“Why should I suffer for their sprawl?” — Bill Trampe


From ProPublic.org (Abrahm Lustgarten):

A vestige of 139-year-old water law pushes ranchers to use as much water as they possibly can, even during a drought. “Use it or lose it” clauses, as they are known, are common in state laws throughout the Colorado River basin and give the farmers, ranchers and governments holding water rights a powerful incentive to use more water than they need. Under the provisions of these measures, people who use less water than they are legally entitled to risk seeing their allotment slashed.

There are few starker examples of how man’s missteps and policies are contributing to the water shortage currently afflicting the western United States. In a series of reports, ProPublica is examining how decisions on water management and growth have exacerbated more than a decade of drought, bringing the West to the point of crisis. The Colorado River is the most important source of water for nearly 40 million people across California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, and supports some 15 percent of the nation’s food crops.

But the river is in trouble, and water laws are one significant cause. Legal water rights and state allocations have been issued for more water than the river, in an average year, can provide. Meanwhile its annual flow has been steadily decreasing as the climate changes and drought grips the region. And so, for more than a decade, states and the federal government have tried to wring more supply out of the Colorado and spread it further, in part by persuading the farmers and ranchers who use the vast majority of the river’s water and have the largest water rights to conserve it.

But in many ways it’s the vast body of often-antiquated law governing western water rights, officials acknowledge, that actively undermines conservation, making waste — or at least heavy use — entirely rational.

“Water is money,” said Eugene Backhaus, a state resource conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which works to help ranchers use water more efficiently. “The way the current water law structure is, if they don’t use it for the assigned use, they could lose the water right.”


“The whole system is designed towards preserving the status quo,” said Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of the urban utility Denver Water, who formerly represented Colorado on interstate water negotiations. The most pragmatic approach, he thinks, is to build off existing water law while reforming its worst parts. But in a perfect world, he said, “I would abolish Colorado water rights law and start all over again with a clean slate.”

None of the antiquated parts of what across the entire basin is referred to loosely as “water law” play as much a role in stressing the water system — or seem as fixable — as the one known as “use it or lose it.”

Originally devised in part to keep speculators from hoarding water to build wealth and power, the intent of “use it” laws was to make sure the people who held rights to water exercised them. They could keep those rights indefinitely, passing them on through generations or selling them…at great profit, as long as they constantly put the water to what most Western water laws refer to as “beneficial use.”


Denver and other eastern Colorado cities already take 154 billion gallons of water across the Continental Divide from western Colorado each year. Schemes to build more tunnels to divert more water from rural western areas like Gunnison are a constant concern. And last July the utilities and groups that represent the lower river states’ biggest urban areas — including Las Vegas, Denver and Los Angeles — proposed a pilot program to find additional water supplies in the agriculturally rich parts of Colorado, in part by paying people like Trampe to fallow fields, be more water-efficient or perhaps lease or sell their water rights.

“The cities continue to grow and grow and grow … and they expect me — or us as an industry — to give up water,” Trampe said. “Why should I suffer for their sprawl?”


“Do we want to fix it in a way that sends more water to Arizona?” asked [John McClow], the water attorney. “We’re still parochial about that. If we save some water, I think we want to use it ourselves.”

#ClimateChange: Unusually warm Arctic winter stuns scientists with record low ice extent for January — Mashable


From Mashable (Andrew Freedman):

A freak storm brought temperatures to near the freezing point, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit, near the North Pole for a short time in late December and early January, and other storms have repeatedly acted like space heaters plopped on top of the globe, turning nascent sea ice to slush and eventually, to open water.

Nothing is as it should be for this time of year across a wide swath of the Arctic. Alaska has had not yet had a winter, with record warmth enveloping much of the state along with anemic snow depth.

Sea ice is virtually absent from the Barents and Kara Seas, which constitute a large swath of the Atlantic Arctic, located northeast of Scandinavia and north of the Russian mainland.

“For the Arctic this is definitely the strangest winter I’ve ever seen,” said Mark Serreze, the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, which tracks sea and land ice around the world.


Sea ice record during an “absurdly warm” month

The milder than average conditions led January to have the lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record since the satellite era began in 1979, the NSIDC found.

According to an NSIDC report released Thursday, the monthly average sea ice extent for January was 42,500 square miles below the previous record low in 2011, and about 405,000 square miles below the 1979-2000 average.

For perspective, that departure from average is equivalent to missing a region of ice the size of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Maryland and New Hampshire combined.

The longterm trend for January sea ice extent is now a decline of 3.2% per decade, the NSIDC said.

Due to manmade global warming, sea ice has been in a near free-fall, while Arctic air temperatures have increased at twice the rate of the rest of the world due to a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification.

Arctic warming is having profound effects all around the region, from the loss of coastal villages and threats to iconic wildlife such as the polar bear and walrus. There is debate within the scientific community about whether Arctic warming is influencing weather patterns well beyond the Arctic, such as across the eastern U.S. and in Europe.

Blame the Arctic Oscillation?

The record low ice extent for the month had a lot to do with the way that weather patterns set up across the Arctic, Serreze told Mashable in an interview.

The entire Arctic was “just absurdly warm, I’ve never seen anything like that,” Serreze said.

Serreze pointed to a pattern of air pressure known as the Arctic Oscillation as a major driver of January’s Arctic warmth and low sea ice.

The Arctic Oscillation, or AO, is a pattern of air pressure differences between the Arctic and the midlatitudes. It swung into an extreme negative phase — meaning there were higher than average air pressure values over the Arctic and lower than average air pressure values over the mid-latitudes — during the first three weeks of January, dipping to near-historic lows.

The NSIDC provided a more zoomed-in view of January’s prevailing weather pattern across the Arctic, stating in a press release there was higher than average air pressure located from north central Siberia into the Barents and Kara sea regions, while lower than average air pressure dominated across the northern North Atlantic and northern North Pacific.

The airflow between and around these high and low pressure areas helped pump mild air into the Arctic, while interfering with the manufacturing of extremely cold air.

The result was as if someone had switched the northern hemisphere’s refrigerator onto a lower setting.

“The Arctic is behaving very oddly this winter,” Serreze said.

How the Arctic Oscillation, and the weather across the Arctic region in general, is interacting with a strong El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean is still an open question, Serreze said

The El Niño is also helping to reconfigure weather patterns from Australia to the U.S. and beyond, but its relationship with the Arctic has only recently begun to be investigated.

“The question is how are these two things possibly conspiring there?” Serreze said.

He said even a late season burst of ice growth will put the sea ice cover in a vulnerable position going into the summer, since that new ice will be thin, and therefore more susceptible to melting.

“Things are not looking very good,” Serreze said of the warm winter and what it means for the upcoming melt season.