As The #ColoradoRiver Basin Dries, Can An Accidental Oasis Survive? — KUNC #COriver #aridification

La Ciénega de Santa Clara via YouTube

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

CIÉNEGA DE SANTA CLARA, MEXICO: Juan Butrón-Méndez navigates a small metal motorboat through a maze of tall reeds here in the Mexican state of Sonora. It’s nearing sunset, and the sky is turning shades of light blue and purple…

Butrón-Méndez lives nearby and works for the conservation group Pronatura Noroeste as a bird monitor…

He cuts the motor in an open stretch of water he calls the “scary lagoon,” ringed by tall grasses that rise from the thigh-high water. Without the boat’s droning hum, coastal birds appear over the reeds, and come in for a water landing.

American coots, with their white bills and dark grey feathers, cackle as they swim. They’re interspersed among broad-winged, yellow-beaked pelicans. Other birds, just silhouettes, dart along the surface, skimming for insects before dark. There’s no sign of them tonight, but several species of threatened or endangered marsh birds — like the Ridgway’s rail — call this place home too…

Butrón-Méndez has explored this wetland since its creation, watching over the course of decades as the shape-shifting oasis was born.

“Water started to flow to this place in the 1970s. I would walk around here without having to worry about getting wet,” Butrón-Méndez said though a translator. “If there wasn’t water, it’s a dry place.”

He’s been called the Ciénega’s patron saint, able to rattle off its history and the names of the birds, fish and mammals that live here.

The wetland is fed by a concrete canal that removes drainage water from American farms across the border in Arizona. The canal is called the MODE — Main Outlet Drain Extension. The salty runoff inadvertently created this oasis in the middle of the Sonoran desert, a perfect stopover for migratory birds on their journey along the Pacific coast…

But there’s a problem. As the Colorado River basin heats up and dries out like climate projections predict, Butrón-Méndez is concerned people will stop thinking of the water that flows to the wetland as waste, find a way to use it and, in turn, harm the Ciénega…

Wasted water

The Ciénega was born in 1977 when the U.S. began draining salty agricultural runoff to the Santa Clara slough, near the Gulf of California. Years prior, the U.S. agreed not to send degraded water to Mexico, a near-constant tension between the two countries since they signed their first Colorado River treaty in 1944.

In a 1973 agreement called the “Permanent and Definitive Solution to the International Problem of the Salinity of the Colorado River,” President Richard Nixon’s administration agreed to a limit on how salty water would be at when delivered at the U.S.-Mexico border.

To keep the river from becoming loaded with salt, someone had to devise a way to keep the farm runoff from ending up in it. That’s how the MODE canal came to be. After irrigating lettuce fields and date palms in salty soil near Yuma, Arizona, the concrete-lined MODE would take the leftover water across the border close to the Pacific Ocean to dispose of it.

No one meant to create a haven for birds and other wildlife in the dried-out Colorado River delta in the process. But by sending about 100,000 acre-feet of water annually out into the desert, that’s what happened…

The wetland does have some protections. The Mexican government has designated the Ciénega as a Biosphere Reserve in the Colorado River Delta. It’s also been recognized for having “great ecological significance” by the Ramsar convention, an intergovernmental treaty on the value of wetlands. If the U.S. were to run the Yuma Desalting Plant it would likely trigger a reconsultation of previous agreements between the two countries.

#Snowpack news: The month of March is one for the record books in Summit County

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 10, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Summit Daily (Antonio Olivero):

This past March will go down in the record books for Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain Resort and Keystone Resort, which all received more March snowfall than ever before.

At Breckenridge, spokeswoman Sara Lococo said March’s 111 total inches surpassed the previous high of 98 inches that Breckenridge received in March 2001. That’s 13.3 percent more snow than March 2001. The 111 inches also makes March 2019 the third snowiest month on record at Breckenridge and the snowiest month outside of a pair of Januarys. The highest monthly snowfall total on record for the resort was 120 inches in January 2014, followed by 112 inches in January 1996.

At Copper Mountain, spokeswoman Taylor Prather said March 2019’s 98 inches of snow was just about 14 percent more snowfall than Copper’s previous March high, the 86 inches the resort received in March 2001. This past month also ranks as the fourth snowiest month on record since the resort opened in 1972. It’s also the second snowiest month of this past decade.

At Keystone, March’s 94 inches of snow was just under 19 percent more snow than the previous record March: March 2011’s 79 inches of snow. March 2019 comes in as the third snowiest month on record at Keystone, only behind the 128 inches received in December 1983 and the 127 inches that fell in January 1996.

And up at the Continental Divide, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area received 82.75 inches this March. Though it was the snowiest month yet this year for the ski area, and though A-Basin’s annual average for March is 51 inches, A-Basin’s all-time record for March snowfall was the 110 inches that fell in March 1982.

A-Basin spokeswoman Katherine Fuller said April is actually, on average, the snowiest month of the year, at 53.4 inches. Fuller clarified that A-Basin’s data goes back to 1978. In that time, Fuller said A-Basin has had multiple 100-plus-inch months, led by December 1983’s 133 inches.

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

This March was one of the snowiest ever in the past 84 winters in Aspen, but it didn’t set a record.

The Aspen Water Treatment Plant recorded 63.1 inches of snow this month. The record is 76.50 inches in March 1965. The city of Aspen has snow and precipitation records back to the 1934-35 winter.

“The snowfall we did receive was relatively high in moisture and the total precipitation was record-breaking,” said the water treatment plant’s monthly report, filed by Laura Taylor. “6.04 inches was measured, surpassing the old record of 5.53 inches from March 1995.”

The records confirm what everyone probably suspected. The month was way above the average for precipitation, which is 2.38 inches, and it also was well above the average of 27 inches of snow at the water plant…

For the month of March, Aspen Highlands collected 117 inches of snow. Snowmass hauled in 96 inches and Aspen Mountain logged 95.

That was the third-snowiest March in 24 years of records at Snowmass, according to Hanle. There were 119 inches logged in March 1995 and 100 inches in 2008.

For the season from Nov. 1 through March, Aspen Highlands scored 338 inches of snow. Snowmass was a close second at 313 inches.

Aspen Mountain collected 253 inches from November through March while Buttermilk recorded 143 inches.

The season-to-date snowfall amounts are running about 20 percent above average for the ski areas, Hanle said.

From The Denver Post (Chris Bianchi):

Thanks to the 7.1 inches of snowfall from the bomb cyclone, Denver finished its typically snowiest month of the year with an above-average total. The 12.9 inches of total March snowfall made it the snowiest March since 2016, when another big blizzard jacked up monthly totals. With February snapping Denver’s 25-month below-average snowfall skid, seasonal snow totals have recovered to near-typical levels for the beginning of April, although Denver’s official snowfall is still slightly below normal.

This is a continuation of what’s been an active winter overall for the Front Range and statewide. All three months so far in 2019 have finished with above-average precipitation in Denver, helping wipe away most of Colorado’s drought.

The #RepublicanRiver Water Conservation District meeting tomorrow includes public hearing on new water use fee policy

Yuma Colorado circa 1925

From the RRWCD (Deb Daniel) via The Yuma Pioneer:

A public hearing on the proposed new water use fee policy will be held during the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Director’s regular quarterly meeting next week in Yuma.
The meeting will be Thursday, April 11, in the banquet room at Quintech, 529 N. Albany St., beginning at 10 a.m.

The public hearing on the proposed water use fee policy will be at 1 p.m.

The new water use fee policy establishes and corrects water use fees for non-groundwater irrigation use in accordance with the Republican River Compact Administration accounting procedures and reporting requirements. It includes fees for all water uses, including junior surface water rights “as each water use affects compact compliance” according to the meeting release from the RRWCD.

A copy of the six-page proposed policy can be found on the district’s website,

It states that the policy is intended to provide a fair and equitable fee structure for all types of water use and consumption. The fees are set at a level to fund the necessary programs of the RRWCD “intended to meet the statutory responsibilities and limitations of the District.” It will not impact water use that was decreed or permitted earlier than December 31, 1942, prior to the Republican River Compact.

Water users that have a decreed plan for augmentation that replaces depletions will not be assessed a fee for that water use and consumption.

General public comment will be heard immediately following the public hearing on the proposed policy.

Among the presentations to be made at the April 11 meeting is one by Margaret Lenz regarding the Yuma County Conservation District soil moisture monitoring program.

The board will discuss and vote on sending comments regarding the new proposed WOTUS Rule. It also will discuss and vote on an agreement to offer well owners who are required to provide an augmentation plan to another river basin.

It will receive reports from the general manager, the compact compliance pipeline operator, from chairmen fo the RRWCD committees, the RRWCD’s engineer, federal and state lobbyists and legal counsel. The board also will receive a report by the State Engineer’s Office and discuss South Fork Water Rights.

For further information concerning the April 11 meeting, please contact RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 332-3552 or email her at

Statement by @USBR Commissioner Brenda Burman on historic legislation to implement #Drought Contingency Plans #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification

The Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. Photo credit: USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Theresa Eisenman):

I’m pleased that collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, local water agencies, Tribes, non-governmental organizations, Mexico and the Department of the Interior to reduce risk on the Colorado River are succeeding. I applaud Congress for taking prompt action on implementing legislation for the Drought Contingency Plans. This brings us one step closer to supporting agriculture and protecting the water supplies for 40 million people in the United States and Mexico. Working together remains the best approach for all those who rely on the Colorado River.

Hoover Dam. Photo credit: Air Wolfhound Flickr Creative Commons

From The Arizona Star (Tony Davis):

Legislation for the drought contingency plan aimed at propping up Lakes Mead and Powell unanimously cleared the House and Senate Monday and Tuesday, respectively. The bill now heads to President Trump for his signature.

The plan calls on the Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada to conserve up to 1.2 million acre-feet of the 7.5 million acre-feet to which they have a right between now and 2026. The cuts will kick in at small amounts almost immediately and will escalate when Lake Mead drops low enough.

Arizona, whose $4 billion Central Arizona Project will take the first cuts during a Colorado River shortage, would lose 192,000 acre-feet of CAP water at first. (One acre-foot is enough water to serve four Tucson households for a year.)

When Lake Mead drops below 1,075 feet, which could happen by 2021, the CAP would lose nearly one-third of its supply, or 500,000 acre-feet. When Mead hits 1,025 feet, the CAP would lose more than 700,000 acre-feet.

The plan is aimed at delaying the time when the two reservoirs will drop so low that it will be difficult or impossible to get water and electric power from them.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat whose bill is the one headed to the White House, praised its passage but warned in an interview that it’s only an interim step.

The seven Colorado River basin states must soon start work on revising guidelines for managing the river that were approved in 2007 and expire in 2026…

This was “a remarkable chapter in the long story of securing Arizona’s water supplies,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.

In congressional testimony last month, Buschatzke acknowledged the plan isn’t a permanent solution: “We recognize that more must be done by the states to prepare for a drier future.”

@NOAA: Assessing the U.S. #Climate in March 2019 U.S. impacted by 2 billion-dollar disasters in first 3 months of 2019

From NOAA:

In the first three months of 2019, there were two weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U.S. These events included a severe storm event across the Southeast, Ohio Valley and Northeast, and one flooding event in the central U.S., which is still ongoing.

During March, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 40.68°F, 0.82°F below the 20th-century average. This ranked in the middle third of the 125-year period of record. The year-to-date (January–March) average contiguous U.S. temperature was 35.03°F, 0.12°F below average, ranking among the middle third of the record. This was the coldest start to a year since 2014. The March precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 2.20 inches, 0.31 inch below average, and ranked in the driest third of the 125-year period of record. The year-to-date precipitation total was 8.03 inches, 1.07 inch above average, tying with 1949 as the 12th wettest January–March period on record.

This monthly summary from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.

March Temperature

  • Below-average temperatures were observed in the Northwest, the Great Plains and across portions of the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys. A small pocket of record-cold temperatures was evident across a portion of Washington state.
  • Arizona and New Mexico had above-average temperatures during March, while most of the contiguous U.S. experienced near-average temperatures for the month.

  • The Alaska March temperature was 26.7°F, 15.9°F above the long-term average. This was the warmest March in the 95-year period of record for the state and exceeded the previous warmest March in 1965 by more than 3°F. All long-term climate stations north of the Alaska Range and Bristol Bay had their warmest March on record. Kotzebue’s average March temperature was warm enough to be among its 10 warmest Aprils on record.
  • March Precipitation

  • During mid-March, a “bomb cyclone” developed across the central U.S. bringing snow, blizzard conditions, heavy rainfall and above-freezing temperatures across parts of the interior U.S., which already had significant snowpack on the ground. This resulted in widespread flash flooding due to the combination of new rainfall, rapidly melting snow and frozen ground. A State of Emergency was declared for parts of Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin as the Missouri, Platte and Mississippi rivers breached their banks.
  • Above-average precipitation was observed across parts of the West, central Rockies and into the central Plains and middle Mississippi Valley. This precipitation exacerbated the flooding that occurred during the latter half of March in the central U.S. Flooding along these major rivers and tributaries is anticipated to continue well into April.
  • Below-average precipitation was observed across the Northwest, South, Southeast and East Coast. Washington and Montana had one of their 10 driest Marchs on record.
  • According to the April 2 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 6 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down from 12 percent at the end of February and is one of the smallest contiguous U.S. drought footprints on record. Drought conditions continued to improve across much of the West and intensified across parts of Washington, Texas and the Southeast.
  • January–March (Year-to-Date) Temperature

  • Above-average temperatures were primarily observed across the Southeast and Atlantic Coast. Florida had an average January–March temperature that ranked among its 10 warmest on record. Near-average conditions stretched from the southern Plains to the Northeast and across much of the West. Below-average temperatures were present across the northern and central Plains and parts of the West.
  • The Alaska January–March temperature was 16.6°F, 10.7°F above the long-term average, the third warmest on record for the state. Record temperatures were observed across most of the state with much-above-average temperatures occurring across the Aleutians and the panhandle.
  • January–March (Year-to-Date) Precipitation

  • Below-average precipitation was observed across the South and parts of the Southeast. Washington ranked 10th driest for the year-to-date period. Above-average precipitation stretched from coast-to-coast with many states having one of their 10 wettest January–March periods on record; Colorado was fourth wettest, Tennessee and Utah were fifth wettest and Nevada sixth wettest.Below-average precipitation was observed across the South and parts of the Southeast. Washington ranked 10th driest for the year-to-date period. Above-average precipitation stretched from coast-to-coast with many states having one of their 10 wettest January–March periods on record; Colorado was fourth wettest, Tennessee and Utah were fifth wettest and Nevada sixth wettest.
  • Billion Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters

  • In February 2019, widespread damage resulted from severe weather and flooding in the South (MS, AL, TN) and high winds across Ohio Valley (IL, IN, OH) and Northeastern states (CT, MD, MA, NJ, NY, PA, VA, WV).
  • Historic Midwest flooding, which began in March and is currently ongoing, inundated millions of acres of agriculture, numerous cities and towns and caused widespread damage to roads, bridges, levees and dams. The states most affected include Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
  • In April 2019, NCEI added three historical weather and climate events. The U.S. has now sustained 246 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (based on Consumer Price Index adjustment to 2019). The total cost of these 246 events exceeds $1.6 trillion.