#Drought news: Beneficial precipitation, ample high elevation #snowpack, positive #runoff potential = no change in depiction for #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

An active weather pattern maintained historically low drought coverage across the contiguous United States, with only a few areas currently experiencing dryness (D0) or moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2). Prior to April 2019, the record-low drought coverage across the Lower 48 States during the 20-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor stood at 4.52% on May 23, 2017. During the drought-monitoring period ending on the morning of April 30, locally significant precipitation fell in dryness- and drought-affected areas across the Rockies, Intermountain West, northern Plains, and parts of the South. In contrast, little or no precipitation fell in the Far West and the southern Atlantic region…

High Plains

A new area of abnormal dryness (D0) was introduced in Kansas, where little precipitation has fallen since March 1. Elsewhere, pockets of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) were limited to Colorado, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Some late-April snow fell in the D0 area of North Dakota, where statewide topsoil moisture rated very short to short stood at 10% on April 28. Coverage of D0 and D1 was reduced in Wyoming and Colorado due to late-April precipitation and generally favorable snowpack values and warm-season runoff prospects…


Minimal changes were introduced in the Far West, while slight reductions in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) were made in the Rockies and environs on the strength of late-season precipitation, robust high-elevation snowpack, and increasing confidence in favorable spring and summer runoff…


Locally heavy showers swept across the South, especially the central Gulf Coast region and from west-central to northeastern Texas, trimming dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1). Selected daily-record rainfall totals during the drought-monitoring period included 2.57 inches (on April 25) in Vicksburg, Mississippi; 1.88 inches (on April 24) in Austin, Texas; and 1.37 inches (on April 23) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, recorded 3.57 inches on April 23-24. Lingering pockets of D0 and D1 primarily stretch from southern Texas to the central Gulf Coast…

Looking Ahead

During the next couple of days, showers and thunderstorms across the nation’s mid-section will gradually shift into the South, East, and lower Midwest. Five-day rainfall totals could reach 1 to 5 inches or more along an axis stretching from the southeastern Plains into the lower Great Lakes region. In contrast, areas west of the Rockies will experience mostly dry weather and a gradual warming trend. During the weekend, a new surge of cold air will arrive across the northern Plains and upper Midwest, accompanied by rain and snow showers.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for May 7 – 11 calls for the likelihood of wetter-than-normal weather nearly nationwide. Below-normal precipitation should be limited to northern California and the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, warmer-than-normal conditions across the Southeast and the Far West should contrast with below-normal temperatures in most other regions, including a large area stretching from the Southwest into large sections of the Rockies, Plains, and upper Midwest.

One week drought change map through April 30, 2019 via the US Drought Monitor.

Is treating drinking water enough to limit #PFAS exposure? — Michigan State University

From Michigan State University ( Emilie Rusch , Layne Cameron , Courtney Carignan):

Researchers from three states currently grappling with water contaminated with poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are joining forces to tackle one of the biggest remaining questions facing communities who have found the toxic chemicals used in firefighting foam, nonstick cookware and water-repellent clothing lurking in their water supply.

When PFAS contaminate a drinking water source, is it enough to just treat the water people drink? Or do state and local agencies need to do more to limit residents’ exposure?

“The fact is these compounds are so persistent that if they’re in the water, whatever the water is used for has the potential to cause an exposure issue, too,” said Chris Higgins, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado School of Mines. “We’ve heard about a dairy in Maine where the soil was contaminated, and now the milk is contaminated, too. A farm near Colorado Springs closed because of the potential concerns of compounds moving into crops. There are places in Michigan where officials have issued deer consumption advisories, in addition to fish consumption advisories.

“If we’re treating impacted drinking water, is that sufficient to reduce human exposure when you have these compounds getting into water and soil? That’s the main motivating question.”

Higgins is the lead investigator on a new research project set to receive $1.96 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to answer that question. In doing so, researchers will develop actionable data that can be used by state and local agencies to reduce exposure to the harmful chemicals in communities across the nation.

The research team includes scientists and engineers from North Carolina State University, Duke University, Michigan State University and the University of Colorado. Their efforts will focus on their three home states, each of which has communities significantly impacted by PFAS-contaminated drinking water.

In Colorado, the towns of Fountain, Security and Widefield, just south of Colorado Springs, learned that firefighting foam used at a nearby military installation had likely contaminated groundwater and soil with PFAS.

In North Carolina, the source of the PFAS discovered in the Cape Fear River – the main drinking water source for the city of Wilmington – was a manufacturing plant upstream emitting the PFAS GenX in their fluorochemical production.

In Michigan, researchers will study similarities and differences in exposure and chemical fingerprints in environmental media and serum for all three communities. The Michigan study will be led by co-PI Courtney Carignan, MSU assistant professor of food science and human nutrition.

Among the specific questions that the researchers hope plan to answer is to what extent PFAS accumulate in locally harvested foods like vegetables, fish and eggs, and more broadly, the relative contribution of drinking water and local foods to PFAS exposure in impacted communities. Further, the team will collect needed data to enable predictions of how quickly PFAS will migrate, particularly through soil into groundwater.

PFAS exposure studies funded by the National Institutes of Health are already underway in Colorado and North Carolina, and the new project will leverage those existing biomonitoring cohorts, led by co-PIs John Adgate at ColoradoSPH and Jane Hoppin at NC State.

A companion study, led by Oregon State University and also being funded by the EPA, will look specifically at the toxicity of PFAS and which ones are most worrisome for human health.

An advisory board composed of PFAS experts, state decision-makers and PFAS-impacted community stakeholders will provide critical input into the Mines-led project.

The North Carolina Policy Collaboratory’s Challenge Grant fund, provided by the North Carolina General Assembly, is also contributing a $262,500 cash match, with additional in-kind contributions coming from industry partners Jacobs, CDM Smith and others.

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

Spikes in E. coli levels in Boulder Creek prompt call to action — CU Independent

Boulder Creek. Photo credit: Susan from Alameda, CA, USA – CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2536150

From the CU Independent (Robert Tann):

Levels of the harmful bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) in Boulder Creek have spiked several times in the past three years, according to reports obtained by the CU Independent.

The bacteria, found in mammal intestines, usually comes into contact with water sources through fecal contamination. While the majority of E. coli infections cause vomiting and diarrhea, in extreme cases, the bacteria can lead to severe anemia and kidney failure. After years of the issue, one Boulder community member is advocating for change

Art Hirsche, a member of the Boulder-based non-profit Boulder Waterkeeper, is calling on who he refers to as the “stakeholders” for greater accountability. It includes the City of Boulder, Boulder County and the University of Colorado Boulder, all entities that own property in which the stream flows.

“I would like to see them be transparent,” Hirsche said. “They have a responsibility.”

E. coli is measured in colony forming units (cfu) which estimate the number of bacterial cells in a given sample, with a typical water sample size being 100 milliliters. The City of Boulder has conducted roughly 80 sample testings per year between 2015 and 2018. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that levels for fresh recreational water, like the creek, should not exceed 126 cfu. Throughout the last three years, some E. coli measurements in the creek were over 2,000 cfu, 15 times the EPA standard.

116 of 338 samples between 2015 and 2018 exceeded EPA E. coli standards. (Robert Tann/CU Independent)

Determined “impaired” in a 2004 study by the City of Boulder, the creek has remained a spot for E. coli concentration ever since. It took until 2011, seven years after the findings, for the first total maximum daily load (TMDL) study to be done. In compliance with the U.S. Clean Water Act, TMDL studies identify the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards. In this case, studies were done to measure levels of E. coli in the water.

According to Aimee Konowal, watershed section manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), TMDL studies took years to be implemented as the creek was not a “priority” at the time. CDPHE has dealt with a “growing list” of impaired water sources, said Konowal.

“We don’t always have the resources to address all of the impaired waters at any given time,” Konowal said, adding that in 2004 the department had other obligations when it came to tackling water issues.

While TMDL studies stopped prior to 2015, a plan was funded by the Keep it Clean Partnership (KICP) to further monitor and collect data along the creek, leading to regular monitoring over the next three years. While the majority of samples show E. coli levels being under the 126 cfu maximum, exceeding levels are frequent. Of the 338 samples taken between 2015 and 2018, over a third exceeded EPA E. coli standards.

To Hirsche, these studies show a “languishing” issue, one that is in desperate need of action.

“What concerns me most is how [residents] don’t understand that there is a water quality standard being exceeded,” Hirsch said. “If they know and they’re willing to accept the risk, that’s one thing. But the fact is, the stakeholders have failed to adequately inform the local public about what the risks are.”

Children and the elderly are among the more vulnerable demographics when it comes to the health effects that E. coli can cause. Children under five years old run a higher risk of developing hemolytic uremic syndrome which destroys red blood cells and causes kidney failure. About 2-7% of E. coli infections lead to this. As summer nears, Hirsche worries that increased recreational activity in the creek could spell disaster.

2015 E. coli levels in Boulder Creek. (Robert Tann/CU Independent)

Candace Owen, stormwater quality supervisor for the City of Boulder, assures that an implementation plan by the city is nearly finished. Owen mentioned locating specific outfalls of waste and furthering investigations into such areas as a way to help mitigate E. coli levels.

Owen said timeline estimations for how long the plan will take to generate results are unclear at this time, although she guesses each sewer outfall could take up to two to three years to fully control. Owen hopes the plan will be ready for implementation next month but says that recent discussions could delay it as the city continues to look for more feedback.

When asked about the high amounts of E. coli in some samples, Owen said that E. coli measurements fluctuate regularly and that it is a “challenging” process. She said that one data sample is not enough “to tell a story.”

Hirsche disagrees, citing that it is not just one sample but many that have exceeded limits and that is is “no anomaly.”

“Flexibility” when it comes to initiatives

Among Hirsche’s many concerns is a perceived lack of communication between the city and entities like CDPHE and CU Boulder. To him, CDPHE has shown a “hands-off approach” for dealing with the creek.

“[CDPHE] is asleep at the wheel,” Hirsche said.

MaryAnn Nason, communications and special projects unit manager for CDPHE, said that the department “wants to collaborate” with entities like the City of Boulder but stated that there are “boundaries.” Nason said that data on the creek cannot be requested to a “specific degree.”

2016 E. coli levels exceeded the EPA standard 28 times.

2016 E. coli levels in Boulder Creek. (Robert Tann/CU Independent)

In regards to the development of TMDL studies and why the first took so long, Nason said that studies are a result of collaboration between CDPHE and other stakeholders. However, according to Owen, the City of Boulder conducted its first TMDL study on its own as it knew that CDPHE would not be able to address the issue of the creek at the time.

As Nason explained, CDPHE can set boundaries for municipalities like the city when it comes to water standards but wants to allow “flexibility” for the city to address the issue how they see fit.

Certain initiatives are outside CDPHE’s control, such as signposting around the creek, which Hirsche believes would help better inform the public. CDPHE’s Amy Konowal said the decision is not typical but has been done in the past in order to warn the public, such as when Denver County posted signs around Confluence Park due to the results of a TMDL study. Nason said that while the department may not require the City of Boulder to post a sign, they would encourage it.

According to Owen, conversations regarding signposting are “on the table,” but she also believes that the city does not yet have a “precedent” that would justify posting signs. As of now, the City of Boulder has no immediate plans to signpost.

“The city takes this very seriously,” Owen assured. “[The city] is very receptive to feedback from the public and understands that the public has concern.”

Hirsche is skeptical of the city’s reluctance to post signage, believing that it may reflect poorly on Boulder’s reputation as a clean and healthy environment.

“[The city] does not want to advertise it,” Hirsche said.

2017 E. coli levels exceeded the EPA standard 34 times.

2017 E. coli levels in Boulder Creek. (Robert Tann/CU Independent)

“If I’m wrong, prove me wrong”

Aside from CDPHE and the city, Hirsche has also called on action from CU, but conversations have been mixed. Hirsche says finding reports from the university’s own studies have been difficult. He has requested an E. coli meeting with representatives but has yet to hear back.

Joshua Lindstein, CU facilities communications and outreach specialist, told the CUI in an email that the university has been collaborating with the city since “at least 2008.” Lindstein cited an initiative years ago in which both the city and CU contributed resources to block off and clean out a storm line on East Campus.

He wrote that the university has invested “significant effort” to mitigate E. coli entering the creek via campus storm drains. In the instance that leakage is found, CU “promptly” makes repairs, with Lindstein calling leaks a “rare” occurrence, having only happened twice in the last five years.

Further projects include increasing sampling and investigation activities related to identifying E. coli sources, as well as revisiting CU’s animal access projects to limit wildlife impacts on storm lines, according to Lindstein.

Hirsche understands that some initiatives have been taken, but it seems more like “little bits of projects” rather than a comprehensive implementation plan.

“If I’m wrong, prove me wrong,” Hirsch said. “I do not believe that [CU] has gone through the full gamut of investigation.”

According to CU, raccoons on campus may be a major contributor to fecal excretion responsible for E. coli contamination. Lindstein wrote that “significant efforts” have been made in recent years to “curtail wildlife access to storm lines.”

2018 E. coli levels exceeded the EPA standard 26 times.

2018 E. coli levels in Boulder Creek. (Robert Tann/CU Independent)

Like the city, CU has not posted any signage about E. coli levels. Lindstein said that CU maintains signage at storm drain inlets on campus property to warn against illicit discharges or dumping of materials. However, Lindstein said that E. coli signage along the creek is outside the university’s jurisdiction and would have to go through the city, county or state.

Hirsche, on the other hand, believes that CU is “just as much of a stakeholder as the city.”

The water quality advocate said he is not “pointing fingers at anyone” but knows “we can do better.” He is disappointed that the conversation still needs to happen in order to fix such a longstanding issue.

“Everyone waits to the last minute when there’s a problem,” Hirsch said. “Nobody does anything ahead of time.”

Time ticks on as Hirsche and the Boulder Waterkeeper await the city’s implementation plan. Until then, Hirsche continues to push for more awareness of the issue as Boulder Creek remains a “broken stream.”

Contact CU Independent Senior News Editor Robert Tann at robert.tann@colorado.edu