Drones help researchers monitor High Plains wheat — Texas A&M

Drones are being used to monitor weekly growth on the Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat variety plots near Bushland. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

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.”

Dryland wheat is suffering from no moisture since it has been planted. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

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.

The roots of dryland wheat in the Texas A&M AgriLife Research variety plots dried up. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

“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.

Drones help researchers monitor leaf color and growth rate between varieties. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

“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.”

Native Waters at Risk: Learning to Listen

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

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.”

Montezuma, Dolores counties renew debate over conservation status for Dolores River

Dolores River watershed

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.

Rain or shine: New yurt open for business – News on TAP

Gross Reservoir Expansion team engaging with Boulder County community for feedback to incorporate in planning process.

Source: Rain or shine: New yurt open for business – News on TAP

Denver Water’s 21st century modus operandi: Collaboration – News on TAP

Water Resources Center poised to unite Colorado interests on both sides of the divide.

Source: Denver Water’s 21st century modus operandi: Collaboration – News on TAP

Restored stretch of Fraser River opens for public fishing – News on TAP #ColoradoRiver #COriver

New fishing spot marks successful start of collaborative push to improve Grand County streams.

Source: Restored stretch of Fraser River opens for public fishing – News on TAP

Just Five Things About GRACE Follow-On, launch today

Artist’s illustration of the GRACE-FO satellites in orbit. Credits: NASA

Here’s the release from NASA:

Scheduled to launch no earlier than May 22, the twin satellites of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, a collaboration between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), will continue the work of monitoring changes in the world’s water cycle and surface mass, which was so well performed by the original GRACE mission. There are far more than five things to say about this amazing new-old mission; but here are a few favorite facts.

1 Percent (or Less)

GRACE-FO tracks liquid and frozen water by measuring month-to-month changes in Earth’s gravitational pull very precisely. More than 99 percent of our planet’s gravitational pull doesn’t change from one month to the next, because it represents the mass of the solid Earth itself. But a tiny fraction of Earth’s mass is constantly on the move, and it is mostly water: Rain is falling, dew is evaporating, ocean currents are flowing, ice is melting and so on. GRACE-FO’s maps of regional variations in gravity will show us where that small fraction of overall planetary mass is moving every month.

2 Satellites, One Instrument

Unlike other Earth-observing satellites, which carry instruments that observe some part of the electromagnetic spectrum, the two GRACE-FO satellites themselves are the instrument. The prime instrument measures the tiny changes in the distance between the pair, which arise from the slightly varying gravitational forces of the changing mass below. Researchers produce monthly maps of water and mass change by combining this information with GPS measurements of exactly where the satellites are and accelerometer measurements of other forces acting upon the spacecraft, such as atmospheric drag.

3 Gravity Missions, Including One on the Moon

The same measurement concept used on GRACE and GRACE-FO was also used to map the Moon’s gravity field. NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) twins orbited the moon for about a year, allowing insights into science questions such as what Earth’s gravitational pull contributed to the Moon’s lopsided shape. The intentionally short-lived GRAIL satellites were launched in September 2011 and decommissioned in December 2012.

4 Thousand-Plus Customers Served

GRACE observations have been used in more than 4,300 research papers to date — a very high number for a single Earth science mission. Most papers have multiple coauthors, meaning the real number of scientist-customers could be higher, but we chose a conservative estimate. As GRACE-FO extends the record of water in motion, there are sure to be more exciting scientific discoveries to come.

5 Things We Didn’t Know Before GRACE

Here’s a list-within-a-list of five findings from those 4,300-plus papers. Watch the GRACE-FO website to learn what the new mission is adding to this list.

• Melting ice sheets and dwindling aquifers are contributing to Earth’s rotational wobbles.

• A few years of heavy precipitation can cause so much water to be stored on land that global sea level rise slows or even stops briefly.

• A third of the world’s underground aquifers are being drained faster than they can be replenished.

• In the Amazon, small fires below the tree canopy may destroy more of the forest than deforestation does — implying that climatic conditions such as drought may be a greater threat to the rainforest than deforestation is.

• Australia seesaws up and down by two or three millimeters each year because of changes to Earth’s center of mass that are caused by the movement of water.

Bonus: The Fine Print

JPL manages the GRACE-FO mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, under the direction of the Earth Systematic Missions Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The spacecraft were built by Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen, Germany, under subcontract to JPL. GFZ contracted GRACE-FO launch services from Iridium. GFZ has subcontracted mission operations to the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which operates the German Space Operations Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.

#Drought news

US Drought Monitor May 15, 2018.

From The Fence Post (Amy Hadachek):

There are possible sources for rain opportunities in these spring/summer months, including anticipated periodic areas of low pressure and the dryline boundary (of instability) on the Plains, and possible rains if the El Nino sets up this summer, and then — the monsoonal flow (of seasonal reversal) up into the southern Rockies, among other storm-inducing features. Meanwhile, until the next rainfall, here’s the current drought impact.

SOUTHWEST COLORADO

For starters, extreme southwest Colorado including Durango are in exceptional drought, according to the Drought Monitor. Areas further north, including Grand Junction are in severe drought. Then further north into Steamboat Springs is classified as “abnormally dry.”

“So far this year, Durango has received just 1.39 inches of precipitation. Normal for this date is 5.21 inches, said Scott Stearns, meteorologist intern at the National Weather Service, Grand Junction, Colo. “The lowest ever was 0.81 inches in 2002, so this year isn’t the worst we’ve ever seen, but it’s close.” The Grand Junction NWS forecast area covers from the Continential Divide near Vail and Aspen, west into eastern Utah.

Grand Junction so far this year has received 2.91 inches of precipitation. Normal is 3.48 inches. The lowest ever received in Grand Junction was 0.77 inches. There’s potentially good news for southwest Colorado. “Some signals we’re seeing indicate the monsoonal moisture may come into our area a week or two earlier than normal, which is a good sign, although not a guarantee,” Stearns said.

“Western Colorado is favored to receive above normal precipitation, which is a change from last month’s outlook for June-July-August,” said Matthew Rosencrans, head of forecast operations, Climate Prediction Center, as he analyzed the latest 90-day outlook.

SOUTHEAST COLORADO

There’s also some hope for summertime rainfall in southeast Colorado, which is strongly needed to bust the current drought.

“The drought is bad,” said Service Hydrologist Tony Anderson at the National Weather Service in Pueblo, Colo. “If we go back to Oct. 1, snow accumulation has been at or near historic lows in the Arkansas River Basin and Rio Grand Basin. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, central and southeast Colorado have moderate to extreme drought conditions. The southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains are experiencing exceptional drought, which is the worst category.”

Since Oct. 1, (when precipitation really dropped off, also called the “Water Year”) Colorado Springs has received 2.63 inches of precipitation. Average for this time of year is 4.64 inches. Pueblo has received 1.89 inches, compared with the average 4.53 inches.

“The Climate Prediction Center indicates southeast Colorado is moving out of this drier pattern and closer to near-normal. A decent monsoon is indicated for the western Colorado/Utah area, but it’s highly variable regarding who gets rain and where thunderstorms set up each day,” Anderson said. “The CPC Drought Outlook indicates the drought may persist, but shows improvement mid-to late-summer.”

COLORADO LIVESTOCK

A Colorado Task Force overseeing Conservation Reserve Program and fire declarations, met on May 16, noting that because Colorado is a state with federally managed land, some decisions about when to turn cattle out, when to come off the land, when to graze or not, are actually out of the hands of producers, and are related to the environment.

Executive Vice President Terry Fankhauser of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association told The Fence Post, some stocking rate reductions are taking place in southwestern Colorado.

“So, we have producers who are moving cattle to market early and are going ahead and selling because they’re concerned, if the drought persists they’d have to sell early, and they want to do it before cattle prices could possibly slip,” he said.

He also said that if the drought continues into the summer without much rain, the U.S. Forest Service would likely remove cattle from the federal lands to preserve adequate forage for wildlife.

“This would result in livestock producers finding alternative forage, which may not be available, or could be expensive to find and buy hay,” Fankhauser said.

He was quick to note this decision isn’t affecting the majority, and that many producers are optimistic and believe they’ll be able to push through this. “This thinking is probably appropriate, because after de-stocking, then the cost of re-stocking, as we learned in the 2012 period, can be very costly. We have (cattle association) members from southeast Colorado who have not yet recovered from from de-stocking in 2002 and 2003 and then re-stocking,” he said. Fankhauser said the cow price doubled following that drought.

“I believe that any de-stocking is a personal decision, and so, we work through issues and forecasting with producers so they’ll have ideas to bounce off about how their business is structured. You also have to live through feeding your family,” Fankhauser said. So, they only make recommendations, not decisions.

Some producers, and sale barns in southwest Colorado are having more cow runs than usual for this time of year.

“Remember, not all cattle can be raised at 8,000 feet so you can’t take a Kansas cow and bring it to Colorado and expect each one to survive in the mountains,” Fankhauser said. “A lot of these mountain ranches raise amongst themselves.”

Producers have been adding in oats to supplement alfalfa, which they’ll use for forage/silage to get some value. Fankhauser said there will be a market for hay, which doubled in price this past winter.

The southern half of Colorado is expected to make it through the summer with some irrigation water. “But that area looks like autumn right now; there’s been very little snowpack,” Fankhauser said. “The effect will be anyone down river, who counts on that snowpack.”

“A short-term drought is not going to put someone out of business,” Fankhauser said. “In a longer term drought, there’s stress on families, and if someone is emotionally struggling, we have a Crisis Hotline.”

As Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown recommends on the following website, “The agricultural economic crisis is real. The resulting stress is real. Let’s talk about it.” Call the hotline at (844) 493-TALK or text TALK to 38255 or go to https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/agmain/ag-financial-crisis.

“We think of ranchers as tough men and women, and they are but they’re human too,” Fankhauser said. “We hope this will be a short-term drought.”

SOUTHWEST KANSAS

“The drought has hit extremely hard here,” said southwest Kansas dryland farmers Marieta and Tom Hauser, who farm milo and wheat, and also planted some dryland corn last year for the first time on their farm in Ulysses, Kan. “We had some decent moisture last year, and now we’re right back in it,”

They’ll plant more this year, and are hopeful.

“We hope and pray we get enough rain to bring it up,” said Marieta Hauser, also the director of the Grant County, Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and on the Kansas Farm Bureau board of directors. “Also, the wheat is short this year and thin, but with a little moisture we could have a somewhat decent crop,”

The couple got almost three-fourths of an inch of rain (0.70) a couple of weeks ago, which was the first measurable moisture since October. “People here talk about the Grant County split; storms will rain north and south of us,” she said. “You watch it come, then it doesn’t materialize.”

As the chamber director, Hauser is also concerned that a drought hurts their retail businesses when people don’t have money to spend downtown.

“We also battled the fires and some of our CRP grass caught on fire when a train passing produced a spark, catching dry weeds alongside the track.”

Wildfires burned 30 minutes south and west of Ulysses.

KANSAS COUNTIES

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, MD, issued an executive order March 13, 2018, declaring drought in all 105 Kansas counties due to below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures. Twenty-eight counties are classified in emergency status from central Kansas into southern Kansas and southwest Kansas. Twenty-nine counties in central, western Kansas and the east/central parts of the state are in a warning status, and 48 Kansas counties are in a watch status which includes the rest of the state: north/central, northwest, eastern and southeast Kansas.

The complete national map shows the 2018 Secretarial Drought Declarations with extreme drought conditions from central and southern Kansas into all of Oklahoma, south into northwest Texas, then west into southeast and southwest Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

SOUTHWEST KANSAS LIVESTOCK

Right in the heart of southwest Kansas’ hardest hit drought area, David Clawson of Englewood, Kan., the 2017 president of the Kansas Livestock Association said the drought has gotten worse.

“We’re still supplementing on grass,” said Clawson, who has a cow/calf operation. “Livestock still come to our pickups for protein supplements, which tells you the grass doesn’t have enough to feed. It’s greening up, but we haven’t had enough moisture for growth, My neighbors are all in the same boat. We’re anxiously waiting to see if we get enough moisture to recover.”

Over the past 60 days, Clawson has been selling cows. “We’re de-stocking to just hold onto the best cows we can,” he said. “We also went through this in 2011 and 2012 so experience makes it a little easier to deal with. It’s just part of a planned program to give the grass a chance to recover.”

Just to their south, in Oklahoma, Clawson’s neighbors are in the drought area and have had to fight wildfires. “It’s just trying to green-up there,” he said. “We need a few inches of rain spread out over a couple of weeks. We got one of the best showers last night (May 15, with rainfall between 0.40 to 0.80 of an inch) and that’s encouraging, but we need much more.”

NEBRASKA

There are some areas that are now abnormally dry or beginning drought particularly in southern Nebraska, from Omaha westward to the area just east of McCook and then southward. However, an extension agent has some uplifting news.

“We are on the dry side. But one positive aspect, we had enough moisture for planting, and we got good stands,” said Randy Pryor, Nebraska Extension educator/resident in Saline County. “That is, unless you till the ground. We have people who till the ground but had to run pivots this season. However, on the other side of the coin, farmers were able to plant areas that routinely you just cannot plant because they’re usually too muddy,”

Also, in Jefferson and Saline Counties, there wasn’t the “flush of growth” in May that they typically get in cool-season pastures. “We were behind in April because of temperature, and then a growth in May in pastures,” Pryor said. “But, there’s going to have to be timely rains if we’re going to have a decent corn crop. We don’t have a full soil profile of moisture like we are used to in southeast Nebraska. Parts of Jefferson, Gage and Pawnee counties had some good rains, but you still have the ‘have nots.'”

Normally, those Nebraska counties expect an average of 4 1/2 inches of rain in May, which is the highest precipitation month on average in southeast Nebraska. However, official recordings in Saline County, for example in Crete official recorders received 0.41 of an inch, Friend 0.17, and the town of Western 0.93.

Pryor said in southeast Nebraska, they’re used to starting with a full profile of moisture on their silty, clay loam soils, which can mean 8-inches of water 4-feet deep, half of which is readily available for the crop. “Then, in dryland farming, you can figure on 6-feet deep, which would be 6-inches crop available water. We’re more used to that, which gives you resiliency in those times when you don’t have rains in the summer and gets you through a summer dry spell, but this is different when we’re starting out this way. For soybeans, our main concern comes in August to receive timely rainfall.”

Meanwhile, Pryor said Nebraska hay prices have escalated and are almost double, and there’s a drought to the south. “A local producer recently had a third cutting that went for $150 (for a big round) bale.”

Many pastures in these dry areas of southern Nebraska are heavily dependent on cool-season grasses, primarily bluegrass and brome grass.

“The challenge we’re starting to face pretty critically is that unless these grasses get some good growing moisture before Memorial Day, we’re likely to be short of pasture for the rest of the year. Once we get into June, July and especially August, the heat prevents them from growing very well, even when they have a lot of moisture,” said Bruce Anderson, Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extensive forage specialist.

WYOMING

The director of the Wyoming Cattlemen’s Association said that Wyoming is not in a drought. “We’re in pretty good shape,” said William Doenz.

There are, however, abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions reported over southwest Wyoming, and the next one to two weeks are forecast to be warmer than average. But there’s hope on the horizon.

“During these next couple of weeks, there are slightly wetter than average conditions expected, with an active weather pattern of periodic showers,” said Senior Meteorologist Mike Jamski at the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Keeping a positive outlook can be challenging, but several folks believe it’s a choice.

“The life we’ve decided to live in — agriculture,” Clawson said, “We’ve just gotta have faith.”

“The weather cycles, you go through dry periods, and then there’s rain,” Hauser said. “So we keep at it.”

#Runoff news

West Drought Monitor May 15, 2018.

From WesternSlopeNow.com (Marcus Beasley):

The snowpack up in the mountains, which was below average for most places this year, is melting quickly…

A drought isn’t just affected by the lack of precipitation, being abnormally warm can have an effect on the drought as well. The drought and low snowpack will have an affect our summer water supply…

“Being in a drought now and having less snowpack now means that there will be less water for us as we go into the summer.”

The drought we’re currently in could also have long term effects if we’re dry again next year.

“If we start to continue to be dry and move into a year and a half to two years. that’s where it can really impact us, so it’s good to start conserving water now and to be thinking about that, conserve the water that we have so we can think about the future in case we don’t get those real good rains this summer that help us out or if the snowpack is low enoughnext year it could make it worse for the next year.”

Hopefully this summer brings us some much needed rain.

From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

Local rivers seem to have hit peak flows. That isn’t good.

The Colorado River at Dotsero hit its peak seasonal flow Tuesday, May 15. That peak was just more than 3,000 cubic feet per second. The median figure for that date — based on 77 years of data — is about 5,000 cubic feet per second.

This year’s May streamflows aren’t the lowest ever recorded, but the news isn’t good. Still, local water supplies and recreation will survive for the season.

At Minturn Anglers, guide Alex Garnier said fishing on the Eagle River has been good so far this season. The water is clearer than usual, and the flows are low enough to fish in a number of spots…

While the Colorado River has probably hit its seasonal peak, there could be some spikes to come on Gore Creek and the Eagle River.

In an email, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Communications and Public Affairs Manager Diane Johnson wrote that a string of warm days could accelerate snowmelt in the upper reaches of Gore Creek and the Eagle River. That more-rapid snowmelt could spike flows above current peaks. Those peaks are now running ahead of seasonal medians.

No one wants the snow to come off any faster, though, since snowpack makes up a major portion of the district’s water storage.

“If it stays a little cooler we get to keep (runoff) flowing a little longer,” Johnson wrote.

2018 #COleg recap

View from the Pitkin County end of Homestake Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Ken Salazar and Tom Gougeon):

Colorado’s iconic mountain ranges, farms and ranchlands, parks, rivers and open spaces are an undeniable part of our shared identity as Coloradans. We live in a state where three in four residents consider themselves conservationists, and 87% understand that Colorado’s open lands and outdoor lifestyle give the state an economic advantage.

That’s why we hope every Coloradan will take a moment to recognize two huge legislative wins achieved this month for conservation in our state – and what together these wins mean for future generations and their quality of life.

The most lauded success happened on May 1, when Governor Hickenlooper signed into law a measure ensuring that Colorado lottery proceeds will continue to be a steady source of revenue for conservation and outdoor recreation through at least 2049. This measure extends and affirms the will of Colorado voters, who in 1992 passed a constitutional amendment that created Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), an independent body that annually receives up to half of all lottery proceeds.

Over the past 25 years, GOCO has been the single most important tool for advancing conservation in Colorado. It has funded more than 5,000 projects – including dozens of school playgrounds, over 900 miles of trails, and more than 1,600 parks and outdoor recreation areas – benefitting all 64 Colorado counties, and permanently protecting more than 1 million acres of open space.

For ensuring GOCO endures another 25 years, Coloradans can thank the efforts of a broad, bipartisan coalition of local governments, nonprofit partners, agricultural and business leaders, and thousands of individuals and other advocates who signed on to Keep It Colorado – a campaign to ensure lottery proceeds continue flowing to conservation for future generations.

The second accomplishment was quieter, but also will have significant impact into the future. Last week, in the waning hours of the 2018 session, legislators passed a bill that paves the way for a new, forward-looking approach to conservation in Colorado.

The bill, now awaiting Governor Hickenlooper’s signature, extends a tool that is a strong complement to GOCO funds in the conservation toolbox: a program that rewards private landowners with state tax credits in exchange for voluntarily restricting development on their land – in perpetuity. Since 2000, conservation tax credits have been used to conserve more than 2.2 million acres of private land – majestic vistas, working farms and ranches, forest and river ecosystems – 80 percent of which is now under the stewardship of nonprofit land trusts across Colorado.

For years, a statewide coalition of these land trusts and landowners have been advocating for a number of refinements to the program. The measure will create a new Division of Conservation with a mandate to lead an inclusive workgroup of stakeholders to advance the program in a transparent, effective, inclusive manner.

The opportunity presented by the creation of this new division and visioning process is hard to overestimate. The legislation moves oversight of this critical conservation program from the state’s Real Estate Division to a new body that is, by design, aimed at assessing conservation values more holistically and ensuring the effectiveness and success of the program. This step aligns with the current work of the field that is looking at conservation’s return on investment – not just in real estate value, but more broadly to include the value of ecosystem services (such as carbon sequestration, climate regulation, or water storage and purification), as well as conservation’s economic value to state and local communities. It also comes at a time when land conservation leaders statewide are embarking on the yearlong Conservation Futures Project — supported by the Gates Family Foundation, GOCO, and other funders – to re-envision the role and value of land trust organizations to the communities they serve.

Thanks to these two legislative victories, the state’s conservation partners are positioned for even greater success over the next 25 years. With secure access to the resources, tools, and vision necessary to protect Colorado’s working lands and natural inheritance, both today’s Coloradans and future generations will benefit.

Ken Salazar is former U.S. secretary of the Interior (2009-2013) and U.S. senator from Colorado (2005-2009); he authored the Great Outdoors Colorado amendment while serving as head of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources.

Tom Gougeon is president of the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, which for the past two decades has been Colorado’s largest private match source for GOCO-funded land conservation, statewide.