@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through October 30, 2017 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current summary. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

@MSUDenver: Water Studies Online Certificate, classes start in January 2018

MSU Denver’s Water Studies Online Certificate is one of the only certificates in the country with a special focus on water in Colorado and the American West. The certificate will allow you to expand your knowledge about water stewardship under the direction of highly qualified instructors, in a self-paced format, with an applied real-world project.

What you get with the Water Studies Online Certificate:

  • Flexible schedule – Control your own schedule with a self-paced format that’s 100% online.
  • Expert faculty – Our instructors are experts in their field, with deep experience in water.
  • One-on-one networking and advisement – Receive a personal advising session with an expert in the Colorado water industry.
  • Career opportunities – Find job demand in a growth industry. Wherever you live, someone’s job is to be in charge of water.
  • Register now! Courses start January 2018. For more information, visit us at https://msudenver.edu/water-studies-online/ or contact us at lifelonglearning@msudenver.edu or 303.721.1313.

    Pine beetles and S.W. #Colorado forests

    Beetle kill via USGS.

    From the Associated Press via The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    Over the past two decades, more than 120,000 acres of the Weminuche Wilderness — Colorado’s largest designated wilderness area at 488,210 acres — have fallen prey to the destructive spruce beetle.

    In its wake, the spruce beetle has left vast areas of dead trees, most visible over Wolf Creek Pass. However, the spruce beetle, for the most part, targets only Engelmann spruce at elevations of about 9,000 feet.

    The pine beetle, on the other hand, is another destructive force all its own.

    From 1996 to 2016, the pine beetle ripped through more than 3.4 million acres of Colorado’s forests – about 14 percent – according to the Colorado State Forest Service, by far the state’s largest infestation.

    However, the majority of forests affected by the pine beetle were in northern areas of the state. Southwest Colorado, for the most part, has been relatively unaffected by Colorado’s most harmful tree pest.

    That is until recently.

    The Forest Service’s Fitzgerald said an annual survey of an area by Vallecito Lake, northeast of Durango, found that a number of ponderosa pine trees appeared dead because of beetle kill.

    “We did what we could do to remove the population there, but it made me concerned the beetles may be increasing up there,” she said. “We just haven’t seen too much pine beetle on the Columbine District.”

    Upon further inspection, it turned out there were three subspecies of bark beetle that appeared responsible for the kill-off.

    The western pine beetle hit the tree’s main body. The ips beetle worked on the top of the tree, as well as its limbs. And the red turpentine beetle ate away at the base of the tree.

    “Any one of those beetles don’t necessarily do enough to kill a tree, but when they all get together, you start seeing mortality,” Fitzgerald said. “The length and number of different kinds of beetles attacking all at once is unprecedented as far as we know.”

    This particular kill-off is a new discovery for forest managers in this region, which prompted other surveys that found the pine beetle at work near Rockwood, Junction Creek and Falls Creek.

    Kent Grant, a district forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, said southwest Colorado has seen periodic outbreaks of pine beetle, but current conditions in the forests here have spelled out a sort of perfect storm.

    Most of the ponderosa trees at risk are more than a 100 years old in densely forested areas.

    “When trees are getting older, and at the same time competing for sunlight, nutrients and moisture, they’re stressed and easier targets,” Grant said.

    Plus, Grant said the effects of climate change are added to the mix: warmer winters translate to longer seasons for beetles to take their toll, and drought weakens a tree’s ability to defend itself.

    “Bark beetles are native, but when the conditions are right, then that’s when we start to see more and more tree mortality,” he said.

    And with climate change, “we’re not used to seeing this kind of mortality.”

    Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of preventing a beetle outbreak. Certain steps, such as thinning and prescribed burns, can hold off a massive die-off, but those costly measures can work only for so long…

    Fitzgerald said at this point, the pine beetle activity is not at an “epidemic” level, but it’s worth keeping a very cautious eye on. The Forest Service is evaluating its options to get out on the front end.

    Some good news, she said, is that there are tree stands in the area that seem to have fought off the pine beetle’s attack.

    In the meantime, Fitzgerald said people need to be aware that cutting wood could attract beetles at certain times of the year. And, it’s important that recreationists do not damage any trees, thereby making them easier prey for beetles.

    “So far, it’s natural,” Fitzgerald said. “I just don’t want it to get any bigger.”

    An ambitious new climate plan for #Denver — The North Denver Tribune #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Colorado Convention Center Solar Power System

    Here’s an in-depth report from Laurie Dunklee writing in The North Denver Tribune. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Their 80×50 Climate Goal Stakeholder Report suggests accelerating the strategies already underway in order to meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent in Denver by the year 2050 (compared to 2005 levels). That goal was set in Denver’s 2015 Climate Action Plan. “Future generations will judge us on how well we preserved the habitability of our only home—Earth,” says the report’s introduction.

    One of the accelerated targets of the recent 80×50 Climate Goal report is to power 100 percent of Denver’s electricity through renewable sources by 2030. “More renewable energy on the grid is the most important thing because the grid powers other points, like heating office buildings, homes and electric vehicles. The cleaner the grid, the cleaner it is to power all these things,” said Tom Herrod, Climate & GHG Program Administrator with the Environmental Quality Division of Denver’s Department of Environmental Health.

    Electricity providers have been required since 2004 to increase the percentage of their power from renewable sources. In 2016, 29 percent of Xcel Energy’s power mix was renewable energy. “Xcel already has made a big commitment to raise that percentage to 55 percent by 2026,” said Herrod. “We’re having discussions with them about lots of options. Innovation is moving quickly, so the 100 percent goal is possible.”

    CPW: Harvey Gap inspection complete, popular reservoir begins to refill, emergency fish salvage lifted

    Harvey Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group.

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife has lifted an emergency fish salvage at Harvey Gap Reservoir. Effective immediately, all usual bag and possession limits for the various fish species are back in place.

    The reservoir is steadily refilling after the Silt Water Conservancy District lowered levels to perform an inspection of the reservoir’s outlet infrastructure. According to Silt Water, they found no significant concerns.

    “It depends on snowfall, but even if we have an average winter, water-based recreation at the reservoir should be pretty much back to normal by spring,” said Park Manager Brian Palcer. “However, folks may still have an opportunity to enjoy canoeing or kayaking before the reservoir ices over this winter.”

    Harvey Gap Reservoir currently does not have an Aquatic Nuisance Species inspection station. All watercraft normally requiring an inspection cannot launch at Harvey Gap until further notice.

    Muddy conditions still exist around the water’s edge and everyone is advised to use caution and avoid becoming stuck in deep mud.

    Harvey Gap State Park is a day-use area only, except when fishing. Overnight camping and pets are prohibited.

    A valid park pass is required, available at self service stations at Harvey Gap State Park or at the Visitor Center at nearby Rifle Gap State Park.

    Farmers Irrigation Company owns Harvey Gap Reservoir. The Silt Water Conservancy District is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the reservoir and associated irrigation water delivery infrastructure. CPW leases the surface of the reservoir and manages the park’s trails, day-use areas and fishery.

    CPW: Voluntary fishing closure in place at ‘toilet-bowl’, near Ruedi Reservoir, effective immediately

    Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Mike Porras):

    Effective immediately, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is instituting a voluntary fishing closure at a popular area on the Frying Pan River located downstream from the Ruedi Reservoir Dam. The fishing spot – known locally as the ‘toilet-bowl’ – will experience significantly reduced flow as water that normally feeds the pool will be re-routed to facilitate required dam maintenance.

    Work on the dam – owned and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation – could continue through Nov. 10; however, it could take longer if additional work is necessary.

    “The situation will leave the fish in the pool isolated, stressed and very easy to catch,” said Area Aquatic Biologist Kendall Bakich. “It would not be very sporting to fish in this area until after conditions improve.”

    Bakich says the angling community complied with a voluntary closure when a similar situation occurred last year.

    “We appreciate everyone’s patience.” she said. “We will let the public know when conditions improve and when the voluntary fishing closure is lifted.”

    Anglers can expect to see signage advising of the closure and are urged to find alternative fishing locations in the meantime.

    Although the closure is voluntary, CPW officials say a more stringent emergency closure enforceable by law is an option if angler compliance is minimal.

    For more information about the voluntary fishing closure, contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Glenwood Springs office at 970-947-2920.

    For more information about work on the dam and dam operations, contact Tim Miller of the Bureau of Reclamation at 970-962-4394.

    The day that Breckenridge got lucky — The Mountain Town News

    Photo credit: Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Bags were packed, but then the wind shifted. Emergency over—for this time

    Breckenridge was full of people the day last summer that fire erupted in the nearby Tenmile Range. “It was scary. It was so close,” says Peter Grosshuesch, the town’s director of planning.

    July 5 was a warm day, even at 9,600 feet in elevation. The three feet of wet, spring snow that had doused Summit County six weeks before had vanished. More important than daytime heat was uncommon overnight warmth: temperatures dropped only to about 60, instead of the normal 40s.

    Grosshuesch watched the smoke billow into the sky from his office in Breckenridge, about four miles away. “Everybody got real serious, real fast,” he remembers.

    Flames pushed 150 feet above the top of the trees as the fire roared through stands of lodgepole pine, both live and dead, then invaded the band of spruce-fir.

    High wind can easily send firebrands aloft for a mile and onto roofs and into front yards. Residents in the most vulnerable neighborhood near Breckenridge, a rural subdivision called Peak 7, were evacuated. But some had begun wondering if this fast-moving fire would reach Breckenridge itself.

    Then the winds shifted again, turning the blaze back on itself. The fire was contained and then extinguished. The emergency was over—this time.

    All bets were off as the fire billowed smoke above the Tenmile range, then the wind shifted, turning the blaze back on itself. Photos/Summit County via Allen Best.

    “We were very lucky,” says Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, on whose lands the fire occurred. The winds, had they not changed, might well have pushed the fire through the rural subdivision and to the Breckenridge ski resort. Beyond was Breckenridge, the town. “It looked like there was nothing to stop it.”

    The question posed by the Breckenridge fire is whether enough has been done to abate the risk. It’s a question worth pondering far beyond Colorado’s Summit County as fire season lengthens and intensifies even as construction of homes continues into what is called the wildland-urban interface.

    Mountain towns this summer had many reasons to be reminded of their own risks. Smoke in Whistler from fires in the interior of British Columbia was “ungodly,” in the words Grosshuesch, who was there for a visit. Fires also raged in Montana and Idaho while the beetles killing spruce trees in southern Colorado continued northward toward Crested Butte.

    This autumn, wildfire has killed 42 people in the wine country north of San Francisco and destroyed 5,700 homes and other structures. The Napa Valley has a different climate, drier and more Mediterranean, than ski towns.

    But there’s also this: high mountain towns are warming, perhaps more rapidly than lower elevations. It’s possible the fire risk is also escalating more rapidly. That’s one of the possible take-aways that came within a strong wind during July of incinerating Breckenridge.

    Asbestos forests

    Large-scale wildfires have always occurred in high mountain valleys, if perhaps not very often. For example, paleoecological research has shown evidence of a large-scale fire in the early 1600s that burned much of the forest in the Fraser Valley, home to Winter Park.

    Fires, however, were virtually unknown as resort communities were built around ski areas during the 1960s and 1970s. It was a cooler, wetter time, and many forests had been logged heavily in the century before. The trees were still relatively young, and those fires that did occur were quickly suppressed.

    Breckenridge and Summit County—and many other mountain communities—continued to believe they were different, their forests more like asbestos, yet still lovely. Who among the oldest residents—and to be clear, there weren’t that many older residents in the young ski towns—could remember anything else?

    That same sense of exceptionalism continued even as fires raged most of the summer of 1988 in Yellowstone National Park and then, in the 1990s, in the foothills along Colorado’s Front Range southwest of Denver.

    Then came 2002, hot winds in April eviscerating the thin snowpack and producing a peak runoff six weeks early that was almost too feeble to be noticed. In the first weekend of June, major forest fires erupted near Durango, in Glenwood Springs, and west of Colorado Springs, the latter going on to burn 138,000 acres.

    This rendering projects a 650 percent increase (red) in acreage burned as the result of a 1.8 degree F increase in temperature. Source: Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization via Allen Best.

    Summit County heeded those visual cues. In 2006, the county adopted a community wildfire protection plan. A wildlife council continues to meet regularly. In 2008, voters approved property tax assessments that yield $500,000 a year for grants to assist neighborhoods and homeowners’ associations. The money can also be used to create water cisterns, to assist firefighters. A portable wood-chipper was purchased with the money, and it is taken to every street in the county at least twice a year.

    Insurance companies have also pushed for efforts to provide what is called defensible space, by removing vegetation around homes. In some instances insurance companies are asking homeowners to have their properties inspected by the local fire districts.

    “We used to require people to preserve trees and use them to screen development as much as possible,” says Jim Curnutte, the county planning director. “We would not let you cut down a tree. Now, we might require you to cut down a tree, because of the defensible space ordinance of the building code. If you come in for a new permit or a substantial remodel, you have to meet your defensible space requirements.”

    Vegetation must be at least 30 feet from a structure and in some cases 100 feet. But under Colorado law, statutory-rule town and county governments cannot impose defensive space requirements retroactively; only home-rule governments such as Breckenridge and Pitkin County can.

    Social license to cut trees

    Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, who is also a wildland firefighter, says that all planning now assumes fires will occur. “It’s not a matter of if but rather of when we have more fires in our community,” he says.

    As a firefighter, he has worked in California and elsewhere. “I have seen homes with defensible space that were saved, and I have seen homes where vegetation is connected to houses, and those homes have been destroyed,” he says. It’s not an absolute, he adds, but he also knows that firefighters will spend more time trying to save a home with defensible space for a simple reason: they have improved chances of success.

    Area above Dillon Reservoir, seen in the upper left, before thinning and then after. Photos/Denver Water

    Educating homeowners about wildfire risk is important, but Gibbs say there’s often a difference in attitudes between locals and those who are second-home owners. The non-residents more generally resist efforts to impose defensible space around buildings.

    In Summit County, the beetle epidemic gave the Forest Service social license to cut trees from 12,000 to 15,000 acres.

    “What chance do you think there was of doing that before the bark beetle?” Fitzwilliams asks.

    A scene in Summit County, between Farmers’ Corner and Summit Cove, overlooking Dillon Reservoir, both pre-treatment and afterward.

    The Forest Service has spent $18 million in the last 10 to 12 years in forest thinning, clearing roads and trails and other work related to removing vegetation in Summit County. Some has been sold to sawmills, but there’s little revenue from that. “We have low value trees,” explains Fitzwilliams of lodgepole pine.

    Denver Water has been a major partner in this new work. It collects water for diversion to the Denver metropolitan area from a tunnel at Dillon Reservoir; the agency provides water for 1.4 million people, a quarter of all Colorado residents. The water agency has found forest fires expensive. Two hot-burning fires, in 1996 and then in 2002, caused heavy erosion into Denver’s reservoirs in the foothills southwest of the city. The soils there are highly erosive and granitic by nature. The reservoirs had to be dredged, with incomplete success.

    Better and less expensive than remediation, the agency decided, would be prevention.

    In a program called Forest to Faucets, Denver in 2010 partnered with state and federal forestry agencies to thin forests in Summit County and the Winter Park area. The city draws water from both areas.

    Fires sop up Forest Service budget

    Denver Water in February announced a five-year renewal of the partnership, putting in $16.5 million to match like amounts from the state and federal agencies for continuing thinning of forests. The first phase also saw 750,000 trees being planted.

    In announcing the commitment, Denver Water’s CEO Jim Lochhead said Congress should take heed of what Denver and other water providers, including Aurora and Colorado Springs are doing.Instead of allocating massive amounts of money

    for putting out fires, he said, Congress should provide more money to the Forest Service for forest management in critical areas.

    That same point was made by Fitzwilliams, the White River supervisor, in an August meeting with officials from Colorado ski towns. He said fire suppression used to account for 15 percent of the Forest Service budget nationally, but has grown to 55 percent. This year it will probably push 60 percent. “So much of our money is in managing these large, expensive wildfires,“ he says.

    Ironically, fire suppression in the past is partly to blame for the growing threat. In recent decades, foresters have taken a more measured approach about when to let fires burn and when to put them out.

    But if cutting trees is one obvious solution to the threat of fires, ecologists warn it cannot be the only answer: There are simply too many trees.

    “Treatments in and of themselves are not going to save the day in terms of changing patterns of fire,” says Ray Rasker of Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, Mont. Treatments do make sense in targeted areas, such as what Denver Water is doing, he adds. But like Fitzwilliams, he stresses that fire altogether cannot be contained. It’s part of the ecosystem. Instead, communities need to adapt themselves to living within a fire ecosystem, he says. His consultancy, working with two others, helped Summit County create its community plan.

    Speaking with members of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns in August, Fitzwilliams emphasized the words “conversations” and “responsibilities” among communities, land managers, and local governments. He thinks many tools— including prescribed fire and thinning—must be employed. He hopes to see greater age diversity in trees stands and some deliberate manipulation of forests in the wildland-urban interface to promote species such as aspen, which are somewhat less fire prone.

    This rendering projects a 650 percent increase (red) in acreage burned as the result of a 1.8 degree F increase in temperature. Source: Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization from their report, Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk`.

    And warming temperatures

    All this will be needed, if a trend noticed by Brad Piehl at the Peak 2 fire becomes more prevalent. He’s a watershed planner whose company, JW Associates, works with Denver, Colorado Springs, and other cities that draw water from high mountain valleys. Piehl himself lives near Breckenridge and watched the Peak 2 fire from his home with this important characteristic: It started in lodgepole pine and, after continuing to warm up on the downed logs, then invaded spruce-fir. This is a changed dynamic, previously observed last year in Colorado’s North Park. It also puts high-mountain resorts at greater risk.

    Piehl, in speaking with Colorado Association of Ski Town members in August, also showed a slide (above) that represents the changing species that may result from warmer temperatures predicted as a result of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions.

    Fire season is lengthening, some say by 75 days. That seems too much for Summit County, says Piehl. But even if it’s just 30 days more each year, “we’re still in trouble,” he adds. “That’s still a significant change.”

    About Allen Best
    Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.

    Meeker: White River algae blooms topic of meeting

    Bloom on the White River.
    Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife via the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

    From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times (Reed Kelley):

    More than three dozen people gathered at the sheriff’s office conference room in Meeker last Friday morning to continue addressing why we’re experiencing such bothersome summer algae blooms in the ecological heart of our community—the White River. Led by Rio Blanco Commissioner Si Woodruff, with Commissioner Jeff Rector at his side, the past meetings were acknowledged and the county laid out their proposal for moving forward. The proposal was that an action oriented advisory group, smaller than the whole group gathered Friday, be established which could better focus on needed actions.

    In addition, the county proposed that the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts (CDs) take the lead in coordinating and facilitating meetings and electronic communications and serve as the fiscal agent to pursue and manage finances including grant applications and management for addressing the algae and overall health of the river.

    Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the CDs, explained the discussions the CDs had held with the county and presented a possible scope of work to be carried out…

    The advisory group proposed by the county initially includes representatives from the U.S. Geological Service (USGS), the county, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Towns of Meeker and Rangely, Meeker Sanitation District, Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the CDs. Interested vested stakeholders, non-governmental organizations and members of the general public are expected to be included at some point as well.

    The assembled group Friday accepted the county proposal without objection. The advisory group itself met Friday afternoon.

    The county’s concept was also to turn to the USGS to do much of the needed further research. USGS scientist Ken Leib of Grand Junction, who has been attending the county river algae meetings, gave a presentation to the whole group on what such a research effort should look like. Leib reviewed much of the information on the river conditions that have already been collected, and the further research and data gaps USGS would try to complete.

    Hendrickson facilitated a round-robin collection of important pieces individuals at the meeting would like to see included in further study and action. Several group members urged that the advisory group not delay pursuing actual remedial actions regarding the algae that make sense in the short term while conducting longer term research.

    Now playing: The Untitled Fall Water Tips Project – News on TAP

    Procrastinators beware: Winter’s grizzly ghouls are coming soon to terrorize your yards and pipes.

    Source: Now playing: The Untitled Fall Water Tips Project – News on TAP

    #Snowpack news: Very early snowpack data

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view gallery of snowpack data.

    From The High Country News (Emily Benson):

    During the latest drought, even before California Gov. Jerry Brown mandated a 25 percent reduction in urban water use statewide in 2015, residents of the San Francisco Bay Area were consuming less water than they had a few years earlier. “The question was, what was driving them to reduce their water use?” asked Nicole Sandkulla, the CEO and general manager of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, a consortium of 26 cities and water districts.

    New research suggests that newspapers were, in fact, part of the answer. Media attention — and the public awareness and engagement that follows — is one way to get people to use less water.”

    And here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map:

    Westwide basin-filled SNOTEL map via the NRCS.

    #ColoradoRiver: Decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam update #COriver

    Glen Canyon Dam

    From E&E News (Brittany Patterson):

    Now, a controversial proposal — to allow Lake Powell to become a “dead pool,” meaning there is no longer enough water to generate hydropower at the nearby 710-foot-tall Glen Canyon Dam — is no longer dismissed as unthinkable. Under that plan, Powell’s sister, Lake Mead, would serve as the main reservoir.

    “Fill Mead first” was a thought exercise when put forward two decades ago by environmentalists. The goal was to encourage conversation about restoring the dammed Glen Canyon to its natural state. However, with the growing acknowledgement that neither Lake Mead nor Lake Powell has been filled anywhere close to capacity since 2000 — and that climate change will increasingly stress water resources along the Colorado River — the proposal is inching its way toward being a real outcome.

    “When we first made this argument in the ’90s, Lake Powell was essentially full and it was seen as totally ludicrous,” said Eric Balken, head of the Glen Canyon Institute, which first proposed “fill Mead first” in 1996. “What’s changed in the last 20 years is climate change and what it’s been doing to flows on the Colorado River. What we’re seeing now is almost a scenario in which some form of ‘fill Mead first’ could happen by default in as little as six years.”

    Between the drought years of 2000-2005, Lake Powell lost 13 million acre-feet of water and dropped almost 100 feet, about one-fifth of its maximum depth. A repeat dry spell could decimate what remains.

    Despite a number of high-profile dam removals along America’s rivers recently, allowing Glen Canyon Dam to cease operations is no small decision. It would likely take a major rework of the laws that govern the Colorado River. That’s a political minefield. The proposal to “fill Mead first” divides water experts and managers, with each side wielding dueling analyses. Despite the consternation, the Colorado River Basin is already feeling the impacts of a changing climate, and many states are preparing for a future with less water.

    Whether they support “fill Mead first” or not, nearly everyone is acknowledging that sooner or later there will come a time when even far-fetched options will have to be considered.

    “From that perspective, to not even look at the idea seriously seems crazier to me than to explore the idea,” Balken said.

    Here’s the release from Save the Colorado (Don’t click through at work.):

    Groups File Lawsuit to Stop New Diversion and Protect Flows in Colorado River: Suit seeks to halt Windy Gap Firming Project and force alternatives

    A coalition of environmental groups today filed a lawsuit in federal court to prevent additional diversions from the already struggling Colorado River. The suit questions the need for the Windy Gap Firming Project, which is a plan to divert on average an additional 30,000 acre-feet or 9 billion gallons of water annually from our state’s namesake river to pipe, store, and use on the Front Range. Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, WildEarth Guardians, Living Rivers and Waterkeeper Alliance challenge the environmental review and approvals by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that gave the green light for this new diversion.

    “This project is a terrible idea and the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to support it was completely irresponsible,” said Dan Beard, former Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and current Save The Colorado board member. “The water supply situation on the Colorado River is in bankruptcy right now, and this project is like going to the ATM for another deficit withdrawal.”

    The Windy Gap Firming Project is a proposal by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District seeking to divert more water from the Colorado River, pump it through the existing facilities of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to the eastern slope, store the water in the new 90,000 acre-feet Chimney Hollow reservoir near Loveland, and finally deliver it for municipal and industrial uses by the project participants. The Firming Project comes on the heels of the former and botched Windy Gap Project—that sought to increase diversions from the Colorado River in 1985 to deliver to the Front Range—but has largely failed to deliver the expected 56,000 acre-feet. The Windy Gap “Firming Project” hopes to make up for the original project’s shortfalls.

    “Taking any more water out of the Colorado River or its tributaries seems like a kind of insanity right now,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., President of Waterkeeper Alliance. “This project would drain billions of gallons of water from the already depleted Colorado River while ignoring more sustainable alternatives.”

    Reclamation and the Corps spent more than a decade conducting the environmental review of the Windy Gap Firming Project; however, the agencies’ effort was woefully inadequate. As one example, the “alternatives analysis” did not analyze any actual alternatives to the project and only discussed options that would further drain the Colorado River. Even worse, the Bureau and Corps’ environmental review concluded that the project was the “Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative” without actually analyzing any true alternatives including water conservation, water recycling, or obtaining water from farmers, all tried and true methods for getting new water on the Front Range of Colorado.

    “Federal agencies must evaluate not only the impacts of a proposed project, but also alternatives to the intended course of action,” said Zach Lass, Student Attorney at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. “Reclamation and the Corps fell victim to a sunk costs bias that infected the entire review and approval process when they failed to consider alternatives that did not involve spending more money trying to salvage their failed Windy Gap Project.”

    The Colorado River in Grand County already loses 70 percent of its flow by the time it reaches the town of Hot Sulphur Springs. If the Windy Gap Firming Project is built – along with Denver Water’s proposed Moffat Project – that loss would reach 80 percent.

    “Water agencies that want more water need to focus on alternatives like conservation, water recycling, and leasing or buying water from farmers,” said Gary Wockner, Director of Save The Colorado. “Draining 80 percent of the water out of the Colorado River is ecological annihilation. If you try to further dam and drain the Colorado River or its tributaries, we will do everything we can to stop you.”

    Climate change is also taking its toll on the Colorado River. A new scientific article released this week by the U.S. Geologic Survey, Evidence that Recent Warming is Reducing Upper Colorado River Flows, concluded that temperature increases over the past three decades have already reduced flows in the Upper Colorado River Basin by 7 percent. These significant flow reductions due to increasing temperature are the largest ever documented. The predicted flow declines for the Upper Colorado River Basin for the remainder of the century are equally bleak and estimate flow declines as high as 40 percent.

    “The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the desert southwest,” said Jen Pelz, the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Every drop of additional water taken from the river will come at the expense of the quality of life we have come to love here in Colorado. Further draining our lifeline is unacceptable.”

    A copy of the complaint can be read here.(Don’t click through at work.)

    The organizations participating in this litigation are represented by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

    Windy Gap Firming Project: “This short-sighted lawsuit would only delay progress” — Mely Whiting

    Proposed bypass channel for the Colorado River with Windy Gap Reservoir being taken offline, part of the agreements around Northern Water’s Windy Gap Firming project.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Representatives of two of the utilities that hope to store water in Chimney Hollow say that if a lawsuit filed to halt the reservoir is successful it may not stop the water from being diverted from the Colorado River, and a leading conservation group says the lawsuit will hurt the river not help it.

    “It could mean that instead of one big project that holds the 90,000 acre feet, participants use a bunch of smaller options (for water storage),” said Michael Cook, district manager of the Little Thompson Water District, one of 13 participants in the reservoir project led by Northern Water.

    The participants already own the supply of water, called Windy Gap, that would be diverted into the reservoir. However, they do not have a place to store it during years when water is plentiful for use in dry years when it is needed.

    This reservoir would provide that storage to firm up the supply, which is why it also is called the Windy Gap Firming project.

    The Little Thompson Water District accounts for about 6 percent of the overall project and has been using some of its Windy Gap water each year.

    The city of Loveland, which owns 10.5 percent of the water, has used it infrequently but is relying on the water, which it purchased with money from a bond, for future water needs as the city grows.

    The city needs a place to store this water to firm up the supply and would be forced to look at other storage options for its Windy Gap water if the lawsuit were to prevail, said Larry Howard, the city’s water resources manager…

    However, he, like Werner, expressed confidence that the 14-year permitting process was sound and that the reservoir project will go forward despite the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday.

    An attorney for Trout Unlimited, too, expressed doubt that the lawsuit will stop the project, stating that, despite the lawsuit, water will continue to be diverted from the Colorado River as populations grow and other solutions are needed to turn the tide.

    “This lawsuit likely won’t stop Windy Gap, but it could succeed in delaying real solutions to the problems,” Mely Whiting, attorney for Trout Unlimited, said in a written statement. Trout Unlimited was a leading participant in negotiations for mitigation and conservation efforts included in the project.

    “Habitat restoration projects and other solutions are already being implemented and showing great success in improving the health of the Colorado River. That’s why many conservation groups who’ve been working the longest on this problem support our collaborative approach.

    “These solutions offer the best hope for keeping the valuable resources of the Upper Colorado alive. This short-sighted lawsuit would only delay progress.”

    @DenverWater: Slow down Climax Molybdenum

    Climax Mine

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Freeport-McMoRan subsidiary Climax Molybdenum has asked the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to relax the water quality limit for molybdenum in streams used for domestic water statewide to 9,000 parts per million from 210 ppm. It also wants the limits for waterways tapped for agricultural irrigation raised to 1,000 ppm from 160 ppm.

    The change could cut water-treatment costs at the company’s open-pit Climax Mine above Leadville, where the company produced about 16 million pounds of molybdenum in 2016, down from 23 million pounds in 2015…

    “The standard proposed by Climax based on studies it completed on laboratory animals do not appear to adequately extrapolate to human health impacts,” said Tom Roode, the utility’s chief of operations and maintenance. “While the increased discharge may save costs at the mine, it has the potential to increase treatment costs at Denver Water’s treatment plants.”

    Denver’s water treatment plants lack the capacity to remove molybdenum, which in trace amounts can be healthy. While data on human toxicity is limited, chronic ingestion of molybdenum can cause diarrhea, stunted growth, infertility, low birth weights and gout, and can also affect the lungs, kidneys and liver.

    “Our position is that the molybdenum standard should be based on sound science quantifying human health impacts,” Roode said.

    At the mine atop Fremont Pass, Climax discharges molybdenum into Tenmile Creek, which flows into Dillon Reservoir.

    From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

    County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris and Assistant County Manager Ed Moyer delved into a proposal the county received from Climax Molybdenum, a subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan and operators of the Henderson Mill and Mine complex, to change state regulations regarding allowable molybdenum concentrations in water. The decision to change the standard is under the purview of the state’s Water Quality Control Commission, not Grand County.

    According to information provided by Morris and Moyer, the state commission is set to decide on the issue at a hearing on Dec. 12.

    The standards for allowable molybdenum are set by the state and changes to those standards can impact both drinking water and agricultural water uses. Climax is proposing increasing the allowable standard for molybdenum concentrations in domestic drinking water from 210 micrograms per liter to 9,000 micrograms per liter. They are also seeking an increase in allowable molybdenum levels in agriculture water, from 160 micrograms to 1,000 micrograms.

    County Commissioner Rich Cimino indicated he was not supportive of Climax’s proposed increases.

    “The standard is the standard, and safety is safety, why would we relax it?” Cimino asked rhetorically.

    County Commissioner Merrit Linke echoed Cimino’s comments.

    “These are factors of what, 20, to change the standard?” Linke asked. “I don’t think we are going there. If it was a little bit, if it was going from say 210 to 300 maybe that is justifiable, but factors of 40, I don’t think so. No, would be the answer for me.”

    No reason for the proposed increase was discussed during the meeting.

    WINDY GAP RESERVIOR BYPASS PROJECT COST SET AT OVER $15 MILLION

    A review of the Windy Gap Reservoir modification and connectivity channel was also on the agenda Tuesday.

    Moyer highlighted that the application for an amended decree and bypass water rights has been submitted to the appropriate water court by Northern Water and the Colorado River District.

    Value engineering has been performed on the project, which helped lower the anticipated infrastructure costs of the bypass by roughly $1 million. After adding in approximately $1.4 million for NEPA permitting, monitoring and administration, the total cost of the bypass project is set at $15.6 million.

    Moyer informed commissioners that funding for the project is still about $5 million short.

    “We have ongoing efforts for fundraising,” Moyer said, highlighting several tours conducted in the last month with prospective foundations, such as the Walton Family Foundation, which toured the project site in late September. Moyer will attend a funding meeting for the project at Denver Water facilities this week and has more follow-up meetings next week.

    Moyer also provided a brief update on the ongoing Learning By Doing adaptive management process of which Grand County is a party.

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    #ColoradoRiver: Sens. McCain and Flake introduce legislation for Hualapai water rights settlement #COriver

    Panorama of the Hualapai Mountains taken from Kingman in December 2009. Photo credit Wikimedia.

    From Water Deeply (Debra Utacia Krol):

    With all parties on board, the Hualapai Water Rights Settlement should be a slam dunk. The plan would provide water for the Arizona tribe to grow its business operations in the Grand Canyon.

    The bill, S. 1770, would provide the Northern Arizona tribe of 2,300 members, whose lands encompass parts of the Grand Canyon, with sufficient water to not only meet the tribe’s residential needs but to bolster northwestern Arizona’s economy. More water would help grow the tribe’s largest business, Grand Canyon West, which is home to the world-famous Grand Canyon Skywalk – a glass bridge 4,000 ft above the Grand Canyon floor.

    The bill, if enacted, will provide the tribe with 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water. And the bill appropriates $173 million to construct a 70-mile-long pipeline from the Colorado River up to Peach Springs, Arizona in Mohave County, the Hualapai tribal capital, and the Canyon West resort area.

    “This is a unique case. The tribe’s drive to claim its long-denied rights is supported by all of the major players in the region, as they have come to realize that the Hualapai Tribe is the economic engine everyone depends on,” says Joseph P. Kalt, codirector of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at Harvard University, who directed a study to determine the economic impact of the settlement.

    Grand Canyon West, which currently hosts more than 1 million visitors annually, needs the additional water to grow its operation. “An assured water supply represents the most important issue impacting the growth and the vitality of Grand Canyon West and the businesses of the Hualapai Tribe,” says Candida Hunter, board chair of Grand Canyon West Resort Corporation and a Hualapai tribal member. “The Hualapai water settlement legislation recently introduced in Congress will help make sure that these businesses and our people have sufficient water to continue to help drive the economy of Mohave County and northwestern Arizona.”

    Photo By Ericm1022 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Tribal officials declined to specify expansion plans. Representatives of the Grand Canyon Trust, a conservation and environmental advocacy organization, also declined to comment on the legislation, saying that they had not completed analyzing the possible effects of the settlement on canyon lands, people and ecologies.

    Arizona’s Office of Economic Opportunity found that Mohave County’s unemployment rate jumped to 5.8 percent in August, more than 0.7 percent higher than Arizona overall and nearly 1.5 percent higher than the national average of 4.4 percent. “We’re in favor of the [water] pipeline,” says Gary Watson, chairman of the Mohave County board of supervisors. “It’s a positive for our economy.”

    In fact, all the players in the settlement, which also includes the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Arizona State Land Department and the U.S. government, are in agreement.

    Kalt’s economic study, released July 2017, found that the assured water supply for Grand Canyon West would “support an average of more than 10,100 jobs per year, nearly $1.5 billion in federal tax revenues in present value, over $6.2 billion in income for U.S. workers in present value and more than $9.3 billion in gross domestic product for the United States (in present value).” Hunter adds, “This type of impact is transformative to a regional economy like northwest Arizona.”

    […]

    However, the benefits the ratified agreement would hold for Arizona depend on one thing: “Congress needs to pass the bill,” says David Johnson, senior attorney for the Central Arizona Project. A similar bill (S. 3300) filed in 2016 by Flake and McCain stalled.

    Although nobody will speculate on the chances for passage this time around, one indicator was noted during the hearings for the 2016 bill, where the Department of the Interior representatives expressed concern over the pipeline price tag. In a prepared statement, then Acting Assistant Secretary Lawrence Roberts stated: “The Department is concerned by the disparity between the level of funding called for in S. 3300 and the relatively small amount of water to be delivered to the Tribe.” DOI also felt that the project could run over budget because of the complexity of delivering water up the 4,000ft canyon wall.

    However, Watson avers that the $173 million would be paid back many times over, saying, “It’s an investment in infrastructure.”

    Grand Canyon from Grandview Point January 24, 2009 via the National Park Service

    PAWSD board says no to Dry Gulch Reservoir

    Credit The Pagosa Daily Post.

    From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

    The Pagosa Area Water and Sani- tation District (PAWSD) concluded, after hearing a presentation by Ray Finney, that it is still not interested in the San Juan River Headwaters/ Dry Gulch reservoir project.

    Presentation: Keeping Politics from Derailing Critical #Climate Action #ActOnClimate

    Click here for all the inside skinny:

    Balancing energy resources, effectively communicating climate science and developing renewable technologies take center stage this fall as part of a lecture series on the future of energy in Colorado.

    The series begins Oct. 14 and features faculty from the College of Engineering and Applied Science and Colorado Law. These free public lectures are offered through CU on the Weekend, a program coordinated by the Office for Outreach and Engagement.

    Ocean surface temperature in 2016 compared to the 1981-2010 average. NOAA Climate.gov map, adapted from Figure 3.1a in State of the Climate in 2016.

    Modernizing an 80-year-old dam has its challenges – News on TAP

    Dam from the 1930s gets a $1.9 million makeover to keep water flowing to the Front Range.

    Source: Modernizing an 80-year-old dam has its challenges – News on TAP

    Save the #Colorado, et al. file lawsuit over Windy Gap EIS

    Proposed bypass channel for the Colorado River with Windy Gap Reservoir being taken offline, part of the agreements around Northern Water’s Windy Gap Firming project.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

    The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, questions the need for the Windy Gap Firming project, which would ensure the full complement of more than 40,000 acre feet of water is diverted from the Colorado and eventually stored in the planned, $400 million Chimney Hollow Reservoir the Front Range communities would share…

    The lawsuit was filed by Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, WildEarth Guardians, Living Rivers and the Waterkeeper Alliance, a collection of nonprofit environmental groups that have long opposed the project.

    It was filed against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their roles in approving the project in May and conducting the environmental impact statement. In April 2016, Gov. John Hickenlooper endorsed the project, as well.

    Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District spokesman Brian Werner said he hasn’t had much time to review the lawsuit, but he said although he and others are disappointed, he’s confident the project will eventually move forward. Northern Water was the driving force behind the Windy Gap firming project, which was proposed as a way to ensure Front Range municipalities get the full yield they’re due based on water rights from the Colorado.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Denver, asks the judge to throw out the records of decision by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, claiming they violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act in approving the project.

    Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, WildEarth Guardians, Living Rivers and Waterkeeper Alliance, together, filed the lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claiming that the permitting process was flawed and did not consider the cumulative effects on the river, the resulting effect on the ecosystem and tourism or alternatives for water supply…

    The main target of the lawsuit is the environmental analysis, led by the Bureau of Reclamation and relied upon by the Corps of Engineers. That environmental process, which included both a draft and final environmental impact statement, took more than a decade…

    “We think that the process has worked well,” said Werner. “The EIS, we don’t think that there is any basis in fact about it (in the lawsuit). In this country, anybody can say what they want about a process. We think the federal government has done it well.”

    In fact, Northern Water has agreed to a wildlife mitigation plan that will benefit not destroy the river and the trout habitat, including channel work that has already begun and control of flows and diversions to boost the ecosystem for trout and other aquatic life, Werner said.

    “The Colorado River below Windy Gap is better with the mitigation and enhancement and the project than it is without it,” Werner said.

    The lawsuit claims that the project should have been replaced with other alternatives but that the applicants “stubbornly” continued to push forward because of how much money they had already sunk into the reservoir…

    “Federal agencies must evaluate not only the impacts of a proposed project, but also alternatives to the intended course of action,” Zach Lass, student attorney at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, said in a press release. “Reclamation and the Corps fell victim to a sunk costs bias that infected the entire review and approval process when they failed to consider alternatives that did not involve spending more money trying to salvage their failed Windy Gap Project.”

    […]

    One of the big issues alleged in the lawsuit is that the extensive environmental analyses failed to consider alternative sources of water besides pulling more from the river and storing it in a brand new reservoir. The applicants failed to look at conservation, efficiency and water recycling, said [Gary] Wockner…

    The lawsuit does not ask for an immediate injunction to stop work that is currently being done on the Chimney Hollow site, which includes blasting of a test quarry for construction of a small version of the dam to gather information on the geology of the area.

    That work, along with planned tree removal and relocation of a power line, will continue as this lawsuit is heard in court, Werner said…

    No court dates likely will be set until the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have responded to the initial complaint, and they have 60 days to do so. Often, it takes at least a year for a decision in this type of lawsuit.

    Modernizing an 80-year-old dam has its challenges – News on TAP

    Dam from the 1930s gets a $1.9 million makeover to keep water flowing to the Front Range.

    Source: Modernizing an 80-year-old dam has its challenges – News on TAP

    #Drought news: No change in depiction for #Colorado

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

    Summary

    The Drought Monitor reflects observed precipitation through Tuesday, 1200 UTC (8 am, EDT); any rain that fell after the Tuesday 1200 UTC cutoff will be reflected in next week’s map.

    During the 7-day period (ending Tuesday morning), widespread moderate to heavy rain eased drought from eastern Texas and the southeastern Plains to the Great lakes and central Appalachians. Furthermore, a vigorous storm system brought much-needed rain and snow to the Northwest and northern Rockies. Conversely, hot, dry weather exacerbated developing drought in the lower Four Corners Region, while unseasonably warm, dry weather continued to worsen drought conditions across much of the Northeast…

    High Plains

    Dry, warm weather prevailed across the region, with no significant changes to the region’s drought depiction. However, feedback from the field coupled with additional data assessment led to small modifications of the drought areas in western South Dakota into southwestern North Dakota. In particular, satellite-derived vegetation health data as well as pasture and crop condition reports necessitated expansion of the Moderate, Severe, and Extreme Drought (D1-D3)…

    West

    Heavy rain and snow were reported early in the period from the northern Pacific Coast into the northern Rockies, while hot, dry weather continued in the region’s southern tier. From the Cascades into the northern Rockies, heavy rain and mountain snow (1-6 inches liquid equivalent, locally more) led to widespread reductions of Abnormal Dryness, Moderate Drought, and Severe Drought (D0-D2). Meanwhile, a disappointing end to the Southwestern Monsoon resulted in the expansion of D0 and D1 from central and eastern Arizona into neighboring portions of New Mexico; rainfall departures of 3 inches or more are common in the aforementioned locales (25-60 percent of normal). Similar dryness was noted over the northern shores of the Great Salt Lake, where D0 was likewise expanded.

    2017 South Platte Forum day 2 #2017SouthPlatteForum

    The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.

    I’ll be at the second day of the South Platte Forum today. Follow along on Twitter @CoyoteGulch or hash tag #2017SouthPlatteForum.

    R.I.P. Fats Domino you rocked the world

    Legendary American jazz pianist and singer Fats Domino. Photo credit NPR.

    From The New York Times (Jon Pareles and William Grimes):

    Fats Domino, the New Orleans rhythm-and-blues singer whose two-fisted boogie-woogie piano and nonchalant vocals, heard on dozens of hits, made him one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, died on Tuesday at his home in Harvey, La., across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. He was 89.

    His death was confirmed by the Jefferson Parish coroner’s office.

    Mr. Domino had more than three dozen Top 40 pop hits through the 1950s and early ’60s, among them “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t It a Shame” (also known as “Ain’t That a Shame,” which is the actual lyric), “I’m Walkin’,” “Blue Monday” and “Walkin’ to New Orleans.” Throughout he displayed both the buoyant spirit of New Orleans, his hometown, and a droll resilience that reached listeners worldwide.

    He sold 65 million singles in those years, with 23 gold records, making him second only to Elvis Presley as a commercial force. Presley acknowledged Mr. Domino as a predecessor.

    “A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Presley told Jet magazine in 1957. “But rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that.”

    Center: Colorado Rural Water Association presentation recap

    Center in winter via Wikimedia.com.

    From The Town of Center via The Center Post-Dispatch:

    Center trustees, town manager Brian Lujan and mayor Herman Sisneros attended the fourth in a series of several workshops presented Tuesday by water specialist Colleen Williams with the Colorado Rural Water Association.

    The presentation was part of a program that helps the town earn points for a $5,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to eventually develop a water protection plan for the town. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    The town has already earned $4,230 in funding points for developing its water protection plan, Williams said.

    The Lazy KV Homeowners Association, the town of Saguache and Valley View Hot springs have already implemented plans with the program. Williams also has worked with Salida and Crestone.

    Williams now has completed the draft plan for the town to review and says the plan provides a lot of information about the water and aquifers.

    She emphasized that although potential dangers to the town’s water supply have been identified, currently there is no problem; the program simply encourages prevention. Williams noted that even in its risk assessments, the town had no “very highs.”

    She encouraged the town to develop partnerships with business and industry and to bring community members together to share information. Williams also asked board members to look over the draft and make suggestions and corrections.

    Once completed, the plan will be submitted to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, (CDPHE). A copy of the plan also will be forwarded to Saguache County Commissioners.

    Chris Sittler with Stone’s Farm Supply told trustees concerned about fertilizer and pesticide storage in town that the Farm Service stores ammonia nitrate (not the explosive type) in a marked container on its property and the Monte Vista Co-op keeps anhydrous ammonia on its site, but this container also is marked.

    “We built this [pesticide] facility at Nine Mile so it’s clear out of town and not near to anyone,” Sittler said. Trustee Pedro Segura said town residents don’t know what is in rail cars passing through the town or whether or not they are unloading dangerous materials.

    Sittler said the information about where the materials are stored is on CDPHE’s website or can be obtained through an open records request. Williams advised trustees to access the information themselves and stay informed on water monitoring issues.

    She advised the board to “take all kinds or precautions to protect the community” and reminded them they need to cap wells in the town that are not currently sealed. The town should make a list of what to spend the grant money on and then meet again in mid-December, she concluded.

    IPCC is focusing on #ClimateChange resilience in mountain communities

    From Pacific Standard (Bob Berwyn):

    Mountain scientists hope that will change [ed. resources for landslide monitoring] in the future, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change starts to focus specifically on climate risks in mountain communities with a report to come in 2019, then included in the IPCC’s next global assessment report, due in 2022.

    “We’re behind the eight-ball when it comes to protecting mountain communities from landslides, glacier avalanches, and outburst floods,” says University of British Columbia mountain scientist Michele Koppes. The IPCC process is laborious, but the end results can help direct resources where they are needed, she says. “All these things affect a lot of people. We need to spell out the human dimensions of climate change, and the new IPCC report will do that for mountain areas,” says Koppes, who has recently been studying one of the newest identified risks: tsunamis in coastal fjords triggered by thawing mountainsides that tumble into the sea.

    Mud rushes towards Bondo, Graubünden, on Friday, August 25, 2017
    (Keystone)

    For the IPCC report, an international team of scientists will evaluate the best available options for protecting mountain communities from global warming threats. It will also take a close look at risks to societies that depend on mountain snow and ice for water for drinking, agriculture, and power production. The team will further investigate connections between runoff from mountains and coastal ecosystems and sea-level rise.

    What happens in the high country also affects millions of people who live far away from the peaks because so much of the world’s water originates in mountain areas. If snowfall declines in the Rocky Mountains, 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River will feel the changes, and the same holds true in Asia and South America, where hundreds of millions in lowland farming areas and cities depend on runoff from the Himalaya and Andes, respectively.

    The aim is to identify “guiding principles for climate-change adaptation plans that pay attention to both human well-being and ecological resilience,” says UBC researcher Graham McDowell, who is studying how communities in the the Nepal Himalaya, Peruvian Andes, and Alaska Coast Mountains are responding to climate change.

    “Policy decisions get made based on what’s reported by the IPCC, which is the benchmark from which a lot of climate policy is made. It will probably lead to enlarged discussion about mountain focused climate policy,” McDowell says.

    A systematic approach using data from many different areas of science—botany, geology, sociology—has been generally lacking in the mountain research community, says Vienna-based researcher Harald Pauli, who heads GLORIA, a worldwide high-mountain monitoring program.

    A concerted global effort to track climate change in the mountains could finally confirm whether mountains are—as suggested by some studies—warming twice as fast as the global average.

    “If that is proven to be the case, it’s really significant,” Pauli says. “It’s analogous to amplified warming the Arctic, and it redoubles concerns about how sensitive the overall climate system is to greenhouse gases.”

    When it comes to protecting communities and adapting to warming, the IPCC report will be an opportunity to learn about what approaches work in which types of ecosystems.

    National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, October 28, 2017

    Click here to go to the DEA website. They have a collection site locator there.

    From KOAA.com:

    Local agencies around Southern Colorado will be helping the DEA dispose of unwanted prescription drugs Saturday.

    The National Prescription Drug Take Back program offers more than 5,000 collection sites around the nation to help people get rid of dangerous, expired, unused or unwanted prescription drugs.

    People can take pills and other solid medication to collection sites in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Monument, Woodland Park, Cañon City and Florence from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

    The DEA said all take backs are free and anonymous with no questions asked.

    It’s important to dispose of unwanted medications the right way. Flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash can contaminate water and pose health hazards.

    The DEA said it collected 450 tons of drugs during its last take back event in April, and more than 8.1 million pounds of pills during its last 13 take back events.

    “Forest health equates to water quality, and water quality equates to good beer” — Cory Odell

    Screen shot Nature Conservancy Great Places newsletter October 4, 2017.

    From the Public News Service:

    Corey Odell, sustainability coordinator for the Odell Brewing Co., has been organizing events in the company’s Fort Collins tap room to help beer fans see the critical link between trees and their beloved porters, IPAs and pilsners.

    “Forest health equates to water quality, and water quality equates to good beer,” she states. “Protecting the forest is, of course, more than just about beer. It’s also a great place for anyone to interact with nature.”

    Odell says America’s forests provide more than half of the nation’s drinking water, and about 95 percent of beer is actually pure H2O.

    Odell says forests help shade streams, lakes, and snow from evaporation, and are efficient at filtering water.

    She points out larger and more frequent wildfires have become the biggest threats to watersheds in Colorado and across the West.

    Jason Lawhon, forest restoration and fire program director for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, says the nation’s 10 worst fire years have all come since 2000, because of warmer and drier conditions.

    He notes that without proper management, forests become denser, which is one reason wildfires have become so intense that after the smoke clears, there are frequently no trees left to hold down the soil…

    Lawhon says bigger fires also cost more to fight, and once containment budgets have been tapped, money has been diverted from prevention budgets, which Lawhon says increases the chances of repeating a dangerous cycle.

    He says his group and brewers across the nation are hoping Congress will pass the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, legislation they say would help make sure forests are less fire-prone in the first place.

    R.I.P. Lee W. Simpson

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    A longtime Southeastern water advocate and founding member of the St. Charles Mesa Water Association has died.

    Lee W. Simpson, of Pueblo, died on Oct. 18. He was 86.

    Simpson was on the Southeastern Board of Directors from 1981-2009, and served as the treasurer of the board from 1988-2009.

    He also was the founder of the St. Charles Mesa Water District, and extremely active in helping small water districts throughout the state improve service. He played a big role in creating the Colorado Rural Water Association. He also represented St. Charles Mesa Water on the board of the Bessemer Ditch.

    “Lee was a remarkable man, and a guy who truly understood the relationship of municipal water needs and irrigation. He was on the Bessemer Ditch board and the Southeastern Board during some of the most tumultuous times for water transfers in the Arkansas Valley, yet always kept his composure. He was modest and unassuming, yet had done some of the most important work in the water community. I can’t think of anyone who did not respect his opinion and admire what he had done,” said Chris Woodka, Issues Management Program Coordinator with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Woodka, who wrote many years for The Pueblo Chieftain as its water expert, said: “I think it’s a testament to his passion for water that two of his children both pursued careers in water. David followed him as general manager of the St. Charles District and on the Southeastern board. Tom worked for the Southeastern District, State Engineer and now for Aurora. Both have told me how much they gained from their father’s knowledge about water.”

    Born on June 6, 1931, in Pueblo, Simpson served in the U.S. Air Force and was the first board president and founding member of the Saint Charles Mesa Water Association.

    He was also the first general manager of the St. Charles Mesa Water District and served in that capacity until his retirement in 2000.

    Simpson served on numerous boards, including the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo County School District 70 Board of Education, Bessemer Irrigating Ditch Co. and Centennial Bank of Blende; and was instrumental in development of the Colorado Rural Water Association.

    Simpson is survived by his wife of 65 years, Kathryne Simpson; children, Vicky Adkins of Pueblo, William (Linda) Simpson of Canon City, David (Kathy) Simpson of Pueblo and Tom (Suzanne) Simpson of Pueblo; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

    A memorial service was held Monday in the Montgomery & Steward Chapel. Montgomery & Stewart Funeral Directors handled the arrangements.

    South Platte Forum #spforum

    High Plains in eastern Colorado. Photo credit Bob Berwyn.

    I’m heading up to Loveland for the first day of the South Platte Forum. Follow along on Twitter @CoyoteGulch.

    Widefield Aquifer: USAF responds to Fountain City Council concerns

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):

    Peterson Air Force Base bosses worked Tuesday to soothe the Fountain City Council’s frustrations over the base’s role in polluting drinking water for thousands of residents in southern El Paso County…

    “We have two objectives: One is to be as transparent as humanly possible,” Col. Eric Dorminey, vice commander of Peterson’s 21st Space Wing, told the council. “Two is to foster the partnership we have with the city of Fountain.”

    The Air Force wants the pollution cleaned up as badly as local residents do, Dorminey told the council.

    “We are committed to finding a means to mitigate these concerns,” he said.

    Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega said the council knows better than to shoot the messengers from Peterson.

    “While Peterson is where this potentially is coming from, they are not the ones who pull the strings,” Ortega said. “The leaders in Washington, D.C., are the ones we need to poke and prod.”

    Monday, local officials twisted arms in Washington to prod the Air Force into faster action on the issue.

    Officials from Fountain, Security and Widefield met with Air Force leaders at the Pentagon.

    Locals are frustrated that they’re left with a substantial bill to install filters or bring in other water sources to get perfluorinated compounds out of their drinking water.

    While the Air Force provided filters as part of an initial $4.3 million effort to provide clean water, the service didn’t come up with cash for buildings to house them, nor did it budget for pipelines to connect water users to other sources.

    Water districts and utilities in Security, Widefield and Fountain have paid $6 million in checks responding to the water crisis, and they expect that tap to hit $12.7 million by the end of 2018.

    The Air Force has said it won’t reimburse water districts for most of those expenses.

    U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican who arranged the Pentagon confab, called the gathering productive…

    Lamborn said it remains unclear, though, whether the Air Force will pay up.

    The congressman said he’s frustrated by the military’s slow response to the contamination…

    The City Council meeting also comes a day after an open house held by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on a proposed site-specific groundwater standard in central and southern El Paso County for the toxic chemicals.

    The standard would limit two well-known types of perfluorinated compounds in the area’s groundwater to 70 parts per trillion (ppt), or a shot glass of the chemical in 107 million gallons of water.

    It also would create the state’s first legally enforceable means to make polluters clean up contaminated areas. The likely boundaries extend across a wide swath of the county, including central and eastern Colorado Springs, Peterson Air Force Base and southern portions of Fort Carson.

    State officials plan to release their draft of the rules in December, and a hearing is slated for April 9.

    While Fountain now relies on clean water from Colorado Springs Utilities, the city could be forced to pull water from the aquifer in a drought.

    At the council meeting, leaders said they have been frustrated by the lack of communication from the Air Force. They had been asking to meet with Peterson bosses for months.

    Forget iron — let’s pump some water – News on TAP

    Gravity delivers water to about 60 percent of Denver Water’s potable water customers. Pump stations do the rest.

    Source: Forget iron — let’s pump some water – News on TAP

    10 problems. 10 days. 10 big thinkers. – News on TAP

    Non-profit initiative brings entrepreneurs to Denver to tackle tough problems — including water.

    Source: 10 problems. 10 days. 10 big thinkers. – News on TAP

    #AnimasRiver: Lead pollution at Bonita Peak Mining District superfund site

    On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
    Eric Baker

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    This lead and dozens of other contaminants are spreading beyond waste-rock piles into surrounding “halos” where they are absorbed by plants and then can be ingested by bugs and transferred from the insects to birds to, ultimately, mammals. EPA officials said tissue samples from deer will be tested to assess ecological harm.

    “You start to understand the scope of the environmental problem and how long this is going to take,” EPA Superfund project chief Rebecca Thomas said after a town hall meeting this week in Silverton. “It is pretty overwhelming.

    “We don’t really have an active mining industry in this state anymore. Yet we still see so many impacts. And we’re just looking at the Bonita Peak Mining District in the San Juan Mountains. Think how much more widespread it is across the Rocky Mountain West. It’s a big problem. It’s going to take many years to solve it — and a lot of money.”

    The lead, measured at concentrations up to 5,000 parts per million, surfaced in the latest round of sampling and study that were spurred by a federal declaration last year of a Superfund environmental disaster linked to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill that turned the Animas River mustard-yellow through three states.

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said Superfund cleanups will be the EPA’s priority, even as he and other Republicans push to trim the agency’s $8 billion budget, because Americans deserve to have environmental harm fixed as required by law.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A recent Denver Post article is being called misleading and inaccurate for overstating the risks to wildlife from mine contamination around a Superfund site near Silverton.

    “The statement that EPA crews found that lead is threatening birds and animals is not accurate,” Environmental Protection Agency project manager Rebecca Thomas wrote in an email Friday. “The terrestrial risk assessment is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached.”

    Around 7 p.m. Thursday, The Denver Post sent a “Breaking News Alert” for a story titled “EPA crews working on Gold King cleanup find elevated lead threatening birds, animals and, potentially, people.”

    In the story, the Post draws the conclusion based on a presentation the EPA gave Monday, in which the agency said preliminary sampling of soils around the Superfund site found levels of lead at some locations at 5,000 parts per million.

    The Post said these levels are 100 times higher than “danger thresholds for wildlife.”

    However, EPA had said this data had not been validated.

    “The statement regarding ‘danger thresholds’ for wildlife in The Denver Post story is misleading,” Thomas said. “At this point, we are looking at very conservative screening values in assessing potential risk.”

    San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenheir, a former miner and geologist who is quoted in the Post article, also took issue with the story.

    “I tried to explain that to (the reporter) and he just didn’t get it,” Fetchenheir said. “He had his mind made up there’s going to be lead problems.”

    #ClimateChange: How do we know? — @NASA

    This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)

    Here’s the NASA Website about the science behind climate change. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.

    The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.

    Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
    – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
    The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.

    Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.

    The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.

    Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.

    @EPA and the State of Colorado release plans to protect water quality, enable land reuse at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site

    Eagle Mine

    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Richard Mylott):

    Actions build upon prior cleanup efforts

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) have released two final Records of Decision for environmental remediation at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in Eagle County, Colorado, following the consideration of input received through a public comment process. Both documents, specifying measures to protect water quality and facilitate site reuse, focus on further reducing exposure to heavy metal contamination created by nearly one-hundred years of mining activity at the site.

    “These actions reflect both EPA’s and CDPHE’s commitment to efficiently evaluate conditions and protect human health and the environment at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site,” said EPA Assistant Regional Administrator Betsy Smidinger. “Together, we are strengthening the water quality improvements we have achieved in the Eagle River and providing opportunities to bring lands back into safe, productive reuse. EPA remains committed to improving environmental conditions and human health for Americans that live and work near Superfund sites.”

    The amended Record of Decision finalized for Operable Unit 1 (OU1) at the Eagle Mine Superfund Site adopts site-specific arsenic remedial goals and modifies surface water cleanup levels for cadmium, copper and zinc to meet more recent standards established for the site by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in 2008. Water quality monitoring in the Eagle River indicates that these standards for cadmium, copper and zinc are not attained in March and April of most years. The OU1 Record of Decision requires institutional controls to protect existing remedial features and expands the current groundwater collection system in Belden and at the mouth of Rock Creek to further reduce metals loading to the Eagle River.

    EPA and CDPHE have also finalized a separate Record of Decision for Operable Unit 3 (OU3) focused on soil remediation necessary to protect human health should future residential development occur. EPA created OU3 after a developer purchased a large portion of the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in 2004 with plans to develop the property into a private, residential community. The Record of Decision for OU3 includes a combination of the following elements for areas proposed for development: excavating soil; placing a soil exposure barrier; grading the site; placing institutional controls and conducting monitoring; and/or demolishing structures.

    The Eagle Mine Superfund Site is located in Eagle County, Colorado. The site is defined as the area impacted by past mining activity along and including the Eagle River between the towns of Red Cliff and Minturn. Mining activities at the Eagle Mine began in 1879 and continued until 1984. EPA listed the site on the National Priorities List (NPL), commonly known as the list of Superfund Sites, in 1986 because of the mine metals discharge, uncontrolled mine waste piles and the close proximity of the population to the mine and associated features. To better manage the site, EPA divided it into operable units.

    EPA and CDPHE issued a final Record of Decision for the Eagle Mine Superfund Site in 1993. Over the years, all required environmental cleanup work has occurred at the site under a number of state and federal directives. EPA declared all cleanup construction activities complete at the site in 2001. Remediation conducted to-date has resulted in significant improvement in water quality and reduction in risk to human health and the environment. Continued operation of the existing remedy, including drawdown from the mine pool and treatment at the water treatment plant, is required to maintain this condition. Contaminant concentrations in surface water and groundwater have decreased significantly, and the aquatic ecosystem continues to show signs of recovery.

    For more information about the Eagle Mine Superfund Site, please contact: Ms. Wendy Naugle, On-Site Coordinator, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246, Wendy.naugle@co.state.co.us, or Ms. Jamie Miller, Project Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1595 Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO 80202, miller.jamie@epa.gov

    You can also visit one of the following Websites: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/eagle-mine, https://www.epa.gov/superfund/eagle-mine

    @EPA awards Colorado $1.3M to improve and protect Arkansas River water quality

    Lower Arkansas River near Bent

    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Richard Mylott):

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $1,293,010 to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to help protect human health and the environment through a Nonpoint Source Program Clean Water Act Section 319 cooperative agreement. This grant is given to states to implement environmental programs that address nonpoint source pollution in surface water and groundwater in order to improve and protect water quality.

    “EPA is partnering with states to protect and restore watersheds, streams and groundwater,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Investments like this grant allow states to support local watershed projects, improving water quality and supporting communities that depend on clean and healthy water resources.”

    Under CDPHE’s Nonpoint Source Program, a targeted basin approach is used to provide funding for projects across the state. Three projects that will address water quality in the lower half of the Arkansas River in Colorado will be funded in 2017. The projects will support the continued voluntary efforts by landowners, local stakeholders, and local governments to address excess selenium pollution in the Arkansas River. Selenium is naturally occurring, but agriculture practices often increase the natural levels in rivers to levels that can harm human health and the environment.

    “Our local partners in the Arkansas, Colorado and South Platte River basins will use these funds to plan and implement priority ​water quality improvement ​ projects​,” said​ ​Patrick Pfaltzgraff, Director of CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division. ​ “Perhaps most importantly, the funds will allow us to continue creating and strengthening our partnerships which is so crucial for sustaining quality waters throughout our state. We value and appreciate this EPA funding.”

    EPA’s grant will also provide funds to support local watershed planning for two additional river basins and for water quality outreach and education activities. The basic goal for all the projects is to improve water quality and restore the beneficial uses of waters impacted by nonpoint source pollution. The program works through a set of overarching principles that emphasize voluntary and incentive-based participation, locally-led projects, partnerships, measurable water quality improvement, and effective and efficient program administration.

    Nonpoint source pollution encompasses a wide range of sources that are not always subject to federal or state regulation. These sources include agricultural runoff, unpermitted urban runoff, abandoned mine drainage, failing onsite disposal systems, and pollution caused by changes to natural stream channels. Congress enacted Section 319 of the Clean Water Act in 1987and established a national program to control nonpoint sources of water pollution. Through Section 319, the EPA provides states, territories, and tribes with guidance and grant funding to implement their nonpoint source programs and to support local watershed projects to improve water quality. Collectively, this work has restored over 6,000 miles of streams and over 164,000 acres of lakes since 2006. Hundreds of additional projects are underway across the country.

    You can learn more about successful nonpoint source projects at https://www.epa.gov/nps/nonpoint-source-success-stories

    For more information on the state of Colorado’s efforts to address nonpoint source pollution, visit: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/nonpoint-source-pollution-management

    @ColoradoStateU scores $300,000 for wetlands protection

    Arkansas River near Leadville

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Three Environmental Protection Agency grants will fund the program’s creation of a multi-agency Colorado Wetlands Program Plan, an inventory of significant wetlands in Lake County and pocket guides illustrating common wetland plants in several Colorado regions, among other things.

    The Colorado Wetlands Program Plan will guide state-level wetlands protection and management efforts between 2018 and 2023. The EPA awarded the Colorado State University program money to create a new wetlands plan in 2016, and this is the second year of funding.

    The EPA grant also covers the creation of a publicly available database of wetlands information to inform restoration and mitigation planning.

    Wetlands make up only 2 percent of Colorado’s land but are extremely ecologically and economically significant because of their key roles in flood prevention, recreation and clean water supply, according to the Colorado Wetland Information Center.

    #Snowpack news: *Very* early water year 2018 graphics

    Westwide SNOTEL October 23, 2017 via the NRCS.
    Colorado snowpack point map October 23, 2017 via the NRCS.
    Water Year to Date precipitation high/low graph October 23, 2017 via the NRCS.
    South Platte River Basin High/Low graph October 23, 2017 via the NRCS.

    Colorado moves to dismiss complaint seeking ‘person’ status for Colorado River

    Rainfall, off the canyon wall, into the Green River, part of the Colorado River ecosystem. The state of Colorado has responded to a lawsuit seeking a ruling that the river has the rights of a person.


    By Brent Gardner-Smith
    , Aspen Journalism

    The state of Colorado moved in federal court this week to dismiss a lawsuit from an environmental group and five of its members who are seeking to declare the Colorado River ecosystem a “person” and represent its interest in court.

    In a filing from the attorney general’s office on Tuesday, Oct. 17, Colorado told the U.S. District Court in Denver that Deep Green Resistance and its members do not have jurisdiction to sue the state in federal court under the 11th Amendment, do not have standing in the case due to lack of a specific injury, and do not state a claim “upon which relief can be granted.”

    “The complaint alleges hypothetical future injuries that are neither fairly traceable to actions of the state of Colorado, nor redressable by a declaration that the ecosystem is a ‘person’ capable of possessing rights,” the state told the federal court.

    Colorado said the questions of “whether the ecosystem should have the same rights as people, and who should be allowed to assert those rights in federal courts, are matters reserved to Congress by the Constitution.”

    Jason Flores-Williams, a Denver-based attorney, is representing Deep Green Resistance and its members.

    “I think they are just doing their job,” Flores-Williams said Saturday morning when asked about Colorado’s motion to dismiss. “It’s how the legal system works. And it’s appropriately the correct legal move. However, I would say, you can dismiss a case, but you can’t dismiss the reality of current conditions. Either the rights of nature are going to be recognized, and we’re going to start moving in a direction toward real solutions, or they will be dismissed and we will continue going down the road we’re going down, which is highly problematic.”

    The case — Colorado River Ecosystem a/n/f Deep Green Resistance v. the State of Colorado — is being heard by U.S. District Court Judge Nina Wang, and a status conference is set for Nov. 14. The case number is 1:17-cv-02316.

    A moody Colorado River rolls toward Utah in September 2017.

    Ecosystem rights?

    The Sept. 25 civil action from Deep Green Resistance asked the court to declare that “the Colorado River ecosystem is a ‘person’ capable of possessing rights,” including “the rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and naturally evolve.”

    The complaint asks that members of Deep Green Resistance be allowed to “serve as guardians, or ‘next friends,’ for the Colorado River ecosystem.” And it asks that they be able to file lawsuits to “force the state of Colorado to take certain actions, as violations of the rights of the Colorado River ecosystem.”

    In its complaint, Deep Green Resistance argues that “the Colorado River Ecosystem is essential to life – human and non-human – in the American Southwest. Threats to the Colorado River Ecosystem are threats to life. Because threats to the Colorado River Ecosystem are threats to life, the Colorado River Ecosystem must possess the ability to protect itself from threats to its survival.”

    But the state of Colorado rejected the idea of an ecosystem, or the “next friends” in this case, having rights to sue.

    “No environmental statute or other law authorizes the ecosystem to bring a suit on its own behalf,” the state said in its motion to dismiss.

    In reference to a prior case law, the state also said “there is no hint that ‘person’ includes inanimate objects, like the soil, water, and plants that, together with animals, create an ecosystem.”

    In regard to the issue of personhood, the state told the court that Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission “does not provide an instructive analogy in this case.”

    In its complaint, Deep Green Resistance cited the Citizens United case and told the court because “ordinary” corporations have “been repeatedly recognized as a ‘person’ for purposes of constitutional protection and enforcement” then the Colorado River deserves the same status and should be allowed to “hire a law firm, actively participate in its representation or testify in court.”

    The complaint also said “the Colorado is 60 to 70 million years old and has enabled, sustained, and allowed for human life for as long as human life has been extant in the Western United States, yet the Colorado has no rights or standing whatsoever to defend itself and ensure its existence; while a corporation that can be perfected in fifteen minutes with a credit card can own property, issue stock, open a bank account, sue or defend in litigation, form and bind contracts, claim Fourth Amendment guarantees, due process, equal protection, hold religious beliefs and perhaps most famously invest unlimited amounts of money in support of its favorite political candidate.”

    But the state said even if the Colorado River ecosystem had “person” status, it wouldn’t cure the river’s ills.

    “There is no suggestion — even a speculative one — that declaring the ecosystem a ‘person’ would address the alleged injuries,” the state said.

    The Roaring Fork River, in 2016, en route to the Colorado River.

    For the river

    The plaintiffs include Deep Green Resistance, a subcommittee of DGR called Southwest Coalition, and five Deep Green Resistance members: Deanna Meyer of Sedalia, Colo.; Will Falk of E. Heber City, Utah; Susan Hyatt of Moab, Utah; Jennifer Murnan of Longmont, Colo; and Fred Gibson of Colorado Springs, Colo.

    Meyer is an animal-rights activist who has worked on protecting prairie dogs in Boulder and Castle Rock. Falk worked for a year as a public defender in Wisconsin after law school and is now an attorney, writer and activist living near Park City.

    The Southwest Coalition’s tagline on its website is “Defending Mountains, Basins, Deserts, Prairies and Rivers of the Southwest.”

    The first goal listed in the group’s published strategy document is “to disrupt and dismantle industrial civilization; to thereby remove the ability of the powerful to exploit the marginalized and destroy the planet.”

    Deep Green Resistance told the court in its Sept. 25 complaint that it is a “worldwide, membership-based, grassroots organization” and “engages in a diversity of tactics to protect ecosystems” including “activist training programs” and “civil disobedience to confront ecological violence.”

    Brian Ertz and Deanna Meyer during a 2015 interview about their efforts to pressure mall developers in Castle Rock, Colo., to protect prairie dogs.

    Radical approach

    Meyer, in a July 2015 interview posted on You Tube and Deep Green Resistance’s website, described the technique she and Brian Ertz of Wildlands Defense used in 2015 to inflict economic punishment on real estate developers by creating bad PR for them around killing prairie dogs.

    “We need to radicalize people,” Meyer said at about 54 minutes into the 2015 interview. “We need to get people to do things much differently.”

    She said “the yoga and the praying and the whatever, the petitions, and all that, it’s not going to do a damn thing. You’ve got do something that’s going to hurt these developers, or killers, or profiteers.”

    With Meyer in the interview is Brian Ertz of Wildlands Defense of Idaho.

    Meyer once served on the Wildsands Defense board, and worked part time for Wildlands Defense, after she and Ertz accepted a settlement payment in June 2015 from the developers of the Promenade mall in Castle Rock, Alberta Development Partners, LLC.

    In November 2016, Meyer sued Ertz over the proceeds of the settlement, which were to be put toward preserving prairie dog habitat, in Meyer v. Ertz in U.S. District Court in Denver (16CV2897). The case was settled in February 2017.

    As part of the case, Katie Fite, who worked for nine years as a senior wildlife technician at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game before co-founding Wildlands Defense, filed an affidavit on Jan. 8, 2017, describing Meyer’s time with Wildlands Defense.

    Meyer “talked about wanting to get people stirred up so they would go out and stand in front of the bulldozers, with hazy aim,” Fite said. “Over time, I realized Meyer seemed to be enthralled with highly controversial advocacy methods promoted by Deep Green Resistance (“DGR”) and its founder, Derrick Jensen.”

    Jensen, in a December 2015 interview about his radio program, said he was interested in Colorado River issues, but only from the perspective of the river.

    “When I ask to interview somebody about the natural world, the question I always ask them first is ‘are you biocentric?’ Jensen said. “Because I’m not really interested in how the Colorado River is going to be used for irrigation in Arizona. If somebody wants to talk about that, they can talk about that on mainstream news. I’m really interested in the Colorado River’s perspective.”

    Both Meyer and Ertz have been interviewed by Jensen on his Resistance Radio program. Jensen is also the author of a book called “Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet.”

    In its Sept. 25 complaint, in which Jensen is not named, Deep Green Resistance lays blame for the depleted state of the Colorado River on the state of Colorado.

    “One reason the Colorado River rarely reaches the sea is the compacts and laws that regulate how much water can be diverted from the river allow humans to take more water from the river than physically exists,” the complaint from Deep Green Resistance said. “The state of Colorado takes more water from the river than any of the other jurisdictions, save California.”

    But the state, in its motion to dismiss, denies culpability for the condition of the Colorado River.

    “Any injury that might result in the future from alleged ‘overallotment’ of water from the Colorado River cannot be fairly traceable to the state,” Colorado’s motion said.

    The state also said Deep Green Resistance was asking the court “to make sweeping declarations that would fashion new law out of whole cloth.”

    “It asks the court, rather than Congress or the executive branch, to declare that the ecosystem is a ‘person whose rights — whatever they might be — can be defended in court by self-declared representatives,” the state said. “Such a declaration has the potential to alter the fabric of American domestic and foreign policy.”

    The upper Colorado River, just below Pumphouse.

    Precedent, friend

    Peter Fleming, the general counsel for the Colorado River District, described the lawsuit from Deep Green Resistance in a mid-October memo to the district’s board of directors, who represent 15 Western Slope counties.

    He notes that in addition to seeking “personhood” for the river ecosystem, Deep Green Resistance was also alleging “that the State of Colorado can be held liable for violating the River’s rights.”

    “The premise of this lawsuit is certainly unique in Colorado (as well as the nation) but it is not completely without precedent,” Fleming wrote. “As noted in the complaint, Ecuador has amended its constitution to recognize the rights of ecosystems. Likewise, jurisdictions in Colombia and India have found rivers to have certain rights that warrant protection.”

    But Fleming said, “if successful, the lawsuit would be precedential not only in Colorado but throughout the country” and that “a ruling granting the requested relief could totally upend environmental litigation.”

    He also addressed the claim of “next friend.”

    “A key question would be why any specific group of individuals should be entitled to serve as an ecosystem’s “next friend” as opposed to any other group of individuals, organizations, municipalities, or states,” Fleming wrote. “The fights over the right to be appointed ‘next friend’ status alone would be chaotic – not even taking into consideration the unique claims that could be asserted.”

    He said the state attorney general’s office “will be taking the lead on Colorado’s behalf,” but “will receive lots of help from others in opposing the lawsuit” and that he had “already offered the River District’s help.”

    In a post on the Deep Green Resistance website about the Colorado River lawsuit, Falk, one of the “next friends,” weighs the chances of his group’s complaint succeeding.

    “We may win in court and corporations will have to respect the Colorado River’s rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and naturally evolve,” Falk wrote. “We will also gain a foothold for other ecosystems to assert their own rights. We may fail in court, but that does not mean the fight is over.

    “In many ways, our failure would simply confirm what we already know: the legal system protects corporations from the outage of injured citizens and ensures environmental destruction. If we fail, we must remember there are other means — outside the legal system — to stop exploitation.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs, Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News. The Times published a shorter version of this story on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017.

    Forecasters Predict Warmer-Than-Average Winter In Majority Of U.S. — National Public Radio

    From National Public Radio (Merrit Kennedy):

    This winter is going to be a warm one for the majority of the United States, according to forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

    They say that the La Niña weather pattern is likely to develop. That means “greater-than-average snowfall around the Great Lakes and in the northern Rockies, with less-than-average snowfall throughout the Mid-Atlantic region,” Mike Halpert of the Climate Prediction Center said in a forecast Thursday.

    Hawaii, western and northern Alaska and the lower two-thirds of the contiguous U.S. are likely to see warmer-than-average temperatures, Halpert says. A small portion of the Northwest U.S. and parts of Alaska are expected to see cooler-than-usual temperatures.

    Check expected conditions in your part of the country on this map:

    NOAA is predicting warmer-than-average temperatures in December though February for about two-thirds of the contiguous United States.
    NOAA

    Forecasters are predicting less rainfall than usual across the Southern U.S., Halpert adds, while “wetter-than-average conditions are favored across Hawaii, northern and western Alaska and much of the northern part of the lower 48.”

    This will be the third year in a row that the country will largely face a warmer winter. As The Washington Post notes, last year “ranked as the sixth-warmest winter on record.” In fact, trees in most of the Southeast U.S. responded to the warm temperatures and came into bloom early, signaling an early spring.

    NOAA’s outlook for precipitation in the U.S this coming December through February. NOAA

    Rising carbon dioxide levels due to climate change are a driving force here, Halpert told reporters, according to the Post. “It does, undoubtedly, play a role. … The increase in CO2 factors into our model forecast.” He added that he does not expect it to be quite as warm as last year.

    Halpert stressed that these outlooks could change: “For every point on our outlook maps, there exists the possibility that there will be a below-, near-, or above-average outcome.”

    @NSF: How much water flows into agricultural irrigation? New study provides 18-year water use record

    Here’s the release from the National Science Foundation (Cheryl Dybas/Val Ostrowski):

    Irrigation for agriculture is the largest use of fresh water around the globe, but precise records and maps of when and where water is applied by farmers are difficult to locate. Now a team of researchers has discovered how to track water used in agriculture.

    In a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers detail their use of satellite images to produce annual maps of irrigation. The findings, the scientists said, will help farmers, water resource managers and others understand agricultural irrigation choices and make better water management decisions.

    “We want to know how human activities are having an impact on the environment,” said hydrogeologist David Hyndman of Michigan State University (MSU), principal investigator of the project. “Irrigation nearly doubles crop yields and increases farmer incomes, but unsustainable water use for irrigation is resulting in depletion of groundwater aquifers around the world. The question is: ‘How can we best use water?'”

    The paper highlights the need to know when and where irrigation is occurring to effectively manage water resources.

    The project focuses on an economically important agricultural region of the central U.S.–the Republican River Basin–that overlies portions of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, and provides surface water and groundwater to the High Plains Aquifer. The team found that irrigation in this area roughly doubled between 2002 and 2016.

    Water use in this region can be complicated because it is regulated to preserve stream flow into Kansas in accordance with the Republican River Compact of 1942.

    “Previously, we knew what farms were equipped to irrigate, but not which fields were actually irrigated in any particular year,” said Jillian Deines, also of MSU and the paper’s lead author. “Our irrigation maps provide this information over 18 years and can be used to understand the factors that contribute to irrigation decisions.”

    The researchers used Google Earth Engine, a cloud-computing platform that makes large-scale satellite and environmental data analyses available to the public, to quantify changes in irrigation from year to year–an important finding for farmers, crop consultants and policymakers working to improve the efficiency of irrigation.

    Google Earth Engine has been an asset for computing the large number of satellite images needed, the scientists said. “It allows researchers to use consistent methods to examine large regions through time,” Deines said.

    The project, which also involves MSU research associate Anthony Kendall, is supported by the joint National Science Foundation (NSF)-USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Water, Sustainability and Climate (WSC) program and the joint NSF-NIFA Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) program.

    “Knowing what to plant, how much land to plant, and how much irrigation water is necessary to support a crop through harvest has been a challenge for farmers throughout time,” said Tom Torgersen, NSF program officer for WSC and INFEWS. “Farmers can now envision a future where models will provide options to help guide decisions for greater efficiency and crop productivity.”

    Program managers at USDA-NIFA said that demand for agricultural products will likely increase in the future, while water for irrigation may decrease due to water quality issues and competitive uses.

    The Republican River Basin researchers “leveraged new computing power to handle the ‘Big Data’ of all available Landsat satellite scenes, and developed irrigation maps that help explain human decisions about irrigation water use,” said Jim Dobrowolski, program officer in NIFA’s Division of Environmental Systems. The maps hold the promise, he said, of the ability to make future water use predictions.

    A NASA graduate fellowship program award also funded the research.

    Paonia Reservoir sedimentation update #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Intake structure during construction in 1961. Photo Credit Reclamation.

    Here’s an in-depth look at the sedimentation problem at Paonia Reservoir from Emily Benson writing for The High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:

    The root cause of the problem at the reservoir had been building since the dam was finished in 1962. Year by year, sediment quietly collected on the reservoir bottom, gradually raising its floor. Once the sediment was level with the dam outlet, where water is released downstream, any debris that washed into the reservoir threatened to clog the opening and make the dam inoperable. In the fall of 2014, personnel worked 10-hour days for two weeks to clear logs, branches and dirt from the outlet, by hand and with an excavator. Some of the workers stood directly on waterlogged sand, digging out the grates with pitchforks. When the dam was newly built, they would’ve needed a crane 70 feet tall to reach the same spot.

    Silt, sand, gravel and clay are accumulating in nearly all reservoirs in the West, leaving less room to capture water for storage or for flood prevention. Behind many dams, space is starting to run out. Ignoring the problem could jeopardize the West’s water supply in the coming years. To avoid that, water managers are dredging behind dams, retrofitting outlet works and looking for ways to safely pass sediment downstream. “It’s not an immediate crisis,” Randle says. “But it is sort of a ticking time bomb.”

    History of flood control on the #RioGrande River in #Texas

    Map of the Rio Grande watershed, showing the Rio Chama joining the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. Graphic credit WikiMedia.

    Click through and read the whole article from the Valley Morning Star (Norman Rozeff). Here’s an excerpt:

    Importantly the United States and Mexico needed an agreement on the appropriation of waters in the lower Rio Grande. This was wrought in a mutually ratified treaty that stated that Texas would have all the rights from its own tributaries and that Mexico would assure 350,000 acre-feet annually to Texas from Mexican tributaries.

    The treaties also anticipated the construction of two major reservoirs on the river.

    These were to be Falcon Dam, completed in October 1953, and Amistad Dam, completed in 1969. Also established by the treaty was the International Boundary and Water Commission charged with coordinating the work between the two countries.

    The ability of the flood control system to operate successfully was put to the test on September 20, 1967 and the days to follow as Category 3 Hurricane Beulah made landfall just north of the mouth of the river.

    It was a slow moving system that dumped massive amounts of rain over the Valley and points west in the river’s watershed over a three day period. Heavy storms in August has previously saturated much of the LRGV.

    At Rio Grande City the peak discharge occurred on September 22 at 210,00 cubic feet per second and 10 feet above flood stage. On the 25th, Mission experienced 206,000 and also 10 feet while on the 26th Hidalgo had 81,000 cfs and 6 feet. On the 29th San Benito registered 25,00 cfs and 6 feet above flood stage. The following day Brownsville registered 16,000 and 1 foot respectively.

    The floodway was soon inundated with overflow waters from the rivers as well as runoff from the cities.

    The airport of the City of McAllen was flooded on September 26 by waters from the Mission floodway that overpoured high ground about three miles west of the airport.

    As floodway waters reached the division point near Progreso the majority of the flow diverted into the Arroyo Colorado.

    This soon resulted in urban areas along the Arroyo in Harlingen being submerged by the flooded stream.

    The crest was ten feet higher than that occurring in 1958 when in October-November spills at Falcon Dam and flood inflows from the San Juan River were the culprits.

    An estimated 8,000 people, about 20 percent of the city’s population, required evacuation…

    While it didn’t pass the House, it may have laid the groundwork for later appropriations, for in February 1971 Congress appropriated $29 million for the first phase of Valley flood control.

    #ColoradoRiver: Lake Powell quagga infestation update #COriver

    While Lake Powell entered 2002, when this photo was taken, with a pretty healthy amount of water stored, by 2004 the bathtub rings had expanded as drought deepened. Photo/U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    From Cronkite News (Kianna Gardner) via the Arizona Daily Sun:

    The adult quagga mussel finding [on March 3, 2013], coming less than a year after [veligers] were first spotted, marked the end of more than a decade of attempts to keep the invasive species from taking over Lake Powell and cued the beginning of a new fight.

    Experts deem it impossible to entirely eradicate the mussels from Lake Powell, a tourist destination that spans Utah and Arizona. The mussels latch on to the walls of Glen Canyon Dam and the hundreds of boats skimming the lake’s waters. If the mussels could not be removed from the lake, the experts concluded, at least they might contain the threat to keep it from spreading to other waters.

    Clumps of quagga mussels damage the dam’s water flow, undercut an ecosystem for other aquatic species, cling to boat engines and cost millions of dollars to handle.

    “It was a huge responsibility and honor to try and protect this lake. It is still a huge responsibility and honor to contain the quagga mussels here,” said Colleen Allen. She holds a distinctive title as a leader in the quagga mussel incursion: aquatic invasive species coordinator for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

    The quagga mussel, a freshwater mollusk that likely was unwittingly brought into Lake Powell by boat, have proven to be a small but mighty foe. Less than three years after finding that mussel, the invasion had spread throughout most of the 186 miles of Lake Powell. Today, quagga mussels can be found in every canyon crevice, Glen Canyon officials said.

    Report: Poor plant performance under simulated climate change is linked to mycorrhizal responses in a semiarid shrubland

    An arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus (plural mycorrhizae or mycorrhizas, a.k.a. endomycorrhiza, AM fungi, or AMF) is a type of mycorrhiza in which the fungus penetrates the cortical cells of the roots of a vascular plant. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

    Click here to read the summary and the complete report:

    Summary

    1.Warmer and drier conditions associated with ongoing climate change will increase abiotic stress for plants and mycorrhizal fungi in drylands worldwide, thereby potentially reducing vegetation cover and productivity and increasing the risk of land degradation and desertification. Rhizosphere microbial interactions and feedbacks are critical processes that could either mitigate or aggravate the vulnerability of dryland vegetation to forecasted climate change.

    2.We conducted a four-year manipulative study in a semiarid shrubland in the Iberian Peninsula to assess the effects of warming (~2.5°C; W), rainfall reduction (~30%; RR) and their combination (W+RR) on the performance of native shrubs (Helianthemum squamatum) and their associated mycorrhizal fungi.

    3.Warming (W and W+RR) decreased the net photosynthetic rates of H. squamatum shrubs by ~31% despite concurrent increases in stomatal conductance (~33%), leading to sharp decreases (~50%) in water use efficiency. Warming also advanced growth phenology, decreased leaf nitrogen and phosphorus contents per unit area, reduced shoot biomass production by ~36% and decreased survival during a dry year in both W and W+RR plants. Plants under RR showed more moderate decreases (~10-20%) in photosynthesis, stomatal conductance and shoot growth.

    4.Warming, RR and W+RR altered ectomycorrhizal fungal (EMF) community structure and drastically reduced the relative abundance of EMF sequences obtained by high-throughput sequencing, a response associated with decreases in the leaf nitrogen, phosphorus and dry matter contents of their host plants. In contrast to EMF, the community structure and relative sequence abundances of other non-mycorrhizal fungal guilds were not significantly affected by the climate manipulation treatments.

    5.Synthesis: Our findings highlight the vulnerability of both native plants and their symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi to climate warming and drying in semiarid shrublands, and point to the importance of a deeper understanding of plant-soil feedbacks to predict dryland vegetation responses to forecasted aridification. The interdependent responses of plants and ectomycorrhizal fungi to warming and rainfall reduction may lead to a detrimental feedback loop on vegetation productivity and nutrient pool size, which could amplify the adverse impacts of forecasted climate change on ecosystem functioning in EMF-dominated drylands.

    Study Estimates about 2.1 Million People using Wells High in Arsenic — @USGS

    Here’s the release from the USGS (Joseph Ayotte/Hannah M Hamilton):

    Most Arsenic Presumed to be From Naturally Occurring Sources

    A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 2.1 million people in the U.S. may be getting their drinking water from private domestic wells considered to have high concentrations of arsenic, presumed to be from natural sources.

    “About 44 million people in the lower 48 states use water from domestic wells,” said Joe Ayotte, a USGS hydrologist and lead author of the study. “While we’re confident our research will help well owners understand if they live in an area of higher risk for arsenic, the only way for them to be certain of what’s in their water is to have it tested.”

    Using a standard of 10 micrograms of arsenic per liter — the maximum contaminant level allowed for public water supplies — the researchers developed maps of the contiguous U.S. showing locations where there are likely higher levels of arsenic in groundwater, and how many people may be using it.

    Nearly all of the arsenic in the groundwater tested for this study and used to map probabilities is likely from natural sources, and is presumed to be coming primarily from rocks and minerals through which the water flows.

    The findings highlight the importance of private well owners working with their local and state officials to determine the best way to test and, if necessary, treat their water supplies.

    “Fortunately, in most areas of the country and with appropriate safeguards, the majority of homeowners can get good quality drinking water from private wells,” said Ayotte. “But this study is a good reminder that prudent, routine testing of the water, including its interaction with the water supply system, is an essential first step so homeowners and their families can confidently drink water from their faucets.”

    Using water samples from more than 20,000 domestic wells, the researchers developed a statistical model that estimates the probability of having high arsenic in domestic wells in a specific area. They used that model in combination with information on the U.S. domestic well population to estimate the population in each county of the continental United States with potentially high concentrations of arsenic in domestic wells.

    “One of our study’s basic assumptions is that the probability of high arsenic can be estimated by a statistical model. We also assume that the domestic water use population is represented by census information used in the study,” said Ayotte.

    Some of the locations where it’s estimated the most people may have high-levels of arsenic in private domestic well water include:

  • Much of the West – Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico
  • Parts of the Northeast and Midwest – Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois Ohio, Indiana
  • Some of the Atlantic southeast coastal states – Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina
    This map shows estimates of how many private domestic well users in each county may be drinking water with high levels of arsenic. An estimated 2.1 million people throughout the U.S. may be drinking domestic well water high in arsenic

    “Although high-arsenic wells can occur in all 48 contiguous states, it is more prevalent in some states than in others,” said Ayotte. “The study did not include Alaska and Hawaii.”

    The researcher provided a cautionary note that while the study provides state and county estimates, they are not intended to take the place of more detailed or local information that may already be available in some areas.

    Long-term exposure to arsenic in domestic wells may cause health-related problems, including an increased risk of cancer. Testing and, if necessary, treating the water is an effective way of reducing or eliminating the concern. A CDC fact sheet provides more information, as does the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

    “Ultimately, this study should be helpful not only in assessing the likelihood of people being exposed to arsenic in domestic well water, but the results of the study may assist other researchers evaluate situations where adverse health outcomes such as cancers or adverse birth outcomes may be related to environmental factors,” said Ayotte.

    Public water supplies are regulated by the U.S. EPA, but maintenance, testing and treatment of private water supplies are the sole responsibility of the homeowner. About 44 million people in the U.S. get their drinking water from private wells, yet surveys indicate many homeowners are unaware of some basic testing that should be done to help ensure safe drinking water in the home.

    The study, “Estimating the high-arsenic domestic-well population in the conterminous United States” by J.D. Ayotte, L. Medalie, S.L. Qi, L.C. Backer, and N. T. Nolan is available online in Environmental Science and Technology.

  • Book Review: “Water is for Fighting Over: And Other Myths about Water in the West” — @WaterLawReview

    From the University of Denver Water Law Review at the Sturm College of Law (Rebecca Spence):

    Chapter twelve, “A Beaver Returns to the Delta,” further discusses inclusivity, and shows how collaboration between formally feuding groups can help to undo much of the damage we have done to the Colorado River over the years. Fleck explained that after the Colorado River Compact creators divided the river, they found that dry spots would emerge in arid seasons, and the wildlife would migrate until the river started flowing again. Most recently when the river started flowing again in the previously dry Colorado River Delta, Mexico, the United States, and environmental groups met to devise a plan to keep the water flowing through this delta. This plan, titled Minute 319, was the first of its kind that mentioned environmental implications and wildlife preservation. This collaboration felled two myths. The first was that environmentalists and water managers could not work together to achieve common goals. The second was that the delta was dead, and that rejuvenation of wildlife and surrounding communities was impossible due to the growing water demands and the consistent population booms alongside the Colorado River.

    John Fleck photo via State of the Rockies Project — Colorado College