NOAA announces significant investment in next generation of supercomputers (5 petaflops)

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR
A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

Here’s the release from NOAA:

Today, NOAA announced the next phase in the agency’s efforts to increase supercomputing capacity to provide more timely, accurate, reliable, and detailed forecasts. By October 2015, the capacity of each of NOAA’s two operational supercomputers will jump to 2.5 petaflops, for a total of 5 petaflops – a nearly tenfold increase from the current capacity.

“NOAA is America’s environmental intelligence agency; we provide the information, data, and services communities need to become resilient to significant and severe weather, water, and climate events,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA’s Administrator. “These supercomputing upgrades will significantly improve our ability to translate data into actionable information, which in turn will lead to more timely, accurate, and reliable forecasts.”

Ahead of this upgrade, each of the two operational supercomputers will first more than triple their current capacity later this month (to at least 0.776 petaflops for a total capacity of 1.552 petaflops). With this larger capacity, NOAA’s National Weather Service in January will begin running an upgraded version of the Global Forecast System (GFS) with greater resolution that extends further out in time – the new GFS will increase resolution from 27km to 13km out to 10 days and 55km to 33km for 11 to 16 days. In addition, the Global Ensemble Forecast System (GEFS) will be upgraded by increasing the number of vertical levels from 42 to 64 and increasing the horizontal resolution from 55km to 27km out to eight days and 70km to 33km from days nine to 16.

Computing capacity upgrades scheduled for this month and later this year are part of ongoing computing and modeling upgrades that began in July 2013. NOAA’s National Weather Service has upgraded existing models – such as the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting model, which did exceptionally well this hurricane season, including for Hurricane Arthur which struck North Carolina. And NOAA’s National Weather Service has operationalized the widely acclaimed High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model, which delivers 15-hour numerical forecasts every hour of the day.

“We continue to make significant, critical investments in our supercomputers and observational platforms,” said Louis Uccellini, Ph.D., director, NOAA’s National Weather Service. “By increasing our overall capacity, we’ll be able to process quadrillions of calculations per second that all feed into our forecasts and predictions. This boost in processing power is essential as we work to improve our numerical prediction models for more accurate and consistent forecasts required to build a Weather Ready Nation.”

The increase in supercomputing capacity comes via a $44.5 million investment using NOAA’s operational high performance computing contract with IBM, $25 million of which was provided through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 related to the consequences of Hurricane Sandy. Cray Inc., headquartered in Seattle, plans to serve as a subcontractor for IBM to provide the new systems to NOAA.

“We are excited to provide NOAA’s National Weather Service with advanced supercomputing capabilities for running operational weather forecasts with greater detail and precision,” said Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray. “This investment to increase their supercomputing capacity will allow the National Weather Service to both augment current capabilities and run more advanced models. We are honored these forecasts will be prepared using Cray supercomputers.”

“As a valued provider to NOAA since 2000, IBM is proud to continue helping NOAA achieve its vital mission,” said Anne Altman, General Manager, IBM Federal. “These capabilities enable NOAA experts and researchers to make forecasts that help inform and protect citizens. We are pleased to partner in NOAA’s ongoing transformation.”

The US Supreme Court currently has 4 interstate water disputes before it — John Fleck

From Circle of Blue:

Interstate Water Lawsuit

A special master ruled largely in favor of Wyoming in a legal dispute with Montana over water from the Tongue River. Montana claimed that Wyoming diverted more water from the river than it was entitled to.

Appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the evidence, Barton Thompson, a Stanford law professor, determined that in two of the nine years in question, Wyoming exceeded its water rights. The amounts at stake are miniscule: 1,464 acre-feet in 2004 and 62 acre-feet in 2006 — less water than a large farm would use in a year.

The case began in 2007 when Montana sued Wyoming over water use in two tributaries of the Yellowstone River. Oral arguments before the court, which is not required to follow the special master’s recommendations, could occur in 2015…

U.S. Supreme Court

In addition to Montana v. Wyoming, three other disputes between states over shared rivers are moving through the nation’s highest court. The justices have appointed special masters to hear arguments and offer legal guidance in two cases: Florida against Georgia, and Texas versus New Mexico. A third case, between Kansas and Nebraska, was argued before the court last October. A ruling will likely come in 2015.

Drying up our water, parts I & II, the Pagosa Daily Post

New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation
New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

From the Pagosa Daily Post (Bill Hudson):

Politicians and engineers began designing plans to divert water from three tributaries of the relatively-unstressed San Juan River, in southern Colorado, into the Rio Grande valley. It took about 40 years to get the plans approved, and in December, 1964, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began construction on the Azotea Tunnel, the primary diversion tunnel that would run from southern Colorado’s stretch of the Navajo River south to Azotea Creek in northern New Mexico.

The project would be called the San Juan-Chama Project, and would eventually allocate about 56 percent of its water — 48,200 acre-feet per year — to the City of Albuquerque. For comparison, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) delivers about 1,300 acre-feet per year to Archuleta County customers.

Work began on the Blanco River Tunnel in 1966, and the following year, construction was started on Heron Dam, which would impound most of the diverted water for future uses in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and throughout northern New Mexico. The new reservoir was to be named Heron Lake.

The project supplied jobs for some of the men living in the small, economically challenged town of Pagosa Springs, twenty miles to the northwest. I’ve been told that one of the union organizers on the tunnel project was a young man named Ross Aragon.

The Bureau of Reclamation announced the completion of the project in 1978, but budget cuts had greatly reduced the extent of the project, reducing the amount of diverted water in the original project plans by more than 50 percent. Numerous auxiliary diversions that were supposed to deliver water to agricultural users in northern New Mexico never got built.

Heron Lake was one of the completed components, however, and it became not only a water storage reservoir but also a popular recreational boating site and the home of Heron Lake State Park.

And, from Part II:

I believe there are three intriguing aspects to Mr. Fleck’s article. One is his statement that this was the first time in 40 years that the “San Juan Water” had dried up. Another is the fact that he references a federal study warning us that “climate change would mean less reliable [water] supplies from the [San Juan-Chama] project as temperatures warm during the 21st century.”

And the third intriguing feature is the photograph that illustrated the article.

To relate this story properly, we need to view the Albuquerque Journal photo, published on December 29, 2014 and credited to photographer Eddie Moore.

The photo was accompanied by this caption: “Earlier this year, the New Mexico Sailing Club’s marina at Heron Lake was surrounded by grass and weeds due to the low water level of the lake. The lake, 6 miles west of Tierra Amarilla in Rio Arriba County, is the main storage reservoir of the San Juan-Chama Project.”


We humans are often frustrated by failure — such as, for example, the failure of Mother Nature to provide enough water to fill a man-made reservoir that we took all the trouble to build, and to which numerous sailboat owners have become accustomed.

More San Juan River Basin coverage here.

Peter Gleick: 800,000 years of atmospheric CO2 levels up to now

@nature_org: 10 Great Conservation Successes of 2014

Water strategies on the Conejos — the Valley Courier #COWaterPlan

Conejos River
Conejos River

From the Valley Courier (Nathan Coombs):

The Conejos River is the largest tributary to the Rio Grande River in Colorado. The Conejos and its tributaries Los Pinos and Rio San Antonio irrigate about 100,000 acres in the south end of the San Luis Valley and pay a significant portion of the Rio Grande Compact. With some of the oldest water rights in the state and basin, this water has been subject to many changed uses and modifications over time.

In 1928-38 when the Rio Grande Compact commission studied the flows of the rivers in order to calculate a compact arrangement with New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, the system was already completely appropriated. The only method of irrigation at the time was flooding. Whether for the meadow, the vegetables or the grain and alfalfa fields, flooding was the only method used, or even contemplated.

With the unique physical properties of the Conejos basin, the flooding of fields filled the shallow aquifer with both run off and percolation. This building of the aquifer built a large amount of sub surface water that benefitted irrigators down gradient from where the earlier irrigation water was applied. These subsequent irrigators were able to apply less water to their crops, and gained the benefit of their crop’s roots being in contact with the ground water longer.

This method of irrigation also provided another benefit. The irrigation water diverted from the Conejos and filling the unconfined aquifer, caused return flows which also paid a large percentage of the Conejos’ portion of the compact. Irrigators used the water and paid compact with a large portion of this same water through return flows.

Over time, farm land was leveled, irrigation moved from flooding to sprinklers, and weather patterns trended towards drier winters diminishing sufficient supplies. As the efficiency of water application methods continued to improve, return flows decreased, so more water had to be left in the river channel to pay the compact. With this necessity of leaving pristine water in the channel, it became increasingly difficult for water users to depend on enough water for the entire season. Compounding this issue were years of significantly less than average snowfall. More adapting and changing were necessary.

In 1969 the Rio Grande Compact was being administered more strictly. This change in water management brought about the need for accurate accounting and measurement of the waters within the river. Water users were now experiencing curtailments to diversions in order to meet the compact. This curtailment meant that some water users were experiencing less water than historically available. Issues arose around how to make sure that those curtailed were in fact impacted to the least degree possible. This required a lot of time and effort from the DWR’s river commissioners. Also In 1991, The Conejos Water Conservancy District bought exclusive rights to the Operations and Maintenance to Platoro Reservoir. This change brought an opportunity to district water users to utilize the reservoir to store and re-release their water later in the growing season. With the opportunity to use reservoir water to offset some of the compact administra- tion issues, this development also brought the challenge of tracking this retimed water throughout the system.

In order to be proactive and solution minded, water users on the Conejos developed a strategy by first recognizing the issues they faced. First off, there was not an efficient way of tracking the different types of water in the river. It was very difficult to accurately and efficiently know where the different types of water were at all times, much less separate out the native from the reservoir from the Compact head gate by head gate. Secondly there were large inefficiencies with the infrastructure used for getting the water out of the river in priority, and allowing optimal use of both native and the reservoir water to diminish reliance on ground water. Finally, there needed to be a way to mitigate the effects of inaccurate forecasting of snowpack and insufficient stream flows . Water users felt that addressing these issues would help individual water users make better informed decisions on their farm’s water budget for a given year.


In 2012 to overcome some of the first of these challenges, 72 river diversions were fitted with a nearly live ability to “see” what was being diverted. Stilling wells were constructed and fitted with measurement and recording devices that transmitted wirelessly through an entirely new telemetry network that was built to transmit this information. The data is recorded, collected, and stored off site and available to administrators and water users through a secure password. This system also allowed the DWR river commissioners to be very specific with the use of their time and miles for regulating the diversions . With the new system, administrators are now able to make sure that the correct water amounts are being either diverted or passed through to the compact or other water users in priority.


The second proposal was to work in conjunction to the gauging/measurement of the diversions. Four of the largest water diversions on the Conejos System were automated. This effort regulates the water to the correct amount for each of these head gates. The automation was able to ensure that these diversions were able to both receive their correct amount of water and not “absorb” the diurnal effect of the river. By correcting the flows at these largest diversions water that should go down river to either another priority or the compact was available. The automation also saved countless hours of regulating and re-adjusting these head gates throughout the day. Because of the tremendous positive impacts of automation, the district is currently automating three more structures along the Conejos with plans for more being drawn up at this time.


Finally , to help mitigate the “Mother Nature” component , the district is looking at bettering the methodology of both measurements and forecasting for the basin. Currently, the DWR uses reports from NRCS that are based on snotel sites, manual snow course measurements, and the NRCS’ own forecasting to predict total stream flows for both the Rio Grande and the Conejos. The input data are the foundation of the NRCS’ predictions. The problems however are that the number of measured sites is insufficient , their coverage is not complete, and in the case of the Conejos basin, they only represent about 35 percent of the watershed. With both winter inaccessibility to many areas for manual snow surveys, and USFS wilderness restrictions , a large portion of sub drainages simply are not measured.

With a partnership with CWCB, (Colorado Water Conservation Board) NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) NOAA, (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) NWS, (National Weather Service) and NSSL, (National Severe Storms Laboratory) the district has installed six additional “snotel lite” stations, flow gauges on tributary streams, and one radar truck!

The new measurement sites are placed on boundaries with the USFS wilderness areas and will ground truth what the radar truck is seeing . Since the radar has the ability to scan across both the wilderness and inaccessible areas of the basin, the concept is that water users will be able to refine the data used to predict actual snow levels down to the sub basin level.

The flow gauges on the tributaries will allow water administrators to calibrate how much of the system’s water is generated on the respective tributary’s sub basin. Then for an example; if a tributary is significantly higher or lower than the forecast pre supposed, immediate corrections to the compact curtailment can be made. This action will help refine the calculations necessary to administer the compact on a daily basis. This timely correction to compact administration will allow Valley water users to more fully use Colorado’s share of the water.

The Conejos Water Conservancy District does not have all the answers, and may not even yet have the right questions. The district does however, have a desire to place as many pieces in the water puzzle as it can.

Nathan Coombs is the director of the Conejos Water Conservancy District in Manassa.

More Conejos River coverage here and here.

2015 Colorado legislation: A look at the Boulder and Broomfield counties delegation

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South
George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

When the Colorado Legislature’s 2015 session gets under way on Wednesday, Boulder County and Broomfield could once again benefit from being represented by several of the lawmakers holding key leadership positions and committee assignments.

That’s long been the case, several of those current and former leaders said in recent interviews, with current Boulder County and Broomfield legislators playing major parts in determining what bills become state laws, and which ones won’t, by the time the session concludes in May.

State Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Gunbarrel Democrat, will be Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, the first Boulder County lawmaker to hold that chamber’s No. 1 post in 121 years…

There now will be no senators representing parts of Boulder County or Broomfield who’ll hold top leadership positions in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Boulder’s Rollie Heath, who last year was Senate majority leader, will the Senate Democrats’ assistant minority leader this year.

Heath said, though, that trying to negotiate compromises while crafting legislative proposals “has always been my style,” regardless of whether his party was in the majority in one or both houses of the Legislature. He said he’ll continue that approach…

Heath said one of the underlying questions facing lawmakers from both parties as they introduce legislation this year is: “Do we really want to get things done, or do we just want to make a point?”

Said Heath: “In my mind, we’ve got to figure out where the public is, in terms of priorities.”[…]

Unlike many recent years, Boulder County won’t have any lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee, a powerful joint House and Senate panel that crafts annual state government spending recommendations for the full Legislature’s consideration. Levy served on that committee, as did former Reps. Todd Saliman, D-Boulder, Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, and Tom Plant, D-Nederland…

Hullinghorst has also appointed Becker vice chairwoman of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee. And the speaker has chosen Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, to be vice chairman of the House Finance Committee, and has reappointed Rep. Dianne Primavera, a Broomfield Democrat whose district extends into Boulder County, to chair the House Public Health and Human Services Committee. Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, will be vice chairman of that Health and Human Services panel.

While no Boulder County or Broomfield-residing Democratic lawmakers will chair GOP-majority Senate committees this year, the new Senate Republican leadership has named Vicki Marble to be chairwoman of the Senate Local Government Committee and vice chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. Marble, a Fort Collins-area Republican, represents a district that extends from southeast Larimer County through southwest Weld County into Broomfield.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus) via the Cortez Journal:

The GOP has lamented about an “over-reach” by majority Democrats in the last two sessions, during which controversial bills concerning gun control, elections reform and renewable energy, among other issues, enraged the right-leaning base.

Republicans picked up three seats this past November, slashing the Democrats’ majority to 34-31. Republicans also took control of the Senate.

“The reality is that stuff that is highly controversial, common sense tells us that that’s probably not going to pass,” said House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso of Loveland. “What it is going to bring is middle-of-the-road legislation that is basically supported by both sides of the aisle.”

House Republicans are aiming for an agenda that sticks to the basics: education, the economy, transportation and public safety…

Building the economy

On the economy, Republicans will continue to push for breaks for the business world, once again looking at the business personal-property tax. Last year, Republicans and Democrats came together by allowing small-business owners to claim a tax break up to the first $15,000 on equipment purchased. DelGrosso said Republicans will look to build on that.

Some GOP members are also looking at additional reforms to enterprise zone tax credits. They were outraged last year when Democrats limited the credits for business investment in rural counties, suggesting that the move would inhibit economic development.

“The prosperity on the Front Range has not reached rural Colorado, and by providing additional incentives in these depressed rural areas, we can give businesses more resources to create jobs, increase wages and bring more prosperity to these parts of our state,” said Rep.-elect Yeulin Willett of Grand Junction, who will carry the measure.

Also in the economic-development category, Republicans and Democrats are expected to again try a bipartisan effort to curb construction-defects lawsuits.

Funding transportation

Republicans are especially concerned about transportation, pointing out that general fund spending has not gone toward Colorado’s crumbling roads and highways.

DelGrosso said his caucus will push measures to guarantee multi-year funding for projects by the Department of Transportation. He also will introduce a bill to transfer $100 million in one-time funding from the general fund to rebuild roads and bridges across Colorado.

“The safety of our roads and bridges affects all Coloradans,” DelGrosso said.

My, my to hear them tell it, it was all Kumbaya for the recent session.

Is An Aqueduct A Practical Answer To Western Kansas’ Water Crisis? — Heartland Health Monitor

From (Bryan Thompson):

Western Kansas is heavily dependent on the Ogallala Aquifer. But since 1950, that ancient supply of underground water has been rapidly depleted by irrigation. That irrigation produces corn, which is fed to livestock to support the beef and, more recently, dairy industries, which are the foundation of the western Kansas economy. But water levels have dropped so low in parts of more than 30 counties that irrigation pumps can no longer be used there. That’s why rivers in western Kansas are little more than dry stream beds.

Mark Rude is tracking the depletion of the aquifer for a groundwater management district in the heart of the affected area.

“We’re only 9 percent sustainable with that 2 million acre-feet that we use in southwest Kansas,” Rude says. “And 9 percent sustainable is a very formidable number, because you can’t conserve your way out of that.”

In other words, 91 percent of the water currently being pumped would have to be shut off just to keep the aquifer from declining any more. But if the water doesn’t come from the aquifer, where could it come from? The 2011 flooding on the Missouri River gave Rude and others an idea about how to answer that question. While devastating to those along the river, the flood looked like an opportunity.

“Folks who realize the deep value of water in western Kansas looked at that and go, ‘Wow, if we only had a couple days of that flow we could fill the aquifer, and we’d all be happy,’” Rude says.

Rude looked into that idea, and rediscovered the 1982 study proposing a system to capture excess water from the Missouri River and store it in a huge, new lake near White Cloud in the northeastern corner of the state. It would then be pumped uphill through an aqueduct to western Kansas. There it would be stored in another new lake — by far the largest in the state — for distribution.

The cost was estimated at $1,000 per acre-foot of water delivered. With that price tag, the concept was dead on arrival. But recently, the Kansas Water Office told the committee charged with updating the old study that the cost is now closer to $500 per acre-foot. The savings are due to lower interest rates. Cost is a concern for committee member Judy Wegener-Stevens, but it’s not the only reason she’s opposed to the project.

“I don’t feel an aqueduct should be built,” Wegener-Stevens says. “I feel that people in western Kansas have been pumping water unconditionally, without any rules, for 40 years, and they have not used their resource very well.”

Wegener-Stevens, who lives in White Cloud, said the nearby Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska would fight a proposed aqueduct. They have rights to water in the Missouri River and are working to quantify those rights. There might also be objections from other states, even though the idea is to take only “excess” water. Throw in anticipated battles over property rights and environmental concerns, and some committee members say the aqueduct still doesn’t appear realistic.

But committee member Clay Scott isn’t willing to give up on the idea. Three generations of his family raise cattle and grow irrigated corn and wheat near Ulysses, in southwest Kansas. Scott points to an Arizona aqueduct called the Central Arizona Project as proof that a Kansas aqueduct is feasible. He says a reliable source of water is vital to the future of his family’s farm.

“I’ve got three boys that are looking to maybe come back to the farm, but, you know, it takes a lot of acres in western Kansas to support a family — especially coming through these last three years of drought,” Scott says. “It’s a challenge to tell your boys that there’s an opportunity. There’s a future for you here.”

Scott and other members of the advisory committee say the first priority should be some sort of compact with other states and Indian tribes to secure rights to Missouri River water. Then they can worry about all the other obstacles to the project. Earl Lewis, the assistant director of the Kansas Water Office, agrees with that approach.

“Moving forward and investing considerable time and funds into pursuing a project that doesn’t have the legal security of a water right or some kind of compact doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Lewis says.

Even if the Missouri River doesn’t pan out as a water source, Lewis says there may be other options. State law could be changed to make it easier to transfer surplus water to western Kansas from other parts of the state. And Kansas may be able to get some financial help from Colorado, in exchange for providing water to ease shortages on the Front Range. But it will be up to others to explore those options and others. The advisory committee’s charge was solely to update the aqueduct study and make recommendations. Those recommendations are due by the end of January.

More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here.