Fact fuses with fiction at #Phoenix water meeting — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification

Both science and science fiction say the future is going to be hotter, drier and dustier, and this silt-fall in upper Lake Powell in September 2018 captures the trend. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

On the first morning of a water conference in downtown Phoenix on Friday, an academic expert spoke of aridification in the Colorado River basin due to the ill effects of humans burning fossil fuels.

After dinner, a writer of vivid predictive fiction spoke about his book “The Water Knife,” which describes Phoenix in a dusty and water-starved river basin, in the not-so-distant future.

“First of all, the climate is changing, it’s happening now, it’s happening extremely rapidly and, in fact, it is accelerating,” said Kathy Jacobs, the director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona. “Second, severe weather is becoming more intense, sea levels are rising and oceans are being affected dramatically — incredible changes in the oceans and in the Artic. It’s largely happening because of human activities, and there are so many different avenues now to show that that is true.”

Jacobs also described the current impacts on the Colorado River basin, which includes the Roaring Fork River watershed.

“The connection between heat and runoff has become incredibly clear,” Jacobs said, and the result is “a huge decline” in water supplies.

“We’re seeing record-setting flow reductions, lots of temperature-induced losses, snowpack loss faster than we really had anticipated and earlier runoff, which of course affects a lot, especially in the upper basin,” she said.

And, she warned, “We’ve got a lot to adjust to and need to be significantly prepared for a lot more change than we’ve already seen.”

Later that evening, Paolo Bacigalupi said he didn’t want to be right about the bleak future in “The Water Knife,” but also said people are still not “engaging with the issue” of climate change.

“I just want us to be reality-based,” Bacigalupi said. “I don’t think that’s asking too much.”

Speaking louder than Bacigalupi was “The Water Knife,” a 2015 novel that mixes senior water rights with chaos, torture, murder, drugs and sex in a tale where the only thing that’s not shocking is that the Colorado River is drying up.

“Weather anchors used the word drought, but drought implied that drought could end; it was a passing event, not the status quo,” the book says. “But maybe they were destined for a single continuous storm — a permanent blight of dust and wildfire smoke and drought, and the only records broken would be for days where anyone could even see the sun.”

The Phoenix water conference was organized and hosted by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy. (The conference was sponsored in part by the Walton Family Foundation, a supporter of Aspen Journalism.)

The attendees, many of them journalists, were offered a copy of “The Water Knife.”

A water knife is someone who cuts off people’s junior water rights, by force if necessary.

Angel Velasquez, the water knife in the book, at one point remembers the early days of his job working for the fictional head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, “when he’d stood bodyguard behind Catherine Case as she went into meetings: bald bureaucrat guys, city water managers, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of the Interior. All of them talking acre-feet and reclamation guidelines and cooperation, wastewater efficiency, recycling, water banking, evaporation reduction and river covers, tamarisks and cottonwood and willow elimination. All of them trying to rearrange deck chairs on a big old Titanic. All of them playing the game by the rules, believing there was a way for everyone to get by, pretending they could cooperate and share their way out of the situation if they just got real clever about the problem.”

But the efforts of the water managers in the book didn’t work, and the seven states in the Colorado River basin harden their borders and stand behind their water rights, each fighting for what the law gave them, even if the river has stopped giving.

In the book, Case, the water manager, sits in her car with the water knife and ticks off a list of problems people didn’t see coming: “‘Snowpack up in the Rockies — that might as well be zero. No one planned for that.’ Tick. ‘Dust storms and forest fires are playing hell with our solar grid. No one planned for that.’ Tick. ‘All that dust is speeding snowmelt, so even when we get a good year, it melts too fast or else evaporates. No one planned for that.’ Tick. ‘Hydropower.’ She laughed. ‘That’s shot except in the spring because you can’t get a decent head in the reservoirs.’ Tick. ‘And then there’s California putting all these calls on the river.’”

That may be fiction, but it’s not far from what Jacobs, the climate expert, said Friday about what people can expect as the result of burning fossil fuels.

“It will be drier on average, but with more intense rainstorms, so we have to be prepared for both flooding and drought,” Jacobs said. “There is a likelihood, and I will say a certainty, of cascading effects increasing, including heat waves and resulting brownouts because of impacts on the electric system, or forest fires, air quality problems, health effects, a whole range of potential cascading effects on systems, because our systems are weak.”

Jacobs concluded her remarks by noting that “Many decision-makers really want a path to the future, they want to know what exactly the future is going to look like, and we cannot tell them.”

They might well consult “The Water Knife.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily and the Steamboat Pilot. The Times published this story on April 3, 2019.

A poem for coyote — @HighCountryNews

Coyote Yosemite National Park. Yathin S Krishnappa [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
From The High Country News (Todd Teicheira):

Thank you, Julie Lue. I so appreciated your essay on Coyote (“Overheard in Montana,” HCN, 9/4/17). As we experience this creature, so we discover the spirit of song, and whelping dens that have youth within. The cycle of seasons. Where in the spring? Now have they dispersed.

These are the songs of the rural. Experienced on the edge, but then, not quite. Unless one explores, and finds the places. The spaces of changing patterns. Coyote. The mischievous one.

Todd Teicheira
Bend, Oregon

#Drought news: Reduction in D0 (Abnormally Dry) around #ColoradoSprings and in the #SanLuisValley

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

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


Large portions of the continental United States remained free of drought or abnormal dryness this week. The Northeast was completely free of drought or abnormal dryness, as was the Midwest, where significant river flooding concerns continued. Short-term dryness continued in parts of central and western Texas, with some moderate and severe drought shifting northward, while widespread rain in southern Texas led to improvements in conditions there. Short-term precipitation deficits in southern Alabama, southern Georgia, southern Louisiana, the Florida Panhandle, and South Carolina led to the expansion of abnormal dryness and moderate drought in some of these areas. Moderate drought was also expanded in parts of north-central Washington in response to short-term precipitation deficits there. Another dry week in Hawaii led to degradation in drought conditions on most of the islands…

High Plains

Widespread precipitation fell across much of Nebraska and eastern Kansas this week while most of the rest of the region experienced drier weather. On the whole, temperatures were relatively close to normal in the region, with a cold pocket in northwestern Nebraska and a few warmer areas showing up in the western Dakotas. Aside from a reduction in abnormal dryness around Colorado Springs in response to decreasing long-term precipitation deficits, no changes were made to the map this week east of the Continental Divide, and the High Plains remained nearly devoid of drought or abnormal dryness…


Widespread precipitation affected northern California, western Oregon, and the northern Sierra Nevada this week. Precipitation also fell in the mountains north of the Snake River Valley in Idaho, southwestern Montana, northern Utah, and central Wyoming. Relatively warm conditions prevailed along the Pacific Coast, and in southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Elsewhere, temperatures were generally near normal. Moderate drought was expanded in parts of north-central Washington where precipitation deficits over the last 1-3 months led to the development of moderate drought. Low to very low snow water equivalent is also evident in the Idaho Panhandle and in northwestern Montana, and while this has not yet developed into moderate drought, abnormally dry conditions continue here. Abnormal dryness was reduced in the San Luis Valley in Colorado, where long-term precipitation deficits continued to abate…


Aside from southern Texas and northeastern Oklahoma, much of the region was dry over the past week. Temperatures were below normal in most of the region, except for southwestern Texas and the western Texas Panhandle. Moderate drought was added this week in southwestern Louisiana and in the Baton Rouge area because of short-term precipitation deficits over the past few months. Very dry conditions over the past 3 months led to moderate drought expanding into the Austin, Texas, area. Severe drought shifted northward in parts of south-central Texas in response to changes in short-term precipitation deficits there. After a widespread half-inch or more of precipitation this past week, short-term precipitation shortages were alleviated enough for widespread improvement in drought conditions in southern Texas. Elsewhere, some short-term dryness was taking place in Arkansas and Tennessee, but this was outweighed by longer-term precipitation surpluses…

Looking Ahead

Widespread precipitation is forecast this week from the Central Plains eastward through the East Coast. The heaviest amounts are forecast in eastern Texas and Arkansas and in the central Gulf Coast states. Precipitation is also forecast in the Sierra Nevada, northwestern California, western Washington and Oregon, and mountainous areas of Wyoming, northern Utah, and Idaho. Widespread above-normal temperatures are forecast over the next week, particularly in the central continental United States.

One week US Drought Monitor change map through April 2, 2019.

@CA_DWR: Photos of the first releases from the new #Oroville spillway

A night view as the California Department of Water Resources releases water from the Lake Oroville flood control gates down the newly-constructed main spillway for the first time since May 2017 in Butte County, California.
Main spillway releases will continue to manage lake levels in anticipation of rain and snowmelt. Photo taken April 2, 2019. Photo credit: Ken James / California Department of Water Resources,

Click here to view a gallery of photos from the California Department of Water Resources.

2019 #COleg: SB19-181, (Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations) is on it’s way to Governor Polis’ desk

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

The new rules would give local governments more tools to regulate where wells go. It would also make health and safety a top priority for state regulators.

The bill does include more than a half dozen amendments, some of which were requested by the state’s oil and gas industry in the final days before the legislature passed it.

Democratic sponsor Steve Fenberg of Boulder said it’s “in the best interest of the communities impacted by oil and gas extraction as well as the communities that have industry that supports their economies to accept these amendments,” and at the same time move forward with health and safety protections.

Opposition from Republicans and industry groups has been fierce. The Colorado Petroleum Council voiced their support for the amendments but remains opposed to the bill. Some opponents, like Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, have filed statewide ballot issue paperwork in an effort to repeal the new oil and gas regulations.

One adopted amendment request by the industry includes changes to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Currently, the state regulator is a volunteer or part-time job. The industry wants the role professionalized and it will become a full-time position under the COGCC.

Another industry-requested amendment specifies that efforts to protect both health and environment at the state and local level must be to “the extent necessary and reasonable.” That was a disappointment for the environmental group Colorado Rising, which labeled the amendment as a “loophole.” In the last election, Colorado Rising advocated for the failed Proposition 112 ballot measure that sought a 2,500-foot setback between energy development and homes and schools.

Most environmental groups, however, praised the passage of the oil and gas reform bill.

A final signature by the governor on SB 19-181 will be the first of many steps to completely implement the bill. It’s expected to launch a half dozen rulemakings on such matters as flowline regulations and methane controls. Those efforts will take months, even years, for the state to fully adopt.

From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler) via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The Senate voted 19-16 — all Democrats said “yes” and all Republicans said “no” — for Senate Bill 19-181, a repeat of the party-line votes through most of the bill’s journey.

The bill makes protecting public health and safety and the environment a priority when considering oil and gas projects. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the main regulatory body, would no longer be charged with fostering development.

It also allows cities and counties to regulate oil and gas development under their planning and land-use powers, something communities have requested as drilling has increased in and near the growing cities and counties north and east of Denver…

Polis “is thrilled to see” the bill pass, according to a statement from his office. He thanked the sponsors and Erin Martinez, whose husband and brother died in 2017 when odorless gas from an uncapped flow line that was attached to a well seeped into the family’s home in Firestone.

Martinez, who was severely injured, spoke to the media and testified in support of the bill.

Since the bill was introduced March 1, hundreds of people spoke for and against it during Senate and House committee hearings. The oil and gas industry and its supporters, including several business organizations and elected officials from energy-producing areas, called on lawmakers to slow the bill down to give people more time to weigh in.

The Colorado Petroleum Council aired TV ads saying a handful of politicians were trying to pass the bill “in the middle of the night to shut down energy production in Colorado.”

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, one of the bill’s main sponsors, said many of the amendments approved through six committee hearings and debate in the House and Senate were in response to the industry’s concerns…

Language was changed in the House to try to allay the industry’s fears that cities and counties will pass regulations leading to drilling bans or drastically slowing growth in one of the state’s largest industries. Fenberg and House Speaker KC Becker, another of the bill’s prime sponsors, have said nothing in the bill would allow bans and that regulations need to be rational and fair. Amendments revising some of the bill’s language were aimed at making that clear, Fenberg said.

The revised language says state and local regulations must be reasonable and necessary. An earlier version of the bill said the state couldn’t act “arbitrarily or capriciously” when regulating oil and gas, which is considered a higher legal hurdle if the regulations are challenged…

Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and former Arapahoe County Commissioner John Brackney said Wednesday they will try to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to annul the changes and create a nonpartisan state regulatory body…

The legislation changes the commission from a part-time, volunteer body to a full-time, professional one. The amendment reduces the number of members to seven from nine, five of whom will be appointed by the governor. The heads of the state health and natural resource departments will be nonvoting members.

If Polis signs the bill into law, a lot more work lies ahead. The state oil and gas commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will have to write rules to implement the law, including new air-quality regulations, new rules for monitoring well flow lines and pipelines and new financial requirements to ensure there is enough money to take care of inactive and abandoned wells…

Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112, the failed ballot measure on bigger well setbacks, has been critical of amendments it views as “major concessions” to the industry. Development of the rules will be key, spokeswoman Anne Lee Foster said in a statement.

Several conservation and community groups with members along the Front Range and in western Colorado said the bill’s approval gives the public a much-needed voice and will better protect public health and safety.

“Grand Valley Citizens Alliance members past and present have been working on health and safety issues in Garfield County’s gas patch for over 20 years,” Leslie Robinson, the group’s chairwoman, said in a statement. “We want to thank both House and Senate legislators who made our vision reality — that people will finally have an equal voice about oil and gas development in their neighborhoods.”

Fears about drilling’s impacts have intensified as development has increased and moved closer to homes, schools and public places. The 2017 house explosion in Firestone galvanized the push for tougher regulations after investigators said the blast was caused by a leaking flow line…

One of the bill’s major provisions deals with forced pooling, which allows a company to drill oil and gas if just one of the mineral owners in an area agrees. A House amendment says at least 45 percent of the mineral owners must agree before a company can drill, lowering the bill’s original threshold from a majority.

Climate Change, the Growing Season, and America’s Allergies — Climate Central #ActOnClimate

From Climate Central:

Nearly 20 million Americans suffer from pollen allergies. Analysis of local temperature data by Climate Central and recent scientific research show that climate change is prolonging their season of suffering.

Global warming is extending the freeze-free season, giving plants more time to grow, flower, and produce pollen. And as atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rise, laboratory experiments suggest, some plants that produce allergenic pollen produce even more of it.

These trends will worsen as humanity dumps more carbon into the atmosphere. Like global warming’s effects on heat waves and vector-borne diseases, climate change’s consequences for pollen allergies reveal how greenhouse gas emissions are already damaging Americans’ health…

More CO2 = More Pollen
By trapping more heat in the atmosphere, humanity’s carbon emissions have made the growing season longer. But carbon emissions also directly spur pollen production in some allergenic plants, independent of changes in temperature.

Take ragweeds, which are the third-most common allergen in the United States. Roughly one in four Americans are sensitive to their pollen.

Scientists have conducted laboratory experiments to determine how ragweed responds to various concentrations of CO2. One study showed that, as CO2 concentrations rise from 280 to 370 parts per million—which is what actually occurred in the global atmosphere between about 1900 and 2000—ragweed pollen production more than doubles. Under a CO2 concentration of 600 parts per million, ragweed pollen production doubles again. Today, atmospheric CO2 stands around 410 parts per million; if emissions grow unchecked, we could reach 600 parts per million in about 40 years. Similar patterns hold for timothy grass pollen, another common allergenic plant that sends out pollen early in the summer.