#Drought news: Boulder County #snowpack is a foot above average to start the accumulation season

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

The upper-level circulation during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week consisted of a trough over the eastern contiguous U.S. (CONUS) and a ridge over the west coast. The trough, with its northwesterly flow, funneled cold and dry Canadian air masses into the central and eastern CONUS. Below-normal temperatures spread across most of the CONUS, with weekly temperature departures more than 15 degrees below normal across parts of the central Plains to Midwest. The cold fronts were fed by Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic moisture when they reached the southern and eastern coasts. Low pressure systems tracked along the fronts to produce an inch of precipitation along the Gulf Coast, and 1 to locally over 2 inches across much of the country from the Tennessee and Ohio valleys to East Coast. The precipitation in the East was enhanced by a slow-moving upper-level low early in the week. The western ridge deflected Pacific storm systems away from the western CONUS and into southern Canada, making for a very dry week across much of the West with no precipitation recorded. The ridge also enhanced high surface pressure over the Great Basin, which produced strong Santa Ana winds that fanned devastating wildfires over California. As they tracked around the top of the ridge, some of the Pacific systems combined with the Canadian cold fronts to generate areas of precipitation in Washington, the northern and central Rockies, and a few areas in the northern Plains. Other than these few areas of precipitation, the Plains to Mississippi Valley were mostly dry with well less than half an inch of precipitation falling. Drought and abnormal dryness contracted in parts of Montana, North Dakota, and the Southwest. It expanded in a few areas and contracted in others in the Southeast. Moderate or severe drought expanded across a large part of California into Nevada, and in parts of the Pacific Northwest…

High Plains

The northern to central Plains were cold this week and most areas were dry. A swath of above-normal precipitation, which amounted to 0.5-1.0 inch, stretched from northeast Montana to northeast South Dakota, with other patches in Wyoming and southeast Nebraska. D0 contracted in north central Montana and southwest North Dakota where precipitation was above normal this week and above normal (wet) for most of the time scales for the last 2 years. According to November 18 reports from the USDA, topsoil moisture was short or very short across 26% of North Dakota and 39% of Wyoming. D0 contracted in Colorado, basically over Boulder County which was a foot of snow above average to start the snow season, and not showing any long-term precipitation deficits…


Parts of western Washington received 0.5-1.0 inch of precipitation this week, with a few spots up to 2 inches, but outside of the Pacific Northwest, the West was bone dry. D1 expanded from northeast Oregon into southeast Washington where precipitation deficits were growing. The SPI showed moderately dry conditions there at many time scales from the last 1 to 24 months. In California, a number of indicators showed moderate drought or worse conditions across the state. These included the SPI, SPEI, KBDI, streamflow percentiles, soil moisture models, and groundwater indices, and low snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. Agricultural impacts collected by the University of California Cooperative Extension and the USDA indicated worsening conditions across parts of coastal, central, and northeastern California. These impacts included reduced pasture and forage, hauling of water, livestock stress, decrease in water allocation, increased fire danger, dry wells, and low ponds and springs. D1 was expanded from central coastal California, across northeast California and into northern Nevada, and a sliver of D3 was added to Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, to reflect these conditions and indicators. According to November 18 USDA reports, topsoil was short or very short of moisture across 75% of California, 95% of Nevada, 66% of Oregon, and 48% of Washington. Except for northern California, reservoir levels in California were near or above average, indicating that the state’s water managers have done an excellent job managing water resources during the significant drought of the last several years.

Even though no precipitation fell this week, a reassessment of conditions led to contraction of drought and abnormal dryness in parts of the Southwest. Heavy rainfall from the remnants of several Pacific tropical systems during the last couple months brought precipitation totals into the surplus category at many, if not most, time scales from the last 1 to 6 months across southern and eastern New Mexico, and out to 24 months for parts of southeast Arizona and southern New Mexico. This was reflected in several indicators, including SPI, SPEI, soil moisture models, and the satellite-based GRACE groundwater index. A one-category improvement of D0-D2 was made across parts of southern, eastern, and central New Mexico, and D1 was pulled back in southeast Arizona and adjacent southwest New Mexico…


Rain was falling across southeast Texas and the western Gulf Coast as the week ended, and half an inch or more of rain fell across much of Tennessee, but otherwise the week was dry across the South. No change was made to the few areas of D0-D1 in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas…

Looking Ahead

A Pacific weather system was poised to bring precipitation to the West Coast as this USDM week ended. Over the next 7 days, the Pacific weather system will move across the West, pushing the ridge further to the east, and reforming as a frontal system that moves across the Plains to East Coast, with another Pacific system moving into the West on its heels. The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) for November 21-27 calls for 3+ inches of precipitation across much of the West Coast from northern California to Washington, with half an inch to an inch or more further inland to the northern and central Rockies. The precipitation is forecast to miss most of southern California and the Southwest. Little to no precipitation is in the QPF in the northern and southern Plains, while a band of 0.1 to 0.5 inch stretches across the central Plains. The QPF has an inch or more of precipitation across much of the country along and east of the Mississippi River, with 2 inches or more in parts of the Gulf Coast and southern Appalachians to New England. The central part of the CONUS will get a shot of above-normal temperatures as the ridge propagates east, then below temperatures will return. The CPC 6-10 day and 8-14 day outlooks envision a ridge re-establishing itself across the West and a trough over the East. As a result, warmer-than-normal temperatures are expected across Alaska and the Rockies to West Coast, with colder-than-normal temperatures expected to dominate from the Plains to East Coast, except New England. November 26-December 4 is expected to be wetter than normal in Alaska, along the West Coast, along the northern tier states, in New England, and in Florida, and drier than normal across the southern Plains to Lower Mississippi Valley.

US Drought Monitor one week change map November 13-20, 2018.

Paper: Assessing the Risk of Persistent #Drought Using #Climate Model Simulations and Paleoclimate Data

Douglas Fir tree rings via the Western Water Assessment

Click here to read the paper (Toby R. Ault). Here’s the abstract:

Projected changes in global rainfall patterns will likely alter water supplies and ecosystems in semiarid regions during the coming century. Instrumental and paleoclimate data indicate that natural hydroclimate fluctuations tend to be more energetic at low (multidecadal to multicentury) than at high (interannual) frequencies. State-of-the-art global climate models do not capture this characteristic of hydroclimate variability, suggesting that the models underestimate the risk of future persistent droughts. Methods are developed here for assessing the risk of such events in the coming century using climate model projections as well as observational (paleoclimate) information. Where instrumental and paleoclimate data are reliable, these methods may provide a more complete view of prolonged drought risk. In the U.S. Southwest, for instance, state-of-the-art climate model projections suggest the risk of a decade-scale megadrought in the coming century is less than 50%; the analysis herein suggests that the risk is at least 80%, and may be higher than 90% in certain areas. The likelihood of longer-lived events (>35 yr) is between 20% and 50%, and the risk of an unprecedented 50-yr megadrought is nonnegligible under the most severe warming scenario (5%–10%). These findings are important to consider as adaptation and mitigation strategies are developed to cope with regional impacts of climate change, where population growth is high and multidecadal megadrought—worse than anything seen during the last 2000 years—would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region.

Legislation needed to change current boundaries of the Republican River Water Conservation District to include all depletions

Map shows current water district boundary in red, proposed boundary in black. Blue area shows the Ogallala Aquifer. (Courtesy Republican River Water Conservation District)

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

[Deb Daniels] told the commissioners her district is working with the Colorado legislature to redraw the boundaries of the RRWCD after it was discovered two years ago that the district’s borders didn’t match the Republican River’s drainage basin. That basin’s northwest border matches the South Platte’s southeast border, although experts differ on exactly where the dividing line is.

The problem, Daniels said, is that there are wells in the southern area of the Republican basin that aren’t covered by the conservation district’s augmentation plan. That plan is necessary in order for Colorado to be in compliance with a 1943 water compact with Nebraska and Kansas that allocates water from the Republican River among the three states…

Several hundred wells, mostly in Cheyenne and Kit Carson counties, have been found to be depleting the river aquifer, and so need to be brought into the RRWCD. Those well owners will then have to pay the per-acre fees to help pay for Colorado’s augmentation plan.

Daniels said there are a few wells in Logan County that now are part of the Lower South Platte’s augmentation plan that would be taken into the Republican district, but because those wells already are covered by an augmentation plan, they wouldn’t be charged the Republican district’s fees.

Joe Frank, contacted at the LSPWCD office after the meeting, said changing the Republican district’s boundary wouldn’t affect Lower’s boundary, as there is a narrow strip of property between the two district boundaries.

“Right now we’re in a fact-finding mode, but we will make a recommendation to the legislature before the bill comes up next year,” Frank said.

#ColoradoRiver: The Humpback Chub and Razorback Sucker, are making a comeback #COriver

From WesternSlopeNow.com (Colette Bordelon):

Our local Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office said they release around 20,000 endangered fish from the hatchery every year. “We’re the ones who have almost taken them out, and I feel like it’s our job to recover them, and so that’s why I do what I do,” said Dale Ryden, a project leader at the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office.

Those with the local office also said several factors made the fish endangered in the first place, including a lack of water and nonnative fish, as well as barriers like dams and reservoirs. Right now, the Humpback Chub, Bonytail, Colorado Pikeminnow, and Razorback Sucker are all listed as endangered species’. “Fish and Wildlife service established the Endangered Species Act back in 1973, and two of our species were immediately on the list: Humpback Chub and Razorback Sucker,” said Tom Chart, the program director for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

Those two species, the Humpback Chub and Razorback Sucker, are making a comeback. The recent proposal by scientists with the Fish and Wildlife Service that suggested moving them from endangered to threatened would require the public’s comments in the future. “I don’t know that they would be possibly downlisted if it wouldn’t have been for the Endangered Species Act years ago,” said Mike Gross, a fish culturist at the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office.

Fountain Creek: “Every time [#ColoradoSprings] makes an offer, it is business as usual” — Jay Winner

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

“Every time the Springs makes an offer, it is business as usual,” says Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, a plaintiff in the case. “They say, ‘You have seen a list of what we plan on doing, and that’s enough.'”

Officials with Pueblo County and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), also plaintiffs along with the Environmental Protection Agency, say they want to settle, too.

“I am totally convinced that every dollar we’ve spent on litigation is a dollar not going into projects,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart says.

But Winner and Hart say they want an enforceable agreement to assure the city follows through, not a given considering Colorado Springs’ track record of shirking its drainage responsibilities.

And while Suthers cites a 20-year, $460-million intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Pueblo County and a new voter-approved stormwater fee as proof the city means business, a state official notes the city still defies the law.

“Many of the violations that Judge Matsch found are ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act,” Patrick Pfaltzgraf, director of CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division, says in a statement. He also warns that Matsch “has broad authority” to slam the city with court orders to force the city’s compliance with the Clean Water Act.

At issue is a lawsuit in which regulators allege the city failed to force developers to install necessary drainage infrastructure, thereby allowing sediment and pollution to befoul Fountain Creek south to Pueblo and, via the Arkansas River, to points east and south.

And while Suthers has promised to do better, plaintiffs note the current IGA specifically says the agreement doesn’t bind future city officials to fund it.

“The biggest issue is no one trusts the Springs that they will follow through,” Winner says. “They dissolved the Stormwater Enterprise once. What will stop them from doing it again?”

Indeed, the city’s shoddy and under-funded stormwater controls date back decades and include the flip-flop of adopting stormwater fees in 2007 (without a public vote) only to abolish them two years later after voters approved Issue 300 that barred payments between the city and its enterprises.

Thereafter, the city’s spending on flood control dwindled to less than $2 million a year, and it continued to pollute streams and the Arkansas river.

Then came two scathing audits by regulators in 2013 and 2015, during the tenure of then-Mayor Steve Bach, which resulted in little action. So in 2016, Pueblo County threatened to rescind Colorado Springs Utilities’ construction permit for the $825-million Southern Delivery System water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir unless the city fixed its drainage problems.

That led to the April 2016 IGA, in which the Springs agreed to construct 71 stormwater projects and improve maintenance. Despite that, the EPA and CDPHE sued in November 2016.

A two-week trial in September addressed just three examples of developments within the city with inadequate stormwater controls, of the city’s hundreds of violations. Matsch found that the city defied its federal discharge permit by waiving water quality requirements in the northeast Indigo Ranch development; by failing to enforce its own rules against the developer of Star Ranch Filing 2, and by allowing installation of a misdesigned drainage basin at MorningStar at Bear Creek.

In a statement issued after Matsch’s ruling, Suthers lamented the lawsuit’s cost — already more than $3.3 million — and blamed the plaintiffs. “[I]f the state and EPA insist on continuing to litigate every issue, we have no choice but to continue to do so,” he wrote, noting the city has taken “extraordinary steps” toward creating “the best stormwater program in the state.”

But Winner says the city, not the plaintiffs, refuses to enter into a consent decree that would end the lawsuit.

Although plaintiffs haven’t floated dollar figures in penalties or additional drainage requirements, Winner and Hart say they want a deal that’s enforced by an outsider to ensure the city adheres to its conditions.

“Citizens would like that — to see they’re getting their dollar’s worth,” Winner says. “How can we be sure they’re going to spend that $460 million unless there’s some consent order? They [city officials] want to self-audit. What I want is a third-party audit, and I think Pueblo would see it the exact same way.”

Says Hart, “I’m willing to talk about anything to resolve the case.” But, given the city’s past flip-flop on stormwater, he, too, wants more than a handshake.

“What we worry about is making sure everything we enter into isn’t based purely on trust, but that it’s what we agreed to and it’s enforceable,” he says, adding, “Honestly, I don’t know if the city is ready, willing and able to settle.”

He bases that thought on two things: First, Hart, an attorney, ran into Suthers, who’s also a lawyer, at the State Fair where the mayor expressed disappointment there’d been no settlement. Hart told him that Pueblo County wants to discuss it. He says nothing happened. Second, “There was conversation a week or so before the judge’s order came out about whether a settlement discussion might be appropriate,” he says, “and I have not heard back.”

He adds, “I don’t think either community is benefited by constantly slugging it out in court.”

Winner agrees and wonders why the city seems bent on letting the lawsuit move ahead to a trial of dozens of violations and a determination of sanctions.