Scientists announced [August 15, 2017] that a core drilled in Antarctica has yielded 2.7-million-year-old ice, an astonishing find 1.7 million years older than the previous record-holder. Bubbles in the ice contain greenhouse gases from Earth’s atmosphere at a time when the planet’s cycles of glacial advance and retreat were just beginning, potentially offering clues to what triggered the ice ages. That information alone makes the value of the sample “incredible,” says David Shuster, a geochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is unaffiliated with the research. “This is the only sample of ancient Earth’s atmosphere that we have access to.”
Described at the Goldschmidt Conference in Paris by Yuzhen Yan, a graduate student at Princeton University, the ice revealed atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels that did not exceed 300 parts per million, well below today’s levels. Some models of ancient climate predict that such relatively low levels would be needed to tip Earth into a series of ice ages. But some proxies gleaned from the fossils of animals that lived in shallow oceans had indicated higher CO2 levels. If the new result holds up, says Yige Zhang, a paleoclimatologist at Texas A&M University in College Station, the proxies will need to be recalibrated. “We have some work to do.”
The discovery also points the way to finding even older ice, because it comes from a largely ignored “blue ice” area, where peculiar dynamics can preserve old layers. Although blue ice areas offer only a fragmentary view of the past, they may turn into prime hunting grounds for ancient ice, says Ed Brook, a geochemist on the discovery team at Oregon State University in Corvallis. “Ice that’s this old really makes people stand up and notice,” he says. “We’re just scratching the surface.”
CRESTED BUTTE — If there was a commemorative coin minted in honor of Colorado water law, the shiny side could be inscribed with the phrase “use it or lose it.”
But the flip side of the coin might read “don’t divert more than you need.”
The second phrase may yet gain currency in Colorado as a new set of internal guidelines about over-diverting, or wasting, water were recently approved and made public by the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
The guidelines, signed by outgoing state engineer Dick Wolfe on June 30 and embraced by the new state engineer Kevin Rein, say “the people of the state have a right to divert water and apply it to beneficial use but do not have a right to divert water and waste it.”
The 11-page guiding document also says, “the goal in any diversion of water should be to divert and convey that amount of water, and only that amount of water, needed to accomplish the intended beneficial use.”
There are many “beneficial uses” of water under state law, but the one most relevant to the waste discussion is using it to irrigate a crop, such as alfalfa.
And the guidelines say “water that is diverted in excess of what is required to accomplish the intended beneficial use is considered wasted and may be curtailed by Division of Water Resources.”
Rein has been with Division of Water Resources for 19 years and was promoted from his position as deputy state engineer to state engineer by Gov. John Hickenlooper in July. Rein said the guidelines have been in the works for some time, were written in a collaborative manner by staff and were in response to a growing number of questions about the issue.
The new guidelines give water commissioners and division engineers direction on what to do when encountering waste.
Asked, during a break in a Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in Crested Butte in July, if he was comfortable with the phrase “don’t take more than you need” as shorthand to describe the concept of “waste” in Colorado, Rein said he preferred “don’t divert more than you need.”
“‘Divert,’ that’s clear to me,” he said. “That means taking water out of the river, or taking water off the main ditch. And what we mean by ‘what you need’ is to satisfy that beneficial use that your water right is based on.”
The new internal guidelines are officially titled “Internal guide to understanding ‘waste’ and the determination of ‘waste’ associated with irrigation, as that term is used in the definition of beneficial use.”
There are some stern statements in the new internal guidelines, including that it is against Colorado law to divert more water from a river into an irrigation system than is “absolutely necessary.”
“Statutes provide that a person shall not run through his or her ditch any greater quantity of water than is absolutely necessary for irrigation, domestic, and stock purposes to prevent the wasting and useless discharge and running away of water,” the guidelines say.
Rein said the internal guidelines should provide statewide enforcement consistency and serve as a public clarification of the agency’s policy on identifying and enforcing waste.
“It really helps us to have that go-to document to explain it,” he said. “This gives us the best way to communicate to water users, ‘Here are the important considerations when it comes to waste.'”
The guidelines define waste as “diverting water when not needed for beneficial use, or running more water than is reasonably needed for application to beneficial use.” And the guidelines seek to distinguish between “efficiency” and “waste,” Rein said.
“Efficiency is an objective measure,” he said. “It’s an equation. It’s the amount of water consumed divided by the amount of water diverted for that purpose.”
However, he said a higher-efficiency irrigation system can still waste water by over-diverting, while a lower-efficiency system might be diverting and irrigating in a manner that is not wasting water.
And when it comes to determining if someone is wasting water, there is no equation, no formula.
“There is no number,” he said. “There is no amount of tail water. There is no amount of runoff or ponding or deep percolation that you can identity. It is a subjective call.
But the water commissioner can look at the irrigation practice and look at the diversion. And if that same … crop can be satisfied with a reduced diversion, then that satisfies the definition, or identification, of waste.”
The guidelines also discuss seepage in irrigation ditches, overtopping of ditches, or tailwater spilling out of an irrigation system, and say there is a point where too much of each is “unreasonable.”
And the guidelines say it does not matter if a call from downstream senior rights is in effect or not; there can still be waste.
And, of importance to water rights owners, that wasted water should not count in a historical use analysis, which ultimately determines how much of a water right can be transferred or sold for another use.
The guidelines cite several reasons why people over-divert water, including trying to protect a water right from a claim of abandonment, trying to maximize the future potential value of a water right in a sale or transfer and failing to apply adequate labor to an irrigation system.
It can even occur “when a water user diverts more water than is needed based on the mere fact that they can.”
Rein acknowledges that when it comes to determining waste, a lot depends on the layout, construction and management of a given irrigation system. The guidelines also recognize that it can take more work to use less water, due to factors such as the need to frequently adjust distant headgates.
“Diverting more water than can be beneficially used because of the labor involved in diverting less water but requiring more time and labor to do so may or may not be considered an acceptable practice,” the guidelines state. “Regardless, an irrigator has the responsibility and duty to divert only that amount needed and is responsible for being a good steward of the resource.”
The guidelines also address the practice of over-diverting in an effort to increase the future potential value of a water right.
“There is a misperception by some that by maximizing the amount of water diverted, regardless of the need, one can enhance or preserve the magnitude and value of a water right in a future transfer or protect it from some other reduction such as through an abandonment proceeding,” the guidelines say. “Diverting more water than can be beneficially used to avoid abandonment is not considered an acceptable practice and will generally be considered a wasteful practice.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. The Times and the Post Independent published this story on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017.
“Turning Towards Solutions” builds upon our previous episode, “Law of the River.” Across the Colorado River Basin, collaboration, cooperation, and compromise between towns, districts, states, and basins is a common theme. “Turning Towards Solutions” explores how collaborative actions like the Drought Contingency Plan and Minute 319 (the pulse flow) are creating promise and opportunity for sustaining the Colorado River and the people and communities that depend on it. Tune in to hear about efforts to create a new pathway to preserve both this crucial resource, and the legacy of the entire southwest.
Denver, Aurora and South Metro region connect water systems to maximize efficiencies
DENVER, Aug. 16, 2017 – One of the most exciting water projects in Colorado’s history is now live. After years of planning and development of critical infrastructure, water deliveries have begun for the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership, known as WISE.
“This is a significant new chapter in Colorado’s water history,” said John Stulp, special policy advisor to Gov. John Hickenlooper on water and chairman of the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee. “With the start of WISE deliveries, we are ushering in a new era of regional collaboration and partnership for the benefit of current and future generations in the Denver metropolitan area.”
WISE is a regional water supply project that combines available water supplies and system capacities among Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro WISE Authority, which consists of 10 water providers serving Douglas and Arapahoe counties. Participating South Metro communities include Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Rock, among others.
“The state water plan identified regional collaboration and partnerships as key to a secure water future for Colorado,” said Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro WISE Authority. “WISE is a perfect example of the benefits that can come from such an approach.”
The innovative regional partnership is one of the first of its kind in the West and a major component to the region’s cooperative efforts to address long-term water supply needs. The WISE project has garnered unprecedented statewide support for its collaborative approach, which draws a stark contrast to water feuds of the past.
WISE allows the participating water entities to share existing water supplies, infrastructure and other assets in the South Platte River basin in ways that are mutually beneficial.
For communities in the South Metro region, WISE provides an additional source of renewable and reliable water supply and helps to reduce historical reliance on nonrenewable groundwater. Since the early 2000s, the region has made tremendous progress transitioning to a renewable water supply while ramping up conservation efforts.
For Denver, WISE adds a new emergency supply and creates more system flexibility, while allowing Denver Water to use water imported from the Colorado River multiple times for multiple purposes. For Aurora, WISE creates revenue that helps stabilize rates for municipal customers while creating added value from existing water and infrastructure.
“WISE promotes the efficient use of water through full utilization of existing resources,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “Through this project, we’ve created a sustainable water supply without having to divert additional water out of mountain streams.”
“This is a positive development for Colorado’s water community,” Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said. “It is critically important that water utilities and providers are working together to meet Colorado’s water needs, and I commend this partnership.”
By reusing water imported from the Colorado River through Denver Water’s water rights, the project provides a new sustainable supply without additional Colorado River diversions. A portion of the WISE water rate also goes to the Colorado River District to support river enhancements within the Colorado River basin.
In 2015 WISE became the first water infrastructure project ever to receive funding from Basin Roundtables — groups of regional water leaders who help shape statewide water policy — across the state because of the example it set of regional cooperation. It also received financial support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“The WISE Partnership is a great example of communities working together to creatively address the water demands of Colorado’s growing Front Range,” said Laura Belanger, water resources engineer with Western Resource Advocates. “We commend the project partners for successfully implementing this innovative and flexible project that utilizes existing infrastructure to share water supplies between communities, increasing reuse, and helping keep Colorado rivers healthy and flowing.”
Others expressing public support of the project include Gov. Hickenlooper; U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner; U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Mike Coffman; and David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.
Since finalizing the WISE delivery agreement in 2013, WISE members have been hard at work putting in place the infrastructure and processes that will allow the parties across the Denver metro area to combine water supplies and system capacities.
· Purchasing a 20-mile pipeline to carry water from Aurora to Denver and South Metro;
· Building a new water tank near E-470 and Smoky Hill Road;
· Connecting an array of existing underground pipelines; and
· Developing a new computer system that enables up-to-the-minute coordination between all entities.
Water legend Ken Wright joins The Water Values Podcast for a discussion about paleohydrology. Ken’s studies of how ancient cultures used water over the last quarter century have shed tremendous light on how those cultures engineered their water infrastructure and planned for their water resources. This is a fascinating episode for anyone who is interested in history and how ancient cultures like the Inka (read Charles C. Mann’s 1491 to understand why I’m not spelling it “Inca”), Anasazi, Roman, ancient Thai, and Middle Eastern cultures, among others, related to their most important resource.
In this session, you’ll learn about:
Ken’s background and how his diverse experiences helped shape his career
How the Inka used water at Machu Picchu and other sites in their civilization
How the Inka and other cultures engineered their infrastructure
How the Anasazi built and maintained their water infrastructure in the arid Southwest
How ancient civilizations used simple design and sustainable practices
How Ken and his team made population estimates based on water infrastructure