The citizens of Toledo, on the western basin of Lake Erie, will be voting on a legal bill on 26 February. What they will be deciding — does #LakeErie have the same rights as a person or a corporation?

Satellite imagery of a toxic algal bloom on Lake Erie in 2011. The image is gorgeous, but microcystis aeruginosa, the green algae pictured here, is toxic to mammals.
NASA Earth Observatory via Popular Science.

From The Guardian (Daniel McGraw):

The legal bill will allow citizens to sue a polluter on behalf of the lake and for penalties to be imposed

“My gynecologist told me: ‘Don’t even touch the water, it could make you and your baby very sick,’ and that really got to me,” [Crystal Jankowski] said.

“So many of us in the community realized we had to do something about this.”

They did, and the citizens of Toledo, on the western basin of Lake Erie, will now be voting on a controversial legal bill on 26 February. What they will be deciding is whether Lake Erie has the same legal rights as a corporation or person.

There have been cities and townships in the United States that have passed ordinances making some types of polluting illegal, but no American city or state has changed the legality of nature in a way that is this big and this extensive – effectively giving personhood to a gigantic lake.

Called the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, it would grant personhood status to the lake, with the citizens being the guardians of the body of water. If passed, citizens could sue a polluter on behalf of the lake, and if the court finds the polluter guilty, the judge could impose penalties in the form of designated clean-ups and/or prevention programs.

“What has happened in Toledo is that we have lost our faith in the current mechanisms of power, and decided to take things into our own hands,” said Bryan Twitchell, a Toledo school teacher.

“We decided it was our personal responsibility to take action and pull us back from that brink so we can live near a healthy lake.”

This type of action has been happening in other parts of the world, but usually has involved smaller ecosystems and legal settlements with indigenous people. New Zealand granted legal personhood to the Te Urewera forest in 2014, and an Indian court granted legal personhood to the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in 2017…

The Ohio Farm Bureau is opposed to the proposal, but has done so in a low-key manner. Changes in farming practices need to be based on science and not public votes, and law-abiding business may be unfairly brought into expensive and unnecessary legal proceedings, according to Yvonne Lesicko, vice-president of public policy for Ohio Farm Bureau.

“But this is still a complex issue, and if you say it is not a good idea and it will bring about unnecessary lawsuits, you get portrayed as being anti-Lake Erie and anti-environment and we’re not,” she said.

#Drought news: Improved conditions in SE #Colorado, replenishment of soil moisture a wild card

Colorado Drought Monitor February 12, 2019.

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

SYNOPSIS…Updated

Abundant and beneficial snow across much of Colorado`s Mountains over the past few months has prompted the US Drought Monitor to improve the Exceptional Drought (D4) conditions that has plagued southwest Colorado over the past year. With that said, the latest Drought Monitor, issued Thursday February 14th 2019, is now indicting all of Mineral County in Extreme Drought (D3) conditions.

Moderate Drought (D1) conditions are depicted across Teller County and the rest of El Paso County, as well as across northeastern Fremont County, southern Pueblo County, Crowley County, western and northeastern Otero County, western Kiowa County, northwestern Bent County and central into eastern portions of Las Animas County.

Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions are indicated across central into eastern portions of Kiowa County, the rest Otero County, northern Bent County, northwestern Prowers County, and eastern portions of Las Animas County.

Drought free conditions are depicted across Baca County, extreme northeastern Las Animas County, southern Bent County, most of Prowers County and eastern portions of Kiowa County.

FIRE DANGER

Fall precipitation helped to ease fire danger across much of South Central and Southeast Colorado. However, with cured fuels and more windy weather associated with the Winter Season, fire danger across non snow covered areas could be moderate to high at times into the early Spring.

AGRICULTURAL

Summer through early Winter precipitation helped to improve soil moisture, especially across southeastern portions of the state. However, longer term dryness continues to be indicated across South Central and Southwest Colorado.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

A number of different factors could hamper snowpack in the mountains from reaching reservoirs, especially water being soaked up by the parched forest floor.

Southwest Colorado has been feeling the effects of intense drought since fall 2017.

The region received about half the amount of snow it usually does during the 2017-18 winter season. Then, rains failed to show up in spring and summer, leading to the second lowest water year for the region in recorded history.

That has resulted in low levels in area reservoirs. As of Friday, for instance, Vallecito Reservoir was about 30 percent full, and Lemon Reservoir, farther to the west, sat at about 17 percent capacity…

But water managers are taking the season’s snow in stride.

It is positive that the parched earth will receive much-needed moisture, but the low soil moisture content means much of that water won’t make it to reservoirs. The soil acts like a sponge.

“Soil moisture is really the big kicker this year,” said Susan Behery, a hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation’s office in Durango…

Becky Bollinger, a research associate with the Colorado Climate Center, said in a conference call to reporters Thursday that despite strong snowpack in the Colorado River Basin, the center predicts lower-than-average levels in water supplies.

The reason: Again, it comes back to soil moisture.

“It will be a critical piece in the spring,” Bollinger said. “But there might be some uncertainty as to how critical.”

It’s difficult to predict how much moisture the soil will soak up. But, it is an issue that has water managers holding out hope for more snow.

Ken Beck with the Pine River Irrigation District, which manages Vallecito Reservoir, said it will likely take snowpack reaching 130 to 150 percent of average levels to get the 125,400-acre-foot reservoir full again.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Beck said. “I don’t mean to seem pessimistic because we’re excited, but we want to be cautious because we have a long ways to go to fill it.”

Beck said other factors also cause water losses to reservoirs, such as desert dust deposited on snowpack during wind storms causing water to evaporate and runoff to occur earlier than normal. Wind itself can also cause water loss, Beck said, pulling the moisture out of the soil and dehydrating it.

As of Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor delisted nearly all of Southwest Colorado from the “exceptional drought” category, the center’s highest level. The region remains in the “extreme drought” category.

From the Nation Drought Mitigation Center (Claire Shield):

Precipitation surpluses and deficits were scattered across the West in January. Precipitation amounts ranged from 150 to over 300 percent of normal in pockets of Montana, Utah, western Arizona, northern New Mexico, northwestern and southern Nevada, and California, but were only 5 to 70 percent of normal in western Washington and Oregon, central Nevada, southern and eastern Arizona, and southern New Mexico, and in more isolated pockets of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and California. A pocket in northern Montana saw the warmest temperatures during the month (8 to 10 degrees above normal) while a small area in eastern Utah saw the coolest temperatures (4 to 8 degrees below normal). The remainder of the region saw temperatures between 4 degrees above average and 4 degrees below average, with warmer than normal conditions generally found in Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and southwestern Idaho and cooler than normal conditions found in southwestern Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. One- and two-category drought degradation was found in parts of Idaho and Montana during January, but one- and two-category drought improvement was found in large areas of the remainder of the region, leading to the reduction of coverage of all drought categories. Moderate drought was reduced 12.03 percent to 41.22 percent and severe drought was reduced 10.10 percent to 17.12 percent. The area of the region in extreme drought at the end of the month was only 3.49 percent—less than half the area at the beginning of the month (8.35 percent). Exceptional drought was almost completely eradicated, covering only 0.39 percent of the region by the end of the month.

West Drought Monitor February 12, 2019.

Pueblo: 2019 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 24-25, 2019

Click here to go to the website and to register:

As one of the most important natural resources in our state, the water future of the Arkansas River Basin depends on education, dialog, and a deeper understanding of all sides of water issues. The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum has been at the forefront of this conversation for 25 years.

​Please join us in Pueblo on April 24 – 25, 2019 to celebrate our 25th anniversary as we continue to work together to find common ground.

#Snowpack/#runoff news: Wet February Brings Hopeful Water Outlook For #Utah and #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

At 115 percent of the long-term average, the Yampa Valley’s snowpack is currently above the norm, but those concerned about forecasts of water available for recreation, agriculture and other uses this spring and summer are still waiting for more snow to pile on.

“What fills the rivers and the reservoirs and the irrigation ditches is the amount for the year,” said Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District Manager Kevin McBride. His agency manages water in the Stagecoach and Yamcolo Reservoirs. “What we work off is the total snowmelt, so until the snowpack gets up to average for an average year, we’re always worried.”

The Valley will need 62 percent of its average snowfall to hit its typical peak. Snowpack usually peaks at about 21 inches of snow water equivalent, which is a measure of how much water is contained in the snow. Snow water equivalent is measured at several weather stations in the mountains, called Snow Telemetry or Snotel sites.

“When we reach 100 percent of average annual snowpack, then I’ll be comfortable,” said Peter Van De Carr, owner of Backdoor Sports and a board member of Friends of the Yampa. “It is encouraging. The whole town, the atmosphere around our snowpack — it’s so much brighter. Folks are in a good mood when it snows a lot. We’re all busy and working, and all eight cylinders are hitting.”

Snotel sites in South Routt are faring the best, with Lynx Pass and Crosho at 122 percent of average. Columbine is at 117 percent and Rabbit Ears is at 111 percent. On Buffalo Pass, Dry Lake is at 118 percent and Tower is at 116 percent. In North Routt, Zirkel is at 110 percent and Elk River is at 104 percent…

Still, though snowpack at high elevations is looking good, McBride said there is more to consider in planning for the water year. When the snow melts off plays a role in how irrigators have to manage their water. What’s more, if snow at lower elevations melts too early in the season, irrigators have to divert water running off from higher elevations earlier to boost soil moisture that would typically come from snow melt on fields.

“(Snowpack’s) a little above average,” he said. “Things are looking — if they continue this way— they’ll be great.”

From KUER.org (Judy Fahys):

“These storms have been bringing a lot of water — great for the snowpack, for water supply going into the runoff season and for ski conditions,” Glen Merrill, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Friday during a meeting of hydrologists, forecasters and other climate professionals who track precipitation levels…

Troy Brosten, a hydrologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey, pointed out that the snow-water equivalent is higher than average statewide, between 114 and 172 percent.

Brosten also said soil moisture was up, from 42 percent last year to 49 percent this year. Generally speaking, when soil moisture is good, runoff is more efficient.

One area that remains worrisome is reservoirs, reported Gary Henrie of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Provo office.

He said last year at this time reservoirs were 80 percent full on average, but communities and agriculture relied heavily on them through the exceptionally dry summer. Now, he said, the average levels in reservoirs statewide are 64 percent of normal, but water managers hope a good runoff this spring will help restore them.

Statewide snowpack Utah February 17, 2019 via the NRCS.