#Drought news: D1 shows up in SW corner of #Colorado

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


Shower and thunderstorm activity was scattered across much of the eastern two-thirds of the country, but in most places, moderate to heavy precipitation was not widespread enough to bring significant drought relief. Some exceptions included southwest New England and the lower Northeast, the central Appalachians and Piedmont, the lower Mississippi Valley, parts of the central Great Plains, the Black Hills and adjacent areas, southeast Arizona, and Hawaii. Heavy rains in the latter area were primarily associated with Tropical Storm Darby…

The Middle Mississippi Valley and the Plains States

Bands of heavy rain were not widespread, but did drop 2 to 7 inches of precipitation to areas where they set up, specifically the central tier of Nebraska, part of central and northern Missouri, part of central and southern Iowa, and upper southern Texas. Beneficial moderate to locally heavy precipitation dampened much of the Black Hills and adjacent Wyoming, the northeastern quarter of Oklahoma, and scattered small areas in both Kansas and Texas. This precipitation brought improvement to the areas that received the heaviest amounts, but also to the Black Hills and adjacent Wyoming, where 30-day totals were sufficient to bring improvement to some of the extant drought areas. In addition, dryness and drought changed in relatively small areas through the rest of the region, improving where isolated heavy rain was reported, and deteriorating in places where significant rain has not been observed for two or more weeks, at least…

The Rockies and West

Monsoon-related shower and thunderstorm activity affected much of Arizona and New Mexico, though totals exceeding 2 areas were limited in coverage. Light to moderate precipitation also fell on parts of central and eastern Montana, but in other parts of the West, seasonably dry and slightly warmer than normal conditions prevailed. With much of the monsoon season still to come, it seemed prudent to limit changes to the Drought Monitor in the Southwest to a relatively small area. Specifically, part of the D2 area was reduced to D1. Farther north, conditions worsened in parts of central and western Wyoming, but the no changes were brought into the rest of the region…

Looking Ahead

During the next 5 days (August 4 – 8), heavy precipitation (1.5 to locally approaching 6 inches) is expected along the central Gulf Coast, the central and northern Florida Peninsula, and the central and southern Carolinas. Farther west, similar amounts of rain are anticipated in a swath from eastern Arizona northeastward through Iowa and northern Missouri. Moderate amounts are forecast in the eastern Great Basin and northern Arizona, through part of the north-central Plains, and in the interior Southeast. Only a few tenths of an inch at best are expected elsewhere, with little or none falling on Texas and California.

Scientists Urge Obama to End Federal Coal Leasing — Climate Central #keepitintheground

Coal fired plant
Coal fired plant

From Climate Central (Bobby Magill):

Citing coal’s effect on climate change, a group of more than 65 prominent scientists is urging the Obama administration to end coal leasing on federal public lands by making permanent a moratorium the government placed on leasing in January.

In a letter sent to the administration [Wednesday, July 27, 2016], the scientists said that unless coal mining is stopped permanently, the U.S. cannot meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, and the goal to keep global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F) may be impossible.

Headwaters Summer 2016: Accounting for Water (The Economics Issue)


Click here to read Headwaters from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. From the website:

The Summer 2016 issue of Headwaters Magazine examines the economics of water. In addition to looking at water’s role in Colorado’s economy, this issue covers creative funding opportunities to pay for sustainable water infrastructure as well as watershed planning and river restoration. Dive into how water is priced through water markets, rates and valuation methods—including those that account for non-market values—and explore both advantages and considerations in pursuing regionalized, multi-partner projects. Flip through or download the issue here.

CU: Earlier snowmelt carries drastic consequences for forests

Photo via Snowflakes Bentley (Wilson A. Bentley)
Photo via Snowflakes Bentley (Wilson A. Bentley)

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Click through for the videos):

Earlier snowmelt periods associated with a warming climate may hinder subalpine forest regulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), according to the results of a new University of Colorado Boulder study.

The findings, which were recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, predict that this shift in the timing of the snowmelt could result in a 45 percent reduction of snowmelt period forest carbon uptake by mid-century.

A separate study, also published in Geophysical Research Letters, found that earlier, slower snowmelt reduces the amount of streamflow, a phenomenon which could have potentially drastic consequences for agriculture, municipal water supplies and recreational opportunities in Colorado and other areas of the western U.S.

Forests located in seasonally snow-covered areas represent a key terrestrial CO2 sink thanks to the natural photosynthetic processes by which trees absorb carbon. The trees’ carbon uptake is restrained during winter, but increases to peak capacity in spring when snowmelt provides sustained water input.

Working at the Niwot Ridge site in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, CU Boulder researchers studied 15 years’ worth of snowmelt and atmospheric CO2 data to study the effects of snowmelt periods. The research found that earlier snowmelt periods triggered by climate change align with colder air temperatures, reducing the forests’ ability to take CO2 out of the atmosphere.

“This study shows us that, counterintuitively, warming generally causes snow to melt during colder periods of the seasonal temperature cycle earlier in the year,” said Taylor Winchell, a graduate researcher in the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) and lead author of the study. “The colder temperatures associated with early melt reduce the trees’ ability to uptake carbon during the snowmelt period.”

“The implications of this research are quite profound as mountains in the western U.S. are an important part of the regional cycling of carbon and water,” said Noah Molotch, the director of INSTAAR’s Center for Water Earth Science & Technology (CWEST) and a co-author of both new studies. “In this regard, earlier snowmelt will reduce carbon uptake in mountain forests, weakening the ability of forests to offset increases in CO2 associated with human burning of fossil fuels.”

Snowmelt also acts as a key hydrological driver for rivers and streams across the state, providing water resources to downstream communities. Previous research has suggested that the timing and rate at which snow melts can impact the amount and quality of water available for vegetation, farming and fishing.

The researchers used a unique modeling system to study the effects of earlier snowmelt across various regions of western United States including the Cascade range, the Sierra Nevada range, the Wasatch range and the Rocky Mountains. All of these areas see significant seasonal snow accumulation and generate water resources for downstream communities.

The study results show that earlier, slower snowmelt, triggered by warmer temperatures, reduce streamflow. These slower “trickle” melts reduce percolation in hillslope soil and allow more water to evaporate, resulting in less streamflow overall.

“Of all the regions we studied, streamflow from Colorado’s Rocky Mountains is most sensitive to a change in snowmelt,” said Theodore Barnhart, a graduate researcher at INSTAAR and lead author of the study. “This analysis suggests that all of the regions studied will experience a decrease in streamflow with a decrease in snowmelt rate, with some regions exhibiting more streamflow sensitivity than others.”

“Given that 60 million people in the western U.S. depend on snowmelt for their water supply, the future decline in snowmelt-derived streamflow may place additional stress on over-allocated water supplies,” said Moloch.

Escalating cost of ag water: “It’s not cheap, but you only pay for it once” — Melanie Calvert

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

Farm families in Western states like California and Colorado are increasingly under pressure to sell their water. It’s been coined “buy and dry,” as water is diverted from farm fields and instead used to fill pipes in condos and subdivisions.

Buy and dry deals are usually cut behind closed doors, in quiet, unassuming meetings. A city approaches a farmer, or a farmer approaches a city, and strikes a deal. But a recent public auction in Loveland, Colorado threw the doors wide open, bringing myriad bidders and interests into one room to duke it out. It gives a glimpse of the unique stresses and opportunities farmers face in parched portions of the West.

Bidders, some in cowboy hats, some in business suits, packed the room at the Larimer County Fairgrounds. Abuzz with a sort of nervous energy, audience members whisper about how high the prices might climb. Auctioneer Spanky Assiter takes the mic, and lays out what’s at stake.

“Today’s an opportunity to buy water,” he says.

“You see commercials on TV all the time, invest in gold, invest in silver, invest in natural resources. There’s nothing more valuable than water.”

An auction of this size — with hundreds of units of Colorado-Big Thompson water and more than a dozen shares of a local ditch company up for grabs — is rare. The Colorado-Big Thompson project moves water from the Western Slope through canals and tunnels to provide water for Front Range municipalities and farmers.

There’s also more than 400 acres of farmland, except that’s not the asset that packed the room. Even though the tracts sit just 40 miles from Denver, one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country, the water that flows into the fields is worth way more.

Scotti Reynolds, who ran a cattle operation on the property with her husband, until his death in 2012, has been contemplating how and when to sell the property.

“The land and the water have become more valuable than the income from farming.”

One by one, water shares find new owners in the crowd. When all’s said and done the grand sum for the 400 acres, and the water rights, totals $12.6 million. The water rights, between the ditch shares and the units, alone went for close to $10 million. By far, the biggest spenders were cities — like Broomfield, a Denver suburb.

“It’s not cheap, but you only pay for it once. You buy it once and you get it forever,” says Melanie Calvert, who purchases water for the city.

At the auction she bid $3.2 million for 120 units of Colorado-Big Thompson water, each unit fetching $27,000. The city’s purchase continues a longtime trend. Increasingly, water is more valuable coming out of lawn sprinklers and bathroom faucets than growing sugar beets.

Broomfield’s been on a tear. The city’s spent $12.6 million since the beginning of 2016 on acquiring water, with another $2.6 million deal in the works. Hardly the only city buttressing water supplies by buying up agricultural water rights, they’re just following in the footsteps of Thornton and Aurora, other cities with reputations for buying lots of water.

The recently adopted Colorado Water Plan laments the fact that auctions like this even exist. It attempts to offer up alternatives, some of which are still theoretical because of the legal wrangling and economic conditions needed to bring them to fruition.