More Than #ClimateChange Threatens Iconic Rio Grande — Wild Earth Guardians

Here’s the release from Wild Earth Guardians (Jen Pelz):

As temperatures in Albuquerque climb to triple digits, the Rio Grande’s flows continue to recede leaving vast islands and sandy channels where the mighty river once roamed. The contrast between conditions this year and last year is stark.

In 2017, the April forecast for the Rio Grande at the Otowi Gauge was 128 percent of average; this year it is 20. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s maps by Brian Fuchs show New Mexico going from only about a quarter of the state in abnormally or moderately dry conditions in June of 2017 to the majority of the state in extreme or exceptional drought this year.

West Drought Monitor September 25, 2018.

These conditions are driving the early low flows in the Basin, but are not the sole cause of the crisis as seems to be the nationwide narrative.

“Climate change is exposing cracks in western water policy and is shining a spotlight on the unsustainable allocation of water from our rivers and streams,” said Jen Pelz, Rio Grande Waterkeeper and Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The emerging disaster on the Rio Grande this year comes from archaic water policies, lack of accountability by the states, and water managers acting like its business as usual despite the dire stream flow conditions.”

Three main flaws in water policy and enforcement are driving the situation this year. First, the Rio Grande Compact—an agreement between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas that sought in 1938 to equitably allocate the waters of the Rio Grande between the states–is operating in dry years to magnify the climate changed induced flow declines. When flows are above average (128 percent), like in 2017, Colorado’s delivery obligations to downstream states roughly mimic the flows at the index gauge.

However, when flows cease to reach a threshold of about 4,000 cubic feet per second, the delivery obligation of Colorado ceases entirely meaning Colorado water users can take every last drop and be entirely within the terms of the compact.

The Rio Grande Compact, like other western water agreements, is based on data from an unrepresentative wet period in the historical record; therefore, the allocation system is far from equitable.

Second, the State of New Mexico provides no leadership or accountability to ensure water users in the state are only using what they need. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, for example, requested a permit in 1925 to irrigate over 100,000 acres in the Middle Rio Grande valley from Cochiti Dam to Elephant Butte Dam. The District, however, has not (90 years later) ever proven that it has irrigated the acreage contemplated in the permit, nor that it needs the water it has claimed. This is a fundamental requirement under the New Mexico Constitution that is being blatantly disregarded.

Finally, the District—the entity that delivers water to farmers in the Middle Rio Grande—just last week finally limited its diversions to the more senior users. Despite anticipated flows of 20 percent of average, the District provided water to the most junior users—those that do not have any claim to water—from March 1 to June 12 (104 days).

“These institutional agreements and policies not only threaten the health of the river, but also put the most senior users’ ability to irrigate to the end of the season at risk,” added Pelz. “The wild west days are over and climate change is exposing these flawed choices. It’s time to find a new sustainable path forward.”

WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. Our Rio Grande: America’s Great River campaign seeks to provide the Rio Grande with a right to its own water and to reform western water policy for a sustainable future for this icon.

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

#Drought news: Reservoirs in S. #Colorado have dropped precipitously over the summer

West Drought Monitor September 25, 2018.

From KOAA.com (Andy Koan):

The latest drought monitor released Thursday shows more than 85 percent of the State of Colorado is under unusually dry conditions. The worst affected areas are the 20 counties in the southwest corner of the state where all or parts of each county is experiencing exceptional drought.

An example of the impact can be seen in Custer County at the Deweese Reservoir. Large areas of dry cracked mud from what used to be lake bed now encircle the remaining water stored here…

The dam and the water are privately owned. It’s managed by the Deweese Dye Ditch Company in Canon City. The business began over a century ago to provide fresh water from Grape Creek to agricultural customers in Fremont County.

A dry weather pattern over the Rockies this spring melted the mountain snowpack earlier than usual. That early runoff, combined with prolonged periods of hot dry weather in late summer, have put the area under extreme drought…

The lake won’t go completely dry. Years ago, the Colorado Game and Fish Department bought a 500-acre-foot conservation pool here. Colorado Parks and Wildlife now keeps the lake stocked with fish.

Deweese’s Winter Water Storage [decree] allows them to close the headgate and begin storing water again on November 15.

From The Albuquerque Journal (Maddie Hayden):

The Rio Grande is again looking mighty puny where it crosses through Albuquerque as persistent drought continues to afflict the Southwest.

Flows on Thursday afternoon were at 133 cubic feet per second, below the historical Sept. 27 average of 410 cubic feet per second.

But water groups around the state have pulled together to keep it flowing, at least until the end of the water year…

John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, said natural flows of the Rio Grande dried up in July, and the only reason it’s still flowing is due to water from the San Juan-Chama program, which allows for the transport of Colorado River Basin water to supplement the Rio Grande.

“It’s a reminder of how important this project is for New Mexico’s water supply,” Fleck said.

The Rio Grande is in dire straits throughout its run from Colorado through New Mexico, Fleck said.

Levels at Embudo, in north-central New Mexico, have reached record lows this year.

In south-central New Mexico, near Truth or Consequences, the Elephant Butte Reservoir is at just 3 percent capacity.

The Animas River at Farmington, an area in exceptional drought, is just above 0 flow — the lowest level in the area station’s history…

Frey said this year’s die-offs due to low water levels have occurred in the Chama, Brazos, Mora and Pecos rivers as well as various lakes and ponds around the state.

During a conference call Tuesday on drought conditions in New Mexico, Royce Fontenot, a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said precipitation has helped ease some drought on the eastern side of the state since last month.

But just .22 percent of the state is drought-free. The exceptional drought area in the northwest corner of the state showed a little growth, with over 15 percent of the state now in the worst class of drought.

With most of the state’s reservoirs pushed to their limits to cover damage done by last winter’s dismal snowpack, another bad snow year would leave water users without a fallback next year, Gensler said.

“I was hoping we wouldn’t be going into winter like this, but I think this is where we’re going to start winter,” Fontenot said.

Fontenot said there’s a 65 to 70 percent chance of an El Niño weather pattern moving in during the coming months, which typically brings higher temperatures and more snow.

But even if El Niño does arrive, it isn’t certain which areas it will affect and how much precipitation it’ll bring.

“It’s not a blanket term anymore,” said Chris Romero, a snow survey hydrological technician with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Albuquerque. “We had an El Niño forecast here two years ago and it was great for about two months until the jet stream moved farther north and winter kind of turned off.”

Roaring Fork Conservancy presents voter’s guide to local water issues #vote

The Cascades, on the Roaring Fork River June 16, 2016. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the Roaring Fork Conservancy via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Rick Lofaro):

Roaring Fork Conservancy is pleased to present yet another edition of the Voters’ Guide to Water Issues in the Roaring Fork Watershed. The importance of water in Colorado continues to grow as we plan for the future of our water resources. Roaring Fork Conservancy remains focused on water quality, water quantity and riparian health, addressing these issues via river science, water policy and educating citizens on current issues.

Knowledgeable elected officials help us protect vital water resources. With the upcoming election, we wanted to give citizens an opportunity to hear from candidates on local water issues and their proposed solutions.

Roaring Fork Conservancy asked candidates in local, state and federal races for their responses to two water-related questions. This pamphlet presents a non-biased forum for candidates to express their qualifications and platforms on water issues affecting the Roaring Fork Watershed and the state of Colorado. This Voters’ Guide can be found on our website at http://www.roaringfork.org/news and physical copies will be available in public places throughout the Roaring Fork Watershed.

Roaring Fork Conservancy does not endorse any candidates. Their unedited responses are presented as submitted.

We encourage you to vote, whether by mail or at a polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Your voice is an important part of helping us bring people together to protect our rivers.