NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin

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Here are the notes for this week from the Colorado Climate Center.

San Juan Mountains: Research into high mercury levels

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

“In 2007 we began to study mercury because very little was known about its presence in Southwest Colorado other than that reservoirs had fish-consumption advisories, and that precipitation sometimes deposited heavy concentrations of mercury at Mesa Verde National Park,” former institute director Koren Nydick said last week by telephone.

As result of mercury accumulation in fish, the state of Colorado has posted advisories at McPhee, Totten, Narraguinnep and Vallecito reservoirs and Najavo Lake cautioning about consumption of fish from those waters.

Kelly Palmer, a Bureau of Land Management hydrologist, said as a result of the Mountain Studies Institute pilot study at Molas Pass, the San Juan National Forest in 2009 initiated a long-term mercury-monitoring program there.

“It appears the levels of mercury are notable,” Palmer said last week…

Analysis of mercury and weather data collected from 2002 to 2008 at Mesa Verde points to coal-fired power plants in New Mexico as potential sources of mercury. Analysis of pollution components as well as potential sources and storm pathways support the theory, Nydick said.

But they don’t pinpoint specific sources and don’t definitely rule out the possibility that storms were carrying pollution from elsewhere when they passed over the New Mexico plants…

In June 2009, researchers from MSI and other agencies spent a day in Mancos Canyon trapping and releasing songbirds after testing their blood for mercury. They also collected crayfish, spiders, sow bugs, cicadas and centipedes and planned to return to electro-shock fish for testing.

“Wetland-dependent songbirds were chosen for study, in addition to fish and crayfish, because research shows they can accumulate methyl mercury,” Nydick said at the time. “It appears they accumulate methyl mercury from prey such as spiders that are a link between the aquatic and terrestrial food webs. That is why we collect invertebrates, soil and dead foliage to analyze for mercury, too.”

More mercury pollution coverage here and here.

CWCB: Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2010 update

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Bump and update: Here’s a report from Joe Stone writing for The Mountain Mail. From the article:

A new report commissioned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board – Colorado’s Water Supply Future – shows by 2050 municipal and industrial water shortfall will be at least 36,000 acre feet a year in the Arkansas River Basin if all proposed water projects are completed. Without new projects, the basin shortfall could be as much as 110,000 acre feet per year.

The report estimates Colorado will need from 600,000 to 1 million acre feet per year of additional municipal and industrial and “self-supplied industrial” water by 2050. And if the state water supply continues to develop according to status quo, water for 500,000 irrigated acres could be transferred to municipal and industrial uses, resulting in “significant loss of agricultural land and potential harm to the environment.”[…]

Other factors driving increased demand for water include energy resource development, need to replace depleted groundwater sources and self-supplied industrial needs like oil shale development. For example, the report indicates an oil shale industry producing 1,550,000 barrels of oil per day could use as much as 120,000 acre feet of water per year.

Update: Here’s a look at the Grand Valley and their take on Colorado River governance, from Honora Swanson writing for KJCT8.com. From the article:

A new report out shows that our state will need twice as much water in 2050 as we do right now. The Colorado River Conservation District Board estimates 10 million more people could come to Colorado in the next 40 years. And with those people, comes a big demand for water.

The article is about the SWSI 2010 Update released last Friday by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Here’s a look back at last month’s meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference with a bit of analysis of the basin thrown in, from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue Water News. From the article:

In Las Vegas last month, at the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association—the only organization bringing together stakeholders from each of the seven basin states—opponents and supporters made their views known during a speech by Doug Kenney, the director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Kenney was invited to Caesar’s Palace to share the first-year findings from his study on water governance in the Colorado River Basin. His message: in a new era of water scarcity along the river—where supply and demand lines have already crossed—traditional water management practices will need to be fundamentally changed.

New options for managing the Colorado include establishing provisions for year-to-year agreements with states and farmers to avoid shortages. They also include improvements in the efficiency of river operations, or by river augmentation, which means adding new supplies from a slew of sources—some viable, some expensive, and some fanciful: desalination, river diversions, and weather modification, respectively.

Kenney’s governance study is just one of several such assessments—carried out by academics and federal agencies, as well as state and regional water management authorities—suggesting the need for new ways to manage water flows. The studies are providing a new legal and scientific foundation for defining existing water rights within states, clarifying laws and regulations about how shortages on the river would be handled, and evaluating options for increasing the basin’s water supply and reducing demand.

Kenney argued that the states of the upper basin—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—are the most vulnerable if future flows are as low as predicted because the river’s legal structure gives priority to Mexico and the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

First-Ever Global Map of Surface Permeability Informs Water Supply, Climate Modelling

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Here’s the release from the University of British Columbia via Science Daily:

University of British Columbia researchers have produced the first map of the world outlining the ease of fluid flow through the planet’s porous surface rocks and sediments.

The maps and data, published January 21 in Geophysical Research Letters, could help improve water resource management and climate modelling, and eventually lead to new insights into a range of geological processes.

“This is the first global-scale picture of near-surface permeability, and is based on rock type data at greater depths than previous mapping,” says Tom Gleeson, a postdoctoral researcher with the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences.

Using recent world-wide lithology (rock type) results from researchers at the University of Hamburg and Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Gleeson was able to map permeability across the globe to depths of approximately 100 metres. Typical permeability maps have only dealt with the top one to two metres of soil, and only across smaller areas.

“Climate models generally do not include groundwater or the sediments and rocks below shallow soils,” says Gleeson. “Using our permeability data and maps we can now evaluate sustainable groundwater resources as well as the impact of groundwater on past, current and future climate at the global scale.”

A better understanding of large scale permeability of rock and sediment is critical for water resource management–groundwater represents approximately 99 per cent of the fresh, unfrozen water on earth. Groundwater also feeds surface water bodies and moistens the root zone of terrestrial plants.

“This is really an example of mapping research from a new, modern era of cartography,” says Gleeson. “We’ve mapped the world, peering well below the surface, without ever leaving our offices.”

The study’s maps include a global map at a resolution of 13,000 kilometres squared, and a much more detailed North American map at a resolution of 75 kilometres squared.

The research also improves on previous permeability databases by compiling regional-scale hydrogeological models from a variety of settings instead of relying on permeability data from small areas.

The paper’s authors include UBC Professors Leslie Smith and Mark Jellinek, as well as researchers from the US Geological Survey in Denver, Colorado, the University of Hamburg, and Utrecht University.

The work was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the German Science Foundation, and Utrecht University.