#Drought news: #Snowpack suffering across the West

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


Snow fell across most of the Northeast, but it was dry across most of the contiguous United States, with much of the country receiving less than 0.10 inch of precipitation and many areas receiving nothing at all. Part of the South, from eastern Texas to western Alabama, did receive more than an inch of rain, with locally heavier amounts, which helped improve dry conditions. Temperatures were generally below average across the eastern third of the U.S. and above average across most of the western two-thirds. Warmth was notable in eastern Montana and the Dakotas where temperatures were up to 20°F above normal. It was around 5-10°F above normal in the central U.S., an area that continued to see dry conditions this past week. In general, drought expanded across parts of the West, Southern Plains, Midwest, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic and contracted across part of the South…

High Plains

Light precipitation spread across the northern-tier states as a surface front passed through southern Canada and the Northern High Plains. However, the region mostly remained dry during the week. Abnormally dry conditions continued to expand across western Nebraska, reaching into southeastern Wyoming. The entire state of Kansas was now experiencing some level of abnormal dryness or drought…


Heavy snow fell over the Cascades and, after an extended period of dry weather, widespread accumulating snow fell over the central and northern Rockies. However, other areas continued their dry pattern. With below-average precipitation, abnormally dry conditions spread farther west and northwestward in northern Utah. The dry pattern across the Intermountain West region continued to persist. Snowpack in southern Colorado has dropped below 50% of normal for the season to date, and snowpack in southern Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico was less than 20% of normal. Across the western slopes of Colorado and southern Utah, the dry conditions were a continuation of a trend since early in the summer, leading to the introduction of severe drought (D2) from the southern Wasatch Range and La Sal Range as well as the southern portion of the lower elevation in between. Moderate drought (D1) expanded eastward in western Colorado where there was generally less than 60% of normal snowpack for the cold season to date and temperatures have been much warmer than normal in November and early December. Additionally, abnormally dry conditions expanded in eastern Moffat County and Routt County, and in Summit County and southern Grand County. Snowpack for the water year to date was in the 10th percentile or below at Summit Ranch, Copper Mountain, and Berthoud Summit (Colorado). The footprint of moderate drought expanded west across La Paz County in southwestern Arizona into eastern San Bernardino and Riverside Counties in California…

Looking Ahead

Over the next week, beginning Tuesday December 19, a good deal of much needed precipitation is forecast to fall across much of the South and the eastern United States. A swath from eastern Texas to North Carolina, most of Kentucky, and southern Virginia are expected to receive between two and six inches of precipitation. Heavy precipitation is also forecast for the Pacific Northwest, northern Idaho, western Montana, and parts of the Northeast. Dry conditions will likely continue across the Southwest and parts of the southern Plains, where drought conditions already prevailed. Warm temperatures in the South at the beginning of the week will be replaced by cold air sliding down from the north. Looking further ahead at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) 6-10 day Outlook (December 24-28), the probability of dry conditions are highest in the Northwest and Midwest, while wet conditions may occur over New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, and Texas, and stretching across the much of the South and along the East Coast. During this period, below-average temperatures are expected over nearly the entire contiguous U.S., except for parts of the Mid Atlantic along the coast and the Southeast, including Florida. Looking two weeks out (December 26 – January 1), the cold temperatures are expected to continue, except in Florida and the Southwest. The probability of above-average precipitation is highest over part of Montana and Texas, while below-average precipitation is most likely in the Northwest and much of the northern U.S. from the Northeast to the eastern Dakotas.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 21, 2017 via the NRCS.

How The ‘Grand’ Became The ‘Colorado’ And What It Says About Our Relationship To Nature — @KUNC

Prior to 1921 this section of the Colorado River at Dead Horse Point near Moab, Utah was known as the Grand River. Mike Nielsen – Dead Horse Point State Park

Here’s a report from Luke Runyon writing for KUNC. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Until 1921, the Colorado River didn’t start in the state that bears the same name. It began in Utah, where the Green River from Wyoming and the Grand River from Colorado met. The story of how the Colorado River finally wended its way into the state of Colorado less than a century ago is a lesson in just how fickle our attitudes toward nature can be.

The names we give to places, mountain tops, rivers and vast stretches of land shape how we feel about them. Names are full of meaning, powerful symbols to rally behind or fight against. Conflicts over the names of neighborhoods and mountains aren’t uncommon. They’re attempts to correct wrongs of the past and reflect present day realities.

Turn of the century Democratic Colorado congressman and avowed booster Edward Taylor knew that names matter. So much so that he made the Grand River’s renaming a personal cause.

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation illustration shows the river’s varying names prior to 1921. The Colorado River began from the confluence of the Green River and Grand River, a fact that irked Colorado congressman Edward Taylor.

The Grand River just didn’t cut it. Edward Taylor wanted the Colorado River — the same river that cut the Grand Canyon — to extend into his district and flow near his constituents. He wasn’t going to let Utah or Wyoming lay claim to the river’s headwaters, despite the fact that the Green River is the larger drainage basin. Undeterred, and backed up with statistics that showed the shorter Grand River contributing more water to the Colorado River, he took on the river’s renaming as a personal crusade in Washington, D.C.


On July 25 of that year the House of Representatives made the name change official with the passage of a joint resolution. A little more than a year later, the Colorado River Compact was finalized. It’s the river’s guiding document that apportions its water to some of the driest states in the country. Without a doubt, actions taken in the early 1920s established rules, policies and naming conventions that shape how we think about the Colorado River today.

Vestiges of the Grand River are still in place. The Grand Ditch pulls water from the Colorado River’s headwaters to the state’s eastern slope. Grand Junction, Colo. got its name from the confluence of the Gunnison and Grand Rivers. Colorado’s Grand County still bears the moniker. So does the town of Grand Lake.

They’re remnants of an old name, a label Coloradans and members of Congress a hundred years ago discarded. And if there’s a lesson in Edward Taylor’s effort, it is that all it takes is one relentless person and a willing constituency to think of a natural space in a whole new way, and change its name.

Dead Horse State Park panorama via the State of Utah.

@UW: Fish to benefit if large dams adopt new operating approach

Here’s the release from the University of Washington (Michelle Ma):

Dams and fish have never been best friends.

The San Juan River’s Navajo Dam and reservoir above.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Thousands of dams built along U.S. rivers and streams over the last century now provide electricity for homes, store water for agriculture and support recreation for people. But they also have significant downstream impacts: They reduce the amount and change the timing of flowing water that fish rely on for spawning, feeding and migration.

Recognizing that many large dams are here to stay, a University of Washington team is investigating an emerging solution to help achieve freshwater conservation goals by re-envisioning the ways in which water is released by dams. The hope is that “designer flows” downstream from dams can be tailored to meet the water needs of humans while simultaneously promoting the success of native fishes over undesirable invasive fish species.

The team’s approach is described in a paper appearing Dec. 18 in Nature Communications.

“Rapidly changing water availability demands new dam management strategies to deliver water downstream that balances human and ecosystem needs,” said senior author Julian Olden, a UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences. “So, the question is whether designer flows can be engineered to meet human water demands, and take advantage of mismatches between native and nonnative species’ responses to flow to provide the greatest conservation benefit.”

The Navajo Dam on the San Juan River.Photo credit Mike Robinson via the University of Washington.

The researchers examined the designer flow concept in the San Juan River, a major tributary to the Colorado River that flows through parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Every drop of water is significant in this arid landscape, and along the river’s roughly 380-mile length, the mighty 402-foot Navajo Dam is impossible to ignore. The river is home to at least eight native fish species, but over the years a number of invasive fish species have also taken up residence, including predatory channel catfish, red shiner and common carp.

By integrating multiple decades’ worth of data about dam operations, river hydrology and fish species abundance into a multi-objective model, the researchers were able to identify specific water-release schedules that benefitted native fish over the invasive fish — while still ensuring that all of the domestic and agriculture needs that rely on the San Juan River’s water are met.

“We were also pleased to discover that our model predicts that the ecological benefits of designer flow releases do not evaporate during times of drought,” Olden said.

This method can guide water management in any river with large dams, Olden said. It’s particularly relevant in more arid regions of the American Southwest where water is at a premium, but major rivers like the Columbia or the Mississippi, which are similarly peppered with dams, also could have their dams programmed to release water in ways that aim to benefit both humans and freshwater ecosystems.

The key to the researchers’ approach is capitalizing on the fact that invasive fishes have only a recent evolutionary history in these river systems. Consequently, important life events of invasive fishes — such as spawning and habitat use — show slightly different relationships to patterns in streamflow compared with native fishes. The designer flows in their study exploited these small differences to identify dam releases during certain times of the year that would benefit native fishes and be detrimental to invasive fishes.

These tailored water releases are not trying to mimic the natural flow of a river before it was dammed, but rather emphasize the most important flow events for native fish in an altered river system, the researchers explained. According to their model, water releases in the San Juan River should occur in late winter, late summer and mid-autumn to get the best outcomes for native fishes over invasive ones.

Fly fishers on the San Juan River below the Navajo Dam.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

While both designer and natural flows were predicted to be beneficial for native fishes, they found that designer flows could lead to double the loss of invasive fishes in the river, compared with a dam-release scenario that mimicked natural water flows, before the dam existed. Occasionally, dammed rivers will flush a deluge of water downstream, attempting to mimic natural river flows — but with mixed success for fish. This study suggests that such efforts could be better optimized.

This work is still in the modeling phase, and the researchers want to look next at how these water-release practices could potentially benefit other aspects of dammed river systems, such as restoring shoreline vegetation, benefiting aquatic insects and even bolstering river recreation by manipulating the water releases to encourage formation of large sandbars. Ultimately, the researchers hope to test their designer flows in a real river system, in cooperation with dam operators, engineers and water users.

“Let’s be honest: Carefully tweaking dam operations all year round to implement a designer flow regime would require a giant leap of faith, but anything new we do in water resource management involves some risk,” Olden said. “If we don’t try, we’ll never know how much better we actually could do.”

The paper’s lead author is William Chen, a recent graduate of the UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and the Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management Program.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program and Olden’s H. Mason Keeler Endowed Professorship.

@coschoolofmines geophysics dept. to, “…focus on high-performance computing, machine learning and Big Data analytics” — John Bradford

Graphic via wamda

From E&P Hart Energy (Rhonda Duey):

Bradford gave a presentation at the recent Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) annual meeting about his vision, and he said it was very similar to the presentation he was asked to give when he applied for the job at Mines. Apparently, it was a meeting of the minds.

So what do 21st century geophysicists look like? They need to be ready to solve some of society’s “grand challenges.” Largely, that means population growth. The world’s population is headed toward about 9 billion people by 2050, mostly in less-developed countries, Bradford said. A number of issues stem from this. How can geophysics help? Firstly, Bradford noted the correlation between the consumption of energy and the quality of life.

Secondly, there’s the issue of water. Much of Asia, in particular, is estimated to be living in river basins under severe water stress by 2050. And climate change is also a concern, with ExxonMobil going on the record as saying, “The risk is real, and appropriate steps should be taken to address that risk.” Geophysicists can help the world understand and monitor the earth’s response to climate change. Bradford noted examples like the Sleipner Field in Norway, where CO2 is being sequestered, and the ability to understand climate change through glacier hydrology such as the work being done in the Bench Glacier in Alaska. Through techniques like prestack depth migration and tomography of radar data as well as studies of fracture-induced seismic anisotropy, effects like water distribution and stress fields are better understood.

Finally, programs like the SEG’s Geoscientists Without Borders have been involved in several successful campaigns to help water-stressed areas tap into new sources of groundwater.

One of the surprises for Bradford was the renewed emphasis the department was placing on innovative computation. “My focus was on the application side and increasing diversity in the department,” he said. “But the department was also thinking about completely revising the curriculum with a focus on high-performance computing, machine learning and Big Data analytics.” This is the direction the industry is headed, he said, and Mines plans to be at the cutting edge.

Other technology trends will include robotics and distributed networks for data acquisition as well as space-borne remotely sensed data with terrestrial-based information, he said. And future work for geophysicists will include geology; hydrology; petroleum engineering; civil and environmental engineering; physics, chemistry and materials science; chemical and electrical engineering; and computer science and applied math.

All in a day’s — or night’s — work – News on TAP

On the shortest day of the year, the sun sets early, but you still need water. We’ll be there.

Source: All in a day’s — or night’s — work – News on TAP