Three Things To Know About #ColoradoRiver Plans In The Works — KUNC #COriver #aridification

A big beach during sunset in Cataract Canyon, above Lake Powell, on Oct. 1, 2018. Low flows in the Green and Colorado rivers have left Lake Powell less than half full and left big beaches along the rivers above the falling reservoir. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From KUNC (Luke Runyon/Bret Jaspers):

Water managers along the Colorado River are trying to figure out how to live with less.

Climate change is growing the gap between the river’s supply, and the demands in the communities that rely on it, including seven western U.S. states and Mexico. The federal government recently released proposals called Drought Contingency Plans designed to keep the Colorado River’s biggest reservoirs from falling to levels where water is unable to be sent through the dams that hold up Lakes Powell and Mead.

The river’s two basins are working on separate plans to manage the risks posed by dwindling water supplies. The Upper Basin — comprised of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — is focused on protecting water levels within Lake Powell. The reservoir is 45 feet lower now than it was in October 2010. It’s projected to fall another 15 feet in the next year.

Powell acts as the Upper Basin’s savings account, and water managers in those states say the water it holds keeps them compliant with a 1922 agreement that divvied up the river’s water and promised a certain amount to downstream users. Violating that agreement could spark a decades-long legal battle among government agencies throughout the basin.

In the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada, the problem is overuse. Essentially, more water exists on paper than in the river itself. That supply-demand gap is causing the country’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead near Las Vegas, to drop too, increasing the likelihood of a federal water shortage declaration at the start of 2020.

Because they make fundamental changes to how the river is managed, the plans will require congressional approval before they go into effect. The plans are an attempt to patch problems that arose from a set of river management guidelines agreed to in 2007…

Here are the top three things to keep an eye on as water managers attempt to get the plans finished:

1. Will the Upper Basin create a protected pool in Lake Powell?

The most contentious portion of the Upper Basin plan is the establishment of a conservation pool in Lake Powell…

2. Will Arizona capitalize on California’s offer to cut back?

Some Lower Basin water managers see their Drought Contingency Plan as a rare opportunity. For the first time, California is willing to cut back its water deliveries when Lake Mead drops past 1,045 feet in elevation. California has the highest priority water rights in the Lower Basin in times of shortage. Under current rules, the Central Arizona Project, which feeds Phoenix and Tucson, could lose every last drop of its Colorado River allocation before California has to take even a modest curtailment…

3. What effect will Mother Nature, federal officials have?

Whether these plans move from draft proposals to signed agreements is still uncertain. Outside forces could either speed up or derail the ongoing negotiations.

In August, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Brenda Burman gave the seven basin states an end of year deadline to finish their Drought Contingency Plans. Mexico has already agreed to cutbacks, but only if the Lower Basin states finish and sign their plan.

Arizona is the sole basin state that requires state legislative approval before it can officially sign a deal, and there are currently no plans for a special session before the end of the year. Federal officials could give some leeway to that end of year deadline as long as states can show progress is being made.

State officials in the West are adamant they don’t want the federal government steering the ship when it comes to Colorado River governance, and the threat of interference could be enough to get the plans over the finish line.

Another pressure point is the weather. It was the unprecedented dry conditions that forced water managers to the table to come up with the 2007 guidelines, and then again to form the Drought Contingency Plans. The 2018 water year — from Oct. 1 2017 to Sept. 30 2018 — wrapped up as one of the driest on record for the entire Colorado River Basin.

If the El Nino weather pattern currently taking shape in the Pacific Ocean fails to pummel the southern Rocky Mountains with wintry storms, expect the heat to get turned up even more to get these agreements done.

Colorado River Basin. Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

@USBR selects three submissions to receive prizes for the eradication of invasive mussels in open water prize competition

Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

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

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced today that Reclamation has selected three submissions for its prize competition seeking ideas to eradicate mussels in open water. Steven Suhr and Marie-Claude Senut will receive a full award of $80,000 for their idea while Wen Chen and Absar Alum with Stephanie Bone will each receive $10,000.

“Providing water managers with new tools to control invasive quagga and zebra mussels is an important part of protecting infrastructure and ecosystems,” Commissioner Burman said. “Reclamation is committed to working with our partners to prevent the spread of quagga and zebra mussels in the West.”

The prize competition was a theoretical challenge and sought innovative solutions to eradicate invasive quagga and zebra mussels from large reservoirs, lakes and rivers in a cost-effective and environmentally sound manner. Invasive mussel infestations pose a significant logistical and economic challenge for local communities, recreationists and water managers. There is no practical method available today for the large-scale control of invasive dreissenid mussel population once they become established.

Steven Suhr and Marie-Claude Senut, founders of Biomilab, LLC, proposed using genomic modification to induce a lethal malignant hemic neoplasia in mussels that can be transferred from one mussel to another by proximity. They suggested utilizing the CRISPR/cas9-mediated genome modification to target the function or expression of endogenous dreissenid mussel p53 or telomerase reverse transcriptase genes, or to introduce the viral SV40 Tag gene. This submission for the prize competition received $80,000.

Wen Chen, a research scientist at Harvard Medical School, proposed utilizing single stranded DNA/RNA oligonucleotide-based aptamers to target the modified amino acid 3,4 dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA) or dreissenid specific foot proteins to interrupt attachment, eventually leading to mussel mortality. The use of aptamers to target DOPA and foot proteins to interrupt mussel settlement is a novel idea and received $10,000.

Absar Alum of BioDetek with Stephanie Bone proposed genome modification to develop male mussels that produce sperm containing a light triggered optogenetic switch to drive upregulation or downregulation of cyclin-b expression resulting in death of the fertilized egg. This strategy relies on sunlight penetration into the upper portions of a water body to turn on the optogenetic switch in free-floating, transparent developing eggs and embryos. It was found to be a novel idea and received $10,000.

A total of 238 solvers signed up to solve this challenge and more than 100 solvers submitted solutions. Of those solutions submitted, 67 were deemed viable and were judged. Reclamation collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Molloy & Associates on this prize competition. To learn more about this prize competition please visit

The results of this prize competition will support a broader effort by the federal government, as well as work by the Western Governors’ Association, western states, and tribes to protect western ecosystems, water infrastructure and hydroelectric facilities from invasive mussels. To learn more, please visit

CRISPR-Cas9 is a method of genome editing that exploits a natural DNA-snipping enzyme in bacteria, called Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) to target and edit particular genes. CRISPR stands for Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, which are segments of DNA of a particular structure found widely in bacteria and archaea (prokaryotes). In the wild, the CRISPR-Cas9 system is part of the prokaryotic immune system, which can snip out of the genome DNA acquired from foreign sources such as phages (bacterial viruses). The same molecular machinery is now being used to enable genetic material to be cut from and pasted into the genomes of other organisms, including eukaryotes such as humans. It might offer a tool for curing genetically based diseases. Graphic via Cambridge University

A WISE Approach to Water Reuse: Q&A with Lisa Darling — @WaterEdCo

WISE Project map via Denver Water

Click here to go to Water Education Colorado (Rachel Champion) and read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

Lisa Darling, Water Education Colorado’s trusted board president, has years of experience working with water reuse—we sat down with her to learn more. Lisa works as executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority (SMWSA), an organization that formed in 2004 when rapidly-growing south metro communities reliant on declining non-renewable groundwater realized they had to shift their water portfolios if they were to be sustainable. Now SMWSA relies on the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership (WISE) between Denver Water, Aurora Water, and 13 SMWSA members, reusing water from Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project—which Lisa worked on for Aurora before moving to SMWSA in 2017. An excerpt of the interview is available in the fall 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine, but you can follow along with the full interview here!

Who Needs Halloween? #ClimateChange will bring plenty of tricks and very few treats — Kate Marvel

Yes, there is still lots of ice in Antarctica, but it’s melting faster than ever. bberwyn photo.

From Scientific American (Kate Marvel):

In 2018, the idea that we need a special holiday to be scared feels a little strange. Zombies, vampires, and werewolves don’t seem so frightening when the real world provides us with Vladimir Putin, white supremacists, and greenhouse gas emissions. And trust me, as a climate scientist, I’m frightened every day. Watching our best projections of future climate is like watching a horror movie you can’t walk out of. And the worst part is the willful ignorance of the characters. I mean, who could be so stupid as to walk straight into a house they know is haunted?

We know a little bit about the horrors that await us in the climate haunted house—we did, after all, build it ourselves. Walk in to the entrance. Above the door is that most frightening of instruments—but not just any thermometer. This one is wrapped with a wet washcloth. It’s measuring something called the “wet bulb” temperature: a combination of heat and humidity—a quantity that’s predicted to rise dramatically as the climate changes. When the wet bulb temperature gets too high, it restricts the human body’s ability to cool itself off by sweating. When it exceeds about 80°F, people working outside run the risk of dangerous overheating. When it’s higher than 95°, you—even if you are healthy, lying down, and naked in the shade (and why would you not be?)—will be dead in six hours.

The hallway teems with rats, some the size of human infants. Climate change, it has been pointed out by skeptics, will be good for some species. And this turns out to be true, just not for humans. The shorter winters mean longer breeding seasons for urban rats, and they’re manifestly enjoying themselves. In these increasingly ideal breeding conditions, two rats can, within three years, turn in to almost half a billion.

The hallway leads back to the kitchen. It’s not well-stocked. Climate change has disrupted the food system. Earlier springs mean blooming fruits are more vulnerable to the occasional frost. Summers are longer, hotter, and drier, causing more crop failure. Heavier downpours carry agricultural runoff to already polluted lakes and rivers. But the most horrifying thing here is the refrigerator. Heat stress and drought associated with climate change have reduced global yields of barley and pushed up prices. There is no beer.

Off the hallway is the living room, where the TV blares news of war, conflict, and massive refugee movements. It’s made worse by the rise of demagogues who exploit even small-scale adversity by blaming large groups of other people. Why did we think “adaptation” to climate change would mean “carefully considering the facts and making sober, scientifically—informed decisions”? Based on historical precedent, that was always a long shot.

Walk through to the bedroom, where you’ll find the greatest horror of all. On the bed lies a person who, at first, looks healthy and serene. But she stares at the ceiling apathetically and does nothing. After walking through the haunted house, she’s too terrified to do anything. She’s never called her representative or senators. She’s never marched or petitioned or organized in her community. She didn’t even vote in the last election. And then you realize: the bedroom is an optical illusion, a hall of mirrors. The person in the bed is you.

We don’t have to live in a horror movie. In fact, if we focus only on scary things, we miss the true meaning of Halloween, which is to force small children into humiliating costumes for our amusement. My own toddler insists that he wants to be “a squid that helps people,” which mystifies his parents and reveals a poor understanding of cephalopod biology. But that kind little squid, and his pirate and dragon and pumpkin and monkey friends, are going to grow up to live in the house we build for them. I think we should at least try to chase the demons out first.