An average January, February or even March day in Temecula tops out at 67 or 68 degrees, according to AccuWeather.
Cantú has worked previously for the California State Water Resources Control Board and until last year was general manager of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority. She now leads the Los Angeles-based group Water Education for Latino Leaders.
She’s been following the news about the lower-than-average snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies and seeing the warmth trigger the early bloom in her garden left her feeling concerned about the possibility of another severe drought around the corner.
“It tells me we really need to get back to talking about water conservation and water-use efficiency,” Cantú said.
Californians coped with the most severe drought in the state’s modern history from 2012 through 2016. Gov. Jerry Brown declared the emergency over in April 2017 after one of the wettest winters on record refilled reservoirs across the state.
This week, snow sensors across the Sierra Nevada show the snowpack at just 30% of average for this time of year.
“We have every indication that we’re likely to still be in a drought, in spite of a normal year last winter in Northern California,” Cantú said. “People kind of had a false sense of reprieve and that’s very fleeting.”
“We really need to buckle down” and step up conservation efforts again, she said.
The amount of snow on the ground is also far below average across the Colorado River Basin, where a 17-year run of mostly dry years has left reservoirs at alarmingly low levels.
Climate scientists and managers of water agencies describe the situation as a “snow drought,” driven in part by winter temperatures that are well above the long-term average.
“We can have a decent amount of precipitation in a year and still be in a snow drought,” said senior research associate Laura Feinstein at the Pacific Institute, an Oakland, Calif.-based think tank that focuses on water issues. “Even if we get a similar amount of precipitation, more of it falls as rain rather than snow and runs off relatively quickly.
“And we don’t have that long-term storage to get us through our summers and falls like we used to,” she said.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Crystal River Project
We are thrilled to announce a pilot agreement between Cold Mountain Ranch and Colorado Water Trust designed to increase flows in the Crystal River during drier years.
Cold Mountain Ranch owners, Bill Fales and Marj Perry, will voluntarily retime their irrigation practices in exchange for compensation to leave water in the Crystal River when the river needs it most. The project provides a model that could be replicated on other rivers in need.
Thanks to a very long list of partners, this three-year agreement came out of the Crystal River Management Plan. It is designed to improve the health of the Crystal River in partnership with agriculture, as we work to keep farms and ranches productive while restoring water to thirsty rivers. To quote our Board Member, Dave Taussig, “We want green fields and blue waters.” Let’s make it happen!
FromH2ORadio Science (Click through to listen to the show):
Mountain snowfall around the globe is an important source of water. In the spring it melts and flows into rivers and reservoirs for cities and farms to use. But there’s been a growing problem that’s sweeping in and causing snowpack worldwide to melt faster.
“It looks apocalyptic,” says Jeff Deems, a research scientist at the University of Colorado. With “a big orange-red sky, it really does look Martian.”
He’s describing dust storms—layers of windblown particles that are landing on mountain peaks and leaving them coated with a dark layer of sand and soot. As anyone who has sat in a car with black upholstery on hot summer day will attest, black objects absorb more heat than lighter ones, so by the darkening the snow, it’s melting it faster.
Deems explains that “If you put dust on the snowpack, which enhances the absorption of that solar radiation, then that just pushes on the gas pedal for snowmelt.” In a recent study looking at the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Deems and lead author Tom Painter of NASA found that the amount of dust on mountain snowpack will control how fast rivers rise in the spring regardless of air temperature. And the more dust there is, the faster the runoff.
Guest post from the Colorado State Forest Service in coordination with the Western Urban and Community Forestry Network’s #HealthyTreesHealthyLives social media campaign. Explore the hashtag #HealthyTreesHealthyLives on social media to learn more.
We are privileged in Colorado to have a diverse array of partners who work together to preserve, renew and enhance our community forests, which promote health and well-being in communities across the state. A couple of exciting partnerships in the Denver area involve the Colorado Tree Coalition, The Park People, The Trust for Public Land, Groundwork Denver, Westwood Unidos, University of Colorado Community Engagement Design and Research Center, and Denver Parks and Recreation.
The Colorado State Forest Service Urban & Community Forestry Program and the Colorado Tree Coalition have long supported the efforts of The Park People (TPP), including $26,500 in grant support over the years to TPP community forestry programs. TPP is a Denver non-profit that has helped plant trees in key areas of the city for 30+ years. TPP’s Denver Digs Trees program helps residents cultivate greener, healthier, more livable neighborhoods and has provided more than 50,000 free and low-cost trees to Denver residents. Denver Digs Trees is a powerful example of community in action – fueled by residents and volunteers who plant and steward trees. The 50,000 trees planted through the program represent more than $52.3 million in community benefits.
The Park People is a part of another partnership supporting healthy trees and healthy lives: the Cool Connected Westwood project is a coalition of organizations active in the Westwood neighborhood of southwest Denver. Westwood is faced with economic and environmental challenges, including one of the city’s highest poverty rates and historically limited access to parks and tree canopy cover. Westwood is also a place of strong cultural identity (both Latino and Vietnamese) and home to vibrant community organizing.
During summer 2017, partners engaged in a neighborhood-based, green infrastructure pilot project. The project focused on tree planting and incorporated youth job training, community science, and innovative approaches for resident engagement.
By autumn’s end, 245 new trees stood tall in Westwood. These trees will beautify the neighborhood, improve walkability, build neighborhood pride, and foster a sense of safety. They will also increase the neighborhood’s climate resilience as they grow, intercept precipitation and slow the movement of water to reduce flooding during storm events; and help cool individual homes and the neighborhood at large, helping to moderate temperatures and reduce heat-related illness and death.
Every community deserves to have a healthy forest, and we’re proud of organizations and individuals working to support trees in Colorado, throughout the country, and across the world.
To learn more, please contact Keith Wood with the Colorado State Forest Service and Kim Yuan-Farrell with The Park People
February will tell us a lot about a couple of things.
The first thing is whether there’s any chance of getting even sort-of caught up with the area’s annual snowpack.
The second thing is whether there’s any chance of getting even sort-of caught up with visitor numbers.
Both of those things are intertwined, of course. Snowpack is essential for water for the coming spring, summer and fall. Snowpack is also essential to bring snow-riding visitors…
“Without (a strong) February, I don’t know if we can catch up,” [Chris Romer] said. Those numbers may tell lodging and other businesses if there’s still high demand or if owners and managers need to adjust their revenue and expenses — staffing and purchasing — to adjust.
February’s snowfall will also tell us a lot about the water year to come.
Andrew Lyons, a forecaster in the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said a ridge of high pressure — either over California’s Pacific coast or in the desert Southwest — has for the past few months been forcing storm tracks to the north of Colorado.
The northern part of the state has done better regarding snowfall, Lyons said. Still, virtually the entire state is in some form of drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor — from “abnormally dry” to “moderate drought.”
As is usually the case in years when a La Nina pattern is established in the Pacific Ocean — even like this season’s weak pattern — Southern Colorado has borne the brunt of the dry conditions.
Assistant State Climatologist Becky Bolinger said “there’s almost zero chance” that the San Juan Mountains will catch up to anything resembling normal snowfall this season.
Still, reservoir storage around the state is in good shape to weather a one-season drought.
But water supplies in the Eagle River Valley are dependent more on streamflows than reservoir storage. The good news, Bolinger said, is that snowpack figures at higher elevations tend to be stronger than those at lower elevations.
The highest-elevation measurement site for the Eagle River is at nearby Fremont Pass, located above 11,000 feet. The snowpack there is currently at just more than 100 percent of the 30-year median snowfall amount.
Still, the current outlook is sobering for the entire Colorado River basin.
According to the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center the forecast for stations at Eagle and Gypsum is for spring runoff to be roughly 66 percent of the 30-year medians.
There’s still time to make up ground in terms of snowpack, Bolinger said — March and April are the snowiest months. Still, she said, a lot of snow is needed.
Lyons said historical patterns lean toward more snowy patterns in March and April. But, he said, the longterm outlook is for lower-than-average precipitation and warmer-than-average temperatures.
Last week, lawmakers on the Select Water Committee agreed to put $40 million in their budget to build a new dam in southern Wyoming, but only if all the money for the project is identified first. The total cost of the dam is estimated at $80 million dollars.
Water Development Office Director Harry LaBonde says with more droughts expected in the future, more irrigation water is needed for about 25 different ranches along the West Fork of Battle Creek in south-central Wyoming.
“When you get to August, flows are low and so the irrigation purpose of this project would be to provide these late season irrigation flows so that they could continue to irrigate and enhance their grass hay crops,” said LaBonde.
Battle Creek flows into the Yampa River in Colorado and the hope is that state would help fund the project…
Water Development Office Director LaBonde said, with more droughts likely, Wyoming needs to provide for its irrigators. He said now is a good time to build dams.
“I will say also that with regards to the President’s infrastructure bills that are being proposed, there’s also potential for a component of federal funding for this project.”
LaBonde says the reservoir will also provide recreation opportunities and habitat for the imperiled Colorado cutthroat trout.
The project is one of Governor Matt Mead’s 10-in-10 water projects, an effort to build ten new water storage projects in ten years. Four others around the state are also moving forward including Middle Pioneer Reservoir and an enlargement of Big Sandy Reservoir, both in Sublette County on the Green River, a main branch on the Colorado River. Also, two dam projects in the Bighorn Basin in northern Wyoming have been funded for construction costs, including Alkali Creek Dam and Levitt Reservoir.
FromColorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:
Hickenlooper was initially expected to talk about his water legacy during the Colorado Water Congress luncheon in southeastern Denver, but instead, he addressed how he regards water and how the state ought to pay for the water plan’s estimated $20 billion price tag.
Before the start of Hickenlooper’s remarks, the Water Congress took the pulse of those in attendance about what the next governor should do with the water plan. Seventy-three percent said “use it,” 8 percent said the next governor should ignore it and 19 percent said the state should embark on a different path with regard to its water future.
Pollster Floyd Ciruli said the results show the new governor has to make sure the water plan and its issues remain a top priority, along with rural broadband, transportation and public education funding.
Hickenlooper referred to his recent State of the State speech and his reference to “topophilia.” No, that’s not something bad – it’s a love of place, according to the governor. And Colorado must do all it can to preserve its clean air and water, two of the most important aspects of the state’s infrastructure, he said.
Funding for the water plan has not been identified, Hickenlooper said. The governor said he is looking for a bipartisan approach to funding the water plan, in part to avoid the sensitivity that people have to being asked to pay more taxes. That could include, he said, using severance taxes.
But it would take a structural change to how severance taxes are levied to raise the kind of revenue anticipated to cover the state’s share of the water plan costs: around $100 million per year for the next 30 years, beginning in 2020.
Hickenlooper explained the state has some of the lowest severance taxes in the nation. And that hasn’t gotten any better after a 2016 lawsuit from BP that challenged certain deductions on oil and gas equipment. BP won that lawsuit, which forced the state to tap tens of millions of dollars from severance taxes to cover not only BP’s deductions but that of other oil and gas companies. That lawsuit exposed structural problems in the way severance taxes are collected, Hickenlooper said.
A structural change to severance taxes is something the General Assembly will have to deal with, most likely through a ballot measure, the governor added.
The idea of using severance tax money for the water plan isn’t that far-fetched an idea. Those dollars have been going to water projects for years, mostly to water providers for infrastructure and through grants and loans, although in small amounts. And severance taxes have been tapped directly to fund the initial implementation of the water plan, in areas such as alternative transfers of water in agriculture, conservation and water efficiency. But the state has, in times of trouble, also raided the severance tax fund to cover shortfalls in the budget, to the tune of $322 million in the past two recessions.
Hickenlooper said he believes the oil and gas industry will not stand in the way if the state seeks higher severance taxes, based on conversations he’s had with oil and gas CEOs. “They’re not complaining” about how much severance tax they pay in Colorado, especially after winning the BP court case.
FromThe Aspen Times (Scott Condon) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
Pitkin County is part of a cluster of counties on the Western Slope and central mountains that is projected to grow by between 5,000 and 20,000 residents between now and 2050.
Pitkin County is on the low end of that range, according to “The Population of Colorado,” a study completed by the demographer’s office in November.
The county’s population was 18,006 last year. By 2050 it is projected to grow to 23,209, the study said. That’s an increase of 5,203 residents, or 29 percent…
Regardless of how growth in Pitkin County shakes out, its neighbors are expected to grow at a faster clip. Garfield and Eagle counties are expected to gain about 65 percent in population between 2020 and 2050.
Eagle County is forecast to swell from 57,571 residents in 2020 to a population of 94,459 by 2050.
Garfield County is expected to balloon from 64,119 in 2020 to 105,711 by year 2050…
In the bigger picture of Colorado population growth, Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties are dwarfed by the changes expected in counties of the Front Range. Denver, El Paso, Arapahoe, Adams, Weld and Larimer are all expected to gain more than 200,000 residents by 2050. Boulder, Jefferson, Douglas and Pueblo counties are close behind with estimated growth between 50,001 and 200,000 residents.
Texas and New Mexico are squaring off over water rights in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the issues at the heart of the disagreement were settled in 2008.
Insert drought: for most of the past 20 years, this whole disputed territory has suffered a series of droughts. Elephant Butte has not regularly filled as originally planned, and farmers have turned to pumping groundwater to meet their needs.
Texas’ main argument in the suit is that groundwater pumping for irrigation wasn’t covered under the 1938 compact. Texas contends that the groundwater is essentially attached to the water in the Rio Grande and Elephant Butte Reservoir. River water is drawn into the ground in times of high pumping, and more water then needs to be released from the reservoir to reach the quota bound for Texas. But Texas says that water is meant to be stored for Texas farms in drought years.
None of this is new. In fact, after years of previous wrangling, the three players directly involved in the dispute – Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which manages water between the dam and the Texas border; El Paso County Water Improvement District, which manages water on the Texas side; and Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the physical water system – collectively created the 2008 Operating Agreement. That document clearly laid out water use and metering of both surface and groundwater along the disputed stretch.
“It wasn’t pleasant, I’ll be honest with you,” Gary Esslinger, Elephant Butte Irrigation District manager and treasurer, said of those negotiations. But in the end, both water districts felt they had a deal they could work with, and farmers could get on with farming.
Enter the State of New Mexico and then-Attorney General Gary King, who, in 2011, sued the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District and the Bureau of Reclamation in both state and federal courts. He argued that the Operating Agreement gave too much water to Texas. And in light of that, two years later, Texas began its Supreme Court fight.
“Make no mistake, we had it solved,” said Phil King, professor of civil engineering at New Mexico State University. He helped negotiate the 2008 agreement with Elephant Butte Irrigation District.
“We still think to this day that we might not be in the Supreme Court, had New Mexico not threatened the 2008 agreement,” Esslinger said.
The stakes are high. If New Mexico loses, the state could be penalized for misappropriated water as far back as the 1940s – a bill that could reach north of $1 billion. In addition, the state may have to allocate more of its water to Texas in the future.
Meanwhile, farmers continue to operate under the 2008 agreement. Also, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District, Bureau of Reclamation and other, smaller water users in New Mexico’s lower Rio Grande Valley are in closed-door talks to try to hammer out another deal – one amenable to both states and that makes the Supreme Court case moot. New Mexico’s current attorney general, Hector Balderas, has also indicated he wants to settle the case.
“I’m really very optimistic that something will work out,” says John Fleck, the director of the Water Resources program at the University of New Mexico. But “however this gets resolved, there will probably be less water for farming in the lower Rio Grande.”
Western resorts got blanketed with snow during the weekend. Telluride rejoiced with 17 inches. In Vail, people were reporting the conditions were actually pretty good.
But Crested Butte got only 5 inches of snow, so skiing remains largely limited to those runs with manufactured snow. The extreme stuff, for which the resort is noted, is still thin.
“The 5 inches we picked up this weekend didn’t change the world here,” says John Norton.
Norton is the executive director of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association and a former executive at ski areas, both Crested Butte and Aspen.
Like many other ski towns this winter, Crested Butte’s bookings held up well through Christmas, despite the absence of snow. But in the last month the numbers have faltered significantly.
Norton recently issued a memo in which he reported that March bookings “continue to suck. It used to be the biggest and most reliable winter month. Now it’s falling out of bed. March continues to be a puzzle.”
FromThe Denver Post (Jason Blevins) via The Greeley Tribune:
[Billy] Barr began taking notes in 1974 out of boredom. Every day he would record the low and high temperatures, and measure new snow, snow-water equivalent and snowpack depth. Now he has stacks of yellowed notebooks brimming with a trove of data that has made him an accidental apostle among climate researchers.
“I recorded all this out of a personal interest in the weather. And because I’ve done it for so long, it has some benefit and some value. It wasn’t like I was some sort of forethinker, thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to write all this down and have absolutely no life whatsoever so I can stay here for 50 years,’ ” he says, tugging a gossamer beard dangling to his well-worn cricket sweater.
“Scientifically, my data are good because I had no goals, therefore no one can say ‘Well, you are just taking data to prove a point.’ It’s just numbers. I just wrote them down,” he says. “It’s the same person in the same location doing it in the same method, so even if I did it wrong, I did it wrong every single day for 44 years.”
He doesn’t necessarily analyze his data. But he’s seeing a trend: It’s getting warmer. The snow arrives later and leaves earlier.
Lately, he’s charting winters with about 11 fewer days with snow on the ground; roughly 5 percent of the winter without snow. In 44 years, he’d counted one December where the average low was above freezing — until December 2017, when the average low was 35 degrees.
More than 50 percent of the record daily highs he’s logged have come since 2010. In December and January this season, he already has counted 11 record daily-high temperatures. Last year he tallied 36 record-high temperatures, the most for one season. Back in the day, he would see about four, maybe five record highs each winter.
Barr’s data jibe with state and federal studies showing Colorado’s snowpack sitting around the third-lowest on record. Klaus Wolter, a University of Colorado climate scientist in Boulder, recently revised his seasonal outlook for Colorado noting a very low water content in the dismal snowpack, specifically pointing to a second-lowest snow-water-equivalent since 1981 in Barr’s Gunnison River Basin.
The second-year return of the La Niña weather pattern, Wolter wrote, “is playing out in typical fashion, leaving little hope for a recovery to near-normal snowpack or runoff in 2018.”
David Inouye, a conservation biologist who spends his summers at Gothic’s Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, has relied on Barr’s weather data in his study of the timing and abundance of wildflowers, which he began in 1973. He counts on Barr’s wildlife observations as well — a detailed daily analysis of bird and critter sightings that show marmots emerging from hibernation a month earlier than usual and robins arriving about three weeks early.
“Many of the researchers at Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in the summer are people (like me) who have made career-long commitments to work at that site, and Billy’s data help many of us to have a climate context for our observations,” Inouye says. “We’re fortunate, for many reasons, that Billy made a commitment to living in Gothic after experiencing it for a summer as an undergraduate student there.”
Last year a short film featuring his life and weather research — “The Snow Guardian” — became a hit on the outdoor film circuit. He loved the movie. It prompted a steady stream of visitors last season, which he also enjoyed, even though it disrupted his carefully constructed routine. The publicity not only elevated his research, but his undeniable observations on how things are getting warmer. He’s not particularly political, but he recognizes a need to act to preserve winter.
“Let’s say this warming, it’s not our fault but we go ahead anyway and clean up the air and clean up the water. What did we lose?” he says, sipping from a mug of tea. “Why wouldn’t we do something?”
Here’s the release from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Sandra Snell-Dobert):
On December 27, 2017, the National Park Service (NPS) and The Conservation Fund finalized a purchase to add 2,494 acres to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Located near the visitor center and along the South Rim of the canyon, this addition to the park will provide access for additional recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat, and potential utility improvements in the park, which saw over 300,000 visitors in 2017.
The addition of this property, known as the Sanburg Ranch, will guarantee future access to the Red Rock Canyon area of the park, which is a destination for anglers and other backcountry users seeking a more gradual route to the Gunnison River. This acquisition will allow Black Canyon of the Gunnison to better preserve the viewshed from the visitor center and the popular South Rim Road, the main route through the park. The property also creates potential opportunities for NPS to provide water to the South Rim, reducing operational costs of hauling water to meet visitor and staff needs.
The NPS acquired the property from The Conservation Fund at the end of 2017, using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The property is included within the boundaries of the 1999 legislation that created Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Established 52 years ago, LWCF is a bipartisan federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—to protect irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities.
U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (CO-3) supported Colorado’s request for LWCF funding and helped secure the Congressional appropriations for the program.
“Securing the Sanburg Ranch improves public access to some of our state’s greatest backcountry hiking and fly fishing,” said Bennet. “Not only will this purchase add to the experience for visitors from around the world, but it will also improve management and bolster the water supply in the Park. The use of LWCF funds to preserve public access and improve land management further highlights the importance of reauthorizing this program before it expires later this year. I look forward to returning to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with my family and exploring this new area.”
“This newest addition to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a great example of why the Land and Water Conservation Fund is so important to Colorado,” said Gardner. “I have fought to permanently reauthorize this program to ensure our public lands will be preserved for future generations. In this specific instance, the fund was utilized to purchase a new piece of land that will increase access to the land and the recreational opportunities it provides to Coloradoans and visitors from around the world.”
“Protecting Colorado’s natural treasures and pristine areas like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park continues to be a priority,” said Tipton. “I commend the National Park Service and The Conservation Fund for their commitment and hard work to ensure that sportsmen, hikers, campers and families will all be able to experience this magnificent natural area for generations to come.”
The NPS is currently working through how to process permitting and access to the newly-acquired land; no immediate changes are planned for the Red Rock Canyon Wilderness Permit lottery or access to the park from the Bostwick Park area. The former landowner will continue to hold grazing leases on the property for the next 10 years; the expiration of those leases will sunset grazing on this parcel.
“This addition to the park will improve access to some of Colorado’s most outstanding scenery, fishing, and wildlife viewing, boosting the outdoor recreation economy that the surrounding communities depend on,” said Christine Quinlan of The Conservation Fund’s office in Boulder. “Bipartisan support from Senator Bennet, Senator Gardner, and Congressman Tipton allowed this project to succeed.”
Montrose Board of County Commissioners Chairman Keith Caddy said, “This is exciting news for Montrose County residents. The addition of this property enhances the beauty and recreation opportunities of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for residents and tourists alike.”
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was first established as Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument in 1933 and was designated a national park in 1999. Known for the steep, deep, and narrow canyon carved by the Gunnison River, the Black Canyon exposes some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. The park hosts a variety of ecosystems from pinyon pine, juniper, and scrub oak forests at the rim, to the shady vertical canyon walls, and down to the riparian community along the Gunnison River.
The Conservation Fund makes conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense the Fund is redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, The Conservation Fund has worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect nearly eight million acres of land.
Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:
Today [January 26, 2018], Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte announced the new Water Services Officer: Earl Wilkinson. His first day with Springs Utilities is Monday, February 26, 2018.
“Earl’s experience includes managing stormwater, wastewater and water divisions in multiple municipalities, as well extensive planning, design and construction experience,” Forte said. “He has served on numerous committees and boards where he established a focused customer-service approach with staff, politicians, consultants, citizens and other governmental agencies that builds trust and confidence. I am excited for the knowledge and expertise Earl will bring to our organization.”
Wilkinson has more than 26 years of experience working for municipal governments. Since 2009 he’s served as the Director of Public Works for the City of Pueblo. In this role, he collaborated with Colorado Springs Utilities and many of our stakeholders. He previously served as a senior professional engineer and administrator in Toledo, Ohio.
“I’m thrilled to be selected to be a part of the Colorado Springs Utilities team and look forward to working in an organization that is an industry leader in municipal utilities,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson has a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He is married and has three daughters and five grandchildren.
The Water Services Officer position has been vacant since Jan. 5, 2018, when Dan Higgins retired.
Making lemonade in Telluride during a winter of very little natural snow
It finally snowed during the last week in Telluride, 23 inches in five days, enough to whiten the landscape and cloak some of the grass. At least for a bit, the lab experiment is on hold.
That unwitting experiment being tested at Telluride and a good many other resorts this winter has been whether a ski resort can operate and have great success without snow falling from the heavens?
Snow surveys conducted last week in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado found snow depths 22 percent of normal. To the north in Colorado, they were reported to be 65 percent of normal. Aspen got nine inches over the weekend, hardly worth mentioning in most years. This year it’s the equivalent of a man biting a dog.
In Telluride, the chief executive of the community’s promotional arm reports no grim hits to the community tourism economy—not yet at least. “It’s not all about snow,” says Michael Martelon, of VisitTelluride. “But if we had it, it would make everything else better.”
Martelon is quick to note that Telluride differs from resorts close to cities in that its customers mostly come from long distances. Denver is six hours away, Phoenix eight. Snow is somewhat less important to its visitors than weekend skiing customers on Colorado’s I-70 corridor or those from Utah’s Wasatch Front.
Telluride still has skiing, thanks in part to $15 million in snowmaking investments in the last six years. But for many visitors, skiing is not the end all, be all. There are galleries, restaurants, and even the Jud Wiebe Trail. Located on the south-facing slopes above Telluride, it was still accessible even after the first storm in the recent sequence.
Christmas was strong, and the only repercussion so far has been a softening in bookings for spring break. Lodges require 45-day advance payment, he notes. But for the moment, bookings are pacing to be ahead of last year.
Martelon sees lemonade when others, especially locals accustomed to daily blasts of powder, see lemons. “It might be a blessing in disguise,” he says. “Taking care of the guest becomes the absolute priority, because the snow isn’t doing it for you.”
That said, he suggested checking back in May, to see if his optimism was fully justified.
Elsewhere in the West’s ski towns, Ketchum and Sun Valley reported a lucrative holiday season, better in most cases than the year before. Before, there was powder to ski in the morning. This year, there was little compelling reason to arise, so people stay out at night, explained the Idaho Mountain Express.
At the foot of the ski area, the Ketchum Ranger Station had no measurable snow on the ground on Jan. 1. That’s a first since record-keeping began in 1938, according to the National Weather Service.
But on Wednesday, the Mountain Express proclaimed that the valley “finally looks like winter.”
In Aspen, there was optimism that snowmaking—helped by cold nights—will save the day for the X Games Aspen on Jan. 25-28.
“It really is impressive what the snowmaking and grooming teams have been able to do,” Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the company, told the Aspen Daily News.
In California, an early January snow survey near the entrance to the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski area revealed an average depth of 1.3 inches of snow. The water in that snow is 3 percent of the long-term average for the location, at about 6,640 feet (2,020 meters) in elevation, reported Lake Tahoe News.
Will this change? “There is still a lot of winter left,” Frank Gehrke, who conducts the survey, said. “January, February and into March are frequently productive.”
That said, there are concerns about whether the warming Arctic could in coming decades produce changes in the Pacific Ocean that will more frequently create the high-pressure ridges that have plagued California in recent years. This same high-pressure ridge was blamed for the lack of snow across the West until this past week. See Dec. 7 story in Mountain Town News.
Marilyn Short and Luke Mick are gumshoes of sorts: They’re trying to solve the mystery of why the Animas River near Silverton has more caddisflies than would be expected after the Gold King Mine spill.
Sadie Vance, Abby Allsopp and Faith Mewmaw created an interactive fishing game where anglers using a yardstick converted to a fishing pole can test their luck catching wood cutouts of fish and attendant pollutants and heavy metals found in the Animas River.
Ryan Colley, Chole Walsh and Cole Elliott devised an interactive video game where players can learn how the upgrade to the wastewater-treatment plant at Santa Rita will cleanse the urban waste stream so it can be safely returned to the Animas.
They were among 65 Animas High School juniors in Steve Smith’s chemistry class who plunged into a subject that brings nervous jitters to many a former high-schooler as they delved into the world of ionic and covalent bonds and spectroscopy through the lens of studying water quality.
On Thursday evening at the Powerhouse Science Center, students presented projects from their study of water quality in the Animas River. About 150 people attended.
“Students get exposed to water quality in this town, and this allowed them to look at the issue in a different manner,” Smith said.
The students, he said, spent about two weeks on the projects, and the city of Durango and Mountain Studies Institute partnered with Short during the unit…
Chole, who joined Ryan and Cole in creating a video game based on upgrades to the wastewater-treatment plant at Santa Rita, said the city of Durango helped with research – and even provided a tour.
“We were introduced to how the water-treatment plant works. We were able to ask questions. It really helped me more than a basic lecture,” Chole said of her group’s Santa Rita tour.
The trio’s video game is only in its rudimentary stages, and the students want to develop more levels: As players advance, they gain more knowledge of the chemistry behind processes as wastewater moves through treatment stages before its eventual return to the Animas.
When asked if the trio could, on its own, do the necessary work to complete the video game, Ryan said, “If we had more time, I think we’d get decently close.”
Cole said the chemistry proved relatively easy to understand; the hard part of video game development was getting the game to operate properly on all three members’ laptops.
Marilyn’s study of caddisflies left one big impression: “I was surprised by how much life is in the river that I didn’t even know about.”
“Microinvertebrates are useful in determining water quality,” Luke said, adding he was stumped why the Animas near Silverton has more caddisflies than expected based on its water composition.
Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District welcomes new member, keeps same officers, hears three reports.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District welcomed new board member Phillip Chavez at Wednesday’s meeting. Chavez is manager of Diamond A Farms and also has Chavez Family Farms. He was appointed by Judge Mark MacDonnell, and replaces Willard Behm, who completed the term of the late Wayne Whittaker.
All of the LAVWCD officers were retained – Lynden Gill of Bent County as chairman, Leroy Mauch of Prowers County as vice chairman, Melissa Esquibel of Pueblo County as secretary, and Jim Valliant of Crowley County as treasurer. Mauch was reappointed as LAVWCD member on the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway Board.
Three PowerPoints were presented on Wednesday. The first was by Chris Woodka on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the second by Krystal Brown of the United States Geological Survey on a joint survey of USGS and LAVWCD on groundwater in the Lower Arkansas Valley, and the third by Larry Small, a study of Fountain Creek Flood Control.
Woodka went over the history of the Conduit project, which goes back to letters of support from 1952 and 1953 and was created officially when President John F. Kennedy came to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, which contained the Conduit. Through many years of struggle and $22 million spent, the final Environmental Impact Statement was completed in 2013 and recorded in 2014. The lengthy and expensive detour around Pueblo by the Conduit may be bypassed by the new concept put forth by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District which would use the capacity in Pueblo Water’s system to deliver water at the eastern boundary of Pueblo to the Arkansas Valley Conduit, saving about 10 years in the construction process.
Brown’s presentation was a study in discrete groundwater measurements at 125 sites measured biannually. The data will be used to study climate, land-use practices and water-management practices. The proposed 2018 program involved: 1. Biannual groundwater level measurements of 125 alluvial and basin-fill wells – LAVWCD contributes $211,349 and USGS $9,241; 2. The operation of real-time continuous water temperature and specific conductance monitor to which LAVWCD contributes $10,750 and USGS, $4,605; 3. Seven sites of discrete specific conductance measurements – LAVWCD $4,043, USGS $869.
Larry Small, representing the Fountain Creek Watershed, presented a needs assessment for the Fountain Creek Flood Control Study. Phase 1 was an appraisal study of the feasibility of three alternatives and subalternatives (completed in Jan 2017). Phase 2 is a needs assessment of screen alternatives and involves selecting the preferred alternative, to be completed in Feb 2018. Future phases will be financing, permitting, design and construction. The recommendation is the Floodplain Management alternative. Its advantages are as follows: 1. provides multiple benefits in addition to flood management, 2. has stakeholder support, 3. could attract outside funding for certain components, 4. could be combined with localized floodplain measures in Pueblo at currently flood-prone locations to address the key flood control objectives along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. The Floodplain Management alternative is the only alternative that can be phased, but would require the longest time for completion.
Attorney Peter Nichols received $1,000 from the board toward the cost of filing in opposition to an appeal by New York over a sewage discharge matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. The board went into executive session with the lawyers.
Members of multiple Archuleta County agencies met on Jan. 17 to come to a consensus on working together as part of a Growing Water Smart (GWS) workgroup.
Members of the Pagosa Springs Town Council, Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC), Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD), Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association board (PLPOA) and Pagosa Fire Protection District (PFPD) were all participants of the work session.
Town Planning Director James Dickhoff and PAWSD Manager Jus- tin Ramsey began the work session by giving information on the GWS workshop held in September.
According to documentation provided at the work session, the workshop was attended by a seven member community team from Archuleta County.
The workshop was held by the Sonoran Institute and focused on integrating land use and water resource planning.
After the three-day workshop concluded, the Archuleta County team concluded that in order to implement the goals of the Colorado Water Plan, better collaboration among the separate government entities was needed…
Town council member Mat de- Graaf noted that this workgroup would be helpful for each individual organization to use funds as effi- ciently as possible.
“That happens when we’re all on the same page, understanding who is doing what and why,” deGraaf said.
PFPD board member David Blake then added that it would define the availability of water and service needs for the fire district.
“None of us want to waste time, energy, or money. Because, basically, we’re all using tax money to try and get something good done,” SJWCD board member Ray Finney said.
SJWCD board member Al P ster also added that it would allow each organization to identify challenges and obstacles earlier.
Moving forward with the work session, Curgus then asked the group about any challenges with the collaboration.
Coordinating each of the various member’s meeting schedules was noted as a challenge by town council member Nicole DeMarco.
deGraaf then noted that each organization may have differing perspectives on which way the data set is veering.
“Can anyone think of an example where one entity may like that it’s veering in one way?” deGraaf asked.
The work session then transitioned to a variety of topics ranging from the benefits of a collective data source to how the workgroup should function.
Would you like to learn more about what Archuleta County is doing to minimize the impacts of floods, dam failures, wildfires, hazardous materials incidents and other hazards?
A draft of the county’s updated Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan is being made available for public review and comment. The plan assesses risks posed by natural and man-made hazards, identifies ways to reduce those risks and allows the county to remain eligible for mitigation funding from FEMA.
A Hazard Mitigation Planning Committee that includes representatives from various county departments, Pagosa Springs, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District, and the Pagosa Fire
Protection District updated the plan over the past eight months with assistance from a consultant.
The plan identifies hazard mitigation goals and a variety of mitigation projects with the intent of reducing losses from hazard events before they occur again.
The planning committee is now soliciting public comment on the plan before it is finalized and submitted for FEMA review and approval.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Colorado Ag Water Alliance Workshops
The Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA) is hosting a series of workshops for farmers and ranchers around the state to disseminate information and discuss pertinent water issues related to Ag. This is an opportunity to discuss what is going on around the state in terms of Ag water use. It’s also an opportunity for the member organizations of CAWA to receive feedback from producers on water policy and programs.
The Basin Roundtable is generously sponsoring this event.
Here’s the release from Aurora Water (Greg Baker):
On Monday evening, Aurora Water received approval from City Council to buy water rights associated with the London Mine, located near Alma, in Park County. 1,411 acre feet (af) is being purchased at a price of $22,000 per af, with additional costs of $3 million for the option to additional water rights as they are developed. An acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons, enough water to serve 2.5 households on average. The seller of the rights is MineWater Finance, LLC and No Name Investors, both Colorado companies. The total value of this initial sale is $34,042,000. As additional water rights are developed, Aurora may purchase these rights for $21,500 per acre foot. The sellers are confident that the source of the rights could ultimately result in an average annual deliverable of 5,400 af.
The source of this water is from a basin that is recharged from snowmelt on London Mountain. A geologic fault contains the water underground and prevents it from discharging into South Mosquito Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River. This water will be pumped from the basin to a water tunnel in the London Mine and from there, discharged into South Mosquito Creek. Since this water is not naturally connected to the streams, it is decreed under Colorado Water Law as non-tributary. This has special meaning as this water is fully reusable and can be recaptured utilizing Aurora’s Prairie Waters system, a potable reuse system.
Aurora Water has been a national leader in water efficiency, including an acclaimed water reuse system called Prairie Waters, and a nationally recognized water conservation program. Water acquisition is still necessary to meet future demands.
“Looking for new water supplies in the arid west requires innovative thinking,” said Marshall Brown, Director for Aurora Water. “This is a supply that historically has not been tapped by water providers, but the easier supplies are gone.”
The environmentally positive aspects of purchase have resulted in praise from organizations such as the Boulder-based Water Resource Advocates (WRA).
“New water supplies in Colorado are extremely limited and, at the same time, nearly 2,000 miles of streams in Colorado are polluted by mines,” Laura Belanger, Water Resources and Environmental Engineer with WRA stated. “We commend Aurora Water for taking a leadership role in finding this inventive and environmentally beneficial solution to meeting its customers’ water needs.”
The Aurora City Council will vote on the purchase agreement at its regular session on Monday, January 22, 2018. Aurora Water will have a 180 day due diligence period prior to the final closing. Additional water rights under the options provision will be purchased as they are adjudicated and decreed through Colorado’s Water Courts.
CDPHE officials on Thursday declined to discuss the London Mine deal. Colorado Department of Natural Resources officials also declined to discuss it.
But “if they have a water right, they may extract the resource,” according to an emailed response that an agency information gatekeeper said could be attributed to Ginny Brannon, director of the agency’s division of reclamation, mining and safety.
State officials didn’t raise any concerns. They say their agency “partners” with others to reduce pollution “and additional partners and funding can always be used to reduce pollution from these large numbers of … inactive mines,” the statement said.
On Monday, Aurora council members, who have discussed the deal with utility officials in an executive session, will consider an initial purchase of 1,400 acre-feet of water for $32 million. That works out to about $22,000 per acre-foot, comparable with what utilities pay to acquire surface water. A second transaction would expand the pumping to extract up to 5,400 acre-feet a year, depending on a state water court determination of what is sustainable.
Money for the deal would come from fees charged to developers of new homes.
Here’s the release from the University of Colorado:
Coloradans “firmly disapprove” of President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress, have waning confidence in state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, overwhelmingly support “Dreamers” and would likely favor a Democrat if a congressional election were held today.
“Not surprisingly, people in Colorado are unhappy with the state of politics right now, and it is affecting how they view lawmakers and policy issues at the local level,” said political science professor and lab director Scott Adler, one of three collaborators on the survey.
Launched in 2016, the nonpartisan lab supports research, education and public engagement about American politics. The survey was administered online to more than 800 demographically diverse residents in November, asking questions ranging from how they feel about providing tax incentives for large companies, like Amazon, to their views on climate change and marijuana legalization. The survey also asked how respondents might vote in the upcoming gubernatorial election.
The Colorado Political Climate Survey is the first to offer a comprehensive, annual look at political attitudes of residents in the battleground Centennial State over time.
“The survey adds to the public discourse by focusing on issues that are important for both state and national policymakers that other surveys do not ask about,” said Carey Stapleton, a fourth-year PhD student who helped develop the survey.
Trust in elected officials on the decline
On the national level, only 14 percent of survey respondents (18 percent of Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats) approved of Congress’ job performance, down from 26 percent in 2016.
Thirty-four percent (79 percent of Republicans and four percent of Democrats) approved of Trump’s performance, with more men expressing approval than women. This compares to the 57 percent overall approval rate respondents gave to Obama in 2016.
Despite a slight decline in his approval rating, a majority (53 percent) of Coloradans still approve of Gov. John Hickenlooper. But both Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner saw their approval ratings slip below the 50 percent mark: 44 percent approve of Bennet’s performance, down from 53 percent in 2016; 25 percent approve of Gardner’s performance, down from 43 percent in 2016.
“Gardner saw the biggest change in job approval among statewide elected officials,” the report states. “Not only is Gardner’s overall approval rating very low among Democrats (12 percent) as we might expect, but he scores quite poorly among independents (23 percent) and lacks majority approval among Republicans (46 percent).”
On the state level, approval of the legislature fell from 51 percent to 43 percent overall.
While trust in local government remained unchanged and fairly robust, trust in the federal government plummeted: In 2016, 1 in 4 said they trusted the federal government. In 2017, 1 in 10 said they did.
Coloradans split on issues, except DACA
Coloradans were split along party lines on most policy issues. But on immigration, a notable exception emerged: 71 percent (including 52 percent of Republicans) said they favor allowing undocumented residents who came to the country as children, aka “Dreamers” to stay in the country via policies like DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
“With the current national debate on immigration, I think it is important to note that a majority of all partisans—Democrats, independents and Republicans—support allowing Dreamers to remain in the United States,” Stapleton said.
Coloradans also gave lukewarm support (56 percent) for tax-incentives to bring large companies to Colorado. Two-thirds support marijuana legalization, and 60 percent support increased gun-control measures.
When asked whether they would support a Democratic or Republican candidate in the next congressional election, respondents favored Democrats by almost 20 percentage points, a spread that has grown since 2016. Democrats fared better in urban and suburban areas, while in rural areas, to the surprise of the authors, the vote would be “dead even.”
The authors say it is too early to tell whether Colorado is shifting from purple to blue “but our numbers from the past two years would seem to be consistent with such a trend.”
The survey will be repeated next fall, with results released before the 2018 election.
As Outdoor Retailer begins its first trade show here after 20 years in Salt Lake City, conservationists are celebrating a sense of relief to be out of Utah and in a state where protections for public lands enjoy broad political support.
Also: “The beer is stronger, the peaks are taller and the recreation is higher,” Maria Handley, of Conservation Colorado, proclaimed to a cheering crowd Wednesday night at a party welcoming the massive trade show to Denver.
Utah’s chances of recovering the goodwill of the outdoor industry’s leadership appeared to fade as Outdoor Retailer settled into its new home — with some still reeling from President Donald Trump’s December order drastically reducing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, which Utah’s elected officials strongly advocated.
“If there’s any doubt that we made the right move coming to Colorado, I think it’s dispelled,” John Sterling, director of the Conservation Alliance, said to applause.
As exhibitors filled the Colorado Convention Center on Thursday, the focus was on sales — and vendors were cautiously optimistic that this year’s show, bigger than last year’s, would prove fruitful.
But on Wednesday night, in Denver’s crowded civic center, industry and government leaders stressed their public policy partnership in Colorado. Gov. John Hickenlooper recited a list of political victories for public lands, from Colorado’s bipartisan defense of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument to the Legislature’s tense but ultimately successful designation of the Colorado Public Lands Day holiday.
“Clean air, clean water, public lands,” Hickenlooper said, “that’s about the most nonpartisan position you could have.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Floyd Ciruli):
Although Colorado has identified its water needs and has a state plan, 2018 will be a year of political transition. Will a new governor and legislature keep water at the top of the agenda or allow it to drop until the next water crisis? Many local agencies need financial help that can’t be met through local ratepayers alone. The state water plan identified $3 billion in unmet needs. And, as California has demonstrated, conservation must be a well-articulated state goal with significant resources dedicated to public education. California cut statewide use by 25 percent during the last drought through massive education coordinated with local agencies. But, leadership, both local and from the state, is needed.
Gov. John Hickenlooper accelerated the work of former governors Bill Owens and Bill Ritter to help address the state’s projected water shortage, but he only has one year left in office. Fortunately, besides Hickenlooper’s advancement of the scientific base behind the need for new projects, his use of a state planning process that involved all eight water basins in cooperation and decision-making and his issuing of a completed state water plan in December 2015, he has also seen real progress during his term on projects. He helped facilitate approval of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir and Northern Water’s Windy Gap projects. Still, much remains to be done.
■ How will pressing water issues fare through the upcoming political transition?
■ Will the research, river basin collaboration and planning continue?
■ Will permitting of the water projects now underway continue to make progress?
■ Will the next wave of projects — many in rural and small towns — get permitted, funded and built?
■ Will the state initiate and fund a statewide conservation public education program?
■ Will the state continue its planning processes in order to lead a ballot issue funding effort? (The previous proposal, controversial in design and promotion, failed in 2003, but lessons were learned.)
The planning and development capabilities of Colorado’s water community have grown significantly, but the needs are growing faster still. Through the 2018 political transition, we must ensure that water remains a top priority and not become another state plan ignored in a government file.
“We want to make sure our great outdoor recreation opportunities are even better for Coloradans,” Polis said. “I think by focusing on it we can do that and create good jobs as well as in the outdoor recreation industry.”
One of the aspects of the plan includes the establishment of the Colorado conservation and recreation districts. By creating such regions, lesser-known locations in the state can be discovered by tourists, he noted.
“We can help get more people to some of our great sights in Colorado,” Polis said. “That way it can ease congestion in some of the most traveled to areas and it can highlight some of the other areas in our state that have great potential through conservation and recreation districts.
“I think a lot of local communities in western Colorado will take advantage of becoming conservation and recreation districts to really help put themselves on the map to create good jobs.”
It’s not just the sights that are crucial to visitors of the state, but also the recreational activities available in Colorado, he said. Polis noted his quality-of-life goal for residents is for people to continue with outdoor interests like biking, hiking, hunting and fishing.
“Those are all the reasons why we are so proud and excited to be Coloradans,” Polis said. “We really rely on having access to great wild areas in open spaces.”
Those considerable landscapes are also key features for people interested in discovering outdoor activities in Colorado, he added.
“It’s an important part of filling our restaurants, hotels and retail stores,” Polis said. “So, it’s an important job creator in our state as we can attract people from other areas of the country for skiing, hunting, fishing or hiking.”
He added to keep such pursuits viable means to improve funding for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. With 80 percent of CPW revenue coming from users fees, Polis said he does not desire to have outdoor enthusiasts pay for most of it.
“We want to make sure the full burden of maintaining trails and our public lands doesn’t fall on anglers and hunters,” Polis said.
A way to potentially work on that is by creating a commission filled with people from the recreation side, hunters and environmental experts, he noted.
Additionally, the representative said he means to make sure the CPW and the Conservation and Great Outdoors Colorado trust funds are financed. Polis said it’s vital for GOCO to remain intact as it’s been invaluable for creating work.
“It’s really important to secure funding for Great Outdoors Colorado,” Polis said, adding such grants support over 11,000 jobs and provide millions of dollars in economic activity for the state.
It also has helped with financing locally.
The Montrose Recreation District has received numerous grants from GOCO. One of the more recent ones came in September 2017 when the City of Montrose and MRD’s $2 million grant application for trail connections was approved by the organization.
Jason Ullmann, MRD Board vice president and current acting president, said if it wasn’t for one of those grants in the past the Community Recreation Center wouldn’t have its amenities outside of the facility.
“With many of those outdoor facilities, we wouldn’t have built Phase 2, which includes the trials and pickleball courts. We wouldn’t have those without GOCO,” Ullmann said. “So the rec center was made much better with those grant dollars.”
Part of Polis’ plan is to make sure the ecosystem is still intact. He explained many organisms are on the Endangered Species list, which can lead to a snowball effect if they become wiped out.
“With certain species that become extinct it’s not just them that are affected,” Polis said. “It can lead to overpopulation of other species, it can throw entire ecosystems out of whack, it can ruin the outdoor experience for hunters or anglers, so it’s very important to help maintain healthy ecosystems.”
He added going forward he wants to preserve the outdoor way of life for future generations of Coloradans.
“We need to make sure we are protecting our environment and that we leave a legacy for our kids and grandkids in the same great state we live in,” Polis said.
What about water?
Polis said he supports Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Colorado Water Plan, and if elected, he will implement it.
“We want to make sure we have a collaborative approach to transmountain diversion. That we can make sure that our Western Colorado communities aren’t forced to pay the price for Front Range growth,” Polis said. “We want to make sure people across our whole state have access to high-quality water for the quantities we need for agricultural, as well as residents.”
A short film about Hirakata Farms that shows the process and work required to bring fresh, world famous produce to our table. Filmed on location at Hirakata Farms in Rocky Ford, Swink and Manzanola, Colorado.
Like most ski areas in Colorado this season, the runs were icy. Throughout the state, a day of skiing this season has often meant a day spent dodging the grass and rocks peeking from a threadbare blanket of snow.
“It was probably the worst day I’ve had since I lived in Colorado,” [Drew] Van Patter said of his runs at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Recent storms offered life support to many of the state’s snow-starved ski areas, but as of early January, Colorado’s snowpack was lower than it had been in 30 years. Last year was the state’s second-warmest year ever.
Ski resorts in Colorado, the snow sport stalwart of the nation, will lose millions of dollars this season because of paltry snow and balmy temperatures, one resort leader estimated.
“The whole state is having its worst opening in 20 years,” said Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Snowmass, during a December interview. “This is the weather and climate we fear. It’s already here.”
There will be many more seasons like this as climate change ravages Colorado ski areas, scientists and environmental advocacy groups predict. Recent Environmental Protection Agency research estimates Colorado ski areas will see their already fleeting seasons dwindle by 10 to 50 percent by 2050.
For a 150-day ski season, that means a reduction of between two weeks to nearly three months. By 2090, the EPA estimates some Colorado ski areas will see seasons shortened by as much as 80 percent from present-day levels.
“A lot of people think that climate change is something way in the future that’s hard to quantify,” said Lindsay Bourgoine, advocacy and campaigns manager for Protect Our Winters. The nonprofit is fighting climate change with support from the outdoors community. “When we start thinking about the millennial generation, this is their grandkids that won’t ski.”
The endangerment of the powder day is among the lesser worries of a world imperiled by climate change, Bourgoine said. But it’s one clear way that rising temperatures and unpredictable precipitation patterns are battering Colorado, a state that in recent years has been insulated from major fires and floods.
It’s hard to quantify exactly how climate change has affected Colorado ski resorts, particularly because their managers keep a tight grip on data tracking season length and snow-making. Half a dozen ski resorts contacted by the Coloradoan declined to participate in this story or did not respond to requests for interviews and data.
But we know mountain snowpack has decreased 20 to 60 percent at most monitoring sites in Colorado since the 1950s, according to an EPA analysis. We know Colorado’s average temperature has increased more than 2 degrees in the last 40 years.
Climate change has gnawed off profitable chunks at the beginning and end of the ski season, said Schendler, who estimated an area needs about 100 days to turn a profit.
“We’re seeing these shoulder seasons being squeezed every year,” he said. “You get maybe 20 percent of your revenue in the Christmas to New Year’s season, and then a big chunk in March for spring break. If you shave off the front and back ends, you no longer have an industry.”
Low snowfall has an immediate impact on skier visits. The marketing group Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents 23 ski areas including Aspen Snowmass and Arapahoe Basin, reported a 13 percent drop in visits between opening day and Dec. 31 compared to the same period last season. Early-season visits last season were down 8 percent from the year before, when heavy snow provided a boost.
Vail Resorts reported an 11 percent decline in early-season visits at its resorts across the United States, which include four Colorado resorts. That followed a 13 percent drop in early visits last year.
Colorado has seen — and bounced back from — winter droughts like this before. Longtime residents might remember the winter of 1976-77, one of Colorado’s driest winters on record. The next season saw well-above-average snowfall. But rising temperatures exace
Snowmaking can help ski areas get through rough winters, but it requires a Goldilocks-esque recipe of temperature, humidity, wind — and water rights. As temperatures climb, that recipe becomes increasingly elusive.
Lower-elevation ski areas are more vulnerable to temperature increases, which will turn some snow into rain and melt away the snow that does fall. Resorts that don’t have the water rights or equipment for snowmaking won’t be able to supplement nature’s bounty with manmade powder.
“The snow-making is just a stopgap,” Schendler said.
‘It’s our responsibility to take action now’
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area is one of the only Colorado areas that has been spared from this season’s snow shortfall.
First to open and last to close, Arapahoe Basin is known for having the longest ski season in a state known for long ski seasons. The area has had an average season of 227 days — about seven and a half months — since 2010-11, according to a Coloradoan analysis.
But Arapahoe Basin is also one of the most active resorts in the realm of climate change advocacy. Along with Aspen Snowmass, it’s one of two Colorado resorts that partners with Protect Our Winters. Resort employees sport POW logos on their uniforms, and two employees work specifically on sustainability initiatives that include waste diversion, greenhouse gas emissions tracking, solar panels and efficient lighting…
What’s missing in the world of climate advocacy is a social movement, Schendler said. All the positive changes in society — labor, women’s suffrage, civil rights — had a movement behind them, but climate change advocacy doesn’t yet, he said.
Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):
Mark Pifher, who shepherded two of the state’s largest water projects to completion and a nationally recognized expert on water quality issues, was awarded the top award at this week’s Colorado Water Congress convention.
Pifher was awarded the Wayne N. Aspinall Water Leader of the Year Award.
Pifher, a Colorado Springs resident, is a member of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board of directors, and recently retired from Colorado Springs Utilities. He previously was executive director of Aurora Water and served as executive director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.
“I’m thrilled to be among a very select group of water leaders who have received this award,” Pifher said.
The award is named for the late Rep. Wayne N. Aspinall, who was an influential member of Congress who pushed through many water projects in the 1950s and 1960s.
Pifher came to Colorado Springs Utilities in 2012 during the construction of the Southern Delivery System to help with permit issues and community relations. The $840 million water delivery project was the largest in Colorado in recent years.
From 2006-12, Pifher headed Aurora Water and Completed the $600 million Prairie Waters Project, which recycles return flows for reuse as a fresh water supply.
From 2002-06, Pifher led the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.
Pifher still is a recognized authority on water quality issues, and has taken the lead in this area for the National Water Resources Association.
Pifher was greeted at the awards ceremony Friday by past winners of the award, his wife Wendy and his son Jeff, a jazz musician from Los Angeles.
Greg Hobbs sent these photos along from the Aspinall Award Luncheon.
Here’s Greg’s invocation from the luncheon:
Aspinall Award Lunch, Colorado Water Congress
Welcome to the annual Aspinall Award Lunch. As the sun comes round again and the days grow longer,
it’s good to be a young person in love. It’s good to be in love at any age!
As we gather together in celebration of each other and Colorado, I invoke the love of Leroy and Martha Carpenter,
who gave birth to Delph Carpenter, the Architect of Compacts, a first generation descendant of the Union Colony.
As the railroad came in off the trans-Continental from Cheyenne as far as Evans in 1870, the Union Colony settled in near
the confluence of the Poudre and the South Platte rivers. Leroy arrived early with members of his family.
Delph’s parents courted each other by letters carried between Greeley and Martha’s home in eastern Iowa by way of the new Union Pacific
and Kansas Pacific railroad routes. Amidst the serious work of establishing a relationship line by line, they bantered about who would carry
whom across the Union Colony No. 2 and No. 3 ditches.
On October 2, 1871, Martha wrote “I should not certainly (fear) those numerous ditches if I could have some Carpenters to keep me
from falling into them.” (Dan Tyler and Betty Henshaw, Love In An Envelope at 47).
On January 14, 1872, Leroy suggested they would carry each other across. “And when we come to these ditches, I may carry you over
and then you may carry me over. Will that suit you?” (Envelope at 84).
A teacher and a wit, Martha responded playfully while clearly establishing that their relationship would be founded upon mutual consent,
“I don’t know whether I shall consent to carry you over the ditches or not.” (Envelope at 92).
To the south in the San Luis Valley, Hispanic settlers had constructed the San Luis People’s Ditch nearly twenty years earlier.
Long before that, the Utes were traveling back and forth along the rivers, canyons, mountains and plains of this land we now call Colorado.
As we all look to our heritage and to the forested watersheds, may the Lord bless and sustain each of us.
I’ll be live-tweeting from the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention today. Follow along on Twitter @CoyoteGulch or better yet, follow the conference hash tag #CWCAC2018. Check back here later today to find out who is the recipient of the Aspinall Award.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
A westerly flow dominated the upper-level circulation across the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. The week began with a frontal system exiting the eastern CONUS, and ended with another Pacific system moving across the country. The systems brought an inch to more than locally 5 inches of precipitation to the coasts and Cascades of northern California to Washington; 1 to 2 inches of precipitation to parts of the northern Rockies and in swaths from eastern Nebraska to the Great Lakes and from southeastern Oklahoma to the Mid-Mississippi Valley; and a few reports of 1 inch or more across parts of the South and Southeast. These amounts translated to above normal for the central Plains to western Great Lakes, parts of the Pacific Northwest, the swath from southeastern Oklahoma to the Mid-Mississippi Valley, and a few areas in the South and Southeast. But for large parts of the country, the week was drier than normal, with little to no precipitation falling across large parts of the Southwest and Southern Plains. The westerly flow brought above-normal temperatures to most of the West and across the northern states, especially the Northern Plains to western Great Lakes where weekly temperature departures were 9 to 15 degrees above normal. Weekly temperatures averaged below normal across the southern states from eastern Arizona to North Carolina, where the effects of earlier cold air masses still lingered. Contraction of drought and abnormal dryness occurred with the large winter storm that dumped on eastern Nebraska to the Great Lakes, and contraction occurred in a few other areas in the southern Plains and Northeast. But the continued dry conditions in the Southwest to Southern Plains and Southeast intensified and expanded drought and abnormal dryness in these areas…
An inch or more of precipitation was reported at stations in eastern Nebraska and a few stations in western Wyoming and the Colorado Rockies. Amounts dropped off to the north and south, with many stations in the Dakotas and Kansas measuring no precipitation for the week. D0 contracted in eastern Nebraska and southeastern South Dakota, and D2 was trimmed in western South Dakota, but D0 expanded in northeastern South Dakota and eastern North Dakota, D1 from Oklahoma crept into southeastern Kansas, and D2 from New Mexico pushed into southern Colorado. As relayed by the NDMC, agricultural impacts from the drought are being felt in Utah, Kansas, and Oklahoma and include decreasing hay and soybean yields, deteriorating wheat and grazing conditions, and decreasing water supplies — ponds and wells going dry. Some of these effects started from moisture deficits dating back to summer 2017…
A Pacific low and frontal system brought rain and snow to parts of northern California, Washington, Oregon, and the northern Rockies. Amounts were heaviest in favored upslope areas, with some stations along the coast and in the Cascades reporting over 5 inches of precipitation. Six inches to over a foot of new snow was added to several high elevation SNOTEL stations. But this is the wet season when normals are high, so even with the beneficial precipitation, much of the West was drier than normal this week. The Pacific system dried out as it crossed the coastal ranges, and the precipitation largely missed the southern states in the West. Several stations in New Mexico have gone over a hundred days with no measurable precipitation, including Moriarty and Conchas Dam. The Weather Service office at Albuquerque has measured only 0.03 inch since October 5, 2017. Several SNOTEL stations in the Sangre De Cristos were reporting the lowest year on record for snow water equivalent (SWE). The low snowpack in the mountains was impacting the recreation industry (ski resorts), but some parts of New Mexico were beginning to see agricultural impacts, mostly forage. As relayed by the NDMC, agricultural impacts from the drought are being felt in Utah, Kansas, and Oklahoma and include decreasing hay and soybean yields, deteriorating wheat and grazing conditions, and decreasing water supplies — ponds and wells going dry. Some of these effects started from moisture deficits dating back to summer 2017. D1 expanded in southeastern New Mexico; D2 grew in southwestern and northern New Mexico and into adjacent southern Colorado, and expanded in central and southern Arizona; and D0 expanded into the Sierra Nevada Mountains of central California. The California D0 expansion reflected low mountain snowpack values; many lakes and reservoir levels were down as part of flood mitigation activities, but water supply was adequate. The low SWE and precipitation values, as well as high evaporative demand due to above-normal temperatures, were widespread across California and Nevada, but no additional changes were made this week due to the Pacific storm and normal to above-normal streamflows…
In the 2 days since the Tuesday morning cutoff time of this week’s USDM, one storm system moved across the Northeast and exited the CONUS while another Pacific low and frontal system was moving into the Northwest. The Pacific system will dry out as it crosses the Rockies, then pick up Gulf of Mexico moisture when it moves across the eastern half of the country. For January 23-30, 5+ inches of precipitation is forecast for the coastal regions from northern California to Washington and up to 5 inches for northern Idaho, with lesser amounts from central California to Montana. When the system crosses the Plains, another region of precipitation will develop with amounts ranging from half an inch to locally over an inch along a line from eastern Texas to the eastern Great Lakes, then eastward from that line to the East Coast. Little to no precipitation is forecast for southern California and the Southwest, much of the Plains, and most of the Upper Midwest. Temperatures are predicted to be above normal across most of the CONUS. For January 30-February 7, precipitation is expected to be below normal for Alaska and much of the West to southern Plains, but above normal from Montana to the Great Lakes and from the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast. Odds favor above-normal temperatures across the Southwest and along the East Coast, and below-normal temperatures in southeastern Alaska and from Washington State to the northern Plains. Projections suggest that the central Plains will begin the period warmer than normal, but that colder-than-normal air masses will plunge south and east into the southern Plains and Great Lakes by the end of the period.
Here’s the release from the State of the Rockies Project (Colorado College):
Western voters say protected public lands are critical to state economies, oppose Trump administration efforts to eliminate land, water, and wildlife protections
Mountain West voters weighed in on the Trump administration’s priorities for managing the use and protection of public lands in a new Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll released [Thursday, January 25, 2017].
The poll, now in its eighth year, surveyed the views of voters in eight Mountain West states on some of the most pressing issues involving public lands and waters, including proposals to eliminate or alter national monuments.
Underpinning the importance Western voters place on protecting public lands, 93 percent of Westerners surveyed view the outdoor recreation economy as important for the economic future of their state. 81 percent view the presence of public lands and their state’s outdoor recreation lifestyle as an advantage in attracting good jobs and innovative companies. Western voters are more likely to identify as a conservationist today than two years ago, with significant increases in every Western state.
Overall, voter approval for President Donald Trump and his administration’s handling of issues related to land, water and wildlife sits at 38 percent, with 52 percent disapproving. The administration’s approval rating on the issue was below 50 percent in every state surveyed — ranging from 34 percent in Nevada and New Mexico to 47 percent in Utah — with the exception of Wyoming.
Asked where the Trump administration should place its emphasis between protection and development, 64 percent of respondents said they prefer protecting water, air and wildlife while providing opportunities to visit and recreate on national public lands. That is compared to 23 percent of respondents who said they prefer the administration prioritize domestic energy production by increasing the amount of national public lands available for responsible drilling and mining.
Westerners hold national monuments in especially high regard. Eighty-two percent described them as helping nearby economies, 86 percent as national treasures, 90 percent as important places to be conserved for future generations, 90 percent as places to learn about America’s history and heritage, and 95 percent as places they want their children to see someday. Twenty- four percent said national monuments hurt the local economy and 27 percent said they tie up too much land that could be put to other uses.
Majorities in every state—and 66 percent overall—view the recent Trump administration’s decision to remove existing protections and reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monuments in Utah by 2 million acres as a bad idea. In Utah voters are divided on the national monument changes in their state, with a slightly higher percentage of voters (49 percent) saying President Trump’s action was a bad idea than those saying it was a good idea (46 percent).
A Trump administration decision to alter or eliminate additional national monuments would be unpopular with 69 percent of respondents across the Mountain West. Locally, 70 percent of Nevadans view changes to Gold Butte National Monument as a bad idea and 68 of New Mexicans think the same of changes two national monuments in their state, Organ Mountains- Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
“Over the eight-year history of the Conservation in the West Poll, a passion for the outdoors and strong support for American public lands have remained constant in the Mountain West,” said Dr. Walt Hecox, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Colorado College and founder of the State of the Rockies Project. “Nearly all of the people surveyed said they visited national public lands in the past year and plan to go to a national park in 2018. Public lands drive our economy and define our way of life. A leadership agenda that does not recognize that reality is going to be met with strong disapproval in the West.”
Specifically, several actions recently undertaken or currently under consideration by the Trump administration are unpopular with voters in the Mountain West:
37 percent of respondents support [49 percent oppose] raising fees to enter some of the country’s largest national parks during peak season;
32 percent of respondents support [50 percent oppose] privatizing the management of campgrounds, visitor centers and other services provided at national parks and other national public lands;
29 percent of respondents support [59 percent oppose] expanding how much public land is available to private companies which pay for the ability to drill for oil and gas on public lands;
26 percent of respondents support [60 percent oppose] expanding how much public land is available to private companies which pay for the ability to mine for uranium and other metals on public lands;
18 percent of respondents support [70 percent oppose] allowing mining on public lands next to Grand Canyon National Park, a practice that is currently banned;
27 percent of respondents support [64 percent oppose] changing current plans to protect habitat for threatened sage-grouse in Western states;
and, conversely, 75 percent of respondents support [15 percent oppose] requiring oil and gas producers who operate on public lands to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas during the extraction process and reduce the need to burn off excess natural gas into the air – a regulation the Trump administration is seeking to overturn.
With the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show beginning this week in Denver, after the Outdoor Industry Association ended its 20-year partnership with Salt Lake City as a result of Utah politicians’ hostility toward land conservation and U.S. public lands, the impact of the Trump administration’s recent actions on local outdoor economies is top of mind for the outdoor recreation business community:
“Protecting public lands is a bipartisan issue with constituents across the West agreeing that public lands and waters should remain open and accessible for all to enjoy,” said Travis Campbell, chairman of the board for the Outdoor Industry Association and President of Smartwool. “Unfortunately, the current administration’s actions are not lining up with voters’ desires. We need people from both sides of the aisle to express their dissatisfaction with their legislators and let their voices be heard.”
The poll showed strong support for cleaner forms of energy in the Mountain West. Respondents in six of the eight states surveyed pointed to solar as the source of energy that best represents the future of energy in their state. Wind was the top choice in Montana and Wyoming, and the second-ranked choice in four other states.
With record-low snowpack in parts of the West, the drought remained a top concern this year, as low levels of water in rivers and inadequate water supplies were identified as serious issues facing their state by 82 percent and 80 percent of respondents respectively. 78 percent of respondents prefer addressing the water shortage by using the current water supply more wisely through conservation, reduction and recycling rather than by diverting more waters from rivers in less populated places to communities where more people live. 75 percent of respondents in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah view the Colorado River as “at risk.”
This is the eighth consecutive year Colorado College has gauged the public’s sentiment on public lands and conservation issues. Idaho was added to the survey for the first time this year. The 2018 Colorado College Conservation in the West survey is a bipartisan poll conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.
The poll surveyed 400 registered voters in each of eight Western states (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT & WY) for a total 3,200-person sample. The survey was conducted in late December 2017 and early January 2018 and has a margin of error of ±2.65 percent nationwide and ±4.9 percent statewide. The full survey and individual state surveys are available on the State of the Rockies website.
Eighty-two percent of Wyoming voters believe elected officials in Washington D.C. do not reflect their values, a poll released Thursday says.
When it comes to elected officials in the state itself, 59 percent of respondents said local officials generally reflect voters’ beliefs.
The 2018 Conservation in the West Poll randomly quizzed 400 Wyoming voters, 67 percent of whom were registered Republicans. The survey had a 4.9 percent error margin, was conducted for the eighth year in a row, and covered seven other Western states alongside Wyoming.
Colorado College released the findings in its State of the Rockies Project at the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show in Denver where gear and clothing makers meet this week. The trade show is sponsored in part by the Outdoor Industry Association, which abandoned its traditional Salt Lake City venue this year because of Utah’s public-lands policies, seen as detrimental to the industry.
Voters were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Elected officials in Washington, D.C. generally reflect my values.” They responded to a similar question regarding elected officials in Wyoming.
The Wyoming poll also found that more than three-quarters — 76 percent — of state voters would rather conserve water, recycle it or reduce use than divert water from rural to urban areas.
The survey also found 55 percent of Equality-state voters back the state’s conservation plans for greater sage grouse. A minority of 38 percent would see Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke change those plans to allow more oil and gas production and other activities.
Wyoming was the only state in which respondents said they approved of President Trump’s handling of issues related to land, water and wildlife. The 59 percent approval buttressed observations that Wyoming “tends to be a bit of an outlier,” pollster Dave Metz told an audience at the trade show during a live-streamed presentation. Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah also were polled in the survey that contacted 3,200 persons overall through cell and landline telephones.
More greenback cutthroats are headed to a creek near you, thanks to a $60k grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s “Bring Back the Natives” (BBN) program.
This project to restore native greenback cutthroat trout to 14 miles of stream in George and Cornelius Creeks in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Poudre River, reached a major funding milestone with the award of the $60k grant. The BBN grant will go toward the design and construction of a temporary barrier to upstream fish migration in Cornelius Creek, enabling systematic eradication of non-native brook trout, brown trout, and whirling disease from the watershed.
“George Creek holds great promise for recovering Greenback cutthroat trout, but our conservation success depends on broad support from many partners,” said Canyon Lakes District Ranger Katie Donahue. “Receiving a national funding award from NFWF is a great step along our path.”
The grant is the direct result of continued support for the project from Colorado Trout Unlimited. In addition to this grant “The Greenbacks,” a chapter of CTU, previously leveraged funds from a crowd sourced fundraising effort to secure a grant from Patagonia’s World Trout Initiative, resulting in the contribution of $17k toward a permanent barrier at the downstream end of the project. This barrier will exclude non-native trout from the watershed in perpetuity.
“We’re proud of how our volunteers have risen to meet the call,” said David Nickum, Executive Director for Colorado Trout Unlimited. “From backpacking fish into high-mountain restoration sites and releasing them back into their native range, to helping install fish barriers to protect native recovery areas, TU members have been hardworking, enthusiastic partners in recovery.”
This recent BBN grant brings the total amount of funding raised from grant sources and other public fundraising activities to $162k for the project.
About the George Creek Multi-phase greenback recovery project
The George Creek greenback restoration project has been in the works for three years and consists of three phases: (1) eradicate nonnative trout from upper George Creek [Summer 2018], (2) eradicate trout from upper Cornelius Creek, (3) eradicate non-native trout in lower reaches of George Creek down to a permanent barrier near the confluence with Sheep Creek. The BBN grant will help fund phase 2.
Native greenback cutthroat trout will be re-stocked into the streams when it has been confirmed that all non-native trout and whirling disease have been completely eradicated, in the year 2025 at the earliest.
The George Creek restoration project will ultimately restore native greenbacks to 14 miles of quality trout stream habitat, more than tripling the number of stream miles currently occupied by greenbacks in their native range, the South Platte Basin.
“Our work has been benefitted greatly from our strong partnerships with Colorado Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Forest Service,” said Boyd Wright, Native Aquatic Species Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It is gratifying to work together to ensure that future generations will enjoy Colorado’s greenback cutthroat trout for years to come.”
There is a new way to put water back in Colorado’s parched rivers.
After more than a year of back and forth with Pitkin County officials, the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust announced Tuesday a pilot agreement with a Carbondale rancher to increase streamflows in the Crystal River during dry years.
The three-year agreement will compensate Bill Fales and Marj Perry, who own the 600-acre Cold Mountain Ranch just west of Carbondale, for retiming their irrigation practices to leave water in the Crystal River when it needs a boost.
Although the Water Trust has spearheaded water leasing arrangements to benefit other rivers in Colorado, the Cold Mountain Ranch deal is the first to involve the timing of irrigation diversions.
For Zach Smith, a staff attorney for the environmental nonprofit Water Trust, the pilot agreement is an important test for whether this type of conservation program can work for ranchers and rivers.
“That’s great for the Crystal itself,” Smith said, “and it’s also great for the Water Trust as we try to figure out how to design projects for working ranches.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the Water Trust will monitor flows in the river and, if flows fall to 40 cubic feet per second (cfs), the ranch may voluntarily shift its diversion scheduling. The Water Trust will then measure the changes in the ranch’s irrigation practices and pay Fales and Perry $175 per cfs per day to encourage that shift. Once streamflows reach 55 cfs, the payments would cease.
The pilot agreement can restore as many as 6 cfs per day in the Crystal River for a maximum of 20 days in August and September (no other months are included), offering a maximum payout of $21,000 per year to Cold Mountain Ranch.
The new deal is the culmination of a multi-year effort to help boost streamflows in the Crystal River, which runs from the Elk Mountains above Marble to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River at Carbondale.
During the drought of 2012, demand for water outpaced supply and the Crystal went dry, prompting the Water Trust to look for new sources of water for the river’s benefit.
Although the Colorado Water Conservation Board has an environmental instream flow right on the Crystal, the water right dates from 1975, far lower in priority than the major agricultural water rights on the Crystal — and thus is of little to no use when the river most needs water.
The Water Trust began consulting with local ranchers and farmers whose senior water rights could be useful during times of drought, asking whether they would be willing to lease some of their irrigation water for the Crystal’s benefit. And many were.
However, most of them, including Fales, were wary of arrangements that involved too much bureaucracy. So the Water Trust devised a more flexible deal, requiring no filings in water court.
Fales was the first to volunteer. He offered to let some of his water rights from the Helms Ditch, which dates from 1899, for the Crystal’s benefit and assumed Pitkin County would be on board, as well. (The county co-owns a conservation easement on Cold Mountain Ranch and had to approve the deal with the Water Trust.)
Instead, the rancher found himself embroiled in a frustrating disagreement with Pitkin County officials who insisted that Fales’ willingness to forgo some of his water when the river needed a boost would put his water rights at risk.
For John Ely, the Pitkin County attorney, the biggest problem was that if Fales kept producing the same amount of alfalfa with less water, his water rights could one day be diminished in water court under the “use it or lose it” principle. This was especially concerning to Ely because the county had paid $7.5 million for the conservation easement on Cold Mountain Ranch.
“If you’re preserving agricultural property, you’re not preserving much if you don’t have the water that goes with it,” Ely said.
The new arrangement addresses the county’s concerns. Instead of reducing his annual water use, Fales will simply shift the timing of his diversions to align with the Crystal’s needs.
The end result, Smith said, will bring the same environmental benefits for the river without affecting Cold Mountain Ranch’s water rights.
What’s more, the pilot agreement marks the first step toward implementing the Crystal River Stream Management Plan, released in 2016, which helped quantify the ecological needs of the river. And it means Pitkin County can finally fulfill its long-stated goal of putting more water in local rivers through the Healthy Rivers and Streams program.
For Smith, the process of working out this kind of arrangement also has broader lessons for other water conservation efforts involving conservation easements. Back in 2012, the Water Trust thought it had a leasing agreement that could be rolled out in different river basins throughout Colorado. Now, Smith said, he’s learned that what works in one community might not work for another.
“We need to be flexible,” he said.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times, Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Vail Daily and Summit Daily News. The Times and the Post Independent published this story on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2017.
Here’s the background from Sarah Tory writing for Aspen Journalism:
Bill Fales is a self-described “sucker for experiments.”
The soft-spoken, unassuming 64-year-old grows alfalfa on his 600-acre ranch just west of Carbondale. For 45 years, Fales has irrigated the fields of Cold Mountain Ranch with water from the Crystal River, which flows 35 miles from its headwaters in the Elk Mountains to the Roaring Fork River.
In spring 2016, the Colorado Water Trust, a Denver-based nonprofit devoted to improving river health, announced a new water conservation initiative to ranchers in the Crystal River valley. Fales was eager to jump on board.
It sounded simple enough: The Water Trust would compensate any ranchers willing to leave some of their irrigation water in the Crystal River to boost flows during dry times. In 2013, Colorado had passed a law protecting water rights registered in conservation programs, and Fales assumed his interest would be met with approval.
Instead, the rancher found himself embroiled in a bewildering disagreement with Pitkin County officials who insisted that Fales’ willingness to forgo some of his water when the river needed a boost would put his water rights at risk.
Why, Fales wondered, was it so hard to do something he thought was good?
Wary of bureaucracy
Cold Mountain Ranch is one of the few remaining working ranches in Pitkin County, and Fales always felt protective of the land’s open space and agricultural value. To protect his property from development, he sold a conservation easement on the entire ranch in 2009 to Pitkin County and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust. Under the terms of the easement, the water rights that came with the ranch could not be sold separately from the land.
When it came to water conservation initiatives, however, the West’s system of private water rights often clashed with environmental priorities. That was true of the Crystal River valley, as well. When the Colorado Water Trust first put out the call to local farmers and ranchers in 2012 — a dry year — asking if they would be willing to lease some of their water for the river’s benefit, most of them, including Fales, were wary of the bureaucracy involved in the arrangement.
“It took away your whole ability to make decisions — they’d come and shut off your headgate at one of two predetermined dates,” he said.
Still, Fales knew that ranchers and farmers — and their senior water rights — had an important role to play in helping the Crystal, especially during times of drought.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has an environmental instream flow right on the Crystal for 100 cubic feet per second from May 1 to Sept. 30 and for 60 cfs from Oct. 1 to April 30. The water right dates from 1975, far lower in priority than the major agricultural water rights on the Crystal — and thus of little to no benefit. During drier years, the river regularly drops well below 100 cfs.
Since most ranchers in the Crystal River valley were uninterested in a formal water-leasing arrangement offered by the state, the Water Trust devised another more flexible option, requiring no filings in water court. The arrangement allowed irrigators to let water flow past their headgates to benefit the Crystal’s flows during dry periods.
When the Water Trust advertised the program to ranchers in the Crystal River valley in spring 2016, Fales was the first to volunteer. They settled on a target flow of 40 cfs, which the recently completed stream management plan showed was an important indicator for river health and also a realistic goal for ranchers.
Fales planned to use his water right on the Helms Ditch, which includes an original right for 2.93 cfs with an appropriation date of 1899 and an enlargement right for 3.07 cfs dating to 1924. He irrigates about 100 acres with the water right.
If the river fell below 40 cfs, Fales would decide if he could turn off the headgate for a short period of time and in exchange, the Water Trust would pay him $175 per cfs of water left in the river per day.
Fales isn’t sure how much water he would be able to leave in the river, as it depends on the time of year and his irrigation demands.
However, an application for “approval of a water conservation program” prepared in December 2016 in anticipation of it being submitted to the Colorado River District, which has the ability to approve such programs, did set parameters on the effort. It said Fales could choose to leave up to 6 cubic feet per second of water in the river at a time, for up to 45 days between July 1 and Sept.30, and up to 535 acre-feet a year overall.
The application says “the exact amount of water in any year to be conserved will vary based on Cold Mountain Ranch’s discretion, river calls, and hydrologic conditions.”
The draft application, which was never formally submitted to the River District, has a footnote observing that “the River District recognizes the precise quantification of water savings may be difficult or impossible” and that “estimates and a description of the method of estimation are sufficient.”
Whatever amount of water is left in the river would flow downstream for at least two miles without a chance of it being diverted by another structure.
And Fales hopes that after a week or two of his not diverting water, other irrigators might step up and turn down their headgates, too, so that collectively they could help the river without causing undue burden on any one rancher.
For Fales, volunteering for the program felt important in another way, as well.
“Putting our head in the sand is not a solution,” he said. “If we don’t come up with something ourselves, the state will tell us what to do or the Front Range will come knocking.”
One of three irrigation ditches that delivers water from the Crystal River to Bill Fales’ Cold Mountain Ranch. Fales owns some of the most senior water rights on the river, which he hopes he can use to help improve its flow during dry periods.
Confusing signs from county
In fall 2016, Fales presented his proposal to reduce his water for the purpose of boosting flows in the Crystal River to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust and Pitkin County officials, who both have a stake in the conservation easement on his ranch. The land trust offered a few amendments, but was otherwise on board. Pitkin County, however, was less enthusiastic.
“I thought they’d give me a big kiss and a hug,” Fales said. “They have their Healthy Rivers and Streams program whose goal was to put water back in the river — which they’ve never done — and now we’d finally be able do that.”
Unbeknownst to Fales, the county had become increasingly protective of agricultural water rights on properties with conservation easements — especially the county attorney, John Ely, the architect of Pitkin County water policy.
He saw all sorts of interests pulling at the Western Slope’s water, from climate change to dramatic growth along the Front Range to Colorado’s legal obligations to deliver a certain amount of water from the Colorado River to other states like Arizona and California. There also was Colorado’s own water laws, which encourage water to be used — anywhere. Already, water from Pitkin and Garfield counties’ Roaring Fork River was diverted hundreds of miles across the mountains to Aurora and Colorado Springs.
“We clearly recognize that if water rights disappear from here then our land has a real possibility of drying up and the water will be used somewhere else,” Ely said.
For Ely, senior agricultural water rights protected much of the county’s water from getting diverted over the Continental Divide. The flip side, of course, is that the agricultural diversions are drying up sections of these rivers.
Still, when it came to water rights, Ely did not want to take any risks — even small ones. Although the conservation easement on the Cold Mountain Ranch allows the owner to temporarily reduce their water for the purpose of maintaining or improving streamflows, Fales’ proposal with the Water Trust was too informal for Ely’s taste.
Under state water law, only the CWCB has the authority to keep water destined for the environment in the river, but Fales and the Water Trust had bypassed the state in crafting their agreement.
Ely feared that another water user would claim the water Fales left in the Crystal. And he worried, too, that if Fales kept producing the same amount of alfalfa with less water, his water rights could one day be diminished in water court under the “use it or lose it” principle. This was especially concerning to Ely because the county had paid $7.5 million for the conservation easement on Cold Mountain Ranch.
“One of our central concerns was once the water was in the river there was no mechanism to keep it there,” Ely said. “If you’re preserving agricultural property, you’re not preserving much if you don’t have the water that goes with it.”
In response to Ely’s concerns, Fales and Zach Smith, the Water Trust lawyer who put together the Cold Mountain Ranch proposal, solicited the input of various environmental organizations and water policy experts to find out if the water Fales left in the Crystal would help the river.
And crucially, was Fales imperiling the Cold Mountain Ranch water rights that Pitkin County had invested in?
Smith and Fales received responses from Trout Unlimited, the Aspen Valley Land Trust, and the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
All of those contacted were in favor of the proposal and saw no problem with regard to Fales’ water rights and his making an application to the River District seeking approval for it.
“Once approved by the River District the plan will protect the Helms Ditch right from abandonment, diminution of historical consumptive use, and any assertion of waste,” Alan Martellaro, the Division 5 engineer at the Colorado Division of Water Resources, wrote in an email to Ely on January 11, 2017. “I believe the application is a simple, good first step toward balancing agricultural and ecological river needs in the Crystal River valley desired by the Water Trust and Bill Fales.”
Meanwhile, Fales, Smith, and Pitkin County officials began meeting to try to resolve their disagreements over the proposal. John Currier, the chief engineer at the Colorado River District, attended one of the meetings.
“I don’t think it’s risky at all from a water-rights protection perspective,” Currier later said. He conceded, however, that someone could, in the future, argue that Fales had been wasting his water if he continued to grow the same amount of alfalfa with less water. The risk, he said, was remote.
The whole ordeal has left Fales feeling frustrated and confused.
“We’re supposed to be one of the most environmentally minded counties, so to say to farmers that they should maximize their diversions is really bizarre,” he said.
In search of a new arrangement
Fales, the Water Trust, and Pitkin County officials continued to meet in the hopes of resolving their differences about the Cold Mountain Ranch proposal. After all, they wanted the same thing: more water in the river.
Although they’re still sorting out the details, Fales, Ely, and the Water Trust are optimistic the new arrangement will satisfy both parties: Instead of reducing his water use, the Water Trust will pay Fales to coordinate the timing of his irrigation diversions with the river’s needs so that he turns down his headgate when the Crystal is running low and back on again when the river is flowing well.
Dale Will believes a successful agreement could ripple throughout the area. Will is acquisition and special projects director at the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, and the program’s former director.
“That’s why everyone is focused on Cold Mountain Ranch,” Will said. “Not because Bill [Fales] by himself can solve the problem, but because if they can make his proposal work, they can expand it to our other agricultural land.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, The Aspen Times, the Vail Daily, and the Summit Daily News. The story was published on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2017 by the Post Independent and The Times.
Southern New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley is like an island: a fertile patchwork of farm fields and groves of pecan trees surrounded by the brown Chihuahuan Desert.
For Mesilla Valley farmers, the metaphor rings true in other ways as well. Though they live in New Mexico, the residents of the roughly 90,000-acre-area are caught between their own state and Texas. The Rio Grande water they depend on is not technically New Mexico’s water, but rather part of the water that goes to Texas under the Rio Grande Compact, a treaty ensuring that Texas, New Mexico and Colorado get their fair share of the river. New Mexico’s delivery obligation to Texas hinges on collecting enough water in Elephant Butte Reservoir, 90 miles from the Texas border and the neighboring Mesilla Valley. Unfortunately, that leaves the farmers downriver in a complicated no-man’s-land of interstate water management.
“We cringe when we hear, ‘Not one more drop to Texas,’ because that means not one more drop for us,” says Samantha Barncastle, the lawyer for the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which manages and delivers irrigation water to Mesilla Valley farmers.
After more than a decade of back-and-forth between New Mexico and Texas, the fight has finally reached the Supreme Court. The first round of oral arguments took place on Jan. 8, with a final decision expected by early spring. For the farmers, the conflict has only heightened their sense of isolation from their own state — and made the costs of poor water management in a hotter and drier West more obvious than ever.
Built in 1916 by the Bureau of Reclamation, Elephant Butte Dam made a large-scale agricultural economy possible in New Mexico’s dry south. But disputes between states over the river continued, especially during times of drought.
The latest stems from a 2014 lawsuit filed by the state of Texas, claiming that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump groundwater, New Mexico was depleting the water destined for Texas under the Rio Grande Compact.
Farmers in the Mesilla Valley receive a yearly allocation of 36 inches of water per acre from the reservoir, as long as flows in the Rio Grande are sufficient. But in the 1950s, a severe drought curtailed that allotment. To supplement irrigation supplies, the Bureau of Reclamation encouraged local farmers to pump groundwater.
“Everyone did,” recalls Robert Faubion, a fourth-generation local farmer.
When the current drought began in 2003, farmers came to rely more on their groundwater wells, sometimes receiving almost 80 percent of their yearly irrigation needs from the aquifer. (The region’s towns and cities, including Las Cruces, rely 100 percent on groundwater.) According to the U.S. Geological Survey Mesilla Basin Monitoring Program, between 2003 and 2005 the Mesilla Valley aquifer declined by up to 5 feet and held steady until 2011, when it began dropping sharply again. In some places, groundwater levels fell by 18 feet.
As the situation worsened, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and its longtime rival in Texas, the El Paso County Water Improvement District, agreed that the time had come to resolve their grievances. So the two agencies settled on an “operating agreement” in 2008, which required New Mexico to relinquish some of its Rio Grande water to Texas in exchange for Texas ceasing its complaints about groundwater pumping.
The signing coincided with Valentine’s Day. “We had sort of a love fest,” says Gary Esslinger, the treasurer and manager of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District.
The love lasted until 2011, when, in a surprise move, then-New Mexico Attorney General Gary King sued the irrigation district and the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 as well as the Bureau of Reclamation, arguing that the deal gave away too much of New Mexico’s water. The decision to sue one of its own irrigation districts was, to Barncastle, “incredibly strange.”
In 2014, Texas fired back with its own lawsuit against New Mexico, bringing us to today’s scenario: If the Supreme Court rules against New Mexico, the state budget will take a hit. New Mexico could owe billions of dollars in damages — on top of the $15 million already spent on legal fees — and potentially have to find additional sources of water to send to Texas, as a way to make up for its groundwater pumping.
According to Barncastle, the case is motivating stakeholders in southern New Mexico to work on a framework for better groundwater management. The impacts of climate change are adding yet another layer of uncertainty, since no one knows how weather patterns might affect water scarcity in the future.
Regardless, the outcome will have major implications, says southern New Mexico Sen. Joe Cervantes. Most of the state’s population and industry is located along the riparian corridor. “If the health of the Rio Grande is threatened, then all of those communities are put at risk,” Cervantes warned.
Correspondent Sarah Tory writes from Paonia, Colorado. She covers Utah, environmental justice and water issues.
Poncha Springs trustees moved forward on the town’s water infrastructure project Monday as they voted unanimously to approve a loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA) and to accept a bid for work on the water trunk line…
They then adjourned and convened as the board of the Water Activity Enterprise Fund.
As that board, they considered Ordinance 2018-1, a 30-year, zero percent interest loan through the CWRPDA not to exceed $2,450,000 for construction of a new water tower and improvements to the town’s water system.
Brian Berger, town administrative officer, presented the ordinance to the board of trustees. He explained that it originally was proposed to fund the trunk line with reserves, but because this loan had been lowered to zero percent interest, with repayments not due to begin for six to eight months, it was the best choice for the town.
He said in a memo to the board that this allowed the best options for well designs and type of elevated tank, and the town was “by no means” required to use the entire amount.
Joe DeLuca with the Crabtree Group, the engineering firm for the trunk line, presented the six bids received for the job.
Lowry Contracting, with a bid of $476,928.68, came in more than $200,000 less than the next lowest bid from ESCO Construction, at $687,784…
In their last order of business as the water board, the trustees decided to table until next month a consideration of the 2018 leasable water bids, as the board thought current bids might change in this fluid situation.
In a normal year, 80 percent of the water used by Coloradans comes from snow. That’s 4 out of 5 cups of water.
A weekend snowstorm boosted Colorado’s snowpack up by 3 percent and is now at 63 percent of normal.
The reason that snowpack totals are frequently reported in the news, is that it is something the affects every single one of us. Anyone that drinks water, eats food, washes the dishes, takes showers, or uses water in any way…
the height of Rocky Mountains does a great job of pulling out even the slightest bit of moisture that’s left in the atmosphere.
In the winter, that water is stored as snowpack, which conveniently melts and runs down to us when we need it the most, the spring and summer.
Brian Domonkos, a snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) monitors the snowpack every day. He told 9NEWS that water managers rely on their data to plan how to allocate water in the coming summer.
“We try to predict how much water is going to be in the streams come June and July,” said Domonkos.
That water will be used to drink, to water lawns, to grow food, to make power, and of course to recreate.
“We still have a significant portion of our winter left but we are beyond the halfway point,” said Domonkos.
He said our statewide snowpack deficit will likely remain, and while reservoir storage is high, a dry finish to this season might not hurt us this summer, but it will likely catch up to us at some point…
NRCS says the South Platte Basin would only need slightly more than normal snowfall for the rest of the year to get back to average, but areas of southern Colorado will need more than twice the amount of snow they normally get in February, March, and April.
NRCS analysis also shows that since 1981, Colorado has only received enough snow in the final three months of the snow season (February, March, and April) to overcome a deficit of this magnitude 3 times during that span.
The Upper Rio Grande Basin has never during that 36-year stretch received enough snow to overcome a deficit like this year’s, but the South Platte Basin has received enough snow to overcome it’s current deficit 17 times.
Click here to access the report. Here’s the abstract:
Tree Mortality Decreases Water Availability and Ecosystem Resilience to Drought in Piñon-Juniper Woodlands in the Southwestern U.S.
Climate-driven tree mortality has increased globally in response to warmer temperature and more severe drought. To examine how tree mortality in semiarid biomes impacts surface water balance, we experimentally manipulated a piñon-juniper (PJ) woodland by girdling all adult piñon trees in a 4 ha area, decreasing piñon basal area by ~65%. Over 3.5 years (2009–2013), we compared water flux measurements from this girdled site with those from a nearby intact PJ woodland. Before and after girdling, the ratio of evapotranspiration (ET) to incoming precipitation was similar between the two sites. Girdling altered the partitioning of ET such that the contribution of canopy transpiration to ET decreased 9–14% over the study period, relative to the intact control, while noncanopy ET increased. We attributed the elevated noncanopy ET in the girdled site each year to winter increases in sublimation and summer increases in both soil evaporation and below-canopy transpiration. Although we expected that mortality of a canopy dominant would increase the availability of water and other resources to surviving vegetation, we observed a decrease in both soil volumetric water content and sap flow rates in the remaining trees at the girdled site, relative to the control. This postgirdling decrease in the performance of the remaining trees occurred during the severe 2011–2012 drought, suggesting that piñon mortality may trigger feedback mechanisms that leave PJ woodlands drier relative to undisturbed sites and potentially more vulnerable to drought.
Piñon trees have been dying in droves across the West. Laura Morillas, lead author of the new study, found that losing piñon trees doesn’t necessarily free up more water in these arid habitats. It could mean the opposite.
This forest, in which piñon and juniper trees grow together, is a unique natural community common throughout the arid West. It covers millions of acres in nine states, but is most abundant in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.
Piñon and juniper trees, somewhat shrubby and short, are not particularly majestic compared to a ponderosa pine or a sequoia. But they’re vitally important to people, wildlife and water supplies. By providing shade in sunny, high-elevation landscapes, piñon-juniper forests help ensure snow and rain last long enough to reach rivers and groundwater before evaporating.
Unfortunately, piñon trees seem to be particularly vulnerable to climate change. They’ve been dying in great swathes in recent years due to heat and drought. What does this mean for water supplies?
A new study led by scientists at University of New Mexico begins to answer that question. At a 10-acre research site, the researchers intentionally girdled the piñon trees (removed a strip of bark from their circumference) to kill them, then compared results over several years to a nearby control site. They found a surprising result: Losing piñon trees did not make more water available in the soil or for surviving juniper trees, as common sense would dictate. Instead, the entire test plot lost moisture more rapidly.
A University of Wyoming researcher contributed to a paper that demonstrated, for the first time, direct observation of cloud seeding — from the growth of the ice crystals through the processes that occur in the clouds to the eventual fallout of the ice crystals that become snow — and how the impacts could be quantified.
The research, dubbed SNOWIE (Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds — the Idaho Experiment), took place Jan. 7-March 17, 2017, within and near the Payette Basin, located approximately 50 miles north of Boise, Idaho. The research was in concert with Boise-based Idaho Power Co., which provides a good share of its electrical power through hydroelectric dams.
“No one has ever had a full comprehensive set of observations of what really happens after you seed the cloud,” says Jeff French, an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Atmospheric Science. “There have only been hypotheses. There has never been a set of observations from one campaign that shows all the steps that occur in cloud seeding.”
French credits modern technology, citing the use of ground-based radar, radar on UW’s King Air research aircraft and multiple passes of the mountain range near Boise with making the detailed cloud-seeding observations happen. Despite numerous experiments spanning several decades, no direct observation of this process existed before SNOWIE, he says.
French is the lead author of a paper, titled “Precipitation Formation from Orographic Cloud Seeding,” which appears in the Jan. 22 (today’s) issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), one of the world’s most prestigious multidisciplinary scientific journals, with coverage spanning the biological, physical and social sciences.
Other contributors to the paper were from the University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and Idaho Power Co.
“SNOWIE was a great collaborative effort, and it shows the value of private, public and academic partnerships,” says NCAR scientist Sarah Tessendorf, a co-author of the paper.
Tessendorf notes that SNOWIE grew out of research that Idaho Power Co. had conducted with NCAR to improve its cloud-seeding program. This included the development of high-resolution computer modeling approaches to simulate cloud seeding, enabling researchers to better evaluate its impacts.
“This research shows that modern tools can be applied to long-standing scientific problems,” says Nick Anderson, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the study. “We now have direct observations that seeding of certain clouds follows the pathway first theorized in the mid-20th century.”
Cloud seeding is a process by which silver iodide is released into the clouds, either from the air or via ground-based generators. In the case of the SNOWIE Project, the silver iodide was released by a second aircraft funded through Idaho Power Co., while the UW King Air took measurements to understand the impact of the silver iodide, French says.
In all, the UW King Air made 24 research flights or intense observation periods (IOPs) lasting 4-6 hours each during SNOWIE. Of those IOPs, cloud seeding occurred during 21 of the flights. During the last three flights, Idaho Power had to suspend cloud seeding because there was so much snow in the mountains already, French says.
While a good deal of research took place aboard the King Air, much of it also occurred on the ground. Numerical modeling of precipitation measurements was conducted using the supercomputer, nicknamed Cheyenne, at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center. The numerical models simulated clouds and snow precipitation — created in natural storms and with cloud seeding — over the Payette Basin in Boise. The numerical models also allow researchers to study future storm events where measurements have not been obtained in the field.
“Midterm, it will help with those simulations we are running on Cheyenne,” French says. “Long term, we can answer questions with this data and simulations on how effective cloud seeding is in orographic clouds, and what conditions one can expect cloud seeding to be effective.”
Throughout the western U.S. and other semiarid mountainous regions across the globe, water supplies are fed primarily through snowpack melt. Growing populations place higher demand on water, while warmer winters and earlier spring reduce water supplies. Water managers see cloud seeding as a potential way to increase winter snowfall.
“Ultimately, water managers and state and federal agencies can make the decision whether cloud seeding is a viable option for them in terms of adding additional water to their supplies in addition to snowpack in the mountains,” French says.
…despite decades of cloud seeding operations, proof that the technique works outside miniaturized clouds created in the lab has been elusive. One reason: Instruments of decades past couldn’t measure water droplet size in clouds in real time. Without knowing how a cloud evolves after seeding, scientists were unsure whether the silver iodide was doing anything at all. Another: The chaotic nature of weather makes controlled, natural experiments almost impossible. “Once you seed, you’re contaminating the cloud. You can’t repeat the experiment because you’ll never have the same atmospheric conditions again,” says Katja Friedrich, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
But newer instruments convinced Friedrich and her colleagues that the time was ripe for another approach—and the National Science Foundation and Idaho Power provided the funding. The team took its experiment to the mountains of southwestern Idaho, where it waited until supercooled clouds appeared in the sky. At temperatures of 0°C to –15°C, they are cold enough to freeze, but are at low odds of doing so.
When the right clouds came along, the team sprang into action. It launched one aircraft that made laps between two ground-based radars, dropping canisters that spread silver iodide into the clouds. The same plane also flew through the cloud while streaming silver iodide from its wings. Another plane loaded with cloud measuring equipment paced a perpendicular path to take readings.
At first, there was nothing. “The radar can only see [water] particles that are big enough, and these clouds had tiny droplets not detectable by radar,” Friedrich says. “Suddenly, we saw lines appear. It was really astonishing.” The zig-zagged lines matched the flight path of the first plane. Within these lines, the cloud’s water particles were getting bigger as they hit the silver iodide and froze. After a couple of hours, the snowflakes had grown from a few microns in diameter to 8 millimeters in diameter—heavy enough to fall to the ground, Friedrich and her colleagues report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We were super, super excited. Nobody had seen that before,” she says.
The experiments have also been met with enthusiasm from cloud seeding companies. “Those of us working on cloud physics for a long time have felt that [cloud seeding] was working,” says Bruce Boe, a meteorologist at cloud-seeding company Weather Modification in Fargo, North Dakota. “This verification and incontrovertible evidence this is occurring is really, really nice for us.”
Still up for study is whether the approach is economical. “Does it make enough snow to make an impact on a water budget?” Friedrich wonders. “We still have to answer those fundamental questions.”
The snow didn’t completely make up for seasonal shortfalls in Northern Colorado communities nor the mountains, which feed municipal water supplies through snow melt, but it was a start.
Here are snow totals as of Monday morning throughout Northern Colorado, according to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network:
Fort Collins: 2.5 to 5 inches (official total: 3.9 inches)
Loveland: 1.3 to 4 inches
Windsor: 3 inches
Wellington: 2 inches
Berthoud: 2.2 inches
Laporte: 3.6 inches
Timnath: 2 inches
Estes Park: 4 to 5 inches
Up to 2 feet of flakes graced Colorado ski areas, many of which have been starved for snow this season. Here’s a sampling of ski area snow totals from Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents 23 ski areas and resorts:
Steamboat Resort: 10 inches
Cooper: 13 inches
Echo Mountain: 12 inches
Arapahoe Basin: 7 inches
Copper Mountain: 7 inches
Aspen Snowmass: 6 to 13 inches at its four resorts
Silverton Mountain: 24 inches
Wolf Creek Ski Area: 23 inches
The storm was also a welcome addition to mountain snowpack, most significantly in the South Platte River and Upper Colorado River basins. Snowpack in the the South Platte basin jumped from 85 to 90 percent of the average for this time of year between Friday and Monday. In the Upper Colorado basin, snowpack increased from 72 to 78 percent of the average.
Snowpack remains well below average throughout the rest of the state.
Click here to read the update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board/Colorado Division of Water Resources (Taryn Finnessey, Tracy Kosloff):
The start of Water Year 2018 has been warm and dry across most of the state. However, recent precipitation in the northern half of the state has helped those basins, while storms have largely missed the southern half of the state. November 2017 was the warmest November on record, while December was the 7th warmest on record. The three month period from October through December was 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the long term average, making it the warmest October- December on record (123 years). This warmth resulted in the state as a whole breaking more than 1700 warm records during the same time frame.
As of January 17, statewide precipitation at SNOTEL sites is 62 percent of average. The North and South Platte basins have experienced the highest levels of precipitation in the state, at 92 and 100 percent, respectively. Southern basins such as the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan , Rio Grande and Gunnison basins are well below normal precipitation at 25, 32 and 43 percent respectively. The Arkansas Basin is also well below normal with only 57 percent of average annual precipitation to-date.
Many basins have water year to-date snowpack that is tracking most closely with the minimum accumulation on record. While this does not mean that the year will end that way, large deficits in precipitation become harder to make up for the further along in the season we get.
Statistical analyses indicate that it will be hard for the state as a whole to reach normal snowpack given current conditions; however this varies from basin to basin with northern basins significantly better off than those in the south.
Reservoir storage statewide is at 115 percent of normal, with all basins above average. The Arkansas basin is reporting the highest average storage at 143 percent. The Gunnison basin has the lowest storage levels in the state at 104 percent of normal.
24 percent of Colorado is classified as abnormally dry (D0), while 76 percent is classified as experiencing drought. 53 percent is categorized as moderate drought (D1), while 23 percent is categorized as severe drought (D2).
SWSI values have dropped quickly over the last few months; much of the western half of the state is classified as extremely dry or slightly dry. The Animas Basin is the lowest in the state at -3.67. The big Thompson is the highest at 2.06.
Water providers in attendance report their respective system storage levels are at or above average for this time of the year, but the lack of snowpack in concerning and being closely monitored.
Short term forecasts show that temperatures will be more seasonal with about average precipitation for much of the state over the next two weeks.
A weak La Niña remains in force for now, and forecasts indicate that warm and dry conditions are likely to persist through the spring. It is unclear what will happen during the summer months.
Environmental organizations have for years encouraged farmers to convert to barley, which uses about half as much irrigation water as alfalfa and cotton. In the Southwest, this camel of crops could be especially beneficial, because it keeps water in rivers at the right time. Barley is planted in January; irrigated in spring, when rivers are flush; and harvested in June, when water is scarce. Converting just one-tenth of Verde Valley crops to barley would keep 200 million gallons of water flowing in the Verde River each summer.
But farmers have hesitated to switch for a simple reason: money. Barley’s most common use is for animal feed, which is a money-loser. So when [Kim Schonek] was devising a way to save the Verde, she thought of a way to raise local barley prices by pairing farmers with an industry that uses a lot of barley and a lot of water: breweries.
“It’s kind of a new conservation technique,” Schonek says. “Instead of paying farmers every year to reduce the water they’re using, we can create a market that will drive farmers to change their water use.”
Beer-destined barley pays 50 percent more than feed barley, which would definitely help motivate farmers to switch. But the plan had its risks. Most of the barley used in U.S. craft beers comes from Canada and Europe, and Arizona doesn’t have an established barley industry. Schonek would have to make one, and she’d also have to convince farmers that the long-run financial benefits outweighed the financial hit some might take in the transition period. Fortunately, over the previous years, Schonek had created cooperative relationships with farmers in the area and had already persuaded many to replace the inefficient river-diversion gates—which farmers operated by jumping on—with automated gates that saved millions of gallons of water a day. Schonek was currently working with them to transition to drip irrigation. And it was this trust—plus the benefit of the Nature Conservancy’s financial backing—that helped her convince farmers to start Arizona’s first beer barley industry.
“We care about the river; it’s the only reason there’s farming here in the first place,” says farmer Zach Hauser, whose family owns the largest swath of farmland in the Verde Valley. “We have a huge interest in the health of the river, so anything we can do while still making a living is a win-win.”
Schonek brought in experts to teach the Hausers to grow Harrington two-row barley, and the Nature Conservancy agreed to subsidize any losses during the experimental years. Last season, the Hausers planted 144 acres of barley, some of which was sold to Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. The brewers were so excited to have river-saving local barley that they plan to completely switch.
“Brewing is a water-intensive activity,” says Chase Saraiva, head brewer at Arizona Wilderness. “It’s pretty much a water sport, so we need to be conscious of where our water is coming from and be proactive in taking measures to help in any way we can.”
But there was one missing link: malting. Because there are hardly any malting facilities in the West, they had to malt that first batch of barley in Texas. That’s not sustainable, so Schonek teamed up with Chip Norton, board vice president of Many Rivers Brewing in Colorado, which contributes all of its profits to saving rivers. Together, next month, they will launch Sinagua Malt, a local malting facility that will dedicate profits to river conservation.
When Schonek drove me around the Verde Valley, the elements of the project were nearly in place. The Hausers’ loamy fields were ready to be sown. Next to their barns, plastic-draped malting equipment and a silo of nutty-scented raw barley waited for construction to be completed on the Sinagua Malt warehouse in Camp Verde. “The potential for a market-solution approach to crop conversion exists in lots of tributaries in the Colorado River Basin,” says Norton, holding up a handful of barley. “A lot of people are pretty excited about this, and they’re watching us closely to see if it’ll work as a way to improve stream flow and improve the flow of the Colorado River.”
If the plan works, it will be the first time an environmental organization has created a new market for the purpose of river preservation—and there’s evidence that it’s already making a difference. Last July, Schonek and her family returned to that same five-mile stretch of dry Verde River. This time, they paddled the entire way.