Coyote crossing creek in Pennsylvania: The Trailcomologist
Coyote Albuquerque February 2015 photo by Roberto E. Rosales
Urban coyote photo via Coyote Yipps
You know that I can’t help but highlight my cousins! FromColorado Public Radio (Sam Brasch). Click through to listen:
The sounds of coyotes for travel for miles. And biologist say coyotes sing a particular songs once they have settle in an area. It’s called the group-yip-howl. In this episode, Mary Ann Bonnell, a park ranger in Jefferson County Open Space, introduces us to how coyotes broadcast their territory.
As news reports have indicated, the “August 2018 24-Month Study” of the Colorado River system, released Wednesday by the Bureau of Reclamation, tells at least two big water stories for the Southwest.
For one, it illustrates that the Lower Basin will not be in a shortage for 2019. According to the Bureau’s “most likely” scenario, Lake Mead will finish 2018 about four and a half feet above the “shortage declaration” cutoff, which is 1,075 feet in elevation.
A shortage declaration would trigger a set of criteria in the 2007 interim guidelines calling for Arizona’s deliveries of Colorado River water to be reduced by 320,000 acre-feet.
In addition to those anticipated conditions – inspired, largely, by decades of drought and a chronic structural deficit in annual Lower Basin deliveries – the 2018 August study tells us much about the complex relationship between the system’s two great reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
Much attention is being paid to the very unstable conditions at Lake Mead. But Lake Powell’s capacity to release water to Lake Mead also is governed in part by its elevations. And while those elevations are not currently in the critical condition of Lake Mead, they still are concerning. As of mid-August, Lake Powell’s elevation stood at just above 3,600 feet, which is about 48 percent full, down nearly 33 feet from a year ago.
Unregulated inflows into Lake Powell from the Rocky Mountain watershed have been (at worst) weak to (at best) near normal every year since the monster 2011 snowpack season that delivered 16 million acre-feet of inflow into Powell. The average annual inflow since 2011 is about 8.3 million acre-feet, which is 2.5 million acre-feet less than the long-term average.
Despite the prevalence of highly variable and lower than average watershed runoff in the years since 2011, the Bureau has released an amount in excess of 8.23 million acre-feet to Lake Mead five of the last seven years. And, according to the Bureau’s River Operations Group, conditions call for another release of 9.0 million acre-feet into Lake Mead in 2019.
That pattern appears set to change in 2020.
Prompted by the projected weak runoff forecast in the Rockies for Water Year 2019 – which is 75 percent of the long-term average runoff – the Lower Basin may see a water release to Mead of as little as 7.48 million acre-feet in 2020.
That would represent only the second time that less than 8.23 million acre-feet has flowed from Lake Powell to Lake Mead.
Assuming that dismal outlook comes to pass, it couldn’t come at a worse time.
Analysts are forecasting Lake Mead to end 2019 at just 1,070 feet, or five feet below the “Tier 1” shortage trigger. That anticipated elevation is just 20 feet above the “Tier 2” shortage stage (1,050 feet in elevation). If reached, that milestone triggers still more delivery cutbacks of Colorado River water through the CAP canals.
A below-normal delivery of just 7.48 million acre-feet in 2020 only assures Lake Mead sinking lower, faster.
From the Environmental Defense Fund (Kevin Moran):
Lake Mead water users this week learned we once again narrowly avoided water cutbacks by the skin of our teeth.
A 24-month projection released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shows we skirted federal mandatory water cuts this year, but prospects for 2019 and 2020 do not look good. The forecast found Lake Mead water levels will end this month at 1,079 feet – a mere four feet away from the 1,075-feet threshold that would trigger a federal shortage declaration and mandatory cuts.
The report predicted Lake Mead will dip just below the threshold to 1,075 feet as early as May 2019 – in nine months. At the beginning of 2020, Lake Mead levels are predicted to be at approximately 1,070 feet and then predicted to fall to as low as 1,053 feet in the summer of 2020.
An official shortage declaration has been staved off until at least August 2019. That’s when the next key projection comes out, for January 1, 2020.
How did it come to this, and where do we go from here?
Located nearly 25 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the U.S. and supplies 40 percent of Arizona’s water. Factors like population growth, declining snowpack and rising temperatures have made drought the norm and are stretching this vital source of Colorado River water to the limit.
The latest Lake Mead forecast comes a week after a 40-member steering committee in Arizona held its second meeting to craft agreements between Arizona water agencies and water users that would enable the state to sign on to the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) – a plan developed by Arizona, California, Nevada and the federal government to reduce risks in the Colorado River system. The precariously low Lake Mead water levels projected this week make this steering committee’s work more important than ever.
Developing intra-Arizona conservation and water sharing agreements and gaining approval by the Arizona legislature next year will hopefully be among the last steps in a multi-state effort to address the decline in the water elevation of Lake Mead, which also supplies water to California, Nevada and two states in Mexico. It’s time for Arizona to fully acknowledge the region’s grim hydrology and implement plans to create a more sustainable future.
Reaching an agreement on the Lower Basin DCP is critical to Arizona’s long-term water security and to the state’s economic future. Failing to adopt a plan could result in federal agencies stepping in to impose mandatory cuts overnight.
We need collaboration to avoid potential catastrophe
Environmental Defense Fund is participating in the Arizona steering committee to ensure that Arizona reduces its withdrawals from Lake Mead to create a more sustainable Colorado River water system. My colleagues and I believe the near-term solution – to operate under a Lower Basin DCP agreement with our neighbors – should emphasize conservation and water sharing agreements among Arizona water uses.
Leaders in Arizona need to collaborate to take bold actions and expand the use of proven conservation strategies like the “system conservation” agreement reached last year. This multi-agency agreement compensated the Gila River Indian Community to leave 40,000 acre feet of water in Lake Mead – the amount used by approximately 100,000 people in a year.
Some innovative ideas already on the table
The good news is that the Arizona steering committee is off to a promising start.
At its first meeting on August 9, the committee created a smaller working group to focus on one of the biggest challenges – a mitigation plan for Central Arizona agriculture, which could be heavily affected by cuts. Options on the table include using some of the water stored by Central Arizona Project in Lake Pleasant or creating a fund to purchase mitigation water from higher priority water users.
Several members of this Central Arizona agriculture mitigation working group have already been meeting over the past several months and, with this head start, I am hoping they will bring some promising ideas to the full steering committee at its next meeting on August 23.
I am cautiously optimistic that the steering committee can succeed in hammering out intra-Arizona plans for increased conservation and water sharing agreements by the end of this year.
With those plans in hand, we would have the support we need to convince the state legislature to pass a concurrent resolution (as required by Arizona law) to authorize the Department of Water Resources to sign the Lower Basin DCP.
It’s time to face the reality of the situation
Arizona is running out of time to figure out new ways of conserving and creatively sharing an increasingly scarce water supply. We need to collaborate now in order to avoid catastrophic and economically destabilizing impacts in the very near future.
Adapting successfully to the new water realities in our region – reduced Colorado River supplies and increased uncertainty and risk – will require increased agility, collaboration and innovation. The success of the Arizona economy and health of our ecosystems depend on it.