NWS Boulder: Historic rainfall that produced massive flooding last week also markedly improved drought conditions in Colorado

CIRES report: Today’s worst watershed stresses may become the new normal, study finds

Nearly one in 10 U.S. watersheds is “stressed,” with demand for water exceeding natural supply, according to a new, CIRES-led analysis of surface water in the United States. This map shows all stressed watersheds in the continental US
Nearly one in 10 U.S. watersheds is “stressed,” with demand for water exceeding natural supply, according to a new, CIRES-led analysis of surface water in the United States. This map shows all stressed watersheds in the continental US

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado:

Nearly one in 10 U.S. watersheds is “stressed,” with demand for water exceeding natural supply, according to a new analysis of surface water in the United States. What’s more, the lowest water flow seasons of recent years—times of great stress on rivers, streams, and sectors that use their waters—are likely to become typical as climates continue to warm.

“By midcentury, we expect to see less reliable surface water supplies in several regions of the United States,” said the study’s lead author, Kristen Averyt, associate director for science at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. “This is likely to create growing challenges for agriculture, electrical suppliers and municipalities, as there may be more demand for water and less to go around.”

Averyt and her colleagues evaluated supplies and demands on freshwater resources for each of the 2,103 watersheds in the continental United States, using a large suite of existing data sets.

They identified times of extreme water stress between 1999 and 2007, and they estimated future surface water stress—using existing climate projections—for every watershed. In the paper, published online in Environmental Research Letters on Sept. 17, the authors also diagnosed the reasons contributing to stress.

Across the United States, the team found that water supplies are already stressed (i.e., demands for water outstrip natural supplies) in 193 of the 2,103 watersheds examined. In addition, the researchers reported:

  • The U.S. West is particularly vulnerable to water stress, for two reasons: 1) the differences between average demand and average supply are relatively small, so slight shifts in either supplies or demands can trigger stress, and 2) Western water users have long relied on imported and stored water to supplement natural supplies, in order to meet demands.
  • In most parts of the country, agriculture requires the most water, and contributes most to water stress.
  • In Southern California, thirsty cities are the greatest stress on the surface water system.
  • In scattered locations, the cooling water needs of electric power plants represent the biggest demand on water.
  • “A single power plant has the potential to stress surface supplies in a local area,” said co-author James Meldrum, a researcher in the Western Water Assessment, a program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and CIRES. It’s critical to understand how various sectors contribute to the stress on a water system, Meldrum said, because effective remedies depend on accurate diagnosis.

    Agricultural and municipal demands are spread among many users, for example, allowing flexible changes in water use and efficiency of use. “But because power plant decisions are so capital intensive, they tend to be locked in for a long time,” Meldrum said. “With the potential for increasing water stress in the next few decades across parts of the United States, power plants—and our access to electricity —may be put at risk when water is not adequately considered in planning.”

    The authors deliberately didn’t account for future changes in demand for freshwater. Rather, this analysis was designed to identify the sensitivity of U.S. watersheds to changes in surface water availability.

    The researchers hope that the analysis will provide useful information for people reliant on surface waters. “We hope research like this helps us understand challenges we might face in building a more resilient future,” Meldrum said.

    The research was funded by the Union of Concerned Scientists; NOAA, through the Western Water Assessment; and CIRES. Other co-authors are Peter Caldwell, Ge Sun, and Steve McNulty from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service at Raleigh, N.C.; Annette Huber-Lee from Tufts University, at Medford, Mass.; and Nadia Madden from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, Mass.

    Water Center at CMU seminar: Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture in the Grand Valley, September 23 #ColoradoRiver

    Colorado River Basin in Colorado -- Graphic/Colorado Geological Survey
    Colorado River Basin in Colorado — Graphic/Colorado Geological Survey

    Click here for the pitch:

    All seminars are free and open to the public and at held from 4:00 – 5:15pm in the Saccamano Lecture Hall, Room 141 in the Wubben Science Building at Colorado Mesa University.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Colorado is in line for $500 million in federal dough for cleanup #COflood

    Click here for a photo slideshow mashed up from Twitter feeds, from Andri Antoniades posted on Take Part.

    From The Greelety Tribune (T.M. Fasano):

    As much as $500 million from the federal government could soon be pouring into Colorado to assist Weld County and other devastated areas with bridge and road repairs following the massive flooding.

    U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who represents Weld County in the 4th Congressional District, said Friday that he’s fighting for as much federal assistance as possible for Weld County and the eastern plains. “That’s what I’m fighting for each and every moment of this entire disaster to work for Weld County and the people of eastern Colorado,” said Gardner in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., on Friday.

    Lifting the $100 million cap on the federal emergency relief program, something that was done during Hurricane Sandy, and releasing as much as $500 million to help Colorado looks like a strong possibility. “Obviously, I’m going to do everything I can to work hard for the needs of Weld County as they are identified,” Gardner said. “This morning, I secured on the floor of the House of Representatives a commitment to lift the cap on disaster relief for Colorado. Right now, the Colorado Department of Transportation believes there’s a need (of $500 million) for Colorado highways, which would include Weld County roads. (Appropriations Committee) Chairman (Hal Rogers) pledged with us to secure that funding.”

    Gardner said the next step is to get the legislative language done to come into law. “The disaster relief fund is capped at $100 million and so we’ve got to pass legislation to lift that cap and that’s what he pledged to work with us to do this morning,” Gardner said. “We did the same thing on the wildfire funding. Chairman Rogers promised and pledged to work with us, and within a matter of days we got the money approved through the House. I anticipate that we will get this language soon, and that could mean up to $500 million for Colorado roads.”

    That’s good news for Colorado Department of Transportation officials. “What I want to emphasize is for the continued need for bipartisan support across the board for removing the $100 million cap on the available funding,” said Amy Ford, director of communications for CDOT. “From our perspective, it is critically important that this happens. We know our damages will exceed $100 million, and we very much are looking for the $500 million that the communities in Hurricane Sandy received. We’re extremely grateful for our congressional support on this, and encourage them to keep putting this forward.”

    Gardner said securing the half-billion dollars in funding is just one part of rebuilding Colorado. “We’ll continue to work hard for Weld County and eastern Colorado,” he said. “In addition to the individuals who are suffering greatly, we’ve also got to focus on infrastructure needs of cities like Evans and downstream like Sterling, and we have to make sure those public facilities are up and running so that businesses and individuals can get back to as much normalcy as possible. We’ve got to help those individuals and make sure those communities are able to start working again.”

    U.S. Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also said they would keep pressing for additional funding following the release of $30 million Wednesday in disaster relief funds. “The catastrophic flooding Weld County and other Front Range communities endured literally washed away critical roads and highways and hobbled our transportation system,” said Udall, in an email Friday. “I will keep fighting to ensure that communities like Evans and Kersey are given the federal support they need to recover and rebuild stronger than ever. Anything less is unacceptable.”

    Udall will visit flood relief centers in Greeley and Loveland today to assess the ongoing recovery efforts. Udall will meet with people affected by flooding in Weld and Larimer counties and will discuss with local elected officials the recovery efforts and the resources available for residents and businesses. He’ll visit the Weld County Disaster Recovery Center, 425 N. 15th Ave. in Greeley at 1 p.m.

    “The $30 million Department of Transportation emergency relief funds that were released, as well as the $5 million that were released last week, will go to the Colorado Department of Transportation to be used on federally maintained roads and highways,” said Kristin Lynch, press secretary for Bennet. “CDOT will administer these funds directly and make repairs on federal and state roads and highways across Colorado. Since CDOT has not yet assessed the total cost for damage, it’s impossible at this early of a stage to determine how much money exactly will be used in Weld County. As far as local roads are concerned, the ones that are maintained by the city or county, Weld County can access FEMA public assistance grants to help make the necessary repairs.”

    Lynch said when President Barack Obama declared Weld County a disaster area last week, it activated this source of funding. She said there are seven categories of assistance that are eligible under this declaration: Debris removal, emergency protective measures, roads and bridges, water control facilities, public buildings and contents, public utilities, and parks (recreational and other). So far, the debris removal and emergency protective measures categories have been activated. The roads and bridges category, while eligible, has not been activated yet, because a full damage assessment has not yet been made.”

    Lynch added, “There is every expectation that it will be activated in the coming weeks/months, after the damage is assessed. When this happens, Weld County will be able to dip into this relief funding pool for help in repairing damaged infrastructure.”

    Gardner said he would describe the mood among his colleagues from other states as “stunned” regarding the flooding in Colorado. “I don’t think they realized how bad it was until you start talking about it,” Gardner said.

    According to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s website, the state also has funding options available that include excess money in the current year’s budget and the existing general fund and emergency reserve accounts where the money, in most cases, will match emergency funds from the federal government or local partners.

    From the Associated Press (Ivan Moreno/Ben Neary) via ABCNews.com:

    With snow already dusting Colorado’s highest peaks, the state is racing to replace key mountain highways washed away by flooding, in some cases laying down crude, one-lane gravel roads just to throw a lifeline to isolated towns before winter descends.

    More than 200 miles of state highways and at least 50 bridges were damaged or destroyed across this rugged region, plus many more county roads. Fully rebuilding all of them is sure to take years. But for now, the work has to be fast, even if that means cutting corners…

    Expediting repairs before winter is crucial, especially in the Front Range’s mountainous corridors, which receive heavy snowfall. Rerouting some washed-out roads may be all but impossible because many of them follow streamside trails used by settlers chasing gold and silver in the mid-1800s. The steep Rocky Mountain foothills offer no other access.

    Canyon hamlets such as Jamestown, Lyons and Pinewood Springs lost roads when as much as 20 inches of rain fell last week, transforming ravines into lethal funnels of rushing water powerful enough to fling boulders and large trees and generate 20-foot waves.

    Crews have laid down a rough one-lane gravel road to a Lyons neighborhood isolated by the floods. The improvised road cuts through secondary farm roads and across a football field and a bike path. The commute to a state highway, which normally runs just a minute, now takes nearly a half-hour. But it’s better — and safer — than nothing. That lane isn’t fully open yet, and access will be severely restricted, complete with roadblocks, so that crews using heavy equipment can collect and remove tons of storm debris and begin fixing Lyons’ shattered water and sewer systems.

    From Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

    Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order for an additional $20 million for flood-related efforts, declared a disaster emergency due to the flooding for Clear Creek and Sedgwick counties, and authorized state agencies to suspend provisions of any regulatory statute for state business in coping with the emergency.

    The total number of affected counties from flooding is now 17 and the total amount of state funds made available so far is $26 million to pay for the flood response and recovery.
    The order states:

    “On Sept. 13, 2013, I declared a Disaster Emergency in 14 counties on account of flooding. Since that time, the affected areas received extensive additional rainfall. As of Sept. 18, 2013, the National Weather Service reported that 7-day rain totals have reached as high as 18.1 inches in Boulder County, 12.4 inches in Larimer County, 15.6 inches in Adams County, and 11.6 inches in El Paso County. Initial estimates of the casualties and property damage are as follows: six persons are deceased, 17,648 structures have been damaged, which includes 4,047 structures that have been destroyed, 30 bridges have been destroyed, and 20 others have been seriously damaged. As of 1100 on September 18, 2013, a total of 754 troops, 19 helicopters, 20 ground search-and-rescue teams, and 67 traffic-control points were operational.”

    The order formalizes Hickenlooper’s earlier verbal declaration of a disaster emergency for Clear Creek and Sedgwick that had activated the State Emergency Operations Plan because of significant rainfall to that area.

    Also, the order transfers a total of $26 million for flood response and recovery from the General Fund to the Disaster Emergency Relief Fund. The order states:

    “I ordered that $6 million be transferred into the Disaster Emergency Fund. The estimated cost of disaster relief so far has been approximately $3.5 million per day, with estimates that 75% of the funds ordered had been expended as of Sept. 16. As extensive relief efforts continue, I find that the $6,000,000 that was originally ordered is insufficient to pay for the flood response and recovery.”

    Hickenlooper’s order authorizes state agencies to suspend the provisions of any state regulatory statute that would in any way prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with the emergency. The order states:

    “As a result of the recent flooding, Colorado’s transportation infrastructure has been significantly compromised, limiting the ability of the citizens of Colorado to access their homes, businesses and farms and negatively impacting our ability to provide necessary goods and services to the hardest hit counties. The severity of the damage to the transportation infrastructure, taken together with the brevity of time before winter weather conditions set in, requires extraordinary measures to assist in the reconstruction and repair of Colorado’s transportation infrastructure.

    “The flooding has also damaged businesses and hindered their ability to provide their communities with essential goods and services including food and other daily necessities. Extraordinary measures are necessary to reopen food service businesses promptly in a manner that does not compromise food safety but also recognizes that the rules and regulations in normal times might be unduly burdensome under the circumstances.”

    Here’s a photo gallery showing oil spills from The Denver Post.

    Here’s a photo gallery from Estes Park via the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

    From the Omaha World Herald (Nancy Gaarder):

    Dave Rus, hydrologist with the [USGS’s] Water Science Center in Nebraska, said Friday that crews took a sample at Roscoe, Neb., and will take additional samples next week at other sites along the South Platte as well as the Platte River in Nebraska.

    Rus said the agency will test for petroleum, agrichemicals, dissolved metals from mining, animal waste and untreated human waste.

    Sampling will take place near communities, at locations with a history of sampling and at stream gauges so scientists can correlate the sample to a phase of the flooding.

    Chemical concentrations tend to be their highest just before a flood’s peak, Rus said, and the geological survey believes the Roscoe sample will provide that glimpse.

    State officials, meanwhile, urged residents to avoid the contaminated floodwater pouring into western Nebraska while offering assurances that the flood posed no immediate threat to cities, railroad lines or Interstate 80.

    An underlying reason for the stern warnings is simply to keep people away from the dangers of rapidly flowing water. Earlier this week, as floodwaters entered Nebraska, a canoeist had to be rescued after his canoe was tipped by debris in the river.

    Friday afternoon, the South Platte was slowly receding near Big Springs, a Nebraska town of 400 about 10 miles from the Colorado border. But waters were rising in North Platte, a city of 25,000 about 75 miles to the east.

    From The Greeley Tribune:

    The South Platte River near Kersey has fallen to a level of 8.72 as of 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, putting it at below the 10-foot flood level for the first time since flooding started last week.

    The Poudre River also continues to fall. It is at a 4.27 feet at the city of Greeley’s wastewater sewer plant in east Greeley at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.