Water in the desert, dying urban tree edition — John Fleck

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

Years ago, University of New Mexico emeritus biologist Loren Potter took me for a walk around the neighborhood for a newspaper story, pointing out the strangeness of the artificial ecosystem we’ve built. We bring trees that can’t make it on 10 inches a year, then don’t always water them as much as they need. The result was, even then, an urban forest under stress.

As I wrote in the Journal last week, Albuquerque has cut its water use to 134 gallons per person per day. A big part of that involves a reduction in outdoor watering. A result of that is evident on my morning walks – a lot more stressed trees.

Building farms and cities in the desert, moving the water to do it, then responding to the scarcity problems that result, is complicated.

More conservation coverage here.

Runoff/snowpack news

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Cooler temperatures and passing storms clouded the moment, but the peak of the runoff to and through the Grand Valley has passed. The Colorado River hit its high-water mark of 38,000 cubic feet per second at the Utah state line on June 3, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said.

That was just after the peak flow on the Colorado River above its confluence with the Gunnison River reached the peak of 26,100 cfs and before the Gunnison River peaked at Whitewater on June 7 with flows of 12,850 cfs, the Grand Junction office of the bureau said.

Cubic feet per second is a measurement of moving water.

The bureau had worked to stagger the highest flows of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers during what was anticipated to be a high-water year to reduce the effects of runoff through the Grand Valley while also providing scouring flows for the rivers for endangered species. Cooler-than-normal days and some passing storms made it difficult until Tuesday to rule out a resumption of high flows, the bureau said.

“This has been a later year for runoff and peaks,” bureau spokeswoman Justyn Hock said. “The cool weather and storms are causing a bit of fluctuation.”

Crystal dam spilling May 2009
Crystal dam spilling May 2009

The bureau, meanwhile, has stopped the spill from Morrow Point Dam, but is planning to continue spilling water from Crystal Dam, the lowest dam on the Aspinall unit of reservoirs.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Water is spilling from all four gates at Morrow Point Dam on the Gunnison River above Montrose — the first time all the gates have been open since 1984. Morrow Point sits upstream from Crystal Dam, which on Thursday was spilling 5,500 cubic feet of water per second into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison below, bringing the flow to about 9,500 cfs in the canyon. That pushed flows to 13,000 cfs or more through Delta, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said.

The year 1984 was a major one for floods, requiring that all four gates atop Morrow Point Dam open up, said spokeswoman Justyn Hock. The last time that two gates were open for runoff was in 1995, Hock said.

High waters this year aren’t the only factor in opening all four gates on Morrow Point, Hock said. Officials want to put more water into Crystal Reservoir, the lowest impoundment on the Aspinall Unit, so flows mimicking spring runoff can be released to the benefit of endangered species of fish in the Gunnison and Colorado rivers downstream.

“We’ll probably be seeing more spills in the future” because of the need to scour out the Gunnison and improve its habitability for endangered and other species, as required by new rules governing management of the unit, Hock said.

The North Fork of the Gunnison River, meanwhile, was showing signs of retreating from its spring highs, Hock said, clearing out more room for mainstem Gunnison water.

Water will continue to spill from all four gates through the weekend, and the view can be seen from the Cimarron parking on U.S. Highway 50 east of Montrose.

How much longer the spill will continue, however, isn’t clear, Hock said.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Federal officials are releasing more water into the Gunnison River with an eye to benefit endangered fish while also ensuring that downstream areas aren’t inundated.

“We’re going out twice a day checking out the interstate and Connected Lakes” to be certain that the spring runoff doesn’t threaten Interstate 70 west of Fruita or residents and businesses closer to Grand Junction, said Erik Knight, hydrologist for the Grand Junction office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Officials now expect the Colorado River at Cameo to peak about 26,000 cubic feet per second.

Those flows, combined with flows of about 12,000 cfs from the Gunnison River, could push the river below the confluence to approach 40,000 cubic feet per second at the Utah state line, Knight said.

That’s about the level of the river when it last inundated the interstate west of Fruita.

That’s exactly what the bureau wants to avoid, as it tries to stagger the highest flows in the Colorado and the Gunnison.

The road “should be dry, except maybe for the bike path,” Knight said.

Bureau officials also are watching the water levels near Skipper’s Island in the Colorado west of Fruita to get a better sense of how spring flows affect neighboring lands, Knight said.

“We’re getting an idea of what the flows mean” to neighboring properties as the levels rise, Knight said.

Bureau officials are also trying to release enough water to benefit endangered fish in the Gunnison, particularly the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

Sediment has collected in the Gunnison riverbed in recent years and officials are hoping that higher flows will scour it out, resulting in better habitat for those and other aquatic species, bureau spokeswoman Justyn Hock said.

From The Greeley Tribune:

Greeley officials have reopened 6th Avenue, 83rd Avenue and the Poudre Ponds off of 35th Avenue following spring flooding along the Poudre River.

The river at Greeley fell below its 8-foot floodstage Monday evening, after several days of seeing its banks overflow, causing road closures and some damage to local businesses.

While the river level — at 7.4 feet Tuesday — has fallen, it isn’t expected to drop any farther, according to the National Weather Service forecast, and is predicted to be near floodstage again this weekend.

The Poudre Ponds are open to fishing and non-motorized boating, according to Greeley officials.

“The more people that use the technology, the more valuable the market” — Zorina Khan

Tesla Model S battery
Tesla Model S battery

From Bloomberg News via the The Denver Post (Susan Decker, Alan Ohnsman and Mark Clothier):

Elon Musk wants to apply the contrarian style that made him millions of dollars from PayPal and billions from rocket ships and electric cars, and revolutionize the litigious world of patents.

Tesla Motors Inc. became a rarity among automakers when Musk on Thursday pledged that inventions on his electric cars and batteries will be free for anyone to use “in good faith.”

The move may speed the adoption of technology that Musk needs to make his fledging line of cars more than a luxury niche.

Patents are a trade-off that give companies the right to block others from using a specific technology in exchange for making the idea public so others can analyze and build on it.

The alternatives are to keep the technology a trade secret or, as in the case of the Linux computing system, make the information available to everyone. Tesla is adopting a third way — continue to patent, but let the public use it at will.

“The more people that use the technology, the more valuable the market,” said Zorina Khan, an economics professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and author of “The Democratization of Invention.”

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court struck a blow against the foul patent trolls:

Smart irrigation controllers controlled from your devices

From The Denver Business Journal (Greg Avery):

Highlands Ranch-based RainCommander and Boulder-based Rachio both make sprinkler timers that customers can manage from apps on their smartphones or computers.

Each startup pushed to get to market this spring, seeing a big potential in selling convenience and efficient water use. Existing timers are notoriously laborious for people to set up and adjust, creating a big chance for a company making a sprinkler adjustment as simple as updating a calendar on your iPhone.

“It’s a natural idea, and 10 years from now everybody — or almost everybody — will be controlling sprinklers this way. Hopefully with RainCommander,” said Mike Shupe, co-founder and chief technology officer of RainCommander.

People might not automatically think of needing a $250 sprinkler timer and a sprinkler app on their phone. But both RainCommander and Rachio say they’re finding a receptive audience.

Shupe and his sister-in-law, Deb Shupe, started RainCommander after Deb Shupe went looking for a sprinkler timer remotely controlled from a computer or smartphone and couldn’t find any on the market.

RainCommander publicly debuted in March and has 150 systems installed and another 78 ordered through a recent Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign, Mike Shupe said.
RainCommander is targeting homeowners and property management and landscaping businesses that have to adjust dozens if not hundreds of residential and commercial lawn sprinkler systems. It’s in talks to get a presence in big-box stores, too.

Here’s the pitch from RainCommander.com:

More conservation coverage here.

Weather5280: Critical fire weather outlook for Saturday across southern Colorado