#Drought news: New @NOAA tool is helping to predict U.S. droughts, global famine

Here’s the release from CIRES:

Agriculture is the economic engine that powers the Great Plains, the vast stretch of treeless prairie that covers parts of 10 states – and where the next drought can appear with little warning. Now there’s a powerful new tool that can provide farmers and ranchers in this arid region critical, early indications of oncoming droughts.

EDDI, or the Evaporative Demand Drought Index, was the brainchild of Mike Hobbins, a CIRES scientist working at NOAA, to estimate the changing “thirst” of the atmosphere.

“Evaporative demand is the thirst of the atmosphere for any water — on the surface of lakes and rivers, in soil or in plants,” he said. “Drought is a function of supply and demand.

“Surface moisture is really hard to measure because a major component is soil moisture, which varies dramatically over very short distances, ” explained Hobbins. “Evaporative demand is relatively easy to measure because it’s based on air temperature, humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation, which we measure all the time.”

EDDI already has a good track record: The tool accurately signaled the onset of a 2015 Wyoming drought as well as 2016 droughts in South Dakota’s Black Hills and the southeastern United States.

EDDI is valuable because it detects drought emergence at weekly time scales, said Mark Svoboda, co-founder of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“This year, it gave us a pretty good indicator of what was happening in the Dakotas,” as a crippling flash drought gripped the region, he said.

The U.S Famine Early Warning System network, which helps governments and relief agencies plan for and respond to humanitarian crises, has also begun using EDDI to help provide early warning of food insecurity (i.e., limited access to sufficient food supply) around the world.

A case study over parts of East Africa shows that a combination of forecasts for both evaporative demand — atmospheric “thirst” — and precipitation would have provided early warning of severe droughts in 2002, 2004 and 2009 that contributed to substantial food shortages in the region.

“All else being equal, a warmer atmosphere is a thirstier atmosphere,” said Hobbins. “It’s likely we’ll see more frequent droughts in the future, and EDDI is uniquely designed to capture their emergence.”

Longmont councillors reduce storage commitment in Chimney Hollow to 8,000 acre-feet

This graphic, provided by Northern Water, depicts Chimney Hollow Reservoir, located southwest of Loveland, after it is built.

From The Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

On a 4-2 vote, a Longmont City Council majority on Tuesday night reduced the amount of water the city will contract to store in the Windy Gap Firming Project reservoir to be built in Larimer County.

Council members Polly Christensen, Marcia Martin, Joan Peck and Aren Rodriguez instead changed the city’s commitment to its share of the overall project expense to whatever would be needed to pay for Longmont’s storage of 8,000 acre-feet of water in the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, rather than the 10,000 acre-feet that a previous council majority had favored.

That smaller amount of Longmont water storage is expected to reduce the amount of bonds, if any, that the city would have to sell to help finance its share of the water storage.

It also is expected to reduce the amount of any additional water-rate increases — if any — that Longmont would have had to bill its customers to pay for the $36.3 million in bonds that Longmont voters in the 2017 election authorized the city to sell.

It would not, however, eliminate the 9 percent water-rate increase the previous council had already imposed for 2018, followed by another 9 percent increase in 2019.

Mayor Brian Bagley and Councilwoman Bonnie Finley dissented from the vote to reduce the amount of water that Longmont would have stored, and the resulting reduction in Longmont’s cost share for the reservoir project.

#Colorado AG warns #ColoradoRiver “Rights of Nature” lawsuit attorney about possible sanctions #COriver

Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014

From The Courhouse News Service:

A Denver attorney representing the Colorado River Ecosystem in a bid for “personhood” is facing possible sanctions for refusing to drop the case…

In September this year, Flores-Williams sued Colorado on behalf of the environmental group Deep Green Resistance, asking that the Colorado River ecosystem be granted personhood in the same way a ship, an ecclesiastic corporation or a commercial corporation have it for purposes of constitutional protection and enforcement.

An assistant attorney general warned Flores-Williams in a Nov. 16 letter that if he did not voluntarily request dismissal with prejudice, he could face sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for knowingly presenting false or unwarranted claims to the court.

The letter from Colorado’s Senior Assistant Attorney General Scott Steinbrecher said that Flores-Williams’s amended complaint “fails to disclose law contrary to your position that Eleventh Amendment immunity does not apply,” and that it “fails to address the numerous other deficiencies identified in the State’s Motion to Dismiss.”

It adds: “If you choose not to voluntarily withdraw your Amended Complaint with prejudice by close of business November 30, 2017, you are hereby on notice that the defendant will pursue all sanctions and remedies available under Fed R. Civ. P. 11.”

On Tuesday, Flores-Williams released an open letter to the Attorney General’s Office, stating: “The Amended Complaint will not be withdrawn. Legally, it should not be. Morally, it cannot be.”

[…]

Flores-Williams’ 4-page letter chides Steinbrecher for his threat of sanctions.

“The Attorney General’s mandate is to protect and serve the rights of the people of this State, of which the undersigned is an engaged citizen, not to use those vested powers to intimidate and forcibly chill those with whom it does not agree,” Flores-Williams wrote.

In a statement accompanying the open letter, Flores-Williams said: “They didn’t threaten to sanction Exxon attorneys for lying about global warming, nor Bank of America attorneys for fraudulently foreclosing on people’s homes, nor Nestle attorneys for privatizing our water and selling it back to us — but attempt to equal the playing field between corporations and the environment and they try to personally damage you. It’s the playbook.”

@DenverWater estimates $600 million in costs to treat for molybdenum if temp standard is made permanent

Climax Mine

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Chronic ingestion of molybdenum can cause diarrhea, stunted growth, infertility, low birth weights and gout

Colorado health officials on Wednesday ignored state scientists and delayed for two years a decision on a mining giant’s push to weaken statewide limits on molybdenum pollution of streams, including a creek flowing into Dillon Reservoir, Denver’s drinking water supply.

Denver Water contends that Climax Molybdenum’s campaign to jack up molybdenum pollution limits 43 times higher than at present could cost ratepayers up to $600 million for expansion of a water treatment plant. Trace amounts of molybdenum — below a health advisory level — already flow out of Denver taps.

But Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials and federal Environmental Protection Agency officials on Wednesday rescheduled a Dec. 12 molybdenum rule hearing for November 2019.

A CDPHE hearing officer said the delay will allow time for industry-financed studies to move through a peer-review process and for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to make decisions on molybdenum toxicity. A “temporary modification” that currently allows elevated molybdenum pollution from the Climax Mine was extended this year through 2018, and CDPHE officials at Wednesday’s meeting opened the possibility it could be extended again.

CDPHE scientists opposed the delay. The scientists, Denver Water and a coalition of mountain towns have opposed the push by Climax to allow more molybdenum pollution of Tenmile Creek, which flows down from the Climax Mine above Leadville into Dillon Reservoir, where water flows out through a tunnel to Denver and the upper Colorado River Basin. CDPHE water-quality scientists have determined that molybdenum pollution at the proposed new limits would kill fish and could hurt people…

Denver Water treatment plants cannot remove molybdenum, and expanding one plant to do that would cost from $480 million to $600 million, utility officials said in documents filed to the CDPHE.

Those costs ultimately would hit ratepayers, the 1.4 million people who rely on Denver Water for their domestic water supply. The molybdenum pollution from Tenmile Creek that reaches Denver facilities today is “below the human health advisory levels,” Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said.

“We’d likely exceed the human health advisory standard if that (new limit) were to become the statewide water quality standard. … Currently, the concentrations in Tenmile Creek have not been at a high enough concentration that would result in an exceedance of the human health advisory level, so an extension of the ‘temporary modification’ for molybdenum is acceptable,” Chesney said.

A subsidiary of the $46 billion mining giant Freeport-McMoRan, Climax Molybdenum runs the Climax Mine, which was closed for 25 years and reopened in 2012. This led to elevated molybdenum pollution at levels up to 2,500 ppb, 10 times higher than the current statewide limit. The “temporary modification” granted by CDPHE water commissioners, and extended this year, allows this elevated pollution through December 2018…

EPA officials recently said a molybdenum pollution limit as high as 10,000 ppb could be sufficient. But EPA scientists previously have advised lower limits.

“Denver Water’s current position is that the molybdenum limit should be based on scientific evidence. While Climax Molybdenum Company has presented scientific studies in support of its proposed standard, the studies fail to account for the effect high molybdenum concentrations will have on individuals with a copper deficiency,” Chesney said. “Because we do not know how high molybdenum concentrations will affect people with copper deficiencies, and EPA has not modified the Human Health Advisory for molybdenum to correspond with Climax’s proposed standard, the (state water quality control) commission should decline to increase the molybdenum standard to the level proposed by Climax.”

A coalition of mountain towns also is fighting the proposed higher limits for molybdenum pollution of waterways.

“Because of scientific uncertainty regarding the effects of varying molybdenum concentrations on human health, the commission should decline to make the changes that Climax Molybdenum Company has proposed in the statewide molybdenum standards,” Frisco attorney Jennifer DiLalla said. “The town’s primary goal is ensuring that any action the commission may take with respect to molydenum standards is protective of the health of those who live and work and play in Frisco.”

Gilcrest: High groundwater levels affect residents

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

More than three years after water began seeping into Gilcrest and surrounding residents’ basements — the result of record high groundwater levels — the problem is spreading, impacting new homes.

Joanne Maes, a former Gilcrest town trustee, is one such resident. She doesn’t have more than a dozen sump pumps installed in her basement like a resident in 2014. She has one, and she and her husband did the work themselves, spending about $1,000 on materials.

Maes first noticed the problem a month ago. After 12 hours of continuous shop vac use, the family installed a sump pump, which runs automatically as water seeps in. Every 20 minutes or so, a PVC pipe in the backyard of Maes’ 12th Street house gurgles out water.

The same is true for a number of homes in Gilcrest, and Maes led the way around the quiet Weld County town Tuesday, pointing out more PVC pipes, connected to more sump pumps, dotting the front yards of more residents. An extra green patch of grass is another tell-tale sign.

Maes and her neighbors now, as residents did in 2014, blame the fact that farmers aren’t allowed to pump groundwater to water crops. She even testified before the Colorado Water Conservation Board, along with others from the area a couple weeks ago.

Residents here have largely given up hope anything will be done. And so, the sump pumps drone on, the water gurgles out of PVC pipes and residents hope things don’t get any worse.

@COWaterCongress: Gardner, Hatch, Bennet, Heinrich, & Udall introduce legislation to protect endangered species in upper #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From the Colorado Water Congress:

Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Udall (D-NM), introduced the Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Extension Act of 2017. The legislation will continue to fund the Upper Colorado and San Juan fish recovery programs through FY2023, and aims to protect four primary endangered species in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

“Protecting endangered species living in Colorado’s natural habitat can be done in a responsible manner, and I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation,” said Gardner. “Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is a great example of a partnership between federal, state, and local agencies to promote conservation. It’s important we provide adequate resources to this project to ensure our partners on the ground have the necessary tools to protect these endangered species.”

“I’m happy to join my Western colleagues—including Utah’s newly elected Representative John Curtis—in introducing this commonsense legislation. Our bipartisan bill builds on the successful conservation efforts on the Upper Colorado River, encouraging the federal government to work in cooperation with Western states,” said Hatch. “This proposal will help guide the sustainable usage of our water resources in a way that fosters both species recovery and responsible development.”

“The Endangered Fish Recovery Programs are exemplary of the successful, collaborative conservation championed in the West by states, tribes, federal agencies, and other stakeholders,” said Bennet. “This bipartisan bill provides the resources to continue recovery efforts in the Upper Colorado River and to ensure that these endangered fish species are protected for years to come.”

“The San Juan and Upper Colorado River Fish Recovery Programs are vital to rebuilding our native fish populations that are an important part of our state’s heritage,” said Heinrich. “We cannot allow these important conservation programs to lapse and threaten the progress we’ve made up to this point. This bipartisan legislation will ensure federal, state and local agencies have the resources they need to continue protecting endangered species in the Upper Colorado River Basin.”

“The San Juan River Basin is an important region in New Mexico’s ecology, and I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation to continue the collaborative efforts to help protect the area’s endangered species,” said Udall. “The most successful way we can balance the needs of water security with species conservation is to work collaboratively with local, state, Tribal, federal and non-governmental partners to find solutions. This initiative has been an excellent example of how we can conserve natural habitats by working together.”

Representative John Curtis (UT-3) introduced the House companion legislation.

CWC supports the bipartisan efforts in both the House and Senate to provide funding for the Endangered Fish Recovery Program through 2023, and will submit letters of support for both pieces of legislation by tomorrow, December 1st, 2017.

A huge Thank You to Tom Pitts, who has worked tirelessly to further protection for endangered species in the Upper Colorado River.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Three Republicans and four Democrat senators introduced legislation Wednesday to extend a program aimed at recovering endangered fish in the upper Colorado River Basin.

The legislation would extend the program until 2023. It includes three states, including Colorado, in the program that was designed to recover the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and the humpback and bonytail chubs.

The program was established in 1988 as a way of recovering the fish while also allowing development of the river on the Western Slope, in Utah and downstream…

Program officials had voiced optimism that they might be able to remove the pikeminnow from the endangered species list, but told The Daily Sentinel that the pikeminnow is falling prey to walleye in the Colorado River below the Grand Valley.

Predation by walleye is a setback to the hopes of removing the pikeminnow from the endangered species list or “downlisting” it as threatened.

The bill also was introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both New Mexico Democrats.

A Utah Republican elected this month, John Curtis, introduced companion legislation in the House.

Aspinall Unit operations update: @USBR is drawing down Blue Mesa #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 850 cfs between Friday, December 1st and Saturday, December 2nd. Releases are being increased as part of winter operations to lower the level of Blue Mesa Reservoir nearer to the winter elevation target as well as managing releases with consideration to wintertime hydropower demands.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 1600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Acequia Pathways to Funding: Financial Compliance Workshop, December 7th 2017 — Taos Valley Acequia Association

An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

From the Taos Valley Acequia Association:

Acequia Pathways to Funding: Financial Compliance

Workshop

December 7th 2017, 9:00am-12:00pm

Juan I Gonzales Agricultural Building
Taos, NM

Where Westerners Agree and Disagree on Key Water Issues — Water Deeply

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

Here’s an interview with Wade Crowfoot from Mitch Tobin that’s running in Water Deeply. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

A new poll commissioned by the Water Foundation looks at the views of residents of 12 Western states on a range of water issues, including climate change, policy and cost, explains Wade Crowfoot, the foundation’s chief executive.

WHAT DO WESTERNERS think about water issues? What worries them? What policies do they support? Where is there consensus and division?

To answer these questions, the Water Foundation recently commissioned a wide-ranging public opinion survey of voters in 12 Western states. The poll covered diverse topics, including general awareness of water issues, opinions on policy measures, perceptions about the value of water, and beliefs about both weather and climate change.

To learn more about the poll’s motivation, findings and implications, I recently interviewed Water Foundation chief executive Wade Crowfoot.

Mitch Tobin: What were the key takeaways from the poll? What was most striking or surprising?

Wade Crowfoot: Based on conventional wisdom about Western water involving a lot of conflict, I thought that there would be sharp disagreements about water issues in the poll. So I was really surprised that across 12 states and different demographic groups, a lot of similarity exists in perceptions of water issues.

The poll showed that across the region, Westerners believe that water supplies are becoming less predictable each year. But these folks also believe there is enough water for all users: cities, farms, recreation and the environment. Westerners are also strong on the need to modernize infrastructure, and actually willing to pay higher water bills for infrastructure investment. Strong majorities across the West support the idea of paying more on their water bill if it can deliver infrastructure that will secure reliable supplies of clean water in the future.