Coyote Gulch outage

Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism
Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism

I’m heading across the Great Divide for the Colorado River District’s Annual Seminar tomorrow and a tour of the Animas-La Plata Project on Monday. Posting may be intermittent. Follow me on Twitter (@CoyoteGulch).

I’ll be live-Tweeting the seminar tomorrow.

#Drought news: Small pocket of D1 (moderate drought) introduced in Elbert and Lincoln counties

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


Unseasonably warm, dry weather across the eastern third of the nation contrasted with wet, cooler conditions across portions of the west. The overall trend during the past week included rapidly expanding dryness and drought from North Carolina into New England, while highly variable drought lingered over much of the Southeast. Recent rain continued to ease dryness in northern portions of the Plains and Rockies as well as the lower Southwest, while drier-than-normal weather intensified in the Pacific Northwest…

Northern Plains

Chilly, wet weather improved conditions over the region’s core drought areas, though impacts remained. Temperatures for the week averaged 2 to 8°F below normal, which coupled with widespread rain and high-elevation snow led to reductions of dryness and drought. During the 7-day period, precipitation totaled locally more than an inch in southern and eastern Montana as well as western North Dakota. This week’s precipitation coupled with a wetter-than-normal period dating back over the past 90 days led to the reduction of Abnormal Dryness (D0) as well as Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2, respectively) in these locales. Precipitation was also noted in the Black Hills and environs, where satellite-derived vegetation health data as well as reports from the field continued to show improving conditions from this summer’s locally Extreme Drought (D3). Despite the cooler weather and recent rain, impacts lingered in the D2 and D3 areas, with 90-day rainfall remaining locally less than 50 percent of normal…

Central and Southern Plains

Changes during the week were generally minor in this mostly drought-free region. Showers eased Abnormal Dryness (D0) and trimmed the Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2) in Nebraska, though deficits over the past 90 days (40-75 percent of normal) lingered. In eastern Colorado, a small pocket of D1 was introduced where 90-day rainfall is currently running one-third of normal. In Oklahoma, locally heavy rain (1-3 inches) and resultant drought relief in central and northern portions of the state contrasted with worsening drought in the south; the state’s new D2 area has received less than 30 percent of normal rainfall over the past 90 days…


Widespread albeit highly variable showers in central and northern portions of the state contrasted with localized drought intensification in Deep South Texas. Rainfall amounts in Texas’ Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) areas ranged from a Trace to locally more than 2 inches, which likewise resulted in highly variable reduction of D0 and D1. Severe Drought (D2) was introduced in far southern Texas, where 90-day rainfall was less than 25 percent of normal…

Western U.S.

Moderate to heavy rain from former Pacific Hurricane Newton eased or eradicated drought in the lower Southwest, while increasingly dry conditions were noted across portions of the Pacific Northwest. A welcomed soaking rainfall (1-4 inches, locally more) fell over southeastern Arizona and much of southern New Mexico, bringing widespread reductions to Abnormal Dryness (D0) as well as Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2). In some areas, 2-category improvements were made where the rain from Newton was sufficient to push 6-month precipitation to above-normal levels. Further assessment may be warranted over the upcoming weeks to fully incorporate the impacts of this week’s rain on the region’s lingering drought. In contrast, Severe Drought (D2) was expanded across southeastern California and southwestern Arizona due to a poor monsoon (less than 50 percent of normal rainfall over the past 3 months, locally less than 10 percent). Likewise, a small area of Moderate Drought (D1) was introduced in northwestern Washington, where 90-day rainfall has totaled 50 percent of normal (deficits in excess of 2 inches)…

Looking Ahead

Tropical Storm Julia will likely be a short-lived tropical storm due to land interaction and unfavorable upper-level winds. Nevertheless, additional rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches or more can be expected, especially along the South Carolina coast. Farther west, a weakening cold front will move through the Northeast and stall across the South, while a robust storm system will emerge from the northern Intermountain West before crossing the northern Plains and upper Midwest on September 15-16. Five-day rainfall could total an inch or more across portions of the northern Plains and upper Midwest, and reach 1 to 3 inches from the central and southern Plains into the middle Mississippi Valley. Parts of the Northeast could also receive more than an inch of rain, while late-week showers will overspread the Northwest. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for September 20- 24 calls for near- to above-normal temperatures nationwide, except for the northern Rockies, with the greatest likelihood of warm weather in the Great Lakes region and the eastern U.S. Meanwhile, below-normal precipitation will linger over the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast as well as from the central Plains to the Great Basin and central Pacific Coast. Wetter-than-normal conditions are expected from the Southeast and Gulf Coast States into the Midwest, extending westward along the Canadian border into the Pacific Northwest.

Arctic sea ice in race for second-lowest annual minimum — The Alaska Dispatch News

(National Snow and Ice Data Center / NASA Earth Observatory)
(National Snow and Ice Data Center / NASA Earth Observatory)

From Alaska Dispatch News (Yereth Rosen):

Arctic sea ice is nearing the end of its annual melt, and one outcome is certain: 2016 will have either the second-lowest or third-lowest minimum extent measured since satellites began mapping ice.

Sea ice extent — the area of sea surface covered at least 15 percent by ice — has fallen below the minimum reached in 2011, which had been the third-lowest minimum recorded since satellite measurements began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. Extent is now tracking slightly below the 2007 level for this time of year but well above the record low in 2012.

“We’re neck and neck with 2007,” said Mark Serreze, the center’s director. “We’re either going to be No. 2 or No. 3.”

A notable characteristic of this year’s ice is its low concentration, even at very high latitudes. Even near the North Pole, ice is broken, with a lot of open water exposed, according to satellite readings.

“You can take a boat up to 86 degrees north,” Serreze said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever seen that before, but it’s certainly an eye-opener.”

Imagery has improved with a new satellite, he noted.

The 2007 minimum, a record at the time, was 1.59 million square miles, hit on Sept. 16 of that year. Sea ice extent as of Wednesday was 1.622 million square miles, according to the NSIDC’s calculations posted Thursday. The annual minimum usually occurs in mid-September.

Imagery has improved with a new satellite, he noted.

The 2007 minimum, a record at the time, was 1.59 million square miles, hit on Sept. 16 of that year. Sea ice extent as of Wednesday was 1.622 million square miles, according to the NSIDC’s calculations posted Thursday. The annual minimum usually occurs in mid-September.

Sea ice has been relatively sparse all year, with record lows set for several months. Cloudy and cool weather, however, helped slow the melt earlier in the summer, the center said in its monthly report, issued Wednesday. The average August extent was the fourth lowest for that month. But two Arctic cyclones in August appeared to have accelerated melt by stirring up the broken ice.

In other years, such storms have brought cooler conditions that “have not been conducive to losing a lot of ice in the summer,” Serreze said. This year, however, with ice thinner than it used to be, the storms appear to have had the opposite effect. “It may be that now you’re mixing warmer waters up,” he said. The old patterns may no longer apply, he said.

Large waves used to be rare in the western Arctic Ocean but are becoming more common as open-water areas expand, the center said in its monthly report. Waves of up to 19 feet were recorded during the August cyclones, the center said.

The long-term trend to more open Arctic water over the past three decades has numerous spinoff effects.

With Arctic ice volume above the Pacific Ocean down 75 percent, late-summer extent down 50 percent and the open-water season expanded by four to six weeks, the region has become a friendlier habitat for some baleen whales, according to a new paper in the journal Biology Letters, published by the Royal Society of Britain.

Humpback, minke and fin whales, which up to the 1980s were not seen north of the Bering Strait, are now commonly spotted in the Chukchi Sea, said the paper, and bowhead whales have flourished. The baleen whales eat plankton and copepods — tiny crustaceans — that are more prolific in open water or water with only thin ice coverage, but the benefit to baleen whales may be only temporary, according to the paper.

Arctic shipping routes, which are open this year, are expected to become navigable for much longer periods in future decades, according to a study newly published in the journal Geophysical Research letters. The study, by University of Reading scientists, predicts that by midcentury, Arctic shipping routes will be navigable for annual periods that are twice as long as they are now.

After Strong El Niño Winter, NASA Model Sees Return to Normal

From NASA (Kate Ramsayer):

Not too hot, not too cold – instead, water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean should be just around normal for the rest of 2016, according to forecasts from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, or GMAO. With these neutral conditions, scientists with the modeling center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center say there is unlikely to be a La Niña event in late 2016.

Last winter saw an extremely strong El Niño event, in which warmer-than-normal water sloshed toward the eastern Pacific Ocean. Historically, some of the larger El Niño events are followed by a La Niña event, in which deep, colder-than-normal water surfaces in the eastern Pacific Ocean, off the coast of South America.

Sea surface temperature patterns of the 2015 El Niño in the Pacific Ocean unfolded differently than those seen in the 1997-1998 El Niño. Credits: NASA
Sea surface temperature patterns of the 2015 El Niño in the Pacific Ocean unfolded differently than those seen in the 1997-1998 El Niño.
Credits: NASA

“We are consistently predicting a more neutral state, with no La Niña or El Niño later this year,” said Steven Pawson, chief of the GMAO. “Our September forecast continues to show the neutral conditions that have been predicted since the spring.”

As part of a research and development project, GMAO contributes experimental seasonal forecasts each month to the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) and other centers. MME produces a forecast by combining the individual forecasts of a number of participating institutions, which helps to reduce the uncertainty involved in forecasting events nine to twelve months in advance. The NMME prediction system delivers forecasts based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operational schedule and is used by many operational forecasters in predicting El Niño and La Niña events.

For GMAO, the seasonal forecasts are one way to use NASA satellite data to improve near-term climate predictions of the Earth system.

“We’re really trying to bring as much NASA observational data as possible into these systems,” Pawson said.

The scientists with GMAO feed a range of NASA satellite data and other information into the seasonal forecast model to predict if an El Niño or La Niña event will occur in the nine months – information on the aerosols and ozone in the atmosphere, sea ice, winds, sea surface heights and temperatures, and more. The models are run on supercomputers at the NASA Center for Climate Simulation – 9 terabytes of data each month.

For much of this spring and summer, however, the Goddard group’s forecast of neutral conditions looked like an outlier. Most other forecasts originally called for a La Niña event, but then shifted to more neutral outlooks in August. But the GMAO forecasts produced in January 2016, which look nine months ahead, saw the Pacific Ocean reverting to normal temperatures after last year’s El Niño, and even getting a little colder than normal. Still, the water wouldn’t get cold enough to be considered a La Niña, according to the GMAO forecasts.

It’s not the first time in recent memory that GMAO was an outlier. “The big El Niño that peaked in November 2015, we actually began forecasting that back in March, and our forecast was in excellent agreement with the real event,” said Robin Kovach, a research scientist at GMAO. While the strength of the 2015-2016 El Niño predicted by the model seemed at first to be excessive, it was borne out in subsequent observations.

The GMAO models aren’t always right, though, Kovach said. In 2014 the group forecast a large El Niño that didn’t materialize.

“There’s a fair degree of uncertainty when you start predicting for nine months ahead,” Pawson said. But the group is constantly upgrading their systems, and is currently working to improve the resolution and bring in new types of satellite observations, such as soil moisture information from the Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, which launched in 2015.

GMAO scientists are also investigating how to incorporate observations of ocean color into the seasonal forecast model. Shades of green can tell researchers about how much phytoplankton is in a region, which in turn can provide information about fish populations.

“So if there’s another big El Niño in five years or so, we could be able to do online predictions of phytoplankton,” he said, “and help fishermen predict where fish might be.”

For more information, visit:

For NOAA’s El Niño and La Niña information and forecasts, visit:

Military experts say climate change poses ‘significant risk’ to security — The Guardian

Despite ups and downs from year to year, global average surface temperature is rising. By the beginning of the 21st century, Earth’s temperature was roughly 0.5 degrees Celsius above the long-term (1951–1980) average. (NASA figure adapted from Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

From The Guardian (Oliver Milman):

A coalition of 25 prominent members of US national security community warn that higher temperatures and rising seas will inundate bases and fuel conflict

In a report outlining climate risks, the group state: “The military has long had a tradition of parsing threats through a ‘Survive to Operate’ lens, meaning we cannot assume the best case scenario, but must prepare to be able to effectively operate even under attack. Dealing with climate risks to operational effectiveness must therefore be a core priority.”

Organized by the non-partisan Center for Climate and Security, the group includes Geoffrey Kemp, former national security adviser to Reagan, Dov Zakheim, former under secretary of defense under Bush, and retired general Gordon Sullivan, a former army chief of staff.

Recommendations to the federal government include the creation of a cabinet-level official dedicated to climate change and security issues and the prioritization of climate change in intelligence assessments.

Last year, the Department of Defense called climate change a “threat multiplier” which could demand greater humanitarian or military intervention and lead to more severe storms that threaten cities and military bases and heightened sea levels that could imperil island and coastal infrastructure. In January, the Pentagon ordered its officials to start incorporating climate change into every major consideration, from weapons testing to preparing troops for war.

This new focus has not been warmly welcomed by Republicans, with Colorado congressman Ken Buck proposing an amendment that would bar the Pentagon from spending money on adapting to climate change.

“When we distract our military with a radical climate change agenda, we detract from their main purpose of defending America from enemies like Isis,” Buck said in July. Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has labeled climate change a “hoax”.

But military figures are increasingly expressing concern over potential disruption to the 1,774 coastal military installations the US operates at home and abroad. A mass of military infrastructure in Virginia is at particular risk of being soaked, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warning that by 2050 a majority of US coastal areas are likely to be threatened by 30 or more days of flooding each year due to “dramatically accelerating impacts from sea level rise”.

“The conclusions are clear: climate risks are accelerating in their likelihood and severity,” said retired rear admiral David Titley of the US navy. “The next administration, whomever is elected, has the duty and obligation as commander-in-chief to manage this risk in a comprehensive manner.”

Ronald Keys, former commander of Air Combat Command, told the Guardian that he was initially skeptical about climate change but was then convinced by the impacts he saw first hand when returning to Langley air force base in Virginia after an uneventful spell there in the 1980s.

“I came in as commander in 2005 and there were north-easters that came through and brought three or four feet of water outside where I was living,” he said. “You see that change and think ‘a ha.’ Before, a minor storm was a nuisance, now it is a danger to some of our operations.”

Keys said he hoped in a non-presidential election year that “cooler heads may prevail” over the rhetoric used by Trump and others.

“It’s hard to energize people now, but it’s too late when the water is around your ankles,” he said, “People can say the temperature hasn’t followed the models but I can read a thermometer and a flood gauge. We need to do this threat analysis now.”

Lake Nighthorse to Dryside pipeline construction begins — The Durango Herald

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

For decades, water storage and supply infrastructure in Southwestern Colorado have been slow-moving, underfunded dreams. Lake Nighthorse, a critical component of the grandiose Animas-La Plata Project intended to supply water to Native American tribes, was filled in 2011, but it took five years before the very first mechanism to transport water from the storage facility would be realized.

On Wednesday, water authorities, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal leaders and La Plata County officials gathered at the lake just west of town to commemorate the watershed moment…

The 4.6-mile pipeline will wind west and then northward through La Plata County to Lake Durango, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land as well as private properties. Some of the private homeowners consented to the infrastructure in exchange for taps.

Charlie Smith, general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 property owners, who either haul water or depend on low-quality wells, are on a waiting list for taps, which come at a price of about $10,000. Lake Durango supplies potable water to households in Durango West I and II, Rafter J, Shenandoah and Trapper’s Crossing.

The pipeline will add to Lake Durango’s reserves, and will be constructed with $2.8 million from the Lake Durango Water Authority and $1 million each from the two tribes as well as loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The sum contributed by the Lake Durango Water Authority includes water purchased from Animas-La Plata.

Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2017, which will be only the beginning of the Animas-La Plata Project’s long-range vision.

The Ute Mountain Utes have the ability to extend the pipeline in the future, and the San Juan Water Commission, a New Mexico water authority, is considering a main of its own from Lake Nighthorse to northern New Mexico. The Daily-Times of Farmington reported the commission will meet next month to discuss particulars of the proposal.

As plans advance to remove water from the Animas River-fed Nighthorse, the water and shore remain free of recreationists. Bureau of Recreation officials said last week that the agency is in consultation with tribes and project partners to find the best recreation plan without compromising cultural resources.

A draft recreation plan and environmental assessment was released last spring, and a final document is still to come.

Meanwhile, preparatory infrastructure is underway at the lake, including a decontamination station, where boats will be checked for invasive species when recreation is permitted at the lake.

Roadwork on a turn lane into Lake Nighthorse from County Road 210 began the first week of September.

#AnimasRiver: Senators seek repayment for mine spill response — The Farmington Daily Times

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

A half dozen U.S. senators are backing an amendment to expedite federal reimbursements to states, tribes, local governments and individuals for expenses incurred during the Gold King Mine spill.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., led the effort on Monday with senators Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and John McCain, R-Ariz., in introducing an amendment to a Senate bill for the Water Resources Development Act.

In addition, the amendment calls on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work with states, tribes and local governments to develop and implement a water quality program to monitor the rivers contaminated by the Aug. 5, 2015 spill…

The water quality program would be responsible for collecting water samples and sediment data, and releasing that information online for the public’s review, according to the amendment.

In a joint press release on Monday, the senators said they support holding the EPA accountable for the spill, and they emphasized that reimbursements to government entities and individuals are needed.

Udall said reimbursements to state and tribal governments “have taken far too long,” and the amendment will start the reimbursement process.

“It also takes important steps to help rebuild confidence in the quality of the water in the San Juan and Animas rivers through long-term monitoring,” Udall said.

Heinrich called the rate to repay individuals “unacceptable.” He also called for action to reform “outdated policies” to clean up contaminated mines in the West and on tribal lands.

“Western communities deserve full and complete protection of their water, land and livelihoods,” Heinrich said.

The bipartisan effort received support on Wednesday from Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, who continued his calls for reimbursing Navajo farmers.

Begaye said in a press release that funds received as a result of the amendment would be used to build a laboratory in Shiprock that would be used to study the water quality of the San Juan River.

“This amendment sets forth funds to be provided for monitoring of the San Juan River and irrigation canals. We need for our farmers to be confident that the water quality is irrigable,” the tribal president said.

10th Annual Water 101 workshop from the Water Information Program, September 22, 23


Click here for all the inside skinny and to register. From email:

Just a friendly reminder…

Register now for the 10th Annual Water 101 Workshop and Pilot 202 Session to be conducted September 22 (8:30 am to 5:00 pm) and 23 (8:30 am to 12:00 noon), 2016 at the La Plata County Fairgrounds in Durango, CO.

The workshop qualifies for 10 continuing education credits (CEC) for lawyers, as well as CEC’s for realtors, TU’s for water utility personnel, and contact hours for teachers.

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs (retired) will once again be the keynote speaker. See the sessions agenda and flyer for more information. Register for either session or both online ( or call (970) 247-1302.