#WaterintheWest2018: Reusing water becoming a theme, but #ColoradoRiver #snowpack a mystery — The Mountain Town News #COriver #

A field of produce destined for grocery stores is irrigated near Yuma, Ariz., a few days before Christmas 2015. Photo/Allen Best – See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2016/02/09/drying-out-of-the-american-southwest/#sthash.7xXVYcLv.dpuf

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Recycling and reusing water in Colorado

Recycled and reused water was a recurrent theme in comments at the inaugural Water in the West Symposium in downtown Denver on Thursday, particularly in regards to Colorado’s South Platte River Basin.

The 243,000-square-mile basin includes Denver and other cities of the northern Front Range, with a population now of 3.5 million expected to grow to 6.1 million by 2050. Viewed as an economic region, it includes not only the nation’s 9thmost agriculturally productive county, Weld County, but also arguably what Mazdak Arabi, associate professor at Colorado State University, suggested is the fastest-growing economic river basin in the United States.

But the South Platte Basin has, from the 1890s forward, outstripped its native supplies, depending instead upon vast amounts of water imported from across the Continental Divide.

“Any water imported from the Western Slope should be reused and recycled to extinction,” said Mizraim Cordero, vice president of government affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Bruce Karas, vice president of environment and sustainability for Coca-Cola North America, talked about “cleaning up water as much as they can and reusing it” in its operations.

Dan Haley, chief executive of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, talked about recycling of water used in hydraulic fracturing. Fracking, he said, uses only 0.10 percent of Colorado’s water each year, and the wells created by the fracking operation typically produce for 25 to 30 years.

Colorado always has had de facto water reuse. Water drained off a farmer’s field goes into the river and becomes the source for another farm downstream. Ditto for sewage treatment. The South Platte River is virtually a trickle at times as it flows through Denver—until enlivened once again (at least by standards of the arid West) by the gushing waterfall of releases from the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s treatment plant.

Beginning in 2010, with completion of Aurora’s Prairie Water Project, reuse was stepped up. Aurora drilled wells along the South Platte near Brighton and now pumps the water 34 miles and 1,000 feet higher to a high-tech treatment plant along E-470 and then mixes it with more water imported directly from the mountains.

This water infrastructure has also been put to use in the expanded WISE partnership, which was directly referenced by Bart Miller, of Western Resource Advocates. Denver Water provides some of its rights to reuse its water imported from the Western Slope to assist south metro communities that have been heavily reliant upon diminishing aquifers.

That recycling itself combined with stepped up conservation in the metro area does itself pose a growing problem of its own. Jim McQuarrie, chief innovation officer at the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, said total dissolved solids in the South Platte River have been rising. “The river is getting saltier and saltier and saltier,” he said. “We are creating a salt loop.”

Salt can be removed, creating a brine that poses a disposal problem. The technology is also expensive, as was mentioned by Mike Reidy, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Leprino Foods.

Leprino is the nation’s largest supplier of mozzarella cheese, most of which is produced in Western states and most of which is consumed in Eastern states. Part of that production comes from two cheese factories in Colorado, the first in Fort Morgan and more recently a plant in Greeley on the reclaimed site of the former Great Western sugar factory along the Poudre River.

In its operations, Leprino can reuse water, but not as completely as it would like. Reverse osmosis does a “pretty good job” of cleaning up water, but is very expensive. “It uses a lot of electricity. There has to be a better way.”

Figuring out that better way, Reidy went on to say, might be one role for the new water research campus being developed jointly by Denver Water with Colorado State University.

This was the coming-out conference for this new partnership. The Water Resources Center is to be located on the grounds of the soon-to-be-redeveloped Great Western Stock Show complex north of downtown. It’s bisected by I-70, with the most visible infrastructure being the aging but still functional Denver Coliseum. Both policy and technology research foci are envisioned.

The partnership was formally announced last September, but even then, much was yet to be worked out.Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water, at the initial announcement, said the exact research area was yet to be determined,as well ashow to set the work apart from that being done elsewhere.

A continued exploration of that question was another theme in at least the first day of the Water in the West Symposium. CSU will plan to move its water quality laboratories to the campus. Tony Frank, the president of CSU, said the lab conducts 200,000 water-quality studies per year.

Frank also talked about emergingwater issues: nutrient loading, abandoned mine pollution and – yet again – the push to use recycled water. That reuse, he added, “will require innovation and a number of different policy innovations to ensure we protect public health while using water efficiently.”

Yet another suggestion came from Brad Udall, a senior climate research scientist at Colorado State University. He has carved out a specialty in trying to understand how the changing climate is impacting the Colorado River Basin. A 20 percent decline in precipitation has occurred in the basin—the source of much of the water of both cities and farms in eastern Colorado —from 2000 to 2017. This is despite a 5 percent increase in moisture content in the warming atmosphere.

“Something very odd and unusual is going on,” Udall said.

About half the volume of the reservoirs has been lost during this period, about two-thirds of which can be explained by reduced precipitation.

Increased temperatures that cause evaporation as well as transpiration, explain about a third. Temperature inducted losses in the basin will more than triple by 2050, he said, and increase almost six-fold by the end of the century.

Snowpack remains a mystery. “We really don’t know what is going on (with the snowpack),” he said in suggesting a topic area.

Perhaps the most over-arching statement came from Cordero, from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, who suggested that the campus can became the NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) for water.

Lochhead neatly summarized the reason for the symposium and the new partnership and research center at the Stock Show Complex by using a phrase he has often used since becoming chief executive of Denver Water. Colorado, he said, cannot grow the next 5 million people the same way it did the first five million residents.

From Colorado State University (Tiana Nelson):

Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack opened the first day of the inaugural Water in the West Symposium likening the situation around water to a book he reads to his grandchildren – a book where there was a problem. First, the children’s book characters try to avoid the problem, then they try to ignore the problem, then they try to bury the problem.

“All without realizing that within each problem there is enormous opportunity,” said Vilsack, who serves as a special advisor to Colorado State University. “There is an incredible opportunity to lead a national and global effort in this area, that’s why this convening is so important.”

The Symposium, presented by CSU and held at the McNichols Civic Center Building in downtown Denver, sold out with 400 attendees, and showcased more than 30 speakers from across the state and nation representing diverse perspectives in water. Farmers, policy makers, researchers and educators, conservationists, associations, consortiums, corporate professionals, cities, utilities, municipalities, agribusinesses and hundreds of businesses and individuals who rely on water for the production of their goods and services filled the room, representing more than 200 different organizations.

The Symposium is the initial step as CSU prepares to begin construction on the Water Resources Center, the first building to be constructed on the new National Western Center campus, in Spring 2019.

The discussion at the Symposium mirrors what will happen at the Water Resources Center – mirrors the effort to educate, mirrors that innovation will play a key role, and mirrors that policy will continue to be important, Vilsack said.

The lineup

Vilsack joked that the Symposium is the first conference he’s ever been to without built-in breaks, which will “show how serious we are about this.”

A full day of programming on Thursday included speakers and panels around:

  • Water challenges and opportunities
  • The Colorado Water Plan
  • Colorado water successes and challenges
  • A forum featuring Colorado gubernatorial candidates
  • Dr. Tony Frank, president of CSU and chancellor of the CSU System, noted the University’s importance as a convener for the conversation around water – a conversation furthered by the Symposium and the future Water Resources Center.

    Land grant universities such as CSU are about breaking down boundaries, creating new knowledge, and disseminating that knowledge, Frank said.

    “We’re going to see that really apply at the Water Resources Center. You’ll see a robust application of innovation,” he said. By listening to one another and respecting diverse perspectives, “I’m confident that the conversations we will have will be fruitful.”.

    Speakers echoed Frank’s charge of the importance of the issue of water having an impact on everyone and having the power to galvanize diverse interests to collaborate around it.

    “We do realize that every drop counts. We all live here, we breathe the same air that you breathe, we drink the same water that you drink,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

    “Yes, I’m a CSU graduate; yes, I’m the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, but at the end of the day, I’m a farmer and rancher from Yuma County, Colorado,” said Don Brown. “Water is a great connector; we all need it, we all use it.”

    Mizraim Cordero, vice president of Government Affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said water is important to the entire state, and water policy and sustainability is key to attracting businesses.

    “We care about our agriculture industry, our tourism industry, our beverage production industry, our energy industry,” said Cordero. “We want to make sure that in Colorado – not just Denver but all of Colorado – the economy is thriving.”

    The conversation commencing because of the Symposium is in essence “a beginning of the virtual water center,” Vilsack said.

    Brown agreed.

    “It hasn’t even been built and look what it’s already doing … this is just the beginning.”

    From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:

    Among the discussion points throughout the day was the state’s water plan, developed through an executive order in 2013 from Gov. John Hickenlooper and completed in 2013. It lays out a blueprint for dealing with a potential shortage facing the state in the coming decades…

    Hickenlooper has tasked the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) with implementation of the plan and the General Assembly has put starter funds into it – roughly $15 million in the past two years and another $7 million in the 2018-19 budget through the annual CWCB projects bill.

    One of the big questions is what happens to the plan when Hickenlooper leaves office next January and a new governor takes the helm. Whether all of the candidates at Thursday’s forum had ever read it was another question.

    Some of the top-tier gubernatorial candidates – Republicans Walker Stapleton and Doug Robinson and Democrat Cary Kennedy – were “no-shows” for the forum. So was Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who was in Washington but he sent a surrogate, water attorney Courtney Krause.

    Those who did attend: businessmen Republicans Victor Mitchell and Greg Lopez; and Democrats and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and former state Sen. Mike Johnston.

    And then there was a last-minute addition: Scott Helker, a libertarian candidate who told Colorado Politics in January that he hoped a run for governor might lead to other offices, like state Senate or some other political position.

    Candidates discussed how the water plan should move forward, as well as finding the dollars to do it; the future of the outdoor recreation economy; innovation, awareness and citizen involvement; and shortages on the over-appropriated Colorado River.

    Mitchell said he supports the state water plan. He said he would look for storage solutions to keep water on the Eastern Plains and seek incentives for farmers to grow more water-efficient crops. He also said the state should fully fund the water plan but didn’t offer ideas on how to do that.

    Johnston said the state should figure out what its top priorities are for the water plan and how to fund it. His platform includes changes to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow for public investment in infrastructure, which for him includes roads, bridges and water.

    He said he also would look for ways to avoid “buy and dry” – the practice of buying up farmland for its water rights – and come up with incentives for conservation in municipal and agricultural water use.

    Lynne identified several issues, including an effort to galvanize people to understand that the state is in crisis, which she said is helped somewhat by the critically low snowpack predicted for the state this year. As for funding the plan, she indicated it would take a partnership among federal, local government, private entrepreneurs and water providers.

    Krause, speaking on Polis’ behalf, called for a community effort to fund the plan, including a ballot measure, which she said would require the governor to work with the legislature and with other stakeholders.

    Lopez said Hickenlooper deserved credit for coming up with the plan and called for the use of state lottery dollars, rather than a change to TABOR or asking taxpayers for more money.

    Helker talked about beavers, and how when he was a child, someone had used dynamite to blow up a wall he’d built near beaver ponds near his home. The stream that fed the ponds never went dry until then, he said.

    A rapid-fire series of questions followed. Mitchell, when asked about the role of research universities in Colorado’s water future, called for block-grant funding in life sciences research. Johnston, asked about the outdoor recreation industry, said he would seek reauthorization of Great Outdoors Colorado, which provides grants for outdoor recreation and conservation projects and would protect in-stream flows for the fishing and rafting industries…

    Lopez’ topic was how to protect rivers and how to ensure the state’s water supply in the face of the low snowpack. “We need to get more moisture,” he said, but added that he also would look for ways to speed up the permitting process for storage.

    Lynne, asked about how to get people of color, low-income and tribal communities engaged in water conversations, pointed out that as lieutenant governor she is already having those conversations with the tribes in her role as state head of Indian affairs.

    Krause, on the topic of entrepreneurship, pointed to Polis’ track record on entrepreneurial activities but focused largely on improving the market for industrial hemp.

    Finally, the candidates took a moment to address a question on how to convince Coloradans that their lives depend on water. Embrace conservation, said Mitchell. Use the governor’s office as a bully pulpit, said Johnston. Raise awareness, added Lynne. Start with water education in grade schools, Krause said. Talk about water every day, or every week or every month, Lopez suggested.

    Click here to view the Tweets from the symposium (click on latest, start at the bottom of the page).

    @USBR awards $6.6 million contract for photogrammetry to improve operations

    The principal is exactly similar to plan table surveying, it may be stated as “The position of the object with ref to the base line is given by the intersection of the rays drawn to it form each end of the base line” In plane tabling most of the work is executed in the field while in this method it is done in the office. Credit: AboutCivil.com

    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

    The Bureau of Reclamation awarded a $6.6 million contract to Geomatics Data Solutions, Inc. of Hillsboro, Oregon, for a 5-year agreement to provide agency-wide professional photogrammetry services, April 16, 2018.

    Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs. Input is collected from photographs, such as aerial photographs, and used to create tools such as maps, drawings, measurements, or a 3-D models of real-world objects or scenes.

    Geomatics Data Solutions, Inc. will provide high-resolution photogrammetry in support of technical evaluations conducted in all five Reclamation regions. These evaluations include historical analysis of aerial photography data, the creation of digital surface models and digital elevation models, thematic mapping of river planforms, bathymetric surveys, vegetation mapping, evaluations of land-use change, and the documentation of as-built site conditions for the monitoring of construction activities.

    Initial photogrammetry work will be in support of Reclamation activities in the Upper Colorado Region, including sections of Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Geomatics Data Solutions, Inc. may also perform work in Reclamation areas of responsibility throughout all 17 contiguous states west of the Mississippi River, during the contracted dates, as additional photogrammetry services are needed outside of the Upper Colorado Region. However, emergency response support will be limited to the Upper Colorado Region.

    This contract will help enable Reclamation to carry out its mission to manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public.

    Long bar with multiplex projectors. Photogrammetry, Topographic Division, U.S. Geological Survey. Denver, Colorado. 1955. Photo credit: USGS

    Granby: Grand County “State of the River,” May 3, 2018

    CDPHE revokes Piñon Ridge uranium mill license

    From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    The decision to pull the license came after a five-year legal challenge from environmental groups including the Sheep Mountain Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild and Center for Biologic Diversity. The groups have long opposed a plan hatched in 2009 by Energy Fuels Inc., of Toronto, Canada, to build a uranium mill on 880 acres in Paradox Valley, west of Nucla in Montrose County.

    They filed a legal challenge against a key radioactive materials license granted for the project in 2013 by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

    Energy Fuels has since sold the assets of the mill project, including the radioactive license, a company spokesman said Friday. Documents show the license was being held by Piñon Ridge Resources Corp.

    On April 17, District Court Judge Richard W. Dana recommended the proposed mill’s radioactive license be revoked after concluding that Energy Fuels failed to demonstrate adequate environmental protections, including prevention of wind-dispersed radioactive materials, contamination of groundwater and protection of plants and wildlife. The ruling also questioned whether there was adequate water to operate the mill and tailings ponds.

    Two days later, in an April 26 letter, the Colorado Department of Health informed Piñon Ridge Corp. CEO George Glasier that its radioactive materials license has been revoked.

    “Although the Department believes the original decision on the license application was appropriate, the department has elected not to challenge Judge Dana’s decision. As such, this decision provides the Department with the rationale to revoke the license,” wrote Jennifer Opila, Radiation Program Manager for the health department’s hazardous materials division.

    Environmental groups applauded the decision.

    “We were extremely concerned with the impacts that a new uranium mill would have on the delicate sagebrush ecosystem of the Paradox Valley and the impacts downstream to endangered Colorado River fish,” said Matt Sandler, staff attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild. “Those impacts were simply unacceptable, and we’re happy to know that corporations who want to revive the uranium industry in Colorado will be required to fully comply with the laws aimed at protecting the environment.”


    Lexi Tuddenham, executive director or Sheep Mountain Alliance, based in San Miguel County, said the decision helps to resolve the uncertainty about the project in the community and encourages a more diversified economic future that does not rely on the toxic uranium industry.

    “The decision is a long time coming,” she said. “The impacts to the ecosystem and public were unacceptable. The mill was really a pipe dream, more speculation that contributes to the historic boom and bust cycle of mining that has been difficult for this area’s economy.”

    The region is turning to hemp farming and outdoor recreation because they are more sustainable and do not pollute the environment, she said.

    This is the second time the CDPHE granted, then revoked the radioactive license for Piñon Ridge. After it was granted in 2011, environmental groups challenged it, pointing out that the state had not held a public hearing as required. A judge agreed and invalidated the permit. After a five-day hearing in Nucla, the state reapproved the license in 2013, which was again revoked this week.

    Travis Stills, an attorney with Energy and Conservation Law in Durango, represented the environmental groups in the case.

    He said Dana’s ruling was based on community testimony and scientific evidence that indicated the mill plan questionable.

    “The project plan had big holes in it and did not protect water, life and air,” he said. “Experts testified that micro-climates and inversions would have caused the valley to be socked in with industrial emissions.”

    The towns of Telluride and Ophir also objected to the mill, fearing that prevailing winds would carry radioactive pollution onto the local snowpack and San Miguel watershed, Stills said.

    Silverthorne: Colorado River District Summit State of the River meeting May 2, 2018

    Silverthorne via City-Data.com.

    From the Colorado River District via The Summit Daily:

    Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s newly named state climatologist, will deliver the keynote address at the Summit State of the River meeting set for Wednesday, May 2, at the Silverthorne Pavilion.

    Bureau of Reclamation and Denver Water officials will also discuss reservoir operations at Green Mountain and Dillon, and new Colorado River District general manager Andy Mueller will address Western Slope water priorities.

    Western Colorado had a difficult snow year this past winter, although Summit County did well with roughly 95 percent of the annual average snow level through April. Parts of southern Colorado, however, saw snowpack percentages as low as the 30s and 40s.

    As a result, Colorado River Basin inflow into Lake Powell is projected to be 41 percent of average. Colorado’s new state climatologist, Russ Schumacher, will address these weather trends and more at the Wednesday, May 2, Summit State of the River free public meeting at the Silverthorne Pavilion. Light food will be available at 5:30 p.m. The program begins at 6 p.m.

    The Colorado River District’s new general manager, Andy Mueller, will also be a featured speaker. The River District board hired Mueller this past December to take over for longtime water leader Eric Kuhn, who retired. Mueller will talk about how protecting irrigated agriculture in western Colorado is tied to recreational use of water, environmental values and Lake Powell.

    Summit County water commissioner Troy Wineland will discuss local water supply and streamflow predictions. Also, officials from the Bureau of Reclamation and Denver Water will be on hand to detail operations this year at Green Mountain and Dillon reservoirs, two key water bodies in Summit County.

    This is the 25th edition of the Summit State of the River water education meetings. Sponsors are the Blue River Watershed Group and the Colorado River District.

    #WaterintheWest2018 recap

    Dan Hobbs planting near Avondale. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    From The Fence Post (Samantha Fox):

    On the first day of the inaugural Water in the West Symposium on April 26 in Denver, there was a lot of talk surrounding what already is being done when it comes to conserving the water needed by agriculture, cities and businesses, alike.

    One of the panels included a mix of city, business, oil and gas and agriculture leaders.

    They each shared why water is not just important to them, but how their industries attempt to save as much water as they can.


    Colorado Department of Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown talked about irrigation and how it’s used by the agriculture industry to increase crop yields.

    He said conservation in agriculture means a few different things.

    “Usually it means use less, but in agriculture it also means more crop per drop,” he said…

    Colorado has two of the top 25 agriculture counties in the nation. No. 9 is Weld County and No. 24 is Yuma County.

    The common factor: water.

    Weld County is in the South Platte River Basin and Yuma is within the Ogallala Aquifer region.

    Weld County is home to one of Leprino Foods’ facilities. Mike Reidy, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Leprino, said that when the company was looking for a location they were looking for access to dairies and raw and waste water…

    He said the company strives to use best practices. They’re close to the city’s waste treatment plant and will treat the water for reuse after it is used at the facility…


    Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist for the Colorado Water Institute, pointed to climate change in the conversation about future water supplies.

    “Climate change is water change,” he said.

    From TheDenverChannel.com (Russell Haythorn):

    “It would be irresponsible of us to develop this state without planning for the amount of water that we’re going to need,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, (D) Colorado.

    Bennet is among hundreds attending the first-ever ‘Water in the West’ Symposium in Denver this week, hosted by Colorado State University.

    “We all acknowledge that no more water is being created,” Bennet said. “We have to find ways of using the water we have more efficiently, more responsibly.”


    One of the central issues this year is drought. A dry winter on the plains and low snow pack in the high country could be catastrophic, especially to lower basin states if the pattern continues…

    The central question along the front range: Do we have enough water to support the roaring pace of growth?

    “If we’re not smart about it, the answer to that is going to be, ‘No,’” Bennet said.

    Cracks In The Southwest’s Water Conservation Cooperation? — @NewsCPR

    Click here to listen to an interview with John Fleck from Colorado Public Radio (Rachel Estabrook):

    The drought in Colorado and around the Southwest gives this story particular resonance: In anticipation of future droughts, states along the Colorado River have come together in recent years to agree to unprecedented water conservation experiments. But John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program, tells Colorado Matters that there are cracks in the cooperation — signs that years of work could be at risk.

    #WaterintheWest2018 Day 1 recap @CSUDenverCenter

    From Colorado State University (Tiana Nelson):

    Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack opened the first day of the inaugural Water in the West Symposium likening the situation around water to a book he reads to his grandchildren – a book where there was a problem. First, the children’s book characters try to avoid the problem, then they try to ignore the problem, then they try to bury the problem.

    “All without realizing that within each problem there is enormous opportunity,” said Vilsack, who serves as a special advisor to Colorado State University. “There is an incredible opportunity to lead a national and global effort in this area, that’s why this convening is so important.”
    Follow the conversation

    Watch Colorado State University Denver Center social media for live updates at #WaterintheWest2018 as the Water in the West Symposium continues through Friday, April 27.

    The symposium, presented by CSU and held at the McNichols Civic Center Building in downtown Denver, sold out with 400 attendees, and showcased more than 30 speakers from across the state and nation representing diverse perspectives in water. Farmers, policy makers, researchers and educators, conservationists, associations, consortiums, corporate professionals, cities, utilities, municipalities, agribusinesses and hundreds of businesses and individuals who rely on water for the production of their goods and services filled the room, representing more than 200 different organizations.

    The Symposium is the initial step as CSU prepares to begin construction on the Water Resources Center, the first building to be constructed on the new National Western Center campus, in Spring 2019.

    The discussion at the Symposium mirrors what will happen at the Water Resources Center – mirrors the effort to educate, mirrors that innovation will play a key role, and mirrors that policy will continue to be important, Vilsack said.

    The lineup

    Vilsack joked that the Symposium is the first conference he’s ever been to without built-in breaks, which will “show how serious we are about this.”

    A full day of programming on Thursday included speakers and panels around:

  • Water challenges and opportunities
  • The Colorado Water Plan
  • Colorado water successes and challenges
  • A forum featuring Colorado gubernatorial candidates
  • Dr. Tony Frank, president of CSU and chancellor of the CSU System, noted the University’s importance as a convener for the conversation around water – a conversation furthered by the Symposium and the future Water Resources Center.

    Land grant universities such as CSU are about breaking down boundaries, creating new knowledge, and disseminating that knowledge, Frank said.

    “We’re going to see that really apply at the Water Resources Center. You’ll see a robust application of innovation,” he said. By listening to one another and respecting diverse perspectives, “I’m confident that the conversations we will have will be fruitful.”.

    Speakers echoed Frank’s charge of the importance of the issue of water having an impact on everyone and having the power to galvanize diverse interests to collaborate around it.

    “We do realize that every drop counts. We all live here, we breathe the same air that you breathe, we drink the same water that you drink,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

    “Yes, I’m a CSU graduate; yes, I’m the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, but at the end of the day, I’m a farmer and rancher from Yuma County, Colorado,” said Don Brown. “Water is a great connector; we all need it, we all use it.”

    Mizraim Cordero, vice president of Government Affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said water is important to the entire state, and water policy and sustainability is key to attracting businesses.

    “We care about our agriculture industry, our tourism industry, our beverage production industry, our energy industry,” said Cordero. “We want to make sure that in Colorado – not just Denver but all of Colorado – the economy is thriving.”

    The conversation commencing because of the Symposium is in essence “a beginning of the virtual water center,” Vilsack said.

    Brown agreed.

    “It hasn’t even been built and look what it’s already doing … this is just the beginning.”

    Click here to view the #WaterintheWest2018 hash tag. (Click on the “Latest” button.)

    What the Everyone Else in the #ColoradoRiver Basin v. @CAPArizona fracas is really all about — @jfleck #COriver

    The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    From InkStain (John Fleck):

    It’s reasonable to ask whether the fracas over Colorado River water management, which has pitted the Central Arizona Project against just about everyone else in the basin, is evidence that the thesis of my book – that we are in an era of unprecedented collaboration in Colorado River governance, that water is not really for fighting over – was wrong.

    I think it’s the opposite. There would have been a time when it would have simply been assumed that of course the Central Arizona Project would optimize its water orders (a smart friend has steered me away from some of the more incendiary language I had used – “manipulated” or “gamed”) to maximize releases from Lake Powell. The uproar this month is striking precisely because the uproar is happening at all – that in a new era of collaboration, what CAP was doing is an offense to a new cooperative, collaborative norm.

    DoD: At least 126 bases report water contaminants linked to cancer, birth defects

    Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

    From the Military Times (Tara Copp):

    The water at or around 126 military installations contains potentially harmful levels of perfluorinated compounds, which have been linked to cancers and developmental delays for fetuses and infants, the Pentagon has found.

    In a March report provided to the House Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon for the first time publicly listed the full scope of the known contamination. The Defense Department identified 401 active and Base Closure and Realignment installations in the United States with at least one area where there was a known or suspected release of perfluorinated compounds.

    These included 36 sites with drinking water contamination on-base, and more than 90 sites that reported either on-base or off-base drinking water or groundwater contamination., in which the water source tested above the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate or perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOS and PFOAs.

    The man-made chemicals, which can be used to make items heat or water resistant, are found in everyday household, food and clothing items, even take-out food wrappers.

    At military bases, however, they are concentrated in the foam used to put out aircraft fires.

    Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment, safety and occupational health, said DoD has already made safety changes at affected bases, including installing filters and providing bottled water to families living there. It has also released the full list of installations, reported in a lengthy chart attached toward the end of the congressional report, and will be working with the Centers for Disease Control next year on a study of the potential long-term effects of exposure.

    Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was asked about the exposure this week on Capitol HIll, where she was testifying about the service’s fiscal 2019 budget needs.

    “It’s an issue not just in New Hampshire, but at military installations across this country,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire. “We have 1,500 people who have been tested with elevated levels in the Portsmouth area, who are anxious about their future and their children’s future. And I know there are many people throughout the Air Force and our other military installations who share that concern.”

    In all, 25 Army bases; 50 Air Force bases, 49 Navy or Marine Corps bases and two Defense Logistics Agency sites have tested at higher than acceptable levels for the compounds in either their drinking water or groundwater sources. Additionally, DoD tested 2,668 groundwater wells both on and in the surrounding off-base community and found that 61 percent of them tested above the EPA’s recommended levels.

    In 2016 the EPA established a new, lower guideline for acceptable levels of PFOS or PFOA levels in water supplies: no more 70 parts per trillion. While the EPA did not make the guidelines enforceable, DoD decided to test all of its locations and work toward complying with the new standards.

    It won’t be a quick fix, Sullivan said.

    The first target for the department was to address the 36 direct drinking water sources that are contaminated and “cut off that human exposure as soon as possible,” Sullivan said. DoD was only able to do that quickly at the 24 locations where it manages the water supply. At those locations it has installed filters at the water source or inside base housing, relocated water usage to another well, or provided alternate drinking water, such as water bottles, for personnel, Sullivan said.

    For the other 12 drinking water sources, provided either by a contracted vendor or through the local utility, it’s a harder fix, because the EPA’s guidelines are not enforceable. For example, commercial airports and industrial sites also use the foam, which could impact a municipality’s drinking water, but it will be up to that municipality to determine if it will test and make fixes to comply with the EPA’s guidelines, Sullivan said.

    “It’s up to the owner of that system to make a decision on what they’re going to do,” Sullivan “So we’re on a fine line of trying to provide drinking water to our folks when we’re buying it from somebody else.”

    In those cases the department is working with the vendors or utilities on a solution, and providing bottled water or filters as needed, Sullivan said.

    Each base should have its water information posted, Sullivan said. Families with any concerns should be able to go to the base’s restoration program manager — an on-site point person tasked with addressing environmental cleanup issues ― with their questions.

    DoD has already spent $200 million studying and testing its water supply, and also providing either filters, alternate wells or bottled water to address contamination.

    For the groundwater sources, both on-base and off-base, however, cleanup will take years to address, Sullivan said. Those groundwater sites will be added to the department’s long list of environmental cleanup responsibilities it has at each of its more than 2,900 facilities around the world, and will prioritize that cleanup based on risk. Sullivan estimates the groundwater perfluorinate cleanup will add about $2 billion to the $27 billion previously identified cleanup projects for which the department is responsible.

    The services are also phasing out the firefighting foam they use and working on replacements that do not contain perfluorinated compounds, Sullivan said.

    Drinking water impacts cited by Mining and Land Board in denial of El Paso County gravel mine permit

    Mexican Spotted Owl photo credit US National Park Service.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

    The Mined Land Reclamation Board voted 3 to 2 to deny Transit Mix Concrete’s application for a permit for the proposed Hitch Rack Ranch quarry following more than 10 hours of testimony at a two-day hearing in Colorado Springs.

    The decision is a major blow for the company and a victory for nearby residents and environmental groups, who have argued the proposed quarry off Colorado 115 could threaten the area’s groundwater and wildlife habitat, including that of the threatened Mexican spotted owl…

    The state’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety allows applicants to ask for reconsideration, and the courts may offer other avenues for the company.

    Driven by concerns that mining could disrupt the fragile underground system of rock cracks that holds the area’s water supply, board members John Singletary, Jill Van Noord and Bob Randall voted to deny the application. During deliberations ahead of the vote, Randall said there were no guarantees that mining wouldn’t impact groundwater that supplies residents’ wells and those impacts could “be difficult to minimize.”

    Karin Utterback-Normann and Forrest Luke voted to approve the application, saying that they believe Transit Mix met or exceeded state requirements related to assessing the quarry’s potential effects.

    Lauren Duncan and Tom Brubaker recused themselves from the decision.

    After the board’s vote, opponents shook hands and hugged one another…

    Transit Mix initially applied for a permit from the state in 2016. The board rejected that by the same vote as it did the second, 3-2, citing some of the concerns raised by neighboring residents – the threat to water and wildlife habitat.

    The state board also found that the company hadn’t proved it had the legal right to access Little Turkey Creek Road, which serves as the only access for a group of residents.

    After the board denied its first application, Transit Mix filed a petition for reconsideration to the state Mining Division, arguing that opponents improperly presented new evidence at the application hearing.

    The company later withdrew that petition and filed another, with the 4th Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs, asking a judge to review the board’s decision. The board, as well as more than 90 individuals and organizations who objected to the initial proposal, were named as defendants.

    Quarry foes have called the lawsuit an attempt by Transit Mix to intimidate opponents and scare them into silence.

    Earlier this month, Transit Mix attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Liz Titus, an attorney representing Transit Mix, testified that the company wanted to avoid the “procedural quagmire” that might occur if the board approved its second application, but the court invalidated the board’s denial of its first application.

    Transit Mix submitted a second application to the state in the fall, reducing the size and life of the proposed quarry and moving the operation south of Little Turkey Creek Road.

    More than 500 letters of objection and about 150 letters of support were filed with the state’s Mining Diviison, which recommended that the board approve the application.

    Project opponents include the El Pomar Foundation and the Nature Conservancy, which manages the Aiken Canyon Preserve neighboring the quarry site. Both organizations have been deeded pieces of land along the quarry’s proposed boundaries that are destined to one day become preservation areas.

    The company publicized new offers in exchange for approval of the quarry, winning endorsements from several Colorado Springs City Council members and state legislators. Transit Mix said it would close and reclaim the Pikeview Quarry, an unsightly scar on the foothills of northwest Colorado Springs, if it was able to open the new mine. The company also announced earlier this month that, if it got permission to mine the Hitch Rack Ranch, it would sell the Pikeview property to the city at a discounted rate so that a “world-class” mountain bike park could be built on the land.

    When asked about the bike park proposal on Thursday, Cole said: “Pikeview has another 10 to 20 years of life left, and there’s no indication that Transit Mix would close it without another source of aggregate.”

    Here’s a backgrounder from Pikes Peak Trout Unlimited (Michele White):

    In early 2016, Transit Mix submitted an application with the Division of Mined Land Reclamation Board to develop a new quarry on the Hitch Rack Ranch. This historic ranch is known for 1,200-acres of prime mountain wilderness bordered by the Nature Conservancy’s Aiken Canyon and also bordered by the protected landscape of the Ingersoll Ranch. Therefore, the initial application faced opposition from the conservancy, from the trustees of the Ingersoll estate, and from homeowners along Highway 115.

    The Colorado State Land Board owns the mineral rights beneath the Hitch Rack Ranch and had already issued a mineral lease to the Transit Mix Company for exploration purposes, which is their legal right. Subsequently, the Division of Mined Land Reclamation (DMLR) initially recommended that Transit Mix be automatically be granted approval for submitting a mining plan.

    Opponents to this quarry were able to successfully present their argument (included impacts upon wildlife, threatened and endangered species, traffic on Highway 115, impacts on neighborhoods, road access, safety issues, and possible degradation of water quality and availability) and stop the quarry at that time. Therefore, a year ago, DMLR Board denied Tranist Mix permission to open the quarry.

    Transit Mix requested the board to reconsider citing the objectors’ lack of evidence in support of their statements. The result is that the original application has been augmented to address the local concerns and the mine plan is currently under renewed judicial review.

    Enter Pikes Peak Trout Unlimited

    In September, 2017, Kris McCowen, Chairman of the Highway 115 Citizens Advisory Committee, contacted David Nickum, of Colorado Trout Unlimited, to enlist TU’s support in opposing the quarry. Nickum forwarded the documents for review to Pikes Peak Trout Unlimited.

    NOTE: Pikes Peak Trout Unlimited is not against mining and Transit Mix has a history of successfully mining aggregate at other quarries within the bounds of specified regulations.

    In November, 2017, PPTU President, Allyn Kratz, and V.P. of Government Affairs, Michele White, reviewed the documents in support of the mine plan and made a recommendation to the PPTU board that we, as a chapter, write a letter in opposition of the quarry based on its location and the adverse impact on trout population in Little Turkey Creek.

    In December, 2017, PPTU wrote a letter to Ms. Amy Eschberger of Colorado Division of Mining and Safety stating that in our professional opinion, the site is too sensitive an area to operate a mine near trout habitat. The quarry operation and its footprint, as proposed in the application, is remiss in addressing the trout population. Another adverse discovery is the geologic hazards at the proposed site. Michele White is a certified professional geologist with an extensive background in evaluating mining proposals. Her evaluation of the drilled core logs and regional structures (faults) precludes positive support of the quarry at this location.

    From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

    There is now a major barrier to the proposed quarry at the old Hitch Rack Ranch on the southwest side of El Paso County. With a close vote three to two vote the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board (CMLRB) denied a mining permit for the quarry.

    Transit Mix wants to close a current quarry on the northwest side of Colorado Springs and open a new one on the old ranch property. It is private property and owners want to go ahead with the deal. There are also some business and political leaders who believe this is good for the local economy.

    Neighbors, environmentalist and other political leaders are strongly opposed. Their list of reasons include, the scar it would create on the mountainside, environmental impact on wildlife, traffic safety, and the potential threat to fragile ground water.

    In the end, just one issue influenced the vote. The board said they had too many questions about the threat to ground water.

    Hitch Rack Ranch quarry proposed site via Pikes Peak Trout Unlimited.

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

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

    #Drought news: D4 (Exceptional Drought) expanded in Four Corners

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


    The southern High Plains’ second wildfire outbreak in less than a week preceded the arrival of storm system that provided much-needed rainfall on April 20-21. Rainfall in the Plains’ drought-affected areas generally totaled around an inch or less. (Additional rain fell across portions of the central and southern Plains on April 24-25 but will be largely reflected next week.) The fires peaked in intensity on April 17, when southwesterly winds fanned flames amid soaring temperatures, but continued into the following day when winds shifted to a northwesterly direction. Oklahoma’s two largest April wildfires—the Rhea Fire (in Dewey County) and the 34 Complex (in Woodward County)—were nearly fully contained by April 24 after destroying more than seven dozen structures and charring approximately 350,000 acres of brush and grass. Meanwhile, drought continued to intensify in parts of the Southwest, where dry, windy weather prevailed. In contrast, another round of heavy rain struck portions of the South and East, as the slow-moving storm system that had produced beneficial rainfall on the southern Plains eventually drifted eastward…


    A striking contrast between drought and non-drought areas persisted in a southwest-to-northeast oriented band stretching across north-central Texas and central Oklahoma. Rain provided modest drought relief in Oklahoma and northern Texas, but did not reach most of the region’s other drought-affected areas. Amarillo, Texas, received precipitation totaling 0.49 inch on April 20-21, boosting its year-to-date total to 0.74 inch (20 percent of normal). Meanwhile, some expansion of dryness (D0) and moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3) was observed across western, central, and southern Texas. By April 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated that topsoil moisture was rated 67% very short to short in Texas and 53% very short to short in Oklahoma. The value in Oklahoma represented a 19-point improvement from the previous week’s value of 72% very short to short. The southern Plains’ rain also aided wildfire containment efforts. Through April 24, U.S. year-to-date wildfires had consumed 0.96 million acres of vegetation, compared to the 10-year average of 0.85 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Just to the east, wet weather persisted in the mid-South, where topsoil moisture was at least one-third surplus on April 22 in Mississippi (49%), Tennessee (46%), and Arkansas (35%)…

    High Plains

    Following the previous week’s significant drought reductions across the northern Plains, there were no further changes during the drought-monitoring period that ended on the morning of April 24. However, some short-term precipitation deficits have been observed during the last month near the Canadian border in North Dakota and Minnesota, and this area will be closely monitored. Through April 24, month-to-date precipitation totaled 0.15 inch (21 percent of normal) in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and 0.28 inch (25 percent) in International Falls, Minnesota. Farther south, high winds and dramatic temperature fluctuations preceded the April 20-21 rainfall event. For example, Dodge City, Kansas, notched consecutive daily-record lows (19 and 23°F, respectively) on April 15-16, followed by a daily-record high of 94°F on April 17. Dodge City also clocked a wind gust to 66 mph on the 17th, shortly after the passage of a strong cold front ended the short-lived hot spell. By April 19, daily-record lows were observed in Kansas locations such as Russell (26°F) and Wichita (31°F). (Russell and Wichita had also reported daily-record lows on April 16—with 18 and 21°F, respectively.) Some additional precipitation arrived on April 24, as the monitoring period ended. In most cases, the precipitation was highly beneficial but did not provide significant or sustained drought relief. On April 22, topsoil moisture was rated 64% very short to short in Kansas and 53% very short to short in Colorado. For both states, that represented an 8-point improvement (from 72 and 61% very short to short, respectively). Winter wheat condition actually declined during the week ending April 22, with the portion of the crop rated very poor to poor increasing from 24 to 29% in Colorado and from 46 to 49% in Kansas…


    Mostly dry weather prevailed during the drought-monitoring period that ended on the morning of April 24, except for some snow in the central Rockies. In eastern Oregon, moderate drought (D1) was expanded where recent dryness has reduced topsoil moisture and caused a deterioration in rangeland and pasture conditions. Statewide, Oregon’s topsoil moisture was rated 26% very short to short by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 22, up from 18% the previous week. On the same date, USDA rated 28% of Oregon’s rangeland and pastures in very poor to poor condition. Farther south, ongoing and intensifying drought continued to threaten water supplies in portions of the Four Corners States. Exceptional drought (D4) was expanded in the Four Corners region, as two smaller D4 areas were merged. Extreme drought (D3) was expanded in parts of eastern Utah and southern Colorado. On April 22 in New Mexico, topsoil moisture was 90% very short to short, while subsoil moisture was 92% very short to short. New Mexico’s winter wheat was rated 71% very poor to poor, while rangeland and pastures were 58% very poor to poor. Arizona’s rangeland and pastures were in even worse shape-79% very poor to poor on April 22, compared to the statewide 5-year average of 34%. In the hardest-hit drought areas, Southwestern snowpack remained abysmal-or had already melted-leaving little hope for spring and summer runoff. Meanwhile, statewide reservoir storage on April 1 stood at 72% of average for the date in Arizona and 70% in New Mexico. Arizona’s Verde River system contained just 44% of its average April 1 storage, down sharply from 133% at the same time a year ago…

    Looking Ahead

    A storm system crossing the Southeast will drift into the Mid-Atlantic States on Friday and reach eastern Canada during the weekend. Meanwhile, a Pacific storm will traverse the Northwest and northern Plains, bearing rain and snow. Five-day precipitation totals could reach 1 to 2 inches or more along the northern Atlantic Coast and from the Pacific Northwest to the northern Rockies. In contrast, dry weather will prevail during the next 5 days in much of the Midwest, as well as southern California and the Desert Southwest.

    The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for May 1 – 5 calls for the likelihood of above-normal precipitation in the Southwest, as well as the central and southern Plains, mid-South, and Midwest. In contrast, generally warmer- and drier-than-normal weather should prevail in the middle and southern Atlantic States, the Pacific Northwest, and northern California.

    From the USDA via The FencePost:

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Mesa and Otero counties in Colorado as primary natural disaster areas due to losses and damages caused by a recent drought.

    Farmers and ranchers in the following contiguous counties in Colorado also qualify for natural disaster assistance. Those counties are: Bent, Delta, Gunnison, Las Animas, Pitkin, Crowley, Garfield, Kiowa, Montrose and Pueblo.

    Farmers and ranchers in the contiguous counties of Grand and San Juan in Utah also qualify for natural disaster assistance.

    Qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for the Farm Service Agency’s emergency (EM) loans, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration of April 12, 2018, to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from the impacts of this disaster.

    Other FSA programs that can provide assistance, but do not require a disaster declaration, include: Operating and Farm Ownership Loans; the Emergency Conservation Program; Livestock Forage Disaster Program; Livestock Indemnity Program; Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program; and the Tree Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA service centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

    From the Associated Press (Ken Miller) via WeatherBug.com:

    Extreme and exceptional drought conditions have contributed to wildfires in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, delaying the growth of or destroying grass and wheat used to feed cattle in spring.

    “Finding hay out here in this part of the state is next to impossible,” according to rancher Darrel Shepherd of Custer, Oklahoma, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) west of Oklahoma City. “Pastureland is really hard to find right now … the wheat, with the drought and all, the wheat is no good.”

    Northwestern Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Panhandle — nearly 20 percent of the state — are rated in exceptional drought, the most severe category. Exceptional drought is also reported in parts of the Texas Panhandle, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and in Utah and Arizona.

    Federal agriculture officials in New Mexico said ranchers may not have feed to maintain their herd sizes and that some are already trimming their herds, while farmers along the Rio Grande are bracing for less water to irrigate their crops.

    In northwestern Oklahoma, two large wildfires that burned about 545 square miles (1412 sq. kilometers) destroyed pastures, but rains this past weekend helped firefighters bring the flames under control and began the process of restoring grassland.

    “This last weekend was a godsend … not enough to erase the drought,” said Oklahoma State University agricultural economist Derrell Peel. “But it’s a first step and the time of year is right for the grass to green up in the next few weeks.”

    Rains are needed to continue through at least the beginning of June in order to prevent Oklahoma ranchers from being faced with downsizing herds, Peel said, but even if that happens, he doesn’t expect any impact on the price of beef.

    “I don’t think this area is big enough,” Peel said. “We’re still seeing an increase in beef production” nationwide.

    Both Shepherd and Woods County Extension Agent Greg Highfill said ranchers in surrounding states are donating as much hay as possible to help keep livestock fed.

    “Because of the drought there isn’t as much extra hay to be donated as in other years,” according to Shepherd. “People are being very generous and giving what extra hay they have.”

    Shepherd said he doesn’t know where the hay is coming from, but is thankful for what has been provided.

    “There’s a lot of hay from out of state being shipped in. We don’t have all we need but we’re getting more in each day,” he said. “You just can’t thank those people enough.”

    From The Associated Press (Kelly P. Kissell):

    The drought is rooted in a dry spell that began in October and is considered “extreme” from southern California to central Kansas. Conditions are even worse in the Four Corners region and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, warranting their description as “exceptional.”


    Climatologists consider the months from October to April to be a “recharge” period, with showers and snow replenishing water supplies in the Southern Plains. However, the most recent significant rain in the area came in early October.

    “The memory of that precipitation has long went out the back door,” Fuchs said. Temperatures have largely been above normal over the same period, triggering evaporation that can carry a lot of moisture away before it has a chance to soak into the ground. There is very little snowpack remaining except on the highest peaks.

    A map Fuchs presented during a conference call with reporters showed a sharp distinction on either side of a line from near Fort Worth, Texas, to near Chicago. Moist areas of Arkansas and Missouri were within 100 miles of arid conditions in Kansas and Oklahoma…

    Wildfires have scarred many areas of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Oklahoma forestry officials said Monday that the Rhea fire, which had burned 448 square miles (1,160 square kilometers) was 74 percent contained but not expected to spread beyond existing fire lines because of higher humidity and lighter winds.

    #Colorado water managers studying #LakePowell levels issues — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

    About 120 water managers gathered Wednesday to discuss how to keep enough water in Lake Powell and avoid a demand from downstream states for more water under the Colorado River Compact, and they agreed to keep studying potential solutions.

    The meeting, held at the Ute Water Conservancy District, brought together members of four Western Slope basin roundtables to discuss the third phase of an ongoing “risk study” that seeks to define how much water might be needed to flow toward Lake Powell during a sustained dry period instead of being put to use growing crops.

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    The basin roundtables operate under the guise of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency charged with planning to meet the state’s water needs and its obligations under the interstate water compact negotiated in 1922.

    If Lake Powell — which today is 52 percent full and at 3,610 feet in elevation — drops below 3,490 feet, then the hydropower plant in Glen Canyon Dam, which backs up the Colorado River to form Lake Powell, won’t be able to continue producing electricity.

    And as the water level in the reservoir falls, it also makes it increasingly hard to release the volume of water necessary for the upper Colorado River basin states to meet their obligation to the lower basin states under the compact.

    “I don’t want to project that it’s coming, but the possibility of it happening exists,” said Karen Kwon, an attorney at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office who works on Colorado River issues, about the potential for a “compact call.”

    And she told the audience of water managers and users that the “hydrology is tanking” as the upper Colorado River basin continues to be mired in an 18-year dry period.

    An ongoing study conducted by a consultant for the Colorado River Water Conservation District has found that a series of severely dry years could produce the need to send 1 million acre-feet — about 10 Ruedi Reservoirs full of water — down to Lake Powell to keep it at sustainable levels.

    “Those are big volumes of water,” Carron said, and not easy to find in a pinch, especially after water in big upstream reservoirs such as Flaming Gorge also has been released to bolster water levels in Lake Powell.

    The water is envisioned to come from ranchers who voluntarily agree to fallow their fields, which in Colorado are mainly fields of alfalfa, in exchange for money, and send the water toward Lake Powell instead of using it for irrigation.

    But there is a long list of unanswered questions about the concept, including where the water from the “conserved consumptive use” effort could be stored until needed.

    John Carron of Hydros Consulting of Boulder, who is leading the water-modeling study, showed a graphic Wednesday of a “hypothetical” reservoir, or “water bank,” near the Colorado-Utah state line that would hold 1 million acre-feet of water, but he also said the saved water could be stored in Lake Powell itself or in existing reservoirs in Colorado.

    “The best place to put it is in Lake Powell,” said Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River District, who continues to work part-time for the district.

    However, right now there is no way, at least from a policy or legal standpoint, for the upper basin states to store water in Lake Powell in a designated, and protected, pool of water within the reservoir, as there is in Lake Mead.

    And, Carron said, trying to “bank” 1 million acre-feet of water in existing reservoirs in the upper basin states is problematic.

    Alden Vander Brink, the manager of the Rio Blanco Water Conservation District in Rangely, and a board member at the Colorado River District, asked why not work toward building new “wet water” storage projects.

    Vander Brink is currently leading an effort to gain approval for a dam and reservoir called the Wolf Creek Reservoir, which would hold up to 1.2 million acre-feet of water from the White River.

    A lot of questions were posed but left unanswered at Wednesday’s meeting, including the true cost of trying to reduce the risk of Lake Powell dropping too low, how water left in rivers and streams could be guaranteed to reach the big reservoir, how a compact call would actually unfold and who it would affect, and how much money it might take to entice ranchers to fallow fields and participate in a large water banking or “demand management” program.

    Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County Commissioner who serves on the Colorado River Basin roundtable, said Wednesday she was concerned that a demand management program doesn’t try to solve a water shortage problem while at the same time allowing new growth and development to make the problem worse.

    She also said the solution to the state’s water shortages should be equally shared on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    At the end of the meeting, none of the attendees disagreed with the proposal to keep studying the issue. A proposed outline of the next phase of the study is to be brought back before the basin roundtables and then to the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board for their review and approval.

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

    2018 #COleg: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB18-1008 (Mussel-free Colorado Act)

    Zebra and Quagga Mussels

    From email from Colorado Parks and Recreation:

    On Tuesday, April 24, 2018, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the Mussel-Free Colorado Act into law in a short ceremony at the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver. The new law provides a stable funding source of $2.4 million for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Program for 2019 and beyond.

    In February, the House passed the bill 44 – 20. The bill passed the Senate 24 – 10 in March.

    “This is a huge win for protecting Colorado’s water,” said CPW Director Bob Broscheid. “Stable funding for the ANS program means a stable future for Colorado.”

    The law requires Colorado residents to purchase a $25 ANS stamp for their boat. Non-residents must purchase a $50 stamp. The new law also:

  • Continues Tier 2 Severance Tax appropriations, when available, to cover the remainder of the $4.5 – $5 million annual cost of ANS program implementation
  • Increases fines for ANS-related violations. The fine for unlawful boat launches without inspection will be raised from $50 to $100. The fine for knowing importation of ANS into the state will be raised from $150 to $500 for a first offense.
  • Allows CPW to charge labor/costs incurred to store and decontaminate intercepted vessels.
    Encourages federal partners to take responsibility for ANS inspection funding at their reservoirs.
  • Why do we need a mussel-free Colorado?

    Zebra and quagga mussels are not native to the nation’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs and are considered our most serious invasive species threat. Adult infestations harm aquatic ecosystems and fisheries by disrupting the food web and outcompeting native species. They cause enormous problems for water infrastructure used for municipal, agriculture and industrial purposes by attaching to, clogging and impairing water storage, treatment and distribution systems.

    Eradicating an adult mussel infestation in an open water body is nearly impossible. Controlling infestations becomes a permanent and expensive part of normal operations post invasion. Colorado has implemented an effective prevention program to stop mussel introduction by inspecting and decontaminating watercraft before they enter our waters and ensuring that users clean, drain and dry their own watercraft in between each use.

    Almost all the states east of Colorado have a zebra or quagga mussel infestation. A mandatory watercraft inspection and decontamination program, coupled with monitoring and education, is the best approach to keep Colorado free of the invasive mussels and other ANS.

    In 2017, Colorado inspectors intercepted 26 boats infested with adult mussels coming in from out of state – a new record. Colorado has intercepted more than 145 boats infested with adult mussels since the ANS Program began in 2008. The number of infested boats increase each year and there have already been six infested boats intercepted in 2018.

    Colorado’s ANS Program was in Jeopardy

    The Colorado ANS Program was authorized by the Colorado Legislature in 2008 utilizing severance tax funds. CPW has leveraged those funds with federal and local grants to fund the ANS Program since inception. However, severance tax is a fluctuating source and federal funds have been reduced in recent years. The Mussel-Free Colorado Act is essential to providing a stable base of funding for the ANS Program to be leveraged with other dollars for the continued protection of water infrastructure, natural resources and maintaining recreational access to lakes and reservoirs. This funding source is critical to protecting our waters and water infrastructure from irreversible invasion.

    For more information about CPW’s ANS Program and the Mussel-Free Colorado Act, visit http://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/ISP-ANS.aspx.

    #ColoradoRiver: The Pueblo Board of Water Works pulls out of 2018 System Conservation Program #COriver

    From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

    Pueblo Water’s decision comes after four states and Denver’s municipal water agency accused the Arizona agency — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District — of undermining Lake Powell elevations by manipulating the complicated supply-and-demand rules that govern water orders.

    “Given our recent knowledge of the actions taken by [CAWCD] we cannot, in good conscience, participate in the program,” Seth Clayton, Pueblo Water’s executive director, wrote in the letter.

    The letter, dated April 18, comes as the Arizona agency is set to meet next week with negotiators for the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The Colorado River is split into two basins with two main reservoirs. The Upper Basin stores water in Lake Powell and the Lower Basin stores water in Lake Mead, 30 miles outside of Las Vegas.

    The Arizona agency at the center of the controversy, CAWCD, has kept quiet in recent days, despite increasing media attention, so as not to affect the outcome of those discussions.

    The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada are also scheduled to meet on May 2, although that meeting had been scheduled before the letters to CAWCD were reported last week. The commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation had been invited to that meeting.

    The Pueblo letter confirms what Upper Basin water managers feared — that Arizona’s actions would dissuade water users from joining the conservation program. The program, which is in its pilot phase, pays water users to conserve. The hope is that the conserved water, by not leaving the system, will boost the elevation of Lake Powell. The Arizona agency has said it wants to maximize the amount of water it gets from the Upper Basin, which stores water in Lake Powell.

    “[Upper Basin water users] do not want to be putting water into Lake Powell if it gets immediately pulled down to feed this policy that the district is trying to advance,” said James Eklund, who represents the state of Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    CAWCD has said its strategy is to help Arizona prepare for shortage, noting that its actions are permissible under current Colorado River rules. In a statement last week, a spokesperson said: “We have been reaching out to our partners in the Upper Basin, hoping to clarify apparent misunderstandings, and to facilitate in-person, collaborative discussions aimed at finding solutions that will benefit the communities and environment served by this mighty river.”

    First #Ogallala Aquifer Summit recap

    From The High Plains Journal (Jennifer M. Latzke):

    The inaugural Ogallala Aquifer Summit was April 9 and 10. Its goal was to bring together agricultural, municipal, research and industry stakeholders in one room to look at the realities of the aquifer today and create solutions to work toward conserving this vast resource for the future.

    The summit was a product of the state of Kansas’s 50-Year Water Vision Plan, created in 2013. It recognized that the Ogallala Aquifer’s future not only directly affects Kansas, but also neighboring states and that any conservation efforts would need to be multi-state.

    “People are impacted in all eight states by the aquifer,” explained Kansas Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann in his welcome. “The Ogallala Aquifer is the source of water for one-third of our state, and 44.5 percent of our economy is tied to agriculture. We have 3.5 million irrigated acres in Kansas, and 1.4 million of those are irrigated through the Ogallala Aquifer.”


    John Stulp, special counsel to the Governor of Colorado on water, and a former Commissioner of Agriculture of Colorado, farms in eastern Colorado and understands firsthand the importance of the Ogallala Aquifer to agriculture…

    Attendees at the first Ogallala Aquifer Summit, April 9 and 10, Garden City, Kansas, were broken into diversified focus groups by the organizers to better hash out issues that affect all eight states that sit above the aquifer. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

    “We have 12 million irrigated crop acres over the Ogallala Aquifer,” Stulp said. “About $12 billion of revenue is created out of this asset that we sit on top of here.”

    Robert Mace, associate director and the chief water policy officer at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, laid out the history and the current status of the Ogallala Aquifer for participants.

    Large irrigated region

    Today, about 43,000-acre feet of water is pumped each day from the Ogallala Aquifer across the High Plains. It accounts for the largest area of irrigated cropland in the world and is 31 percent of the total irrigated land in the U.S., Mace said.

    “We have seen more than 150 feet of decline in parts of Texas,” Mace said. While there are some parts that are rising, overall the saturated thickness of the aquifer has declined. In some areas of Texas, that’s more than 50 percent of the aquifer now depleted.

    Over the two-day summit, participants shared information about scientific research into the status of the aquifer, the politics of the eight states above the aquifer, and measures that can be taken to extend its life.

    Producers look to innovate

    Darren Buck farms on the border between Kansas and Oklahoma, and he is staring at the end of the useful life of the aquifer under his farm ground. To extend the life of his wells to the next generation and beyond, he’s switched to no-till and strip-till farming, which helps him conserve as many drops of 17 inches of annual rainfall as is possible.

    “We also have telemetry on our center pivots,” he said. This allows him to be able to stop and change the speed and direction of his pivots. By monitoring his pivots remotely he can catch wasteful situations quicker, thus preserving the water he’s pumping.

    “On one of my pivots, I can apply an amount of water comparable to two days water supply for a town of 2,000 people,” Buck said. “One pivot, over 10 hours.”

    Additionally Buck practices track management, which sounds simple but can save a lot of water when properly applied in clay loam soils like his.

    “We run our pivots routinely 1,500 or more hours a year, and we get tracks,” he said. “At the end of the season, the evapotranspiration need of the corn starts to tail off, so the need for water on the corn goes down. But, if you get a rain shower, you don’t let the pivots stop because they’ll get stuck if you shut them down. And if you need them in a hot and dry snap to help corn fill properly to the end of the season, it could be a problem. That’s why you see pivots running when it’s raining.” Being able to shut down the water and start back up again saves a lot of water.

    Summits help, official says

    Jim Butler, of the Kansas Geological Survey, brought home the importance of summits like this. The survey has new modeling framework that accounts for the water levels of the aquifer and the water use data from the wells on it to answer the question of how much do we need to reduce pumping on the aquifer to keep it at current levels?

    The survey found that on the far western third of Kansas, directly over the bulk of the aquifer, pumping would have to reduce by 27 to 32 percent to keep the aquifer at current levels.

    “If you want to reduce the rate of decline by half, then you take those numbers and divide by two and see that a relatively modest reduction in pumping could have a large impact on the decline rate,” Butler said.

    Regulating the aquifer through state statutes and policies can be tricky because each state deals with individual water rights by judicial precedence and politics that go back a 100 years or more. Organizers said that was one major reason it’s critical to have summits like this regularly to get stakeholders actively involved in solving problems and sharing knowledge.

    Garden City, Kansas, back in the day

    From Kansas State University:

    Meeting helps citizens, officials from eight states to share ideas and concerns

    More than 200 people from agriculture and other industries came together April 9-10 to discuss the challenges and opportunities for preserving groundwater in the Ogallala Aquifer region, a large resource that touches parts of eight states from South Dakota to Texas.

    The Ogallala Aquifer Summit marked a key accomplishment in the 50-year water vision for Kansas, a plan set forth in 2013 by then Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

    “The Ogallala was one of the two marquee parts of the governor’s 50-Year Water Vision, along with the reservoirs in the eastern part of the state,” said Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, which organized the summit along with Kansas State University and Colorado State University.

    “This conference is very important in helping us achieve our goals under the 50-year water plan that the governor set us on three years ago.”

    Dan Devlin, the director of the Kansas Water Research Institute at Kansas State University, noted that the meeting was also in response to citizen’s requests.

    “It was really interesting back when Gov. Brownback was doing the meetings for the 50-Year Water Vision for Kansas, we heard at meeting after meeting from citizens that they wanted to talk to the other Ogallala states,” Devlin said. “They said, ‘we want to know what they’re doing. We want to know what we can learn from them and we can also share things.’”

    The Ogallala Aquifer underlies 175,000 square miles, or about 112 million acres in parts of eight states. For nearly 80 years, farmers and communities have been using the aquifer for agriculture and public water supplies. The Ogallala supports about 30 percent of all U.S. crop and livestock production, accounting for an estimated $35 billion in agricultural products annually.

    But the resource is dwindling…quickly. Southern parts of the aquifer – including many areas of Texas and New Mexico – are nearly dry and in western Kansas, an extremely productive agricultural region, wells are slowing down as the amount of water available to farmers is becoming increasingly scarce.

    “When we are dealing with issues like the Ogallala Aquifer, addressing them from one state’s perspective is just not the best way to get something done,” said Jackie McClaskey, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, who participated in the two-day meeting.

    “By pulling together all of the states impacted by the Ogallala it allows us to bring lots of great ideas and lots of minds and lots of folks together to really say how can we work together to address concerns in the Ogallala, whether that be decline or economic conditions surrounding the Ogallala…all the different types of issues that not only Kansans are concerned about, but all of the folks that live on the Ogallala.”

    Summit participants heard presentations on science and research, technology, producer practices and water policy, and shared their views on each during small group sessions. Their opinions were compiled and will be part of a report due out later this year.

    “For me, the importance of this meeting is just kind of listening to some of the concerns in the other states,” said Harold Grall, a farmer near Dumas, Texas. “We’re all pumping out of the same aquifer. Each of the states has its own set of rules and regulations on how they conserve water and I like hearing those different ideas.”

    He added: “At times, it just seems because we’re depleting a finite source, that our time is limited, but talking to the people around here helps us to be hopeful that maybe we’ve got a longer time than we think.”

    A common theme at the meeting was that farmers want to do what’s right and sustain the resource for generations to come. It wasn’t a message lost on 16-year-old Grace Roth, an officer in FFA and a Kansas Youth Water Advocate.

    “It encourages me and also makes me feel kind of relieved because these people have a genuine care for the future and these people want to do something for our generation,” Roth said. “They want to take action today so that we can ensure our future; we can ensure the future not only of agriculture but also the future of our world.”

    Roth, who gave an impassioned 10-minute talk during the meeting, said every person should be interested about issues that help to preserve and protect water.

    “Just imagine if one day you turn on your sink and nothing came out,” she said. “How would you continue on with your life? It’s a very scary thought of not being able to prosper in the future.”

    Much of the university research currently being conducted in the Ogallala Aquifer region is a result of a Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. CAP grants are designed to involve researchers from many universities and organizations, and to communicate information to citizens.

    “We want producers to be the voice that is spreading the message,” said the Kansas Water Office’s Streeter. “It’s one thing for ag departments, universities, water office folks to get up and tell these success stories, but it’s much better for the producers themselves to do it, and that voice does get heard by other producers.”

    McClaskey added: “What I think is unique about (the Ogallala Summit) is that we have universities engaged, we have government agencies engaged, but most important we have farmers and ranchers engaged. And those are the folks that are going to hold the rest of us accountable to keep moving forward and make sure that progress happens.”

    Learn more about work in the Ogallala Aquifer region by visiting https://www.ogallalawater.org.

    @CWCB_DNR: April 2018 #Drought Update

    Here’s the update from the CWCB/DNR (Taryn Finnesey/Tracy Kosloff):

    Exceptional drought has been introduced into the four corners region of Colorado as persistent precipitation deficits continue. While early April storms have helped improve conditions throughout northern Colorado, the southern half of the state remains extremely dry. Conditions are somewhat tempered by strong reservoir storage, but water providers are already seeing increased demands and implementing restrictions. Agriculture is also seeing loss of winter wheat and strong winds have fueled early fires. Water year-to-date accumulation at Mesa Verde is the lowest in its 95 year record.

  • As of April 19, exceptional drought has been introduced in southwest Colorado, covering 4 percent of the four corners region, primarily in Montezuma and La Plata County. Extreme drought, D3, covers 21 percent of the state; severe drought 29 percent and 16 percent is classified as moderate drought. An additional 15 percent of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions (see image on reverse side).
  • As of April 19, statewide snowpack at SNOTEL sites is 69 percent of average. However, there is a stark contrast between conditions in the southern half of the state and the northern half. The Gunnison basin has the lowest snowpack on record while the Southwest basins and Rio Grande have already achieved their peak snowpack and have now seen a 50 percent melt off of their snowpack.
  • Many southern basins’ year –to-date precipitation, based on SNOTEL is tracking near 2002; while other sites have the lowest in the nearly 40 year record (see image on reverse side).
  • Reservoir storage statewide is at 114 percent of normal, with all basins above average. The Arkansas basin is reporting the highest average storage at 131 percent. The Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan have the lowest storage levels in the state at 101 percent of normal. While still above average, storage levels have begun to decline from previous months.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values have declined for April 1, with much of the western slope classified as extremely dry. These values are largely driven by below average streamflow forecasts. The sub- basins with the highest values are a result of large reservoirs such as Lake Granby and John Martin Reservoir (See image on reverse side).
  • Streamflow forecasts are well below average for the vast majority of the state with the South Platte the only basin with any near normal projections. The southern half of the state continues to see declines, and the southwest corner has streamflow forecasts below 50 percent of average.
  • Longterm forecasts indicate below average precipitation into May coupled with increased likelihood of above average temperatures.
  • Statewide snowpack basin-filled map April 23, 2018 via the NRCS. Note Rio Grande did not render correctly. It was at 31% of normal on April 22, 2018.

    Statewide SNOTEL water year-to-date precipitation is below average across much of the state but particularly in the south with some sites in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basins recording all time lows.

    Colorado Drought Monitor April 17, 2018.

    Southern Colorado has continued to see an expansion of drought conditions through the snow accumulation season, with exceptional conditions now present in Montezuma and La Plata counties.

    April 1 Surface Water Supply Index values are well below normal for the western half of the state, with the driest regions in the four corners area.

    #Snowpack/Runoff news: North Platte River Basin best in state = 102% of normal

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April, 24, 2018 via the NRCS.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    Despite subpar snow accumulation in the heart of winter 2017/18, the snowpack in the mountains near Steamboat Springs — and with it, the water supply that refresh the river — has continued deeper into the spring than is normal.

    Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service told Steamboat Today in May 2017 that snowpack typically peaks in this region April 10. The good news for irrigators and paddlers is that the snowpack has continued to build into April 2018.

    Improbably, the meager snowpack that accumulated in January and February has been compensated for by heavy spring snow at elevations above 9,000 feet. And that bodes well for filling reservoirs and fueling kayak play parks.

    The Yampa peaked at 2,640 cfs in 2017.

    The view of the upper Yampa Valley from the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass this week belies the amount of water yet to flow from the southern end of the Park Range and feed spring runoff in the Yampa River.

    From a pullout on U.S. Highway 40, it was plain to see April 21 that the valley floor was completely devoid of snow and low elevation runoff from the hay meadows is complete.

    The Yampa River was flowing well below the median for the date at 320 cubic feet per second April 22, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. But that same day, the river began to rise steeply until it reached 600 cfs on April 24.

    That flow was still a little more than 200 cfs below median for the date. But the current trend doesn’t necessarily signal a weak spring runoff.

    The Conservation Service was reporting Tuesday that the water stored in the remaining snow in the mountains of the Yampa/White River Basin has climbed to 89 percent of median this spring. On the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass, the number is 93 percent of median.

    Colorado snow survey supervisor Brian Domonkos reported this month that Northwest Colorado represents the healthiest snowpack in the state. And the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, predicts the Yampa will begin to climb through April 29 to almost 700 cfs when the National Weather Service expects daily high temperatures on the valley floor to range into the mid- to high-60s on Friday and Saturday.

    From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

    After a winter of below-average snowfall, Steamboat Springs water providers have implemented Stage 2 water restrictions that will go into effect Tuesday.

    The restrictions will impact customers of Mount Werner Water, the city of Steamboat Springs, Steamboat II Metro District and Tree Haus Metro District.

    Among the restrictions, homeowners will only be allowed to water their lawns on certain days in an effort to conserve water…

    As of Tuesday, the snowpack on Buffalo Pass was 91 percent of average. For most of the winter the snowpack was below 80 percent of average.

    Before enacting restrictions, water providers also look at long-term weather forecasts.

    According to the three-month outlook prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there is a 33 percent chance that precipitation in the region will be below average during the next three months. There is a 40 percent chance that the temperatures will be above average…

    During Stage 2 water restrictions, no outdoor watering is allowed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

    People with an odd-numbered address are only allowed to water on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Those with an even-numbered address can water Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. No one is allowed to water on Wednesdays.

    If one irrigation system is used by multiple addresses, either schedule can be used.

    Special permits can be issued for new lawns and trees.

    People washing their vehicles at home should use a bucket and a spring-loaded hose nozzle.

    Drinking water should not be used to clean hard surfaces like driveways and sidewalks.

    Goldman environmental prize: top awards dominated by women for first time — The Guardian

    Goldman environment prizewinners 2018: (clockwise from top left) Manny Calonzo, Francia Márquez, Nguy Thi Khanh, LeAnne Walters, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, Claire Nouvian. Photograph: 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize

    From The Goldman Environmental Prize:

    We are thrilled to introduce the Goldman Environmental Prize winners for 2018! Each of these individuals has moved mountains to protect the environment and their communities, and changed the world in ways large and small. Get to know these incredible Prize winners and learn more about how you can support their work.

    Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, South Africa

    As grassroots activists, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid built a broad coalition to stop the South African government’s massive secret nuclear deal with Russia. On April 26, 2017, the High Court ruled that the $76 billion nuclear power project was unconstitutional—a landmark legal victory that protected South Africa from an unprecedented expansion of the nuclear industry and production of radioactive waste.

    Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam

    Khanh Nguy Thi used scientific research and engaged Vietnamese state agencies to advocate for sustainable long-term energy projections in Vietnam. Highlighting the cost and environmental impacts of coal power, she partnered with state officials to reduce coal dependency and move toward a greener energy future.

    Claire Nouvian, France

    A tireless defender of the oceans and marine life, Claire Nouvian led a focused, data-driven advocacy campaign against the destructive fishing practice of deep-sea bottom trawling, successfully pressuring French supermarket giant and fleet owner Intermarché to change its fishing practices. Her coalition of advocates ultimately secured French support for a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling that led to an EU-wide ban.

    Manny Calonzo, The Philippines

    Manny Calonzo spearheaded an advocacy campaign that persuaded the Philippine government to enact a national ban on the production, use, and sale of lead paint. He then led the development of a third-party certification program to ensure that paint manufacturers meet this standard. As of 2017, 85% of the paint market in the Philippines has been certified as lead safe.

    LeeAnne Walters, United States

    LeeAnne Walters led a citizens’ movement that tested the tap water in Flint, Michigan, and exposed the Flint water crisis. The results showed that one in six homes had lead levels in water that exceeded the EPA’s safety threshold. Walters’ persistence compelled the government to take action and ensure that residents of Flint have access to clean water.

    Francia Márquez, Colombia

    A formidable leader of the Afro-Colombian community, Francia Márquez organized the women of La Toma and stopped illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. She exerted steady pressure on the Colombian government and spearheaded a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women to the nation’s capital, resulting in the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from her community.

    Click here to view the photo gallery.

    From The Guardian (Jonathan Watts):

    The world’s foremost environmental prize has announced more female winners than ever before, recognising the increasingly prominent role that women are playing in defending the planet.

    The struggle for a healthy planet may sometimes feel like a series of defeats, but this year’s Goldman environmental prize celebrates six remarkable success stories, five of them driven by women.

    From an anti-nuclear court ruling against former South African president Jacob Zuma and Russian leader Vladimir Putin to a campaign that nudged the Vietnamese government from coal to renewable energy, the winners – unveiled on Earth day yesterday – are all grassroots activists who have taken on powerful vested interests.

    In Latin America, the winner is Francia Márquez, an Afro-Colombian community leader who led a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women from the Amazon to Bogotá that prompted the government to send troops to remove illegal miners who were polluting rivers with cyanide and mercury.

    Like many previous winners, she faces immense risks. The dangers of environmental activism have been evident in the murder of two Goldman-prize recipients in the past two years.

    The 2015 winner Berta Cáceres – a Honduran indigenous rights and anti-dam campaigner, was killed less than a year after collecting the award. Ten months later, a 2005 winner – Mexican activist Isidro Baldenegro López – was gunned down in the Sierra Madre mountain range. Earlier this month, one of last year’s winners, Rodrigue Katembo – a park ranger in the Virunga sanctuary for mountain gorillas – lost six of his colleagues in a massacre by militia groups.

    Márquez said insecurity is also a fact of life in her campaign.

    “We constantly receive death threats from militias, leaders, organisations and communities. Protecting the environment and land will always result in dispute between those who want the territory to live and those who want it to fill their pockets with money,” she told the Guardian. “This award is a recognition of the collective struggle of all peoples in the world who care for the environment … and all the leaders who have been killed for the cause of caring for our common home.”

    A law student and a single mother of two, the 35-year-old has been an environment and community activist since she joined a campaign against a hydroelectric dam at the age of 13.

    The increasingly prominent role of women in environmental activism has been recognised by this year’s prizes. Since 1990, six awards – one for each habitable continent – have been announced by the Goldman prize foundation, which was set up by an member of the Levi Strauss family who made a fortune in the insurance business.

    This is the first time that five of the six are women. The winners include South African anti-nuclear activists Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, Vietnamese clean-energy advocate Nguy Thi Khanh, US clean-water defender LeeAnne Walters, and French marine-life champion Claire Nouvian. The one male winner is Philippine anti-lead campaigner Manny Calonzo.

    Márquez says she will use the award to promote a new mode of economics and politics based on life-giving “maternal love” rather than “dead” extractivism.

    “The first thing we need is to be more aware of the historical moment in which we find ourselves: the planet is being destroyed, it’s that simple, and if we do nothing to avoid it we will we will be part of that destruction,” she said. “Our time has come, we must act, we have a responsibility to future generations to leave a better world, in which taking care of life is more important than producing cumulative wealth.”

    R.I.P. Steve Fearn

    Steve Fearn via the Colorado Water Congress.

    Steve Fearn

    From Silverton, in the heart of the San Juan Mountains high on the Animas River,
    in between Red Mountain Pass and Molas Pass

    flowing through Durango up into Lake Nighthorse

    Steve Fearn represented Southwestern Colorado on the Board of the Colorado
    Foundation for Water Education 2011 to 2016

    bridging the Great Divide tirelessly.

    Sure, steady, a wise and patient counselor, he held and served all of Colorado
    in the highest respect.

    You are with us, Steve!

    Greg Hobbs (April 23, 2018)

    Steve Fearn. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Longtime Silverton resident wanted to bring back mining

    Steve Fearn, one of the founders of the Animas River Stakeholders Group who was involved with multiple water boards, and who at one time owned the Gold King Mine, died last week at his home in Silverton. He was 74.

    It is believed he died from a dormant strain of malaria that he caught while working at mines in Indonesia in the 1980s, La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith said Monday. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday.

    “I think one of the main things about Steve is that even though he often disagreed with people, he was always looking for some common ground,” said Peter Butler, another founder of the stakeholders group.

    Fearn was raised in Boulder and received a civil engineering degree from the University of Colorado-Boulder, according to Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

    Eventually, Fearn began his career building power plants, and was one of the lead engineers for the Craig Station Power Plant in Craig and the Hayden Generating Station near Steamboat Springs, Butler said.

    Eventually, Fearn found his way to the Western Slope in the 1970s, working for a time at the mill for the Idarado Mine in Telluride, Butler said.

    However, Fearn planted roots in Silverton when he moved there in the 1970s.

    “He did do some work on several of the different mines,” Butler said. “He’s been underground in a few of those mines up there.”

    In the early 1990s, after Silverton’s last mine closed and issues over water quality in the Animas River watershed became a growing concern, Fearn and others formed the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    At the time, many people believed the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Colorado imposed water-quality standards that didn’t take into account natural loading of heavy, potentially toxic metals into the waterways.

    The stakeholders group was then tasked with drafting more realistic water-quality goals, and eventually evolved into a group that conducted numerous cleanup projects throughout the watershed.

    Butler said there was some level of conflict in the forming of the stakeholders group, as interests were divided among the mining industry and environmentalists.

    Former miners even circulated petitions calling for the stakeholders group to get out of town, Butler said.

    “He was always the level-headed voice from the mining industry,” Butler said.

    Butler credited Fearn with taking the lead on many remediation projects throughout the years, including placing bulkheads on the Kohler Tunnel and the Mogul Mine.

    However, critics of the stakeholders group say the group was an attempt to delay an all-out cleanup under the EPA’s Superfund program. While the stakeholders have helped improve water quality in the basin, major pollution sources outside the scope of the group’s purview has held back any major headway in accomplishing goals like restoring aquatic life in the Animas River from Silverton to Durango.

    Fearn, over the years, was one of the staunchest opponents to Superfund, arguing the designation would eliminate any chance of mining’s return to Silverton and place a stigma on the town that would hinder tourism.

    “He wanted to revive mining … and he didn’t make any bones about it,” said San Juan County Judge Anthony Edwards. “He wanted to bring an economy where people were paid living wages, and he believed mining was the best option for that.”

    Fearn himself tried to bring back Silverton’s dying mining industry over the years. In 2000, he purchased the Gold King Mine. He then attempted to get the Pride of the West mill at Howardsville, north of Silverton, back in operation.

    Butler said Fearn believed it was better to make mining viable in the U.S., where there is some level of environmental and labor force regulations, rather than other countries without those rules in place.

    “He believed you may be doing a lot more damage to the Earth by sending mining to different countries,” Butler said.

    However, due to a complex entanglement of lawsuits, Fearn and his mining ventures were foreclosed on around 2004. The Gold King Mine was then purchased by Todd Hennis in 2005.

    The EPA in August 2015 caused a mine blowout at the Gold King Mine while working on a cleanup project at the site. The spill released 3 million gallons of mine waste laced with heavy metals into the Animas River.

    In fall 2016, the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which encompasses nearly 50 mining-related sites throughout the Animas watershed, was officially declared a Superfund site.

    Fearn was named in a lawsuit filed by New Mexico over the spill. He was not considered a “potentially responsible party” – a term the agency uses for people or companies it regards as financially responsible for a cleanup, EPA said Monday.

    Fearn also served on numerous water-related boards. He represented San Juan County on the Southwestern Water Conservation District for 22 years, serving 10 of those years as vice president.

    “He was always willing to listen and find solutions,” Whitehead said. “He didn’t just say no, he looked for alternatives and worked hard to do that.”

    Butler said Fearn is credited for getting the water conservation district to fund projects that would improve water quality. He also served on the working group that eventually produced the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act.

    Fearn was ousted as a representative, however, by San Juan County commissioners in February 2017 after they said Fearn’s representation no longer reflected the county’s values.

    “Historically, San Juan County has been largely dominated by mining interests, and Steve Fearn is very much associated with those interests,” county attorney Paul Sunderland said at the time. “But the board’s interests have shifted more toward recreation.”

    Whitehead said Fearn was named a director emeritus despite being replaced on the board.

    “He will be missed greatly,” Whitehead said. “He was a good guy and a friend.”

    Edwards said more information will be forthcoming on a memorial service to be held sometime in May.

    Gold King Mine Entrance after blow out on August 5, 2015. Photo via EPA.

    Letters to Arizona: Capping Colorado River use – News on TAP

    Water crisis in the West could be exacerbated by one utility gaming the system.

    Source: Letters to Arizona: Capping Colorado River use – News on TAP

    2018 #COleg: HB18-1199 (Aquifer Storage-and-recovery Plans)

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Don Coram):

    Most people do not realize that managing water in the West represents a larger effort than putting a man on the moon.

    The wells, reservoirs and ditches needed to direct water for both agriculture and municipal uses have been a major accomplishment of mankind. Many forget that the land we live on was once abandoned by civilizations because of drought. To secure the future of water in the West, there is much more work to be done.

    I am happy to be introducing legislation this year that both directs funds to the advancement of water projects in Colorado, and legislation that would allow for aquifer storage and recovery — two major components in the immediate future for Colorado water.

    For years we have been drilling wells and pulling water out of the aquifers bellow us. In states like California and Texas, the aquifers have been overused, leading to compaction. This compaction destroys one of our most important natural resources. Colorado needs to work toward saving these natural reservoirs so that we can use them in the future.

    Rep. Marc Catlin, of Montrose, and I began a very important bill when he introduced HB 18-1199. This bill is referred to as the aquifer recovery and storage bill here at the capitol. What it creates is a process for the Ground Water Commission to approve aquifer storage and recovery plans. This is very important to offsetting how much water we are pulling from our wells and it will help avoid the compaction and eventual collapse of our aquifers in Colorado.

    HB18-1199 was signed by the governor on April 9.

    Above the ground, Rep. Jeni Arndt, of Fort Collins, and I have been hard at work trying to fund water resources projects in Colorado. SB18-218 appropriates $36 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board construction fund or the Department of Natural Resources to fund projects such as satellite monitoring systems, water forecast programs and the continuation of watershed restoration programs.

    The advancement of these projects allows us to have more control over water resources in the state of Colorado, allowing for us to control our own future. This year’s water forecasts are grim and are concerning to many. It is important — even in years when we are fortunate to have adequate water — that we continue to plan and build for the worst. Appropriating these funds will allow us to continue to do so. It will allow our cities to grow, our farmers to farm, mines to mine and our rivers to flow.

    Water is very important for the Western Slope. Multiple states, millions of people and another nation rely on us being responsible with our water. This is why we work so hard to bring legislation to further our water interest, and we thank you for the opportunity to make this happen.

    @CAPArizona management of diversion for #LakeMead raises questions

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon/Bret Jaspers):

    The dispute centers on interpretations of a set of guidelines water managers agreed to in 2007, which called for conservation and a basin-wide approach to water management. Those guidelines are also linked to the fate of the watershed’s two biggest reservoirs: Lake Powell and Lake Mead. If Mead drops too low, Powell sends more water to balance it out.

    The Upper Colorado River Commission and Denver Water accused the Central Arizona Project, managed by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District (CAWCD), of manipulating their water orders to keep Lake Mead from dipping to a level where a shortage would be declared, while keeping it low enough to get more water from Lake Powell’s reserves.

    Central Arizona Project (CAP) officials say they’re ordering water wisely under the guidelines and that they’ve done nothing wrong…

    The feud pulls back the curtain enough to give us all a glimpse at some truths about how we manage arguably the Western U.S.’s most important water source:

    1. No one person is in charge of the Colorado River.

    Given the Colorado River’s importance to life in the West — like the fact it provides water to 40 million people in the country’s driest reaches — one would think there’s some group of people who oversee how the river is divvied up.

    But there isn’t.

    Management of the river is brought to life by an amalgamation of compacts, treaties and more than a century of case law often referred to as the “Law of the River.” The actors in the Basin — like cities, farmers, irrigation districts, the federal government and conservation groups — all know those rules, built on a foundation called the Colorado River Compact. The compact is a 1922 agreement among all states that receive the river’s water. To this day, it receives healthy doses of both praise and derision in Westerners’ conversations about it.

    2. Public shaming is how water managers police themselves.

    Because there’s no police force regularly checking in on big water users within the Colorado River Basin, most of the enforcement of rules and norms comes down to the water users themselves.

    The letters sent to CAP are a great example of how simple norm-breaking can quickly turn into a multi-state water feud. CAP officials were not coy about their strategy, taking to Twitter to blast out an infographic of their attempt to keep Lake Mead at a “sweet spot,” ensuring additional water from Lake Powell. It was a way to push back against a proposal from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey that would give the state more control over some water conservation. They communicated the strategy to a room of 20 reporters in late February.

    But in the eyes of the Upper Basin, CAP crossed a line.

    “Although we have heard these things, we certainly have not seen it become what appears such a blatant, actual publicly-stated policy of CAWCD,” says Don Ostler, the Upper Colorado River Commission’s executive director.

    No one accused CAP of breaking the rules. Instead the complaints were that CAP was being sneaky and manipulative.

    And how do you bring someone back into the fold who’s perceived as going rogue? You shame them, says Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado Boulder.

    Some of Kenney’s work has received funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also provides funding for KUNC’s Colorado River coverage.

    “The [enforcement] mechanism is usually a social mechanism,” Kenney says. “And the mechanism is all of the other parties get in your face and say, ‘Hey, come on. This isn’t really the spirit of what we’re doing here, let’s get back to working cooperatively.’”

    3. The weather plays a role.

    The winter of 2018 was pretty dry. The flow into Lake Powell is currently projected to be 46 percent of average during the highest runoff months of April, May, June and July.

    The drought that has plagued the southwestern U.S. is now in its 18th year, leaving some to wonder whether this drought is a glimpse at the future in the Colorado River Basin. Warmer temperatures are already sapping the river’s flow.

    If this had been a wet year with high snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, there’s a good chance the accusatory letters would’ve never been sent, Kenney says. But scarcity can sometimes lead to conflict

    4. This dust up could necessitate federal intervention.

    If there’s one thing that most water managers along the river agree on, it’s that they’d rather not live their lives under fiat from the federal government. Even though the decentralized method of river management is sometimes messy, there’s an aversion to federal intervention written into the DNA of the West.

    That’s why it’s surprising to see Colorado River District general manager Andy Mueller telling Colorado Public Radio’s Grace Hood that it might be time to bring in the Bureau of Reclamation to force everyone to play nice. That could be a negotiating tactic to get CAP to the table (again, the aversion to federal intervention runs deep).

    Still, anytime you see a water manager calling on the Bureau of Reclamation for help in negotiating, it’s notable.

    5. This dispute could reignite stalled talks.

    No one likes being locked in an intractable argument with a colleague, even if one side is pretty sure they’re right. In the history of Colorado River management, Doug Kenney says this barely registers as a serious fight. Go back at least one generation if you want to see brawls over the river.

    “This sort of thing happened all the time,” he says. “There was a lot of distrust and a lot of tension and a lot of name-calling.”

    For years now the latest generation of river managers patted themselves on the back for how well they work together. Still, talks to hammer out a Drought Contingency Plan among Lower Basin water managers have stalled, and the 2007 guidelines at the heart of this current dispute are set to expire and will have to be renegotiated in the next couple years.

    All this bluster could lend itself well toward getting players to the bargaining table sooner than later, Kenney says.

    U.S. Secretary of @USDA Sonny Perdue to address Water in the West Symposium

    McNichols Civic Center Building, Denver. Photo credit: Tsunami Publicity

    From Colorado State University (Tiana Nelson):

    Current United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Former US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack are among the experts joining Colorado State University’s inaugural Water in the West Symposium on April 26-27, 2018 at McNichols Civic Center Building, 144 W. Colfax Ave., Denver.

    The Symposium will bring more than 370 participants and 30 leading water authorities from across the nation to speak to the future of water in the Western region.

    “When you think about water and the variety of uses that we put water to. It’s an amazing natural resource and something obviously that life depends on,” said Vilsack, who joined CSU as a special advisor on the National Western Center project in April 2017, has been key to visioning the Symposium.

    “It’s not just life that depends on [water], economic opportunity depends on it, the opportunity to enjoy and entertain and to recreate depends on it, the opportunity to have safety and security in your home depends on it, your public health depends on it, it’s an amazing resource and it’s one, frankly, that most of us take for granted,” he said.

    The Symposium will seek to understand water issues from a multidisciplinary perspective and set the stage for the research, policy work, and outreach focus for the future Water Resources Center, the first building to be constructed on the new National Western Center campus, and will address topics such as:

    • Research and innovation in water across sectors
    • Financing water projects
    • Federal perspectives on Western water issues
    • Connections between food, energy, and water in the West

    “I think the time has come to really understand the role that water plays in our lives, to treat it as the precious natural resource that it is and to figure out ways that we can ensure that future generations will have sufficient water to do all of the variety of activity that water currently does today,” said Vilsack.

    Vilsack said the event is key to communicating the urgency of addressing water issues and bringing leadership across business, agriculture, recreation, conservation, and a variety of other sectors to the table to begin the necessary work to identify solutions.

    “I think the time has come to really understand the role that water plays in our lives. To treat it as the precious natural resource that it is, and to figure out ways that we can ensure that future generations will have sufficient water to do the variety of activities that water does today,” Vilsack said.

    #Drought news: A look back at the development of drought across the southwestern U.S.

    Gif via NOAA

    From Weather Nation (Rebecca Lindsey):

    At the start of the year, only a few small areas of extreme drought existed in the contiguous United States, the largest of them in Oklahoma and South Dakota. As the season advanced, extreme drought conditions expanded from Oklahoma into Texas and Kansas, with detached pockets also appearing in Arizona and New Mexico by mid-February.

    By mid-March, drought in the panhandle of Oklahoma had reached “exceptional” status, and severe drought had pushed northward from Arizona and New Mexico into Utah and Colorado. As of mid-April, parts of seven Southwest states had progressed into exceptional drought.

    Drought impacts are piling up. Endangered fish in the Rio Grande had to be rescued and relocated to wetter stretches as parts of the river in New Mexico dried up. In Arizona and New Mexico, birds and elk have been observed coming to stock ponds and yards for water and food as natural sources of surface water and vegetation become scarce.

    In Colorado, livestock operators are hauling water for cows and sheep as stock ponds and streams dry up, and farmers along the Middle Rio Grande in New Mexico have been told to expect half their normal irrigation allotment. Fire danger is extremely high for so early in the season, and burn bans are in place across many counties and forest service districts in multiple states.

    Air Force working toward innovative groundwater cleanup solution

    The team responsible for the development of the enhanced contact electrical discharge plasma reactor, a novel method for degrading poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). Professors Selma Mededovic Thagard and Thomas Holsen with Nicholas Multari and Chase Nau-Hix (shaved head), pose in the CAMP lab, October 6, 2017.

    From Schriever Air Force Base (Shannon Carabajal):

    The Air Force is working closely with leading academic researchers to solve a global challenge: cleaning groundwater contaminated with Perfluorooctane Sulfonate and Perfluorooctanoic Acid, known as PFOS and PFOA.

    The Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Broad Agency Announcement program began the charge toward finding better, faster and more sustainable solutions for cleaning groundwater contaminated with PFOS and PFOA in 2011. Since then, AFCEC has awarded more than $7 million in contracts for innovative technologies to better understand and remediate the two chemicals, said Monique Nixon, AFCEC BAA coordinator.

    PFOS and PFOA are two manmade chemicals found in many products around the world, including firefighting foam formerly used by the military and commercial airports to combat petroleum-based fires. The chemicals were also used widely in many water and stain-resistant products including nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric and carpet, and food packaging.

    “Most people have been exposed to (PFOS and PFOA),” according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and researchers are beginning to study long-term health effects. The EPA issued a provisional short-term health advisory for the chemicals in 2009, followed by a drinking water health advisory in 2016.

    Though EPA health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory, AFCEC is aggressively identifying, responding to and preventing future drinking water contamination at Air Force bases around the country. As regulations and standards evolve, the team’s goals may eventually expand to include groundwater cleanup, a much bigger endeavor requiring a different approach.

    Currently, the Air Force primarily uses granular activated carbon filters to clean drinking water contaminated with the chemicals. Though the filters are very effective, there are drawbacks, said Cornell Long, team lead for AFCEC’s PFOS and PFOA response team.

    “Carbon filtration systems transfer (the compounds) from one medium – the water — to another — the carbon filter — so there is still the challenge of managing and disposing of the filter media. One of the Air Force’s goals is to find a technology that destroys PFOS and PFOA to the basic elements or at least to safe, simple compounds,” Long said.

    The BAA program seeks to identify that technology. Ongoing work includes a project by the Colorado School of Mines focused on using a high-pressure membrane filtration system in combination with a photochemical process designed to destroy the chemicals.

    Another project showing promise is new technology developed by researchers at Clarkson University which cleans contaminated water using an electrical discharge plasma. The process requires no chemical additions, produces no waste, and destroys and breaks PFOS and PFOA down into less toxic products that either remain in the water, or are released into the atmosphere as harmless gases, according to Selma Mededovic Thagard, an associate professor with Clarkson University’s Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering.

    “Our system is ready to be scaled up; it’s nearly finished and it’s one of the most effective and efficient technologies available today for the treatment of PFOS and PFOA,” she said, adding that there’s still some work to be done before the technology can be introduced to the public.

    As projects continue advancing, the Air Force moves closer to identifying a permanent solution and the resulting technology could benefit many communities and organizations.

    When projects yield promising results, results are shared through presentations, trainings, manuscripts and websites. Additionally, through technology transfer efforts, program managers learn about the tools available and how they can be implemented.

    The BAA program funds research into sustainable environmental solutions. The competition is full and open, with no restrictions on the type or size of firms eligible for award. For more information, visit http://www.afcec.af.mil/Home/Environment/Technical-Support-Division/Environmental-Restoration-Technical-Support-Branch/BAA/.

    UNM: “New Mexico Water: What Our Next Leaders Need to Know,” May 17, 2018

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

    From the University of New Mexico Center for Water and the Environment:

    Following the 2018 gubernatorial election, New Mexico will have new leaders of its resource management agencies. Other important water developments in the state include: 1) New administration at the City of Albuquerque; 2) Major shifts in federal policies & implementation; 3) Evolution of legal issues, especially interstate lawsuits; and 4) Financial challenges for our agencies and programs. This conference will feature presentations on water & environmental challenges facing the state by former senior state and federal managers. Each speaker has a long history of high level experience working on NM water issues. Speakers include:

    Speakers include:

    Presentations by federal water managers:

    · Ron Curry – Former Administrator, EPA Region VI (former NMED Secretary)
    · Estevan Lopez – Former Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner (former ISC Director)
    · John D’Antonio – Currently with US Army Corps of Engineers (former NM State Engineer)
    · Hilary Tompkins – Former Solicitor for the Dept. of Interior (former Chief Counsel to Gov. Richardson)

    Presentations by state water managers:

    · Scott Verhines – Former NM State Engineer
    · Ryan Flynn – Former Secretary of NM Environment Department
    · Amy Haas – Former Acting Director & former General Counsel, NM Interstate Stream Commission
    · Tanya Trujillo –Former General Counsel, NM Interstate Stream Commission & Past Director of Colorado River Board of California
    Concluding remarks: Mike Connor, Former Deputy Secretary, Department of Interior

    Registration (includes lunch and parking):

    Early registration – extended to Sunday, April 29: General – $30, Full time students – $10

    Late registration (after April 29): General – $50, Full time students – $20

    To Register with Credit Card:

    Register online by clicking HERE. (scroll to the bottom of the page)

    To Register with Check or Purchase Order:

    Complete this form and send, along with payment, to cwe@unm.edu.

    Tentative Program

    #Snowpack news: Best news North

    Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

    Don’t be a hammerhead! Know the fishing and boating rules – News on TAP

    A simple guide to safely and responsibly recreating on Denver Water reservoirs.

    Source: Don’t be a hammerhead! Know the fishing and boating rules – News on TAP

    @CAPArizona to meet with Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin Commission #COriver

    From The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):

    Central Arizona water managers, facing backlash from other Colorado River users for allegedly undercutting regional conservation efforts, will visit Utah later this month aiming to smooth relations across a region struggling to agree on a way to save a key water supply…

    CAP General Manager Ted Cooke initially shot back that his agency was following the rules and manipulating nothing. But as the week progressed, CAP asked for an audience and planned an April 30 meeting with the Upper Colorado Basin Commission in Salt Lake City.

    “We reached out to (commissioners) individually, and they said, ‘How about we hear you all at once?’” CAP spokeswoman Crystal Thompson said.

    An official with the commission representing Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico water interests confirmed they are scheduling a private meeting to discuss the conflict.

    Finding ways to avoid shortages

    Lake Powell April 12, 2017. Photo credit Patti Weeks via Earth Science Picture of the day.

    The open sniping follows months of power struggles within Arizona as the state has tried to negotiate shared cutbacks with other states to prevent drought from pushing the Colorado into severe shortage.

    The Arizona Department of Water Resources and Gov. Doug Ducey have sought but so far failed to secure legislative authority to hold back some of the water the CAP delivers from Lake Mead as part of the state’s offering for a regional conservation agreement. That water would come from Arizona tribes and other users who would willingly store it in the Southwest’s largest reservoir rather than taking their full legal share each year.

    #ColoradoRiver District voices opposition to Aaron Million’s latest transmountain diversion plan

    Green River

    From the Rio Blanco Water Conservation District via the Rio Blanco Herald Times:

    Earlier this month the Colorado River District released a statement protesting the application for water rights filed by Water Horse Resources LLC, owned by Aaron Million.

    The application for Utah water rights requests 55,000 acre feet of water from the Green River with two pump stations located five miles from the Colorado state line in Dagget County, Utah, on Bureau of Land Management land. The water would then run through a hydroelectric facility before being piped nearly 500 miles northeast into Wyoming and then south down the Colorado Front Range.

    The river district’s letter of opposition cites a variety of reasons why the application should be denied, including the speculative nature of the application saying, “A fundamental precept of water use in Colorado (and, we believe, in Utah as well) is a strict prohibition on speculative claims of water. No specific beneficial use or need has been identified for the project other than a general reference to future water demands in Colorado.”

    The district also raises concerns about the legal and practical nature of enforcing and accounting for a water right issued by the State of Utah but with great impact on Colorado water users. The letter states, “The proposed water right would exacerbate the supply problems currently faced in the Colorado River Basin, and would increase the need and cost of any Upper Basin demand management program.”

    Another concern raised by both the river district and numerous environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity who have spoken against the application is the lack of environmental analysis.

    In years prior Million has unsuccessfully attempted to obtain water rights that would allow him to pipe water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the Front Range. The Colorado River District opposed that application as well.

    “This new application suffers from many of the same problems as his previous proposals but presents a number of new problems and interstate legal issues as well,” said Peter Fleming, General Counsel for the Colorado River District.

    In a statement released last week Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller said, “Development of this resource in this manner would not only harm existing Western Slope water users but would impact the ability of the River District and the State of Colorado to plan for and develop future water resources as well.”

    Thirty-two letters of protest have been filed against the project including letters from the Utah Board of Water Resources and Division of Water Resources who raise similar concerns to those mentioned by the Colorado River District.

    In a press release issued last week Million stated, “Utah is initiating an identical project…The Lake Powell pipeline. Point of diversion in Arizona, water and hydroelectric power into Utah. We are watching that closely as they are still sorting out federal permitting responsibilities. The Upper Colorado River Compact is clear and allows the use of water from Utah or Wyoming into Colorado. Or vice versa. For the last 96 years the Upper Basin, which includes Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico has over-delivered its’ Compact share. The issues on the Colorado are almost strictly a Lower Basin over-use issue, which includes California, Arizona and Nevada. Had the Lower Basin not drained the Lower Colorado River and over-utilized their water allocation, Lake Powell and Mead would be full by five times plus.”

    The project, nicknamed Grasshopper by Water Horse, is estimated to cost $890 million. Tom Wood, Project Management team member stated, “The Green has numerous advantages. A huge river system, excellent water quality, and Flaming Gorge Reservoir that will double the State of Colorado’s storage availability. Additionally, all the global warming models are indicating the Green River will be wetter than average in the future, coupled with a later snowmelt than the Colorado River main stem. The Green River headwaters is located several hundred miles north of the Colorado River headwaters. This year is a classic reason that two hydrologically diverse basins, meaning the Colorado River and Green River, and their respective water supplies, should be managed collectively. The Upper Green is currently running 140 percent of average snowpack, the Colorado River main-stem is half that or less, at maybe 60 to 65 percent. It diversifies water supply management risk, which ties directly to alleviating ecosystem and environmental impacts.”

    Rio Blanco Water Conservation District Manager Alden Vanden Brink is concerned about the project. “Focusing on the water resource needs in Northwest Colorado I intimately understand how water projects that are speculative in nature, as Mr. Million’s project is, include, intrastate concerns and potentially put water resour ces in Western Colorado at risk to Compact curtailment are certainly something that we need to pay close attention to,” he said.

    The #ColoradoRiver is the, “Michaelangelo of rivers” — Murat Eyuboglu #COriver

    The film, “The Colorado,” was a real treat. Thanks to Patty Rettig for bringing it to Colorado.

    The filmmakers present frame after frame of images from the Colorado River Basin. The aerials from the Colorado River Delta are stunning. You get to see some of the restoration work and how the Delta responds to reintroduction of water.

    A particular treat was video from Carl Brower when he made his first visit to Glen Canyon after it had been sacrificed to the dam builders. Folks in the audience that know the canyon country were moved by the beauty revealed as they felt the loss. In my case I had not had the opportunity to see the pre-dam Glen Canyon.

    You get a sense of the scale of the construction projects that produced the Glen Canyon and Hoover (Boulder) dams from the video clips showing the blasting, construction operations, and rock climbing prowess of some of the workers.

    The Salton Sea is also featured, its accidental creation, the importance of the sea for migrating birds, its steady decline to a salty brine and air pollution hazard, along with the miracle of the Imperial Valley. One nice touch was the the addition of video excerpts from a silent Western film centered around the flood that filled much of the Salton Sink to create the Salton Sea. Spoiler: The hero in the white hat gets the girl.

    I liked the historical look at the Grand Canyon and how John Wesley Powell the others with him filled in a blank space on the existing maps of the region. Segments showing the rapids in the Grand Canyon connect you with the power of the Colorado River.

    Go see the film if you get a chance. Here’s the trailer:

    #Drought/#Snowpack news: #Arizona dust = #Colorado early melt-out #aridification

    Gif via NOAA

    From NOAA (Rebecca Lindsey):

    The changing of the seasons from winter to spring has brought an unwelcome worsening of drought across the U.S. Southwest and Southern Plains. This animated gif shows drought conditions becoming more intense and widespread between the start of the animation on January 9 and the final frame on April 17, 2018.

    At the start of the year, only a few small areas of extreme drought existed in the contiguous United States, the largest of them in Oklahoma and South Dakota. As the season advanced, extreme drought conditions expanded from Oklahoma into Texas and Kansas, with detached pockets also appearing in Arizona and New Mexico by mid-February.

    By mid-March, drought in the panhandle of Oklahoma had reached “exceptional” status, and severe drought had pushed northward from Arizona and New Mexico into Utah and Colorado. As of mid-April, parts of seven Southwest states had progressed into exceptional drought.

    Drought impacts are piling up. Endangered fish in the Rio Grande had to be rescued and relocated to wetter stretches as parts of the river in New Mexico dried up. In Arizona and New Mexico, birds and elk have been observed coming to stock ponds and yards for water and food as natural sources of surface water and vegetation become scarce.

    In Colorado, livestock operators are hauling water for cows and sheep as stock ponds and streams dry up, and farmers along the Middle Rio Grande in New Mexico have been told to expect half their normal irrigation allotment. Fire danger is extremely high for so early in the season, and burn bans are in place across many counties and forest service districts in multiple states.

    You can find weekly drought maps along with drought outlooks in our Data Snapshots map collection. For details about drought conditions, visit http://Drought.gov.

    A dust storm approaches Phoenix. ALAN STARK/FLICKR and Yale Environment 360.

    From The Arizona Daily Sun (Emery Cowan):

    The arrival of northern Arizona’s windy spring season often brings the kind of dust storms Snider encountered. They can be a hazardous force, sometimes making it hard to see and breathe as they churn across the southern part of the Colorado Plateau. But they have an even broader impact when the dust settles on snowpack hundreds of miles away on the Rocky Mountains. There, the windblown particles create a darker coating on the snow that causes it to melt earlier and faster in the springtime and reduces the total amount of water that runs downstream.

    Together those changes affect millions of people in Arizona and elsewhere in the Southwest who rely on rivers like the Colorado that are fed by Rocky Mountain snowmelt and are already stressed by the impacts of a warming climate.

    This year’s dry fall and winter — the sixth driest on record in Flagstaff — have produced prime conditions for wind to whip up dust across the region. Vegetation that serves to anchor dryland soils against the wind is already showing signs of stress, with a good chance of low growth and production throughout the spring, said Seth Munson, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.


    Just like the heat difference between an asphalt street and a light-colored concrete sidewalk in the summertime, snow coated with a layer of darker dust absorbs more sunlight and gets warmer than bright white, pristine powder. In the Colorado Rockies, that solar radiation, which gets amplified by dust particles, provides five to 10 times as much melt energy to snow as warming air temperatures in the springtime, said . A research paper Deems co-authored traced the downstream effects of dust on snow and found that during years of heavy dust loading, the Colorado River’s flows at Lees Ferry peaked three weeks earlier than low-dust years. It also found that earlier melting of dust-coated snow increased evapotranspiration and reduced total runoff into the Colorado by about 5 percent.

    From a water resources perspective, the problem with snow disappearing faster and earlier in the season is the loss of the system’s most important reservoir, Deems said. Snowpack stores winter moisture that then melts slowly and feeds into river systems throughout the spring and summer, when it is most needed. When snow melts faster and earlier in the spring, it overwhelms the capacity of manmade reservoirs during a time when water demand is lower so the systems are forced to let it spill downstream unused, said Rich Reynolds, a scientist emeritus with the U.S. Geological Survey.


    The bulk of the dust that causes the largest concerns about snowmelt in the Colorado River Basin comes from southern Utah, northern Arizona and northern New Mexico, Deems said.

    The brown, red and orange hues that define these parts of the Colorado Plateau boost absorption of solar radiation more than light-colored dust that comes from areas like Nevada and parts of Utah, he said.

    But it’s not just their darker color that make these particles particularly potent snow melters, said Reynolds, who studies atmospheric dust. The reddish-orange iron oxide minerals themselves have a heightened capacity to absorb solar radiation, Reynolds said. While more research needs to be done, Reynolds said the minerals’ crystal structure and their small size and large surface area play a role…


    The first noticeable increase in dust emissions, tracked through sediment cores collected from alpine lakes, were measured in the mid-1800s when railroads brought increased settlement and widespread grazing to the West, Deems said. Together, human development and livestock tore up native vegetation, introduced invasives and trampled biological soil crust that acts as a living armor, protecting desert soils from the elements, he said.

    Levels of dust measured in the lake sediment cores jumped seven-fold over that period, Deems said. Dust loading then began to recede as several severe winters in the early 1900s killed large numbers of livestock and the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 imposed regulations on livestock grazing.

    But in at least the past decade or so, measurements show dust emissions are again on the rise, Deems said. While dispersed dust sources are difficult to capture, scientists can now use optical satellite imagery to track dust plumes as they crawl toward the mountains, he said.

    US Drought Monitor April 17, 2018.

    From The Huffington Post (David Montgomery):

    Less than eight months after Hurricane Harvey pelted the Texas Gulf Coast with torrential rainfall, drought has returned to Texas and other parts of the West, Southwest and Southeast, rekindling old worries for residents who dealt with earlier waves of dry spells and once again forcing state governments to reckon with how to keep the water flowing.

    Nearly a third of the continental United States was in drought as of April 10, more than three times the coverage of a year ago. And the specter of a drought-ridden summer has focused renewed urgency on state and local conservation efforts, some of which would fundamentally alter Americans’ behavior in how they use water.

    In California, for example, officials are considering rules to permanently ban water-wasting actions such as hosing off sidewalks and driveways, washing a vehicle with a hose that doesn’t have a shut-off valve, and irrigating ornamental turf on public street medians. The regulations, awaiting a final decision by the California State Water Resources Control Board, were in force as temporary emergency measures during part of a devastating five-year drought but were lifted in 2017 after the drought subsided.

    Water restrictions, either forced or voluntary, are nothing new to states and communities where battling drought is often a part of life. In Amarillo, Texas, the city’s water department stresses conservation with the message, “every drop counts,” and urges customers to do “at least one thing a day to save water.” A similar mantra — “squeeze every drop” — is part of the water-saving culture in Oklahoma City, where officials enforce mandatory lawn-watering restrictions and impose higher rates for excessive water use.

    Years of studies by government and environmental groups have warned that future demand for water is threatening to outstrip availability, particularly in the drought-plagued West and Southwest, unless policymakers take steps to reverse those trends.

    “More and more cities around the world are running into limits on how much water they have available to meet their needs,” said Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute and an expert on water and climate issues…

    U.S. government and environmental experts generally agree that no major city is in imminent danger of the kind of scenario confronting Cape Town. But residents in some small communities have struggled, and at the same time, U.S. experts worry that protracted global warming, worsening droughts, vanishing groundwater and growing populations will erode future supplies and make Americans increasingly vulnerable throughout the 21st century…

    The Environmental Protection Agency, in a January 2017 snapshot of the impact of climate change, predicted that the Southern Plains will face more “extreme heat” in the future, saying that the number of days of 100 degrees or hotter will quadruple by 2050.

    “Increasing temperatures and more frequent and severe droughts,” the EPA said, “are expected to heighten competition for water resources for use in cities, agriculture and energy production.”

    Adding to America’s water insecurity is a decadeslong decline in groundwater resources, which supply half of the nation’s residents and nearly all of its rural population, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Sustained groundwater pumping has steadily taken its toll on aquifers throughout the country, lowering groundwater levels by hundreds of feet in some places. Water levels in the High Plains aquifer system, which underlies parts of eight states, have dropped by more than 100 feet in places, largely as a result of extensive irrigation, according to the USGS.

    Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

    From the Associated Press via The Aspen Times:

    Federal water managers will be facing difficult decisions as the worsening drought is significantly affecting flows on one of the country’s longest river systems and prompting rescue missions for a tiny endangered fish.

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their operating plan for the Rio Grande on Thursday.

    With some of the lowest snowpack reports on record, officials said they will have little water this season as they decide when and how best to move what is stored in the reservoirs for downstream users and for the Rio Grande silvery minnow.

    The tiny fish, listed as endangered in 1994, was once abundant throughout the Rio Grande Basin from Colorado to Texas and into Mexico. It’s now found only in a fraction of its historic habitat as the river system has seen dam building and the straightening of its once meandering channels over the last 150 years.

    The minnow population just five years ago marked one of the lowest levels since surveys began in the mid-1990s. At that point, the fish was showing few signs of reproduction in the wild and that year’s fast-moving drought left biologists trying to salvage as many of the minnows from puddles in the drying river.

    This year, water managers say more than 10 miles of the river have already dried in the area of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, prompting the need for another intensive salvage effort.

    Tom Sinclair, project leader with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional conservation office, said he and his team are finding a lot of minnows in the river since the last two years were favorable for the fish due more robust flows.

    The rescue efforts began April 2, marking one of the earliest starts to salvage operations, Sinclair said…

    Biologists have collected as many as 10,000 minnows on some days and many of the females appear ready to spawn. The fish are transported to wetter sections further upstream and released.

    The Bureau of Reclamation is working with other agencies to coordinate river operations to ensure there’s a bump in spring flows for spawning and egg collection.

    The salvage work is expected to continue as biologists get reports about more sections of the river going dry.

    Water managers warned during a briefing Thursday that residents in the Albuquerque area — the state’s most populous region — should be prepared to see a dry riverbed later this spring and summer.

    The drying riverbed of the Middle Rio Grande near the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on April 4, 2018. Photo credit: USBR

    From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

    In the face of a worsening drought, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today released their Annual Operating Plan for the Rio Grande. Some of the lowest snowpack reports on record will leave water managers with very little water to manage and some difficult decisions on when and how to move water down the Rio Grande to benefit downstream water users and to implement a survival strategy for the Rio Grande silvery minnow, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

    The April forecast data released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows the Jemez River Basin at 6 percent of average, the Chama River Basin at 18 percent of average, and the Upper Rio Grande at 50 percent of average. Inflow into Heron Reservoir is estimated to be approximately 30,000 acre-feet. This, combined with the previous allocation of 55,000, should bring San Juan-Chama Contractors close to a full allocation this year. El Vado Reservoir is projected to have an inflow of about 41,000 acre-feet and could be nearly empty by July.

    Reclamation has about 11,600 acre-feet of water available to supplement flows through the Middle Rio Grande and is currently releasing about 200 acre-feet. More than 10 miles have already dried in the Bosque del Apache area. Reclamation is working closely with its partners and is focused on implementing a survival strategy for the Rio Grande silvery minnow as outlined in the 2016 Middle Rio Grande Biological Opinion. Reclamation is coordinating with Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure fish rescue crews are active in the areas of the river that have dried. We are also working with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Albuquerque Water Utility Authority, and other stakeholders on an operational pulse to facilitate silvery minnow egg collection efforts.

    On the Rio Grande Project in southern New Mexico, the allocation to the two irrigation districts and Mexico is about 60 percent of a full allocation. Both irrigation districts had some carryover water in storage from last year. Little inflow is expected to Elephant Butte Reservoir this spring, and it could be left holding less than 5 percent of its capacity at the end of the irrigation season.

    The drying riverbed of the Middle Rio Grande near the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on April 4, 2018. Photo credit: USBR
    Reclamation operates pumps to move water from the Low Flow Conveyance Channel into the Rio Grande. The LFCC acts as a drain for the lower part of the Middle Rio Grande. Photo credit: USBR

    From Water Deeply (Tara Lohan):

    This year, across much of the West, particularly the Southwest, there’s little in the way of abundance. At Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the West, runoff is predicted to be only 43 percent of average. Arizona is looking at one of its lowest runoff years in history. And in New Mexico, stretches of the Rio Grande have already run dry, months ahead of normal.

    The only consolation is that last year was a wet year and reservoirs received a boost. While it’s typical in the West to have big swings in precipitation from year to year, what has concerned scientists lately is that even good years are no longer producing the kind of runoff seen historically.

    It’s even prompted a group of scientists with the Colorado River Research Group to call for a new language to describe the conditions they’re seeing.

    “There’s lots of talk of drought but there’s not enough talk that this is likely the new normal,” said Brad Udall, a member of the group and a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. “We really need to think in the long term that we are actually going to see less water in the [Colorado River] basin and we’re never going back to the 20th century.”

    And in the Southwest, this “new normal” may look more like “aridification” than drought.

    In a recent white paper from the Colorado River Research Group, scientists write that while drought may be occurring, it doesn’t give the full picture. “For that, perhaps the best available term is aridification, which describes a period of transition to an increasingly water-scarce environment – an evolving new baseline around which future extreme events (droughts and floods) will occur.”

    Since the turn of the 21st century, the Colorado River basin has been experiencing drought conditions. Bad water years have taken a toll on the system and good years haven’t aided the recovery enough. “We’ve had [fewer of] the normal big years; those are the years that refill our reservoirs and those seem to have gone away or at least now they are less frequent and they seem to be smaller,” said Udall.

    Drought, he added, implies something temporary. “And we don’t think this is in fact temporary.”

    And that’s because it’s not just about the amount of precipitation. In the past few years, studies have also shown a decline in “runoff efficiency” – or how much water actually makes it to rivers.

    One of the biggest reasons is temperature.

    “In large part, the answer is that the basin has become hotter, which modifies several facets of the hydrologic cycle that lie between precipitation and runoff, including evapotranspiration and sublimation rates, the timing of snowmelt and soil moisture characteristics,” according to the paper.

    Research published last year by Udall and Jonathan Overpeck found that flows declined on the Colorado River by 19 percent between 2000 and 2014 and on average one-third of that falloff was due to rising temperatures.

    The science is clear on increasing temperatures in the region, but how much changes in precipitation affect long-term trends remains to be seen. The basin could experience more precipitation with climate change, or bigger swings between wet and dry years or possibly even longer, more severe “megadroughts.” “You can have aridification under climate change even if precipitation stays the same or goes up,” Udall said.

    The Colorado River basin is not the only area impacted by this scenario – the Rio Grande basin is in a similar situation, said David Gutzler, a professor of Earth and planetary sciences at the University of New Mexico. “As the climate warms up, now what we see is even when there is a pretty good snowpack, like we had last year, we don’t get enough snowmelt runoff to make a huge impact on [Elephant Butte] reservoir,” which is the main area of storage for the Upper Rio Grande.

    Gutzler coauthored a recent study looking at changes in streamflow volume and temperature in the Upper Rio Grande watershed near the river’s southern Colorado headwaters from 1958 to 2015. The study found that, on average, temperatures during winter and spring had increased during the study period and the amount of the snow-water equivalent (or the water in the snowpack) decreased by 25 percent. There was a small decline in streamflow as well, despite a small increase in precipitation on average.

    The findings are consistent with previous studies showing that warming is already impacting the West, with a shift to earlier spring snowmelt and more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow.

    “We’re seeing the climate change signal of warming temperatures most strongly in the spring season here,” said Gutzler. “That makes these low-flow conditions that we see right now potentially even worse.”

    With warmer temperatures, what snow there is melts earlier, and evaporation rates go up, reducing water supply even more. “It’s part of the tendency toward aridity that we’re experiencing in the West,” said Gutzler, which presents a big management challenge.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean that a crisis is in store, but a change in the way rivers are managed may be. “We should be able to work out a way to deal with 20 percent less water in a way that doesn’t harm the economy, that doesn’t harm the environment, and if you do it right, it causes minimal harm to agriculture,” said Udall.

    The solutions don’t just involve talking about water management, but also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “There is this total political hang-up on having the discussions we need to have on greenhouse gas emissions,” Udall said. “This is so important and yet we somehow have managed to think we can ignore it – even well-meaning people think they can ignore it and it’s just not the case. We have to, as individuals and states and municipalities, begin to grapple with how to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can.”

    From Water Deeply (Ian Evans):

    “If you look at the overall flow of the Colorado River – at Lake Powell, the main measurement point for the entire Colorado River Basin, it’s less than half of normal,” said [John] Fleck.

    That low flow impacts cities, agriculture and Western ecosystems for the rest of the year, if not longer. Already the Rio Grande River is so low that researchers are rescuing stranded fish by carrying them to wetter parts of the river. In California, instead of snow, the state experienced record-breaking wildfires and floods. Throughout most of the winter rainy season the state looked like it was headed for another devastating drought after only one year of relief.

    “But then, March came along, and we actually got quite a lot of precipitation,” said Lohan. “Even with the snowpack tripling in March, it ended up being just over 50 percent of normal. So, it ended up being, not a catastrophic year, but definitely not a great year either. “

    Fleck said that this was “maybe the sixth worst year that we’ve had in the last century” in the Colorado River basin. Coming in sixth might not seem too bad, but the bigger picture is that the number of droughts has dramatically increased, according Fleck. Climate change has created a “new normal” in the West, where the term “drought” may not even apply.

    “It implies that the situation we’re in is abnormal. Clearly, it’s not,” said Fleck, “it’s a permanent state of affairs.”

    From The Pagosa Sun:

    It’s serious, folks. The drought conditions for Archuleta County are tipping into the farthest part of the scale at “exceptional.” We are surpassing the conditions we faced in 2002 and 2012.

    What does that mean for us? We are primed for a disastrous wildfire season, we will have less water in our reservoirs and we will see higher prices at the grocery store because of crop failures. We are already saw winter crop failure in the Cortez area, and the Front Range is reporting crop failure predictions.

    March typically begins the ramp up of spring precipitation to help kick-start the growing season. But for many areas of southern Colorado, precipitation was less than 20 percent of average. As we continue toward summer, these deficits become harder to make up. Around the Four Corners and down into the higher elevations of New Mexico and Arizona, the water year total deficits range from 4 to 9 inches — amounts that are unlikely to be made up prior to the start of the monsoon season (Colorado Climate Center).

    Drought is something that affects us all. The environmental and economic impacts will touch everyone who lives and visits our area.

    What can you do to help alleviate the effects? Watch your water consumption. Even though we want to keep our beautiful landscapes alive, please consider using high-drought-tolerance plants. Or, better yet, skip the landscaping plans all together. If you do have landscape that you have to water, use mulch to keep the soil moist, cool and protected from wind. Keep an eye on the weather and don’t water when Mother Nature takes a turn.

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    Snowpack in the Colorado River watershed is already at record lows as we move into the longer and drier days of summer. Water managers and fire forecasters are sounding the alarm about less water flowing in streams and reservoirs. Dust adds one more layer of complexity to an already precarious year.

    To see it you need to dig a pit. In the spring, that’s usually where you’ll find Jeff Derry, waist deep in a snow pit somewhere in the southern Rocky Mountains. His job as the director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, Colorado, forces him to pay close attention to the amount of dust that winds up embedded in snow.

    Think of it like the rings of a tree. If you dig deep enough, you see the entire winter’s story, made up of layers of snow, reminders of each storm that’s built the snowpack. But when Derry digs pits it’s not just so he can get nostalgic for snow storms of yore. He’s on a fact-finding mission.

    “I’ll be curious if you’re going to be able to see the dust event we had February 18 and 19,” Derry says as he shovels snow over the edge of the pit. “Because it is very subtle.”

    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

    There are a range of instruments to measure every aspect of snowpack. They’re fine-tuned for temperature, density and reflectivity. Water managers, farmers and cities are always curious about the amount of water held in snow, which gives a glimpse into what the spring runoff will bring. But the best way to gauge the magnitude of a dust layer is with the human eye, Derry says.

    “It’s very qualitative in a sense,” he says. “You go out, you look for it, you dig, you see what you see.”

    Derry takes his hand, brushes off the cross-sectioned snowpack, and there it is. About seven inches down is a beige-colored band of dust.

    This tiny little strip of dust has the potential to upend how we manage water in the West, Derry says. Eventually this snow will melt and empty into the Colorado River, via the Uncompahgre and the Gunnison. The watershed provides water for some 40 million people in the southwest.

    The dust, just by showing up, can speed up spring runoff, causing streams to peak weeks earlier and make melting more intense and erratic.

    When there’s no dust on the snow, it’s brilliantly white. On a sunny day it’s reflective enough to cause eye damage. Snow has a high albedo, a measurement of reflectivity. Unadulterated snow is the most reflective surface found in nature. Without dirt or dust snow melts off slow and steady like the drumbeat of a drip from a faucet.

    This is what water managers love. It’s predictable. But when you add in dust, the snow gets darker, like it’s wearing a black T-shirt, and it absorbs more sunlight…

    Back in the San Juan mountains, dust detective and snow scientist Jeff Derry says he’s bracing for more dust events this spring. The mountain range has registered five dust events since October. Derry says the San Juans are ground zero for this problem. And because they’re a key part of an already overtaxed Colorado River system, he says everyone in the seven U.S. states and in Mexico that depend on the river should be concerned.

    “We’re located at the headwaters of four major watersheds,” Derry says. “And our mountain systems are undergoing change at a fundamental level.”

    Change that could make the West an increasingly dry — and dusty — place.

    This story is part of a project covering the Colorado River, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.

    4 States Get Over 30 Percent of Power from Wind — Inside Climate News

    Colorado Green, located between Springfield and Lamar, was Colorado’s first, large wind farm. Photo/Allen Best

    From Inside Climate News (Nicholas Kusnetz):

    Even though new U.S. wind power installations were down in 2017, wind energy is expected to pass hydro as the nation’s top renewable energy source this year.

    A new report underscores that even as Republican leaders remain resistant or even hostile to action on climate change, their states and districts are adopting renewable energy at some of the fastest rates in the country.

    Four states—Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota—now get more than 30 percent of their in-state electricity production from wind, according a new report by the American Wind Energy Association…

    While the U.S. wind power industry continued to expand last year, however, its growth rate slowed, with 7 gigawatts of capacity added in 2017, down from more than 8 gigawatts added in 2016.

    The slower growth likely was due in part to changes in tax credits. Developers could take full advantage of the federal Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit for wind energy through the end of 2016, but it began phasing down starting in 2017. And the governor of Oklahoma, the state with the second-highest wind power capacity, signed legislation in 2017 to end state tax incentives for the industry three years early amid a budget crisis…

    But the total slice of renewables—which provide about 17 percent of the nation’s electricity—is far short of the energy transition experts say is needed to avoid dangerous warming. A paper last year by some of the world’s leading climate change experts said renewables need to make up 30 percent of the global electricity supply by 2020 in order to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

    Credit: American Wind Energy Association

    Colorado eyes activating drought response plan

    All (#climate) politics is local — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News (Emily Benson):

    During a dry spring, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet visits rural Colorado to talk economics and agriculture.

    Grand Mesa rises from desert scrub and farm fields 25 miles north of Olathe, a town of 1,800 people in western Colorado. The mountain’s flanks were a shade darker than the cobalt sky in late March. They should have been frosted white with snow, but monitoring stations showed some of the lowest snow readings in decades. Closer to town, farmers who depend on the water stored in the Western snowpack were turning over their fields, getting ready to raise this year’s corn and hay, dust devils of dry earth rising in the wakes of their tractors.

    Outside the Olathe town offices, American and Colorado flags flapped in the sun. Inside, local officials shook the hand of Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat visiting western Colorado farming country to learn about the economic obstacles places like Olathe face, and the policy concerns of the farmers and ranchers that live there. Bennet told me he plans to initiate a statewide conversation on climate change that crosses political and rural-urban divides.

    Grand Mesa rises in the distance above a street running through Olathe, Colorado. Photo credit: Emily Benson/High Country News

    For farming and ranching communities like Olathe, drought is a major worry. Mayor Rob Smith said if the town had to dry up lawns to keep agricultural water flowing — and the local economy healthy — it would. “I’d rather eat than worry about a lawn,” Smith, a Republican, told me.

    When the fields circling town are irrigated this summer, the water will come from the Colorado River Basin. Climate change is already shrinking the Colorado and other water sources across the West. It’s a threat that most Coloradans know is real, Bennet said, but not one that politicians have rallied bipartisan support to fight. “I do not believe that the Democratic Party or the environmental groups generally have done a great job of reaching farmers and ranchers on issues related to climate,” Bennet told me. “And to my mind, they’re the people that really are the stewards of this land; they’re the ones that want to have something to pass to the next generation of Americans…I think it would be nice if we had a political conversation around this that was not repellant to them.”

    Such a conversation might start in a town like Delta, Bennet’s afternoon stop, 15 minutes down the road from Olathe. In a stuffy courthouse conference room, about 50 people sat on folding chairs and lined the walls, eager to tell Bennet, a member of the Senate agriculture committee, what he should champion in the 2018 farm bill, which distributes billions of dollars to conservation, food assistance, agricultural subsidies and other programs.

    John Harold, a corn grower from Olathe, stood up to introduce Bennet. “I’m going to take your water, ‘cause I’m out of water,” he said to another farmer, reaching for a plastic bottle sitting on the speakers’ table. The crowd laughed, and someone, perhaps thinking of late summer, dry fields and stunted crops, called out, “Already?”

    As Bennet took notes, ranchers, farmers and local leaders highlighted the policies and programs that can boost or sink their businesses. Looming concerns over exports caused Bennet to suggest that those present urge their Republican representatives to “moderate the rhetoric” in Washington. “Our farmers and ranchers … need the president to behave responsibly,” he said.

    Within a week, American agriculture would be caught in the middle of an escalating fight between the U.S. and China over tariffs. In 2017, Colorado exported goods worth more than $580 million to China, or about 7 percent of the state’s total exports, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Beef, pork, wheat and other grains are some of Colorado’s biggest agricultural exports, and farmers and ranchers say prices are already dropping because of the trade dispute.

    A diverse group of stakeholders including conservationists, farmers, ranchers, grant-writers and more attend a meeting with Senator Michael Bennet so he can hear their concerns and hopes for what will be included in the new Farm Bill. Photo credit: Brooke Warren/High Country News

    As the hour-long meeting in Delta wound down, a man who introduced himself as a scientist asked about whether Bennet planned to support including land-use policies that address the realities of climate change and drought in the farm bill.

    Bennet, an ardent champion of climate action, said he plans to barnstorm Colorado this summer, soliciting discussions and concerns and ideas — from conservatives and liberals, city-dwellers and small town residents — for how to build a coalition dedicated to addressing climate change. But working those priorities into the farm bill itself may be difficult, given the climate change denialism of the Trump administration.

    “Will the politics of it let us get it done?” Bennet replied from his seat at the table in the front of the room, flanked on one side by a county administrator and on the other by the executive director of an agricultural land trust. “I don’t know.”

    A diverse group of stakeholders including conservationists, farmers, ranchers, grant-writers and more attend a meeting with Senator Michael Bennet so he can hear their concerns and hopes for what will be included in the new Farm Bill. Photo credit: Brooke Warren/High Country News

    Emily Benson is an assistant editor at High Country News.

    #RioGrande: Changes in winter temperature, increases in springtime temperature, and decreased streamflow

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

    From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

    For more than a decade, researchers have explained that warming will affect water supplies in the southwestern United States. Now in a new paper, hydrologist Shaleene Chavarria and University of New Mexico Earth and Planetary Sciences Professor David Gutzler show climate change is already affecting the amount of streamflow in the Rio Grande that comes from snowmelt.

    “We see big changes in the winter and early spring,” said Chavarria. “Big changes in winter temperature, increases in springtime temperatures and decreases in streamflow.”

    The paper, recently published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association, is based on her graduate work in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department.

    Snowpack is the main driver of the Rio Grande’s flows in the Upper Basin of New Mexico, explained Chavarria, who examined annual and monthly changes in climate variables and streamflow volume in southern Colorado for the years 1958 through 2015.

    She found that flows have diminished in March, April and May. And not only is snowpack decreasing, snowpack melts earlier as temperatures continue to rise.

    This means flows have increased in the late winter and early spring and decreased later in the season, when farmers need it most for irrigating crops and orchards. The paper points out that as temperatures continue warming and streamflows drop during the growing season, more people will rely on groundwater pumping, further depleting already-stressed aquifers.

    “One thing that we that we really need to keep in mind is that conditions in the basin are changing—we know from the paleoclimatic records, and stories from the past—and we have projections of what could happen in the future,” she said. “We need to take those together and we need to prepare because ultimately what we do today and in the coming years is going to affect future generations—mainly our children and our grandchildren, so we need to take care of what we have now.”

    Like many in New Mexico, Chavarria’s community—and its forests and watershed—have been affected by climate change…

    Her co-author and graduate adviser, David Gutzler, has worked on climate change issues in the southwestern United States for more than 20 years.

    The state is now about three degrees warmer than it was during the 1970s, he said, and those changes are seen in extremes. Winters aren’t as cold, and more summer days are very hot, even by New Mexico standards. That warming trend over time is different from variability, or year to year changes.

    “New Mexico is a variable climate so for millennia we have seen wet periods and dry periods on the order of decades,” he said. “What’s not so normal, by historical standards, is how warm it’s been.”

    The takeaway for policymakers, he said, is that snowpack is becoming a less reliable source of streamflow in New Mexico’s rivers. Even in snowy years, the region’s warmer springs melt the snowpack faster and earlier than in the past.

    Here’s the abstract from the paper:

    Observed streamflow and climate data are used to test the hypothesis that climate change is already affecting Rio Grande streamflow volume derived from snowmelt runoff in ways consistent with model‐based projections of 21st‐Century streamflow. Annual and monthly changes in streamflow volume and surface climate variables on the Upper Rio Grande, near its headwaters in southern Colorado, are assessed for water years 1958–2015. Results indicate winter and spring season temperatures in the basin have increased significantly, April 1 snow water equivalent (SWE) has decreased by approximately 25%, and streamflow has declined slightly in the April–July snowmelt runoff season. Small increases in precipitation have reduced the impact of declining snowpack on trends in streamflow. Changes in the snowpack–runoff relationship are noticeable in hydrographs of mean monthly streamflow, but are most apparent in the changing ratios of precipitation (rain + snow, and SWE) to streamflow and in the declining fraction of runoff attributable to snowpack or winter precipitation. The observed changes provide observational confirmation for model projections of decreasing runoff attributable to snowpack, and demonstrate the decreasing utility of snowpack for predicting subsequent streamflow on a seasonal basis in the Upper Rio Grande Basin.

    Here’s a report about Santa Fe’s preparation for this season from Julie Ann Grimm writing for the Santa Fe Reporter:

    Groundwater wells that have mostly been resting on the city’s west side since the construction of a Rio Grande diversion are likely to get put back into action this summer.

    Dismal snowpack and low rainfall so far this spring mean water in the river is scarce.

    These have long been the plans in Santa Fe, where officials decided in the early 2000s to build a massive infrastructure project to draw water off the river. The Buckman Direct Diversion went online in 2011, becoming a fourth source in the water supply portfolio for Santa Fe’s homes and businesses, along with two well fields and the Rio Grande. Since the reservoirs on the smaller Santa Fe River are also low due to the drought conditions, that leaves the wells.

    The city’s policy is to “minimize groundwater use in years when surface water availability is limited—like this year,” reads a memo from water utility staff to diversion board managers late last month explaining the plan.

    City Water Division Director Rick Carpenter tells SFR he doesn’t anticipate a supply problem this season.

    “Those wells have all been resting and the water levels are coming up. Two examples that I can give are two Buckman wells that have recovered so much that they have gone artesian, which means that the water is coming out of them, we don’t even have to pump them,” he says. “So the aquifer is recovered. That is always what we had hoped for. If we do have to pump the wells all summer, we should be fine.”

    Most of the water drawn each year at the Buckman is technically water piped into the Rio Grande over the continental divide from the San Juan River in Colorado to the Chama River in New Mexico. And that—coupled with availability of other water to carry it, and additional water from local reservoirs—has been able to meet the majority of demand in recent years. Not so for this summer.

    The memo contemplates two operational scenarios: one in which the diversion is shut down for three months, and one in which it draws just enough water to stay open.

    Conservation education and restrictions in the city have led to water use generally declining over the past two decades. Officials say the city would likely need about 10,000 acre-feet this year, and given the surface water shortage, just over half that is expected to now come from the wells. During July and August, more water would be produced from wells than any other source.

    “We need to take Denver’s concerns seriously” — Colby Pellegrino #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

    After four states and Denver’s municipal water agency wrote letters accusing Arizona’s largest water provider of manipulating the Colorado River system to advantage itself, a former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority lashed Arizona as a “bad actor.” An official at the water authority said this week that the utility was taking the concerns seriously.

    Pat Mulroy, the water authority’s former general manager, offered a sharp critique of the Arizona utility — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) — in an interview with The Nevada Independent. She said the utility’s actions had made it a “bad actor” on the river, adding that she believed the claims that CAWCD was manipulating the system to the detriment of other users. She said the fight plays into the internal power struggle within Arizona.

    “They are willing to let the entire Colorado River system crash in order to win this parochial battle against the state,” Mulroy said. “It’s illogical… But that’s where they’re headed.”

    In a letter Monday, Denver Water said it would end funding for a conservation program in 2019 if CAWCD did not alter its actions. The Southern Nevada agency, which manages water throughout Clark County, also funds the program.

    No decision has been made about whether it will pull funding too. A spokesman said that the authority will take a “wait and see” approach to evaluate whether to fund the program next year. Colby Pellegrino, who manages the authority’s Colorado River supply, said the Denver Water letter was significant. Through Lake Mead, Southern Nevada gets about 90 percent of its drinking water from the river.

    “We need to take Denver’s concerns seriously,” she said in an interview.

    The funding in question is for a pilot program designed to conserve water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, an attempt to prop up the elevation of the two major interconnected reservoirs in the Colorado River system. The Colorado River is split into two basins, an Upper Basin and a Lower Basin. The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada pull their water from Lake Mead. Both basins have an interest in keeping their respective reservoirs above critical elevations that trigger losses in hydropower production and shortages in their water deliveries.

    The Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are concerned that the CAWCD is manipulating supply and demand, to take more water from their reservoir, Lake Powell, than is appropriate for a system that is over-stressed and runs through an increasingly arid region. Even Arizona state officials have spoken out against CAWCD, which is locked in an internal battle with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, an arm of the governor’s office.

    Mulroy applauded the Upper Basin for writing its letter, saying she hoped it would put pressure on Arizona water managers to settle their fighting, one of the factors holding up a drought plan.

    From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

    Denver Water raised concerns in an April 16 letter over perceived “manipulation of water demands” by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District, which manages the Central Arizona Project. CAP’s system of canals feeds Colorado River Water to Arizona farms and the cities of Phoenix and Tucson.

    In the letter, Denver Water CEO/manager Jim Lochhead called into question recent CAP statements about a so-called “sweet spot” in Lake Mead. CAP water managers are publicly discussing keeping measurement levels within a specific range in the lower Colorado River Basin reservoir so more water will come from Lake Powell upstream.

    Lochhead said those actions jeopardize millions spent by his agency to conserve Colorado River water upstream. Denver Water gets about half of what it needs from the river, and has invested in recent years in the Colorado River Conservation Program, which pays state farmers and ranchers to conserve Colorado River water as the entire basin struggles to manage the effects of an 18-year drought.

    Denver Water is prepared to terminate our funding of the program after we meet our obligations in 2018…unless the [Central Arizona Water Conservancy District] is able to verifiably establish it has ceased all actions to manipulate demands and is fully participating in aggressive conservation measures along with other entities in Arizona,” the letter said.

    In an interview, Lochhead said actions by Arizona water managers “undermines both the investment that Denver Water has made in this program and it undermines the conservation efforts that are being made by water users in the upper basin including in Western Colorado.”

    For its part, the Arizona district said it will contact Denver Water officials and can’t comment now.

    More Unusual Steps

    Denver Water’s missive isn’t the first warning received by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District. Just three days before Denver’s communique, the Upper Colorado River Commission sent its own strongly worded dispatch to Arizona Department of Water Resources chief Tom Buschatzke.

    “[The Central Arizona Water Conservation District’s] goal appears to be to delay agreement on drought plans in order to take advantage of what it terms the ‘sweet spot’ by drawing ‘bonus water’ from Lake Powell… characterizations indicate that CAWCD intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all other basin states,” the commission wrote.

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

    Upper Colorado River Commissioner James Eklund signed the letter along with representatives from New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah. He said it was “an unusual step to see language like this in a letter from one state to another. That said, we feel like it was timely and the situation warranted the letter.”

    For Eklund, the crux of the issue is one water district in Arizona “maximizing one interest over the interest of the entire basin.”

    “We assumed good faith dealing and when we saw something that suggested a contrary message or policy being adopted by the district in Arizona,” Eklund continued. “That’s when we decided we have to bring them back into the fold, into the herd, and get them back at the negotiating table.”

    At a deeper level, there’s an internal dispute between Arizona water leaders. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has criticized these management practices by the Central Arizona Project.

    “It raises important questions about actions taken by Central Arizona Water Conservation District that threaten to blow up the collaborative effort that we have been enjoying on the Colorado River for the last 20 years,” Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke told KJZZ in Phoenix.

    From KJZZ.com (Bret Jaspers):

    Commissioners for the Upper Colorado River sent a letter late last week to Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke. In the letter, they specifically criticized a water management strategy of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD).

    Here’s what the upper basin doesn’t like: the CAWCD aims to keep Lake Mead at a so-called “sweet spot.” If the level of the lake stays in that range, then under current agreements, more water comes down from Lake Powell.

    The Commissioners’ letter expressed deep concern that CAWCD “intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all other basin states.” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said bluntly in an interview. “That kind of manipulation is unacceptable to the Upper Basin.”

    The letter echoed an argument long made by Buschatzke.

    “It raises important questions about actions taken by Central Arizona Water Conservation District that threaten to blow up the collaborative effort that we have been enjoying on the Colorado River for the last 20 years,” he said.

    A statement from the CAWCD, in part, said, “We are surprised and disappointed to have received a letter from the Upper Colorado River Commission questioning CAWCD’s intentions in leaving water in Lake Mead. We have been reaching out to our partners in the Upper Basin, hoping to clarify apparent misunderstandings, and to facilitate in-person, collaborative discussions aimed at finding solutions that will benefit the communities and environment served by this mighty river.”

    CAWCD also reminded people of the water the agency has conserved on behalf of Lake Mead, “at a significant cost to CAP water users in terms of water and water rates.” CAWCD runs the Central Arizona Project canal system, which delivers water to the Phoenix and Tuscon areas.

    The Upper Colorado River Commissioners also urged Arizona to get its internal house in order so all seven states and Mexico can plan for long-term drought.

    “The seven Colorado River Basin states and Mexico are connected at the hip in this river,” Ostler said. “And what is going on with regards to one state, its failure to make progress, is having an effect on all seven states.”

    Buschatzke and Gov. Doug Ducey are trying to get big-ticket water legislation through the state Capitol this year. But time is running out on the legislative session.

    From the Colorado River District (Martha Moore):

    “It’s unfortunate that what we view as their internal dysfunction within Arizona has cause frankly damage within the water community on the Colorado River,” Mueller said.

    Mueller wants to see Interior review whether the CAP’s water diversions are in compliance with Colorado River water law.

    “It deserves looking at and will require some federal action probably,” he said, adding that the Arizona water district’s actions go beyond a “friendly water dispute.” — Andy Mueller

    The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    From The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):

    Central Arizona water managers, facing backlash from other Colorado River users for allegedly undercutting regional conservation efforts, will visit Utah later this month aiming to smooth relations across a region struggling to agree on a way to save a key water supply…

    CAP General Manager Ted Cooke initially shot back that his agency was following the rules and manipulating nothing. But as the week progressed, CAP asked for an audience and planned an April 30 meeting with the Upper Colorado Basin Commission in Salt Lake City.

    “We reached out to (commissioners) individually, and they said, ‘How about we hear you all at once?’” CAP spokeswoman Crystal Thompson said.

    An official with the commission representing Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico water interests confirmed they are scheduling a private meeting to discuss the conflict…

    The Arizona Department of Water Resources and Gov. Doug Ducey have sought but so far failed to secure legislative authority to hold back some of the water the CAP delivers from Lake Mead as part of the state’s offering for a regional conservation agreement. That water would come from Arizona tribes and other users who would willingly store it in the Southwest’s largest reservoir rather than taking their full legal share each year.

    CAP, which traditionally has sold excess water to users or groundwater storage projects, objected and argued that keeping too much water in Lake Mead could hurt the state. That’s because federal rules for balancing the levels of Lake Mead and its upstream counterpart, Lake Powell, call for releasing more water from Powell if Mead hovers near a level that would trigger a shortage and mandate cutbacks in use.

    Under a formula set by the state and the U.S. Interior Department, Lake Powell will send 9 million acre-feet to Lake Mead this year to prevent shortage, rather than the 8.23 million acre-feet it would send under normal river conditions. Each acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons and is enough to serve about two households for a year.

    Conserving enough to prevent a shortage but not so much as to slow the flow from Lake Powell represents a “sweet spot,” CAP argued, in language that has now alarmed upstream water officials.

    A CAP graphic circulated among water managers set off the criticism. It depicted Lake Mead’s “sweet spot” as being around elevation 1,080 to 1,085 feet above sea level, or 5 to10 feet above the level that would trigger mandated cutbacks for Arizona water users.

    CAP’s “manipulation of demands in order to take advantage of the supposed ‘sweet spot’ in Lake Powell water releases undermines (regional conservation), and is unacceptable,” Denver Water CEO James Lochhead wrote.

    He said his agency would cease funding conservation measures by farms and other users if CAP doesn’t embrace “aggressive conservation measures along with other entities in Arizona.”

    CAP has participated in Colorado River conservation, and has argued that without its actions in recent years Lake Mead would already be in shortage mode. Critics have argued it’s not enough, and that another dry winter like the last one could end the “bonus” that Lake Powell is sending downstream.

    Current projections for this spring’s runoff suggest Lake Powell will drop 30 feet this year and end up just 7 feet above the level that would mandate reductions from normal releases into Lake Mead and start a cycle of shortage.

    If that happens, the reduced flows could leave Lake Mead vulnerable to declines that would impose steeper reductions on Arizona consumption.

    Buschatzke worried that the letters from upstream interests might signal a lawsuit that could upend years of efforts at working across state lines to protect reservoir levels. The shortage triggers and reservoir operating plans are based largely on a 2007 agreement negotiated among the seven river states.

    “For the last 10 years we’ve been on the collaborative path,” he said. “This threatens to send us back down the parochial path.”

    He called on CAP to heed the message and negotiate a way to keep more water in Lake Mead. That would require an interim, interagency agreement about some of the authority the state has sought from the Legislature, until the governor can get a bill passed this year or next.

    Arizona faces more severe cutbacks if it ignores interstate collaboration and lets the reservoir keep dropping. Those cuts would initially affect central Arizona farmers and groundwater banking efforts in the next two years, but urban users and developers could suffer if the depletion gets worse.

    Buschatzke cautioned Arizonans against getting defensive about criticism from upstream states. Doing so and refusing to conserve more could leave the state in a bad spot, he said.

    “I hope it doesn’t result in some folks in Arizona saying, ‘Man, they’re ganging up on us, we better hunker down,’” he said.

    CAP officials will decline further comment to avoid undermining the planned Salt Lake City talks, Thompson said.

    Lake Mead viewed from Arizona.

    Building a tank wall: Not just a concrete solution – News on TAP

    Holding back 15 million gallons of water requires engineering design to make the structure stronger.

    Source: Building a tank wall: Not just a concrete solution – News on TAP

    #Drought news: D4 (exceptional drought) expanded in the Four Corners and NE #NewMexico

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


    A powerful spring storm emerged from the West and brought extreme conditions to several regions. For example, historic, late-season snow blanketed portions of the northern Plains, upper Midwest, and Great Lakes region, snarling traffic and severely stressing livestock. Meanwhile, dry, windy weather contributed to a major wildfire outbreak, starting on April 12, and led to blowing dust and further reductions in rangeland, pasture, and crop conditions. Farther east, heavy showers and locally severe thunderstorms swept across portions of the southern and eastern U.S. Elsewhere, unsettled, showery weather lingered in the Northwest, extending as far south as northern California…


    A sharp line between no drought and moderate to exceptional drought (D1 to D4) continued to slice across Oklahoma and Texas. On April 15, topsoil moisture was rated 72% very short in Oklahoma, along with 66% in Texas. In stark contrast, topsoil moisture was at least one-third surplus in Mississippi (58%), Tennessee (41%), Arkansas (37%), and Louisiana (34%). In the drought-affected areas, rangeland, pastures, and winter grains continued to greatly suffer. On April 15, nearly two-thirds of the winter wheat was rated in very poor to poor condition in Oklahoma (65%) and Texas (63%). On April 12-13 and 16-17, high-wind events brought blowing dust and a rash of major wildfires to western Oklahoma and portions of neighboring states. As of April 17, the two largest wildfires in Oklahoma had charred more than 300,000 acres of grass and brush and had destroyed more than 100 structures. The Rhea Fire, in Dewey County, had consumed more than one-quarter million acres, while the 34 Complex, in Woodward County, had burned across nearly 70,000 acres…

    High Plains

    Heavy snow also blanketed portions of the northern Plains, while dry, windy weather dominated drought-affected areas of the central Plains. The storm contributed to the elimination of severe drought (D2) from the Dakotas, and brought substantial reductions in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1). In South Dakota, 2-day April snowfall records were broken on April 13-14 in Mitchell (16.2 inches) and Huron (15.5 inches), while peak gusts were clocked to 60 and 57 mph, respectively. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, received 14.5 inches of snow from April 13-15, and reported a gust to 67 mph on the 14th. Most of Sioux Falls’ snow—13.7 inches—fell on the 14th, easily becoming the snowiest April day on record in that location (previously, 10.5 inches on April 28, 1994). Farther south, however, topsoil moisture was rated 72% very short to short on April 15 in Kansas, along with 61% in Colorado. On the same date, winter wheat in Kansas was rated 46% very poor to poor. In Colorado, there was a significant introduction of exceptional drought (D4) into the southwestern corner of the state, where winter snowfall was abysmal and spring and summer runoff prospects are poor…


    Late-season precipitation continued to move ashore as far south as northern California, resulting in some minor reductions in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0). In the Southwest, however, dry, often windy weather resulted in drought persistence or intensification. Arizona’s rangeland and pastures were rated 86% very poor to poor on April 15, compared to the 5-year average of 30%. On the same date, New Mexico’s rangeland and pastures were rated 50% very poor to poor, while winter wheat was rated 68% very poor to poor. New Mexico’s topsoil moisture on April 15 was rated 91% very short to short. Due to deteriorating agricultural and hydrological conditions, exceptional drought (D4) was expanded in the Four Corners region as well as northeastern New Mexico…

    Looking Ahead

    A storm system crossing the nation’s northern tier will reach the Northeast on Thursday, bearing rain and snow. A more significant storm will traverse the West and produce heavy snow in the central Rockies before crossing the Plains on Friday. Precipitation totals associated with the storm will be variable, but some drought-stricken areas of the central and southern Plains could receive as much as 0.5 to 2.0 inches of rain. During the weekend, showers and thunderstorms will erupt across the mid-South and spread into the Southeast. By early next week, warm, dry weather should overspread much of the western U.S., while chilly conditions will linger across the South and East.

    The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for April 24 – 28 calls for the likelihood of near- to below-normal temperatures across most of the eastern half of the U.S., while warmer-than-normal weather will cover the West. Meanwhile, near- to below-normal precipitation across the majority of the country should contrast with wetter-than-normal conditions in a few areas, including the Atlantic Coast States and central and southern sections of the Rockies and High Plains.

    @CAPArizona accused of manipulating supply and demand #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From H2ORadio:

    Officials from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico recently sent a letter to counterparts in Arizona, hoping to avert a crisis. The problem, if unresolved, could affect people in seven western states.

    A potential water war may be breaking out over the Colorado River, a conflict that could pit Arizona against Colorado, and other states. On April 13th, water managers from states in the north of the river system, called the Upper Basin, sent a letter to Arizona officials asking for their continued cooperation in managing the river for the benefit of everyone.

    It all started when the Central Arizona Project, managed by Central Arizona Water Conservation District, posted a graphic on its website showing that it could—and should—take more water than it needs from the river—instead of conserving as much as possible. Many people in Colorado, and even in Arizona, think this potential water grab goes too far.

    The Colorado River supplies 40 million people with water under a complex set of rules, laws, and agreements among seven states. James Eklund was one of those who signed the letter to Arizona officials. He is the state of Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. Eklund explained that the Colorado River system has two major reservoirs that are operated to the benefit of everybody in the basin. The reservoir in the Upper Basin is called Lake Powell, which was filled when Glen Canyon Dam was completed, and below it is Lake Mead, which is the product of Hoover Dam.

    The Upper Basin states (comprising Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado) send water to Lake Powell to store in order to meet their requirement to deliver supplies to the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada, and California. According to Eklund, the Upper Basin depends on a healthy amount of water in Lake Powell to act as an insurance policy against calls for more water from the Lower Basin.

    Think of the reservoirs this way—they are like two bathtubs connected one above the other. When the lower bathtub needs water, the upper one has to let some out. The Central Arizona Project wants to force water to be released from the upper bathtub—even if not needed. This got people in the Upper Basin concerned. Up until this point, the perception was that everyone was acting in everyone else’s interest—all for one, and one for all—but Central Arizona Project’s recent move made it appear it’s acting for its own benefit to the detriment of others—especially those in the Upper Basin.

    Eklund said that if we start working in our own self interest at the expense of others, then we start getting into more of a zero-sum game, and that’s a place that’s fraught with peril on this river. He added that they have worked very hard not to have the Upper and Lower basins pitted against each other, but the messaging that the Central Arizona Project put out implies that it wants to game the system.

    This maneuver would discourage farmers and cities in Colorado from conserving water to send to the upper bathtub—Lake Powell—to meet Lower Basin requirements. People in the Upper Basin have been working hard to promote those conservation efforts. Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water is concerned enough about this potential water grab that he sent a letter to the managers of the Central Arizona Project on April 16th. He threatens to stop funding some conservation efforts unless the Central Arizona Project shows it is not manipulating the system and is aggressively conserving water with other entities in Arizona.

    The potential water war along the Colorado underscores how everybody on the river is tied together—especially in a dry year. James Eklund said that inflow into the system is shaping up to be low this year, and we might skirt by; but, if there are back-to-back dry years like this one, then we are really in a crisis.

    A crisis where everyone up and down the Colorado River needs to cooperate.

    From Water Deeply (Eric Kuhn, John Fleck):

    While some problems on the Colorado River are the result of drought and climate change, Congress set the course for serious trouble in the watershed decades ago by authorizing the Central Arizona Project.

    WITH THE POTENTIAL of a Colorado River shortage declaration looming as Lake Mead drops, Arizona is struggling with the politics of who will have to cut their water use, and by how much. As Arizona wrestles, it is important to remember how we got here.

    It’s easy to blame today’s problems – an overallocated river and declining reservoir levels – on drought and climate change, and both of these do play a role. But our predecessors knew 50 years ago this was inevitable. In 1968, as Congress debated authorization of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), it was clear there was not enough water to supply the 336-mile-long canal, which diverts Colorado River water. But the federal government, with Arizona’s enthusiastic support and the concurrence of the other six U.S. states in the Colorado River basin, charged ahead.

    The objective of the half-century of river development that had gone before had not changed in 1968 – massive dams and canals would supply water to farms and cities, backed by the financial might of the federal government. But the fictions on which the preceding half-century’s water development had been based – enough water for all, and a surplus at that – could no longer be supported by the real-world hydrology of the Colorado River.

    Today the Central Arizona Project, pumping 1.5 million acre-feet per year to the farms, tribes and cities of the Phoenix and Tucson valleys, is essential to Arizona’s water supply future. But the record left by the project’s congressional debates a half-century ago is clear. Even before we had an inkling of the implications of climate change, the basin’s leadership understood the CAP’s long-term water supply would be far less than 1.5 million acre-feet. Experts in the 1960s agreed that by 2030 the CAP’s reliable water supply, as the project with the most junior priority on the lower river, would be less than 900,000 acre-feet per year and that in many years its actual diversions would be zero.

    It was Floyd Dominy, the legendary head of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, who delivered the bad news in 1965 as hearings on the Central Arizona Project began. “Sooner or later,” Dominy told members of the House Subcommittee on Irrigation and Reclamation, “and mostly sooner, the natural flows of the Colorado River will not be sufficient to meet the water demands, either in the lower basin or the upper basin, if these great regions of the nation are to maintain their established economies and realize their growth potential.”

    Since the early 1900s, we have repeatedly overestimated how much water the Colorado River could provide. Scientists who suggested otherwise were ignored or marginalized. The negotiators of the 1922 Colorado River Compact believed the natural flow of the river at Lee’s Ferry was 17.5 million acre-feet per year. By the mid-1960s, the reality of the river’s actual hydrology, a natural flow of 15 million acre-feet per year, could no longer be ignored. Absent enough water to fill the CAP canal, the politicians and basin water officials turned to a dreamy fiction. All the basin needed to do was augment the river with a series of canals, pumping plants and pipelines to import water from the Columbia River basin in the Pacific Northwest. If the compact and treaty with Mexico allocated 17.5 million acre-feet, but the river only provided 15 million, they would find 2.5 million acre-feet somewhere else.

    But the Columbia basin states blocked that option. Despite the reality that there would be no augmentation, Congress, with the acquiescence of the Colorado River basin, approved the CAP. This guaranteed the situation we have today. The CAP, a project essential to the water supply of one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, has, by legislative design, an unreliable water supply.

    It would be easy to blame Arizona for expanding based on the fiction that there was enough water to fill its CAP, but it is not alone. California, too, overbuilt based on unrealistic expectations of a surplus on the river large enough to fill its Colorado River Aqueduct, which provides critical water to millions of people from Los Angeles to San Diego. The managers of these projects now face the politically daunting task of cannibalizing their agricultural neighbors, with the senior rights, to provide the water their customers rely on, a process that is already well underway in California.

    In the upper basin, the transmountain diversions that provide water to growing cities on the Colorado Front Range and Utah’s Wasatch Front are in the same situation. Even as others continue to harbor grand plans to export even more water out of the basin, project sponsors try to improve the reliability of their junior rights at the expense of their agricultural neighbors.

    This will not get easier. With climate change, we face the probability that the 15 million acre-foot river at Lee’s Ferry we refused to accept in 1968 is now a 13 million acre-foot river, and headed down. The genius of the 1922 Colorado River Compact was a social contract between the faster- and slower-growing basins that enabled the political coalitions necessary to pass federal legislation to develop the river. Today, with the basin fully developed and overallocated, the problem is the reallocation of supplies between agricultural districts with senior rights and cities that, though holding junior rights, require certainty. Can we find a similar social contract between cities, agriculture, tribes and the environmental and recreation communities to allow reallocation to proceed in a manner acceptable to all?

    From InkStain (John Fleck):

    Four years ago, when I was young and naive, I pointed to what in retrospect I now realize was a warning sign of the train wreck we’re now seeing. Phoenix had rights to some extra Colorado River water it wasn’t using, and it wanted to leave it in Lake Mead. The Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the government agency that runs the Central Arizona Project, had the power to block this, and did.

    It’s an example of what an academic colleague described to me at the time as “the anticommons” – where single users of a common pool resource have the power individually to block solutions that are in the collective best interest of the users as a whole.

    From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

    The four states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — plus Denver’s water utility said the Central Arizona Project was trying to avoid a reduction in its share of the Colorado River while others are voluntarily cutting back to avoid a crisis amid a prolonged drought.

    “It’s one water user taking advantage of a situation for their own benefit, to the detriment of a river that supplies nearly 40 million people,” said Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water, which gets about half its supply from the Colorado River.

    The Central Arizona Project denied the allegations and said it’s been conserving…

    Last winter was exceptionally dry across most of the central and southern Rocky Mountains, so there will be below-average melting snow to feed the river.

    The dispute over the Central Arizona Project revolves around how much water flows from the upper part of the Colorado River system to the lower. The upper part, called the Upper Basin, includes the four states challenging the Arizona utility. The Lower Basin includes Arizona, California and Nevada.

    Each basin is entitled to about half the river’s water under rules laid out in a collection of interstate agreements, court rulings and international treaties. To make sure the Lower Basin states get their share, the Upper Basin states send water from the massive Lake Powell reservoir to the even bigger Lake Mead reservoir downstream. In 2007, the Upper Basin states agreed to send Lake Mead additional water if conditions were right to keep that reservoir from dropping too low.

    The Upper Basin states now claim the Central Arizona Project is manipulating its share in a way that keeps Lake Mead low enough that the Upper Basin is required to send extra water, but high enough to avoid mandatory cutbacks in Lower Basin consumption.

    Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, called that level the “sweet spot.” In remarks posted on the project’s website, he indicated the utility wants to keep Lake Mead there for as long as possible.

    That prompted the four Upper Basin states to send Arizona an unusually blunt letter Friday. They accused the Central Arizona Project of ignoring the river’s dire condition and endangering water supplies for millions of people. They warned they wouldn’t voluntarily conserve water if the Arizona utility was going to take it.

    In an interview, the Colorado representative who signed the letter, James Eklund, said the Arizona utility has made “gaming the system” a policy goal.

    “That’s just not conducive to collaboration,” he said.

    Lochhead sent his own letter to Arizona officials on Monday, saying Denver Water would stop contributing to a fund that promotes Colorado River conservation unless the Central Arizona Project stopped manipulating the river.

    In a tweet last week, Cooke denied the utility was manipulating the river and described its practices as wise management.

    He declined comment this week through a spokeswoman. The utility released a written statement saying it was surprised and disappointed by the Upper Basin states’ letter and wanted to “clarify apparent misunderstandings.”

    What happens next wasn’t immediately clear. Eklund said the topic could come up at meetings this month among the Colorado River states and federal officials.

    The states have a long history of cooperating on ways to conserve the waterway, Eklund said, and the Upper Basin states want that to continue.

    He said they can’t afford to wait, because another dry winter could trigger mandatory cutbacks for water users under the rules governing the river.

    “We’re really hoping that we get good precipitation, but that is not something we can control,” Eklund said. “What we can control is how we deal with each other.”

    Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    Planning for #drought, or planning for a drier future? — Hannah Holm

    From the Hutchins Water Center (Hannah Holm) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

    Looking up at the Grand Mesa from Grand Junction in early April, it’s good to see snow on its flanks. For too much of this past winter, they have been bare. Skiers felt the pain of the dry winter early; fish and ranchers will feel it this summer.

    In Grand Junction, the impacts of this year’s drought will likely be eased by last year’s bounty, stored in reservoirs upstream. More troubling is the trend we’ve been seeing since 2000, which scientists are warning could signal a shift to a more arid climate.

    Since 2000, we’ve had a lot more dry years than wet years in the Colorado River Basin. In a report released in March, the Colorado River Research Group warns that it may be more accurate to see this succession of dry years as a process of aridification, rather than a drought: we shouldn’t assume that it will end any time soon.

    The group points to several recent studies showing that warmer temperatures have already led to a larger portion of our snowpack evaporating or getting taken up by plants before it has a chance to reach streams. 2017 was a case in point, with a very large snowpack converted into only moderately above-average inflows into Lake Powell.

    Water managers and policymakers have not failed to notice this drying trend, reflected most obviously in dropping levels in Lakes Powell and Mead. Water users in the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada have reigned in their water use a bit, managing to keep Lake Mead just barely above official shortage levels for the past few years. In the upper basin states of Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado, water leaders have been conducting modeling exercises to assess the risk of critical shortages and experiments to test options for responding.

    The Colorado River Risk Study, spearheaded by the Colorado River District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District, has modeled several hydrology and water demand scenarios to assess the risk of Lake Powell dropping too low to reliably generate hydropower (somewhere between elevations of 3,490 and 3,525 feet above sea level). If Powell drops much further, it could also become difficult to release enough water through the dam to meet downstream obligations under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. If that happens, cities could rush to purchase water rights from farms, potentially drying up much of the agriculture on the Western Slope.

    Using historical hydrology from 1988–2012 and demand numbers that roughly track current use trends, modeling indicates a 20 percent chance of Powell dropping to elevation 3,525 between now and 2036 if we don’t significantly change how water is managed. Using the same demand and hydrology data, that risk could be cut in half if major reservoirs like Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge release extra water to Powell, and the lower basin states implement their own plans to protect Lake Mead water levels. The risk drops further if conservation activities generate water that can be stored in a “bank” and released as needed. However, major benefits would come only after such a bank has had time to accumulate a significant amount of water.

    Meanwhile, the Upper Colorado River Commission has been giving out grants to test whether paying willing water users to temporarily reduce their use could help boost water levels in Powell. Such temporary reductions, rotated between different water users, are seen as an alternative to the permanent “buy and dry” of agricultural water rights.

    Participants in the grant program include the Grand Valley Water Users Association, which chose several farmers by lottery to temporarily fallow their land in exchange for payment, and farmers in the North Fork and Uncompahgre Valleys who reduced irrigation or grew alternative crops under the program.

    The Commission’s report on the program concluded that it could work, but several hurdles would have to be overcome. For example, it is unclear if sufficient legal tools currently exist to ensure that water conserved by one user could make it to Lake Powell without being picked up by someone else along the way. Measuring the amount of water saved through modified irrigation practices is also technically challenging. And the cost could be high — at the rates used by the program in 2017, it would cost $40 million to conserve about 200,000 acre feet of water.

    As drought planning has been discussed at Western Slope water meetings, concerns have been raised about how to ensure fairness, with a strong desire to ensure that cities share the pain of any use cuts with farmers. There is also concern that proactive conservation could simply facilitate new drains on the Colorado River system, rather than protect existing users from drier conditions.

    The data clearly demonstrate that we face the risk of a drier future, in which past ways of managing water will not continue to be viable. There are ways to mitigate the impact on our communities, but they are likely to be expensive and will certainly be complicated. This makes it all the more important to press forward now. The sooner we can find equitable, feasible mechanisms for adapting to drier conditions, the more smoothly we will be able to handle both temporary droughts and drier conditions over the long term.

    Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.

    @COWaterTrust: RiverBank tickets are on sale!

    Click here for all the inside skinny:

    This year, we have the honor of recognizing our 2018 David Getches Flowing Waters Award winner, Jeff Shoemaker and The Greenway Foundation!

    Read more about Jeff’s accomplishments here.