Drought Task Force Publishes NIDIS-MAPP #Drought & Temperature Research

Here’s the release from Drought.gov:

The development of drought is a complex process that involves multiple, interwoven relationships between precipitation, land surface temperatures, soil moisture, humidity, and atmospheric patterns. Often, drought is typified by the combination of a lack of precipitation and hot temperatures. However, the exact relationship between the two is not yet fully understood, nor is the role that temperature plays in the development of drought.

In an effort to better understand temperature, and its relationship with drought, NOAA’s Modelling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) Program Drought Task Force set out to research how temperature factors into the development of drought. This research was just completed and published last week, available on the MAPP website: Temperature and Drought: A science assessment by a subgroup of the Drought Task Force.

The particular challenge that the Drought Task Force faced was something of a chicken-and-egg dilemma; droughts are driven and exacerbated by high temperatures and land surface dryness, but when is temperature the leading driver of a drought, and when is it a response to dry conditions?

There is an interesting relationship between surface temperatures and surface moisture, known in the scientific community as the Bowen ratio; when the ground is dry, incoming solar radiation will heat the land more than it would have otherwise. This can also be explained as follows: when the ground is dry, heat from the sun does not have to expend energy to evaporate the already-dry soil, and instead heats the air to a more intense degree, causing air temperatures to rise.

This relationship suggests that dry soils can drive a rise in temperature, like a heat wave. However, on the flip side, hot temperatures can accelerate the evaporation of moisture in the ground (also known as high evaporative demand), which dries out the surface, which, in turn, can lead to a feedback loop of increased surface temperatures and heat waves. There are other factors, as well, that further complicate and blur the dynamics of heat and moisture; relative humidity and winds also play a role in depleting or sustaining surface moisture.

The Drought Task Force explores this complicated process and examines the potential for more extreme droughts and heat waves to impact the United States. The findings also reveal opportunities for further research to improve sub-seasonal drought prediction.

Follow this link to read the full report: Temperature and Drought: A science assessment by a subgroup of the Drought Task Force is the product of a partnership between the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, MAPP, NIDIS, and the NOAA Climate Program Office.

EcoFlight supplies unique perspective to environmental movement — The Aspen Times

Mount Sopris and Hay Park via the @EcoFlight1 Wildlands set.

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

EcoFlight celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2017. Over that time it has whisked thousands of journalists, policymakers of both political parties and stakeholders such as ranchers, scientists and environmentalists up in aircraft for an aerial perspective of landscapes at the center of one environmental debate or another.

“The airplane is such an incredible tool,” said Bruce Gordon, who founded EcoFlight and serves as executive director and its other primary pilot. The advantage is people in a plane have a 360-degree view. They aren’t trying to absorb the vast Western landscape by looking left and right out a car windshield. That creates a unique, broader perspective and often results in greater understanding of issues.

Gordon calls it conservation in the cockpit. EcoFlight, he said, is the environmental air force.

“We can give the land a voice,” Gordon said.

Basalt-based photographer Peter McBride learned the value of the bird’s-eye view when he enlisted EcoFlight’s help on his project tracing the Colorado River and what happens to it before it reaches the Sea of Cortez.

“In general, they offer a perspective on water and natural resources that we don’t get on the ground,” he said.

He recalled he once gained a new perspective on the effects of logging in a national forest via the air. A 50-yard-wide swath of trees was left untouched next to a highway but beyond that the forest was clear-cut. The perspective wouldn’t have been possible without the flight.

McBride was so impressed with EcoFlight’s mission that he started volunteering a few years ago on its board of directors.

EcoFlight works with about 300 conservation groups on efforts such as preservation of national forests from oil and gas development, opposition to uranium mining on the rim of the Grand Canyon, expansion of coal mines in Wyoming and various effects of climate change.

In many cases, its conservation partners ask EcoFlight for assistance getting people up in the air for a different perspective.

“People now see this as a tool they try to factor into their (planning),” Gordon said.

In other cases, EcoFlight takes the initiative to offer flights, such as with the Thompson Divide oil and gas controversy west and southwest of Carbondale (see related story). It aims to help direct policy in those cases.

“What stokes my passion and fire is the people I work with, the donors, and the scientists and activists, the people on the ground,” Gordon said.

The groups accomplish more by working together. “All of these conservation groups are a piece of the puzzle,” he said…

Gordon’s partner in life and at EcoFlight is Jane Pargiter, who joined the organization in 2004 and is vice president. Pargiter grew up in South Africa and was a lecturer at a university when she got involved in the anti-apartheid movement. She got blacklisted for her activism and moved to the U.S. for safety at the urging of her father. She ended up in Aspen and found her activism spirit renewed by EcoFlight.

“What it did was it enabled me to have the kind of passion I had when I was fighting the end of apartheid. It’s the same sort of thing where you are using your soul and your heart but you’re also using your mind,” Pargiter said.

EcoFlight averages about 400 hours of flying with people per year but 2017 was particularly busy. The number of flights jumped 40 percent.

Journalists were present in 63 percent of the flights last year. The influence of news coverage that results from taking reporters up in the air is incalculable. EcoFlight also has multiple files of still photography and video of imperiled Western landscapes that media outlets can use simply by giving credit.

The organization also takes a large number of high school and university students up in the air each year to study environmental issues. The nonprofit organization’s budget for 2017 was about $480,000.

Just as rewarding as the media coverage and work with students, Pargiter said, is taking up elected officials and policymakers on different sides of issues and seeing a meeting of the minds unfold.

“The plane happens to provide a really great platform for that because you’re putting people from different backgrounds into this tiny little bubble of a cockpit together where they’re physically touching, they’re all nervous, they’re all excited,” she said. “So they’re sharing similar emotions even though they could be from opposite sides of the aisle politically or morally even, but they find that they have a lot in common so it allows them to suddenly see the landscape in a different way.”

Once on the ground, parties often discuss what they saw and that’s when the value of the flights becomes evident.

“They learn that they’re really not that far apart,” Pargiter said.

In this national political climate, that’s more important than ever, she said.

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

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

#ColoradoRiver: Upper Basin and @CAPArizona Resolve to Return to Collaborative Relationship; CAWCD Commits to Working with Arizona Stakeholders to Chart Path Forward on Drought Contingency Plan #COriver

Colorado River Road. Once you get on it, it’s hard to get off. Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from the Central Arizona Project (DeEtte Person):

Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) is grateful for the opportunity to have met on April 30th with the Upper Colorado River Commission representing Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and the United States. In addition, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and Denver Water participated in the meeting on the phone.

Concerns from the Upper Basin Commissioners were heard and respected, and there was a productive discussion. All parties recognize there is still much work to do. The Commissioners and CAWCD are resolved to returning to the collaborative processes, and important relationships, that have defined the successes for which the Colorado River Basin has been famous for two decades. The meeting was an opportunity to express intent, and going forward we must focus on results.

CAWCD regrets that intra-Arizona issues have impacted other parties in the Colorado River basin. Specifically, CAWCD regrets using language and representations that were insensitive to Upper Basin concerns, and resolves to have a more respectful and transparent dialogue in the future. [ed. emphasis mine]

As a result of the meeting, CAWCD has committed to beginning a fresh conversation within Arizona, including with ADWR and other stakeholders, to chart a path forward for an effective Drought Contingency Plan. We believe that a renewed collaborative process will ultimately support development of broad-based solutions with our Colorado River Basin colleagues to benefit the entire Colorado River system.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

The Central Arizona Project, which provides water to about 5 million people, pledged to be more cooperative with other river users and promised “to have a more respectful and transparent dialogue in the future.”

[…]

The tension boiled over last month after the Arizona utility said it was trying to keep water levels in a major reservoir high enough to avoid any reduction in its share but low enough to require other users to send more water into the river.

That angered officials in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah, who accused the Central Arizona Project of manipulating the water at the expense of others and putting the entire river system in jeopardy.

James Eklund, Colorado’s representative on Colorado River issues, said the Arizona utility’s goal was “gaming the system.”

The Central Arizona Project initially denied the accusations and described its approach as good management. But after meeting with its critics Monday in Salt Lake City, the utility released a statement saying it “regrets using language and representations that were insensitive” to other river users.

It also pledged to cooperate on drawing up a multi-state plan for possible shortages in the river, which appear more and more likely because of the drought and climate change.

Other users had grown impatient over delays in completing the drought plans and accused the Central Arizona Project of stalling to avoid the water cutbacks the plans might require.

Colorado and Wyoming officials said Tuesday they were encouraged by the Central Arizona Project’s new statement but were waiting to see how it follows through.

“I think we heard an apology yesterday, certainly for the rhetoric they used,” said Patrick T. Tyrrell, Wyoming’s representative on the Colorado River. “The jury’s probably still out till we see what happens with their actions going forward.”

No single authority oversees the river — instead, it is governed by international treaties, interstate agreements and court rulings known collectively as “the law of the river.” The seven states in the Colorado River system are Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming…

For years, the seven states, the federal government and Mexico have relied largely on negotiations to settle their disagreements without public rancor or lawsuits. That made the Arizona dispute stand out and prompted critics to say the Central Arizona Project was threatening to wreck the cooperative spirit of the river states.

Windsor town board planning for future water needs

Windsor Lake/Mummy Range

From Windsor Now (Emily Wenger):

At the April 16 Windsor Town Board work session, Dennis Wagner, director of engineering for Winds or, said the town has several options as it considers how best to meet the water needs of current and future residents.

Right now, the town is reliant on other sources to treat its water, so it has to pay the city of Greeley and the Fort Collins-Loveland and North Weld County water districts.

But some town board members want to give Windsor a way to avoid those price tags, even if that doesn’t happen for many years.

The regional water treatment plant also would serve Severance, Eaton and the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District.

Eaton is also feeling the pressures of providing for future growth, said Gary Carsten, town administrator for Eaton, so being part of the regional project would help prepare the town to serve future residents.

In 2017, the partners hired Black and Veatch Engineering to study the possibility. That plant would be east of Interstate 25 and just north of Colo. 14. The challenge with that plant, Wagner said, will be finding enough water to treat to justify the cost at $25 million for Windsor’s portion.

At its April 9 meeting, the Windsor Town Board also approved a plan to continue discussions with Broe Infrastructure about another water treatment plant at Great West Industrial Park.

That plant, which the town would eventually buy, would pull about 1,300 acre-feet of water per year from the ground and treat it.

If all goes according to plan, Windsor Town Attorney Ian McCargar said construction on that water treatment plant would start in 2019 and be finished by 2021.

Windsor is hoping much of that water will come from Northern Integrated Supply Project, of which Eaton is also a part. The project, which would create two new reservoirs to supply the region, has been in the works for about 18 years, said Mayor Kristie Melendez.

Windsor gets its water rights from the Colorado Big Thompson project, which brings water across the Continental Divide from the upper Colorado River and North Poudre Irrigation Co. It’s enough for now, but town officials are concerned it won’t stretch as the town grows and everyone in northern Colorado is trying to provide enough water to serve their residents.

Buying into NISP, Windsor officials said, could ensure that water is available.

The town is expected to spend $86.6 million on the project before it’s completed, including a $2 million payment next year.

Wagner said the project cost keeps going up as the project keeps getting put off and construction costs rise.

Melendez said some partners are skeptical about NISP ever being completed, because the project is taking so long. Currently, it’s expected to be built from 2021-25, if the planning and approval process continues without any issues, but Melendez said she’s not convinced that will happen, because of continual postponements.

Owens Lake: Former toxic dust bowl transformed into environmental success

Blowing Alkali Dust at Owens Lake, California. Photo credit: Eeekster (Richard Ellis) via Wikimedia

From The Los Angeles times (Louis Sahagun):

Fearsome gusts of desert wind routinely kicked up swirling clouds of choking dust over Owens Lake on the east side of the Sierra Nevada after 1913, when its treasured snowmelt and spring water was first diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

It was not until 2001, and under a court order, that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began transforming the lake’s grim heritage, flooding portions where toxic, powder-fine dust exceeded federal pollution standards.

In what is now hailed as an astonishing environmental success, nature quickly responded. First to appear on the thin sheen of water tinged bright green, red and orange by algae and bacteria were brine flies. Then came masses of waterfowl and shorebirds that feed on the insects.

On Saturday, Owens Lake was designated a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site of international importance, joining an exclusive group of 104 areas between Alaska and the southern end of South America certified for their outstanding numbers of birds.

Saturday’s designation is part of a growing movement across the nation and around the world that sees wetlands as crucial connections to natural vistas that are receding as the planet heats up and development spreads.

Rob Clay, director of the shorebird reserve network headquartered in Plymouth, Mass., said it is also testament to a Los Angeles dust mitigation project that “demonstrates how human welfare and biodiversity conservation are intrinsically linked.”

Larimer County and the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition score $175,342 for river restoration

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The county commissioners on Tuesday approved a contract to work with the nonprofit river coalition on continued revegetation in key areas of the flood-damaged canyon with a $175,342 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. To match the grant, the county and watershed coalition will put in $175,386, part in cash and part in staff and volunteer resources.

Commissioners Donnelly and Steve Johnson voted 2-0 at their weekly administrative matters meeting to approve the contract, allowing county resources to be used for the project. Lew Gaiter, the third commissioner, was absent.

The county’s in-kind contribution will be worth $23,490, including work by weed specialist Casey Cisneros, and its cash share will be $94,797 from the Larimer County Disaster Fund. The watershed coalition will pitch in $7,250 in cash and $49,849 of in-kind help, including volunteer labor.

This project will focus on the Big Thompson River near Drake, Cedar Cove and Jasper Lake as well as the North Fork of the Big Thompson from Drake all the way to Glen Haven.

Restoration projects have focused heavily on both private and public land along these areas, but additional work is needed for continued weed management and erosion control, said Shayna Jones, coalition director.

“These are areas that received a lot of time and effort in the past,” said Jones. “This is about making sure those improvements are maintained and stay on the right trajectory. … We’ll be able to identify the key focal areas that need a little more attention.”

This work, Donnelly said, is important to the fishery of the river, which is an economic driver for the region, to recreation along the river and to the quality of water that the river delivers to residents, including those who live in Loveland. These projects, he said, help restore the ecosystem and all river functions.