Audubon: Diverted Water, Longer Droughts and Climate Change Threaten Birds in the Arid West

American White Pelicans flying in formation. Photo credit Missouri Department of Conservation.

From the Audubon Society:

In the arid West of the United States, water sustains tens of millions of people as well as some of America’s richest diversity of birdlife. Today, the National Audubon Society published Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline, the first comprehensive look at the unprecedented impact of western water loss and climate change on birds. Focusing on the Colorado River basin as well as the network of saline lakes across eight Western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming), Audubon determined that a combination of water development, drought and climate change threaten these habitats and put millions of birds at risk: U.S. and global populations of many birds that depend on these habitats for resting, feeding and nesting hang in the balance.

“The most urgent threat facing birds and people in the West is a precipitous decline in water quality and availability,” said Dr. Chad Wilsey, Audubon’s director of bird conservation and main author of the Audubon report. “Both rivers and saline lakes across the West need reliable sources of fresh water to continue sustaining not only a rich diversity of birdlife but also the millions of people across rural and urban areas that depend on these systems.”

The future of seven bird species, including several species protected by the Endangered Species Act—Eared Grebe, Wilson’s Phalarope, American Avocet, American White Pelican, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Yuma Ridgway’s Rail—is tied to the rivers of the Colorado River basin, western saline lakes and scarce wetlands across the West.

Longmont Councillors approve asking voters for Windy Gap bond issue

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

From The Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

A 5-2 Longmont City Council majority decided Wednesday night to ask voters’ authorization to sell an estimated $36.3 million in bonds to help finance the city’s share of costs for the Windy Gap Firming Project…

…the city’s water customers would pay higher rates in 2018, with rates increasing by an average 13 percent above 2017 levels. There would be another 10 percent increase in 2019 and a 6 percent increase in 2020 as the city makes annual principal and interest repayments on the 20-year bonds.

The water rate-backed bonds, along with about $6.2 million the city projects it will be getting from development fees and other sources, would cover Longmont’s costs of paying for the project that would be able to provide the city with about 10,000 acre-feet of water. A council majority continued to endorse the 10,000 acre-feet level on Wednesday night.

Mayor Dennis Coombs and council members Brian Bagley, Bonnie Finley, Jeff Moore and Gabe Santos voted Tuesday to direct the city staff to prepare an ordinance that will, when adopted, advance the bonding question to November’s ballot.

Council members Polly Christensen and Joan Peck voted against the $36.3 million bonding scenario.

Christensen and Peck instead tried to get the council to support an alternative that would have lowered Longmont’s Windy Gap Firming Project level from 10,000 acre-feet of water to an 8,000 acre-foot participation. That option would have maintained a set of 9 percent annual water rate increases that already are to take place at the start of 2018 and again in 2019, but with no rate increases above that 9 percent level in either of those years.

The Christensen-Peck approach, however, failed on a 5-2 vote, with all other council members voting against that option.

Santos said that when it comes to water delivery and supplies, “it’s incumbent on us to make decisions for the future, for the next generations.”

Coombs noted that under Longmont’s tiered water-rate system, with residents’ and businesses’ actual water bills based on how much water they actually use, “people have some control,” even with the pending increases ahead.

Customers “can take some responsibility” for conserving water, and thereby reducing the water bills they get, even with the higher rates ahead in future years, he said.

Peck, however, said she was concerned that “we’re buying more (water) than we actually need” if Longmont sticks with the 10,000 acre-feet participation level from the Windy Gap Firming Project, which is to include construction of a new Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Prior to the council’s Wednesday night action to direct the staff to prepare the ballot measure language for the bonding option, a number of residents spoke about their opposition to that project and questioned its need. Some also objected to the entire concept of diverting water from the Western Slope to the Front Range.

The path to a new @EPA #CleanWaterRule will be through the courts

Photo via Greag Hobbs March 29, 2015.

Scott Pruitt now faces an uncertain outcome in the courts. Here’s a report from Patrick Parenteau (Vermont Law School) writing for The Conversation. Here’s an excerpt:

EPA developed the Clean Water Rule in an attempt to resolve uncertainty created by a fractured 2006 Supreme Court decision, Rapanos v. United States. The Rapanos ruling caused widespread confusion about which waters were covered [Click through for the Reagan Waskom and David J. Cooper explainer about Ag and the rule], creating uncertainty for farmers, developers and conservation groups. Efforts to clarify it through informal guidance or congressional action had failed, and EPA acted under mounting pressure from various quarters, including some members of the court.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt unsuccessfully sued to kill the rule, which he has called “the greatest blow to private property rights the modern era has seen.” Now he is seeking to accomplish by administrative fiat what he failed to achieve in court. However, he faces a stiff challenge from supporters of the rule, and the courts may not buy his arguments for wiping a rule off the books.

Under the Administrative Procedure Act, federal agencies must follow specific steps when they seek to establish or repeal a regulation. These procedures are meant to establish efficiency, consistency and accountability. To promote fairness and transparency, the law requires that the public must have meaningful opportunity to comment on proposed rules before they take effect.

The Clean Water Rule emerged from an extensive rule-making process that featured over 400 meetings with state, tribal and local officials and numerous stakeholders representing business, environmental and public health organizations. It generated over one million comments, the bulk of which supported the rule.

This process was preceded by a comprehensive peer-reviewed scientific assessment that synthesized over a thousand studies documenting the importance of small streams and wetlands to the health of large rivers, lakes and estuaries. According to a 2015 fact sheet, which has been scrubbed from EPA’s website but is archived here, the rule protects streams that roughly one in three Americans depend upon for their drinking water.

To undo the Clean Water Rule, EPA will have to go through the same notice-and-comment process. Pruitt’s proposal to rescind the rule will be published in the Federal Register sometime in the near future. From that date, the public will have just 30 days to file written comments electronically. (Normally public comment periods last for 60 days, and the Clean Water Rule was open for comment for 120 days.)

[…]

EPA must then review and respond to the comments, make any changes it deems necessary and publish a final rule. Parties with standing can then challenge the final rule, although there is a question as to which court will have jurisdiction to hear them. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on this issue in the fall. In weighing challenges, the key question the court must address is whether EPA’s action is “arbitrary and capricious,” meaning that the agency has failed to consider important aspects of the problem or explain its reasoning.

In a seminal 1983 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that an agency must supply a “reasoned analysis” when it rescinds a rule adopted by a previous administration. The court acknowledged that agencies have some discretion to change direction in response to changing circumstances. However, it noted that “the forces of change do not always or necessarily point in the direction of deregulation.” Further, the court said that a decision to rescind a rule would be arbitrary and capricious if it offers an explanation “that runs counter to the evidence before the agency.”

Pruitt asserts that his repeal “need not be based upon a change of facts or circumstances,” citing a 2009 opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia. But in my view, Pruitt reads too much into that decision, which simply held that an agency did not face “heightened scrutiny” – that is, an extra-high bar – when changing policy, but must still “show that there are good reasons for the new policy.” As Justice Breyer observed, dissenting in the same case, “Where does, and why would, the Administrative Procedure Act grant agencies the freedom to change major policies on the basis of nothing more than political considerations or even personal whim?”

#Drought news: D0 (Abnormally Dry) expanded in NW #Colorado, monsoon on the way

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor Website. Here’s an excerpt:

Summary

This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw scattered showers and thunderstorm activity across portions of the central and southern Plains, Gulf Coast, lower Midwest, northern half of New England and the Southeast. Heavy rainfall was observed across northern Missouri where severe thunderstorms produced widespread accumulations ranging from 3 to 5 inches as well as two isolated areas receiving 8 to 10 inches. In the southern Plains, some improvement in drought conditions occurred in southeastern Oklahoma where 4 to 11 inches of rain fell during the past week. In the drought-stricken northern Plains and eastern Montana, rainfall accumulations were generally less than 1 inch providing little relief. Early this week, temperatures in eastern Montana soared into the 90s exacerbating already dry conditions and further stressing crops, pastures, and rangelands. Across the remainder of the West, generally hot and dry conditions prevailed with areas of the Pacific Northwest experiencing temperatures up to 10 degrees above normal. In the desert Southwest and Great Basin, firefighters have been battling large wildland fires in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. In the South, heavy rains fells across the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In the Mid-Atlantic, some areas of dryness have developed in portions of Delaware, Maryland, and northern Virginia. In the Northeast, heavy rains were observed in Upstate New York as well as northern portions of New Hampshire and Vermont…

The Plains

On this week’s map, areas of Severe Drought (D2) and Extreme Drought (D3) expanded across eastern Montana, south-central North Dakota, and northwestern South Dakota where hot and dry conditions persisted. In northwestern South Dakota, South Dakota State University Extension staff reported poor pasture and range conditions as well as deteriorating crop conditions (corn). In eastern Montana, hot and dry weather continued to deteriorate pasture, rangeland, and crop conditions as temperatures soared above 90 degrees. On July 1st, the National Weather Service Office in Glasgow, Montana reported several dry precipitation records were broken for Glasgow including: the driest May and June (0.72 inches) since 1918; the driest April, May, and June (1.24 inches) since 1918; and the driest January through June (2.75 inches) since 1983. According to the USDA for the week ending June 25th, topsoil moisture (percent short to very short) is as follows: Montana – 69%, Nebraska – 56%, North Dakota – 53%, and South Dakota – 63%. In the southern Plains, areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) were reduced in eastern and southern portions of Oklahoma where heavy rainfall accumulations were observed with some localized accumulations in south-central Oklahoma ranging from 8 to 10 inches. Across most of the region with exception of western portions of the Dakotas, average temperatures were slightly below normal (1 to 4 degrees)…

The West

During the past week, a dry pattern continued across most of the West. Some lesser rainfall accumulation (less than 1 inch) were observed across northern New Mexico, northern Wyoming, and southwestern Montana. In the Pacific Northwest, hot and dry conditions prevailed with average temperatures 2 to 10 degrees above normal. In the Southwest, a number of large wildland fires continued to burn in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah where monsoon moisture has been limited during the past week. In southeastern Arizona, the Frye Fire has burned ~46,000 acres (51% contained) of timber, brush, and chaparral according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. In southwestern Utah, the Brianhead Fire has burned approximately 67,000 acres and is currently 75% contained. On this week’s map, areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) were added in western Arizona, northwestern Colorado, southeastern Nevada, northeastern Utah, and southern Wyoming in response to above average temperatures (past 30 days), short-term dryness, and below normal soil moisture…

Looking Ahead

The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate precipitation accumulations (1 to 3 inches) across much of the Eastern Tier of the conterminous U.S. with some heavier accumulations (3 to 4 inches) forecasted for portions of the Mid-Atlantic. Lesser accumulations (less than 1.5 inches) are forecasted for the central and southern Rockies as well as portions of the desert Southwest including eastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico as monsoonal moisture returns to the region. The CPC 6–10 day outlooks call for a high probability of above-normal temperatures across the western half of the conterminous U.S., upper Midwest, and Florida while the Eastern U.S. is forecast to be normal. Below-normal precipitation is forecast for the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, and the Plains while above-normal precipitation is expected in the portions of the Intermountain West, Arizona, western Colorado, Utah, and the eastern third of the U.S.

North American Monsoon graphic via Hunter College.

Drinking water at risk with new @EPA proposals #WOTUS

Middle Dutch Creek near the Grand River Ditch. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

From The Colorado Connection (Josephine Peterson) via The Durango Herald:

The American public will have 30 days to comment on the Trump administration’s plan to repeal and replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule, once it’s published in the Federal Register.

Jan Goldman-Carter, wetlands and water resources director for the National Wildlife Federation, said the move would remove pollution limits from streams and wetlands that supply a third of the nation’s drinking water and which also are home to countless fish and wildlife species.

“The American public has long thought – since the 1972 act – that their water is protected, their wetlands are protected, their streams are protected from pollution,” she said. “None of us can really take that for granted anymore.”

The Clean Water Rule restored protections under the Clean Water Act for headwaters, streams and wetland habitat that had been left uncertain because of convoluted U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Current Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has argued that rolling back the measure will provide certainty to farmers and other businesses by returning regulatory authority to states.

Carter said western states rely on clean water to fuel their multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation industries. She pointed to polls that show nearly 80 percent of hunters and anglers favor Clean Water Act protections. Dozens of craft brewers also have come out in support of the 2015 measure. Carter said a majority of the nation’s stream miles and wetland acres are at stake…

But some Colorado legislators see the beginning of the process to rollback this rule as a victory for private water rights.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., called the withdraw of this rule as “a victory for agriculture, rural communities, and all Coloradans.”

[…]

Gardner has been a consistent opponent of the administrative rule from the beginning.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said he also welcomed the news and that the rule was a threat to private water rights…

Samantha Slater, a spokeswoman for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said the senator is opposed to the rule’s full appeal, and wants only what is best for the state.

According to the Environment America Research and Policy Center, the Clean Water Rule, supported by more than 80 percent of small-business owners, was expected to generate more than $400 million annually in economic benefits. Public comments can be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov.

The EPA plan is online at epa.gov/wotus-rule, and the Environment America brief is at environmentamericacenter.org.

Piping ditches to improve water quality

Photo credit NRCS via the Julesburg Advocate.

From the Natural Resources Conservation Service via The Julesburg Advocate:

LSPW Receives 2016 Funding for Targeted Conservation Efforts

Improving water quality and water efficiency use is a top priority for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). As a result, NRCS continues its partnership and support to help landowners in eastern Colorado in their effort to improve irrigation water delivery methods within the Lower South Platte Watershed (LSPW).

2016 marks the second round of targeted conservation funds NRCS has allocated specifically for the installation of underground pipe within Sedgwick County. The pipeline will replace the use of earthen ditches for 20 landowner’s.

“In Colorado, we divert almost 90% of all agricultural irrigation water,” shares Daniel Palic, NRCS District Conservationist for Julesburg and Holyoke. “When water is moved, water is lost, so to help ensuring the least amount of loss during its transport is essential and requires effective and efficient methods. The underground pipeline increases that assurance.”

Through the Agency’s 2016 targeted conservation efforts, using NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), over 50,000 feet of earthen ditch was replaced with underground pipeline servicing over 1300 acres. This means NRCS’s targeted conservation investment in the LSPW has funded a total of 38 contracts and nearly 90,000 feet of underground pipeline.

NRCS provides farmers, ranchers and forest managers with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land. Conservationists provide technical expertise and conservation planning for those wanting to make voluntary conservation improvements to their land not only helping the environment but agricultural operations, too. The Agency may also provide financial assistance to make those improvements to their land.

For more information about NRCS and how its conservation programs and initiatives can help you, please visit http://www.co.nrcs.udsa.gov or contact the NRCS field office located in the USDA service center within your county.