation

    The 2015 Colorado Water Plan, on a shelf, at the CU law library. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Here’s the release from Water For Colorado:

    The Water for Colorado Coalition today celebrated the passage of HB21-1260, which allocates $20 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and Basin Roundtables for implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan.

    The bill, co-sponsored by House Speaker Alec Garnett, Rep. Marc Catlin, and Sens. Kerry Donovan and Cleave Simpson, passed both the state House and Senate with unanimous approval, illustrating continued, widespread support for water funding in Colorado. The bill will provide the CWCB $15 million for grant projects — like the ones featured here — that will benefit water users and rivers through conservation and education efforts across the state. It also allocates $5 million to be distributed directly to Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtables.

    In response to the passage of HB21-1260, the Water for Colorado Coalition issued the following statement:

    “We are thrilled by the unanimous approval of $20 million to support critical state water priorities, and applaud the Colorado General Assembly for their continued prioritization of water conservation needs. These funds will bolster ongoing water projects and programs and pave the way for new grants, allowing the state to increase resilience to climate change, safeguard flowing rivers, and support thriving communities. We look forward to working with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Basin Roundtables, and local communities as these funds are distributed to ensure that our rivers and water continue to meet the needs of all who rely on them.”

    Report: Universal Access to Clean #Water for Tribes in the #ColoradoRiver Basin — Water & Tribes Initiative #COriver #aridification

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the forward:

    Colorado River Basin Native American Tribal Leaders

    This is a timely and much needed report.

    Clean water is fundamental to life, but many of our people have never had an opportunity to experience this basic and essential service, one that is taken for granted in most American communities. Many of our family members, our elders, and our children have lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic because clean and safe water was not available. The necessity and the urgency of having access to safe water sources has been starkly demonstrated during this trying time.

    Helping to provide clean water to us, throughout Indian Country, benefits everyone, and its absence correspondingly jeopardizes the health of the entire United States of America. As the pandemic has made clear, any hot spot for the virus inevitably and inexorably spreads to other areas, both neighboring and far flung. With our homes in Indian Country many times more likely than homes in white communities to lack indoor plumbing, our nation’s resources must be quickly focused on addressing this inequity for the protection of all.

    The United States government has long promised all Native American Tribes a “permanent homeland,” a “livable reservation,” and a home “conducive to the health and prosperity of the Indians.” But these promises are broken when we do not have clean water to drink, to cook with, and to wash as required to avoid the spread of this deadly disease. Both the Tribes and the United States envisioned our homelands as places where our people can thrive, as they had done from time immemorial. It is long past time to make that vision a reality. Access to safe and clean water must be made available now. Promises made must be kept and access provided to this most basic of human needs—clean water.

    Tó éí iiná até [Water is Life],
    Jonathan Nez | President, Navajo Nation

    Paatuwaqatsi [Water is Life],
    Timothy Nuvangyaoma | Chairman, Hopi Tribe

    Payy new aakut [Water is Life],
    Manuel Heart | Chairman, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Ten Tribes Partnership

    Xa ‘iipayk [Water is Life],
    Jordan D. Joaquin | President, Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe

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

    #UncompahgreRiver: Wrongful death suit filed over teen’s 2019 drowning in South Canal — The Montrose Press

    South Canal. Photo credit: Delta-Montrose Electric Association via The Mountain Town News

    From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    A Montrose family whose teenage son and dog drowned in the South Canal in 2019 hit the canal’s operating entity with a wrongful death suit on May 4.

    Their attorney said Matt Imus and Emily Imus, parents of the late Connor Imus, are also pursuing a federal claim against the land management agencies involved with the canal. This is action is undergoing a required administrative resolution process and could proceed to a lawsuit, pending that outcome.

    The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association’s attorneys say in filings that Connor’s death was the result of his own actions, when he apparently jumped into the canal to save his dog, Bella.

    Both were swept away by the deceptively calm-looking water and drowned. Connor, a standout on the Montrose High School basketball team, was 17.

    As the canal operator, the UVWUA had duties to Connor to mark the property as private and to make clear the dangers of the canal, the lawsuit argues. But per the suit, on May 5, 2019, there was not a chain, a fence or other means of closing off the canal, nor was there signage warning against trespassing and the dangers at the spot where Connor fell in.

    The Imuses are suing for negligence resulting in wrongful death and under premises liability resulting in wrongful death, as well as asserting survivors’ claims. They assert UVWUA’s wrongful actions or omissions caused injury and damages to Connor, who lost his life, and also caused ongoing injury to his parents, who continue to suffer emotional distress, pain and grief because of their son’s death. The plaintiffs want a judge to determine compensation for their loss and suffering; the filing does not specify an amount.

    The UVWUA’s attorneys said they had no comment at this time.

    Northwest #Colorado under “extremely critical” fire warning for first time in 15 years as Western Slope #drought worsens — The Colorado Sun

    From The Colorado Sun (Olivia Prentzel):

    As drought conditions worsened on the Western Slope, the National Weather Service has issued its first “extremely critical” fire danger warning in 15 years for northwest Colorado.

    The warning, in effect through midnight, covers parts of Moffat and Rio Blanco counties that also are in a state of “exceptional drought,” according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report.

    About 45% of Colorado, all west of the Continental Divide, now is in some state of drought, with 17.5% falling into the category of exceptional drought, up from 16.4% last week. Most of western Colorado, stretching from the Wyoming border south to New Mexico, falls into the two most severe categories, making the region at risk for extreme damage to crops, blows to the outdoor recreational industry and large wildfires.

    The weather service also issued a red flag warning for the Western Slope Thursday as wind gusts between 35 to 55 mph could make a potential wildfire difficult to control, especially in northwest Colorado…

    Colorado Drought Monitor map June 8, 2021.

    Water levels at McPhee Reservoir north of Cortez, which is fed by the Dolores River, are at their lowest in 35 years…

    Northeast of Palisade, crews are battling the roughly 500-acre Beaver Tail fire. Fire crews on Tuesday suppressed a wildfire on Cottonwood Pass on Forest Service land near Gypsum. Smoke from large wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico is spreading across the Western Slope.

    New Report: #ClimateChange and Biodiversity Loss Must Be Tackled Together, Not Separately — Inside #Climate News

    The deforestation of a peat swamp forest for palm oil production in Indonesia (2006). By Aidenvironment, 2006 – flickr:Riau flickr user:Wakx, CC BY-SA 2.0,

    From Inside Climate News (Georgina Gustin):

    The two leading science groups studying ecosystems and climate urged protection of carbon-rich habitats and warned against solutions to warming that lower species diversity.

    Slowing global warming and stemming the loss of biodiversity have been viewed as independent challenges for years.

    But a new landmark report concludes that climate change and the rapid decline of natural ecosystems are intertwined crises that should be tackled together if international efforts to address either are to succeed.

    The report, released Thursday, was written by 50 of the world’s leading experts on biodiversity and climate change, representing two major international scientific groups collaborating for the first time: the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The findings emerged from a workshop held in December and months of subsequent research, and come as leaders gear up for two major upcoming United Nations conferences, one focusing on biodiversity and the other on climate change.

    Until now, the authors of the report said, global collaborative efforts to address climate change, through platforms including the IPCC and the Paris climate agreement, have operated on a different track from efforts to address biodiversity, carried out through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and other international organizations.

    “For far too long we’ve tended to see climate and biodiversity as separate issues, so our policy responses have been very siloed,” said Pamela McElwee, one of the report’s authors and an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University. “Climate has simply gotten more attention.”

    Some key efforts can contribute to both the preservation of biodiversity and controlling global warming, especially stopping deforestation in the tropics, but also halting the degradation of other carbon-rich ecosystems, including mangroves, peatlands, savannahs and wetlands.The authors say that ramping up sustainable agriculture and forestry, while cutting subsidies to destructive industries, will also be critical.

    “We are seeing multiple impacts of climate change on all continents and in all ocean regions. These increasingly add to the enormous human pressure on biodiversity,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a climatologist and previous IPCC author who co-chaired the steering committee of the collaborative workshop. “So far conservation efforts have not been sufficient. Human society depends on the services that nature provides, but climate change has caused loss in natural resources, especially those that are overused.”

    Pörtner also pointed out that pandemics are linked to biodiversity loss because zoonotic diseases emerge from species that thrive when biodiversity declines. “Climate change and biodiversity loss are threatening human well being as well as society. They’re closely interwoven and share common drivers through human activity,” he said. “They’re reinforcing each other.”

    The authors warned that some efforts to address the climate crisis could be detrimental to biodiversity, and they urged policy makers, governments and industries to avoid solutions that could effectively backfire. These include planting monocultural, non-native trees or vast tracts of land with crops for bioenergy.

    “There are a lot of things being done for climate change, especially around adaptation, and many of them can be negative for biodiversity,” said Paul Leadley, a professor of ecology with the University of Paris Sud-France. “There’s a real risk that biodiversity can die from a thousand cuts.”

    Almut Arneth, one of the authors and a modeling expert at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, said that one of those adaptive efforts, planting bioenergy crops, could eventually require a land area twice the size of India. “On the other hand, we’re using much more than 50 percent [of the world’s land] for food and timber production,” Arneth said. “So as you can imagine planting those large bioenergy crops will put enormous pressure on existing natural land, which would be catastrophic for biodiversity” and for food security.

    Nature-Based Solutions Are Not Enough

    While the report pointed to solutions, including cutting deforestation, the authors stressed that “nature based solutions” could only go so far.

    “An immediate conclusion is that maintaining biodiversity and its functions relies on phasing out emissions from the burning of fossil fuels,” Pörtner said. “Nature is offering solutions, which can be helpful if done in parallel with strong emissions reductions.”

    Strong policy and action—executed quickly— will be essential to staving off the twin crises, the authors said. They intend the report to provide the current state of thinking on the issue and said they hope it prods policy makers to push for conservation efforts like President Joe Biden’s plan to conserve 30 percent of American lands. The report called for a global effort to conserve up to half the world’s ocean and lands.

    “Positive outcomes are expected from substantially increasing intact and effectively protected areas,” the report said. “Global estimates of exact requirements for effectively protected and conserved areas to ensure a habitable climate, self-sustaining biodiversity and a good quality of life are not yet well established but range from 30 to 50 percent of all land and surface areas.”

    Pörtner added that successful implementation “depends on rapid entry into action. Overall, every bit of warming matters, and every lost species and every degraded ecosystem matters.”

    The private sector, especially financial institutions, will also be critical in the effort, the authors said.

    McElwee noted the recent development of the Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures, an effort to push banks to evaluate financial risk from the loss of natural systems, similar to the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, which defines how banks should evaluate risk from climate change.

    “The goal is for the private sector to think about how the loss of biodiversity actually creates risk and build that risk into decision-making,” McElwee said. “To tackle these crises we need all hands on deck.”

    In #Fountain, #Colorado, There’s Plenty Of Room For New Homes. But There Isn’t Enough #Water — Colorado Public Radio


    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Colorado Springs is one of the fastest growing regions in the state. Homes are getting more expensive and harder to buy. The boom is expanding into nearby cities — and the pressure is building…

    There are currently fewer than 9,000 taps, or connections, to Fountain’s water supply. Over the last year, Blankenship said developers have applied for nearly 30,000 new taps to the city’s water system.

    [Dan] Blankenship is telling developers, Fountain is tapped out…

    To support that many new taps, the city would need to buy additional rights to use more water. They would also need a place to store that water, and the city would need to treat it and find a way to get it to homes.

    Summary of Observed Wet & Dry Surface Water Hydrology via SCW

    That’s getting harder to make happen in a state like Colorado, where most of the people live on the Front Range but most of the water is on the Western Slope.

    Where the city of Fountain gets its water from

    Fountain gets most of its water from the Pueblo Reservoir, which is filled with water that would otherwise end up in the Colorado River. The reservoir project was built in the 1970s. It’s unlikely the city would be able to build something similar today, Blankenship said. It’s a lot tougher to do that now, just because of the environmental concerns…

    Smith said it’s becoming more common for developers to have to secure water rights and pay for additional water infrastructure if they want to build a big project.

    But he said the situation in Fountain is unusual…

    Fountain hasn’t finalized any plans yet, but they say developers are going to need to help pay the millions of dollars to buy those new water rights, reservoirs, and pipes needed to support that kind of growth. Blankenship, Fountain’s utility director, said instead of the city paying for that upfront, he wants to shift that cost to developers…

    No matter how a developer might have to secure water for a new project, the cost will get rolled into the price of a new home, said Kevin Walker, with the housing and building association in Colorado Springs…

    Kevin Reidy, a senior water conservation specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said other water utilities are also worried about how to keep up with growth. Fountain is just the first to talk so openly about the issue…

    A big part of Reidy’s job is to get water and land planners to work together, which he said have been too siloed. Reidy helps host training events to get water and land people in the same room to talk about these issues.

    “I think we’re kind of hitting that point where people are kind of saying, ‘Okay wow, we’ve got to do things differently,’” Reidy said.

    For Fountain, that means telling developers this town doesn’t have the water you need. If you want to build here, you’ll have to bring your own.

    Hey Reporters: Let’s Get This Story Straight — Sustainable Waters #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Hoover Dam, straddling the border between Nevada and Arizona, holds back the waters of the Colorado River in Lake Mead. In 2016, Lake Mead declined to its lowest level since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s. Source: Bureau of Reclamation

    From Sustainable Waters (Brian Richter):

    Lake Mead on the Colorado River is now nearly two-thirds empty

    Seems like every day brings another news story about the water crisis in the Western US.

    US Drought Monitor map June 8, 2021.

    Never in my lifetime have I seen such an intense drought spanning such a wide geographic sweep: from West Texas to the Rio Grande to the Colorado River to the Central Valley of California to the Klamath River in Oregon.

    It’s really important for this story to get a lot of media attention, because publicity can help provoke the big changes that desperately need to happen with water management in the West. But it’s also critically important that reporters get this story straight, so that their readers will understand how we got into this mess, and how we can move toward a more secure and sustainable water future.

    Here’s a few key points, addressing some of the most common misconceptions about water scarcity.

    #1. Droughts Don’t Cause Water Scarcity. People Do.

    By definition, water scarcity is human-driven; it is a function of the volume of water consumed by humans relative to the volume of accessible, affordable water resources in a given area. As such, an arid region with very little water but no human water consumption would not be considered “water scarce,” but rather simply “arid.” Similarly, droughts do not in themselves cause scarcity; instead, scarcity and associated water shortages occur when human demands for water are greater than what is available at any given time. Simple supply and demand logic.

    Your bank account is a very good analog. If you are always spending virtually all of the money you deposit, you are highly vulnerable to overdraft when (1) you aren’t depositing as much money, such as when you experience an interruption of your income; or (2) you have a need to spend more, such as to pay a hefty doctor’s bill. If you don’t have enough money in your savings account to cover your overdraft, you go bankrupt (or at least bounce a few checks).

    Therefore, focusing only on the supply (deposit) side — the lessened availability of water during a drought — is only half the scarcity story. It’s very important to tell the other half, which is that our consumption (spending) has become too high relative to water availability.

    From my analyses of the emergence of scarcity in many places around the globe, it’s quite obvious that a community’s vulnerability to water shortages increases greatly as human dependence on a particular water supply such as the Colorado River is allowed to grow to the limits of the natural, renewable water supply. A city or farming district might get by pretty well during normal or wet years, but when drier times eventually come, somebody doesn’t get the water they need and water-dependent ecosystems suffer.

    The graph below illustrates this very well, and the map below shows the places in the world where water consumption has been approaching the limits of water supplies.

    Virtually all of the water flowing in the Colorado River was being consumed during the mid-1950s drought, yet consumption was allowed to increase, largely without constraint. Consumption now exceeds annual river flows in most years; the overdraft is accommodated by pulling water out of storage reservoirs such as Lake Mead. Those reservoirs are being rapidly depleted, placing the communities and businesses dependent upon the river at great risk of water shortages. (Data source: US Bureau of Reclamation. MAF=million acre feet)
    This map highlights the places around the globe that are experiencing water shortages. Yellow areas on the map represent places that experience water shortages during droughts, orange areas experience scarcity during certain months of the year, and red areas are chronically short of water. Water scarcity presently affects half of the world’s population and three-fourths of all irrigated agriculture. (Map and statistics from Brauman and others, 2016)

    #2. Don’t Blame This on the Cities

    Tim Egan of the New York Times, when writing about the Colorado River last month, got it right: “….Vegas, and other oasis metropolises like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson, are not the problem.”

    He’s right for two important reasons: (1) urban water uses — including residential, commercial, and industrial uses — account for only 11% of all water consumption in the West; and (2) urban water use has been declining since the 1980s.

    There are many examples of water-guzzling urban areas, particularly smaller towns and ‘exurbs’ of large metropolitan areas, but in general the big cities of the West have been doing a phenomenal job of actually lowering their water use even while their populations have grown rapidly. Our research, published last year in the international Water journal, documented that on average, Western US cities have grown by 21% while their water use has decreased by 19% during the past two decades.

    Los Angeles is a terrific example of a high-performing water conservation city, as shown in the graph below.

    Over the past 50 years, the City of Los Angeles has been able to reduce its total water use by 23% even while its population grew by 43%. The City was able to accomplish this largely by incentivizing its residents to reduce their per-capita water use by more than 40%. (Data and statistics from Richter and others, 2020)

    #3. Water Scarcity Isn’t a New Story

    Some communities in the Western US have been struggling with water scarcity — and experiencing water shortages — for more than 100 years. We developed the animation below (click to activate) to illustrate the fact that many areas around the world, including much of the Western US, have been bumping up against the limits of their natural renewable water supplies for a very long time. This animation highlights places where total water consumption nearly equaled (or exceeded) water availability in each year.

    (Special thanks to Charles Wight of The Nature Conservancy for assisting with this animation.)

    This animation and the scarcity hot spots highlighted here are based solely on agricultural water consumption — it does not include any additional water consumed by cities or industries. Irrigated agriculture has always accounted for the lion’s share of water consumption in the West; even today it accounts for 86% of all water consumed. Many Western rivers were being heavily diverted for irrigation by the latter half of the 19th century, when farmers needed to feed massive waves of new settlers rushing to gold fields in California, Montana, and the Black Hills of South Dakota, and federal Homestead Acts gave free land to those willing to farm it.

    Yes, farming is a very water intensive industry but it would not be appropriate to blame farmers for our water scarcity either. It simply takes a lot of water to produce food for our families, our country, and people around the world.

    There are certainly too many farmers that use water wastefully, but the same can be said for city-dwellers. If there’s anyone to blame here, it should be directed at those that were entrusted to manage water on our behalf.

    #4. Water Scarcity is a Failure of Governance

    Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009 in large part for her insightful work on “Governing the Commons.” Ostrom resisted the premise that shared (‘common pool’) resources would always fall victim to the tragedy of the commons, i.e., become over-exploited. Ostrom highlighted examples of communities, such as the Philippine irrigation farmers known as zanjeras, that manage their shared resources in communal fashion, such as by allowing each farmer to take a proportional share of the available water each year.

    San Pedro Acequia. The headgate of the second oldest acequia in Colorado. Photo by Devon G. Peña

    When I was writing the governance chapters of my Chasing Water book in 2014, I looked very hard to find other examples of successful communal water governance. In my book I wrote about the acequia irrigation systems brought to Mexico and the American Southwest by the Spaniards. But there are preciously few other good examples, and none at the scale of a large river basin.

    Instead, most state and federal governments have taken a regulatory approach to water governance, specifically the prior appropriation system managed by state governments in the Western US. Under this system, state governments hold the water in trust and issue rights to use water to individuals, companies, water utilities, electricity producers, irrigation districts, and other water users.

    The fatal flaw in this approach was that states issued far more water rights than the water flowing in their rivers. California, for example, has issued five times more rights than the mean volume of river water available! And as I pointed out in the graph above of the Colorado River, state regulators continued issuing more and more water rights even after the river had been almost completely drained by the mid-1950s.

    It is a treacherously difficult and politically contentious challenge to try to get the cows back in the barn after they’ve busted loose. It takes strong courage for a politician or water regulator to take back some of the water that people have become accustomed to, and are financially dependent upon.

    But some hopeful signs of leadership are emerging. In 2014, California passed a Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that requires sufficient reduction in pumping to stabilize aquifer levels; SGMA could result in 20% of farmland being taken out of production unless farmers can find other ways to reduce their water use. In 2019, the ‘Lower Basin’ states of California, Nevada, and Arizona that share the Colorado River agreed to curtailments in water use by as much as 20% of their current use, as needed to stabilize Lake Mead.

    #5. It’s Time to Start Talking About the Long Game for Water in the West

    Taking bold political steps to set a limit, or a cap, on the volume of water that can be taken from any particular river or aquifer is a very important place to begin the journey toward a secure and sustainable water future.

    However, it is a far more daunting challenge to figure out how to live within those limits.

    It’s understandable why reporters are drawn toward sensational stories of pain and loss during a water crisis like the one the West is experiencing. But crisis brings extraordinary opportunities as well. Let’s not squander this opportunity to begin vigorously designing a more sustainable and secure water future. I hope that media reporters will increasingly feature stories about the ways that cities and farmers and industries are adapting to water scarcity and climate change in progressive ways, rebalancing their overdrawn water budgets. What are the innovative ideas and practices and changes that we need to implement to get us out of trouble?

    Stay tuned. I intend to continue telling some of those stories myself.

    June 2021 #ENSO update: neutral noodle — NOAA

    From NOAA (Emily Becker):

    ENSO-neutral conditions are present in the tropical Pacific, and NOAA forecasters think they’re likely to continue through the summer. Neutral is slightly favored through the fall, although it’s a close call between continued neutral and re-developing La Niña for the late fall and winter.

    Neutral soup
    I often start my top-of-the-month blog posts with a detailed review of the current conditions in the tropical Pacific, but I think I’ll just breeze through that and get to the forecast today. Currently, sea surface temperatures in the ENSO monitoring regions are still slightly cooler than average, but within the neutral range of +/- 0.5°C from the long-term (1991–2020) average.

    The official CPC/IRI ENSO probability forecast, based on a consensus of CPC and IRI forecasters. It is updated during the first half of the month, in association with the official CPC/IRI ENSO Diagnostic Discussion. It is based on observational and predictive information from early in the month and from the previous month. Image from IRI.

    Neutral conditions are likely through the summer: there’s a 78% chance that the sea surface temperature in the Niño3.4 region of the Pacific ocean will be close to the long-term average—within the neutral range—during June–August. The sea surface temperature in the Niño3.4 region is our primary ENSO-monitoring index.

    The chance of neutral drops, and La Niña chances rise, through the fall, until the probability of La Niña overtakes neutral in October–December and reaches 53% for November–January. As Nat discussed last month, La Niña has a tendency to appear in consecutive winters. Meanwhile, the official forecast summary emphasizes neutral. NOAA has an ENSO Alert System for when La Niña (or El Niño) is expected to develop… why hasn’t it been activated for La Niña? There are a few reasons! Let’s noodle on this.

    A La Niña Watch is issued when “conditions are favorable for the development of El Niño or La Niña conditions within the next six months,” and we’re still more than six months from the November–January season (we count by the center month). Also, many climate models predict neutral will continue through the fall and winter, and there is no consensus among the models that the Niño3.4 sea surface temperature will remain more than 0.5°C cooler than average for more than a few months. By January–March, neutral is again the most likely category. This is important, because ENSO is a seasonal system, requiring sustained conditions to impact global weather and climate.

    In summary, there just isn’t enough evidence yet to tip the scales definitively between neutral and La Niña for this coming winter. One thing we can say with confidence is that chances for El Niño next fall/winter are low—less than 10%.

    Tuna neutral casserole

    We care about ENSO prediction because it can provide an early picture of potential climate conditions months in advance. (Also because it’s a super-interesting geophysical phenomenon, but that might just be us geeks!) One important aspect of ENSO is its influence on hurricane activity.

    NOAA’s recent Atlantic hurricane outlook predicts an active season, with a 60% chance of above-average activity. The low chance of El Niño (which tends to suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic) was an important component in this outlook. Other factors, such as predicted warmer-than-average tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures, bolster the outlook. On the other hand, the Central and Eastern Pacific are expected to have normal or below-normal tropical storm seasons. El Niño tends to enhance storm activity in those regions.

    Another reason to care about long-range ENSO prediction is its relationship to rainfall in the southwestern US. La Niña is linked to reduced late-fall/winter/early-spring rain and snow in this region, while El Niño tends to enhance rain in the southwest. During La Niña 2020–21, much of the Southwest US and Mexico was indeed below average.

    Percent of average precipitation (rain, snow, and other frozen precipitation) during October–April 2020–21. Average period is 1990–2019. Data from GPCP via ESRL PSL; image by

    A huge portion of the western US is now in extreme drought, and the seasonal drought outlook predicts drought conditions to continue through the summer. Mexico is also experiencing widespread and intense drought. Second-year La Niña has been linked to more pronounced drought, another concern if La Niña does re-develop.

    La Niña is also usually related to increased winter rain and snow in the Pacific Northwest, which did not materialize this past year. Since apparently I’m just linking to all of Nat’s posts today, here’s the one about the unexpected conditions we saw during the 2020–21 La Niña.

    Buttered neutrals

    Finally, let’s take a look at the global sea surface temperature pattern from May, where we can see that much of the North Atlantic is already warmer than average.

    May 2021 sea surface temperature departure from the 1981-2010 average (note that this image still uses the previous averaging period). Image from Data Snapshots on

    Although La Niña conditions have ended, there are still regions of cooler-than-average surface waters to in the eastern Pacific and southwest of the US. What I’d really like to point out here, though, is the re-emergent blob in the north Pacific. According to NOAA’s Blobtracker (official name: California Current Marine Heatwave Tracker) this marine heatwave formed in late April and has tripled in area since then. It formed in the same spot as a powerful marine heatwave that dominated much of 2020 and was the 2nd-largest on record (their record starts in 1982). Yet another ocean feature that bears watching.

    Pool neutrals

    Next month, Tom will be updating you on all things ENSO! His puns are much better than mine, so you have that to anticipate.

    Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream sue over #FortCollins’ review of #NISP — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Citizen groups Save the Poudre and No Pipe Dream are suing to stop the city of Fort Collins from processing an application for Northern Integrated Supply Project infrastructure in city limits.

    The two groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city and the Northern Integrated Supply Project Water Activity Enterprise over Northern Water’s SPAR (site plan advisory review) application for the controversial Poudre River reservoir project. The complaint argues that SPAR is the wrong way for the city to review NISP infrastructure and seeks to terminate the SPAR application. It also seeks to cancel the Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Board review of the application set for June 30…

    At the heart of the dispute is whether NISP, which seeks to divert flows from the Poudre and South Platte rivers for two new reservoirs, is an appropriate fit for the SPAR process. SPAR is a type of development review intended for “improvements to parcels owned or operated by public entities,” according to the city’s land use code.

    SPAR, compared to the more commonly used development review process, puts the city’s P&Z board in an advisory position rather than giving Fort Collins City Council the final say on a proposal. The governing board of a SPAR applicant can override P&Z’s vote and proceed with the development over the city’s wishes.

    The P&Z board must review a SPAR application within 60 days of the city accepting it. The city deemed Northern Water’s SPAR application complete on May 21.

    The city directed Northern Water to submit a SPAR application for components of NISP within city limits: the Poudre intake diversion structure, a river diversion that would be located in Homestead Natural Area northwest of Mulberry Street and Lemay Avenue, and a 3.4-mile length of pipeline running from the river diversion to the southeast, passing through Fort Collins and unincorporated Larimer County land as well as three city natural areas (Williams, Kingfisher Point and Riverbend Ponds)…

    The complaint also argues that Northern Water doesn’t meet the state’s legal guidelines for an entity that can overrule a municipal body’s decision on a development. The state gives that authority only to “the city council of a city … the board of trustees of a town, or any other body, by whatever name known, given authority to adopt ordinances for a specific municipality,” the complaint states…

    City attorney Carrie Daggett said the city is still reviewing the complaint and declined further comment. Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla affirmed that the water district will continue to pursue SPAR review for NISP as city staff directed…

    Fort Collins’ review of NISP is not the last step for the project. The project is awaiting a crucial record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers that’s expected to come this year. An affirming record of decision would likely trigger another legal appeal.

    Two additional lawsuits filed by Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCo related to Larimer County’s approval of NISP infrastructure are also working their way through the courts.

    Carson Lake maintenance project starting this month — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    Carson Lake, a popular spot on Grand Mesa, has been drained in anticipation of maintenance work that will start this month.

    The Carson Lake dam, which is part of the city of Grand Junction’s water supply system, was reclassified as a High Hazard Dam in 2015 because of developments occurring in the lower Kannah Creek basin and a dam safety evaluation was completed.

    There have not been capacity restrictions placed on the dam or any critical safety issues identified, but maintenance projects are being implemented.

    The current timeline has work beginning June 28 and being completed about Oct. 31.

    The project includes the construction of new inlet and outlet structures, the lining of existing outlet pipe, spillway renovation, installation of an impact basin in the spillway channel and the installation of remote monitoring system.

    The US Forest Service is encouraging trail users to access trails in the Kannah Creek basin at either the Deep Creek Trail Head or the Carson Lake Trail Head, which is on the rim south of Carson Lake, on the way to Flowing Park Reservoir.

    Carson Lake via

    ‘Red alert’: #LakeMead falls to record-low level, a milestone in #ColoradoRiver’s crisis — #AZ Central #COriver #aridification

    Members of the Colorado River Commission, in Santa Fe in 1922, after signing the Colorado River Compact. From left, W. S. Norviel (Arizona), Delph E. Carpenter (Colorado), Herbert Hoover (Secretary of Commerce and Chairman of Commission), R. E. Caldwell (Utah), Clarence C. Stetson (Executive Secretary of Commission), Stephen B. Davis, Jr. (New Mexico), Frank C. Emerson (Wyoming), W. F. McClure (California), and James G. Scrugham (Nevada)

    From AZ Central (Ian James):

    Lake Mead has declined to its lowest level since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s following the construction of Hoover Dam, marking a new milestone for the water-starved Colorado River in a downward spiral that shows no sign of letting up…

    The lake’s rapid decline has been outpacing projections from just a few months ago. Its surface reached a new low Wednesday night when it dipped past the elevation of 1,071.6 feet, a record set in 2016. But unlike that year, when inflows helped push the lake levels back up, the watershed is now so parched and depleted that Mead is projected to continue dropping next year and into 2023.

    Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, now stands at just 36% of full capacity.

    In the past month, Mead has already fallen below the official threshold of a shortage, which the federal government is expected to declare in August. That will trigger major cuts in water allotments for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico next year. And even bigger water reductions could be forced upon the Southwest if the reservoir continues to drop, which government estimates show is likely…

    The reservoir’s continuing decline, [Felicia] Marcus said, should ring “alarm bells” across the West that the days of business-as-usual approaches are over and that “we need to accelerate everything we can to use less water.”

    That includes speeding up efforts that cities and water agencies are already undertaking in parts of the Southwest, such as investing in recycling wastewater, capturing stormwater or cleaning up polluted groundwater, Marcus said. And it also includes promoting conservation and more efficient water use in a variety of ways, she said, from investing in water-saving technologies on farms to offering homeowners cash rebates to removing grass and replacing it with drought-tolerant landscaping.

    With shortage measures set to take effect next year, Arizona is in line for the biggest water cutbacks.

    That will shrink the amount flowing through the Central Arizona Project Canal to farmlands in Pinal County that produce alfalfa, cotton, wheat and other crops. Farmers in Pinal plan to pump more groundwater from newly drilled wells, but they’ll still be short with the loss of Colorado River water and are planning to leave some farmlands dry and unplanted over the next couple of years.

    In a first-level shortage, the water supplies of Arizona’s cities will be spared from cutbacks. But that could change over the next two years if Lake Mead continues to decline.

    In the Las Vegas area, people are already conserving enough each year that their water supplier will be able to contribute its portion of the reductions from its unused allocation. But that hasn’t stopped Nevada’s leaders from pushing for more water-savings by getting rid of grass on medians and outside businesses and subdivisions, as required under a newly enacted law that bans “non-functional turf” in the Las Vegas area…

    The watershed has been ravaged by one of the driest 22-year periods in centuries. Scientists describe the past two decades as a megadrought worsened by climate change, and say the Colorado River Basin is undergoing “aridification” that will complicate water management for generations to come.

    In 2000, Lake Mead was nearly full and its surface was lapping at the spillway gates of the Hoover Dam. Since then, the reservoir has fallen nearly 143 feet. And it’s now at the lowest levels since 1937.

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

    Two years ago, representatives of the seven states that depend on the Colorado River met at Hoover Dam to sign a set of agreements called the Drought Contingency Plan, which laid out measures to take less water and share in reductions during a shortage to reduce the risks of Lake Mead falling to critically low levels.

    But the declines have continued and the drought has intensified over the past year, with much of the watershed baking through the driest 12 months in 126 years of records. The river and its tributaries have dwindled, shrinking the flow into Lake Powell at the Utah-Arizona border, and in turn driving the receding water levels at Lake Mead…

    Arizona’s plan for managing the shortages involves deliveries of “mitigation” water to help temporarily lessen the blow for some farmers and other entities, as well as payments for those that contribute water. The state and CAP approved more than $100 million for these payments, with much of the funds going to the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Gila River Indian Community for water they contributed…

    At full pool, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States by volume, but two decades of drought have dramatically dropped the water level behind Hoover Dam as can be seen in this photo. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

    Over the past year, the declines in water levels have accelerated, outpacing previous estimates due to extremely parched conditions across the watershed in the Rocky Mountains, where much of the river’s flow originates as melting snow. Hotter temperatures have made the whole watershed “thirstier,” as climate researchers put it, eroding the flow of the river as vegetation draws more water and as more moisture evaporates off the landscape…

    In just 12 months, the [Lake Mead’s] level has dropped nearly 20 vertical feet…

    Officials from Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico have been talking about other ways they might work together on long-term projects to shore up water supplies. One idea they’re studying would be for Arizona to work with Mexico to build a desalination plant on the shore of the Sea of Cortez and trade some of the drinking water that’s produced for a portion of Mexico’s Colorado River water.

    Officials from Las Vegas’ Southern Nevada Water Authority have offered to invest in a water recycling project in Southern California, which would enable the agency to use some of the Metropolitan Water District’s Colorado River water in exchange. Arizona water officials are also considering joining the other agencies and taking part in the project.

    When representatives of the seven states signed the Drought Contingency Plan on a terrace overlooking Hoover Dam in 2019, some of them described the deal as a “bridge” solution to temporarily lessen the risks of a damaging crash and buy time through 2026, by which time new rules for sharing shortages would be negotiated and adopted.

    The agreement establishes a series of progressively larger water cutbacks if Lake Mead continues to drop below lower trigger points in the coming years.

    If the reservoir drops about 26 more feet to below elevation 1,045 feet, California would start to take cuts.

    And if the water level falls below 1,025 feet, which is a scenario the deal aims to avoid, the largest reductions would take effect for all three states and Mexico.

    Increasingly, some researchers are voicing concerns that even the major cuts contemplated in the deal might not be enough. Some have suggested that with extremely dry conditions persisting in the watershed, the region’s water managers might need to take bigger steps before 2026 to prevent Mead’s levels from continuing to plummet.

    Climate change is causing the Southwest to aridify. (Left) Since the 1930s, increasing temperatures have caused the percentage of precipitation going to evapotranspiration (ET) to increase at the expense of precipitation going to Colorado River flow, resulting in an unprecedented and still ongoing megadrought (shading) starting in 1999 (8). (Right) Higher temperatures have already reduced Colorado River flow by 13%, and projected additional warming, assuming continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, will increase ET while reducing river flow even more through the 21st century. Data on Left are 20-y running means from ref. 5, and data on Right are calculated from Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 8.5 multimodel Coupled Model Intercomparison Project–Phase 5 (CMIP5) ensemble temperature increases projected for the Upper Colorado River Basin combined with temperature sensitivity of −9.3%/°C estimated by ref. 5, assuming no change in precipitation.

    “We really have seen this coming all along on some level,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University. “And we in some ways aren’t ready for it, despite all the things we’ve done to make us feel good that we were ready for it.”

    Udall said the network of people who work on Colorado River issues have made great strides in collaborating on adaptation strategies, including through the 2019 deal. But he said he’s not convinced that adequate measures are in place to quickly scale up the more aggressive steps if the contemplated cuts turn out to be insufficient — other than the possibility that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland could convene the states’ representatives and determine what steps to take, which is also included as a sort of backstop measure in the deal.

    “This thing could spiral out of control pretty quickly,” Udall said, if more years of severe drought desiccate the region as they did in the early 2000s.

    He said he also worries about the fact that some of the water in Lake Mead is reserved for specific water users based on prior conservation, which has been encouraged under the deal and previous agreements.

    Concerns about that banked water also have been voiced by others, including Margaret Garcia, an assistant professor at Arizona State University who focuses on water infrastructure and management. She said this system of banking water, technically called “intentionally created surplus,” poses concerns because it means some water in Mead is already spoken for beyond established allocations, and this stored water can still be withdrawn unless the reservoir hits critical lows.

    As Garcia put it, “a savings account full with IOUs is not the same as a full savings account.” And Lake Mead’s account is far from full.

    The heart of the issue, Udall said, may be developing new ways of quickly adapting to a river that’s yielding less water as the West grows hotter and drier.

    “We may need to take this next big step, which is how do you permanently reduce demands?” Udall said.

    Three finalists awarded $150,000 to reduce drownings in canals — USBR

    The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Rob Manning):

    The Bureau of Reclamation selected three Canal Safety Challenge finalists to test their proposed prototypes that reduce accidents and drownings around canals. The Greenfields Irrigation District, Isotope LLC, and WGM Group, Inc will each receive $50,000 for testing at the Reclamation Technical Service Center’s Hydraulics Laboratory in Denver, Colorado.

    The Canal Safety Challenge is a public competition focused on developing solutions to improve public safety and reduce drownings in canals throughout the United States and make egress from canals easier or allow for safer rescue and recovery efforts.

    The three finalist’s proposals are:

  • The Greenfields Irrigation District’s proposed solution includes a unique ramp that would use the force of the water to help the individual get to safety. (Fairfield, Montana)
  • Isotrope LLC’s proposed solution includes a partially submerged deck that will allow people to walk, crawl or be rescued from the current. (Medfield, Massachusetts)
  • WGM Group Inc.’s proposed solution includes a unique scoop designed to capture floating objects at a pipe entrance and allow a person to get out or be rescued. (Missoula, Montana)
  • “Reclamation maintains more than 8,000 miles of canals throughout the West, and more than 10% of those are in urban areas.” Chief Engineer David Raff said. “These innovative proposals have the potential to increase public safety in and around canals throughout the Western United States.”

    In addition to the three finalists, Reclamation recognizes two submissions with an honorable mention for their novel solutions, Northern Water in Berthoud, Colorado, and Peltonen & Sardi of Bellevue, Washington.

    Reclamation is partnering with the Denver Water, Klamath Irrigation District, Pacific Gas & Electric, NASA Tournament Lab and Carrot. To learn more about this prize competition, please visit

    #Water year 2021 snow #drought conditions summary and impacts in the West — National Integrated Drought Information System #snowpack #runoff

    From NIDIS:

    DEWS Regions: California Nevada, Missouri River Basin, Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West

    States: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming

    Update Status: NIDIS and its partners release these updates every 4 weeks December through June. This update will be the last for the 2021 Water Year as snowpack and snowmelt are past peak values. Updates will resume in the 2022 Water Year.

    Snow drought impacts have intensified as snow melted weeks early this spring.

    Key Points

    • Remaining higher-elevation western snowpack is well below normal with the exception of Washington, parts of Montana, and the South Platte Basin that drains the Front Range of Colorado.
    • The 2020–2021 snow drought was initially caused primarily by a lack of precipitation and storminess, and intensified after April 1. A huge, and in some cases record breaking, decline in snow water equivalent percent of normal was observed throughout April due to warm and dry conditions.
    • Much of the western snow melted one to four weeks early, including three to four weeks early in the Sierra.
    • Low snowpack, rapid melt out, and poor runoff efficiency have led to significant water supply concerns going into summer of 2021. Click here to learn more about the impacts of snow drought.

    Water Year 2021 Conditions Across the West

    Current SWE: Western U.S. Via the NRCS. This USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) map shows Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) snow water equivalent (SWE) basin values over the western U.S. as a percent of the NRCS 1981–2010 median. Only stations with at least 20 years of data are included in the station averages. The SWE percent of normal represents the current SWE found at selected SNOTEL sites in or near the basin compared to the average value for those sites on this day. This map is valid as of June 8, 2021. Source(s): USDA NRCS Last Updated – 06/08/21

    Water Year 2021 Snow Drought Conditions Summary

    Higher-elevation snowpack that remains throughout the West is well below normal with the exception of Washington, parts of Montana, and the South Platte Basin that drains the Front Range of Colorado. In the Sierra Nevada, snowpack is just about gone at SNOTEL elevations. For example, Mount Rose Ski Area, Nevada, on the northeast side of Lake Tahoe in the Carson Range, melted out on May 14, and the median melt out date was June 10. Melt out three to four weeks early was common throughout the Sierra. Throughout Utah, the Upper Colorado, and northern Rockies states of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, many sites melted out one to three weeks early.

    Alaska mountain snowpack was generally typical for early June in the Chugach and Kenai mountains of south-central Alaska. A cool and wet spring has maintained higher-elevation snowpack in much of southeast Alaska except the far south, where precipitation and temperatures have been closer to normal.

    Snow drought conditions developed early in the winter throughout California, the Great Basin, parts of Oregon, the Lower Colorado, and the Upper Colorado, with the most severe conditions initially in the Lower Colorado. Lack of precipitation and storminess was the initial driver of this snow drought, although temperatures throughout the West were above normal much of the winter and spring, particularly during the long dry spells. Strong storms in January brought some improvement to California, the Great Basin, and the Lower Colorado, but most basins still remained about 60%–80% of normal snow water equivalent (SWE) at the end of January. A series of atmospheric rivers in February brought a brief recovery from snow drought through heavy precipitation and snowfall to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and Oregon into the northern Rockies. March was a very dry month except for parts of Utah, eastern Colorado, and Wyoming.

    April 1 is a critical date for Western snowpack as it is often near peak SWE and, more importantly, is used as input for spring and summer water supply forecasts. Much of the West had below-normal SWE on April 1, although the severity of the snow drought was not nearly as bad as the benchmark 2015 snow drought when huge areas of the West were below 50% of normal SWE by April 1. Large river basin (HUC2) April 1 SWE percent of normal was at 75% for California, 77% for the Great Basin, 58% for the Lower Colorado, 87% for the Upper Colorado, 93% for the Rio Grande, 110% for the Pacific Northwest, and 90% for the Missouri. A huge, and in some cases record breaking, decline in SWE percent of normal was observed throughout April, and snow drought conditions intensified rapidly in just one month. By May 1, all of the HUC2 basins except for the Pacific Northwest and Missouri were between 15% and 61% of normal SWE. Temperatures soared to well above normal the first week of April, and dry conditions persisted throughout the whole month, leading to rapid snow melt rates. The dry and warm conditions allowed rapid melt to occur even in higher elevation basins like the Upper Colorado that typically have peak SWE several weeks after April 1.

    The 2021 snow drought in the West highlights the need to track these events from the beginning of the snow accumulation season throughout the melt season. If April 1 or peak SWE was used as the snow drought indicator this year, the severity and downstream impacts that occurred throughout April would be lost. Low snowpack, rapid melt out, and poor runoff efficiency have led to significant water supply concerns going into the summer of 2021. The two biggest reservoirs in the U.S., Lake Powell and Lake Mead, are nearing historic lows, and a Colorado River water shortage is looming; many reservoirs throughout California are as low or lower for early June than during any of the 2012–2015 drought years. Click here to learn more about the impacts of snow drought on water management, ecosystems, recreation and tourism, and more.

    April 2021 Precipitation: Western U.S.

    This USDA NRCS map shows Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) April precipitation basin values over the western U.S. as a percent of the NRCS 1981–2010 median. Only stations with at least 20 years of data are included in the station averages.
    The precipitation percent of normal represents the current precipitation found at selected SNOTEL sites in or near the basin compared to the average value for those sites on this day. This map is valid as of April 30, 2021.

    HUC2 River Basin Snow Water Equivalent

    Large river basin (HUC2) snow water equivalent (SWE) percent of normal throughout the West for peak SWE, April 1, and May 1. SWE data are from the USDA NRCS SNOTEL network.

    Maximum Temperature Departure from Average: April 1–8, 2021

    Early April heatwave in the West depicted by April 1–8 maximum temperature anomalies. Temperature data are from gridMET, and the map was created using Climate Engine. For an interactive version of this map, please visit Climate Engine.

    Reservoir Storage for the Western U.S.

    Reservoir storage percent of capacity for the Western U.S. as of May 1 and June 1, 2021. Graph from the USDA.

    #WhiteRiver State of the River, June 15, 2021 #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The White River, in the vicinity of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism.

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    Join the Colorado River District for the White River State of the River webinar on Tuesday, June 15 at 6 p.m.! Our experts and special guests will be presenting on the issues that affect your water supply throughout the White River Basin.

    Learn more about the river’s hydrology and water level forecasts as we enter another drought year. Hear updates on management plans to provide water for endangered fish species and learn about current efforts to study the impact of algae blooms in the river.

    If you cannot attend the webinar live, register to receive an emailed webinar recording to watch later!


    Welcome – Colorado River District Staff

    The Community Funding Partnership – Amy Moyer, Colorado River District, Director of Strategic Partnerships

    Water Supply and Drought in the White River Basin – Becky Bolinger, Colorado Assistant State Climatologist

    Measurement and Abandonment on the White River – Erin Light, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Division 6 Engineer

    Water Management Planning in the White River Basin – Callie Hendrickson, Executive Director, White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts

    Algae Issues on the White – Natalie Day, Biologist, Colorado Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey

    Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District Update – Alden Vanden Brink, Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, District Manager

    Fish Tales: The White River Basin and the Endangered Fish Recovery Program – Jojo La, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Endangered Species Policy Specialist

    Jun 15, 2021 06:00 PM in Mountain Time (US and Canada)

    White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

    The #Drought In The Western U.S. Is Getting Bad. #ClimateChange Is Making It Worse — National Public Radio

    From National Public Radio (Lauren Sommer):

    Almost half the country’s population is facing dry conditions. Soils are parched. Mountain snowpacks produce less water. Wildfire risk is already extreme. The nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, is headed to its lowest level since it was first filled in the 1930s.

    The past year has been the driest or second driest in most Southwestern states since record-keeping began in 1895. Farms and cities have begun imposing water restrictions, but Western states are facing a threat that goes deeper than a single bad year. The hotter climate is shrinking water supplies, no matter what the weather brings.

    Warming temperatures make it less likely for a raindrop or snowflake to reach a reservoir due to increased evaporation. As a result, the people who manage the West’s complex water systems are realizing that with climate change, they can no longer rely on the past to predict the future.

    That’s creating a fundamental threat to the way Western water systems operate, because they were built around the idea that the climate would remain constant. Historical climate data such as river flows and rainfall totals told engineers how big to build reservoirs and canals. The data also told them how much water was available to divide up among cities and farms.

    Climate change is putting that system under increasing stress, shrinking water supplies for tens of millions of people and for the farmland that produces most of the country’s fruits and vegetables. Water cutbacks are reverberating through California’s $50 billion agricultural industry, which employs tens of thousands of people in many small towns.

    Southwestern states recently negotiated a temporary agreement to use less water as reservoirs keep falling. But tough conversations remain about how the West and its complex system of water rights will adapt to a future for which it wasn’t designed.

    “We can really no longer look at the past and say: The amount of water we’ve had in the last 100 years is what we can expect in the future,” says Eric Kuhn, an author who worked on water policy for decades at the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “That is no longer true because of climate change.”


    Climate amplifying bad luck

    Like a run-of-the-mill streak of bad luck, droughts are normal in the West. Now, climate change is exacerbating their effects.

    “Over the last 22 years or so, there’s been quite a bit of bad luck because precipitation totals have on average been low,” says Park Williams, associate professor of hydroclimatology at UCLA. “But the effect of that bad luck has been really amplified because of warmer temperatures.”

    A hotter atmosphere is thirstier, drawing water out of plants and soils and into the air. Snowpacks melt earlier, which in turn boosts that evaporation, because without the reflective surface that snow creates, soils heat up faster. And when soils are dry, they act like a sponge. They need to soak up more moisture before they’re saturated enough for the water to run off into rivers and streams.

    Studies show that since 2000, about half the reduction in the Colorado River’s flow has been due to warmer temperatures. For every degree Celsius of warming, the river’s flow is expected to shrink by 9%, according to another study.

    The latest briefing (June 10, 2021) is hot off the presses from the Western Water Assessment

    Click here to read the briefing:

    Latest Briefing – June 10, 2021 (UT, WY, CO)

  • During May, much above average precipitation removed drought conditions across Colorado east of the Continental Divide and in southwestern Wyoming. Regional drought conditions persist west of the Divide where D3 and D4 drought cover 90% of Utah and much of western Colorado. Streamflow forecasts for much of the region are among the five driest on record and the forecasted April-July inflow forecast for Lake Powell is 25% of normal.
  • May yielded drought-busting precipitation amounts east of the Continental Divide in Colorado, especially southeastern Colorado where precipitation was over 200% of normal.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Slightly above normal precipitation fell in northwestern Wyoming. Utah was extremely dry in May; nearly the entire state received 50% of normal precipitation and two-thirds of the state received less than 25% of normal May precipitation. Most of Wyoming and western Colorado received slightly below normal precipitation.
  • Temperatures during May were slightly below normal in eastern Colorado and the northeast two-thirds of Wyoming.Western US Seasonal Precipitation In Utah, western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming, May temperatures were 1-2 degrees above normal.
  • Regional snowpack conditions were below to much-below normal except for the South Platte River basin in Colorado and Wyoming river basins east of the Continental Divide.Western US Seasonal Precipitation On June 1st, snow was completely melted in southern Utah and almost gone along the Wasatch Front and the southern slope of the Uinta Mountains. Snowpack lingers west of the Continental Divide in Colorado, but is less than 50% of normal. Western Wyoming snowpack conditions are a mix of much below normal to slightly below normal.
  • June 1st streamflow volume forecasts from the CBRFC were less than 50% normal for nearly the entire Upper Colorado River and Great Basins.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Streamflow volume forecasts in the Upper Colorado River and Great Basins are mostly among the five driest on record. Nearly all of the major reservoirs of the Upper Colorado River basin are forecasted to have less than 50% of normal inflow with Lake Powell forecasted to have 25% of normal inflow (1.8 MAF), a 3% decrease from the May forecast. Streamflow forecasts east of the Continental Divide in Colorado are higher than the rest of the region, but still below normal in the South Platte and Arkansas River basins.Western US Seasonal Precipitation
  • Drought conditions during May were very different east and west of the Continental Divide. An extremely wet May completely removed drought conditions east of the Continental Divide in Colorado and in southwestern and north-central Wyoming.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Western US Seasonal Precipitation Below average temperatures and much above average precipitation drove drought removal. At the end of April, drought conditions covered 89% of Colorado and 85% of Wyoming. By June 1st, drought conditions improved significantly, covering 49% of Colorado and 68% of Wyoming. With the exception of northwestern Wyoming where drought conditions improved by one category, drought persisted west of the Continental Divide and conditions remained largely unchanged. D3 and D4 drought continues to cover 90% of Utah.Western US Seasonal Precipitation
  • La Niña conditions, present throughout winter 2021, ended during May as eastern Pacific Ocean temperatures warmed to 0.3° C below normal. Neutral ENSO conditions are expected to continue at least through July.Western US Seasonal Precipitation The NOAA seasonal forecast predicts an increased probability for above average regional temperatures during June, except for the Eastern Plains of Colorado. There is also an increased probability for below average June precipitation in Wyoming and northern Colorado and northern Utah. On the three-month timescale, NOAA seasonal forecasts predict an increased probability for above average temperatures across the entire region Western US Seasonal Precipitation and below average precipitation except for southwestern Utah. Western US Seasonal Precipitation
  • Significant May weather event. An unexpectedly wet May led to dramatic improvements in drought conditions in eastern Colorado and central Wyoming. Drought was completely removed from Colorado east of the Continental Divide and in southwestern Wyoming. The NOAA seasonal forecast for May projected an increased probability for below average precipitation in Colorado and Wyoming, but many areas east of the Continental Divide received 150-300% of normal precipitation. Large areas of eastern Colorado and central Wyoming experienced a two-category improvement in drought conditions during May with isolated areas improving by three drought categories.Western US Seasonal Precipitation Since mid-February, above average precipitation caused a five-category improvement to drought conditions in parts of Arapahoe, Jefferson and Douglas Counties, Colorado.Western US Seasonal Precipitation A large swath of eastern Colorado experienced a four-category improvement in drought conditions over the same time period.
  • #Drought news: Improvements were made to the D0 (abnormally dry) and D1 (moderate drought) conditions in the central portion of #Colorado

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

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

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    Warm and dry conditions dominated the West while the southern Plains and South recorded the most precipitation for the week as well as cooler than normal temperatures. Temperatures were 3-6 degrees below normal over much of the southern Plains, and into the lower Mississippi Valley. Warmer than normal temperatures dominated from California to the Dakotas with departures of 9-12 degrees above normal and even higher in the northern Plains. With the active pattern continuing over the southern Plains, conditions have flipped over the last several weeks from one of drought to ample precipitation. A reassessment of conditions in several places in the West and northern Plains led to improvements, in light of some of the wetter conditions recently…

    Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 8, 2021.

    High Plains

    A mostly dry week for the region, with some late precipitation in the period over North Dakota that will be addressed next week when the full extent of the rains can be taken into account. Some areas of Colorado had above-normal precipitation for the week. Temperatures were well above normal in the Dakotas where widespread areas of 12-15 degrees above normal were observed, with several places over 100 degrees F. Farther south in the region, the temperatures across Kansas were below normal. Portions of southwest North Dakota and northwest South Dakota were reassessed this week to take into account the wetter pattern lately. Improvements to the severe and extreme drought conditions were made based upon this reanalysis of data. In Nebraska, moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions spread over the northeast to central portions of the state, with some severe drought being introduced in the far northern counties. Southeast South Dakota had drought expand and intensify, with more moderate and severe drought being introduced. The plains of Colorado remained wet and further improvements were made to the abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions in the central portion of the state. Degradation took place in Wyoming where extreme drought was introduced in the northeast and moderate and severe drought expanded in the central and southwest portions of the state, with just a small pocket improved in the southwest…


    A very dry week for the region, with only areas of New Mexico, northeast Arizona, western Colorado and northwest Washington having above-normal precipitation. Temperatures were well above normal with most areas 3-9 degrees above normal for the week. A reassessment of conditions in eastern New Mexico took place after the most recent rains, and this led to improvements in the region, with some being multi-category for the week. Eastern Washington saw conditions continuing to decline, and an expansion of moderate, severe, and extreme drought took place this week. Oregon was similar with widespread areas of degradation in the state and expansion of exceptional, extreme, severe, and moderate drought. Idaho also had widespread degradations with expansion of extreme, severe, and moderate drought and also a new introduction of exceptional drought. California continued to see the impacts of drought increase, and there was expansion of extreme and exceptional drought in the northern and central areas as well as along the coast of central California. A small area of exceptional drought was expanded in central Utah. As with the conditions in the northern Plains, some areas of eastern Montana were reassessed this week and a large area of extreme drought was removed while other areas of the state had an expansion of severe and moderate drought. Some of these same areas improved in Montana received rain after the cut-off for this week and could see further improvements next week…


    With a continued wet pattern, temperatures were well below normal, with departures of 6-8 degrees below normal in portions of Texas and Oklahoma. The greatest rains fell from east Texas into the lower Mississippi Valley, but there were pockets of heavier rain from south Texas into the central portions of the state. As in past weeks, the wet pattern of the current week as well as a reassessment of conditions over the last 6-8 weeks allowed for continued and multi-category improvements over portions of Texas. The only extreme and exceptional drought left in the state is in the Trans-Pecos region…

    Looking Ahead

    Over the next 5-7 days, it is anticipated that the best rains will be over the South, Southeast and into the Mid-Atlantic with some relief continuing in the northern Plains. Most all of the West remains dry, especially in the southwest, with some rain possible in the northwest. Above-normal temperatures will dominate the country with most areas from the West into the Midwest anticipating above-normal temperatures. Near-normal temperatures in the Southeast as well along the West Coast are expected.

    The 6-10 day outlooks show the high probability of above-normal temperatures over most of the country from the Midwest and southern Plains to the West. Cooler than normal temperatures are anticipated in the East and to the Gulf Coast as well as into the lower Mississippi Valley and Texas. Below-normal precipitation is anticipated over most of the country, with the highest probabilities in the Midwest, northern Plains, northern Rocky Mountains and into the Great Basin. The highest probabilities of above-normal precipitation are along the Gulf Coast, northern Alaska and in Arizona.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 8, 2021.

    Funding shortfalls, bureaucratic barriers hobble efforts to restore Colorado’s fire-scarred water systems — @WaterEdCO

    Land scarred in Rocky Mountain National Park from the East Troublesome Fire, October 2020. Credit: Northern Water via Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Major funding shortfalls and bureaucratic barriers between state, federal and private entities are hobbling efforts to clean up watersheds and protect drinking water for more than 1 million Coloradans this summer.

    Berthoud-based Northern Water is Colorado’s second-largest water provider, behind Denver Water. It operates the federally owned Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which serves a number of Front Range cities as well as hundreds of farms, and its collection systems were devastated last summer by the massive East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires. It estimates that it will cost more than $100 million over the next three to five years to clean up some 400,000 acres of its mountain system, which spans the Continental Divide in Grand County and Rocky Mountain National Park.

    Federal funds that have been used in the past have been depleted as states across the American West have turned to the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for help restoring burned forest lands.

    Colorado lawmakers this week stepped in to help, approving SB21-258, which creates two new grant funds totaling nearly $30 million designed to help utilities and local governments do more to address forest restoration and wildfire risk mitigation.

    And while agencies like Northern say the cash is critical, it’s only a down payment on what is going to be needed to restore mountain water collection systems embedded in national forests.

    “We’re very worried,” said Esther Vincent, Northern Water’s manager of environmental services. “The runoff season is upon us and we’re starting to see the black water.” She’s referring to the water laden with sediment and toxins entering streams from burn areas.

    Colorado’s 10 largest fires on record have occurred since 2000, with seven of them happening in the last 10 years. The red circles indicate the number of acres burned in proportion to one another. Locations are approximate. Credit: Chas Chamberlin via Water Education Colorado

    Vincent said working through Congress to get emergency funds and to address federal agency rules that limit how funds can be used on private and federal lands will take months and, more likely, years.

    “There is a reasonable chance that the U.S. Forest Service may not see funding for this until 2022. But it’s really urgent that we do some of this work now,” Vincent said.

    To address the crisis, Northern, as well as a number of cities and agencies across the state, have turned to Colorado’s congressional delegations for help. But so far, little progress has been made.

    U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and his staff are working on finding small pools of cash across a variety of federal agencies in various states to help fund work this summer. And there is some hope, staffers said, that emergency cash might be set aside by Congress later this summer through a special disaster appropriation or through a national infrastructure bill.

    But longer-term fixes are needed, said Troy Timmons, director of federal relations for the Western Governors Association.

    “There is no one thing that is broken. There are statutory issues, like how the [NRCS] Emergency Watershed Protection Program operates, and the limitations on what the forest service can do. There are cultural issues with how all of these agencies interact with one another,” Timmons said. “There are a lot of threads here that need to be worked on.”

    But for this summer, Northern and other water utilities across the state are focused on restoring their watersheds and finding the cash needed to fix them.

    “It’s a vast landscape,” said Northern General Manager Brad Wind. “How do we fix a burn and at the same time keep looking forward and investing in our watersheds for the future?”

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

    Assessing the U.S. #Climate in May 2021 — NOAA

    Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone National Park. Photo credit: Pixabay via NOAA

    From NOAA:

    May was mild across much of the contiguous U.S.; heavy rainfall contributed to flash flooding across parts of the Gulf Coast

    For May, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 60.4°F, 0.2°F above the 20th-century average, ranking in the middle third of the 127-year record. The meteorological spring (March-May) average temperature for the Lower 48 was 52.6°F, 1.7°F above average, ranking in the warmest third of the record. Averaged over the first five months of the year, the contiguous U.S. temperature was 44.6°F, 1.3°F above the 20th-century average, ranking in the warmest third of the January-May record.

    The May precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 2.94 inches, 0.03 inch above average, ranking in the middle third of the 127-year period of record. The spring precipitation total was 7.53 inches, 0.41 inch below average, ranking in the driest third of the March-May record and was the driest spring since 2006. The year-to-date precipitation total was 11.65 inches, 0.74 inch below average, ranking in the driest third of the 127-year record. This was the driest such year-to-date period since 2012.

    Torrential rainfall, associated with slow-moving thunderstorms across parts of coastal Texas and Louisiana on May 17-18, brought widespread flash flooding and power outages, and resulted in hundreds of water rescues. More than a foot of rain fell near Lake Charles, Louisiana, still recovering from damage caused by Hurricanes Laura and Delta, which made landfall across the region last summer.

    This monthly summary from NOAA 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.


    • Temperatures were below average across portions of the northern Rockies as well as the central and southern Plains, central Gulf Coast, Southeast, and into the Ohio Valley.
      Temperatures were above average across parts of the West Coast, Southwest, New England and Florida.
    • The Alaska average May temperature was 40.2°F, 2.4°F above the long-term mean, which ranked in the warmest third of the historical record for the state. Temperatures were cooler than average across parts of the Panhandle. Temperatures were above average across much of the western, central and southern portions of Alaska.
      • Aided by near- to below-average spring temperatures in the region, Bering Sea ice average extent during May was the highest since 2013, but still lower than average levels observed during the 20th century.


    • Precipitation was above average from the central and western Gulf Coast into portions of the central Plains and scattered across parts of the northern Rockies and southern New England. Louisiana and Texas ranked fifth wettest on record for May.
    • Precipitation was below average across much of the West, portions of the northern Plains, Great Lakes, northern New England, mid-Atlantic and Southeast. California ranked fourth driest while Utah and Florida ranked ninth driest during May.
    • Despite precipitation across Alaska ranking near average for May, much of western Alaska was drier than average, and eastern Alaska wetter than average.
    • According to the June 1U.S. Drought Monitor report, 43.7 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down about 4.7 percent from the end of April. Drought intensified and/or expanded across California, Oregon, Washington, the northern Plains, parts of the Great Lakes and across Puerto Rico and Hawaii. Drought emerged across portions of the eastern Carolinas and Virginia. Drought severity lessened across portions of the Rocky Mountains and Northeast and drought was mostly eliminated across the central and southern Plains.

    Other Notable Events

    Tropical Storm Ana formed in the Atlantic Ocean on May 22, making 2021 the seventh consecutive year in which a named storm formed before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1.

    Spring (March-May)

    • Temperatures were above average across much of the West and from the northern and central Plains to the Northeast and along much of the East Coast. Maine ranked seventh warmest for spring. No state across the Lower 48 ranked below average for the season.
    • The Alaska spring temperature was 24.4°F, 0.5°F above the long-term average, ranking in the middle third of the record for the state. This was the coolest spring across Alaska since 2013. Temperatures were above average across the Aleutians and portions of northern Alaska and below average across parts of eastern-interior Alaska.


    • Spring precipitation was above average from the central High Plains to the Mississippi River and south to the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana ranked fourth wettest for the season.
    • Precipitation during March-May was below average across much of the West, Great Lakes and East Coast. Idaho, Oregon and the state of Washington ranked second driest for the spring season while California ranked fourth driest.

    Year-to-date (January-May)

    • Temperatures for the year-to-date period were above average across much of the West, northern Plains, Great Lakes, Northeast and Florida. Maine ranked fifth warmest on record for the January-May period. Below-average temperatures were concentrated across portions of the southern Plains.
    • The Alaska year-to-date temperature was 17.0°F, 1.2°F above average, ranking in the middle third of the historical record. Temperatures were above average across the Aleutians, Bristol Bay, Northwest Gulf and portions of the southern West Coast regions. There were no large areas of below-average temperatures for the year-to-date period across Alaska.


    • Above-average precipitation prevailed across much of the central and southern Plains as well as the western and central Gulf Coast.
    • Below-average precipitation for the year-to-date period occurred across much of the West, Northern Tier, Northeast and Florida. North Dakota and Michigan ranked seventh driest while Utah ranked eighth driest.

    USDA to Invest More Than $4 Billion to Strengthen Food System

    Research technician and Grand County rancher Wendy Thompson collects hay samples as part of a far-reaching experiment to see if ranchers can fallow hay meadows and conserve more water for the Colorado River. Credit: Dave Timko, This American Land. Aug. 12, 2020 via Water Education Colorado

    Here’s the release from the USDA:

    Citing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent supply chain disruptions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced plans to invest more than $4 billion to strengthen critical supply chains through the Build Back Better initiative. The new effort will strengthen the food system, create new market opportunities, tackle the climate crisis, help communities that have been left behind, and support good-paying jobs throughout the supply chain. Today’s announcement supports the Biden Administration’s broader work on strengthening the resilience of critical supply chains as directed by Executive Order 14017 America’s Supply Chains. Funding is provided by the American Rescue Plan Act and earlier pandemic assistance such as the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

    Secretary Vilsack was also named co-chair of the Administration’s new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force. The Task Force will provide a whole of government response to address near-term supply chain challenges to the economic recovery. The Task Force will convene stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions—large and small, public or private—that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints related to the economy’s reopening after the Administration’s historic vaccination and economic relief efforts.

    USDA will invest more than $4 billion to strengthen the food system, support food production, improved processing, investments in distribution and aggregation, and market opportunities. Through the Build Back Better initiative, USDA will help to ensure the food system of the future is fair, competitive, distributed, and resilient; supports health with access to healthy, affordable food; ensures growers and workers receive a greater share of the food dollar; and advances equity as well as climate resilience and mitigation. While the Build Back Better initiative addresses near- and long-term issues, recent events have exposed the immediate need for action. With attention to competition and investments in additional small- and medium-sized meat processing capacity, the Build Back Better initiative will spur economic opportunity while increasing resilience and certainty for producers and consumers alike.

    “The COVID-19 pandemic led to massive disruption for growers and food workers. It exposed a food system that was rigid, consolidated, and fragile. Meanwhile, those growing, processing and preparing our food are earning less each year in a system that rewards size over all else,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Build Back Better initiative will make meaningful investments to build a food system that is more resilient against shocks, delivers greater value to growers and workers, and offers consumers an affordable selection of healthy food produced and sourced locally and regionally by farmers and processors from diverse backgrounds. I am confident USDA’s investments will spur billions more in leveraged funding from the private sector and others as this initiative gains traction across the country. I look forward to getting to work as co-chair of the new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force and help to mobilize a whole-of-government effort to address the short-term supply challenges our country faces as it recovers.”

    The Build Back Better Initiative will strengthen and transform critical parts of the U.S. food system. As it makes investments through this initiative, USDA will also seek to increase transparency and competition with attention to how certain types of conduct in the livestock markets and the meat processing sector have resulted in thinly-traded markets and unfair treatment of some farmers, ranchers and small processors. Among other investments in the food system and food supply chain, Build Back Better will specifically address the shortage of small meat processing facilities across the country as well as the necessary local and regional food system infrastructure needed to support them.

    Funding announcements under the Build Back Better initiative will include a mix of grants, loans, and innovative financing mechanisms for the following priorities, each of which includes mechanisms to tackle the climate crisis and help communities that have been left behind, including:

    1. Food Production: Food production relies on growers, including farmers and ranchers, workers, and critical inputs. But a diminishing share of the food dollar goes to these essential workers. USDA will invest in the current and future generation of food producers and workers throughout the food system with direct assistance, grants, training and technical assistance, and more.
    2. Food Processing: The pandemic highlighted challenges with consolidated processing capacity. It created supply bottlenecks, which led to a drop in effective plant and slaughter capacity. Small and midsize farmers often struggled to compete for processing access. USDA will make investments to support new and expanded regional processing capacity.
    3. Food Distribution & Aggregation: Food aggregation and distribution relies on people working together throughout the food system and having the right infrastructure to gather, move and hold the food where and when it is needed. This system was stressed during the pandemic due to long shipping distances and lack of investment in local and regional capacity. USDA will make investments in food system infrastructure that can remain resilient, flexible and responsive.
    4. Markets & Consumers: The U.S. spends more on health care and less on food than any other high-income nation; yet the U.S. has higher rates of diet-related illness and a lower life expectancy than those nations. At the same time, many socially disadvantaged and small and mid-sized producers do not have equitable access to markets. USDA will support new and expanded access to markets for a diversity of growers while helping eaters access healthy foods.

    USDA will continue to make announcements through the Build Back Better initiative in the months to come. Today’s announcement is in addition to the $1 billion announced last week to purchase healthy food for food insecure Americans and build food bank capacity, putting the total announced thus far at more than $5 billion.

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

    Mount Werner #Water to begin major infrastructure project June 14 — The Steamboat Pilot & Today

    The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

    From Mount Werner Water & Sanitation via The Steamboat Pilot & Today:

    Beginning June 14, Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District is making major infrastructure improvements that will install 3,000 liner feet of new sewer pipe as part of the second phase of its sewer interceptor replacement project set to begin Monday.

    “This project brings significant enhancements to the overall system,” said Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District General Manager Frank Alfone in a news release. “While there will be impacts to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic at times, the finished project will benefit the community for decades to come.”

    The interceptor project consists of replacing approximately 5,600 liner feet of existing sanitary sewer trunk collection main and associated structures, approximately 25 manholes and a sanitary sewer junction box. The new pipe material is composed of polyvinyl chloride or PVC.

    This project will require a closure and detour of the sidewalk along the Yampa River Core Trail south of Fetcher Pond to Alpine Lumber. An additional closure of the sidewalk at U.S. Highway 40 and Mount Werner Road will also be implemented in late July. Both set of closures and detours will run through the duration of the work into mid-October.

    The design parameters for the project were provided by Civil Design Consultants. Engineering and design plans were prepared by Landmark Consultants, Inc., and Native Excavating Inc. will serve as the project’s general contractor.

    #LakeMead projected to match lowest water level in history this week — The #LasVegas Review-Journal #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    US Drought Monitor map June 1, 2021.

    From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Blake Apgar):

    Lake Mead’s water level this week is projected to match its lowest point since the reservoir was formed in the 1930s, federal officials said Tuesday.

    U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Patti Aaron said projections show Lake Mead’s water level reaching an elevation of 1,071.61 feet on Thursday, matching the record low set on July 1, 2016.

    And the lake level decline isn’t projected to stop there.

    “We expect it to keep declining until November,” Aaron said.
    Lake Mead is barreling toward its first federally declared water shortage, a product of a decades-long drought that has left the Colorado River parched. About 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water comes from Lake Mead…

    Under a shortage, Nevada would have its annual 300,000 acre-foot allocation of water from the river slashed by 13,000 feet. That reduction would come in addition to an 8,000 acre-foot contribution Nevada agreed to in 2019 in the event Lake Mead’s water level dropped below 1,090 feet, as it has…

    This year, the Colorado River Basin is projected to experience its second-driest year in more than a century of record keeping. The driest year on record was 2002…

    The declining lake level has also reduced the Hoover Dam’s power generation capacity.
    According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the dam’s power plant is capable of producing about 2,080 megawatts. Aaron said the current capacity is 1,567 megawatts, enough to power about 350,000 homes…

    Each foot in elevation that the lake level decreases, Aaron said, the dam loses about 6 megawatts of capacity. The lowest water level that allows the dam to continue generating power is 950 feet.

    “But we are not in danger of hitting that point,” Aaron said…

    Even if the state’s allocation is cut, Southern Nevada wouldn’t immediately feel the squeeze. Last year, the region used 256,000 acre feet, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority has about eight years worth of water at that rate of usage stored in Arizona, California, Lake Mead and Las Vegas’ local aquifer.

    Colorado Journalists: Join Your Peers to Strengthen Your Coverage of Water in the West — @WaterEdCO

    Wallace Stegner. Ed Marston/HCN file photo

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register for the information session on June 10, 2021:

    Water Education Colorado and Fresh Water News are excited to partner with the Colorado News Collaborative, Gates Family Foundation and Colorado Media Project to bring this new opportunity: “Water Fluency for Journalists!”

    Interested journalists are invited to apply by June 23 to increase your water knowledge and receive a $1,000 stipend toward participation.

    Colorado’s water future is at risk now more than ever. Facing a growing population, warmer climate, longer growing season, decreased snowpack, and earlier runoff, the state’s water supplies are increasingly taxed to serve competing interests. Hundreds of thousands of residents are new to Colorado and unaware of the fundamental challenges faced by their new home state. Even for Coloradans who consider themselves “natives,” many grew up in urban areas with little or no awareness of where their water comes from, how it is managed, or the risks to and opportunities for ensuring a sustainable future.

    Strong water journalism is vital for developing more knowledgeable and engaged Coloradans. Yet as the number of professional journalists has been cut nearly in half over the past 15 years, there are fewer and fewer Colorado reporters dedicated to covering this important issue. Today many journalists covering water for local news outlets are generalists, and may not feel confident covering the often complex topics of water management, water rights, water policy, drought, climate change, forest health, demand management, agricultural water innovations and more.

    That’s why Water Education Colorado is proud to co-develop and offer this 2021 Water Journalism Fellowship opportunity for working Colorado journalists.

    The five-month fellowship features a series of four “Water Fluency for Journalists” workshops presented by Fresh Water News and Water Education Colorado, plus coaching support for individual and collaborative reporting projects from Fresh Water News and the Colorado News Collaborative. The fellowship experience and $1,000 stipends are made possible through support from the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, through its Natural Resources program.

    For more information about the fellowship opportunity and eligibility requirements, visit the CMP website.

    Interested applicants should also join us for an information session on Thursday, June 10, to hear more. Register for the meeting now.

    Learn more and apply by June 23

    Friend of Coyote Gulch Chris Woodka past water reporter extraordinaire. Photo credit The High Country News

    Topsoil Short to Very Short: Tough week across the northern and western U.S. — @USDA

    From the USDA:

    Biggest increases took place in SD and MI. NV not far behind.

    2021 Drought Monitor: How Dry Is It In Douglas County? — MSN

    From MSN (Amber Fisher):

    For the week ending June 1, 30 U.S. states were experiencing drought conditions described as moderate or worse, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But rainfall has left Denver’s metro area and eastern Colorado drought free — at least for now.

    Some [western] Colorado counties — such as Moffat, Rio Blanco, Garfield and Delta counties — are facing extreme drought conditions, according to the latest weekly report released June 1 by the National Drought Mitigation Center…

    Nationally, nearly 39 percent of the United States was experiencing some type of drought for the week ending June 1, according to the latest NOAA data. In addition to 93 million people, more than 73 million acres of crops are being affected by the dry conditions.

    Last week, rain brought respite to much of the Great Plains; however, as extreme heat moves into the dry West and Northern Plains, NOAA forecasters warn that drought may intensify.

    Meanwhile, in the Southeast, dryness and drought have been steadily spreading in Virginia, the Carolinas and Florida…

    The worst areas of drought are in Southwest states, where parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and western Colorado are experiencing extreme or exceptionally severe drought conditions, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center…

    So what exactly is drought?

    Drought is defined as a lack of precipitation such as rain, snow or sleet over a period that typically results in a water shortage. While drought usually stems from an area’s specific weather pattern, it can also be triggered by human activity such as water use and management.

    Behind hurricanes, drought is the second-most-costly form of natural disaster in the United States, exacting an average toll of $9.6 billion in damage and loss per event, according to statistics from the National Centers for Environmental Information.

    Usually, some level of drought has some part of the country in its grip.

    During the historic dry spell of 2012 — the nation’s most extensive since the 1930s — as much as two-thirds of the country was affected by drought at its peak.

    U.S. droughts can sometimes last longer than a season. From 2012 to 2016, scant rainfall and record-breaking heat in California created what is estimated to have been the state’s worst drought in 1,200 years, according to the National Resources Defense Council…

    About 70 percent of the annual precipitation returns to the atmosphere by evaporation from land and water surfaces and by vapor from vegetation. The remaining 30 percent eventually reaches a stream, lake or ocean due to runoff during and immediately after rain, as well as soaking into the ground.

    If you’ve ever wondered where a raindrop ends up when it falls in Colorado, check out this interactive map developed by data analyst Sam Learner that traces the path of a raindrop depending on where it falls.

    Montezuma County declares drought disaster — The #Cortez Journal #SanJuanRiver #DoloresRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Montezuma Valley

    From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    State and federal programs offer drought assistance, emergency loans

    The order passed by the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners on June 1 says the purpose “is to activate the response and recovery aspects of any and all applicable local and interjurisdictional disaster emergency plans, and to authorize the furnishing of aid and assistance under such plans.”

    Recent winters in Southwest Colorado have seen below-average snowpack, and a lack of monsoonal rains has depleted soil moisture. The lack of precipitation has left reservoirs unfilled this year, a devastating impact for the agricultural economy…

    La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain with historical Montezuma County apple orchard in the foreground.

    McPhee Reservoir irrigators will receive just 5% to 10% of their normal allocation this year, leaving thousands of acres fallow.

    Montezuma County has only had one good snow season (2018-19) in the past four years and has had dry summers, said Peter Goble, drought specialist with the Colorado Climate Center, during a meeting with county officials…

    The disaster status opens up emergency assistance programs from county, state and federal agencies. It also helps the Dolores Water Conservancy District receive drought assistance from the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the infrastructure of McPhee Reservoir and its canals.

    In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 63 Colorado counties primary natural disaster areas because of the severe drought conditions.

    Emergency loans are available for producers. The loans can be used to replace equipment or livestock, reorganize the farm operation and refinance certain debts.

    Colorado State University Agriculture Extension provides education and connects farmers and ranchers with resources for drought management and assistance, said Greg Felsen, Montezuma County director and extension agent.

    The forecast for a summer monsoon is not favorable for Southwest Colorado, according to the National Weather Service.

    Dry conditions are predicted for June, July and August, according to the National Weather Service meteorologist Megan Stackhouse.

    Mcphee Reservoir

    ‘Nonfunctional’ grass to be banned in #LasVegas Valley — The Las Vegas Review-Journal #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    An elaborate fountain in Las Vegas. One of the biggest water meetings of the year takes place every December in Las Vegas, which has driven down water use down by paying people to remove thirsty turf and grass. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Colton Lochhead):

    Nearly one-third of all of the grass in Southern Nevada will need to be removed by the end of 2026 under a new bill signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak Friday, a significant conservation effort that comes as the state is facing its first federal water shortage amid declining Lake Mead levels and a two-decades-long drought that has shown no signs of ending.

    “I think that it’s incumbent upon us for the next generation to be more conscious of our conservation of our natural resources, water being particularly important,” Sisolak told reporters last week when asked about the bill before he had signed it.

    Specifically, Assembly Bill 356 will prohibit Colorado River water distributed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority from being used to irrigate “nonfunctional turf” starting Jan. 1, 2027. The water authority has said that this will include the grass between roads and sidewalks, in medians and traffic circles and decorative grass outside businesses, housing developments and similar areas. Single-family homes, golf courses are parks are excluded from the ban.

    According to the water authority’s estimate, the new law will lead to the eventual removal of 3,900 to 4,000 acres of nonfunctional grass, or about 6 square miles worth of thirsty turf.

    That’s about 30 percent of the 13,000 acres of grass currently in the Las Vegas Valley.

    West Drought Monitor map June 1, 2021.

    For the nation’s driest state, water conservation efforts will take on even greater importance going forward as the Southwest U.S. drought has intensified and is only expected to worsen.

    The latest study from the Bureau of Reclamation in May predicts that the water level of Lake Mead, which supplies about 90 percent of the water for Southern Nevada, will drop low enough this year to trigger its first federally declared water shortage. A formal declaration on the shortage could come in August if those predictions hold true.

    That shortage would reduce Southern Nevada’s allocation of 300,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River by 13,000 acre-feet.

    Dry times, dire consequences: Poor #runoff adds to water woes — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver #GunnisonRiver

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    As of mid-day Friday, though, the U.S. Geological Survey gauge at Cameo was recording a relatively calm river flow — 4,840 cubic feet per second, compared to an average 12,700-cfs flow there for that date. Flows near the Colorado-Utah border were 5,860 cfs, a bit more than a third of average for that date.

    Warming temperatures in recent days are accelerating snowmelt and boosting runoff some. Erik Knight, a hydrologist with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, said Friday that the federal Colorado Basin River Forecast Center was showing flows at Cameo likely hitting their seasonal peak by today, but at about 7,500 cfs, well below the typical 12,000-13,000 cfs average peak.

    Said Russ Schumacher, state climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, “The streamflows throughout western Colorado are not looking good at this point and there’s not that much snow up there left to melt.”

    A continuing drought in western Colorado and beyond is having both in-state and more regional implications. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center is now projecting that April-July inflows into Lake Powell will be just 25% of average.

    The Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate agency with representatives from Colorado, other Upper Colorado River Basin states and the federal government, noted in a May 20 news release that the water elevation in Powell was at 3,560.6 feet and is approaching its lowest recorded level since the reservoir began filling in the early 1960s. The Bureau of Reclamation reports that at the end of April, Powell held 8.5 million acre-feet of water, 35% of its live capacity. That’s the amount of a reservoir that can be used for purposes such as downstream release and power production.

    May 2021 percent of normal precipitation. (Averaged by basins defined in the CBRFC hydrologic model). Map credit: Colorado Basin River Forecast Center

    The Upper Colorado River Commission issued its news release to announce that Upper Basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation will begin development of a drought response operations plan, as called for under a 2019 agreement between the states and the Bureau of Reclamation. That’s after Reclamation last month said its most probable forecast is for the water level in Powell to fall to 3,525.57 feet in elevation as early as March 2022…

    The response plan would seek to keep Powell from falling below 3,525 feet, to help assure Upper Basin states can continue complying with a century-old compact for sharing Colorado River water with downstream states, and not jeopardize hydropower production at Glen Canyon Dam…

    US Drought Monitor map June 1, 2021.

    Currier said there’s concern about what limits federal land managers might put on grazing allotments due to the dry conditions.

    Currier and other Interbasin Compact Committee members will be considering some of the bigger-picture drought issues at a meeting later this month. The Upper Basin states wouldn’t have to finalize a drought response operations plan until the Bureau of Reclamation finds it probable that Powell’s level will fall to or below 3,525 feet within 12 months, and only after consultation with Lower Basin states. However, the Interior secretary, consulting with basin states, also could take emergency action to keep the reservoir level above that threshold…

    As agreed to in 2019, the Powell drought response plan would first consider making use of existing operational flexibilities in Powell, within legal and operational constraints. If that’s not enough to keep Powell’s water elevation above 3,525 feet, they will consider releases from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs upstream.

    Aspinall Unit

    “Blue Mesa doesn’t really have enough water in it to contribute a whole lot,” Currier said.

    Knight said Blue Mesa is only about 43% full, probably half of normal this time of year, and seasonal runoff inflows into the reservoir this year are now projected to be just 46% of average…

    Flaming Gorge Dam. Photo credit: USBR

    Currier thinks Flaming Gorge is the likely candidate for boosting Lake Powell water levels if help from upstream reservoirs is required…

    Upstream reservoir releases also are only a short-term fix, Currier said. Officials are looking longer-term at approaches including managing demand for water through reduced consumptive use, but consumptive use is directly related to crop production, he said.

    “Reduce your consumptive use, you’re probably producing less crops. That’s not a good solution for agriculture,” he said.

    And then there’s the question of how to ensure that any water saved through such measures actually makes it down to Lake Powell, rather than simply being used by other water users upstream…

    [Russ] said that so far in Grand Junction this water year, which started Oct. 1, is the sixth-driest on record. It’s drier than the previous water year through the same date…

    Since Jan. 1, 2.04 inches of precipitation have been recorded at the Grand Junction Regional Airport, compared to 3.8 on average through this time of year.

    Since March 1, average temperatures have been warmer than normal in Grand Junction, but only marginally so, by 0.3 degrees, said Erin Walter, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. But local temperatures over that time are still cooler than last year, she said.

    Summit County receives grant for habitat improvements — The Summit Daily

    Swan River restoration Reach A gravel removal. Photo credit: Summit County

    From The Summit Daily (Lindsey Toomer):

    Summit County received a $300,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, among other partners, to restore the area’s riparian floodplain, wetlands and upland habitat.

    The foundation awarded $3.1 million to 10 habitat restoration projects across the state from its Restoration and Stewardship of Outdoor Resources and Environment — or RESTORE — Colorado program. Grant awards from this fund are meant for projects on public and private conservation lands that have the greatest benefit for wildlife habitat and local communities.

    The grant will contribute to a project meant to improve habitat quality and connectivity for native cutthroat, brown and brook trout species in the Swan River Valley. The project will restore 0.8 miles of the main stem of Swan River as well as 30 acres of riparian and upland habitat.

    Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

    While western #Colorado suffers, #drought fully exits the eastern plains — The Kiowa County Press

    From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

    Colorado’s western slope remains trapped in extreme and exceptional drought while the eastern plains and portions of the San Luis Valley and northern front range have moved to drought-free conditions. More than half of the state is now listed as drought-free.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map June 1, 2021.

    This week, parts of east central and southeast Colorado which were abnormally dry last week shifted to become free from drought. Some areas received as much as 150 percent of their normal rainfall for the week according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

    A strip of moderate drought in southern Las Animas County is now abnormally dry.

    Improvements in the eastern half of the state began in mid-March as significant snow provided initial relief. During May, thunderstorms continued to bring rain to Colorado’s eastern plains, resulting in drought-free conditions for most northeast counties by the end of the month.

    Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 1, 2021.

    The first drought-free area in Colorado since mid-2020 appeared in late April.

    The USDA noted that crop conditions continued to improve following recent moisture. Western counties have received little recent rain, and have experienced windy conditions. Red flag warnings from the National Weather Service have regularly been issued for high fire danger. Area reservoirs are at extremely low levels, limiting options for crop irrigation.

    Overall, 51 percent of the state is drought-free, up from 34 percent last week, with an additional six percent in abnormally dry conditions, down from 20 percent in the previous week. Moderate drought covers eight percent of Colorado, down from 11 percent, while severe drought remains unchanged at six percent. Extreme and exceptional drought were also unchanged at 13 and 16 percent, respectively.

    Petrochemicals in #water near Suncor refinery raise concerns about the state of underground wall – EMINETRA #Aurora #Denver #Colorado #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

    Sand Creek EPA sampling locations December 2, 2011.

    From Emnetra:

    Two oil stains within eight days at Sand Creek near the Sankoa Energy Refinery have caused state health officials to worry that the 20-year-old underground clay wall containing toxic chemicals isn’t working. ing.

    More than a year ago, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment ordered Sanko to replace a wall that stretched about 2,000 feet below about 30 feet parallel to Commerce City’s creek, records show. That mission came after a similar oil slick, And Suncor is set to begin designing wall modifications at the end of July.

    “The refinery is in the final stages of planning to improve the boundary barrier system and is working with CDPHE on these plans. Work is expected to be completed in 2021 and will be more effective along Sand Creek. A barrier system will be built, “said Suncor spokeswoman Mita Adesanya in an email.

    This is a sensitive moment for Suncor.Colorado officials Review Company application to update Outdated business license. Due to equipment failures and other failures at the refinery, 15 accidents occurred between March 27 and April 22 this year, and more than 100 failures occurred at the refinery in the last five years. , Air pollution has exceeded the permissible range. Since 2011, Colorado has settled at least 10 proceedings against Suncor.

    A Sanko official said in an email on Friday that he was investigating the cause of the recent oil slick. On May 22 and May 31, Sand Creek’s public bike paths and green roads popular for fishing Occurred along.

    Sanko and state officials do not expect permanent effects on creeks and wildlife, but “trends in groundwater data indicate that walls are less effective.” Was sent by director Jennifer Opira, according to a June 2 email received by The Denver Post, to local government officials in CDPHE’s Hazardous and Waste Management Department.

    The cause of the May 22 spill has not been identified, Opila said in an email, but said it could have been due to a “May 20 power outage.” The refinery side of the wall, she said.

    “It’s likely that groundwater levels have risen during this closure,” she wrote, and petrochemicals “flowed on and through walls,” she wrote. An emergency generator was installed to pump contaminated groundwater from the refinery side of the wall.

    On May 31, a fuel leak at the refinery flowed down the road into an outdoor basin and then reached a stream, according to state officials. Suncor deployed three orange booms and vacuum trucks to clean them.

    Along the green road on Thursday, fisherman Mike Medina threw a fishing line for carp in a Burlington irrigation ditch near the spill site…

    According to state records, benzene levels at the time of the spill were as high as 3,900 ppb in refinery groundwater. This is more than the federal drinking water standard of 5 ppb. Colorado’s current water quality standards have been relaxed in industrial areas, allowing up to 5,300 ppb of benzene in Sand Creek.

    Benzene levels found in pipes discharged to Sand Creek first soared beyond Sanko’s permit limits in the first week of June, but soon disappeared, according to state officials.

    The 2021 Western #Drought: What to Expect as Conditions Worsen — The Pacific Institute

    From The Pacific Institute (Cora Kammeyer, Peter Gleick, Heather Cooley, Gregg Brill, Sonali Abraham, and Michael Cohen):

    The American West has entered another drought crisis, with nearly the entire region (97 percent) facing abnormally dry conditions and over 70 percent of the region already in severe drought. State and local leaders are making emergency declarations. Water allocations are being slashed. We are already seeing fish die-offs and domestic wells running dry — and the dry season is just beginning.

    Drought Conditions

    There are many ways to measure drought, and all the indicators we have are telling a dismal story. Precipitation is less than half of normal across the West, and as little as a third of normal in parts of Nevada, Arizona, and California — including major cities like Sacramento, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. This is the second dry year in a row for California; for the seven states sharing the Colorado River, there have been two decades of below-normal water. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is essentially nonexistent, having been low all winter and now disappearing two months early. Colorado River Basin snow conditions are faring only slightly better, with snowpack ranging from 13 to 100 percent of normal across the basin states, and reservoir levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River, are reaching record lows. Reservoir levels in the two largest reservoirs in California — Oroville and Shasta — hover around 40 percent, far below normal for this time of year.

    In response, state and federal agencies are cutting water allocations. Allocations for California’s State Water Project are at a meager five percent; the federally owned Central Valley Project allocations are at 25 percent overall but down to zero percent for agricultural contractors. On the Colorado River, unprecedented shortage declarations are looming.

    Drought Impacts

    Severe drought conditions like those now gripping the West have adverse consequences for people, businesses, and nature. These impacts are not evenly distributed. Small and rural communities, many of which have a greater proportion of low-income households and people of color often feel the worst effects. Freshwater ecosystems are at serious risk from low water flows and high water temperatures, and water-quality issues are worsened by increased salt and contaminant concentrations and reduced oxygen levels. Surface water shortages for agriculture lead to more groundwater pumping and continued overdraft causes land subsidence, property damage, drying of domestic wells, and a permanent loss in groundwater storage.

    Fish and Wildlife: Droughts in California are especially hard on natural ecosystems, already suffering from overuse and contamination. In 2014 and 2015, 95 percent of young, endangered winter-run Chinook Salmon died due to high water temperatures on the Sacramento River, increasing the risk of regional extinction of already threatened salmon and other fish species.

    Wildfire: Wildfires are already becoming more frequent and severe, and they are starting earlier in the year and lasting longer. Low soil moisture and lack of rain worsens pest outbreaks and tree deaths, which in turn further increases wildfire risks and concern is growing for an extremely severe fire risk this year.

    Agriculture: In the face of water shortages, farmers have to look to alternative supplies and practices, such as purchasing water through temporary transfers, pumping more groundwater, changing the types of crops grown, installing efficient irrigation systems, and fallowing land. As efforts to implement California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) expand, constraints on groundwater pumping — in both wet and dry years — will grow, further complicating agricultural responses to drought.

    Rural Communities: Rural communities throughout the west are often dependent on a single water source, which increases their vulnerability to drought. During the past severe California drought, many shallow rural groundwater wells went dry as deeper agricultural wells depleted groundwater, causing major impacts on some communities. Declining water supplies and water-quality problems this year may force communities to switch to costly bottled water, dig deeper wells, and truck in emergency supplies of water. These actions impose local economic hardships on those living in rural areas, many of whom are among our most disadvantaged communities.

    Urban Areas: A diversified water supply means that urban areas are usually not at high risk of running out of water, but severe drought typically leads to voluntary and mandatory efforts to cut use. There is capacity to create additional supply through water conservation in these areas. Water utilities are already beginning to implement mandatory and voluntary water-conservation programs, including educational programs, incentives to install water-efficient devices, and restrictions on discretionary water uses like car washing and watering lawns, and new cutbacks are likely as the drought continues.

    Energy: Drought can strain the energy system. Past droughts have led to declines in hydroelectricity generation, leading to a shift to more expensive and polluting fossil fuels. Electricity generation from thermoelectric plants may also be curtailed if insufficient cooling water is available or if temperature limits in receiving waters are exceeded. Pumping costs to farmers increase as groundwater levels drop. Additionally, higher temperatures associated with drought reduce the efficiency of thermal power plants and of transmission and distribution lines while increasing energy demand for cooling systems.

    Drought Responses

    The good news is that past experience has shown there are many appropriate and effective responses to droughts, including changes in the efficiency of urban and agricultural water uses, the expansion of non-traditional water sources like stormwater and recycled water, and voluntary changes in behavior – all of which can help lessen the severity of this drought and future ones. In future blog posts and research, the Pacific Institute’s Western Drought Initiative will offer information on these responses, building on previous work and experience around drought impacts and solutions. Stay tuned for more coverage to come and for up-to-date drought conditions for California, visit For publications on these issues, including previous drought work, visit

    Goose Pasture Tarn Dam on schedule after first month of construction — The Summit Daily

    Photo credit: The Town of Breckenridge

    From The Summit Daily (Lindsey Toomer):

    The Goose Pasture Tarn Dam rehabilitation construction officially started in May and is on schedule to be completed in 2023 as planned.

    Breckenridge Public Works Director James Phelps said most of the work taking place throughout 2021 is in preparation for larger aspects of the project, such as taking apart the spillways.

    The project currently in the works is getting a 96-inch bypass pipe in place, which will help when it comes time to drain the tarn at the end of July, Phelps said. He added that this will be of use once they take apart the spillways next year to control runoff.

    The town of Breckenridge created a website,, dedicated to construction updates on the dam rehabilitation. Updates will be posted every two weeks with details on the construction schedule.

    According to the website’s May 21 update, construction between May 24 and June 5 has included setting up staging areas to access the job site, finishing the temporary access road via Wagon Road and minor work in the stilling basin on top of the bypass pipe work.

    Phelps said the town has also worked to identify properties where water supply could be affected by the project. He said they are working with a contractor that will be able to provide water for those who may need it…

    He added that wells have been placed around the reservoir to monitor groundwater. Based on what’s already been observed in these monitoring wells, Phelps said it’s possible that neighboring wells won’t be affected by the project…

    Based on current progress, Phelps said the project is on schedule and should continue as planned with little interruptions based on runoff predictions for the rest of the year.

    #Loveland council approves $61.3M bond issue to build #ChimneyHollow, support other #water projects — Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Site of Chimney Hollow Reservoir via Northern Water.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

    Loveland’s City Council gave the first OK to issuing $47 million worth of bonds for the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir on Tuesday, clearing one of the last obstacles in the way of the projec