@ColoradoStateU, et al., researchers score a $4.9 million grant from @USDA in order to create an economic model of how water rights should be allocated in the long term

Prior appropriation example via Oregon.gov

Here’s the release from The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Trowbridge):

With the “Arid West” experiencing climate change and a growing population, it’s time to look at water rights. Colorado State University professors are joining up with researchers across universities and disciplines in Colorado, Nevada and Arizona to do just that.

In partnership with the University of Nevada Reno, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the Desert Research Institute, CSU researchers received a $4.9 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture in order to create an economic model of how water rights should be allocated in the long term.

This topic has come up due to changes in population growth and climate change, especially in sustaining and increasing agricultural productivity, according to the research proposal.

The research centers around the concept of water rights. Water rights refer to a business’s right to irrigate water. Dale Manning, an agricultural and resource economics professor at CSU, said the longer the business has had the water right, the more secure the business’s water supply claim is. This is important because people with more secure rights get priority access to water resources.

“What happens is, if you’re a senior water right and can’t get the water you’ve historically used, you can tell all the people who are more junior to you, who started diverting water after you, to stop diverting,” Manning said.

The research project focuses on the water basins that the researchers are around: the South Platte river basin, the Verde River basin and the Walker river basin. Although the economic models are being designed around these basins, the research team wants these models to be tailored to any area that relies on surface water, Manning said.

Agriculture diverts the most water in the west, and it diverts anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the water supply each year, said Christopher Goemans, an agricultural and resource economics professor at CSU. With the expansion of population, agricultural, municipal and industrial areas are forced to compete for the water resources available.

“Any institution that we come up with is tricky because you want to have reliability built into the system so that if I’m a city or a group of cities … I know what my rights are to certain amounts of water,” Goemans said. “But at the same time, we also want fluidity, no pun intended, in the system because as conditions change, whether on the demand or the supply, we want the system to be adaptable to those conditions.”

The demand for water changes in relation to population changes in an area. Manning said through potential options like conservation and reservoirs, the research team is looking into how in the future the amount of water needed can be best maintained.

“Having those different options is actually good, we aren’t limited to one thing to adapt,” Goemans said. “It’s not only building infrastructure, it’s not only telling people to use less, but it’s a combination of all that.”

The side of demand not only involves economic thought, but also social sciences and hydrology engineers. This is where the importance of interdisciplinary work comes in, Manning said.

“You can’t really do this without doing interdisciplinary work,” Manning said. “We don’t model hydrology, but somebody on this project will, and that’ll help us create the supply side of our economic model.”

The research group aims to make a long-lasting impact on how water resources are allocated in the future. With the increased uncertainty of the supply of water, they want to create a reliable yet fluid system for the balance between agricultural, municipal and industrial water needs.

“It’s not just academics and it’s not just one state,” Goemans said. “There’s this huge outreach component. We’re working with local water authorities and each of the states to try to make sure (the research) is as useful for them as possible.”

Collegian reporter Julia Trowbridge can be reached at news@collegian.com or on twitter @chapin_jules.

Off-the-clock: Denver Water’s marksman – News on TAP

Hitting a tiny, metal target at 650 feet takes focus and skill.

Source: Off-the-clock: Denver Water’s marksman – News on TAP

Home grown: How Denver Water is addressing a looming workforce shortage – News on TAP

Customer service specialist turned water treatment tech is a shining example of how to develop industry experts.

Source: Home grown: How Denver Water is addressing a looming workforce shortage – News on TAP

@NOAA: Snow during El Niños from 1950 to 2009

From NOAA (Rebecca Lindsey):

If you’ve been reading Climate.gov’s ENSO blog, then you’ve heard by now that forecasters think the tropical Pacific climate phenomenon known as El Niño is likely to visit this winter. One of El Niño’s common “downstream” impacts is above-average winter precipitation across the southern United States, the result of a stronger than usual Pacific jet stream.

When it comes to winter precipitation, of course, what most of us are really curious about is the snow. Is El Niño likely to mean or less of it where you live? These maps provide a hint. They show the difference from average snowfall during the cold season (October-April) during the ten strongest El Niño winters from 1950-51 through 2008-09 (top) and during all El Niño winters (21 events, bottom). Places where cold season snowfall was above average are colored blue, while places where snowfall was below average are shades of brown.

Most of the areas that experienced snowier-than-average cold seasons during strong El Niño years are in the southern half of the country, with the biggest departures from average west of the Mississippi: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. That north-south split is consistent with the influence of a strong Pacific jet stream driving winter storms across the southern United States. In the region’s high country—California’s Sierra Nevadas, Arizona’s Colorado Plataea, New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristos and Sacramento Range—precipitation carried by those storms will often fall as snow.

The tricky thing about using El Niño to forecast winter climate impacts is that El Niño doesn’t guarantee a given snow or temperature pattern; it’s just tilts the odds that way. Another wrinkle is that the strength of the El Niño event doesn’t really predict the strength of the impacts. A strong El Niño makes it more likely that there will be a snowier than average winter in the northern Colorado Front Range and eastern plains, for example, but whether that means a little snowier or a lot isn’t predictable based on the strength of El Niño alone.

Another thing we have to remember is that statistically speaking, the 20 or so El Niño events that we have to work with are not all that many, especially when we further sort them into “strong” and “weak” categories. With only ten years to analyze, even one unusual winter storm during a strong El Niño year could leave a confusing fingerprint on the overall pattern. Meanwhile, during weak El Niño years, other natural variability may drown out the El Niño signal.

The most reliable impacts of El Niño on U.S. snowfall, therefore, may not necessarily be the biggest ones on the “strong events” map, but rather any of the above- or below-average patterns that show up on both maps, regardless of their strength. That would include patterns such as the below-average snowfall from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes, for example, and the snowier-than-average conditions across the high plains of eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, and northern Texas, as well as in the Mid-Atlantic and the southern Appalachians of West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina.

The analysis was done by Stephen Baxter of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, using satellite-based snow data from the Rutgers Snow Lab. (It’s an encore to a similar analysis he did for the ENSO blog, showing snow patterns during La Niña winters.) He and his colleagues are working to expand the seasonal snow anomaly datasets to include measurements up through last winter. The more events scientists have for their analysis, the more confident they can be that the patterns they find are really connected to El Nino, and are not just due to chance. Baxter thinks the update may prove particularly interesting for teasing out possible connections between El Niño and snowfall in the Northeast: it will incorporate two prominent El Niño events (2009-10 and 2015-16) during which there were also major winter storms in the Northeast.

Citizens put #renewable energy on this year’s ballots — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

From The High Country News (Jessica Kutz):

The fossil fuel-friendly Trump administration has been busy rolling back environmental regulations and opening millions of acres of public land to oil and gas drilling. Just last week, the Interior Department announced plans to gut an Obama-era methane pollution rule, giving natural gas producers more leeway to emit the powerful greenhouse gas.

With the GOP controlling the executive branch and Congress, that means state-level ballot initiatives are one of the few tools progressives have left to advance their own energy agendas. Twenty-four states, including most Western ones, permit this type of “direct democracy,” which allows citizens who gather enough petition signatures to put new laws and regulations to a vote in general elections.

“In general, the process is used — and advocated for — by those not in power,” explains Josh Altic, the ballot measure project director for the website Ballotpedia. Nationwide, 64 citizen-driven initiatives will appear on state ballots this November, and in the West, many aim to encourage renewable energy development — and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Proposition 127 would require utility companies to get half their energy from renewable energy sources like the Sandstone Solar project in Florence, AZ, by 2030. Photo credit: Stephen Mellentine/Flickr CC

Arizona

Proposition 127, known as the Renewable Energy Standards Initiative, would require electric utilities to get half of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar — though not nuclear — by 2030. California billionaire Tom Steyer has contributed over $8 million to the campaign through his political action organization, NextGen Climate Action, which is funding a similar initiative in Nevada.

The parent company of Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility, tried to sabotage the initiative with a lawsuit arguing that over 300,000 petition signatures were invalid and that the petition language may have confused signers into thinking the mandate includes nuclear energy. APS gets most of its energy from the Palo Verde nuclear plant, and the initiative could hurt its revenue.

Colorado

The progressive group Colorado Rising gathered enough signatures to put Proposition 112 — the Safer Setbacks for Fracking Initiative — to a vote this year. It would prohibit new oil and gas wells and production facilities within 2,500 feet of schools, houses, playgrounds, parks, drinking water sources and more. State law currently requires setbacks of at least 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools. It’s opposed by the industry-backed group Protect Colorado, whose largest funder, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, attracted scrutiny last year after two people died in a home explosion linked to a leaking gas flow line from a nearby Anadarko well.

Amendment 74, sponsored by the Colorado Farm Bureau, would allow citizens to file claims for lost property value due to government action. It is largely seen as a response to Proposition 112, which the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission says would block development on 85 percent of state and private lands. The Farm Bureau’s Chad Vorthmann says Amendment 74 would amend the state Constitution to protect farmers and ranchers who wish to lease their land for oil and gas from “random” setbacks.

Critics argue that the amendment could lead to unintended consequences. In Oregon, for example, a similar amendment passed in 2004, resulting in over 7,000 claims — totaling billions of dollars — filed against local governments, according to the Colorado Independent. Voters then amended the constitution in 2007 to overturn most aspects of the amendment and invalidate many of these claims.

Nevada

Two energy-related questions will appear on Nevada’s ballot: Question 6, known as the Renewable Energy Promotion Initiative, and Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative. Funded by Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action, Question 6, which would require utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, faces little formal opposition.

Question 3, however, has attracted more attention — and controversy. The initiative was approved in 2016, but because it would amend the state constitution, voters must approve it a second time. It would allow consumers to choose who they buy power from. It’s spearheaded by big energy consumers, including Switch, a large data company, and luxury resort developer Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which want the freedom to buy cheaper power on the open market without penalty. But environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and Western Resource Advocates, say the initiative threatens clean energy development. NV Energy, the regulated monopoly that provides 90 percent of Nevada’s electricity, has several solar projects planned but has said it would abandon some of these projects if the initiative passes due to costs.

Washington

Washington could become the first state to pass a so-called “carbon fee.” Initiative 1631 would create funding for investments in clean energy and pollution programs through a fee paid for by high carbon emitters like utilities and oil companies. In 2016, a similar initiative lost by almost 10 points. However, many former opponents are now supporters.

What changed? The 2016 initiative would have imposed a revenue-neutral tax instead of a fee, meaning the money generated by the tax would have been offset by a sales tax cut. Environmental groups felt that the initiative didn’t do enough to promote clean energy or to address the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities. But the new fee would bankroll clean energy projects, as well as help polluted communities. The oil and gas industry is funding the opposition campaign, with Phillips 66 contributing $7.2 million so far.

Jessica Kutz is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email her at jessicak@hcn.org

#Drought/#snowpack news: “We really do need a good water year to replenish [Upper #ColoradoRiver reservoirs] — Jim Pokrandt #COriver

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A shift in the weather pattern in the West has made for a welcome dose of moisture locally, with Grand Junction getting 1.72 inches of rain for the first seven days of October and snow showing up in the high country, including on Grand Mesa.

The Grand Junction precipitation is more than the 1.56 inches the city received for all of May through September, said Chris Cuoco, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“We’ve had over 10 percent — well over 10 percent — of our annual precipitation average just in the first seven days of October,” he said…

He said the moist weather is expected to linger, with a chance of showers each day through Thursday.

Then, after a forecasted brief break with the possible exception of a few mountain showers, potentially more moisture could arrive if the eventual remnants of Hurricane Sergio, now off the Baja California coast, push far enough north, Cuoco said.

Cuoco said the weather change has occurred because a big high-pressure ridge in the West that kept moisture from moving into the area during the summer was pushed off the West Coast and a low-pressure trough has taken its place.

“Most of these storms are riding through that trough and that trough is staying there,” he said.

He said storms that had been going through Montana and into the Midwest are now plunging down into the Great Basin, Utah and Colorado…

Numerous entities have stepped up to contribute water from Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt for downstream late-season agricultural needs and to help endangered fish in the Colorado River in Mesa County. The donors include the river district, Ute Water Conservancy District in Mesa County, ExxonMobil, Carbondale, Palisade, Aspen, Garfield County and the Snowmass Water & Sanitation District.

The contribution agreements included a contingency that if a change in weather makes some of the water releases unnecessary, it will be kept in the reservoir for future needs.

“This moisture right now has taken some pressure off the reservoirs for sure, both Ruedi and Green Mountain,” Pokrandt said.

The Ruedi water donations have been designed to substitute for water that typically comes from what’s called a historic users pool in Green Mountain Reservoir outside Kremmling and is used to meet the needs of those holding senior water rights in the valley.

Pokrandt said western Colorado reservoirs “got used for what they’re supposed to be” during the dry water year that has just ended.

“We really do need a good water year to replenish them,” he said.

A snowpack season that will continue into next spring is only getting started, but it’s hard to ask for much better of a start.

Mike Wenner, owner of the Grand Mesa Lodge, said about a foot of snow has fallen there, with about eight inches on the ground as the snow has settled and melted…

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is forecasting an above-average chance of precipitation in Colorado through December, but also an even better chance of higher-than-normal temperatures in the state during that same time frame.

If the latter forecast holds, “that raises the snow line,” Pokrandt said.

Lower-elevation precipitation would fall as rain rather than as snow that is stored until next year when it melts and is released in the form of runoff.

Still, Pokrandt said, rain going into winter can boost soil moisture, meaning that soil absorbs less moisture during spring runoff and more water makes it to streams.

“Soil moisture is always important,” he said.