The Imperial Irrigation District claims, “broad powers” to control distribution to members #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.

From The Desert Sun (Ian James):

A legal fight over water rights is heating up in the Imperial Valley, pitting farmers against their own irrigation district in a struggle for control of the biggest water entitlement along the Colorado River.

A judge’s ruling has forced the Imperial Irrigation District to repeal its plan for apportioning water, which had set limits on how much water individual growers could use on their fields.

The case has also touched off heated arguments at meetings — and sharply worded letters between lawyers — about landowners’ water rights and the role the district should play as a “trustee” in divvying up and delivering water. While some farmers suggest the two sides should settle the dispute, others argue the differences are too substantial to reach an agreement and will need to be decided by a California appeals court.

Michael Abatti, the farmer who sued the district to challenge its water apportionment plan, stood at a meeting on Tuesday and told the IID board he strongly disagrees with the agency’s statement in a recent letter that it has “broad powers” to determine how much water is distributed to growers…

The case has elicited arguments stretching back over a century of western water law, from the 1922 Colorado River Compact to a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Bryant v. Yellen, in which the justices said Imperial Valley landowners “have a legally enforceable right, appurtenant to their lands, to continued service” by the irrigation district.

The Imperial Valley enjoys some of the oldest rights to Colorado River water, which began flowing to the area via canal in 1901 and turned this swath of the Sonoran Desert into a lush, green agricultural powerhouse.

Farming drives the local economy, contributing an estimated $4.5 billion annually in economic output and spending by ag companies and employees. The valley produces crops including alfalfa, wheat, lettuce, broccoli, onions, carrots, sugar beets, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cantaloupes, among others.

The irrigation district supplies about 530 agricultural customers, delivering water through a network of canals and pipes that fan out across the valley like the lines on a circuit board.

The amount of water the district delivers is subject to an overall annual cap. When there are overruns, as happened in 2011 and 2012, the district is required to pay back the difference by taking less during subsequent years.

Responding to the two consecutive years of overruns, the IID board adopted its so-called Equitable Distribution Plan in 2013 in an attempt to stay within the annual limit. The district’s officials used what they called a “hybrid” method, basing the per-acre water limits partly on each farmer’s historical water use and partly on a standard amount applied to all growers.

#Drought expands over the southwest and southern plains #ColoradoRiver #COriver #snowpack

US Drought Monitor March 27. 2018.

From The Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Arizona Daily Sun:

A federal drought map released Thursday shows dry conditions intensifying across northern New Mexico and into southwestern Arizona. Every square mile of Nevada and Utah also are affected by at least some level of dryness.

On the southern high plains, Oklahoma is ground zero for the worst drought conditions in the United States.

The exceptional drought in the Panhandle — an area dominated by agriculture — has more than doubled in size. Many farmers rely on precipitation to help water their crops as pumping groundwater is the only other option…

Crop conditions around the region are declining as extreme drought spans from Kansas and Oklahoma to California. In New Mexico, about three-quarters of the winter wheat crop is in poor to very poor condition as meaningful moisture has been scarce since last fall.

Along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico, the irrigation allotment will be less than half of what farmers received last year. Water orders will begin next week and officials with the local Irrigation district are encouraging growers to use their surface water as soon as crops demand it…

In Arizona, there’s concern for ranchers as the poor range conditions have left stock tanks dry. On the Navajo Nation, a drought emergency was declared earlier this month and residents have started hauling water for their sheep and other livestock…

But officials aren’t expecting any cuts to the water delivery systems that serve much of Arizona’s population.

From The Albuquerque Journal (Ollie Reed Jr.):

The best snowpack in the state, in the Rio Chama Basin, is at 45 percent of normal. The Jemez and Pecos river basins are at 16 and 3 percent of normal, respectively, and the Gila and Rio Hondo basins are at zero.

Royce Fontenot, senior hydrologist in the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service, said the snowfall season has peaked out.

“We are done there,” Fontenot said during a New Mexico Drought Monitor Working Group session this week. “What we have on the mountains is what you are going to get. What you see is what you get for (spring) runoff.”

[…]

The Drought Monitor Work Group, made up of members of the National Weather Service and state and federal agencies, determines the extent and severity of drought in the state. An updated drought map released Thursday shows that nearly 99 percent of New Mexico is in some stage of drought and more than 34 percent, the northern third of the state, is in extreme drought.

During the Working Group conference, Marshal Wilson of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture said there are reports that farmers in the northeast are planting less corn this year due to dry conditions and that livestock producers are downsizing their herds.

“We have started to see things getting pretty tough,” Wilson said. “The winter wheat crop was bad because we had no snow. We need moisture, and when we get it, high winds dry it out pretty quick.”

Wilson said ranchers are hauling water to herds and confronting a hay shortage that will make supplemental feeding of cattle a challenge.

Anthony Chavez, stage agricultural program specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency, said 15 northern counties now qualify for the federal Livestock Forage Program, which makes funds available to help ranchers buy feed for their cattle once a county has been in severe drought for eight consecutive weeks…

If there are silver linings, they are in the possibility of a better-than-normal summer monsoon season and the fact there is more water stored in most state reservoirs now than there was at this time last year.

Graphic credit: NOAA

A flurry of research illuminates snow’s foes — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Emily Benson):

Depending on where in the West you are, this winter was either a winner or a big bust: Montana, for example, is swathed in snow while parts of the Southwest are dismally bare. As of late March, the Upper Colorado River Basin snowpack was well below average.

But the longterm trend is clear: Years of research show that the region’s snowpack is declining as the climate warms. About two-thirds of the West’s water comes from snow, and “we’re losing that natural reservoir,” says Sarah Kapnick, a hydroclimate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Forecasting the coming winter’s bounty months in advance could help Westerners prepare for surplus or scarcity, Kapnick says. Better predictions would allow officials time to implement flood control or water conservation measures, for example, and help farmers decide whether to plant thirsty crops or hardier ones.

The first step is understanding what can diminish a snowpack, like hotter temperatures, humid air and wind-blown dust. Here are three recent studies that dive into the snowpack and its foes:

Credit: California Cooperative Snow Survey via YouTube

THE STUDY: “Exploring the origins of snow drought in the Northern Sierra Nevada, California,” Earth Interactions, December 2017.

THE TAKEAWAY: Not all droughts are dry. A “snow drought” can occur even when there’s plenty of precipitation if it’s so warm that it falls as rain instead of snow.

WHAT IT MEANS: To understand what causes snow droughts, scientists from the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada analyzed decades of monthly snow measurements from the northern Sierra Nevada, near Lake Tahoe. They identified several snow droughts caused by a variety of factors, including dry periods, warm weather and rain falling on snow and melting it.

The researchers found that some weather patterns have inconsistent impacts: For example, atmospheric river storms, bands of water-soaked air that can drench the West Coast, might initiate a snow drought if they bring mostly rain, or end one if they deliver snow.

While snow droughts aren’t a new phenomenon — the scientists found evidence for one in 1951, the earliest year they studied — it does appear that they are becoming more common. “We’re seeing them stack up a little bit more now,” says Benjamin Hatchett, one of the study’s co-authors. That trend will likely continue as the climate warms, stressing both ecosystems and economies that depend on snow and the water it holds.

Fog rolls in below snow-dusted peaks on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. In relatively humid places like the Pacific Northwest, more water melts from the snowpack during the wintertime than in more arid regions. Brooke Warren/High Country News

THE STUDY: “Humidity determines snowpack ablation under a warming climate,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2018.

THE TAKEAWAY: The amount of moisture in the air drives wintertime dips in the snowpack. There’s more midwinter snowmelt in humid corners of the West than arid ones.

WHAT IT MEANS: Scientists from the University of Nevada Reno and the University of Utah scrutinized decades of weather and snow records from 462 sites across the West to understand why water in the snowpack sometimes dwindles during the wintertime.

They found that relatively wet places experienced more wintertime melting. During humid weather — a stretch of foggy days, for example — water vapor in the air condenses on the snowpack, releasing energy and heating the snow. Clouds and moist air also prevent nighttime cooling, pushing the snowpack closer toward thawing, sometimes well before spring. “If (snow) is melting and not sticking around to the times later in the year when we need and expect that water, that’s a real problem,” says Adrian Harpold, a hydrologist at the University of Nevada Reno and co-author of the study.

Harpold says parts of the Western snowpack could be hit hard by amplified humidity in the future. Because a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, places near the ocean or other large bodies of water will likely experience more humidity — and more melting.

Layers of dust stripe the sides of a pit dug into the snow in Colorado. Dust deposited or exposed on the surface of the snowpack contributes to faster warming and melting. Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies

THE STUDY: “Variation in rising limb of Colorado River snowmelt runoff hydrograph controlled by dust radiative forcing in snow,” Geophysical Research Letters, December 2017.

THE TAKEAWAY: Snow covered in dust melts faster than clean snow, because it absorbs more energy from the sun. In some areas, dust influences the speed of spring snowmelt more than air temperature.

WHAT IT MEANS: Dust blown in from the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau periodically darkens alpine slopes in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. A team of scientists examined air temperature, dust deposition and how quickly a handful of rivers in the area rose in the spring between 2005 and 2014. Dust was the dominant factor: Spring runoff happened more quickly in years with more dust, regardless of whether the air was warm or cool.

Understanding how dust affects snowmelt and spring runoff is crucial for water management, says Tom Painter, an author of the study and a snow hydrologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A bigger, faster pulse of water could stress infrastructure and increase the risk of flooding.

That doesn’t mean air temperature is completely irrelevant. After all, that’s what determines how much precipitation falls as snow rather than rain. “That is an enormous impact on the water resources as well,” Painter says.

Emily Benson is an assistant editor at High Country News.

Stunning drops in solar, wind costs mean economic case for coal, gas is ‘crumbling’ — ThinkProgress

Aspen gets more than half of its electricity from wind turbines just north of I-80 in the Nebraska panhandle. Photo credit The Mountain Town News.

From ThinkProgress (Joe Romm):

Prices for solar, wind, and battery storage are dropping so rapidly that renewables are increasingly squeezing out all forms of fossil fuel power, including natural gas.

The cost of new solar plants dropped 20 percent over the past 12 months, while onshore wind prices dropped 12 percent, according to the latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report. Since 2010, the prices for lithium-ion batteries — crucial to energy storage — have plummeted a stunning 79 percent.

“The economic case for building new coal and gas capacity is crumbling,” as BNEF’s chief of energy economics, Elena Giannakopoulou, told Bloomberg.

At the same time, solar and wind plants — which are increasingly being built with battery storage — are eating into the utilization of existing coal and gas plants, making them far less profitable. For instance, the super-efficient combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants that have been popular in recent decades, were designed to be used at full power between 60 percent and 90 percent of the time.

But their actual utilization rate (also called the “capacity factor”) has been plummeting in recent years, and is now close to a mere 20 percent in countries as diverse as China, Germany, and India.

#Colorado adds 70,000 new folks in 2017

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

Growth in Colorado is booming. State census numbers just out, show Colorado’s population jumped by around 70,000 people in 2017…

When it comes to water supply, Colorado Springs utilities planners look decades into the future. Within the last year they completed what is called an Integrated Water Resources Plan. “That really looked at our future water supply, 50 plus years out. And a big component of that was estimating our future demand based in part on population.”

[…]

The supply is strong right now and into the near future, but they know long term growth will require expanding our water system. Front Range water comes from an extensive system of reservoirs, pumps and pipes. “If we didn’t change our system at all with our current configuration or our water supply system we’re probably good on water supply for at least another 20 to 25 years.” Growth, however, is expected to continue, so planning is happening now for future water needs. “When we need to start thinking about bringing in additional storage, maybe expanding some of our reservoir storage, perhaps building new reservoirs.”

#Drought news: The aridification of the #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

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

Summary

Early in the drought week, moderate precipitation fell in an area covering southern Minnesota stretching southeastward through central Iowa and Illinois, southern Indiana, Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and much of North Carolina. Heavier precipitation fell in coastal California and the Sierra range. Coastal Oregon and Washington also saw moderate to heavy precipitation amounts during the first half of the drought week. The Northeast experienced its fourth Nor’easter in as many weeks. Near the end of the drought week, a swath of precipitation fell from Texas, eastern Oklahoma, into Missouri and Indiana. The dry pattern continued for the drought stricken areas of the southern Rockies and Plains and parts of the Southeast…

South

Precipitation was generally above normal (0.5-2.0 inch surpluses) across north central Texas, eastern Oklahoma and extreme northwestern Arkansas during the USDM period. During the last 30 days, much of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana were running 1-3 inches below normal while Arkansas was as much as 5 inches above normal. According to the USDA, 65 percent of wheat in Texas was in poor to very poor condition while 72 percent of topsoil moisture across the state was short to very short. Moderate and Extreme drought was expanded in central and parts of southern Texas. Precipitation continues to miss western Oklahoma where 28-day streamflows are running below the fifth percentile and precipitation for the last 6-months is around 20 percent of normal. Extreme drought was expanded to cover more of the Panhandle of Oklahoma, reaching into Kansas and Texas. Drought and dryness is not currently affecting the majority of the other states of the region…

High Plains

Precipitation was light across the region during the USDM period as, generally speaking, less than 1 inch of precipitation fell. Aside from Kansas and Colorado, precipitation during the past 30-days was just ahead of normal as surpluses of 0.50 to 1 inch fell in much of North Dakota, eastern South Dakota and eastern Nebraska. Winter wheat conditions were rated 49 percent poor to very poor in Kansas while 69 percent of topsoil moisture across the state was short to very short. In southern Kansas, 180-day precipitation departures are 4-8 inches below normal. In southwestern South Dakota, recent precipitation allowed for D0 and D1 to be contracted. Severe drought (D2) was contracted in west central Colorado and in the Dakotas. Extreme drought (D3) was expanded southern and western Colorado and southern Kansas…

West

Copious amounts of precipitation fell in the West during the USDM period, helping to restore the below-normal seasonal mountain snowpack in the Sierra. In the lower elevations, the atmospheric river event caused flash flooding and mudslides in the same area where forest fires last December charred the landscape. Little to no precipitation fell during the week in Arizona and New Mexico. Despite the recent precipitation in California, departures are evident beyond 30 days. At the 6-month time scale, precipitation amounts are 30-50 percent of normal in Southern California. However, for the same period (6-month), the recent storm brought the precipitation totals closer to normal in the central and northern Sierra. River basin snow water content now measures 75-90 percent of average in the central Sierra. The recent storm allowed the contraction of drought across much of the West this USDM period. However, where the precipitation did not fall (Desert Southwest and northwestern New Mexico), Severe and Extreme drought (D2-D3) was expanded.

*For details on Eastern Colorado and Eastern Wyoming, refer to the High Plains region…

Looking Ahead

During the next 5 days, precipitation amounts are forecast to be high (3-5 inches) in an area stretching from Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, western Tennessee and into Kentucky. Elsewhere, lighter precipitation is forecasted to fall in the northern and central Rockies, High Plains, and Northeast. The drought-stricken Four Corners region, western Texas and the Southwest are expected to continue to be dry.

The 6-10 day outlook from the Climate Prediction Center calls for an increased chance of below-normal precipitation in the High Plains stretching into the Great Lakes region while the highest probability of above normal temperatures is centered around the Southwest. The probability of above-normal precipitation is highest in the South. Below-normal precipitation is most likely to occur across parts of the Southwest.

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

“Everybody talks about 2001 and 2002,” [Chuck] McAfee says. “That one was a very dry time just like this is. This is appearing to be scarier and worse.”

By most measures, portions of the American southwest in the Colorado River Basin are in their 18th year of drought. A handful of wet years dot the historical record in that stretch of time, but storms haven’t brought enough moisture to fill reservoirs and replenish groundwater. It’s the longest period of sustained dry and warm weather since consistent records have been kept.

That’s leading some to ask: If a drought lasts that long, is it still a drought or something else entirely?

[…]

The lack of robust conversations about the dry conditions might be a symptom of our limited vocabulary to describe what’s going on, says Brad Udall, a climate and water researcher with Colorado State University.

“Language is how you think, right? It’s how your opinions form and how your thought processes work. If you have the wrong words in your thoughts, you might actually come up with the wrong solutions,” Udall says.

Udall and other academics with the Colorado River Research Group published a paper arguing that our conversations about drought in the southwest need to change — specifically the word “drought.” It’s no longer a helpful concept in talking about the fundamental climate shifts reshaping the southwest, Udall says.

“Drought is often viewed as a lack of water and is viewed as a temporary situation,” Udall says.

But the latest science points toward a drier, warmer future for the Colorado River Basin, Udall says. If we see that change as “drought,” as something that eventually goes away, we hold onto false hope and fail to adequately prepare…

“This isn’t really drought,” [Udall] says. “This is the ongoing aridification of the Colorado River Basin and we think we should start to talk about it in these terms rather than this older term, ‘drought.’”

Here’s the March 2018 Drought Update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Taryn Finnessey) and Colorado Division of Water Resources (Tracy Kosloff):

Despite near normal precipitation across most of the state in February, March precipitation has been well below average statewide. Currently Colorado is experiencing the 3rd lowest snowpack on record, with only 2002 and 1981 being drier. Extreme drought has expanded to cover most of Southwestern Colorado, The San Luis Valley and Southeastern Colorado. West Slope providers with limited storage are concerned about the demand season and thinking about possible restrictions, while Front Range providers are thinking about conservation messaging.

  • As of March 23rd, statewide snowpack at SNOTEL sites is 69 percent of average. The North and South Platte basins have experienced the highest levels of precipitation in the state, at 90 and 81 percent, respectively. While the Yampa & White and Colorado River Basins are slightly lower at 80 percent. The southern half of the state has been significantly drier with the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan, Rio Grande, Gunnison and Arkansas all well below normal precipitation at 54, 54, 61 and 58 percent respectively.
  • Many basins’ year –to-date precipitation, based on SNOTEL is tracking near 2002, as is the state as a whole.
  • 74 percent of the state is in some level of drought classification with 24 percent in moderate drought, 30 percent in severe drought and 20 percent classified as extremely dry. An additional 16 percent of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions (see image on reverse side).
  • Reservoir storage statewide is at 116 percent of normal, with all basins above average. The Arkansas basin is reporting the highest average storage at 145 percent. The Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan have the lowest storage levels in the state at 105 percent of normal.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index(SWSI) values improved slightly for March 1, but remain below normal with much of the western slope classified as moderate to extremely dry. These values are expected to decline when new numbers are released on April 1, this is largely the due to below average streamflow forecasts.
  • Streamflow forecasts are well below average for the vast majority of the state and near normal in isolated areas including the Blue River, St. Vrain and Cache La Poudre basins (see image on reverse side).
  • Short term forecasts show that temperatures will be more seasonal with a normal chance of precipitation, however longer term forecasts indicate increased likelihood of below average precipitation and above average temperatures.
  • A weak La Niña remains active and is projected to transition to neutral conditions in May or June, indicating that warm and dry conditions are likely to persist through the spring. While the monsoonal rainfall forecast is still uncertain, above average temperatures should continue into the summer months.
  • Statewide Basin High/Low graph March 25, 2018 via the NRCS.

    Statewide SNOTEL snowpack is well below average at [72] percent of normal, and tracking close to 2002 levels. To reach a normal snowpack peak we would need to 480 percent of normal accumulation. Snowpack typically peaks in early to mid April.

    March 1 streamflow forecasts are below 60 percent of average for nearly all of southern Colorado, while the central portion of the state ranges from 70-80 percent of average. With dry conditions throughout March the April 1 streamflow forecasts are projected to decline.

    Click here to read the current drought assessment from the Colorado Climate Center. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

    #Snowpack news: Disappointing snow accumulation season for most of the West

    Western spring snowpack has been below normal six of the past seven years, meaning less water during the traditionally dry summer months. Graphic credit: Climate Central

    From Climate Central:

    Even with the heavier snow in parts of the West last week, the snowpack depth measured at the end of the season for the West as a whole is below normal. It is a shift from last year’s snow surplus but is more representative of the long-term trend; 2011 and 2017 were the only two years this decade in which the snowpack was above normal. The Northwest had a favorable snowfall season, but drought returned to California after last year’s wet season, with extreme drought now extending eastward from California to the Southern Plains. Arizona and New Mexico are particularly dry, with each state receiving less than half of its normal snowfall through the end of March.

    As the world continues to warm from increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, early spring snowpack has been trending downward. In addition to more intense droughts from decreased snowpack, warming winters mean that the percentage of winter precipitation that falls as snow is decreasing, which also contributes to the snowpack decline.

    While the West has a long history of droughts and wet periods, the droughts have been getting more intense over the past century. This has led to a depletion of deeper groundwater, which takes more than a single wet season to recover. According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, water managers in 40 states expect water shortages in some parts of their states in the next 10 years.

    From The Sopris Sun (Will Grandbois):

    The Roaring Fork Conservancy’s weekly snowpack report has the watershed as a whole at 75 percent of normal — better than the southwestern part of the state but not as robust as parts of northern Colorado and the Front Range. According to Education & Outreach Coordinator Liza Mitchell, area snowpack usually peaks around April 1, but that’s just a milestone, not a point of no return.

    “We’re going to have above average years and we’re going to have below average years,” she said. “While there’s definitely concern, there is sort of a silver lining in that we’re coming off of two years that were well above average… Our reservoirs are like savings accounts for a not-so-rainy summer. When it becomes really bad is when we have back-to-back years like this.”

    The Conservancy and local partners have also put effort into programs that will help residents, ranchers and wildlife weather tough years. The Crystal River Management Plan, for instance, makes it possible for irrigators to reduce their usage without losing their water rights.

    “The only certainty is that things will become more unpredictable, so we’re trying to set ourselves and the river up for success — be proactive instead of reactive,” Mitchell said. “Each and every one of us is a water user and therefore water diverter.”

    Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist and assistant supervisor with the National Resources Conservation Service Colorado Snow Survey, gestures to indicate how high snowpack has been in past years at the McClure Pass site. Data collectors would have to climb the rungs up to the second, higher door to access the shelter.

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    For much of the winter, the snowpack at McClure Pass hovered around the second-lowest measurement on record for a 30-year period.

    By Thursday, March 22, the McClure Pass site and the Independence Pass site had dipped to the lowest ever recorded snow-water equivalent for that date.

    “It’s a very notable statistic because [McClure Pass] has a pretty long period of record — 38 years,” said Karl Wetlaufer, a National Resources Conservation Service hydrologist and assistant supervisor with the Colorado Snow Survey. “It definitely indicates there will be well below normal streamflow resulting from those areas.”

    It’s one thing to read about record low snowpack in a graph, and quite another when you see what it looks like on the ground where the data is gathered.

    At an early March Water Education Colorado workshop, participants traipsed around McClure Pass on snowshoes digging snow pits, measuring snow depth, and testing the snow-water equivalent of snow samples, looking for clues about this year’s spring runoff.

    That’s because today’s snow is tomorrow’s water.

    At the top of the 8,755-foot pass is a SNOTEL (short for snow telemetry) site, which is an automated system of sensors that collect weather and climate data hourly and beam it to the NRCS office in Boise, Idaho. There are 115 SNOTEL sites across Colorado, mostly in remote, mountainous watersheds.

    SNOTEL sites have a precipitation gauge, a pressure-sensing snow pillow, a snow-depth gauge, and an air temperature sensor. Some enhanced sites measure soil moisture content and humidity. They run on solar panels and also come equipped with a small shelter that housees the cables and wires that run the unit.

    Currently, the snow-water equivalent at McClure Pass is around 55 percent of normal and the water year-to-date precipitation is around 62 percent. Manual measurements from the group recorded the McClure Pass snowpack at around two feet deep and the snow-water equivalent, which is the liquid content of the snow, measured around 21 percent.

    The information gleaned from SNOTEL sites as well as from manual measurements by hydrologists can reveal a lot about what to expect from spring runoff.

    The entire Roaring Fork watershed is at 76 percent for snow-water equivalent and 67 percent of normal for water year-to-date precipitation. The National Resources Conservation Service releases a monthly water supply outlook report based on SNOTEL data. For March 1, the Roaring Fork Basin was predicted to be at 59 percent of average volume for April through July. That dropped to 49 percent of average by mid month.

    Liza Mitchell, education and outreach coordinator with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, left, and a participant in the Water Education Colorado SNOTEL workshop measure the snow-water equivalent of different layers of the snowpack. The liquid content of snow from this site measured roughly 21 percent. (March 2018)

    Not just depth

    Snow-water equivalent is the best predictor of streamflow volume, but there are other factors that can affect the volume, and especially the timing, of spring runoff. Some of those include the date when the ground becomes free of snow cover, solar radiation, whether there is a layer of dust in the snowpack, and the soil moisture conditions prior to winter’s first hard freeze.

    Liza Mitchell, education and outreach coordinator with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, explained that an earlier bare ground date means thirsty plants sprout earlier and absorb the water out of the soil, leaving less to flow into streams. Likewise, a dry fall means lower runoff. If dried-out soil froze with empty pore space, the snowmelt will fill these empty spaces in the soil first, instead of flowing into waterways.

    Dust on snow and solar radiation also can affect streamflow volume and timing. Spring storms from the southwest can deposit a layer of dark-colored dust on top of the snowpack causing it to melt quicker. Sometimes the dust layer is buried several inches or feet down.

    “If you have bright white snow, most of the solar radiation is going to get bounced off,” Mitchell said. “If there’s a dust event, it can change the reflectivity of the snow. Now that solar radiation is hitting a darker surface, most of the energy is being absorbed by the snowpack.”

    NRCS streamflow forecasts are created using only the SNOTEL data and don’t take into account these other environmental variables. The reason for this is mostly for simplicity’s sake. NRCS manages about 600 streamflow forecasts throughout the western United States with a limited staff, said Angus Goodbody, a Portland, Oregon-based NRCS forecast hydrologist.

    “If you have a good way to account for these other factors, then yes, they should improve your forecast,” Goodbody said. “But the biggest impact [these other factors] will have is not on the total volume, but the timing of runoff. We are predicting total volume, not when it’s going to happen.”

    A detail of a section of Castle Creek, the city of Aspen’s main water supply. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Stream management

    So who could potentially be affected by low stream flows this year? The city of Aspen, for starters.

    Margaret Medellin, utilities portfolio manager for the city, said she will meet with City Council in April to discuss whether to implement water shortage restrictions in the coming months. The municipality does not have much water storage in the form of reservoirs, and it is required to keep a minimum amount of water in its stream sources of Maroon and Castle creeks.

    In Stage 1 restrictions, the city would ask residents to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 10 percent in what is essentially an awareness campaign. Stage 2 would require some restrictions on outdoor water use and Stage 3 could ban it altogether. All three stages would see an accompanying increase in water rates.

    “The city is committed to not drying up the creeks, so if they fall below a certain level, we stop diverting,” Medellin said. “We will use the little storage we do have or switch between one creek and the other.”

    Some irrigators, especially those with lower priority water rights, could suffer as a result of low stream flows. But the biggest loser would probably be instream flows and ecosystems, said Andy Schultheiss, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust.

    Instream flow rights are typically junior to most other water rights and streams can go dry in years when there isn’t much snowmelt coming down from the high country.

    “People in their homes won’t notice much of a difference, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some really bad things happening,” Schultheiss said. “In even moderately dry years, the fish and the whole ecosystem tends to congregate in smaller and smaller pools, which creates disease and competition for food.”

    One potential solution is a pilot program that would let water rights owners lease water rights to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in order to keep more water in the stream. The Colorado Water Trust is a partner in this new voluntary water-sharing program that would benefit the state’s instream flow efforts.

    For more information or to track SNOTEL data, go to https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/water/snowsurvey/

    From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jon Nicolodi):

    SnoTel sites are automated stations that collect data on snow, operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and there are 115 in Colorado alone. While numerous measurements are taken, the most commonly used is snow water equivalent. Snow height is measured, but it doesn’t take into account the density of the snow, which can vary between 5 percent and 20 percent.

    The snow water equivalent is measured in inches and can best be thought of as what the depth of the water would be if you instantaneously melted the entire snowpack. Snow height is a favorite measurement of skiers and snowboarders. Snow water equivalent is a favorite measurement of scientists and anyone looking at water beyond the winter, which is a popular notion in Colorado.

    In an end-of-February report, Nick Barlow at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported the snow water equivalent of all of Colorado to be averaged at 73 percent, compared to what it historically is at the end of February.

    But not all areas of Colorado are favored equally with snowfall. The Front Range, including the North and South Platte basins, are at 90 percent and 91 percent, respectively. The lower half of the state, including the Arkansas, Gunnison, Upper Rio Grande and the southwesternmost watersheds, are in the low 60s or high 50s, bringing down that state average. The Yampa and the White in northwestern Colorado are at 81 percent of snow water equivalent compared to a median year.

    The Colorado River watershed, including the Roaring Fork and any other tributaries joining the Colorado along the I-70 corridor, comes in at 85 percent relative to its median snow water equivalent. On the whole, not too shabby. But not inspirational either.

    In most of Colorado, higher-than-average snowfall in February greatly helped these percentages. All of the previous months had been a bit dismal for winter, with November and December being particularly dry. The storms that did come were flanked by warm weather, so large portions of our snowpack melted away. In an average year, that snowpack and its snow water equivalent reach peak numbers by April 9 before melting as a whole, contributing to all of the industries that rely upon a hearty spring thaw, ample soil moisture and flowing water as deep into our dry summers as possible.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 27, 2018 via the NRCS.

    Rico scores $60,000 from @CWCB_DNR for source water study

    Rico photo via WesternMiningHistory.com

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

    During a recent meeting in Broomfield, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) approved a $60,000 grant from its Water Reserve Supply account for the town to conduct a water system analysis. Half of the grant money will come from the Southwest Basin Roundtable account, while the other $30,000 will be from the CWCB statewide fund. Rico and Southwestern Water Conservation District will contribute an additional $30,000 each for a project total of $120,000.

    The town will hire a water engineer to conduct the study, which will find ways to increase water efficiency, quality and productivity for residents.

    Kari Distefano, who became Rico’s town manager in May 2017, said one of the first things she did was to hold a community meeting to assess residents’ priorities regarding the town’s infrastructure.

    “Water rose to the top,” she said. “Our water system is problematic. I looked in our reserves and decided we needed some help.”

    Rico has two water sources — an alluvial well just north of town and Silver Creek, which flows into the east side of town and is a tributary of the Dolores River. The Silver Creek system is currently offline because it does not meet the Colorado Department of Health and Environment turbidity standards for surface-water filtration and is only used as an emergency backup system.

    The well, which has junior water rights, only provides .178 cubic feet per second because it must comply with instream flow requirements on the Dolores River. That amount of water is adequate for Rico’s current population of roughly 200 year-round and 500 summer residents, but would not be enough if the town were to grow. The well provides water to 31 commercial and 242 residential taps, respectively.

    The study will determine what it would take to re-establish Silver Creek as a water supply.

    “I’m hoping (the study) will tell us what it’s going to cost to upgrade the filtration system,” Distefano said. “The ultimate goal would be to combine the two systems and have a redundant source of water. To allow more growth, Rico needs a little more volume.”

    […]

    The water analysis also aims to find a way to relocate the aging outdoor water meter boxes to inside residences, making them less vulnerable to damage from the elements.

    Pat Drew, a Rico water consultant for Rico, has been helping the town with regulatory compliance issues. He said the water study also will evaluate weaknesses and leaks in the system…

    The project also will meet some of the goals laid out in Colorado’s Water Plan, which Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled in late 2015, as well as goals identified by the Southwest Basin Roundtable Basin Implementation Plan. Those goals include providing safe drinking water to southwest Colorado’s citizens and visitors, promoting wise and efficient water use through municipal conservation, and supporting water reuse strategies.

    Durango: Southwestern Water Conservation District 2018 Annual Water Seminar, April 6, 2018

    Photo credit: Allen Best

    Click here for the inside skinny and to register:

    2017 was a year of historic floods in the south, wildfires in the west, and a shocking spillway failure at Oroville Dam. Now dismal snowpack in southwestern Colorado foretells a rough summer for irrigators, recreationalists, and water managers. How are our communities preparing for the worst? What lessons can we learn from others around the state and the nation?

    At the 36th Annual Water Seminar on Friday, April 6, experts will discuss just that: how wildfire impacts to water supplies, the state’s response to emergencies such as the 2013 front range flooding, the western slope’s risk in the context of Colorado River obligations and drought, as well as avoiding devastating infrastructure failure, among other related topics. Hear an interview about the seminar with Executive Director Bruce Whitehead. The full program will be posted here shortly.

    In the meantime, you can reserve your seat for $45 using the online ticket below or call 970-247-1302 before April 4. Walk-in registration may not be available if advance registration reaches capacity. Cost at the door will be $50. The seminar opens for breakfast and registration at 8:00am, with the full program starting at 8:30am.

    Free Water Court Mock Trial, Hosted by AWRA-Colorado — @AWRACO

    From email from AWRA Colorado Section:

    The American Water Resources Association (AWRA) is hosting a free water court mock trial on April 19th at the Blake Street Tavern in Denver.

    The theme of this year’s trial is a change of water rights from agricultural to municipal use. Our panelists will represent municipal, agricultural, and environmental interests as they discuss the complex interactions between population growth, climate change, food security, habitat, and more. Though water rights are a notoriously complicated matter, we are offering this simplified water court trial as an illustrative opportunity for students and young professionals to really grasp the concepts and meet some of the players. Immediately following the mock trial is an opportunity for you to network within the water community. We hope you will decide to join us!

    Attached is a flyer with more information; feel free to share it with anyone else that may be interested. Please note that this is a popular event with limited seating, so we encourage you to register [awracolorado.org] early, at least by the registration deadline of April 12th.

    We would also like to mention that memberships are available at a very low cost for students- only $5 for the opportunity to be part of a great organization! More information below…

    Rain or snow? Humidity, location can make all the difference — @CUBoulderNews

    The observed 50% rain–snow Ts threshold over the Northern Hemisphere for 6883 land stations from 1978 to 2007. Each point represents one station and only stations with a sufficient number of snowfall events were analyzed. a Thresholds mapped by station location. b Thresholds plotted by station longitude. The horizontal dashed line represents the Northern Hemisphere mean threshold (1.0 °C), the shaded gray box covers thresholds within ±2 standard deviations of the mean, and the blue line is a generalized additive model fit to the threshold data by longitude. Regions of interest are denoted by text within vertical dashed lines

    From the University of Colorado at Boulder (Trent Knoss):

    CU Boulder researchers have created a map of the Northern Hemisphere showing how location and humidity can affect precipitation, illustrating wide variability in how and why different areas receive snow or rain.

    32 degrees Fahrenheit is commonly considered to be the air temperature threshold for rain versus snow, thus informing meteorological forecasting and climate simulations. The new findings, however, show that coastal areas have a cooler threshold for rain, meaning that even temperatures below freezing might not produce snow. Inland and mountainous areas, meanwhile, are likelier to see flurries even when temperatures are several degrees above freezing.

    “In Denver, Colorado, it might be 40 degrees and snowing. But in Charleston, South Carolina, it could be 28 degrees and raining,” said Noah Molotch, Director of the Center for Water Earth Science & Technology (CWEST) at CU Boulder and a co-author of the study. “This study shows these fine-grain differences on a hemisphere-level scale for the first time.”

    The research, which compiled nearly 18 million precipitation observations spanning over 100 countries and four continents across the Northern Hemisphere, was published today in the journal Nature Communications.

    The ability to differentiate rain from snow has important ramifications for Earth’s hydrologic cycle and water management, especially in drought-stricken areas of the American west. Winter snowfall is estimated to provide water storage for one billion people worldwide while climate warming could increase the amount of future rain-on-snow events, raising the risk of flooding.

    “Snow and rain differ greatly in the ways they affect climate,” said Ben Livneh, an assistant professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and a co-author of the study. “Snow acts as a water reservoir and reflects incoming sunlight, whereas if the same amount of precipitation falls as rain, that can dramatically change water resource management decisions.”

    To date, land surface models have typically predicted rain and snow based on a single, consistent air temperature threshold: snow below it and rain above it. But the CU Boulder researchers found that the threshold is not static and that relative humidity and surface pressure play an important role as well.

    “The rain-snow air temperature threshold is primarily a function of relative humidity and methods incorporating humidity and elevation are more likely to predict rain and snow correctly,” said Keith Jennings, a graduate researcher in CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) and the lead author of the study. “If you just use 32 degrees Fahrenheit across the board, your estimates will be wrong in lots of places.”

    The continental U.S. had the most rain-snow variability of any country included in the study. Some of the coolest northern hemisphere thresholds were observed in the southeastern United States while the Rockies and intermountain West had some of the warmest thresholds.

    The new study could inform the future of climate and land surface modeling as researchers look for ways to predict snowfall versus rainfall more accurately, especially in areas crucial for freshwater, agriculture and biodiversity. Future research will look to improve the map and simulations by incorporating even more meteorological data points from around the world.

    “The great thing about this research is that anyone can observe these variables right in their own backyard,” said Molotch. “The topic lends itself well to future citizen science.”

    NASA and the National Science Foundation provided funding for the research. INSTAAR graduate researcher Taylor Winchell also co-authored the study.

    Here’s the link to the Coyote Gulch post with the link to the paper and a 9News article.

    #ColoradoRiver: Humpback chub populations stabilizing #COriver

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    In a recent analysis, scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say the chub’s five distinct populations throughout the Colorado River watershed in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona are stable enough to reclassify the fish as threatened rather than endangered.

    Humpback chubs all but disappeared as large dams began filling the Colorado River’s tight canyons, controlling flows and changing water temperature. The fish thrives in rapid, turbulent flows, which were tamed as dams went up throughout the watershed since the 1930s…

    [Tom] Chart says efforts to better manage dams, releasing water to mimic seasonal high and low flows, have provided more habitat. The agency also attempts to control and kill non-native fish like small mouth bass that feast on the humpback chub…

    The largest population of humpback chub, found at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers in the Grand Canyon of Arizona, is a stable group of about 12,000 adults according to USFWS estimates. Another 3,500 are in the Colorado River’s Westwater Canyon in Utah, plus 500 in Black Rocks in Western Colorado, near the Utah border. Other populations are found in Utah’s Cataract Canyon and Desolation and Gray Canyons. A previously documented group in Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument haven’t been seen there since 2004.

    The fish is not completely out of the woods just yet, Chart cautions. A full recovery of the humpback chub in the Colorado River will require more population monitoring, continued flow management from dams and coordinated kills of nonnative fish.

    #Snowpack/#Runoff news

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 27, 2018 via the NRCS.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service, which monitors the moisture stored in the snow at remote measuring sites across the mountainous West, reported Tuesday that the 69 inches of standing snow at a measuring site at 9,400 feet elevation on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass contained 16.3 inches of water, representing 69 percent of the median snowpack — water content of the snow — measurement for the date.

    As of March 6, snow survey supervisor Brian Domonkos said it would take 200 percent of normal snowfall through the end of April to make up Colorado’s deficit in snow moisture…

    The die is set, and Colorado will see below-average streamflows this summer.

    The Conservation Service also reports that in South Routt County, on the headwaters of the Yampa River at the Bear River measuring site, the snow wasn’t nearly as deep as on Rabbit Ears, but the 9.6 inches of water stored in the 33 inches of snow was 103 percent of median.

    In North Routt, there is a significant gap between two snow-measuring sites just a few miles apart on opposite sides of the Continental Divide.

    At the Lost Dog site, at 9,320 feet, on the west side of the Continental Divide, the 73 inches of snow on the ground contained 52 percent of median snowpack. At the Zirkel measuring site at 9,340 elevation on the east side of the Divide, the 60 inches of snow represented 101 percent of median.

    Those numbers are rosy compared to the Southern Colorado Rockies, where the snowpack in the Upper Rio Grand Basin is 53 percent of median in the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins is just 54 percent of median.

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Earlier this month, on March 19, we reported that Colorado Springs Utilities has the equivalent of three years worth of water stored in its reservoirs, a good thing considering how dry it’s been.

    That abundance has led Utilities to predict its customers are unlikely to be placed under mandatory water restrictions this summer.

    While something of a relief for all you horticulturists out there, the prospect of unlimited sales could mean the biggest year ever in water sales for Utilities. Since 2013, the department has seen water revenues increase by nearly a third…

    So feel free to flood your pansies, trees and lawns. But if you want to keep your water bill in check, look into low-water landscaping and methods to have a beautiful yard without guzzling water.

    Click here to view a list of Colorado Springs Utilities Water Wise Landscaping Classes.

    From KJZZ.org (Steve Goldstein):

    Arizona’s water challenges are typically pretty dramatic. Snowpack in the high country was light this season, and the deserts get little precipitation.

    The Colorado River is moving closer to a shortage declaration, which would affect the state’s supply. And required conservation is not part of our vocabulary.

    But the state has been credited with being visionary when it comes to water banking and groundwater. The business of water is a big part of the current and future plans for the state’s supply.

    That is the overarching topic of a conference being held Wednesday in Tucson and hosted by the Univeresity of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center.

    Sharon Megdal, director of the research center, joined The Show to talk about the conference.

    From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom);

    More than just a coating of snow, some branches show a little bend with the weight of the most recent snowstorm in Southern Colorado. It is a sign of higher water content.

    “I really do enjoy the science of it,” said News 5 follower and amateur weather tracker, Carl Ingram. The Woodland Park resident is faithful at testing for water content. Most of this year’s snowstorms have had little. “This entire winter has been very, very minimal water per snow. I’ve seen up to four inches of snow with .1” of water melting out of it.” This latest storm is an improvement. Ingram measured nearly a quarter inch of water from the snow. “This is the most water in one event that we’ve had since January 1st.”

    High water content snow is important because water from snow is slowly absorbed into the ground as opposed to rain where more of it runs off toward streams. Water from snow helps lower fire danger. It is also the main source of Colorado’s water supply.

    #COWaterPlan: “We are looking at the appropriate revenue streams” — John Stulp

    James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

    Here’s the release from the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum (Chris Woodka):

    Streams of funding will become important to keep streams of water flowing in Colorado in the coming decades, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top water adviser said.

    “We are looking at the appropriate revenue streams,” said John Stulp, the governor’s adviser. “One of the key questions is: How do you build certainty that new methods don’t dry up agriculture?”

    Stulp, whose home base is a farm-ranch operation in Prowers County, will speak at the 2018 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 11-12 in La Junta. This year’s forum is dedicated to the issues facing the Lower Arkansas Valley. Water lawyer David Robbins, who defended state interests in the Kansas v. Colorado speaker will open the conference, while Stulp will offer closing remarks.

    Colorado’s Water Plan, completed in 2015, calls for $3 billion new state investment in water projects from 2020-50, or about $100 million annually. Much of Stulp’s time, working with the state Interbasin Compact Committee, has been spent figuring out just how to do that.

    “We looked at 110 possibilities, then narrowed that to about 12. About four of those rose to the top,” Stulp said.

    Those ideas included:

  • An excise tax on water activities, including recreation.
  • A tap fee on all water users’ bills.
  • A bottle fee on beverage containers.
  • A one-time tap fee on new construction.
  • In addition, a bill introduced late in the 2017 legislative session proposed a 0.1 percent sales tax to fund water.

    “None of the ideas have been implemented,” Stulp said. “It’s been a very general discussion.”

    Funding also is a very real issue at present. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has borrowed $10 million from its construction fund to fund Basin Roundtable projects that formerly would have been funded through mineral severance fees, which were curtailed by a court decision. Roundtables have been more selective in choosing projects that adhere to the Water Plan.

    “I think it’s been a good refresher for the roundtables to look at their Basin Implementation Plans, and decide which projects to fund at the local level, and which to take to the state level,” Stulp said. “The Arkansas Basin Roundtable has been very active, and has come up with good ideas for the valley, and to take back to the rest of the state.”

    Next month’s water forum at Otero Junior College in La Junta will include a series of presentations on agriculture, municipal water supply, environmental concens, water quality and watershed restoration. For information, go to the Web site: http://arbwf.com

    From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    This year there just wasn’t enough money in the coffers to fund the state water plan at $10 million, which it received last year. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, it’s slated to receive only $7 million. The drop in funding comes just as the water plan’s chief cheerleader, Gov. John Hickenlooper, is headed into the last eight months of his term in office.

    Severance taxes are paid by oil and gas and mineral companies when they take those resources out of the land, known as severing. Those revenues pay for some of the divisions in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), including the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and are known as Tier I funding.

    Tier II dollars, which also come from severance taxes, pay for continuing projects such as water and agriculture-related programs, clean energy development, soil conservation, wildlife conservation, invasive species control and low-income energy assistance.

    But the decline in severance tax revenues due to lower oil and gas activity, combined with the state losing a lawsuit filed by oil giant BP over property tax deductions, has wiped out a substantial portion of what the state has to fund those operational activities…

    The Joint Budget Committee stepped in with a bill, House Bill 1338, to transfer just under $30 million in general fund dollars (income and sales tax) to ensure those DNR divisions and projects keep going. That bill is one of 17 bills, referred to as “orbitals,” that go hand-in-hand with the Long Appropriations Bill, House Bill 1322. Orbitals are included to ensure sure the budget is balanced.

    The House Appropriations Committee approved HB 1338 Tuesday morning, prior to the House breaking into its separate caucuses for a JBC presentation on the budget, and to determine what amendments would be offered when the House debates the Long Bill Wednesday.

    What’s left of the severance tax money will fund a variety of projects contained in Senate Bill 18, the annual CWCB projects bill. But with less money to work with, the water plan came out with less money than it got last year.

    The $7 million for the water plan includes $3 million for storage work; $1 million for agriculture-water projects; another $1 million for grants that would put into action strategies for conservation, land use and drought planning; and $1.5 million for environmental and recreational projects. Who gets what will be decided by the board of directors for the CWCB.

    The CWCB projects bill also includes $8 million to take care of “Republican River matters.” Half of those dollars will go to Nebraska, due Dec. 31, to pay off a settlement for alleged violations of an interstate compact.

    11 Steps to Encourage Water Conservation in Your Community — Brian Brassaw

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    From Earth911.com (Brian Brassaw):

    Laying the Groundwork: Lead by Example
    Practice what you preach.
    You’ll never convince anyone to conserve water if you aren’t doing it yourself. Start with the basics: install aerators on faucets, use a low-flow showerhead, turn off faucets when brushing your teeth or lathering up, use WaterSense rated appliances, plant native plants in your yard, etc. (Need more suggestions? Check out this complete guide to water conservation.)

    Engage with others.
    In addition to conserving water in your own home, it’s important to become part of the community. If you have a homeowners’ association, attend the meetings when possible and if it interests you, become a part of the board. If you don’t have an HOA, look for other ways to get involved. Organize playdates for kids, invite neighbors over for dinner and socializing, or go out on a walk through your neighborhood in the morning or evening to meet others.

    Seek out allies.
    As you get to know those around you, find other like-minded individuals who you think would also be interested in helping your community reduce its water consumption. Having a small group of individuals who are aligned with your vision will be a valuable resource as you take the next steps.

    Starting Outreach: What to Teach Others
    Give people a reason to save.
    Reducing water conservation really begins with education. First and foremost, people need to understand why they need to conserve water. Many people simply don’t think about it. They turn on the faucet and out it flows. If you approach it from a cost-savings perspective, many people are more engaged. Most people want to save money, and conserving water is a simple way to do that. The Groundwater Foundation also publishes a lot of helpful information about water consumption and how to conserve it within our communities. You may find some helpful resources there to share with friends and neighbors.

    Provide entry-level strategies.
    You’ll also want to teach others how to conserve water. It’s best to start with the easiest ways first. Things like stopping faucet leaks and turning off the faucet when brushing teeth. Most people don’t have too much difficulty taking these steps. These small changes don’t disrupt their routine much and they’re quick habits to build.

    Encourage others to challenge themselves.
    Next, move on to things people may find a bit more difficult, like shortening their showers and installing aerators and low-flow showerheads. These are changes that can cost a small amount of money and, in some cases, cause some minor inconvenience. Some individuals will find these harder to implement, but with some work, they can get done.

    Think big.
    Finally, teach others how to do larger projects, like xeriscaping. Lawns are easily one of the largest consumers of water in many homes. As the Irelands showed, making a change in what plants you use can substantially reduce your community’s water consumption.

    Widening Your Influence: How to Teach Others
    Choose a monthly focus.
    Coming up with ideas of what to teach may not be too difficult — how to get that information to them, however, can be far more challenging. If you do have an HOA, you probably have some type of newsletter. This can be a vital asset in helping your community conserve water. Work with your HOA board to come up with a plan. Each month, share one item to focus on. As the month goes by, look for ways to remind people of this month’s focus.

    Start an in-person conversation.
    You could also invite people over for a community gathering in your home or a nearby park. With an intimate gathering, you can take a few minutes to talk about ways to conserve water in your neighborhood and invite people to share their own suggestions. With a gathering like this, having a few other like-minded individuals in attendance can really help.

    Host an event.
    You could also hold small workshops and invite others to participate. This is particularly effective when it comes to gardening and xeriscaping. For some, these are daunting tasks, but with a helpful neighbor to lead them along, many people will be more willing to make the change.

    Be neighborly.
    If you’re particularly handy, you could also offer to install showerheads and aerators for your neighbors. Many people simply don’t have the tools or know-how to do these tasks. Offering to do it for them may push them to take that first small step.

    Encouraging your community to conserve water can feel like a monumental task. But if you’ll take it one step at a time and look for small ways to encourage others, you just may wake up in five years having saved millions of gallons of water.

    Projects underway to bridge #Colorado’s water supply gap

    From Water Deeply (Matt Weiser):

    At least seven major new reservoirs and water diversion projects are being planned in Colorado, which had a population of 5.6 million in 2017. Many would continue the controversial practice of diverting water across the Rocky Mountains from the state’s Western Slope, where the majority of Colorado’s precipitation falls, to its more arid Front Range, where people are flocking to Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Longmont and increasingly sprawling suburbs.

    The water projects have been inspired partly by the Colorado Water Plan, an effort by Governor John Hickenlooper to solve a projected water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, or enough to serve more than 1 million households. The plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new water storage and an equal amount of water conservation.

    The plan is only two years old. But critics say it has prioritized gray infrastructure – new dams, pipelines and pumps – over green projects like water conservation and sustainable land use…

    The state water plan does not recommend any specific water development projects. But Hickenlooper has personally endorsed several of them. He also appointed all the voting members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the entity that oversees the Water Plan and awards grants for water projects.

    Greg Johnson, chief of water supply planning at the Water Conservation Board, said the state’s plan emphasizes conservation just as much as new water supply projects. But he said the latter may be more more pressing in some cases.

    “Some of the bigger projects that are in permitting right now are helping meet really critical supply needs that a lot of those faster-growing northern Front Range suburbs have, where they’ve got new developments going up all over the place,” Johnson said. “They have maybe a 10- or 15-year horizon to get some of those things done.”

    One of the water developments endorsed by the governor won a $90 million loan in 2017 from the Water Conservation Board – the largest loan in the board’s history. Known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, it proposes a new reservoir called the Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Longmont to store Colorado River water diverted through an existing tunnel under the Continental Divide.

    The loan covers nearly one-fourth of total costs for the project, which is proposed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    As its name implies, the project is intended to “firm up” existing Colorado River water rights held by a dozen Front Range cities. The cities already draw on these water rights, but can’t fully tap them in some years because of storage limitations. The new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir will solve this problem and allow them to divert the river almost every year.

    The project would result in diverting 30,000 acre-feet more water out of the Colorado River every year than is currently diverted…

    Other major projects in the works include the Moffat Collection System, a plan by Denver Water to expand Gross Reservoir to hold 77,000 acre-feet of additional diversions from Colorado River headwaters streams; and the White River Storage Project, a proposal for a new reservoir of up to 90,000 acre-feet in the northwest corner of the state, near the town of Rangely…

    Greg Silkensen, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the Windy Gap project is vital to many fast-growing Front Range communities that have lower-priority water rights.

    “The Colorado economy is just crazy. Everybody and their brother is moving here,” Silkensen said. “There is a great deal of environmental mitigation that will go forward if the project is built. There’s going to be a lot of benefit to the Upper Colorado River if it does go through.”

    Those projects include stream habitat restoration in the Colorado River and water quality improvements in Grand Lake, part of the existing Western Slope diversion system.

    Poem: Taos Bound — Greg Hobbs

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    Taos Bound

    Through the Sangre de Cristo
    on the verge of the equinox
    crossing over

    into the valley of the Rio Grande,
    the seasons of the earth
    tip back and forth

    into the tilling.

    “The snow had stopped, the gauzy clouds that had ribbed the arch of heaven were now all sunk into one soft white fog over the Sangre de Cristo mountains.”

    — Willa Cather

    Greg and Bobbie Hobbs 3/17-19/2018

    #Snowpack/#Runoff news:

    From The Summit Daily (Allen Best):

    Storms have been so rare this winter they have been named by Wolf Creek staffers. One was called the Just-in-Time Storm, another the Thank-Goodness Storm, and then the OK Storm just before the Martin Luther King weekend.

    Wolf Creek didn’t invest in snowmaking until the late 1990s, and even now only five acres at the base can be covered. Before Christmas, crews resorted to 35-gallon trash cans, scooping up 7,000 loads of snow to dump onto the ski runs.

    Also notable about this winter’s weather has been the warmth. The first snows arrived heavy with water, providing a base across the ski area much like manufactured snow. Then the temperature warmed. “There’s an awful lot of evaporation and sublimation,” he says.

    Looking to a hillside across the highway from his ski area, Pitcher observed that it was bare. Most years it’s a favorite backcountry ski slope.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Colorado mountain snowpack still lags, at 72 percent of the norm, and federal forecasters project drought will persist across much of the southwestern United States, threatening agricultural producers.

    Near-record low snow levels remained at 60 percent of the median or less Sunday in the southern half of Colorado in the Arkansas, Rio Grande, San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan river basins, the latest federal survey shows. In the northern half of Colorado, snowpack hovered around 84 percent of the median in the Upper Colorado River and South Platte River basins, data show.

    Water utilities have been monitoring conditions closely since early January, counting on spring snow and relatively full reservoirs to supply residents during dry months this summer and fall…

    Precipitation levels this past winter also have lagged around the state, with 83 percent of average precipitation in the Upper Colorado River basin, 61 percent in the Arkansas River basin and 54 percent along the Rio Grande, data show.

    From The Durango Herald (Patrick Armijo):

    Farmers drawing water from McPhee Reservoir on the Dolores River are holding out hope for a full allocation this season.

    Pleasant View-area farmer Travis Daves, who has 2,000 acres of irrigated farm land, plans to plant all 2,000 acres with alfalfa, corn and spring wheat.

    He is aided by the fact that McPhee, at about half full, is higher than normal for this time of year thanks to generous runoff from the winter 2016-17 snowpack. McPhee holds 381,000 acre feet, of which 229,000 are its active capacity, the volume of water that can be used for irrigation.

    Daves said if the small recent storms continue, farmers drawing water from McPhee will be all right. He’s expecting a full allocation of irrigation water, which is about 22 inches per acre…

    In addition, he said the long-range forecast is for a shift in the jet stream, allowing more storms into the Four Corners during this stingy La Niña winter.

    The outlook is less bright for those farming on the Florida Mesa and dependent on water from Lemon Reservoir.

    Phil Craig, who has 130 acres he plants with hay on the Florida Mesa, said the snow-water equivalent for Lemon is at 45 percent of the 30-year average, and he expects only a half allocation of irrigation water this year, which will take him through June or perhaps the Fourth of July before he runs dry.

    During a normal year, he has enough irrigated water to run through mid-September.

    He’s planning for only one hay cutting this year, compared with three cuttings in a normal year…

    Like McPhee, Lemon, which holds about 40,000 acre feet, is about half full, which Craig says is helpful because usually this time of year, Lemon is about one-third full.

    Like Daves, Craig still holds out for the possibility the La Niña pattern will break down, offering generous April showers…

    The Pine River Irrigation District, he said, is currently looking at about 80 percent of normal supply for irrigators.

    Again, he said, the reason the allocation is that high is because of the bountiful spring 2017 runoff.

    The major problem for irrigators will not be this year, but next year if Southwest Colorado gets two low snowpack years in succession, Harris said. He cited patterns in 2001 and 2002, the year of the Missionary Ridge Fire, and 2012 and 2013 as examples of back-to-back weak winters, with farmers able to muddle through subpar years in 2001 and 2012 only to be clobbered in 2002 and 2013 when irrigation rations were cut substantially…

    The snowpack that will supply runoff to the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers is at 53 percent of normal.

    “It’s very unlikely we will get anywhere near a 30-year average. At this point, it would be really, really hard to catch up to a 30-year average or a 100-year average or any kind of average,” Harris said.

    Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, operator of McPhee Reservoir, said despite snowpack that is only slightly above 50 percent of the 30-year average, irrigators on the Dolores Project are sitting “right at the edge” of a full allocation.

    Again, he credits the generous 2017 runoff that’s left McPhee storing about 50 percent of the water needed for this year’s growing season.

    If regular storms return through April, Preston said people with water rights on the Dolores Project will get a full allocation for irrigation…

    If the stingy season holds on through April, Preston said there’s a chance the full allocation might be reduced to 80 percent.

    The latest inflow forecast for runoff into McPhee for the spring is for 110,000 acre feet – enough for a full allocation to irrigators…

    McPhee needs about 1 inch of snow-water equivalent from a normal amount of storms through April to ensure a full allotment of water to irrigators, he said.

    The storm that hit last weekend provided seven-tenths of an inch of snow-water equivalent.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

    Despite abnormally warm and dry conditions in the Pikes Peak region, Colorado Springs Utilities officials are not planning to impose restrictions on water usage this year.

    The area has seen slightly more than half of the average precipitation so far this year and temperatures are nearly two degrees above normal to date, said Abigail Ortega, water resources manager. But Utilities has nearly three years worth of water on hand.

    The 30 reservoirs providing water to Utilities average 81 percent of capacity, Ortega said.

    From The Fence Post:

    For starters, this spring is unique because this is an unusual second consecutive year of La Nina, which typically points to dry and warm conditions, although this doesn’t always materialize, as one or two big spring storms can really change the numbers. As climatologists and meteorologists offer up a few different forecasts and theories, here’s what’s on the table this spring for farmers and ranchers regarding expectations of moisture and temperatures…

    “One thing that has made this La Nina interesting is that we are in our second straight year of La Nina. It’s not unheard of by any means, but we haven’t observed a particularly large number of second-year La Ninas either. The second year La Ninas we have seen tend to be cool and wet in the northwest and northeast corners of the country, and milder and drier everywhere else. The last one we saw was 2012,” said Peter Goble, research associate with the Colorado Climate Center on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins…

    The official spring outlook from the Climate Prediction Center for Colorado in April, May and June is an increased likelihood of above normal temperatures for eastern Colorado, with a greater likelihood to the south. “The southeast and central east plains have particularly dry soils right now down to 1-3 feet (think: south of Akron). The soil moisture is looking better out towards the northeast corner of the state,” Goble said adding, “Of course, the new CPC outlook (issued March 15) for April to June temperatures is based on more than just soil moisture, but you’ll notice the odds of a warmer than normal April/May/June are higher for southeast Colorado, than northeast Colorado.”

    This official 90-Day outlook also indicates an increased chance of above average spring warmth from western Kansas into western Oklahoma. Then, for north central Kansas and eastern Kansas, there’s a slightly lower possibility of warmer than average spring temperatures. Southern Nebraska and much of Iowa have even lower chances for a warm spring, and in fact, have close to equal chances for either average, above or below average temps.

    Further north, from the northern half of Nebraska into northwest Iowa, closer to normal spring temperatures are expected…

    “Although a weak La Niña is expected to continue through the spring, the influence lessens as we move into summer. This can be seen in the latest three-month outlook for April-June, which has a neutral outlook for precipitation in most of Kansas,” said Mary Knapp, assistant state climatologist at Kansas State University, Department of Agronomy, Manhattan, Kan. “Even with normal precipitation, it would take some time to improve the current drought situation in the central and southern plains.”

    […]

    “Wyoming often finds itself being in a transition area from north to south between the two. Not all La Ninas are the same and the strength of one has a major effect on the pattern produced. The current La Nina is also diminishing and conditions are heading toward ENSO-neutral (neither La Nina nor El Nino) probably in this April-June time-frame,” said Tony Bergantino, deputy director, Water Resources Data System – Wyoming State Climate Office and Wyoming CoCoRaHS State Coordinator. “Unfortunately, with Wyoming in the boundary area and with La Nina becoming quite weak now, signals can be mixed or indeterminate,” Bergantino said.

    “Specifically for precipitation, while the odds favor the southern part of Wyoming (roughly the area south of a line running from the southern Yellowstone National Park down through the Laramie area) being drier than normal, the rest of the state north of that line has even chances for normal, above-normal or below-normal precipitation. Very much a similar situation occurs for temperatures with approximately the southern half to one-third of Wyoming having better chances for above-normal temperatures while the northern half to two-thirds of the state has no signal one way or the other,” Bergantino said. Regarding the April-June period for eastern Wyoming, Bergantino expects a greater chance of warmer temperatures in the southern third of Wyoming with the signal making a forecast indeterminate for the northern two-thirds. For precipitation in eastern Wyoming for that same period of time, drier than normal conditions are only slightly favored for a small part of the south, and unknown for everything north of that…

    There’s a different theory from Nebraska Climatologist Al Dutcher, who said if the ongoing pattern of low-pressure systems continue to approach the central plains (northern Kansas and points north) and Midwest (upper Mississippi River valley, Great Lakes and Ohio River valley) these areas could see cool and active weather, should it continue.

    “The last two upper lows (low pressure systems) produced respectable precipitation on the north and east side of these upper air lows. The south and west sides of these systems have been able to pull in the dry air from the southern plains (dry slot) and wrap it around these low pressure systems, effectively cutting off precipitation on these two flanks of the storm. Thus, even though parts of central Kansas are experiencing very welcome moisture, the western one-third of Kansas as well as Oklahoma and Texas received none to very light (less than a half-inch) of moisture,” said Dutcher, associate state climatologist for the Nebraska State Climate Office in Lincoln…

    Meanwhile, Dutcher said snowpack continues to disappoint across the southern Rockies, with only very limited relief to no relief so far for the worst hit areas of the southern U.S. winter wheat belt.

    “Snow recovery for the southern Rockies is highly unlikely, as we are near the statistical peak of their snowpack season. I expect complete melt out of the snowpack for New Mexico and the southern one-third of the Rockies before the end of May,” Dutcher said. “Temperatures are now reaching the 70s and 80s across the southern wheat belt and those temps also extend westward into the lower elevations of the southern Rockies. That’s the problem across the entire southern half of the Rockies, low snow at low elevations, normal to below normal snowpack at the highest elevations.” He expects low elevation snow values to melt out earlier and increase high elevation melt out quicker, instead of a buffering rapid melt out.

    Dutcher said, as long as there’s normal moisture this spring, Nebraska could still escape significant drought implications. “If the central Rockies is to maintain normal snowpack through early May, it will translate into a very wet pattern for the west central corn belt (Kansas, Nebraska). This would also be supportive of severe weather, as upper air lows associated with this type of pattern eject from the southern Rockies, head northeast and develop storms on the north side of the warm front, as well as, along the cold front. These systems are usually responsible for our most significant tornado outbreaks,” Dutcher said.

    The Climate Prediction Center outlook also shows that the Pacific Ocean is likely to return to neutral conditions during the March-May season, Goble said. “But it’s still more likely than normal that we’ll see a warm, dry spring. The eastern Plains have been very dry recently, and it’s easier for the sun to quickly warm dry soils than wet soils, so that’s another piece of the puzzle,” he said. “Seasonal forecasting is also more difficult than forecasting the weather tomorrow, so it doesn’t hurt to be ready for anything.”

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 26, 2018 via the NRCS.

    Flying high at Williams Fork Reservoir – News on TAP

    Crews lift 5-ton steel gate into place at Grand County dam in preparation for spring runoff.

    Source: Flying high at Williams Fork Reservoir – News on TAP

    Flirting with drought – News on TAP

    How past and present strategic planning helps us weather the dry spells of today and protects water supplies for the future.

    Source: Flirting with drought – News on TAP

    Omnibus budget bill includes funding to end “fire borrowing” within USFS budget @SenCoryGardner @SenBennetCO

    Sprague Fire September 2017. Photo credit the Associated Press via The Flathead Beacon.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    Tucked away in the massive $1.3 trillion federal omnibus spending bill is a much-needed policy fix that ends the frustrating practice of “fire borrowing.”

    Before the president signed the bill Friday, the cost of fighting catastrophic wildfires in the West was wreaking havoc with efforts to reduce the threat of fires in the first place.

    Most federal agencies can draw from an emergency fund to pay for disaster response. But not the Forest Service and the Interior Department. With no access to disaster funds, they’ve been forced to borrow from other areas of their budgets, creating a destructive cycle of fighting megafires at the expense of programs that are supposed to mitigate fire risk.

    This wildland fire funding problem affects Western states, so it’s no surprise that Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner were instrumental in forging a bipartisan coalition to include a fix in the spending bill.

    The deal secured in the omnibus is based on the framework from Bennet and Gardner’s Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. It provides the Forest Service with certainty in its discretionary funding for programs other than firefighting so that more agency resources can be spent on management and restoration. It allows the Forest Service to “complete the entirety of its mission,” without being undermined by the pressures of fire, Bennet said…

    With costs exceeding $2.4 billion, the 2017 fire was season was the most expensive ever, according to the Forest Service’s Cost of Fire Operations program. Colorado’s anemic snowpack may contribute to an earlier and above-normal fire season, underscoring the need for a fire funding fix.

    US Senate bill introduced to reauthorize #ColoradoRiver System Conservation Program program #COriver

    Detailed Colorado River Basin map via the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Gary Martin):

    Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., filed the bill to reauthorize for four years the conservation program, first passed by Congress in 2015 to conserve water and mitigate impacts of drought in the Colorado River Basin…

    Southern Nevada, which includes Clark County and Las Vegas, receives nearly 90 percent of its water supply from the Colorado River.

    “Southern Nevada is no stranger to drought, and that’s why I continue to fight for policies that strengthen our state’s water supply and infrastructure,” Heller said in a statement.

    Heller filed the bill on Tuesday.

    A report by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in January projected that the level of Lake Mead, where Las Vegas draws its water, would be about 5 feet lower by the end of the year.

    The surface of Lake Mead has fallen 131 feet since 2000.

    #Snowpack news: North Platte Basin back into the average range

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via The Aspen Times:

    For much of the winter, the snowpack at McClure Pass hovered around the second-lowest measurement on record for a 30-year period.

    By Thursday, the McClure Pass and Independent Pass sites had dipped to the lowest ever recorded snow-water equivalent for that date (March 22).

    “It’s a very notable statistic because (McClure Pass) has a pretty long period of record — 38 years,” said Karl Wetlaufer, a National Resources Conservation Service hydrologist and assistant supervisor with the Colorado Snow Survey. “It definitely indicates there will be well-below-normal streamflow resulting from those areas.”

    It’s one thing to read about record low snowpack in a graph, and quite another when you see what it looks like on the ground where the data is gathered.

    At an early March Water Education Colorado workshop, participants traipsed around McClure Pass on snowshoes digging snow pits, measuring snow depth and testing the snow-water equivalent of snow samples, looking for clues about this year’s spring runoff.

    That’s because today’s snow is tomorrow’s water.

    At the top of the 8,755-foot pass is a SNOTEL (short for snow telemetry) site, which is an automated system of sensors that collect weather and climate data hourly and beam it to the NRCS office in Boise, Idaho. There are 115 SNOTEL sites across Colorado, mostly in remote, mountainous watersheds.

    SNOTEL sites have a precipitation gauge, a pressure-sensing snow pillow, a snow-depth gauge and an air temperature sensor. Some enhanced sites measure soil moisture content and humidity. They run on solar panels and also come equipped with a small shelter that housees the cables and wires that run the unit.

    Currently, the snow-water equivalent at McClure Pass is around 55 percent of normal and the water year-to-date precipitation is around 62 percent. Manual measurements from the group recorded the McClure Pass snowpack at around two-feet deep and the snow-water equivalent, which is the liquid content of the snow, measured around 21 percent.

    The information gleaned from SNOTEL sites as well as from manual measurements by hydrologists can reveal a lot about what to expect from spring runoff.

    The entire Roaring Fork watershed is at 76 percent for snow-water equivalent and 67 percent of normal for water year-to-date precipitation. The National Resources Conservation Service releases a monthly water supply outlook report based on SNOTEL data. For March 1, the Roaring Fork Basin was predicted to be at 59 percent of average volume for April through July. That dropped to 49 percent of average by mid-month.

    Snow-water equivalent is the best predictor of streamflow volume, but there are other factors that can affect the volume, and especially the timing, of spring runoff. Some of those include the date when the ground becomes free of snow cover, solar radiation, whether there is a layer of dust in the snowpack and the soil moisture conditions prior to winter’s first hard freeze.

    Liza Mitchell, education and outreach coordinator with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, explained that an earlier bare ground date means thirsty plants sprout earlier and absorb the water out of the soil, leaving less to flow into streams. Likewise, a dry fall means lower runoff. If dried-out soil froze with empty pore space, the snowmelt will fill these empty spaces in the soil first, instead of flowing into waterways.

    Dust on snow and solar radiation also can affect streamflow volume and timing. Spring storms from the southwest can deposit a layer of dark-colored dust on top of the snowpack causing it to melt quicker. Sometimes the dust layer is buried several inches or feet down.

    “If you have bright white snow, most of the solar radiation is going to get bounced off,” Mitchell said. “If there’s a dust event, it can change the reflectivity of the snow. Now that solar radiation is hitting a darker surface, most of the energy is being absorbed by the snowpack.”

    NRCS streamflow forecasts are created using only the SNOTEL data and don’t take into account these other environmental variables. The reason for this is mostly for simplicity’s sake. NRCS manages about 600 streamflow forecasts throughout the western United States with a limited staff, said Angus Goodbody, a Portland, Oregon-based NRCS forecast hydrologist.

    “If you have a good way to account for these other factors, then yes, they should improve your forecast,” Goodbody said. “But the biggest impact (these other factors) will have is not on the total volume, but the timing of runoff. We are predicting total volume, not when it’s going to happen.”

    So who could potentially be affected by low stream flows this year? The city of Aspen for starters.

    Margaret Medellin, utilities portfolio manager for the city, said she will meet with City Council in April to discuss whether to implement water shortage restrictions in the coming months. The municipality does not have much water storage in the form of reservoirs, and it is required to keep a minimum amount of water in its stream sources of Maroon and Castle creeks.

    In Stage 1 restrictions, the city would ask residents to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 10 percent in what is essentially an awareness campaign. Stage 2 would require some restrictions on outdoor water use and Stage 3 could ban it altogether. All three stages would see an accompanying increase in water rates.

    “The city is committed to not drying up the creeks, so if they fall below a certain level, we stop diverting,” Medellin said. “We will use the little storage we do have or switch between one creek and the other.”

    Some irrigators, especially those with lower priority water rights, could suffer as a result of low stream flows. But the biggest loser would probably be instream flows and ecosystems, said Andy Schultheiss, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust. Instream flow rights are typically junior to most other water rights and streams can go dry in years when there isn’t much snowmelt coming down from the high country.

    “People in their homes won’t notice much of a difference, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some really bad things happening,” Schultheiss said. “In even moderately dry years, the fish and the whole ecosystem tends to congregate in smaller and smaller pools, which creates disease and competition for food.”

    One potential solution is a pilot program that would let water rights owners lease water rights to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in order to keep more water in the stream. The Colorado Water Trust is a partner in this new voluntary water-sharing program that would benefit the state’s instream flow efforts.

    “In drought years, people who hold water rights can have a win-win,” Schultheiss said. “They can be compensated and contribute water to keeping our rivers healthy.”

    For more information or to track SNOTEL data, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Colorado’s snowpack was at 70 percent of median as of Friday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Upper Colorado River Basin in Colorado was at 80 percent of median, and the Gunnison River Basin, just 61 percent.

    While moisture-laden spring storms still could come to the rescue, the window for doing so is closing quickly. Peak seasonal snowpack accumulation in the state usually occurs before mid-April, after which snowfall gradually gives way to melting and runoff.

    “What you get by May 1 is what you’re going to get, by and large,” when it comes to seasonal snowpack, said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, based in Glenwood Springs.

    Storms that finally started showing up with regularity in February helped statewide snowpack increase from 59 percent of median at the start of that month to nearly three-quarters of normal about three weeks later. But there’s been some backsliding since then.

    Pokrandt said the latest forecast for runoff through July into Lake Powell has recently worsened. As of mid-month, the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center was calling for that runoff to be 43 percent of average, compared to its March 1 prediction of 47 percent of average.

    Lake Powell already was only about 55 percent full as of the end of February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Powell is used to meet downstream interstate compact water delivery obligations by Upper Colorado River Basin states. Water interests in those states have been engaged in contingency planning aimed at being able to help maintain reservoir levels adequate to meet downstream obligations in a protracted drought.

    “This year is another signpost that this planning needs to be serious,” Pokrandt said.

    Planning efforts have focused on preparing to send more water if needed from large upstream reservoirs into Powell, further use of cloud-seeding to try to boost precipitation, more eradication of tamarisk and Russian olive plants that suck up water in riparian corridors, and adoption of measures to reduce domestic and agricultural consumption. The latter could include measures such as voluntary, compensated fallowing of fields.

    Jimmy Fowler, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said he still sees some hope for a boost in this year’s snowpack levels. Speaking on Wednesday, he pointed to the moisture that was expected later in the week and ended up producing solid precipitation on Friday.

    “I would say there’s time to improve a little bit more,” he said.

    He also pointed to the improvement that already has occurred, particularly in some parts of the state. While snowpack levels in far southwest Colorado were 54 percent of median on Friday, that’s up from just 23 percent around the start of this year.

    Still, as of early March, NRCS Colorado Snow Survey supervisor Brian Domonkos was estimating that the state would need more than 200 percent of normal snowfall through the end of April to overcome current deficits in the state.

    As of March 1, the NRCS said streamflow forecasts in the Gunnison River Basin ranged from 70 percent of average for the Slate River near Crested Butte to just 33 percent of average for Surface Creek at Cedaredge.

    Reservoir storage that was 116 percent of average statewide as of March 1 should help offset lower runoff water yields from this year’s snowpack. Storage was at 107 percent then in the Gunnison River Basin and 117 percent in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    How energy storage is starting to rewire the electricity industry — @ConversationUS

    Image credit Tesla.com.

    From The Conversation US (Eric Hittinger/Eric Williams):

    The market for energy storage on the power grid is growing at a rapid clip, driven by declining prices and supportive government policies.

    Based on our research on the operation and costs of electricity grids, especially the benefits of new technologies, we are confident energy storage could transform the way American homeowners, businesses and utilities produce and use power.

    Balancing acts

    Energy storage in this context simply means saving electricity for later use. It’s like having a bunch of rechargeable batteries, but much larger than the ones in your cellphone and probably connected to the grid.

    After annual average growth of about 50 percent for five years, the U.S. electricity industry installed a total of 1 gigawatt-hour of new storage capacity between 2013 and 2017, according to the firm GTM Research. That’s enough to power 16 million laptops for several hours. While this amount of storage is less than 0.2 percent of the average amount of electricity the U.S. consumes, analysts predict that installations will double between 2017 and 2018 and then keep expanding rapidly in the U.S. and around the world.

    To see why this trend is a big deal, consider how electricity works.

    It takes a hidden world of complexity and a series of delicate balancing acts to power homes and workplaces because the grid has historically had little storage capacity. After being generated at power plants, electricity usually travels down power lines at the speed of light and most of it is consumed immediately.

    Without the means to store electricity, utilities have to produce just enough to meet demand around the clock, including peak hours.

    That makes electricity different from most industries. Just imagine what would happen if automakers had to do this. The moment you bought a car, a worker would have to drive it out the factory gate. Assembly lines would constantly speed up and slow down based on consumer whims.

    It sounds maddening and ridiculous, right? But electric grid operators basically pull this off, balancing supply and demand every few seconds by turning power plants on and off.

    That’s why a storage boom would make a big difference. Storage creates the equivalent of a warehouse to stow electricity when it is plentiful for other times when it is needed.

    Webinar: Request for Water Acquisitions — @COWaterTrust

    Little Cimarron River via the Western Rivers Conservancy

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    2018 Request for Water Acquisitions Pilot Process

    Are you curious about how you can help keep your local rivers and watersheds healthy, especially during this dry year? Join us and learn more!

    Click here to register for the webinar.

    Colorado Water Trust staff will explain the Pilot Process, available transaction tools and the protections available to water right owners who share their water with the environment.

    Voluntary water sharing arrangements or voluntary acquisitions of senior water rights, on a temporary or permanent basis, are tools that – particularly in dry years – can help restore flows to rivers in need, sustain agriculture, and maximize beneficial uses of Colorado’s water.

    This year, the Colorado Water Trust is partnering with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) on a Request for Water Acquisitions Pilot Process. This Pilot Process intends to:

  • Invite voluntary water offers from willing water right owners to benefit streamflow;
  • Provide a user-friendly mechanism for water right owners to explore working with CWCB and the Colorado Water Trust on water acquisition transactions;
  • Streamline transaction processes and utilization of resources;
  • Facilitate implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan objectives, and,
  • Add flows to river segments in need while coordinating with agricultural and other uses.
  • Following the drought years of 2002, 2012 and 2013, the legislature created several new tools for water right owners to lease or loan their water for instream flow or flow restoration use without penalty to their water rights. These new tools have been successfully implemented in several river basins around the state, and benefitted water-short streams during the dry years of 2012-2013.

    This year, with streamflow forecast to be well below average in many of parts of Colorado, temporary, voluntary, compensated leases or loans of water may provide an alternate source of revenue to preserve agricultural operations and may also help sustain streams and aquatic life during critically low flows.

    Additional information about the Pilot Process, including Inquiry/Offer Forms and FAQs, can be found here on our website.

    Register now!

    The Colorado Water Trust Team

    *Presentation of this webinar is made possible by our friends at Water Education Colorado.

    A River’s Reckoning — @AmericanRivers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    The story of a 5th generation ranching family working to sustain their agricultural legacy while bringing back a healthy Colorado River.

    Learn More.

    #WorldMetDay: Weather-ready, climate-smart

    Click here to go to the website:

    Weather-ready, climate-smart is the theme of World Meteorological Day, 23 March 2018

    The ever-growing global population faces a wide range of hazards such as tropical cyclone storm surges, heavy rains, heatwaves, droughts and many more. Long-term climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather and climate events and causing sea level rise and ocean acidification. Urbanization and the spread of megacities means that more of us are exposed and vulnerable. Now more than ever, we need to be weather-ready, climate-smart and water-wise.

    This is why one of the top priorities of WMO and National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) is to protect lives, livelihoods and property from the risks related to weather, climate and water events. Thereby, WMO and its Members support the global agenda on sustainable development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

    WMO and National Meteorological Services design operational services ranging from daily weather forecasts to long-term climate predictions that help society to be weather-ready and climate-smart. Further National Hydrological Services are essential for the sound management of fresh water resources for agriculture, industry, energy and human consumption, so that we can be water-wise. These services empower us to manage the risks and seize opportunities related to weather, climate and water.

    Early warning systems and other disaster risk reduction measures are vital for boosting the resilience of our communities. Climate services can inform decisions on both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Hydrological monitoring increases our understanding of the water cycle and so supports water management.

    @WaterLawReview: Colorado HB17-1190: Limited Applicability of St. Jude’s Co. Water Case

    Spring Creek (RFC Ditch) Roaring Fork River via Aspen Journalism

    Click here to read the article (Megan McCulloch). Here’s an excerpt:

    After these changes, what remained of the bill was (what was originally) subsection (a). It provided a clear legislative assurance of the validity and preservation of those previously decreed existing water rights that were for aesthetic, recreational, and piscatorial uses. The final bill also protects conditional water rights—rights that have been filed with and decreed by the water court prior to actual use while securing an earlier priority. This bill ensures that owners of conditional water rights for aesthetic, recreational, and piscatorial uses will not face objections based on the St. Jude’s ruling when they return to the water court for diligence or perfection.

    The final bill was designed to preclude an overly broad application of the St. Jude’s Co. ruling and to protect recognized rights. While the parties involved did not agree on everything—as reflected in the multiple amendments—in the end, HB 1190 was a bipartisan consensus effort to address an area of law that had been left unsettled by the Court’s St. Jude’s ruling.

    Video: The End of Snow #ActOnClimate

    Beautifully done video by Day’s Edge Productions:

    Dr. Jane Zelikova is a tropical ecologist living in the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado. She dreams of snow in the summer and tropical forests in the dead of winter. But her snow-capped Fourteeners are changing – no longer bringing the deep winter snowpack once promised.

    This is a future from which she and the people of the West can’t run. What’s a wildly curious, adventurous girl to do? Embark on a journey into the mountains to find the tales of the past, present and future of snow.

    Boulder County comes out against FERC issuing @DenverWater’s requested license amendment for Moffat Collection System Project

    The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Here’s the letter from Boulder County to FERC via SaveTheColoradoRiver. Here’s an excerpt:

    Boulder County is an intervenor in this action and offers the following comments on the Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) issued by the FERC’s staff on February 6, 2018, related to the Gross Reservoir Hydroelectric Project (FERC Project No. 2035-099).

    As detailed below, Boulder County continues to object to the FERC issuing Denver Water’s requested license amendment. The FERC staffhas failed to address significant issues related to the project; as a result, approval by the FERC is premature and would result in negative and unnecessary impacts on the residents and natural resources of Boulder County.

    The EA analyzes only those potential environmental effects of oe·nver Water’s proposal to expand Gross Dam and Reservoir which were not addressed in the 2014 Final EIS prepared by the Army Corps ofEngineers (Corps). The FERC’s staffreviewed the EA, made a finding of no significant impact, and recommended approval by the Commission, as mitigated by environmental measures discussed in the EA.

    This approach is flawed because ofthe resulting narrow scope ofthe EA, the lack ofspecificity related to adoption of mitigation measures for project impacts, and the FERC staffs wholesale and unquestioning adoption of the Army Corps of Engineer’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which FEIS was completed on April 25, 2014, and for which a Record of Decision was issued on July 6, 2017. The FERC should determine that both the FEIS and the EA fail to meet the standards ofthe National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and therefore reject staff’s unreasonable approach.

    #Drought news: Four Corners sees little to no precipitation over the last week, D3 (Extreme Drought) expanded in SE #Colorado

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

    Summary

    Moderate precipitation fell in a wide swath covering an area from Kansas and Nebraska, eastward into parts of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. Additionally, moderate precipitation fell in the South and Southeast. Locally higher amounts fell in northern Florida late in the USDM period. Moisture laden systems continued to provide much needed precipitation to coastal California and the Sierra. Light to moderate precipitation fell in the Northeast, High Plains, and parts of the Rockies. The drought stricken areas of the Four Corners and the Southern Plains saw little to no precipitation…

    South

    Precipitation was generally below normal (0.25-1.0 inch deficits) across the region during the USDM period. During the last 30 days, much of Texas was running about 1 inch below normal for the period while the rest of the region was as much as 10 inches above normal. The dryness is beginning to affect agriculture, plant and wildlife. It was reported that cotton and corn growers in the Rio Grande Valley may begin to irrigate earlier than normal due to the abnormally dry conditions in the area. According to the USDA, 60% of wheat in Texas was in poor to very poor condition while 66% of topsoil moisture across the state was short to very short. Moderate drought was expanded in western and parts of southern Texas. Severe drought was expanded in western Texas. Drought and dryness is not currently effecting the majority of the other states of the region…

    High Plains

    Precipitation was a mixture of above and below normal across the region during the USDM period. Precipitation surpluses of 0.25 to 1 inch was widespread across much of the western Dakotas, eastern Wyoming, much of Nebraska, the northeastern corner of Colorado and parts of western Kansas. The eastern Dakotas, north central Wyoming and much of southern Colorado had precipitation deficits of 0.25 inch during the period. Winter wheat conditions were rated 55% poor to very poor in Kansas where 60-day precipitation departures are as much as 3 inches below normal. Recent precipitation allowed for D0 to be removed in northern Nebraska and parts of western Minnesota. Moderate drought (D1) was trimmed back in central North Dakota. Extreme drought (D3) was expanded southern Colorado…

    West

    Precipitation amounts during the USDM period were above normal in parts of Montana, much of Idaho, eastern Oregon, northern Utah and Nevada, and much of California. Below-normal precipitation occurred elsewhere, but was most notable in the Desert Southwest and coastal Pacific Northwest. Precipitation departures for the 30- and 60-day time periods are apparent in most of the region. The important water year-to-date precipitation amounts were running above normal in the north but running at least 25-50 percent below normal for much of the region. Mountain snowpack is less than 25 percent of normal across much of the Sierra Nevada and Intermountain West. Extreme drought (D3) was expanded in Arizona.

    *For details on Eastern Colorado and Eastern Wyoming, refer to the High Plains region…

    Looking Ahead

    During the next 5 days, precipitation amounts are forecast to be high in much of California along with the risk of flooding. Precipitation amounts may approach 2 inches in the Intermountain West, Northwest, and parts of the High Plains. Elsewhere, a large swath totaling 0.25-2.00 inches of precipitation is projected to fall in parts of the Midwest and Northeast. The drought stricken Four Corners region, western Texas and eastern Colorado is expected to continue to be dry.

    The 6-10 day outlook from the Climate Prediction Center calls for an increased chance of below-normal precipitation in the West while the highest probability of precipitation is forecast for the South. The probability of above-normal temperatures are also highest in the South. Below-normal temperatures are most likely to occur across the western third of the U.S.

    Seasonal temperature, precipitation, and #drought outlooks via the CPC: Warm and on the dry side for #Colorado

    Seasonal temperature outlook through June 30, 2018 via the CPC.
    Seasonal precipitation outlook through June 30, 2018 via the CPC.
    Seasonal drought outlook through June 30, 2018 via the CPC.

    Steamboat “State of the River” meeting recap

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    “The key with Lake Powell is that it is our river savings account,” Andy Mueller told a gathering of more than 200 people who packed into the Steamboat Springs Community Center Tuesday night for the Steamboat State of the River meeting, less than 50 feet from the banks of the Yampa River…

    Less understood, Mueller said, is the Colorado River District’s stake in power generation at Glen Canyon Dam, where water levels are coming perilously close to dropping below the intakes for the power plant.

    “It really starts with power generation at Lake Powell,” Mueller said. “That dam is a cash register for those of us on the river. It pays for the Colorado Endangered Fish Program, which allows all of us in Colorado to continue to divert water while the endangered fish are being protected.”

    […]

    Mueller told his Steamboat audience that agricultural water rights continue to be of preeminent importance in the district.

    “On the Western Slope, try to picture what it would look like without ag. It is a very different world if we don’t have irrigated agricultural land,” he said. “That’s where the water is. Eighty percent of the water consumed on the Western Slope is in ag. We have to protect this agriculture, and a lot of that has to do with agricultural water rights.”

    […]

    The district represents about 28 percent of the physical land mass in Colorado but is home to just 500,000 of the 5 million people in the state. And 57 percent of the water produced statewide comes from the Colorado River District…

    Lake Powell, backed up by Glen Canyon Dam, just above the Grand Canyon, is where the Rocky Mountain states, including Utah, Wyoming and the northern portions of Arizona and New Mexico store water to ensure they can meet their obligations to send water to the lower basins states including California, Nevada and southern New Mexico and Arizona.

    As of 1999 the reservoir was almost full. But subsequent drought years, notably 2002, drew the reservoir down. It took until 2012 to slowly re-build storage in the vast reservoir, but snowpacks in the Colorado Basin have not been generous since.

    As winters have grown milder, river flows are sapped and extended growing seasons are also resulting in plants absorbing more of the available water.

    “We’re working on cloud seeding, but you have to have storm events in order to hit them with the silver iodide,” Mueller said.

    Jerry Forte announces retirement from @CSUtilities

    Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

    Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte, who oversaw the massive expansion of the city’s water supply and the decision to eventually shutter the downtown, coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant, will retire at the end of May.

    Forte, 63, who was earning nearly $450,000 this year, said he told the Utilities board of his plans Wednesday in an executive session.

    “It’s something that we’ve worked on, we developed a transition plan and it was just a matter of when the time is right,” Forte said. “And for me, I think the time is just right.”

    A Colorado Springs native, Forte was with the municipal utility since 2002. He was the chief operating officer his first four years with Utilities before being promoted to chief executive officer in 2006.

    Omnibus bill for funding U.S. government now includes #FireFix funds for fighting wildfire @SenBennetCO @SenCoryGardner

    Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

    From US Senators Bennet and Gardner via The Kiowa County Press:

    After years of work, Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) today secured a long-term fire funding fix in the omnibus spending bill being considered in Congress this week to end fire borrowing and improve how the federal government pays to fight wildfires.

    “The Forest Service plays an important role in Colorado’s economy –affecting our water supply, outdoor recreation, and timber industry,” Bennet said. “Its ability to budget effectively and efficiently is critical to our economic success. Because of the pressures that wildfires have brought to the West, as well as the challenges of climate change and development, the antiquated way we pay for firefighting needed dramatic change. This bipartisan fix transforms and modernizes the Forest Service’s capacity to restore forest health and mitigate and fight wildfires. It allows the Forest Service to complete the entirety of its mission, without being undermined by the pressures of fire.”

    “I have been working on ending the practice of fire borrowing throughout my time in the House and Senate, and today’s announcement that our bipartisan fire funding fix is included in the spending bill is good news for Colorado,” Gardner said. “Year after year, much of the West is forced to deal with horrible wildfires that burn millions of acres, and funding that should be applied to fire prevention and mitigation projects is instead spent by the Forest Service fighting these fires. Our provision will ensure the Forest Service has the necessary funding for cleanup and prevention efforts that will help reduce the amount of catastrophic wildfires the Forest Service has to fight.”

    Unlike for other natural disasters, where agencies can draw from an emergency fund to pay for disaster response, the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department do not have access to disaster funds and are forced to “fire borrow” – or take money from fire prevention and other non-fire accounts to pay to fight fires.

    The deal secured in this week’s omnibus, based on the framework from Bennet and Gardner’s Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, restructures how the Forest Service pays to fight wildfires, putting an end to fire borrowing and providing much-needed budget certainty through Fiscal Year 2027. The fire fix is two-fold: It freezes the ten-year average cost used to budget for wildfires at Fiscal Year 2015 levels, and also establishes a separate account for fire suppression that can be used once the cost exceeds these levels.

    The deal also includes conservation priorities that Bennet and Gardner have cosponsored, such as the reauthorization of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA) that funds high-priority land conservation projects in Western states, and a two-year reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools.

    Lastly, the deal includes bipartisan forest management reforms, several of which improve upon Bennet-authored laws passed in the 2014 Farm Bill, such as stewardship contracting and Good Neighbor Authority.

    #Drought news: Wildfire is on folks’ minds in the Roaring Fork Valley

    Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

    Pitkin County held a meeting last week with representatives of the 11 neighborhood caucuses to urge them to get homeowners to take wildfire mitigation seriously on their property.

    “We need all residents to take personal responsibility,” said Valerie MacDonald, Pitkin County emergency manager. “Government alone cannot do this.”

    She is particularly concerned because there is “a public that is unaware and unprepared to deal with a wildfire” in the upper valley with rare exceptions.

    Landowners in mountain settings often erroneously think they will be urged to rip down a bunch of timber and turn their beautiful retreats into barren sites, MacDonald said. That’s not the case, she said. There are several inexpensive mitigation steps homeowners can take to slow or stop a wildfire advancing on their property and steps to “harden” their homes against common wildfire threats. (See factbox on page A7.)

    “If your emergency plan is to call 911,” MacDonald said, “you need to do more.”

    Basalt-Snowmass Village Fire Chief Scott Thompson said he remains hopeful that the weather will turn around and moisture levels will soar.

    Right now it is not looking so good. The snowpack in the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River is at 65 percent of normal.

    The U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest state assessment March 13 showed the entire Roaring Fork Valley in “severe drought.” East of Aspen to the Continental Divide is considered in moderate drought.

    The worst scenario is for trees to become so dry they get stressed, Thompson said…

    While Aspen-area residents tend to feel immune to a big, catastrophic fire, residents of the midvalley and Glenwood Springs know better. The Catherine fire in April 2008 swept from ranchlands along County Road 100 to Catherine Store in no time, posing risk to 150 homes in the bottomlands, closing Highway 82 and threatening to run up into Missouri Heights.

    The South Canyon Fire outside of Glenwood Springs, also known as the Storm King Fire, killed 14 wildland firefighters in July 1994. The Coal Seam Fire in June 2002 burned 29 homes in West Glenwood Springs.

    The Panorama fire in Missouri Heights scorched 1,500 acres, destroyed two houses, damaged two others and forced evacuations in July 2002.

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

    The images above use daily precipitation statistics from NWS COOP, CoCoRaHS, and CoAgMet stations. From top to bottom, and left to right: most recent 7-days of accumulated precipitation in inches; current month-to-date accumulated precipitation in inches; last month’s precipitation as a percent of average; water-year-to-date precipitation as a percent of average.

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

    @Ogallala_water: Ogallala Aquifer Summit April 9-10, 2018

    High Plains aquifer water-level changes, predevelopment (about 1950) to 2015. Figure 1 from USGS SIR 2017-5040.(Public domain.)

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.

    Spatial variation of the rain–snow temperature threshold across the Northern Hemisphere

    The observed 50% rain–snow Ts threshold over the Northern Hemisphere for 6883 land stations from 1978 to 2007. Each point represents one station and only stations with a sufficient number of snowfall events were analyzed. a Thresholds mapped by station location. b Thresholds plotted by station longitude. The horizontal dashed line represents the Northern Hemisphere mean threshold (1.0 °C), the shaded gray box covers thresholds within ±2 standard deviations of the mean, and the blue line is a generalized additive model fit to the threshold data by longitude. Regions of interest are denoted by text within vertical dashed lines

    From Nature Communications (Keith S. Jennings, Taylor S. Winchell, Ben Livneh & Noah P. Molotch):

    Abstract

    Despite the importance of precipitation phase to global hydroclimate simulations, many land surface models use spatially uniform air temperature thresholds to partition rain and snow. Here we show, through the analysis of a 29-year observational dataset (n = 17.8 million), that the air temperature at which rain and snow fall in equal frequency varies significantly across the Northern Hemisphere, averaging 1.0 °C and ranging from –0.4 to 2.4 °C for 95% of the stations. Continental climates generally exhibit the warmest rain–snow thresholds and maritime the coolest. Simulations show precipitation phase methods incorporating humidity perform better than air temperature-only methods, particularly at relative humidity values below saturation and air temperatures between 0.6 and 3.4 °C. We also present the first continuous Northern Hemisphere map of rain–snow thresholds, underlining the spatial variability of precipitation phase partitioning. These results suggest precipitation phase could be better predicted using humidity and air temperature in large-scale land surface model runs.

    From 9News.com (Cory Reppenhagen):

    “One of the big surprises was that zero degrees Celsius or 32 Fahrenheit was not a very good predictor at all of the rain-snow transition temperature, and actually that transition almost always occurs at a much warmer temperature: 1 degree Celsius, as high as almost 4 degrees Celsius depending on where you are,” said Ben Livneh, an assistant professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and a co-author of the study.

    For snow to form naturally in a cloud, the temperature must be 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, but the atmospheric conditions can vary greatly as that snow falls to the ground. The key for that snowflake remaining a snowflake is very low relative humidity.

    “You’re giving the snowflake more of an opportunity to cool itself as it falls through the atmosphere, like on a warm day you’re body sweats to cool itself, and it’s more efficient if you’re in a drier place like Colorado,” Jennings said.

    It’s a process called evaporative cooling. Ski area’s use this knowledge to create snow early in the season when the air temperature is above freezing, but the relative humidity is still very low.

    “We’ve sort of synthesized the state of the science in a way that extends what the ski areas have kind of known for a long time, and we’ve kind of brought it to the scientific community,” said Livneh.

    The Dollars and Cents of Soil Health: A Farmer’s Perspective — @USDA

    Credit: USDA/NRCS

    From the US Department of Agriculture:

    Last year, the United States lost 2 million acres of land in active crop production. As the global population grows towards a projected 9.8 billion people by 2050, so too does demand for the food, fuel and fiber grown in America. The result? American farmers are looking for sustainable ways to produce high yields year after year.

    To support this growing demand, many farmers are incorporating soil health management principles into their operations. Conservation practices such as cover crops and no-till are widely recommended to build soil health over time, but do these practices actually improve crop yields and lead to stable profit margins? To answer this question fully we will rely on universities, private scientists, government researchers and those most directly impacted: farmers themselves.

    Meet Russell Hedrick

    Russell Hedrick is a first-generation corn, soybean and specialty grains producer in Catawba County, North Carolina. Hedrick started in 2012 with 30 acres of row crops. Since then, he’s expanded to roughly 1,000 acres.

    “When we first started, farmers in the area said we needed a 150 horsepower tractor and a 20-foot disk,” says Hedrick. “We started out broke and we couldn’t afford the tillage equipment,” he adds, with a good-natured laugh. “I was lucky to have a fantastic district conservationist who set us in the right direction from the beginning.”

    His first year, Hedrick practiced 100 percent no-till and planted cover crops across part of his land. “We tried out a six or seven species cover crop blend,” says Hedrick. “Back then, a lot of people thought we were crazy.”

    That initial blend consisted of cereal rye, oats, triticale, legumes, crimson clover and daikon radish. Hedrick compared yields for soybeans grown with cover crops versus those grown without and noticed a significant difference: higher yields for cover cropped beans, and noticeably improved weed suppression.

    “We started off our first year seeing yields higher than the county average,” Hedrick says. “That really lit me on fire to keep growing and trying new things to improve the soil health.”

    Soil Health Case Studies

    Though every farm and every field are different, a recently-completed Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grants project shows promising results for farmers interested in adopting soil health management practices.

    Conducted by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) in partnership with Datu Research, the project provides economic case studies focusing on four corn and soybean producers in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The profiled farms range in size from 25 acres of row crops to 2,300 acres, with three focusing on the economics of cover crop adoption and one specifically focusing on no-till.

    Of the three farmers focusing on cover crop adoption, two reported average net economic gains over their first four to five years of cover cropping compared to a pre-adoption baseline. The no-till case study showed economic gains for all three years studied.

    Giving Soil Health a Shot

    When asked what he’d suggest to farmers considering trying new practices to build soil health, Hedrick’s answer is simple – just give it a shot.

    “It’s not that hard to try something new,” says Hedrick. “Farmers should remember that soil health practices aren’t silver bullets and some take time to establish. When you’re first starting, try no-till or cover crops across 20 percent of your land. That’s manageable, and it leaves you a safety net if you don’t get the economic results you want to begin with.” Farm Bill programs such as NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program can further reduce the economic risk farmers face after adopting new conservation practices.

    With 318.5 bushels per acre, Hedrick was the dryland division state winner in the 2016 North Carolina Corn Yield Contest. His corn and soybean yields are typically 20 to 30 percent higher than the county average, and over time he’s been able to reduce fertilizer costs by more than $70 per acre thanks to the nutrient boosts associated with cover cropping.

    “I spend $45 per acre on my best cover crops,” says Hedrick, “and I spend about $20 per acre on my least expensive. Either way, I’m still saving money because of my fertilizer reductions.”

    Hedrick encourages farmers to try different practices until they find what works for them. “At the end of the day,” he says, “there’s no one right way to do this. You just have to do the best you can, and try to do better each year. As long as you’re making progress, no one can fault you.”

    To read more about the economics of no-till, please visit the Saving Money, Time and Soil: The Economics of No-Till Farming blog. Visit the NRCS website to learn more about voluntary conservation programs for your working lands.

    2018 #COleg: Legislation aims to prevent new mining operations from polluting #Colorado waterways

    Acid mine drainage. Photo credit: University of Colorado

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Colorado lawmakers on Tuesday took a step toward preventing future mining disasters while acknowledging that contamination of waterways from old mining sites continues each day.

    They rolled out legislation, immediately opposed by industry, that would require mining companies to make reclamation plans that include an end date for water treatment to remove pollution. Proponents say this would force a responsible assessment, before mining begins, of how best to minimize harm.

    The bill also would force companies to post better financial assurance to cover costs of cleanup…

    “This bill is an important, yet moderate, step forward in addressing Colorado’s mining woes. If it were to pass, there would certainly still be more work to do,” Conservation Colorado water advocate Kristin Green said. “Even moderate policy such as this by no means has a clear path to the governor’s desk. ….. This bill will not solve our existing problems, but it works to ensure the problem is not getting worse.”

    […]

    A state requirement that companies submit reclamation plans specifying an end date for when water-cleaning no longer would be necessary is aimed at preventing perpetual treatment as a remedy. The bill also would require companies posting financial assurance bond money to include costs of protecting water, to reduce taxpayer vulnerability. And the bill would eliminate “self-bonding.” Colorado remains one of seven states where companies can self bond, or cover themselves, without posting recoverable assets.

    Resistance to drilling grows on the Navajo Nation — @HighCountryNews

    Official National Park Service map for Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Photo credit: Wikimedia

    From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

    Indigenous activists try to quell a rising tide of oil and gas exploration in Chaco Canyon.

    Editor’s note: On March 1, the Interior Department canceled the sale of oil and gas leases that would have impacted the Chaco Canyon area. The department received hundreds of protests of the sale, before it was cancelled. This story explores the fight of organizers trying to halt that sale and others like it.

    On the warm, pre-monsoon night of July 11, 2016, fire broke out among a cluster of six newly drilled oil wells near the small Navajo community of Nageezi, New Mexico. The residents of nearby homes fled to the highway, where they watched huge curdling balls of orange flame boil up into the vast bowl of dark sky above their corner of the Greater Chaco Region.

    When someone texted Kendra Pinto, who lives several miles away, she raced to join the frightened spectators and watched, stunned, as the conflagration engulfed all of WPX Energy’s equipment, setting off a series of explosions that shook the earth and sent up thick clouds of burnt hydrocarbons.

    “I saw the flames … black smoke streaking into the sky,” Pinto told me as we sat in the dappled shade of a small cottonwood outside the Counselor Chapter House just over a year later. Wearing denim shorts, a tank top and beaded earrings, she recalled how, in the years before the fire, she had gotten involved in the effort to rein in oil and gas development, joining a ragtag group of regional and local environmentalists, archaeologists and tribal officials working to protect the Navajo communities of Nageezi, Lybrook and Counselor, and the millennia-old cultural landscape that radiates out from Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

    Like her grandmother before her, Pinto, who is in her early 30s, grew up here, in an area of bone-white sandstone cliffs, fragrant piñon and juniper forest, sagebrush and sensuous, deep-purple and gray badlands, a landscape that Georgia O’Keeffe once described as “a beautiful, untouched lonely-feeling place — part of what I call the Far Away.” The surrounding San Juan Basin had seen successive natural gas frenzies since the 1920s, but this part of it had mostly been spared in more recent times, its oil deposits thought to be tapped out. Then, around 2012, high oil prices and drilling and fracking advances sparked new interest in the Chaco region. First came the landmen with their leases and promises of fat checks, at least for those who owned land allotments and mineral rights. Then drill rigs and fracking apparatus sprang up in the places where Pinto’s grandmother had gathered herbs and piñon nuts. And Pinto watched sadly as a steady stream of tanker trucks kicked up plumes of dust on the once-quiet caliche roads.

    Then the fire erupted in 2016, burning for four days and consuming 36 tanks of crude oil and produced wastewater. No one died in the fire; it didn’t even significantly hinder production. Yet it left a lasting scar on the collective psyche of the people around here, Pinto said. And it injected a sense of urgency into her community: “That’s when I said, ‘They can’t treat us this way.’ ”

    Pinto had been inspired by other causes that summer, particularly the effort led by five tribes, including the Navajo Nation, to save the area known as Bears Ears in southeastern Utah. And she had traveled to one of the Standing Rock resistance camps in North Dakota, where she and her comrades hoped to stop a crude oil pipeline from crossing Lake Oahe. Pinto dreamed of bringing some of that activist energy back to the Chaco struggle, which some media outlets touted as the “next Standing Rock.”

    Chaco, however, is far more complicated than those other fights. Though the threats to the environment and communities from energy development are arguably greater here than at Standing Rock or Bears Ears, Chaco has not attracted the same kind of attention. There are no movie stars or major politicians going to jail for blocking the tanker trucks’ paths, no outdoor gear corporations pouring money into slick videos to stop the battalions of drill rigs from overrunning Indigenous homelands.

    Yet that hasn’t discouraged the Chaco resistance. If anything, this scrappy, underfunded, sometimes shaky alliance is gaining momentum, forging its own way through a thicket of complicated relationships that stretch back hundreds of years and that have always favored industry, even under the most progressive administrations in Washington, D.C.

    To understand what’s going on in the Greater Chaco Region, you have to start with the land, 2,000 square miles of high desert located in the hydrocarbon hot spot known as the San Juan Basin. Because of the pattern of land ownership — a hodgepodge of federal, tribal, state, private and Indian allotment land — it’s called the Checkerboard, but it’s actually more chaotic, like a patchwork quilt stitched together by a nearsighted drunkard. It is that way by design, the outcome of a century-long systematic land grab.

    After the Pueblo people moved on from the communities and structures they had built and lived in for hundreds of years, the Diné, or Navajo, moved into the Four Corners country, establishing a 40,000-square-mile homeland bounded by four sacred peaks. At the heart of this civilization was Huerfano Peak, within the Chaco region and just a dozen miles north of Nageezi.

    The Spanish and then Mexican colonizers who appeared centuries later were not gentle; they attacked Navajo homes and kidnapped thousands of Navajo and other Native American children and held them as slaves. But it wasn’t until the white American miners, ranchers, settlers and soldiers arrived that any concerted effort to rob the Diné of their land began. And when that happened, it was brutal.

    In 1863 Kit Carson, then serving as a field commander for the U.S. Army, led troops across Navajo country, slaughtering sheep and goats, hacking down peach orchards and torching cornfields, starving the people into surrender. Army troops then forced some 9,000 survivors on the infamous “Long Walk” to Bosque Redondo in southeastern New Mexico, a barren swath of alkali dirt that was more concentration camp than reservation. Brig. Gen. James Carleton, who planned Carson’s campaign, laid out the rationale for the killing and oppression in 1864: “By the subjugation and colonization of the Navajo tribe, we gain for civilization their whole country, which … by far the best pastoral region between the two oceans, is said to abound in the precious as well as the useful metals.”

    Bosque Redondo was a disaster — captives fell ill and died and mass incarceration cost the federal government dearly. So in 1868, the Indian Peace Commission sent Lt. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to come up with a solution. After listening to a Navajo leader named Barboncito wax eloquently about his people’s existential yearning for their homeland, Sherman decided to let the Navajo people go.

    The rectangular reservation laid out in the Treaty of 1868 was only about one-eighth the size of the original homeland. It included very little arable land and left out important religious sites. Though the treaty ordered the people to live only on the reservation, Sherman’s instructions to the headmen were more ambiguous, and perhaps muddled in translation. But the message the Navajo received was simple: You are free to go home.

    So hundreds of families returned to the land beyond the reservation’s eastern boundary, an area now known as the Greater Chaco Region. Federal officials on the ground repeatedly urged the president to extend the reservation boundaries to encompass this land and the holy sites. But New Mexico politicians, pressured by white stockmen hungry for more land, successfully lobbied against them. As a concession, the feds eventually suggested that individual Navajos claim 160-acre plots on the public domain under the 1887 General Allotment Act. Typically, this law was applied to reservation land, where tribal members got first dibs on parcels before the rest of the reservation was opened up to homesteading — an insidious form of land grab that fractured tribal communities.

    Here in Chaco, however, the Navajos competed head-to-head with white homesteaders to hold on to tiny parcels of their own homeland. And the game was rigged: If a family was away at summer herding camp when the Indian agent came to their winter hogan to process an allotment claim, they lost the opportunity to file. And when Navajos did make claims, white homesteaders managed to get them nullified by alleging that they weren’t making the proper “improvements” on the land in question.

    As a result, untold numbers of Navajo people ended up living as “unauthorized occupants” on public domain land in the Chaco region, considered squatters on their own ancestral territory. Over time, the Navajo Nation acquired much of those lands through purchases and swaps, and today the descendants of those earlier occupants live on tribal (albeit not reservation) land. Those parcels share boundaries with some 4,000 disparate Indian allotments covering a total of 600,000 acres, which themselves are scattered against a backdrop of federal Bureau of Land Management acreage. Allotments are “private,” but are in federal trust indefinitely, and cannot be sold, gifted or willed to anyone. When the original allottee dies, ownership — along with mineral rights — are divided up, or fractionated, between all of his or her heirs.

    Today, jurisdiction over oil and gas development on this fractured landscape is as confounding as the surface ownership patterns. Most of the tribal land is “split estate,” meaning the Navajo Nation owns the surface, but the federal government controls — and gets royalties from — the oil and gas underneath. The allottees receive royalties from extraction of minerals under their lands, but all leases must go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Because today’s oil wells can extend two or more miles horizontally, the oil they extract is often a combination of allotment and federal minerals — known as a unit or pool. That means multiple agencies are involved in permitting and oversight.

    “It’s a real problem, because when you don’t know who’s in charge it leads to a total lack of accountability,” Pinto says. “Who’s really watching the oil companies and oilfield workers?”

    TThe official answer to Pinto’s question is: The Farmington Field Office of the BLM, which sits at the top of this jurisdictional layer cake. Though the agency has no say over leasing of allotment or tribal lands, it does handle permitting on those lands, along with leasing and permitting of all federal lands and minerals. It is currently working on a new environmental analysis of drilling in the Chaco region, due out next year, but right now it’s still operating under a plan that’s 15 years old, a fact that concerns people like Pinto.

    The 2003 plan — an analysis of the impacts caused by full-field development — was created under George W. Bush, when the always-porous line between industry and regulatory agencies in the New Mexico energy patch was more of a sieve. Natural gas prices were skyrocketing, and industry was eager to drill for coalbed methane on the mostly federal land north of the Checkerboard. The feds were just as eager to hand it over to them. Steve Henke, then-BLM district manager, issued a plan that opened the door to 9,942 new wells. (Henke was later caught accepting golf tickets and other gifts from local energy companies. He left the BLM in 2010 and promptly became president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, the advocacy group for the industry’s big players.)

    Soon thereafter, oil companies started poking around in the Gallup play, the oil-bearing shale formation in the Chaco region, south of the old natural gas hotspots. Acknowledging that the horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing required here would be far more intensive than anything the region had seen before, the BLM in 2014 launched a multi-year process to amend the 2003 plan for Chaco-specific development. Around the same time, Henke, on behalf of the state oil and gas group, donated $800,000 to the state BLM office to hire more staff in order to speed permitting. Henke then wrote to his Farmington colleagues, urging them not to “run from the 2003 document nor to ignore the job you are doing on site specific analyses.”

    It appears that the BLM heeded Henke’s request. Since 2010, the field office has leased out more than 50,000 acres and issued more than 500 drilling permits, mostly in the Chaco area. In early 2017, the BLM leased 842 acres on four parcels, despite the fact that development could affect 314 cultural features and a mesa known as Sis Naateel, home of Navajo deities, a sacred spring and ceremonial deer-hunting grounds. This March, the BLM planned to lease 25 additional parcels covering nearly 4,500 acres around Chaco, in an area where more than 90 percent of the land is already leased.

    Agency officials told me that since the 2003 plan specified “no geographical horizon,” and denying permits to leaseholders would be a “violation of property rights,” the BLM could continue to permit thousands of new wells on a case-by-case basis before it hits the limit — with or without the new analysis.

    “I don’t think the Farmington BLM is making the decisions; industry is,” said Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, who is perhaps the only professional environmentalist residing in Farmington. “They are being manipulated. And under Trump, it will be exacerbated. They’ll try to lease everything.”

    On a hot day last August, as thunderheads raced across the sky like schooners, former Navajo Nation tribal council delegate and citizen watchdog Daniel Tso, wearing boots, a big silver belt buckle, wire-rimmed glasses and a straw cowboy hat, his gray hair pulled back in a traditional bun, showed me how these industry-friendly practices played out on the ground. My little car was clearly no match for the rain-slicked roads, so I hopped into his truck and we ventured into the sagebrush ocean south of Nageezi.

    Soon, we reached one of the new wells permitted under the 2003 plan. The Cyclone Rig No. 32, a hulking baby-blue beast, loomed over low hills and a doublewide home about 600 feet away. Like a retro-sci-fi monster, the rig can “walk” across a drill pad, and just days after Tso and I visited, the two dozen workers here set a world drilling-speed record, churning through 8,370 feet of shale in just 24 hours.

    It’s a supersized version of a scene that has played out thousands of times over the last century in the San Juan Basin, where no one is immune to the effects of oil and gas extraction. Shiny distilling columns loom over a Catholic cemetery near Bloomfield, pumpjacks grace the Farmington golf course sand traps, and the horse track sits next to a Superfund site. It is all part of a grand transaction between the communities and industry. Locals live with the industrialization of their neighborhoods. In return, oil and gas companies pay royalties and taxes and provide jobs, which result in better infrastructure, reduced economic inequality, low property taxes, and, at least in Farmington, three Starbucks, two Walmart Supercenters and a baseball team called the Frackers. It’s a lopsided transaction, especially when the booms bust, but a transaction nonetheless.

    Down here in the Chaco Region, however, the deal feels more like outright theft. Oil companies still pay taxes and royalties and employ people, but nearly all the cash generated by the wells is, like the oil they extract, piped far away. Tax revenues on drilling and production go to Santa Fe, then get redistributed statewide to communities that have the resources to pursue them. Rig and fracking crews are often contractors, based in Wyoming, Texas or Colorado. They’ll stay and eat in Farmington or Bloomfield, not here, where there are no hotels or grocery stores, not even a laundromat.

    This WPX Energy well, like the nearby ones that blew up in 2016, is on Navajo allotment land, and is targeting oil in the 12,800-acre West Lybrook pool, a mingling of federal and allotment minerals. About 900 people share ownership of the 35 allotments in this pool. In order for the oil companies to secure leases, a majority of each allotment’s owners must sign off. “When the landman or his liaison shows up and says, ‘Sign on the line and you’ll get a fat check,’ and when you’ve got 60 to 80 percent unemployment, you say, ‘Sure,’ ” Tso said.

    Terms of allotment leases are not public. But if rates are on par with those on nearby federal lands, then a single allotment could bring in a signing bonus of $480,000 or more, which would then be divided equally between the owners. Because many allotments are highly fractionated, each owner might only get a few thousand dollars, though a lease can yield a hefty chunk of change if the owners are few. Once the wells start producing, the allottees receive royalty checks, too. According to state records, WPX Energy grossed some $30 million from the allotment portion of the West Lybrook pool in 2016, and paid out an average of $4,680 per allottee — some got a lot less, others more. While the checks will increase along with oil prices, they will also decrease over time as production diminishes.

    Even on the lower end, the payments can make a big difference. A grandmother may, for the first time in her life, get a floor in her home that isn’t dirt, a roof that doesn’t leak, electric lights, a vehicle that can navigate the rutted roads. Yet allotment checks are as likely to be sent to Albuquerque or Phoenix mailboxes as to ones in Lybrook or Nageezi. And even if it’s the latter, the cash doesn’t linger locally. That’s because, unlike in Farmington or Aztec, there’s no economic infrastructure to capture the wealth and benefit the community as a whole.

    An allottee family might live next door to one living on tribal land. Both will bear the burden of hosting a nearby well, yet only the allottee will receive any benefits. “It creates a system of haves and have-nots,” said Gloria Chiquito, whose parents are allottees. “It’s separating families. … Families are fighting one another.” Stories abound of grandchildren swindling grandparents, of envy-fueled burglaries, violence — even murder.

    Despite the economic incentives, some allottees are among the most outspoken opponents of development. Residents worry about livestock drinking out of unfenced waste pits, speeding trucks hitting animals, and the ubiquitous moon dust that rises into the air behind vehicles and settles on every nearby surface. People near wells complain about burning eyes, scratchy throats, dizziness and nausea — symptoms associated with prolonged exposure to low levels of benzene and hydrogen sulfide, which occur naturally in oil and natural gas and can seep into the air during every step of extraction and processing, even from tanker trucks.

    Tso and I followed a stream of those trucks along dusty roads in the direction of the spectacular pueblos of Chaco Canyon, some 15 miles distant. We saw men in grimy coveralls wrestling with giant drillbits, and orange flares burning off methane, nitrogen and other byproducts from recently drilled wells. One tanker stopped, the door swung open and the driver hopped out of the truck, long black hair spilling out from under her hardhat. She looked Navajo; Tso said that locals are often hired as truck drivers because they know the roads. She yanked at a valve on the back of her rig, releasing a thick stream of liquid onto the side of the road.

    We arrived at another roaring complex of tanks and pipes, a fracking job in process. A smell like that of a hot, dirty car engine wafted on the air as the workers pumped millions of gallons of nitrogen gel and water, along with tons of sand and a soup of chemicals, miles into the earth at pressures so high that it shattered the rock, freeing the oil that had been locked inside there for millions of years.

    I tried to imagine what this place looked like a thousand years ago, when it was populated by a society of Pueblo farmers and hunters and thinkers and builders. And I wondered what future archaeologists would make of all this. Will they puzzle over the practical applications of this byzantine assemblage of tanks? Or theorize that it was a monument — perhaps a memorial — to an insatiable hunger for a resource that by then will be long tapped out?

    When President Theodore Roosevelt wielded the brand-new Antiquities Act in 1907 to create Chaco Canyon National Monument, he drew the boundaries around what is now known as “downtown Chaco,” a handful of structures including the 800-room Pueblo Bonito, constructed between the ninth and 12th centuries by ancestors of today’s Pueblo people. That was merely the center of the Chacoan world, however, which extended over 100 miles across the Four Corners region and is represented by more than 200 outliers, or great houses, that share architectural traits with Pueblo Bonito. No one knows if this was a political empire, a religious or cultural society, or simply a school of architecture. But it’s clear that outliers — along with thousands of smaller sites, shrines and architectural features, their functions still unknown — did not exist in isolation. They were part of a vast cultural tapestry woven into the natural landscape.

    On a cloudless, scorching August afternoon, I made my way to the Pierre’s Site outlier, about 10 miles north of the park’s boundary, by car and then on foot via a maze of oil-patch roads. It was a surreal and lonely journey, my only companions pumpjacks bobbing up and down in the sea of sage and a small herd of horses, their manes shiny in the sun.

    Once there, I climbed onto the “Acropolis,” an aptly named flat-topped butte upon which three of the structures in the complex sit. Unlike the buildings in Chaco Canyon, these haven’t been excavated or stabilized, so at first glance they appear to be amorphous piles of rock. But, on closer inspection, the outlines of old walls, kivas and rooms became visible, like the curves of a body under a thick blanket.

    Various layers of protection cover Chacoan sites. The park itself is off-limits to all oil and gas development. Pierre’s Site and several other outliers are part of the Chaco Culture Archaeological Protection Sites Program, and all sites on federal land are shielded by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires oil companies to conduct a cultural inventory of all land in the path of development. If the surveyors happen upon a “significant” site, the well pad or road or pipeline must be relocated, a process known as “identify and avoid.”

    Thanks to these laws, the major structures at Pierre’s Site have remained unmarred by development. The ambience has not. Ruth Van Dyke, a professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, cataloged the impacts of oil and gas development on the sound- and view-scapes at Pierre’s. “I found that, despite the due diligence agencies have exercised to protect the ground footprint of Pierre’s, there have been significant impacts,” she wrote. Twelve pumpjacks are visible from the Acropolis. When I was there, the whir-pop-pop-whir of the machines was irritatingly audible, affirming Van Dyke’s observation: “Rather than a sacred landscape and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pierre’s community had the feeling of an industrial park.”

    The drilling threatens more than aesthetics. Taking cues from their Native American colleagues, archaeologists are increasingly going beyond analyzing just the material remains of cultures. Rather, they are, as Van Dyke puts it, trying “to understand an ancient sense of place … particularly sensory dimensions of place.” That’s not easy when machinery is noisily grinding away all around you.

    Meanwhile, “identify and avoid,” the only real protection for a vast majority of sites, is hardly comprehensive. “That’s how ancient landscapes get fragmented,” says Paul Reed, a longtime Chaco scholar. For a pipeline, the inventory follows a narrow swath along the right of way, and nothing else. The project is steered to avoid disturbing ancient structures, but it could still end up bisecting a village, says Reed, or plowing through an ancient cornfield or networks of “other super-subtle things going on that are part of understanding that landscape.”

    Pierre’s lies along the Great North Road, which stretches directly north of Chaco Canyon for 30 miles or more. It may have been a symbolic path through time, connecting old worlds with new, or a reminder of the power Chaco-central wielded over its outliers. Reed calls it “a landscape monument on a large scale.” Similar “roads” appear all over the Chaco world. A cultural inventory could easily miss segments that aren’t readily apparent, or other features that appear to be natural but served a cultural function, like a stone monolith that served as a shrine.

    “Even though agencies try to mitigate the impact, it isn’t enough, because you’ve literally destroyed the context in which those things exist,” says Theresa Pasqual, former director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office, and a descendant of the Pueblo people who occupied the Four Corners for thousands of years. “Most of our pueblos are still transmitting their migration history through oral means. So when you have development that begins to impact many of these sites — that range in size from the grandeur of Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde to very small unknown sites that still remain un-surveyed and unknown to the public — they are literally destroying the pages of the history book of the Pueblo people.”

    “We need to go beyond ‘identify and avoid,’ ” Reed says. “But we’re not gonna draw a big circle around everything and say, ‘No more development.’ ” It’s simply too late for that here. So Reed and his allies, including the National Parks Conservation Association and Pueblo tribal leaders, asked the BLM to implement a master leasing plan for the area, an approach introduced by the Obama administration to bring more public input into what had been a “sight-unseen” leasing process. The proposal would put about a half-million acres directly surrounding the park, along with the rest of the Great North Road, off-limits to future leasing. Existing leases in the protection zone could still be developed, but only on the condition that quiet, darkness and viewsheds are preserved.

    But such a plan is not on the table for the current administration. And it has its own drawbacks: It wouldn’t apply to allotment lands, so even more development could be pushed onto the Navajo communities of Lybrook, Nageezi and Counselor. That prospect has unearthed old tensions — between advocates for the past and those fighting for modern-day residents — that echo those from the original designation of the Chaco monument, when Navajos who lived there were evicted and had their allotments cancelled.

    But Marissa Naranjo, co-founder of the Diné-Pueblo Youth Solidarity Coalition, emphasizes that despite divisions, the fight to save ancestral Pueblo homelands and the fight to protect current Navajo homelands are one and the same. “It’s not just about protecting cultural resources,” says Naranjo, a community organizer from Santa Clara Pueblo, east of the Navajo Nation. Like Pinto, she’s part of what may be the most vital branch of the Chaco movement: young, Native American women. “The attack on our homelands necessitates solidarity with the Diné. They are the caretakers of that land. They are on the front lines every day, dealing with health and social impacts. … That whole landscape connects us.”

    Last August, prior to our oil-patch tour, Tso invited me to the front lines to witness the “power base” of the movement firsthand. It was neither a protest camp nor the headquarters of an environmental group, simply a regular meeting of the Ojo Encino Chapter.

    Chapters were introduced to the Navajo Nation in 1927, four years after the federal government, needing a sole entity to sign off on oil leases on tribal land, instituted the centralized tribal government that endures today. But they hark back to the pre-Long Walk days, when the tribe was divided into units of a dozen or more families, each governed by naataanii, or headmen.

    Today, there are 110 chapters, the most local political subdivision of the Navajo Nation. The Ojo Encino meeting was similar to many county meetings I’ve attended, except for the kids selling meat-and-potato burritos, fry bread and sno-cones from a window in the back. And while the officers ran the meeting, the entire audience voted on every action item, from a resolution to approve college scholarships to requests by residents to get solar panels installed at their homes.

    Like many rural Western county commissioners, who feel that D.C. bureaucrats ignore their concerns, members of far-flung chapters feel invisible to the tribal government in Window Rock, Arizona. “The people out here are the same as the people in Tuba City or Kayenta,” said Chapter President George Werito, a slim man with a ready smile in a red Ojo Encino Day School Braves shirt. “But they (the Navajo Nation leaders) don’t even know where we are. They give us no help.”

    Hoping to amplify their chapters’ individual voices, the Ojo Encino, Torreon and Counselor chapters came together to form the Tri-Chapter alliance in 2014 at the height of the oil boom. Drilling has hit Counselor hard, and Torreon and Ojo Encino may be next. “It’s coming this way, so we’ve got to get ready for it,” Werito said.

    Ultimately, they’d like to bring all the chapters in the region together to create legally binding regulations — greater setbacks from homes, impact fees for fixing roads, a more equitable system of revenue sharing — on oil and gas development. Getting Window Rock’s backing, however, hasn’t been easy. Fossil fuels have long been the Navajo Nation’s prime source of income, and though it receives very little revenue from oil development on the Checkerboard because of the land-use mishmash, many delegates are leery of opposing drilling or coal mining.

    Looming threats may change their tune, however. The Department of Interior’s evisceration of environmental protections that “burden domestic industry” could hit Chaco and the surrounding San Juan Basin — home to 40,000 oil and gas wells and the Four Corners Methane Hot Spot — especially hard. On the chopping block are new hydraulic fracturing regulations, master leasing plans and the land-use designation that keeps rigs off much of the Great North Road. If the 2016 well pad fire was the spark that ignited the Chaco resistance, then the Trump administration’s drive to achieve “energy dominance” is like gasoline, further enflaming the broad-based effort.

    Still, this is no Standing Rock. The issues here are more nuanced, the beauty and intrinsic value of the San Juan Basin of a harsher, more subtle sort than the serpentine canyons of the Bears Ears area. The Chaco movement is unlikely to ever explode onto the national stage, but that’s just fine with its leaders.

    “I was very inspired by the energy, that momentum, at Standing Rock,” says Naranjo. “But we also realize that this movement to protect Chaco is very, very different. That (Chaco’s) entire landscape is sacred. There are outlier sites, prayer sites; it’s alive, it’s active. We’ve been very careful not to initiate an occupation movement there because that would be extremely disrespectful to our ancestors there.”

    With so many wells already in place, the coalition is focusing not on shutting down industry, but on fighting new leases and ensuring compliance and enforcement of regulations. Last year, Pinto testified before Congress in favor of keeping the Obama-era methane rule that would have reduced emissions, not only of the potent greenhouse gas, but also benzene, volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide. It would have also yielded more royalties for the federal government and the allottees. The Senate agreed to keep the rule in place, but Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is now trying to scrap it.

    Late last year, the National Congress of American Indians joined the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the entire New Mexico Democratic congressional delegation, and even Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye in calling for a moratorium on all new leases in the Chaco region, at least until the new environmental analysis is complete. And in January, a coalition of environmental groups filed a formal protest against the March lease sale, joining more than 400 others in speaking out against it, including Acoma Pueblo, the Tri-Chapter alliance and the Nageezi Chapter. In March, the Interior Department cancelled the sale, citing “uncertainty about cultural impacts.”

    The chapters have been one of the most significant, and unique, components of the movement. “This has always been a group effort,” Tso said, as he stood up before the Ojo Encino audience and, in Navajo and English, summarized resolutions supporting air-quality and health-impact monitoring in the oil patch. Pinto and others have been sampling air near facilities, and a coalition of affected chapters launched a Hozhoogo Na’adah assessment — a Diné-centered research model — to gain a more holistic understanding of how residents are affected by oil and gas development.

    Tso talked about the Church Rock spill of 1979, about 80 miles west of here, where a uranium mill tailings dam busted, sending 1,100 tons of radioactive tailings and toxic effluent into the Rio Puerco of the West, contaminating countless water wells on the southern portion of the Checkerboard. “We don’t want that to be our story,” he said. Both resolutions passed resoundingly.

    After the meeting adjourned, as I picked at the crumbs of alkaan — a sweet and smoky corn and flour cake that someone had brought — I considered what I had just witnessed. This is no explosive movement, scoring dramatic, if temporary, victories. It’s a slow and rumbling and lasting upswelling of protest truly rooted in the land, led by the people who call this place home. “There is a constant effort and movement to protect those places,” Pasquale says. “And while they may seem small and incremental, they do lead to larger movements to protect these places that are important not just to the Pueblo people, but all of the people, all of the public, because it belongs to the greater story of all of us, of all of the human race.”

    As I turned to leave, I caught a glimpse of a poster hanging on the wall. It portrayed a young Navajo woman wearing a squash-blossom necklace and a gas mask: “Don’t Just Walk In Beauty,” the bold lettering said. “Protect It! Hózhó (Beauty) Starts With You.”

    Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of the new book, River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster.

    Happy National Ag Day

    Rocky Ford Melon Day 1893 via the Colorado Historical Society

    Here’s the release from Secretary Sonny Perdue:

    U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued the following statement regarding National Agriculture Day and President Donald J. Trump’s Proclamation recognizing the importance of America’s farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers:

    “For the past 45 years, National Ag Day has played a key role in helping people understand where their food and fiber comes from and how important agriculture is to our national economy,” said Secretary Perdue. “Our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers in America are feeding and clothing the world – and it’s important to never forget that. I am thrilled that we have a day, really a whole week, where we can celebrate the bounty of the American harvest.”

    Secretary Perdue also released a video celebrating America’s agriculture community. To watch more of Secretary Perdue’s remarks, please view the National Agriculture Day Remarks from Sonny Perdue video .

    La Junta: 24th Annual Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, ​April 11 & 12, 2018

    The ditch that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir to Grizzly Reservoir and then under the Divide to the South Fork of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River.

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register. From the website:

    Each year the Forum Board of Directors recruits a new host community within the Basin to help plan the Forum. This tradition ensures that the Forum broadens relationships throughout the Arkansas Basin, which is spatially the largest river basin in Colorado covering 27% of the State’s area (28,268 sq. mi.). Our goal has been to have the location of the Forum move annually within the Basin.

    Cañon City scores $350,000 from GOCO for river corridor projects

    Cañon City photo credit DowntownCañonCity.com

    From The Cañon City Daily Record:

    The Great Outdoors Colorado board on Thursday awarded a $350,000 grant to Cañon City to make improvements along the Arkansas River near Centennial Park. The project was one of 14 selected for funding from a pool of 59, with funding requested more than triple what was available.

    With the help this GOCO Local Park and Outdoor Recreation grant, Cañon City will make a variety of updates to enhance the experience of residents and visitors when recreating along the Arkansas River. The city will build an outdoor classroom along the river, update the existing Centennial Park play wave and construct a new “Ice House” play wave, designate an in-river play area for children, improve the existing boat take-out ramp, and add a gate system for competitive slalom paddlers.

    In-river elements, such as well-placed boulders and jetties, will not only allow river enthusiasts to practice boating skills but will also create new fish habitat. The project will also expand access to water sports for area residents. The new park additions create safe opportunities for everyone to get involved, whether it be tubing, whitewater rafting, stand-up paddleboarding, or just playing in the river. Offering new experiences on the river could also lure new visitors in, helping support the local economy.

    Construction on the project is set to begin in October and wrap up in the spring, making the new additions ready for public use in summer 2019. To date, GOCO has invested $4.8 million in Fremont County projects, including the Rouse Park Pickleball courts, Harrison Park improvements, Coal Creek Community Park development, and others.

    @USBR announces fiscal year 2018 WaterSMART Program funding opportunities for water and energy efficiency, small-scale water efficiency, and water marketing strategy projects

    Here’s the announcement from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

    Through WaterSMART, Reclamation leverages federal and non-federal funding to work cooperatively with states, tribes, and local entities as they plan for and implement actions to increase water supply reliability through investments

    The Bureau of Reclamation has released three funding opportunities for fiscal year 2018, Water and Energy Efficiency Grants, Small-Scale Water Efficiency Projects and Water Marketing Strategy Grants, all of which are part of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART program initiative.

    Through WaterSMART, Reclamation provides three types of grants. The Water and Energy Efficiency Grants will be awarded to projects that result in quantifiable water savings and those which support broader water reliability benefits. Small-Scale Water Efficiency Projects will be awarded to small-scale water management projects that have been identified through previous planning efforts. Water Marketing Strategy Grants will be awarded to entities exploring actions that can be taken to develop or facilitate water marketing.

    States, Indian tribes, irrigation districts, water districts, and other organizations with water or power delivery authority located in the Western United States or United States Territories are eligible to apply for these funding opportunities.

    • Applicants for Water and Energy Efficiency Grants must submit their proposals by 4:00 p.m. MDT on Thursday, May 10, 2018. To view this funding opportunity, please visit http://www.grants.gov and search for funding opportunity number BOR-DO-18-F006.
    • Applicants for Water Marketing Strategy Grants must submit their proposals by 4:00 p.m. MDT, on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. To view this funding opportunity, please visit http://www.grants.gov and search for funding opportunity number BOR-DO-18-F010.
    • Applicants for Small-Scale Water Efficiency Projects must submit their proposals by 4:00pm MDT on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. To view this funding opportunity, please visit http://www.grants.gov and search for funding opportunity number BOR-DO-18-F009.

    The aforementioned project funding opportunities include financial assistance provided by Reclamation under its WaterSMART Grants program, on a 50/50 cost-share basis. To learn more about the WaterSMART Grants program, please visit: https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/.

    White River algae mitigation update

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

    From the White River Conservation District (Callie Hendrickson) via The Rio Blanco Times:

    Thank you to all the interested public and stakeholders for your commitment to finding the drivers of the algae in the White River. We also want to thank you all for your patience with our Technical Committee (TC) as they have put a great amount of time, effort, and energy into identifying the most critical elements to the Scope of Work (SOW) that will help identify the causes of the algae. This is a very complex problem that has evolved over time and it will require some time to identify the cause. It is anticipated that there is no one single cause or source of this problem. There are multiple rivers across the western United States that are experiencing the excess algae issue, much like the White River.

    A quick review of what the Technical Committee has done reminds us that USGS had originally recommended we do a one-year study primarily up-river from Meeker. The TC asked USGS to provide a proposal that would also include studying the river all the way down to Rangely and to make it a multi-year study over concerns that one year’s worth of data would not be statistically significant. USGS came back to the group with that proposal which gave many of the committee members “sticker shock.”

    Realizing that it would be a huge challenge to get down to the detail necessary, a five-member workgroup was appointed in January to work out those details and bring a recommendation back to the TC. The final recommendation from the workgroup is the culmination of many hours (days), conversations, meetings, emails, etc. I’m confident that the workgroup has done exactly what the TC asked.

    In reviewing the USGS draft SOW, the workgroup literally dissected it into a chart where they evaluated it line by line based on prioritized questions. Then they developed and analyzed a more elaborate spreadsheet for more discussion so that they could sort based on priorities and the “core” tasks required to ensure scientific analysis and credibility to the study. There were a number of tasks that each individual would like to include but the group finalized the SOW based on the highest priorities ensuring scientific integrity in determining the cause of excess algae. The workgroup’s final step in the two-month processes is to present the final SOW to the technical committee on March 21.

    The workgroup recognizes that there is a sense of urgency in finding the cause of the algae and has balanced that sense of urgency with a solid scientific-based study that will give us the best of both worlds. To identify different sources of nutrients in the White River as quickly as possible, the proposed SOW will analyze isotopic-signatures of oxygen and nitrogen from nitrate in various source materials and in the river during 2018. Please remember, there is no guarantee that the “signatures” will be different enough to help determine the potential source. While analyzing samples for isotopic signatures, the proposed SOW will simultaneously include efforts to help develop a better understanding of the physical and chemical properties controlling the algal growth.

    The draft proposal includes annual progress reports from USGS to evaluate the next year’s proposed work based on findings of the current year. We will be using adaptive project management based on annual findings.

    While the anticipated cost is more than any of us would like to see, the workgroup has done a great deal of individual research and determined that we do need all the components of this SOW. Discussion was had about the USGS preliminary costs being a little higher than potentially other researchers. The consensus of the workgroup was that with USGS providing 35 percent of the funding and their reputation of being nonbiased, they are the best entity to have do this research and analysis.

    So, how are we going to pay for the study? We currently have commitments for a total of $60,000 for 2018. That leaves us approximately $30,000 to raise for 2018 work. The conservation district and others will be meeting with individuals and agencies during the remainder of March to solicit this $30,000 because it is too short of a time frame to get grant funding and it seems like it is a “doable” amount to raise for such an important issue to the community.

    In ensuing years, we will be seeking support again from the stakeholders and applying for grants through the Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and others to be determined.

    The White River Conservation District anticipates that we will have annual agreements with USGS for the study dependent upon funding availability and on adaptive research based on each year’s outcome.

    The technical committee meeting will be March 21 at the Fairfield Center beginning at 11 a.m. At that time the workgroup will give a brief overview of their recommendations followed by a more detailed presentation of the SOW by USGS. We will break for lunch and reconvene at 1:30 p.m. for further discussion and public comment specifically on the proposal in anticipation of finalizing the SOW by end of the day.

    Landowners and interested parties are welcome to attend the technical committee meeting and will have an opportunity to provide comment and input on the proposal during the public comment period. We strongly encourage that anyone interested in providing comment in the afternoon attend the morning session, where they receive a copy of the proposal and hear the presentations.

    Visit the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ website (www.whiterivercd.com) to find copies of the workgroup’s recommendations, previous meetings’ minutes, research and meeting information. Contact the conservation district office at 878-9838 with any questions.