Drought news

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


(Note: The weather summary covers the full 7-day period – to 12Z Dec. 23; some product tools only cover the first 6-day period – to 12Z Dec. 22 due to the holiday-shortened, 1-day early release time constraints). Early in the week, another in a series of Pacific storm systems (since after Thanksgiving) impacted the West Coast, with the bulk of the heaviest precipitation (4 to 8 inches, locally to 12 inches) shifted a bit farther north into western Oregon instead of north-central California as observed during the previous two weeks. Still, decent precipitation (more than 2 inches) fell as far south as central coastal California and on the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, with lower amounts (an inch or less) to the south. To the east, as a storm system and associated cold front departed the Atlantic Coast, the southern section of the front became stationary in the Gulf Coast. Waves of low pressure developed along the stationary front and tracked northeastward, triggering showers and thunderstorms along parts of the Gulf Coast region. Moderate to heavy rains (more than 2 inches) fell on southeastern Texas, southern sections of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and north-central Florida. Toward the end of the period, a change in the upper-air pattern over the West (ridging) brought drier and colder conditions to the region, while a storm in the Nation’s mid-section generated light to occasionally moderate precipitation to most of the eastern half of the U.S. In Hawaii, light showers were generally limited to windward locations except toward the end of the period (Sunday into Monday) when more widespread, heavier rains fell across the western islands of Kauai and Oahu. In Puerto Rico, moderate to heavy (1-4 inches) rains fell across northeastern and central sections, enough to deter the spread of the small D0 area northward. Weekly temperatures averaged well above-normal in most of the West, Plains, upper Midwest, New England, and Alaska, and near- to slightly above-normal in the southeastern quarter of the Nation…

Central and Southern Plains

Most of the central and southern High Plains saw little or no precipitation (less than 0.3 inches) after last week’s “bonus” amounts in the central Plains, so status-quo here, while locations to the east measured higher totals (0.5-1 inch), although most of that fell on non-drought areas in eastern sections of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. An exception was in southeastern Texas where 2-5 inches of rain fell along the western Gulf Coast (especially near Houston), providing some relief to D0-D2 areas near Victoria and Corpus Christi. As mentioned in the Tennessee and lower Mississippi Valley narrative, D0 was added between northeastern Texas and central Arkansas as lower weekly totals (less than 0.5 inches) and 60- and 90-day deficits were similar enough to merge the two D0 areas. Farther to the west, D2-D4 was degraded by a category in north-central Texas as continuing short-term deficiencies and long-term drought impacts mounted, especially in Palo Pinto and Parker counties. Lake Palo Pinto was down to 9% full as of Dec. 23, down from 100% full in early 2012, and at its current rate of drawdown, it would be empty within 6 months. In addition, the impact line was also adjusted to put this area in short and long-term drought (SL). Similarly in south-central Texas (small D3 area), Medina Lake was only 3.3% full, another good example that some areas of Texas have yet to recover from the long-term drought, even with occasional periods of wetness since it started in 2011…

Northern Plains and upper Midwest

Light precipitation fell on most of the region, with southern North Dakota, northern and western South Dakota, northeastern Minnesota, and northwestern Iowa measuring between 0.2-0.6 inches of liquid equivalent. The light precipitation was enough to maintain conditions there. Across northern North Dakota and western Minnesota, however, little or no precipitation occurred, and 60- and 90-day precipitation was under half of normal. With northwestern North Dakota also drying out the past 2-3 months, D0 was expanded to incorporate this area. An expansion of D1 to northeastern North Dakota and western Minnesota was considered with precipitation less than 25% and 50% of normal at 60- and 90-days, respectively, but deficits were relatively small (less than 3 inches), so no increases were made this week…


With mostly light precipitation (less than 0.5 inches, locally to an inch) recorded across the Four Corners region, generally surplus precipitation in the short-term (30-days) and medium-term (6-months from an active southwestern monsoon), and below normal in-between (at 2 and 3 months), conditions were left unmodified. However, as of Dec. 22, Water Year-to-Date (WYTD, since Oct. 1) precipitation is below normal, as is the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) in the basins of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. With WYTD average basin precipitation ranging between 60-80% of normal and SWE at 30-80% of normal (lowest in Arizona and western New Mexico), this region will be watched closely for WYTD precipitation and snow pack numbers to increase as the winter progresses to ensure adequate spring snow melt runoff and recharge for rivers and reservoirs…

The West

Another in a series of Pacific systems affected the West, with the latest one dropping the greatest precipitation totals on western Oregon and Washington (4-12 inches), although the northern half of California received 2-6 inches, with lesser amounts to the south (generally an inch or less). Although the recent precipitation was not as great as the past 2 weeks, the total capacity of water at the major reservoirs in northern and central California (e.g. Trinity, Shasta, Oroville, Folsom, and San Luis Lakes) did slightly increase on Dec. 16 from 29, 32, 33, 38, and 33% to 32, 38, 36, 41, and 36% as of Dec. 22, respectively. Unfortunately, these values are still well below the historic average capacity for Dec. 22 (47, 62, 59, 85, and 54%, respectively), with the Sierra Nevada basin average SWEs also well below normal (45-72%). The Northern Sierra 8-station precipitation index on Dec. 22 was at 22.4 inches, or 146% of normal, while the San Joaquin 5-station index was at 8.8 inches, or 78% of normal. And similar to last week, major reservoirs to the south showed little or no increase this week with the lower totals. Therefore, even with the additional precipitation, no modifications were made to California this week.

In the Pacific Northwest, with most basins reporting near to above normal WYTD precipitation, generally normal to surplus precipitation at short, medium, and long-term periods (except in southern Oregon, closest to California), the heavy precipitation was enough to slightly trim (improve) the edges of the D0-D2 in northwestern and northeastern Oregon, western Washington, and western Idaho, especially where the long-term SPIs (12- and 24-months) were wet. Since improvements were made in north-central Washington last week, no modifications were made this week. A major concern this Water Year has been the warm component of the storms. Even though WYTD average basin precipitation for the Cascades ranged between 103-134% of normal as of Dec. 22, SWEs remained quite low, ranging between 10-65% of normal. Fortunately, SWEs were close to normal in the northern and central Rockies. Across the West, not only will continued ample moisture be crucial, but also occur in combination with enough cold air to produce adequate winter mountain snow pack for spring snow melt, runoff, and reservoir recharge…

Looking Ahead

For the upcoming 5-day period (December 24-28), light to moderate precipitation (0.5-2 inches, locally to 3 inches along the Pacific Northwest Coast) is forecast for the Northwest, and with temperatures expected to be below normal, the precipitation should mainly fall as snow on the Cascades, northern Sierra Nevada, and the northern and central Rockies. Farther east, moderate (more than 0.75 inches) to heavy precipitation (over 2 inches) is forecast for the eastern third of the U.S., with most of the Southeast expecting over 2 inches of rain, and locally 4-6 inches along the east-central Gulf Coast. Readings should average above normal across the eastern half of the Nation.

For the ensuing 5-day period (December 29-January 2), the CPC 6-10 day precipitation outlook paints a dry outlook for the West (good odds of below median precipitation), but favorable probabilities of above median precipitation for Alaska, the southern Plains, Southeast, and mid-Atlantic, with the best chances along the Gulf Coast. Temperatures are expected to average below normal in the western two-thirds of the Nation, with above median temperature probabilities limited to southern Florida and Alaska.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation December 1 thru December 21, 2014
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation December 1 thru December 21, 2014

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Snowpack news: Weekend storm bumps north and central basins, sorry Rio Grande

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 23, 2014 via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 23, 2014 via the NRCS

California Gulch superfund site now 70% delisted

California Gulch back in the day

From the Leadville Herald Democrat (Marcia Martinek):

The EPA came to town on Thursday, Dec. 18, and it was a much-more cordial gathering than back in the 1980s when Leadville was first named a Superfund site. The occasion was to recognize the removal of Upper California Gulch, the Asarco Smelter/Colorado Zinc-Lead Mill site and the Apache Tailings from the Superfund National Priorities List. All are part of the California Gulch Superfund site.

The delisting of these areas, Operable Units 4, 5 and 7, from the Superfund list is said to be a major milestone in addressing mining contamination at the site.

Lake County Commissioner Mike Bordogna provided a timeline of the activity in California Gulch stretching from the time when gold was discovered in California Gulch in 1859 through 1983 when California Gulch was placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List to the current day and the most recent delistings.

EPA Regional Administrator Shaun McGrath said that of the 18 square miles that initially made up the Superfund site, seven of the 12 operable units have now been delisted, accounting for 70 percent of the area. He added that 90 percent of the construction work is now complete.

McGrath also used the occasion to present the Lake County Commissioners with an Environmental Achievement Award for Excellence in Site Reuse. Cited were three reuse projects within Lake County: the Mineral Belt Trail, the Lake County Community Park and soccer fields, and the restoration of the Upper Arkansas River, which recently received the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Gold Medal Designation for trout fishing.

Martha Rudolph, director of Environmental Programs, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, looked back to the “thorny days” of the Superfund site, saying “California Gulch was a challenge from the beginning,” so much so that no cleanup took place at the site for the first ten years.
Despite the adversity, she noted, “Everyone always had the same goal.”

Thirty years later relationships among the entities have improved. And today the Arkansas River has gone from an eyesore to a true gem, Rudolph said.
Along with the Lake County award, numerous people were recognized for their work over the years with the EPA.

History of California Gulch

Commissioner Mike Bordogna traced the history of California Gulch through the years at the delisting celebration held Dec. 18.

1859 – Gold discovered at mouth of California Gulch

1893 – Silver market crash

1983 – National Priorities List listing

1991 – Leadville Mine Drainage Treatment Plant began operations

1992 – Yak Treatment Plant began operations

1994 – Site divided into 12 operable units

1995 – Construction of the Mineral Belt Train began

2000 – Mineral Belt Trail completed

2001 – OU10 (Oregon Gulch) deleted from NPL

2002 – OU2 (Malta Gulch) deleted from the NPL

2005 – Remedy construction at OU11 (Arkansas River floodplain) began

2008 – Upper Arkansas River ranked most popular Colorado fishery

$20.5 million natural-resource damages settlement reached

2010 – OU11 (Arkansas River Floodplain) remedial work completed

OU8 (Lower California Gulch) deleted from the NPL:

2011 – OU9 (residential areas) deleted from the NPL

2014 – Gold Medal Trout Waters designation awarded

Lake County received Brownfields grant

OU4 (Upper California Gulch) deleted from the NPL

OU5 (ASARCO Smelter/Colorado Zinc-Lead Mill Site) deleted from the NPL

OU6 (Apache Tailings) deleted from the NPL

More California Gulch coverage here and here.

Seeking water peace across the Divide — Aspen Journalism #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Russell George, who represents the Colorado River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, says interest has been high in the state water plan since it was submitted to the governor Dec. 10.

“Everyone wants to think about, ‘OK, now what? What’s next? What battle lines are we going to draw?’” George told a crowd of about 150 people gathered Thursday in the Ute Water Conservancy District’s conference room for a meeting of four Western Slope water-planning roundtables.

“The basic history of water in Colorado is ‘It’s mine, leave me alone,’” George told his audience, most of whom own or manage water rights on the Western Slope. “Of course, that never worked. And it doesn’t work today. And if you don’t know it, you must. It isn’t going to work in the future. It can’t be that way.”

A final version of the state water plan is due a year from now, and the state’s nine roundtables are working to sharpen basin-specific water supply plans, due to the CWCB in April. Those basin plans are supposed to inform the water plan, which currently lacks a list of specific projects endorsed by the state.

Meanwhile, the Interbasin Compact Committee, which includes two members from each of the basin roundtables, is also working on a framework for discussing a big potential transmountain diversion to help meet growing water demands in Front Range cities.

George, a former speaker of the Colorado House from Rifle whose leadership helped create the roundtables, said water interests on both sides of the Continental Divide are now working to better understand the other side’s perspective.

“We haven’t always done that,” he said. “The other side hasn’t always looked at our point of view and tried to put themselves in our place. And I doubt that we’ve done our duty in trying to put ourselves in their place.”

John Stulp, the head of the IBCC, sounded a similar theme Thursday before George took the podium.

“We really need to put ourselves in each other’s shoes as we look to the future with the water supply that we anticipate,” Stulp said.

And Stulp said he was encouraged by a meeting of the South Platte basin roundtable in Longmont on Dec. 9.

“I came away from that meeting with a positive feeling that there is going to be some intense, but some very fruitful and beneficial discussions, not only among the roundtables, but at the IBCC level,” Stulp said.

At the Dec. 9 meeting, Eric Wilkinson, the general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and an IBCC member, told the South Platte roundtable members there is a growing understanding at the IBCC level of what Western Slope water interests want, and fear, regarding a transmountain diversion.

In part, they fear that a new transmountain diverter will come in and insist on their full legal right to divert water, Wilkinson explained.

Such an action could eventually help trigger a “compact call” by California and other states in the lower Colorado River basin. And a call could shut down diversions for all junior water rights holders on the Western Slope.

“When somebody said, ‘Well, what I understand you saying is that you want any new transbasin diversion to subordinate and be junior to any existing and future West Slope water development,’ it was like somebody just took the blanket off the elephant in the room, and the discussion started,” Wilkinson said.

And that understanding then led to the first of seven points in a “draft conceptual agreement,” which is now included in the draft Colorado Water Plan and refers to the East Slope accepting “hydraulic risk” as part of a new transmountain diversion.

Wilkinson said the draft conceptual agreement came about after “finally understanding what the West Slope was trying to say, and what their fears were.

“And the reality is, as much as we’d like to think it isn’t, you are not going to move a West Slope transbasin project forward without support on the West Slope,” Wilkinson said. “Trust me.“

In reaching the seven points in the draft conceptual agreement, Wilkinson also said he was “thoroughly convinced” that “the East Slope gave up far more to get these seven points than the West Slope did.”

“We tried to solve, practically, if we could, the fears and concerns of the West Slope, and we went a long way from the traditional East Slope position to do that, because that’s the new reality,” Wilkinson said.

Aspen Journalism, The Aspen Times and the Post Independent are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

E.P.A. Issues Rules on Disposal of Coal Ash to Protect Water Supply — The New York Times

December 22, 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash retention pond failure via the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority
December 22, 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash retention pond failure via the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority

From The New York Times (Emmarie Huetteman):

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced the first federal guidelines for disposing of coal ash, instructing power plants to implement safeguards against contaminating nearby water supplies.

But the agency did not require many of the restrictions that had been urged by environmentalists and other advocates, who point to studies showing coal ash — the material that remains when coal is burned to produce electricity — contains a significant amount of carcinogens.

“This rule is a pragmatic step forward that protects public health while allowing the industry the time it needs to meet these requirements,” said Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. administrator.

The E.P.A. declined to designate coal ash a hazardous material, but said power plants would have to meet certain minimum structural standards for landfills and disposal ponds, and monitor them for leaks. If a breach is discovered, it will be the utility company’s responsibility to reinforce or close the pond. New ponds and landfills will have to be lined to provide a barrier against leaks. Controls must be used to prevent people from breathing in coal ash dust.

Power plants will also have to report the results of their inspections on a public website. The rule provides little oversight, leaving it to citizens and the states to sue if power plants are suspected of not adhering to the E.P.A.’s guidelines.

The rule is a victory for electric utility companies and the coal industry, which had decried the increased financial burden that would have been placed on companies to revamp their existing disposal facilities if the E.P.A. had decided to phase out ponds and impose other, stricter guidelines.

The decision also reinforced the growing, multibillion-dollar coal ash recycling business, in which coal ash is used to make wallboard, concrete and other products. The United States produced nearly 114.7 million tons of coal ash in 2013, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the American Coal Ash Association. Of that, less than 51.4 million tons were reused.

Officials celebrated the end of what they characterized as a costly period of uncertainty for an environmentally friendly industry.

“This stuff is just as safe as we thought it was before the rule-making started, and it’s time to keep that growth going,” said Thomas H. Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association.

Advocates for stronger restrictions on coal ash expressed disappointment in the rule, especially that coal-fired power plants would be allowed to continue dumping the ash into existing ponds that they are left to largely police themselves.

“As we’ve seen over the past six years, irresponsible storage of coal ash by big utilities has caused unprecedented disasters and threatened the health and safety of Americans around the country,” Frank Holleman, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. “While there are some new tools for addressing our nation’s coal ash problem in these new federal protections, there are glaring flaws in the E.P.A.’s approach.”

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
“When the day’s done, the E.P.A. regulates toxic coal ash less stringently than household waste,” said Lisa Evans, a lawyer with Earthjustice who used to work for the E.P.A.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.