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.

2017 Lower #ColoradoRiver Basin water use the lowest in a quarter century — @jfleck #COriver

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

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

Led by California, the states of the Lower Colorado River Basin had their lowest consumptive water use in 2017 since 1992, according to a near-final tally by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The final numbers won’t be out until mid-May, so could change slightly, but at this point they won’t change much. And they show that, despite the chaotic politics you’ve been hearing about lately, Lower Colorado River Basin water users are pushing their water use in the right direction.

In each case, the three Lower Basin states in different ways and on different time scales have been confronting the reality that they had come to depend on more water than the river could provide in the long run. Policy interventions that include municipal conservation, agricultural conservation, and ag-to-urban water transfers are shifting the water balance in the right direction…

At 6.782 million acre feet, that’s the lowest since 1992, before the Central Arizona Project was completed – the last big straw sucking water out of Lake Mead.

When the final numbers are completed, they’ll be published here.

#ColoradoRiver water banking discussion

Credit: Wikipedia.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A public presentation related to an ongoing study might seem to envision a possible new, million-acre-foot reservoir not far upstream of Lake Powell in southeast Utah as a means of helping Powell’s water levels…

The presentation, which the consultant doing the study has been using to provide public updates on it, includes a map showing a triangle over what Wockner says is the Dirty Devil River near its confluence with the Colorado River. A label pointing to the triangle refers to a million-acre “Water Bank Reservoir.” But Kuhn, who is involved with the risk study, said the consultant, John Carron of Hydros Consulting, placed the reservoir there just for demonstration purposes.

Kuhn said the idea was to discuss storing that much water for banking purposes anywhere within the Upper Basin river system, from Powell itself to upstream reservoirs. That storage could include newly created storage, he said, but any new storage would likely have to overcome the challenge of cost-competitiveness versus using existing storage space, not to mention considerations such as environmental impacts and political viability.

The water-banking concept — discussed again Wednesday in a meeting in Grand Junction of representatives of stakeholder groups for West Slope basins of the Colorado River watershed — would entail conserving water through temporary irrigation fallowing and other means and then storing that water to help shore up Powell levels. Water officials are concerned that continuing drought could drop those levels low enough that it could jeopardize hydropower generation and the ability of Upper-Basin states to meet legal obligations to deliver water downstream.

Powell itself, with its huge size and current large amount of unused storage space, is an obvious and convenient place to consider banking water, according to Kuhn and other water officials. The Bureau of Reclamation reports that as of the end of March, it had about 13 million acre-feet of water in it, and was about 53 percent full. Many upstream reservoirs are less well-positioned to bank water for the long term because they’re designed to fill in wet years.

However, the challenge when it comes to Powell is how to figure out how to ensure any water that’s banked there can actually go toward helping protect the reservoir’s levels rather than being subject to release downstream based on other agreements dictating operations of Powell as part of the larger Colorado River system.

But Kuhn says there’s a precedent for what’s called intentionally created storage or surplus already in place in the Lower Basin, taking advantage of vacant storage space in Lake Mead.

“It’s more than just a conceptual idea. It actually works,” said Kuhn, who said that shows the concept can work elsewhere in the Colorado River Basin.

If new storage is considered, one possibility that could be evaluated is in far northwest Colorado. The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District in Rangely has been looking at a possible storage project at Wolf Creek, a tributary to the White River on the Moffat County line. Kuhn said that reservoir could be built for local needs in Rio Blanco County, but also sized up to help bank water for Powell. But he said it wouldn’t provide enough space, nor is the White River big enough, for such a reservoir to meet the entire water bank needs.

Rather, storage for a bank could be spread out among multiple reservoirs.

Kuhn believes new storage can’t be ruled out as a possibility.

“I think the (Upper) Basin has to be open to all suggestions and then weed them out,” he said.

@USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Announces New Funding Opportunity for Sustainable Agricultural Systems

Graphic via Aksik.org.

Here’s the release from the USDA (Kelly Sprute):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced the availability of up to $80 million in funding for integrated projects to increase sustainable production of food and agricultural products. Funding is made through a new program in NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) – Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) program. AFRI is authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, which aims to address challenges in food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences.

SAS program focuses on system-level approaches that promote transformational changes in food and agricultural systems within the next 25 years. SAS supports trans-disciplinary projects that aim to transform agricultural systems that provide safe, nutritious, abundant, and affordable food for a growing population, while enhancing economic opportunities for Americans, especially those in rural areas.

Applications are solicited for projects focused on increasing agricultural productivity; optimizing water and nitrogen use efficiency; protecting yield losses from stresses, diseases and pests; reducing food-borne diseases; and advancing development of biobased fuels, chemicals, and coproducts.

Eligible applicants include colleges and universities, 1994 Land-Grant Institutions, and Hispanic serving agricultural colleges and universities. NIFA reviews all proposals accepted in NIFA’s competitive grant programs through an external peer review process. Specific details on panel meetings, review formats, and evaluation criteria may vary among programs.

A letter of intent is a prerequisite for the submission of an application. The deadline to submit a letter of intent is June 27, 2018.

The deadline for applications is Oct. 10, 2018.

See the SAS Program Request for Applications for more details.

Water in the West Symposium creates foundation for work in water #WaterintheWest2018

Water in the West Symposium April 27, 2018. Photo credit: Colorado State University

From Colorado State University:

Solutions to water needs lie in the hands of the next generation, said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. He was in Denver April 27 for a conversation about water with former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who serves as a special advisor to Colorado State University, as part of the inaugural Water in the West Symposium.

“We’re seeing a lot of millennials getting their hands back into the soil,” Perdue said.

Perdue and more than 30 experts in water – ranging from conservationists, politicians, researchers, farmers, to business professionals – shared their insights during the two-day event. The sold-out Symposium drew more than 400 attendees and highlighted the greatest challenges surrounding water in the Western region. Experts explored best practices and proposed solutions to address emergent challenges – all efforts that will be continued at the future Water Resources Center at the National Western Center.

Topics discussed during the Symposium included:

  • Funding for water projects
  • Federal, state, and local policies surrounding water
  • Water education
  • Colorado’s Water Plan
  • Water research
  • Water innovation
  • Water infrastructure
  • The need for cross-sector collaboration
  • Water is an endless topic of discussion in the West. Especially in Colorado – the only headwater state in the continental United States, which means all of the water in the state flows outside state boundaries – everyone has an interest and a stake in water, but leaders at the Symposium firmly held the importance of collaboration in working toward solutions around water challenges.

    “These issues are not partisan, and we should not allow them to become partisan,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), during the Symposium. “We can actually solve these problems; and we might find ourselves able to accomplish a lot — and we should.”

    Tony Frank, president of CSU and chancellor of the CSU System, joined other speakers in reiterating the theme that water needs to be at the forefront of conversations around growth of cities, agricultural production, economic development, recreation – and all aspects of the future.

    “As you’ve heard virtually every speaker say, what happens around water will in a very real sense influence the world we leave to future generations,” said Frank.

    More from Colorado State University:

    Related news from the Water in the West Symposium

    A $10 million grant to fund the Irrigation Innovation Consortium was announced; the consortium is a collaborative research hub involving five university partners, including CSU, that will be built in Fort Collins in the next three years.

    News from day one of the Symposium.

    A full video recording of the Symposium.

    Symposium photos.

    #Drought news: Mesa County fire restrictions start Friday

    Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Stage I fire restrictions are to go into effect Friday, far earlier than the May 22 restrictions in 2012, according to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and fire chiefs of several municipalities and fire-protection districts. That year, an extremely dry winter, coupled with a hot, dry summer, fueled multiple, destructive wildfires across the state, including a blaze that burned nearly 14,000 acres southwest of De Beque.

    Authorities said this is the earliest imposition of fire restrictions they could recall.

    “One reason we are going in so early with restrictions is that we are seeing severe to extreme drought conditions and the predictions are that it’s going to be a pretty bad fire season,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Megan Terlecky said.

    “The conditions we are experiencing are the most dangerous fire conditions we have had in recent memory and the potential for serious wildfire is staggering,” Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis said. “We want to ensure everyone has ample opportunity to understand these fire restrictions and adjust their plans accordingly.”

    Firefighters in the Grand Valley already have battled the 12-acre Rosevale and 220-acre Skipper Island fires, both of which were started by humans and whipped by gusting winds. The Rosevale fire destroyed a mobile home and several outbuildings and vehicles.

    Another reason to move quickly was to put residents and others on early notice that fireworks won’t be allowed this year…

    Under the restrictions, campfires are allowed only in designated fire pits or fire rings and smoking is allowed outdoors only in a developed recreation site or in an area at least 6 feet in diameter that is clear of all combustible material.

    Open-burn season was closed in the county immediately. Agricultural burns are allowed only with a permit issued by the fire marshal, who is to conduct an on-site inspection to verify precautions have been met, issuing permits on a case-by-case basis.

    Open-burning season in the city of Grand Junction already was scheduled to end on Monday.

    West Drought Monitor April 24, 2018.