#Drought news: #Snow blankets the #West, major improvements in Four Corners and W. #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

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

Summary

A pair of late-winter storms blanketed large areas of the West with snow, easing drought; bolstering high-elevation snowpack; and further improving spring and summer runoff prospects. The first storm system, which swept across the Southwest from February 20-22, produced heavy precipitation in core drought areas of the Four Corners States and deposited measurable snow in locations such as Las Vegas, Nevada, and Tucson, Arizona. The second storm—in actuality a series of disturbances—began to affect parts of the Northwest during the weekend of February 23-24 and later delivered another round of heavy precipitation across northern California. Farther east, drenching rain resulted in aggravated and expanded flooding from the northern Mississippi Delta into the southern Appalachians. Rainfall totaled 4 to 12 inches or more in the flood-affected area, with some of the highest amounts occurring in the Tennessee Valley. On February 23-24, thunderstorms spawned several tornadoes in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. Farther north, a blizzard briefly engulfed portions of the northern and central Plains and upper Midwest. The short-lived but fierce storm produced several inches of snow, driven by wind gusts in excess of 60 mph, mainly on February 23-24. High winds also raked the southern Plains—without the benefit of significant precipitation—compounding the effects of short-term dryness on winter wheat and rangeland health…

High Plains

Abnormal dryness (D0) was also removed from North Dakota, following a protracted period of below-normal temperatures and frequent snowfall events. The drought situation for Wyoming and Colorado will be covered in the section devoted to the West…

West

As described in the summary section, major storm systems affected core drought areas in Oregon and the Four Corners region, respectively, leading to locally significant reductions in the coverage of dryness (D0) and moderate to exceptional drought (D1 to D4). By late February, nearly all Western river basins, except a few in southern New Mexico, are experiencing near- to above-average snowpack. In addition, the recent spate of cold weather has maximized snow accumulations, even at middle and lower elevations. According to the California Department of Water Resources, the average water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack by February 26 stood at 36 inches—150% of average for the date and approximately 130% of average peak value. In Oregon, extreme drought (D3) was eradicated, while substantial reductions were realized in the coverage of moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2). Drought was nearly pushed out of California, with only a lingering sliver of moderate drought (D1) along the Oregon border. Major improvements were also introduced in parts of Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. Extreme drought (D3) was nearly eased out of southern Colorado, leaving a remnant area of extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) across northern New Mexico. In another example of a major reduction, the former large Western area of moderate drought (D1) was split into three pieces, with cuts across Nevada/Idaho, and Utah/Wyoming/Colorado, respectively…

South

Some of the heavy rain that fell across the mid-South grazed the central Gulf Coast region, resulting in a slight reduction in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0). Farther west, abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) was broadly expanded across western and southern Texas, as well as southwestern Oklahoma. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 21% of the winter wheat in Texas was in very poor to poor condition on February 24. On the same date, 28% of Texas’ rangeland and pastures were categorized as very poor to poor, while statewide topsoil moisture was 42% very short to short. Topsoils were especially dry (moisture was 86% very short to short) on Texas’ southern high plains and in the lower Rio Grande Valley (79% very short to short). From December 1, 2018 – February 26, 2019, rainfall in McAllen, Texas, totaled just 1.81 inches (55% of normal). Elsewhere in Texas, year-to-date precipitation through February 19 totaled less than one-quarter of an inch in Childress (0.19 inch, or 11% of normal), Dalhart (0.08 inch, or 9%), and Lubbock (0.04 inch, or 3%)…

Looking Ahead

The storm system currently affecting the West will lose some organization while traversing the central and eastern U.S. Nevertheless, 5-day rainfall totals could reach 1 to 3 inches or more in the Southeast, while periods of generally light snow will affect portions of the Plains, Midwest, and Northeast. During the weekend and early next week, a strong surge of cold air will engulf the Plains and Midwest, with sub-zero temperatures expected as far south as northern sections of Kansas and Missouri. In addition, sub-freezing temperatures could reach into the Deep South. Farther west, a new storm system should arrive in California during the weekend, with wintry precipitation rapidly spreading eastward across portions of the southern U.S. by early next week. Outside of the contiguous U.S., Alaska’s drought areas will continue to experience cold, mostly dry weather during the next few days, while locally heavy showers over Hawaii’s Big Island will shift east of the state by late in the week. Elsewhere, conditions over Puerto Rico will favor a slight increase in shower activity, although no widespread, organized rainfall is expected into early next week.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for March 5 – 9 calls for the likelihood of colder-than-normal conditions nationwide, except for near-normal temperatures in southern Florida and above-normal temperatures in parts of the Southwest. Meanwhile, wetter-than-normal weather from California into the middle Mississippi Valley should contrast with below-normal precipitation in the upper Great Lakes region and most areas east of the Mississippi River.

West Drought Monitor one week change map ending February, 26, 2019.

#Snowpack/#Runoff news: #DoloresRiver watershed SWE keeps building #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Dolores Basin snowfall as of Feb. 27 is at 114 percent of average, according to Snotel data with the Natural Resource Conservation Service…

Dam releases on the Dolores River below the dam are at 28 cubic feet per second. Releases will ramp up to 35 cfs at the end of February then 40 cfs in mid-March.

Runoff predictions by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center for the Dolores River are approaching the historical average. However, it is still highly unlikely that there will be a whitewater boating release below McPhee dam in 2019, according to the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

This is attributed to the extremely low carryover in McPhee coming out of the 2018 shortage. In April, preliminary downstream release projections will be available.

Total snowfall for Cortez for the winter season – November through February – is at 44.8 inches, or 124 percent of average snowfall of 36 inches, said Jim Andrus, a Cortez meteorologist and observer for the National Weather Service.

From The Powell Wyoming Tribune:

In the snow-starved 2018 runoff year, the [Lake Powell] came up only 4 feet. The previous year (2017), the lake recovered 44 feet with snowmelt. Reservoir watchers are anxiously awaiting the 2019 runoff.

The picture at Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam, only 25 miles from the Las Vegas strip, is even more dire. The last time Lake Mead, downstream on the Colorado below the Grand Canyon, was full to its capacity of 26 million acre-feet of water was in 1983.

After the last 19 years of drought and overuse, Lake Mead is at only 40 percent of capacity with roughly 12 million acre feet of held water in 2019…

Wyoming has a part to play in the drama. Wyoming, Utah and Colorado are the principal Upper Colorado River Basin states which contribute snowmelt to Lake Powell (and ultimately to Lake Mead). New Mexico bridges the upper basin and the lower basin areas of the Colorado River drainage.

The Green River Basin of Wyoming is the source of Colorado River runoff contribution from this state.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 28, 2019 via the NRCS.

“I understand IID has issues that are important to the community, but we need to have Met move forward without IID” — Jeffrey Kightlinger #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The first Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors’ meeting in Pasadena, December 1928. Photo via the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

With a Monday deadline looming, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has offered to break an impasse on a seven-state Colorado River drought contingency package by contributing necessary water from its own reserves on behalf of the Imperial Irrigation District. It’s not help that IID is seeking, but Metropolitan general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said he had no choice.

He informed IID and federal, Arizona and Nevada officials at meetings in Las Vegas on Monday of the offer.

“I told them Metropolitan would be willing to go ahead and sign off for California, in the absence of the Imperial Irrigation District being willing to do that. We would make both IID’s and Metropolitan’s water contributions,” Kightlinger said.

He said U.S Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman and the state officials were appreciative of the offer, while IID officials preferred his agency not move forward until their conditions are met.

IID, the lone holdout on the multi-pronged deal to conserve water for 40 million people and thousands of acres of farmland across the West, voted in December to only approve the plan if $200 million in federal funds was awarded to restore the fast-drying Salton Sea. The sea, California’s largest inland water body, lost imports from the river 13 months ago, sending ever greater clouds of hazardous dust across neighboring communities, farms and wildlife refuges. An avenue to provide funding was created in this year’s Farm Bill, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture…

Kightlinger said he took a good look at this winter’s significant snow pack and rainfall figures and decided his district could replace the 250,000 acre feet of water that IID might need to leave in the shrinking Lake Mead reservoir as part of the drought plan.

“It’s always possible mandatory cuts will be made, and we feel making our own plans instead … all that certainty helps,” said Kightlinger. “To have no certainty is very difficult for an urban agency. I understand IID has issues that are important to the community, but we need to have Met move forward without IID.”

Cutting carbon requires both innovation and regulation — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

Where coal-state Sen. John Barrasso got it wrong in a recent New York Times op-ed.

In December, after world leaders adjourned a major climate conference in Poland, Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, penned an opinion piece in the New York Times headlined “Cut carbon through innovation, not regulation.”

Those first two words were enough to get me to continue reading. After all, when was the last time you heard a conservative Republican, particularly one who represents a state that produces more than 300 million tons of coal per year, advocate for cutting carbon?

“… the climate is changing,” he wrote, “and we, collectively, have a responsibility to do something about it.” What?! In one sentence he not only acknowledged the reality of climate change, but also admitted, obliquely, that humans are causing it — and have a responsibility to act. I had to re-read the byline. Had someone hacked the senator from Wyoming?

Unfortunately, no, as became clear in the rest of the op-ed. The “responsibility” thing was just the first of three “truths” that Barrasso gleaned from the climate conference. He continued: “Second, the United States and the world will continue to rely on affordable and abundant fossil fuels, including coal, to power our economies for decades to come. And third, innovation, not new taxes or punishing global agreements, is the ultimate solution.” Ah, yes, there’s the sophistry we have come to expect from the petrocracy.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., argued in a recent op-ed that fossil fuels, like the coal processed at this Wyoming plant, will continue to power the world for decades, and that the solution to climate change is “investment, invention and innovation,” not regulation. Photo credit: BLM Wyoming

Translation: We’ve got to stem climate change, but we have to do it by plowing forward with the very same activities that are causing it. And we have to take responsibility by, well, shirking that same responsibility and hefting it off on “innovation” instead.

Fine. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here getting rid of my growing love handles while I continue to eat three pints of Chunky Monkey per day.

Aside from the abstract answer of innovation, Barrasso offers two specific solutions to take the place of regulations or carbon taxes. The first is nuclear power. Aside from the waste and the uranium mining and milling problems, nuclear power can be a great way to cut emissions — as long as it displaces coal or natural gas, which doesn’t seem to be what Barrasso has in mind.

His primary solution, however, is carbon capture and sequestration. It sounds great. Just catch that carbon and other pollutants emitted during coal or natural gas combustion and pump it right back underground to where it came from. Problem solved, without building any fancy new wind or solar plants. But there are currently only 18 commercial-scale carbon capture operations worldwide, and they’re not being used on coal power plants, where they’re most needed, because of technical challenges and high costs.

Once the carbon is captured from a facility, it must be sequestered, or stored away somewhere, perhaps in a leak-free geologic cavern. Most current carbon-capture projects, however, pump the carbon into active oil and gas wells, a technique known as enhanced oil recovery. This widespread method of boosting an old well’s production usually uses carbon dioxide that has been mined from a natural reservoir, the most productive of which is the McElmo Dome, located in southwestern Colorado under Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Using captured carbon instead makes sense. It obviates the need to drill for carbon dioxide under sensitive landscapes, and it can help pay for carbon capture projects. But none of that changes the underlying logical flaw in the whole endeavor, which amounts to removing carbon emitted from a coal plant only to pump it underground in order to produce and burn more oil and therefore emit more carbon.

Barrasso writes: “The United States is currently on track to reduce emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, … not because of punishing regulations, restrictive laws or carbon taxes but because of innovation and advanced technology…” And he’s right. Carbon emissions from the electricity sector have dropped by some 700 million tons per year over the last decade. But it wasn’t because of carbon capture, or more nuclear power. It was because U.S. utilities burned far less coal, period.

Sure, innovation played a role. New drilling techniques brought down the price of natural gas, and advances in solar- and wind-power did the same with those technologies, making them all more cost competitive, displacing some coal. But Barrasso seems not to understand whence that innovation comes. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. More often than not, innovation is driven by money, regulations, or a combination of both. Fracking was a way to increase profits in old oil and gas fields. Renewable technologies moved forward in response to state energy requirements. Carbon taxes would encourage renewables, nuclear and, yes, carbon capture, by making them more competitive with fossil fuels.

“People across the world,” Barrasso writes, “are rejecting the idea that carbon taxes and raising the cost of energy is the answer to lowering emissions.” He mentions France, and the Gilet Jaune, or Yellow Vest, movement, the members of which have passionately protested against higher taxes on fuel, among other things. But the yellow vests aren’t opposed to carbon-cutting or environmental regulations. They were demonstrating against inequality, and against the fact that the fuel tax was structured in a regressive way, hurting the poor far more than the rich. The lesson is not that regulations are bad, but that they must be applied equitably and justly. That, in turn, will drive innovation, and hopefully more thoughtful op-eds.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at jonathan@hcn.org.

Governor Polis Announces Water Appointments

Aspen trees in autumn. Photo: Bob West via the Colorado State Forest Service.

From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources:

Governor Polis has announced three new board appointments to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

· Gail Schwartz of Basalt, Colorado, representing the Colorado River basin
· Jackie Brown of Oak Creek, Colorado, representing the Yampa-White River basin
· Jessica Brody of Denver, Colorado, representing the City and County of Denver

In addition, the Governor appointed Russ George as the Director of the Inter-Basin Compact Committee in addition to five gubernatorial appointees.

· Aaron Citron
· Mely Whiting
· Robert Sakata
· Patrick Wells
· Paul Bruchez

“I’m excited to work with these appointments,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Their collective experience is unmatched.”

Gail Schwartz has spent over two decades serving Colorado in both appointed and elected office. Jackie Brown brings a diverse background in natural resources and is a leader in the water community as the current Chair of the Yampa-White-Green basin roundtable. Finally, as General Counsel for Denver Water and formerly with the Denver City Attorney’s Office, Jessica Brody brings both municipal and environmental law experience.

“I’m looking forward to working with the newly appointed board and IBCC members to continue implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. They bring valued expertise and leadership to the water community,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Director of the CWCB. “We sincerely thank the outgoing Board members and IBCC appointments for their service. Their dedication has been instrumental on numerous policy and planning efforts, including bringing a diversity of perspectives to Colorado’s Water Plan.”

Russ George is a fourth generation native of the Rifle, Colorado area and brings a depth of state government and public service. Russ was instrumental in creating the IBCC and basin roundtables.

“As the first champion of the IBCC and roundtable process, there’s no one better equipped to lead the IBCC. We’re embarking on a future of great opportunity in water, and Russ is the perfect choice to navigate the times ahead,” said Gibbs.

@COParksWildlife: Colorado and Kansas resolve 40-year deadline with the signing of a historic agreement to provide a new source of water in John Martin Reservoir

This view is from the top of John Martin Dam facing west over the body of the reservoir. The content of the reservoir in this picture was approximately 45,000 acre-feet (March 2014). By Jaywm – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37682336

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Bill Vogrin):

Colorado and Kansas sign historic agreement for a permanent water supply at CPW’s John Martin Reservoir State Park

A 40-year deadlock between Colorado and Kansas has been resolved with the signing of a historic agreement that will provide a new source of water for a permanent fish and wildlife conservation pool in John Martin Reservoir.

The long-sought compromise between members of the Colorado-Kansas Arkansas River Compact Administration will allow the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association (LAWMA) to transfer water from the Highland Canal on the Purgatoire River in Bent County into John Martin Reservoir on behalf of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to maintain a permanent pool for fishery and recreation purposes.

The permanent agreement, approved by the Compact Administration on Feb. 14, began as a one-year pilot program in 2017 when CPW was allowed to run 6,000 acre feet into the reservoir. The newly approved agreement will allow water to be delivered each year from the Highland Canal from March 1 through Nov. 15.

The agreement is the culmination of decades of negotiations between a variety of agencies including CPW, the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Kansas Division of Water Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, LAWMA and the Attorney General’s office. It was brought to fruition through extensive collaboration between the State Engineers of Colorado and Kansas.

“CPW has worked for the past 40 years to get a new source of water approved by the Compact Administration,” said Dan Prenzlow, CPW’s Southeast Regional manager who directed the breakthrough negotiations together with Deputy Regional Manager Brett Ackerman. “John Martin Reservoir is a multimillion-dollar fishery and source of water recreation, camping, hiking and wildlife watching.”

In fact, visitors to John Martin spend an estimated $8.7 million a year in local businesses, making John Martin an important economic engine in the region.

“But it has constantly been in flux and at risk,” Prenzlow said. “This agreement will stabilize the valuable fishery and recreational facilities at John Martin Reservoir State Park and State Wildlife Area.”

Prenzlow listed several significant benefits to the new agreement, including:

  • Reducing the hundreds of thousands of dollars CPW has spent leasing Colorado River water to fill the conservation pool in previous years.
  • Lowering the risk of fish loss, saving CPW approximately $165,000 annually in restocking costs when the fishery is damaged.
  • Providing more consistent boating recreation, especially in drought years.
  • Prenzlow noted that visitation at John Martin drops as dramatically as the water levels fluctuate at the reservoir, which was built as a flood-control structure and completed in 1948. In wet years, the waters of John Martin can spread out to 11,000 surface acres. But in drought years, it’s not uncommon for surface acres to plunge to just 1,000. That was the case during extreme drought years of 2011-15.

    “We are proud to achieve this agreement because we know the importance of a healthy John Martin Reservoir to Colorado anglers, boaters and surrounding communities,” Prenzlow said. “A consistent flow of water into John Martin will keep the boat ramps at John Martin wet and that will mean a consistent source of recreation for boaters, anglers, water skiers and campers in the park and region.”

    Colorado health officials, utilities hit pause, again, on high-stakes lead lawsuit — @WaterEdCO

    Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    State health officials and Colorado’s largest water utilities have agreed for a second time to hit pause on a major lawsuit over how to keep lead out of Denver’s drinking water, citing progress in talks that began last fall.

    “The main point is that everyone has rolled up their sleeves and is working hard to come up with the best solution that we can that minimizes the lead that folks will be ingesting in their tap water,” said Ron Falco, safe drinking water program manager at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    Last April, the City of Aurora, the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, and the Denver Greenway Foundation sued the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to block an order it issued directing Denver Water to install a phosphate-based treatment system to reduce corrosion in old lead pipes. That corrosion can put lead into drinking water in homes and businesses served by lead supply lines and in-house fixtures. Denver Water joined the suit weeks later.

    Avoiding lead contamination in drinking water is of paramount importance for water providers and state health officials, as no level is considered safe to ingest. But heightened levels of phosphates in wastewater and irrigation runoff create issues for reservoirs, lakes and streams. This prompted Metro Wastewater and other entities who must treat the phosphate-heavy water to sue, citing damage to the environment and dramatically higher treatment costs.

    Denver Water had proposed an alternative, after several years of pilot studies, to use chemicals that would adjust the PH levels of its drinking water, something which the CDPHE determined did not reduce lead corrosion enough to meet the federal standards it is required to uphold.

    Among the plaintiffs’ concerns is that phosphate levels in water that is discharged to the South Platte River have to be tightly controlled under provisions of the Clean Water Act. If phosphate levels in treated drinking water rise, wastewater treatment protocols would have to be changed to correct the problem, potentially costing millions of dollars, if not more, according to a report by the Denver-based, nonpartisan Water Research Foundation.

    From an environmental perspective, any increased phosphate in the South Platte River makes fighting such things as algae blooms, which are fueled by nutrients including phosphorous, much more difficult and could make the river less habitable for fish.

    Denver Water, and other plaintiffs, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. But in a statement, Denver Water Chief Executive Officer Jim Lochhead said, “We are committed to taking the right steps to reduce the risk of lead leaching into water through customers’ plumbing…As we are fully committed to protecting public health, we are also looking for opportunities to minimize downstream impacts from the use of orthophosphate.”

    After filing the suit, last summer the parties agreed to engage in talks, placing the lawsuit on hold, giving themselves until last November to agree on a set of treatment protocols.

    When that deadline passed, the utilities and the CDPHE requested more time to work, citing progress in the talks. In January, a Denver District Court judge agreed to give everyone until September 20, 2019 to find an acceptable solution.

    Under the CDPHE’s original order, Denver must begin using the new treatment protocol by March 20, 2020. To ensure it can meet that deadline, Denver Water is spending $1.2 million to upgrade its water treatment plants so they can implement the new treatment protocols.

    Denver is not in violation of the federal law that governs lead in drinking water, but it has been required to monitor and test its system regularly since 2012 after lead was discovered in a small sample of water at some of its customers’ taps.

    Lead has continued to appear at taps in some customers’ homes, according to court filings.

    Treating lead and copper in water systems is a complex undertaking governed by the federal Lead and Copper Rule. There is no lead in the water supply when it leaves Denver Water’s treatment plants. But it can leach into the supply via corrosion as water passes through lead delivery lines and pipes in older homes. Denver has 58,000 lead service lines in its system and is gradually replacing them. It also advises customers whose homes are serviced by lead lines to use filters to remove any potential contamination.

    It is the ongoing concerns about lead that have prompted the state to push for the phosphate treatment, because it reduces lead that reaches customers by 74 percent, compared to less than 50 percent using a PH-based process, according to court filings.

    Despite the environmental concerns, the CDPHE maintains that its first job is to protect the health of the thousands of children served by Denver Water in the metro area. Children are most vulnerable to lead contamination.

    Falco said he is optimistic that a solution can be found. New pilot studies underway indicate that Denver Water may be able to use roughly one-third the amount of phosphates originally thought were needed and still achieve the same level of lead reduction, CDPHE officials said.

    “We have a very engaged group of stakeholders working hard to develop the best solution. This this is going to come to a resolution, certainly by March of 2020. We are going to get there,” Falco said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.