The U.S. Drought Monitor says 24.31 percent of Colorado falls into the category, including much of the Denver metro and areas to the east and south. The report also says 91 percent of the state is “abnormally dry,” including nearly all of the high country.
“A dry October resulted in the expansion of abnormally dry conditions in the northern half of New Mexico as well as across much of Colorado,” the report said. “Colorado also saw a widespread expansion of moderate drought along the higher elevations east of the Continental Divide, along the Front Range corridor, and across the eastern plains.”
Forecasters say there isn’t an immediate end to the warm streak in sight. Jim Kalina, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Boulder, said earlier this week that there won’t be any major cool-off in the near future and that the Climate Prediction Center is calling for above-normal temperatures through November.
The warmth has hit Colorado’s ski areas hard as they gear up to start the season. The unseasonably warm weather has made snowmaking limited to impossible.
While some trappings of early ski season are already upon us – Arapahoe Basin has been open since October 21, several Colorado ski areas saw a few inches of natural snow this week and the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Expo opens on Friday at the Colorado Convention Center – you could be forgiven for not having skiing and snowboarding on your mind while temperatures are still in the 70s here in Denver. It’s been warm up in the hills, too: Keystone and Wolf Creek each announced this week that they’ll be postponing their opening days, previously scheduled for this Friday.
Wolf Creek is hedging even more and hasn’t announced a new date at all: There’s almost no snow on the ground yet at a resort more typically known for having the most snow in Colorado.
Loveland Ski Area historically gives Arapahoe Basin a run for its money as the first ski area in North America to open each season but has yet to announce an opening date for the 2016-2017 season.
The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday, shows a huge portion of Colorado newly encased in a moderate drought or abnormal dryness, the precursor to drought. About 90 percent of the state is now in drought territory, and that’s a big deal for all Coloradans because the state’s water and food resources are widespread.
Notably, moderate drought persists in Fort Collins and Denver and has now spread to Boulder, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. “Moderate” is the first of four levels of drought severity.
If conditions persist — and the National Weather Service predicts they will for Fort Collins — residents can expect damage to crops and pastures, developing or imminent water shortages and a request for voluntary water-use restrictions.
Drought or drought-like conditions haven’t spread across so much of the state since 2012-2013, when a drought of varying severity overtook all of Colorado, devastating crops, livestock and rivers. That was the last time Fort Collins saw a drought.
Drought impacts in Fort Collins have been relatively minor so far because of solid snowpack and spring moisture, but the ongoing dryness means the region will badly need plenty of winter moisture in order to avoid more severe impacts come spring, Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken previously told the Coloradoan.
Seasonal forecasts are undecided for winter moisture in Northern Colorado.
Fort Collins has been in a moderate drought since August after two months of abnormal dryness. A historically dry June with only 0.05 inches of rain kick-started the arid conditions, and since then the city has gotten less than about half the normal amount of rain each month.
Compare that to Greeley, which saw close to normal rain all summer and didn’t enter near-drought conditions until last week. Denver and Boulder joined Fort Collins in moderate drought faster because they started drying up in July.
Unusually dry weather in September and October — not soaking-wet months to begin with — seems to have sealed the deal for most of the rest of the state, including Colorado Springs and Pueblo. The latter two cities and most of southern Colorado saw historic dryness during the last two months.
Drought classifications are based on weather (including precipitation), vegetation stress and other factors.
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center hasn’t released a drought outlook since the new Colorado regions entered drought, but it recently predicted Fort Collins will remain in a drought through winter. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have a bone-dry winter, just that whatever we get is less likely to alleviate the drought.
Fort Collins precipitation
June: 0.05 inches (2.3 percent of the 1981-2010 normal)
ASPEN – The city of Aspen filed two applications Monday in Division 5 Water Court for “finding of reasonable diligence” on the conditional water rights it has maintained since 1965 for the potential storage reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.
The city told the court it has “steadily applied effort to complete the appropriation” of the conditional water rights for both of the reservoirs over the last six years, and that it has done so “in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner under all facts and circumstances.”
It then asks the court to issue conditional decrees for both reservoirs for six more years.
The “appropriation” of the current conditional water rights would mean completing the construction of the dams and the storage of water as described in the decrees, which call for a 170-foot-tall dam on upper Castle Creek to hold 9,062 acre-feet of water and a 155-foot-tall dam on upper Maroon Creek to hold 4,567 acre-feet.
The city did not cite any specific actions it has taken in the last six years in regard to investigating, designing, constructing, or financing the actual dams and reservoirs, outside of reaching agreement with two landowners in the Castle Creek Valley not to flood their property if the Castle Creek Reservoir is built.
Instead, both applications filed Monday say the reservoirs are “part of Aspen’s integrated water supply system” and are “part of Aspen’s long-range plan to maintain a water supply to meet current and future demand.”
The city’s diligence applications say it spent in excess of $6 million on its water system since 2010 and point to Colorado’s Water Right Determination and Administration Act of 1969 as to how that can help its case.
The law states that “when a project or integrated system is comprised of several features, work on one feature of the project or system shall be considered in finding that reasonable diligence has been shown in the development of water rights for all features of the entire project or system.”
The same law also says, however, that “the measure of reasonable diligence is the steady application of effort to complete the appropriation in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner under all the facts and circumstance.”
Directed to file
Aspen City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Oct. 10 directing staff to file the diligence applications, which were due on Oct. 31.
The last diligence decree was awarded on Oct. 11, 2010, which set the clock ticking on the last six-year diligence period.
In all previous filings, the city has filed one application covering both reservoirs, but on Monday it filed separate applications for each potential reservoir.
By Tuesday afternoon, both of the applications from the city had been processed by the water court clerk. The case number for the Maroon Creek Reservoir application is 16CW3128. The case number for the Castle Creek Reservoir application is 16CW3129.
The city has filed diligence applications for the reservoirs eight prior times, in 1972, 1977, 1981, 1985, 1989, 1995, 2002 and 2009, and each time has been awarded a new diligence decree for the conditional rights.
The required time between diligence filings changed from every four years to every six years in 1990, which accounts for the differing time spans between filings before and after that date.
When a water rights application is filed in water court, interested parties have two months to file a statement of opposition in the case.
And with the filing date for both of the city’s applications coming on Halloween, the deadline for statements of opposition to be filed has been set for New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2016.
Any citizen, regardless of whether they own water rights, or might be injured by a water right claim, is allowed to file a statement of opposition in water court, although the court requires opposers to honor the court’s process, which can be time-consuming.
The opposition to come
The U.S. Forest Service informed the city in October it intends to file a statement of opposition, especially as the Maroon Creek Reservoir is wholly on U.S.F.S. land and would inundate portions of the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness.
Matt Rice, director of the Colorado River Basin Program for American Rivers, confirmed Tuesday that the national nonprofit organization also still intends to oppose the city’s diligence applications.
“We don’t believe that new water storage dams on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek are appropriate now or anytime in the future,” Rice said.
In a press release issued Tuesday by American Rivers, Rice said, “Constructing these dams would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but the price would pale in comparison to the massive environmental impacts. American Rivers and our members urge the Aspen City Council to reconsider this decision.”
Rice said that Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, Wilderness Workshop and several private landowners are “seriously considering” filing statements of opposition.
Will Roush, conservation director for Wilderness Workshop, said Tuesday his organization has yet to decide if it will oppose the city in water court.
Wilderness Workshop sent out a press release on Tuesday, however, with a quote from Roush.
“The city of Aspen’s pursuit of dams on Castle and Maroon creeks could not be more out of step with the community’s values,” he said in the release. “These two iconic creeks, universally treasured by our community, have far too many social and ecological values to build unneeded reservoirs on them.”
And the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board unanimously agreed on Oct. 20 to direct staff to prepare a letter or resolution urging the Pitkin County commissioners to file a statement of opposition in the diligence cases.
“We’ve always felt that reservoirs were against the mission of the Healthy Rivers and Streams Board,” said Bill Jochems of Redstone, who has served on the river board for the last seven years.
He said reservoirs deprive rivers of necessary high spring runoff and “have highly undesirable aspects from an aesthetic point of view.”
Mayor proud to file
Steve Skadron, the mayor of Aspen, sent a letter to the editor Tuesday saying he was “proud” of the city for filing the diligence applications.
“Without knowing more about viable alternatives for water storage, it simply would not be prudent water management on our part to give up these water rights,” Skadron wrote. “After all, climate and other changes in this region are uncertain and what our needs will look like in 2066 is not something we are poised to gamble away by letting this storage right go.”
Aspen’s applications say “the city continues to investigate and develop more refined tools for planning its future water needs.”
Skadron also pointed out that the council directed staff on Oct. 10 to “undertake a collaborative effort to work with the community and stakeholders to find other water storage solutions.”
Reservoir size to be ‘revised’
The size of the Castle Creek Reservoir is expected to be reduced after agreements the city reached with Mark and Karen Hedstrom in May of 2010 and with Simon Pinniger sometime after mid-2012. Both the Hedtroms and Pinniger own land at the upper edge of the potential reservoir.
However, the city did not cite the size of the potentially reduced Castle Creek Reservoir in its diligence application.
“It is expected that this commitment by Aspen will result in a reduction in the volume and surface area of the Castle Creek Reservoir, and Aspen has contracted for a preliminary investigation of the anticipated revised size and volume of the Castle Creek Reservoir,” the city’s application states.
David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives, said on Tuesday that the city contracted for that “preliminary investigation” on Oct. 18, 2016.
The applications also include a sentence that seems to overstate how the reservoirs are referenced in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.
“The city also participated in the development of Colorado’s State Water Plan, which resulted in the Colorado River Basin Implementation Plan, which identified the continued due diligence for the preservation of the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek storage rights as important projects for securing safe drinking water,” the city stated.
However, the two reservoirs were not identified in the basin implementation plan as “important projects” and they were specifically rejected from being included among the top three priority projects in the Roaring Fork River basin by roundtable members.
Instead, they are referenced in a broader context of “identified projects” in a chart under the theme of “secure safe drinking water.”
Under “methods,” the chart says, “Investigate the development of storage reservoirs on both Maroon and Castle creeks if no better alternative is discovered.”
And under “identified projects,” it states “Continue due diligence for the preservation of the 1972 storage rights on Maroon and Castle creeks by giving true consideration to all other potential options.”
(The rights were originally filed for in 1965 and decreed in 1971, not 1972.)
In both applications the city submitted Monday, it also says “the significant cost of permitting, design and construction” for both reservoirs “dictates that other long range plans be implemented first.”
The city did not provide estimates of costs for the dams and reservoirs in its applications.
It did say, however, that the city has spent $600,000 on water attorney fees since 2010, primarily to defend its water rights, and that expenditure should be considered as part of a finding of reasonable diligence. Those expenditures are included in the city’s overall spending figure of “in excess of $6 million” that it has spent on its water supply system in the last six years.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.
The next three years provide the “last chance” to limit global warming to safe limits in this century, the United Nations said, as it geared up for a conference in Morocco intended to carry forward the Paris agreement on climate change.
Unless nations move before 2020 to cut their emissions more aggressively than they have promised, the window of opportunity will close and the job that lies ahead will become more costly, it said.
The annual “emissions gap” report compares the goals of the treaty to the pledges of its signatories. In it, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned that unless reductions in carbon pollution from the energy sector are reduced swiftly and steeply, it will be nearly impossible to keep warming below 2 degrees, let alone to the 1.5 degree aspiration.
Each year’s gap report, produced by expert scientists using the latest available data, makes clearer than ever that the treaty commitments undertaken so far fall short of what is needed to keep warming below the UN’s targets.
The 2016 assessment is especially significant for three reasons. It is being published just as the treaty enters into force, as countries are starting to plan their next steps. It is the first assessment to calculate the emissions that will occur under all the pledges made last year. And it is the first to hold those pledges up not only to the long standing 2-degree goal, but to the new 1.5-degree goal that was a central accomplishment of the Paris meeting last December.
Now that the treaty has been signed by enough countries to enter into force on November 4—much sooner than many had expected—delegates arriving in Marrakech for next week’s conference of parties are keen to keep the momentum building.
UNEP said that the need for urgent, immediate action to confront the climate crisis is “indisputable.”
Early action, it said, would help find the least expensive path toward eliminating carbon dioxide emissions in time to reach the 2-degree goal.
But speed is essential if there is any hope of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees, a target of vital concern to small island states and other poor nations that are most vulnerable to climate change.
“It is likely the last chance to keep the option of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C in 2100 open,” the report said, “as all available scenarios consistent with the 1.5 degree C goal imply that global greenhouse gases peak before 2020.”
Put that way, the gap facing treaty adherents is daunting, especially since emissions are currently rising at a steady clip.
“The rate of global greenhouse gas emissions increase during the period 2000 to 2010 was faster (2.2 percent per year) than during the period 1970 to 2000 (1.3 percent per year), increasing in 2010 and 2011 (3.5 percent per year) and then slowing in 2012 to 2013 (1.8 percent per year),” the report said.
“In summary, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, and while the indications are encouraging that the growth rate of global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use and industry is slowing, it is still too early to say whether this is likely to be permanent.”
The Paris pledges “represent a first start to initiate the required transition, but are far from being consistent with the agreed upon long-term temperature goals.” If every country fulfilled its pledges the world would be on course to warm by about 3 degrees Celsius.
Under current pledges, the world would come close by 2030 to depleting the carbon budget for 2 degrees of warming, and would well exceed the budget for staying below 1.5 degrees.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
The U.S. Drought Monitor saw continued deterioration of drought conditions in the south and southeast as dry conditions and above average temperatures prevailed during the past week further impacting soil moisture and agriculture across the region. Parts of the interior U.S. also saw a deterioration in conditions due to a continued lack of rainfall combined with well above average temperatures. Conversely, rains along the coast in New England and in the Pacific Northwest provided relief to those drought stricken areas…
Short-term precipitation deficits and well above average temperatures led to an increase in the depiction of abnormally dry conditions across parts of western and central Nebraska as well as in western Kansas. The panhandle of Oklahoma saw an increase in moderate drought (D1) and abnormally dry (D0) areas while the southeast part of the state also saw an expansion of these categories as well as in increase in severe (D2) drought…
Precipitation eased drought conditions in Northern California bringing a reduction in moderate (D1) drought. Short-term drought impacts have essentially been eliminated in eastern Oregon, but longer-term hydrologic impacts (denoted by the area enclosed within the solid black line) remain. A dry October resulted in the expansion of abnormally dry conditions in the northern half of New Mexico as well as across much of Colorado. Colorado also saw a widespread expansion of moderate (D1) drought along the higher elevations east of the Continental Divide, along the Front Range corridor, and across the eastern plains…
The National Weather Service Quantitative Precipitation Forecast calls for continued dryness during the next week across the drought impacted areas of Alabama and Georgia as well as a broad area spanning from the southern half of California northeastward to North Dakota. More precipitation is forecast for the Pacific Northwest and along a band from New Mexico to the Northeast as fronts move through these areas. In general, warm conditions will dominate the temperature forecast for most of the country in the week ahead.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The possibility that it would prove beneficial to send more water from Lake Powell downstream to Lake Mead is muddier than the Colorado River through the Grand Valley in springtime, said a Utah State University professor who has studied the reservoirs.
The “fill Mead first” idea is lacking in significant science and “could do more harm than good to the Grand Canyon,” said Jack Schmidt, watershed sciences professor at Utah State.
The idea of filling Mead before Powell — the two largest lakes on the Colorado River, each of them containing about 27 million acre-feet of water — has gained currency as annual runoff has slackened and demands have increased for restoration of Glen Canyon, which now is filled by Lake Powell.
One study has said that some 300,000 acre-feet of water could be saved by filling Mead first.
There are, however, “enormous uncertainties with the estimates of water savings,” Schmidt said in an interview at the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center’s sixth-annual Upper Colorado River Basin Forum at Colorado Mesa University, which is continuing today.
Schmidt was one of a group of scientists who promoted the idea of controlled flooding below dams to restore ecosystems. He served three years as chief of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
One of the major unknowns that underlie questions about the “fill Mead first” idea is the still unresolved issue about which reservoir suffers greater water loss to evaporation.
It’s generally considered that Mead, with apparently greater surface area and lower elevation, would suffer more losses from evaporation, but there are no state-of-the-science studies to confirm that, Schmidt said.
Another unknown lies in the silt at the bottom of Lake Powell, he said.
Tons of silt have been trapped at the bottom of the lake on what otherwise would be their sedimental journey down the river.
“Sediment really matters,” Schmidt said.
Lake Powell has trapped the sediments that would have been carried by the Colorado through the Grand Canyon and into Lake Mead. The effects of those lost sediments aren’t well studied, he said.