For the people of Nogales, Arizona, the sight of an approaching storm has become something to dread.
Water pouring onto the drought-parched desert of southern Arizona is a wonderful thing. All that water flowing into – and overflowing out of — the fast-disintegrating waste-water sewage system the community shares with Nogales, Mexico, is the stuff of nightmares. Rapidly worsening nightmares that may cost tens of millions of dollars to properly fix.
As a part of the long-running effort to resolve the sewage issues, the co-owner of the area’s sewage-treatment facility, has announced plans for a public meeting in the town of Tubac on September 13.
The purpose of the forum, sponsored by the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, or USIBWC, will be to promote the exchange of information between the USIBWC and the community regarding Commission projects and related activities in Pima, Cochise, and Santa Cruz…
Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):
The Bureau of Reclamation awarded a $74.6 million financial assistance agreement with the Navajo Nation for the design and construction of a portion of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. The project will provide a long-term, sustainable water supply to 43 Navajo Chapters; the City of Gallup, New Mexico; and the southwestern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. “Completion of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is essential to meeting impending water demands and this agreement goes a long way towards achieving that milestone,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “The reliable water that will be delivered by the facilities in this agreement will allow the Navajo Nation to meet both current and future demands for water, and will allow for economic development throughout this area of the Navajo Reservation.”
This agreement will enable the Navajo Nation to complete the Crownpoint Lateral (also known as the Beacon Bisti/N-9 (BBN9) Lateral) and Reach 12.3. The Crownpoint Lateral will be located along Navajo Route 9 between Twin Lakes and Crownpoint, New Mexico, and will provide water to the Navajo communities of Coyote Canyon, Standing Rock (Tse’ii’ahi), Nahodishgish (Dalton Pass), Crownpoint, Becenti, and Littlewater. The lateral will consist of approximately 40.2 miles of pipeline, ranging in diameter from 16 inch to 6 inch, pumping plants, chorlination buildings and storage tanks.
Reach 12.3 will serve the communities of Window Rock, Saint Michaels, and Fort Defiance, Arizona, and will consist of 5.3 miles of 24-inch-diameter pipe, a chorlination building and a water storage tank. Design and permitting work is anticipated to begin in late 2018 and construction is scheduled to begin in late 2020, and be completed by 2024.
Reclamation has the overall responsibility for the design and construction the project, but has entered into agreements with the Navajo Nation, the City of Gallup and the Indian Health Service for the design and construction for selected portions.
The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is the cornerstone of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement in the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico. The project consists of two separate branches, Cutter and San Juan Laterals; approximately 300 miles of pipeline; two water treatment plants; and several pumping plants and storage tanks. The entire project is scheduled to be completed by 2024.
Like many Westerners, giant sequoias came recently from farther east. Of course, “recent” is a relative term. “You’re talking millions of years (ago),” William Libby said. The retired University of California, Berkeley, plant geneticist has been studying the West Coast’s towering trees for more than half a century. Needing cooler, wetter climates, the tree species arrived at their current locations some 4,500 years ago — about two generations. “They left behind all kinds of Eastern species that did not make it with them, and encountered all kinds of new things in their environment,” Libby said. Today, sequoias grow on the western slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada.
Now, it may be up to humans to move sequoias and their close relatives, coast redwoods, to new homes. As temperatures rise and the world’s climate rapidly changes, many plants and animals may not be able to relocate fast enough on their own — including the Klamath Mountains’ Brewer spruce, which grows on windswept peaks, and the New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnake, which can be found marooned on just a few isolated mountaintops. But the prospect of mixing and moving species alarms scientists, because of the risks involved — both to the new ecosystem, and to the species themselves.
Plants often move on the geologic timescale of landforms. After all, trees don’t simply uproot and stroll away from stressful conditions. Instead, whole populations shift, as individuals in one part of the range die out and saplings in other places grow. But ecosystems are changing on a human timescale now. That’s a problem for the West’s iconic giant trees.
Coast redwoods, which are the world’s tallest trees, and sequoias, which are the most massive, are exceptionally adaptable: The oldest living trees have withstood cold spells, drought and fire. But today’s extraordinary rate of climate change — along with habitat destruction and fire suppression — may be too much for them to survive. “If we expect them to make a big migration in one century, that’s asking a lot,” Libby said. Populations of both sequoias and coast redwoods are dwindling, and the trees are already considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Scientists fear climate change could drive them to extinction.
These trees are among the slowest travelers in North America, in part because of how they reproduce. Coast redwood seeds are moved by wind or rain, while insects and rodents move sequoia seeds. But few seeds germinate successfully. Instead, for the most part, clonal sprouts grow up from the shallow, stretching roots of a mature tree. In the case of coast redwoods, deceased elders can leave behind a “fairy ring” of surrounding younger trees, just a few feet from where the parent stood. In order to outpace hotter conditions, this gradual process may need a human nudge.
While Westerners already relocate plants and animals — for species reintroductions, hunting, agriculture and more — there is still no consensus on rescuing organisms from climate change this way. In a 2006 opinion piece, two well-known ecologists, Anthony Ricciardi and David Simberloff, dismissed assisted migration as “planned invasions,” a “new bandwagon,” and “ecological gambling.” The risks that introduced species might pose to plants and animals already living in a region are too unknown, hard to predict, and potentially disastrous to be worth it, they said. They concluded that conservation biologists should focus on breeding rare species in captivity, restoring habitat and ending human-caused climate change.
Past experiences with introductions gone awry make scientists nervous. In the 1940s, the federal government introduced buffelgrass, a drought-hardy African forage, to Arizona to help cattle survive dry spells. The grass spread, filling in the spaces between desert plants, replacing natural firebreaks with ready fuel and turning swaths of desert across the Southwest into fire-prone grasslands. In 2010, the National Park Service warned that buffelgrass covered about 2 percent of Saguaro National Park and was increasing by 35 percent annually.
Few U.S. scientists have tried experimental assisted migrations, and in Canada and Mexico, the results of experiments have been mixed. In 2015, Canadian researchers studied Douglas fir trees that were moved more than 40 years previously throughout coastal British Columbia for reforestation research. They found that transferred trees sometimes did not grow as well as local trees, because they didn’t form symbiotic relationships as effectively with local soil and root fungi, which help trees absorb nutrients. Mexican researchers found that when they moved three species of Mexican pines to higher elevations and colder temperatures, two species struggled to survive in locations more than a few hundred feet above their current ranges.
These findings speak to one broad concern about moving species around to save them: It can cause unnecessary suffering, eat up limited conservation funding, and ultimately fail. In one recent example, 11 black rhinos were relocated in Kenya. All 11 perished from salt poisoning, dehydration and, in one case, a lion attack on a weakened animal, according to the Daily Nation. Mary Williams, an ecologist who has researched assisted migration as a climate adaptation strategy, cautioned against the “extreme” movement of plants. She recommended instead that seeds be taken from the warmer parts of a plant’s existing range, to be grown in cooler parts of its range. Then, when those cooler areas warmed, the plants would already be adapted to the new conditions.
Because a species’ resilience comes from its genetic diversity, spreading the clones or seeds of too few plants could also doom an assisted migration project. Connie Millar, a senior scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who studies how mountain ecosystems are responding to climate change, recommends mixing the gene pools of the trees used for assisted migration projects by collecting seeds and clones from different locations. “Then, natural selection 50 years in the future can sort it out, and we don’t have to predict (survivors), which we’re very bad at doing,” she said.
Agencies in the U.S. have toyed with the idea of assisted migration, but no projects are currently in the works. To make tree transplants work, federal agencies would have to find the money for the prolonged follow-up work needed to keep them alive: artificial watering, fertilizer feedings, protective fencing to keep out hungry deer. “Just like in a garden, when you transplant, there’s usually transplant shock,” Millar said. “It takes a while for roots to get down. … It’s not like they’re happy all of a sudden.” Similar constraints would limit animal introductions. In many cases, for agencies, shifting species would also require new regulations, such as those that govern post-wildfire replanting.
The biggest unknown about assisted migration may come down to human behavior: Without knowing how much fossil fuel people will keep burning, researchers can’t say for sure how much the climate will change, or where a particular organism’s optimal neighborhood will be in the year 2100.
As scientists fret, some members of the general public are already forging ahead. Michigan-based Archangel Ancient Trees Archive is attempting to plant thousands of nursery-grown coast redwoods and sequoias in the West, without waiting for more scientific research. Sequoias and coast redwoods, founder David Milarch said, are “magical” trees. “People all over the planet love those trees.”
Now in his 80s, Milarch dedicated himself to saving these species — and many other imperiled trees — a quarter-century ago, after his own near-death experience. Milarch recalled an archangel turning him back from the gates of heaven because he still had work to do on Earth: He had to save tree species. So Milarch focused his fourth-generation nursery business on trying to conserve many of the world’s disappearing tree species through assisted migration.
In many ways, this Noah’s Ark approach to conservation flies in the face of scientific understanding: In addition to planting trees far from their current range, Archangel also chooses the oldest, biggest trees — which Milarch calls “champions” — to clone, a sensible-seeming approach that actually masks assumptions about how those trees got that way. Sometimes, seedlings grow into strapping adults because of dumb luck: Maybe they dug into particularly rich soil, or it rained buckets during their first decade, or they happened to germinate near a gap in the forest canopy that let in lots of light. Clones of those trees may wither without the same help in a new location. Archangel tries to take genetic diversity into account by growing genetically diverse seedlings as well as sprouts cut from “champion” tree clones, but its collection overall still lacks the diversity of a natural population.
Still, Archangel inspires volunteers around the world. Perhaps that’s because it offers hope, pulling believers into the boughs of ancient sequoias on climbing expeditions and insisting that concerned people can do their part to end climate change simply by planting trees.
Milarch likes to point out that Archangel has been able to grow cuttings from trees thousands of years old, something he says scientists told him was impossible. Driven by his faith, Milarch offers a solution to climate change that doesn’t require watershed changes in politics — or in how people use fossil fuels. “Climate change can be reversed,” he said, noting the carbon-storing capacity of the West’s giant trees. “We don’t have to be saddled with such a dubious future for our children, our grandchildren, if we all would plant two or four trees.”
Particularly for beloved species such as coast redwoods and sequoias, there may be more rogue rescue efforts in the future. And while scientists worry about unintended consequences, Williams sees the advantages of shaking off political drag. “Sometimes, in situations like this, there may be some really great things that come out of it,” she said. “You just need to take a risk and see what happens.”
Maya L. Kapoor is an associate editor at High Country News.
Boulder County biologists studying Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and fish populations along the St. Vrain Creek have been encouraged this summer by signs of species rejuvenating since their habitats were altered by the 2013 flood…
Restoration efforts also have been conducive to bolstering populations of certain “transition zone” fish that need shady habitat and water temperatures between the colder sections of stream at higher elevations and the warmer sections through Longmont and east of the city.
Fish trends promising, concerns remain
As Boulder County wildlife biologist Mac Kobza has tallied fish caught by his team of six research assistants this summer along the St. Vrain, he’s chalked up seven species, an improvement in the river’s fish diversity over the past five years.
White suckers, brown trout and minnows like johnny darters and longnose daces were among those caught and documented Tuesday, adding to the counts of fish in the area tracked this summer and for the past five years by Kobza…
Diversion dams and other irrigation ditch structures that pull water from the St. Vrain to deliver it to other water rights holders since the flood have been redesigned in some places to allow easier fish passage, but some ditch companies have hesitated to modify their apparatus.
“I think they’re resistant because it can be expensive. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is trying to work with those ditch companies and provide some of the funding to allow (more fish passage) to happen,” Longmont Land Program Administrator Dan Wolford said.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
First Lake Nighthorse Water Use Celebrated with Pipeline Completion
La Plata West Water Authority held the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony to commemorate completion of the Phase 0 Raw Water Project. The ceremony was held at the Booster Pump Station located on County Road 210, at the entrance to the access road for the raw water intake structure at Lake Nighthorse. The event was attended by 32 guests all celebrating their efforts in making the project possible and come to fruition.
The new rural domestic water pipeline is a four-way partnership between La Plata West, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Tribes, and Lake Durango. The process of this massive and costly construction design had to be laid out in multiple phases.
Phase 0 of the pipelines’ goal is to provide a supply of raw water from the La Plata reservoir up to Lake Durango.
For micro farms like Lost Creek Farm, devastating storms can easily put them out of business, since crop insurance isn’t available for the small producers you usually see at farmers’ markets. The reason it’s so hard for these family plots to get insurance comes down to numbers and policies that center around insuring not the entire acreage, but each individual crop. For example, you would have to get separate coverage for cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, corn, peppers, cucumbers, melons and so on.
Mark Guttridge, who runs Ollin Farms in Longmont with his family, grows 7,000 pepper plants, which may seem like a lot, but in reality only take up one acre. When you are dealing with a farm that grows twenty to thirty acres of one crop, he says, one acre is nothing. Unless, of course, you lose all of that in a storm, which happened at Ollin Farms on August 18.
“We are unable to get insured, and that’s crazy,” says Guttridge. “There’s no crop insurance that’s available for these diversified farms.”
The last storm was the fourth or fifth to cause damage at Ollin Farms, but while the others destroyed a little here and there, none had the impact this last one did. One reason the damage proved so great was because the plants were doing so well.
“After the first ones, I nurtured the plants back to health and built that biological system again and got the plants healthy again,” says Guttridge. “They were getting fully loaded and ready to hit their peak season. Then the storm came last week, and the pea-sized hail came with so much wind, it was like horizontal hail, and it dissolved all of the plants.”
Overall, Guttridge says he lost 80 percent of his tomatoes and peppers. Over the last week, he and his workers have been pruning the plants, plucking off dead and rotting produce and harvesting the few peppers that were protected through the storm. This week he will start on the tomatoes.
Click here to read the report (R. Q. Grafton, J. Williams, C. J. Perry, F. Molle, C. Ringler, P. Steduto, B. Udall, S. A. Wheeler, Y. Wang, D. Garrick, R. G. Allen). Here’s an excerpt:
Reconciling higher freshwater de- mands with finite freshwater re- sources remains one of the great policy dilemmas. Given that crop irrigation constitutes 70% of global water extractions, which contributes up to 40% of globally available calories (1), governments often support increases in irrigation efficiency (IE), promoting ad- vanced technologies to improve the “crop per drop.” This provides private benefits to irrigators and is justified, in part, on the premise that increases in IE “save” water for reallocation to other sectors, including cities and the environment. Yet substantial scientific evidence (2) has long shown that increased IE rarely delivers the presumed public-good benefits of increased water availability. Decision-makers typically have not known or understood the importance of basin-scale water accounting or of the be-havioral responses of irrigators to subsidies to increase IE. We show that to mitigate global water scarcity, increases in IE must be accompanied by robust water accounting and measurements, a cap on extractions, an assessment of uncertainties, the valuation of trade-offs, and a better understanding of the incentives and behavior of irrigators.
Scorching temperatures broke heat records around the world last month, which ranked as the fourth warmest July on record. Excessive warmth during the first seven months of 2018 made it the fourth warmest year to date for the planet.
The average global temperature in July was 1.35 degrees F above the 20th-century average of 60.4 degrees. This was the fourth highest for July in the 139-year record (1880–2018). Last month was also the 42nd consecutive July and the 403rd consecutive month with temperatures above average.
The year to date // January through July
The year-to-date average global temperature was 1.39 degrees F above average of 56.9 degrees. This is 0.48 of a degree lower than the record high set in 2016 for the same YTD period.
Other notable climate facts and stats
Record warmth spanned continents and oceans
The globally averaged land-surface temperature was fifth highest on record for July and the fourth highest for the YTD (January–July) period.
The globally averaged sea-surface temperature was sixth highest on record for July and the fourth highest for the year to date.
Areas around the world experienced record warmth, including Scandinavia and the surrounding Arctic Ocean, northwest Africa, parts of southern Asia and southwest United States. Europe had its second-warmest July on record.
Record warm YTD temperatures prevailed across parts of the world’s oceans and Mediterranean Sea, New Zealand, as well as smaller areas of North and South America and Asia. Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania had TYD temperatures that ranked in the sixth highest on record.
Polar sea ice coverage remains smaller than normal
The average Arctic sea ice coverage (extent) in July was 13.2 percent below the 1981–2010 average, making it the ninth-smallest extent for July on record.
The Antarctic sea ice extent last month was 1.9 percent below average, the eighth smallest on record for July. Antarctic sea ice coverage did expand at a rate faster than average during the first half of July, but slowed later in the month.
Click here to read the report (Stephen Saunders and Tom Easley). Here’s the Introduction:
This report summarizes existing information on how climate change may affect the snow and water resources of six Colorado counties that include the headwaters of the Colorado River and its tributaries. These headwaters counties are Eagle, Grand, Gunnison, Pitkin, Routt, and Summit counties.
The water and snow resources of this six-county region are essential ingredients of its spectacular natural resources, opportunities for recreation and tourism, local economies, and quality of life, all of which are treasured locally and worldwide. To begin with, there is the Colorado River itself—starting here, draining one- twelfth of the contiguous United States, providing the largest source of water in the country’s driest region, but still being diverted beyond its basin to meet other needs across the West. Altogether, the Colorado provides drinking water for 22 of the 32 largest cities across the West1 and irrigation water for some of America’s most productive growing areas.
Another hallmark of the headwaters counties is their 16 ski resorts, which include seven of the 10 most- visited ski areas in the nation. One quarter of the nation’s s on Colorado slopes,2 and most of that in the headwaters counties.
Truly, the water and snow resources of these counties are something special.
But as this report documents, the water and snow of the headwaters counties and the many economic and social values that depend on them are at risk as the climate changes.
Temperature. In Colorado, all but one of the last 40 years have been hotter than the 20th century average and this century has had seven of the state’s ten hottest years on record. Mid-century temperatures are projected to average 1.5° Fahrenheit* to 6.5° hotter than in 1971–2000, and late-century temperatures 1.5° to 9.5° hotter, depending on future levels of heat-trapping emissions.
Precipitation. To offset the impacts of higher temperatures on snow and water resources, there would need to be large increases in total precipitation and snowfall. But only the wettest 10 percent of climate projections suggest that Colorado precipitation amounts could increase by even six to nine percent.
Water and snow resources. Across the West, less winter precipitation is falling as snow and more as rain, snowpacks are declining, and snowmelt is occurring earlier. Colorado’s mountains, with the highest terrain in the West, are buffered somewhat against the larger changes happening at lower elevations, but changes are happening in the headwaters, too. The flows of the Colorado River, fed mostly by mountain snow, have recently been the lowest in the past century—driven in large part by the evaporative effects of higher temperatures. Projections are that these changes will become more pronounced, with greater shifts from snowfall to rainfall, earlier snowmelt, decreased river flows, and increased likelihood of water restrictions and curtailments.
Impacts on winter recreation and tourism. If Colorado snowfall and snowpacks decline as projected, the state’s skiing, snowboarding, and other opportunities for snow-dependent winter recreation could suffer. This could have economic consequences throughout the state, as the skiing/snowboarding industry alone contributes about $5 billion to the state’s economy.
Impacts on warm-season recreation and tourism. If climate change projections materialize, fishing, boating, rafting, and other warm-season, water-dependent outdoor recreation could be adversely affected by hot temperatures, low water levels, and other manifestations of climate change.
Impacts on water quality. Climate change may lead to decreases in water quality, including violations of water quality standards that specify maximum stream temperatures to protect fish and other resources. Further, climate change is projected to lead to major increases in wildfires, which in turn can increase flooding and sedimentation from burned areas.
On these topics, this report primarily summarizes existing information to document what has happened and what could happen in the headwaters counties as a result of climate change and what is at stake there if projected changes materialize. (One piece of new analysis is of headwaters snowpack levels.) The report’s emphasis is on presenting, as much as possible, local, specific information focused on the headwaters region.
This report follows up on a 2011 report, Water and Its Relationship to the Economies of the Headwaters Counties, prepared for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments by Coley/Forrest, Inc.3 NWCCOG commissioned this new report because of the importance of potential climate change impacts on the resources and values identified in that earlier report.
Figure 1 below shows the six headwaters counties, addressed both in the 2011 report and in this one.
The study looked at 200 river-water samples and almost 200 sediment samples, as well as more than 100 private wells from Durango to Silverton, testing for 13 different heavy metals and other possible contaminants, the health department said.
Some findings, according to San Juan Basin Public Health:
Water quality, except in Cement Creek, is better than the minimum standards set to protect aquatic life and human uses.
Additional sampling performed as part of this study revealed that natural variability in river flows produces occasional “spikes” in certain metals that may have been missed in less-frequent sampling.
Sediment in the Animas River, including beach sediment at six popular Durango recreation sites, poses no risk to human health if common-sense precautions are followed.
About one-quarter of Animas Valley drinking water wells had naturally-occurring bacteria present, and all wells should receive filtration or treatment.
About 5 percent of Animas Valley wells had more serious contamination from heavy metals, nitrates or other forms of bacteria. Heavy metal contamination in these wells arises from the natural geology of the Animas Valley aquifer.
Aaron Million styles himself as a western maverick. At a Fort Collins, Colorado coffee shop he’s dressed in a cowboy hat, denim, plaid, pulled together by a shiny belt buckle. During our conversation he quotes both Chuck Norris and the 1995 movie Braveheart. More than twice he referenced a six-shooter.
Million’s name is synonymous with a water pipeline he’s been pushing for almost a decade. On a wire cafe table, he unfurls a map and points out the features of his latest proposal.
With his finger Million traces the route of his new iteration, billed as a renewable energy project. It would start in Utah on the Green River, then snake across Wyoming before dropping down into Colorado’s populated Front Range, generating electricity as the water moves from one side of the Continental Divide to the other. Million says it would cost about a billion dollars to build.
“It’s a bigger project, but they get done every day,” he says. “I mean we built the Transcontinental Railroad last I remember.”
In 2012 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission quashed a different water pipeline proposal from Million. He wanted to construct a 500-mile pipeline from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge reservoir to Colorado’s Front Range. FERC regulators at the time said the proposal was incomplete.
“Keep in mind we’ve been in the saddle for a while,” Million says. “And you know we got knocked off pretty hard. I know people thought I was dragged to death, but I’m pretty tough, raised in the Utah desert.”
Both pipelines, old and new, take advantage of an historical fluke. The 1922 Colorado River Compact — which divvies up its water — was written when the river was flowing at a record high. But for the past 18 years, high temperatures, drought and overuse have sapped the river’s flow.
Aaron Million says that’s more of an Arizona, California and Nevada problem.
“People say there’s no water left in the system,” Million says. “Well, when California has drained, and Nevada and Arizona have drained the river and then cry foul because Lake Powell and Mead are low, again I’ll reiterate: Had they not their drained and over taken their share they’d be full by four or five times. Those are the facts. You can run the numbers.
Million says the river’s Upper Basin, which includes the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, haven’t fully developed their share, while those in the Lower Basin have gone above and beyond what they’re entitled to. His pipeline is just one more plan among many to fully develop the river’s water, he says.
According to the complaint filed this week, commissioners approved the floodway expansion over the resistance of local residents, who said the re-mapping would limit development on their private properties — some of which are functioning farms — and cause their flood insurance rates to skyrocket…
The re-drawing was performed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with assistance from Boulder County staff, and was approved last month 2-0 by commissioners. Commissioner Cindy Domenico was absent. When the change officially takes effect Oct. 1, it will substantially widen the floodway along portions of Lower Boulder Creek northwest of Erie.
A floodway is a narrow channel where, in the event of a flood, water will be flowing. A floodplain is where shallow water is likely to be during the event of a flood, though shallower and flowing at a lower volume, if at all, than water in a floodway.
The former, by definition of Boulder County’s standards, is more heavily regulated than a floodplain. Land regulated under floodway status is often limited to very specific redevelopment.
According to the complaint, plaintiffs’ efforts to have the hearing delayed to learn more about proposed expansion went unheeded…
The Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2015 changed the definition of a floodway, triggering a review of flood-hazard areas across the state. Wheeler Open Space, however, was not reassessed, given the lack of residential buildings on the land, Boulder County Senior Assistant Attorney Kate Burke said earlier this year.
In light of the planned oil and gas development on the site, a modeling with the new standards was performed. Under the new guidelines, the entirety of well site Section 1, which is in the open space, is within a floodway, according to documents Boulder County submitted in mid-April with its formal comments to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
The USGS’ stream gauge at Embudo is the oldest in the country, measuring streamflow in that area between Española and Taos since 1889. August is typically the driest time of the year for the river.
“The impacts are real,” said Fleck of the ongoing drought conditions. “The people downstream who need to use water have less. All of us – Santa Fe, Albuquerque, farmers across the Rio Grande (and) the ecosystem; the plants, the fish, the birds.”
The low flows are a direct result of poor snowpack in the San Juan Mountains upriver in southern Colorado, said both Fleck and Royce Fontenot, senior service hydrologist in Albuquerque’s National Weather Service office and part of the New Mexico Drought Monitoring Working Group.
According to Fontenot, drought conditions in that area this season mirror those experienced in 2002, when there was also D4 – or “exceptional” – drought conditions.
Fontenot added that the Rio Grande, especially in its northern section that includes Embudo, is a snowmelt-driven river.
“So when you have a very poor winter like this one, you’ll see these low flows,” with the possibility of just “spikes and bumps” with heavy rainfall, said Fontenot. Despite the big monsoon storms in Santa Fe, Fleck said there hasn’t been enough heavy rain up to the north to make a substantial impact.
Heavy farming in the San Luis Valley at the Rio Grande’s head also means less water in the river, noted Fleck, who added that the low discharge is also an effect of climate change.
“You get a bad snowpack, but also because the temperatures are so warm, (there is) increased evaporation or increased use by plants,” he said. “For a given amount of snow, we get less water in our rivers. This is climate change.”
Fontenot, though, says the main driver of 2018’s dryness is this past winter’s La Niña, the ocean-atmosphere phenomenon which he noted typically results in warm and dryer winters in New Mexico, rather than climate change.
“Depending on when you’re up there, there’s either no flow … or just drips,” Telluride resident Amy Levek said…
Last weekend was the famous Mushroom Festival in Telluride. Damp woods, from monsoon rains, are a normal breeding ground for shrooms. Not this year, though.
“Two weeks ago, I went out and found a few, and that is very early for mushrooms, and then last weekend when I went out there was nothing, absolutely nothing,” Levek said…
To find the last time southwest Colorado had drought this exceptional, you must go all the way back 15 years to August 2003…
The San Miguel, the San Juan, and the Las Animas rivers have all hit record low steam flows at some point this summer, just to name a few. Many other creeks and rivers are running below 10 percent of normal this August…
Municipalities are starting to implement water restrictions. The city of Aspen announced they are going to stage 2 watering restrictions for the first time in their history.
The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District is releasing water from the Stagecoach Reservoir to supply the needs of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s Craig Station, which started on Thursday, Aug 16.
The released water will be protected by the Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 6 engineer Erin Light and her staff according to the Water Conservancy’s release. They will make sure the 80-mile section of the Yampa River Between Stagecoach Reservoir and Craig Station’s intake remains in the river and not diverted by other water users.
The Colorado Water Trust will continue releasing water to support the health of the Yampa River.
Upper Yampa Water manager Kevin McBride said, “Upper Yampa is pleased to release water to our customers, Tri-State and the Colorado Water Trust during this drought. These releases, for an industrial and environmental purpose individually, will combine to have a great beneficial effect for all of us in the valley.”
During droughts, Senior manager of communications and public affairs at Tri-State Lee Boughey said, it is critical to have water storage in the Yampa River basin. Working with Upper Yampa and the Colorado Water Trust will ensure power generation continues while improving the health of Yampa.
The release from Stagecoach Reservoir is the Upper Yampa’s largest release so far and includes up to 70 cubic feet per second of water from Tri-State’s leased water pool. The release will be reevaluated in the next week and could be reduced depending on the river conditions and forecasts.
Algae occur naturally in most bodies of freshwater and saltwater. It’s normally fairly harmless, but the right combination of warm water, high nutrient levels, and adequate sunlight combined can cause a harmful algae bloom. These blooms can damage aquatic ecosystems by blocking sunlight and depleting oxygen that other organisms need to survive. Some algae, like red algae and blue-green algae, can produce toxins that damage the human nervous system and the liver (and they also stink — literally).
Recently, there has been an increase in algae blooms globally, and climate change may be playing a role. Warmer water allows some harmful types of algae to grow faster than other, more benign varieties. This warmer surface water also prevents water from mixing vertically, allowing algae to grow thicker and faster. This sets up a feedback loop: water made darker by the presence of the blooms absorbs more sunlight, warming even more, and enhancing the conditions for more blooms.
Global warming takes place in the ocean too, and rising ocean temperatures have been found to be partially responsible for more intense algae blooms in the North Atlantic, while warming lakes have played a role in the increased frequency of algae blooms in some inland waters of the U.S.
Increasing heavy precipitation — another impact of climate change — can wash more agricultural fertilizers into bodies of water, providing nutrients for the algae to thrive. And in a supercharged water cycle, the droughts that follow heavy precipitation will allow more water to evaporate from the surface, concentrating the nutrients and giving the algae the opportunity to survive longer and multiply more.
The blooms don’t just smell bad, they impact human health both directly and indirectly. The toxins produced by certain algae can cause eye and lung irritation and worsen asthma. Fish and shellfish can become contaminated, and when eaten, can cause gastrointestinal pain or even neurological illnesses.
In 1922, Federal and State representatives met for the Colorado River Compact Commission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among the attendees were Arthur P. Davis, Director of Reclamation Service, and Herbert Hoover, who at the time, was the Secretary of Commerce. Photo taken November 24, 1922. USBR photo.
Hoover Dam dedication September 30, 1935. Photo credit U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
Elwood Mead memorial at Hoover Dam photo via Greg Hobbs
Hoover Dam during construction via Historical Photos.
Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)
President Franklin Roosevelt at dedication of Boulder (now Hoover) Dam, September 30, 1935
Part of the memorial to Wayne Aspinall in Palisade. Aspinall, a Democrat, is a legend in the water sector, and is the namesake of the annual award given by the Colorado Water Congress. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Wayne Aspinall Memorial — Palisade
Back of Hoover Dam prior to first fill photo via Reclamation.
Hoover Dam during construction
Rarely seen back of the Hoover Dam prior to first fill
Hoover Dam during construction
Colorado River, Black Canyon back in the day, site of Hoover Dam
The 2017–2018 runoff from the Upper Colorado River Basin into Lake Powell is history and it turned out to be on the short side coming in at 42% of normal. The six major tributaries that feed the waters of Lake Powell are currently running anywhere from 5% to 36% of normal. The result is that the levels of both Lake Powell and Lake Mead continue to drop and the risk of a shortage call in 2019 or 2020 is increasing daily.
Some would argue that this is exactly why the reservoirs were built and are so important — to help the region get through droughts. That logic is predicated on the assumption that we are in a drought and not a significant shift in the overall climate, weather, and hydrologic conditions. Droughts are short term events that have a start and an end point. What we are in now, with near unanimous concurrence from scientists across the United States, is a long term shift in the nature, amount, shape and mobilization of the runoff in the Upper Colorado River Basin. A new baseline centered on the concept of aridification of the American Southwest requires a more long-term strategic approach.
So what does this mean to the potential for a shortage call on the Colorado River?
First, some background. The management of the Colorado River is accomplished through the delicate act of balancing the Law of the River with available reservoir storage and actual runoff. Up until 2000–2002 there had always been adequate supply to meet the demand in both the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins. In fact in most years there was more water available then needed and extra water (surplus) was available to the states and water users. In 2001 the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, signed guidelines on how the three lower basin states could use surplus Colorado River water. How quickly times changed.
In 2002, without any fanfare or marching bands, Colorado System Demand surpassed available water supply. In 2002 the basin states realized that shortages in the future were possible. They also realized that with normal levels of inflow and release a structural deficit of over a million acre feet per year would continue to drive the reservoir elevations down. These facts prompted the basin states, at the urging of Secretary of Interior, to establish criteria for avoiding a shortage call — the result was the 2007 Shortage Criteria. Renegotiation on the 2007 Shortage Criteria are due to begin in 2020.
The 2007 Shortage Criteria set the elevations where action is required in both reservoirs Powell and Mead. The basin states and Reclamation developed a formula and set of decision points for when, the quantity, and how water would be moved from Lake Powell to Lake Mead.
1,075′ and its implications
There are three Lake Mead elevation trigger points (1,075, 1,050 and 1,025 feet) with the 1025 ft. elevation requiring mandatory consultation to identify and implement additional actions to keep Lake Mead functioning. As Lake Mead continues to fall more severe restrictions are implemented for the Lower Basin states and Mexico. The first of these elevation trigger points is when Lake Mead hits elevation 1,075 ft or lower on January 1st. Passing 1,075 on January 1 opens the door for the federal government to exert more control over management of the Lower Colorado River. Something the states do not want to have happen.
In order to avoid the issues of federal direction of Colorado River management the seven states have been working to develop Drought Contingency Plans to supplement the 2007 Shortage Criteria. The intent of the Drought Contingency Plans is to avert shortage declarations and to voluntarily share any cuts in water releases from Lake Mead. The problem is that while some additional water can be squeezed from conservation and efficiency, the large volumes of water needed to make up for the continual decline in supply simply are not readily available. What is required is a rethinking of how we live with the available water supply in the Colorado River Basin.