R.I.P Leon Russell: “I’ve been so many places in my life and time”

Leon Russell from “A Poem Is a Naked Person”
Leon Russell from “A Poem Is a Naked Person”

From The Associated Press via The Denver Post:

An email from Leon Russell Records to The Associated Press says Russell died in Nashville on Saturday night. The email cites Russell’s wife as the source of the information. Russell had heart bypass surgery in July and was recovering from that at the time of his death. He had been planning on resuming touring in January, the email said.

Besides his music, Russell was known for his striking appearance: wispy white hair halfway down his back and that covered much of his face.

He wrote Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady” and in 1969 put together Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour, which spawned a documentary film and a hit double album.

As a musician, primarily a pianist, he played on The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” and Jan and Dean’s “Surf City.” He also played guitar and bass.

Russell produced and played on recording sessions for Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Ike and Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones and many others.

He recorded hit songs himself like “Tight Rope” and “Lady Blue” and participated in “The Concert for Bangla Desh.” John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison played on his first album, “Leon Russell.”

His concerts often ended with a rousing version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” In 1973, Billboard Magazine listed Russell as the top concert attraction in the world. About this time, he was the headline act on billings that included Elton John and at other times Willie Nelson.

In a 1992 interview with The Associated Press, Russell said music doesn’t really change much.

“It’s cyclical, like fashion. You keep your old clothes and they’ll be in style again sooner or later.

“There are new things, like rap. But that’s a rebirth of poetry. It’s brought poetry to the public consciousness.”

In 2011, Russell was chosen for induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He also was honored with an Award for Music Excellence from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He and Elton John released “The Union,” a critically received duo album in 2010.

Russell, born in Lawton, Oklahoma, began as a night club piano player in Oklahoma at the age of 14, also backing touring artists when they came to town. Jerry Lee Lewis was so impressed with Russell that he hired Russell and his band for two years of tours.

He relocated to Los Angeles in 1959, where he became known as a top musician, and later to Nashville.

In the early 2000s he began his own record label, Leon Russell Records.

It’s Back: La Niña Has Returned — Smithsonian Magazine #ENSO

Typical La Nina weather patterns over North America via NOAA.
Typical La Nina weather patterns over North America via NOAA.

From Smithsonian Magazine (Erin Blakemore):

If things are feeling weirdly warm for November, you’re not alone—places throughout North America are experiencing record high temperatures after an unseasonably warm October. But don’t ditch those unused winter coats and mittens just yet: As Eric Berger reports for Ars Technica, a weather phenomenon that all but guarantees a chilly winter.

It’s called La Niña, and it happens when the temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean cool down. Though the phenomenon is associated with with a warmer than normal winter in the Southeast, the effect is the opposite for the Northwest, which tends to be cooler than normal during a La Niña year. And as Berger writes, the phenomenon was just confirmed by climate officials.

Right now, National Weather Service predictions show a weak La Niña sticking around through the winter, affecting both temperatures and precipitation. For northern parts of the United States, that means more precipitation and cooler temperatures than usual and the opposite in the southern half of the country.

Though wetter than normal conditions will soak places like the northern Rockies, drought conditions will likely persist in California, which is still parched despite a damp El Niño event earlier this year. The dry conditions will also worsen in places like the Deep South, which has been exceptionally dry this year. For the middle of the country, however, it could go either way.

Of course, La Niña patterns aren’t the only ones that dictate climate. In a media release about the U.S. winter outlook, NOAA notes that though the phenomenon is linked to heavier snowfall around the Great Lakes, snow forecasts aren’t possible without more data on developing storms. And other oscillations in atmospheric pressure and temperature in places like the Arctic and the tropics can influence how much precipitation is generated and how cold the weather gets.

Intense La Niña years can lead to severe droughts, as in 1988 when the phenomenon combined with other atmospheric anomalies to create the worst Great Plains drought since the Dust Bowl. But this year may be a lucky break. This latest La Niña appears to be relatively weak, which means that the ocean and parts of the atmosphere will get a much-needed cooldown before the next warmup.

#Snowpack news: Statewide #drought isn’t yet a concern for most — The Vail Daily

Colorado statewide snowpack November 10, 2016 via the NRCS.
Colorado statewide snowpack November 10, 2016 via the NRCS.

From The Vail Daily (John LaConte):

We all know a slow start for snowfall doesn’t mean the ski season will turn out to be bad. It can, however, make it difficult for snowpack to catch up later in the season, which is what concerns those who watch water levels.

“From a skiing perspective, one good series of storms could have people forgetting this dry weather,” said self-proclaimed Colorado River nerd, Eric Kuhn. “From a water supply perspective, the longer we go without any snow, the more unlikely it is we will catch up to average.”

Kuhn is the general manager of the Colorado River District; 2016-’17 will be his 36th winter working with the district.

“I’ve seen some really wet ones, I’ve seen some dry ones and I know it’s not time to panic,” he said. Besides, “it looks like there’s three days between now and Thanksgiving where they’re suggesting there’s a chance of rain and snow.”

STUCK ON ZERO

Currently, the snow-water equivalent at the Snotel site on Vail Mountain is 0 inches; the 30-year median for Friday is 2.7 inches. Copper Mountain’s site is also reading 0 inches with a 1.5-inch 30-year median. At the headwaters of the Eagle River on Fremont Pass, there’s currently a 0.3 inch snowpack reading, with a 30-year median for Friday of 2.4 inches.

Arapahoe Basin and Loveland ski resorts, which are always the first resorts to open on the Interstate 70 corridor, have both opened. Those resorts do not announce an opening date ahead of time, but their Summit County neighbors who do, including Copper Mountain and Keystone, have seen delays to their originally scheduled dates.

Here in Eagle County, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail was hoping to have its professional training grounds at Golden Peak open to national teams from around the world by today, but will be forced to wait until cooler temperatures allow for more snowmaking.

Eagle River Water & Sanitation District communications manager Diane Johnson has worked in the area for decades, and has seen delays to the local resort openings. She cautions skiers against basing season predictions on early season conditions.

“In the 1978-’79 season, we started with .4 inches snow water equivalent, and that turned out to be a great year with peak (snow water equivalent) at 34 inches in May,” Johnson said. “And in 2011-’12, we had about normal for right now, but that turned into the lowest overall.”

[…]

“We’re dependent on stream flows. We don’t have lots of reservoir storage, so talking to Denver Water or someone like that it’s a different story,” Johnson said. “We go ‘Hey, we’ll see what’s coming down in the spring.’ Obviously, we always like being ahead but I don’t think it automatically sets us up for gloom.”

Westwide SNOTEL November 13, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL November 13, 2016 via the NRCS.

#ColoradoRiver: Beauty, “It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science” — Esther Vincent #COriver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via The Aspen Daily News:

Nobody disputes that the Colorado-Big Thompson project has changed Grand Lake, the state’s largest, deepest natural lake. How could it not?

In the 1940s, Grand Lake was integrated into the giant C-BT, what the late historian David Lavender called a “massive violation of geography.” It’s Colorado’s largest transmountain diversion project. By one tally in the 1990s, it delivers an average 231,060 acre-feet annually from the headwaters of the Colorado River to cities and farms east of the Continental Divide. This compares to the 105,024 acre-feet from three tunnels through the Sawatch Range east of Aspen.

Almost immediately after the C-BT was completed in 1953, locals began to complain that the project shoehorned into the lake had sullied the lake’s clarity by introducing algae and sediments. This is, they insist, a violation of federal law.

The controversy pivots on Senate Document 80, a part of the Congressional authorization for project funding in 1937. The document describes the needs of irrigation, industrial and power production but also warns against impacts to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

The lake, if outside the park, has one of Colorado’s most memorable backdrops. The document specifies the need “to preserve the fishing and recreational facilities and the scenic attractions of Grand Lake…”

On that, say many locals, the C-BT has failed, and they say that until recently they got little response from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that built the C-BT.

But now, in a reversal, the bureau is working with 18 other stakeholders in an effort to solve the problem. Parties include Northern Colorado Water, the agency that manages the diversions for cities and farmers of northeastern Colorado, Grand County and other state and local organizations.

Grand Lake’s story fits into a broad theme of changed sensibilities in Colorado about 20th century river alterations. Restoration and remediation projects are starting or underway on the San Miguel River in Telluride, on the Eagle River at Camp Hale and on the Fraser River near Winter Park.

“It’s possible that at one time, the impacts of the CBT Project on Grand Lake clarity were thought to be just part of the price we pay for valuable water projects,” said Anne Castle, a fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “Now, we are more inclined to believe that the environmental values have significance, including economic significance, and that operations can and should be adjusted to better accommodate these values.”

The work at Grand Lake also illustrates the power of persistence and spunk by advocates of environmental protection. And it involves a collaborative process called adaptive management that emphasizes consensus-based decision-making in solving stubborn issues involving water diversions.

Nobody thinks solving this problem will be easy, though. In April, after several years of working together, the Grand Lake stakeholders submitted a plan to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. The plan approved by the commission sets an interim clarity goal for summer pumping during the next five years.

During that time, the Bureau of Reclamation is to develop a plan for long-term solutions. Alternatives include expensive new tunnels, possibly bypassing Grand Lake altogether. A preview of the alternatives may emerge at a meeting of stakeholders in late November.

Not everybody in Grand Lake thinks that reduced clarity is a problem. “There are people who think there’s a problem, but there is no problem,” says Jim Gasner, a member of the Grand Lake Board of Trustees, the town’s elected body, and a fishing “teacher” at Rocky Mountain Outfitters.

But Elwin Crabtree, a real estate agent and former Grand County commissioner, sees something different. “It’s adverse to its natural being,” he said in early August in an interview at his office along the town’s main street of knotty-pined stores and lodges. “I think we look at it as a moral issue,” he added. “I think we believe in having responsibility to be good stewards of our environment.”

The C-BT is an effort to address what one historian in the 1950s called “nature’s error.” Even as Aspen was putting on its silver-lined britches in the 1880s, farmers along the South Platte River and its tributaries were struggling with inadequate water in late summer to finish their corn and other crops.

Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.
Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

Irrigators set out to remedy this. The first large-scale transmountain diversion from the headwaters of the Colorado River began in 1890. Called the Grand River Ditch, it’s beveled into the side of the Never Summer Range in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park, collecting water like a rain gutter from a roof.

Then came the 1930s, the decade of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and the New Deal. Farmers in northeastern Colorado had long been agitating for added infusions of water from the Colorado River headwaters. But they couldn’t get it done themselves. They needed federal funding.

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

The flawed design

But the work along the Continental Divide from 1939 to 1953 created a wound at Grand Lake. In retrospect, the design was flawed.

The C-BT at the Colorado River headwaters consists of three main bodies of interconnected water. Only one, Grand Lake, is natural.

Farthest downstream is Granby Reservoir, which is Colorado’s third largest, capable of holding 539,758 acre-feet of water during runoff of spring and early summer. This compares to Ruedi Reservoir’s 102,373 acre-feet and Dillon’s 257,304 acre-feet.

From Granby, water is pumped upstream as needed by Eastern Slope diverters to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Shallow, no more than nine feet deep, Shadow Mountain is directly connected through a short canal to Grand Lake.

In 2011, reservoirs east of the divide were full, so water was allowed to continue down the Colorado River without diversion. This photo shows what the lake looked like on Aug. 30, without pumping. Photo courtesy of Byron Metzler and pilot Steve Paul
In 2011, reservoirs east of the divide were full, so water was allowed to continue down the Colorado River without diversion. This photo shows what the lake looked like on Aug. 30, without pumping. Photo courtesy of Byron Metzler and pilot Steve Paul

The canal occupies the original path of the Colorado River emerging from Grand Lake. From the interconnected Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, water is then pumped through the 13.1-mile Alva Adams Tunnel underneath the national park to the Estes Park area for storage in reservoirs there and along the northern Front Range.

Shadow Mountain is a problem, though. Its shallowness allows water to be easily warmed in summer, producing algae that can float into Grand Lake. The shallowness also allows lake-bottom sediments to be disturbed more easily and dispersed into Grand Lake.

Evidence for the historic, pre-construction clarity of Grand Lake is scant: Just one measurement, taken in 1941, of 9.2 meters (30 feet).

Detailed observations during the last decade show clarity down to 6 meters (19.6 feet), but no more.

The standard adopted in April by the state agency specifies a minimum of 2.5 meters and an average of 3.8 meters (8.2 feet to 12.4 feet) during summer diversion season.

“I think the clarity standard has really elevated the discussion,” says Lane Wyatt, co-director of the water quality/quantity committee in the Northwest Council of Governments. “This is the only clarity standard in Colorado. It’s the first one we’ve ever done.”

Clarity is not the only issue, though. Water must be delivered to farms and cities. As it is flows downhill toward the Great Plains, it generates electricity distributed by the Western Area Power Authority. Purchasers of this low-cost power include Aspen Electric and Holy Cross Energy.

Canton “Scally” O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, remembers a more pristine past.

As a boy, his family summered at Grand Lake. That was in the 1930s and 1940s. “We drank the water right out of the lake, and many families did that,” O’Donnell said.

The first complaint about the sullied water was filed in 1954, the year after the project’s formal completion. In 1956, Grand Lake trustees adopted a resolution that informed Colorado’s congressional delegation of problems. The resolution was aimed at the Bureau of Reclamation.

“I think it’s fair to say that up until seven or eight years ago, the bureau pretty much stonewalled,” O’Donnell said. “They just did not want to recognize the problem, and Northern Colorado Water, the same.”

Movement has occurred during the last decade. One avenue for local protest was a proposed expansion of an existing diversion of the Colorado River at Windy Gap, about 15 miles downstream. Completed in 1985, the Windy Gap dam uses the C-BT infrastructure to deliver additional water to the Rawhide power plant north of Fort Collins, Greeley, Boulder and other cities.

The Windy Gap Firming, or expansion, plan was formally introduced after the drought of 2002. It proposes diversion of remaining water rights owned by a string of northern Front Range cities.

The effect of persistence

O’Donnell, of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, thinks the changed attitudes is explained by the persistence of individual public officials.

He singles out Lurline Underbrink Curran, then the Grand County manager. “She’s smart and she’s tough,” he said. “She just kept on beating on everybody to make it happen.”

He also points to the influence of Anne Castle, a long-time Denver water lawyer who served from 2009 to 20014 as assistant secretary for water and science in the Interior Department. Her responsibilities included oversight of the Bureau of Reclamation.

“I think part of the reason it has attention now is the fact that the Windy Gap Firming Project required the federal government to pay attention to Senate Document 80 and both C-BT and Windy Gap Firming Project do have an impact on Grand Lake’s recreation and scenic attraction. Calling attention to that issue, as both Lurline and I did, with prodding from Scally, had an impact,” Castle said.

But again, agreeing there is a problem is not the same thing as finding a solution.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about how our operations affect clarity,” said Victor Lee, an engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The precise circumstances that cause algae and sediments to degrade clarity are poorly understood. Northern has been altering its diversion regimes, to see if that will improve clarity.

This year, from July until late August, pumping was conducted about 15 hours a day at 250 cubic feet per second. Clarity degraded, though. Algae growth was suspected. So the pumping was accelerated to about 20 hours a day with two pumps. Results were mixed.

It was a success, said Lee, in that they learned something. Clarity readings exceeded the minimum but did not meet the average standard. “I would say the experiment was successful, but we did not meet our objective,” he said.

Esther Vincent, water quality manager for Northern Water, said the effort to address Grand Lake’s muddled clarity is attracting attention across Colorado by water professionals. Spurring their interest, she said, is the possibility of other bodies of water being assigned clarity standards.

There’s also interest in the adaptive management process created for Grand Lake. It’s similar to but separate from Learning By Doing, which was created in response to expanded water diversions from both Windy Gap and by Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel collection system.

Vincent also points out a deeply philosophical question. In 1937, when adopting S.D. 80, did Congress have the same notion about what constitutes “scenic attraction” as we do today?

“I am an engineer,” she said. “Asking an engineer to define what beauty is, is an interesting dilemma. It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of Colorado’s rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.