Climate: Sea ice at both poles way below average

Summit County Citizens Voice

Antarctic sea ice retreat could set stage for ice shelf collapses

wef Melting Greenland glaciers in September 2015, photographed from a passenger jet. @bberwyn photo.

Staff ReportMonths of above-average temperatures in the Arctic slowed the growth of sea ice formation to a crawl during the second half of October, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported in its latest monthly update.The ice scientists said that, starting Oct. 20, Arctic sea ice started setting daily record lows for extent.  After mid-October, ice growth returned to near-average rates, but extent remained at record low levels through late October. Both sea surface and air temperatures have remained unusually high, extending from the surface high up into the atmosphere.

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Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s 2017 budget = $1 million

South Platte River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
South Platte River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s executive committee approved the district’s nearly $1 million budget for 2017 Tuesday morning.

At its October meeting the full board authorized the executive committee to move ahead with formal adoption in November after a public hearing. Board Chairman Ken Fritzler briefly adjourned the executive committee meeting Tuesday to hold a public hearing, but there were no public comments. After re-convening, the attending members adopted the budget.

The bottom line of $995,257 includes a beginning fund balance of $250,885, total tax revenue of $244,104, and two grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board totaling $363,168, which the district will administer. One grant is to help manage the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative and the other is for the year-long South Platte Storage Study.

The other big chunk of revenue, $146,600, comes from the myriad services LSPWCD provides to water users in the area.

On the expenditure side, the largest portions are personnel costs of $254,450 and a contingency reserve of $215,387. The funds shown on the revenue side for the two CWCB grants also show on the expenditure side, since they are merely pass-through funds.

In other business Tuesday, Manager Joe Frank formally notified the committee that the district has selected MWH Global, formerly Montgomery Watson Harza, headquartered in Broomfield, and Leonard Rice Engineers of Denver as contractors on South Platte river storage survey. The survey is a study of water storage potential in the South Platte River basin. It 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.

Frank also told the committee that terms for five seats on the district’s governing board will expire at the end of this year. They include two seats in Logan County, two in Morgan County, and one in Sedgwick County. Board members who want to re-apply for their positions must do so in writing by the end of November.

#Drought news: #Colorado dryness creeps across most of the state, do your snow dance

Doing a snowdance
Doing a snowdance

From (Blair Miller):

The latest figures in the U.S. Drought Monitor show 98.4 percent is experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions and 30.8 percent is in a period of moderate drought.

The worst drought conditions are along the Front Range and eastern plains of Colorado.

Thursday marked the 29th day in a row that Denver has gone without measurable precipitation, according to the National Weather Service.

Though that doesn’t come close to cracking the top-10 precipitation-free streaks, Denver could come close if it doesn’t get any rain or snow in the next week…

drought conditions are expected to worsen as La Niña arrives this week in the U.S. The weather pattern occurs when water in the Pacific Ocean cools, and usually brings higher precipitation to the Northwest and northern Rockies, but that comes with drought conditions across the American South.

Forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have said in recent days this La Niña will likely be weak and short-lived, adding there is a 55 percent chance it will persist through the winter.

The current trajectory for La Niña means Colorado could be a bit drier than usual this winter, though it should be exempted from the driest conditions.

But the current conditions moved in quickly. On Aug. 9, only 26.7 percent of the state was under “abnormally dry” conditions, and just 0.4 percent was under moderate drought conditions.

A year ago today, 80 percent of the state was experiencing no drought conditions whatsoever.

The lack of precipitation and warmer, drier air has already postponed ski season at several of Colorado’s resorts, which have struggled to make artificial snow at times and haven’t seen much help from Mother Nature.

Colorado Drought Monitor November 8, 2016.
Colorado Drought Monitor November 8, 2016.

#ColoradoRiver: Tucson, Phoenix reach Lake Mead water sharing agreement #COriver

The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

Tucson will leave nearly 20 percent of its Central Arizona Project water supply in Mead next year, in hopes of propping up the declining lake and pushing back the date of shortages that would cut deliveries, particularly to cities.

Tucson and Phoenix also have agreed to have Phoenix store much more of its CAP supply in a Tucson-area underground aquifer next year than planned. The upshot of the deal is that even though Tucson will leave a lot of water in Lake Mead, it will still put even more CAP into its Avra Valley recharge basins next year than it normally does.

But when a future Colorado River shortage occurs, Phoenix would get to make use of the same amount of Tucson’s share of CAP water as it’s now getting ready to store in Tucson. It’s a trade-off that pleases water leaders in both cities, as well as Arizona’s top water official.

“The actions like that which are taken by water users to conserve water in Lake Mead is a very positive thing,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke. “I haven’t heard from anyone else interested in doing what Tucson is doing, but maybe when they hear Tucson is doing that, other folks will step forward.”

Tucson’s mayor and City Council strongly support Tucson Water’s action, but several members are frustrated that the utility acted unilaterally. Tucson Water Director Timothy Thomure said that was because City Manager Michael Ortega had to place a CAP order for next year by Oct. 3, and the negotiations with water project officials and others involved in this deal weren’t wrapped up until Sept. 29. For various reasons, the issue wasn’t brought to the council until this week.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschid and council members Steve Kozachik, Paul Cunningham and Karin Uhlich said this isn’t acceptable and that they want to be involved earlier in such negotiations in the future.

“This is about our future,” Cunningham said. “Without water there is no Tucson left.”

While it’s constructive for Tucson to collaborate with cities such as Phoenix, “that does not mean the decisions should start getting made by a handful of staff members,” Uhlich said. “Water is worth more than gold here. It’s life.”

Specifically, the Tucson-Phoenix arrangement works like this:

  • Next year, Tucson will leave 26,000 feet of its 144,000 acre-foot CAP supply in Lake Mead. Typically, Tucson Water takes all the water, but stores nearly one-third in Avra Valley recharge basins for when it’s needed in times of shortage. It usually puts the rest of that water into the same basins and pumps it out over the course of a year.
  • Phoenix will store 36,500 acre-feet in the Avra Valley basins next year, and put an additional 3,500 acre-feet in another recharge basin for Metro Water’s future use. Typically, Phoenix uses about two-thirds of its total CAP supply, and the rest goes to other, Arizona-based CAP users such as farmers and the Arizona Water Bank. The bank stores it in its recharge basins for future use.
  • When a Colorado River shortage occurs that’s severe enough to affect cities, Tucson could pump the Phoenix-stored water for its use. Phoenix, in turn, could pull a similar amount of Tucson’s CAP supply in the same year as the water heads down the project’s concrete canal to one of two Phoenix-area CAP treatment plants.
  • This arrangement saves Tucson $5.3 million next year. That’s $1.8 million in payments from Phoenix for storing its water down here, and the $3.5 million it saves in payments to CAP for unordered water.
  • While this arrangement is now only for next year, Phoenix Water Director Katherine Sorensen said she hopes it will become a long-term arrangement. Thomure said it’s possible that Tucson Water will come to the council about extending this setup for three to five years.

    This is the second time the two cities have agreed to increase the scope of their water-sharing agreement since they first signed it in 2014.

    This agreement comes as water officials around the Southwest are negotiating a three-state agreement to reduce their use of Colorado River water in hopes of reducing if not arresting Lake Mead’s continued decline. The lake is expected to end 2017 barely 3 feet above 1,075 feet. Below that level, an initial shortage would be declared, slashing water deliveries to Arizona farmers and the water bank.

    The bigger concern is that if additional steps aren’t taken to keep more water in Mead, in 10 percent of all possible future scenarios Mead would drop to 1,025 feet by 2019, according to computer models. At that level, Arizona cities would face CAP shortages, Thomure said. But with the water use cuts now being considered by the three states, plus Tucson’s reduction, the odds of the lake hitting 1,025 feet would be reduced to less than 10 percent in most years through 2026, he said.

    Now, with five years worth of CAP water stored underground in the utility’s basins and others run by the water bank, “we are rich with water,” Thomure said.

    “We can build a fence around Tucson and say that we’re resilient and we don’t need to participate in discussions with other cities, but we’re at risk if we do so,” he said. “We’re better off if we work collectively, in a much better position for the long term.”

    It’s in Phoenix’s best interest to store as much CAP in Tucson-area aquifers as it can, water director Sorensen added. Currently, Phoenix’s ability to store its CAP water in underground aquifers in its area is limited because it abandoned most wellfields back in the 1980s when it switched to CAP, Sorensen said.

    Phoenix can meet only 5 percent of its total demand with groundwater, “which is very concerning to us,” she said.

    From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sandy Lopez):

    Under an agreement between water officials in Phoenix and Tucson, a significant amount of Colorado River water allocated to Phoenix will be stored in Tucson-area reservoirs and the underground aquifer next year, while Tucson will draw about 20 percent less water from Lake Mead than normal.

    The deal is intended to keep the water level in Lake Mead high enough to prevent the federal Bureau of Reclamation from declaring a water shortage that would require states to reduce their withdrawal of water from the lake, which supplies approximately 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s drinking water.

    Bronson Mack, a Southern Nevada Water Authority spokesman, said the deal between Tucson and Phoenix typifies the behind-the-scenes work going on to avoid a shortage declaration.

    “That’s been a lot of the focus on states near the Colorado River working to develop agreements and understandings that allow better coordination and more flexibility between us,” he said…

    “The agreement is a positive thing because it allows leveraging of existing infrastructure to create flexibility to manage water supplies,” said Tom Buschatzke, Arizona Department of Water Resources director. “Tucson gets to keep some water in Lake Mead, which creates benefits for larger audiences beyond Phoenix and Tucson.”

    Lake Mead sank to a low record of 1,071.61 feet above sea level on July 1, but has since gained nearly 5 feet.

    If the lake’s surface is below 1,075 feet at the beginning of a year, Nevada would be forced to cut its river use by 4 percent while Arizona would take an 11 percent cut.

    The Bureau of Reclamation currently forecasts that the lake will be at 1,078 feet above sea level— 3 feet above the first water shortage trigger — at the end of December.

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

    Center for #ColoradoRiver Studies: Fill Mead first — A Technical Assessment #COriver


    Click here to the Denver for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University for all the inside skinny on the report. Here’s the executive summary:

    The Fill Mead First (FMF) plan would establish Lake Mead reservoir as the primary water storage facility of the main-stem Colorado River and would relegate Lake Powell reservoir to a secondary water storage facility to be used only when Lake Mead is full. The objectives of the FMF plan are to re-expose some of Glen Canyon’s sandstone walls that are now inundated, begin the process of re-creating a riverine ecosystem in Glen Canyon, restore a more natural streamflow, temperature, and sediment-supply regime of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon ecosystem, and reduce system-wide water losses caused by evaporation and movement of reservoir water into ground-water storage. The FMF plan would be implemented in three phases. Phase I would involve lowering Lake Powell to the minimum elevation at which hydroelectricity can still be produced (called minimum power pool elevation): 3490 ft asl (feet above sea level). At this elevation, the water surface area of Lake Powell is approximately 77 mi2, which is 31% of the surface area when the reservoir is full. Phase II of the FMF plan would involve lowering Lake Powell to dead pool elevation (3370 ft asl), abandoning hydroelectricity generation, and releasing water only through the river outlets. The water surface area of Lake Powell at dead pool is approximately 32 mi2 and is 13% of the reservoir surface area when it is full. Implementation of Phase III would necessitate drilling new diversion tunnels around Glen Canyon Dam in order to eliminate all water storage at Lake Powell. In this paper, we summarize the FMF plan and identify critical details about the plan’s implementation that are presently unknown. We estimate changes in evaporation losses and groundwater storage that would occur if the FMF plan was implemented, based on review of existing data and published reports. We also discuss significant river-ecosystem issues that would arise if the plan was implemented.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Making Lake Mead the primary water storage facility on the Colorado River isn’t as simple as it might seem and would require more study than it’s been given so far, says a study released Thursday.

    Backers of the Fill Mead First idea said the study underscores the need to move ahead with studies and a spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District said the discussion ignores a significant element: the need for Colorado and other states to save water in Powell.

    The Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University said more study of evaporation from Lake Powell is needed, as well as a study of groundwater into the reservoir and of the fine sediment that would be released should Lake Powell be drained.

    That would be a good start, said Eric Balken, executive director of the Glen Canyon Institute, which drafted the idea of filling Lake Mead instead of storing water in Powell so as to reduce water lost to evaporation.

    The Interior Department has so far “written off” the idea, Balken said.

    “Now is the time to initiate new measurement programs of (evaporation) losses at Lake Powell and Lake Mead so that future policy discussions have access to less uncertain data regarding evaporation and groundwater storage,” Balken said in an email.

    The idea ignores Lake Powell’s “primary purpose,” which is to serve as a savings account for the upper Colorado River Basin states to deliver an average 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower basin, said Chris Treese of the River District.

    The amount is set in the 1922 compact that governs the use of the river, which provides water to millions of people in the arid Southwest.

    Advocates of draining Lake Powell tend to write off the upper basin concerns by saying it’s “with a wave of the hand that you’d have to ‘make a few changes’,” to the compact, Treese said, “As if it’s simple and desirable to open up the Colorado River Compact.”

    The Fill Mead First idea proposes draining Lake Powell in a three-stage process and storing the water in Lake Mead, 300 miles downstream.

    “It is surprising how much uncertainty there is in estimating losses associated with reservoir storage,” said Jack Schmidt of the Center for Colorado River Studies, who served as chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Research and Monitoring Center from 2011 to 2014.

    Evaporation losses at Lake Mead are measured by the U.S. Geological Survey in a state-of-the-science program, but there have been no efforts to measure evaporation at Lake Powell since the mid-1970s, Schmidt said.

    Using the most recent data, researchers showed the Fill Mead First plan might reduce evaporation losses slightly, but noted that such a prediction is uncertain.

    The Interior Department should conduct a thorough scientific investigation of evaporation and seepage losses at lakes Powell and Mead, as the Utah State study suggests, Balken said.

    Delph Carpenter's 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell
    Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell

    Video: Watching our Water: The Challenge to Keep it Clean — Harvest Public Media

    Here’s an introduction to the video from Rocky Mountain PBS (Luke Runyon):

    Contaminated drinking water isn’t just a problem for Flint, Michigan. Many towns and cities across the Midwest and Great Plains face pollution seeping into their water supplies.

    Farmers spread nitrogen- and phosphorous-based fertilizers on their fields to help their crops grow. Excess nutrients, though, can leach into groundwater or seep into rivers, creeks, canals or ditches that eventually feed into the Mississippi River. In high concentrations, these chemical compounds damage aquatic life and burden small towns that have to remove them from their water supply.

    Headlines on news stories from Burlington, Colorado, Erie, Illinois, and Creighton, Nebraska, warn citizens not to drink the water due to high levels of nitrate. Boiling the water won’t work. It further concentrates the contaminants. Dilution and filtering seem to be the best ways to limit exposure.

    So, nutrients meant for plants are ending up concentrated in our water. But how?

    View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)
    View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)