Drought news: Abnormal dryness creeps back into western Colorado #ColoradoRiver

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


Temperatures were normal to above normal for most areas west of the Missouri River. The greatest departures from normal were over the central Rocky Mountains, where temperatures were 9-12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The eastern United States recorded temperatures below normal, with most areas 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for the week, and in New England, temperatures were 9-12 degrees Fahrenheit below normal. A strong storm system developed in the southwest and ejected onto the southern plains and into the Midwest. This was a storm with a great deal of moisture and it brought above-normal precipitation from Arizona up to Illinois. Portions of eastern Iowa to Chicago recorded over 12 inches of snow, with some areas approaching 20 inches for the event. The southeast, Mid-Atlantic, upper Midwest, and west coast remained dry with most areas slightly below normal for precipitation this week…

The High Plains

A warm week over the region, with temperature departures of 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal common over the entire region. Much of Kansas and Nebraska were impacted by the same storm that brought precipitation to the southern plains and Midwest. The greatest precipitation was recorded over southeast Nebraska and northeast Kansas, which allowed for the improvement of D0 conditions this week…

The West

Consistent with what has been all too common over the west, temperatures were again well above normal for the week. The greatest departures from normal were over Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, where temperatures were 9-12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for the week. Most other areas were 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Arizona and New Mexico picked up some good precipitation, but this did little for snow accumulation in the upper elevations as there was more rain than snow. California remained dry as well as much of Washington and Oregon. The consistent issue in the west this current water year is the lack of snowfall, even in the highest elevations. The majority of the precipitation has fallen as rain, which has impacted many groups who count on snow for their livelihoods. Many valley locations are showing adequate rain this winter, but the same cannot be said for the upper elevations and their snow totals. This has made depicting drought quite difficult, as the runoff associated with the upper elevation snowpack is vital. With the precipitation in the region this week, improvements were made to southwest Arizona, southern Nevada, and southern California, where the impact of the summer monsoon along with the current precipitation has allowed for improvements. Areas of southwest New Mexico also were improved as the short-term precipitation has allowed conditions to start improving in the long term as well. D0 was expanded in Colorado this week to include more of the central portion of the state…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days, the warm temperatures over the western half of the United States will continue. Much of the area with see daily high temperatures 6-12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, with the greatest departure from normal high temperatures over eastern Colorado and western Kansas. Overnight lows are also expected to be above normal over most of the United States with overnight lows 6-18 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The greatest departures from normal are expected over the northern Rocky Mountains. The area around the Great Lakes and New England is expected to be cooler than normal during this time with departures of 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for maximum and minimum temperatures. Precipitation chances look impressive from central California north toward Oregon and Washington. Amounts are projected to be quite high at this time, but with the warm weather, much of this precipitation is expected as rain, except at the highest elevations. This system is expected to impact most of the northwestern United States and into the northern Rocky Mountains. Precipitation is also expected to impact the Gulf Coast and along the eastern seaboard, into New England. Amounts of up 1-2 inches are projected at this time.

The 6-10 day outlook has warm temperatures likely to continue over the western two-thirds of the country while the best chances for below normal temperatures is expected over Alaska, New England, the Great Lakes region and along the east coast. Precipitation projections are showing that the greatest chance of above normal precipitation is over the northern plains and upper Midwest. The best chances for below normal precipitation take place over the southeastern United States and northern Alaska, especially over the lower Mississippi valley and Gulf Coast as well as in California and the Great Basin.

Volunteers sought for environmental work on Upper South Platte

Upper South Platte Basin
Upper South Platte Basin

From The High Timber Times (Gabrielle Porter):

People looking to help out with environmental service work along the U.S. 285 Corridor can sign up to pull weeds, build trails or work on forestry projects with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte.

CUSP is moving into its first year of major concentration along U.S. 285, and has several projects on its summer agenda, said Bailey resident Jeff Ravage, the group’s North Fork watershed coordinator.

The nonprofit, founded in 1998, focuses on building a healthy watershed for the Upper South Platte River — more than 2,600 acres of land from which water drains into the river. The group secured funding to help with restoration work following the Hayman Fire in 2002.

This year, CUSP’s major priority is removing harmful non-native weeds from several areas, Ravage said. While CUSP has several sites on its summer agenda, Ravage said he would like to hear from area residents if they know spots plagued by non-native weeds.

Volunteers will also work on building part of a connecting trail at Staunton State Park. Some can help with forestry work. Because CUSP is a nonprofit, it can perform restoration work on state, federal and private land, Ravage said.

“We cross all fence lines, we like to say,” he said.

Groups can sign up to volunteer for several days or weeks on specific projects. CUSP also will be hosting several one-day work stints during the summer, so neighbors can join for shorter amounts of time, Ravage said.

Volunteers must be at least 16 years old, and those under 18 will need a guardian or responsible adult with them. All volunteers must sign waivers.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases from Crystal Dam to decrease today

Aspinall Unit
Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 800 cfs to 600 cfs on Thursday, February 5th at 9:00 AM. This release decrease is in response to the declining runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir. The current forecast for April-July unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 620,000 acre-feet which is 92% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for February.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 850 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 650 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Colorado’s vulnerability to climate change

Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study cover
Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study cover

Here’s the link to the report announcement from Western Water Assessment, the University of Colorado, and Colorado State University.

From Colorado Public Radio (Megan Arellano):

Vulnerability is not just a question of how climate change will affect resources in the state, it’s also a question of how well Colorado is prepared to deal with changes,” said Eric Gordon, co-lead editor of the report and a researcher with the Western Water Assessment.

Longer and more intense droughts are likely across the state, so growing crops with irrigation is going to be “a little more difficult,” said Gordon. Even cattle eat less during hot weather, which means ranching will probably be impacted as well.

Additionally, the report notes that public schools on the Front Range haven’t needed to be air conditioned in the past. As temperatures rise, that change could be “expensive to address,” says the report.

Below, more on four vulnerable state sectors:

  • Water: The state’s reservoirs can provide some buffering against some expected increases in water demand and decreases in flow, but entities with junior rights or little storage are especially vulnerable to future low flows.
  • Agriculture: Rising temperatures, heat waves and droughts can reduce crop yield and slow cattle weight gain. Colorado farmers and ranchers are already accustomed to large natural swings in weather and climate, but may find it especially challenging to deal with expected changes in water resources.
  • Recreation: Climate projections show that Colorado’s springtime mountain snowpack will likely decline by 2050, with potential impacts on late-season skiing. Spring runoff season may also be earlier and shorter, which could affect rafting. But the recreation industry and some Colorado communities are already making changes that could help them adapt to a warmer future. For example, Telluride ski area now markets itself as Telluride Ski & Golf.
  • Transportation: As temperatures increase, rail speeds must drop to avoid track damage, leaving the freight and passenger rail industries vulnerable to slowdowns or the need for expensive track replacements.
  • From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Charlie Brennan):

    Colorado could see more infectious disease, negative impacts on the elderly and people living in poverty, as well as stresses to water, cattle and crops as byproducts of future climate change, according to a comprehensive new report commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office.

    “The important takeaway is, here’s what’s important to Colorado,” said Eric Gordon, co-lead editor of the 176-page report and managing director of the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado. “We’re not talking about things that have nothing to do with us, like sea level rise. This is what’s important to Colorado and what we should be worrying about.”

    The exhaustive report includes chapters devoted to seven separate sectors where the state might show vulnerability to climate change — ecosystems, water, agriculture, energy, transportation, outdoor recreation and public health.

    Dennis Ojima, co-lead editor of the report and a professor in the Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Department at Colorado State University, noted the degree to which each of those sectors can be seen as intertwined with the others.

    For example, Ojima said, “In a warmer climate, we need more irrigation and more energy to support that, and more air conditioning in our area in the summer requires more energy, but also more water for cooling. These multiple constraints start occurring when you start looking at the whole state of the system.”

    Among noteworthy findings of the report:

  • Climate projections show that Colorado’s springtime mountain snowpack will likely decline by 2050, with potential impacts on late-season skiing. Spring runoff season may also be earlier and shorter, which could affect rafting.
  • The state’s reservoirs can provide buffering against some expected increases in water demand and decreases in flow, but entities with junior rights or little storage are especially vulnerable to future low flows.
  • Rising temperatures, heat waves and droughts can reduce crop yield and slow cattle weight gain. Colorado farmers and ranchers are already accustomed to large natural swings in weather and climate but may find it particularly hard to deal with expected changes in water resources.
  • The report, presuming a conservative level of future greenhouse gas emissions, nevertheless forecasts a 2.5- to 5.5-degree increase in statewide temperatures by mid-century, relative to a 1971-2000 baseline. Also, Colorado will be more prone to extreme precipitation events in winter, but not necessarily during the summer.
  • The report states that impacts on public health are complex and hard to anticipate, but climbing temperatures may mean more frequent episodes of bad air quality and more common heatstroke, plague, West Nile virus and hantavirus.

    Temperatures in Colorado have been rising, especially in summer, and that trend is expected to continue, along with increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves and wildfire.

    Even public schools in many Front Range cities are vulnerable to these changes, the report stated. Historically, schools in the state have not often required cooling, so many do not have air-conditioned classrooms.

    Boulder County, in fact, is spending $37.7 million from a $576.5 million construction bond issue passed in November to provide air conditioning to eight schools that don’t have it (five of which hold summer sessions).

    ‘How do we use this report to move forward?’

    The report was lauded by Stephen Saunders, president of the Louisville-based Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.

    “This first-ever state-specific synthesis of existing information on how climate change may affect us here will be very valuable to the state government, to local governments, and indeed to all Coloradans,” Saunders said. “Now, the question is, how do we use this report to move forward?”

    Saunders added, “The report itself points to the importance of preparedness actions by the state government, local governments and others to reduce our risks of future impacts. We believe those state government actions should include both a comprehensive state-government-wide preparedness plan, and specific actions by individual state agencies to factor climate change risks into their plans and management actions.”

    In its concluding chapter, titled “Moving Toward Preparedness,” the report cites the Boulder County Climate Change Preparedness Plan for its overarching principles and suggests they should be integrated into “all forms of planning” to provide resilience in the face of future climate impacts.

    Some of those principles are ensuring flexibility, removing barriers to adaptation, recognizing the need for leadership and collaboration, plus preparing for multiple possible climate futures.

    From the Fence Post (Nikki Work):

    The report, called the Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study, was compiled by representatives of the Western Water Assessment, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, the University of Colorado-Boulder, Colorado State University and National Center for Atmospheric Research. According to a press release from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, the report was compiled using existing data and literature. The researchers then found issues in a variety of sectors, including public health, water, agriculture, recreation and transportation.

    “Vulnerability is not just a question of how climate change will affect resources in the state, it’s also a question of how well Colorado is prepared to deal with changes,” said report co-lead editor Eric Gordon in the release. Gordon is a researcher with the Western Water Assessment.

    The report discusses the warming trend in Colorado and the effects it could have. Examples of potential problems include reduced crop yield, cattle feeding, drought, less available water to those with junior rights and/or little storage, a decrease in snowpack, possible increases in the prevalence of West Nile Virus and the necessity of slower rail speeds to avoid infrastructure damage.

    “We also know vulnerabilities change over time, as environmental and socio-economic conditions change,” said the report’s co-lead editor and professor at CSU Dennis Ojima in the release. “It will be important to keep an eye on this changing landscape of vulnerability.”

    The full report is available at http://wwa.colorado.edu/climate/co2015vulnerability/.

    Colorado Springs to make a pitch to become wildfire research hub — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

    Colorado Springs is making a pitch to host a new state-funded center for fire research, a technology hub that could help propel Colorado to the forefront of revolutionizing how wildfires are fought.

    The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance plans to submit a report this week detailing why El Paso County, twice victim of catastrophic wildfire, should be the new home for the fire research center.

    While the public eye may have been trained on the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps created last year, a lesser-known aspect of the Centennial-based fleet – the Center for Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting – has been on the wish list for some Colorado Springs leaders for months.

    The center, also created in 2014, is looking for a home, and state officials have asked Colorado’s cities to submit Requests for Information, or RFIs – non-binding proposals asking the state to consider a city in its decision making process.

    If Colorado Springs is selected, the city could become an epicenter for cutting-edge firefighting technology, said Tony Kern, a former assistant director of fire aviation and management for the U.S. Forest Service who has helped with the business alliance’s proposal.

    Kern believes that Colorado Springs is an ideal spot to become the state’s leader in tech-savvy firefighting.

    “There really is no other place that even remotely has the capability or the experience” to support the research center, he said.

    Submitting an RFI by Friday’s deadline will not determine the state’s decision, but it will serve as a guideline, said Melissa Lineberger, the center’s interim director. Money for the center comes from the state’s general fund – last year, the center received $274,252, and was expected to receive $777,437 for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Lineberger expects the new center to be up and running in August.

    The state is looking for cities that are centrally located with access to airports but without much air traffic. State officials also want the center’s home city to be a “desirable place to live” with a nearby university, and have the backing of the local county and city government.

    Colorado Springs has it all, Kern thinks, although the city may end up competing with Fort Collins-Loveland if the Larimer County cities submit a proposal.

    The business alliance is working with the city of Colorado Springs on the plan, said Andy Merritt, the alliance’s Chief Defense Industry Officer. Kim Melchor, a spokeswoman for the city, was not aware of the city’s involvement in the pitch; officials with city’s office of emergency management could not be reached on Wednesday.

    El Paso County’s mix of mountains, forests and wildland urban interfaces represent the rest of the state, making it ideal for aircraft testing, Kern said.

    Colorado Springs also has access to military bases and their aircraft, which can be used to bolster a firefight from the air. Kern also believes that Colorado Springs has only airport aside from Denver International Airport that can handle oversized air tankers.

    Lastly, the county’s recent wildfire history has made it a place for research, Kern said.

    In June 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire ignited west of Colorado Springs, destroying 347 homes and killing two people. In early June 2013, the Black Forest fire started in northeastern El Paso County, and rapidly surpassed Waldo in its destruction – claiming 488 homes and two lives, the most destructive fire in Colorado history.

    The fires caught the attention of researchers and firefighters from around the world, and continue to be the focus of study.

    The center will be plugged into two PC-12s planes equipped with remote sensing thermal technology. The planes are rarely used to fight fire, but can spot remote fires long before crews can reach them. The planes have the ability to fly at night, something that the forest service prohibits when fighting wildfire, Kern said.

    “That will revolutionize the firefighting industry,” said Kern, who spent five years as the head of aerial fighting for the Forest Service in the early 2000s. “If we could get air tankers on or dropping water or retardant on fires at night, that would be a huge breakthrough.”

    While with the Forest Service, Kern oversaw the grounding of a massive fleet of more than 44 air tankers, most of which were deemed too old to fly. The Forest Service has yet to recoup its loses, and has since struggled to create a fleet of so-called next-generation air tankers to help cover a spate of wildfires from Colorado to Washington state.

    While the Forest Service struggles to resolve its own issues with wildfire response, Kern hopes that Colorado’s firefighting fleet will be at the forefront when it comes to changing firefighting and possibly serve as a leader for the federal government. If Colorado Springs gets the research center, Kern believes that between 500 and 1,000 jobs could be added in coming years.”The first big hurdle is where it is going to be,” said Kern of the center.