In recent years, it has become increasingly common to frame the climate change problem as a kind of countdown — each year we emit more carbon dioxide, narrowing the window for fixing the problem, but not quite closing it yet. After all, something could still change. Emissions could still start to plunge precipitously. Maybe next year.
This outlook has allowed, at least for some, for the preservation of a form of climate optimism, in which big changes, someday soon, will still make the difference. Christiana Figureres, the former head of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, recently joined with a group of climate scientists and policy wonks to state there are 3 years left to get emissions moving sharply downward. If, that is, we’re holding out hope of limiting the warming of the globe to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures, often cited as the threshold where “dangerous” warming begins (although in truth, that’s a matter of interpretation).
Yet a battery of recent studies call into question even that limited optimism. Last week, a group of climate researchers published research suggesting the climate has been warming for longer than we thought due to human influences — in essence, pushing the so-called “preindustrial” baseline for the planet’s warming backwards in time. The logic is clear: If the Earth has already warmed more than we thought due to human activities, then there’s even less remaining carbon dioxide that we can emit and still avoid 2 degrees of warming.
Two new studies published Monday, meanwhile, go further towards advancing this pessimistic view which asserts that there’s little chance of the world will stay within prescribed climate limits.
The first new study calculates the statistical likelihood of various amounts of warming by the year 2100 based on three trends that matter most for how much carbon we put in the air. Those are the global population, countries’ GDP (on a per capita basis), and carbon intensity, or the volume of emissions for a given level of economic activity.
The research finds that the median warming is likely to be 3.2 degrees Celsius, and further concludes that there’s only a 5 percent chance that the world can hold limiting below 2 degrees Celsius and a mere 1 percent chance that it can be limited below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). That will come as bad news for vulnerable small island nations in particular, which have held out for a 1.5 degree target, along with other particularly vulnerable nations…
The research is significant because 2 degrees Celsius has often been regarded as the threshold for so-called “dangerous” climate change. Figueres herself put it this way in an interview with CBS News: “Science has established for quite a while that we need to respect a threshold of 2 degrees, that being the limit of the temperature increase that we can afford from a human, economic and infrastructure point of view.”
The second new study, meanwhile, takes a different approach, analyzing how much global warming the world has already committed to, since the warming due to some emissions has not yet arrived. Nonetheless, with the planet at a so-called energy imbalance, that warming is inevitably coming, and the study — conducted by Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado, Boulder — finds that it probably pushes us several slivers of a degree beyond where we are now…
On Monday I spoke with Glen Peters, a climate policy expert at the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, about the two latest papers. Peters is a researcher who is on the record stating that he thinks there’s little chance of holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius unless we come up with so-called “negative emissions” technologies that allow us to actively withdraw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere later in the century.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, Peters actually felt that the first new study, finding only a 5 percent chance of staying below 2 degrees, might be a tad too negative. It takes into account past climate policies, he notes, but not the possibility of a major upsurge in global climate action in coming years, unlike what we’ve seen previously. Indeed, the study notes that “Our forecasting model does not explicitly incorporate future legislation that could change future emissions.”
“Less than 2 degrees of warming is unlikely if we don’t try,” said Peters. “I’m one that says that 2 degrees is not likely anyway — but if we try, at least it’s an option that we can get to 2 degrees.”
(Raftery, speaking about this aspect of his study, noted to me that “I think it’s possible that the future might be completely different, and there’ll be a sudden big jump forward, but past data would suggest that’s being a bit optimistic.”)
However, at the same time Peters also admitted that the study about committed warming reinforced a troubling conclusion, since “it’s in a sense impossible that we’re not going to emit any more.” The upshot is that “We’re starting from 1.5 and going up from there in the future emissions that we have,” he said.
This again means that negative emissions, based on technologies that don’t exist yet at the relevant scale, would probably be required at some point in the future. The new research “emphasizes the importance of removing carbon from the atmosphere,” said Peters…
In sum, climate pessimism has indeed had a strong run lately — but you have to keep in context. It’s pessimism that we’ll hit our current goals. It’s not fatalism, or the idea that we’ll accomplish nothing, or that present momentum doesn’t matter.
Even if people could instantly turn off all our emissions of greenhouse gases, the Earth would continue to heat up about two more degrees Fahrenheit by the turn of the century, according to a sophisticated new analysis published in Nature Climate Change. And if current emissions continue for 15 years, odds are good that we’ll see nearly three degrees (1.5 C) of warming by then.
“This ‘committed warming’ is critical to understand because it can tell us and policy makers how long we have, at current emission rates, before the planet will warm to certain thresholds,” said co-author Robert Pincus, a scientist with CIRES at the University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA’s Physical Sciences Division. “The window of opportunity on a 1.5-degree [C] target is closing.”
During United Nations meetings in Paris last year, 195 countries including the United States signed an agreement to keep global temperature rise less than 3.5 degrees F (2 C) above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts that would limit it further, to less than 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 C) by 2100.
The new assessment by Pincus and lead author Thorsten Mauritsen, from the German Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, is unique in that it does not rely on computer model simulations, but on observations of the climate system to calculate Earth’s climate commitment. Their work accounts for the capacity of oceans to absorb carbon, detailed data on the planet’s energy imbalance, the climate-relevant behavior of fine particles in the atmosphere, and other factors.
Among Pincus’ and Maruitsen’s findings:
Even if all fossil fuel emissions stopped in 2017, warming by 2100 is very likely to reach about 2.3 F (range: 1.6-4.1) or 1.3 degrees C (range: 0.9-2.3).
Oceans could reduce that a bit: Carbon naturally captured and stored in the deep ocean could cut committed warming by 0.4 degrees F (0.2 C).
There is some risk that warming this century cannot be kept to 1.5 degrees C beyond pre-industrial temperatures. In fact, there is a 13 percent chance we are already committed to 1.5-C warming by 2100.
“Our estimates are based on things that have already happened, things we can observe, and they point to the part of future warming that is already committed to by past emissions,” said lead author Thorsten Mauritsen, “Future carbon dioxide emissions will then add extra warming on top of that commitment.”
The research was funded by the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation.
In the heart of prime potato growing country, one San Luis Valley farm has such a worldwide reputation for soil health innovation that a recent field day attracted guests from Canada, France and Sweden in addition to the surrounding area.
Rockey Farms, located a mile north of Center, is a multigenerational operation run by Brendon Rockey, a soil health pioneer who presents talks all over the world, and his brother Sheldon, who oversees distribution and marketing. When they opened the farm to several dozen visitors in mid-July, the resulting gathering was as diverse as the colorful mix of plants that blossomed in the surrounding fields.
The farm’s main business is growing certified seed potatoes, with an emphasis on unique varieties prized by farmers market growers. They also produce 150 acres of fingerling potatoes that are sold into the fresh market, mostly to restaurants but also at retail stores under the Farm Fresh Direct Growers Reserve label.
Five years ago, the Rockeys teamed up with Paul New, owner of White Mountain Farm, to convert an old high school building in Mosca into a processing facility for potatoes, Colorado-grown quinoa and other specialty items. They call the joint venture White Rock Specialties.
But it’s their soil regeneration strategies that have really put them on the map.
Standing in an expanse of bright green cover crops, planted at staggered intervals to accommodate rotational grazing by a local rancher, Brendon Rockey talked about how a period of sustained drought that began in the early 2000s led him to dramatically change his farming practices forever.
Like many farmers across rural Colorado, he was suddenly confronted with a shortage of irrigation water. In response, he dropped malting barley from his rotation, a crop that requires 20 inches of water annually, and replaced it with a green manure crop, which saved about 14 inches.
The way his potatoes performed the following year was a revelation. They were more pest resistant and used less water. (He said it now takes him around 12 inches a year to grow potatoes compared to the norm, which is closer to 20.)
Since then, cost savings from reduced inputs, including the elimination of fungicides, has more than paid for the roughly $45 an acre it takes to plant the cover crop mixes, he said…
In the adjacent potato field, he pointed to flowering strips planted to attract beneficial insects. The field was also interspersed with companion crops like peas, vetch, buckwheat and fava beans, which are intended to further enhance insect habitat, soil microbial activity and overall diversification. The additional seed costs him $9 an acre, he said.
“It is so alive out here, it is just buzzing,” he enthused.
Enhanced biological diversity translates to tastier, more vibrant potatoes, due in large part to better nutrient availability and nitrogen uptake, he said.
“The color of my potatoes has improved dramatically,” he noted. “That all comes back to calcium. It’s more available to my potatoes now.”
His production goals have shifted from quantity to nutrition and quality. “As producers, we’ve got yield figured out,” he said. “What I want to do is improve the quality of my potatoes and do it while spending less money to grow them.”
From the Associated Press via U.S. News & World Report:
The Air Force doesn’t plan to reimburse three Colorado communities for the money spent responding to water contamination caused by toxic firefighting foam previously used at a military base, potentially leaving the towns with an $11 million tab…
The Air Force has pledged $4.3 million in aid, and only $1.7 million of that amount will go to the water districts. Much of the rest is being spent on bottled water and filters. “We don’t back pay — we cannot reimburse,” said Cornell Long, a chemist with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.
An email sent to the newspaper from the engineer center in response to a request for clarification said, “The Air Force does not have the authority to reimburse communities for costs incurred in dealing with environmental contamination issues.”
The military plans to continue studying the toxic chemicals in the foam and their effect on residents’ health until 2019. Air Force officials said last week they do not expect to carry out a remediation plan for the contaminated wells until next decade…
An Air Force report released Tuesday said that other sources likely contributed to the aquifer’s contamination, though none has been identified.
The delay has angered residents, and the cost is overwhelming the towns’ resources, which will lead to rate hikes in at least two of the three communities.
“We really need financial help,” said Roy Heald, manager of the Security Water and Sanitation Districts. “We need to get going on those things before the 2020s.”
Fountain plans to raise water rates by 5.3 percent this year, and Security plans to study a rate hike this fall. Widefield officials don’t expect to raise rates, though its long term solution — a new treatment plant for 10 affected water wells, could add $10 million to $12 million to their costs.
Security is also planning to build a treatment plant. It is paying Colorado Springs Utilities for uncontaminated water in the meantime for $1 million a year.
Fountain officials have budgeted $4.2 million in fixes through 2018.
The defendants have moved to dismiss a sweeping lawsuit over chemicals polluting the Widefield Aquifer.
The suit, brought last fall, alleges that chemical giant 3M and other firms that sold firefighting foam to the Air Force should have known that it contained dangerous perfluorinated compounds, now thought to be a health risk. Thousands of water users in Widefield, Fountain and Security were told to stop drinking water from the aquifer last year after testing determined it contained dangerous levels of the compounds.
Attorneys for 3M, in a motion to dismiss the proposed class-action suit, argued that the firm didn’t know the foam was toxic when it was sold to the Air Force. The motion also argues that the Air Force, not 3M, used the foam, and polluted the environment.
“3M’s action is too far removed from the claimed injury for the court to reasonably infer foreseeability,” attorneys for 3M wrote, “or any duty arising therefrom.”
While the Air Force last week admitted that foam releases at Peterson Air Force Base since the 1970s might have allowed the chemical to seep into the aquifer, the military isn’t named in the lawsuit. Suing the military is nearly impossible because of sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that blocks all but the rarest claims against the government.
With the federal path blocked, lawyers representing plaintiffs in several lawsuits have targeted the chemical manufacturers with claims that the polluted wells stem from the sale of a dangerous product.
The suits have been merged into a single megasuit at federal District Court in Denver. The plaintiffs are also asking that all property owners in the area be recognized as a class, allowing them to head to court as a group rather than requiring them to each sue.
The plaintiffs claim that 3M and other manufacturers ignored warnings about perfluorinated compounds and kept selling the foam to the military, “and continued to do so long after they were aware of the health and environmental risks of their products.”
The defendants say they didn’t know the foam was harmful at the time it was made.
In arguments against 3M’s motion for dismissal, the plaintiffs claim that 3M stopped making the firefighting foam in 2002 due to toxicity concerns, but never recalled the product or warned users of the hazards the foam posed…
A report released by the Air Force last week showed that the chemical was detected at 88,000 parts per trillion near the fire training area at Peterson Air Force Base, that’s 1,257 times higher than the EPA’s advisory level.
Any resolution to the lawsuit could be a long way off.
No timeline has been set for arguments on the motion to dismiss the case.
Some studies that both sides could need to determine liability haven’t begun.
The Air Force claims that studies tying the aquifer’s pollution to firefighting foam are incomplete and may not be finished until late 2018.
The court in Denver this month waived filing deadlines in the lawsuit, slowing its progress ahead of a proposed late August hearing to set a schedule for the case.
U.S. water infrastructure got a “D Grade” from American Society of Civil Engineers, and it could cost more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to maintain, repair, and expand the systems we need for safe drinking water.
The good news is that we can cost-effectively preserve and restore the forests that provide much of the water we use, which means spending less on the pipes and aqueducts of so-called grey infrastructure. In the Western United States, 65 percent of public water supply comes from forests, which also help purify water of pollutants, control floods and regulate water flow.
But these forests are at increasing risk of catastrophic fires, which over the past decade have burned an area larger than North Dakota. Wildfires can flood drinking water systems with hazardous ash, smother aquatic habitats with soot and soil, and even destroy existing infrastructure like pipes and dams. In Colorado, recent fires have cost Denver Water upwards of $30 million in damaged infrastructure and dredging costs. In my home state of New Mexico, the Cerro Grande fire of 2000 cost an estimated $1 billion.
One way to curtail wildfires is to thin the forest to restore a natural, low-intensity fire pattern that promotes the health of the landscape. Besides cutting the costs of wildfires, forest restoration could create green jobs and revitalize rural economies…
Some cities have passed municipal bonds to restore forests in their watersheds. Since 2009, the city of Santa Fe has invested more than $8 million in forest restoration of its source watershed. This program was made possible through a congressional earmark and financial support from the New Mexico Water Trust Board. Similarly, five cities in Colorado are restoring forests in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.
Researchers at Blue Forest Conservation and the World Resources Institute are pioneering what they call the Forest Resilience Bond, a financing mechanism for forest restoration that leverages private capital to achieve scale and meet the needs of downstream water suppliers, distributors and users. The team is piloting this mechanism in early 2018 in the U.S. West.
As these pilot programs attempt to redefine how U.S. forest restoration is funded, we should also ask about the federal government’s role. It is unclear if water infrastructure will be a focus of the Trump administration’s proposed infrastructure plan. But if Americans want sustainable, resilient and cost-effective infrastructure that offers multiple benefits to communities and the environment, the infrastructure discussion needs to start with forest restoration.
FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):
In a first-of-its-kind admission for the service, Air Force investigators confirmed that toxic firefighting foam chemicals used at Peterson Air Force Base had leached into the surrounding groundwater. To fix the problem, Air Force officials are proceeding under a process similar to the federal Superfund program – a yearslong procedure for cleaning up complex environmental contamination. No Superfund designation, however, has been made.
The findings were outlined in a report unveiled [July 25, 2017] that examined dozens of soil and water tests over the last year at the east Colorado Springs base.
Over and over, investigators for the report issued the same warning: “There is the potential for a complete groundwater pathway for human receptors.”
At a news conference later Tuesday, Air Force Col. Todd Moore gave no apology but framed the report as an attempt to be transparent about what had transpired in decades of training with the foam. He vowed to cooperate with the community in finding a solution.
“There’s still more to learn,” Moore said.
A final determination about what needs to be done probably won’t come until the completion of another study, which won’t begin until 2019 and still needs congressional approval for funding, said Cornell Long, of the Air Force Civil Engineering Center in San Antonio.
Federal remediation work will push into the next decade, he added, though some help may arrive before then.
“There could be points where you take interim measures,” he said.
Several local elected and water officials expressed disappointment Tuesday at the prospect of a years-long wait for help.
Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega left a closed-door briefing with Air Force and other local officials “frustrated” that Peterson’s latest investigation didn’t appear to be all-encompassing.
He said Air Force officials gave him no clear indication of when they would send the $4.3 million in aid promised last year. Nor did they say whether the service would offer more financial aid to communities burdened with the tainted water, he added.
This panel will explore the history of the Eagle Mine and the collaborative cleanup efforts of the past two decades. The discussion will highlight the business, operational and regulatory perspectives, as well as those of our local community.
This discussion will be moderated by Larissa Read, president of the board of directors for Eagle River Watershed Council and owner of Common Ground Environmental Consulting.
Jamie Miller is a remedial project manager with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science, with a focus on Planning and Administration. She began her career in the environmental field with a private consulting firm and spent six years working with the EPA as a contractor on the Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team contract, providing technical assistance to the EPA Emergency Response and Removal Program.
Wendy Naugle, P.E. is an engineer and groundwater hydrologist in the Superfund/Brownfields Unit at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and has been working on the Eagle Mine cleanup for the past 18 years. Naugle holds a Bachelor’s degree in Geology from The Colorado College and a Master’s degree in Geological Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.
John Widerman is a member of the Minturn Town Council. He has lived in the Eagle Valley for nine years and in Minturn for six of those years. He is a local environmental steward, a Colorado Mountain College Alum and an employee of Eagle County Schools.
The annual commemoration of the 1976 Big Thompson Flood is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the site of a flood memorial one mile east of Drake Road on U.S. Highway 34.
The flash flood of July 31, 1976, in the Big Thompson Canyon took 144 lives, making it the worst natural disaster in Colorado’s history.
The memorial service will include speakers, music, announcement of academic scholarships to relatives of flood victims, and light refreshments. Participants should bring a lawn chair for their comfort.
As the evening wore on, people living in two trailer parks just south of campus began to panic. Located in a low gully near Spring Creek, between College Avenue and a 15-foot railroad embankment, the trailers had begun to fill with water.
“The rain kept falling hard on the same areas that had just had the heaviest rain so it was building this flood surge,” said state climatologist Nolan Doesken…
Over the course of 24 hours, 14 inches of rain fell in southwest Fort Collins in a highly-localized storm.
“And if anything that was what set the 1997 storm apart, everything was already soaked before it started — I mean really soaked — and then it dumped five hours of heavy rain, with the last hour being the heaviest of all,” said Doesken.
Most of the water was building up behind the 15-foot railroad embankment near Spring Creek — where the trailer parks were.
“Spring Creek is tiny. When you look at it, you can almost jump over it most times of the year,” said Marsha Hilmes-Robinson, floodplain administrator for the city of Fort Collins.
During the flood, the railroad embankment was holding back 8,250 cubic feet of water per second.
“Think of each cubic foot per second being one basketball going by a location in one second,” Hilmes-Robinson said. “So we had 8,250 basketballs flowing into the area behind the railroad embankment every second. That’s a lot of water.”
The railroad embankment couldn’t hold. One of the culverts that had intentionally been filled blew out and water pounded through and eventually over the top. As the rain continued to pour through the night, residents of the trailer parks clung to trees and huddled on rooftops before rescuers in rubber rafts could reach them.
“Then there was the fires, because some of the trailers had floated and the gas lines had been ruptured there was another explosion at a liquor store just to the north of the mobile home park, and then the train cars derailed,” Hilmes-Robinson said.
Four train cars full of lumber and grain had been knocked off the tracks at the top of the embankment as the water began to go over the top.
Rescuers worked through the night saving hundreds of people. Meanwhile at Colorado State University, 40 buildings were flooded, sustaining damages over $100 million, including to the newly renovated Morgan Library and the Lory Student Center.
In all, five women died in the Spring Creek Flood and 200 homes were destroyed, including both trailer parks. Damages to the city and campus totaled $200 million.
Since the Spring Creek Flood, an extensive rain gauge network has been installed in the foothills and in the city as an early warning system. The city has also taken an integrated approach to new projects, according to deputy director of the Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office Iain Hyde.
“When a new bridge or culvert or park is built, [Fort Collins] build risk reduction into that process, really thinking about floodplain management and sound regulations, and those actions are reducing risk but they’re also reducing risk for flood insurance for members of the community as well,” Hyde said.
Now a gleaming apartment complex and strip malls sit where the trailer parks were. But the new construction had to meet need code regulations put in place after 1997, says Marsha Hilmes-Robinson.
“Those city codes required the buildings to be raised by 18 inches above the 100-year floodplain,” she said.
Flood mitigation also means giving the water somewhere to go. Fort Collins has used sales taxes to purchase two-thirds of the land in the 100-year Poudre River floodplain within city limits, turning it into natural areas and parks. The idea is to give the water somewhere to spread out and slow down. So far, it seems to be working.
A Deep Dive Into Our State’s Water Challenges and What to Do About Them
…as many Coloradans could tell you: we have a problem with our water resources. But what exactly is the problem? How did it start? How bad is it? And — the question of the century — how can we address it?
To answer all of these questions, we’re launching a blog series. In it, we’ll address what the issues are with our water and how we can solve them. To get started, let’s take a look at what the problems with water are in our state…
The average rainfall across the state is just 17 inches per year, making it the 8th driest state in the country. Some parts of the state, like the San Luis Valley and some Western towns, are even considered deserts, qualifying with less than 9.75 inches of rain a year…
When Colorado was first being settled in the 19th century, rights to use water (now know legally as “water rights”) were handed out on a first-come-first-served basis to miners and farmers. The idea of conservation, such as leaving water in rivers or planning for the future, was not considered. In fact, people thought it was wasteful to allow rivers to run free…
Another challenge with our water system is the notion of “use it or lose it.” Our laws currently say that if a water right owner does not use his or her entire amount of water each year, he or she could lose ownership of that water in the future. For example, as farmer Bill Ketterhagen, near Gunnison, Colorado, explained to ProPublica: “When we have [water], we’ll use it. You’ll open your head gate all the way and take as much as you can — whether you need it or not.”
Now, with a surging population, limited habitat for fish and other river species, and increasing droughts, people are realizing that human use has profound environmental, economic and social impacts. Water left in our rivers can be more valuable than water removed…
Our recent Rivers Report Card measured the health of eight Colorado rivers. Most of our rivers have less water than they used to — but one river was much larger than it naturally would be. The South Platte River was once a seasonal stream, dry for several months each year. Now, it flows year-round due to water diverted from other rivers, which is used in cities and washed down the drain into the South Platte…
While the problem is huge and progress will be slow, there are plenty of opportunities and innovative ideas that could majorly impact our water. Over the next few months, we’ll be releasing blogs that explain more about each of these solutions. But here are the basics. We need to:
Provide greater protections for Colorado’s rivers by creating management plans for streams.
Increase urban conservation and water savings, especially in new developments.
Encourage flexibility for the agricultural industry to share water rights.
Address our antiquated and non-existent laws governing the hardrock mining industry.
Close the state’s water supply gap without diverting more water from our western slope.
Protect more of our rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which protects free-flowing rivers from development that would change their nature.
Some argue that it will take a drastic drought to spur our state into action. We think that having a little bit of foresight should be enough. We can work together to turn these ideas into reality and protect Colorado’s water for the future.
Global food security depends on trade in just four crops: maize, wheat, rice and soybeans. The first three account for 60 percent of the world’s food energy intake. The fourth, soybeans, is the world’s largest source of animal protein feed, making up 65 percent of global protein feed supply. Their production is concentrated in a handful of exporting countries, including the United States, Brazil and the Black Sea region, from which they are flowing at ever-greater volumes. Between 2000 and 2015, global food trade grew by 127 percent to 2.2 billion metric tons — and growth rates are projected to keep increasing.
But the movement of these crops hinges on just 14 “choke-point” junctures on transport routes through which exceptional volumes of trade pass.
Such choke points have been perilously overlooked, said Rob Bailey, research director for energy, environment and resources at Chatham House and co-author of the report…
Brazil, the world’s other heavy-hitter, accounts for 17 percent of global wheat, maize, rice and soybean exports. But its road network is crumbling. Extreme rainfall could knock out a major transport route. If this happened together with a U.S. flood and a Russian drought, there would be global food shortages, riots and political instability, starvation in areas that are heavily dependent on imports, and recessions everywhere else…
Disruption at any of these choke points would mean trouble, but if several jammed at once, it could be disastrous.
Climate change makes such a scenario more likely. While it’s difficult to connect any specific weather event to climate change, models suggest the shifting climate is making such events more common.
For the United States, the could mean a lot more episodes like the one in August 2012, when Hurricane Isaac closed ports and suspended barge traffic on parts of the Mississippi River…
Political instability can also cause choke point disruptions. In 2015 and 2016, tensions between Russia and Turkey fueled power plays in the Turkish Straits, and an attempted internal coup led to a temporary shutdown of the Bosporus.
And disruption of key arteries due to political instability can lead to a self-reinforcing cycle, as food shortages breed further instability. In the Middle East and North Africa, statistical analyses show that food security is a particularly high indicator of political stability. Over a third of grain imports for the region pass through a maritime choke point for which there is no alternate route. But the problem is widespread. The 2007-2008 global food crisis was accompanied by protests in 61 countries and riots in 23…
To make matters worse, chronic underinvestment in infrastructure has weakened critical networks. Extreme weather and increased trade flows put them at risk of failing. The McKinsey Global Institute places the world’s infrastructure investment deficit — the gap between funding available and funding needed — at $250 billion a year through 2040. (The United States has one of the largest deficits among G-20 countries, according to Chatham House.) But even where there is infrastructure investment, governments often fail to factor in climate risks: A 2016 survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that, with very few exceptions, they are largely overlooked even in rich countries.
“It is a glide path to a perfect storm,” said Bailey.
In fact, 13 of the 14 choke points have seen some form of temporary disruption or closure in the last 15 years, according to the report. (The only one that hasn’t, the Strait of Gibraltar, may now come under pressure in Brexit negotiations.) This should prompt policymakers to prepare for worst-case scenarios. But as Bailey observed, “We’re not very good at conceptualizing risks which we haven’t yet experienced.” The mentality is very different when it comes to the oil market, where past oil embargoes make the idea of a supply shock more tangible. “People obsess about choke points there,” he said…
“What is needed is a coordinated international approach like you have in energy markets,” Bailey said. In 1974, the International Energy Agency established emergency response mechanisms to minimize the risk of oil and gas disruptions. Governments and international responders, like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the U.N. World Food Program, should model this with rules on coordination during acute food disruptions. This would include emergency food supply sharing arrangements and smarter strategic storage — where choke points can’t cut off supply.
But they also needed to take preventive measures, like diversifying production so countries aren’t dependent on a handful of mega-crops and exporters. Funding should support alternative sources and supply routes around the world, as well as climate-resilient infrastructure. But all of this requires long-term planning. It needs to start now — before extreme weather becomes even more frequent.
FromThe New York Times (Nadja Popovich and Adam Pearce):
The big increase in summer temperatures under the dark red category of extreme heat is “right in line” with what scientists expect to see as the climate warms over all, said Todd Sanford, director of research at Climate Central, a nonprofit science and news organization.
For each time period above, the distribution of summer temperatures forms what is known as a bell curve because most measurements fall near the average, forming the bump – or bell – in the middle. More extreme temperatures, which happen less frequently, fall in the wings, with heat waves on the right and cold-snaps on the left.
As the curve’s average – the top of the peak – shifts rightward over time, more temperatures in more places end up in the hot and extremely hot categories and fewer end up in the cold category.
Dr. Hansen’s curves also flatten out, which some have suggested is an indication of greater temperature variability. But other climate scientists, including Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the University of California, Berkeley, have pointed out that this effect is mainly a reflection that some parts of the world are warming faster than others. There is no evidence that temperatures are becoming more variable in most parts of the world after warming has been accounted for.
Dr. Hansen’s data “really highlight that changes in the average, while they may seem modest, have big implications for the extremes. And that’s what’s going to affect society and ecosystems,” Dr. Sanford said. The findings reveal what has happened so far, and also provide “a glimpse to what’s in our future.”
U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Dean Heller (R-NV) this week led a bipartisan group of six other Western senators in sending a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requesting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) direct a portion of recently-appropriated funds for the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program (Watershed Act) to the Colorado River Basin (CRB).
In the letter, the senators highlight the need to direct Watershed Act funding to the Colorado River Basin to help farmers and ranchers increase efficiency, conserve water, and improve yields.
The Watershed Act provides technical and financial assistance to states, local governments, and tribes to support off-farm conservation projects that improve resiliency, support water conservation, and protect water quality. For the first time since 2010, the program received $150 million in funding for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 to support new and existing shovel-ready projects, surveys, and planning activities.
“We request that you provide $75 million of this funding to the CRB over a multi-year period to address critical water infrastructure and drought contingency planning needs in the Upper and Lower basins,” the senators wrote.
The Colorado River Basin has experienced 16 years of persistent drought and will likely face challenges with water supply and demand in the future. Despite investing more than $6 billion annually in on-farm conservation, USDA programs do not always address the specific needs of Western agriculture. In the letter, the senators state that additional investment in off-farm improvements through the Watershed Act will help address critical water infrastructure needs in the Colorado River Basin and enhance conservation in the West.
“[This funding] can help correct this bias against western agriculture by addressing previously unfunded water infrastructure and drought contingency planning needs in our states,” the senators wrote.
CU Boulder engineers, scientists and students are teaming up with Black Swift Technologies of Boulder to use unmanned aircraft in the coming weeks to measure water moisture at a test irrigation farm in Yuma, Colorado.
The testing will take place at the Irrigation Research Foundation (IRF), a research and demonstration farm in northeast Colorado. The team will fly high-tech sensors mounted on drones that will be able to assess moisture in crop fields at a resolution of about 50 feet across and to a depth of about 8 inches, said Professor Brian Argrow of the Ann and H.J. Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences.
The effort is part of Project Drought, a CU Boulder initiative to use drones to improve the understanding and prediction of drought, flooding and agricultural vulnerabilities. The sensor on the drone that will be used in Yuma was developed by a team led by CU Boulder Professor Al Gaseiwski of electrical, computer and energy engineering.
Project Drought is one of five research efforts initiated under CU Boulder’s Integrated Remote and In Situ Sensing (IRISS) project, directed by Argrow. IRISS is a pillar of the university’s Grand Challenge initiative efforts to harness science, technology and innovation to solve key national or global problems. Project Drought is a collaboration of CU Boulder’s Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV) and the Center for Environmental Technology (CET).
“The IRISS objective is to fill the gap between the ground and space with sensors and services,” said Argrow, recently named chair of aerospace engineering sciences. “We see Project Drought as a way to succeed in high-precision, high-resolution mapping, ultimately increasing the efficiency of water management.”
Black Swift Technologies, a company spun out of CU Boulder by aerospace PhD graduates Jack Elston, Maciej Stachura and Cory Dixon in 2011 with the help of a NASA Small Business Innovative Research Grant, developed the fixed-wing SuperSwift drone with a removable nose cone that will fly over the test farm.
“For us, this project is all about the sensor,” said Dixon, IRISS chief technologist. “We want to explore soil moisture mapping for things like land use, landslides and water runoff. While some farmers don’t have the ability to adequately assess their soil moisture, we can fly over an entire crop field with high enough resolution to give them data that will eventually allow for more efficient water use in particular areas.”
The team members will combine high-precision drone observations of soil moisture with measurements from NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite, launched in 2015. Although SMAP’s primary radar instrument failed, scientists are still able to use a passive radiometer instrument on board SMAP to produce surface maps with each pixel representing an area roughly 25 miles across, Argrow said.
The IRF facility in Yuma also has sensors embedded in the soil to chart moisture, which will be compared with data gathered overhead by the SuperSwift drone. Each flight team will include an on-the-ground pilot, a staff member and two students, Dixon said.
In May, IRISS Project Storm researchers led by Argrow and aerospace engineering Associate Professor Eric Frew, working in Oklahoma, provided the first live-streamed data from a drone—known as TTwistor—to the NOAA National Weather Service (NWS) in Norman. The CU Boulder team flew TTwistor into a storm front in northern Oklahoma, which sent back information about wind speed, temperature and other data in real time.
The goal is to provide real-time data to the NWS to improve forecast and warning capabilities for severe storms, including tornadoes, Argrow said.
CU Boulder faculty and students have likely flown more research drones in more places in the world than any university in the country, Argrow said. Unmanned CU Boulder research aircraft have been flown in the Arctic, Antarctica, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Peru and Japan.
“We have about a dozen undergraduates working with us this summer,” Argrow said. “There is no better training for these students than actual field experience.”
At first, they look like a mirage on the edge of the horizon of southern Colorado’s broad and sweeping San Luis Valley. Then, as you rumble south down Highway 17 through Moffat and the other barely-holding-on valley towns, their wave-like ridges reveal a unique reality.
Finally, as you turn east and head into the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, mountains of sand tower almost 800 feet over you and the valley floor.
“A piece of Arabian desert transplanted into this plain,” wrote Dr. Friedrich Adolph Wislizenus, in his remembrance of an 1848 expedition to northern New Mexico.
But this isn’t the Arabian Peninsula. Nor is it the coast. These dunes were created in this landlocked valley by prevailing winds that pick up sand and deposit it in the shadow of the Sangre De Cristo mountains. The 30-square-mile dune field offers a view unlike any other in Colorado.
“I would rather go three days around, than travel once more over the sand hills with a wagon,” Wislizenus wrote more than 150 years ago, a thought echoed by many hikers since then.
These days, most visitors will play in the cool water of adjacent Medano Creek before they climb up one or two dunes. Few venture up into the mountains on the eastern side of the dunes. And it’s there the park is investing in an ambitious project that’s symbolic of how land managers are approaching one of their biggest long-term issues: climate change.
Largely Unscathed — So Far
Earlier this summer, President Barack Obama declared that climate change is the biggest issue the 100-year-old National Park Service now faces. The effects of warmer temperatures at places like Rocky Mountain National Park are clear — once-clear lakes are now warm enough to sprout algae blooms, for example.
In Colorado’s other national parks, the effects are more subtle: warmer temperatures are complicating already difficult climbs at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. And in Mesa Verde, scientists wonder if the changing climate is affecting the stability of ancient Pueblo ruins.
Sand Dunes appears largely unscathed — so far. The park’s average annual air temperature has held steady around 42 degrees Fahrenheit (or 6 degrees Celsius) for more than 100 years.
A recent study looked at pikas, a tiny rodent-like mammal that lives on mountain peaks and can die from overheating after just a few hours at eight national parks across the West. Researchers concluded there’s “encouraging evidence” the small mammal will be able to survive at the Sand Dunes.
But one climate model from the National Park Service says that unless the world’s carbon emissions drop by 40 to 70 percent, temperatures at the park could rise by up to 9 degrees by 2100.
Under those scenarios, invasive plants like leafy spurge could move in, streams and creeks could run dry, and wildfires could become more frequent. That has staff at the Sand Dunes thinking hard about how they can help the park adapt to a warming climate.
Which brings us to trout.
One of the park’s current projects is the restoration of the native Rio Grande cutthroat trout to the Sand Creek watershed, which tumbles down the Sangres to the north side of the dunes. Fred Bunch, resource management specialist at the park, said the park has spent about $120,000 on it so far, and plans to spend about double that before it’s all said and done.
But Bunch said the money, which comes from visitor fees, Sand Dunes is spending on the trout project is worth it. It’s park service policy to restore native species. And the Sand Creek watershed, wildlife officials believe, is an ideal place for the fish now — and they hope it will be decades from now as well.
Elevation An Ally
“It’s all a function of elevation,” Bunch said. “Higher elevation streams may be a great area for habitat for the Rio Grande cutthroat as we see this climatic variability.”
Andrew Todd, a research biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Lakewood, has been collecting data for the Sand Creek project for a few years now. He developed his interest in fish years ago as a kid when his dad would take him and his siblings fishing near Aspen.
For some reason, Todd said, they would always catch a ton of fish. Finally, 10 years ago, his dad ‘fessed up.
“He’d make sure we were on the water right after the stocking truck came through,” Todd said. “So our whole childhood fishing experience was based on a lie.”
These days, Todd is devoted to the plight of the Rio Grande cutthroat. The state fish of New Mexico is native to that state and southern Colorado. It was decimated first by miners who overfished it in the 19th century, then by the invasive rainbow, brook and brown trout the miners brought in as replacements.
“Over time, your cutthroat trout population will lose out,” Todd explained. “They interbreed with rainbow trout and they don’t compete well with brown and brook trout.”
Today, the Rio Grande cutthroat exists only in 10-15 percent of its historic range. It’s so rare, in fact, that the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based environmental group, sued the federal government last month because they want the fish to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigner for the Arizona group, said he supports the NPS-led project. He just wants more projects like it.
“This lawsuit is necessary because the fish, despite efforts from a lot of people, is continuing to decline,” McKinnon said. “Endangered Species Act protections will compel a more vigorous recovery program, a more coordinated recovery program. And it will provide the agencies the resources they need to get the job done.”
The surviving fish are mostly relegated to small rivers in the Rio Grande basin. Those isolated populations are particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change — droughts and wildfires can erase them in short order.
Wildlife officials got a scare earlier this summer during the Hayden Pass Fire about 60 miles north of the Sand Dunes. They were worried that another rare cutthroat trout that only lives in one small location in that area actually went extinct because of the fire.
It turns out the fish survived, but that wildfire made the stakes clear.
“If you have a really small stream, just one stream, [with] no tributaries, and it burns you could lose that entire population,” Todd said.
That’s not the case at Sand Creek, where nearly the entire watershed is on public land. The area they are trying to restore isn’t just one small piece of water. It’s a whole self-contained system, from snowmelt-fed lakes to where the creek seeps underground on the valley floor.
“You could potentially have a fire in there that burned a good portion of the watershed,” Todd said. “As long as it doesn’t burn the whole thing, you’re well buffered against things like wildfire.”
If the project is successful, Todd said that Sand Creek and its tributaries would make up one of the largest cutthroat trout watersheds in the state.
The water temperature data Todd has collected so far shows promise for the Rio Grande cutthroat. Up at the top of the mountain range, Todd said the sun actually warms Sand Creek quite a bit. But as it falls below treeline, and its colder tributaries dump into it, it gets really, really cold.
And that’s just how the trout like it.
“Our standard for cutthroat trout is around 17 degrees [Celsius],” Todd said. “In Sand Creek, where it hits the sand it’s about 12 or 13 [Celsius]. So we’ve got a good 4- or 5-degree buffer before we start to butt up against temperatures here that would preclude trout from being here.”
Water temperatures rise more slowly than air temperatures, Todd said. So even if climate change pushes air temperatures to the higher end of the park’s estimates, the trout could theoretically still survive.
If that kind of change takes place, the Sand Dunes will have “many other problems” to deal with, he surmised.
Killing Many Fish To Save A Few
Eventually, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will remove all the non-native fish from the watershed using a natural pesticide called rotenone. It kills only fish and leaves other wildlife unharmed.
After the creek, its tributaries and the nearby lakes are cleared and restocked with Rio Grande cutthroat, the fish will need about three years to recover. That means anglers who fish the drainage will have to look elsewhere for awhile.
“It’s the consequence of restoring,” said John Alves, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s senior aquatic biologist for the southwest region. “There’s drainages nearby that also have trout.”
It’s possible that CPW could apply rotenone in stages; a waterfall halfway up the creek provides a natural barrier. So once the top half is cleared, they don’t need to worry about non-natives in the lower part invading again.
It’s also very difficult to reach Sand Creek, which helps keep out “bucket biologists” — anglers bent on undoing the government’s work by dumping non-native fish back into a cleared waterway.
“When you go in and you try to reclaim it for the natives, not everyone is always on board,” Todd said.
The whole idea of killing off a watershed is off-putting to at least one angler. Phil Armstrong has fished there for more than decade and said while he can appreciate the desire to restore a native fish, he’s disheartened by the “heavy-handed tactics” the state will use.
“Nothing natural is left in this state. People have been everywhere. Mining has been everywhere,” he said. “We’re only taking human intervention steps to get to some approximation of that. We don’t know what that watershed was like a hundred years ago.”
Andrew Todd concedes that point. He doesn’t have proof that Sand Creek historically held Rio Grande cutthroat. But philosophical arguments aside, Todd said the important thing is to strike a balance between native and non-native fish.
“We need to decide what level of biodiversity we want to protect,” Todd said. “It’s one of the prettiest fish in Colorado. And I think it’s worth preserving.”
The project is something of a sequel for the NPS’ Fred Bunch. The park restored Rio Grande cutthroat to Medano Creek using similar tactics back in the 1980s and 90s. Bunch said he’s excited to expand anglers’ chances of catching a native trout even more — especially given that their dollars are paying for the Sand Creek project.
“If this species is restored to 12 miles of prime habitat, that is a huge victory,” he said.
Bunch said he wants anglers to be able to count on a “consistent experience” at the park and preserve. With the climate forecasted to be anything but consistent, what the National Park Service does now, in southern Colorado and elsewhere across the country, faces its real test in the decades to come.
There’s an unplanned experiment going on in the northern Rocky Mountains. What’s happening is that spring is arriving earlier, and it’s generally warmer and drier than usual. And that’s messing with some of the fish that live there.
The fish is the iconic cutthroat trout. It’s a native North American fish that thrives in cold, small streams. Explorer Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark Expedition fame was among the first European-Americans to catch this spangly, spotted fish. He used deer spleen as bait.
It’s relative rarity now makes it a favorite for catch-and-release anglers. But biologists have now found that it’s in danger. The much more common rainbow trout is invading cutthroat streams and mating with the native fish. Ecologist Clint Muhlfeld says that creates hybrids.
“It jumbles up the genes that are linked to the locally adapted traits that these fish have evolved with,” says Muhlfeld, who’s with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station.
Those traits have allowed cutthroats to survive through millennia in cold northern streams. And cold streams were thought to protect them from rainbows, which prefer warmer water.
But climate change is warming many high-altitude streams, and they frequently have less water, another change that favors rainbows. So they’re moving in.
Muhlfeld says that when rainbows and cutthroats breed, the resulting hybrids are feeble — “less fit,” in biological terms. “They don’t survive as well as the native fish,” he says. And hybrids that do survive continue to make more hybrids; there’s no going back to making cutthroats again.
Writing in the journal Global Change Biology, Muhlfeld and a team of scientists from several research institutions studied fish in hundreds of locations in the northern Rockies. Hybridization was widespread. It was most common in places where fish and game departments have introduced rainbow trout, a practice that goes back to the 19th century.
Some states are trying to solve the problem by getting rid of rainbow trout. That might not please some anglers, but Muhlfeld says the cutthroat species could disappear otherwise.
“There are so many places around the world where you can go catch a rainbow trout,” he says; it’s been introduced all over the world. “There’s very few places where you can actually go and catch a native fish that’s been around for thousands and thousands of years.
“Extinction is permanent. Once the native genomes and adaptive traits are gone, they are gone forever.”
Agreement includes largest native trout restoration in Colorado history
The U.S. Forest Service this week finalized a litigation settlement that will allow the Water Supply and Storage Company, a northern Colorado ditch company, to continue to use Long Draw Reservoir on the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forests, and will launch a large-scale native trout restoration program for the Cache la Poudre river headwaters within the Forests, including the Neota and Comanche Peaks Wilderness Areas, as well as in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Completion of all project elements is expected to take more than 10 years, but when completed will provide for a connected “metapopulation” of trout across the watershed – the largest such restored native trout habitat in Colorado. The native trout restoration project will span more than 40 miles of connected river and multiple lakes, as well as Long Draw Reservoir itself. To protect the watershed from invasion by non-native species, fish barriers will be established on the Grand Ditch and on the mainstem Cache la Poudre below its confluence with La Poudre Pass Creek. Within the watershed, temporary barriers will also be installed to enable fishery biologists to complete restoration of native trout one section of the basin at a time. After installing temporary barriers, biologists will remove non-native fish from the upstream areas. Once the areas are confirmed to be free of non-native trout, they will be re-stocked with native greenback cutthroat trout. Work will be done in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain National Park, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Colorado Trout Unlimited.
Under the settlement, a trust will be established with $1.25 million from the Water Supply and Storage Company for purposes of funding these restoration activities. Colorado Trout Unlimited will serve as the Trustee, while the U.S. Forest Service will be the lead agency for project implementation.
David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, issued the following statement:
“The settlement finalized today is a great example of how open dialogue and a spirit of cooperation can yield conservation solutions. After years of litigation and debate, the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Water Supply and Storage Company, and Trout Unlimited have agreed to launch a collaborative restoration project for Colorado’s state fish, the greenback cutthroat trout, which will be the largest native trout restoration effort in Colorado history.
“Over the next decade, we will be restoring a true Colorado native to the Cache la Poudre headwaters in spectacular alpine wilderness within both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. The watershed will be a stronghold for native trout, helping secure this piece of Colorado’s natural heritage for generations to come.
“We are pleased that settlement efforts enabled all the parties to find a solution for the area’s natural resources that meets federal stewardship responsibilities, respects the operating needs and challenges of long-standing water users, and achieves meaningful benefits for Colorado’s environment and the millions of residents of and visitors to our state who enjoy it.”
Keith Amen, president of the Water Supply and Storage Company said:
“We are pleased to have concluded the terms necessary for us to obtain a thirty year easement agreement for the continued operation of Long Draw Reservoir, a very valuable resource that contributes a great deal to the local, state and national economies.”
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:
Inside Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Roaring Judy Hatchery, the staff is working to save and breed 158 unique cutthroat trout rescued from Hayden Creek during last year’s devastating Hayden Pass wildfire, southwest of Cañon City.
Throughout June, hatchery technicians have artificially extracted milt and roe – semen and eggs – from the unique cutthroat trout, which were first discovered in Hayden Creek by CPW biologists in 1996. Today they may be the last survivors because no fish were found in an initial survey of the South Prong of Hayden Creek in the aftermath of the wildfire and subsequent flooding.
The fire erupted from a lightning strike last July 8 and roared out of control for weeks, eventually charring 16,754 acres across the Hayden Creek and Big Cottonwood Creek drainages above the Arkansas River near Coaldale.
At the time, CPW staff and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) volunteers made a desperate dash behind the fire lines and captured roughly half of the cutthroats believed to be living in a one-mile stretch of the South Prong.
Of the rescued trout,158 were taken to Roaring Judy and placed in isolation. The other 36 were released in Newlin Creek south of Cañon City with a goal that they would reproduce naturally.
Several hundred fish were left behind in hopes they would survive and the monsoon rains would spare the drainage. Heavy rain events after a fire can inundate streams with debris, ash and sediment making it difficult for fish to survive and reproduce.
Indeed, soon after the fire, fall monsoons ravaged the watershed. Biologists returned to the area with sampling gear and could not find a single fish. They plan to return to the creek this fall in hopes of finding a few hardy survivors .
The Hayden Creek cutthroat are unique and different than the famed pure greenback cutthroat residing in Bear Creek, on the western edge of Colorado Springs. Those trout, which ironically are native to the South Platte River basin, were once thought to be extinct in the 1930s. A study headed up by scientists at CU Boulder in 2012 revealed that the only true greenback cutthroat resided in Bear Creek. That information led to the propagation and eventual reintroduction of those fish into several streams and one lake in the South Platte basin.
The cutthroat trout in Hayden Creek, and now in the hatchery, are unique and contain genes matching museum specimens collected by early explorers. In 1889, ichthyologist David Starr Jordan collected a pair of trout specimens from Twin Lakes, near Leadville. Today those specimens reside at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The Hayden Creek cutthroat trout are the only known modern fish to share their genetics.
“The coordination that occurred between the USFS staff and CPW to rescue these fish from the wild during an active fire was truly amazing,” said Josh Nehring, CPW senior aquatic biologist. “Furthermore, our staff at Roaring Judy, lead by Seth Firestone, has provided exceptional care to these fish. It is not an easy task to take a wild fish into the hatchery and get them to survive let alone reproduce. Kudos to that team!”
Their spawning efforts began June 12 in the isolation unit located along the East River, north of Gunnison.
Firestone, hatchery manager, said roe was stripped from 10 female cutthroat and mixed with milt from 10 males the first day. Action continued June 19 and the staff is hopeful for more success the week of June 26.
But the rescue is not without risk. The trout are being treated for fungus attributed to male aggression.
“It’s a concern,” Firestone said, describing how the fish are receiving weekly baths in a mild saltwater solution to combat the fungus. “We are doing our best to keep it under control.”
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:
Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologists and volunteers each carried 10-pound bags of rare greenback cutthroat trout up steep Herman Gulch near Georgetown this week in a bid to permanently return the state fish to its ancestral waters in an alpine stream fed by snowmelt.
CPW biologists hope the fish, each a year old and about 4 inches long, will thrive and continue the long process of restoring the native greenback in its historic habitat of the South Platte River drainage and remove it from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of threatened species.
But there are no guarantees that all the hard work will succeed in rescuing the rare fish. Still, CPW and its partners at USFWS, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, are determined to try to save the greenback, honored as the official state fish of Colorado.
Since discovering in 2012 the pure greenback population in a tiny ribbon of water known as Bear Creek on the southwest edge of Colorado Springs in the Arkansas River drainage, CPW staff has mounted a massive effort to walk Bear Creek, collect and spawn the fish each spring, rear them in hatcheries and now painstakingly stock them in a reservoir and two streams that the agency cleansed of other non-native fish to create the best conditions possible for their survival.
Despite all that work, the first stocking effort of 4,000 tiny, one-inch greenbacks on Herman Gulch and Dry Gulch last September was somewhat disappointing. A recent survey of the streams found no survivors. As a result, CPW decided to restock July 17 with 960 older, more robust greenbacks. The earlier release date also was designed to give the fish more time to acclimate and grow before winter. What CPW researchers know is that it takes approximately 3 years to restock and establish fish in a stream.
Presiding over the restocking effort were Boyd Wright, CPW’s Northeast Region aquatic conservation biologist and Paul Winkle, area aquatic biologist. Also assisting was Harry Crockett, CPW’s native aquatic species coordinator and chairman of the multi-agency Greenback Cutthroat Trout Recovery Team.
“This is a really big deal,” Crockett said of the effort that saw dozens of volunteers serve as fish Sherpas hauling bags up fish up four miles of steep terrain to find ideal spots along Herman Gulch where the greenbacks might take residence. “We need to get these fish in here and see them survive.”
To prepare the streams as greenback incubator sites, CPW staff in 2015 walked each, mile by mile, electroshocking about 600 hybrid cutthroat and carrying them out for relocation in Clear Creek. The streams were chemically cleansed of other species so baby greenbacks might thrive.
Then came the stocking of tiny greenbacks last September, the survey for survivors last week and finally the second restocking July 17. Though greenbacks stocked into Zimmerman Lake west of Fort Collins are thriving, biologists want to see them restored in their more typical habitat: cold, clear, alpine streams.
“This is a fish that evolved in streams over thousands of years.” Wright said. “Then it was almost wiped out in a century and a half of human interference. This is where we want to see them back and thriving again. Here in the wild.”
The long-term goal is to have greenbacks populating a network of streams like Herman, Dry Gulch and Clear Creek, for example, throughout the South Platte drainage. But for now, CPW biologists have to get them to survive a winter.
“The vision is a metapopulation with connected streams,” Crockett said. “But that’s a long way away. For now, we’ve got to maximize the genetic diversity that’s left and get them to take in these streams.”
The survey and stocking efforts will be repeated next year and biologists will be able to track the cutthroats by scanning them with a wand to read identifying tags inserted in each fish.
Among the nonprofit conservation organizations providing a small army of several dozen volunteers to assist in the restocking was Trout Unlimited and its member, Joe Haak of Castle Rock. He labored up the trail about four miles, determined to get his fish in the water in the two-hour window allotted by the scientists, because he feels so strongly about the CPW mission to save the greenback.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this important work,” Haak said as he gently coaxed his 10 greenbacks into a calm pool under two boulders, protected from the swift whitewater of Herman Gulch.
“I feel like I’m kind of a dad to these fish,” Haak said, watching with pride as his greenbacks hovered in the stream, surfacing to eat insects on the surface. “I wanted to be a part of history.”
The effort to restore Colorado River cutthroat trout in Hermosa Creek dates back to the early 1990s when wildlife managers used a natural waterfall on the creek’s east fork as a protective barrier.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife cleared out non-native species of trout – specifically brook, brown and rainbows – using a short-lived, organic poison known as rotenone. And in their place, it released Colorado River cutthroat trout, giving the waterway to the native fish for the first time in probably 100 years.
The magnitude of the cutthroat’s loss has never been truly quantified, but its range – which once spanned Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – was dramatically reduced, mostly because of habitat loss, overharvesting and competition with non-native species.
Clay Kampf, a fisheries biologist for the San Juan National Forest, said the best estimates show the Colorado River cutthroat trout is now found in about 14 percent of its historic natural habitat.
Facing the possibility of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listing the Colorado River cutthroat trout as “endangered,” which would bring a host of restrictive protections, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming entered a three-state agreement to lead an aggressive reintroduction program.
“It works well for both parties,” said Jim White, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “This way, the states and local groups have more say in where and how to manage these fish. And it benefits the (Fish & Wildlife Service) because their resources are stretched pretty thin.”
In the last decade, the state of Wyoming has restored more than 60 miles of Colorado River cutthroat habitat, with most of that occurring in the upper Green River drainage by the town of Big Piney.
There, Mark Smith of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said the population has been struggling since reintroduction. The fish haven’t spawned early enough, he said, which means they don’t grow big enough to survive winter.
“The turnaround hasn’t been as quick as we would have hoped, but we’re getting there,” Smith said. “We’re certainly making gains and going in the right direction.”
In Utah, the program has been wildly successful, with hundreds of miles of streams restored with their native species of trout, said Randy Oplinger of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Oplinger said Utah has been the most ambitious of the three states, likely because of the fact many projects are located on federal lands managed by agencies open to large-scale restoration efforts.
This year alone, the department plans to restore 75 miles of cutthroat habitat within the Colorado River basin. And Oplinger said trout populations tend to fair well throughout the river system…
Hermosa project close to completion
Once a final barrier is constructed this summer on Hermosa Creek, just below its confluence with the east fork, an effort to dedicate more than 23 miles solely to the cutthroat trout will almost be complete.
Two decades ago, Hermosa Creek was recognized as an ideal place for a restoration project because of the creek’s outstanding water quality and because of its easy accessibility through Forest Service Road 578, which runs behind Purgatory Resort.
After the waterfall near Sig Creek Campground was used as a natural blockade from non-native intrusion in the early 1990s, two more human-made barriers were built in 2007 and 2013.
This summer, the U.S. Forest Service will begin construction on the final barrier at the Hermosa-east fork confluence to safeguard the waters above the blockade for the Colorado River cutthroat.
CPW’s White said that in the segments of the creek that have already been repopulated with cutthroat, population trends are encouraging. He said a recent sweep a few years ago found about 400 to 600 fish per mile.
“Populations above 400 fish per mile are usually ranked in the good to excellent category,” White said. “We’ve seen natural reproduction … very shortly after that project on the main stem (of Hermosa) was completed.”
Protecting the cutthroat
With a successful stretch of river returned to its native species, wildlife managers are expecting Hermosa Creek to get a lot of use from excited anglers.
As a result, a strict catch-and-release policy is on that section of river, White said, and there are other measures, such as habitat improvement and limiting bank erosion, that the agencies can take to protect the fish…
The quest to set right altered habitats continues to have strong cultural and ecological justifications, said Noah Greenwald of the Centers for Biological Diversity.
“We’re taking away what makes places like Colorado unique and special,” he said. “And we’re likely impacting other species when we replace a native with a non-native. It’s part of this larger extinction crisis.”
The Hermosa Creek restoration project is a coordinated effort between the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, as well as Trout Unlimited, which in total have spent more than a $1 million, Kampf said.
It will take a few more years for the waters upstream of the forthcoming barrier to carry only cutthroats, as non-natives still need to be removed, but Kampf said it will be worth the wait.
As local anglers, conservationists and wildlife managers get ready to celebrate another milestone in the restoration of Colorado River cutthroat trout to the upper reaches of Hermosa Creek, it is easy to forget that the effort, which dates back to the early 1990s, has its detractors.
Some local residents, and many long-time summer visitors to the popular area tucked behind Purgatory, think all the fuss over the fish – one of three native Colorado subspecies of trout named for the distinctive crimson slashes found on each side of the lower jaw – has ruined a fine local fishing hole.
From a short-term point of view, they have a point. The periodic poisoning of the creek to remove non-native trout, the building of barriers to keep non-natives downstream, the stocking of cutthroats and the rules against taking them for the frying pan have sent those seeking a stringer of fish further downstream, or elsewhere.
In 1992, the Colorado Division of Wildlife applied rotenone above the waterfall on the East Fork; not long after, Colorado River cutthroat were planted in the stream and the fish, estimated to occupy less than 15 percent of its original range on the tributaries of the Green and Colorado rivers, had a toehold in Hermosa headwaters once again.
It was an important step in the effort to keep the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the fish as an endangered species, and mirrored similar restoration efforts on the fish’s native range in Utah and Wyoming.
Since then, barriers have been built and the process repeated on the main stem upstream of Hotel Draw. With the pending completion this summer of a barrier at the confluence of the East Fork and the main stem, the native-cutthroat-only stretch will soon comprise the largest continuous stretch of Colorado River cutthroat habitat in the state.
It has been an impressive effort, and like its supporters, we are confident of its future success. Those who remain unimpressed may benefit from a history lesson:
The same mining and population boom that decimated the cutthroat nearly extirpated Colorado’s elk. In 1912, elk from Wyoming were reintroduced to the state in the same Hermosa Creek drainage. The area remains, as the Denver Post noted in an article three years ago, “a hunter’s paradise, where trophy elk still die of old age.”
That story, and the Hermosa area’s more recent protected status, bode well for another rebounding native.
Editor’s note: Marianne Goodland reports on water issues for this ongoing series: PARCHED, which looks at conservation, the role of agriculture and storage, as Colorado prepares for a looming water shortage brought on by population growth and climate change.
John Hickenlooper and his administration spent four years and millions of dollars working up Colorado’s first statewide water plan out of what he called an urgent imperative – a projection that water needs will exceed supply by 2050.
Mark Eiswerth, a water expert and economics professor at the University of Northern Colorado, points out that ”[e]ven if water providers are completely successful in implementing projects [already planned], state water experts predict that we will meet only about 80 percent of the forecasted needs in the municipal and industrial sectors by 2050.”
The Colorado Water Conservation Board [CWCB], the agency overseeing water supplies as well as the state water plan, won’t have new projections quantifying our water shortage until summer of 2018, despite its commitment in 2010 that it would update and refine the data “every few years.” In the meantime, Hickenlooper earlier this month appointed Becky Mitchell—the official who for the last five years has been responsible for compiling that data—to head the agency and carry his plan forward.
“Coloradans and our water communities are working like never before to solve our state’s challenges collaboratively,” Mitchell said at the time of her appointment. “The same kind of cooperation that led to Colorado’s Water Plan will fuel the long-running effort necessary to continue putting the plan into action.”
Mitchell’s appointment was welcomed by both lawmakers and environmentalists who work regularly with the state’s water board.
Mitchell “knows the plan inside out,” Kristen Green of Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental advocacy group, told The Colorado Independent. “She’s great at being collaborative and reaching out to different stakeholders.”
State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said Mitchell would bring “the right balance of institutional knowledge and fresh ideas on how to meet the water demands of the state.”
The challenge ahead is immense. Sonnenberg, who also chairs a summer interim legislative committee on water, says the state needs to know what has changed over the last nine years. While, he says, he suspects supply and demand forecasts are still roughly in line with the last projections, the update “could force us to accelerate what we need to accomplish” to tackle the impending water shortage.
The population surge
Water planning is a complex numbers game that factors in current and projected population, climate patterns, water policies on the local, state and federal levels, and the competing needs of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, businesses, oil and gas drillers, environmentalists, birders, anglers, rafters, kayakers and everyone else who relies on the health and vibrancy of Colorado’s rivers.
Hickenlooper – whose legacy as governor will be shaped largely by the unprecedented growth he has championed in the state – ordered the first statewide water strategy in 2013 out of a need for an informed, cohesive and clear plan forward.
The administration’s 540-page plan, released in November, 2015, is predicated on a 2010 report, known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI, pronounced swa-zee. The first SWSI report came out in 2004 at a time when the state was in the process of developing its infrastructure around water planning. The most recent report, an update, was based on 2008 data about water supplies. Since then, Colorado’s population has surged from about 4.9 million to 5.6 million people in 2016. The state is growing by 100,000 people per year, and the population could reach close to 10 million people by 2050, according to both the water plan and the 2010 water supply report.
John Stulp, special policy advisor to the governor on water, said that population growth now appears to be slower than what the water plan and 2010 SWSI had predicted – more in line with a population of about 8.5 million rather than 10 million by 2050. That’s good news in terms of demand, but the state still needs to figure out how to provide water to the three million additional residents.
The 2010 report projected that the Front Range will continue to be the most populous area in the state, but that population on the Western Slope will double. With that kind of growth on both sides of the Continental Divide, the 2010 SWSI projected Colorado would be short about one million acre-feet of water by 2050 and cities and towns would have to at least double their water supplies. One acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water, or enough water to satisfy two families of four for a year.
In the nine years since the state compiled data for its 2010 report, Colorado also has weathered its most disastrous wildfires, a drought in 2012 and a 100-year flood later that same year. In 2015-16, the United States experienced the warmest winter ever recorded.
Turnover, burnout and bureaucracy
The water plan has been criticized as a “compendium of ideas” rather than an actionable plan forward. Some of Colorado’s top water experts see it as a political move to make Hickenlooper look like he’s on top of water issues, but without having to make tough decisions that could affect developers or could inflame longstanding water tensions between the east and west sides of the state. At the time the plan came out, Peter Nichols, a water attorney who sits on the Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide water working group, said the plan had a lot of nice words but without a lot of action tied to them.
The CWCB is supposed to update policy-makers with new SWSI reports every few years. But that hasn’t happened since 2010. In 2016, the Colorado General Assembly authorized the CWCB to take $1 million out of its construction fund to update the SWSI report. At the time, the CWCB said the update would be done by mid-year 2017. Meaning now.
CWCB officials now say the report is more likely to surface around June 30 of next year.
The reason for the latest delay differs, depending upon whom you ask.
Minutes from a February 2016 meeting of a group of Denver-area water agencies, city and county officials, and representatives from agriculture, recreational, environmental and municipal water users, show that contractors had been selected for the SWSI update and “work will begin very soon.” “…Delivery targeted for mid-2017,” the minutes read. That was before the legislature had even approved the $1 million to update the report.
By Sept. 8 of that same year, progress appeared to have come to a halt. Minutes from the same working group’s meeting said that “[ e]verything with SWSI is on hold. There is no staff. No technical work has started.” According to the meeting’s minutes, those remarks came from the CWCB’s Craig Godbout, a program manager in the agency’s water supply planning section, which was then headed by Mitchell.
Mitchell disputes that work came to a standstill, stating that one of the biggest holdups has been navigating the state’s contracting rules. In attempting to put together an elaborate series of contracts to handle the SWSI update, Mitchell said, the CWCB ran into delays due to the state’s procurement rules, and the approval process was more complicated than the CWCB anticipated.
In addition to contractors, volunteer members of select groups, known as basin roundtables, are also responsible for much of what will happen with the next SWSI update.
These nine groups, set up by state law, include more than 300 representatives from counties, water providers, agricultural, municipal, industrial, environmental and recreational interests. Each roundtable covers a major river basin in the state – eight in all – plus a separate one for the Denver metro area.
The role of the roundtables, established in state law, is critical in every aspect of the state’s water planning. The roundtables are responsible for knowing the water situation in each of their nine areas and coming up with projects to satisfy water issues as well as the implementation plans for those projects. Those implementation plans formed the technical background for the state water plan.
Stulp told The Independent that roundtable members wanted to provide some of the technical expertise for the next update. Choosing who would participate slowed things up, he says, adding that he thinks the SWSI process is now “back on course.”
Mitchell and the CWCB’s former director, James Eklund, noted that the basin roundtables have seen turnover — and some burnout in membership. Once the SWSI was updated in 2010, Stulp says, the roundtables used that information to develop their own basin implementation plans. When the water plan was done, work on the SWSI update began, and once that’s done, the basin plans will in turn be updated, and the cycle repeats.
Mitchell says that despite the churn, the cycle works. SWSI is the technical piece that the basin roundtables rely on as they plan projects to solve a variety of water issues in their own areas. The water plan then is the status report, which asks “are we doing what we say we would do?” she said.
Greg Johnson, a program manager in the CWCB’s water supply planning section, is in charge of putting together the 2018 SWSI. “We wish we had more control over the timing,” he told The Independent last week. “But coming off the water plan, people, especially at the basin roundtable level, had put in thousands of hours of effort and it was hard to ask them to get back on that train for the SWSI” just three months after the water plan was rolled out.
Sonnenberg sees the delay in updating SWSI as a reflection of a lack of interest by the Hickenlooper administration and its appointees on the water board. His committee needs the update as it maps out priorities for the water plan for the next five years.
Part of the delay, he said, is due to turnover at the CWCB, which most recently included its former director. Eklund left in April to join the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs as a water law and infrastructure expert. Sonnenberg pinned the delay on Eklund, saying there during his tenure there was “a lack of interest in following through.”
Eklund chose not to respond to Sonnenberg’s criticisms, saying they had a good relationship while he was at the CWCB and that Sonnenberg had been very helpful on water issues. He noted that Sonnenberg had either been consulted on or a proponent of every major piece of water legislation.
What we learned from SWSI 2010
The 2010 report found that Colorado’s rivers generate about 16 million acre-feet of water every year—that’s 5.2 trillion gallons a year. On paper, that sounds like an abundance. But two-thirds of that water doesn’t stay in Colorado. If flows out of state under agreements drawn up decades ago with neighboring states that rely on our water.
The report pointed out that 80 percent of the state’s water is on the Western Slope while 80 percent of the population is on the Eastern Slope, including most of the state’s irrigated agricultural lands. Those farms and ranches use about 89 percent of the state’s consumed water, which doesn’t flow back to streams, rivers or aquifers.
The 2010 report also looked the state of the Colorado River – the biggest source of water for our state, and for the entire Southwest. The report included a review of environmental and recreational water supply and demand, municipal and industrial water supply and demand, and the water needs of ski resorts, breweries, and the state’s energy sector, based on electrical generation as well as oil and gas fracking.
The supply gap could be eased by changes in state water policy and efforts by the nine roundtable groups to address issues such as how the agriculture industry uses its water, additional storage from new or expanding existing dams and reservoirs, and conservation efforts, which have proven most successful during times of drought when Coloradans feel the squeeze.
Without its own data projecting the effect of climate change on water supplies, the water board drew data from experts such as the state’s climatologist and the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University in forming the state water plan. It warned, for example, about decreased water supply resulting from “dust on snow,” a phenomenon that occurs when wind pulls dust from deserts or other areas without vegetation and deposits it on mountain snowfields. That in turn increases solar radiation, “which speeds up snowmelt and leads to earlier spring runoff” by as much as three weeks, the water plan said.
Out of the 91 occurrences of dust-on-snow tracked since 2005, 10 took place in 2013 alone. If these dust-on-snow events continue at or near the same rate, the Colorado River alone would be short 750,000 acre-feet of water. That’s twice the amount of water used by Denver every year, the report warned.
What will the 2018 SWSI look like?
Stulp said the updated SWSI will be based more on technical data than the 2010 report, which looked at water supply gaps driven by the natural cycle of how water is generated and consumed in Colorado. The update will, instead, look at water supply and demand as a structural gap – based on the equation of how much new demand the state will face, minus the water projects already being planned statewide.
The updated report also will include updates on extreme weather conditions from drought to flooding and on the condition of Colorado’s rivers and streams. Improved water flows help both preserve fish and other wildlife habitats, as well as improved conditions for recreational activities, such as fishing or rafting.
“It’s amazing how fast six or seven years goes by,” Stulp said, referring to the 2010 SWSI.
The CWCB’s Johnson said the 2018 SWSI will rely on the roundtable expertise through four technical advisory groups, dealing with agriculture, municipal and industrial water uses, planning scenarios, and environmental and recreational water supply. The technical groups will act as peer review over the analysis provided by the contractors, who are now setting up the methodology, figuring out what models to use, how to quantify socio-economic factors, such as land use and population density, and then “crunching the numbers.” The technical groups will review that information in September.
One of the biggest differences for next year’s SWSI, Johnson added, will be its inclusion of an elaborate series of scenario planning. That planning will take into account population growth, social values and climate change. “Let’s imagine different futures and how the variables will change” that future, he said.
“We want to come up with something that is scientifically defensible. In the end we will get a better product.”
Johnson laid out a timeline for completion of the 2018 SWSI with the CWCB board at its monthly meeting last week in Crested Butte. The methodology development, which is being done by contractors, will continue through November, with technical evaluations to wrap up in late spring. A final report, according to Johnson, should be issued by June 30, 2018.
The ticking clock
When Hickenlooper issued the order for the water plan in 2013, lawmakers felt they had been left out of the process. In response, in 2014, they passed a bill that sternly claimed that the purpose of the water plan is to determine state policy on conservation and development of water resources, and that the General Assembly “is primarily responsible for guiding the development of state water policy.”
That work is left mostly to the legislature’s 10-member interim Water Resources Review Committee, which will begin its summer schedule in August.
During 2015, the water committee traveled around the state, gathering public input on drafts of the water plan and coming up with their own views on how the plan should look. Since then, lawmakers’ roles have been largely confined to passing bills to come up with the money to start implementing the plan, although those bills ($5 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017) have said little about exactly how that money would be spent.
The late SWSI update isn’t a big deal to Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush of Steamboat Springs, a Democrat who sits on the water committee. She said that she doesn’t think the delay would make a difference but acknowledged that the information would be important because lawmakers can’t just rely on assumptions about the state’s water supply and demand.
Sonnenberg said that during the water committee meetings in August he wants lawmakers to meet with the water board to discuss what’s going on with the SWSI.
“It’s important we have the updates so we can see if we’re on same trend or if we have drastic changes,” he said.”[But]growth in Colorado has been fairly predictable.”
This is Colorado, Sonnenberg said, and people love coming here. Between 2008, when the last SWSI update was issued, and 2016, 700,000 new residents settled in this state. By next summer, another 100,000 are expected.
ASPEN – Whether Aspen needs to build a reservoir to meet water demands in 2065 may depend in part on whether it wants to keep irrigating its municipal golf course during an apocalyptic drought.
According to a water attorney and an economist working for the city on a risk analysis of future water shortages, Aspen may find itself unable to meet domestic water demands — including both indoor and outdoor water use — anywhere from two out of 25 years in an optimistic scenario to 19 out of 25 years in a worst-case scenario.
The most optimistic scenario can be achieved, in theory, if the city limits outdoor watering by its customers and also stops diverting water from Castle Creek to irrigate the 148-acre municipal golf course and other nearby open space.
Outdoor water use accounts for about 60 percent of current demand for city water.
The members of the Aspen City Council took a sip of such concepts Monday at a work session on the results of a water demand study.
Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said he expects the council to now spend “several months” grappling with the city’s future water needs as part of an exercise to identify alternatives to maintaining conditional water rights for two large reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.
Monday night, George Oamek, an economist with Headwaters Corp., presented three scenarios from a risk analysis he’s been developing for the city.
He told the council that his model is packed with uncertainties, mainly around the severity of climate change, but also around the amount of flow in Castle and Maroon creeks and the future demand from Aspen’s water customers.
“We’ve got just a tremendous amount of variability in the existing information that gets translated into our analysis,” Oamek said.
“There is so much uncertainty,” concurred council member Ann Mullins.
“Climate change is everything,” Oamek said. “And it’s the thing we know the least about.”
Oamek also said his model includes a 1-in-100 chance that the factors will line up to cause havoc, which he said is a common risk assumption for municipal water providers and in floodplain mapping with its concept of a “100-year-flood.”
“Frankly, water planners are risk adverse,” he said.
In Oamek’s “worst-case” scenario, runoff would come six weeks earlier in the spring and there would be half as much water flowing in Castle and Maroon creeks, the city’s primary sources of water.
Water rights portfolio
The city owns two large senior diversion rights on Castle Creek tied to the historic Castle Creek-Midland Flume. The city has an 1892 decree allowing it to divert 60 cfs. On top of that, it has another right from 1892 for 100 cfs, giving it the ability to divert 160 cfs from Castle Creek.
The city’s streamwide diversion dam is just downstream of Midnight Mine Road and the water is sent via a pipeline to the city’s water treatment plant on a knoll above Aspen Valley Hospital.
Water from Maroon Creek is also sent via pipeline to the treatment plant and the associated 10 acre-foot Leonard M. Thomas Reservoir, which serves as a forebay to the treatment plant, holding water from both Castle and Maroon creeks.
The city owns a 3.4 cfs diversion right on Maroon Creek with an 1893 decree date and another 65 cfs diversion right with a 1949 decree date that, notably, includes an 1892 appropriation date. The city’s streamwide diversion dam on Maroon Creek is located at the T-Lazy-7 Ranch.
The water rights from Castle and Maroon creeks give the city a portfolio of “paper” rights adding up to 228.4 cfs, which is a much larger amount than the city runs through its water treatment plant, even in dry, high-demand, years.
According to a water availability study from Wilson Water adopted by the city in June 2016 as a planning document, the city in the last big drought year of 2012 brought between 2.38 and 9.4 cfs of water into its water treatment plan from Thomas Reservoir. The peak intake of 9.4 cfs was in June.
The city’s pipeline from the Castle Creek diversion limits the amount of water that can be sent from Castle Creek to the treatment plant to 25 cfs and the pipeline from Maroon Creek can move up to 27 cfs.
The city’s diversion rights are separate from its two conditional water storage rights higher on Castle and Maroon creeks.
Those rights, as currently decreed with a 1971 date, are for storing 4,567 acre-feet of water just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks in the Maroon Creek Reservoir, and for storing 9,062 acre-feet of water in the Castle Creek Reservoir two miles below Ashcroft.
The combined storage capacity of the potential reservoirs, as currently decreed, is 13,629 acre-feet. The reservoirs, notably, would be located above the city’s two downstream diversion dams.
And both the city’s diversion rights and its conditional storage rights are separate from rights it owns in three irrigation ditches on Castle Creek, downstream from its diversion dam. The headgates for the three ditches on Castle Creek are near the Marolt housing complex.
The city calculates the instream flow at a location below the headgate of the Marolt Ditch, as it is the lowest of the three ditches.
Supply down, demand up
In his presentation to the City Council, Oamek said his worst-case scenario assumes that demand for treated water would be 6,320 acre-feet of water a year, up from about 3,500 acre-feet today.
The assumption includes a negligible 0.4 percent growth rate in the permanent population in Aspen’s water service area, and a 2 percent growth rate for the part-time population and commercial sector.
That assumption does seem to run counter to Aspen’s past ability, and plans, to lower water demands while the population rises, which may be why the three scenarios also include a no-growth-in-demand scenario, where demand is held flat at current levels, regardless of potential population growth.
For example, a 2014 water efficiency plan from Element Consulting and WaterDM projects the city will, by 2035, “reduce treated demand by about 583 AF — an overall 14 percent reduction in demand.”
And the city has been making solid progress on reducing water demand. In 2012, city staffers told the council the city had reduced water consumption by “over two-thirds over the last 19 years.”
But the water efficiency plan does raise a cautionary note about the city’s lack of storage.
“On an annual basis, the dry year yield of the City’s water rights appears to be more than sufficient to meet current and forecast future demands,” the plan says. “However, the city does not have storage to regulate the timing of supply to match demands, and therefore is vulnerable to peak demand shortfalls in dry years when physical streamflow conditions are limited, or in emergencies such as a fire or landslide when one or more particular water supply sources may become unavailable.”
Setting aside the downward demand trend, the most draconian scenario developed by Oamek assumes a near doubling of demand in a much hotter and drier world.
And it shows the city might not be able to meet all municipal water demands — including both indoor and outdoor use — in 19 of 25 years.
“There are frequent shortages for Aspen’s potable supply during that period,” Oamek said.
In 15 of those years, water shortages could be greater than 100 acre-feet of water.
In four of those years, water shortages could be greater than 1,000 acre-feet.
And in one of those years — think the drought year of 1977 — shortages could be greater than 2,000 acre-feet.
“Over 1,000 acre-feet … that would definitely cause some hardship,” Oamek said. “A lot of these shortages, they are not occurring during the irrigation season, or during the summer where you might be able to reduce outdoor use, or work some deals with the irrigators.
“The shortages are occurring kind of in the shoulder season, occurring in late summer, early fall, and also during the winter. And those shortages may be a little harder to mitigate through the utilization of outdoor sources.”
No outdoor watering
The picture gets brighter in Oamek’s “intervention scenario,” the least demanding of the three scenarios.
Runoff would still come six weeks earlier, and there would still be half as much water flowing down Castle and Maroon creeks.
But demand for city water is projected at 2,280 acre-feet a year, as the scenario assumes the city will curtail the use of treated waters for outdoor purposes during a drought.
“During times of shortages, we set outdoor usages to zero,” Oamek told the council, explaining that would drop annual demand in the model to about 2,200 acre-feet, down from 3,500 acre-feet.
In that scenario, there might be 14 years out of 25 when there are water shortages, but only in five of those years would the shortages be over 100 acre-feet, and none would produce shortages over 1,000 acre-feet.
No ditch water
Cindy Covell, the city’s water attorney with Alperstein and Covell, then told the council she asked Oamek — the day of the council work session — to run another scenario where the city also stopped diverting water it controls into three irrigation ditches on lower Castle Creek, downstream of the city’s diversion dam to its treatment plant.
“I was thinking, if you were going to run a scenario that involved no outdoor irrigation – you’re telling your customers they can’t water their lawns – you probably are going to have a hard time taking irrigation water down those ditches and irrigating your golf courses and your parks,” Covell said.
Oamek ran a calculation — not a full model run — and said curtailing irrigation drove the number of years with indoor water shortages down to just two years out of 25, and in only one of those years was the shortage greater than 100 acre-feet.
In 2012, the city diverted up to a total of 20.5 cfs into the three Castle Creek irrigation ditches, with the highest diversion rate in June, according to the Wilson Water study.
The city has diversion rights in the Holden Ditch of 25.9 cfs with a 1952 decree, in the Marolt Ditch of 13.6 cfs with a 1934 decree, and in the Si Johnson Ditch of 2.55 cfs with a 1936 decree, according to an agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That adds up to a “paper” portfolio of 42.05 cfs worth of irrigation rights.
“To some extent you already have a bucket of water, which is the downstream irrigation ditches,” said water attorney Paul Noto, who represents three clients opposing the city’s conditional storage rights in water court, and was asked to comment at the work session by the mayor.
“Tonight we talked about what’s the worst-case scenario, [and] might I suggest that we look at priority irrigation under those ditches,” Noto said. “So perhaps we say, at the golf course we want to keep our fairways and greens green, but maybe we don’t irrigate the rough if the streamflows are below x.”
Noto also pointed out to the council that almost all of their municipal water comes from Castle Creek, and that the water in Maroon Creek is now primarily diverted to power the city’s small hydropower plant on the banks of Maroon Creek.
Maintaining instream flows
Maintaining instream flows is a challenge in each of the scenarios presented, as there are dry years when it’s hard for the city to reach its goal of leaving enough water in Castle and Maroon creeks to maintain the environmental flows while also meeting all municipal water demands.
“Worst-case, maximum growth, there is a lot of damage to the instream flows,” Oamek said, noting the annual instream-flow shortages were over 10,000 acre-feet in the worst year in the model.
The city has a policy of maintaining minimum, or instream, environmental flows in Castle and Maroon Creeks.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board holds an instream flow right in Castle Creek for 12 cfs and a right in Maroon Creek for 14 cfs. The state defines that level of flow as the amount of water needed to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.”
Both of the CWCB’s instream flow rights are junior to the city’s senior diversion rights on Maroon and Castle creeks.
The city, based on the recommendation of a consulting biologist, recently increased its minimum flow target on Castle Creek to 13.3 cfs. As such, the combined minimum instream flow level in Castle and Maroon creeks that the city seeks to maintain is 27.3 cfs.
The city’s policy of voluntarily honoring the state’s junior instream flow rights is centered on a 1997 agreement with the CWCB to protect 12 cfs of flow on Castle Creek. The agreement does not technically extend to Maroon Creek, although the city’s stated policy does.
However, the agreement with the state also includes a provision that allows the city to exempt itself from the policy during periods of “extraordinary drought,” which are not defined.
The provision gives the city latitude to meet its municipal demands and “invade,” as Oamek put it, the junior minimum instream flow rights held by the state, as necessary.
Need a bucket
Staff in the city’s Water Department continue to point out to the City Council that Aspen likely needs some amount of water storage in the future.
“In our integrated water supply system, there are alternatives to storage than can help mitigate our shortages, things like re-use, conservation, ag transfers … but even though these combined can minimize the shortages, storage is still needed because of timing issues,” Margaret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager for the city told the council Monday night. “To really make these other mechanisms work, we still need a bucket to be able to augment and … re-time the water.”
That message has gotten the attention of Mayor Skadron.
“As we proceed, my goal would be to ensure a sufficient water supply for future generations and to ensure that their options are open,” he said.
He also asked during the meeting, “Does a scenario exist in municipal water planning where storage is not needed beyond just what nature provides?”
“Historically, that’s how Aspen has operated,” Medellin replied. “Aspen has very little storage and has historically operated as a direct-flow water provider. And in areas maybe that are wetter, back East, it is not as problematic.
“And I think the concern is as we are starting to see runoff happening earlier, the demand being extended and happening later into the system … [and] what has worked historically for Aspen, we aren’t convinced is going to work for the next 50 years.
“Even though that it is something that other communities can do, and something that Aspen has done, as we are looking into our models going forward, we’re not convinced that it’s something that is sustainable here,” Medellin said.
However, a 2016 water supply report done by Wilson Water and adopted by the City Council in June of 2016 as a planning document, painted a different picture and found that no storage was necessary – even after factoring in available climate change projections.
The Wilson Water study found that “the results of this analysis indicate the city can always provide sufficient potable and raw water supplies under these modeled demand and hydrology scenarios.
“Existing water supply infrastructure and water rights portfolio developed and managed by the City do not appear to be limiting factors in this evaluation.
“However, during drought periods, physical water supplies may limit the city from satisfying desired ISF (instream flow) bypasses. These modeled ISF deficits are forecasted to occur during drought periods in only the climate scenarios with very low late summer and winter streamflow conditions.
“Most ISF deficits occur at a frequency of 5% of the time or 1 out of 20 years. The predicted average daily ISF deficits are relatively small and can be managed utilizing the existing water supply tools the city has in place and/or is actively developing,” the Wilson Water study said.
And recently completed water-efficiency plans for Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs found that those three nearby cities have adequate water supplies for the future without significant storage “buckets.”
Shortage into storage
Medellin also told the council one of the next steps is to convert the shortage numbers from the Headwaters risk analysis to potential storage numbers.
“It’s not a one-to-one conversion,” Medellin said, noting that the storage figure is always larger than the shortage number.
She said a “reservoir operations model” will be used to “apply a reservoir efficiency factor to account for losses and reservoir integrity.”
“What that means is all of the water that we put into a reservoir, we’re not going to get that back out,” she said. “So there is a factor that is commonly added to account for that. Then the next step is going to be to determine what volume of conditional storage rights we need to satisfy that requirement.”
Covell, the city’s water attorney, further explained the process.
“You look at your streamflows, and you say, how often can I fill up this reservoir?” she said. “And on the eastern slope, you might not be able to fill it up more than once every five years. So you say, if I need to be sure I’ve got to have 100 acre-feet of water in storage, I might have to fill up 600 acre-feet, because when I need that 100 acre-feet some of the water will have evaporated and I won’t be able to top it off again because my water right won’t be available.
“And that’s a, maybe, overly simplistic example, but when you’re trying to figure how much storage capacity you need, you have to figure out when you are going to be able to put water in, how much of it’s going to evaporate, and when you’re going to need to take it back out,” Covell said.
Medellin added that the engineering firm Deere and Ault of Longmont is now making calculations for both in-situ and surface water reservoirs, and the storage needs will be based on the representative period of years in the model being used by Headwaters.
It’s not clear yet how the scenarios presented Monday may change the city’s negotiating position with the 10 parties opposing its ongoing efforts in water court to maintain conditional water storage rights for reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.
Last week, the city announced it now intends to transfer its water rights from Castle and Maroon creeks to two potential reservoir sites in Woody Creek, including on land it now has under contract near the Elam gravel pit, and the gravel pit itself.
“The impetus for the purchase is to seek a way to transfer decreed storage rights to locations other than the decreed locations on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek,” the city said in a July 19 press release titled “Aspen City Council to Purchase Land for Possible Alternate Site for Water Storage.”
“Since 1965, the city has held decreed water storage rights at sites in Maroon and Castle Creek Valleys but the nature of these pristine locations has made it a priority for the city to first seek other ways to address potential water shortages and to seek alternate locations for water storage,” the city stated.
And Skadron was quoted in the release as saying “securing Aspen’s water future is an essential task of today’s city council. It is council’s responsibility to look out for the welfare, safety, and health of the community and we take that very seriously. In addition, our commitment to protecting our environment is also a priority and this land purchase is a way to both protect the community and preserve Castle and Maroon valley wild lands.”
The city also said in the press release about the Woody Creek options that “other alternatives for water storage are still being explored, including in-situ reservoirs at the Aspen Golf Course, Cozy Point Ranch, the portion of the city-owned Maroon Creek golf course, and other upper valley locations.”
A second settlement conference with the opposing parties in the two water court cases is set for Aug. 2 and a status conference with the water court referee is Aug. 8.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published a version of this story on July 25, 2017.
When we think about how climate change will impact water, we “tend to think about droughts or flooding or extreme rainfall,” says Anna Michalak. “But the linkages between climate and water quality are potentially just as strong as climate and water quantity.”
Michalak, who heads up a lab in Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science on the campus of Stanford University, published a study today in Science suggesting that because climate change will lead to more rain in some places, water quality around the world will decline.
To explain how rain can kill water quality, let’s start with a refresher on the Gulf of Mexico: an aquatic dead zone has developed there every summer for the past 32 years. In 2016, the dead zone spanned 6,000 square miles (roughly the size of the state of Connecticut). This year the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts it will reach the size of New Jersey, or around 8,700 square miles. The source of the Gulf’s woes is the Midwestern Corn Belt, where nitrogen from fertilizers runs off of the farms into streams and rivulets, causing what’s known as eutrophication. Eutrophication, in short, happens when there are too many nutrients in the water.
From the corn belt, the nutrients make their way to the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf. The combination of nitrogen and warm summer temperatures feeds the region’s algae, who for one brief moment become rock stars. They bloom brilliantly—then die all at once. When they die, bacteria feast upon their remains, sucking oxygen from the water in the process. Fish might not breathe air, but they do need oxygen to survive. So the speediest species leave in search of better aerated waters. Slower critters, like the Gulf Coast’s famed oyster, simply die. Their decaying remains feed the dead zone and help it grow, perpetuating the region’s loss of life. The process only slows when fall’s cooler temperatures help close that terrible feedback loop.
Along with lead study author Eve Sinha, a research student in Michalak’s lab, Michalak found is that increased rains caused by climate change will make this whole process worse. Why? Because more rain means more nutrients—the feedstock of this whole process—get washed into waterways. In the United States, this pattern will be especially strong in the corn belt and in the Northeast. Globally, this is likely to worsen eutrophication in India, China, and Southeast Asia.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
An upper-level ridge of high pressure maintained its grip across the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. The ridge kept temperatures warmer than normal from coast to coast, with the highest temperature departures from the High Plains to Mid-Atlantic States. Weather systems moving in the jet stream flow rode over the top of the ridge, taking their surface lows and Pacific fronts along a northerly track into a trough over the eastern CONUS where they stalled out across the Midwest. Showers and thunderstorms developed as the fronts moved across the northern Plains and into the Midwest, but rainfall amounts were mostly below normal. Above-normal precipitation fell in places along the North Dakota/South Dakota border, from northeast South Dakota to northern Illinois, from the Ohio Valley to Mid-Atlantic States, and across parts of Nebraska and Kansas. Above-normal precipitation fell across parts of the southern Plains to Southeast as afternoon heating triggered convective storms, and a front near the end of the week sagged south. The Southwest Monsoon continued this week, bringing above-normal precipitation to much of the 4-Corners States and contracting drought and abnormal dryness. But drier-than-normal weather dominated the rest of the West, most of the Plains, much of the Midwest and South, and parts of the Mid-Atlantic and New England. Soils continued to dry out and crops suffered as drought and abnormal dryness continued to expand or intensify across the Plains, Midwest, northern Rockies, and Virginia…
Half an inch or more of rain fell across parts of the Dakotas this week, but the rain did little to improve drought conditions, only holding off drought expansion or intensification. D0-D3 were pulled back in parts of South Dakota where rainfall amounts totaled 2 inches or more, D0 was pulled back in southeast North Dakota and southwest Minnesota, and D0-D1 were pulled back in parts of north central and south central Nebraska and north central Kansas.
But expansion occurred in other parts of the region. Much of Montana and parts of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas had no rain this week; some areas have been drier than normal for the last 2 to 3 months; and some drought indicators reflect dryness for the last 12 months. D3-D4 were expanded in northeast Montana, and D3 expanded in northwest South Dakota and was added in southeast South Dakota, where the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) was consistently at those dry levels for the last 1 to 9 months. D1-D4 expanded in northwest North Dakota where the SPI was consistently at those dry levels for the last 1-6 months. D0-D2 expanded across much of Nebraska, with collateral expansion of D1-D2 in adjacent South Dakota, D1 in adjacent Iowa, and D0-D1 in southeast Wyoming, and D0 expanded in parts of eastern Kansas and northeast Colorado, due to 30-90 day precipitation deficits and high evapotranspiration caused by excessive heat. Governors provided much-needed response to the dire drought impacts. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued an executive order declaring a drought disaster in 28 counties and five Indian reservations in the eastern part of the state. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an emergency proclamation, allowing the state Emergency Management Agency to address unmet drought needs, particularly those related to wildfires. According to July 23rd USDA reports, 92% of the topsoil moisture and 88% of the subsoil moisture were rated short or very short in Montana, 82%/81% of the topsoil/subsoil moisture was short or very short in South Dakota, 71%/66% in Nebraska, 67%/62% in North Dakota, 61%/58% in Wyoming, and 45%/41% in Colorado. More than half of the pasture and rangeland were rated in poor to very poor condition in North Dakota (75%), South Dakota (73%), and Montana (56%). In South Dakota, 37% of the corn crop, 34% of soybeans, 57% of sorghum, and 76% of the spring wheat were in poor to very poor condition. In North Dakota, 23% of the corn crop and 39% of the spring wheat were in poor to very poor condition. In Montana, 55% of the spring wheat was in poor to very poor condition. According to media reports, as of July 25th, the Lodgepole Complex wildfire in Montana was the largest wildfire in the CONUS…
In the Southwest, several inches of rain fell with monsoon showers and thunderstorms in much of Arizona and parts of New Mexico, with 1-2 inches common across parts of western Colorado. With SPI indicators in Arizona wet at several time scales from 1 to 6 months and longer, D1 in Yavapai County was deleted and D0 or D1 were pulled back in parts of the west and south. D0 or D1 were trimmed in parts of western New Mexico and southern Nevada. But other areas were not as fortunate, with below-normal precipitation common this week across parts of New Mexico, northern Nevada, and northern Utah, where D0 was expanded. USDA statistics indicate topsoil/subsoil moisture was short or very short in 62%/60% of New Mexico, 52%/42% of Utah, 35%/25% of Nevada, and 75%/75% of California, and 41% of the pasture and rangeland was in poor to very poor condition in New Mexico. No change to the depiction was made in California.
No rain fell this week across most of the Northwest and northern Rockies, with only a tenth of an inch or two tenths recorded at coastal stations in Oregon and Washington, and at a few stations in the Rockies. The continued dryness further eroded soil moisture, with USDA reports indicating topsoil/subsoil moisture short or very short across 71%/44% of Washington, 62%/51% of Oregon, and 52%/47% of Idaho. A fifth of the pasture and rangeland was rated in poor to very poor condition in Washington (22%) and Oregon (20%). D0 was added to the interior coastal area of Washington where streamflow and modeled soil moisture were below normal, and D0 expanded across western Montana and parts of north central Idaho, and D1 added to the mountains of northwestern Montana, where 2-3 month dryness was acute and growing worse. Numerous large wildfires have broken out in this area…
In the 2 days since the Tuesday morning cutoff time of this week’s USDM, heavy rains moved across parts of the northern and central Plains and Midwest, and monsoon showers and thunderstorms brought additional rain to parts of the Southwest. For July 27-31, 1-2 inches of rain is forecast for parts of the Midwest to Mid-Atlantic region, coastal Southeast, and Southwest to southern High Plains. Rainfall amounts may be locally as high as 3 inches from the Midwest to Mid-Atlantic, as high as 5 inches in the coastal Southeast, and as high as 6 inches in the central Rockies to southern High Plains. Less than an inch is predicted for much of the Plains, Northeast, Great Lakes, and Lower Mississippi Valley, while no rain is expected for most of the Far West and parts of the northern and southern Plains. Temperatures are predicted to be warmer than normal in the West and cooler than normal in the East. For August 1-9, odds favor drier-than-normal weather in the Northwest, northern Plains, and Upper Mississippi Valley, and wetter-than-normal weather across the Southwest, southern Plains, and Southeast, as well as parts of Alaska. The Northeast likely will start out drier than normal but end up wetter than normal. Odds favor warmer-than-normal temperatures for Alaska, the West, northern Plains, and parts of the East Coast, and cooler-than-normal temperatures for the southern Plains to Ohio Valley.
So what do the prognosticators think is in store for Colorado for the next 3 months? Hot with above average precipitation in W. Colorado and equal chances for average precipitation E. of the Great Divide.
Volunteers and U.S. Forest Service staff are headed back into South Park’s Farnum Roadless area to restore critical watershed, native plants and wildlife habitat.
Misi Ballard, Wild Connections board member and broadband leader for the group “Great Old Broads for Wilderness,” led an effort earlier this month, checking on a project south of Tarryall Reservoir, and will be helping close off national forest lands damaged by illegal motorized recreation on Aug. 2, a week from today.
“The Pike-San Isabel is basically Denver’s backyard,” she said. “Within an hour of the metropolitan area, you can be in a wilderness – and as such, it gets pounded, every weekend.”
More than 2,000 square miles in the Pike and San Isabel national forests have been set aside exclusively for motorized off-road recreation, and Ballard said people often aren’t aware they’ve entered protected areas. Volunteers will be posting signs and fencing, and reseeding to help the land heal.
Ballard noted that unauthorized “bogging” – where jeeps and other all-terrain vehicles ride around in muddy areas – not only puts fish populations at risk but also pollutes drinking water. The Upper South Platte River watershed and South Park’s North Fork Valley supply water to 60 percent of communities along the Front Range.
“Our water is only as good as our headwaters,” she said. “There is no redundancy in Denver Water’s system. Things happen in the upper reaches of the South Platte watershed, and it impacts Denver’s water.”
Once people understand why closures are important, she said, they tend to follow the rules.
“There’s been a lot of positive comments on the closures,” she said, “especially from hunters, saying that they have had bad hunts for many years because of the presence of motorized recreation.”
Ballard said helping restore wilderness areas is fun and a way for her to give back for the many years she’s enjoyed Colorado’s outdoors.
Those who’d like to join her and other Great Old Broads for Wilderness in their efforts can call 817-939-4239.
From Colorado College State of the Rockies Project:
Inclusive River Governance for a Changing West
Research undertaken by Colorado College undergraduates has always been at the core of the State of the Rockies Project. In this year’s report, the final publication stemming from our two-year focus on western water issues, our five Student Fellows investigate current policies and actions surrounding river governance and water management in the Columbia and Colorado River Basins.
From tribal water rights to shifting paradigms of environmental management and the impacts of climate change on mountain snowpack, the sections of the 2017 State of the Rockies Report focus on different ways in which management of our most critical resource is becoming increasingly sensitive to the social and ecological realities of the 21st century.
Our research this past year has taken us to Native American reservations, salmon hatcheries, the site of a massive dam removal project, and the headquarters of a large power company. In pursuit of a deeper understanding and more holistic perspective, students engaged with diverse stakeholders whose backgrounds range from natural resource law to hydrology. The results of their hard work are available below in individual sections or a combined report.
The plan proposed by Northern Water, proponent of Glade and the controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, contains “new, useful and encouraging mitigation measures,” according to a staff memo to the Fort Collins City Council.
However, the effort falls short of addressing the city’s long-running concerns about how reducing flows on the Poudre to store water in Glade would affect the river’s ecological health and water quality.
More needs to be done in several areas addressed by the $59 million Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan to make it adequate as far as the city is concerned, John Stokes, director of Fort Collins Natural Areas, told City Council members Tuesday.
Areas of concern include ensuring flows on the river during the spring runoff are high enough to flush sediment and protect fish and wildlife habitat. High flows also are needed to protect water quality, city officials said.
City staff members recommend establishing an annual three-day period during peak flow on the river when no water would be taken for NISP in hopes of “cleaning” the river and boosting its health.
Another issue is the amount of funding in the plan that would be set aside for mitigation and channel improvements. The $7.8 million in the plan for restoration and enhancement should be increased by $14.2 million, city staff said.
City Council members were divided on the staff’s comments and recommendations for the mitigation plan, with council member Ken Summers saying they seemed “extreme” while others said they weren’t strong enough…
Northern Water has listened to the city’s concerns and changed its plans to address them, said agency spokesman Brian Werner in a telephone interview.
Operational plans include “flushing flows” when river conditions and water rights allow, he said. Northern also has agreed to minimum flows through Fort Collins of 25 cubic feet per second, or cfs, in the summer and 18 cfs in winter to support habitat.
The mitigation plan could be changed as NISP continues through the permitting process, he said.
“We think this a great opportunity to make that river better,” Werner said.
The city’s comments on the NISP wildlife mitigation plan will be sent to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, which must approve the plan as part of the lengthy permitting process for project. So even if the wildlife mitigation plan gets approved, other agencies would still have to approve permits for NISP to become a reality.
In 2008 and 2015, the council adopted resolutions stating the city could not support NISP as described in draft environmental impact statements…
While not supporting NISP, the city’s comments and recommendations on how it might operate are based on the scenario that “if” the project is built, “then” certain steps should be taken to protect the city’s interests, Stokes said.
If the mitigation plan is approved by the Parks and Wildlife Commission, it will be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board and then the Governor’s Office for approval.
Federal agencies that ultimately would permit NISP are likely to defer to the state’s position on mitigation plans, Stokes said, so communicating the city’s views on the project to the state is a critical step in the process…
The Fort Collins City Council on Aug. 8 is scheduled to consider the city’s comments on the fish and wildlife mitigation plan for the Northern Integrated Supply Project that has been submitted to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.
The commission is scheduled to discuss the plan during its Aug. 10-11 meeting in Trinidad and its Sept. 7-8 meeting in Steamboat Springs.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jason Kosovski):
Colorado State University’s study The Hidden Value of Landscapes: Implications for Drought Planning is the first study of its kind in the state to quantify how much water landscapes use and their environmental, economic and social benefits. The study looked at the three percent of total Colorado water used for landscapes and found a significant return on investment from this water.
“The use of 3 percent of Colorado’s available water to maintain green landscapes is a legitimate allocation of water resources,” said Tony Koski, professor and Extension Turf Specialist in CSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.
The study was led by Koski, Zach Johnson, associate professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, and Alison O’Connor, a horticulture agent with CSU Extension in Larimer County.
“We were aware of a lot of anecdotal information about the benefits of landscapes, but this is the first time the information has been synthesized and analyzed,” said Johnson.
Environmental, economic and social landscape benefits
Some of the environmental, economic and social landscape benefits the study notes include:
48 pounds of carbon dioxide are absorbed by one tree each year.
Trees provide air quality benefits for Colorado cities valued in the high six figures.
25 percent fewer crimes occur in public housing with landscapes.
Every $1 invested in a home landscape yields a 135 percent return on the home value.
Seven percent higher rents are paid on commercial properties with attractive landscapes.
45 percent cooler temps occur when cars are shaded by trees.
Outdoor urban spaces increase mental and physical health and children who spend time outdoors are better learners.
The awareness of water planning is at an all-time high in Colorado with the completion of the Colorado Water Plan, and this study can serve as a tool for water policy makers tasked with ensuring there is enough water to weather future droughts and projected population growth.
“When water supplies diminish, it is easy to argue that irrigating landscapes is not the best use of water but there are serious consequences when urban landscapes and parks are targeted,” said Koski. “The unintended consequences from the ‘cash for grass’ buyouts in Nevada and California resulted in trees and other plants dying and succumbing to disease when deprived of regular irrigation. It’s impossible to instantly replace a 30-year-old shade tree; the cooling benefits it provides are lost forever as is the character and functionality of parks and neighborhoods.”
Reduced water consumption
The study notes that in the past decade, Colorado water users have reduced per capita water consumption by slightly under 20 percent through a combination of using best management practices on landscapes, improved irrigation technologies, tiered rate structures, and increased general awareness among users that they should conserve.
“In Colorado, drought is not a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘when,’ ” added Johnson. “Increased conservation is necessary for drought planning and this study provides water planners information to adopt a holistic approach by factoring in the value of landscapes when formulating water policy.”
The study was commissioned by the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado and conducted independently by the CSU research team. For more information, the full study can be found here.
FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):
The Air Force on Tuesday acknowledged potential guilt in fouling the drinking water of thousands of its neighbors but offered no apology and said work on a federal remediation plan likely would not begin until sometime in the 2020s.
In a first-of-its-kind admission for the service, Air Force investigators confirmed that toxic firefighting foam chemicals used at Peterson Air Force Base had leached into the surrounding groundwater. To fix the problem, Air Force officials are proceeding under a process similar to the federal Superfund program – a yearslong procedure for cleaning up complex environmental contamination. No Superfund designation, however, has been made.
The findings were outlined in a report unveiled Tuesday that examined dozens of soil and water tests over the last year at the east Colorado Springs base.
Over and over, investigators for the report issued the same warning: “There is the potential for a complete groundwater pathway for human receptors.”
At a news conference later Tuesday, Air Force Col. Todd Moore gave no apology but framed the report as an attempt to be transparent about what had transpired in decades of training with the foam. He vowed to cooperate with the community in finding a solution.
“There’s still more to learn,” Moore said.
A final determination about what needs to be done probably won’t come until the completion of another study, which won’t begin until 2019 and still needs congressional approval for funding, said Cornell Long, of the Air Force Civil Engineering Center in San Antonio.
Federal remediation work will push into the next decade, he added, though some help may arrive before then.
“There could be points where you take interim measures,” he said.
Several local elected and water officials expressed disappointment Tuesday at the prospect of a years-long wait for help…
A Gazette investigation last fall revealed a string of Air Force studies and other military research dating to the late 1970s that warned that the chemicals – known as perfluorinated compounds – were linked to ailments in laboratory animals including cancer, liver disease and low infant birth weight, a leading cause of infant mortality.
Tuesday’s report detailed several sites where Peterson firefighters sprayed the toxic foam directly on the ground since the 1970s.
The contamination appeared worst in the base’s current firefighting training pit, which had a plastic liner designed to guard against leaching.
The cause: “Overspray” from firefighters, investigators said.
The chemicals there measured at about 88,000 parts per trillion – several thousand times the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion.
But the report gave only passing mention to a central path for such chemicals to reach the aquifer.
Investigators admitted pumping contaminated waste into Colorado Springs sewers, but they downplayed that as a contributor to toxic drinking water.
“The holding tank is occasionally drained into the sanitary sewer system, but such events are rare,” the report said, adding each release totaled 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of chemical-laden wastewater.
That admission was in stark contrast to previous statements by Peterson officials.
Last year, base leaders acknowledged pumping foam-tainted water from the lined fire pit, storing it in a nearby tank and dumping it about three times a year into Colorado Springs sewers.
The years-long practice likely made it easy for the chemicals to flood the nearby Widefield Aquifer.
That’s because the chemicals are not removed while passing through the Colorado Springs Utilities’ treatment plant. From there, the plant feeds into Fountain Creek – the aquifer’s primary water source.
The last such publicly acknowledged wastewater release from the base happened last August, and Air Force officials said Tuesday they capped the route leading to the city’s sewer system.
Colorado Springs Utilities has no records of ever authorizing the Air Force to release the chemical-laden wastewater into its sewer system, and its leaders have told Peterson officials not to do so, said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman.
Berry said it is “possible” that Utilities permitted such releases years ago, when the science surrounding these chemicals was “incomplete or unknown.”
The releases weren’t included in Tuesday’s study, because the investigation only planned to look at on-base contamination sites, Long said. Instead, the wastewater discharges will be in the follow-up investigation slated to begin in 2019.
The latest report also failed to mention the toxic firefighting foam’s use inside a half-dozen hangars at Peterson.
An earlier report said investigation wasn’t required for the hangars because the toxic foam was routed into city sewers.
Ratepayers may be on hook
The report comes more than a year into a water crisis that sent thousands of people rushing to buy bottled water in 2016 while their water districts spent millions of dollars to rid their drinking water of the chemicals.
Local water officials since have turned to new water sources or have installed new treatment systems to remove the toxic chemicals from the Widefield Aquifer water. But some water district leaders have criticized the Air Force’s plodding response, and millions of dollars in help pledged by the Air Force has yet to arrive in the coffers of local water districts. Ratepayers also may be on the hook for many of those fixes, because remediation costs have far outpaced military aid.
Many residents teed off on the Air Force at a community open house accompanying the report’s release Tuesday – deriding the years-long timeline for aid.
Military engineers still aren’t sure how far and wide PFC pollution has spread
Air Force officials pledged to conduct further investigations that, sometime after 2019, may include analysis of human health risks. This initial investigation focused on contamination at the base. The spread of contaminants to where tens of thousands of people live remains a mystery, the officials said.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment leaders have said the state was waiting on the Air Force for information on how far and how fast PFCs have moved. El Paso County and CDPHE officials at a public meeting here Tuesday night said their agencies lack money to track the PFCs moving in groundwater at unknown concentrations south toward Pueblo…
Security Water and Sanitation District manager Roy Heald said his agency spent $3.6 million on pipelines and purchases of alternative clean water supplies after municipal wells were contaminated but has yet to receive a promised $800,000 in reimbursements from the Air Force…
Air Force engineers found PFC contamination of groundwater at the Peterson base east of Colorado Springs reached levels up to 88,000 parts per trillion, and that soil contamination reached as high as 240,000 ppt, based on testing of 23 water samples and 33 soil samples at seven sites on the base. They confirmed that the use of aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, which helps put out fuel fires, led to runoff of the PFCs into water tapped by tens of thousands of residents south of Colorado Springs but said they do not know to what extent it has spread or how long it will last.
The Air Force investigation report — more than 600 pages — also blamed other unspecified sources of PFC contamination, reiterating the stance military officials have taken in the year since news organizations revealed that PFCs had contaminated municipal drinking water supplies.
“PFCs are found widely in the environment today, and there are likely other contributors to the contamination,” the report summary says. “As we continue our work with the public water suppliers in the Fountain, Widefield and Security area, we will study remediation steps, as other potential contributors are investigated.”
Air Force engineers in October began investigating to determine sources of the PFCs that state and local water tests had shown to be spreading from the base, including an area where firefighters trained. PFCs have been linked to health harm — low birth weights and kidney and testicular cancers — but public health epidemiological work in Colorado has not been done. A senior Pentagon official announced that the Air Force would spend $2 billion on PFC cleanups nationwide.
Some water samples collected for the study were more than 200 times the EPA’s standard of 70 parts per trillion.
The base said it has taken steps to replace the foam with a synthetic foam and are working to top the spread of PFCs to other areas.
“Making sure that the community is aware that within the bounds that we’ve been able to eliminate this contaminate, we’ve taken that action and then likewise as we learn more and move forward with that,” 21st Space Wing Commander Col. Todd R. Moore said.
From the Associated Press via US News & World Report:
Base leaders have previously acknowledged dumping wastewater contaminated with foam into Colorado Springs’ sewers three times a year, which likely made it easy for the chemicals to flow into the nearby Widefield Aquifer, a key source of water for the city of Fountain.
But while the report acknowledged the releases, it downplayed that as a contributor to toxic drinking water.
In May, state health officials said they had yet to find any other possible source of the contamination of the aquifer other than the foam, which airmen have used for firefighting training since the 1970s.
On Tuesday, Air Force officials met privately with local officials, including key staffers of Colorado’s congressional delegation, El Paso County commissioners, city staffers, state and county environmental agency officials and representatives of Pikes Peak region water districts.
Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega said he left the meeting frustrated that the investigation was not more all-encompassing…
The mayor added that Air Force officials did not say when they would send the $4.3 million in aid promised last year, or if they would more fully reimburse communities burdened with treating the tainted water.
A Gazette investigation last fall revealed a string of Air Force studies and other military research dating to the late 1970s warning of the foam’s danger. The chemicals have been linked to ailments including cancer, liver disease and low infant birth weight.
Tuesday’s report comes more than a year into a water crisis that sent residents rushing to buy bottled water in 2016 while their water districts spent millions of dollars to rid their drinking water of the chemicals, known as perfluorinated compounds.
Local water officials have since turned to new water sources or installed new treatment systems to remove the toxic chemicals from the Widefield Aquifer water.
FromAspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
The lush green mid-summer lawns that dot Aspen’s landscape don’t just rely on summer monsoon rainstorms. They depend on irrigation. The Aspen Water Utility statistics show that about 60 percent of residential water use goes toward landscaping, even though most sprinklers only run a few months of the year. City officials hope to change that.
“We have to look at the importance of having smart water use,” said Molly Somes of the Aspen Parks Department. “We have to protect our resources.”
Aspen City Council approved a new ordinance that regulates outdoor water use this past spring. Landscape architects working on new projects are required to go through a design review with the parks department, and it sets a 7.5 gallon per square foot cap on summer irrigation.
So, will this actually save water? Nate Hines is a water planner and irrigation consultant who works in Colorado, Arizona, California and other arid western states…
Hines identifies three problems with water efficiency: design, management and maintenance.
“There’s a huge breakdown between how a system is designed and then how it’s actually managed day-to-day, and there’s just an extraordinary amount of waste there,” he said.
At least in its pilot year, the city is only requiring efficient design. Areas of lush green grass will need to be offset with plantings of native, drought-resistant plants and grasses. It also means installing so-called “smart” irrigation systems that react to real-time weather. These can conserve up to half the water compared to older sprinklers.
Somes is tasked with taking inventory of the city’s own outdoor water use.
“I’m going to take a look at all of those parks and really kind of map out where we’re doing strong, where we could do some better efforts,” Somes said.
Still, large city parks, like Wagner or Paepcke in the heart of Aspen, likely won’t see native grasses replace the typical turf, like Kentucky bluegrass.
“We want to be careful not to damage the aesthetic of Aspen and the historical aspects of Aspen through this process,” she said.
That process will have implications for local landscape architects, but Patrick Rawley with Stan Clauson Associates said the new requirements won’t mean changes to his daily design work. Native grasses and smart irrigation aren’t new concepts.
“They’re a matter of course for a good landscape design office,” Rawley said.
The new ordinance does mean another set of permit approvals before developers can start projects.
“This is going to be another layer of added regulations of things we already do as best practices in the profession,” he said.
Conservation Colorado gave a low letter grade to one river millions of people in the Denver metro benefit from: The South Platte River Basin received a letter grade of “C”.
“We have a number of different factors we look at for the river,” said Theresa Conley.
Conley serves as the advocacy director for the agency. She notes the South Platte River received a low grade for water quality, the flow of water from basin to basin and for the seven dams along the river. Those dams can have an impact.
“It changes how much water can flow down, the timing of those flows,” said Conley. “It can increase water temperature of the river, which we know, can be harmful to fish aquatic species and a number of habitat.”
The report says conserving water can help with some of the problem in the South Platte River Basin…
Conley said the report can, hopefully, shed light and inform people about the rivers problems.
Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.
Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.
The Colorado River is about 1,400 miles long and flows through seven U.S. states and into Mexico. The Upper Colorado River Basin supplies approximately 90 percent of the water for the entire basin. It originates as rain and snow in the Rocky and Wasatch mountains. Credit USGS.
The Colorado River and other crucial sources of water in the West are declining, thanks to climate change. brewbooks/CC Flickr
A paddle-boarder drifts down the Colorado River [May 2017] near the entrance to Burns Hole. Photo/Allen Best
A raft floats past silt walls left on the Colorado River and revealed by dropping levels in Lake Powell, in October 2016. A “risk study” being undertaken by west slope water interests wants to know who might have to someday divert less water to keep Lake Powell operational. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith.
The American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.
Nearly the full length of Lake Powell on the Colorado River in southern Utah and northern Arizona is visible in this photograph shot by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, on Sept. 6, 2016. The view is toward the southwest. Water flow is from the lower right toward the top. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)
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
Lake Havasu is a large reservoir behind Parker Dam on the Colorado River, on the border between California and Arizona. Lake Havasu City sits on the lake’s eastern shore. Photo credit MyGola.com
This graphic shows the transmountain diversions in Colorado.
How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it’s caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The Colorado River supplies water to Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in terms of capacity in the United States. New research from The University of Texas at Austin has found natural variability, not humans, have the most impact on water stored in the river and the sources that feed it. U.S. Geological Survey
President Hoover at the signing of the Colorado River Compact.
Pour offs along the Colorado River. Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism
Members of the Colorado River Commission
Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic
Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives
Black Canyon back in the day
Reservoir levels in Lake Mead continue to decline and were down to 37 percent of capacity recently. December 2015 photo/Allen Best
A full Lake Mead back in the day
Salvage crew at St. Thomas, Nevada during Lake Mead first fill, 1938 via University of Nevada Las Vegas
Lake Powell, shown here in 2008, serves multiple purposes. Photo/Andrew Pernick, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — via The Mountain Town News
Glen Canyon Dam June 2013 — Photo / Brad Udall
Glen Canyon Dam construction circa. 1961 via @USBR.
A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR
Glen Canyon Dam
View of Lake Mead and Hoover dam. Photo credit BBC.
Hoover Dam spilling back in the day.
US Flag at Hoover Dam as the Olympic Torch passed over the dam in 1996
The Colorado Division of Water Resources is the authority behind daily water administration across the state. Many are not aware that this agency has been highly instrumental in shaping how water in the San Luis Valley is distributed and utilized.
The Division of Water Resources operates under the authority of the office of the State Hydraulic Engineer, an office created by the state legislature in 1881. The office was directed by governor’s appointment and the initial duties included water rights administration, streamflow and diversion measurements, and reservoir capacity, cost and location. The office was added to the Department of Natural Resources in 1969.
The first and foremost responsibility for the Division of Water Resources is the oversight of all surface and groundwater across the state. It is the only state agency that is tasked with the direct and daily administration of water. The division is required to uphold Colorado water law which operates under what is known as the Prior Appropriation Doctrine. This means that those who were first to utilize the water are the first to have access to it during periods of shortage. In 1879, water commissioners were established in order to administer this doctrine. This made Colorado the first state that provides water administration by public officials. Currently, the major responsibilities of DWR include water administration, public safety, groundwater permitting, interstate compacts, a hydrographic program, and public information services.
The Division of Water Resources also has the authority to make recommendations in water court cases. This is an operation that occurs on a regular basis. Additionally, DWR can join the opposition in a case if there is potential for an injurious outcome and it is deemed necessary. Also, DWR can issue orders to those who refuse to comply with statutes and even take the matter to court.
There are seven divisions in DWR, divided by Colorado’s major drainage basins. Each division is under the direction of a division engineer who administers ground and surface water within the division. The San Luis Valley falls within Division 3. As of 2017, there are approximately 30 DWR employees for Division 3 including 11 water commissioners and eight districts. There are also well metering technicians and hydrographers at DWR. The Division 3 Engineer is Craig Cotten.
During his tenure, Cotten has observed that there are reasons why Division 3 is unique. The first reason is that it is arguably the most over-appropriated of all the divisions in Colorado. Secondly, it has one of the lowest storage capacities. This means that many of the other divisions have much larger reservoirs, hence much more ability to utilize and distribute water. However, Cotten attributed many challenges that occur within the division to over- appropriation. This has resulted in the need for closer monitoring of water usage in the San Luis Valley including well meters and 60 gauging stations along all of the rivers and streams of Division 3 to ensure that the correct amounts of water are delivered where they need to go.
An important aspect of Division 3 is well rules and regulations. Due to a limited amount of highly appropriated water, DWR found the need to consider long term considerations in the San Luis Valley. Also, maximum utilization was/is needed to assure that water rights are fulfilled but not inappropriately curtailed, and to maintain the economy. The replacement of injurious depletions and maintaining a sustainable aquifer system were/are also key considerations as to why the rules now exist. The conclusion became that less pumping is necessary, particularly for the aquifer system. Thus, the result was the drafting of the rules and their submission to the court by the State Engineer in 2015. The current rules require well owners to choose one of three options. The first option is to obtain a plan for augmentation. The second option is to participate in a groundwater management subdistrict. The third option is to cease pumping. The rules are now set to be finalized by the court in January of 2018. DWR is currently working towards resolutions with objectors.
One of the most important tasks that DWR oversees is the Rio Grande Compact. Quite simply, the Rio Grande Compact is law. Signed in 1938, it is an agreement between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Reasons for this agreement include a limited water supply and over- development of surface and groundwater resources. The compact is intended/designed to equitably apportion the waters of the Rio Grande above Ft. Quitman, Texas. This law is administered by three commissioners who are the state engineers of Colorado and New Mexico and a governor’s appointee from Texas. Colorado is required to deliver water to the New Mexico state line and New Mexico has been required to deliver to Elephant Butte Reservoir since 1949.
The other compact that Division 3 administers is the Costilla Creek Compact. This is an agreement between Colorado and New Mexico. In addition, Cotten pointed out that the Costilla Creek Compact is also the only compact where Colorado is classified as the downstream state. This agreement operates under a priority system much like the Prior Appropriation Doctrine.
“These compacts are the only ones to be administered directly from our office,” said Cotten. Yet another aspect that is unique to Division 3.
This is also a time of transition at DWR due to the retirement of State Engineer Dick Wolfe. His successor is Kevin Rein. Despite the change, Cotten expressed confidence in the laws and system that are in place and that the high standard that was set by Wolfe will continue to be upheld.
There are many tasks that the Division of Water Resources is charged with and there is a great deal that happens daily to ensure that they are all accomplished. The Division 3 office can be reached by calling 719-589-6683 or on the web at http://www.dwr.state.co.us.
The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable meets the second Tuesday of every month at 623 East Fourth Street in Alamosa. For more information visit us at http://www.rgbrt.org
Helen Smith is the Outreach Specialist for the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable. Read part 1 here.
Here’s a guest column from running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent
This month, my organization, Conservation Colorado, released its first-ever “rivers report card.” We analyzed eight major rivers across Colorado based on four main factors: flow, water diverted out of basin, water quality and major dams. Unfortunately, only one of the eight rivers assessed got an “A” grade, while four received grades of “C” or worse.
Our own Colorado River received a “D.” There are several reasons why we graded the river so low.
First, the Colorado River is one of the nation’s hardest-working rivers, providing drinking water to 35 million people and supplying more water for Coloradans than any other river in the state. The enormous demand for the Colorado River’s water has severely altered the flow of the river. As just one example, Colorado River tributaries such as the Blue, Frying Pan and Fraser rivers have up to 60 percent of their water diverted out of them to be consumed and used for other purposes.
Several other issues plague the Colorado River. Its water quality is low due to high levels of salt and agricultural runoff. Dams are abundant on the river, and contribute to an unsustainable increase in demand for water. And, a huge amount of the Colorado River’s water is diverted from the Western Slope to the Front Range. These pipelines, dams and reservoirs are causing significant damage to both the Colorado River’s ecology and Western Slope communities.
Finally, climate change is another imminent threat to the Colorado River. Higher temperatures lead to more evaporation, while diminishing snowpack leads to lower flows. This increases the gap between supply and demand for this already overused river. Water temperatures rising also poses a threat to water quality for fisheries.
The Colorado River flows 1,500 miles (2,400km) – through rises and rapids, valleys and deserts, all the way to Mexico.
But this river of critical importance to our country is facing incredible challenges.
The Colorado River provides water to almost 40 million Americans, but it is still reeling from the impacts of a 17-year drought that has drained most of Lake Mead and left Arizona and Nevada on the brink of imposed shortages.
The struggle we face to protect the Colorado River basin is one of necessity, not choice.
Every drop of the river is already accounted for, and due to a variety of factors – including a growing population and rising temperatures – the river’s flows are projected to decline 20 percent by 2050. Five of the top 10 fastest-growing states in the country are within the Colorado River Basin, and they depend on a reliable and healthy Colorado River.
If we are to avert a crisis and ensure a healthy and secure water supply for the years to come, we need to have a serious discussion about how best to manage the finite water we have available.
Through the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River basin initiative, my colleagues and I seek creative solutions to ensure the Colorado River basin has the water supply it needs. We know that smart, innovative conservation solutions benefit both the environment and the economy – and what is good for the Colorado River is good for its people, too. Because when the river benefits, so do the communities and economies that rely on it.
This means that we must enter a new phase of collaboration, innovation and flexibility when it comes to how we use and manage our water – one that must include robust support for smart water infrastructure projects.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the critical need to fund infrastructure projects in the United States. But amid all of the talk – from the Trump administration and Democratic leaders alike – politicians have put too little focus on the importance of smart water infrastructure to the people and economy of the West, and the Colorado River basin in particular.
To elevate water infrastructure in these ongoing discussions, we developed a white paper on the Colorado River’s Critical Infrastructure Needs.
Each of the projects highlighted in the paper offers benefits for both people and the environment. They can create jobs and enhance local communities, prevent hazardous situations from developing because of aging infrastructure, and underscore the importance of using water efficiently. These projects, if funded and implemented effectively, can improve the resilience of water supplies both within the basin states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, as well as across the entire West.
The infrastructure projects span sectors and communities and include support for ongoing projects – especially those connected with tribal water rights settlements. A great example is the Gila River Indian Community Pima-Maricopa Irrigation Project, a water delivery system designed to allow full use of water belonging to the Gila River Indian Community for irrigation of lands within the reservation in south-central Arizona.
Much of the community’s traditional agricultural economy has suffered from loss of both surface and ground water supplies over many decades. The construction and completion of the irrigation project will provide more reliable supplies for existing agricultural land, address natural resource concerns including water conservation and soil and water degradation, allow for re-irrigation of lands historically farmed by community members that have fallen fallow as a result of water scarcity, and replace inefficient, leaky existing facilities. Critically, the project includes habitat restoration components and can help restore the Gila River, the community’s namesake.
Other projects highlight partnerships among multiple stakeholders, like the Salton Sea Management Program. The Sea (a misnomer – the body of water is California’s largest manmade lake) is a looming human health and environmental crisis. As water recedes due to rising temperatures and reduced water flowing from the Colorado River, the dry lake bed is exposed. Years of accumulated fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals that leeched into the sea from nearby farms are being released into the air as dust. The toxic pollution is plaguing nearby communities and has caused an asthma crisis among residents.
The proposed Salton Sea Management Program provides a road map for the state of California, local agencies, national conservation organizations and the federal government to ensure that essential dust suppression and habitat restoration projects will be completed within the next 10 years. That timeline is necessary in order to protect the public’s heath, maintain the region’s natural resources and safeguard the region’s farming economy.
The Gila River Indian Community Pima-Maricopa Irrigation Project and Salton Sea Management Program show how conservation can help preserve economic security and quality of life. Conservation solutions that make economic sense are often the most practical and impactful. In the Colorado River basin, we know that implementing these solutions is possible. We’re committed to helping to support their success.
I don’t know why the sidebar is not displaying on the Home Page this morning. If you’re looking for the categories or archive links just click on an article title, the sidebar is displaying on the post pages.
A UA-led study is among the first to look at long-term changes in monsoon precipitation, and the region of Arizona with more extreme storms includes metro Phoenix.
Monsoon season now brings more extreme wind and rain to central and southwestern Arizona than in the past, according to new research led by the University of Arizona.
Although there are now fewer storms, the largest monsoon thunderstorms bring heavier rain and stronger winds than did the monsoon storms of 60 years ago, the scientists report.
“The monsoon is the main severe weather threat in Arizona. Dust storms, wind, flash flooding, microbursts — those are the things that are immediate dangers to life and property,” said co-author Christopher Castro, a UA associate professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences.
The researchers compared precipitation records from 1950-1970 to those from 1991-2010 for Arizona. They also used those records to verify that their climate model generated realistic results.
“This is one of the first studies to look at long-term changes in monsoon precipitation,” Castro said. “We documented that the increases in extreme precipitation are geographically focused south and west of the Mogollon Rim — and that includes Phoenix.”
The region of Arizona with more extreme storms includes Bullhead City, Kingman, the Phoenix metropolitan area, the Colorado River valley and Arizona’s low deserts, including the towns of Casa Grande, Gila Bend, Ajo, Lukeville and Yuma.
The Tohono O’odham Reservation, Luke Air Force Base, the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range and the Yuma Proving Ground also are in the region with more extreme monsoon weather.
Tucson is just outside of the zone with more extreme storms.
Having less frequent but more intense storms is consistent with what is expected throughout the world due to climate change, Castro said.
“Our work shows that it certainly holds true for the monsoon in Arizona,” he said.
When the researchers compared the results from climate and weather models to the actual observations, the model with a resolution of less than 1.5 miles accurately reproduced the precipitation data. The models with resolutions of 10 miles or more did not.
“You just can’t trust coarser simulations to represent changes in severe weather. You have to use the high-resolution model,” Castro said.
First author Thang M. Luong conducted the research as part of his doctoral work at the UA. He is now a postdoctoral researcher at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.
The paper, “The More Extreme Nature of North American Monsoon Precipitation in the Southwestern U.S. as Revealed by a Historical Climatology of Simulated Severe Weather Events,” by Luong, Castro, Hsin-I Chang and Timothy Lahmers of the UA Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences and David K. Adams and Carlos A. Ochoa-Moya of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México D.F., was published July 3 in the early online edition of the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.
The U.S. Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México PAPIIT funded the research.
The researchers wanted to identify risks from warm-season extreme weather, especially those to Department of Defense installations in the American Southwest.
Existing global and regional climate change models don’t represent the North American monsoon well in either seasonal forecasts or climate projections, the research team wrote.
Looking at the average precipitation over the entire monsoon season doesn’t show whether monsoon storms are becoming more severe now compared with 60 years ago, Castro said.
Aspen city officials said Wednesday they plan to seek water court approval to transfer the city’s two conditional water rights to store a combined 13,629 acre-feet of water in upper Castle and Maroon creeks to other potential storage locations in the Roaring Fork River valley.
Those locations include 63 acres of land it has under contract to purchase for $2.65 million on Raceway Drive in Woody Creek, a neighboring gravel pit operated by Elam Construction Inc., the city’s golf course, portions of the Maroon Creek Club golf course owned by the city, and Cozy Point Ranch.
Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick said at a news conference the city is not walking away from its conditional water rights tied to the potential dams and reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks, but instead is holding on to those rights while seeking to transfer them, and their 1971 decree date, to new locations.
“We’re going to attempt to transfer the water rights down to these sites,” Barwick said. “There would not be any abandoning of water rights. It would be moving the water rights from one site to another.”
To do so, the city would have to file a new water rights application in water court and it would be up to a water court judge to determine how much of the current water rights could be transferred, and if the city can keep the 1971 decree date.
In October, the city filed two due-diligence applications for its conditional rights on Castle and Maroon creeks and is now being opposed by 10 parties.
The potential Castle Creek Reservoir would store 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam and the Maroon Creek Reservoir would store 4,567 acre-feet behind a 155-foot-tall dam within view of the Maroon Bells.
The city expects to put forward a settlement offer to the opposing parties next week, with the potential Woody Creek storage sites at the heart of the offer, Barwick said. A settlement meeting is slated for Aug. 2.
Paul Noto, a water attorney representing American Rivers, Colorado Trout Unlimited, and the Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co. in the two water court cases, said Wednesday a “main issue” for his clients is whether the city will commit to “never damming” Castle and Maroon creeks.
A news release issued Wednesday by the city quoted Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron as saying the pending Woody Creek land purchase “is a way to both protect the community and preserve Castle and Maroon valley wild lands.”
Both of the dams, which the city has told the state since 1965 it intends to build someday, if necessary, would inundate portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
“While the Castle and Maroon Creek reservoirs may have seemed like a good idea (in the 1960s), we congratulate the city for this win-win alternative that protects our iconic landscape and provides for the city’s water needs,” said Sloan Shoemaker, the executive director of Wilderness Workshop, in a press release.
(Above is audio of a press conference held at Aspen city hall on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. The audio was recorded by Elizabeth Stewart-Severy of Aspen Public Radio. The main speaker is Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick. Also present at the press conference were Curtis Wackerle, editor of the Aspen Daily News, David Krauss, editor of The Aspen Times, Elizabeth Stewart-Severy, environment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, and city staff members David Hornbacher, Margaret Medellin and Mitzi Rapkin. Aspen city council member Bert Myrin was also in the room, but did not speak. Brent Gardner-Smith of Aspen Journalism can be heard asking questions via a phone on the table in the room.).
Woody Creek options
The two Woody Creek parcels now under contract by the city include a 61-acre parcel and a 1.8-acre parcel. Both are owned by Woody Creek Development Co. of Fort Collins.
The undeveloped 61-acre parcel is valued at $2.3 million by the county assessor and the 1.8-acre parcel, also undeveloped, is valued at $100,000.
The city does not have an option to purchase the Elam gravel pit, which is visible from Highway 82, but is in discussions with the company about opportunities.
“We are interested in working with the city on its water storage project,” Russell Larsen, the chief operating officer of Elam, was quoted as saying in the news release. “There are benefits for both entities. The city can assist us with reclamation of the property into the future and we are eager to explore ways we can support Aspen’s water storage needs.”
The city also said it is researching “the environmental, hydrologic and geologic nature” of the two Woody Creek parcels, and Barwick said he expects the City Council to make a decision to purchase the land within 90 days.
The city will be studying the 63 acres for the potential to develop both above-ground storage and in-situ, or underground, storage. And Barwick said the gravel pit may present the best potential to build an above-ground reservoir, “since there is already a pit there.”
If reservoirs were developed in any of the potential locations, the stored water – if used to meet municipal water demands – would have to be pumped back up to the city’s water treatment plant, which sits on a hill behind Aspen Valley Hospital.
“Worst-case scenario, you pump water into them and then pump water back up,” Barwick said. “We would prefer someday to create a gravity-fed storage system.”
He also said the Aspen City Council must figure out how much water the city may need to store in the future. A second work session on the topic has been set for Monday evening.
Praise from opponents
Officials from Western Resource Advocates also praised the city’s announcement.
“We’re pretty encouraged,” said Rob Harris, a senior staff attorney at Western Resource Advocates. “We’re not at the destination yet, but if you want to reach a different destination, the first concept is to change course, and it seems like the city has done that today.”
But in a news release Western Resource Advocates also included a cautionary note.
“The city’s announcement does not, in itself, end the pending water court cases considering the city’s conditional water rights,” the release said. “The city’s press release makes clear that its willingness to entirely drop the Maroon and Castle creeks dams from its water rights portfolio has preconditions.”
Noto, the water attorney for three clients in the cases, said the city’s announcement was “potentially a step in the right direction. I appreciate the fact that they are looking hard at alternatives.”
When asked about the city’s intention to try to transfer the 1971 decree date of the Castle and Maroon rights, Noto pointed out if they were successful, those rights would then be senior to the instream flow rights held on the Roaring Fork River by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the recreational in-channel diversion rights held by Pitkin County in its new kayak park in Basalt.
“They would be jumping ahead, essentially, of two large water rights, and I’m sure that will be cause for concern,” he said.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story online on July 19 and published it in its printed edition on July 20, 2017.
From the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District via The Pueblo Chieftain:
Alan Hamel has rejoined the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board as a voting member.
Hamel, 75, was appointed by Pueblo District Court Chief Judge Deborah Eyler to fill the term of Pat Edelmann on the board. Edelmann resigned because he has moved out of Pueblo County. The term will expire in April, 2018.
“This is a return to something that I love,” Hamel said. “The Southeastern District has done so much for the Arkansas River basin in the past, the present and continuing on into the future.”
Hamel served on the district board from 1988-2004, and as chairman in the final two years. Since 2004, he has served as an advisory member to the board.
Hamel retired as executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works in 2012, after completing a 52-year career, but remains very active in water organizations.
For the past six years, he represented the Arkansas River basin as a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Gov. John Hickenlooper last month named Jack Goble, engineer with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, to replace Hamel on the CWCB.
Hamel also has been a member of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable since 2005, and served in past years as chairman and as liaison to the CWCB and Interbasin Compact Committee.
Hamel is one of 15 board members for the nine-county district.
The Southeastern District is the local agency in charge of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. The Project brings in supplemental water from the Colorado River basin for municipal and agricultural use in the Arkansas River basin.
The district is continuing efforts to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit, which will provide fresh drinking water to 40 communities serving 50,000 people east of Pueblo.
The district’s enterprise is completing negotiations to build a hydroelectric power plant at Pueblo Dam, which could be up and running as soon as May 2018.
Here’s a retrospective about the July 28, 1997 flood from Erin Udall running in the The Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through to read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
The water reached over heads, its strong current carried cars from roads and pulled people from their doorsteps or out of the grasp of loved ones.
Witnesses could hear yells for help, see trailers wash off their foundations and smell the propane that streaked the debris-filled floodwaters.
“It was emergency sensory overload,” retired Poudre Fire Authority Captain Steve Fleming said, as he recalled the night Fort Collins’ ankle-deep Spring Creek turned the small city into a scene of tragic flooding, fires and fatalities.
As July 28, 1997 ended and a new day began, Fort Collins was faced with a new city — one full of twisted debris, totaled cars and forever-changed families.
Twenty years later, walk through the events of that night with this timeline of the Spring Creek Flood. See how heavy rain turned a creek into a deadly river. Watch as a festival-like atmosphere — with people kayaking in the streets — gave way to a somber city the next morning. And revisit the places that were washed away and rebuilt.
How it started — Heavy rainfall pounded parts of Fort Collins, with isolated storms wetting the city on July 27, 1997. The following day, it was about to get worse.
The flood moved Nolan Doesken to create CoCoRaHS. Here’s a report from Kevin Duggan from The Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:
In the wake of the flash flood, which killed five women, injured 54 people and caused $200 million in damage, Doesken wanted to understand the storm and how events played out as they did.
Through the Coloradoan and other media outlets, he asked community members to report as accurately as possible rainfall amounts at their homes and businesses. High school students went door to door looking for reliable measurements.
About 300 reports were collected.
While the official weather station at Colorado State University measured about 6 inches of rainfall, data collected from the community revealed that 10 to 14.5 inches of rain fell on the west side of the city during a 30-hour period.
During the same period, the city’s east side received about 2 inches.
The heaviest rainfall centered on the area near Drake Road and Overland Trail and the foothills. The deluge set a record for rainfall over an urban area in Colorado that still stands.
The variance in rainfall totals across the city inspired Doesken to find ways to correlate weather radar estimates of rainfall amounts with what happens on the ground. And the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow, or CoCoRaHS, network, began.
Volunteers use rain gauges, aluminum-wrapped hail pads and rulers to measure precipitation. Daily results are reported through the program’s website, maintained by the Colorado Climate Center at CSU.
Since its start in Larimer County in 1998, CoCoRaHS has spread across the country to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada and the Bahamas.
Data from reports are used in a variety of areas, including weather forecasting, water management, transportation planning and mosquito control.
CoCoRaHS and other observation networks provide important information for weather forecasters, said Thomas Trunk, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Office of Observations in Silver Springs, Maryland.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
An upper-level ridge of high pressure dominated the western contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. The ridge inhibited precipitation and kept temperatures warmer than normal across much of the West. Weekly mean temperatures were as much as 8 degrees above the long-term average from the Southwest to northern High Plains. Pacific fronts and weather systems rode over the top of the ridge, taking a northerly track which brought them across the drought-plagued northern Plains then into a trough over the eastern CONUS where they stalled out over the Southeast. Monsoon showers developed in the Southwest, bringing above-normal precipitation to some areas, and small but intense storms developed with the fronts as they moved across the northern and central Plains. But only a few of these storms brought above-normal precipitation to the Plains. Summertime convection and frontal lifting brought rain to parts of the southern Plains and areas east of the Mississippi River. The prolonged and intensifying drought ravaged crops and rangeland in the northern Plains, while soils continued to dry out across the West, Plains, and into the Mid-Atlantic region. Exceptional Drought (D4) returned to the USDM map this week as spots of D4 developed in the northern Plains where below-normal rain fell, and D0 expanded in parts of the Southwest where the monsoon precipitation was below normal. Persistent below-normal precipitation and enhanced evapotranspiration due to excessive heat expanded areas of drought and abnormal dryness in the central Plains to Midwest…
Locally heavy rains fell in southern parts of the High Plains, with over 3 inches reported at several stations in southeast Colorado and southern Nebraska. A few stations in the Dakotas and Kansas received an inch or more of rain this week, but the showers and thunderstorms were spotty and amounts varied significantly. Most stations in the region were drier than normal this week with many receiving a tenth of an inch of rain, if any. With daily temperatures exceeding 90 degrees F, the 7-day average maximum temperature was above 90 in a band from Montana to Kansas. The excessive heat increased evapotranspiration, as reflected in the extreme ESI and EDDI values, and further dried soils which were already parched. According to July 17 USDA reports, topsoil and subsoil moisture was short to very short across 88%/80% (topsoil/subsoil) of Montana, 85%/79% of South Dakota, 65%/58% of North Dakota, 65%/57% of Nebraska, and 62%/58% of Wyoming. The heat and dryness have ravaged crops, with 61% of the spring wheat crop in poor to very poor condition in Montana and 40% in North Dakota. In South Dakota, 74% of the spring wheat was in poor to very poor condition, 38% of the corn crop, 33% of soybeans, and 45% of sorghum. The pasture and rangeland statistics (in poor to very poor condition) were 74% for North Dakota, 68% for South Dakota, 58% for Montana, and 26% for Nebraska. As noted by the North Dakota State Climatologist, the spotty rains might have been enough to green-up the vegetation, but not enough to increase the vegetative volume. Reports from the field include many reports of extensive drop damage, livestock water holes drying up, and cattle losing weight due to poor or nonexistent grazing land. The South Dakota State Climatologist reported that corn is in tasseling stage now; under drought stress, this can lead to an 8% yield loss per day, which is the highest rate of yield loss of any crop stage. The agricultural impacts were compounded by low streamflows. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Ft. Peck and Ft. Belknap Tribes in Montana declared disaster emergencies in June that remain in effect; the Rocky Boy’s reservation, south of Havre, is experiencing drastic water shortages; and several Tribes in the eastern part of Montana have enacted burn bans.
With many indicators, such as SPI, EDDI, ESI, and soil moisture, converging to exceptionally dry conditions, spots of D4 were added to the USDM depiction in Montana and North Dakota. D0-D3 were expanded in the Dakotas with collateral expansion in adjacent states (Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota). D0-D1 were expanded in Nebraska and Kansas, but D0-D1 were trimmed in other parts of Nebraska and Kansas where an inch to several inches of rain fell…
In the Southwest, several inches of rain fell with monsoon showers and thunderstorms in central to southern Arizona, with 1-2 inches in parts of northwest Arizona and parts of New Mexico. But other parts of these states had less rain, and amounts tapered off to zero farther north into the Great Basin. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to deteriorate in spite of the rain, with poor to very poor classifications increasing from 43% last week to 53% this week in Arizona, and from 36% to 45% in New Mexico. In California, 35% of the pasture and rangeland was rated in poor to very poor condition. D0 expanded in Arizona, Utah, southern Nevada, northwest New Mexico, and southwest Colorado where precipitation was generally below normal for the week. But D0 was pulled back along the east slopes of the Rockies in central Colorado where 2-4 inches of rain was reported.
In the Northwest and northern Rockies, a few tenths of an inch of rain was recorded at coastal stations in Oregon and Washington, and at a few stations in the Rockies, but the week was essentially dry across much of the Pacific Northwest. Even though this is the dry season for much of this region, the rain that did fall was almost universally below normal. D0 was added to parts of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, based on 90-day indicators and drying soils, and expanded in western Montana. July 17 USDA reports indicated that topsoil/subsoil moisture was short or very short across 54%/42% of Oregon, 57%/33% of Washington, and 47%/44% of Idaho…
In the 2 days since the Tuesday morning cutoff time of this week’s USDM, additional frontal storms have moved across the northern and central Plains, and monsoon showers and thunderstorms have brought additional rain to parts of the Southwest. For July 20-24, 1 to locally 4 inches of rain is forecast for the Four Corners States and from the eastern Dakotas to Northeast, and half an inch to an inch is predicted for the central to northern Plains and most of the country along and east of the Mississippi River. Areas expecting little to no rain include much of the West from California to central Montana, most of Texas, and parts of the western Carolinas. Temperatures are forecast to be above normal for most of the CONUS. Little relief from the heat can be expected as above-normal temperatures are in the outlook for most of the CONUS and Alaska for July 25-August 2, with only the Northeast and parts of the coastal Northwest maybe having cooler-than-normal temperatures. Odds favor below-normal precipitation for coastal southern Alaska, the Pacific Northwest to northern Rockies, and most of the Plains into the Midwest. Above-normal monsoon precipitation is likely to continue for the Southwest, and Alaska is expected to be wetter than normal. The Northeast may start out drier than normal, then turn wetter than normal.