“An ice core without any depth references — I shouldn’t say this — it’s good for margaritas” — Geoffrey Hargreaves

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

Smooth and milky white, the 4- to 5-inch-diameter pieces — called ice cores — provide scientists with a wealth of historical information, from air temperature to greenhouse gases to evidence of cosmic events. The record reaches as far back as 800,000 years.

The ice is the remnant of centuries of snowfall, compressed by the weight of successive years of accumulation.

“You can drill into it, and it’s much like looking at tree rings,” Fudge said. “It’s just year after year after year of climate information that’s preserved out in the ice sheet.”

Specialized drilling rigs pull the cores from as deep as 9,800 feet below the surface of the ice sheets. Crews then tuck them into protective tubes, pack them in chilled containers and ship them to the U.S. Refrigerated trucks haul them to Colorado lab, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

In a bustling, white-walled workroom in the Lakewood freezer — kept at about minus 11 Fahrenheit — workers push the cores through a series of saws on metal frame benches, divvying up the ice according to a prearranged pattern for different experiments.

Part of every ice core is archived in another, larger room at about minus 33 degrees, so future researchers can verify old results or try new tests. The archive contains nearly 56,000 feet of ice.

Scientists tease data from the ice in various ways. Differences in the weight of molecules in the frozen water hold clues about the air temperature at the time the snow fell.

Air trapped in bubbles can be analyzed to measure how much carbon dioxide and other gases were in the atmosphere when the ice formed.

A solar flare or other cosmic events can leave distinctive radioactive atoms on the snow. Dust blown in from distant continents offers clues about atmospheric circulation.

“The ice sheets are in direct contact with the atmosphere,” said Mark Twickler, the lab’s science director. “Everything that’s in the atmosphere we capture as time goes by, and it gets buried in snow.”

The depth of the core and evidence of volcanoes help determine how old the ice is.

Scientists already know when major eruptions occurred, so a layer of volcanic residue indicates the year the adjacent ice formed. That becomes a reference point for annual layers above and below.

The record is remarkably precise, even reflecting seasonal changes, scientists say.

“It’s as if we’re standing on the ice sheet writing down the temperature for the last 800,000 years,” said Bruce Vaughn, a University of Colorado-Boulder lab manager who works with the ice. “It’s that good.”

Without a record of its depth and age, the ice has little research value, said Geoffrey Hargreaves, curator of the Lakewood lab.

“An ice core without any depth references — I shouldn’t say this — it’s good for margaritas,” he said, poker-faced.

Dipping straws into the Ogallala — The Hutchinson News

From The Hutchinson News (Jim Schinstock):

“Pulling a well” was one of the many chores I had growing up on a farm in western Kansas. Usually this involved pulling the pump to the surface, changing the leathers and cleaning the sand screen, then lowering the pump through the pipe back to the water below. Sometimes it involved working on the gears on the windmill head some 20 or 25 feet above the ground. And once in a while we had to change out a pipe that had sprung a leak.

I haven’t pulled a well in over half a century, nor do I miss the experience. But back in those days, we had good sweet water at about 30 feet. Nowadays, wells have gotten deeper because the water table continues to get lower. The same 30-foot well would have to be redrilled to over 100 feet to reach water.

And that is because the Ogallala Aquifer can’t keep up with the demand for water. Since it takes about 480 gallons of water to raise and process a quarter-pound of beef, think of that number the next time you drive by a feedlot or go through a McDonald’s drive-thru.

The Ogallala, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, is an irregular, undulating sponge that soaks up rain and groundwater. The Ogallala holds about 2.9 billion acre-feet of water, roughly the same amount in Lake Huron. About two-thirds of the water lies beneath Nebraska, where the Ogallala is thickest and most saturated. Running south from Nebraska, the Ogallala meanders through seven states to Texas on the south end. All along its course, the Ogallala varies markedly in thickness and saturation levels. If you think of the Ogallala as a milkshake, the question becomes where to put your straws and how deep into the milkshake. Eventually the milkshake is empty.

The culprit in the draining of the Ogallala is irrigation, and the “straws” are all the wells poking into the aquifer. As demand for water exceeds supply, wells become more numerous and deeper. Clovis, New Mexico, currently uses 73 wells to provide less water than 28 wells delivered in 2000. This isn’t an isolated phenomenon. Many small towns and cities are in danger of, literally, “drying up.”

The eight states impacted by the Ogallala also have different rules for pumping from the aquifer. Texas has no regulations, and users can take as much water as they want, even selling it to others. Nebraska and Oklahoma require “reasonable use and shared rights,” with water rights shared proportionately to acreage. The remaining states – Kansas included – deny new applications and protect existing water rights by seniority.

And the beat goes on. From 2000 to 2008, the Ogallala declined at twice the rate of the previous decade. The aquifer lost, on average, 8.3 million acre-feet of water each year, roughly half the flow of the Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon.

Dust from the drought-hit Southwest ups avalanche danger in the Rockies — Bob Berwyn

Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS
Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

From BeaconReader.com (Bob Berwyn):

We all know what a blanket of fresh snow is supposed to look like — it’s the stuff of poetry. And for skiers and snowboarders, it’s the magic carpet that carries us beyond the edge of gravity, free-falling down mountainsides immersed in a spray of frozen crystals.

But for the last 10 years, the snows falling in parts of the Colorado Rockies have been far from virgin white. From March through May, the mountainsides sometimes look more like gravy covered mashed potatoes, as regional weather patterns blow huge amounts of desert dust to the high peaks of the San Juans and beyond. Instead of skimming down the slope with wings on your feet, skiers sometimes find themselves stuck in the muck. In a worst-case scenario, you might even double-eject out of your bindings if you hit a particularly sticky patch in a transition area.

Much of that seasonal dust is coming from dry lake beds in Arizona, from arid grazing lands around the Four Corners area and from intensively used recreation and energy development areas in the wider region. Satellite images clearly show the source and the deposition areas, and 10 years of detailed data from snow-study plots around the Colorado mountains show how the dust is affecting snow and water.

Report: Protecting source water in #Colorado during oil and gas development


Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

This guide is intended for water providers and community members interested in learning more about water quality protection during oil and gas develop- ment. The information contained in this guide is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is intended to be up to date as of the time of publication, but likely will not remain current over the passage of time. This guide is not a substitute for a consultation with an attorney licensed in Colorado or your jurisdiction who can properly advise you regarding your specific situation.

This report is a collaborative effort by the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project, the Colorado Rural Water Association, AirWaterGas and Western Resource Advocates. The lead authors of the report are Matt Samelson and Matt Sura. Kathryn Mutz (Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project), Dylan Eiler, Paul Hempel, Tom Wall, and Colleen Williams (Colorado Rural Water Association), and Joan Clayburg and Laura Belanger (Western Resource Advocates) are the review editors. We would like to thank John Duggan and Dave Rogers from the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, Mike Paules, Regulatory Advisor at WPX En- ergy, and Mark O’Meara, Town of Carbondale Utilities Director for their assistance and review of this document. Their experience and thoughtful suggestions improved the quality of this report. We would also like to thank Matt Schechter of the University of Colorado Boulder Of ce for Outreach and Engagement for design of this guide. The authors take full responsibility for any mistake found in this report, and the review of this document by the above entities does not imply their agreement with or endorsement of the concepts, analysis, methodologies, or conclusions of this report. Funding for this report was provided in part by Western Resource Advocates and by a CU Outreach and Community Engagement grant to the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment.

@DenverWater: Monthly #conservation tips

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum
Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

Click here to read the article. Here’s an excerpt:

This summer has been a hot one, but the sizzle doesn’t have to burn out your water-wise mindset.

Here are recommended lawn watering times for August:

  • Fixed spray heads: 14 minutes per zone
  • Rotary/high-efficiency nozzles: 34 minutes per zone
  • Rotor heads: 27 minutes per zone
  • Manual sprinklers: 20 minutes per zone
  • On watering days — limited by the rules to no more than three a week — you can make each minute matter by cycling and soaking. Water when the time is right, which is easy if you remember that time never falls between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

    Water only when your lawn needs a drink. Besides wasting water — and your money — overwatering can lead to weeds, disease and dreaded fungus.

    And here’s a hot tip for smart savings indoors: Our rebates changed this year, so be sure to look up which toilets qualify for rebates before you buy. Only WaterSense-labeled toilets averaging 1.1 gallons or less per flush qualify for a $150 rebate. With a little bit of research, you and your new rebate-worthy throne can rule the world of efficiency.

    2016 #coleg: Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District will be fiscal agent for water storage survey

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

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    The local water district agreed Tuesday to manage the financial aspects of a study of water storage potential on the South Platte River basin. The study is the first project in eastern Colorado to result from the Colorado Water Plan that was presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper in November 2015.

    The study is mandated by HB 16-1266, which is the first legislation to emanate from that water plan.

    The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District Board of Directors voted Tuesday to allow the district and its staff to act as “fiscal agent” for the $211,168 study, which is to be completed by November 2017. As fiscal agent, the district will assure that the grant money is paid to the appropriate contractors in a timely manner. In return, it will charge a fee of 5 percent, or about $10,500.

    The board also got its first look at a revised version of the scope of work for the study. A primary point of discussion Tuesday was just what part of the basin will be studied. Joe Frank, manager for the district, pointed out that while the law authorizing the study specifies that the study is to “Evaluate sites in the Lower South Platte Basin from Greeley to Julesburg,” it also allows for the inclusion of “promising sites in other parts of the Basin.” However, Frank said, it’s doubtful that many promising sites can be found above Greeley because of population density.

    “They’re going to have to narrow it down to ten or so sites, because the grant is only so big,” Frank said. “I think they’re going to have to look at the most promising sites between Greeley and Galesburg.”

    Fountain Creek Watershed district is asking Colorado Springs-area to pony up some operating dough

    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

    The executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District visited officials in Pueblo County on Monday and stopped by meetings of El Paso County, Colorado Springs and Fountain leadership on Tuesday.

    [Larry] Small’s travels aren’t to say “Hello.” He is asking municipalities from Palmer Lake south to the Arkansas River to include money in their 2017 budgets to help his ever-growing organization.

    “Our workload has gone up significantly,” Small said.

    In 2013 the district had two projects. He expects at least six to be underway in 2017.

    At the El Paso County commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, Small brought a letter requesting almost $50,000 from the county. He asked for just more than $100,000 from Colorado Springs and almost $40,000 from Pueblo County and the city of Pueblo combined. Small said his organization will need $200,000 from local municipalities to help take care of administrative fees and grant-matching funds for upcoming projects.

    “We can ask, but there is no obligation,” he said.

    The Fountain Creek Watershed and Greenway District is wrapping up its seventh year since Gov. Bill Ritter signed a bill creating the legal entity in April 2009.

    Small’s group is part of the Regional Resiliency Collaborative, formerly known as the Waldo Canyon Fire Regional Recovery Group. The district has played an integral role in helping acquire grant money and managing projects during the post-fire recovery and flash-flood mitigation along Fountain and Monument creeks.

    The district had a budget of more than $1.1 million in 2016, up from about $786,000 the year before, Small said. He expects his 2017 budget to be “pretty close” to this year’s. Most of the district expenses are covered by matching funds and grants from organizations like the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Community Development Block Grant Program, and other state and federal sources.

    Small said the district has not asked local municipalities for monetary help since 2013. He will continue his 2016 tour next week, soliciting funds from smaller towns and cities like Monument, Palmer Lake, Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs.

    “That money will go a long way,” he said.

    Salida Water Festival, Saturday, August 13


    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable Public Education, Participation and Outreach workgroup will present the inaugural Salida Water Festival from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Riverside Park in downtown Salida.

    The free, family-focused festival will feature fun activities, educational exhibits, food vendors and funky live music by Mo’Champipple and the Miso Horns.

    Geography, climate and history converge in Colorado to produce unique water resource challenges that underscore the importance of water education.

    Geographically, Colorado is a headwaters state. Essentially, all water in Colorado flows downstream to other states. As a result, Colorado water management is framed by interstate compacts that dictate how much water Colorado must leave in its rivers for downstream states.

    Colorado’s arid to semi-arid climate also affects water use and management. Climate conditions also deliver 80 percent of Colorado’s water to the Western Slope while 80 percent of the state population lives east of the Continental Divide.

    Historically, the first European immigrants to Colorado arrived from Spain; then, Colorado became U.S. territory before achieving statehood. So Colorado water law includes vestiges of Spanish water traditions and U.S. territorial law as well as Colorado state law.

    These factors combine to produce a system of water management that has been characterized as complex, byzantine and archaic.

    Nevertheless, Colorado’s system of water management, based on the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, has worked for more than a century in spite of significant changes in water usage patterns and population density.

    The Salida Water Festival will help clarify the complexity of water resource management in Colorado with exhibits that provide demonstrations, information and some fun along the way.

    Water activities and games like the squirt-gun rain-gauge race, the sponge race, the dunk tank and Salida Fire Department’s water brigade will keep kids entertained and make learning about water a lot less daunting.

    Water storage is key to successful water management, and Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District representatives will discuss underground aquifer storage, a key component in the district’s multiuse projects.

    Water quality also affects water resource management, and San Isabel Land Protection Trust staff will provide a hands-on demonstration of the importance of irrigated agriculture and crop cover to watershed health.

    The Public Education, Participation and Outreach workgroup will welcome festival attendees and provide information on Colorado’s Water Plan, the Basin Implementation Plan and other Arkansas Basin Roundtable activities.

    The PEPO booth will also have information about the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Interbasin Compact Committee, water conservancy districts and more.

    Greater Arkansas River Nature Association representatives will facilitate demonstrations of water usage by invasive plant species such as Russian olive trees. GARNA demonstrations will also show how native plants improve stream-water quality by removing nitrates and phosphates.

    Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area staff will provide a three-dimensional, interactive model of the Arkansas River Valley including the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

    At the 4-H booth, festival attendees can learn about watersheds by creating a watershed, identifying their watershed on a topographical map and discovering ways to keep watersheds healthy.

    Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, the town of Buena Vista and the city of Cañon City will be on hand to provide information about source water protection plans and other programs that protect water resources.

    Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas staff will focus on river restoration, explaining the types of environmental restoration required to achieve Gold Medal standards in the Arkansas River.

    Chaffee County Public Health officials will discuss levels of fluoride in wells across Chaffee County and provide free well testing kits.

    Local firefighters will discuss the importance of water for firefighting and bring a fire truck to the festival to demonstrate how firefighting equipment works.

    Local engineer Lindsay George will talk about the use of small-scale hydroelectric power generation and demonstrate hydropower with a model turbine.

    Festival attendees will also have the opportunity to join the Colorado Community Rain, Hail and Snow Network that helps track water resource data across the nation.

    Attendees will receive free promotional products after visiting all festival exhibits, demonstrations and displays. For more information visit http://pepoarkbasin.com.