#ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCPNow #aridification
From The Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca) via The Arizona Daily Star:
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been prodding Western states to wrap up drought contingency plans, one each in the lower and upper basins. Little snowpack, rising temperatures and ongoing drought have led to steady declines in the river that serves 40 million people in seven U.S. states.
The amount of water that gets sent to the lower basin states — Arizona, Nevada and California — and Mexico depends on Lake Mead, the reservoir formed by Hoover Dam. No shortage has ever been declared, but the federal agency puts the possibility at more than 50 percent in 2020 and even higher in subsequent years.
Those states so far have avoided shortages through conservation, leaving water in Lake Mead and other efforts.
“The question is: How much of this do we need to do in the future and how can we stay out of shortage?” said Terry Fulp, director of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Region. “The likelihood is that we probably can’t.”
The Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project said they would form a committee to work out the details of a drought plan among Arizona water users and present it to the Legislature in January.
Ted Cooke, the general manager of the Central Arizona Project, said the key elements in Arizona are reaching agreement on how to handle any excess water, a program to allow tribes to store water behind Lake Mead, a mitigation plan for central Arizona farmers who would lose water under shortages and a water conservation plan.
The drought contingency plan is meant as an overlay to 2007 guidelines on what levels would trigger shortages and where they would be felt. If approved, it would spread shortages more widely and loop in California. Mexico also has agreed to cutbacks.
The plan also gives states flexibility on how to help prop up Lake Mead and an opportunity to recover the water if the lake rises above certain levels. It’s meant to last until 2026 when water users are scheduled to renegotiate the 2007 guidelines, but some provisions extend beyond that time.
From KUNC (Luke Runyon):
The mention of one plausible future scenario along the Colorado River is enough to make some water managers in the West break into a sweat. It’s called the Compact Call, and even though it’s never happened — and is years away from ever happening — its invocation conjures up dystopian imagery of a southwest battling over scarce water supplies…
Imagine this: It’s 2030. The Colorado River, sapped by record high temperatures, is seeing its biggest reservoirs — Lakes Powell and Mead — plummet to near dead pool elevations.
Negotiations to mandate increased water conservation in Arizona and California have stalled. Throughout the southwest, frequent water shortages continue to scare off new businesses.
Bad blood among states simmering for years boils over with an exchange of nasty letters. Water managers in California, receiving less and less water from the Colorado River each year, feel slighted and start making demands for their share, kicking off a decade long legal battle. Ripples are felt all the way from Los Angeles to Denver.
To some water managers this nightmare is far from fiction. And without immediate action it could very well come true.
“It’s like a train wreck happening in glacial speed,” says Andy Mueller, Colorado River District general manager in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. “We’ll see it coming. I believe we see it coming now.”
To talk about the Colorado River’s present and future, you need to start in the past. One of the most important dates in the river’s history is Nov. 24, 1922, when leaders from the seven Western states that rely on the river met at a Santa Fe, New Mexico resort to sign the Colorado River Compact.
“It’s the cornerstone of how we allocate water on the Colorado River,” Mueller says. “On that cornerstone is built an incredible scaffolding of complex agreements, but it’s all based on that 1922 compact.”
Pilloried for decades for its structural problems, the compact did accomplish a few basic things. To make it easier to govern, the agreement divided the river into halves: the Upper and Lower Basins. The Upper Basin includes the snowy Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico. The Lower is home to the desert landscapes of Arizona, Nevada and California.
Engineers used stream gauge data to estimate the river’s annual flow and the politicians took those measurements to divide the water amongst themselves. Each basin got 7.5 million acre-feet…and each state within the basin got a portion of the water. California then and today is the largest user of Colorado River water.
California’s use of the river’s water is what brought these political figures together in the first place, Mueller says. Concerns about the state’s rapid development were growing louder. If the whole watershed functioned under the frontier water law doctrine of prior appropriation (where the person who claims the water first is given priority in receiving it) California could end up owning every drop.
“The reality is that the Lower Basin had the upper hand in those negotiations,” Mueller says. “They were developing faster.”
To get a deal, the Upper Basin agreed that Lower Basin states would be guaranteed a certain amount of water right at the line that divides their two regions. Some years would be wetter, some would be drier, but the decade-long rolling average couldn’t dip below 75 million acre feet of water, measured at a spot just below Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona. If it did drop below that point, then the Lower Basin could come calling for its water.
This system works fine when there’s enough water to go around. But that’s the signature bug of the Colorado River: More water exists on paper than in reality..
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best
As of 2016 the Upper Basin is going above and beyond its ten-year obligation to the Lower Basin. According to the Upper Colorado River Commission, the 10-year total flow, starting in 2007, was just over 91 million acre-feet, well above the obligated 75 million acre-feet. But continuing dry conditions like those recorded during the winter of 2018 could quickly erode that.
“Things can get bad very quickly,” Castle says. “We have to be ready. We don’t want to make decisions about how we’re going to handle a compact call should one occur when it’s right there in front of us.”
In Colorado, the largest user of the Colorado River’s water in the Upper Basin, the threat of a compact call has prompted ongoing discussions within the state engineer’s office.
“Broadly speaking, yes, Colorado participates in ongoing efforts, alongside interstate partners, to manage this concern,” says Todd Hartman, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The bulk of our collective energy, however, is to take steps through risk assessment, policies and technical planning to avoid a scenario like this in the first place.”
Those plans are closely held to avoid intrastate fights over future water plans, the Colorado River District’s Andy Mueller says. The state also wouldn’t want to give other Colorado River water users insight into future legal strategy should the call move from thought experiment to reality.
While the thought of a Compact Call strikes fear into Upper Basin water managers, it’s less on the minds of their Lower Basin counterparts.
“I was surprised to hear the Upper Basin express their concerns and fears when it’s not something we’ve even thought much about in the Lower Basin,” says Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the water wholesaler for the greater Los Angeles area.
“But every time we have a conversation with the Upper Basin you can tell it’s very front and foremost in their minds as something that they really want to work on and avoid,” he says.
For a call to materialize, water managers like Kightlinger and farmers throughout the southwest would need to apply pressure to their state leaders. And right now, he says they have way bigger fish to fry, like keeping Lake Mead from entering into shortage and negotiating a drought contingency plan that would require Lower Basin states to cut their water use sooner than is currently required.
But Kightlinger says he understands the Upper Basin’s fears.
“We are going to have shortages. We are going to have challenges,” he says. “But I also believe that the complex process and lengthy battle that a Supreme Court battle would take will drive the agencies to work and resolve these issues in some other fashion other than a compact call.”
This story is part of a project covering the Colorado River, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.
From The Mohave Valley Daily News (DK McDonald):
Arizona Water Banking Authority commissioners met in Phoenix recently for their quarterly meeting where they heard updates on the status of the Colorado River system, deliveries, recovery planning, Central Arizona Project system and to approve the agency’s annual report and budget…
Commissioners heard the total Colorado River system content is at 50 percent or 30.68 million acre-feet of water. Lake Powell is at 53 percent or 12.9 million acre-feet with a lake elevation of 3,611.99 feet and Lake Mead is at 38 percent or 9.88 million acre-feet with a lake elevation of 1,078.38 feet…
Snowpack for 2018 has ended and the projected unregulated inflow for 2018 is 5.25 million acre-feet or 48.4 percent of the 30-year average, said Bret Esslin, Arizona Department of Water Resources’ Colorado River Management division, in his report. The most probable release from Lake Powell is 9 million acre-feet.
Esslin said the probability for shortage increased to 52 percent in 2020 and escalated to 68 percent by 2022.
Whether or not a shortage is declared will be determined when Bureau of Reclamation releases its 24-month study in August that estimates the elevation of Lake Mead and Lake Powell in January, Clark said.
“The August study is the critical one for us,” Clark said. “If the Lake Mead elevation is at or above 1,075 feet, there is no shortage, but if it is below that they’re going to have to declare a shortage.”
Clark said addressing potential shortages through development of a Drought Contingency Plan is vital for the state.
“The probabilities (of shortage) are getting so high now, we’ll have one unless we can get things like the DCP going, where we can put even more water behind the dam,” Clark said. “The DCP briefing (co-hosted by ADWR and Central Arizona Project) is today and BOR Commissioner Brenda Burman is going to be there — she’s really pushing for us to get this finalized. We really need to get this DCP done or the whole state is in trouble.”
From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):
At a presentation before hundreds of local and state officials, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman and a top aide warned that the risks to the lake are unacceptable. They said it’s urgent that Arizona officials resolve their differences over the drought plan and get on board with six other Colorado River Basin states that are moving toward adopting one.
Since the seven states approved a set of guidelines for managing the river’s reservoirs in 2007, the risks of Lake Mead dropping to very low levels has increased by three to six times, the bureau officials said.
They spoke at a briefing that also found once-warring Arizona Department of Water Resources and Central Arizona Project officials moving closer together on issues that had split them apart for well over a year. Both ADWR chief Tom Buschatzke and CAP general manager Ted Cooke enthusiastically endorsed the idea of a drought plan, although Cooke warned that the resulting reduction in river water use would boost water rates the CAP charges to Tucson, Phoenix and other municipal customers over time.
“We are not here to scare you. We are just presenting the best information we have,” Burman told a gathering that virtually filled a 275-person auditorium at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe.
“Keeping our fingers crossed, hoping for good hydrology” and waiting for the current and future interior secretaries to ignore the laws of the Colorado River that require protecting its reservoirs from depletion is not how to deal with this problem, she said.
“It’s not how we’ve dealt with it in the past, and it’s not how Arizona wants to deal with it in the future,” said Burman, a longtime Arizonan who has worked for the Salt River Project utility and for former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona in the past.
The bureau’s forecasts for how far and fast Lake Mead’s elevations could fall were most severe when the forecasters used what they called a “stress test.” It relies on computer models assuming a continuation of the last 30 years of unusually dry weather.
Less severe risks of such declines were predicted when the bureau relied on the river’s entire historical record, covering 1906 to 2015, which included several much wetter spells, including the wettest period on record for the river, in the early 20th century.
Specifically, the bureau said:
- Based on the river’s entire historical record, there’s about a 65 percent chance of Lake Mead falling below 1,075 feet — the level at which the first shortage in river water available to the CAP would occur — by 2026. Using just the last 30 years of records as a base for forecasting, that risk grows to more than 80 to 90 percent, covering a period from 2020 to 2026.
- The risk of Mead dropping below 1,025 feet by 2026 is more than 40 percent using the bureau’s “stress test” forecasts, and about 30 percent when the forecasts rely on the river’s entire historical record.
- The risk of Mead being less than 1,000 feet high by 2026 is about 20 percent under the “stress test” forecast and less than 10 percent when the river’s entire historical record is used.
The thought of Mead dropping below 1,025 or 1,000 feet is particularly alarming to many state water officials in Arizona and elsewhere. At those levels, U.S. interior Department intervention to manage the river’s reservoirs is certain.
At that point, nobody knows what steps Interior would take to prop up the reservoirs, but it would almost certainly make drastic cuts in water deliveries to major cities such as Tucson and Phoenix that rely on the river for drinking water via the $4 billion Central Arizona Project.
On the other hand, all these risks would drop dramatically if Arizona, Nevada and California agree on a drought plan to conserve up to 1.2 million acre feet a year of river water annually over time, bureau officials predicted.
Here’s the Twitter feed for #DCPNow. Click the “Latest” button and read up from the bottom. (Twitter is in reverse-chronological order.)
Many were using the #ColoradoRiver hash tag yesterday as well.
From Arizona Central (Joshua Bowling):
State officials outlined their plans at a briefing in Tempe on Thursday with Brenda Burman, the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees water operations on the Colorado.
Much like her visit to California earlier this year, Burman stressed that the “time to act is now” for finishing and adopting a plan to store more water in Lake Mead in hopes of avoiding shortages on the river.
Officials from other states echoed Burman’s call for quick action, urging Arizona to settle differences among water agencies and agree to a conservation plan that will benefit the entire river.
“We are at a point where we have a potential crisis on the Colorado River,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO. “If we all contribute together, we can — I believe — sustain this river.”
Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke, Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke and Reclamation Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp also spoke in favor of finalizing a plan sooner rather than later.
Officials stressed that such a plan likely won’t stave off all shortages — but they hope it will prevent more severe ones.
While more Colorado River water is allocated to cities and agriculture than what has flowed into its reservoirs in recent years, intense drought and climate change exacerbate the disparity.
“We know this 19-year drought is one of the worst in 1,200 years,” Burman told a gathering of about 300 people. “This is the time for action.”
Ultimately, if Arizona doesn’t pass a plan, the secretary of the Interior could step in. But that’s uncharted territory, Burman said, and it isn’t fully known what the secretary could or couldn’t do.
So the rest of the river users are banking on Arizona passing a plan before it gets to that point.
“If Arizona is unable to do that, then the secretary (of the Interior) is going to have to exercise authority and the rest of us are going to have to protect our own interest,” Lochhead said. “And that’s not something we want to do.”
He said the rest of the Colorado River states want Arizona officials to resolve their “internal issues” and finish a plan.
Arizona officials say they are doing that by acting with urgency to get a plan in place before shortages come.
“The consequences of getting these lakes into really low places could be absolutely devastating,” Fulp said. “The risk is real. We can’t exactly quantify it, but it’s there.”
The endangered razorback sucker, a fish native to the Grand Canyon, has been hybridizing with another Colorado River fish – the flannelmouth sucker. Arizona Game and Fish biologist Pilar Wolters is conducting a 5-year research project to learn how hybridization could impact the recovery of wild razorback suckers. This video was produced by the Information Branch of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Producer: David Majure
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
A couple [of] strong upper-level low pressure systems, moving in the jet stream flow, slowly crossed the northern half of the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. The lows dragged surface lows and frontal systems with them. Supplied with abundant Gulf of Mexico moisture, these systems generated numerous mesoscale thunderstorm complexes which dumped heavy rain across parts of the Plains to Midwest and Mid-Atlantic coast. The clouds and rain associated with the lows and fronts also brought cooler-than-normal temperatures to the central Plains to Northeast. A moist low pressure system at the beginning of the week dumped heavy rains along the Texas Gulf coast. Contraction of drought and abnormally dry areas occurred in the Plains and Texas Gulf coast where precipitation was above normal for the week. However, these lows tracked within a larger-scale upper-level ridge system. Drier-than-normal weather dominated much of the West, large parts of Texas and the Southeast States, and from the western Great Lakes to most of the Northeast, with drought and abnormal dryness expanding in parts of the West, South, and Northeast. The week was warmer than normal across much of the West, along the northern tier states, much of Texas, and most of the Southeast…
Much of coastal Texas was inundated by heavy tropical moisture. Reports of 2 to 5 inches of rain were common, with 5 to 10 inches falling in the southern areas. An automated station near Weslaco Airport recorded 8.39 inches of rain in just 2 and a half hours. According to the Texas mesonet, Weslaco received 9 inches of rain. The average total precipitation is 6.73 inches there for the entire summer (June through August). The rains eliminated dryness on the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) drought indictor out to 6 months back in South Texas. The rains led to widespread 1 to 2 category reductions along the coast, with D1-D2 shrinking down to D0 (Abnormally Dry) or to no drought or abnormal dryness (“D-Nothing”).
Meanwhile, several mesoscale thunderstorm complexes over multiple days moved through Oklahoma and clipped the northern Texas panhandle, with their remnants making it into parts of Arkansas, while other thunderstorm systems brought rain to parts of northern Mississippi and southern Tennessee. These areas received 2 inches or more of rain for the week, with parts of Oklahoma recording over 5 inches. The D4 in western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle was eliminated, improvement occurred in the northern Texas panhandle, and D0-D3 shrank across much of Oklahoma, with some 2-category reductions. Elsewhere in Texas, the week was dry with multi-month precipitation deficits mounting, so D0-D3 expanded across the central half of the state. June 25 USDA statistics indicated that 41% of pastures and rangeland were in poor to very poor condition in Texas. The rains mostly missed northeast Oklahoma, where D1 expanded. D0-D2 expanded in parts of Louisiana, D0-D1 expanded in Mississippi, and there was expansion of drought and abnormal dryness and some contraction, as well, in Arkansas. D0 was added to northern Tennessee, with a little spillage into parts of southern Kentucky, where precipitation deficits have been mounting over the last 3 months…
Several rounds of heavy thunderstorms moved along frontal boundaries on multiple days in the High Plains states. Two inches or more of rain was measured across the western two-thirds of Kansas, the eastern half of Nebraska, and in parts of South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, with 5 inches or more indicated for southwestern Kansas, eastern Nebraska, and southeast South Dakota. The week was drier than normal for other parts of the High Plains, with western Colorado to southwestern Wyoming receiving little to no precipitation. The rains resulted in pullback of D0-D2 in Kansas, with some 2-category improvements in southwest Kansas, contraction of D0-D1 in Nebraska, and trimming of D0 in South Dakota. With the heavy rains missing eastern Kansas, the week ended drier than normal there, further increasing precipitation deficits for the last 1 to 3 months and, in northeast Kansas, out to 9 months, so D0-D2 were expanded in eastern Kansas. Some of the heavier rains crossed from Kansas into Colorado, but just barely. D2-D3 were pulled back a bit in far eastern Colorado, but the dry conditions further west resulted in D2-D3 expanding in central and west-central Colorado, and D4 expanding in west-central Colorado. June 25 USDA statistics indicated 53% of the pastures and rangeland in Colorado were in poor to very poor condition…
Dry weather and mostly warmer-than-normal temperatures dominated the West this week. June 25 USDA statistics indicated that pastures and rangeland were in poor to very poor condition for 90% of the pastures and rangeland in Arizona, 68% in New Mexico, 36% in Utah, 25% in Nevada, and 22% in Oregon. D0 and D1 expanded in parts of Oregon and Washington where streamflow was at near to record low levels for this time of year and SPI values were low for the last 1 to 3 months. The D2 was continued in eastern Oregon. In this region, drought impacts from Baker County include very dry soil conditions, blowing dust, no water for livestock, dry springs and storage ponds, below-normal range grass growth; drought impacts from Harney County include significantly low water supplies from early melt-out of winter snow pack are reducing water available for irrigators and ranchers; and drought impacts from Lake County include reduced water supplies for irrigators and ranchers due to low streamflow and low reservoir storage at some basin reservoirs. In Utah, D2 was expanded in the northeast and new ovals of D3 and D4 were added. But in southwest New Mexico, D1-D3 were pulled back where the rains from Tropical Storm Bud last week were reflected in SPoRT soil moisture and SPI indicators.
Several indicators, including SPI and other precipitation indices, evapotranspiration indices, soil moisture indices, and vegetation indices, showed worsening meteorological conditions in California. June 25 USDA statistics have 75% of topsoil moisture and 75% of subsoil moisture in California short or very short (dry to very dry), with 40% of pastures and rangeland in poor to very poor condition. D0 was expanded in northern and central California, and D1 crept in from the north to capture the extremely low 6- to 12-month SPI values. The water resources of California are carefully managed to mitigate the impacts of drought. With reservoirs in good shape, the D0-D1 in northern California reflects the climatological indicators. D0 was expanded to the California coast to reflect abnormally dry meteorological conditions over the last several months, and a low snowpack during the latter months of the wet season. Since drought impacts along the coast are not happening, the D0 reflects just meteorological conditions and further degradation (to a level of drought, D1) is extremely unlikely there this summer because even zero precipitation over the next few months would not be enough to drop water year precipitation into D1 levels…
Since the Tuesday morning cutoff time of this week’s USDM, additional heavy rains have fallen across parts of Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky, with rain falling over the East Coast states. For June 28-July 4, dry weather will continue across most of the West and southern Plains. An inch or more of rain is expected for much of the Southeast and New England, and parts of the northern Plains to Upper Midwest. The forecast models predict less than an inch of rain across other parts of the CONUS east of the Rockies. Temperatures are expected to be mostly warmer than normal, except some cooling in the northwestern CONUS. For July 5-11, odds favor above-normal temperatures across most of Alaska and the CONUS, with a chance for below-normal temperatures in the Northwest. There is a higher probability for drier-than-normal weather across the Northwest, central Plains to Great Lakes, and southern Alaska, and wetter-than-normal weather for the Southwest, southern Plains to Mid-Atlantic region, and northern Alaska, as well as the Upper Mississippi Valley.
Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
The Bureau of Reclamation has allocated more than $4 million for federal, state, and tribal projects to prevent, contain, control, and monitor invasive quagga and zebra mussels in the West. This funding advances actions announced by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in June 2017 as part of the initiative called “Safeguarding the West: Actions to Strengthen Federal, State, and Tribal Coordination to Address Invasive Mussels.” This funding builds on $1 million in 2017 to support initiatives by the federal government, as well as work by the Western Governors’ Association, western states, and tribes to protect western ecosystems, water infrastructure, and hydroelectric facilities from invasive mussels.
“For more than a century, Reclamation and its partners in the West have invested in water infrastructure that is today at risk from invasive quagga and zebra mussels,” Commissioner Brenda Burman said. “The funding we are announcing today will be used on efforts to prevent their spread while improving ways to manage facilities when the first sign of these invasive mussels is detected.”
“The fight against invasive mussels in the West requires collaboration and partnership at all levels of government, including, importantly, those between Reclamation and Western states,” said the Western Governors’ Association. “With this new funding, western states will be able to enhance invasive mussel management at many levels, including research, monitoring, prevention, and enforcement.”
Highlights of the funded projects include these actions:
Purchasing inspection and decontamination stations to inspect and decontaminate boats leaving the lower Colorado River in California and Nevada, including supporting the National Park Service at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Supporting the Salish Kootenai Tribe at Flathead Lake Aquatic Invasive Species program. Developing vulnerability assessments for facilities and infrastructure at risk of mussel infestation in the Columbia River Basin. Assisting the State of Arizona in providing law enforcement support at inspection stations. Funding research for the State of Montana and Reclamation on viability of veligers in residual water in boats. Supporting watercraft inspection stations at Reclamation reservoirs in Nebraska and Kansas. Implementing the state Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan at water bodies owned by Reclamation in Utah. Analyzing water quality to determine which water bodies should be prioritized for invasive mussel monitoring and prevention in California. Continuing and enhancing water quality and quagga mussel monitoring program at high-priority programs in the Pacific Northwest and various reservoirs in the upper Colorado River Basin. Conducting watercraft inspections at Navajo and Elephant Butte reservoirs in New Mexico.
Invasive mussels pose challenges for Reclamation and others who manage water. Invasive mussels are prolific breeders and settle on or within water facility infrastructure such as water intakes, gates, diversion screens, hydropower equipment, pumps, pipelines and boats. Infested water and hydropower infrastructure can fail or choke off water transmissions. The mussels also negatively impact the natural ecology, which can be detrimental to native and endangered species, including native fisheries. To learn more about invasive mussel management and research at Reclamation, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/mussels.
From BizWest (Jensen Werley):
The city of Boulder signed a contract with the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association for the sale of hydroelectric power generated at five of the city’s eight hydroelectric plants.
The deal is a 10-year agreement with an option to renew for another five years. It’s expected to generate about $500,000 per year in revenue, which will offset water utility capital improvements and operating costs that would otherwise be paid through higher water rates for customers.
The city had previously sold hydroelectric power to Tri-State from the Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric plant. This agreement renews the contract for Boulder Canyon and adds four facilities: the Kohler, Maxwell, Orodell and Sunshine plants…
Hydroelectric generation harnesses the energy generated during the downhill trip from water sources to the water distribution system. Boulder’s hydro program consists of eight plants that generate about 37 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power 4,600 households and displace 20,400 tons of coal.
From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
Very low flows in the upper Colorado River system are now expected to trigger calls from senior water rights tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant and irrigators in the Grand Valley. And, starting Friday, more water is to be released from Ruedi Reservoir into the lower Fryingpan River to bolster downstream flows.
The Shoshone plant has two water rights, a very senior 1902 right and a less-senior right for 158 cubic feet per second with a 1929 priority date. A call for the 1929 Shoshone right is expected to take effect on Thursday, meaning those upstream from the Shoshone hydro power plant in Glenwood Canyon who hold junior rights must stop diverting.
On July 1, another, larger call is expected to happen downstream on the Colorado — the Cameo call. The Cameo call is made up of the water rights of agriculture diverters near Palisade, including the Grand Valley Water Users Association and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District.
The Cameo call, which is the second-most senior water right on the Colorado River, calls about 2,200 cfs down through the river system, but the diversion structures tied to the call also have the potential to nearly dry up the Colorado River in a 15-mile reach between the Palisade area and the confluence of the Gunnison River in Grand Junction. This 15-mile reach is critical habitat for endangered fish, including the Humpback Chub.
To help offset the effects of the Cameo call and other diversions on the river system, officials with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program have set a low-flow target of 810 cfs this year.
And, after meeting with other regional water managers on Wednesday, officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to release on Friday 50 cfs of water that has been earmarked specifically for endangered fish from Ruedi Reservoir. Another 100 cfs will be added to the bolstered flows on Monday, bringing releases to about 260 cfs in the river below Ruedi Reservoir.
While a Cameo call is not unusual and often happens in late summer, this is the earliest it has ever taken effect, according to Don Meyer, Senior Water Resources Engineer with the Colorado River District. The previous record was July 14.
“It’s a brutal year,” Meyer said. “I think it’s going to be a dire situation for everybody, but especially the fish down there.”
This year is also the second earliest that “fish water” has been released from Ruedi Reservoir since the endangered fish program was established in 1988. During the most recent drought years, 2002 and 2012, fish water was released on June 24 and July 3, respectively.
Federal officials this year expect to be able to release 16,412.5 acre-feet of fish water from Ruedi Reservoir this year, including from a 5,000 acre-foot pool, a 5,412 acre-foot-pool and 6,000 acre-feet of water owned by Ute Water Conservancy District in the reservoir, which is to be leased for the endangered fish program.
In all, the fish program has a total of 28,000 acre-feet of water it can use from various reservoirs in the upper Colorado River system, including Ruedi, Granby and Wolford reservoirs.
The Cameo call will also put more water into the Roaring Fork River by “calling out” the transmountain diversion through the Twin Lakes tunnel under Independence Pass. The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company can move 625 cfs of water out of the Roaring Fork Basin to the Arkansas Basin, where it is used for East Slope municipal and irrigation purposes.
The tunnel is currently diverting around 50 cfs, but that will come to a halt when the Cameo call goes into effect.
“In one respect it’s a windfall for the Roaring Fork,” said Kevin Lusk, president of Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company. “It’s not good for our customers, but that’s the law. It’s just part of owning a water right on a river in Colorado. This is one of those dry years so we are not surprised to see the Cameo call come on.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
Here’s an analysis of the legislation from Elaine Nolen writing for the University of Denver Water Law Review. Here’s an excerpt:
House Bill 17-1233 (“HB 1233”), titled Protect Water Historical Consumptive Use Analysis, accomplishes three objectives: (1) to expand application of a preexisting law to water Divisions 1, 2, and 3; (2) to clarify that participation in a government-sponsored program includes water conservation pilot programs; and (3) to limit state agencies that can approve a water conservation program to only those with explicit statutory jurisdiction over water conservation or water rights. Democratic House Representative Jeni Arndt of District 53, located in water Division 1, and Republican Senator Larry Crowder of District 35, located in water Division 2, introduced HB 1233 in the House on March 7, 2017. The House approved the bill on March 24, the Senate approved an amended version on April 17, and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed HB 1233 on May 3.
A historical consumptive use analysis is part of a proceeding to change a water right. A water right owner may only change that right up to the amount of water historically consumed for a beneficial use. Prior to HB 1233, Colorado law provided that in Water Divisions 4, 5, and 6, historical consumptive use analyses were not to consider reduction in water usage resulting from participation in a government-sponsored water conservation program. In the initial draft of HB 1233, the sponsors sought to apply this rule to all seven of Colorado’s water divisions. However, at the Senate second reading, the Senate passed Senator Crowder’s proposed amendment to remove water Division 7 of southwestern Colorado from the bill. Senator Crowder explained that feedback from the representative from that water division led him to propose the amendment.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Colorado Basin Roundtable Integrated Water Management Planning Framework Project
The Colorado Basin Roundtable’s Integrated Water Management Planning Framework Project created guidance and on-line data tools to build a foundation for conducting comprehensive integrated water management plans in the mainstem Colorado River Basin in Colorado. The purpose of these plans is to identify ways to provide water for environmental needs in conjunction with the needs of agricultural, domestic and industrial water users. The Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University coordinated the project, and most of the technical work was conducted by Lotic Hydrological.
The Final Report for this project is available for review here.
The website that houses the on-line tools referred to in the report is here.
A partnership with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps allows elk, deer and moose to roam more freely in Summit County.
Proactive forest treatments credited with giving crews an edge fighting Summit County wildfire.
Technology may have changed, but diving at Marston water storage facility is not a thing of the past.
Denver Water security specialist by day, Polynesian dancer by night.
Here’s the release from the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District:
The Metro Wastewater Reclamation District Board of Directors approved the 2019 budget at its regular board meeting on June 19, 2018. It includes annual charges for service of $132,137,389 for 2019 – which is 2 percent higher than 2018. For existing households, this translates to an increase of about 26 cents per month.
Including the 2 percent increase noted above, the average household in the Metro District’s service area is projected to pay 41 percent less for wastewater treatment in 2019 than those served by comparable utilities around the country.
Annual charges are the fees the Metro District charges metro area cities and sanitation districts for treating wastewater before it is discharged to the South Platte River. Annual charges are based on the amount of wastewater treated and how much pollution must be removed.
To arrive at the annual charges, the board weighs options and determines how best to provide funding to enable the Metro District to meet mandatory regulations in the most cost-effective manner possible.
To make sure the District is prepared to meet future requirements, it undertakes extensive long- range planning measures. Capital costs for a number of projects are driving the budget for the $904 million the Metro District plans to spend through 2028, during a 10-year planning period.
The Metro District’s 715-square mile service area includes most of the City and County of Denver, as well as parts of Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson, and Weld counties. The District’s service area encompasses other large municipalities such as the cities of Arvada, Aurora, Brighton, Lakewood, Thornton, and parts of Westminster, as well as smaller sanitation districts and industrial clients.
From The Boulder Daily Camera (Anthony Hahn):
Issues surrounding the long-heralded CU Boulder South annexation plans continue to manifest most consistently within concerns over how eventual flood mitigation designs will play out on the property.
Those concerns were clear at a joint meeting between Boulder’s Water Resources Advisory Board and Open Space Board of Trustees on Monday, where dozens of residents from Boulder’s Frasier Meadows retirement community who wore bright orange shirts reading “Save our neighborhoods” and “Stop flooding of South Boulder Creek” urged officials to take quick action on those plans.
Upon annexation of the property by the city, the University of Colorado plans to build more than 1,000 housing units for students and employees, athletic fields and academic buildings on the 308-acre site over the coming decades. It also intends to devote nearly 100 acres of the site to a flood mitigation plan.
The parcel has proven controversial since its purchase in 1996, as neighbors have worried that university’s plans to eventually develop the site would put nearby homes at greater risk from floodwaters.
The chief flood mitigation concept — proposed under the South Boulder Creek Master Plan — includes a flood wall along the south side of U.S. 36 within the Colorado Department of Transportation right-of-way and a dam along the northern portion of the CU South parcel to contain flood waters, according to a staff report presented Monday.
Under this plan, vehicle access to CU South from Table Mesa Drive would be routed to a ramp up and over a portion of the dam. The flood wall would also include an overtopping spillway, which would be designed to discharge floodwaters “that exceed the design storm.”
From American Rivers (Fay Augustyn):
After a dry winter and following with a hot summer, Colorado is looking at different waster conservation ideas to help protect their rivers. Can our rivers count on you to help move Colorado’s water future forward?
Rivers form the lifelines of Colorado’s economy, environment and lifestyle. They impact every aspect of our lives, providing most of our clean, safe and reliable drinking water, supporting thriving farms and ranches, and contributing to culture, heritage and recreation. During a dry summer like this, we can easily identify the impacts that healthy, flowing rivers have on our communities and quality of life.
Those who enjoy spending time on or near rivers have likely noticed the lower – and earlier – flows we experienced this year. The Colorado River peaked about 4 weeks earlier than normal, and at the GoPro Games in June, flows through Gore Creek were less than half of the normal discharge. On the upper Yampa above Steamboat Springs, fishing has been restricted below Stagecoach Reservoir to help protect fish in this reach. And farmers and ranchers are radically changing their normal operations to ensure they protect their livelihood at this time of dwindling irrigation water in their ditches.
As this summer presses on, we certainly will continue to be impacted by the dry year. But there is hope, and things each of us can do to help conserve our critical water resource, including reducing shower times, limiting outdoor watering, and educating yourself about the health of our rivers and streams – including ways you can support more conservation and flexibility across the state. It’s now more important than ever to increase your awareness about where your water comes from and how water moves throughout the state.
Earlier this summer, we produced an illustrated guide, called “Do You Know Your Water, Colorado?” to explain the long, complicated journey a drop of water takes from its home in a river to your tap. As a Coloradan, it’s our responsibility to understand how water is moved from place to place across our great state and the role we all have in protecting our state’s flowing rivers and the clean, safe, reliable drinking water they provide.
Always, but especially in a dry year like this, we must meet future water demands without sacrificing our rivers and everything they support. Our communities, economies, environment and drinking water supply depend on all of us working together.
From The High Country News (David Oates):
It’s 104 degrees in Sacramento and almost that in the gold-rush foothills where my folks live. I’ve dutifully come 600 miles to visit them but I’ve escaped, briefly, to the cool mountains above. I’ve settled into the duffy shade of a huge mountain hemlock, the sweat of a perfect dayhike is cooling me, and a snow cornice gleams above a silver-dollar lake set deep in its talused cirque.
I love this. The High Sierra.
I loved it in detail, over years of exploring, before I abandoned the sins and automotive savageries of California for the cool green urbanisms of Portland.
In my hand is a book of poetry — Stephen Dunn’s — and I’m about to enter a long, savoring poem listing his “Loves.” In detail. Things and people and … How much he loves! And with what precision and determination: The ocean in winter. Shifting from second to third.
I guess it’s a kind of epicure’s trick, to save a book like this for a moment like this. But it works for me, helps lift me from the pettiness of my familial disapprovals and frictions. You know what I mean: the morbid power a loved one’s ill-concealed faults can exert over you. In my family (as in yours, I bet) there is racism and fundamentalism and bigotry — smug, impervious to evidence, infuriating. I’m the gay son come home to make nice for a few days. Each night I call my partner — whose name is never uttered here — to try to draw strength from the thin stream of voice in the earpiece.
I hiked up here today across glacier-slick granite a-dance with streams and melts and trickles under that famous sharp and somehow divinizing light. Pines limber and lodgepole are gardened into it, a bonsai wide as the world, with tiniest greens of grass and flower lipping the pools and tumbles. I loved this, and I came here to love it again. But instead, for half the journey, I have been rehearsing the unspoken arguments that muddy up my heart: making the iron-clad Q.E.D. for global warming (yes it’s real!), for diversity and inclusion, for a bigger god…
We are all, too much of the time, captives of the wreck and the mistake. Can’t take our eyes off it, can’t stop thinking about it, can’t stop picking that scab. We slide into our merely negative identity — defined by what we refuse.
But it’s not enough, is it? Is our nation adrift, hijacked by mountebanks and neocons and thugs? It is not enough to hate them. We must remember what we love. Time spent saying no is, at some point, time robbed from the yes that must follow. A long time ago I read Jesus’ words “Do not resist evil” and wondered what in the world he could have meant. Maybe this: We must stand on what we love — live it, be it and bring it. And not waste time in the other direction, preaching up devil and denunciation. In mere reaction we become impotent and diminished — as I know well. It’s no place to live.
A bit tired and a lot refreshed, I return toward evening and find a meal set specially for me, of pork chops seethed in sweet apples and onions. A hundred-dollar-bill is tucked in at my place, to help with the trip. So wrong on the macro, on the micro these are good and loving folks. What can I do but love them back?
There’s a random dangerous rightness abroad in this wide shining world. It’s a rightness, not a correctness. We don’t need so much to counter other people’s errors as to bring the light and joy of that right and beautiful world: what we desire for our planet and ourselves, what we are doing instead of hating and denying and bombing.
If I live to be my parents’ age, I’ll have three more decades to help Portland develop its answers: how we’ll live in a warming world without cheap oil. Will it be a good life in 2036? Every day, in my adopted hometown, we struggle and argue, build and make choices toward a yes — one that might someday be useful all over our swaggering, sweltering, beloved land.
Our job is to work on what we love. Daily. In detail. With precision and determination.
David Oates is the author of City Limits: Walking Portland’s Boundary. He can be reached at email@example.com. Essay first published online at The High Country News on October 16, 2016.
From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):
Coors had appealed a water court decision that said any water not used by Coors in its augmentation plans must be returned to Clear Creek.
Coors wanted to reuse water after it left its treatment plant and lease water rights for that water to other companies, according to the appeal.
Coors’ water reuse plan was opposed by competing Clear Creek water users including the cities of Denver, Golden, Centennial, Arvada, Thornton, Georgetown and Northglenn along with private companies including the Farmers High Line Canal.
The Supreme Court ruled that Coors could not circumvent a requirement to obtain a new water right by amending its augmentation plans in order to reuse water leaving the plant.
“We further conclude that the diversion of native, tributary water under an augmentation plan does not change its character,” the court ruling says.
Currently a tributary of Clear Creek is diverted to the Coors plant. Water that is not used flows through its wastewater treatment plant and then back into Clear Creek.
Coors believed that it could reuse water leaving its wastewater plant or lease it to other users downstream.
But in 2014, the Colorado State Engineer did not approve a new lease request by Coors to send treated water to Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., according to the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court ruled that Coors’ water rights only allowed a single use of the water diverted by Coors. Any unconsumed water remains waters of the state and must be returned to the stream, the ruling says.
I’ve already cast my ballot for Amy Beatie, won’t you join me? The Colorado General Assembly will be well-served with a water attorney who knows how to work within the legal system and find environmental benefits. If you live on the Northside please cast your primary vote for Amy. If you know folks that live up here please let them know how important it is to vote for her.
Click here to go to the website.
From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
Two years ago this weekend I was in British Columbia, with two must-see items on my agenda. I had spent the previous five days, courtesy of the Canadian government, visiting first Toronto and then Vancouver. The consulate in Denver, where I live, wanted journalists and others to see and hear about all the wondrous things being done in Canada’s two marquee cities to quell greenhouse gas emissions.
After our final Vancouver visit, on my own agenda and on my own dime, I rented a car and drove up the Sea-to-Sky Highway. In Whistler, I wanted to see how the ski company was helping save the planet. And in Squamish, 40 minutes why of Whistler, along Howe Sound, I wanted to see where a great experiment was underway that might help save Whistler’s snow. My curiosity about the Squamish project was well founded as recent news shows.
In Whistler, I was graciously given a tour of the mountain, the Peak 2 Peak gondola, the bike park, and more. Our last stop, the Fitzsimmons Creek run-of-the-river hydroelectric project, was the most important to me. Though it wasn’t all that much to look at, it represented perhaps the most important effort up until then of a ski company taking responsibility for its role in this giant energy challenge facing humanity.
Despite the Fitzsimmons hydroelectric project, despite the new solar farm that makes the Colorado ski area of Wolf Creek 100 percent solar powered, despite all the wondrous things Vancouver and Toronto are doing, we’re still speeding into an unmapped climatic wilderness.
In April, we tripped across the threshold of 410 parts per million, a 130 ppm increase since the start of the industrial age two centuries ago. Most of that increase has occurred since I was born in the 1950s. We’re accelerating our emissions, almost triple the annual rate from when I was a youngster, learning to ride a clunker of a bicycle. In the process we’ve already elevated our temperatures by 1.2 to 1.3 degrees C.
Now we’re racing toward 450 ppm. Unless we slow our emissions, says Scientific American, we’ll hit that mark in about 18 years.
Climate scientists don’t know for sure that anything calamitous will happen at 450 ppm. It could be just another increment, like a hair of once-brown head turning gray: deeper droughts, longer heat waves, more powerful typhoons and hurricanes. And, of course, warmer. Or it could be much worse, a big spurt of change. Some of the uncertainty has to do with the feedback mechanisms, such as the thawing of methane, a far more powerful heat-trapping gas, in the Arctic tundra. These are the unexpected, nonlinear, and frightening outcomes that scientists warn could result from pushing the climate system too hard.
Ice cores extracted from glaciers in Greenland, Antarctica, and elsewhere provide surprisingly insightful mirrors of the past. For example, the Greenland ice from 1,700 to 2,500 years ago shows levels of lead that indicate lead and silver mining and smelting by the Greeks and Romans. Ice cores also show CO2 in the atmosphere. Those now are 100 ppm higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.
Writing in the New York Times Magazine last year, Jon Gertner noted the last time atmospheric CO2 levels were as elevated as now, three million years ago, sea levels were most likely 45 feet higher and giant camels roamed above the Arctic Circle.
That’s where Squamish and geoengineering comes in. Many scientists have concluded that the only way to avert the perhaps intolerable climatic changes is to conduct massive geoengineering, to reverse the effects of global warming. Geoengineering is an umbrella word, kind of like snow sliding, for two broad categories of activities.
One type of geoengineering seeks to deliberately tinker with the climate, to reverse existing and continued effects. One such idea, for example, would attempt to replicate the effect of volcanoes. In 1991, for example, Mt. Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines, exploded, pushing a plume of gas and ash—including nearly 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide—into the atmosphere, eventually reaching an altitude of 39 kilometers. The most particulates went skyward since the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. The aerosols formed a global layer of sulfuric acid haze, cooling global temperatures.5 degrees C in the years 1991-93. Krakatoa had had a similar effect, depressing temperatures by as much as 1.2 degrees C in the northern hemisphere and also helping produce 38 inches of rain in Los Angeles, which averages 15 inches.
All manner of ideas have been formulated to intentionally disrupt the climate. One idea would have us deploying mirrors, perhaps in deserts or perhaps in outer space, to reflect back light into space. Another idea is to brighten clouds, to make them more reflective. Still another idea, crudely employed, would be to scatter materials over glaciers, once again to reduce the albedo effect of the native snow and ice. Then others have toyed with dumping iron into the ocean, to spur the growth of carbon-sucking algae. None of these ideas have gotten very far.
The second major type of geoengineering seeks to withdraw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The International Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report surprised many by identifying 116 scenarios in which global temperatures could be prevented from rising more than 2 degrees C. Of these, 111 scenarios involve sucking massive quantities of CO2, from the atmosphere. As Wired magazine noted in a story last December, the goal is to attain “negative emissions,” perhaps lowering CO2, emissions below 400 ppm, even down to 350 ppm, as Bill McKibben proposes.
Trees suck carbon, but they do grow slowly, don’t they? Other ideas involve growing plants and then harvesting them, burning them, and producing energy in that way. Such ideas have generally been dismissed as impractical for the kind of carbon reduction needed in the next 30 years, simply because of the space required. As Wired noted, just growing the crops needed to fuel these bio-energy plants would require a landmass one to two times the size of India—and this transformation would have to occur within the lifetimes of the millennial generation.
In Squamish, a relatively new company called Carbon Engineering is capturing air then using industrial processes to remove the carbon dioxide. Several similar processes are being tried in other experiments around the world.
David Keith, now of Harvard University, founded the company in 2015. He obtained funding from two billionaires, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Norman Murray Edwards, who has a big stake in the oil sands of Alberta and also owns the Fernie, Kimberley, Kicking Horse, and other resorts of British Columbia.
Being of a different income class than these billionaires, I stayed at the hostel in Squamish, sharing a room with about 35 other guys. (There are times, if rare, when I am actually glad for my hearing loss.) The next morning I drove around Squamish, visiting the Sikh temple, watching immigrant families frolic on the waterfront, and admiring the giant rock formation overlooking the town. Only later, after returning to Vancouver, did I learn that a base jumper had leaped to his death from the granitic monolith of the Stawamus Chief at almost precisely that same time. The parachute of the victim, an ex-Marine, had failed to deploy.
At length, I found Carbon Engineering on a sliver of land jutting into Howe Sound. Peering over the locked gate of the chain-link fence that Sunday morning I saw a long metal shed, several tanks, pipes, and a shaft.
The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert, when she arrived a year later, got a tour. She described the industrial plumbing but was struck more by the fact that the site had been previously used to process contaminated water. Carbon Engineering, she added, was engaged in a process that fell somewhere between a toxic cleanup and alchemy.
A story in the Guardian described the great challenge of this alchemy using the example of M&Ms. If you were allowed to eat every red M&M in a bag, it would be easy to do so if they were but one of every 10 in a bag. But, if the concentration fell to one in every 2,500—the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere—you might just give up on the red M&M’s.
Carbon Engineering in its plant at Squamish has modified old processes to address this challenge. The process uses a strong hydroxide solution to capture CO2 in a structure modeled on an industrial cooling tower and convert it into a carbonate. Next small pellets of calcium carbonate are precipitated from the carbonate solution. The calcium carbonate, once dried, is then heated, to break apart the CO2 and residual calcium oxide.
According to the company website, the plan is to move to commercialization, creating industrial-scale air-capture facilities outside of cities and on non-agriculture land.
But there’s more. Carbon Engineering’s vision combined this direct air capture technology with water electrolysis and fuels synthesis to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels. In this process, the CO2 and hydrogen are thermocatalytically reacted to produce syngas and reacted again to produce hydrocarbons. In principle, a wide variety of hydrocarbons can be generated, but the company says it intends to focus on providing a product that replaces diesel and jet fuel. The plant at Squamish has been producing a barrel a day of synthetic fuel.
“If we’re successful at building a business of carbon removal, these are trillion-dollar markets,” Adrian Corless, then chief executive of Carbon Engineering, told Kolbert.
But could it do so cost-effectively? That has been the big question facing Carbon Engineering and every other company organized to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Cost estimates had run up to $600 a ton or even more.
Scale is what matters. Can the process be scaled? That was the chief criterion in Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge. He offers $25 million for the first scalable solution for removing greenhouse gases. So far, the money has been unclaimed.
On June 7, Carbon Engineering announced publication of a peer-reviewed paper in the energy journal called Joule that declares that the process tested at Squamish since 2015 has been refined such that it can done for as low as $94 per metric ton. The news—if not all the paper’s qualifying statements about financial assumptions and so forth—was quickly splashed around on BBC and other international news organizations.
“Imagine driving up to your local gas station and being able to choose between regular, premium or carbon-free gasoline,” offered the National Geographic.
The BBC, after describing the “tangle of pipes, pumps, tanks, reactors, chimneys and ducts on a messy industrial site,” concluded that the process underway at Squamish “could just provide the fix to stop the world tipping into runaway climate change.”
“I hope this changes views about this technology from being this thing which people think is a magic savior, which it isn’t, or that it is absurdly expensive, which it isn’t, to an industrial technology that is do-able and can be developed in a useful way,” David Keith, a founder of Carbon Engineering, told BBC News.
In 2010, I had met Keith in Calgary, where he was then teaching, with dual appointments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Calgary. This was on the tail-end of a trip to Fort McMurray, also courtesy of the Canadian government, designed to show-and-tell why the oil/tar sands were not such a terrible thing.
To my surprise, the Canadian consulate media liaison in Denver—a former bump-skier from Vail—had wanted us to meet with David Keith. I was impressed, because even then I was aware of some of Keith’s big-picture thinking.
Keith, now 54, comes across as somebody deeply loving of the same things as most people in mountain towns do. He grew up in Canada, the son of a researcher with the Canadian Wildlife Service who did groundbreaking work on the insidious effects of pesticides; his mother was a historian.
After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in physics, Keith took journeys to the Arctic. In the first trip he camped alone in a remote region of Labrador for three weeks. Then he spent four months living in a plywood shack in the middle of the Arctic Archipelago, tracking walruses with a polar bear biologist. He has said it was one of the happiest times of his life.
He continues to seek out solitude in wonderful places. On a recent honeymoon he went backpacking in northern British Columbia. Protecting the climate of existing ecosystems and places clearly drives him.
Some of that thinking has been at meetings convened during the 1990s at the Aspen Global Change Institute. One of the speakers Keith heard had been a proponent of using nuclear devices for massive earth-moving goals, such as digging new canals. But the speaker by then was talking about geoengineering as a way of addressing the massive challenge of carbon dioxide emissions.
As a civilization, we’ve done our best to tinker with weather. Jeff Goodell, in his 2010 book “How to Cool the Planet,” offers a delightful history of the flimflam artists of the early 20th century who promised they could deliver rain to soak farmers’ fields and fill reservoirs in San Diego. After World War II, such efforts became more scientific, with the deliberate seeding of clouds with silver iodide and other substances to produce rain and snow.
Vail, the ski area operator, has been paying to seed clouds over Vail Mountain since a disastrous drought in 1977 as well as other of its properties. So do major water utilities, such as Denver. This is despite a major, 10-year study bankrolled by Wyoming that found only marginal success of cloud seeding.
The U.S. government, through a program called Project Plowshare, in the 1960s and early 1970s explored the idea of using nuclear devices to move massive amounts of Earth. One of the ideas was to thoroughly shake up the subterranean in order to unloose natural gas encased in tight rocks. Call it nuclear fracking. One of those blasts occurred west of Aspen and Vail in 1969, near the town of Parachute. It created rubble, all underground, but no natural gas worth anything. It was radioactive. At last, the U.S. government pulled the plug, in what one Cold War analyst says “the reluctant admission that a nuclear utopia was not imminent.”
In Calgary, Keith wouldn’t singularly bad-mouth the tar sands. (Because this was a Canadian government trip, it was always “oil sands,” and that’s what Keith said, too). But what stands out from my notes almost eight years later is his insistence that all our efforts to that day had been largely symbolic. “For the United States and Canada, motivation for action that goes beyond symbolic is very low,” he said.
“It’s important to be realistic about this,” he added.
In his 2013 book, “The Case for Climate Engineering,” Keith articulated the same thought about a disconnect between efforts and outcome. “Why has the spending on clean energy produced such meager results?” he asked. “Either the cost of cutting emissions is much higher than analysts’ estimates of what’s needed or the money is getting grossly misspent. Carbon emissions are so large that deep cuts can only be realized by actions that are cost-effective and scalable.”
Cost effective and scalable remain the key words. The paper in the journal published last week described a rate of “levelized cost per tonne of CO2 captured from the atmosphere ranging from $94 to $232.”
That is still a wide range, and, in any event, it’s well above the world’s highest carbon tax, British Columbia’s $35 per tonne; it is set to reach $50 a tonne by 2021. The point is that the price of carbon emissions must rise substantially or the cost of removing it must be lowered substantially before there will be any traction.
Keith has also been working in the other realm of geoengineering. Keith and another Harvard scientist, Frank Keutsch, had planned to launch a high-altitude balloon, tethered to a gondola with propellers and sensors, to spray a fine mist of materials such as sulfur dioxide, alumina, or calcium carbonate into the stratosphere above Arizona. The sensors, as he told MIT Technology Review, would measure the reflectivity of the particles, the degree to which they disperse or coalesce, and the way they interact with other compounds in the atmosphere.
Should we even pretend to think that technology can come to our aid? Conferences and papers so far debate this very question. Some see it as akin to setting off bombs underground in Colorado. Even Keith has said repeatedly that geoengineering is secondary to reducing our emissions.
Many scientists have argued we shouldn’t even try. Even if successful, would it then allow us to dither on this path toward making a giant energy transition? We could just spew more and more carbon into the atmosphere. As the fracking revolution has taught us, we’re a very inventive species at figuring out how to get carbon from underground.
What about unintended consequences? When inventors in the Silicon Valley were creating smart phones, they probably weren’t imagining that people would be reading their phones as they drove down highways. For that matter, when Henry Ford began mass-producing cars in Detroit, he could not have imagined that one day transportation, primarily from cars and trucks, would be the leading emitter of CO2, emissions. He was creating a greater good, not a greater problem.
Then again, do we have a choice? We’re disrupting the climate through our small, unseen emissions of carbon dioxide millions and millions of times each day across the planet. We’ve already jumped off a cliff. Like the base jumper at the Chief, we had better hope we have a parachute to deploy. It’s too soon to say whether the industrial process for removing carbon dioxide from the air in the metal building in Squamish will be that parachute. But keep your eye on it. It’s terribly important.
From KOAA.com (Caiti Blase):
he Colorado Division of Water Resources says the levels this year are abnormal and putting the area in almost a drought situation. The conditions are making it difficult for water lovers to do their activities in Pueblo, particularly at the Whitewater Park. In turn, revenue is down at some businesses.
The park is usually a summertime hot spot that draws people from all over Colorado…
Philip Reynolds, reservoir operations specialist for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said, “It would probably rank in one of the ten worst snow melt seasons for the Arkansas River.”
He says during a normal year at the park the rate of flow in the river is well over 1,000 cubic feet per second. Current conditions are only 600-800…
Surfers and kayakers are going to places like Florence where conditions are better. Reynolds says flows will increase part-time in July and August as part of the Voluntary Flow Management Program. Extra water will be released from the Clear Creek Reservoir to help out water enthusiasts.
From WyoFile (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):
Worried by growing demands and shrinking water supplies in the Colorado River Basin, Wyoming lawmakers are seeking legislation to authorize water banking in Wyoming and declare it a “beneficial use.”
The proposed changes to water law could allow Wyoming to “bank” Green River water for the purpose of meeting obligations to downstream states, and in doing so keep the state’s water users from running dry in the event of a shortage…
[The] message Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell gave the committees June 18 in Pinedale. “If critical elevations are breached, the system faces threats to [its] ability to control [its] own destiny – Compact compliance, irrigation, drinking water supply, power production, environmental resource preservation and overall sustainability,” his presentation said.
“Five years away or less we could have considerable problems at Lake Powell,” Tyrrell told committee members and the Wyoming Water Development Commission. Wyoming could see water diversions from the Green River curtailed as a result.
Lawmakers voted, without dissent, to draft a bill that would make water banking in Wyoming a beneficial use for contract obligations and drought contingency. The Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee wants to consider a draft at its next meeting in September…
But Compact signers “were under the impression there was a lot more water in the system,” said Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the west-slope Colorado River Water Conservation District. Now, “the system is really fully used, and we have this almost 20-year drought,” he said.
The upper basin share, for example, was initially expected to be 7.5 million acre feet annually — or a little more than a million acre feet for Wyoming. But under today’s hydrology, upper-basin states get about 6 million acre feet annually, state engineer Tyrrell said. That brings Wyoming’s share to some 834,400 acre feet. It is currently using some 598,000 acre feet annually.
Just as Wyoming has yet to use it’s full entitlement, so too has the lower-basin never demanded the upper basin curtail use to meet the obligation at Lees Ferry. But the calculus is changing and the slack is being steadily drawn from the system.
From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):
A tamarisk eradication spray program begun almost ten years ago along a portion of the Arkansas River has transitioned into a restoration project this year by the Colorado Division of Natural Resources and Parks and Wildlife. Travis Black, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area manager, said a restoration program has begun which will re-seed the areas between Granada and the Kansas State Line. “The area will be re-vegetated with natural grass species along with willow shrubs and we’re planting cottonwood poles as well,” he explained, adding that the eradication program took some hops and skips between the towns along the river to the Kansas border.
Tamarisk, similar to Russian Thistle, is an invasive plant introduced into southeast Colorado decades ago. Unfortunately, it consumes hundreds of gallons of water per plant and is very hard to kill. Its growth along the Arkansas River allowed it to spread, siphoning off thousands of gallons of water and added to the salinity of the river. Another drawback was in flood mitigation as the plant, growing along the banks of the river, restricted the water flow along the channel which created backups and flooding. The trick to effectively killing off tamarisk is patience. Even after a comprehensive spraying program, it takes a minimum of three years to be sure the limbs, seed and especially roots are dead.
A collaboration of a number of groups including the NRCS and Prowers County sought grant funding to finance the aerial spraying of approximately 400 acres to begin with in 2009, but because of increased funding and a lower cost of service, the area was increased to 1,500 acres. Contributing groups included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado State Land Board, Holly Flood District, Tri-State G & T and the Northeast Prowers Conservation District among others and some private landowners.
Black said, some of the spraying was more effective than anticipated as a lot of the undergrowth was killed off along with the tamarisk and that eliminated the cover for local wildlife species. The revegetation program will help restore the riparian areas to their natural state and habitat. Not all of the funding is complete for the entire stretch of river into Kansas, but the acreage has been cleared along the Arkansas River, especially visible as you cross the bridge along Highway 50 just a few miles west of Holly. He said there’s no end date to the restoration program, but it will continue when new funding streams become available. The dead tamarisk plants were excavated and ground up on the spot, using specialized equipment that is loaned out to projects around the state.
Click through and read the entire article from KUNC (Luke Runyon). Here’s an excerpt:
For many people, spring is a time for deep cleaning, a time to take stock of and prepare for the year ahead. That’s also the case on farms in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, where farmers spend their weekends banding together to clean out the irrigation ditches that bring snowmelt to their fields.
The clean up, known as the limpieza, is part of an irrigation tradition unique to this region for centuries.
If you irrigate here, Quintana says, you or one of your family members is expected to be here shoveling out muck, removing trash and tree limbs. The limpieza is an annual obligation…
If not for the clean up, water would pool in places it’s not needed, caught up in makeshift dams of trash and vegetation.
Small farm towns in portions of the San Luis Valley, like San Pablo, are organized around acequias, networks of irrigation ditches and canals dug nearly 150 years ago. It’s what makes farming possible in this dry stretch of land. While most Western law views water as property – a commodity people own and trade – acequias see it as a community asset, something tied to the land and shared.
Quintana, 61, grew up on a farm in San Pablo. As an adult, he left for a career in IT, always knowing his family’s land would be here for him to return to. He participates in the annual ditch cleaning now because he always has. But Quintana says there’s a growing sense that it will be difficult to bring the next generation back to the valley to keep the acequias functional and vibrant.
Sharing water in the West
On this day, the limpieza moves fast. The ditch is cleaned, and a group of middle-aged farmers pile into the back of an old pickup truck to head to the volunteer fire station for chicken fajitas.
It’s hard to overstate how radical the idea of sharing water in the West is. Everyone outside an acequia in states like Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada, uses the prior appropriation system for water. That system, where your right to water is given to you based on when you claimed it, doesn’t allow for easy sharing, but it’s the core tenant of acequia management. Distribution of water is based on equity and need, not given out because you claimed it first.
Sharing water sounds easy if snowpack is high and runoff is plentiful. But in times of scarcity everyone within an acequia feels the shortage together.
Acequias vary in their style of governance. A common form is as a civic association, with members, the people who irrigate with water from a particular ditch, a board of directors and at least one employee who runs the ditch. That person is the mayordomo.
Augustin “Roy” Esquibel is the mayordomo for the ditch cleaned today. When he arrives at the fire station for lunch, he takes the time to shake everyone’s hand, and jokes that he’ll have to walk a lot more ditches to work off these fajitas.
He motions down the street, toward the church of San Isidro, the Catholic saint of farmers. This valley is sustained by agriculture, he says. Everyone here is either currently farming or a descendent of farmers. The land today is used to mostly grow hay or other grasses for cattle and horses, with some wheat and dry beans grown as well. As a water steward, Esquibel says his faith guides his decisions.
From The Norwood Post (April 19, 2018) by Regan Tuttle:
For decades, town officials have wondered if a raw water system might be possible. Now — after three years of study, group collaboration, grant applications and awards, engineering, numerous public meetings, and more — Norwood will complete its raw water system by end of summer. That means next spring, many people (those that purchased raw water taps for their residences) will be running a sprinkler, watering a garden, planting vegetable patches and growing flowers. And the system, officials say, also has other benefits…
Experts say that for farming and gardening, raw water is ideal. Raw water attracts pollinators, like bees and butterflies, and plants and flowers flourish quite well with the microbes and other naturally occurring particles present in it.
“Putting treated water on a plant, we take out the ingredients that a plant likes, the things that are good for them,” Norwood’s Public Works Director Tim Lippert said. “Using treated water on plants and vegetation isn’t a good thing. Raw water already has the nutrients in it.”
Because it doesn’t go through the treatment process, it’s a cheaper utility to deliver than potable water. Lippert said that in addition to being affordable, raw water is easy to manage, because no regulation of it is needed (other than making the pipe it comes out of purple, to distinguish it from treated water). Raw water is a seasonal product, available only during the growing season…
HOW NORWOOD’S SYSTEM CAME TOGETHER
It’s taken a community of people and organizations coming together to make Norwood’s raw water system possible. From the beginning, officials in the Norwood Water Commission and the Public Works Department had wondered if the town could make the project plausible. Lippert said the town explored the idea some 20 years ago, but citizens weren’t ready for it then.
He said that in the last few years, officials began to revisit the idea and wondered if the town’s existing water shares could be put to use as a raw water utility service for residents. The town does own 119 shares of Gurley water (managed by Farmer’s Water Development).
In 2015, town officials reopened the conversation with members of the Norwood Water Commission, Farmers Water and other regional water groups.
The first step included the Colorado Water Board Conservancy awarding a $47,000 grant to the Town of Norwood in 2016 to support a feasibility study on the project. (SGM, of Durango, did the study and continued with the engineering work.)
Along the way, the Norwood Lawn and Garden Group, spearheaded by Clay Wadman, who owns a home in Norwood and who wanted to see the project succeed, worked on education and outreach in town. The garden group worked to help the town sell residential raw water taps and supported Norwood in the fundraising process.
Soon, grants began rolling in from the Southwest Water Conservation District ($175,000), San Miguel Water Conservancy ($5,000), the Telluride Foundation ($5,000) and San Miguel County ($25,000). In 2017, the Department of Local Affairs made a decision to give Norwood’s project around $690,000 in a matching grant to make raw water in Norwood a reality.
The Town of Norwood also put money in — around $68,000 for final engineering — from the town’s reserves to move the project along. In 2017, town officials also budgeted $25,000 for the project; they’ve earmarked another $200,000 from the capital improvement fund if those funds are needed.
Norwood’s Town Administrator Patti Grafmyer said seeing the raw water system come to fruition is quite an accomplishment for the town.
“The idea of a raw water system has been discussed for many years, but with the help of a grant from CWCB, Norwood was able to complete a feasibility study. From the feasibility study came the grassroots Norwood Lawn and Garden Group, which became the public outreach group that assisted the Town of Norwood and Norwood Water Commission in this project,” she said. “There are so many people who were key players in this project. This project is the product of teamwork. So many people have shown their support for the raw water system.”
OTHER BENEFITS OF UNTREATED WATER
While it’s true that utilizing raw water makes flower and vegetable gardening possible, officials say it offers additional benefits, such as helping to increase property values.
The Kurtex Management Company, which owns Norwood’s Cottonwood Creek Estates, purchased 31 residential taps for raw water. Wadman has said the system there will no doubt transform the look of the neighborhood: rocky areas that comprise the lots can be replaced with landscaping, and raw water at each residence will sustain the lawns. At the same time, Cottonwood Creek Estates’ residents will have the option of gardening and producing their own food.
I’m excited to endorse Amy, she has been a tireless champion for Colorado in her role at the Water Trust. Here’s the press release from Amy’s campaign:
Amy Beatie, Executive Director of the Colorado Water Trust since 2007, announces her endorsement by statewide and local leaders in the Democratic primary for State Representative in Denver’s House District 4. The endorsements come from Ruth Wright, second woman ever in Colorado to become the House Minority Leader, a role that she held from 1986-1992; Gail Schwartz, former State Senator from Crested Butte; and Jeni JAMES Arndt, current State Representative from Fort Collins.
Although she had been considering running for public office for some time, Beatie’s campaign began to truly take shape after her graduation from the Emerge triaining program of 2016, a program that trains progressive women to run for office. “Seasoned leadership matters now more than ever. I have dedicated my career to public service and working tirelessly for Colorado’s environment, but for years I had been feeling such a strong push to do more. I want to be part of helping create a cohesive, progressive, and strategic Democratic party in this state. This incredible northside community also wants someone who will improve our education system, our healthcare system, and our environment. Having been in leadership for most of my career, I’ll be ready to hit the ground running on day one.”
Sen. Schwartz endorsed Beatie saying that, “Amy has dedicated her career to the preservation of Colorado’s natural resources and public service to the people of Colorado. She has distinguished herself as the leader of one of Colorado’s most effective conservation organizations for over a decade. As a former State Senator, I know that Amy’s proven ability to work with diverse interests and communities, along with a deep background on statewide issues, will make her an excellent representative.”
Beatie successfully guided the Colorado Water Trust over the last decade to return over 7 billion gallons of water to over 375 miles of rivers and streams in the State of Colorado and Jeni Arndt, State Representative from Fort Collins, was impressed with Beatie’s knowledge of the state’s water issues. “Effectively managing our state’s water is critical to our shared future. Amy has been a leader on water conservation in Colorado for a decade and having her knowledge and experience in the legislature would be an invaluable contribution to our state’s efforts to plan for one of the most valuable resources in our state.”
Ruth Wright, second woman ever to become the House Minority Leader, a role that she held from 1986-1992, and former board member at the Colorado Water Trust spoke glowingly of Beatie’s ability to lead. “Amy has taken the Trust from an organization on the brink of closing and turned it into one of the most successful environmental organizations in the state. Amy infused the Trust with her vision and passion and I can see that same vision and passion in her run for the state house.”
From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt) via The Aspen Times:
Low snowpack and a dry spring have pushed most of Colorado into a record-breaking drought.
According to an update by the U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday, most of the state is at some level of drought, while extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst categories — now cover one-third of Colorado.
The Department of Natural Resources also projected worsening conditions for June in their drought update released Monday afternoon.
The conditions have heightened wildfire risk in some areas while areas already consumed by fire are at risk of flash floods if too much rain falls on the unstable soils of the land’s burn scars.
“We as a state are looking at the trifecta of flood, fire and drought right now,” said Taryn Finnessey, co-chair of the state’s Water Availability Task Force, during the group’s meeting Thursday. “We are definitely juggling a lot of what-ifs.”
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the statewide snowpack was the second-lowest on record, while temperatures for May were the second-highest.
This combination led snow to melt early across Colorado, with some areas losing their snow as much as three weeks earlier than normal. Precipitation also has lagged, reaching only 70 percent of normal for the year.
This perfect (lack of a) storm has rivers running low across the state. In mid-May, the Colorado River saw “some of the lowest peak flows in history,” according to Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River District.
River levels remain well below normal, and last week rivers in the Roaring Fork Watershed were only flowing between 22 and 45 percent of normal. These conditions persist throughout the entire Upper Basin of the Colorado River and have drained Lake Powell to 52 percent of its normal level.
WATER TEMPS UP
The low flow rates also have led to above normal river temperatures, which can endanger fish populations and may lead to fishing bans later in the season.
Despite drought conditions, most water providers have been able to meet demand, and statewide reservoir storage remains at levels slightly above average. Still, some municipalities have had to tighten their belts.
The city of Aspen declared a Stage 1 water shortage May 18 after flows peaked about three weeks early on Castle and Maroon creeks, which provide most of the city’s drinking water. Stage 1 requires all city property to reduce their water use by 10 percent and urges the rest of the community to voluntarily reduce their water use. But even with improvements in efficiency, water demand hasn’t fallen.
“It’s an interesting thing, because when you have a dry year you need more water for your landscaping,” said Margaret Medellin, Aspen’s utilities portfolio manager. “But we don’t want people to dry up their landscaping right now. We think it’s important for the community and for fire prevention.”
According to Medellin, the inch of rain the city saw last weekend alleviated irrigation demands somewhat, but it would not help much on the supply side. While the city is able to meet demands for now, Medellin said it was likely that the city would declare a Stage 2 water shortage toward the end of the summer, an unprecedented drought measure in Aspen that would impose mandatory water restrictions on the community.
Pitkin County issued a Stage 1 fire ban earlier this month and reminded people last week that even with soaking rain June 16, the ban is still in effect and conditions are dangerous.
The situation is most dire in the state’s southwest, where some areas are the driest and hottest they’ve been since the dust bowl in the 1930s.
So far, the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basins have received only 31 percent of their average precipitation for the year, and monitoring sites from Grand Mesa to Mesa Verde National Park have reached record lows for both peak snow accumulation and precipitation.
These dry conditions have helped fuel wildfires in the region, including the 416 Fire, which burned more than 34,000 acres near Durango and is the fifth largest wildfire in Colorado history.
In the southwest, the drought has forced some ranchers to sell off their cattle and has prevented some farmers from planting.
These losses prompted Gov. John Hickenlooper to activate the Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for agriculture at the beginning of May. The mitigation plan charges state officials with coordinating local plans to prevent agricultural losses.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has designated 33 of Colorado’s 64 counties as primary natural disaster areas, allowing farmers to apply for financial relief at the end of the season.
Despite these interventions, state agencies expect more cattle sell-offs and crop failures unless conditions improve.
The governor has not yet activated the municipal interventions laid out in the Drought Mitigation and Response Plan, but he may later in the summer. While the state government does not have the power to institute mandatory municipal water restrictions, this section of the plan would allow for more coordination and water sharing between municipalities.
While the situation is expected to worsen throughout June, July and August could bring some improvements, with the National Weather Service predicting a strong monsoon season.
“The monsoon is often a savior,” Pokrandt said. “We will just have to wait and see.”
Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of water and rivers. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
From InkStain (John Fleck):
The conventional calculation of Colorado River shortage risk, which people like me frequently report, shows a 51 percent chance of Lake Mead dropping into “shortage”, below the magic trip line of elevation 1,075 at which mandatory cutbacks kick in, in 2020. But a new approach to modeling risk, which lots of folks (*cough* me *cough*) think more accurately represents the changing climate, shows a significant risk of a much quicker drop in Lake Mead’s levels, blowing quickly past 1,075, with a greater than 50 percent chance of dropping below 1,050 sometime in 2020. Absent actions to reduce water use, Lake Powell has a greater than one in four chance of dropping near power pool (the level at which it could no longer generate electricity) by the mid-2020s.
It is to the Bureau of Reclamation’s credit that they’re not only running the new modeling methodology in parallel with the more traditional approach, but that they’re doing this in a very public way, presenting both last week at the Basin States principals meeting in Santa Fe as part of the federal effort to get negotiations over water use cutbacks back on track.
Here’s the Mead graph showing the traditional modeling approach (the blue) and the newer “stress test” (shown in red):
I like this graph (kudos to Carly Jerla and the other wizards at the Bureau for coming up with such a clear visualization) because of how intuitively it shows how different the answers are when you use the two different approaches. Especially visually striking is the probability “cloud” showing the statistical range of possibilities. The old blue approach shows a decent chance of wetness refilling reservoirs. The newer red approach not only offers no such blue bits of optimism, but shows some statistically credible chances of Lake Mead seriously tanking very soon.
The difference between the two modeling approaches gets to the heart of the importance of the “period of record” you use to analyze river flows in support of decision-making.
The traditional (blue) approach uses historic river flows from 1906 to 2015 as the basis for a statistical simulation of the range of possible futures given current reservoir levels. This is classic “stationarity” – assume the future will be like the past. The specific model then uses what’s called the “index-sequential method” (ISM), which is a bog standard way of modeling the statistics of river flows.
The new approach (red), which has come to be known as the “stress test”, is based on the view of some water managers and scientists that the old full-record approach is understating risk, because the past climate – especially in the case of the Colorado River that exceptionally wet first quarter century of the record – is putting more water in the river in your simulations than we can realistically expect any more because of a warming climate. The stress test still uses the ISM, but instead of the full record, it uses 1988-2015, which seems more like a modern climate than the full thing back to 1906.
Click here to listen to the weekly highlight podcast from H2O Radio. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
The House of Representatives passed a Farm Bill last week by just two votes. While many objected to its work requirements for recipients of food assistance, others were critical for its effects on the environment. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the bill repeals clean water safeguards and exempts companies that spray pesticides into waterways. It also exempts chemical makers from enforcement when pesticides harm or kill endangered species including some bees, and it prohibits local communities from adopting their own pesticide laws, if they are more strict than federal standards. Further, the House bill would exempt public lands from wildlife and water conservation safeguards. And EcoWatch reports that it would allow mining and logging in Alaskan forests.
A spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity said in a release that the act is a “stunning gift” to the pesticide industry with staggeringly harmful implications for wildlife. The House bill now goes to the Senate, which may vote on it next week.
Here’s an in-depth look at Gov. Hickenlooper’s legacy from Marianne Goodland writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:
In a fast-growing state that places greater demands on its water supply each day, a state that regularly faces withering droughts, Hickenlooper has spent his eight years in office navigating water issues and leading the development of a state water plan that Denver’s chief water official calls a “real act of political courage.”
But not everyone believes the governor has made all the right choices on water. Colorado still faces daunting water-supply challenges. Some say Hickenlooper should have done more to promote dams and reservoirs and there’s no clear way to pay for the ambitious state water plan he fostered.
Still, many give Hickenlooper credit for reshaping how Colorado deals with water.
“He was the first governor to put water at the forefront,” said veteran northern Colorado water manager Eric Wilkinson.
Hickenlooper’s legacy may depend on what is done with the water plan that he is leaving for his successor. Colorado Politics talked to members of Colorado’s water community to see what they think his legacy in water looks like – and the governor weighed in on that, too.
When Hickenlooper became mayor of Denver in July 2003, the state was already entering the second year of a record-setting drought. Gov. Bill Owens, in his 2003 State of the State address six months earlier, claimed the 2002 drought was the worst in 350 years, with most of Colorado in what the U.S. Drought Monitor called “exceptional drought,” the worst stage in their rankings.
So water got into the future governor’s mind early on, although as mayor, his control was limited primarily to appointing commissioners to Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility.
But as he saw it, he wasn’t dealing with just Denver’s water. It was water that belonged to the entire state, he said.
At the time, state officials were also trying to figure out how to solve the water problem. In the midst of devastating drought, the General Assembly and Owens began working on several ideas that still hold water today, including a new assessment of Colorado’s water supply, known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI)…
In the 2005 session, the General Assembly approved a law setting up groups known as basin roundtables, which divided Colorado into nine regions, each representing a major river, plus one for Denver.
But the groups weren’t required to work with each other. There were differences among the regions, including claims from the Western Slope that the Denver area was seeking more “transmountain diversions” to channel water from the Colorado River and other western waters through the mountains to the Front Range. That claim still sticks today.
And there were long-standing hard feelings over what happened about 15 years earlier, when ski towns joined forces with environmentalists to help defeat a major Denver reservoir project…
Two Forks was a proposed dam on the South Platte River that would have created a million acre-feet reservoir, flooding 30 miles of canyon from Deckers south to the river’s confluence with its north fork.
Advocates said the project was vital to supplying growing metro Denver. But environmentalists sounded the trumpets, complaining of the potential drowning of much of Cheesman Canyon with its prime fishing, hiking and kayaking areas, and the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed a permit for the project in 1990.
Denver Water, which exhausted its appeals of the rejection in 1996, was forced to shift to conservation rather than looking for major new water supplies from storage.
That’s the environment that Hickenlooper walked into as mayor. And that’s when his water legacy started, says Eric Kuhn, who has spent 40 years working on the Colorado River, including as general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
It was then, he said, that the groundwork was laid with Denver Water board members to build cooperation with Western Slope water providers.
Knowing that Denver Water controlled a quarter of the state’s water supply, it meant new conversations with the Western Slope water community. Those discussions started in 2006 between Denver Water and 42 Western Slope partners, ranging from water providers to local governments to ski resorts.
That eventually became the groundbreaking Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, first reached in 2011 and signed by all parties by 2013. The agreement resolved at least some of the historic fights over the Colorado River. It focused on efforts to improve the river’s health and looked for ways to provide additional water supplies to Denver Water…
Hickenlooper got one other big advantage during his time as mayor: The Denver Water board selected a new general manager, Jim Lochhead, who would continue the agenda set forth by the board and with Hickenlooper’s vision in hand. That took place in 2010.
Hickenlooper “made very thoughtful appointments” to the Denver Water board, including people like Tom Gougeon, John Lucero and George Beardsley, Lochhead told Colorado Politics. They were “really strong leaders with the ethics for moving Denver Water forward but with having us take a far-sighted approach with the Western Slope,” he said.
Part of a strategic plan
Hickenlooper says he tackled water issues again shortly after being elected governor in November 2010. The state found itself in another multi-year drought starting in 2011, and that’s when Hickenlooper asked if drought would be the new normal and how Colorado would deal with it.
He talked to other governors to research the best practices they employed, and found that what Colorado lacked was a comprehensive water plan, which he called a “serious vacuum” in the state’s framework. It was a risky proposition, given that Coloradans were historically polarized around the issue of water, he said.
There were things – like boosting water conservation – that he knew would be difficult. He knew rural Colorado’s farmers and ranchers did not want to be told what to do. “We couldn’t deny people the right to sell their property,” he said, referring to water rights. But the plan would look at how to incentivize farmers to at least temporarily lease their water rather than sell.
With the traditional east-west divide over water evolving with the completion of the Colorado River agreement, the time to strike came early on in Hickenlooper’s first term. He began asking his cabinet about a water plan.
According to James Eklund, who first served as Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel and then as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the governor was asked if he was willing to spend his political capital by wading into the water wars.
“Some governors only touch (the issue) on a superficial level,” Eklund told Colorado Politics. Previous governors would go to the Colorado Water Congress (the state’s leading water advocacy organization), pound the table, say that water is the lifeblood of the West and then get out.”
After the discussions with the other governors, that wasn’t going to be Hickenlooper’s way. “We have no choice but to treat this as a serious discussion” and to engage in strategic planning, according to Eklund.
Hickenlooper – a former restaurateur – looks at everything through a business lens, Eklund said. That meant that if water is so important to Colorado’s bottom line and there isn’t a strategic plan, that’s not acceptable.
In May 2013, Hickenlooper announced he would task Eklund and the CWCB to come up with a state water plan…
In November 2015, the water plan was unveiled after more than 30,000 public comments from all over the state. “We wanted to make sure all the interests were represented, not just conservation,” Hickenlooper said. “We also put in water storage,” meaning reservoirs, but that also ruffled the feathers of environmentalists, he said.
Hickenlooper said he was most pleased with the ability of the basin roundtables – set up in that 2005 legislation – to take the long view, especially for groups historically polarized over water.
According to many in the water community, it’s the statewide water plan that most defines Hickenlooper’s water legacy…
‘Water at the forefront’
The water plan attempts to address what is now expected to be a 1 million acre-feet shortage of water in Colorado by 2050, based in part on projected population growth of another 3 to 5 million people on top of the state’s current population of 5.6 million.
It focuses on a number of strategic goals: 400,000 acre-feet of water to be gained through conservation, another 400,000 to be gained through new or enhanced storage (dams and reservoirs), and the rest from other steps, such as agricultural water sharing.
The plan has its detractors who have criticized it for lack of specific objectives in how to achieve those goals. And some lawmakers believe the General Assembly has been shut out of the process and that storage gets short shrift.
Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling told Colorado Politics that he’s been frustrated with the plan’s lack of attention to storage and that there hasn’t been enough emphasis on how to avoid “buy and dry” – the practice of buying up agricultural land for its water rights and then draining the land dry…
Sonnenberg disagrees that the water plan is a positive legacy for Hickenlooper.
“He tried to put the plan together and it didn’t get a lot of attention other than from the environmental community that wants to make sure we leave more water in the rivers. If you want to be a water leader with a water legacy, you must support water storage that is paid for by the communities planning for growth,” Sonnenberg said, citing the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), which plans two reservoirs – Glade, near Fort Collins and Galeton, east of Greeley.
Sonnenberg complained that the governor has not yet endorsed those projects, although Hickenlooper did endorse two other reservoir projects two years ago: Chimney Hollow, near Loveland, and expansion of Gross Reservoir, near Boulder.
But Eric Wilkinson, who recently retired as general manager of Northern Water, which runs NISP, does believe in Hickenlooper’s water legacy.
“He was the first governor to put water at the forefront,” Wilkinson told Colorado Politics. He was pleased with Hickenlooper’s endorsement of Chimney Hollow, a Denver Water reservoir project, which he said tells federal agencies that the project has cleared Colorado’s permitting and is ready to go forward. That was part of the state water plan, too, Wilkinson noted.
ilkinson also pointed to the people Hickenlooper put in charge of water issues as part of the legacy: Stulp, Eklund and Becky Mitchell, the current head of the CWCB; and both of his heads of the Department of Natural Resources, first Mike King and now Bob Randall.
In the water plan, the balance between conservation and new storage is a pragmatic solution for the state’s future, Wilkinson said. “We need to have a greater ability to manage the water resources, and to do that, conservation is first, but infrastructure is very much needed. The water plan calls that out.”
The timing was right and the leadership was right, Stulp told Colorado Politics.
Hickenlooper saw what had been taking place for the past seven to eight years, after the formation of the basin roundtables, which came up with projects for their own regions. The time was right to pull all that together, Stulp said.
Eklund, now with the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, is still involved in water issues, partly as Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. He said Hickenlooper’s legacy isn’t only about the water plan; it’s also where he positioned Colorado internationally on water issues.
Colorado’s position as a headwater state that provides water to 18 downstream states and Mexico means “we punch above our weight on water policy,” Eklund said. The eyes of the water-stressed world are on the Southwest United States.
Colorado finally has a platform in that discussion by coming up with the water plan, which he called a “gold standard” for water planning. Other states and nations can look at what Colorado is doing and judge for themselves, he said.
Colorado now speaks with one voice on water, said Mitchell, who was in charge of water planning prior to becoming the CWCB’s latest director.
“The default starting point now on water talk is cooperation, not confrontation,” she told Colorado Politics.
The water plan shows what’s possible, she added, when people with polarized perspectives and faulty assumptions sit down together, listen and speak with civility and respect…
Hickenlooper told Colorado Politics he hopes the next governor recognizes the funding gap for implementing the plan. The General Assembly has so far devoted about $17 million over the past two budget cycles to funding projects in the water plan, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the need, which is estimated at around $20 billion.
Water providers are expected to shoulder most of that, but the state’s obligation is expected to be around $3 billion, at $100 million per year for 30 years, starting in 2020.
No one, including Hickenlooper, has come up with a solid plan for where that money is coming from. Lots of ideas have been floated, such as changes to the state’s severance tax structure on oil and gas operations – a no-go with Senate Republicans – bottle taxes, water tap fees and the like.
Hickenlooper said he believes funding for the water plan is sufficient for the next few years, but there is a gap, and at some point, the state will need to spend more money on water infrastructure…
That political courage, and part of the legacy, as Lochhead sees it, is that Hickenlooper opened the door for the next governor to come in and pick up where Hickenlooper ended and made it a little safer for a governor to jump into water issues.
So how does Hickenlooper view his legacy in water?
“If I was to look at the one thing that changed the most in my public life, it’s the collaborative approach,” the governor said. “This is everyone’s issue.”
From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
Drought again? Or is something else going on in the slimming Colorado River?
Peak runoff in the Colorado River this year has arrived exceptionally early and with unusual modesty. It’s part of a pattern in the 21st century, one that scientists warn will become even more common in the future.
One measuring site is at Cameo, located amid sandstone cliffs coated with desert varnish two hours downstream from Aspen and Vail and a short distance from Grand Junction. There, runoff in the Colorado River reached 6,650 cubic feet per second on Monday. Unless surpassed by a second surge of runoff predicted for Saturday, it is likely to be the earliest date for peak runoff at the site in 50 years, according to the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
It’s also a runoff of modest flows, the fourth lowest in 85 years of record-keeping at Cameo. The lowest was in 1977, according to the Glenwood Springs-based River District, followed by those of 2002 and 2012—and now 2018.
Winter was warmer and drier than usual, and the last month has been the same: 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average. Spring precipitation has similarly lagged across western Colorado.Also contributing to this year’s runoff story have been six dust storms since late March, the most recent last weekend. The darker desert dust sprinkled on the high-mountain snows absorbs more sunlight, helping speed melting.
“If you ask why there is so little runoff in the Colorado and other rivers this year and why it has come so early, the No. 1 reason is we didn’t get much snowfall. That explains the bulk of this anomaly,” said Jeff Lukas, a research integration specialist with the University of Colorado’s Western Water Assessment. “But the temperature, much warmer than normal, especially from November to January, is a part of the story.”
Lukas, the lead author of a 2014 state-commissioned synthesis report called “Climate Change in Colorado,” also points to the clustering of unusually low runoffs in the last 16 years. It is “suspicious, let’s say, and may speak to the contribution of human-caused warming,” he observes.
Taking the long view, Lukas notes there’s a lot of “noise” or natural variability in the climate records. But this clustering suggests a changed norm. What used to be the sort of runoff that might occur every 25 years could now, perhaps, be expected about every 10 years.
Lukas has also studied growth rings of trees in the Colorado River Basin to document past environmental conditions as far back as 762 A.D. Those tree rings directly correspond to wetter and dryer, hotter and colder periods during the last 1,000 years. The trees also reveal droughts longer than any in the roughly 150 years of recorded history on the Colorado River.
In 2007, a University of Arizona team reported finding evidence of 13 consecutive years of sub-average flows. It was part of a longer 60-year period of drought in the 11th and 12th centuries that archaeologists believe was at least a significant factor in why the ancestral Pueblo, also called the Anasazi, abandoned their cliff dwellings in Chaco Culture National Historic Park and Mesa Verde National Park.
Even in 2007, scientists were saying that these mega-droughts of the past might be similar to the Southwest in a world warmed by greenhouse gas emissions. But the past is an imperfect guide to the future. “We need to consider that if these extended droughts occur, they will occur under warmer conditions than those of the past, so they won’t be analogous with respect to the impacts of temperature on drought, although the moisture deficits could be similar,” according to Connie Woodhouse, a co-author of that 2007 report.
In 2017, two climate and water researchers issued a paper that concluded that the warming world is producing drought-like conditions. Jonathan Overpeck, one of the authors, was in Santa Fe recently, where he warned against thinking of it as a drought as conventionally understood.
“Precipitation in this current drought is a contributor, a secondary contributor. The main cause of this drought is temperature,” he said at the Next Generation Water Summit. Showing a chart, he observed that the temperature line corresponds with declining flows.
“This is the kind of drought we will have to deal with in the future,” he said.
Temperatures in the region have increased, and as they do, the warming atmosphere needs more moisture. Overpeck and his co-researcher, Brad Udall of Colorado State University, concluded that the moisture is being induced into the atmosphere through increased evaporation and transpiration. “This turns out to be the very biggest consequence of the temperature-induced drought in the Colorado River Basin,” he said.
“Wildfire is going crazy in the Southwest, and it’s for the same reason,” added Overpeck, who is now dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. He was formerly at the University of Arizona and still has a cabin in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride.
Can this be called a megadrought? He said he gets asked that often, and technically, no, it’s not. It’s only lasted 19 years, and the definition of megadrought that he and others agreed upon earlier in the century begins at 20 years. But, he added, this certainly looks a lot like the megadrought of 900 years ago discovered by dendrochronologists.
The pails of water in the West went from full to the brim to half empty or less in a short time. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two giant reservoirs of the Colorado River Basin, were full in 1998, as were most of the smaller reservoirs at the headwaters near the ski towns. They’ve been mostly ebbing ever since. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Monday reported that Lake Powell was at 52 percent of capacity and Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, was down to 39 percent of capacity.
These shrinking reservoirs have caused some to call for what Edward Abbey mirthfully imagined in the “Monkeywrench Gang,” the dismantling Glen Canyon Dam and draining of Lake Powell. The argument is that this will reduce evaporation and more efficiently store the water that is likely in the warming Southwest.
The idea has received little traction, but University of Utah professor Jack Schmidt said it’s worth thinking about. “It’s an idea that, no after how much you think you understand the details, the idea won’t go away,” he said at the River District’s annual seminar in Grand Junction last September. He said he’s undecided, as there’s not enough yet known to understand the implications.
In April, a dispute about how much water is released from Lake Powell to flow downstream into Lake Mead flared among the seven basin states. Denver Water and representatives of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico dispatched letters to the Central Arizona Project accusing that water agency of manipulating water supplies and demands at the expense of teamwork and collaboration.
The Central Arizona Project delivers Colorado River water to Phoenix, Tucson and a host of towns and farms along the way. “It’s one water user taking advantage of a situation for their own benefit, to the detriment of a river that supplies nearly 40 million people,” Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water, told the Associated Press.
Denver Water gets about half its water from the Colorado River Basin and supplies about a quarter of all Colorado residents. Many other cities of the West not actually within the basin also get Colorado River water, including Cheyenne, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, but even Santa Fe.
Speaking in Santa Fe, Overpeck noted the sharp words among formerly collegial water users in the basin as a reflection of the rising tension about declining flows.
Flows in this 21st century temperature-induced drought are down 19 percent, said Overpeck.
Future flows will almost certainly decline even more, he said. Even if greenhouse gas emissions get contained as outlined in the Paris climate accord, another 1 to 1.5 degrees C (1.8 to 2.7 degrees F) of temperature increase can be expected by 2100. If burning of fossil fuels continues unconstrained, temperatures might increase 5 to 7 degrees C (9 to 12.6 C).
This latter, even hotter climate, he said, will reduce flows in the river by 50 percent. An uptick in wildfire and spring duster storms can also be expected as well. “They’re all related to the same thing.”
Might a warmer atmosphere also produce more precipitation? Don’t bet on it, he said. Even if it does, as some colleagues have persuaded him is possible, he remains sure that warmer temperatures will cause that precipitation to vanish.
Why is he so sure? He points to the climate and hydroclimate modeling that, he said, have produced results consistent with experimental evidence and ongoing observations. In other words, the models seem to work.
As Lukas said, it looks suspiciously like this sort of drought year won’t be all that uncommon in the future.
From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):
Inflow into McPhee Reservoir from the Dolores River has dropped to a historic low, falling below the 2002 levels that were the previous driest year since the reservoir was built.
As a result, supply in the reservoir has also dropped slightly to 16.7 inches per acre, down from earlier estimates of 17 inches per acre for full-service irrigators. During full supply, the rate is 22 inches per acre…
Since April 1, estimates by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center for Dolores River inflow into McPhee dropped by nearly half, from 89,000 acre-feet to 46,000 acre-feet…
Because of an extremely low snowpack this winter and a hot, dry summer, the runoff forecast is at 15 percent of the historical 30-year average of 295,000 acre-feet for April through July. Precipitation for the 2018 water year at McPhee Reservoir, as measured at the Great Cut Dike, is the lowest recorded in the last 35 years.
From The Cortez Journal (Stephanie Alderton):
The town of Mancos is implementing mild water use restrictions to prepare for potential shortages later this year.
On June 14, Town Administrator Heather Alvarez announced that the town would be restricting residents’ outdoor water use. Residents will only be able to water on certain days, depending on their addresses, and only for four hours in the morning and evening. The town is not facing a water shortage right now, Alvarez said, but town staff want to be prepared for one if their water rights are temporarily called by the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
From The Denver Post (John Meyer):
Northern rivers are running at moderate levels or better and flows are excellent on the Arkansas, which ranks annually as the state’s most rafted river by far. Things are more challenging in the southern part of the state, which has been hit hardest by drought.
“For some outfitters, it’s very good right now,” said David Costlow, executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association. “Right now it’s very moderate levels on most of the streams. I talked to an outfitter that’s having a record year so far, another one that’s on track to having a record year. It’s a little bit of a mixed bag, but I think most people are doing quite well.”
The Arkansas, which typically accounts for 35-40 percent of the state’s rafting business, sits in the state’s largest river basin. Southern reaches of that basin had dismal snowfall, which bring down the average for the drainage as a whole, but things were better in its northern reaches to the benefit of prime rafting areas. That was true for other drainages in the north of the state as well…
In fact, conditions are said to be outstanding on the Cache La Poudre, west of Fort Collins, which could be Colorado’s best bet for rafting this summer…
Clear Creek west of Denver is the state’s second-busiest stream for rafting, accounting for 15 percent of user days last year, and it’s doing fine…
The Upper Colorado was running low last week, but that had more to do with water management to fill reservoirs than a lack of snowfall or precipitation, and the river rose this week…
Outfitters also are hopeful that the onset of monsoon season will augment water levels in the coming weeks.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
One headwaters tributary curling around the Great Sand Dunes National Park has dried up. The main stem of the Rio Grande probably won’t make it out of Colorado to New Mexico this summer, state water authorities calculate, let alone Texas and Mexico.
The federal government has designated the San Luis Valley, like most of the land along the Rio Grande’s route to the Gulf of Mexico, as in “extreme drought.” And years of gains by farmers ordered to replenish a depleted underground aquifer, the water equivalent of a savings account, may be lost if farmers with wells turn back to pumping to survive…
The pressure hitting food growers along the Rio Grande headwaters in southern Colorado reflects a widening water squeeze that has revealed the precariousness of life across the southwestern United States, where prolonged dry times and climate change increasingly force adaptation.
Exceptionally low snow in the Rocky Mountain region this year, at 37 percent of “normal” atop the Rio Grande River Basin, is playing out in water volumes less than 20 percent of the 120-year average.
San Luis Valley agricultural leaders warn that the low flows may accelerate a projected loss of 100,000 acres of irrigated land, a fifth of the food production in an area dependent on farming. The low water also is hurting ecosystems, hastening the slide toward extinction of endangered species, including the southwestern willow flycatcher, western yellow-billed cuckoo and Rio Grande silvery minnow…
“The overall point is that river flows are being affected by climate change. We can expect lower flows than the historical average going forward. We need to prepare for that,” said former U.S. interior secretary for water and science Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the University of Colorado.
Southern Colorado, including the San Luis Valley, stands out — with water flows in the Gunnison, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel rivers all less than half of average this year — among the fastest-changing areas…
Like many people, [Cleave] Simpson has access to wells drilled into Rio Grande headwaters alluvial sediment. But he has avoided tapping this source. “I can pump groundwater, but there are consequences of us continuing to overdraft our aquifers,” he said…
Meanwhile, discontent festers downriver, despite the compact that locks in each state’s share of Rio Grande water.
That compact, finalized in 1938, ignores environmental needs. And this year, the low flows along headwaters already have led to a dry-up of the Rio Grande through sensitive stretches south of Albuquerque, hastening the demise of the silvery minnow, one of the nation’s most endangered fish.
“Climate change is exposing the flaws in our system, and these low flows are showing that we cannot continue to allocate water the way we do,” said Jen Pelz, an attorney for WildEarth Guardians, which has filed lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act seeking reduced human use to save species. “Farmers have been given the right to water. But the river does not have any right to water. And when a river does not have water, the trees, the ecosystems, do not receive water. If there’s another dry year, we will have a critical situation on our hands.”
From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):
During a special meeting held on June 7, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board was presented with the re- sults of a rate study conducted by Stantec…
Lay began the presentation by explaining the financial goals of the rate study. Some of the goals included:
• Maintaining a combined debt service coverage ratio of 1.25 per- cent.
• Maintaining adequate reserve requirements.
• Water and wastewater analysis performed as separate utilities and minimizing the rate impacts for both.
• Fund future utility operations and capital investments in the most financially prudent way possible.
Lay also explained that when it came to the water utility there were some assumptions factored into the rate study.
Those assumptions were:
• Utilizing annual cost escala- tion factors, 3 percent for both capital projects and operations and maintenance (O&M) fixed/variable expenses.
• Using a 2 percent growth rate for account growth based on PAWSD’s projections.
• Accounting for a consumption decrease in 2021 and 2025 to plan for a potential drought period.
• A decreased capital improve- ment fee in 2019 to $1,509 per equivalent residential unit (ERU) from $2,658 currently.
• Also decreasing the raw water acquisition fee to $1,726 per ERU from $1,959.
The presentation then moved to what PAWSD’s water rate revenue projections are, as well as projec- tions for funds with no rate adjust- ments for water utility.
Regarding water rate revenue projections, Lay explained that these projections are based on 2 percent account growth rates, but lso include a 5 percent reduction for consumption.
Lay also added that these water rate revenue projections do not include any rate increases from a revenue standpoint.
From the graph within the pre- sentation, PAWSD is projected to increase its water rate revenue each year aside from the fiscal years of 2021 and 2025 in which that 5 per- cent consumption decrease occurs.
Despite those decreases in those two years, in the fiscal year for 2028, PAWSD is projected to have about $4.2 million in water rate revenue.
Conversely, with no rate adjust- ments or debt in regard to water utility, PAWSD is projected to spend more funds than it currently has in the fiscal year for 2018.
This deficit is only projected to grow larger with each fiscal year, and, by 2022, PAWSD is projected to use about $10 million while only having about $4 million available.
For the years 2023-2028, PAWSD would be using about $6 million whilst having only about $4 mil- lion available with no debt or rate adjustments.
Water utility rate scenarios
Lay then presented the board with the three rate scenarios for water utility.
The first rate increase proposed would utilize a 12.5 percent rate adjustment, which was described by Lay as the “baseline scenario.”
This scenario would see rate increases from 2019 to 2021, three months of O&M reserve with no re- duction, 100 percent or $500,000 in annual waterline expenditures and the Snowball treatment plant project being debt funded by $3 million.
Waterline expenditures can also be described as waterline replace- ment, PAWSD District Manager Justin Ramsey added.
The proposed financial impact of this scenario on PAWSD custom- ers could raise their bill an addi- tional $19.35 from the current total of $68.16 to $87.51 in 2028.
All three proposed financial impacts also include the proposed rate increase for wastewater as well.
For all three scenarios, the Snowball treatment plant is debt funded, Lay added.
The second scenario presented by Lay was a 5 percent rate adjust- ment, which was described as the “alternative scenario.”
This scenario would have rate increases from 2019 to 2023, O&M reserves would be reduced below a three-month threshold in 2021- 2024, and waterline expenditures would also be reduced to 20 per- cent or $100,000.
Within the second scenario, PAWSD customers could see their bill increase from the current amount of $68.16 to $82.17 in 2018, an increase of $14.01.
The final alternative, which Lay noted as the “preferred” scenario, involves a 6.5 percent rate adjust- ment.
This scenario has the same rate increase and O&M reductions as described in the second scenario.
However, in this final scenario, only 50 percent or $250,000 would be allocated for annual waterline expenditures.
The financial impact within the preferred scenario would see PAWSD customers average bill in 2018 go from $68.16 to $85.56, an increase of $17.40.
Denver Water employees share their tips and tricks for drinking LOTS of water.
From High Country News (Emily Benson):
In early June, more than 1,000 people near Durango, Colorado, had to leave their homes as the 416 Fire swept across the landscape. Following a dismal snowpack, the region experienced a spring so hot and dry that the U.S. Drought Monitor labeled conditions “exceptional drought,” the worst category.
Colorado wasn’t alone. An irregular bull’s-eye of dryness radiated outward from the entire Four Corners region, where Colorado meets New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. These circumstances offer something of a preview of the coming decades: While experts say the Southwest will continue to experience swings in precipitation from year to year, overall climate change is making the region and its river basins hotter and drier. That means humans must adapt to life with less water. “We have to fundamentally change the mindset of the public, and the way we manage this resource,” says Newsha Ajami, a hydrologist and the director of urban water policy at Stanford University’s Water in the West program. “And one of the ways you do it is, you have to change the terminologies that we use in dealing with water.”
This spring, the Colorado River Research Group, an independent team of scientists focused on the river, labeled the climate transition in the Colorado River Basin “aridification,” meaning a transformation to a drier environment. The call for a move away from the word “drought” highlighted the importance of the specific language used to describe what’s going on in the Southwest: It could shift cultural norms around water use and help people internalize the need to rip out lawns, stop washing cars and refrain from building new diversions on already strapped rivers. As Brad Udall, a member of the research group and a water and climate researcher at Colorado State University, puts it: “Words matter.”
Linguists have long argued over the extent to which words and language influence one’s thoughts and worldview. One commonly cited example of evidence that they do is an Indigenous Australian language that doesn’t use words for left and right. Its speakers orient themselves by the cardinal directions — north and south, east and west — rather than the relative terms typically used in English. Research suggests that in their thoughts and interactions with others, their conceptions of space are radically different from those who speak languages with relative spatial terms. Other studies have probed the ways linguistic differences may influence a wide range of attitudes and outcomes, including support for political policies; entrepreneurial gender gaps among countries; and environmental attitudes of tourists.
But beliefs are not behaviors. Reframing our understanding of the Southwest’s climate — thinking of it as a place experiencing aridification, a dry place getting drier, rather than a place simply waiting for the next drought to end — will have major ramifications only if it changes how people actually use water.
There is some evidence of the inverse — that when people conceive of the problem as a temporary one, they use more water after they believe the emergency has passed. During California’s recent five-year drought, residents of the Golden State cut their water use by a quarter or more amid intense media coverage and water use restrictions. This spring, a year after California Gov. Jerry Brown pronounced that drought over, Californians were using nearly as much water as they had before drought was declared.
How people perceive and value water is essential to shaping how much of it they use, says Patricia Gonzales, a doctoral student studying water resources at Stanford University. And those perceptions and values aren’t created in a vacuum. Officials, experts and the media frame and define the issues; social pressures also play a role. For example, when an entire community is aware that water is scarce, people might avoid washing their cars in order to duck the scorn of water-conserving neighbors. “Everyone can do something,” Gonzales says, even as she and other experts acknowledge that irrigation gulps up most of the West’s water. “But even the small pieces kind of add up when you look at the whole picture of how much water we have available.”
While climate change is already shrinking water resources in the Southwest, we shouldn’t throw out the word “drought” completely, says Connie Woodhouse, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arizona. It’s important to recognize that even a drier future will contain variability. “We’re going to have periods that are wetter, and we’re going to have periods that are drier, within this baseline that almost certainly will be more arid.”
Still, people in the Southwest must adjust to a more parched landscape. “There’s a need to (fundamentally change) the way we talk about these things, to bring attention to the fact that drought is normal,” Gonzales says. In other words, even after the bulls-eye dissipates from this summer’s drought monitor maps, Southwesterners need to keep acting as if that red swath were permanent — a lasting marker of a more arid reality.
Emily Benson is an assistant editor at High Country News.
This article was first published online at High Country News on June 22, 2018.
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
A four-year pilot program that paid ranchers and farmers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico about $200 per acre-foot of water saved by fallowing fields in order boost water levels in Lake Powell will be put on hold after 2018.
On Wednesday, the five members of the Upper Colorado River Commission unanimously passed a resolution to that effect at a board meeting.
“Although the pilot (program) has helped explore the feasibility of some aspect of demand management programs, it does not provide a means for the upper (basin) states to account, store and release conserved water in a way which will help assure full compliance with the Colorado River Compact in times of drought,” the resolution said.
“Demand management” generally means finding ways to save, or conserve, water by paying willing irrigators to divert less water from streams and rivers by fallowing some of their fields for all, or part, of an irrigation system.
This year, $3.9 million is expected to be paid out to ranchers and farmers in the upper basin, which will make it the biggest year of the program, but that will be it for the System Conservation Pilot Program in the upper basin.
The ending of the program in the upper basin does not mean the commission is giving up on getting more water into the upper Colorado River system in order to raise water levels in Lake Powell, as that interest continues to grow as the drought that began in 2000 lingers.
“I view it more of a change in direction rather than a value judgment of system conservation,” said Pat Tyrrell, who represents Wyoming on the commission and also is the Wyoming state water engineer.
In introducing the proposed resolution, Tyrrell said “there are some things (the pilot program) simply cannot do.”
The pilot program “does not allow the upper (basin) states to sufficiently investigate storage or the additional administrative, technical, operational, economic and legal considerations necessary to explore the feasibility of demand management as part of its ongoing emergency drought contingency planning efforts,” the resolution adopted by the commission states.
Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District based in Glenwood Springs, supported the commission’s decision.
“I think it is an appropriate temporary halt in the Upper Colorado River Commission’s support for the SCPP,” he said after the meeting in Santa Fe. “Mainly because in order for a conserved consumptive use program like this to work, the upper basin needs a pool of water designated in Lake Powell that we can use as a water bank. We don’t currently have that, and until that’s there, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of our of society’s resources on the program.”
Lake Powell is 53 percent full today, and if the water level in the huge reservoir falls much further, it will mean that first, hydropower can no longer be produced by the turbines in Glen Canyon Dam, which forms the reservoir, and second, that not enough water can physically be released to meet the upper basin state’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact to send water to the lower basin states, which include California, Arizona and Nevada.
So while there is room in Lake Powell to hold more water sent down from the upper basin states, there is no way to securely store the water from a legal perspective. Today, any water that reaches Powell is fair game to be sent on to Lake Mead and the lower basin states, which defeats the purpose of sending water there to bolster its operational water level.
But there is a legal way to protect such a pool of water in Lake Mead. It’s called an “intentionally created surplus” (ICS). Water managers in the upper basin states would like to see something similar created in Lake Powell through federal legislation, although they prefer the term “demand management storage” to distinguish it from “intentionally created surplus,” which is a term shaped by, and tied to, the 2007 interim guidelines that currently dictate how Lake Powell and Lake Mead are managed together.
The pilot program began paying ranchers and farmers in 2015 to fallow fields and let water run down the river system toward Lake Powell. Originally set-up as a two-year program, it was extended for one year in 2017, and then another in 2018.
The program has paid for fallowing in both the upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico and in the lower basin states.
The overall system conservation program initially was funded by an $11 million pool provided by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Denver Water, in partnership with Reclamation.
The Walton Family Foundation also contributed financially to the upper basin program through a contribution to Denver Water (the Walton Family Foundation also supports Aspen Journalism), and Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy invested a lot of staff time to help make the program work.
The funding for the program, which includes both a lower basin and an upper basin component, grew over the years, with the upper basin eventually having access to a $9.5 million pool of funds, according to Amy Haas, the incoming executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.
(Haas is replacing Don Ostler, who is stepping down into a consulting role after 14 years at the commission. Haas, who is from New Mexico, is the current general counsel of the commission and officially starts as executive director on July 1).
Haas said she expects the system conservation program in the lower basin will continue if pending legislation in Congress is approved to re-authorize the program, and she clarified that the commission’s resolution passed this week only applies to the upper basin program.
In the first three years in the upper basin, 45 fallowing efforts were funded, including 15 in Colorado, at an average cost of $205 an acre-foot of conserved consumptive use — water that would have otherwise been consumed by various crops.
And not all of the funds in the system went to irrigators, as two municipal projects were also involved in the first three years of program, including one with the Pueblo Board of Water Works.
In those three years, about 22,116 acre-feet of water was left in the upper Colorado River system at a total cost of $4.6 million.
Individual contracts in the first three years of the program ranged from $6,300 to $635,000, depending on the number of acres fallowed and for how long.
The 22,000 acre-feet of water sent down to Lake Powell in the first three years of the pilot program represents a tiny drop in a big bucket, as the reservoir holds 24.3 million acre-feet of water when full.
It’s also not clear how much of the non-diverted water reached Lake Powell. Program administrators knew there was no guarantee the water would make it past other diverters without the legal ability to “shepherd” the water downstream.
On the other hand, fallowing projects were chosen in part because of their locations. Water from the Colorado River not consumed in the Grand Valley, for example, has a decent chance of making it through Westwater and Cataract canyons to reach Lake Powell.
However, officials said the experimental effort was not ever meant to physically change the level of Lake Powell, but to see what lessons could be learned from setting up such a program.
According to a candid report on the program released by the commission in February, the lessons learned in the upper basin included that the program was valued by some ranchers and farmers, but distrusted by others, that the program was hard to administer due to the many individual contracts required, and that in order for the program to really make a difference, it would need to be dramatically scaled up, and the resulting saved water would need to be securely shepherded to, and held in, Lake Powell or some other reservoir, and not just sent into the river system.
On June 22, Scott Yates, the director of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat Program, issued a statement praising the program.
“We’re extremely proud to have worked with agricultural producers interested in the System Conservation Pilot Program,” Yates said. “The SCPP has proved the enormous potential for water demand management to address drought and climate impacts on the Colorado River Basin’s water supplies.
“We’ve learned that there is significant interest among ranchers and farmers for a program that compensates them for voluntary, temporary reductions in water use. That was a key question about SCPP — would agricultural producers respond to market-based incentives? The answer is an unqualified ‘yes.’
“TU believes that the SCPP in the Upper Basin has been successful in allowing producers to explore whether using their water right in this innovative way can benefit their operations. Many participants embraced the SCPP approach, especially if such a program can operate over the longer-term,” Yates said.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story in its print edition on Friday, June 22, 2018.
Cary Kennedy: Will “guarantee” all Colorado homes and businesses can choose 100 percent renewable energy and double the state renewable energy standard, which currently requires cooperative utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewables.
Jared Polis: Pledges to protect public lands from “Donald Trump and polluters.” Will create path to 100 percent renewable energy as way to protect the environment and create “good-paying green jobs that can’t be outsourced.” Says 100 percent renewable energy is achievable “by 2040 or sooner” (Colorado Independent).
Donna Lynne: Advocates for a “‘no slogans’ balanced approach to energy production” that includes local control on where and how energy production happens, property rights, and people who work in extraction industries. Says “health and safety of all Coloradans is our top priority when we are dealing with energy and the environment.”
Mike Johnston: Launched his campaign with the 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 pledge. Wants to increase setbacks for oil and gas wells, cap orphan wells and “avoid drilling in ecologically sensitive areas.”
Walker Stapleton: Calls for a “stable business environment to ensure a low-cost energy supply that will attract and retain businesses in Colorado.” Says he won’t pursue “agenda-driven, burdensome, job-killing regulations.” Wants better state-federal communication on how federal lands are managed. Says he is running because he fears a Democratic governor would “end the energy industry” in Colorado (Colorado Independent).
Greg Lopez: Argues that the state coal industry “has been unfairly treated by bureaucrats” from out of state and reminds people that coal-fired plants are likely what’s charging their electric cars. Does not think 100 percent renewable energy is feasibly by 2040 and says diversification “remains the most prudent approach” to energy. (Colorado Independent)
Doug Robinson: Says the oil and gas industry “plays a vital role” in the state and can balance environmental protections “by supporting common sense regulations.” Supports all-of-the-above energy strategy and says “it is not the role of government to pick winners and losers,” in reference to a push for 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 (Colorado Independent).
Victor Mitchell: Says climate change “is likely real” and that the federal government should launch “moonshot” initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Says government also should not choose “winners and losers,” either with subsidies or “excessive” taxes and regulations. Notes fossil fuels are currently most reliable and least expensive energy, but it could be different tomorrow. Calls preserving the environment, air quality and water supply “paramount to our future and quality of life.”
From Inside Climate News (Sabrina Shankman):
The amount of methane leaking from the nation’s oil and gas fields may be 60 percent higher than the official estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study in the journal Science.
The study, led by a group of scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), presents some of the most compelling evidence to date that switching to gas from dirtier fuels like coal might not be as effective a climate strategy as its proponents suggest unless the gas industry improves how it controls leaks…
The authors estimated, conservatively, that methane equivalent to 2.3 percent of all the natural gas produced in the nation is leaking during the production, processing and transportation of oil and gas every year. That doesn’t count leaks from local delivery lines, another widespread problem.
This much leaked methane would have roughly the same climate impact in the short-term as emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants, the authors found.
Another way to put it: This rate of leaking methane is just as bad for the climate in the short term as the carbon dioxide that results from burning natural gas for fuel.
From the Arizona Department of Water Resources:
By clear consensus, the most important issue currently facing the Colorado River system is the as-yet unresolved question of what the states will do to lessen the risks of draconian shortages on the Colorado River.
What, exactly, will the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada — do to assure that instability at Lake Mead doesn’t lead toward the perilous state known as “dead pool,” in which water no longer can be drawn from the reservoir?
For several years, all seven Colorado River states, as well as the federal Bureau of Reclamation, have wrestled with the questions surrounding shortage on the Colorado River – how to implement a comprehensive Drought Contingency Plan that will manage the risks of an unstable Lake Mead presented by the on-going regional drought and over-allocation of river water.
In 2007, the seven states and the federal government (joined, in 2017, by the Republic of Mexico) agreed to specific shortage “trigger levels” – that is, specified water levels at the system’s most threatened reservoir, Lake Mead – and the reduced water-delivery volumes that would result from hitting those “triggers.”
Eleven years later, it is clear those triggers – formally, the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead — are not enough.
Arizona is the only state in the system that requires legislative approval to sign a plan with our out-of-state river partners to deal with the difficult questions surrounding a shortage. The State’s water community is contending with those issues now.
On Thursday, June 28, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project will co-sponsor a panel discussion of the systemic risks posed by potential shortage, as well as announce the kick off of an Arizona discussion on how to adopt and implement the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
The event will include presentations from ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke and CAP General Manager Ted Cooke, as well as demonstrations depicting current river conditions from Bureau of Reclamation staff.
There will be a limited question-and-answer session following the presentations, follow up discussions scheduled for later in the month.
What: A Joint Briefing by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project on a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan
Who: Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman; ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke; CAP General Manager Ted Cooke, as well as input from Colorado River technical experts from ADWR, CAP and the Bureau of Reclamation
When: June 28, 1-4 pm
Where: The Arizona Historical Society Museum auditorium at the Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park, 1300 N. College Avenue, Tempe
Special Note: The event will be livestreamed.
From KOAA.com (Tyler Dumas):
The fee, which was Ballot Issue 2A, was passed by 54 percent in the November 7, 2017 special combined election. The ballot measure approved a dedicated municipal government storm water fee that will generate $16 – $17 million in annual funding for critical storm water infrastructure, regulatory permit compliance, and maintenance operations for the City’s storm water program, according to the City.
What this means for Springs residents is all residential units with water services through Colorado Springs Utilities will be assessed a $5 per unit monthly fee that will be collected through residents’ utilities bill. The City said it has partnered with Colorado Springs Utilities to administer the monthly residential fee on its behalf as it is the most cost effective billing mechanism. Residential units within the city limits without an active water services agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities will be billed through a separate billing agency.
The monthly fee for non-residential parcels will be $30 per acre. Non-residential parcels over five acres will be individually assessed and undeveloped or unimproved land will not be counted as they do not significantly contribute to storm water runoff.
With this dedicated funding mechanism freeing general fund dollars, the City said it plans to hire an additional 20 police officers, eight firefighters and two fire inspectors in 2018. These positions are part of a larger plan to add 120 police officers over the next five years.
For more information about the storm water fee and the City’s storm water program, visit http://ColoradoSprings.gov/stormwater or call (719) 385-7876.
From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Monte Vista Journal:
The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board awarded an $18,683 grant last Thursday to Creede State Wildlife Area to convert overgrown ponds to a youth-only fishing pond.
The grant is part of GOCO’s CPW Director’s Innovation Fund (DIF), a partnership between GOCO and CPW to create a funding source for one-time, innovative projects that would not otherwise receive funding from either organization. CPW receives half of GOCO’s funding each year for statewide programs, wildlife, and state parks through an annual investment proposal, however many innovative, small-dollar projects fall outside current funding parameters.
The nearest public fishing lake is more than 20 miles away, and the newly funded project at the state wildlife area will build a kid-friendly pond within walking distance of the local public school. In addition to being more convenient for families, creating a youth-only pond will give local kids an opportunity to learn to fish in a less competitive environment than the tourist-packed areas on the Upper Rio Grande.
Mineral County Road and Bridge has already donated a significant amount of heavy equipment and operator time for preliminary site preparation work. Mineral County re-contoured the pond, placed large boulders in it to improve fish habitat, and removed overgrown vegetation.
GOCO funding will help CPW rehabilitate a well that has not been used for at least 30 years. The agency owns water rights to the well, but it needs a new pump and water supply line to become operational again.
Fishing clinics will be scheduled through Creede Public Schools and other community organizations like the Creede Elks Club, which has also donated funding to the project. The pond will also host angler education events and fishing derbies for local kids.
The state wildlife area will begin removing sediment and rehabbing the well this spring, with construction on the pond wrapping up by the end of summer. The pond should be open to the public by fall 2018.
To date, GOCO has invested $5.5 million in projects in Mineral County and has conserved more than 4,200 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported Creede’s Basham Park, San Luis Valley Inspire, and the Creede skate park, among other projects.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a Constitutional Amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,000 projects in urban and rural areas in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
New website offers better access to Windy Gap Firming Project info
Northern Water and the Municipal Subdistrict have launched a revamped website to provide easy-to-find data regarding the Windy Gap Firming Project and its chief component, Chimney Hollow Reservoir.
The site, http://chimneyhollow.org, offers answers to frequently asked questions, information for potential contractors and download-ready fact sheets. In addition, it offers a video from Gov. John Hickenlooper that discusses his endorsement of the project as well as its place in the the Colorado Water Plan.
As the project moves forward, the site will also present information related to the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir as well as the mitigation and enhancement efforts being conducted by Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict.
The project also has a presence on Facebook, found here.
Click here to listen to the podcast from H2O Radio. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
Agriculture uses a lot of water. But what if that water were used for more than growing food? What if it could generate energy—renewable energy? It can, and a program in Colorado is helping farmers harness hydropower to lower costs, save time—and conserve the water itself.
Tyler Snyder ranches just outside Yampa, Colorado, in the northwest part of the state, and he has several hundred acres that were part of several old homesteads. Back in the early 1900s, farmers grew potatoes, head lettuce, and strawberries on his fields by flooding meadows with diverted water.
Snyder is pretty impressed that those early settlers dug ditches in these rocky conditions using only picks and mules pulling plows—partly because he recently spent months digging miles of trench himself. It was slow going and time-consuming because he had to screen out rocks to make sure nothing would sit against pipe he was laying.
More than a century later, Snyder has installed pipelines that move water differently on his property than those historic ditches—a move that is saving him time, labor, and money—plus conserving the water itself.
A whooshing sound pierces the air as water starts to flow through the pipe. It’s going to a “center pivot” in the meadow where we’re standing. A center pivot is a way of irrigating that makes those bright green circles you see from airplanes. Water comes up in the middle of a field and motorized wheels move a long arm with sprinklers around in a circle.
But Snyder’s center pivot is different that ones you might see in other parts of the country. It’s a “hydro-mechanical” center pivot for irrigation. It’s called hydro-mechanical because it’s powered by moving water—no diesel or electricity are required to make it work—just gravity. The pressure that builds as the water is piped down the hillside is great enough to spin a turbine, which provides energy for its hydraulic motors.
After the pivot pressurizes, water starts to spray out of nozzles strung along the long arm that stretches over a quarter of a mile out into Snyder’s field, putting the droplets exactly where they need to go.
Snyder says that flood irrigation uses only about 30-40 percent of the water in order to grow the same quality crop as you do with an efficiency project that uses all the water that you put on because it doesn’t run off. He says when he was flood irrigating the water would collect at the bottom of his fields, often leaving the top land burnt and dry.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt>
An active weather pattern brought rain to areas of the northern Rocky Mountains, northern Plains, Upper Midwest and Southwest and along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida. The rain in the Southwest was from the remnants of tropical storm Bud, which came up the Gulf of California and brought much-needed moisture into the region. Tropical moisture also flowed inland off the Gulf of Mexico, bringing heavy coastal rains at the end of the current U.S. Drought Monitor period. A series of events brought heavy rains from Montana to Wisconsin along the northern tier of the country, with up to 6-8 inches of rain over much of Wisconsin for the week. Temperatures for the week were at or above normal for most of the country, with only the northern Rocky Mountains, portions of the Southwest, and the Eastern Seaboard being below normal. Areas of the Plains had triple-digit heat, with areas of Nebraska and Kansas having departures of 6-10 degrees above normal for the week…
The northern portions of the region were cooler than normal with widespread rain over the western Dakotas while most of the rest of the region had temperatures that were 6-9 degrees above normal, and most areas from central and eastern Nebraska into eastern Kansas were drier than normal for the week. Precipitation amounts that were 1-2 inches above normal fell along the Nebraska and South Dakota border and in and around the Omaha metro area in eastern Nebraska. Improvements were made over most of northern and western North Dakota, where moderate and severe drought was improved and the extent of the abnormally dry areas was also reduced. A full category improvement was also made over western South Dakota as the short-term pattern has brought enough precipitation that only lingering long-term issues remain. The impact designation over the western Dakotas was also changed to long-term. In eastern South Dakota, the short-term dryness as well as the heat allowed for the expansion of both moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions to the south. Moderate drought was expanded in southeast Nebraska along the Kansas border…
Most of the region was near normal precipitation for the week, with portions of west Texas and areas along the Gulf Coast receiving above-normal precipitation. Some areas of south Texas and near the Louisiana border were 5-7 inches above normal for the week as tropical moisture flowed onshore, bringing good coastal rains. Widespread improvements were made over western Texas and into the panhandles of both Texas and Oklahoma, with a full category improvement where the best rains occurred. A full category improvement was also made along most coastal areas from southern Texas and into Louisiana. Degradation took place over much of eastern Texas and Oklahoma, Arkansas and northwest Louisiana. The short-term dryness and heat has allowed for drought to continue to develop quite rapidly. A large area of severe drought was introduced this week over southeast Oklahoma, northeast Texas and into southwest Arkansas. Moderate drought filled in most of east Texas and more of northwest Louisiana and southwest Arkansas…
Most of Montana has been quite wet over both the short- and long-term, but there are pockets of dryness remaining and developing in the northwest portion of the state. Widespread precipitation over much of eastern Idaho, Wyoming, and southern Montana has kept these areas drought free. Tropical moisture came up the Gulf of California and into the Southwest over the weekend, bringing cooler temperatures and widespread precipitation over both Arizona and New Mexico and into central Colorado. No changes were made in Arizona, but the rains allowed from some improvement to the severe and extreme drought over eastern New Mexico as well as some minor improvements in southeast Colorado. Abnormally dry conditions were introduced into northwest Montana, northern Idaho and extreme northeast Washington while moderate drought was introduced into north central Montana…
Over the next 5-7 days, an active weather pattern continues to slowly move east out of the Plains and into the Midwest, bringing with it cooler temperatures and very heavy rain. The areas forecast to have the greatest precipitation are in the northwest portions of Iowa southeast into southern Indiana, the Gulf coast of Texas, and northeast Oklahoma, northwest Arkansas, and southwest Missouri. Much of the eastern two-thirds of the country is expecting precipitation while the West and Southwest will remain dry. Temperatures will remain below normal in the areas of the Plains and Midwest where the greatest precipitation occurs while the West and Southwest should expect daily high temperatures to be 8-10 degrees above normal.
The 6-10 day outlooks show that the chances for above-normal temperatures remain quite high over most of the United States, with the exception of Alaska, the northern Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest. The wet pattern looks to continue as the central and northern Plains, Midwest, and South all are showing above-normal chances of recording above-normal precipitation, with the greatest chances over the Midwest. Higher than normal chances of below-normal precipitation look to be projected from the Pacific Northwest southeast into Texas during this time as well.
Here’s the release from the USGS (Mia Drane-Maury, Cheryl Dieter):
Reductions in water use first observed in 2010 continue, show ongoing effort towards “efficient use of critical water resources.”
Water use across the country reached its lowest recorded level in 45 years. According to a new USGS report, 322 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn for use in the United States during 2015.
This represents a 9 percent reduction of water use from 2010 when about 354 Bgal/d were withdrawn and the lowest level since before 1970 (370 Bgal/d).
“The downward trend in water use shows a continued effort towards efficient use of critical water resources, which is encouraging,” said Tim Petty, assistant secretary for Water and Science at the Department of the Interior. “Water is the one resource we cannot live without, and when it is used wisely, it helps to ensure there will be enough to sustain human needs, as well as ecological and environmental needs.”
In 2015, more than 50 percent of the total withdrawals in the United States were accounted for by 12 states (in order of withdrawal amounts): California, Texas, Idaho, Florida, Arkansas, New York, Illinois, Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, and Nebraska.
California accounted for almost 9 percent of the total withdrawals for all categories and 9 percent of total freshwater withdrawals. Texas accounted for about 7 percent of total withdrawals for all categories, predominantly for thermoelectric power generation, irrigation, and public supply.
Florida had the largest share of saline withdrawals, accounting for 23 percent of the total in the country, mostly saline surface-water withdrawals for thermoelectric power generation. Texas and California accounted for 59 percent of the total saline groundwater withdrawals in the United States, mostly for mining.
“The USGS is committed to providing comprehensive reports of water use in the country to ensure that resource managers and decision makers have the information they need to manage it well,” said USGS director Jim Reilly. “These data are vital for understanding water budgets in the different climatic settings across the country.”
For the first time since 1995, the USGS estimated consumptive use for two categories — thermoelectric power generation and irrigation. Consumptive use is the fraction of total water withdrawals that is unavailable for immediate use because it is evaporated, transpired by plants, or incorporated into a product.
“Consumptive use is a key component of the water budget. It’s important to not only know how much water is being withdrawn from a source, but how much water is no longer available for other immediate uses,” said USGS hydrologist Cheryl Dieter.
The USGS estimated a consumptive use of 4.31 Bgal/d, or 3 percent of total water use for thermoelectric power generation in 2015. In comparison, consumptive use was 73.2 Bgal/d, or 62 percent of total water use for irrigation in 2015.
Water withdrawn for thermoelectric power generation was the largest use nationally at 133 Bgal/d, with the other leading uses being irrigation and public supply, respectively. Withdrawals declined for thermoelectric power generation and public supply, but increased for irrigation. Collectively, these three uses represented 90 percent of total withdrawals.
Thermoelectric power decreased 18 percent from 2010, the largest percent decline of all categories. Irrigation withdrawals (all freshwater) increased 2 percent. Public-supply withdrawals decreased 7 percent.
Trends in total water withdrawals by water-use category, 1950-2015.
A number of factors can be attributed to the 18 percent decline in thermoelectric-power withdrawals, including a shift to power plants that use more efficient cooling-system technologies, declines in withdrawals to protect aquatic life, and power plant closures.
As it did in the period between 2005 and 2010, withdrawals for public supply declined between 2010 and 2015, despite a 4 percent increase in the nation’s total population. The number of people served by public-supply systems continued to increase and the public-supply domestic per capita use declined to 82 gallons per day in 2015 from 88 gallons per day in 2010. Total domestic per capita use (public supply and self-supplied combined) decreased from 87 gallons per day in 2010 to 82 gallons per day in 2015.
The USGS is the world’s largest provider of water data and the premier water research agency in the federal government.
From KJZZ.org (Bret Jaspers):
Time to reboot
In a joint interview, Tom Buschatzke, the director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, and Ted Cooke, the general manager of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, said they have been talking for the past several weeks.
Federal officials will visit Tempe next week for a briefing on the Colorado River. The event features a keynote speech from U.S. Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, who in late May urged the Lower Basin to finish DCP.
“On the one hand, I don’t want to say that the only reason that Tom and I are [embarking on] this initiative is because we’ve been pressured to do so by folks,” Cooke said of the renewed effort to finish DCP. “On the other hand, I don’t want to say it’s a complete coincidence of timing.”
Having Burman kick off a public process will serve to remind people, Buschatzke said, that Arizona has been better off when it avoid lawsuits. “When the state’s moved with the federal government into that paradigm, away from ‘let’s have a bunch of big fights and litigation,’ we better controlled our own destiny,” he said.
The rest of the basin looks on
Fights and litigation would only delay a coordinated response to continued high temperatures and slipping water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
“The situation in Arizona is a topic of a lot of discussion in the upper basin,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water.
He said Arizona’s internal conflict has led to political problems in Colorado.
“It puts pressure on Denver Water as a municipal utility, taking water out of the Colorado River, and it exacerbates historic animosities and relationships between Western Colorado and Denver Water,” Lochhead said.
Lochhead sent a letter to the Central Arizona Project in April threatening to pull out of a program to conserve water unless the lower basin made real progress on its plan.
Shortage is so imminent, California has even agreed to take reductions — something the current rules don’t require it to do.
“And you have to ask yourself, given the position that you are in, why would you let that opportunity go by?” said Pat Mulroy, a longtime water leader in Nevada who is now at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
But before it can sign a Lower Basin plan, Arizona needs its own internal deal.
One sticky subject is what to do about farmers in central Arizona, who would take a big hit under the current rules.
“How do we find a way to make things less painful for them? Not completely painless, but less painful,” Cooke said.
Another big issue is determining who gets to decide when certain conserved water stays on Lake Mead
It’s a major question that Buschatzke said was still “under discussion.”
“We will work that out,” Cooke said.
To get to “yes,” Buschatzke and Cooke agreed they’ll have to avoid letting side issues divert the talks.
Buschatzke said his task is “to find a collective way to create a package where everyone is better off with the package, even though there might be individual pieces of that package that they might not particularly like 100 percent.”
By rebooting negotiations, Arizona gets another chance at writing something it can live with.
Bret Jaspers reports for KJZZ in Phoenix. This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between public radio and TV stations in the West, and part of a project covering the Colorado River produced by KUNC in northern Colorado.
From The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):
Local, state and federal officials told residents in the western Boulder County area served by the Sugarloaf Fire Protection District they will meet soon to create a plan for future testing, as needed, for perfluorinated compounds in area well water.
Those intentions were shared with about 50 homeowners in the Sugarloaf area who attended a Tuesday evening board meeting of the Sugarloaf district at its Station 2.
The session was attended by, in addition to the concerned residents, representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Boulder County Public Health and the fire protection district.
Inquiries by homeowners, according to county health department spokeswoman Chana Goussetis, included questions about “type B” firefighting foam, which has been discussed as a potential cause of the well contamination; how to select a lab for testing of private well water; recommendations for reverse osmosis filters to make water safe; and future testing plans…
Representatives from all of the agencies will meet soon to create a plan, “which will include where additional sampling is needed,” Goussetis wrote in an email. “This will involve looking closely at the geology of the area to identify homes that most likely will be impacted.”
Well water at both Stations 1 and 2 have now been tested, and they each tested positive for perfluoroocatanaic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulphate (PFOS) at levels far exceeding the EPA’s advisory level of 70 parts per trillion.
That prompted the district to test wells of 10 homeowners living within 1,300 feet of Station 1.
Sugarloaf volunteer John Winchester said that of those 10, six had no detectable PFCs, and the other four had “various” levels. He said specific data would not be released out of respect for homeowners’ privacy.
However, the Boulder County Health Department has said that only one of the 10 showed levels above the EPA advisory levels. That homeowner has not returned calls from the Camera seeking comment on the situation.
Goussetis on Wednesday reported that no other homeowners to date have been found to have wells showing contamination above the EPA advisory level. However, she added, there may be homeowners who had ordered tests whose results are not yet known.
Future testing, she said, “will likely” also include homes near Station 2, due to the levels of PFCs already detected there.
County health officials are recommending that mountain area residents test their well water not only for PFCs, but also for heavy metals, E. coli and other bacteria to fully understand the status of their water.
Meanwhile a report finds that PFCs are more toxic than originally thought. Here’s a report from Ellen Knickmeyer writing for The Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:
The chemicals are called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl. They were used in such goods as fire-suppressing foam, nonstick pans, fast-food wrappers, and stain-resistant fabric and carpet, but are no longer used in U.S. manufacturing. Water sampling has found contamination in water around military bases, factories and other sites.
Exposure at high levels is linked to liver damage, developmental problems and some forms of cancer, among other risks.
A draft of the report, by the Department of Health and Human Services’ toxicology office, had set off alarms within the Trump administration earlier this year. A January email from a White House official, released under the Freedom of Information Act, referred to the findings as a “potential public relations nightmare.”
The draft went under months of government review before Wednesday’s publication, but the key finding — that the chemicals are dangerous at specific levels much lower than previously stated — was not changed.
The EPA, which scheduled a series of hearings on the chemicals, said last month that it would move toward formally declaring the two most common forms of PFAS as hazardous substances and make recommendations for groundwater cleanup, among other steps.
U.S. manufacturers agreed in 2006 to an EPA-crafted deal to stop using one of the most common forms of the chemical in consumer products.
The findings will likely lead state and local water systems with the contaminant to boost filtering.
“The more we test, the more we find,” Olga Naidenko, a science adviser to the Environmental Working Group nonprofit, said Wednesday.
From KRDO.com (Kasey Kershner):
Colorado Springs Utilities administrators say they are already seeing some of the initial effects of low precipitation levels and snowpack.
Right now, the last bit of runoff from the winter snow is melting and draining into local reservoirs. Normally, the snowpack would stick around for a few more weeks…
Kalsoum Abbasi, a planning supervisor in water conveyance group at Colorado Springs Utilities, says the area had average levels of moisture and snowpack in the last few years, meaning the water storage levels are looking good, despite the drought.
Some of the major storage reservoirs like Pueblo, Turquoise, and Twin Lakes all have good water supplies right now. Abassi says there is about three years’ worth of water built up in storage, so there likely will not be any water restrictions for residents anytime soon.
Looking to some of the other bodies of water, like Rampart Reservoir west of Woodland Park, water levels are already seemingly low.
Abassi says last summer, average customer demand for water was about 85-90 million gallons per day. This year, Colorado Springs Utilities says demand is running closer to 120 million gallons per day on the hot and dry days we have seen so far.