#COFlood Recovery Updates

The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post
The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

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

The Colorado flood recovery team continues to make progress in helping communities rebuild from the September floods. Here is an update of recovery efforts:

  • U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced $62.8 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery funds to assist in long-term recovery efforts. The CDBG funds will be used for housing, economic development, infrastructure and prevention of further damage to affected areas.
  • The total amount of federal and state funds allocated to date are more than $815 million with $296 million used to date.
  • There are 760 people working daily on flood recovery from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and other state agencies.
  • CDOT is helping residents in the Big Thompson Canyon with debris removal and flood cleanup efforts this week and during the week of Dec. 23. For more information, residents can contact the CDOT flood information hotline at (720) 263-1589.
  • Ken Salazar and Louis Bacon are teaming up: Say hello to America’s Conservation PAC

    San Luis Valley via National Geographic
    San Luis Valley via National Geographic

    From the Denver Business Journal (Mark Harden):

    Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado and U.S. Interior secretary, and hedge fund billionaire Louis Bacon are forming a political action committee to back pro-conservation congressional candidates.

    America’s Conservation PAC is “dedicated to strengthening our nation’s long-standing, bipartisan tradition of conserving lands and cultural resources for future generations to enjoy,” Thursday’s announcement said.

    The PAC will be led by Will Shafroth as executive director. Shafroth, founding director of Colorado Conservation Trust and the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, was Salazar’s deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

    From The Denver Post (Kurtis Lee):

    Congressional candidates willing to work on land conservation efforts could benefit from a new political action committee announced Thursday. The bipartisan America’s Conservation PAC is spearheaded by former U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and billionaire philanthropist Louis Bacon. At a moment when partisanship and polarization run rampant in Washington, work that focuses on land conservation and the preservation of cultural resources has not received ample attention, said Salazar.

    “Voices for conservation need to be lifted,” said Salazar, who left the Obama administration earlier this year. “This will be an opportunity to help engage lawmakers in dialogue around conservation and preservation as the country continues to grow.”

    For example, candidates committed to fighting to replenish the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund could benefit from the PAC.

    Will Shafroth, founder of Colorado Conservation Trust and the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, will serve as the PAC’s executive director.

    “Conserving land and cultural resources for our children and our children’s children is neither a liberal nor a conservative value. It’s not Republican or Democratic, neither an urban nor a rural idea,” Bacon said in a statement. “It is so important to protect and preserve those physical places that truly define a region — however tough the fight — that we are coming together to help elected officials who support the future over the immediate.”

    Salazar and Bacon worked in the past to create the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where Bacon owns the sprawling Trinchera Ranch.

    In coming months, Salazar said the PAC will begin to pinpoint candidates to support in 2014.

    “As the country grows, we need to be smarter and focused on conservation,” Salazar said.

    More conservation coverage here.

    Michigan State University: Saving the Great Plains water supply

    Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU
    Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

    From Michigan State University Today:

    Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate.

    In the current issue of Earth’s Future, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, Michigan State University scientists are proposing alternatives that will halt and hopefully reverse the unsustainable use of water drawdown in the aquifer. The body of water, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, spans from Texas to South Dakota and drives much of the region’s economy.

    “Already, there are regions in Texas and Kansas where farmers can’t pump enough water to meet the demands of their crops,” said Bruno Basso, co-author and MSU ecosystem scientist. “If current withdrawal rates continue, such depletion will expand across extensive portions of the central and southern areas served by the aquifer during the next few decades.”

    Despite the widespread, rapid decline of the water table, the number of irrigated acres across the region continues to increase. The situation isn’t completely dire, though, as the National Science Foundation-funded research revealed. Basso, David Hyndman and Anthony Kendall, MSU colleagues and co-authors, offered some policy solutions to avert some aspects of this water crisis.

    Federal crop insurance could be changed to allow substantial water reductions, especially crops categorized as fully irrigated. An example of such a sustainable model was recently proposed by the governor of Kansas. It could save significant amounts of water, and it could be adopted regionally.

    Another sustainable approach would be to adopt wholesale precision agriculture strategies. These would allow farmers to identify which areas in fields need more water and fertilizer. New precision agriculture strategies combine GPS technologies with site-specific management to apply optimal amounts of water and nutrients, which will increase farmer’s profitability and reduce environmental impact.

    “When you have a cut in your hand and need disinfectant, you don’t dive into a pool of medicine, you apply it only where you need it and in the quantity that is strictly necessary; we can do the same in agricultural now,” said Basso, part of MSU’s Global Water Initiative.

    Lastly, policies should address the issue in terms of crop yield ­– more crop per drop of water. Selecting crops with higher density can increase yield and decrease groundwater evaporation. Upgrades in irrigation systems can reduce water loss from 30 percent to almost zero. And careful water management can stop excess water from flooding fields and leaching valuable nutrients from the soil.

    Simply put, the current water management strategies of the High Plains Aquifer are unsustainable. For the region to maintain this water source, there has to be a complete paradigm shift, Basso added.

    “We emphasize the critical role of science as a foundation for policies that can help mitigate the disaster that is occurring across this region,” Basso said. “Policies solidly grounded in science are critical to ensure long-term sustainability and environmental integrity for future generations.”

    More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here and here.

    Colorado Water Congress POND mentoring program

    Colorado Foundation for Water Education Colorado Water Leaders Program applications due January 17, 2014

    Greeley Irrigation Ditch No. 3 construction via Greeley Water
    Greeley Irrigation Ditch No. 3 construction via Greeley Water

    Click here to go to the website for the pitch. Here’s an excerpt:

    Become a Water Leader! Discover your potential and expand your network in Colorado. This program offers mid-level water professionals the opportunity to develop their leadership potential with a focus on water resources issues. Since 2006, the program has provided training in conflict resolution, communication and management to participants across Colorado. Water Leaders benefit from extensive self-assessment, executive coaching, networking opportunities and the chance to learn about water resources across the state.

    We are NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS for the next cohort of water leaders. Applications are due January 17, 2014 along with two letters of recommendation. Apply here, preview the application here (but don’t fill out the PDF), or contact Kristin Maharg at kristin@yourwatercolorado.org with questions.

    More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.

    Snowpack news (percent of normal): Snow surveys get funding

    Statewide snowpack map percent of normal December 14, 2013 via the NRCS
    Statewide snowpack map percent of normal December 14, 2013 via the NRCS

    From the Pagosa Daily Post:

    Mark Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service announced today that they have found a way forward to maintain funding for the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program. Continue reading “Snowpack news (percent of normal): Snow surveys get funding”

    #ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap

    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

    From 8NewsNow.com (Nathan Baca):

    The U.S. Interior Secretary told water agency chiefs in Las Vegas how happy she is to see them getting along…

    New Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spoke to the Colorado River Water Users Association at Caesars Palace Friday morning. The group is made of water agencies from most western states. She told the group she is happy to see that politics is not getting in the way of state governments talking about sharing dwindling water resources.

    Secretary Jewell says it’s because the talk about climate change reached a new level.

    “The debate about whether it is going on is over. The president’s climate action plan, which he released in June, was very helpful to all of us. He put a stake in the ground and he said, ‘this is how we’re going to go forward.’ He charged people like me with being part of the solution and prepare our landscapes. That is where we’re going. We’re moving on from the debate and into the solution,” Secretary Jewell said.

    The secretary said that even with an average year of rain and snow along the Colorado River, reservoir levels will keep going down. Lake Mead’s level is expected to go down between eight and 30 feet within months. That would trigger a state of emergency forcing all agencies to cut water use by 4 percent…

    A majority of the people managing major water facilities are nearing or even past retirement age. There is a fear of a talent drain, if the Interior Department doesn’t find qualified employees soon.

    Here’s a statement from McCrystie Adams and Earth Justice about Secretary Jewell’s speech at the conference:

    McCrystie Adams, staff attorney for the Rocky Mountain Office of Earthjustice, issued the following statement today regarding the future of the Colorado River:

    “A business-as-usual response to the current crisis, while potentially resolving disputes between those who take water out of the river, does nothing to ensure a better future and a living river.

    “A more sustainable future for the Colorado River will require a fundamentally different approach to river management and water supply. Smart water planning means more than carefully dividing up flows—it means valuing living, flowing rivers and the natural systems that depend upon them as much as municipal and agricultural water. It means embracing water conservation, recycling, and re-use. We urge the Secretary and all of those who depend on the Colorado River to ensure that the river is a keystone of our future and not a relic of our past.”

    The Colorado River is the foundation of natural systems—fish, wildlife and entire ecosystems—across a wide swath of the west. For a century, these important resources and the human communities that depend on them have taken a back seat to the drive to capture water for our growing cities. Now, with flows dropping and its natural rhythm disrupted, the river itself is endangered. This is painfully apparent through the struggle for survival of the river’s few remaining native fish.

    From Fronteras (Laurel Morales):

    The Colorado River Water Users Association met in Las Vegas this week to discuss how to deal with some of the lowest water levels on record. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spoke to the group Friday.

    The theme of the Interior Secretary’s speech was constrained resources — a tight budget and the resource on everyone’s mind, water. Despite financial constraints, Jewell said her agency is committed to providing scientific research for innovative conservation and incentive grants.

    “Climate models and droughts of this magnitude and worse are going to be more common in the Southwest for decades to come,” Jewell said. “And yet I don’t think we’re ready to pack up, shut down Las Vegas, shut down our farms and start to import what we eat. We’ve got to work together.”

    She mentioned the collaborative effort to make a deal with Mexico known as Minute 319 and the tribal partners working on water solutions.

    While Jewell did not lay out specific conservation examples to deal with the impending water shortage, environmentalists are quick to point to water recycling and water banking.

    Jewell discussed another critical issue — a massive turnover of Bureau of Reclamation staff. More than 50 percent of department employees are eligible to retire in the next five years.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    NASA’s GRACE Satellites Show #ColoradoRiver Basin’s Biggest Water Losses Are Groundwater (2005-2013) — Circle of Blue

    US combined water storage levels April 2008 via NASA JPL (click on graphic to launch animation)
    US combined water storage levels April 2008 via NASA JPL (click on graphic to launch animation)

    From the animation:

    This animation illustrates the highs and lows of combined land water storage (Snow, soil moisture and surface water) over the continental U.S. from 2003 to early 2013 as measured by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. The changes are depicted in millimeters of equivalent water height, with increased land water storage shown in blues and decreased storage in reds. Annual seasonal variations are prominent, as are periods of flooding and drought.

    Here’s a report from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Stephanie Castle…presented [UCI’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling] most recent findings on Wednesday, December 11, in San Francisco at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest Earth sciences conference. Like earlier studies of California’s Central Valley and the Tigris-Euphrates Basin in the Middle East, the UCI research team assessed fluctuations in water storage using data from NASA’s GRACE mission, a pair of satellites that translate changes in gravity into changes in water volume…

    From March 2005 to June 2013, the Colorado River Basin lost 5.7 cubic kilometers (4.6 million acre-feet) of water per year, or more than 47 cubic kilometers (38 million acre-feet) over the 100-month study period. The cumulative losses are equal to 1.3 times the storage capacity of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. Most of the water losses are attributed to groundwater pumping, mainly for irrigated agriculture.

    The GRACE satellites measure total water storage – the water in mountain snowpack, reservoirs and rivers, soils, and aquifers. By subtracting the known quantities from other data sets, the value for each component can be reckoned. The research team is still analyzing those data, but preliminary results strongly suggest that groundwater is the prime culprit for the losses.

    Castle told Circle of Blue that she compared the GRACE data to groundwater monitoring wells that are operated by state and federal agencies in the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins. The water levels in the monitoring wells were consistent with what the satellites were detecting.

    Though Castle acknowledged that water agencies in Arizona and Nevada – which, along with California, make up the three Lower Basin states – are storing water underground in a process called “water banking,” those savings accounts are relatively small when compared with the broader picture of water use in the region.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.