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
A snowy winter in the Rocky Mountains helped Colorado River water users escape a shortage for the next year and likely for at least two more, federal water managers project, though a hot spring made the escape a narrow one.
The river’s reservoirs combined have gained 5 percent of their capacity in the last year, and now sit at 57 percent full. It means customers using Central Arizona Project water in the Phoenix and Tucson areas won’t lose deliveries next year and have just a 31 percent chance of losing some water in 2019 — a marked improvement from roughly even odds projected in recent years.
“We had a fairly decent runoff this year, which certainly helped us trend in the right direction,” U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Doug Hendrix said Tuesday.
Conservationists say the projections provide a nice reprieve but that the seven states on the river must use the time to plan and save more water and prevent future pain.
“I don’t think we really have time to wait for an official shortage declaration,” said Jeff Odefey, drinking-water-supply program director for the group American Rivers…
A 2007 agreement between Reclamation and the seven states said CAP customers, starting with farmers, would lose some of their river water in any year when the August projections show Lake Mead’s elevation dropping below 1,075 feet elevation on Jan. 1.
The lake would already be well below that level if not for conservation measures by the states and Mexico, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said in a statement Tuesday…
The government currently projects Lake Mead will end this year well above shortage level, at 1,083.46 feet. It was about 1,080 feet throughout on Tuesday, and should gain elevation as fall temperatures cool and reduce the demand for irrigation water, allowing more of the inflow to pool behind the dam…
The Green River, the biggest tributary to the Colorado, had a record snowpack in Wyoming last winter, Odefey said, while western Colorado was also above normal.
Warm weather then melted, evaporated and increased demand for water, reducing earlier predictions that Lake Mead would get a bigger boost…
The states and the federal government have already propped up the reservoir by paying for conservation and efficiency improvements with a goal of leaving water behind the dam instead of earmarking it for a particular use.
From 2012 through 2016, the states collectively saved 1.2 million acre-feet of water in the reservoir, said Jennifer Pitt, the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River program director.
That’s enough water to support a few million households, and it approaches the Central Arizona Project canal’s share of the river.
“It’s a great demonstration of the fact that water conservation can be done,” she said. “It makes me optimistic about the future.”
According to projections released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the reservoir east of Las Vegas will have enough water in it on Jan. 1 to stave off a first-ever federal shortage declaration — and the mandatory water cuts for Nevada and Arizona that would come with it.
The lake is also on track to avoid a shortage in 2019, thanks to decreased demand downstream on the Colorado River and a larger-than-usual influx of water from Lake Powell upstream.
The extra water from Lake Powell is expected to raise Lake Mead’s surface by more than five feet by the end of the year.
The new federal projections come as officials in the United States and Mexico finish work on a new binational agreement aimed at stretching limited resources on the Colorado and keeping more water in Lake Mead.
Negotiators from the two countries, including representatives of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, have agreed on a range of water-sharing and water-saving initiatives, including voluntary cuts that Mexico could begin taking as soon as next year to prop up the overdrawn, drought-stricken river system.
The agreement also spells out how much Mexico would have to reduce its river use during a declared shortage and how much extra water the nation would get in the event of a surplus on the Colorado.
The new pact, known as Minute 323 to the Mexican Water Treaty of 1944, extends many of the provisions of an earlier treaty amendment approved in 2012 and set to expire at the end of this year. For example, Mexico will be able to keep storing some of its river allotment in Lake Mead, and U.S. water agencies will be able to continue to invest in infrastructure improvements south of the border in exchange for a portion of the saved water.
The water authority board is expected to vote Thursday to sign on to Minute 323 when the agreement is finalized next month.
“It’s a good deal for both countries,” Authority General Manager John Entsminger said.
The most important thing about the deal is the certainty it provides, Entsminger said. Water managers in both countries will now know what to expect should the river continue to shrink.
“It’s a big deal because the last thing you want is uncertainty when you get into a shortage condition,” he said.
The voluntary water cuts Mexico would take under the treaty deal hinge on a separate but related pact being negotiated by water officials in Nevada, Arizona and California.
The three states have agreed in principle on the so-called Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, under which Nevada, Arizona and, eventually, California would voluntarily leave some of their river water in Lake Mead when the surface of the reservoir falls to certain trigger points.
Entsminger said the multistate deal is on track for completion next year despite some public spats and lingering disagreements among water agencies in Arizona and California over how the voluntary cuts should be made in each state.
“I do believe it will happen,” he said…
The Las Vegas Valley relies on Lake Mead for 90 percent of its drinking water supply. The surface of the reservoir now sits at about 1,080 feet above sea level, roughly 130 feet lower than it was before the current drought began on the Colorado River in 2000…
Above-average flows in the Colorado River helped keep Lake Mead out of shortage for another year, but the real news is on the demand side.
Over the past year, Nevada, Arizona and California combined to use less than 7 million acre-feet of river water for the first time in 25 years.
Colby Pellegrino, Colorado River programs manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the decline in demand is proof that conservation efforts on the Colorado are making an impact.
The last time the three lower basin states combined to use less than 7 million acre-feet of river water was in 1992, when the region was home to roughly 7 million fewer people than it is now.
“We’ve successfully decoupled our economic prosperity from our water use,” Pellegrino said.
Work has started on the new Chimney Hollow Reservoir in Larimer County. Final approval was granted for a 90,000 acre foot reservoir in May, and crews are now surveying and drilling at the site, to determine the extent of building materials.
Chimney Hollow will be operated by Northern Water. It is located just west of Carter Lake Reservoir, and is going to be close to the same size of twin to the east. This location was chosen for it’s proximity to existing Colorado Big Thompson facilities, and because there were no threatened or endangered species, no existing residences to relocate, and they were able to acquire the property from a single owner, Hewlett Packard.
Nearly 400,000 northern Colorado residents will benefit from this new water supply. Those areas are Broomfield, Longmont, Loveland, Greeley, Erie, Superior, Louisville, Fort Lupton, Lafayette, and the towns in the Central Weld County Water District.
“This project specifically is to make some supplies reliable year in, and year out, for those communities. They will be able to have more of a guarantee that they will be able to pull water from the Windy Gap Project, which today, is not possible. There are some years where there is either no water available, or nowhere to store it,” said Brian Werner, spokesperson for Northern Water…
Contracts will start to get awarded in 2018, and Northern Water says that construction will likely start later next year, or early in 2019. It will be a three to four year build. The next step, which could happen this fall, is to relocate power lines that run through the middle of the property, and to also start clearing the vegetation.
Once construction is complete, they can start filling the reservoir with water. According to Northern Water, that could take several years to fill up.
“There are state regulations on dam safety, on how fast we can bring the water elevation up, so it’s sort of fill and seal, before we can go to that next incremental level. It could take 3, or 5, or even 10 years to fill it. A lot is dependent of mother nature as well, with how much water is available,” Werner said.
The water will come from the headwaters of the Colorado River, channeled back to the east from Windy Gap Reservoir.
The Chimney Hollow project has already been 14 years in the making. The permitting process began in 2003, and there have been $15 million spent in studies. The total estimated cost is $400 million.
The dam is estimated to be about 340 feet tall, which makes it the tallest dam to be built in Colorado since the Morrow Point Dam in Gunnison County back in 1968. Morrow Point is still the largest dam in Colorado at 468 feet. Denver Water has recently received approval to increase the size of Gross Dam, in Boulder County, to 471, which will make that the largest dam once it is finished.
Chimney Hollow Dam could be the first in the United States with an asphalt core. This type has been used in Europe and Canada for many years. The available land material in the area, made asphalt the more cost effective choice. The asphalt will be the inner seal of the dam, but the outside appearance will be more earthy, made of land and boulders. Arizona has also received approval to build an asphalt core dam, and could be completed about the same time as Colorado’s.
Larimer County will be handling the recreation on this new reservoir, and already has some initial plans for hiking, fishing, and boating. It will be a non-motorized boating lake and a day-use area. So far, there are no plans to allow overnight camping.
There had been some opposition to this project, and other proposals to build new reservoirs in Colorado. River conservation groups are concerned about the impacts of further taxing a the Colorado River system. Werner says they are addressing the future of the river, and the future of Colorado’s population at the same time.
“We are all for using water more efficiently, and water managers in this state are doing a darn good job of that, but the bottom line is that you have to provide some additional buckets, some additional water storage to meet our future demand, without drying up our agricultural lands,” he said.