The “Water Values” podcast: John Fleck on the Importance of Water Journalism and Western Water Myths

Click here to listen to the podcast from David McGimpsey:

John Fleck, Director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, author and retired water journalist, joins The Water Values Podcast for a discussion of water journalism and why it (and other areas of journalism) are so important to a citizenry understanding their government. He also delves into his journey where he flipped from seeing a water apocalypse to seeing a world where adaptation and collaboration have produced tremendous water success stories. John is an excellent story-teller, so you don’t want to miss this one!

In this session, you’ll learn about:

  • Why water journalism (and journalism in general) is imporant
  • Water journalism’s role in educating people about water governance
  • The cultural awareness of water in arid regions
  • The roots of the West’s apocalyptic water tradition
  • Why John ultimately renounced the apocalyptic water vision
  • The water success story of Albuquerque
  • John’s thoughts on the West’s growth with water as a limiting factor
  • John’s thoughts on our ability to conserve water
  • John’s thoughts on water and agricultural uses
  • How Colorado River politics have changed over the years
  • Who water negotiations in the West need to bring to the table
  • #ClimateChange: What’s really warming the world? — Bloomberg

    Here’s a great animation showing the components of global warming and attributing the current warming to various causes. It’s a nice summary based on NASA data. You’ll have to click through to observe the animation.

    Poudre River Forum: Powerpoints, video footage, program and more now available

    CLick here to go to the website to view the materials. From the website:

    Nearly 280 people registered to learn more from and about the diverse stakeholders of the Poudre River, and to explore the continuing challenges and opportunities for collaboration.

    Poudre River Bike Path bridge over the river at Legacy Park photo via Fort Collins Photo Works.

    Webcast: Stormwater Contaminants of Emerging Concern — @theCWPInc

    Emerging contaminant transport. Graphic via the USGS.

    Click here to register for the webcast from The Center for Watershed Protection. Here’s their pitch:

    Newly recognized contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) include a broad list of synthetic or naturally occurring chemicals (e.g., pharmaceuticals, synthetic fragrances, detergents, disinfectants, plasticizers, preservatives) or any microorganisms that have the potential to cause adverse ecological and(or) human health effects. Advances in our ability to detect and study CECs in the environment have shown that they are widespread throughout the aquatic ecosystem, and some studies are showing adverse impacts to aquatic organisms and public health. While a major source of CECs is POWT discharges, illicit discharges containing sewage into the municipal separate sewer system is a major pathway for CECs to be delivered to urban and suburban stream systems. Illicit discharge detection and elimination (IDDE) systems have the potential to be effective tools to mitigate the effect of CECs on the environment. This webcast focuses on CECs and the potential for IDDE programs to reduce their impacts.

    2017 #coleg HB17-1273: @wradv — Build It Water-Smart From the Start in Colorado

    From Western Resource Advocates (Drew Beckwith):

    New legislation can help fill the state’s water supply gap and close a loophole that allows new home developments to waste water.

    Current Colorado law contains a loophole that allows new home developments to waste water. In a state with already strapped water resources, that’s not OK. But new legislation that Western Resource Advocates is supporting will help ensure that all new development implements common-sense conservation actions and is built water-smart from the start.

    Some background to set the stage on why this legislative change is needed: Due to major population growth and climate change, Colorado is facing an impending water supply gap. If we continue with business as usual, our communities will need more water than they currently have. This gap can be best prevented by increasing water conservation, reusing water, and the voluntary and compensated sharing of water supplies between agricultural and urban water users. Fortunately, water conservation is a priority tool in Colorado’s Water Plan, and doing more conservation will lessen potential conflicts between new urban/suburban growth and existing water users, decrease the pressure to transfer water from farms and ranches, and keep more water in rivers for fish, recreation, and tourism.

    Unfortunately, water conservation is not being considered consistently statewide by the local governments that determine what new home developments will look like. [HB 17-1273: Real Estate Development Demonstrate Water Conservation], sponsored by Representatives Chris Hansen (D – Denver) and Hugh McKean (R – Loveland), will require new housing tract developers to present how the homes they plan to build will incorporate water conservation measures as part of gaining permit approval to move forward.

    Building “water-smart from the start” is one of the easiest, cheapest, and most politically viable ways to reduce future water needs. There are a multitude of affordable conservation actions available for new development, including high-efficiency indoor water fixtures like toilets and shower heads, efficient outdoor irrigation systems, and Colorado-friendly landscaping choices. But since current law does not require new home developments to even list the water-wise actions that will be implemented, these cost-effective options for homeowners are sometimes left out. Local governments need information on what water conservation actions are going to be used in new housing in order to make better-informed decisions about whether the proposed development is right for their communities.

    The upfront planning cost for including conservation strategies in new home development is minimal. And importantly, developers using water-smart planning can save money on the cost of water they are required to purchase from the local water provider or obtain from other sources.

    Even better news for future homeowners is that this legislation will help save people money. Residents living in water-smart homes will pay less on their water bills because water-smart new growth can use 40% less water annually than comparable development from a decade ago.

    A recent poll shows overwhelming support, with 77% of Colorado voters polled saying they prefer using our current water supply more wisely as a means to address the state’s water needs. If you’re one of them, sign up for our e-updates so we can keep you informed on the right time to contact your elected representative to support HB 17-1273!

    #Drought news: “I’ve never seen it like this before…There is no snow at all up there” — Jason Morley

    Early morning shot of the #SunshineFire at Settlers Park by @samuelmforsyth via Twitter.

    From The Longmont Times-Call (Mitchell Byars):

    The [Sunshine Fire] grew to 74 acres from the 62 acres reported on Sunday, but crews were able to reach 100 percent containment on the fire after 5 p.m., according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.

    The OEM tweeted that firefighters would continue to work overnight on hot spots and flare-ups.

    The high winds that fire crews were fearing overnight Sunday never materialized, and as a result firefighters were “comfortable” enough with where the fire was on Monday morning that they could lift the evacuations.

    Boulder OEM also said limiting access to residents was lifted at 7 p.m. Monday after firefighters and their equipment was out of the area.

    The fire prompted mandatory evacuations for 426 homes and pre-evacuation notices for another 836 homes. The cost of fighting the fire has been estimated at $500,000 so far, and there were 178 firefighters and 50 fire trucks on scene Monday.

    Much of the air support from Sunday was not needed for a second day, as hand crews and a smaller helicopter capable of more accurate drops addressed hot spots within the fire.

    Boulder hotshot firefighter Jason Morley arrived on scene shortly after 9 a.m. Sunday and spent the day fighting the fire in rough terrain.

    “Our guys did a great job,” Morley said. “We’re there digging lines, attacking hot spots.”

    Morley said conditions Sunday in the canyon were brutal for firefighters and highly unusual for this time of year.

    “I’ve never seen it like this before,” Morley said. “There is no snow at all up there. If you picked up grass, it would just crumble in your hands.”

    Wagner said firefighters reported the conditions were more like June than March.

    West Drought Monitor March 14, 2017.

    #Snowpack news: Eagle River Valley snowpack drops, still above median

    Upper Colorado River Basin High/Low graph March 19, 2017 via the NRCS.

    From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

    After a warm, sunny start to March, Western Colorado may start to return to a more seasonal weather pattern this week.

    Jim Pringle, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said we could start to see those changes by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. That initial storm system could bring as much as an inch of precipitation to some parts of the Western Slope, Pringle said, adding that Vail’s moisture total won’t approach the peaks.

    Most of the moisture from the mid-week storm is expected to fall in the higher elevations of the San Juan Mountains and the Grand Mesa.

    Still, a quarter-inch of precipitation could bring a few inches of new snow, at least at higher elevations.

    The big change is set to come Friday, when the forecast brings snow and rain to virtually the entire state.

    Moisture will be especially welcome east of the Continental Divide. Wildfires have started to hit that part of the state, and the U.S. Drought Monitor website shows moderate drought conditions through essentially all of Eastern Colorado.

    Pringle said that Friday storm could bring several inches of snow to the Vail area.


    That snow will be welcome, both for play and our summer’s water supply.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s graphs of snow water equivalent in the area show snowpack is still running significantly ahead of the 30-year median, thanks to plentiful snow from early December into February. But some of the snow measurement sites have shown erosion of the snowpack.

    The biggest drop in the past week has been at the snow measurement site on Vail Mountain. That site has changed in the past couple of years. The measurement devices are in the same spot, but the trees that once sheltered the equipment are gone, leaving the site exposed to sun and wind.

    The sun, along with daytime high temperatures well into the 40s, has eaten into the snow water equivalent at the Vail site. Snow at the site contained roughly 20.3 inches of water as of March 13. That number had fallen to 16.8 inches on Monday.

    The story is better at Fremont Pass, near the Eagle River’s headwaters. There, the snow water equivalent at the measurement site remained constant at 15.7 inches between March 13 and Monday.

    The snow fields on Vail Mountain, near Vail Pass and near Fremont Pass all serve as the area’s water storage. Lots of snow and a slow runoff season are critical to maintain domestic water supplies.

    At the moment, there’s a solid supply of water in all that snow.

    But in an email, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Communications Manager Diane Johnson wrote, “These warm temperatures need to go!”

    Graphic via the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

    #Runoff news: Elk river streamflow way up with record #Colorado heat

    Elk River near Milner gage March 21, 2017 via the USGS.

    From The Craig Daily Press (Tom Ross):

    “It’s crazy how high the flows are for this time of year,” Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City Utah, said. “I think we’re getting snowmelt at low and middle elevation and not at the higher elevations. But this is not something we expect this time of year.”

    The Elk is still well below flood stage, but the acceleration of snowmelt during a time when snowpack is typically increasing stands out from the norm.

    Flows in the river, which has its headwaters in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area northeast of Clark, hit a 24-hour peak of 1,050 cubic feet per second at 1:45 a.m. March 20, nearly doubling the previous record for the date, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The previous record was 524 cfs, recorded in 2007. The median March 20 flow is 160 cfs.

    At the same time, the Yampa River was flowing through downtown Steamboat Springs at a rate of 408 cfs, well above the median of 150 cfs (in the 90th percentile range for the date), but significantly lower than the 1916 record for the date of 690 cfs.

    High flows in the Elk have been driven by snow melting under bright skies and daytime temperatures in the 60s, which have dominated the weather throughout the month. The National Weather Service reports the high temperature in Steamboat reached 70 degrees March 19, but a cooling trend is on the way.

    The Elk had calmed down to 896 cfs as of 9:30 a.m. Monday as it went through its diurnal cycle of rising and falling flow volumes. However, the River Forecast Center foresees the river will continue to rise to more than 1,000 cfs through March 23, when a cooling trend calms things down March 25 through 31 and the river could remain above 600 cfs.

    A pair of snowpack measurement sites operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service confirm the record flows in the Elk are attributable to snowmelt above 9,000 feet, Nielson agreed.

    The Lost Dog site, at 9,320 feet of elevation on the edge of the Zirkel Wilderness, has lost 3 inches of snow water equivalent since March 16, leaving it at 113 percent of median for the date. The Elk River measuring site, at 8,700 feet, has also lost 3 inches of snow water equivalent in the same timeframe, and snowpack there stands at 93 percent of median.

    Nielson pointed to the Tower measuring site on the summit of Buffalo Pass northeast of Steamboat Springs as evidence that snowmelt has not begun at the highest elevations in the Park Range. The water content of the snowpack there, at 10,500 feet, has not changed more than a fraction of an inch since March 7.

    James Eklund to leave @CWCB_DNR, good luck from @CoyoteGulch! @COWaterPlan

    Collbran 1906. Photo credit Charlie Koch via the Town of Collbran.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, is stepping down this month to begin work as an attorney with the international law firm Squire Patton Boggs, which has a Denver office.

    Eklund has worked for the state for more than a decade. He initially did water work in the Attorney General’s Office before becoming senior deputy legal counsel to Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2011. He became director of the CWCB in 2013, putting him in charge of the state’s water policy and planning efforts. There, he led the agency’s creation of a state water plan aimed at identifying ways to address the gap between the state’s water supply and anticipated future demand.

    “Definitely that’s kind of the signature piece that I was able to work on,” Eklund said Monday. “The stars aligned. It was a perfect environment for that to really be successful.”

    He said the effort to get the plan adopted was driven by Hickenlooper’s “willingness to spend political capital on water where it hadn’t been spent before,” the grassroots roundtable groups in each of the state’s major river basins that helped develop the plan, and the drought that has beset the region for some 15 years.

    An important thing for Eklund was how the plan and a separate cooperative agreement reached between Denver Water and Western Slope entities addressed concerns over future development of Western Slope water by the Front Range.

    “Just as a Western Slope person it really made me proud to see that kind of leadership from the Western Slope,” he said.

    Eklund continues to have family ties in the Plateau Valley, where his great-great-grandparents homesteaded in 1888.

    He said he didn’t know whether his new work would involve Front Range water projects.

    “I hope to use my knowledge and skill set to move water infrastructure projects forward statewide. We are one connected state,” Eklund said, pointing to the improved relationships he believes have been achieved between the Front Range and Western Slope when it comes to water issues.

    Eklund said he will remain the state’s representative for negotiations on interstate and international Colorado River issues as long as Hickenlooper wants him to remain in that capacity…

    Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District and chair of the roundtable for the Colorado River Basin, said Eklund was fair-minded and understood the viewpoints from both sides of the Continental Divide.

    “I thought the water plan was a victory and a lot of credit goes to his staff as well as to him,” Pokrandt said.

    Good luck James!