‘I don’t think we’ll ever have enough climate data to where we’ll know all of the answers to our water issues’ — Brad Udall


Here’s a recap of last week’s South Platte Forum from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

Multiple rounds of drought caused South Platte River flows from 2000 to 2012 to be lower than any other 13­ year period in the previous century, while 2012 saw more water lost to evaporation than any other year on record due to increased wind and record heat. A panel of climate experts shared those figures during a presentation this week at the two­day 2012 South Platte Forum. The experts said Colorado, like other areas, is likely to see more of these extreme conditions down the road — so water providers and users should plan accordingly.

Colorado State climatologist Nolan Doesken, Jack Morgan with USDA’s Agricultural Research Services and Jeff Lukas with Western Water Assessment served as a panel of experts during the climate discussions. They told the engineers, municipal and agricultural water providers and others attending that evidence suggests a future with increased temperatures, which, among other things, will affect the amount of water available to cities and agriculture.

During his presentation, Doesken recapped the “wild” weather of the past year and a half, and, in looking ahead to this winter, said temperatures are expected to be above­average once again. But he said predicting precipitation amounts is still a guessing game.

On a broader and longer­range scale, Morgan said the future is predicted to be decidedly warmer across the globe. He referred to climate data that forecast Colorado’s temperatures to increase by about 5 degrees by the end of the century, with the most extreme change in the U.S. taking place in the northern part of Alaska — predicted to be as much as 10 degrees warmer. That rise in temperatures is likely to result in more extreme rainfall events, as well as more frequent droughts, a change in the timing of the world’s climate and longer growing season, among other effects.

The climate models to which he referred also predict that Colorado at the end of the century could see a 5 percent to 15 percent decrease in precipitation during the winter, spring and fall months, while areas farther north, like Canada and Alaska, will experience large increases in rain.

While there’s belief that the climate change is caused by C02 emissions, Morgan explained the benefits that increased CO2 levels have had on plant life. He also said those benefits could help mitigate some of the future effects of climate change. He said eventual temperature increases and extreme drought will likely get to a point where they overcome any potential positive CO2 effects. Lukas pointed out during his presentation that undepleted annual flows in the South Platte River in 2002 were estimated to be the lowest among Western Water Assessment’s 378 years of data.

Western Water Assessment examines trees in order to attain river flow data that dates back to 1634, measuring the plants’ tree rings to determine its annual growth and what the river flows would have been each year. Western Water Assessment has nine data points in the South Platte River Basin. Using that method, Western Water Assessment estimates that undepleted South Platte River river flows this year are the 10th lowest since 1634.

The panel of experts and others agreed Thursday that using this historic data in combination with predictions of future climate change could help in knowing how later droughts and other weather events could affect the region’s river flows and availability of water, “reducing the element of surprise,” as Lukas put it.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have enough climate data to where we’ll know all of the answers to our water issues,” Bradley Udall with Western Water Assessment said during his keynote speech at lunch. “But the more we know, the better.”

More coverage of the forum from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

Finding ways to recycle water used in fracking and reducing truck traffic on roadways should be top priorities in the region’s oil and gas operations, a diverse panel of experts said during a forum Thursday. Addressing the crowd at the 2012 South Platte Forum, Weld County Commissioner and farmer Doug Rademacher, Ken Carlson with the Colorado Energy Water Consortium, Sarah Landry of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Laura Belanger of Western Resource Advocates all agreed the efficiency of water use and other aspects in the state’s petroleum production could improve, but also noted that Colorado has been a leader so far in regulation and oversight of its oil and gas exploration. The two ­day forum drew about 150 water experts and providers, among others, and covered the history of water use in the region, how existing systems work, the area’s changing climate and other issues.

Weld County dominated much of the oil and gas discussion Thursday, since Weld has about 19,000 total oil and gas wells, more than Saudi Arabia, Rademacher said, and accounts for 53 percent of the state’s 2,992 wells constructed in 2011, according to Belanger.

Rademacher explained to the crowd how Weld County has benefited from the petroleum industry, bringing in about $52 million last year in tax revenue from oil and gas companies alone. Those dollars have helped the county continue to lower its mill levy for taxpayers, keep Weld debt­free and assist financially with needed infrastructure upgrades. Rademacher said one of the biggest concerns that has come with the increased oil and gas production has been increased truck traffic on county roads, specifically large rigs hauling water to drill sites.

However, he added that some of the 32 companies operating in Weld are looking at piping water to where it’s needed, along with taking other measures that “will eventually take thousands of trucks of the roads,” he said. “We’re seeing that companies in Weld County are being very proactive in addressing the issues at hand,” he said.

The panel acknowledged that the 2.8 million gallons of water used for each horizontal fracking well sounds like a lot, but further explained to those in attendance that oil and gas operations still only accounts for 0.08 percent of the state’s total water use.

Agriculture remains the largest water user in Colorado, using 86 percent of the state’s water, they added.
Carlson, an engineer who has been researching how water is used in oil and gas production, pointed out that drillers can produce much more energy per gallon of water through horizontal drilling than with vertical drilling, even though the latter method requires less water.

The panel also explained the standards to which oil and gas companies in Colorado are held, such as having to use layers of steel and cement casing with each fracking well to keep it from interacting with underground aquifers. Additionally, each well’s casing is tested before fracking fluids are used in operations.

They added that no reports of contamination in fracking have been reported in the state — although they agreed that more data is needed going forward, and they are in favor of more oversight to make sure that all companies are following all regulations.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

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