#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.