A Plan for Our Drinking Water

Your Water Colorado Blog

29912249693_77c8144aa7_zPhoto Credit: USDA

In 2012, city officials in Flint, Michigan, began to investigate the possibility of saving money by switching water providers. Projecting a savings of $200 million over the course of 25 years, they decided to build their own pipeline to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) instead of continuing to receive water from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). Officials then searched for an additional water source to bridge the gap between the loss of water being provided by DWSD and the completion of their connection to KWA.

800px-flint_river_in_flint_michiganFlint River

They settled on using the Flint River.

On April 25, 2014, Flint—a city where 40 percent of its people live in poverty—began drawing water from the Flint River for public use. Officials did not implement corrosion control treatment at the Flint Water Treatment Plant—a standard practice that prevents supply pipes from leaching lead. Shortly after switching the water…

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#Colorado Farm Show recap

Brad Udall via CSU Water Institute
Brad Udall via CSU Water Institute

From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):

Weather and climate experts had a clear message for attendees at the Colorado Farm Show at Island Grove Regional Park on Wednesday morning: Climate change will have real effects on agriculture, politics and public controversy aside.

Brad Udall is a senior water and climate change scientist with the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. He moderated a series of presentations and then a panel discussion on the subject of climate change for about 100 audience members.

“I think all of you understand that climate change is controversial, and it’s highly political,” Udall began. “But I need to tell you that within the scientific community, it is not controversial.”

The climate discussions were two of the many events on the second day of the farm show. Other presentations focused on topics ranging from the future of dairy farming to the basics of genomic testing. The farm show, which regularly brings more than 40,000 attendees during the three days concludes today.

CBS4 Denver Meteorologist Dave Aguilera opened his presentation by explaining the work of the National Ice Core Lab, located in Lakewood. Using ice cores from Antarctica, scientists observe air pockets trapped in ice from the past 800,000 years. Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide content has increased dramatically, he said.

Aguilera said he wanted to present the bare facts, without telling people what to think or demanding them to react in a certain way.

“I think when this whole thing started, we kind of went about it the wrong way. I think you can’t tell people, ‘Hey, the climate is warming up. Get rid of your car,’ ” he said.

One audience member expressed a concern that while he believes the earth is warming, the specifics of how it will affect people are uncertain. Aguilera agreed, adding people should educate themselves and others so more research can be done to clarify the full effects of climate change.

Nolan Doesken -- Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President's Award Presentation 2011
Nolan Doesken — Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President’s Award Presentation 2011

State Climatologist Nolan Doesken followed with a discussion of Colorado’s climate. Presenting graphs of temperature changes from weather stations throughout Colorado, Doesken noted a warming trend isn’t noticeable at an isolated weather station.

But when data from weather stations across Colorado are averaged, the trend matches the national and global trends of a climate that is getting hotter. Last fall was Colorado’s hottest on record, Doesken said.

During the panel, audience members asked questions about the effect of urbanization on weather stations and how climate change will affect areas where crops can be grown.

A first-timer at the Colorado Farm Show, Rhonda Brandt, said she thought the speakers’ comments were unique. Now a resident of Cheyenne, Brandt grew up on a farm south of Akron.

She said there’s no lack of science on climate change, but a lack of conversation that isn’t muddled by politics. When it comes to the agricultural community, she believes people will prevail over politics.

“I’m confident that the farmers and ranchers will adapt as they need to,” she said. “I hope we can come up with a plan. If something major does happen, that can help the farmers and ranchers do it as a country, rather than relying on them alone. Our food supply depends on it.”

SLV projects receive $1.4 million in GOCO grants

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From Great Outdoors Colorado (Rosemary Dempsey) via The Crestone Eagle:

The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board awarded three grants totaling more than $1.4 million to projects across the San Luis Valley. San Luis Valley Inspire, a valley-wide coalition breaking down barriers for kids to get outside, received $1 million in funding as part of the GOCO Inspire Initiative; Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) received a $376,500 grant to permanently conserve the La Garita Creek Ranch near Del Norte; and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) received a $25,000 habitat restoration grant for Rio Grande State Wildlife Area.

The $1 million grant is part of GOCO’s Inspire Initiative, which will invest in places, programs, and pathways to get kids outside in communities across the state. This innovative framework is being looked at as a national model, and each coalition’s approach to the unique challenges of their community will serve as examples to other rural, urban, suburban, or mountain communities across the country.

Youth have led the charge for the San Luis Valley Inspire coalition; this funding will put their plans into action over the next three years. San Luis Valley Inspire will put GOCO funding to work in Antonito, Creede and Saguache, building the Antonito Outdoor Education Center and investing in the creation of the Antonito Adventure Program, improving connections along Creede’s Willow Creek Corridor, the Headwaters Youth Conservation Corps, the Saguache Backyard to Backcountry Program, and the Saguache Youth Conservation Corps.

RiGHT’s grant for La Garita Creek Ranch was part of GOCO’s open space grant program, which funds public and private land conservation. Projects sustain local agriculture and economies, give outdoor recreationists a place to play (or simply enjoy the view), protect wildlife habitat, and safeguard the state’s water supply.

La Garita Creek Ranch is a 460-acre guest ranch outside of Del Norte near Penitente Canyon, an international climbing, hiking, and mountain biking destination. The ranch is also adjacent to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and the Rio Grande National Forest.

Conserving La Garita will protect critical water access and habitat for a variety of wildlife species as well as Ute pictographs and other archaeological evidence of early Native Americans. The conservation project will also create new climbing and bouldering access.

CPW’s grant is part of GOCO’s habitat restoration grant program. In 2016, GOCO doubled funding for the program, which restores habitat through projects that remove invasive plant species, protect Colorado’s water supply, mitigate fire fuels, and perform other critical restoration work.

Restoration of the Rio Grande in Rio Grande State Wildlife Area will protect water infrastructure, local agriculture, and wetlands that support threatened and endangered amphibians, fish, birds, and mammals.

To date, GOCO has invested $42 million in San Luis Valley projects and has conserved more than 90,000 acres of land in the valley. GOCO funding has supported Alamosa’s ice rink and Rio Grande Farm Park, Faith Hinkley Memorial Park in Monte Vista, and Center’s Town Park, among other projects.

Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a Constitutional Amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 4,800 projects in urban and rural areas in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

#Snowpack news: @NASA Hosts Media Day for Colorado Study of Snow-bound Water Resources

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

Here’s the release from NASA:

NASA will host a media day at 9:30 a.m. MST on Feb. 13 to highlight a field campaign designed to advance new remote-sensing techniques to measure the amount of water held in snow, a key factor in calculating water supplies in many parts of the world.

The event will be held at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. NASA’s SnowEx project, which is a multi-year campaign to test a variety of sensors and techniques to improve measurements of snow over different terrains, begins in February and will collect a variety of airborne and ground-based measurements. The research team includes more than 100 scientists from universities and agencies across the United States, Europe and Canada.

Reporters will have the opportunity to interview scientists, pilots, and mission managers and tour the Naval Research Laboratory P-3 Orion aircraft that will be used in the campaign. The P-3 is operated by the Scientific Development Squadron ONE, based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.

Media interested in participating in the event should contact Rani Gran via at rani.c.gran@nasa.gov no later than 1 p.m. on Feb. 10. Attendees will need a driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance to enter the base. The date of the event is subject to change based on flight schedules.

Media interested in a separate escorted trip in February to SnowEx ground sites near Grand Mesa, Colorado, should contact Jennifer Hayes of the U.S. Forest Service at 970-498-1365 or jenniferhayes@fs.fed.us.

More than one-sixth of the world’s population relies on seasonal snow and glaciers for water. As much as three quarters of the water used in the western United States comes from snow. For decades, satellites have measured the area covered by snow but they cannot consistently measure how much water is contained in the snow over all terrains. Better measurements of snow are of significant interest to managers of fresh water availability, natural hazards, winter-dependent industries, and ecosystem impacts.

SnowEx is sponsored by the Terrestrial Hydrology Program in NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington, and managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The U.S. Forest Service is leading the ground campaign in Grand Mesa and Senator Beck Basin, both in Colorado. A list of SnowEx partners is available online.

NASA collects data from space, air, land and sea to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. For more information about NASA’s Earth science programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earth

Below is the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map from the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 30, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 30, 2017 via the NRCS.

Division engineer, referee, question substance of Aspen’s water rights applications tied to dams and reservoirs

A group of citizens during a site visit in September standing in the meadow near the Maroon Bells that would be flooded by a potential 155-foot-tall dam across Maroon Creek. State officials have recently questioned the city of Aspen’s claims to extend conditional water rights for the dam, and another one on Castle Creek, for another six years.
A group of citizens during a site visit in September standing in the meadow near the Maroon Bells that would be flooded by a potential 155-foot-tall dam across Maroon Creek. State officials have recently questioned the city of Aspen’s claims to extend conditional water rights for the dam, and another one on Castle Creek, for another six years.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

City of Aspen also signs flurry of contracts with water professionals to study reservoirs and Aspen’s water storage needs

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – After conferring on the city of Aspen’s applications to extend its conditional water rights tied to potential dams and reservoirs on Maroon and Castle creeks, the division engineer and the water court referee in Division 5 together have raised substantial questions about the two applications.

The two state officials, based in Glenwood Springs, said recently in two required summary of consultations that the city “must demonstrate that it will secure permits and land use approvals that are necessary to apply the subject water rights to beneficial use.”

It also said the city needs to show that it “will complete the appropriations within a reasonable time,” that the city has to show that “a specific plan is in place to develop the subject water rights” and that it is “not speculating with the subject water rights.”

Alan Martellaro, the division engineer in Division 5, signed the two summary of consultations on Jan. 23, one regarding Maroon Creek Reservoir and one regarding Castle Creek Reservoir. They are identical save for the names of the reservoirs and differing case numbers.

Martellaro wrote in both reports, “I cannot recommend approval of this application” until the concerns cited in the reports are addressed.

And the reports say that the “state and division engineers ask that the issues discussed in this consultation be addressed prior to granting any findings of diligence” for either the Maroon Creek or Castle Creek reservoirs.

The city filed two “due diligence” applications on Oct. 31, one for Maroon Creek Reservoir and one for Castle Creek Reservoir. Aspen is seeking to extend the conditional water storage rights for another six years. The rights were appropriated in 1965 and adjudicated in 1971.

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 conditional rights, as currently decreed, cannot be made absolute unless the city builds a dam 155 feet tall and an estimated 1,280 feet wide across Maroon Creek, within view of the Maroon Bells, and a dam 170 feet tall and an estimated 1,220 feet wide across upper Castle Creek two miles below Ashcroft.

The Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water and flood 85 acres of land, and the Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water and flood 120 acres of land. Water in both reservoirs would flood some land within the wilderness boundary.

Members of the City Council indicated this fall said they are loath to actually build the dams, but still want to maintain the water rights for future potential use.

However, the language in the applications the city filed with water court in October indicates the city intends to build the dams some day.

The city told the court the two 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 also said it has “steadily applied effort to complete the appropriation” of the water rights for the reservoirs and that it has done so “in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner under all the facts and circumstances.”

But the consultation reports in the two cases show that state water officials are skeptical about the city’s claims.

Aspen “is not entitled to an exemption from the anti-speculation doctrine” and “it cannot assert issue or claim preclusion to avoid the ‘can and will’ and the ‘anti-speculation’ doctrines,” the reports say.

The reports also observe that the city lists “other beneficial uses, both consumptive and non consumptive” in its water right application, in addition to storage. And as such, the city “must explain what these ‘other’ uses are or they should be cancelled by the court as speculative.”

Many of the points raised in the consultation reports were also raised by some of the 10 opponents to the city’s applications in their statements of opposition.

The United States of America, on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service, and Pitkin County are among the 10 parties that have filed statements of opposition in the two cases.

In addition to the two governments, four environmental organizations and four private-property owners also filed statements of opposition in the cases.

Attorneys at the U.S. Justice Department told the court the city “cannot show that it can and will” complete the two reservoirs “within a reasonable time” because both potential reservoirs would flood portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

And Pitkin County told the court the city “appears to be speculating with no reasonable demonstration of need” for the reservoirs.

It is standard procedure in Division 5 water court for applicants to eventually file a “response to the summary of consultation.”

Orange tape marks the location of a potential 155-foot-tall across upper Maroon Creek near the Maroon Bells. The City of Aspen has filed to extend its conditional water tied to the potential dam and reservoir, as well as another dam on Castle Creek, but the state division engineer and water court referee in Division 5 have challenged the city's claims.
Orange tape marks the location of a potential 155-foot-tall dam across upper Maroon Creek near the Maroon Bells. The city of Aspen has filed to extend its conditional water rights tied to the potential dam and reservoir, as well as another dam on Castle Creek, but the state division engineer and water court referee in Division 5 have challenged the city’s claims.

Relevance of consultations

Under Colorado law, the water court referee and the division engineer are required to review all applications to water court.

The law says the officials are to “make such investigations as are necessary to determine whether or not the statements in the application and statements of opposition are true and to become fully advised with respect to the subject matter of the applications and statements of opposition.”

The law then requires that the “engineer consulted shall file a report” within 35 days.

But it is sometimes hard to discern how much weight such a report carries in the water court process.

Holly Strablizky, who recently stepped down from her position as water court referee in Division 5 after almost seven years, said last week during a presentation at the Colorado Water Congress that as water referee she “really tried hard and I know our division engineer tried really hard as well … to use the consultation process to get a better product out there.”

Strablizky, who is now an assistant county attorney for Eagle County, said the engineer and the referee also need to look at a given application from a statewide perspective.

“The constitution really says that we as the water court need to think not only of the parties that are in the cases, but the people of Colorado,” Strablizky said.

She also praised the use of the water court referee process, where parties are encouraged to settle their differences.

“I think it relieves pressure of hard deadlines and it allows for thoughtful and creative settlement discussions,” Strablizky said of the referee period, which usually lasts 12 to 18 months. “And it creates that opportunity for concise, and understandable, proposed decrees.”

The parties in Aspen’s two conditional water rights cases are set to have a joint initial telephone conference with the new water court referee, Susan Ryan, on Feb. 9.

A detail of a map of the potential Castle Creek Reservoir, prepared by Wilderness Workshop and based on a map filed by the city with the state in 1965. The dam would be 170-feet-tall and 1,220 feet across the valley.
A detail of a map of the potential Castle Creek Reservoir, prepared by Wilderness Workshop and based on a map filed by the city with the state in 1965. The dam would be 170 feet tall and span 1,220 feet across the valley.

Community water planning

In addition to participating in the two water rights cases regarding due diligence, the city is also launching a community-based water planning effort, and has signed a flurry of contracts to study its storage needs and better understand at least the potential Castle Creek Reservoir location.

It also not retreating from its call to build a new dam somewhere in the future.

In a memo about a Jan. 31 work session, city staff wrote, “Without water storage, Aspen’s water supply for households and businesses will be threatened.”

To move its new water-planning process forward the city has entered into a contract with the Consensus Building Institute of Cambridge, Mass., to develop a “convening assessment” that will lead to a “collaborative process,” according to the staff memo.

“It is critical to use an effective community-based approach in order to leverage the expertise in the community and develop a long-term water supply plan with the greatest chance of success to secure Aspen’s water future,” the city’s memo states.

The convening assessment is expected to take two months and then a collaborative process will begin by summer.

According to the memo for the work session, which was written by Margaret Medellin, the city’s utilities portfolio manager, Aspen has also entered into a contract with Headwaters Inc. in South Jordan, Utah, to perform a “preliminary review of risks in Aspen’s demand and supply” of water through 2065.

The city has also signed a contract with Sopris Engineering of Carbondale “to update surveying for Castle Creek Reservoir” and it has “met with dam and reservoir expert, Terry Arnold, to review certain existing geological data.”

A series of test bores in 1971 by the Bureau of Reclamation found 142 feet of loose rock and sand under the proposed Castle Creek dam site and that it was also on an unstable fault zone.

The city also signed a contract in January with Deere and Ault Consultants of Longmont for a feasibility study on the use of storing water underground, including in old mine shafts, which are plentiful under downtown Aspen.

The consulting firm says on its website that it is “a specialized civil engineering firm focused on water resources, geotechnical, dam, slurry wall, tunnel, and mine reclamation projects.”

And the city memo notes that “on January 26, 2017, consultants Don Deere and Victor DeWolf met with staff and performed on site investigative tour of local mines.”

The city also signed a contract with Carollo Engineers, a national engineering firm focused on water projects, to help it gain approval from the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment to use treated effluent from the Aspen sewage treatment plant.

The city has been working on this reuse project for several years and plans to pump water up from the treatment plant for a number of uses, including watering the city golf course and for snowmaking.

The Jan. 27 staff memo closed by saying “staff is developing a project specific budget that will include estimates of the costs of community facilitation” as well “identified supporting engineering consultant and expert services, legal expenses and staffing.”

The budget details are to be presented at a follow-up work session.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published a version of this story on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017.

@NASA Measures ‘Dust on Snow’ to Help Manage Colorado River Basin Water Supplies

Click here to go to the NASA website for all the inside skinny. Here’s an excerpt:

The snow-capped mountains of Colorado and Utah contain trillions of gallons of water stored in the form of snow. Meltwater from this snow will eventually flow into the Colorado River, delivering much needed water to seven Western states and 33 million people. Accurately predicting water from snowmelt is critical to the region, and Earth-observing satellites can help. Credits: iStock
The snow-capped mountains of Colorado and Utah contain trillions of gallons of water stored in the form of snow. Meltwater from this snow will eventually flow into the Colorado River, delivering much needed water to seven Western states and 33 million people. Accurately predicting water from snowmelt is critical to the region, and Earth-observing satellites can help.
Credits: iStock

When Michelle Stokes and Stacie Bender look out across the snow-capped mountains of Utah and Colorado, they see more than just a majestic landscape. They see millions of gallons of water that will eventually flow into the Colorado River.

Dust on Snow podcast (MP3; 11 MB)

The water stored as snowpack there will make its way to some 33 million people across seven western states, irrigating acres of lettuce, fruits and nuts in California, generating enormous amounts of electricity and ultimately flowing from taps in seven states. For a few of these sun-drenched states, snowfall (and its subsequent melt) provides up to 80 percent of the annual precipitation, which is ultimately used for drinking, farming, recreation and power generation. While it’s important for water managers in these states to know the amount of water they can expect from snowmelt, it’s every bit as important for them to know when to expect it.

In the Flow

As hydrologists at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, Stokes and Bender do just that, by providing stream flow forecasts for watersheds within the Colorado River Basin and the region. This Basin includes some of the most parched land in the United States. As a result, so much water is taken out for human uses and so little put back in that the river routinely runs dry before it ever reaches its mouth at the Gulf of California in Mexico. With such a scarce resource, every drop counts.

Water for drinking, agriculture, recreation and even power generation also comes from the Colorado River Basin. And of course fish, birds and numerous other species rely on this water too. Credits: NASA
Water for drinking, agriculture, recreation and even power generation also comes from the Colorado River Basin. And of course fish, birds and numerous other species rely on this water too.
Credits: NASA

“The forecasts we get from the center provide crucial information for managing our water resources and reservoir facilities,” said Dave Kanzer, a deputy chief engineer for Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. “The water supply forecasts are critical. If we receive less water than the forecasts predict, we won’t have enough saved in the reservoirs to keep the river flowing throughout the irrigation demand season. Conversely, if we receive more than forecasted, we could have to release extra water, without causing damaging floods.”

Aware of the importance of accuracy, the center inputs numerous readings into a complex computer program that uses that information to generate its forecasts. Prior to 2011, those inputs came solely from ground-based sensors and direct observations from staff. However, 2009 served as a turning point when massive storms blew what seemed to be unprecedented amounts of dust from the Colorado plateau onto the pristine white snow in the Rocky Mountains. Under a thick blanket of dust, the normally reflective white snow absorbed more of the sun’s energy, and the snowpack melted at a much faster rate than expected during the runoff season.

“We found that really dusty conditions increase the rate of snowmelt about as much as raising the temperature by 1 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit,” explained Bender. “It became very clear that we had to identify a more precise way of measuring dust on snow.”

resh white snow can reflect up to 90 percent of sunlight, but with dust on the snow more light is absorbed and the snowpack melts at a much higher rate during runoff season, so measuring the dust can help better forecast water flow. NASA satellites Terra (shown in this artist's concept) and Aqua can detect dust in the snow to estimate the additional heat-producing energy absorbed by the snowpack, which is factored into the water runoff forecasting model. Credits: NASA
resh white snow can reflect up to 90 percent of sunlight, but with dust on the snow more light is absorbed and the snowpack melts at a much higher rate during runoff season, so measuring the dust can help better forecast water flow. NASA satellites Terra (shown in this artist’s concept) and Aqua can detect dust in the snow to estimate the additional heat-producing energy absorbed by the snowpack, which is factored into the water runoff forecasting model. Credits: NASA

While measuring dust might seem like the time to zoom in, Stokes and Bender actually had to zoom out—way out. As they soon discovered, the answer was orbiting high above the Rocky Mountains up in space.

Measuring Up

Tom Painter has spent his fair share of time among the pristine peaks of the Rockies. As a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, he’s been studying dust and snowpack for years. In 2011, Painter and his colleagues signed on to help Stokes and Bender improve streamflow forecasts by harnessing the power of Earth observations from space; a fruitful collaboration was born.

With NASA’s help, the center began to incorporate two sets of remotely sensed data into its forecasting model. The first set gave them a more accurate reading of where the snow was located, while the second provided them with a clearer picture of the snowpack’s surface conditions and specifically the amount of additional sunlight absorbed by dust contained in the snowpack.

“When we first started using remote sensing data, everything shifted,” said Bender. “In fact, our research shows that using remote sensing data reduces the error by about 70 percent in some watersheds. It enables us to predict the stream flow timing much better than what our system did before.”

With more accurate forecasts, water managers are now able to make better decisions about when and how much water to store and/or release into the Colorado River basin—decisions that can have a dramatic impact on the lives and well-being of people and wildlife.

With this information, water managers can make better allocation decisions pertaining to drinking water, food, energy and ecosystem needs. Credits: iStock
With this information, water managers can make better allocation decisions pertaining to drinking water, food, energy and ecosystem needs. Credits: iStock

“We know how crucial water is to farmers and communities,” said Kanzer. “At the same time, without enough water flowing through the rivers, entire generations of endangered fishes could be put at risk. The more accurate the forecasts are, the better equipped we are to strike that balance.”

Pooling Resources

As water management becomes increasingly vital due to population growth and recurring droughts, the connection between Earth-observing satellite data and those working hands-on with that information is increasingly critical. “Collaboration is essential to finding answers and providing information that benefits our communities,” said Painter. “With these partnerships, we’re able to leverage enhanced knowledge of planet Earth to advance science, while simultaneously helping to create healthier livelihoods, economies, and environments. And these partnerships help us identify new questions and important areas for research.”

By working together to use NASA’s satellite data, Painter and the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center ensure that more than 33 million people have a more secure water supply and don’t have to worry about consulting a forecast before turning on the faucet.

About the Science

Despite the importance of snowpack albedo—the proportion of light that is reflected versus absorbed—in controlling snowpack runoff, snowpack albedo has been unquantified for much of the United States. To measure it, Painter’s team at NASA detects light absorbing impurities (such as dust) on the snow with its MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) instruments aboard two satellites: Terra and Aqua. NASA uses these data to estimate the additional energy absorbed by the snowpack, an essential input for understanding snowpack energy-balance dynamics. Growing from this effort, Painter’s team has developed the Airborne Snow Observatory, which assembles the combination of albedo and snow water equivalent, the two most important controls on timing and magnitude of snowmelt runoff.