“I was at the #BigThompson disaster” — Allen Best

Here’s the Coyote Gulch 40th anniversary post from 2016. There’s a great passage from Allen Best who was part of the rescue effort back then. Click through for all the links to the Coloradoan and other online content.

If you live in Denver subscribe to The Denver Post. Their link for Allen’s article is still up. And since I”m pitching journalism here subscribe to Allen’s Newsletter.

Understanding Falling Municipal Water Demand in a Small City Dependent on the Declining Ogallala Aquifer: Case Study of Clovis, New Mexico

Clovis, New Mexico. Photo credit: Clovis and Curry County Chamber of Commerce

Here’s the abstract from WorldScientific.com:

Municipal water demand has declined over the past several decades in many large cities in the western United States. The same is true in Clovis, New Mexico, which is a small town in arid eastern New Mexico, whose sole water source is from the dwindling southern Ogallala Aquifer. Using premises-level monthly panel data from 2006 to 2015 combined with climate data and additional controls, we apply a fixed effects instrumental variable approach to estimate municipal water demand. Results indicate that utility-controlled actions such as price increases and rebates for xeriscaping and water saving technology have contributed to the decline. Overall water demand was found to be price inelastic and in the neighborhood of −0.50; however, premises receiving toilet and washing machine rebates were relatively more price inelastic and premises receiving landscaping rebates were more price elastic, though still inelastic. In addition, the average premises receiving its first toilet rebate reduced water use by 8.4%, washing machine rebates lowered use by 9.2%, and the average landscaping rebate reduced water use by less than 5.0%. From the utility’s perspective, and assuming a 5.0% discount rate, levelized cost analysis indicates that toilet rebates are 34% more cost effective than washing machine rebates and nearly 800% more cost effective than landscaping rebates over their respective lives per volume of water conserved. While this research focuses on Clovis, estimation results can be leveraged by other small to mid-sized cities experiencing declining supplies, confronting climate change, and with little opportunity for near-term supply enhancement.

Basalt: @USBR to Host Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations Public Meeting, August 9, 2018

Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting to discuss the Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations for the 2018 water year.

The meeting will be held on August 9, 2018, from 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the following location:

Roaring Fork Conservancy River Center
22800 Two Rivers Road
Basalt, CO 81621

The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2018 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. Also, representatives of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give a presentation on the upcoming implementation of the Ute Water Conservancy District lease of Ruedi Reservoir water to the Board for instream flow use in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.

For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 962-4394, or tmiller@usbr.gov.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

#ColoradoRiver District: 2018 Annual Water Seminar “Risky Business On The Colorado River” @ColoradoWater #COriver

Beginnings. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register. From the website:

The risk of draining a half-full Lake Powell is real. The risk one-third full Lake Mead going lower and triggering big water cutbacks is real. Uncle Sam has told the states to develop drought plans or else the U.S. will do it for them. Speakers and panels from the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Upper Colorado River Commission, the Colorado River District and others will detail current conditions on the river and what the states plan to do about them. Whether you are a toothbrusher, ag producer, angler or rafter, there’s a lot to care about.

Cost is $30 and that includes lunch; $35 at the door. Students are free unless staying for lunch, which is $10

Registration Form

For information, call Meredith at 970-945-8522 or email mspyker@crwcd.org.

Speakers include:

John Entsminger, General Manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority
Amy Haas, the new Executive Director of the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC) (invited)
Eric Kuhn, retired Colorado River District General Manager, adviser to the UCRC
Andy Mueller, General Manager of the Colorado River District
Brenda Burman, Commissioner, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (invited)

and more . . .

Click here to view the Twitter fest from last year (#crdseminar).

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Halt Teenagers’ Climate Lawsuit #ActOnClimate

From Bloomberg (Greg Stohr):

Rejecting a Trump administration request, the high court let the case proceed toward a trial that’s scheduled for later this year. The administration sought to block further progress on the three-year-old Oregon case until a federal trial judge acts on the government’s bid to throw out the lawsuit.

The justices’ order said the administration’s request was premature. The court added that breadth of the lawsuit’s claims was “striking” and the question of whether they can be decided by a court “presents substantial grounds for difference of opinion.” The justices said the trial judge should take those matters into account in considering whether to make a “prompt ruling” on other government efforts to end the lawsuit.

The group of mostly teenagers say government policies have exacerbated global warming in violation of their constitutional rights and those of future generations. They want the government to put in place a plan to phase out carbon emissions and stabilize the Earth’s climate…

The lawyers pressing the case said the government was trying to short-circuit the usual litigation process. They contended that “the harm to the climate system threatens the very foundation of life, including the personal security, liberties, and property” of the youths involved in the case.

The case is United States v. U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, 18A65.

Non-native tamarisk are demonized across the West, but are they really the enemy? — Cronkite News

From Cronkite News (Rae Ellen Bichell):

The tamarisk, which was brought to the U.S. from Eurasia in the late 1800s for erosion control, windbreaks and decoration, is much detested. Since its introduction, tamarisk – also known as salt cedar – has been blamed for choking waterways, hogging water and salting the earth as its range expands, driving out such native trees as cottonwood and willows. In Palisade, Colorado, a state lab is breeding beetles whose sole purpose is to destroy tamarisk. At one point, the University of Nevada published a poster about the plant titled WANTED – Dead, Not Alive!

“There’s been a concerted effort to demonize tamarisk,” said Matt Chew, a historian of invasion biology at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences. But he thinks this war is aimed at the wrong enemy.

The tree, he said, is a scapegoat for our struggle with something much bigger and messier than weedy fields: our relationship with water in the West.

The tamarisk has a reputation for hogging water – but is it warranted?

“This is one of the constant counts against tamarisk – that it’s wasting water,” Chew said. “That particular idea got started in the late 1930s and early 1940s for a very particular reason.”

Back then, Chew says, the Phelps Dodge Corp. wanted to expand its copper mine in Arizona, but it didn’t have the water it needed for the additional mining and processing. All the water rights to a nearby creek and river had been allocated.

“What they needed was an excuse to say there was more water in the rivers so that Phelps Dodge could have more water,” Chew said. “So, where are they going to get more water?”

Phelps Dodge inspected nearby water sources and found lots of tamarisk growing along the banks, Chew said. Mine officials rationalized that if they could prove the tamarisk was draining river water, he said, the mine could potentially get the rights to the “extra” water available by killing tamarisk.

“Phelps Dodge did a bunch of experiments which were later picked up by the Agriculture Department,” Chew said, adding that Phelps Dodge ended up getting its water rights through other means, but the tamarisk’s image was destroyed.

As Chew writes in the “Journal of the History of Biology,” “with water shortages, economic development during the Depression and copper mining for national defense during World War Two, federal hydrologists moved quickly to recast tamarisks as water-wasting foreign monsters.”

Since then, researchers have shown that the tree doesn’t use more water than native riparian vegetation, including cottonwoods.

To make matters worse, big changes were occurring in the 1930s and ’40s in the way that water was being moved through the West. Dams and diversions were changing the patterns of flooding, patterns that used to be in sync with the reproductive cycle of more sensitive native plants, such as cottonwoods.

“To some extent, the way we were managing Western rivers actually created a giant tamarisk housing project,” Chew said. If the tamarisk is a monster, he said, it’s because we created it.

“If you want good, old-fashioned 17th-century riparian areas in the western U.S.,” Chew said, “you can’t take all the water out of the river. You can’t have big irrigated fields. You can’t have huge cities.”

Anna Sher, an invasive species biologist at the University of Denver and author of the book “Tamarix: A Case Study of Ecological Change in the American West,” agrees that Tamarix (the species’ genus) isn’t all bad.

Yes, Tamarix can create saltier surface soil that retards other vegetation, and its dense wood can fuel more intense fires. Sher even has heard that a boater drowned in Arizona because rescuers couldn’t get through the dense thickets of tamarisk crowding the shore in time to help him.

But, she says, “I certainly do not hate this plant.”

It provides nesting spots for the Southwestern willow flycatcher, for example, and she says it’s entirely possible for the trees to be a part of the landscape without completely taking over.

“It’s only behaving badly because of the way that we’ve managed our rivers,” Sher said.

Although the way we manage our rivers isn’t going to change anytime soon, Sher sees hope for restoring the landscape. It’s called the Field of Dreams hypothesis.

“The Field of Dreams hypothesis predicts that when you remove the invasive species, there’s an opportunity for the desirable species to come in,” she said.

Initially, Sher and other ecologists suspected the hypothesis was a pipe dream.

“But after doing surveys of hundreds of sites throughout the American Southwest, we can see that, on average, native species will come back and they’ll come back proportionally to how much tamarisk has been removed,” she said. “More tamarisk taken out, more native plants can come in.”

There are two conditions required for successful restoration. First, there has to be enough water in the rivers and streams to supply the new vegetation. Second, the public has to remain open to what native plants might come back. They might not be the cottonwoods and willows people hope for.

“It’s a new game now with Tamarix here and with the water needs that we have now,” Sher said, and humans will have to get used to plants that can handle the landscape as we’ve shaped it.

Those plants might be drought-adapted shrubs and grasses instead of picnic-worthy trees. And they will most certainly have a tamarisk or two as neighbors.

#Drought news: Hay in short supply in parts of #Colorado

August, in the Elk Creek valley. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Wyoming Public Media (Ali Budner):

Hay prices are spiking this year, driven up by a drought-induced shortage of the crop. It’s affecting ranchers across the board, but horse owners in particular are feeling the pinch. Horses eat higher quality hay, so it’s harder to get. It’s forcing horse owners in Colorado to buy more hay from neighboring states like Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana and that’s driving the cost up even more.

Kathy Sherer had never set up a crowd-funding campaign before. But she had three hungry horses at her home in Durango, Colorado. Because of the drought in the southwest part of the state, she couldn’t find any hay to feed them. All her usual sources had dried up.

When she finally found a source, it was some three hundred miles away, and the trucking costs would increase the price by about a third. That was a crippling expense not only for herself but for everyone she knows who has horses, which is pretty much everyone in her community.

So she started a GoFundMe page in hopes of getting some donations to help defray the cost of hay for herself and her neighbors. She raised enough money to help get hay to several people in need, but then the funds ran dry. She said the local hay bank is a fall-back source of feed for animals in tough times, but even they didn’t have inventory…

It’s been hard for Patty Carlisle too. She keeps rescue horses and grows hay in Ignacio, Colorado. She usually supplies Kathy Sherer with hay. But she’s had to turn all her regular customers away this year.

Carlisle said she’s down below a third of her normal production level due to the heat, winds, lack of irrigation water, and zero rain. She says growers with better water resources, like irrigation rights from a river, might be better off…

Kent Gordon, a hay broker near Colorado Springs, said sourcing hay from big ranches with very strong irrigation rights is what enables him to keep going in drought years like this…

Gordon said last year he could find hay at five or six dollars a bale. “In those exact locations now,” he said, “we’re finding a lot of those are ten to twelve dollars a bale.” And, he said, “unfortunately it’s probably going to go up more during the winter.”

Gordon said even at these higher prices customers are rushing to stock up. He’s hoping he can keep with the demand but it’s a challenge. “We can have a semi come in seven or eight o’clock in the morning,” he said, “and by noon you know those seven hundred bales are gone.” He said that happens almost every day.

Gordon is happy to be busy. But he hopes for his customers’ sake that next year’s hay season might give them some relief.