Click here for all the inside skinny.
Click here for all the inside skinny:
It’s time! The 6th annual South Platte RiverFest presented by Elitch Gardens Revesco Properties takes place on Saturday, June 23 from 11 am-8 pm. We are moving the festival back to Confluence Park for even more access to water sports and activities!
Admission is free and provides access to live music, SUP races, SUP demos, and tube rides through the whitewater park. Food and beverages will be available for sale throughout the festival including our new food truck court!
Activity bracelets will be available for kids for unlimited fun all day long. Bracelets will be $5/child or $12/family and give unlimited access to a climbing wall, face painting, balloon animals, and trolley rides…
Be sure to invite all of your friends to Denver’s Premier River Festival. We hope to see you there!
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Hot weather (daytime high temperatures in the 90’s) stretched from Arizona eastward to Louisiana early in the drought week, before spreading rapidly northward over the Great Plains and much of the Mississippi Valley. Some locations reported triple-digit heat during the week, associated with an amplifying ridge in the middle troposphere over the central contiguous U.S. Though the observed weekly precipitation pattern was largely convective in nature, both AHPS and ACIS depict the heavier precipitation amounts (over an inch) generally across the Southeast, the central Gulf Coast area, and the northern and central High Plains. These areas of heavier rainfall were associated with Subtropical Storm Alberto and baroclinic activity. Alberto developed early in the drought week over the western Caribbean Sea and tracked north over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. By early Monday evening (May 28th, Memorial Day), the center of Alberto crossed the Florida panhandle near Panama City. Preliminary wind reports indicated 40 mph sustained winds at Panama City, with a gust to 59 mph. Near and along Alberto’s path northward, rainfall amounts of 3-8 inches were generally received, with locally heavier amounts…
Abnormal dryness was erased from southern Mississippi this week, thanks to Alberto’s rains. In contrast, recent heat and dryness promoted the expansion of D0 across northwest Louisiana and western Arkansas. The 30-day ACIS SPI has values of -1 to -2 in general across the Arklatex region. A major overhaul of the drought depiction in Texas was rendered this week, with some areas showing improvement and others showing deterioration. Recent rain in parts of western Oklahoma favored small-scale improvements in the core drought region, while the lack of significant rain in parts of eastern Oklahoma warranted one-category deterioration…
In south-central and southeastern Nebraska, recent triple-digit heat and dryness has been an issue, especially for pastures and alfalfa. Where 90-day SPIs were less than -1.5, moderate drought (D1) was introduced. This included a small area south of Omaha, which was linked to the D1 area in nearby Iowa. Moderate drought (D1) was also expanded across northern Fillmore and northwest Saline counties. Incidentally, Omaha matched or set four days of high temperature records during the long Memorial Day weekend (Friday through Monday). The highs ranged between 97 and 101 degrees F. Across northwest Kansas, widespread heavy rain (3 inches or greater, with some isolated CoCoRaHS totals of about 9 inches) warranted a one-category improvement in the depiction. Next week, once the rainwater has a chance to either percolate into the soil or run off into streams, additional alteration of the Kansas depiction may be needed. Across the Dakotas, D0, D1, and D2 categorical areas were generally expanded in coverage, due mostly to recent precipitation deficits. There was one area of improvement (D0 was removed) in the Black Hills of South Dakota due to rainfall this past week…
Recent rain warranted a one-category improvement in drought conditions (D1 to D0) across northeast Montana, and the two areas of abnormal dryness in this region were consolidated into one. For now, despite recent heat and dryness, it was decided to hold off on introducing any D0 into extreme northwest Montana. Continuing snowmelt runoff and above average river and stream flows provide plenty of water in that area for irrigation. In addition, in nearby Idaho, some areas are coming out of their worst flooding in years. Bonner County continues to experience flooding, and farmers in adjacent Boundary County will be struggling with crop loss from the saturated soils in that region. In Colorado, some improvement in the drought depiction was made from approximately the Front Range just west of Denver eastward through Kit Carson and Cheyenne Counties near the Kansas border. Relatively small adjustments were made in New Mexico this week as well, especially in central and east-central portions of the state…
For the ensuing 5-day period (May 31-June 4, 2018), most predicted heavy rain areas (1.5-3.0 inches or greater) are expected to be east of the Mississippi River, where little dryness and drought currently exist. West of the Mississippi River, smaller-scale heavy rain areas of a convective nature are forecast over North Dakota, Nebraska, and southwestern Missouri. For the subsequent 5-day period (June 5-9, 2018), CPC predicts elevated odds of near to below normal precipitation for most of the Lower 48 states. Exceptions include in and around the Florida Panhandle, Minnesota and parts of adjacent states, and much of Arizona and New Mexico, where odds favor above normal precipitation.
From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
The latest chapter is a March 25 letter obtained by the Indy from the DOJ to the state Health Department and Colorado Attorney General’s Office. In it, DOJ Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wood says the federal government will “welcome and anticipate the full involvement of the State and intervenors in any such discussions with the City.”
That contrasts with the EPA’s unilateral action to reopen settlement negotiations with the city recently — without consulting other plaintiffs — after a year-long settlement discussion failed last year. The lawsuit is set for trial in August.
From The Sterling Journal-Advocate:
There already are six projects being pursued in the South Platte Basin to extend the water supply. These are not included in the recent South Platte Storage Survey, but have been considered and under way for some time:
• The NISP/Glade project — The Northern Integrated Supply Project is a proposed water storage and distribution project that will supply 15 Northern Front Range water partners with 40,000 acre-feet of new, reliable water supplies.
• Chimney Hollow Reservoir — A 360-foot high dam that will hold 90,000 acre feet to help supply the thirsty Thompson Valley urban area. The water will come from the Windy Gap Project, a diversion dam and pumping station completed in 1985 to provide extra irrigation and municipal water out of the Colorado River. The water originally was stored in Grand Lake, but when that is full, the water cannot be stored. Chimney Hollow, also known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, solves that problem.
• Halligan reservoir enlargements — Halligan Reservoir near Fort Collins is about 100 years old. Its capacity is about 6,400 acre feet of water and the City of Fort Collins wants to add 8,125 acre feet to the reservoir by raising its dam about 25 feet.
• Milton Seaman Reservoir enlargement — Greeley originally had wanted to expand Seaman Reservoir in conjunction with Halligan, but because of diverging goals Greeley withdrew from the joint project. The expansion of Seamon now is targeted for design in 2028 and construction by 2030.
• Gross Reservoir enlargement — Gross Reservoir is one of 11 reservoirs supplying water to the City of Denver and surrounding urban areas. It is on the city’s Moffat System, which diverts water from the Western Slope to the metro area. Denver Water has proposed raising the dam height by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir to increase by 77,000 acre feet.
• Chatfield Reallocation Plan — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that Chatfield Reservoir, built primarily for flood control after the 1965 South Platte River flood, can accommodate an additional 20,600 acre feet of water storage for water supply without compromising its flood control function. This additional storage space will be used by municipal and agricultural water providers to help meet the diverse needs of the state. No actual construction is required, but the legal, environmental, and engineering concerns of allowing the reservoir to hold more water all have to be satisfied.
From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Sara Waite):
The problems faced by the wastewater system have become more urgent, as the city is now non-compliant with its existing discharge permit. Failure to move forward with upgrades could result in stiff penalties from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, to the tune of $10,000 a day assessed from the first date of the violation last November.
The Sterling City Council has long known about deficiencies in the system; two years ago, Rob Demis of engineering firm Mott MacDonald gave a preliminary overview of some of the problems presented by the aging infrastructure. In short, the system suffers from flooding and leakage issues, and also is incapable of meeting new environmental standards…
According to Demis, the system lacks the capacity to handle heavy rainfall events or river flooding, and also suffers from leaks at multiple points that allow groundwater to seep into the wastewater stream. That excess water damages equipment, overloads the system and can lead to costly permit violations, as well as disrupting the biological process that breaks down the organic material in the water.
The system also is incapable of meeting its existing compliance schedules or new regulations that are slated to be implemented by 2022. It suffers from a lack of redundancy, leaving the city vulnerable to failures that would be “catastrophic,” Demis said, and also uses obsolete and dangerous equipment and processes.
Demis explained that much of the system has reached, or exceeded, its useful life and the problems the city is facing will only get worse over time. As an example, he said the four clarifiers that are in place had been banned by the time they were installed in 1995, begging the question of how Sterling ended up with them in the first place, and one of the tanks has failed and can’t be used.
As part of the presentation, Demis went over the estimated costs, 80 percent of which was for construction and the other 20 percent for legal, administrative, engineering, permitting and other costs associated with such a project. The cost of installing a new force main and improvements to the treatment system itself make up about half of the $31 million price tag.
Demis also spoke about possible funding sources. Grants are not reliable, he said; they looked at six possible grant sources and one they identified as a possibility has not received the expected funding because of low oil prices. A review of potential loan sources showed that the State Revolving Fund would provide a lower total cost in the long run versus private loans, because of the reduced interest rate. Either way, the city charter requires voter approval for taking on debt.
The city’s existing sewer rates have not kept up with the rate of inflation, Demis said. Using simple math, he estimated that residential sewer users’ rates would increase by $23, but noted that the city would have to complete a rate study to look at the more complex issues involved in determining the revenue necessary to make the recommended improvements, operate the system and invest in other needed infrastructure. The council is awaiting a report on such a rate study that was funded in the city budget last year.
During his October 2016 presentation, Demis gave credit to the operators at the wastewater treatment plant, saying they were “willing to make their job a little bit harder to try to find the value for the city” by reusing existing equipment and infrastructure where possible. He estimated that the cost to completely start over with a new wastewater system would be between $45 and 50 million. “We think there’s very good value for the city of Sterling there.”
Sterling residents for the past two years have seen increases on both water and wastewater services in an attempt to build up the enterprise funds and address infrastructure needs. According to City Manager Don Saling, the rate hikes were intended to narrow the gap between where rates were and where they’ll need to be, pending the outcome of the rate study. One big change he expects to see from the study is a recommendation to base sewer rates on usage; the rate would be calculated from water usage in cooler months, when users are not watering outdoors. A variable rate would be more equitable — a family of four would presumably pay more than a single retiree on a fixed income — and could also encourage water conservation to lower both water and sewer bills.
From Water Education Colorado:
Join the Barr Milton Watershed Association, Water Education Colorado, Metro Wastewater Reclamation District and the Colorado Stormwater Council on June 5th or June 6th for a fun and interactive day learning about the history of the Sand Creek Waterway and efforts to reclaim it. Explore this waterway by bicycle along with citizen leaders, scientists, planners and water managers. To register for the June 5th date, click here. To register for the June 6th date, click here…
When we think about Colorado waterways, our minds often wander to the larger rivers that traverse the state, like the Arkansas, Rio Grande and Colorado Rivers. However, our smaller, local waterways also play a significant role in providing important ecosystem benefits, as well as water to communities and industries, and habitat areas for wildlife. Join the Barr Milton Watershed Association, Water Education Colorado, Metro Wastewater Reclamation District and the Colorado Stormwater Council for a fun and interactive day learning about the history of the Sand Creek Waterway and efforts to reclaim it. Explore this waterway by bicycle along with citizen leaders, scientists, planners and water managers.
Register today – space is limited. Both the June 5 (morning) and June 6 (afternoon) bike tours are exactly the same.
From Westword (Chris Bianchi):
Sure, it’s late May, and normally by now the mountain snows have all but wrapped up for their annual three-month-or-so summer hiatus. But in a typical year, snowpack hangs around well into June, and sometimes even into July and August. In southern Colorado, there’s virtually no snow left, even on peaks, and further north, there’s barely a third of the snow you’d typically expect this time of year.
The drought has gotten so bad in southern Colorado that several counties have been declared disaster zones by the United States Department of Agriculture, making those areas eligible for emergency financial assistance. Conditions in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado are at the highest level of drought, according to the United States’ official drought monitor.
The drought in the south began with an absolutely horrendous winter. Purgatory Ski Resort, near Durango in the San Juans, saw only 125 inches of snow this season, less than half of the 260 inches it averages. Telluride saw only 171 inches in the 2017-’18 winter, also only about half of the 309 inches it normally sees in a full winter. A bit further north, Crested Butte only saw 145 inches compared to the 300 inches or so it typically sees in a winter.
Particularly for the hardest hit areas of southern Colorado, half of the snow means half of the spring snowmelt. A quick scan through statewide stream flow levels already shows below average water discharge through most of Colorado (there are localized exceptions), thanks to a warm May that’s already melted off much of the meager snowpack.
What does this all mean? For starters, camping season is already feeling the pinch of burn bans for much of the southern half of the state. Barring big summer rains, these are unlikely to be lifted anytime soon.
The biggest concern will be the possibility for wildfires this summer. We’ve written extensively about the looming danger of a dry winter and how that can help fuel a nasty summer. With a quick melt and the snow water tap already running dry in much of the state, we’ll need steady rain to keep the ground moist enough to avoid fires. Heat waves, such as the horrific 2012 one that helped start the Waldo Canyon Fire, and gusty, dry winds can set the stage for dangerous fire conditions.
Conditions are even nastier in southern Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Flagstaff, Arizona, saw one of its worst winters on record, picking up just 38 inches of snow for the season, a fraction of the 101.7 inches it averages. Taos Ski Area in New Mexico saw 78 inches of snow, significantly less than the 300 inches it would see in an average year. Albuquerque already has water restrictions in place this summer.
Recent rains have helped in the Denver area and northern parts of the state. Year-to-date precipitation in Denver is around three-quarters of an inch below average, which is a deficit, but not a huge one. On the eastern plains, Akron has seen more than double its typical May rainfall, helping ease some of the worst drought conditions in Colorado’s breadbasket. Reservoir levels are above average, and a wet June could help ease drought conditions.
The California-Nevada Drought Early Warning System (CA-NV DEWS) May 2018 Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar is part of a series of regular drought and climate outlook webinars designed to provide stakeholders and other interested parties in the region with timely information on current drought status and impacts, as well as a preview of current and developing climatic events (i.e. El Niño and La Niña). The webinar took place at 11 a.m. PT, Tuesday May 29, 2018.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that farm operations in areas eligible for the Farm Service Agency emergency loans have until January 2019 to apply for loans to help cover losses related to the drought.
Since April, La Plata County has been listed in an “exceptional drought” – the most intense category of drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
As of Tuesday, a weather station at the Durango-La Plata County Airport has recorded 1.41 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1, nearly 4 inches below the historic average of 5.38 inches in that same time period…
Nearly all of Colorado, with exception to the northeast corner of the state, is listed in some form of drought.
The USDA designated seven counties as “primary natural disaster areas” because of drought: Alamosa, Archuleta, Conejos, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mineral and Rio Grande.
Eleven counties were not deemed natural disaster areas, but farm operations in these counties can apply for emergency assistance: Chaffee, Costilla, Delta, Huerfano, La Plata, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin, Saguache and San Juan.
The news release said Rio Arriba, San Juan and Taos counties in New Mexico also qualify.
It’s unclear why Dolores, Montezuma and San Miguel counties, which are also in the exceptional drought category, were not included on the list. Calls to USDA spokeswoman Latawnya Dia were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The USDA said each loan application is considered on its own merits, “taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.”
The Farm Service Agency has other programs to help farmers recover from the impacts of drought, the news release said. Interested farmers and ranchers should call their local USDA office for further information.
From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland):
The disaster declaration covers Alamosa, Archuleta, Conejos, Gunnison Hinsdale, Mineral and Rio Grande counties. All but Gunnison County are served by the Upper Rio Grande River. Gunnison County is served by the Gunnison River.
But the NRCS map shows pretty much all of southern Colorado is in bad shape because of drought.
The USDA is also making disaster assistance available to farmers and ranchers in 11 counties contiguous to those in the declaration area: Chaffee, Costilla, Delta, Huerfano, La Plata (Durango), Mesa (Grand Junction), Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin (Aspen), Saguache and San Juan.
The declaration means farmers and ranchers are eligible for emergency loans and other disaster assistance from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Those applying for emergency assistance have eight months from May 25, the date of the declaration, to apply for loans to cover actual losses.
The USDA has other financial assistance available that does not require a disaster declaration, including emergency loans for livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish; operating loans for farm ownership; and a tree assistance program. More information on those programs is available from the USDA.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 40 percent of Colorado, primarily the south and southwest, is in extreme or exceptional drought. Only the northern part of the state, served by the North Platte River, and northeastern Colorado, served by the South Platte, have so far been spared from drought. It’s a dramatic turn-around from a year ago at this time when only 6 percent of the state was in drought.
It’s unusual to have a drought declaration this early in the year, according to Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown. “Typically we will have enough moisture to get into growing season,” but that’s not happening this year, he told Colorado Politics. In those drought areas, winter wheat didn’t even come up this season. “It’s been bone-dry,” Brown said.
Brown also pointed out that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue heard first-hand about Colorado’s drought problems when he toured the state two weeks ago.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):
The council voted 5-2 to allow city staff to negotiate, with Councilmembers Ross Cunniff and Bob Overbeck against, and those in agreement largely arguing it couldn’t hurt anything. City staff would need to go to council to approve any final deals.
“We need to be in the game and to negotiate and look out for Fort Collins’ best interests,” Mayor Wade Troxell said.
The agreement to negotiate doesn’t affect the city council’s overall negative disposition toward the Northern Integrated Supply Project. NISP would lead to the creation of two reservoirs, the Glade to the northwest of the city and the Galeton near Greeley. It would divert nearly 40,000 acre feet of water from the Poudre River. Fort Collins Water Resources Engineer Adam Jokerst noted for comparison that the city typically treats about 25,000 acre feet of water a year, about half of which is from the Poudre.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
The renewed negotiations come as U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch scheduled an August trial in the lawsuit on May 22, the day after the state’s lead attorney in the case was reportedly fired for a reason the Colorado Attorney General’s Office won’t discuss.
That lead attorney, Margaret “Meg” Parish, first assistant attorney general in the Natural Resources & Environment Section, wrote at least two scathing letters to the EPA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in recent months, calling the EPA’s action “shocking and extraordinary” and expressing “deep concern and disappointment” that the agency unilaterally reopened settlement talks without consulting co-plaintiffs. Besides the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), those include Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
The move was particularly alarming, she noted, because the state and EPA signed an agreement not to communicate with the city without the presence of the other.
Some who couldn’t comment on the record due to confidentiality rules labeled the latest moves “pure politics” in an era when the EPA’s reputation is pivoting from protecting the environment to serving polluters…
EPA’s reopening of negotiations has sown suspicion among co-plaintiffs who already distrust the city due to sewage discharges, raging stormwater flows and sediment in Fountain Creek that befoul the creek, threaten levees and block irrigation headgates interfering with raising crops.
The possibility of a settlement was suggested to voters last fall when Mayor John Suthers campaigned for passage of stormwater fees, saying their adoption would help the city end the lawsuit, filed by the EPA and CDPHE in November 2016 after the city flunked compliance inspections in 2013 and 2015 for its MS4 permit (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System). The lawsuit alleges ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act, saying the city failed to force developers to install proper storm drainage infrastructure, gave waivers to others and didn’t adequately inspect and monitor its waterways. The city spent only $1.6 million a year on those tasks from 2011 to 2014, a pittance considering the city’s drainage needs are estimated at $1 billion.
Approved by voters in November, the fees go into effect July 1 and replace general fund money used to satisfy an April 2016 deal the city made with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on stormwater. The agreement grew from Pueblo County’s demands after the city adopted stormwater fees in 2007 and abolished them in 2009 and came as the city activated its $825-million water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir.
From Water for Colorado (Laura Belanger):
The West faces a water supply gap, and the reasons are simple. Our quickly growing cities and towns are adding demands on our already stretched water supplies. Water reuse can help us fill the gap.
So what is water reuse and why is it important? First, it’s important to understand the difference between the two primary types of reuse: potable and non-potable reuse. Many states in the West currently allow for non-potable – or purple pipe – reuse for things like landscape irrigation, industrial purposes, commercial laundries, and fire protection, among other things. But a majority of purple pipe reuse is for outdoor landscape irrigation which really only benefits us during irrigation months (less than half of the year). But with potable reuse – where water is treated to very high quality standards to ensure it’s safe and often blended with other supplies – that water can be used anytime, anywhere and for anything. Potable reuse helps stretch supplies and meet more demand with the same volume of water. And it doesn’t require an entirely separate set of pipes (purple) to deliver it.
Western Resource Advocates is working with water utilities, local and state agencies, and other organizations to help increase water reuse around the West to address this growing problem. In Colorado specifically, WRA is working with a diverse group of stakeholders to help develop regulations for direct potable reuse and advance legislation to increase reuse to help the state’s water supplies. Recycled water has been used for decades in Colorado and states across the nation and has long been proven to be a safe, cost-effective tool for additional water supply. In fact, the State of the Rockies Poll found that 78% of westerners “support using our current water supply more wisely by encouraging more conservation and increasing water recycling.“
Currently, WRA and our partners are working to advance four bills in the Colorado legislature that would allow recycled water to be used for:
toilet flushing marijuana cultivation edible crop and community garden irrigation growth of industrial hemp
Other states, like Florida, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, currently allow for recycled water to be used for toilet flushing and edible crop irrigation, and have successfully supplemented their water supplies this way. Colorado’s Water Plan also specifically calls for state agencies to identify how the state can foster increased reuse to help address growing demands, and these initiatives are a great step in that direction. By embracing water reuse for these applications and others we can help bolster our stretched water supplies, and work to help, shrink the gap between those supplies and the demands of our growing cities and towns. Water reuse, in concert with other water-smart tools and strategies, can help us provide for our communities while also protecting our beloved rivers and lakes, keeping them healthy and preserving the quality of life that they afford for all of us.
Click here for the announcement and to register:
This year’s “Shed ’18” Watershed Summit is going to be better than ever! With over 200 water utility executives, business leaders, conservation experts, and other professionals coming together and sharing tested solutions, you will surely come away with new insights and ideas to help position your organization for success.
This year’s event will highlight…
Resiliency: Preparing and Recovering from Fire, Flood, & Drought
Colorado Water Plan Funding
Activating Communities for Change
Responsible Growth in Agriculture and Urban Water
And much more!
The “Shed ’18” Watershed Summit is produced through a collaborative partnership between the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water, the City of Boulder, the One World One Water Center, Resource Central, and the Denver Botanic Gardens. Building on the success of the last 3 years, this one-day summit helps you connect with industry leaders from across Colorado.
$40.00 Early Bird registration ends May 31st!
The “Shed ‘18” Watershed Summit Scholarship covers registration fees and conference meals. The application information and questions must be submitted by June 1st !
Click Here to View Application
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):
With a key final report looming for two proposed Poudre River-fueled reservoirs, Fort Collins City Council will weigh whether staff will try to negotiate over the city’s remaining concerns.
Past city comments helped steer the Northern Integrated Supply Project in a more agreeable direction, according to a staff report for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. But concerns still remain. Staff members hope a negotiation might quell, or at least mitigate, some of them…
According to city staff, the prime concerns are:
a reduction of peak flows in the river, and related loss of river health and increased flood risk; the unknown effect the project may have on water quality; an unclear and “inadequately funded” adaptive management plan; concerns that there’s not enough money gong to mitigation or river enhancement.
Officially, the city does not support NISP, but it has engaged in conversations with project organizer Northern Water on the project that has been talked about for more than a decade.
City staff is pushing for more formal negotiations — the City Council stripped that specific language in a similar resolution in February 2017 — because the permitting process is nearing its end. The Army Corps of Engineers is poised to release its final environmental impact statement at the end of June, according to the city.
The city isn’t a direct participant in the Northern Integrated Supply Project, though it is considered a stakeholder. The Corps doesn’t usually accept public comment on final environmental impact statements but is poised to do so this time, according to city staff. However, it will also likely be late enough in the process that public comment alone won’t be able to make change much.
Any negotiations would likely include a give-and-take with Northern Water, such as the city’s help in expediting remaining permits, though staff didn’t speculate about what else it may be.
“As with any such discussions regarding complex matters and potential agreements, there are no guarantees of success,” according to the staff report [ed. Click through to the Coloradoan to read the report]. “Furthermore, the approach will depend on Northern Water’s willingness to participate.”
From The Cortez Journal (Ryan Simonovich):
Birds and fish struggle with less water, but bears benefit from warmer weather
Some animals, such as birds, do not need to drink much water because they metabolize water from the food they eat, said Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski.
But drought conditions decrease the moisture in vegetation, which is detrimental to animals’ hydration. This can be problematic for lactating females, for instance, because they need extra water to produce milk.
For this reason, Parks and Wildlife hopes monsoons this summer will bring moisture to the vegetation, creating a larger inventory of food for animals.
The warm spring, which has so far stayed clear of a major freeze, has been beneficial for bears, Lewandowski said.
Last year, there was a late freeze that affected bears’ natural food supply. Bears then came into town to forage in humans’ trash. This year, food such as plants and berries are growing and available for the bears to eat.
Dry years also affect fish habitats. Low river and creek water levels mean fewer places for fish to go. Fish eat bugs, and the more water there is, the more bugs there are. When water is warmer, there is less oxygen available in the water.
At the Durango fish hatchery, Parks and Wildlife is releasing fish into the wild earlier than normal because there is less water available for the hatchery to use.
Species have adapted to different climates for thousands of years, so there is no threat of a mass extinction, Lewandowski said. However, biologists are worried that long-term drought will have harmful effects on wildlife.
Sensory garden designed with Colorado native plants provides unique learning environment.
From TheDenverChannel.com (Marc Stewart):
“Swim, or hike, or watch birds, if you have a boat you can go boating,” said Polly [Reetz].
Yet the couple fears a construction project to build additional areas to hold water will ruin the place in the near future.
It’s a project that supporters argue is necessary in order to store water in a state that is in the midst of a population boom and a drought.
“I think aesthetically, it’s going to be a very different kind of park with mud flats instead of this rich riparian vegetation,” said Gene.
Along with the Audubon Society, they fear that by getting rid of the green space around the reservoir, all of nature will be hurt… including the animals.
“When you destroy the habitat, or alter it, so that it’s no longer usable for them, there really isn’t any other place to go, because other areas are already full too,” said Polly.
Which is why the Audubon society has gone to court.
They want a judge to throw out a previous decision allowing the project to move forward, saying among other things, that it violates the Clean Water Act.
A hearing will take place in September.
The Army Corps of Engineers is not commenting as the case is in litigation
“Audubon recognizes the region is growing, and so were not against developing additional water supplies,” said Gene [Reetz]. He is pushing for more water conservation and alternative storage sites other than Chatfield.
From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pamela Zubeck):
Despite protests from fellow plaintiffs, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to revisit a possible settlement with the city Colorado Springs over alleged Clean Water Act violations caused by the city’s longterm neglect of stormwater management, according to documents obtained by the Independent.
The renewed negotiations come as U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch scheduled an August trial in the lawsuit on May 22, the day after the state’s lead attorney in the case was reportedly fired for a reason the Colorado Attorney General’s Office won’t discuss.
Margaret “Meg” Parish, first assistant attorney general in the Natural Resources & Environment Section, wrote several scathing letters to the EPA in recent months, calling the EPA’s action “shocking and extraordinary” and expressing “deep concern and disappointment” that the agency would unilaterally reopen settlement discussion without consulting co-plaintiffs. Besides the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), those include Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
The move was particularly alarming, she noted, because the state and EPA had signed an agreement in which both agreed not to communicate with the city without the presence of the other.
Some who couldn’t comment on the record due to confidentiality rules called the latest moves — reopening negotiations and the firing of Parish — as “pure politics” in an era when the EPA’s reputation is pivoting from protecting the environment to serving polluters.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has long-standing and close ties to the oil and gas industry and is under investigation for multiple alleged ethics breaches, met with the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs in October when the HBA paid for his night’s stay at The Broadmoor.
A few months later, on March 19, the EPA wrote a letter to the city “as a follow up to the City’s recent request to re-initiate settlement negotiations.”
The EPA’s co-plaintiffs were given two days notice that the letter would be sent to the city’s legal counsel, reportedly fueling outrage among those partners. Pueblo County has harbored distrust of the city of Colorado Springs for decades regarding sewage discharges and raging stormwater flows in Fountain Creek, which befouls the creek and threatens levees at Pueblo where the creek joins with the Arkansas River. Farmers in the Lower Ark region have complained for years that sediment blocks their irrigation headgates interfering with raising crops.
From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):
The hope is that this will lead to approval by year’s end of a proposed Drought Contingency Plan for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California, to conserve more water now to prevent catastrophic declines at Lake Mead later.
At stake is the future of your drinking water supply — the CAP’s canals bring river water to Phoenix and Tucson — and that of the 40 million people in seven states and Mexico who also depend on the Colorado River for water.
Here are six things to know about this future:
1. President Trump has called concerns about human-caused climate change bad science. But out West, his Bureau of Reclamation officials are saying the seven basin states must act to avert a crisis on the Colorado that many scientists have traced to climate change…
2. CAP officials are concerned that conserving “too much” water in Lake Mead could trigger a premature shortage in water deliveries first for Arizona farms, and later for Phoenix and Tucson’s drinking water. Others say that isn’t valid…
3. Without a drought plan, the bad tidings that many fear will befall Lake Mead in the distant future could arrive much sooner…
4. The drought’s additional threat to Lake Powell could threaten Western power production as well as Lake Mead, which supplies water to Arizona…
5. Arizona’s water agencies are making nice now, and a top CAP official sounds almost contrite. But approval of a drought plan remains uncertain…
6. The drought plan is only a band-aid, but putting an end to the fighting is considered essential.
From The Telluride Daily Planet (Tanya Ishikawa):
[Bob] Hurford’s general sentiment about this year’s drought was shared by all who presented reports at the Ouray State of the Rivers meeting at the Ouray County 4H Event Center May 16. The presentations came two weeks after Gov. John Hickenlooper activated the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the agricultural sector in 34 of the state’s 64 counties, including San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose, and Delta counties…
Hurford explained that over half of the Rocky Mountains’ water supply is in its snowpack. As of April 1, Colorado’s snowpack was 68 percent of average and 64 percent of last year’s. Data maps show that the April 1 snowpack was between 50 percent and 69 percent for Ouray and Montrose counties, and below 50 percent for San Miguel County. Division 4, the eastern area around Gunnison, has the most snowpack; the San Juan Mountains have the least, with snowpack above Ridgway Reservoir at just 46 percent of average.
Colorado, Utah, Arizona and California had the lowest amount of precipitation in the U.S. this winter, and those four states — plus Nevada and New Mexico — had the highest temperatures from November 2017 to January 2018, according to statistics in Hurford’s report.
Data from reservoirs in October 2017 show that Colorado had one of its best years with close to 120 percent of average water levels statewide, 100 percent of average in Division 4 and around 116 percent of average in Ridgway Reservoir. Over the last two decades, reservoirs were at or above 100 percent for 11 years.
“We can survive one bad drought. Two bad droughts in a row and that gets us,” Hurford said.
Ridgway Reservoir Dam Superintendent Tony Mitchell, of Tri-County Water Conservancy District, showed National Weather Service forecast data that estimated January-April 1 flows into the reservoir at 88 percent of average in 2016, 111 percent in 2017 and 49 percent in 2018. For the period of April 1 through July, the main runoff season, flow estimates were 92 percent of average in 2016, 96 percent in 2017 and 40 percent in 2018.
Responding to a question about why the reservoir has looked lower than usual this spring, Tri-County Water Conservancy District Manager Mike Berry said late-season releases to the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) were larger than usual last year, precipitation was low last summer and storage levels are kept lower than normal to avoid water spilling over the dam, which would send non-native fish into the Uncompahgre River, endangering the trout there.
UVWUA Manager Steve Andersen, who is also a director on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said, “My association will be OK this year. There’s not as much water as we would like to have, but we will be able to make a crop this year.”
However, to ensure its downstream water users have enough water, the association in Montrose may have to put a call on water use later in the season, shutting headgates to irrigators upstream in Ouray County (who have junior water rights). Andersen does not expect to make a similar call on water on the upper Gunnison River side because of better snowpack, which should maintain higher flows there. He said the association would use that Gunnison water before resorting to a call on the Ouray side…
The last time that Ouray irrigators had to shut their headgates due to low stream flows and obligations to more senior water rights holders downstream was in 2012. That is when the Ouray County Water Users Association was founded…
With the drought conditions came concerns about wildfires, and Ouray and Montrose counties implemented Stage 1 Fire Restrictions on [May 21, 2018]. Stage 1 limits the areas where fires, smoking and spark-igniting activities can take place, according to the State of Colorado Department of Fire Prevention. Stage 2 adds more restrictions, while Stage 3 is the strictest, limiting entry into closed areas and setting fines as high as $10,000 for violators, or imprisonment for six months.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Peak flows on the Arkansas River apparently happened May 18, more than a month earlier than usual. The water levels peaked at 1,870 cubic feet per second, far below the average 2,500 to 3,000 cfs and have fallen to 1,500 cfs…
A deal has been done with downriver farmers and cities to help the whitewater industry get through difficult years like this one — by setting up a reserve of 10,000 acre-feet of water held in Turquoise Lake, Twin Lakes and Clear Creek Reservoir.
CPW officials this week said they’ve notified agricultural water users and federal Bureau of Reclamation operators of the reservoirs that rafting companies probably will need to draw on that reserve to keep the river flowing at a level no lower than 700 cfs — crucial for boating — through Aug. 15.
“They said they will have the 10,000 ace-feet available,” White said. “That feels great. It is invaluable. It is the difference between having a lousy summer and having a good summer.”
Earlier high flows on rivers caused by earlier melting of reduced mountain snowpack — which this year measured as low as 40 percent of normal in some areas — exemplify the changes scientists have linked to a buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere.
“Adapting to climate variability is something we are going to have to wrap our heads around in the future,” American Whitewater president Mark Singleton said Friday in an interview. That group represents boaters nationwide and serves as a central source of statistics on matters such as deaths. (Along the Arkansas River since 1986, only 13 rafting deaths on commercial rafting trips were reported, Singleton said, lauding careful state management of the river under a partnership with the federal Bureau of Land Management.)
“These are all fundamental changes in the river systems,” Singleton said. “And if there’s no water in the reservoirs, there’s no river flow. … What we have seen is these really big swings. In all of our climate systems, we are seeing greater variability.”
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):
“I think the main stem of the Yampa has peaked,” forecast center senior hydrologist Ashley Nielson said Wednesday. “There is a chance for some rain this weekend, but it would take heavy precipitation over the Yampa and Elk rivers,” to send them to a new level.
That means the Yampa reached its zenith for the season at 12:45 a.m. May 14, when the flow was 2,570 cubic feet per second. If that figure is confirmed, it would be the lowest peak since 2012 when the river topped out at 1,570 cfs on April 27.
From The Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Ron Way):
Lake Superior is big, all right. It and the other Great Lakes contain one-fifth of the whole world’s fresh water and, get this, hold enough to submerge the continental U.S. under 10 feet.
Those far-off onlookers thirst mightily for the Lakes’ 6.5 million billion gallons of fresh water that, to them, just sits there before running off to the ocean. Wasted.
It’s easy for us lake-landers to dismiss such thoughts, but those in the American Southwest are up against a 17-year drought that keeps getting worse. After an unusually warm winter, it’s expected to worsen still more this summer due to a dearth of mountain snow that will again leave Colorado River flow far below normal, with forecasts of dry and very hot weather à la La Niña.
What’s beyond scary is that NASA computer models indicate that the West could be facing a 50-year megadrought, the first such event since long before Europeans even knew North America existed. Moreover, higher temperatures and wind wrought by climate change dry things out and increase demand for irrigation water while at the same time increasing already problematic evaporation rates from reservoirs and canals.
Primary water sources in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California are dangerously low. Benchmarks are the historically low Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam (built in 1930) and similar low levels of Lake Powell on the upstream end of the Grand Canyon. Las Vegas, which draws 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead, has twice lowered its intake “straw” due to falling levels.
One relief option is desalination of ocean water, but scaling up that technology has proved frustratingly difficult and outrageously expensive. The largest existing plant, at San Diego, provides only 7 percent of that city’s needs.
Another option is to strictly restrict water use, but that’s politically dicey and can’t get much beyond talk.
Then there’s a plan to spend gazillions to capture several of Alaska’s free-flowing rivers with a grand network of dams, canals and tunnels to divert water south to the Colorado basin. It seems that the drought is getting serious enough so that even far-fetched ideas get a look.
So OK, now what?
To desert dwellers, an idea that makes intuitive sense is to pipe Lake Superior water to where it’s “needed.” Such a project would be staggeringly expensive but technically doable; besides, the Great Lakes surely wouldn’t miss, say, 50 billion gallons — would they?
The populace all around the Lakes is rock-solid against shipping any water anywhere, and advancing any diversion plan would set off political warfare.
Or perhaps one should say “renew hostilities.” This story isn’t new. In 2007, New Mexico’s then-Gov. Bill Richardson suggested a Great Lakes diversion when the Western drought was only six years old. Following bloodcurdling protest, fellow Democrat Jennifer Granholm, then Michigan’s governor, told Richardson to zip it. A year later the eight Lakes states, including Minnesota, adopted — and President George W. Bush signed — a compact banning diversions without concurrence of all signatories.
Plus, an international pact gives Canada (along with the federal government in D.C.) a veto over any transfer.
But because the ultimate power rests with Congress and the president, multistate compacts and international accords can be false security. What’s done can be undone, as evidenced by all the undoing from today’s Washington crowd. What’s more, some scholars say the compact could be vulnerable to legal challenge, especially if a national emergency were declared.
A political knockdown would pit the Midwest vs. Westerners accustomed to no-holds-barred combat for water (to the death in the Wild West) and who have tended, when all else failed, to get what they wanted by simply taking it (for example, the lands of indigenous tribes).
Fear the Westerners.
From Utah Public Radio (Kerry Bringhurst):
A group of western water advocates is focused on finding ways for western communities to work together to protect wildlife and the environment. Drew Beckwith is water policy manager with Western Resource Advocates, a team of scientists, lawyers and economists following drought conditions in the west.
Beckwith said when water managers with the Central Arizona Water Project announced they were going to pull water from Lake Powell to address drought problems in their state, managers from other drought-stricken states responded.
“There were some stern letters that were written from folks in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming,” Beckwith said. “That is sort of how the water community polices itself. There is no real legally binding argument that someone did something wrong. It is almost like a peer pressure and shaming.”
Efforts taken by the Bureau of Reclamation, the seven Colorado River Basin states, along with water districts and Mexico are working to conserve water. Beckwith agrees these voluntary efforts help address the decline of water reserved in Lake Mead. This approach has delayed the onset of reductions to water users in Arizona, Nevada, Mexico and California. But he says it is becoming necessary for all players to create cooperative agreements that will protect Lake Mead and Lake Powell if drought conditions persist.
“Let’s not focus on things that are individualistic that only benefit a few people,” he said. “Lots of different uses are important. We need to get everyone’s views to make sure those are all incorporated.”
Reclamation Commissioner Burman would like drought contingency plans from each state to be in place before the end of this year. She is calling on states, tribes, water districts and non-governmental organizations to work together to meet the needs of over 40 million people who depend on reliable water and power from the Colorado River.
On Tuesday Burman announced the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District in Utah will receive $160,000 to develop a drought contingency plan for its service area in Salt Lake and Utah counties. The district’s service area includes 15 cities and is home to nearly 25 percent of Utah’s population and is expecting rapid population growth due to a healthy economy.
According to the bureau’s Peter Soeth, the district will assemble stakeholders from all sectors to identify projects, actions and partnerships needed to prepare for and reduce water shortages and improve drought resilience for the areas water users.
From The New York Times (Henry Fountain):
“Nobody’s got a whole lot of water,” said David Gensler, the hydrologist for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, whose job is to manage the river water that is delivered to Mr. Rosales and the others through diversion dams, canals and ditches. “If we use it up early in the season and don’t get any rain further on, the whole thing’s going to crash.”
Parts of the state got some much-needed rain this week, which may help Mr. Gensler extend his irrigation water a bit. But whatever happens this spring and summer, the long-term outlook for the river is clouded by climate change.
The Rio Grande is a classic “feast or famine” river, with a dry year or two typically followed by a couple of wet years that allow for recovery. If warming temperatures brought on by greenhouse gas emissions make wet years less wet and dry years even drier, as scientists anticipate, year-to-year recovery will become more difficult.
“The effect of long-term warming is to make it harder to count on snowmelt runoff in wet times,” said David S. Gutzler, a climate scientist at the University of New Mexico. “And it makes the dry times much harder than they used to be.”
With spring runoff about one-sixth of average and more than 90 percent of New Mexico in severe to exceptional drought, conditions here are extreme. Even in wetter years long stretches of the riverbed eventually dry as water is diverted to farmers, but this year the drying began a couple of months earlier than usual. Some people are concerned that it may dry as far as Albuquerque, 75 miles north.
But the state of the Rio Grande reflects a broader trend in the West, where warming temperatures are reducing snowpack and river flows.
A study last year of the Colorado River, which provides water to 40 million people and is far bigger than the Rio Grande, found that flows from 2000 to 2014 were nearly 20 percent below the 20th century average, with about a third of the reduction attributable to human-caused warming. The study suggested that if climate change continued unabated, human-induced warming could eventually reduce Colorado flows by at least an additional one-third this century.
“Both of these rivers are poster children for what climate change is doing to the Southwest,” said Jonathan T. Overpeck, dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan and an author of the Colorado study.
While both the Colorado and the Rio Grande are affected by warming, Dr. Overpeck said, the Rio Grande has also been hurt by declines in winter precipitation. “It’s a one-two punch,” he said.
Last year, though, was a wet one on the Rio Grande, with a strong snowpack in the winter of 2016-17 that allowed the conservancy district to store water in upstream reservoirs. Using that water now should help Mr. Gensler keep the irrigation taps turned for several months.
“In some ways I’m more concerned about 2019 than 2018,” he said. “There’s a possibility we’re going to drain every drop this year, and go into next year with nothing.”
Temperatures in the Southwest increased by nearly two degrees Fahrenheit (one degree Celsius) from 1901 to 2010, and some climate models forecast a total rise of six degrees or more by the end of this century. As elsewhere in the West, warmer temperatures in winter mean that more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow in the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains that feed the Rio Grande.
Dr. Gutzler said spring temperatures have an impact, too, with warmer air causing more snow to turn to vapor and essentially disappear. A longer and warmer growing season also has an effect, Dr. Overpeck said, as plants take up more water, further reducing stream flows.
Running for nearly 1,900 miles, mostly through arid lands, the Rio Grande is one of the longest rivers in the United States. It is also one of the most managed, having been controlled by dams and other structures for most of the last century. But use of the river for irrigation dates back much further: For hundreds of years its water nourished the crops of native Puebloan people and Spanish colonizers.
In a typical year most water in the upper Rio Grande is diverted for irrigation. (Albuquerque, by far the state’s largest city, gets its drinking water from groundwater wells and from a project that diverts water from the Colorado River basin through a tunnel under the Continental Divide.)
By law, some Rio Grande water must also be sent further downstream, to a reservoir that serves farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas. That section of the river, which forms the border with Mexico and empties into the Gulf of Mexico, has its own severe problems, and relies on a Mexican tributary for most of its water.
As the river dries, crews from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service spring into action, working to rescue the Rio Grande silvery minnow, a federally protected endangered species that used to thrive along the full length of the river but now is found only in the upper reaches.
Crews have been rescuing the small fish most springs and summers for about 20 years, running nets through pools that remain as the river dries up and delivering the fish to wetter areas upstream.
Normally the crews would start this work in June, said Thomas P. Archdeacon, a Fish and Wildlife biologist who heads the minnow rescue operation. This year, he said, they made their first rescue on April 2 and have moved northward as stretches of the river dried up.
“I look at it as an umbrella species,” he said of the minnow. “Because it has these federal protections, it’s protecting basically everything along the river.” The Rio Grande is still lined with willows, Russian olive and other vegetation along its banks, and together with the irrigated farmland forms a long, narrow oasis amid an otherwise parched brown landscape.
But much of the riverbed itself is as dry as a bone…
who farms 650 acres near San Antonio, has wells to pump groundwater onto his fields should the irrigation canals dry up and the rains not materialize. “I’m droughtproof,” he said. “When we plant in the spring we don’t even take into consideration how much snowpack or surface water there’s going to be.”
North of Albuquerque, Derrick J. Lente, a member of the Sandia Pueblo, cultivates 150 acres, some of which is pasturage for cows that he raises. Under water laws, farmers in the pueblos would be among the last to lose water.
His ancestors have farmed in this region for hundreds of years, through wet times and dry. But Mr. Lente, who is also a state legislator, recognizes that there is long-term trouble ahead. His father and uncles, who have been farming far longer than him, have seen changes.
“This is the worst they’ve seen it in their lives,” he said. “The times are changing to where it’s hotter.”
Mr. Lente does not have irrigation wells on his farm, but he has made improvements to conserve water, lining some of his irrigation ditches and replacing another with a tunnel.
“I never built it with the idea we won’t ever have water,” he said. “I don’t want to think of that time, I really don’t. We’d have to make some hard decisions.”
From The Albuquerque Journal (Ollie Reed Jr.):
A map released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s drought monitor shows that more than 20 percent of New Mexico – scattered areas in the northern part of the state – is in exceptional drought, the most serious category, and more than 99 percent of the state is in some kind of drought. And the dropping of water levels in the Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs forced a restriction on storing additional water in northern New Mexico reservoirs.
To make things grimmer, Fontenot said Thursday that the outlook for the next eight to 14 days is hot and dry.
There is a silvery lining, however. David Gensler, water operations manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, said the sudden increase in Rio Grande flows caused by the rain this week stimulated spawning among the endangered silvery minnow, as indicated by the number of minnow eggs collected in surveys…
“Twenty percent of the state in exceptional drought is pretty high,” Fontenot said. He said New Mexico has not had that degree of exceptional drought since August 2013. But it has been even worse in the past. In a drought that lasted from May 2011 to May 2012, as much as 49 percent of New Mexico was in that category.
Some parts of New Mexico got a lot of rain from a system that moved into the state Monday and lingered into Thursday. A thunderstorm Monday broke a 54-day streak without measurable precipitation in Albuquerque. Albuquerque got 0.12 inch that day, Clayton 0.46, Roswell 0.51, Tucumcari 1.10 inches and Clovis 1.21.
Some areas got more rain in the succeeding days. Fontenot said that on Wednesday up to 6 inches of rain fell within six hours along U.S. 84 in San Miguel and Guadalupe counties…
This week’s rain, as vigorous as it was in some areas, did not stop the water levels in the Elephant Butte Reservoir, five miles north of Truth and Consequences, and Caballo Reservoir, 16 miles south of TorC, from dropping low enough to trigger a Rio Grande Compact provision prohibiting the storage of additional water in upstream reservoirs…
The Conservancy District’s Gensler said the total water in Elephant Butte and Caballo dropped below 400,000 acre-feet Sunday, putting the Article VII restriction into effect for the first time since early this year. An acre-foot is the amount of water necessary to cover an acre to a depth of 1 foot.
On Thursday, combined water in the two reservoirs was at about 394,000 acre-feet, Gensler said…
OK for now
Gensler said the Article VII restriction would probably not change much for the irrigators on the 70,000 acres of cropland served by the Conservancy District.
“Opportunities for storage are pretty rare during the summertime anyway,” he said. And he noted that even though Article VII restricts the storage of additional water, it does not prohibit the release of water that had already been in storage. He said that adds up to 107,000 acre-feet in El Vado, Heron and Abiquiu…
Gensler said, however, that things could get really bad if the state is still under the Article VII restriction next spring.
I was looking for Ed’s Water Law Glossary online and ran across this column from 2001 that ran in The Denver Post:
Back when I made editorial hiring decisions for various small-town newspapers, I theorized that I could simplify the process by requiring applicants to take a simple essay test: “In 200 words or less, explain the difference between a conditional and an adjudicated water right, and define what role is played by “due diligence’ in this process.”
The main reason that I never used this test is that anyone who could pass it would be someone I’d be in awe of, and that would have ruined office discipline in a workplace where I was supposed to be in charge.
But in recent years, I’ve decided that the best way to approach Colorado water law and administration is to minimize the legal and technical issues, and look at it as though it were a variety of religion.
After all, there’s a “doctrine” of prior appropriation, and old propaganda for various irrigation schemes speaks of “redeeming” land, as though the ter rain had somehow sinned but, with some reservoirs and canals, virtue would triumph and the prophet Isaiah would be right that “The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.”
The Colowater religion has a priesthood of attorneys and engineers who understand important matters that are beyond the comprehension of mere lay people like us. It has synods, sees and presbyteries in the form of special water courts, conservation districts and conservancy districts.
Like all worthy religions, Colowater has a charismatic prophet, John Wesley Powell, and his utterances are like those of most oracles – subject to interpretation that can support just about any view you want to advance.
You can quote Powell about the scenic glories of the free-flowing Colorado River through its labyrinthian canyons, and you can quote Powell about how the West would become a better place after the last drop had been diverted from the natural channel of the Colorado River and put to beneficial use.
In other religions, people argue about the meanings of words and phrases in the sacred text, and the same is true for our Colowater denomination. The definitions of “diversion” and “beneficial use” are being examined again this week in the Division 1 water court in Greeley, which handles cases in South Platte drainage.
The city of Golden has applied for a water right in Clear Creek for a kayak course.
That raises some doctrinal questions. If the water is flowing through its “natural course” in the creek bed, how is this a diversion? In general, water has to be re moved from its natural course by some artificial means (dam, weir, pump, etc.) in order for there to be a diversion.
There have been some arguments that placing boulders in the stream and otherwise adjusting it for better kayaking does represent a change in the normal course. Thus it’s a diversion. That does seem like a stretch, but such extensions are not unusual in religious discussions. And is floating through the water in a small boat a “beneficial use”? Golden municipal officials point out that kayakers bring about $4 million a year into town, so there are economic benefits to this use of water, just as there are economic benefits to irrigating cornfields or supplying subdivi sions.
But the Colowater scriptures were formed in the late 19th century, and the revelations to the Founders did not include the vision that there was any economic value in leaving water in a stream.
To them, that was wasting a scarce and valuable resource that could be used in sluice boxes, long toms, rockers, stamp mills and potato fields.
But in modern Colorado, water in the banks leads to money in the bank. The most recent numbers at hand are from 1997, and they concern only Chaffee County (which, of course, is where people should go for kayak ing and rafting, assuming that they plan on spending a lot of money in the process).
Most water diverted here from the Arkansas River and its tributaries goes to agriculture, and total agricultural sales were $5.097 million – mostly cattle and calves, hay, and nursery and greenhouse stock.
Tourism, much of it based on fishing and float trips down the river, brought in at least $34 million – nearly seven times as much as agriculture.
Colowater doctrines will adjust. After all, there is one supreme commandment in our hydraulic religion, enunciated by former Gov. John Love: “In Colorado, water flows toward money.”
From The Fort Morgan Times:
The perpetual concerns over the way the state has handled conservation easements also was on Sonnenberg’s radar. There were five bills this year on that issue, including a sunset review of the conservation easement oversight board. The bill, which is awaiting a signature from the governor, made changes to the board, including requiring a conflict of interest policy that would disqualify from serving any member who has a financial interest tied to conservation easements. Sonnenberg initially won support for an amendment that would address one of the program’s most controversial problems: landowners who received conservation easements tax credits from the state and the IRS, only to have those state tax credits yanked away. Hundreds of Coloradans have complained that the appraisal process has been rife with problems.
Sonnenberg’s amendment would have allowed the landowner to take back clear title to the land placed under easement, with the understanding that they would have to pay back the federal tax credits. That amendment didn’t succeed but the bill does include a requirement that the board come up with a process for making that happen.
The oversight board was extended for a year, and Sonnenberg said that meant “we kicked the can down the road a year.” But he was pleased that lawmakers got a commitment from the Attorney General’s office that they would figure out a way to “extinguish” conservation easements that have been devalued. Sonnenberg said he will carry that bill next year.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):
The [Larimer County Planning Commission] voted 4-2 [May 16, 2018] to recommend that county commissioners turn down the project at their July 9 meeting. The Board of County Commissioners doesn’t have to listen to the planning commission’s guidance, but it holds special weight.
At the end of a packed five-hour hearing, several planning commissioners said Thornton’s application for the Larimer County portion of its proposed 75-mile pipeline lacked detail, especially when it came to potential alternatives and a proposed pump house that would sit adjacent to the Douglas Road section of the pipeline…
Now county staff will convene with the planning commission to determine where Thornton’s proposal needs more detail. Thornton leaders will provide that information to county commissioners before their July meeting, Thornton Water project spokesman Mark Koleber said.
Thornton hopes to begin construction of its pipeline in 2019 and use it for water deliveries by 2025. The pipeline would eventually funnel an average of 14,000 acre-feet of water annually along Douglas Road, then south…
Thornton’s pipeline wouldn’t draw additional water from the Poudre because the city purchased the water rights in the ’80s from farms that have continued to use it. Still, opponents argued that adding additional water to the beleaguered Poudre through Fort Collins would offset other diversions and make the river healthier…
[Mark] Koleber told the board running the water through the Poudre would present several issues for the city and its residents:
The water would run past three wastewater treatment plants and sections of urban runoff, degrading its quality and making it expensive and complicated to treat. Fort Collins and other municipal users divert their water upstream for the same reason. Running the water down a roughly 18-mile section of the Poudre would result in a 9 percent loss of water. Thornton’s water court decree requires diversion from the Larimer County canal upstream, and the city’s water rights could be reduced if it asked water court for a modification. The city wouldn’t be able to use reservoirs north of Fort Collins for storage of its water, and building new reservoirs elsewhere “is no easy prospect,” Koleber said.
But some of the commissioners were unconvinced that Thornton did enough to fully evaluate all alternatives and declare the Douglas Road route the best option…
Commissioners spent little time discussing Thornton’s larger plans during deliberation. Commissioner Gary Gerrard, who joined commissioner Curtis Miller in dissenting votes for the recommendation for denial, said he doesn’t have the right to “stand in the way” of another community’s access to water it legally purchased.
“It’s not like they’re Russians,” he said. “They are our neighbors. …They’re people just like us; they need water. Clean, potable water is important to all of us.”
Chairman Sean Dougherty, commissioner Mina Cox, Caraway and Jensen voted to recommend denial of the Thornton pipeline permit.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):
Although it’s true that long-term plans could include more pipelines, the city is currently proposing just one, Thornton Water Project director Mark Koleber said.
This much is clear: Thornton is moving through the permitting process for a single pipeline, not three, to convey water from reservoirs north of Fort Collins to the growing Denver metro city. The 70-mile pipeline, if approved, will eventually funnel an average of 14,000 acre-feet of Poudre River water annually along Douglas Road, then south to Thornton…
The city has rights to more water that it could one day seek to transport through additional pipelines. Its long-term water plan could look a lot like what’s described in the decades-old documents, but nothing is for sure at this point.
The operative word here is “could.” Thornton will only pursue additional pipelines if they prove necessary, Koleber said, and any additional infrastructure must be permitted through a lengthy review process similar to what’s going on now. The city would also need to go through water court proceedings to use its additional water rights.
Thornton projects the single pipeline will meet its water needs through 2065, so additional pipelines wouldn’t be necessary for half a century, Koleber said…
Construction along the pipeline route could begin in 2019. The project, currently estimated to cost $430 million, needs to be operational by 2025 to meet Thornton’s water supply needs, Koleber said…
Dick Brauch, who owns the farm where Thornton plans to place its pump house, is worried the city will hurt his operations.
“The farm’s been in my family for 60 years, and I have no desire to sell,” he said, but he’s negotiating with the city to avoid eminent domain.
The planned location for the 2.8-acre pump house would “take a big chunk out of the middle” of Brauch’s land and be difficult to farm around, he said. Koleber said Thornton is working with Brauch and can probably accommodate his concerns.
From The North Forty News (Theresa Rose):
The plan would pull the water from the Poudre River from a location close to Ted’s Place where the river crosses U.S. 287, to be stored in a network of reservoirs north and west of Douglas Road. A pump station would be built near the intersection of Douglas Road and Starlight Drive just east of North Shields Street. The permit was filed in January 2018…
In the 1990s, the case went to the Colorado Supreme Court to determine if Thornton could use the water rights to convert the water from agriculture to municipal use. At this time, Thornton leased some of the farms back to farmers along with the water. Many of these farmers were the same people from whom Thornton bought the land. Some of the farmers use the dryland grass cover as forage for their animals. In addition, Thornton has been making voluntary tax payments to Larimer and Weld counties, $45,000 to Larimer and $257,000 to Weld in 2017.Koebler estimated Thornton has paid close to $6 million in voluntary tax payments since 1985.
Four years ago, Thornton attempted to address the concerns of their water program and pipeline. Open houses were held in Firestone, Johnstown, Windsor and Fort Collins. HOAs were consulted. The locals were asked for advice on the routing of the pipeline.
Construction would begin in Windsor and proceed in Weld County. The pipeline is expected to be completed by 2025.
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
The city of Aspen now has signed settlement agreements from five of the 10 parties opposing its efforts in water court to maintain conditional water storage rights tied to large potential dams on Maroon and Castle creeks, including Pitkin County, Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates, and two private-property owners in the Castle Creek valley.
“Aspen agrees that it will forego the right to store water pursuant to these water rights at the original decreed locations,” a May 24 staff memo from the city states.
The five parties that have yet to sign agreements include the U.S. Forest Service, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, and two property owners in the Maroon Creek valley.
According to a draft resolution that the city council is expected to approve at a regular meeting on Tuesday, city staffers and the city attorney “have diligently negotiated with the remaining opposers to seek settlement in regarding their opposition and staff and its attorney believe that stipulations substantially similar to the attached stipulations will be entered with the remaining opposers.”
The city has said that none of the agreements are binding unless all 10 parties agree to the settlement terms.
As the city works through settlement negotiations with the parties, the resulting agreements can become more restrictive, but not less so, which is a common approach to settling water court cases.
For example, the agreement signed by an attorney for Pitkin County regarding Maroon Creek Reservoir does not include the county-owned Moore Open Space as one of the sites where the city may move its storage right, as did an earlier version of the agreement signed by Wilderness Workshop.
Other potential water-storage sites include the current Woody Creek gravel pit site, a piece of vacant land next to the gravel pit recently purchased by the city for potential water storage, the city-owned Zoline open space between the Maroon Creek Club and the Burlingame housing project, the city-owned Cozy Point Open Space at the bottom of Brush Creek Road, and the city’s municipal golf course.
Under the agreements, the city will seek to transfer its conditional water storage rights from the upper Castle and Maroon creek valleys to these other potential reservoir sites, with a maximum storage capacity of 8,500 acre-feet.
The city has held the conditional water rights for the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs since 1965 and they carry a 1971 decree date, which the city hopes to carry to the other potential locations.
The potential Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam on USFS property within view of the Maroon Bells. It would also flood a portion of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
The potential Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet behind a 170-foot-tall dam, mainly on private property, two miles below Ashcroft.
Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop issued a press release about their agreements with the city on Thursday afternoon.
The release was sent out after the city of Aspen posted the meeting packet for a scheduled May 29 Aspen City Council meeting.
Aspen Public Radio posted a story on Thursday afternoon with the headline, “Aspen agrees to never build dams on Castle and Maroon.”
As part of the deal with the five parties who have signed agreements, or stipulations as they are called in water court, the opposing parties have agreed not to oppose the city’s efforts to change the water rights to the new locations for 20 years.
Six of the 10 parties who filed statements of opposition in December 2016, in response to the city’s due-diligence filing in October 2016, filed in both the Maroon and Castle creek cases.
But the two pairs of private-property owners filed in only one case each.
Double R Creek Limited, and ASP Properties, which control property in the Castle Creek valley where the potential dam would have been built, only filed in the Castle Creek case. They have both signed settlement agreements.
However, Larsen Family LP and Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., which own land in the Maroon Creek valley, have yet to sign agreements with the city.
The cases are being processed in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs. The next status conference in the case is scheduled for June 26, and the 18-month mark in the case is June 30.
From The Aspen Times (Carolyn Sackariason):
Two of the opposers, Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, announced the settlement Thursday evening.
Will Roush, conservation director at Wilderness Workshop, commended the city for finding another way to store its water other than in a designated wilderness area.
“It’s a big deal. … Everybody came to a consensus that these were not the right places for dams,” he said.
Roush’s organization, along with nine other parties, sued the city after it applied to the state to extend existing conditional water rights for the two potential reservoirs. The city first applied for those rights in 1965.
Since 2016, city officials have maintained that adequate water storage is needed in anticipation of climate change impacts like drought, fire and changes in runoff.
“City Councils over the decades have worked to preserve Aspen water customers’ water supply, including storage options now and into the future,” Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said in a statement. “We are pleased that we could achieve a solution with Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, and hopefully all the parties invested in a mutually successful outcome, that protects pristine areas of wilderness while still prioritizing Aspen’s water needs for the coming decades.”
In 2017, the city announced its intention to move the conditional storage rights out of both valleys. It has been in negotiations with the opposing entities since then.
Stipulations with the five parties — which Aspen City Council is set to approve Tuesday — would result in the government relocating its water storage rights to six other potential locations in the Roaring Fork Valley…
Roush said he has spoken to representatives of some of those parties and there are no substantial differences in the stipulations. He said he expects those agreements to be signed off on, but in the meantime there is no time like the present to advance his organization’s goal to keep water storage out of the valleys…
“It’s a great day for Castle and Maroon creek valleys, and that those streams will remain free-flowing,” Roush said.
Our top picks for outdoor recreation spots your family will love
Why this wild retreat next to the city is such a great attraction — and why we’ve so often had to close its gates.
From The Vail Daily (Pam Boyd):
Last week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed SB18-066 into law, extending the operation of the Lottery Division to July 1, 2049, 25 years past July 1, 2024, the date it was previously scheduled to terminate.
“It’s great news and we’re pleased this avenue of funding has been extended to help ensure that everything we love about Colorado — its wildlife, natural resources, rivers and trails — will continue to benefit from the lottery proceeds for another 25 years,” said town of Vail Communications Director Suzanne Silverthorn.
The Colorado Lottery is marking its 35th anniversary this year. After Colorado voters approved a state lottery in 1980, the General Assembly created a Lottery Division to administer the program as an enterprise fund, which means it receives no tax dollars. Since 1983, the Colorado Lottery has returned more than $3 billion in proceeds to the state to invest in outdoor recreation and land, water and wildlife conservation. Since 1992, this work been funded through three organizations: the Conservation Trust Fund, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Great Outdoors Colorado…
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and Sen. Leroy Garcia in the Colorado Senate and Rep. Jeni James Arndt and Rep. Cole Wist in the Colorado House of Representatives sponsored SB18-066. The bill netted a vote of 30 in favor and five opposed in the Senate and 48 in favor and 16 opposed (with one representative excused) in the House…
In 25 years, Great Outdoors Colorado, which annually receives up to half of lottery proceeds against a cap, has funded more than 5,000 projects in all 64 Colorado counties through its partners: local governments, nonprofit land trusts and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Projects include school yards, playgrounds and enriching outdoor education spaces for our state’s urban and rural youth; hundreds of miles of trails; and more than 1,600 parks and outdoor recreation areas. Great Outdoors Colorado funding has also supported the state park system, conserved critical wildlife habitat and protected farms and ranch land.
Conservation Trust Fund, a program of Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs, receives 40 percent of lottery proceeds to fund conservation and recreation work across the state, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives 10 percent for state parks. In years when lottery profits exceed the Great Outdoors Colorado cap, which they typically do, spillover dollars go to the Colorado Department of Education’s Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund, called BEST.
Here’s the release from the Town of Castle Rock:
For years, Castle Rock Water has made providing long term, renewable water a priority. Now, a major milestone has been reached and the first drops of WISE water are headed to Town. Join the celebration to help commemorate this accomplishment and take a look at what’s coming up next for water in Castle Rock.
The fun-filled family celebration will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 8. Bring the kids, sunscreen and a great attitude to Gemstone Park, 6148 Sapphire Pointe Blvd., to join the festivities and celebrate the WISE water partnership.
After stakeholders officially cut the ribbon, the community is invited for a festival full of games, food trucks, bump soccer, bounce houses, a foam party, giant bubbles, water colors and more. Plus, get a chance to meet the Most Hydrated Man in Castle Rock.
Learn more about the celebration at http://CRgov.com/WISEWater.
The celebration will help mark more than 9 years of planning and $50 million in infrastructure to help ensure the community’s strong water future. When the WISE partnership was created, many communities in Colorado were faced with a drought. With limited, non-renewable resources, communities knew they needed to come up with a plan. Regional water providers saw the opportunity to partner in a solution and share in the expense to buy, transport and treat renewable water.
The WISE partnership is an arrangement between Denver Water, Aurora Water and 10 other south metro water providers to import renewable water. Castle Rock is the southernmost community partner.
Castle Rock Water finished the last piece of infrastructure – connecting a pipeline from Outter Marker Road to Ray Waterman Treatment Plant – in late 2017. The first drops of imported WISE water came to Town in late April.
Follow the entire journey for WISE water with the Most Hydrated Man at http://CRgov.com/WISEWater.
For a written summary of the webinar, please click here.
Here’s the release from Senator Thune’s office:
“I can’t say it enough – no one knows what’s needed to improve agriculture policy more than the farmers and ranchers who work the land and raise livestock in South Dakota.”
U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today introduced the Improved Soil Moisture and Precipitation Monitoring Act of 2018, legislation that would provide tools and direction to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help improve the accuracy of the U.S. Drought Monitor and require the coordination of USDA agencies that use precipitation data to determine livestock grazing loss assistance and stocking rates. He also introduced legislation to strengthen and improve the Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) of the National Weather Service, of which the Commerce Committee has jurisdiction, in order to support state-coordinated programs that provide data for the Drought Monitor and other weather programs. The COOP system is the nation’s largest and oldest weather network and is entirely run by volunteers. Thune introduced these bills after hearing directly from several concerned ranchers at an agriculture roundtable event that he hosted in Rapid City in April 2018.
“South Dakota farmers and ranchers are familiar with working through extreme weather conditions, especially drought,” said Thune. “And after the 2016 and 2017 drought conditions in much of Western South Dakota, some of them would probably say they’re all too familiar with it and are very concerned about accurate precipitation measurement. I recently heard some of those concerns firsthand, which is what led to the development of this legislation. Together, I’m hopeful that we can make the Drought Monitor a far more effective and efficient tool and, at the same time, ensure USDA programs are using accurate and consistent data in administering programs that are designed to help the agriculture community.
“I can’t say it enough – no one knows what’s needed to improve agriculture policy more than the farmers and ranchers who work the land and raise livestock in South Dakota. I’m thankful for everything they do for our communities and state and can say with certainty that this is not the first, nor will it be the last piece of legislation that will move through the halls of Congress thanks to their suggestions and input.”
Thune’s Improved Soil Moisture and Precipitation Monitoring Act would:
Grant the secretary of agriculture the discretion to improve soil moisture monitoring by increasing the number of monitoring stations or by utilizing other appropriate cost-effective soil moisture measuring devices; Increase the number of precipitation and soil moisture monitoring stations in any area that has experienced extreme or exceptional drought for any six month period since the beginning of 2016, including South Dakota, and authorizes a $5 million per year appropriation to do so; Require USDA to develop standards to integrate data from citizen scientists and to collect soil moisture data; and Require USDA agencies to use consistent precipitation monitoring data and drought assessment across the programs that USDA administers.
Thune has heard a number of concerns with respect to the accuracy of the Drought Monitor, especially given its use in determining grazing disaster assistance through programs administered by the Farm Service Agency. Among these concerns is a frustration that USDA does not fully utilize data gathered by existing reporting stations to determine indemnities for insured grazing losses under the Pasture, Rangeland, Forage Insurance Program that is administered by the Risk Management Agency.
Ranchers have also raised concerns about USDA’s differing rainfall and drought determinations during last summer’s drought that plagued Western South Dakota for several months. For example, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) determined that some federal grazing lands were too dry and that stocking rates needed to be reduced on USFS grasslands. At the same time, the Drought Monitor classified the same area as not dry enough for ranchers to be eligible for Livestock Forage Program assistance. Thune’s legislation is aimed at addressing these and other concerns.
From The Desert Sun (Ian James):
The river basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, has been drying out during what scientists say is one of the driest 19-year periods in the past 1,200 years.
Its largest reservoir, Lake Mead, now stands just 39 percent full. And the federal government has warned that the likelihood of the reservoir dropping to critical shortage levels is growing.
With all indicators pointing to increasing risks of a water crash in the Southwest, the top official of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation came to the Imperial Valley with a message for the district that holds the largest single entitlement to Colorado River water: It’s time for action to avert a worst-case scenario, and everyone will need to pitch in.
Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told the Imperial Irrigation District’s board that she wants to see water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada restart stalled talks on a “drought contingency plan,” under which all sides would agree to temporarily take less water from Lake Mead to keep it from falling to disastrously low levels.
“It’s very important for us to start thinking about, what do we need to do to protect Lake Mead and to protect the water users?” Burman told the IID board on Tuesday. She pointed out that four states in the river’s Upper Basin are working on a regional drought plan, and that during the past three years, the three Lower Basin states had, until recently, been negotiating their plan, too.
“Those talks have sort of fallen off. And I’m here to say for this secretary, for this administration, those talks need to be starting again,” Burman said.
“We need to be talking about what does a drought contingency plan in the Lower Basin look like? And we need action. We need action this year,” she said. “If you take one message from what I’m saying today, it’s that we face an overwhelming risk on the system, and the time for action is now.”
Stressing the urgency of her appeal, Burman showed a chart with a range of possible reservoir levels for Lake Mead in the mid-2020s, including a worst-case scenario in which the reservoir falls to “dead pool” — too low for [releases].
Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
The active weather pattern persisted across most of the nation, though unfavorably dry, hot weather lingered over parts of the South and Southwest. During the 7-day period ending Tuesday morning, areas of heavy to excessive rainfall provided widespread drought relief across the central and southern Atlantic Coast States and from Texas northward into Montana and the Dakotas. Conversely, short-term dryness intensified along the central Gulf Coast, while worsening drought conditions were noted in portions of Arizona and Oregon. Likewise, short-term dryness continued to develop in parts of New England. Please note the wet weather pattern continued through the week; any rain that fell after 12z Tuesday (8 a.m., EDT) will be incorporated into the following week’s drought assessment…
The overall trend toward improving conditions in the south contrasting with increasingly dry weather in the far north continued, though some northerly areas benefited from locally heavy rain. In southern Kansas, another week with moderate to locally heavy showers (1-3 inches, as high as 3.72 inches in Longton, KS) led to widespread reductions of drought intensity and coverage. Nevertheless, 6-month precipitation in the state’s lingering Extreme Drought (D3) was less than half of normal, while the Exceptional Drought (D4) in the state’s southwestern corner stood at less than one third of normal over the same time period. Moderate to heavy rainfall (locally more than 3 inches) in northeastern Colorado likewise trimmed the coverage of Abnormal Dryness (D0). In south-central Nebraska and north-central Kansas, heavy rain (2-3 inches; Phillipsburg, KS, reported 3.95 inches) yielded a corresponding reduction of D0. In southeastern Nebraska, increasingly dry conditions over the past 90 days (40-60 percent of normal) led to a modest increase of Moderate Drought (D1) southwest of Lincoln. Farther north, sharply wetter conditions between Bismarck, ND, and Aberdeen, SD, (6.17 inches in Java, SD) resulted in a considerable reduction of D0. Beneficial rain (1-2 inches) was also reported in northeastern Montana, where D0 was reduced accordingly. Meanwhile, D1 and D2 were increased somewhat in North Dakota from Bismarck to the Canadian border, where 60-day rainfall shortfalls (locally less than 30 percent of normal) have added to the region’s lingering long-term drought…
Outside of beneficial rain in eastern-most portions of the region, lackluster water-year precipitation and unusual warmth have led to increasing drought despite the cool wet season having drawn to a close. Beneficial rain was reported during the period in northeastern portions of Montana and Colorado, resulting in reductions of Abnormal Dryness (D0) and as well as Moderate (D1) and Severe (D2) Drought. However, the overarching theme in the West continued to be the ongoing and intensifying drought in the lower Four Corners as well as the interior Northwest. In the latter region, Moderate and Severe Drought (D1-D2) were expanded over much of Oregon’s Harney Basin to reflect a sub-par water year (50-75 percent-of-normal precipitation, or 10-25th percentile) as well as protracted dryness over the past 60 days (less than half of normal). Farther south, Extreme (D3) and Exceptional (D4) Drought were expanded over Arizona. The numbers from the Four Corners Region as a whole tell a dire story, with water-year precipitation totaling a meager 10 to 30 percent of normal in the hardest-hit areas; the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), which puts these values in a drought-intensity equivalent, are D3- and D4-equivalent over much of central and northeastern Arizona. A sub-par snowpack and above-normal temperatures have left little water available through snowmelt. Furthermore, the satellite-derived Vegetation Health Index (VHI) — which incorporates both vegetation greenness and thermal stress — shows extremely poor conditions over most of Arizona as well as neighboring portions of southern California and southern New Mexico. This region will be in need of a robust Southwest Monsoon beginning in early July to help offset the impacts brought on by this season’s Extreme to Exceptional Drought in the lower Four Corners Region…
An active pattern will continue, with two significant areas of wet weather over the next 5 days. Forecast data continues to show a tropical or subtropical system developing over the eastern Gulf of Mexico and lifting slowly northward over the Memorial Day holiday weekend; if this were to verify, the potential exists for another round of heavy to excessive rain (2-6 inches, possibly more) over the lower Southeast. Meanwhile, a pair of slow-moving storms system will produce moderate to heavy rain (1-4 inches) from the northern Rockies eastward across northern portions of the Plains and Upper Midwest. A trailing cold front will trigger showers over the western Corn Belt and Mississippi Valley. Despite the continuation of a generally active weather pattern, the Southwest will remain unfavorably dry. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for May 29 – June 2 calls for below-normal rainfall over the Northwest and from Texas and the southern High Plains into the Great Lakes and New England. In contrast, wetter-than-normal conditions are expected from the northern Great Basin into northern portions of the Rockies and Great Plains, with a second higher-likelihood area of above-normal rainfall over the southeastern quarter of the nation. Abnormal warmth is expected over most of the nation save for near-normal temperatures in the aforementioned rainy and cloudy Southeast.
From the Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):
Despite the start of spring thunderstorms, Colorado’s drought situation continued to deteriorate. One-third of the state is in the two worst categories of drought.
Some areas showed improvements, with the northeast and north central areas continuing to lead that trend as the area benefitted from moderate to heavy rain, with some locations receiving up to three inches of rain.
Morgan county moved into drought-free conditions, while parts of Elbert, Lincoln, Cheyenne and Kiowa counties shifted to moderate drought from severe. Northern Douglas county is now abnormally dry, an improvement from moderate drought last week.
Extreme drought expanded northward over the southeast plains to cover the remainder of Otero and most of Bent county. Extreme conditions expanded into Crowley county, as well as a larger part of Pueblo county. Fremont and El Paso counties saw severe drought overtake areas previously in moderate conditions.
Minor changes were observed in northwest Colorado.
Overall, more than one-fifth of the state is drought-free, a slight improvement over the previous week. Abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions also decreased slightly to about 14 percent each. Moderate drought dropped to about 17 percent of the state, while extreme drought increased to nearly 26 percent, both changing roughly three percent over the prior report. Exceptional drought was steady at about eight percent.
One year ago, 94 percent of Colorado was drought-free, while about six percent was abnormally dry.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The Colorado River at Cameo hit its peak May 15 with flows of 8,500 cubic feet per second.
The average seasonal peak for the Cameo gauge is 13,600 cfs and it usually takes until June 9 to hit that high-water mark.
“So not only is our seasonal peak below the average, it occurred over three weeks early and did not even reach the average flow on a day that is typically three weeks before the average seasonal peak date,” Knight said…
Fontanelle Reservoir, which can hold 345,000 acre-feet of water, was 65 percent full on Wednesday and Flaming Gorge, which can hold back 357,000 acre-feet, was 87 percent full.
Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado with a potential volume of 830,000 acre-feet, was 61 percent full.
Grand Valley water agencies already are asking consumers for voluntary reductions as they look forward to a long, dry summer.
From Arizona Public Media (Anthony Perkins):
Steven Miranda is fire staff officer for the Coronado National Forest. He says drought is bringing the threat of wildfires from the country to the city.
“I would not say it could never happen,” said Miranda. “But when you look at some of the other places, like Colorado a couple of years ago, when things get in alignment, it’s very challenging.”
Colorado suffered two straight years of deadly fire seasons in 2012 and 2013. In each case, more than 250,000 acres burned, and hundreds of homes were lost. More than three-quarters of Colorado baked under drought conditions just ahead of the wildfires.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s forecast for Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico for 2018 is warning of a similar setup. U.S. drought experts have categorized the region’s outlook as “exceptional,” and not in a good way. “Exceptional” is the worst drought condition. The forecast is leaving farmers, ranchers and water planners preparing for a tougher situation than last year, when only a fraction of the region was experiencing this much drought.
Forestry officials are trying to get in front of wildfire danger. This week, they started closing parts of three national forests: Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino and Tonto…
Southern Arizona received some rainfall in the winter months, but forecasters maintain it wasn’t enough. The Arizona Department of Water Resources reported last winter was the driest on record.
Arizona Game and Fish Department officer Karen Klima says the lack of moisture is significant for the state’s wildlife. She says desert wildlife can adapt to dry conditions, but animals are not accustomed to going through an entire season with little water.
“Normally, when we have our monsoon precipitation, there are areas where water collects, and wildlife can use those areas in the drier months,” according to Klima. “We didn’t have that this year, so now they are really working down into areas where we have water, into areas where people have water out. People with fountains may see wildlife coming into their yard.”
Klima says residents living near forest land shouldn’t be surprised to see unexpected visitors seeking to quench their thirst.
From KRDO.com (Alexis Dominguez):
Governor Hickenlooper was in Pueblo introducing the Mussel-Free Colorado Act.
It provides funding for inspections of boats to help keep invasive species of mussels out of Colorado water.
The mussels often create problems as they attach to rocks, docks and boats — clogging pipes.
Under the law, Colorado residents will be required to buy a $25 Aquatic Nuisance Species sticker for their boat, while non-residents will pay $50.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director, Bob Broscheid explains how this fee will help.
“It’s paying into program that will allow us to continue to monitor, prevent any infested vessels from coming into the state of Colorado,” Broscheid said. “It’s basically the inspection system that we funded at all of our state parks that tries to intercept any contaminated boats.”
Invasive mussels have not been a big problem in Colorado and lawmakers hope this act will keep it from becoming one.
The fee will help pay for the cost of decontamination.
Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced that the El Dorado County Water Agency and Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District will receive $260,000, combined, to prepare drought contingency plans. The funding provided is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART initiative.
“Preparing for drought is imperative for communities throughout the Western United States,” Commissioner Burman said. “Through drought contingency planning, communities can reduce impacts of drought, avoid the likelihood of catastrophic reductions and recover more quickly when drought conditions lessen.”
The El Dorado County Water Agency in California will receive $100,000 to create a regional drought contingency plan for the upper American River and upper Consumnes River watersheds located east of Sacramento, California. These watersheds are an important source of water to meet residential, agricultural, recreation and hydroelectric generation water demands. There are numerous small rural communities and several concentrated populated areas within the planning area. The regional plan will build on existing planning efforts, including the on-going American River Basin Study, and the North American Basin Regional Drought Contingency Plan recently completed downstream under Reclamation’s Drought Response Program.
The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District in Utah will receive $160,000 to develop a drought contingency plan for its service area in Salt Lake and Utah counties. The district’s service area includes 15 cities and is home to nearly 25% of Utah’s population and is expecting rapid population growth due to a healthy economy. The district will assemble stakeholders from all sectors to identify projects, actions and partnerships needed to prepare for and reduce water shortages and improve drought resilience for the areas water users.
Drought contingency planning is part of Reclamation’s Drought Response Program. It helps communities recognize the next drought in its early stages, learn how droughts will impact them, and protect themselves during the next drought. It is structured to encourage an open and inclusive planning effort to build long-term resiliency to drought. Learn more at https://www.usbr.gov/drought/.
Through WaterSMART, Reclamation works cooperatively with States, Tribes, and local entities as they plan for and implement actions to increase water supply through investments to modernize existing infrastructure and attention to local water conflicts. Visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart for additional information about WaterSMART.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):
Water rates are going up next year to pay for watering parks properties in Colorado Springs, the City Council decided Tuesday.
The 6-3 vote – opposed by Councilmen Don Knight, Andy Pico and Bill Murray – will boost Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services’ foundering budget, still about $5 million shy of its 2008 level. The department’s current $3.3 million watering budget is about $1.2 million short of where it should be, Parks Director Karen Palus has said.
Ratepayers of Colorado Springs Utilities can expect to pay a half percentage point more, on average, starting Jan. 1, and the money will be transferred to the city for parks watering. Rates then will increase another half percent a year later.
Monthly bills for residential, commercial and industrial ratepayers will rise an average of 34 cents, $1.13 and $14.77, respectively, next year. Those increases will double in 2020.
That boost is relatively minimal but will significantly help the parks, Council President Richard Skorman said during the Tuesday meeting.
From The Associated Press via Colorado Public Radio:
Rivers are drying up, popular mountain recreation spots are closing and water restrictions are in full swing as a persistent drought intensifies its grip on pockets of the American Southwest.
Climatologists and other experts are scheduled Wednesday to provide an update on the situation in the Four Corners region — where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet.
The area is dealing with exceptional drought — the worst category. That has left farmers, ranchers and water planners bracing for a much different situation than just a year ago when only a fraction of the region was experiencing low levels of dryness.
“We face an overwhelming risk on the system, and the time for action is now,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said Tuesday. She spoke before the Imperial Irrigation District in Southern California, one of the biggest single users of the Colorado River.
The drought has hit the Colorado River hard. Forecasters say the river will carry only about 43 percent of its average amount of water this year into Lake Powell, one of two big reservoirs on the system.
There’s a 52 percent chance that Mexico and the U.S. states of Arizona and Nevada will take a mandatory cut in their share of water in 2020 under the agreements governing the river, forecasters have said.
In New Mexico, stretches of the Rio Grande — another of North America’s longest rivers — have already gone dry as federal biologists have been forced to scoop up as many endangered Rio Grande silvery minnows as possible so they can be moved upstream.
The river this summer is expected to dry as far north as Albuquerque, New Mexico’s most populous city. The area saw its first major dose of rain Tuesday, bringing an end to a 54-day dry spell. It wasn’t enough to make up for months without meaningful precipitation.
From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):
On Sunday, New Mexico entered into Article VII restrictions as storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs dropped below 400,000 acre-feet. Under Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact, that means Colorado and New Mexico can’t store water in any upstream reservoirs built after 1929.
In the Rio Grande watershed, reservoirs capture and store native Rio Grande water and water piped from northwestern New Mexico via the San Juan-Chama Project. Each drop is earmarked for particular users and managed under the legal strictures of the compact. Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs, for example, hold Rio Grande Project water for users in southern New Mexico and Texas. Heron, El Vado and Abiquiu reservoirs on the Chama River store water for cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe, farmers and the six Middle Rio Grande pueblos. Cochiti Reservoir stores some San Juan-Chama water, but was built for recreation and flood control purposes.
Entering into Article VII restrictions wasn’t a surprise. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials have been warning since earlier this year that it would happen, due to the low snowpack and low spring runoff.
“Article VII restrictions are aimed at protecting the water supply of the Rio Grande Project,” explained Reclamation spokeswoman Mary Carlson. “However, with little to no runoff remaining upstream and the most optimistic [National Resources Conservation Service] forecast predicting zero inflow into Elephant Butte Reservoir, conditions on the project are unlikely to change much even with these restrictions.”
The issue merits a close eye given the state’s drought conditions and an interstate lawsuit over the waters of the Rio Grande. Currently, New Mexico is being sued in the U.S. Supreme Court by Texas and the federal government. The two parties allege that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump groundwater from near the Rio Grande, New Mexico failed for decades to send its legal share of water downstream.
Monsoon storms might provide some relief on the Rio Grande, but water from just one storm, or even several, can’t come close to making up the deficit. Speaking at a water conference last week, Bruce Thomson explained that flows in the Rio Grande are dominated by snowpack and receive little benefit from monsoons.
“Summer precipitation is very nice, but in terms of actual runoff, there is very little actual contribution,” said Thomson, professor emeritus and research professor at the University of New Mexico’s Department of Civil Engineering.
Pulse of water
By the time New Mexico entered into Article VII restrictions on May 20, about 20 miles were already dry through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, extending upstream through San Antonio and toward Socorro. Drying began in early April, months earlier than in typical years.
Carlson said water managers and biologists from Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the six Middle Rio Grande pueblos and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service coordinate daily on river flows.
“We are working closely with our partners who have already created two small operational pulses to help the Rio Grande silvery minnow to spawn,” she said. “The most recent appears to have been successful based on early egg detection in the Middle Rio Grande.” She added that the federal government continues efforts to lease all available San Juan-Chama Project water to supplement Rio Grande flows, as well.
Combined with a planned release of water at the Isleta Diversion Dam, she said, water from Monday’s storm created a pulse that will help silvery minnows spawn. Crews collect the eggs, then bring them to hatcheries, where the fish are raised and eventually released back into the river.
As for farmers in the Middle Rio Grande, hydrologist David Gensler says the storage restrictions shouldn’t affect deliveries. Gensler works for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which delivers water to farmers from Cochiti to south of Socorro.
Article VII will prevent them from storing water, he said, but it’s a “moot point.”
“Mainstem flows out of Colorado have been so low that we have been releasing from storage for the last 3 weeks just to meet [Middle Rio Grande] demand,” he wrote in an email prior to the official Article VII designation. “The runoff has come and gone, and there isn’t enough to store.”
The restrictions could affect the district later in the summer.
“Should we have a wet summer, and flows at La Puente do come up, then we will be unable to store excess water,” he said. La Puente is on the Chama River, above El Vado Dam. “That would be disappointing, but for the most part storing water in the summer is rare anyway.”
Here’s the release from Texas A&M (Kay Ledbetter):
The Texas A&M AgriLife Research dryland wheat variety nursery near Bushland is being monitored weekly by drone flights, offering wheat breeders a chance to see changes on a more real-time basis.
Dr. Jackie Rudd, AgriLife Research wheat breeder in Amarillo, said the dryland wheat variety nursery typically has varieties yielding an average of 30 bushels per acre, but some years that can fall to 8-10 bushels per acre due to drought and other environmental conditions.
“This year is undetermined,” Rudd said. “But it looks like it is out of moisture to survive on.”
He said the dryland nursery was planted Oct. 11 into good moisture and it came up and really looked good, but the rain shut off and “we haven’t had rain since then.”
The dryland variety nursery is mirrored across the state with locations in the Rolling Plains, South Plains and further south, all evaluating a large number of different genetic sets to determine how they will do throughout the Great Plains.
“We take advantage of what environments we have,” he said. “It’s been very dry this year, matching close to 2011 when we yielded 8-12 bushels per acre. Some varieties, however, yielded 18 bushels per acre that year. That’s what we are looking at, comparing the genetics here and throughout the state under multiple locations and different conditions.”
Rudd said they have been monitoring the situation to see the difference in color and growth rate, which has varied with how they started in the fall. Varieties with a good root system had a good stand establishment, got their root down and survived through the winter quite well.
“They are surviving entirely on subsoil moisture at this time,” he said. “But the more we dig down and check, there’s not much moisture under it at all. A week of this hot, windy weather, and it won’t be a pretty sight.”
He said some don’t have much of a root system left. Some might have had roots earlier but those have almost disappeared due to the dry weather.
“Jointing and stem elongation started last week, and things were looking pretty good,” Rudd said. “But when I was walking the field taking notes last week, I kicked some plants and they literally fell over.
“Many plants are not rooted at the crown. There may be some variety differences, but it seems to be uniform across the dryland nursery and several nearby dryland wheat fields. My first thought was an insect or a pathogen, but I really think that it is just dry.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this – a decent looking plant with almost no crown roots,” Rudd said. “An observation by our crop physiologist, Dr. Qingwu Xue, is that the plant is surviving on the seedling roots and it was just too dry to form crown roots.
“The seedling roots can get the wheat seedling off to a good start and continue to grow down to deep soil for water uptake. However, a root system without crown roots is very difficult to sustain a large developing above-ground plant.”
Some varieties, however, appear to be doing better than others, Rudd said.
“We need to evaluate these 5,000 plots one at a time,” he said. “Our normal process is to walk around here and go plot by plot and write in the book what we are getting. This year we’ve had 16 flights over the plots using UAVs.”
He said they are using the flights to visually measure how fast the stand established in the fall, how well it did when the cold temperatures hit – some lost a lot of leaf area while others kept right on growing — and the spring green-up.
“Some varieties started greening two weeks ago [March 12, 2018] and some started last week and some are really just now starting to green up,” Rudd said.
“With drones flying over weekly, we can actually plot that through the year, the biomass or the leaf area collection, and measure the color differences with the camera and also spectral reflectance and what the greenness pattern really is,” he said. “We are measuring by ground and by air, and that’s very important information we can get in a short amount of time by drone.”
To walk this dryland field, it would take three to four hours of walking and writing notes in the notebook, Rudd said. With the drone, it takes 10-15 minutes.
“It’s a big change from having to walk the field, although we are still doing that now to ground-truth and make sure everything the drones are recording is correct,” he said. “But I’m gaining more confidence in the drone information, and I think it’s going to give us efficiency and a lot more data to make our selections. We can see plant development through the year and adjust what groups of material we are going to focus on at harvest.”
Rudd said the same breeding lines growing in the dryland nursery are also in the irrigated nursery, which is on track for yields over 100 bushels per acre.
“Comparing yields and drone data from the dryland plots with those collected from irrigated plots will provide an outstanding look at drought resistance,” he said. “Once harvest comes, we will know for sure how valuable the data we have been collecting really is, and most importantly this year, to visualize drought tolerance in each individual breeding line and variety.”
From Stanford University: Water in the West (Sibyl Diver):
In 2015, 3 million gallons of drainage water came rushing out of the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, spewing 190 tons of heavy metals and other contaminants into a tributary of the Animas River, which flows into the San Juan River. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which had been doing some excavation of the passage leading into the mine during an investigation at the site, had triggered pressurized water stored behind a plug at the mine portal. The damage was significant, taking a heavy toll on one community in particular: the Navajo Nation.
“When the spill occurred, it was economically devastating to the region, which is the bread basket of the Navajo Nation,” said Karletta Chief, Assistant Professor of Soil, Water, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arizona. “It also had a traumatic impact on people. They view the river as the male deity of the Navajo homeland. Seeing it turn yellow really devastated the people.”
Indigenous Knowledge and Water Science
Chief, a hydrologist and a member of the Navajo Nation herself, has spent her career integrating rigorous scientific study with Indigenous knowledge to address urgent water quality problems. Raised in a remote community of Black Mesa, Arizona, where she often served as a translator for her family, Chief went on to receive undergraduate and master’s degrees from Stanford and a PhD from the University of Arizona. Her work on the Navajo Nation on water issues has earned her a place in Stanford’s Multicultural Alumni Hall of Fame.
“I grew up in a tribal community where we were taught to just listen to elders,” says Chief. “When I came to Stanford I had to unlearn that. You were expected to debate your issue, and we are trained to do that as western scientists. You want to interject. A lot of times this is for good reason. Scientists are curious and interested. But it’s important to sit back and just listen.”
Working closely with Navajo Nation community members, Chief focuses on spill response, water quality testing, and supporting local decision-making on key water resource issues.
Water quality is an important issue for the Navajo people, yet access to clean water is a real challenge. More than 8,000 homes on the Navajo reservation do not have access to potable water. Navajo people on the reservation travel an average of 24 miles each way to haul their drinking water. Groundwater contamination and depletion on native lands from mining activities is also a serious concern.
After the Gold King Mine spill, many local Navajo farmers either couldn’t irrigate their fields due to the closure of irrigation intakes or chose not to for fear of contamination. As a result, crop yields were seriously impacted. As many as 2,000 Navajo farmers and ranchers are estimated to have been affected by the spill. Chief, who has been an active force in understanding the Gold King Mine disaster and its impacts, developed a study with tribal members on short-term exposure to mining contaminants.
Typical environmental assessment methodologies do not adequately account for the social and cultural impacts of mining nor integrate Indigenous ways of knowing. “The elders gave us guidance and asked us to incorporate the fundamental Diné (Navajo) philosophy of hózhó,” Chief explains. Sa’ah Naaghái Bik’eh Hózhóón has to do with harmony, restoration, and healing, as well as following the Navajo approach to problem solving.
“I don’t think the EPA considered traditional knowledge in their approach,” says Chief. “In ours, we did this through listening sessions and allowing people to talk and write down their experiences. We had the help of the traditional cultural experts and elders that were involved when we were writing the proposal. This is important because it raises the need to have more accurate ways to do these risk assessments, particularly with Indigenous communities where they use rivers in many more ways than recreation. They revere the river in spiritual ways.”
Community-engaged research also requires communicating scientific findings back to communities in a language and format that is accessible. “When we reported back, we needed the help of cultural experts to make sure that we were doing that effectively,” says Chief. The goal for this work is to support tribal members in using research to make their own assessments, draw their own conclusions, and determine how to heal their community and environment. “Not everyone has gone back to farming,” explains Chief. “But [the research] has definitely helped in answering some questions.”
Communicating the details of spill response to non-English speakers was a challenge. When the Navajo language lacked a word to describe a water contaminant like manganese, Chief and her team worked with traditional knowledge holders and medicine people to name the element. The community outreach “really helped in terms of people understanding what we’re doing and the results that we share; coming back to restoring harmony and healing for the people as a result of this traumatic event,” explained Chief.
To share their results, Chief’s team participated in teach-ins organized by community environmental organizations. They broadcasted their findings over radio forums in Navajo language and presented at various chapter meetings, representing different parts of Navajo Nation.
More recently, Chief has co-organized a conference on Indigenous perspectives on water, with community leaders taking a prominent role. Chief has also developed short 1-2 minute videos that can be streamed in the waiting rooms of hospitals. “When you’re engaging tribes, not everybody is the same. There are different sectors of the tribal community that need to be considered,” says Chief. “It is not always the young people. There are health experts and elders. It is not always the tribal leaders.”
“I am still learning about how to report back to the community,” Chief explains. “There is such a large number of people in different sectors of the Navajo population, so it is a really daunting task to reach out to everybody.”
Responding to the Gold King Mine Spill
Chief is continuing her community-based research with tribal partners. This includes the Navajo Gold King Mine Exposure Project, a household-level biomonitoring initiative to investigate biological accumulation of toxins in community members over time. Initial findings have shown no significant evidence of long-term health impacts from the spill, although the research team did find slightly elevated arsenic levels for Navajo people compared to the general U.S. population. It remains to be seen what these results will look like as time goes on.
Recent investigation by the EPA has also detected elevated lead levels at sites near the mine up to 100 times higher than the danger level for wildlife. There are approximately 5,105 abandoned mines in Colorado, 3,989 in New Mexico, 10,697 in Utah, and 24,183 in Arizona.
“It’s a sleeping giant, and a wake-up call for everybody to act quickly on stabilizing the area and reducing risk in the future,” cautions Chief. “There are thousands of abandoned mines in the region and the risk of a spill like this is really high.”
In 2016, about one year after the Gold King Mine disaster, the EPA added the Bonita Peak Mining District as a Superfund site. The district is made up of 48 mining-related sites including Gold King.
Although the EPA has declared Superfund cleanups a priority the Gold King Mine cleanup remains lingering in the study stages. Meanwhile, the legal fight for fair compensation for the Navajo Nation continues. A ruling in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico against Environmental Restoration, LLC. (the contract company that excavated the mine and caused the spill) upheld the Nation’s claims of negligence and also upheld their right to seek punitive damages. All of which harkens back to the importance of Chief’s meaningful engagement with Indigenous knowledge in her research. The issue in seeking damages for the Navajo is keeping accurate records and receipts, which may not fully reflect their losses in terms of the cultural importance of the river and surrounding lands.
Chief’s next project supported by a million dollar grant through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Traineeship program is to develop a new training program at the University of Arizona. The program, which is currently accepting applications for graduate students, will include learning the fundamentals of energy and water efficiency and a project-based class working with Indigenous communities. The emphasis is on interdisciplinary thinking to encourage “a holistic view of problem solving that is needed to bring water to Native American communities,” says Chief.
One of the principles that the program will cover is the importance of understanding the diversity of Native American tribes. “Across hundreds of tribal communities, they are diverse in many ways,” Chief explains. “Within a tribal community, there are many more ways that the tribal community is diverse. It’s not one size fits fit all. So, when scientists are working with tribal communities it’s important to remember that. We need to make sure that we do not apply other tribal experiences to the tribes we’re working with,” says Chief. “More and more it is really about listening, and especially working with grassroots organizations that are the movers and shakers.”
From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Durango Herald:
Dolores and Montezuma County commissioners are debating whether a National Conservation Area designation for the Lower Dolores River is worth pursuing.
In the lively meeting at Bubba’s Restaurant in Lewis, commissioners juggled arguments about water rights, oil and gas revenue, environmental issues and federal influence. The complex land, fish, boating and water-management issues on the river below McPhee dam have been a topic of spirited debate for decades.
The Lower Dolores flows through both counties, but commissioners disagree on the merits of an NCA. Dolores County is willing to consider it, but Montezuma County is adamantly opposed to it.
A Natural Conservation Area is a federal land designation passed by Congress to protect sensitive lands. It creates a long-term plan for environmental protections plus preservation of multiple-use recreation, water rights, agriculture and industry.
The NCA idea for a stretch of the Dolores River below the dam was floated in 2013 as a negotiation tactic between environmental groups and McPhee Reservoir officials.
The goal was to add some long-term protection to the landscape in exchange for dropping the Dolores River’s long-time “suitability” status for a National Wild and Scenic River designation, which typically comes with a federally reserved water right.
“Suitability” for a Wild and Scenic River has not been designated by Congress, but federal land agencies must preserve the natural qualities that make it potentially eligible for the protectionist status.
The worry for farmers and water managers is that if the river did get congressional approval for a National Wild and Scenic River, a federally reserved water right could draw from upstream McPhee Reservoir…
NCA language can protect water rights, countered Dolores Commissioners Julie Kibel and Steve Garchar. But Ertel said “nebulous language” in NCA draft documents could be interpreted by lawyers to mean additional water flows down the road…
Dolores County Commissioner Steve Garchar said an NCA offers far more flexibility than a potentially Wild and Scenic designation in the future.
“We have Kinder Morgan interested in a possible pipeline across the river in the future,” Garchar said. “That type of development could be allowed for under NCA legislation, but maybe not under Wild and Scenic.”
Dolores Commissioner Julie Kibel agreed that an NCA was worth considering.
“Wild and Scenic is what scares me to death. With an NCA, we are able to put language in there protecting water rights,” she said, citing protection of a key pump station on the river that provides water for Dove Creek.
Don Schwindt, a board member for the Dolores Water Conservancy District that manages McPhee, was critical of earlier proposed NCA language.
He said it did not provide enough specifics to protect McPhee water rights.
Protection of native fish struggling in the lower Dolores River is seen as catalyst for conservationists to lobby the federal government for more water to improve habitat, officials said. If they became listed as endangered, it could also force more water from McPhee.
Gross Reservoir Expansion team engaging with Boulder County community for feedback to incorporate in planning process.