FromThe Arizona Republic (Dustin Gardiner, Andrew Nicla and Ian James):
Arizona lawmakers passed a historic Colorado River drought deal Thursday afternoon, about seven hours before a midnight deadline set by the federal government.
Gov. Doug Ducey promptly signed the legislation, clearing the way for Arizona to join in the three-state Drought Contingency Plan together with California and Nevada.
“There’s a lot more work to be done to ensure that Arizona is prepared for a drier water future,” Ducey said as he signed. A crowd of policy advisers and lawmakers applauded in the old state Capitol building…
The hours of rushed work by Arizona lawmakers could still be overshadowed, as a California irrigation district’s demands threaten to delay efforts to finish the Drought Contingency Plan, which aims to protect levels in Lake Mead…
The hours of rushed work by Arizona lawmakers could still be overshadowed, as a California irrigation district’s demands threaten to delay efforts to finish the Drought Contingency Plan, which aims to protect levels in Lake Mead…
“Today is also a historic day,” Ducey said. “We’re not going to wait 40 years for the next thing that’s going to happen on water. We’re going to continue it in this legislative session in terms of discussion and action.”
He signed an executive order to create a new water-conservation council that will recommend ideas to reduce the state’s use and prepare for future shortages…
Senators voted 27-3 to approve a package of bills that would make possible Arizona’s participation, together with California and Nevada, in the Lower Basin plan, which lays out plans for the states to share in water cutbacks between 2020 and 2026.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Arizona House of Representatives voted 59-0, with one abstention, to pass the deal about 5 p.m. Thursday…
Senators voted 27-3 to approve a package of bills that would make possible Arizona’s participation, together with California and Nevada, in the Lower Basin plan, which lays out plans for the states to share in water cutbacks between 2020 and 2026.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Arizona House of Representatives voted 59-0, with one abstention, to pass the deal about 5 p.m. Thursday.
California’s Imperial Irrigation District and two others here will get the last word on the seven-state Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans. And IID could end up with $200 million to restore the badly polluted and fast-drying Salton Sea.
Thursday, as the clock ticked toward a midnight deadline set by a top federal official, all eyes had been on Arizona. But lawmakers there approved the Colorado River drought deal with about seven hours to spare. IID, an often-overlooked southeastern California agricultural water district, appears to have thrown a last-minute monkey wrench into the process.
Officials there were in “intense negotiations and discussions” with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California partners, an IID official and another with the state river board said. The district is also awaiting a meeting with USDA Secretary Purdue after talks with his staff about a Jan. 17 written request they sent him for the hefty federal funding to help restore the sea, and to help cope with further reductions of Colorado River imports…
Board President Erik Ortega said, “This isn’t an either/or proposition for IID; it is instead an honest effort by the district to improve the sustainability of the Salton Sea and to ensure the viability of the DCP (drought contingency plan).”
In its statement, IID said the $200 million pledge it requested “would represent a firm commitment to the environment, public health, water supply reliability, the agricultural industry and the future resiliency of the Colorado River.”
IID was forced in an earlier federal-state agreement to start sending some of its supply to urban San Diego and the Coachella Valley, diverting it from farmlands and the Salton Sea. The sea, actually California’s largest lake, has historically been a critical stop for millions of migratory birds on the North American flyway. It also sits in the middle of an arid desert.
Without the critical inflow from Colorado River water, the lake is now rapidly shrinking, potentially unleashing a major public health crisis. As its dry, cakey playa shoreline expands, experts say winds will whip up increasing amounts of dust and send it across much of Riverside County, potentially endangering children with asthma and others…
The Coachella Valley and Palo Verde water district boards approved elements of the plan, but also reserved the right to sign the final agreements after all the details have been hammered out.
Arizona would give up 192,000 acre-feet of water and Nevada would give up 8,000 acre-feet under the first round of annual cuts, set to kick in Jan. 1. California would join in the reductions, surrendering 200,000 acre-feet of water a year, should Lake Mead shrink another 41 feet from where it is now…
Congress still needs to pass federal legislation ratifying portions of the interstate deal, and California’s little-known but powerful Imperial Irrigation District has yet to give its final blessing.
The agricultural district is the single largest water user on the Colorado, with senior rights to more than 10 times as much river water as Nevada gets each year. Board members for the district gave conditional approval to the drought contingency plan in December, so long as the final package includes federal funding to stabilize the Salton Sea and stave off a looming environmental disaster in the California desert…
The series of escalating cuts by Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico could eventually total more than 1.37 million acre-feet a year, but they won’t immediately halt Lake Mead’s decline. Only Mother Nature can do that, said Colby Pellegrino, director of water resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“(The Drought Contingency Plan) is designed to keep the system from failing” by stabilizing Lake Mead,” Pellegrino said. “That stabilization might occur lower down than Lake Mead is today.”
Next up for water managers on the river: More long and painful negotiations. Starting in 2020, the seven states will begin renegotiating the current operating guidelines for the Colorado and its two largest reservoirs. Those rules were adopted in 2007 and are set to expire in 2026.
If nothing else, Pellegrino said, the talks that led to the drought contingency plan have set the stage for the next round of water wrangling.
Here’s the release from the Arizona Water Coalition (Michael Pauker):
The plan’s passage represents a major step toward security for the state’s water supply
The Water for Arizona Coalition today commended state lawmakers for voting to approve the state’s Drought Contingency Plan (DCP).
“Today, Arizona lawmakers made clear that they are willing to do what it takes to protect our water supply, even when that means making difficult compromises,” said Kim Mitchell, Senior Water Policy Advisor at Western Resource Advocates, “The passage of this plan will help Arizona prepare for a drier future while safeguarding our state’s vital water resources and lessening the impact to water users. We commend Governor Ducey, Arizona legislators, water managers, and stakeholders for all they have done to get our state’s plan over the finish line.”
“By passing DCP, the Arizona legislature has reduced the risk to the Colorado River, and taken a major step toward protecting people and critical habitat for birds and other wildlife,” said Sonia Perillo, Audubon Arizona’s Executive Director, “We still face challenges, including the likelihood of a water shortage in the near future, but this plan helps ensure that Arizona can prepare, and protect our communities and ecosystems.”
“It is increasingly likely that a decline in Lake Mead’s elevation will trigger a shortage declaration in the years ahead. Having a Drought Contingency Plan in place helps make sure that such a shortage, and the water cutbacks that will follow it, do not disrupt our economy and cause more pain than they need to,” said Kevin Moran, Senior Director for the Colorado River Program at Environmental Defense Fund and Chair of the Water for Arizona Coalition. “This plan conserves more water in Lake Mead through a mix of mechanisms and incentives to reduce water demand, including system conservation projects and water trading among cities, tribes and irrigation districts. I commend our legislature and Governor Ducey for recognizing the urgent need for conservation and other actions to protect the health of the Colorado River system that supports cities, farms and ranches, industry, tribal communities, wildlife, and recreation in the region.”
“Arizona’s climate is growing warmer and drier each year. Understanding that reality is what spurred so many diverse interests to compromise through the Drought Contingency Planning process,” said Jeff Odefey, American Rivers’ Director of Clean Water Supply. “This arduous process led to compromise and collaboration. As a result – Arizona’s communities and environment have a plan that is the first step toward a more secure water future.”
“Arizona’s business community knows that future prosperity depends on having a predictable water supply. That’s exactly what the Drought Contingency Plan ensures—that we’re ready with a plan when we need it,” said Todd Reeve, D irector at Business for Water Stewardship, “Lawmakers’ decision to pass the plan shows that they are serious about protecting our economy.”
About the Water for Arizona Coalition
The Water for Arizona Coalition comprises Arizonans who support policies and innovative practices to ensure a reliable water supply to meet the state’s needs. Organizational support is provided by solution-oriented groups like Business for Water Stewardship, American Rivers, Audubon Arizona, Environmental Defense Action Fund, and Western Resource Advocates, which collectively have over 60,000 Arizona members, as well as hundreds of hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreators across the state. Kevin Moran, a long-time Arizonan and former government relations consultant, is the Chairman of the Coalition.
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):
On Friday, February 1, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman will conduct a media availability to discuss the status of Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plans.
Recognizing growing risks in the basin, Reclamation and the basin states have worked for several years to develop meaningful drought contingency plans (DCPs) for the upper and lower Colorado River basins. The governor’s representatives from each state endorsed a Reclamation goal to complete DCPs by the end of 2018. The four Upper Basin States approved their DCP in December 2018. During last December’s Colorado River Water Users Association Conference, Burman set a January 31, 2019, deadline for completion of all DCPs.
WHO: Brenda Burman, Reclamation Commissioner; Brent Rhees, Reclamation Regional Director – Upper Colorado Region; Terry Fulp, Reclamation Regional Director – Lower Colorado Region
WHAT: Media availability to discuss the status of Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plans
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor January 29. 2019.
West Drought Monitor January 29. 2019.
Colorado Drought Monitor January 29. 2019.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Colder than normal temperatures dominated most of the United States for the week, especially areas east of the continental divide. The eastern half of the country remained quite wet, with most areas east of the Missouri River recording above-normal precipitation for the week. The cold settled in as a polar vortex descended south and arctic air blasted the Midwest, Great Lakes and portions of the Plains at the end of the current period…
The colder than normal temperatures were also impacting most of the High Plains, where temperatures were about 5 degrees below normal over most areas. The region was mostly drier than normal for the week, with only areas of the Dakotas, southeast Nebraska, and eastern portions of Colorado and Wyoming receiving slightly above normal precipitation. The conditions did not warrant any changes to the drought status this week in the pockets of remaining drought in North Dakota and eastern Colorado…
Temperatures were mixed in the region as they were below normal through the Rocky Mountains and above normal through the rest of the region. It was a mainly dry week over much of the West with only areas of the central and northern Rocky Mountains into the Great Basin recording above-normal precipitation. The driest conditions were along the coastal areas of Washington, Oregon, and California, where departures were 1-2 inches below normal. Even with a dry week, a reassessment of conditions was done, which allowed for quite a few improvements over California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon. In most of California, a full category improvement was done in response to the short-term indicators. Nevada had conditions improve by a full category in both the eastern and western portions of the state. In Utah, severe drought was improved in the northern portions of the state while in Oregon, extreme drought was eliminated from the southern part of the state. Severe drought conditions were eliminated from the western part of Arizona while conditions improved over north-central and northeastern Colorado. Moderate drought was expanded in central Idaho where the upper elevation snow accumulation has been lagging and dry conditions have been developing over the last 6 months…
The colder than normal temperatures made their way into the South, with most of the region having temperatures 3-6 degrees below normal for the week. Most of the region was dry, but above-normal precipitation was recorded from southern Texas up into Louisiana and Arkansas, with departures of up to 1.50 inches above normal for the week. The rains in southern Texas did allow for some improvement to the drought status there, but abnormally dry conditions were expanded in other portions of southern Texas as well as farther north in the panhandle…
Over the next 5-7 days, there will continue to be an active storm track across the country where a significant storm will impact the West coast and into the intermountain West and Southwest, bringing the chance for significant precipitation. The eastern half of the United States will also have good chances of widespread precipitation, with the greatest amounts over the Tennessee valley and lower Mississippi basin. High temperatures during this period look to be warmer than normal, with the warmest highs over the central Plains and South with departures of 9-12 degrees above normal. Cooler temperatures will impact the West coast and New England with departures of 3-6 degrees below normal.
The 6-10 day outlooks show that almost the entire country is showing above-normal chances of above-normal precipitation, with the greatest probabilities over the Midwest and into New England. A few areas are projected to have above-normal chances of below-normal precipitation, including the Florida peninsula and portions of northern California and into the Pacific Northwest. The greatest probability of above-normal temperatures is over the eastern third of the United States and into Texas as well as in Alaska. The West and High Plains have the greatest probabilities of below-normal temperatures, with the greatest chances over North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and portions of northern Wyoming and Idaho.
A lot of the current water scarcity problems in the Southwest could be eased if it just snowed more and with a regular frequency in the high country of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. More snow means more time to deal with the Colorado River’s fundamental supply and demand imbalance.
The onus to correcting that imbalance often falls more on the demand side of the equation, with myriad policy pushes that either incentivize or force people to use less water. On the supply side, options are limited.
There’s one tempting proposition for western water managers currently feeling the pressure to dole out cutbacks to users due to the region’s ongoing aridification — inducing clouds to drop more snow.
For decades, states have invested in weather modification programs, also known as cloud seeding, in the hopes of boosting precious snowpack. The practice showed up in a recent agreement among Colorado River Basin states, and investment is expanding, with water agencies in Wyoming and Colorado for the first time putting funds toward aerial cloud seeding, rather than solely relying on ground-based generators.
FromArizona Central (Andrew Nicla and Dustin Gardiner):
A state Senate committee voted 6-1 Wednesday evening to pass a pair of measures that outline how the state would share looming cutbacks on the river’s water and work with other states to take less.
The bills now head to the full Senate and House. Both chambers are expected to pass the bills Thursday, an effort that could stretch into the night as they rush to meet a federal deadline…
By and large, the measures have gained bipartisan support, with sponsors on both sides of the aisle.
But there are critics who say the state is failing to grasp the enormity of what’s causing the historic shortage in the first place. They worry the plan doesn’t do enough to prepare for the impacts of climate change or promote conservation.
Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, cast the lone vote in opposition in the Senate Water and Agriculture Committee. He said the plan isn’t a long-term solution.
“We owe the future a more earnest plan,” he said. “We live in a desert in a prolonged drought and it’s only going to get hotter. It’s not crazy to consider limits on our sprawling development and industrial agriculture.”
Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said the plan gives Pinal County farmers crucial funding to improve their groundwater irrigation systems. He said those farmers make significant contributions to the state and national economy.
“We’re helping get this infrastructure built so that they can pump this water and so that we can eat, so that we can wear these clothes that we have,” Gowan said. “Everything is farmed or mined.”
Part of helping to ensure those farmers get that needed funding, Gowan said, is changing a crucial word in the intent clause from “may” or “will” to “shall.”
On the second day of 2019, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted out his resignation letter to President Donald Trump. After less than two years in office, he claimed to have “restored public lands ‘for the benefit & enjoyment of the people,’ improved public access & shall never be held hostage again for our energy needs.”
That appears to be Zinke’s view of the legacy his abbreviated tenure will leave on the Interior Department’s more than 500 million acres of land and roughly 70,000 employees. Critics might interpret his garbled syntax as a confession: that he turned over public land to industry — pushing oil and gas leases in sensitive habitat, rescinding environmental protections and shrinking national monuments. But what, really, did Zinke accomplish?
The answer: Probably not much. The methane Zinke allowed gas drillers to flare can’t be unburnt, the oil and gas leases he sold are probably good for at least 10 years, and the institutional knowledge of departed agency workers will be difficult to restore. Still, the flippant way Zinke executed his many rollbacks and policy changes leaves them vulnerable to be overturned, either by the next administration, Congress or the courts.
“The cumulative landscape impact is significant,” said Brett Hartl, the government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “(But) I am optimistic that almost everything they’ve done can be undone. We can win in court because most of the things they are doing violate the laws they are addressing.”
Zinke — a Navy veteran, former oil pipeline functionary and Montana congressman — was not coy about his determination to achieve something he called “energy dominance.” Nor was he shy about favoring industry over all other public-lands users. Following the lead and executive orders of President Donald Trump, Zinke cut environmental regulations, shrank Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, and censored climate science while pushing out agency scientists and staff. By reducing fracking safeguards, slashing methane waste regulations and cutting protections for migratory birds, Zinke’s Interior Department has made it easier to develop oil and gas on public lands.
Yet only a handful of rules — which create policies that require a lengthy and public process to undo — have been finalized in the last two years. Many of the actions taken by the administration have been done through secretarial orders, internal memos and staffing decisions, many of which can be reversed on day one of a new administration.
For example, policies that have lead to the censoring of climate science could be immediately discarded. New leadership at Interior could also terminate every politically appointed agency head and staffer. For instance, Zinke’s childhood friend Steve Howke, a former credit union executive with no Interior Department experience, would no longer be in charge of reviewing the department’s grant applications.
From a staffing standpoint, Zinke’s legacy will come less from temporary political appointees than from the loss of rank-and-file workers. The departures of career staffers, who left after questionable reassignments, interference in climate research, and policies that incentivized early retirements, will make it harder to rebuild a workforce that is shrinking despite increased visitation on public lands.
The legal actions of the Trump administration’s Interior Department are also vulnerable in federal courts. “We see a pattern of attempts to suspend compliance with agency rules” that doesn’t adhere to the Administrative Procedures Act, said Hana Vizcarra, the staff attorney for Harvard Law’s Environmental and Energy Law Program.
As Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., takes the lead oversight role as the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Trump’s opponents could gain more leverage. “Information from oversight in the house could give ammunition to litigants or spur interest in further lawsuits,” Vizcarra said. If, for example, the committee unveiled new information that showed rules were made at the request of regulated industries, “it could impact what a court considers reasonable or arbitrary,” and undermine the agency’s ability to defend its actions, she said.
In the end, Zinke will probably be remembered more for his hat collection, bluster, multiple scandals and ethics investigations and vacations taken on the taxpayer dime than for any policies he implemented, good or bad. One thing is certain, though: The drive for “energy dominance” at the expense of the environment will endure for as long as Trump remains president, particularly under the leadership of now acting-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who is generally seen to be more competent than Zinke.
“In some sense, Ryan Zinke really was Trump’s mini-me in terms of flailing around and fumbling very loudly, but really not having a clear policy direction other than deregulation and handing over federal authority to manage public lands,” said Erik Molvar, the executive director of Western Watersheds, a conservation group that opposes grazing and energy development on public land. “Now, we could be turning over the helm to cold-blooded professionals who are industry lobbyists that really know how to get things done.”
Carl Segerstrom is a contributing editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, Washington. Email him at email@example.com.
FromThe Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):
Snowpack in the Yampa and White river basins is at 110 percent of its long-term median snow water equivalency, which is a measure of how much water is contained within the snowpack. Snowpack typically peaks in April, so snowfall — or lack of it — could still force that number away from the median.
… the city of Steamboat Springs has enough water to provide for current demands for a decade under 2012 conditions — the third worst drought episode in Colorado’s history — according to city water resources manager Kelly Romero-Heaney. Romero-Heaney said this would be a “doomsday scenario.”
“I don’t know if there are many communities in Colorado that can say that,” she said in an update to the Steamboat Springs City Council on Jan. 15.
One of the ways managers seek to minimize the risk of a compact call is demand management, she said. This is a spot where Steamboat has hit beyond the mark. In 2011, the city’s water conservation plan sought to reduce water consumption by 5 percent, said Michelle Carr, city water and sewer distribution and collection manager. The city exceeded this goal, and as Steamboat’s population has grown, it’s demand for water has fallen, she explained.
The Windsor Town Board voted unanimously Monday to approve the second water rate increase of the year for residents as officials look to strengthen their plans to add more water supplies.
The increase will bring rates up by an additional 6.21 percent, a hike that will appear on water bills April 1. In December, the board approved an annual increase of 3.29 percent that will be reflected on the March bill.
For water users, the increase means average single-family monthly consumption charges will be about $38.37. In 2018, bills were $35.06 per month on average.
During Monday’s meeting, town board said they didn’t come to the decision to raise the rates easily.
When one resident expressed concerned about how the rate increase might impact residents, Mayor Kristie Melendez said town officials came to the decision over several meetings…
The town, which currently owns shares in the North Poudre Irrigation Company and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, is seeking to strengthen its participation in the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a massive project that will result in two new reservoirs and serve 11 communities and four water districts along the Front Range…
As it stands now, Windsor owns 4,100 acre-feet of water. But it’s going to need another 15,800 acre-feet in the future to keep up with demand, officials said…
In the town’s agreement with Northern Water, which manages the supply project, the town is scheduled to pay $100 million to the project by 2026, Town Manager Shane Hale said. The town won’t have enough money on its own to pay for that, he said, so officials will need a base of between $30 million and $33 million to issue debt to help pay for the cost in the future.
Of the total cost Windsor will pay toward NISP, 12 percent will come from water users who will pay the rate approved Monday. The other 88 percent comes from town development fees.
But Hale said town officials didn’t want to place the burden solely on developers and discourage them from coming to Windsor.
Windsor has worked with consulting firms since 2009 to work on ways to secure water. Most recently, officials worked with Stantec Consulting to develop a plan to pay for Windsor’s place in the water supply project and operations, including collecting, cleaning, filtering, disinfecting and testing water.
Windsor’s residential water rates will increase by 6.21 percent to help fund the town’s involvement in the Northern Integrated Supply Project…
The rate increase, paired with another increase that took effect Jan. 1, will raise the average single-family residential water bill from $35.06 a month in 2018 to $38.37 a month in 2019.
Windsor is one of 15 municipalities and water districts that will receive water from the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, a proposal to build two new reservoirs and fill them with Poudre River water. Participants are funding the costs of the project, and Windsor’s involvement will cost over $100 million, according to Mayor Kristie Melendez…
The town is looking to ratepayers to fund about 12 percent of the project cost. The other 88 percent will come from a water resource fee leveled on each new home in Windsor, an approach that Melendez called “growth pays for growth.”
NISP will supply about 3,300 more acre-feet if it jumps through all regulatory hoops. An acre-foot of water is equivalent to the average annual water use of 2 to 3 urban households.
In all, NISP is expected to provide about 40,000 acre-feet of water to its participants. Windsor’s share of NISP is the third-largest among municipalities involved in the project.
The two proposed NISP reservoirs include Glade Reservoir, which would be located near Ted’s Place north of Fort Collins, and Galeton Reservoir, which would be located northeast of Greeley.
For comparison’s sake, Glade Reservoir’s capacity of 170,000 acre-feet is about 108 percent of the capacity of Horsetooth Reservoir. Galeton would hold about 46,000 acre-feet.
The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue a record of decision on NISP in 2019. Affirmation from the Army Corps will likely trigger a legal challenge from NISP opponent Save the Poudre. Northern Water expects to begin storage in Glade Reservoir in 2025.
The House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee held a marathon meeting Tuesday on a series of bills that outline how the state will share cuts as part of the Drought Contingency Plan.
They voted 12-0 to pass the plan, which is expected to head to the House floor Wednesday for debate. A Senate committee also is set to begin work on the deal Wednesday.
More than 100 people filled the hearing and watched the discussion from two overflow rooms as lawmakers debated for five hours, stretching into the evening.
There was little doubt the bills would clear their first hurdle and get the committee’s approval. Lawmakers from both parties have signed on to sponsor the bills — a rare sign of bipartisan cooperation.
“We’ve heard from other speakers about how important this is,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “We know we are dealing with a drier future.
“We, Arizona, want to avoid going at it alone.”
While lawmakers agreed on the bulk of the plan, tensions ran high as farmers, business owners, lobbyists and conservationists spoke during the hearing.
Nothing in the bills was new for the parties, but lawmakers were meticulously reviewing the details after months of careful negotiations about how water cutbacks will be spread among affected areas.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he’s hopeful the deal will be finished on time. He had previously said meeting the deadline wasn’t his chief concern.
Pinal County farmers get deepest cuts
One of the most controversial pieces is House Bill 2540, which would affect Pinal County farmers who would be hit hardest by the cutbacks.
The bill would earmark $5 million from the state’s general fund for groundwater irrigation projects to help those farmers lessen the economic burden. A few dozen farmers, many wearing plaid shirts and baseball caps, filled the hearing to express their reluctant support for the change…
HB 2540 is one of five bills that make up the plan. Another, HB 2541, would create a fund to repay those who forfeit some or all of their water in order to keep Lake Mead’s levels from dropping too low…
Other bills include changes in how water users can earn and exchange long-term storage credits for groundwater stored in aquifers.
The Arizona Senate will begin this same process with identical bills…
Sierra Club: Plan does little for conservation
But the plan was not without its critics. Some, like Sandy Bahr of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, called the plan shortsighted and said it does not address long-term problems.
Bahr said the bill does little to address water-conservation efforts, adding that there had been no mention of climate change in the hearing.
As ownership of Colorado-Big Thompson water units shifts from agricultural interests to municipal control, farmers in the Longmont and Boulder areas are becoming dependent on the cities’ water rental programs.
And with more municipal control of the Colorado-Big Thompson system, the market has changed in focus from acquisitions to leasing programs for farmers.
Colorado-Big Thompson units can be bought, sold and transferred between water users anywhere within its manager Northern Water’s eight-county region without new uses having to be approved by a state water court, even when a deal involves users in different native stream basins. For that reason, the units have been attractive to those looking to buy in the water market — especially real estate developers needing to dedicate raw water to a municipality or water district to annex in new structures for utility service.
Farmers own less, but still get half
When the Colorado-Big Thompson project made its first deliveries in 1957, more than 85 percent of its water was owned by agricultural users.
In 2018, though, municipal and industrial ownership of the 310,000 Colorado-Big Thompson water units…crept to 70 percent, leaving just 30 percent owned by agricultural users.
But more than half of the system’s water still has been delivered to farmers in recent years, according to Northern Water data.
That discrepancy reflects how much Colorado-Big Thompson water — originally intended to be a supplemental supply late in the growing season — farmers are renting from cities such as Boulder and Longmont.
‘Nearly out of range’
Boulder last year leased 7,690 acre-feet of water, including 6,950 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, and has leased an average of 3,410 acre-feet per year since 2000; Longmont last year leased 612 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, along with some city shares of supply ditches that deliver water from native sources such as the St. Vrain River and Left Hand Creek, figures provided by the cities show.
Longmont revenues generated by its water rental program over the last four years total nearly $3.9 million; Boulder has generated $861,850. The reason for the discrepancy in revenue despite Boulder renting more Colorado-Big Thompson water than Longmont is Longmont rents more of its native water, and its rates for much of its Colorado-Big Thompson water are higher than Boulder’s.
But the rental market for water also is sliding out of reach for local farmers as outright purchases of Colorado-Big Thompson water have skyrocketed in price — units were sold for $36,000 apiece in an October auction. The water issue has been compounded by a weak commodity market for Front Range crops…
Northern Water in years wet enough to lease excess Colorado-Big Thompson water does so through a bidding system known as its regional pool, and how those bids shake out in the spring influences the overall rental market for water each year.
The minimum successful bid on an acre-foot of water in the spring 2010 regional pool was $22, but last year it was $132, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said, a six-fold increase over the decade.
No longer a ‘go-to’ supply
Developers aiming to annex housing into municipalities or water districts that don’t accept cash in lieu of dedicating new raw water units might be forced to look into acquiring shares of ditch companies delivering water from streams native to a city’s or district’s service area.
“We have 10 percent of that ag (Colorado-Big Thompson) supply yet to be transferred” to municipal or industrial control, Werner said, predicting about 20 percent of the system will likely stay under agricultural ownership for the foreseeable future.
“It’s slowed down. About 1 percent a year” is being transferred from ag to municipal and industrial control, Werner said. “Inside the next decade or so, (that system) goes off the table as a go-to water supply.”
Storage may preserve agriculture
With more interest in water markets individualized to native stream basins — as opposed to the trans-basin Colorado-Big Thompson market — applications to state water courts to change ownerships and uses of those native basin shares could pick up, as developers continue trying to satisfy their obligations to give new water to Northern Colorado’s growing municipalities.
FromThe High Country News (Elena Saavedra Buckley):
The Gila River Indian Community could pull out of the plan in light of a new bill threatening to undermine their water rights.
In Arizona, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan now hinges on the approval of tribal nations. The plan is meant to levy water cuts to seven Western states, preventing the river and its reservoirs from reaching critical levels — but after a state lawmaker introduced legislation that undermines parts of the Gila River Indian Community’s water settlement, the tribe has threatened to exit the plan. Without tribal buy-in, Arizona’s implementation design will collapse, threatening the Basin-wide agreement. If the latter isn’t signed by Jan. 31, federal officials will scrap it and draw their own.
Along with the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Gila River Indian Community is contributing mammoth quantities of water for the plan, especially to sate vocal farmers in the Safford Valley with low-priority water rights. Gila River reached a deal with the state in December that, in total, gives up or sells approximately 640,000 acre-feet of water and brings them $90 million from the state and federal governments, according to their attorney Don Pongrace. With that water to conserve and distribute, Arizona will be able to handle the Drought Contingency Plan’s cuts.
The Gila River Indian Community is a water titan in the state. In 2004, after nearly a century of litigation, they reached their historic settlement through the Arizona Water Settlements Act, which delivers them over 650,000 acre-feet of water per year. They’ve created partnerships with cities like Phoenix to distribute resources, actions that have been called “the prototype of positive steps.”
The recent bill that aggravated Gila River leadership ignores many aspects of their settlement. House Speaker Rusty Bowers, an advocate for Pinal County agriculture during Drought Contingency Plan negotiations, hastily proposed it, trying to repeal a statute often called “use it or lose it”: If someone sits on water for more than five years without using it, they forfeit it to the state to reallocate elsewhere. “Use it or lose it” laws, common in Western states, were upheld in Arizona by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year after litigation from Gila River — the tribe wanted to prevent Safford Valley farmers from stockpiling water, which they say allowed them more resources than their annual allocations. By repealing forfeiture laws, water is more easily hoarded, and tribally-led litigation in high courts erased.
Kathleen Ferris, a Senior Fellow for the Kyl Institute of Water Policy at Arizona State University, doesn’t think Bowers’ bill is good policy in a drought. And not consulting the tribe, she said, is like “a slap in the face.”
Gila River’s governor, Stephen Roe Lewis, wrote to state water managers about the bill. “After all our hard work together, I am sorry that we are being put in this position, but this bill, introduced without warning and without discussion with (Gila River), represents a clear threat to our water settlement rights,” he wrote. Bowers did not respond to requests for comment from High Country News, and, in a statement, the Central Arizona Project reiterated their commitment to passing Arizona’s implementation plan.
In theory, tribal water rights are some of the most dominant in the West. The Supreme Court determined in 1908 that when the United States created Indian reservations, they implied the existence of enough water for tribal members and irrigated farmland. But, unlike the Gila River Indian Community, many tribes’ rights aren’t quantified, making it easy for non-Native users to drink, bathe and farm with tribal water.
The Tribal Water Study, released in December by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Ten Tribes Partnership, aimed to gather data about how tribal water rights are used in the Colorado River Basin. It found that many water claims for Basin tribes, totaling millions of acre-feet, are unresolved, preventing the resource from reaching its rightful consumers. Settling those rights would manifest a long-held legal right that could also help rehabilitate tribal communities. “Water is only one factor in this economic disparity,” the study reads, “but when thousands of residents on tribal lands lack access to clean water and adequate sanitation, the path out of poverty is more difficult.”
T. Daryl Vigil, the water administrator for the Jicarilla Apache Nation and spokesperson for the Ten Tribes Partnership, described the high stakes of tribal water involvement. “If we’re going to be sovereigns, or act like them, then we really do have the opportunity to create what our future looks like,” he said. “The study was part of that process: Who are we going to be in the process of saving, or bringing back to life and creating balance, in the Colorado River?”
As the West’s struggle with drought deepens, tribes stand to act as influential parties in drought negotiations — or exit them, as the Gila River Indian Community has threatened, to protect what is theirs.
As Arizona stares down the Drought Contingency Plan deadline, the potential absence of the Gila River Indian Community’s contribution is a glaring empty space. Despite Lewis’s warning, Bowers told the Arizona Capitol Times that he won’t budge on his bill. “I’m not going to back down,” he said, while also acknowledging that it will “really mess it up” if the Community backs out. If it happens, he said, he’ll just have to find that water “somewhere else.”
“No, no,” Ferris said in response to the idea. “There isn’t water anywhere else.”
Elena Saavedra Buckley is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a letter to the editor.
This position maintains primary statewide responsibility to plan, manage, evaluate, and oversee the acquisition, administration, protection, and use of water resources associated with the statewide system of 42 state parks and the recreational uses of these water resources in cooperation with the larger CPW Water Resources Section (WRS) and the regional offices. This position also will have primary responsibility to address water resource and water rights engineering needs associated with the statewide hatcheries system in cooperation with the WRS and the Hatcheries Section.
What happens to part of a river network affects all of it.
On Dec. 11, the Trump administration announced plans to cut back the number of wetlands and creeks protected under the Clean Water Act, which regulates water pollution in the U.S. The new rules would leave about half the nation’s wetlands and all of its ephemeral streams — those waterways, common in the West, that flow only after rainfall or snowmelt — without federal safeguards.
The proposed guidelines, which will almost certainly face years of lawsuits, are a stark departure from how previous administrations have interpreted the act — and a sharp divergence from research on how to protect clean water. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers argued that the new rules were informed by science. But the agencies did not conduct a new scientific assessment of which waterways the Clean Water Act should cover; instead, they relied on a comprehensive report prepared by the EPA in 2015. That report, on how streams and wetlands are connected to downstream waters, highlights the importance of the very waterways the new guidelines would leave unprotected.
High Country News recently caught up with Ellen Wohl, a river researcher and professor at Colorado State University who served on the scientific review committee for the 2015 EPA report, to find out how scientists view the new guidelines.
High Country News: Does this proposed rule match what researchers know is important for protecting clean water?
Ellen Wohl: Absolutely not. It’s diametrically opposed to how the scientific community understands rivers as ecosystems, and river function.
Most of us, when we think about rivers, we think of the type of river that we would fish or boat on, or really big rivers; we don’t think of the river that we could jump across. But if you spread your hand and you look at it, and you say, ‘I don’t care about the little stuff, so I’m going to cut off the first two joints of every finger,’ and you’ve got a palm and some stubs left, your hand’s not going to be very functional.
Wohl said that when scientists study streams, they don’t just consider the main channel; they think of “the entire river network.”
It’s the same thing with a river network. Those small streams, which constitute 70 to 80 percent of the total channel length in any river network, are critical to the functioning of the whole system. Any spot on a particular river is connected to what’s underneath the ground, it’s connected to what’s on the adjacent hill slopes, it’s connected to what’s up- and downstream.
HCN: Can you give me an example?
EW: Nitrate pollution is a big, big issue around the world, including much of the Western U.S. One effect of having too much is the big dead zones … off the near-shore area of most major rivers. We have reduced the ability of rivers to process that nitrate, to take it up biologically and keep it from just flowing downstream.
A lot of that nitrate uptake occurs in the little rivers. Rivers can take up nitrate if they are physically complex, (if they have) secondary channels, abandoned channels, a floodplain, floodplain wetlands. So if you bury them, if you pave them, if you channelize them, if you dewater them — if you do all the things that you cannot do as much if they’re protected under the Clean Water Act — you lose all that.
HCN: The new rule would strip protections from wetlands that don’t have a surface connection to a protected river or lake — that are only connected via groundwater, for example. Does it make sense to treat wetlands that have a surface connection differently than ones that don’t?
EW: Scientifically, no. They’re disconnected in the ways we can see on the surface, but there are subsurface connections. They don’t sit there in isolation like some special creation; they are integral to the functioning of the whole watershed and the river network. Those disconnected surface wetlands are vital ecologically for a wide variety of organisms, from migratory birds to the communities that live (there) year-round, and they are not disconnected in the ways that matter.
HCN: Is there a specific place or landscape you could point to where these little streams and subsurface connections are particularly important?
EW: Pawnee National Grasslands. It’s what all of eastern Colorado would look like without irrigation: It’s shortgrass prairie, bunchgrasses, small sagebrush, prickly pear cacti. Many of the channels are intermittent (streams with sections that are sometimes dry), so they’ll have what the biologists call refuge pools, places that retain water throughout the year.
The plains fish … are mostly small-bodied fish. They’re “super fish” in that they can survive things that kill a lot of other fish: very high water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen. They’re tough, but they can’t survive desiccation. So, if you lose protection for some of these small channels, the refuge pools will dry up — and that will be the end of these species.
HCN: Do you see any reason for hope?
EW: I’d like to get people to think about rivers in a broader sense, of not just the pretty streams that we do whitewater rafting and trout fishing on, but as the whole river network. They are an integrated ecosystem, and they’re important. Is there reason for hope? I see evidence that people are starting to think that way more.
HCN: Like what?
EW: The regional example I’ve used is the Pacific Northwest. They have a very different attitude toward rivers than anywhere else in the U.S., and I think it’s because of the focus on salmon. They get it — a salmon can’t survive without a watershed. It needs to migrate upstream, it needs spawning habitat, it needs rearing habitat. They’ve made the connection between a particular fish that everybody is excited about and the whole watershed.
Even though there are these national rules, and even if they go into effect, there are things you can do locally to protect your local river. If people feel strongly about this, I would encourage them to become active in, or form, local watershed groups. Then you get the immediate benefits of a clean, healthy river. So adopt a river, and care for it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Emily Benson is an assistant editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies. Email her at email@example.com or submit a letter to the editor.
FromArizonaCentral.com (Ian James and Dustin Gardiner):
With just [two] days until that deadline, many pieces have yet to fall into place for Arizona to finish its part of the agreement and join California and Nevada in endorsing the Drought Contingency Plan.
The plan’s success or failure will turn on the actions of a few key players, including leaders of the Legislature, tribes, farmers, cities and the state’s water managers.
If any of the main players pull out, the state’s carefully negotiated compromise could unravel and the plan could fall apart. Just such a breakdown seemed possible this week, when the Gila River Indian Community warned that the introduction of another water bill could kill the deal.
If Arizona fails to sign the three-state Drought Contingency Plan, the federal government would be in charge of dictating water cutbacks. Water users that rely on the Central Arizona Project canal have the lowest priority among the three states on the lower river and would be first in line for cuts. If the federal government takes charge of deciding the reductions, that also might unleash a cascade of lawsuits.
To finish the agreement, the state Legislature would need to pass a package of legislation making the deal possible and allowing for its signing. Whether that will happen before the deadline isn’t clear.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers said this week that while lawmakers are working hard to get a deal done, meeting the deadline isn’t his chief priority.
Supporters of the deal, including Gov. Doug Ducey and the state’s top water managers, say failing to act in time would put Lake Mead on course to decline more rapidly and would signal an inability to come up with water solutions within the state.
“If nothing is signed by Jan. 31, then we are basically jumping over a cliff and we don’t know what’s at the bottom or how deep it is,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. She said the drought plan would give Arizona and other states a degree of control over their water future…
On Thursday [January 17, 2019], the Central Arizona Project board voted to support the package of legislation and a proposed resolution that would grant Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke the authority to sign the Drought Contingency Plan on Arizona’s behalf.
The legislation is based on a plan that emerged from a series of meetings and negotiations over the past seven months.
The plan focuses on spreading the water cutbacks among entities and lessening the economic blow for those with the lowest priority, providing “mitigation” water to farmers in central Arizona while paying compensation to other entities that would contribute. The proposed legislation includes several tweaks to state law to make the plan work.
The Legislature is expected to take up the measures…possibly Tuesday [January 29, 2019], just two days before the federal government’s deadline. Bowers, R-Mesa, said he expects that the bills will be heard in the House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee on Tuesday, and that the House might suspend some procedural rules to expedite the measures.
Asked about the federal government’s deadline, Bowers said: “That’s not my major concern.”
“The most important thing to me is to get the deal done right,” Bowers said in an interview with The Arizona Republic.
If the Legislature takes a few extra days to pass the legislation, that would be at odds with Ducey’s emphatic calls for meeting the Jan. 31 deadline. But Bowers said “it takes time” for so many lawmakers to vet the issue.
“We’re just cranking along,” Bowers said. “Everybody wants to get this thing done.”
If lawmakers get behind the plan, it could sail through quickly. But it’s also possible that some groups and their allies in the Legislature could try to tack on unrelated water legislation, which might elicit opposition and derail the agreement.
“We need the stakeholders and we need Arizona legislators to help shepherd this DCP through,” said Kim Mitchell, senior water policy adviser with the group Western Resource Advocates. “We hope to see some momentum on DCP passage and show that we can get this done.”
The tribes: Bringing water to the deal
Arizona’s plan involves more than $100 million in funding pledges from Ducey’s administration and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which manages the CAP Canal. Much of the money would go toward paying for water from the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes.
Without the tribes’ participation, the deal wouldn’t work.
But the Gila River Indian Community has warned that if certain proposals are pushed into the package at the last minute, that could kill the deal. For one thing, the Community’s representatives said earlier this month that they wouldn’t accept an “offset” proposal that would have given the CAP board discretion to potentially draw stored water out of Lake Mead.
Another squabble erupted several days ago over a separate water bill sponsored by Bowers.
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community strongly opposed the legislation, House Bill 2476, in a letter to the state’s top water managers and said it would “interfere with litigation in which the Community has prevailed.”
He was referring to a 2017 ruling by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that a group of farmers in Safford gave up rights to Gila River water under the state’s water rights forfeiture law because they hadn’t diverted the water for more than five years.
Lewis said if the bill goes forward and changes parts of the water rights forfeiture law — often described as “use it or lose it” — then the Community “will be put in the unfortunate position of having to choose between preserving our water settlement and moving forward with DCP.”
Lewis said the Gila River Indian Community wants to see DCP pass but would actually be “better off financially” without it…
Bowers said the bill was one of two mistakenly introduced last week. He said a legislative staffer filed the bills without realizing he wanted to wait until after the drought plan is approved. Bowers said he plans to hold the bills until after a drought plan is finished…
The Colorado River Indian Tribes divert water to a swath of farmlands along the river, growing crops including alfalfa, wheat and cotton. The Tribes have agreed to take 10,000 acres of farmland out of production for three years, leaving the fields dry and freeing up the water so that it can be kept in Lake Mead.
In return, the tribes would receive $38 million, including $30 million from the state and $8 million contributed by non-profit groups.
Chairman Dennis Patch said he thinks Arizona’s plan will benefit tribes and the state as a whole — in part because it would keep more water in the river and prevent it from drying up like other rivers in Arizona. He pointed to the history of the Gila River and the Santa Cruz River, which have been heavily drained over the past century by diversions and groundwater pumping. And he said if everyone insists on sticking to water rights they hold on paper, it could put the river’s reservoirs on course for a crash.
“We’re afraid like everybody else is afraid. You could dry that river up with ‘paper water,'” Patch told The Republic. “And so we want to show everybody what real water needs to be contributed to this effort to keep the lake above that level and to help Arizona.”
Patch stressed that for all the parties that have been involved in the negotiations, it’s in everyone’s best interest for Arizona to sign the Drought Contingency Plan…
The farmers: Seeking certainty
Not everyone in the agriculture business in Arizona faces imminent water cutbacks. But farmers in Pinal County have the lowest priority and are in line for the biggest reductions in water deliveries.
Arizona’s plan would lessen the economic blow for the farmers by providing them with a limited amount of “mitigation” water for the next three years.
Agricultural irrigation districts in the county are seeking state and federal funding to pay for new wells and other infrastructure that would enable them to pump more groundwater.
The CAP board has authorized $5 million, and Ducey has proposed an additional $5 million to help. But the Pinal farmers say they’re hoping for more state money to help with an application for a federal grant and get closer to the estimated $50 million it will take to drill wells, buy pumps and build other infrastructure to carry groundwater to their fields.
To help them during the transition, the farmers have asked for “backstop” measures to ensure they’ll get a steady amount of Colorado River water for three years — even in the event of a more serious “tier 2” shortage. A deal with Tucson would make that possible but as a condition the city has requested other tweaks in the state’s groundwater law, which have been included in the package of legislation.
Farmers in Pinal County produce crops including alfalfa, wheat, cotton and cantaloupes.
Until recently, the growers had expected to receive Colorado River water until 2030 under the terms of a 2004 water settlement. They faced a decreasing schedule of water deliveries between now and 2030. Under the drought plan, those cutbacks will come much more quickly.
Paul Orme, a lawyer representing Pinal irrigation districts, said the farmers expect they’ll need to leave about 40 percent of their fields dry and fallow. Still, he said they support the vast majority of the provisions in proposed legislation. He said the package now seems “pretty darn close to the finish line.”
In pressing for funding, the farmers have cited a University of Arizona economic study, which found that Pinal County ranks in the top 3 percent of all U.S. counties for total crop sales. The researchers said that in 2016 farms and related businesses contributed nearly $2.3 billion in total sales to the county’s economy.
The cities: Protecting the economy
Arizona’s cities have lined up to call for swift passage of the drought plan, saying it’s critical for the economy.
The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, which represents cities that supply water to more than half the state’s population, argues that the concerns of Pinal County growers have been addressed, and it’s time to finish the deal…
Brett Fleck, the association’s senior water policy analyst, examined the economic data and said all agriculture-related businesses in Pinal County represented about 0.2 percent of Arizona’s economy in 2016.
“Arizona’s golf industry contributes roughly twice as much to the state’s economy,” Fleck wrote in the analysis. He said the economic data “make it clear that the potential risk to Arizona’s economy due to agricultural water cutbacks from CAP is significantly smaller than purported.”
The association has also disagreed with concerns voiced by the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.
Representatives of developers have called for a provision conditionally granting them a certain amount of water as a “backstop” for the first three years of a shortage. Officials in Phoenix and other cities have argued that’s unnecessary because the Gila River Indian Community has already agreed to a deal that would provide water for future development if the drought plan is signed.
Cynthia Campbell, a water adviser for Phoenix, said she thinks the deal has “gelled” and is close to being done…
Ducey and Arizona water managers
The governor and the state’s top water managers are campaigning to get the deal passed swiftly.
Ducey posted an image of Lake Mead and its growing “bathtub ring” on his Facebook page and Twitter profile, with a recent comment by former Gov. Bruce Babbitt: “This is the moment.”
During a budget briefing this week, Matt Gress, the governor’s director of strategic planning and budgeting, presented a chart showing two likely scenarios for Lake Mead: one with the Drought Contingency Plan or one without.
In either case, the reservoir fell into a shortage. But the chart showed a growing space between the two lines. Without the plan, Gress noted, the reservoir is projected to fall into a high-risk zone in the coming years, approaching a point at which “you won’t have enough water to get through Hoover Dam.”
The CAP board has similarly stressed the urgency of finishing the agreement. As the board voted to support the draft legislation this week, the final page of the agenda was emblazoned with an illustration of Hoover Dam and the declining reservoir behind it, with the words: “YOUR WATER. YOUR FUTURE. PROTECT LAKE MEAD”
Still, there wasn’t unanimous support for everything in the legislation among the 15-members of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board.
Jennifer Martin, a board member who is also a Sierra Club water expert, cast the lone “no” vote. She said the plan “represents significant state subsidization of increased groundwater pumping, and I see that as a step backwards.”
Board member Jim Holway said he couldn’t support a provision that would give Tucson considerably more long-term storage credit when treated sewage effluent is used to replenish the groundwater. He said increasing the credits for effluent would be “taking us further from safe yield” for those aquifers. He abstained, while saying he supports the drought plan overall…
Aside from the legislation, there are 15 related agreements between parties in Arizona that spell out details of the plan and that have yet to be signed.
CAP General Manager Ted Cooke said he hopes the Legislature passes the resolution and the accompanying legislation in time to meet the deadline. He said it’s doubtful that the 15 other agreements will be signed by Jan. 31.
“The deadline is the commissioner’s deadline,” Cooke said. “It will be up to her to determine whether or not what we complete by the 31st is sufficient in her mind to have achieved ‘done,’ even if all these other individual elements are not achieved.”
Signing the three-state plan may also take more time, he said. That’s because the proposed resolution grants Buschatzke authority to sign on Arizona’s behalf provided two other steps occur: Congress must authorize the federal Interior secretary to enter into the agreement, and all parties in other states must have authorization to sign…
The feds: Delay increases risk for all
The federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages reservoirs on the Colorado River, has said the deadline stands.
If the parties haven’t finished their work to complete the Drought Contingency Plan by Jan. 31, the Interior Department plans to publish a notice in the Federal Register.
“In that notice, we will ask all seven States’ Governor’s representatives for their specific recommendations for prompt Departmental action,” said Patti Aaron, a spokeswoman for the bureau. “We will ask for actions to reduce the risk the Basin is facing.”
Aaron said if this occurs, the states will have 30 days to submit recommendations and the Interior Department will consider the input in deciding on a course of action before August.
From the Associated Press (Felicia Fonsceca) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects an agreement from all seven states Thursday. If the deadline isn’t met, the agency will ask the states to weigh in on how the overtaxed river water should be allocated ahead of a projected shortage in August. Without a consensus plan, the federal agency has said it will make the rules…
The deadline requires only that the states sign off on the drought plan for the river that serves 40 million people in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. There is no legal requirement to figure out exactly how states will live up to the reductions outlined.
Under existing guidelines, Arizona would be first hit and hardest if Lake Mead, on the state’s border with Nevada, falls below 1,075 feet.
Arizona has the lowest priority rights to the river. If the drought plan is approved, cuts would be spread more widely and eventually loop in California.
Arizona lawmakers want to see how the plan will affect their constituents before they vote, and tweaks to a handful of measures that are expected to be introduced will create more uncertainty. The Gila River Indian Community, for example, said it would pull support for the drought plan if other legislation attacks its water rights gained in a federal settlement…
Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico had their plans done in December. If Arizona’s proposal collapses and the federal government steps in, those states could put some of their plans in motion to meet their obligation to other states, water managers said. That includes sending water from reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah line to keep it from dropping so low that water could not be delivered to Lake Mead.
“In terms of signing ink on documents, we have been really waiting to have a seven-state package that has seven state flags on top of a cover letter,” said James Eklund, Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission…
n California, the Metropolitan Water District, a major user of Colorado River water, is pumping more to ensure the 500,000 acre-feet of water it has stored behind Lake Mead won’t be stranded if the reservoir [is operated under the 2007 shortage sharing guidelines].
The water watchers at Colorado Springs Utilities say, so far this year snowpack totals are at average. In the southeast region of the state the numbers are above normal and the best in the state. Reservoirs are just below 75% of capacity which is right where they are supposed to be this time of year.
It is all good, but they also say early numbers are less important than what happens from February to May. “An individual storm usually doesn’t make or break snowpack and if you get a good run of a series of storms then you start to see that snowpack accumulate in the mountains and it is what we like to see,” said Abbasi.
Water planners with Colorado Springs Utilities do want to see a lot more snow in the months ahead. “Because it was so dry last year the soil moisture profile is pretty low,” said Abbasi. The dry ground will absorb more water, so less runs off to where it can be stored in reservoirs.
And here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map from this morning.
Strategic planning is a vital part of any business operation. When it comes to an organization like Central Arizona Project (CAP), the primary focus is on Colorado River supplies.
The Colorado River Basin has been affected by nearly two decades of drought, plus the effects of a changing climate. Warmer and drier conditions may prolong the existing drought by reducing snowpack, thus reducing streamflow into the basin. This climate change-induced drought extension may signal a “new normal.”
To prepare for this uncertain future, CAP recently completed a comprehensive Climate Adaptation Plan after working through several future-based scenarios. While utilities across the country are preparing for climate adaptation, CAP’s plan is unique in that it not only looks at water and power impacts, it also explicitly explores how the business might function at all levels, across all departments.
The plan provides a fascinating look at the ways in which CAP would need to adapt to the potential impacts of climate change — temperature, precipitation and streamflow. For example, extreme temperature change in Arizona could reduce the influx of new residents, which could affect Human Resources by limiting CAP’s employee recruitment pool. Similar implications were crafted factoring in normal or reduced water supply, high or low demand for water and a strong or weak economy. In all, 131 adaptation strategies were developed to mitigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities.
Update: From email from Division One (Corey DeAngelis):
Hope all is well with you! We extended our job posting for the Division 1 Assistant Division Engineering position until 02/05/2019 at 5:00 pm.
We have an opening for our DWR Division 1 Assistant Division Engineer position in Greeley, Colorado…The position is open through 01/11/2019, 5:00 pm
Description of Job
This position assists the Division Engineer in performing functions and duties as specified by state statute and to carry out duties and orders of the State Engineer within the geographical area of Water Division One. The position must direct the day to day management of work unit’s involvement in the water court; must guide and direct the allocation and distribution of water; must enforce compliance with decrees, statutes, permits, rules and regulations, and compacts; must resolve disputes concerning water rights and use; must complete and review technical studies related to water resources engineering and water rights administration; and must inform, disseminate information to, and counsel water users, professionals and staff regarding water use, water rights, water allocation and state statutes pertaining to water use. This position will assist the Division Engineer, as assigned, directing and overseeing administration and compliance of Division 1 Ground Water Measurement and Use Rules.
FromThe Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg). Click through for the great graphics. Here’s an excerpt:
To the passerby visiting Lake Mead, it has been clear for some time that things on the Colorado River are not working the way they were intended to. Signs warn of closures to boat launches. Underwater ghost towns are now visible because of low lake levels. From the top of the Hoover Dam, visitors see a bathtub ring, a chalk-colored display of how far the waterline has dropped.
To the water manager, it has been clear for decades that things might not be working right.
The Colorado River equation went awry a long time ago. The reason is simple. In many years, cities and farms are diverting water beyond the amount of runoff that flows into the Colorado River from snowpack in the Rockies. This structural issue has existed for several decades. But the nearly two-decade drought beginning in 2000 brought the structural issue into stark relief.
Some water users, like Nevada, figured out ways to use less water years ago (more on that below). But other water users, like Arizona, have struggled to find ways to use less water amid competing interests from agriculture, cities and developers and a water rights system that does not do it any favors. As a result, Arizona remains the biggest holdout in signing off on a drought plan that the seven states in the Colorado River basin have been working on for years.
If the states cannot agree to plans by Thursday, federal water managers from the Bureau of Reclamation will take action, starting a process to give the federal government more control of the river, challenging the ability for irrigators, cities, and states to manage the river collectively.
Historically, the federal government has allowed the states to make many decisions about how the federal government’s complex system of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River should be managed. Negotiators from the states have created collaborative plans for federal water managers to follow. If the federal government took a unilateral action, it would turn that approach on its head. The bureau has not said what it would do next. But local water managers, including in Nevada, worry it could reduce their ability to advocate for their specific interests.
At a conference in December, Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger described this move as the federal government “laying down the gauntlet.”
What does that mean for Nevada?
Of the Lower Basin states, Nevada receives the smallest allocation of Colorado River water. But the river is crucial to Southern Nevada’s existence. Where Arizona and California divert surface water from other rivers, Las Vegas is almost entirely dependent on the Colorado River.
The city pulls 90 percent of its drinking water from Lake Mead. At the same time, Las Vegas has taken proactive measures to secure its Colorado River water supply like no other state. Water managers in Las Vegas have implemented conservation measures and recycling programs. They have also stored water underground and are building expensive infrastructure to ensure that Las Vegas will be the only state able to take water out of Lake Mead at extreme conditions.
Those measures mean Nevada will be able to easily recover from cuts in the drought plan.
What’s the matter with Arizona?
Arizona officials, torn between the interests of cities, agriculture, developers and tribes, have faced a challenging battle figuring out how to withstand the cuts.
“Central Arizona is looking at losing potentially half of its [Colorado River] water supply through the [drought plan],” Kathryn Sorensen, the head of Phoenix’s water utility, said in December. “Every single drop of water is accounted for and being used. So of course, those are really difficult conversations. So we have to come up with a way to make those reductions in a collaborative manner because everyone holds veto power over everybody else in some fashion. And plus, you want to look at the equity of the proposition as well.”
Arizona has known this reckoning would come for some time.
The state’s rights are junior to California’s rights on the river. Under Western water law, that means California could take its entire allocation of Colorado River water before Arizona ever saw a drop in its canal. That is unlikely to ever happen. But state officials have long known that they would have to cut down or augment their tenuous canal supply by the turn of the century.
When the canal was approved by Congress in 1968, some even suggested studying the quixotic plan of augmenting the Colorado River by diverting water from the Columbia River, which rises in British Columbia and snakes through Washington and Oregon.
In 2019, with the deadline looming and a Lake Mead shortage predicted for 2020, there is little time left to wait. And for months, Arizona has been working on a plan to mitigate the impacts of losing nearly half of its Central Arizona supply as part of the Drought Contingency Plan.
The plan appears to be nearing the finish line. On Jan. 24, the board of the Central Arizona Project, which transports about 1.5 million acre-feet of water in a 336-mile canal from Lake Havasu to Tucson, approved a legislative package that will now go before state lawmakers.
But things could get tricky in the Legislature. There are concerns that other water issues in one of the nation’s driest states could subvert a delicate deal on the Colorado River.
The burden of the cuts — at least at first — would mostly fall on Pinal County farmers outside of Phoenix. The farmers, with low-priority rights but significant political clout in the Legislature, have asked for replacement water to offset the cuts and funds to transition back to groundwater.
The Gila River Indian Community, with high-priority Colorado River rights, had planned to sell a large portion of water to offset the impacts of the drought plan. But on Jan. 19, the tribe sent a letter, reviewed by The Nevada Independent, to Arizona water officials that threatened to walk away from the deal over legislation it said would undermine its rights on the Gila River.
“We must inform you that unless this bill is either withdrawn or we receive some other reliable indication that it will not be moving forward, the community will unfortunately not be in a position to sign on to any of the agreements necessary for the successful implementation [of the drought plan],” the letter said.
The legislation was introduced by Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a key player in the drought plan who told the Arizona Daily Star last week he has no intention of backing away. That has left observers concerned Arizona might miss the deadline or that the plan could fall apart.
If no plan is approved by Jan. 31, the Bureau of Reclamation will issue a notice in the federal register asking the seven Colorado River states to submit comments about how they think management on the river should proceed during drought and a likely Lake Mead shortage.
The states will have about a month to submit those comments.
Again the question: Too little water in the future to justify Lake Powell?
Snow has arrived in the Rocky Mountains. Snotel measurements this week revealed snowpack of 95 percent of average [ed. 109% on January 25, 2019] in Colroado, but that amounts to a real winter as compared to the year before.
“We are thankful for the improved snow conditions this year,” reported Telluride Mayor Sean Murphy in his state-of-the-town address on Jan.18, “not only for the positive economic impact, but also for the reduced pressure it places on the San Miguel River.”
If this keeps up, the San Miguel will gush with snowmelt in May and June. In Utah, that water will join a Colorado River already engorged with runoff from creeks and rivers originating near Crested Butte, Aspen, Vail, and Winter Park.
This rush downhill gets halted in Lake Powell, just short of the Grand Canyon. Powell is the second largest reservoir in the United States. The largest, Lake Mead, lies 300 miles downstream, below the canyon.
Those two reservoirs entered the 21st century nearly full. The declines since then can be discerned in the bathtub ring-like white bands on the canyon walls, whose minerals were leached when submerged in water. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reported in mid-January that Mead was at 39 percent of capacity and Powell at 41 percent.
Might just one reservoir suffice instead of two? Environmentalists have been itching to take down Glen Canyon, the dam that creates Lake Powell, almost since it was completed in 1963. Desert lover Ed Abbey even fashioned a mischievous plot around a fractured dam in his 1975 novel, “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”
In recent years, the idea of emptying the reservoir has been discussed with growing seriousness. On Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, the question was posed once more by the Salt Lake Tribune.
“Without a change in how the Colorado River is managed, Lake Powell is headed toward becoming a ‘dead pool,’ essentially useless as a reservoir while revealing a sandstone wonderland once thought drowned forever by humanity’s insatiable desire to bend nature to its will,” the paper’s Brian Maffly reported.
Maffly sorted through the complicated reasons for concerns about overuse of the Colorado River. A warming, more desiccating climate accompanied by more frequent droughts has caused declining flows from Colorado and other upper-basin states.
Over-consumption has also been a big cause of reservoir declines. Water use of the river is governed by the 1922 Colorado River Compact and other agreements. Upper-basin states use less than two-thirds of their apportionments. California and Arizona use their share—and all else. Mexico also gets a substantial allocation. It also matters that the river compact fashioned by the seven states in 1922 assumed more water than the river has delivered since then.
“The conversation now is how to do we manage the pain and spread it around so it’s not too devastating to one party,” said Doug Kenney, who leads the Boulder-based Colorado River Research Group.
All seven basin states have been involved in efforts to reduce consumption. Progress has been slow.
One experimental program has cities, primarily, paying ranchers to reduce their legal use of water.
On Colorado’s Western Slope, there’s worry that cities—who have the money—will intentionally or unintentionally shift water use away from rural areas traditionally focused on growing hay for cattle. This would, as the Crested Butte News pointed out, “change the character of this area of Colorado.”
Jim Pokrandt, a spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which represents most of the counties in which ski areas are located, explains the district’s insistence that the water be shared in “voluntary, compensated, and temporary” arrangements. Any permanent transfers will be opposed, he told the Crested Butte paper…
Climate studies strongly suggest runoff will continue to decline. “Lake Powell is doomed,” proclaims Gary Wockner, who leads an advocacy group called the Save the Colorado. “The sooner we accept that inevitability, the sooner we will find a permanent solution,” Wockner, who is based in Fort Collins, Colo., told the Salt Lake newspaper.
Nonsense, says Albuquerque-based author John Fleck, a long-time student of the Colorado River. In a post on his website, inkstain.net, Fleck said the Powell-is-doomed thesis is predicated on cherry-picked data.
Fleck, the author of “Water Is for Fighting Over: And Other Myths about Water in the West,” said Powell levels have been relatively stable since 2005. Importantly, the reservoir has been used to deliver more than 9.4 million acre-feet of water from the upper-basin states to Lake Mead. “The reservoir that seems to be headed far more inexorably toward disaster is Mead, not Powell,” he wrote. Despite the bonus water, Mead has continued to decline.
Jack Schmidt, a hydrologist at Utah State University, told the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s annual conference in Grand Junction, Colo., in 2016 that he wasn’t convinced decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam can be justified yet. But, he added then, it’s an idea worth talking about.
In story published in the November issue of Planning magazine, I also addressed the question of whether the hydraulic infrastructure created during the 20th century will prove satisfactory for the 21st century climate. You can see the story here: Powell-Mead story for Planning November 2018 compressed-2.
Nearly all the snow we’ve seen since Oct. 1 fell before Thanksgiving, and we’ve gotten consistently less snow each month since the start of the season. Until the snow powers that be blessed Fort Collins with about an inch of snow on Thursday, the city was perilously close to seeing its first January without measurable snow in 85 years.
In all, we’ve scraped together 14.4 inches since October, a little over half the 1981-2010 normal and the worst start to a snow season since 2012-13. Loveland is also behind on snow, and snowy Estes Park has gotten less than 4 inches this month.
A few forces have teamed up to stifle decent snowfalls in Northern Colorado, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin.
First, storm tracks have consistently aimed south of Northern Colorado, he said. That’s why we keep getting trace snowfalls that turn our skies briefly white but fail to leave an impression, like Tuesday’s snow.
This phenomenon has meant healthy snowfall in Colorado’s southern mountains, which were parched this time last year. Southern-wandering storm tracks also brought a half foot of snow to Texas and Oklahoma in mid-December.
“You’re just talking about a 100- to 200-mile shift in a storm track,” Fredin said. “It’s fairly hard to get a good bull’s-eye with a storm that just nails Fort Collins.”
Second, the El Nino pattern that sometimes encourages big snowstorms in Northern Colorado has remained fairly weak throughout the start of winter. But Fredin cautioned that the correlation between El Nino and Northern Colorado weather is a loose one, and El Nino has actually brought Fort Collins some of its driest winters as well its snowiest.
Third, it just hasn’t been that cold. January, historically Fort Collins’ chilliest month of the year, has been mostly mild with highs in the upper 40s or warmer, aside from our frigid New Year’s Day.
And lastly, Fredin said, look at the big picture.
“The entire Front Range has been well below average for the last three years” in terms of annual precipitation, he said.
He’s right, although relatively dry weather didn’t translate to such paltry snowfall in recent years. This time last year, Fort Collins had seen 19.4 inches of snow. The year before that, it was 22.3 inches. The year before that, 31 inches.
The “normal” amount of snow between Oct. 1 and Jan. 22 is about 26 inches, judging by 1981-2010 averages from the Colorado Climate Center.
Click here to read the paper. Here’s the abstract:
Rising water demands and diminishing water supplies are exacerbating water scarcity in most world regions. Conventional approaches relying on rainfall and river runoff in water scarce areas are no longer sufficient to meet human demands. Unconventional water resources, such as desalinated water, are expected to play a key role in narrowing the water demand-supply gap. Our synthesis of desalination data suggests that there are 15,906 operational desalination plants producing around 95 million m3/day of desalinated water for human use, of which 48% is produced in the Middle East and North Africa region. A major challenge associated with desalination technologies is the production of a typically hypersaline concentrate (termed ‘brine’) discharge that requires disposal, which is both costly and associated with negative environmental impacts. Our estimates reveal brine production to be around 142 million m3/day, approximately 50% greater than previous quantifications. Brine production in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar accounts for 55% of the total global share. Improved brine management strategies are required to limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal, thereby stimulating further developments in desalination facilities to safeguard water supplies for current and future generations.
FromThe Guardian (Greta Thunberg’s speech at the World Economic Forum):
Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire.
According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. In that time, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50%.
And please note that those numbers do not include the aspect of equity, which is absolutely necessary to make the Paris agreement work on a global scale. Nor does it include tipping points or feedback loops like the extremely powerful methane gas released from the thawing Arctic permafrost.
At places like Davos, people like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. And on climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed. All political movements in their present form have done so, and the media has failed to create broad public awareness.
But Homo sapiens have not yet failed.
Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around. We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands. But unless we recognise the overall failures of our current systems, we most probably don’t stand a chance.
We are facing a disaster of unspoken sufferings for enormous amounts of people. And now is not the time for speaking politely or focusing on what we can or cannot say. Now is the time to speak clearly.
Solving the climate crisis is the greatest and most complex challenge that Homo sapiens have ever faced. The main solution, however, is so simple that even a small child can understand it. We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases.
Either we do that or we don’t.
You say nothing in life is black or white. But that is a lie. A very dangerous lie. Either we prevent 1.5C of warming or we don’t. Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond human control or we don’t.
Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black or white as it gets. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.
We all have a choice. We can create transformational action that will safeguard the living conditions for future generations. Or we can continue with our business as usual and fail.
That is up to you and me.
Some say we should not engage in activism. Instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for a change instead. But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight?
Here in Davos – just like everywhere else – everyone is talking about money. It seems money and growth are our only main concerns.
And since the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, people are simply not aware of the full consequences on our everyday life. People are not aware that there is such a thing as a carbon budget, and just how incredibly small that remaining carbon budget is. That needs to change today.
No other current challenge can match the importance of establishing a wide, public awareness and understanding of our rapidly disappearing carbon budget, that should and must become our new global currency and the very heart of our future and present economics.
We are at a time in history where everyone with any insight of the climate crisis that threatens our civilisation – and the entire biosphere – must speak out in clear language, no matter how uncomfortable and unprofitable that may be.
We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility.
Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.
I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.
This is an edited version of a speech given by Greta Thunberg at Davos this week.
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has released its annual report outlining 2018 production numbers that include a review of the health and welfare of the state’s farm, produce and ranching industries. Utah Agriculture Commissioner LuAnn Adams is warning of challenges facing agricultural producers in 2019, including drought.
“It’s no secret what these drought conditions have played,” Commissioner Adams said. “We had some good moisture in spring but then we didn’t get any. It was just dry during the summer and fall.”
When Commissioner Adams and her family moved their sheep from mountain and rangeland grazing areas back to their ranch in Box Elder County this past fall, the livestock was malnourished.
“And we had plenty of feed but it was like feeding them sticks, and no nutrition,” she said.
Her family used food supplements and high-protein feed to sustain the herd before taking the sheep to market. Adams says a number of Utah producers are using nutritional supplements and state financial supplements, or Utah Department of Agriculture and Food loans, to sustain their herds and their livelihood…
Adams approved three new loans earlier this month and says there are other programs to support the industry, including GIP, the Grazing Improvement Program. Unique to Utah, GIP uses state money allocated by the Utah legislature for cost-share grants ranchers can use for rangeland improvement. Producers can apply to have up to 50 percent of project costs on private grazing lands covered by the state. The funds have been used for a water salinity project in eastern Utah and a wildfire reduction program near Minersville in Beaver County. GIP funding could cover up to 75 percent of costs for rangeland improvement projects on public lands.
“We’ve done a lot of pinion-juniper removal,” Adams said. “Those trees suck up a lot of water. And when you remove that, the new grasses come and it helps with the Sage Grouse and wildlife also and puts a lot more production on the ground.”
Some of the UDAF funding has gone to support solar projects that use the energy source to operate water pumping systems that sustain grazing animals.
“We are able to get water where you couldn’t get water many years ago because we are using solar,” she said.
Most of the solar energy projects are in mountain and high elevation rangelands.
The UDAF expects Utah lawmakers to include funding the GIP program through 2019 state budget allocations. A final state budget is expected to be approved March 14, the last day of the legislative session.
Since October 2017, Southwest Colorado and the Four Corners have been listed at varying levels of drought. On April 17, 2018, the region was listed in the D4, “exceptional drought,” category – the most extreme listing the U.S. Drought Monitor has.
La Plata County has remained in the exceptional drought listing ever since – that is, until this Thursday, when the rating was dropped a notch for most of the county to D3, “extreme drought.”
…in October 2018, moisture started to return to the region, and a series of snowstorms over the past few weeks has snowpack building in the San Juans. As of Wednesday, a snow station near Molas Lake, at an elevation of 10,500 feet, recorded a snow depth of 47 inches.
Calls to the Pine River Irrigation District, which manages Vallecito Reservoir, were not immediately returned Thursday morning. But a gauge of the reservoir’s water level shows Vallecito is at 30 percent capacity, improving slightly from mid-December when the lake was just 25 percent full. As of Thursday, Lemon Reservoir was at 17 percent capacity.
Heavy snowfall over the weekend, topping two feet in some areas of the state, has brightened Colorado’s water outlook for 2019, with snowpack statewide reaching 106 percent of average as of Monday.
“I want to see this continue,” said Brian Domonkos, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Domonkos’ comments came Tuesday at a Denver meeting of the state’s Water Availability Task Force.
While the white stuff has weather watchers grinning, no one is throwing confetti yet, in part because last year’s devastating drought has sapped reservoirs and left soil desperately dry.
Snowpack is watched closely because it provides the majority of Colorado’s water supply. This year, even as snow storms rediscover the state after being largely absent last year, the deeply dry conditions on parts of Colorado’s Eastern Plains and its mountains mean that when the snow melts this spring, it’s not likely to produce as much water because the moisture will seep into the soils first.
Despite thigh-deep snow in places like Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge, the state has a long way to go to make up for last year’s deficits, officials said.
The southwestern corner of the state remains in what’s known as an exceptional drought, while places such as the Rio Grande Basin remain in extreme drought and large parts of the state, to a lesser degree, are still classed as being dry by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“Even though we’ve seen pockets of improvement there are long-term consequences to the drought. We’re monitoring everything heavily,” said Taryn Finnessey, chair of the task force and senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Last year was Colorado’s second-driest on record. In response, in May, the state activated its drought plan, putting agriculture, water and weather agencies into monitoring mode, and making available to its 34 drought-stricken counties additional federal insurance funds for crops and small businesses. Late last fall, as conditions continued to deteriorate, Colorado added six more counties to its drought watch, bringing to 40 out of 64 statewide the number of counties still battling dry conditions.
The drought plan remains in effect, Finnessey said, with officials waiting to see what 2019’s spring storms may deliver.
“Right now we’re getting mixed signals,” said Peter Goble, a drought specialist with Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center. “2018 told us a clear story. Water year 2019 has yet to reveal its true form,” he said. The water year begins Nov. 1 and runs through Oct. 31. It is the standard unit of time scientists and meteorologists use to measure precipitation.
The Arkansas River Basin, which includes Colorado Springs, Pueblo and La Junta, has the best snowpack in the state right now at 129 percent of average.
The South Platte River Basin, which includes the metro area and Fort Collins, came in second with a snowpack of 113 percent of average.
But in keeping with the winter’s wild cards, the Front Range actually slipped into short-term drought mode in December, after several weeks went by with no snow.
In response, Highlands Ranch customers turned on their sprinkler systems to provide relief to dry lawns and trees, driving demand up 3 percent from where it was last year at this time.
“There is some concern here,” said Swithin Dick, a water resources staffer at Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves Highlands Ranch.
Though Colorado and other states are seeing some drought relief, there is growing alarm that conditions in the broader, seven-state Colorado River Basin will not improve significantly this year, due again to ultra dry soil conditions throughout the basin.
New reports indicate that Lake Powell and Lake Mead, both of which are less than half full, will fall to a crisis point this year, likely triggering major water cutbacks in Arizona, Nevada and possibly California.
Colorado’s snowpack is projected to peak around April 8, at which point water managers will begin to make final projections for this year’s runoff. The next task force meeting is scheduled for Feb. 19 in Denver.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Groundwater – fresh water cached underground in soil and between rocks – takes much longer to respond to temperature changes than surface water, the researchers point out.
We rely on rain to keep groundwater stocked up, which means areas seeing hotter weather and less rainfall are going to be lighting the fuse for a future ‘timebomb’ in which water supplies can’t keep up with demand. The time delay potentially makes these ‘hidden’ shortages even more dangerous.
“Our research shows that groundwater systems take a lot longer to respond to climate change than surface water, with only half of the world’s groundwater flows responding fully within ‘human’ timescales of 100 years,” says one of the team, Mark Cuthbert from Cardiff University in the UK.
“This means that in many parts of the world, changes in groundwater flows due to climate change could have a very long legacy. This could be described as an environmental timebomb because any climate change impacts on recharge occurring now, will only fully impact the baseflow to rivers and wetlands a long time later.”
In areas more sensitive to climate change – so wet and humid spots like the Amazon and central Africa – the effects on groundwater could be seen within just 10 years, the new study says. In dry and arid regions it could take much longer.
Using readings taken in the field as well as data models, the team estimated that for nearly half the groundwater supplies on the planet, it might take 100 years or more to for levels to replenish or become balanced again.
In some places – such as under the Sahara – we know that groundwater supplies are still responding to climate change 10,000 years ago, when the area was much wetter.
With emissions already at a record high, the build-up of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere will be larger than last year due to a slower removal by natural carbon sinks.
During 2019 Met Office climate scientists expect to see one of the largest rises in atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration in 62 years of measurements. The Met Office CO₂ forecast is based on a combination of factors including rising anthropogenic emissions and a relative reduction in the uptake of carbon-dioxide by ecosystems due to tropical climate variability.
Professor Richard Betts of the Met Office Hadley Centre said: “Since 1958, monitoring at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii has registered around a 30 per cent increase in the concentration of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. This is caused by emissions from fossil fuels, deforestation and cement production, and the increase would have been even larger if it were not for natural carbon sinks which soak up some of the excess CO2. This year we expect these carbon sinks to be relatively weak, so the impact of record high human-caused emissions will be larger than last year”.
Weather patterns linked to year-by-year swings in Pacific Ocean temperatures are known to affect the uptake of carbon-dioxide by land ecosystems. In years with a warmer tropical Pacific, many regions become warmer and drier, which limits the ability of plants to grow and absorb CO₂. The opposite occurs when the Pacific is cool, as happened a year ago.
The Met Office forecast suggests that the annual average atmospheric CO₂ concentration at Mauna Loa will be 2.75 ± 0.58 parts per million (ppm) higher in 2019 than in 2018. This figure would be among the largest annual rises on record, but less than those in 2015-2016 and 1997-1998 – years with El Niño events and hence large Pacific warming. In the first decade of measurements, the rise of atmospheric CO₂ was less than 0.9 ppm per year. The rise has since become generally faster over time as human emissions have increased, but with fluctuations related to climate swings such as El Niño.
The average CO2 concentration in 2019 is forecast to be 411.3 ± 0.6 ppm, with monthly averages reaching a peak of 414.7 ± 0.6 ppm in May, temporarily dropping back to 408.1 ppm ± 0.6 in September before rising again at the end of the year.
Professor Betts added: “The Mauna Loa graph of atmospheric CO₂ is a thing of beauty, but also a stark reminder of human impact on climate. Looking at the monthly figures, it’s as if you can see the planet ‘breathing’ as the levels of carbon dioxide fall and rise with seasonal cycle of plant growth and decay in the northern hemisphere. But each year’s CO2 is higher than the last, and this will keep happening until humans stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere. Testing our predictions of the details of this helps us improve our understanding of feedbacks in the climate system.”
Is it possible for a working river to be a healthy river? This years Poudre River Forum will give us a chance to puzzle through that question. The Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group (PRTI) was formed in 2012 to bring together those who are most concerned about the Poudre as a working river—delivering urban and agricultural economic benefits—and those concerned about the river’s health. Building relationships and finding common ground for action has led to this annual Poudre River Forum.
Register now to join us! Registration includes the full day’s program, as well as breakfast, lunch, and a closing beer/soft drinks celebration with opportunities get to know other Poudre River enthusiasts.
Featuring Keynote Speaker, Ed Barbier
Author of Water Paradox and CSU Professor of Economics
Barbier’s book, to be released by Yale University Press in February 2019, is touted as
“a radical new approach to tackling the growing threat of water scarcity.”
ALSO ON THE PROGRAM...
Water Rights: Answers to frequently asked questions like: What gives Thornton rights to take Poudre water south? What kind of water right does Northern Water have for filling Glade Reservoir if NISP is approved? How are water rights expanded to benefit habitat and recreation? Does the new whitewater park in downtown Ft. Collins have any impact on agricultural water rights? How are Poudre water rights administered? Does having water rights include responsibility for water quality?
Thinking Outside the (Puzzle) Box: What are the looming challenges for the Poudre and are there any new approaches we might take to tackle them?
Water Sharing: Experiments underway that apply creativity and collaboration toward working/healthy river balance.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor January 22, 2019.
West Drought Monitor January 22, 2019.
Colorado Drought Monitor January 22, 2019.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
SummaryAn active pattern has continued with general ridging over the West and a trough digging in through the central and eastern United States. During the past week, a strong surface low developed in the Southwest and tracked through the central Plains into the Midwest and finally the Northeast. Abundant precipitation was recorded and snow totals in the Rocky Mountains were good. With the cold air dropping in behind these storms, most of the eastern half of the country has remained colder than normal while the West has been warmer than normal…
Temperatures were mixed in the region, with the eastern portions of the region recording temperatures up to 12 degrees below normal while the western portions were 3-6 degrees above normal. With an active storm pattern, much of the region recorded precipitation, with the greatest amounts over the plains of Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota. Because of the pockets of dryness still over portions of eastern Colorado and the Dakotas’ mainly being long-term issues, no changes were made this week…
Much of the West recorded above-normal temperatures for the week with most areas 2-6 degrees above normal. The warmest temperatures were in eastern Oregon, southern Idaho, and eastern New Mexico, with departures of 6-8 degrees above normal. It was a wet week over the region as most areas recorded above-normal precipitation. The wettest conditions were in northern California and into southwest Oregon, where departures were 4-6 inches above normal. The higher elevations also received ample snow, with most SNOTEL locations in a normal to above-normal range. The exception to this is in western Oregon and Washington, where snow is still lagging. The basins that have the greatest snow water equivalent (SWE) values for this time of year are in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.
Widespread improvements were made to the exceptional and extreme drought conditions in the Four Corners regions this week. In the short term, snowpack is steadily building and indicators are showing improvement. How these short-term improvements manifest into relief from long-term impacts remains uncertain until the spring snowmelt season begins. There are still many impacts being experienced and even though improvements were shown, this drought situation is still quite serious, with large hydrologic deficits and major ecological damage which will take much longer to recover from.
Improvements were made to the severe drought conditions in Utah and into western Colorado. Farther south, moderate drought was improved in Arizona, southern Nevada, and southwest Utah. Severe drought conditions were removed from western Arizona and southern California as well as the coastal regions of southern California. In the north, the eastern portions of both Oregon and Washington have had good precipitation and enough to show improvements to the extreme drought in eastern Oregon and the moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions over eastern Washington…
Warmer than normal temperatures dominated the region with departures in west Texas 6-9 degrees above normal. It was a mainly dry week over the area, with just portions of eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas and into Louisiana recording above-normal precipitation with departures of up to 0.50 inches above normal. With the continued dryness in south Texas, some new areas of abnormally dry conditions were added this week with an expansion of moderate drought in far south Texas…
Over the next 5-7 days, the eastern United States has the greatest potential for precipitation, with the greatest amounts over the Southeast and into southern Florida. The northern United States also should see precipitation from the northern Rocky Mountains into the Great Lakes and New England. Temperatures look to remain colder than normal over the Midwest with departures of high temperatures of up to 20 degrees below normal. Warmer than normal conditions are expected over the West with high temperatures 3-6 degrees above normal.
The 6-10 day outlooks show that temperatures are likely to remain colder than normal over most areas east of the Rocky Mountains, with the greatest likelihood of below-normal temperatures over the Great Lakes and Tennessee Valley regions. Areas along the west coast and also in Alaska are anticipated to have the best chances of above-normal temperatures. The highest probability of below-normal precipitation is along the west coast and into the Southwest and southern Plains while Alaska, the northern Plains and much of the coastal areas of the East have the greatest chances of above-normal precipitation.
Editor’s Note: Over the next year, The Colorado Independent will examine, season by season, the effects climate change is having on the state’s water supply and the many forms of life it sustains.
Every time Stella Molotch finishes a run down the ski slope at Steamboat, her dad Noah slips two Skittles into her tiny hands. It’s a reward – yet another step forward as the six year old is learning to ski.
People across the Rocky Mountain ranges long have quipped that kids here often learn to ski before they know how to walk. But these days, this powder-based parenting style is increasingly born out of necessity rather than impatience.
As winters are warming and mountain regions bear the brunt of the immediate consequences, the mantra may as well be: We better teach them now, while there’s still snow to ski. Or, to put it another way: Noah Molotch and parents like him might have to buy far fewer Skittles in the not-so-distant future.
A growing body of research suggests that the changing climate and subsequently warmer winters will drastically shrink the snowpack in mountain states such as Colorado. Already, across the American West, the amount of snow per year over roughly the last 40 years has diminished by 41 percent. For now, Colorado’s altitude and colder temperatures may still protect our winters, in effect, buying some time. But for a state that gets 80 percent of its annual water supply from its snowpack, the future is bleak. Maintaining life as we know it in Colorado is tied to its water supply, and that supply, on both sides of Colorado’s mountains, is inextricably linked to the life and death of snow.
When it comes to Colorado’s snowpack, what cannot be measured in inches or feet is as essential as what can be. Snow is an intrinsic part of life in Colorado. The state’s identity is embodied by the majesty of snow-capped Rockies on a brilliant blue day. It is connected to the pure clean hush of snowfall, which drapes mountain pines as elegantly as it does city streets.
It is snow that we rely upon for our water, yes, snow that must fall to fuel tourism and feed crops. But beyond that, deeper than that, snow has the power to transport us, to transform. It can terrify in a whiteout or destroy in an avalanche. It also can return us to childhood, to being breathless, cheeks flushed, stepping, crunch, crunch, crunch, across a canvas of pristine white like astronauts exploring a new planet. Snow is the marriage of the tangible and intangible. A snowball is not just a snowball; it is cold, packed nostalgia. And because this is Colorado with its ever-fickle weather, snow is the guest that comes into town every so often, sometimes on tiptoe, sometimes full of bluster, but rarely overstaying its welcome. In cities and towns, it is white fluff to brown slush to gone in a matter of days.
Without snow, “Colorado would become plain, nondescript,” says Michelle Stapleton, a fourth-generation Coloradan who grew up south of Denver but whose family homesteaded deep in the mountains, outside of Snowmass and Grand Junction in the late 19th century. Her grandfather, who still lives on the Western Slope, likes to tell the story of a younger version of himself “walking uphill both ways” because of the constant snowfall. It’s a typical grandpa story in his neck of the woods. But it is also a story now most often told in past tense.
Polly Oberoser and her husband Dave own a ranch outside Gunnison. Polly’s dad, Forrest Cranor, came to the area in the late 1920s looking for work. He found a gig at Crested Butte Ski Resort, one he kept for four decades. Polly, one of four siblings, grew up without much of the money now needed to ski most of Colorado’s resort mountains. She still remembers the exuberance of skiing down the hill behind their Almont home as a kid, the agony of the fall — “snow would get into my mouth, mittens and goggles” — and the dismay once the slope ended and friction drew her skis to an inevitable halt.
Before Polly and Dave bought their ranch, she worked for the ski resort as her dad did, and then put in more than two decades at a local ski shop. Now, when she is out tending to the horses and pigs on her ranch, she has a new appreciation for snow as the force that sustains her land and livestock all year. Snow, she says, is malleable – “the purest form of water.”
“The seasons are important to me, for they ground me somehow,” she says. “Maybe by that I mean they have taught me that our world is constantly changing, a lesson of life we often miss. It seems like when we live and work in changing environments, we are far more rounded.”
Listen to Rothman read ‘Always Somewhere’ below. (Click HERE to read a transcript.)
Rothman is also a former NCAA downhill skier. But these days, for him, skiing is all about the raw, pure backcountry experience. Even after three knee surgeries, he is still enchanted by the poetry of a man climbing up unchartered mountain terrain only to glide to the bottom on skis.
“It is a primal, religious experience,” he says. “The idea is to get to the top of this thing, and it is completely wild. And you put these sticks on your feet, and you get to descend it in this balletic manner, I don’t know what to compare it to.”
As Colorado’s population has grown from 4.3 million people in 2000 to more than 5.6 million today, so, too, has awareness of environmental issues and the threat climate change poses to Coloradans’ love for powder. Colorado College’s annual “Conservation in the West” poll has found that 87 percent of Coloradans believe the state’s year-round recreation opportunities give it an economic advantage over other parts of the country and that voters here increasingly see themselves as conservationists.
There’s less snow, and it is melting earlier
Scientists agree the shrinking of the snowpack across the American West stems directly from warming winters and climate change. The decline serves as a rapidly flashing red warning sign for what’s inevitably to come to the Colorado Rockies — sooner rather than later if rising temperatures aren’t curbed significantly.
At a meeting of the American Geophysical Union late last year, researchers presented a major study painting a bleak future for snow in the U.S. and beyond. The report, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, examined trends in snowpack measurements across the continental U.S., finding that changes on the East Coast have been relatively minor so far, but that the West has seen an average 41 percent decline in the amount of snow during winter since the early 1980s. Also during that period, the snow season has become an average 34 days shorter than it was in the 1980s, with spring conditions coming earlier than they used to in the western United States. So not only is there less snow, but it’s also falling later and melting earlier.
The data in Colorado is still somewhat mixed, mostly because of the state’s topography and weather systems. Higher elevations are still seeing close-to-normal snowfall, but lower elevations generally aren’t. The signs of the change to come are beginning to reveal themselves in our own backyards, too. Annual measurements of April snowpack taken since the 1950s showed a 20 to 60 percent decline across most measuring sites in the state, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
To make matters worse, Colorado, now in the 19th year of a drought that’s beginning to look more like the new normal, is among the fastest-warming states in the U.S., with temperatures rising an average two degrees Fahrenheit over the last 35 years. Temperatures are expected to continue rising up to 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, according to a 2014 report on climate change in Colorado.
Already, March and November have seen a third less snow across the state compared to 35 years ago. That threatens both the beginning of Colorado’s ski season and the month in which it sees a spike in out-of-state tourism.
Fassnacht and his colleagues on campuses around the state emphasize that Colorado’s higher elevation and consequently colder temperatures, compared to other states across the West, are still protecting winters here from some of the more immediate consequences of our warming climate. Further study is necessary, he and other scientists say, to understand and therefore better predict how — and how quickly — warming temperatures will affect snowfall in the Colorado Rockies.
The problem with measuring snow
The first challenge in measuring climate change’s impact on Colorado’s winters is, in fact, the most basic one: Measuring the snow that is falling. Collecting the reliable, long-term data needed to formulate trends is much harder than it may seem.
“We put a man on the moon almost 50 years ago, but automating snow measurements is still surprisingly difficult,” says Colorado State University climatologist Peter Goble.
Click on the video below to listen to Wetlaufer discuss snow measurements and its challenges in more detail. (Click HERE for a transcript.)
The challenge, particularly with automated measurements, Goble says, is that wind can impact how deep the snow is at any one point compared to another.
“An automated sensor is going to have no knowledge other than what is right on the snow pillow,” Goble says. “Whereas when you have a human out there in a wind-driven event, they can look around and figure out: Where is a good, representative place to take a measurement?”
The lack of quality snowpack data from high-elevation sites also impacts the ability to accurately forecast future snowfalls, says David Gochis of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. While technologies like radar-powered airborne measurements are still being tested, the best way to know how much snow has fallen is, as Goble pointed out, getting boots on the ground.
Enter the army of volunteer weather observers, the indispensable support unit to the professional weather services.
How backyard observations drive your weather report
Every day, roughly 10,000 everyday people nationwide report online how much it snowed, rained or hailed in their backyards. They enter their observations into the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network database. The National Weather Service grabs that data, which is then often used in real time for local weather forecasts or emergency crews responding to big snowfall events in the mountains. Roughly 1,000, or 10 percent, of those observers live in Colorado, where the collaborative has its headquarters in Fort Collins.
Larry White is one of them.
The 72-year-old veteran of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation has been taking measurements at his home in Evergreen for the past 16 years. A self-avowed weather geek, he takes pride in his meticulous data collection.
“I am not here all the time, but I have nice neighbors who take my place when I’m gone,” he says. Consistency, he — quite sternly — points out, is key in weather data collection. Up here, outside of town, where scattered homes dot the mountain-side, snowfall is a community-building event.
“It gives us something to talk about at the coffee shop,” White says. After all, the white stuff falling from the sky dictates both pace and quality of life in a remote mountain town.
White even loves shoveling snow. Afraid of the mystical forces of the jinx, he to this day has refused to buy a snow blower, despite his long driveway. “If I spend $2,000 on a snowblower, it won’t snow again.”
After he is done measuring the snow, White goes back inside, where a chart with snow crystal shapes based on temperature hangs on the wall. Lately, he has seen mostly the needle-shaped crystals that form in warmer temperatures rather than the wider, rounder shape commonly associated with snowflakes. Warming temperatures not only mean less snow, but a change in snow’s consistency, threatening to turn Colorado’s world-renowned champagne powder into much wetter, slower and more grippy snow.
That has a direct impact on White’s biggest passion: Cross-country skiing. The proud owner of a vast collection of nordic skis, White even built his own wooden skis modeled after those of a 19th-century Norwegian farmer. He waxes all his skis himself.
“There is a whole series of waxes for the temperature and the age of the snow,” he explains. When it is cold, as in his favorite skiing spot in Norway, he uses a green or a white wax. If the snow has melted several times and it is warmer, he reaches for a softer wax. “One thing I have noticed in my 30 years of skiing in Colorado,” he says, “is that I am using softer and softer wax.”
White has lived in Colorado for 27 years. He came here from California, via Nevada. It was a move that may have bought him some time before he has to look for a new hobby altogether. Snowfall in his home state is on a pretty much constant decline. But the notoriously variable weather in Colorado has White despairing over a lack of snow one year only to rejoice in its abundance the next.
“But all that snow this year…”
It’s that year-to-year variability that poses the second major challenge for anyone who wants to analyze long-term snowfall trends in Colorado.
Many Coloradans this winter have made their way up the congestion tube better known as I-70 to ski at one of the state’s many resorts. There has been a lot of snow to draw them. In fact, much of Colorado is on track to meet or exceed the state’s snowpack average, says the Colorado Snow Survey’s Wetlaufer. His data shows that the state has also already gotten almost twice as much snow as last year.
A lot of that early season boon came courtesy of what meteorologists call the El Niño effect, when higher-than-normal temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean cause more storms in the American Southwest during snow season.
Wetlaufer calls this early winter’s strong snow accumulation encouraging, “especially for the southern parts of the state that were extremely dry last year.” But, he warns, “I think it is important to remember that it is still very, very early.” To get a snowpack that can break the 19-year cycle of drought in parts of the state, he says, there must be a number of high-intensity spring storms, which are usually wetter in nature due to higher temperatures.
Remember Noah Molotch, the Skittles guy? He’s also a snow hydrology associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, where he shifts his focus from the perfect line in fresh powder to understanding how it is affected by our changing climate.
Watch the video below to hear Molotch explain snowpack trends in more detail. (Click HERE for a transcript.)
As CSU climatologist Goble, who is also the Colorado coordinator for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, further explains: “There is a list of things that we look at as climatologists that make your climate more naturally variable. Is it in the middle latitude? Yes, we are in the middle latitude. These tend to be more variable. Is it intercontinental? Yes, we are intercontinental. That tends to be more variable. Is it higher elevation? Once again, welcome to Colorful Colorado.”
That naturally highly variable climate doesn’t mean that it is not gradually warming, he says. But it drives home the point that precipitation totals here in Colorado have always seen big changes from a wet to a dry year. Reading reliable trends into those totals then becomes, Goble says, “kind of a craps shoot.”
The threat to the ski industry
Perhaps no Colorado industry is watching snowpack data as closely as ski resorts and the multitude of businesses connected to them. In 2014, as many Americans watched the likes of Colorado native Mikaela Shiffrin compete for gold on the downhill alpine course at the Sotchi Winter Olympics, Powder magazine features editor Porter Fox wrote a sobering op-ed in The New York Times laying out in painstaking detail the existential threat the ski industry is facing.
The highlights, or rather, lowlights, in Fox’s essay: More than a million square miles of snow spring cover has disappeared in the Northern Hemisphere within the last half century. If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t severely curtailed — and soon — snowpack in the Western United States will shrink so significantly that by 2100 it will disappear altogether in lower-elevation ski resorts like Park City and will relegate skiing to places like the top of Ajax Mountain in Aspen. Brown peaks in the middle of winter, Fox warned, may become the norm.
The consequences are not just cultural; they are economic.
Given the billions of dollars at stake, it would seem only natural that the ski industry, nationally and locally, is organizing to fight climate-change inducing policies.
And indeed, in 2013, 108 ski resorts — 20 of them in Colorado — and 40 major national companies joined founding signatory Aspen Snowmass to sign on to the Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy Climate Declaration, which urged federal policymakers to take action on climate change by establishing a framework for sustainable business practices. Aspen Snowmass started the Give A Flake campaign, which aims to politically activate skiers and snowboarders to speak out on warming winters.
Right now, “there is no future for skiing,” says Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at Aspen Snowmass and an outspoken climate action advocate.
Traditionally, being a sustainable business meant reducing your carbon footprint, reporting on the progress of those reductions and buying renewable energy or energy credits, Schendler says. Aspen Snowmass did those things for years while pushing to change the entire grid, he adds. Other places such as Vail have followed suit. But it is not enough, he says.
“There is no such thing as sustainability if you don’t solve the climate problem,” he says. “Are you meaningfully engaged in trying to solve climate change at scale, not in rinky-dink ways? I think that is the hallmark of what you might call a sustainable company.”
What’s needed, he says, is a unified industry push to get Washington to act on climate change — particularly in today’s political climate.
“In a nutshell, the outdoor industry could be as powerful as the NRA in Washington, but on the climate issue,” Schendler says. “But it hasn’t yet used its power.”
“Trade groups tend to be the lowest common denominator,” he says. “In Colorado and nationally, they have membership that doesn’t believe that it is the mission of the trade group to work on climate. They have members who don’t believe the science. So it is very difficult for trade groups to lead, even though they should be leading.”
Schendler’s reading is off the mark, says Geraldine Link, director of public policy at the Lakewood-based National Ski Areas Association.
She points out that when the NSAA adopted its climate change policy in 2002, it made advocacy a key goal. Since then, the organization has come up with its signature Climate Challenge program. So far, 10 out of 26 Colorado resorts have chosen to take part, all agreeing to do what they can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use as well as to educate their visitors on how they can do the same. NSAA has also signed on to the national We Are Still In campaign, an initiative that has spawned locally-led efforts to keep the U.S. on track to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement after President Trump rescinded the United States’ official commitment to the pact in 2017. The association also signed on to the Citizens’ Climate Lobby campaign to decarbonize the electric grid.
“We are not waiting on Washington to pass some kind of federal legislation,” Link says. “That will happen, someday. But in the absence of that federal work right now, there is all kinds of initiatives at the local level to decarbonize the grid. A lot of resorts are working with their utilities to increase the amount of renewable energy that is on the grid.”
Ski resorts traditionally have made artificial snow to fill up the snowpack. But they still need cold temperatures to produce that snow. And the window to use that technique is becoming smaller, particularly as the early ski season is warming — the time of year most resorts supplement natural powder with man-made snow to build a foundation for the rest of the year.
Faced with evidence of shorter ski seasons, Rose Abello, who oversees Snowmass Tourism, the local government agency promoting the area, takes a matter-of-fact approach to shorter ski seasons: Leave the larger response not up to the government, as Link and Schendler suggest, but to the private sector.
“Businesses will be created, and some will survive and some will go away,” she says. “And we will promote those businesses.”
Chuckling, she says she’s not going to regular meetings where the question is: “‘What are we going to do if climate change makes skiing unavailable?’”
Abello does point out that her office has in recent years spent much time and effort to make Aspen Snowmass a more attractive year-round destination, vying for conferences and special events such as the Tough Mudder races that routinely bring more than 10,000 visitors to their tour stops. Occupancy from May to October, she says, has since increased 130 percent — other resorts such as Vail have seen similar numbers. The problem with attracting summer visitors, Abello acknowledges, is that their vacation habits are different. Winter visitors stay in town for a week to ski, but summer visitors often only make Aspen Snowmass a quick stop on their alpine pilgrimage through the Colorado Rockies.
Looking for answers in politics and science
Aspen Snowmass is not alone in searching for strategies to fight climate change and preserve the industry.
The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation is cooperating with scientists like Noah Molotch, who regularly does field work at the Storm Peak Laboratory within the resort bounds. The partnership, Molotch says, is mutually beneficial: Scientists get to study how, for example, clouds affect climate and its changes. (Clouds both cool temperatures by reflecting light and warm them by trapping heat.) Scientists also are studying the impact of particulates from nearby coal plants upon snowfall. And the ski resort gets, among other things, more accurate snow level data to pass on to skiers and snowboarders on its website.
Click on the video to watch Molotch talk about the partnership and the research at Steamboat. (Click HERE for a transcript.)
At the Boulder-based climate advocacy organization Protect Our Winters, a team of young, idealistic ski and snowboard aficionados is working overtime to unite all outdoor enthusiasts to speak with one voice on climate change.
“We really hit a spot where in 2018 we saw that within the outdoor community it became uncool to not vote,” says Torrey Udall, POW’s director of development and operations. Udall comes from a well-known political family in Colorado. His father was Randy Udall, a nationally-renowned energy sustainability advocate who died while on a hike in 2013. His uncle is former Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall, who now sits on the board of the organization’s political advocacy arm, POW Action Fund.
Companies are feeling pressure to sound the alarm, Torrey Udall says. “The industry giants are all speaking out on this issue … And if you are not doing it, people are wondering why, and you are positioned for more blowback than you usually would. That is a shift from five to 10 years ago.”
Udall and Co. are modeling their strategy not just after the NRA but some of the most successful popular reform movements in recent history, including the anti-smoking movement.
“It is key to focus the messaging on what are we for, the solutions that we are advocating, and then how do you build coalitions around that,” Udall says.
After the 2016 election, he says, “the gloves have really come off.” Written in large capital letters on one of the POW office whiteboards: #DENYTHEDENIERS.
Watch the video below of Torrey Udall talking about his family’s legacy and POW’s work. (Click HERE for a transcript.)
In the meantime, scientists and states are taking winter into their own hands.
How? During every storm, only a fraction of the moisture flowing over the mountains is falling out of the clouds as snow. What if that could be increased? States across the Rocky Mountain West, including Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho, all have established their own cloud-seeding operations. Cloud-seeding even gets a mention in the Colorado Water Plan.
The state currently has 112 ground-based generators blowing particulates into the air in hopes that they crystallize in clouds and fall back down as snow, and it is exploring augmenting that same process via airplanes. California, Arizona and Nevada are pitching in on Colorado’s $1.2 million annual cloud-seeding operation, envisioning that the increase in eventual runoff will bolster the ebbing flows of the Colorado River.
Click below to listen to NCAR meteorologist David Gochis talk about Colorado’s cloud-seeding program. (Click HERE for a transcript.)
Gochis points out, though, that cloud seeding alone is not a sustainable way to save moribund winters — simply because it is costly and only increases snowfall during any given storm by a few percentage points, if that.
And so, as winters are warming, the state’s outdoor and scientific communities are in a race for knowledge, for political power, for time.
At the Storm Peak Lab at Steamboat resort, Noah Molotch closes up a box of instruments and wades through a coat of fresh, fluffy powder back to where his daughter Stella is waiting for him to take her on another Skittle-prompted ski run. His face turns soft as he reflects on the past, present and future of this valley that 27 years ago lured him to the state he now calls home.
“What brought me to Colorado, what kept me in Colorado, are these winter experiences,” he said. “Whether it is Stella’s generation, or her children, or her grandchildren, it is inevitable that on the trajectory we are on, the way people experience winter in Colorado is going to change.”
Next: Spring — a detailed look at a snowpack that is thinner and melting earlier, and the problems that poses for Colorado’s water supply and the lives depending on it.
Click through to the Colorado Independent website and throw some bucks in their tip jar.
Honig: You’ve worked with young people as a leader with the National Young Farmers Coalition. Can you talk about ways we could lower barriers that right now make farming for young people pretty difficult?
Greenberg: This is sort of the nexus of a lot of these challenges. For a lot of young people, whether you’re coming at it from a multi-generational angle, or you’re starting fresh, there are tons of challenges.
There are enough challenges with just the weather, with the hail storm that can wipe out your entire crop and water. But then you get the challenges of access and affordability, especially around land. The rising cost of land is prohibiting lots of young people from either entering the business or scaling up their businesses. Same is true with access to credit and capital. Financing a farm business is tough, especially when you’re starting out on your own.
So in my mind we’ve got a ton of things to face but the way I see the world is that they are also opportunities. Agriculture has risen to those opportunities at every obstacle in the past and I’m excited to see how we do so again.
Click here to read the January, 2019 Western Rivers Newsletter (Abby Burk). Here’s an excerpt:
Colorado’s legislative session is off to a caffeinated start. The session began on January 4 and runs through May 3, 2019. Governor Polis—along with his new administration and new Democratic leadership in both the State House and Senate—are setting the scene for a busy legislative session.
There are two main dynamics charting the work of Colorado’s lawmakers in water: the ongoing 19-year Colorado River Basin drought and funding for Colorado’s Water Plan.
Due to plummeting water levels in the Colorado River’s two main reservoirs (Lake Powell and Lake Mead) the Colorado Water Conservation Board voted in November, 2018, to support a Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Colorado joined neighboring Upper Basin states of Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico in support of the DCP in December. Now, all eyes are on the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada, and Arizona as they also evaluate support for a DCP by the looming January 31, 2019, deadline imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation. If the DCP and the necessary water sharing practices are to be successful, Colorado and other states will need improved water policies and funding to protect rivers and compact water deliveries.
In light of climate change, drought planning, and population growth, birds and people need the objectives and actions for increased water security contained in Colorado’s Water Plan more than ever. However, funding for Plan implementation has fallen short. The Water Plan calls for funding needs of $100 million annually from 2020-2050. That’s roughly $3 billion to sustainably fund increased water conservation and efficiency for cities and towns, methods to keep agriculture thriving, and stream and watershed health improvements.
With the DCP and drought top of mind, there has been some positive movement for Water Plan funding. Governor Polis’s budget contains the $30 million investment initially proposed by Governor Hickenlooper to fund the Colorado Water Plan and help mitigate drought, particularly for relief in rural communities. Also, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has proposed $20 million for Water Plan implementation in the 2019 “Projects Bill” that will be submitted later in the session for legislature approval. That’s $9 million more than in 2018.
Water legislation in 2019 is already off and running with much more to come. As we make decisions about water, there is a lot at stake for birds, other wildlife, agriculture, and communities. Audubon is at pace with and fully engaged on conservation and water legislation every step of the way. We will be calling on you to engage in action alerts and education events in 2019. Register for Getting Green Laws, an event that will include legislation training on the evening of February 19th in Denver and a rivers action day at the State Capitol on February 20th.
For Colorado’s rivers and streams, we thank you for your engagement.
Early-session Colorado water legislation that Audubon is engaged with:
SJM19-001 Memorial For Arkansas Valley Conduit – Memorializing the United States Congress to fulfill the commitment of the federal government to provide funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit project. From the Water Resources Review Committee
SJM19-002 Corps Of Engineers To Dredge Lower Arkansas River – Concerning memorializing the United States Congress to enact legislation directing the United States Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction and cooperation with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, to dredge a portion of the Arkansas River
The restoration site is one of three south of the U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been claimed by cities and farms.
Although water snakes through an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites, another source is increasingly important for restoring these patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor: groundwater.
Scientists who monitor restoration in the delta wrote in a November 2018 report that a shallow water table, one with higher groundwater levels, is essential to the survival of riparian vegetation in the broad expanses of the delta.
“The trees, the cottonwoods and willows, they need to be connected to the groundwater directly,” said Osvel Hinojosa-Huerta, a scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who has worked to restore pockets of the delta for over 20 years with the non-profit Pronatura Noroeste. “They have shallow roots so the groundwater level is very important to their survival.”
But groundwater levels have declined, much like the river’s surface flows that once flowed into the Gulf of California. Some of the declines may be due to drought, some to overpumping and some to the loss of agricultural runoff as farmers become more efficient.
Historically, so much water poured into the aquifer that it overflowed, creating a vast wetland, said Eloise Kendy, a scientist at the Nature Conservancy who worked on the 2018 study.
Now, researchers warn that a groundwater “depletion zone,” where levels have dropped too far to support riparian vegetation, is extending both upriver and downriver from an area near the border. Such zones are created when the groundwater pumped out exceeds what is replaced, either naturally or through artificial recharge.
“If (groundwater levels) continue to go down there’s not going to be enough water to fulfill the restoration objectives,” Hinojosa-Huerta said, while stressing there’s currently still “amazing opportunities for restoration” in key areas in of delta.
Although restoration efforts in the delta have shown progress, habitat within the riparian corridor is more and more vulnerable to declining groundwater levels, according to a 2017 report that assessed the vulnerability and sustainability of the region under different scenarios.
When groundwater levels are deeper, trees like cottonwoods need more time to sink their roots into the water table, which means they’ll need to be irrigated for longer, Hinojosa-Huerta said. In some cases, they’ll have to be irrigated forever.
Ute Water rolled out a giant map and an assortment of colorful ropes in the gym at Appleton Elementary School Tuesday morning.
The water district has designed a program called Unfolding Colorado Experience where they plan to go into every 4th grade class in School District 51 by the end of this year.
Their goal is to expose these students to a wide variety of Colorado history, including how certain landmarks and water systems are tied into communities.
Ute Water says it’s a really unique experience for these 4th graders because they get the hands-on application, which they believe is often over looked when educating the youth.
“We went through and aligned all of the lessons that we teach on the map, kids get on the map and they’re interacting and those lessons align with 4th grade state standards, we also use this map for adult learning, so we’ve done everything from kindergarten through adult leadership course, where we’re using the map for team building,” said Joseph Burtard, External Affairs Manager of Ute Water Conservancy District.
The water district says they’re not just here to provide their customers with water, but also to educate the community on the importance of being responsible stewards of water.
The Dolores River Boating Advocates will have their annual river permit party on Jan. 25 from 6-10 p.m. at the Dolores Community Center.
The event features films, food, drinks, a silent auction with river-themed items and live music by Halden Wofford and the Hi Beams. The Dolores River does not require a permit, but there will information on the regional rivers that do.
The event is a chance to meet new boaters, plan river adventures and connect with the local river-running community.
Every year at the Permit Party, a community slideshow of Dolores River photos is presented at the beginning of the event…
Advance tickets for the permit party and concert are $12, or $15 at the door. Go to the website of the Dolores River Boating Advocates to buy online.
The Dolores River shows us what’s at stake in the fight to protect the American West — Conservation Colorado
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Tiana Nelson):
Colorado State University will host its second annual Water in the West Symposium on March 13-14, 2019, at Gaylord Rockies, to convene diverse experts and thought leaders to highlight solutions and collaborate on one of the greatest global issues: water.
“Colorado State University is in the perfect position to act as a convener around the issue of water,” said former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, an advisor to CSU on the National Western Center project in north Denver. “As we focus on solutions and problem-solving around water issues at this event, we want everyone at the table to be part of this critical conversation for an issue that impacts everyone, regardless of where they live.”
The Symposium is an initial offering of the CSU Water Building, one of the three buildings that make up the future CSU Campus at the National Western Center. The new CSU Campus is scheduled to break ground in 2020 and open in 2021, and will also include an animal health building and a center focused on food and agriculture. Each of the CSU buildings will provide collaborative research and incubation spaces, and interactive and family-friendly educational opportunities focused largely on the themes of health, environment, energy, water, and food.
“CSU has long been an expert in water issues, and the CSU Campus at the National Western Center will place these conversations on an even larger stage,” said Dr. Tony Frank, chancellor of the CSU System and president of CSU in Fort Collins. “The University has a responsibility to use its resources and position as a land-grant institution to take the lead in convening conversations and efforts around these important global issues.”
The 2019 Water in the West Symposium will feature more than 35 speakers, including Gary Knell, National Geographic Partners; Claudia Ringler, International Food Policy Research Institute; Mark Cackler, World Bank; and Rick Cables, Vail Resorts. A full list of speakers, additional event information, and registration is available at http://nwc.colostate.edu/water-in-the-west-2019.
FromWyofile.com (Angus M. Thuermer)via The Gillette News Record:
The bill would require Senate advice and consent of the governor’s appointment of water division superintendents, the four officials who settle water disputes across the state. Senate File 42 Water division superintendents, also would limit appointees to six-year terms at which time they would have to be re-appointed or replaced — again with Senate approval.
Sponsored by the Select Water Committee, the bill would give legislators the ability to respond to constituents’ complaints, Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) told colleagues Friday.
“As the process now sits those are lifetime appointments,” until a superintendent resigns, dies or is fired by the governor, Hicks told the Senate. “The water users felt there ought to be more oversight over these superintendents.”
Under current law, such oversight, including the authority to dismiss superintendents, resides in the executive branch.
The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the bill 5-0 last week and it cleared the Senate on its second reading Monday. But Governor Mark Gordon questioned its need at a press conference last week.
“I’m not sure that bill is necessary,” Gordon told reporters.
Other influential voices, including that of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, also criticized the bill. Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell, who oversees the superintendents, told the Senate Agriculture Committee how imposing Senate confirmation could influence decisions that are supposed to be made on technical and legal grounds.
There are four water division superintendents who are state employees appointed by the governor and serve at his or her will. Superintendents have vast legal powers and sit, along with the state engineer, on the state Board of Control. The board is a quasi-judicial body that has jurisdiction over administration, amendment, and adjudication of water rights.
Tyrrell told the committee he didn’t want superintendents who are making a technical or legal decision about water rights and water use to worry about a looming senate confirmation.
These images correspond to a lunar impact flash spotted by the telescopes operating in the framework of the MIDAS survey on Jan. 21, at 4:41:38 universal time (23:41:38 US eastern time). The impact took place during the totality phase of the lunar eclipse. The flash was produced by a rock (a meteoroid) that hit the lunar ground.
The MIDAS Survey is being conducted by the University of Huelva and the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia.
“The world will be moving away from fossil fuel production,” David Gutzler, a professor at the University of New Mexico and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told members of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Gutzler went on to paint a stark picture of New Mexico in a changing climate.
The mountains outside Albuquerque will look like the mountains outside El Paso by the end of the century if current trends continue, he said.
There will not be any snowpack in the mountains above Santa Fe by the end of the century, Gutzler added.
We have already seen more land burned by wildfires, partly because of changes in forest management and partly because of climate change, Gutzler said.
Water supply will be negatively affected in what is already an arid state, he said.
“It’s real. It’s happening. We see it in the data. … This is not hypothetical in any way. This is real and we would be foolish to ignore it,” Gutzler said.
The professor warned lawmakers that the state must get serious about greenhouse gas emissions now by expanding clean energy sources and mitigating the societal costs of moving away from fossil fuels.
That cost, though, will be a sticking point for Republicans. Many of them represent southeastern New Mexico and the Four Corners, where oil and mining are big industries.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers is proposing changes to state laws in a way he said will protect the rights of farmers in the Safford Valley who have been “scratching it out” to water from the Gila River.
But attorney Don Pongrace, who represents the Gila River Indian Community, said what Bowers proposes to do would effectively overturn and nullify a federal appellate court ruling, which said those upstream who have not used the water have forfeited those rights.
And he said courts have ruled those rights — and the water that goes with it — belong to the tribe.
“These people are not scratching out an existence,” he said of the farmers Bowers wants to help. “They’ve been stealing water from the community since 1870.”
Pongrace said if Bowers pushes HB 2476, the tribe will withdraw from the plan for how the state will deal with the expected shortage of water coming from Lake Mead. That’s crucial because the state is counting on about 500,000 acre-feet of water from the tribe, much of it to help Pinal County farmers deal with the cutback in Colorado River water.
“This is a direct assault on the community’s water rights,” Pongrace told Capitol Media Services.
“It’s a poison pill,” he said. “If this bill were to be considered and enacted into law, the community will withdraw its prior approval (of the drought-contingency plan) and, more importantly, its water.”
Bowers is undeterred.
“I’m not going to back down,” he said.
And he lashed out at the tribe for trying to link the issues.
“This is just showing their mentality to everybody who gets in their way,” Bowers said. “It’s all ‘Our way or no way.’”
Pongrace, however, said the community doesn’t see it that way.
He said on the one hand, the state is seeking the tribe’s cooperation and its water for the drought-contingency plan. That, he said, is inconsistent with the state moving to undermine the tribe’s claim to Gila River water.
He said the state can’t have both.
“This is not negotiable,” Pongrace said, saying he is speaking for tribal Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis.
“You cannot take actions like this without consequences,” he said of the Bowers legislation.
“He can decide to try to take this up,” Pongrace continued. “And the consequence he’s going to face as it stands right now, is essentially no DCP.”
At this point, he said he believes the tribe has the upper hand.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Erin McIntyre):
Three Mesa Creek Ditch water users, Andrea Clark, Tom Kirkpatrick and Dana Black, objected to the resort’s plans to divert the water during the wintertime, transporting it to a nearby reservoir and storing it for snowmaking and other uses…
In that trial, the ditch users argued the ski resort bought a 1- cubic-foot-per-second water right that didn’t totally belong to the seller. They also accused Powderhorn of buying the water on speculation, as it had no way to transport or store the water in question when it asked the state for permission to change the way the water was being used.
George Bevan, a former Mesa Creek Ditch Co. president who died in October, sold the water to the ski resort about three years ago. Powderhorn intended to divert up to 150 acre-feet of the water during the winter, transporting it more than a mile away across private property to the H.U. Robbins Reservoir or a small pond at the base of the resort, and use the water for snowmaking.
The ski resort planned on purchasing, leasing or condemning rights of way necessary to transport the water, according to previous court documents. Powderhorn has 42 snowmaking acres and wanted to expand its operations.
But Boyd ruled the most water that Bevan could have used, historically, for watering his livestock from Oct. 1 to April 1 each year is only 6 or 7 acre-feet, at most.
While he decreed that Bevan owned the right to use 1 cubic foot per second of the water Powderhorn purchased from him, he ruled the water right had been used at much lower levels than the ski resort argued.
Bevan testified he kept a maximum of 400 cows at the location over the winter, using the water right for livestock.
A water engineer testified that amount of cattle would consume as much as 7 acre-feet of water over the course of a winter, and the judge used that amount to determine the historic use of the water right. An acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons, enough water to cover a football field a foot deep…
The issue of who owns exactly how much winter water in this section of the Mesa Creek Ditch remains unresolved, but the judge ruled that Powderhorn has the right to use the historical amount of water Bevan used and sold to the resort.
The judge also ruled the ski resort is one of only nine original claimants of the winter water right on the ditch, meaning other users who believed they had the right to use the water over time may be doing so illegally.
It’s unclear whether Powderhorn will opt to apply to use the lesser amount of water for snowmaking or pursue its plans to transport the water from Mesa Creek to the ski area. The judge denied the ski resort’s application in this instance but did not prevent it from reapplying in a future application.
The judge’s ruling leaves the ski resort with the option of reapplying to use 7 acre-feet of water over the course of a winter for snowmaking, one-fifth the amount Powderhorn wanted to use.
Drop what you are doing and click through to view Jonathan Thompson’s photo essay from the Four Corners and other western environs. He has a great eye for landscape photography and he knows the West as few do. Then go buy his book. It will open your eyes, show you some love, and introduce you to Colorado and the West in new ways (and enable a slick rock fix):
It’s a gray day here in Bulgaria, which has me yearning for warmer, sunnier days and the desert and mountains of my homeland, the Four Corners Country of the U.S.A. So, here’s a bunch of photos from my summer, much of which was spent cruising around the West in my 1989 Nissan Sentra, a.k.a. the Silver Bullet. Some thoughts gleaned from my travels here and here. I’ll be back in April, for another round of River of Lost Souls talks and a good slickrock fix.