#ClimateChange is water change — @AmericanRivers #ActOnClimate #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From American Rivers (Fay Hartman):

No corner of the globe is spared from the impacts of climate change, including the Southwest and Colorado River Basin.

Lake Mead. Photo credit: Bureau of Reclamation

Join us for Episode 22 of We Are Rivers, Climate Change Part 2: Climate Change is Water Change, where we build upon our knowledge of climate change science to explore changes affecting the already parched American Southwest.

2019 was a wild weather year around the globe with temperatures breaking records and extreme weather events like hurricanes, massive flooding and wildfires impacting communities, people, and ecosystems. No corner of the globe was spared from its impacts, including the Southwest and Colorado River Basin. Join us for Episode 22 of We Are Rivers, which builds on our understanding of the science behind climate change.

The Upper Colorado River Basin had record precipitation during the 2018 – 2019 winter, it was the second highest amount of precipitation recorded since 1900. At the annual Colorado River District Water Seminar, Jeff Lukas with the Western Water Assessment noted that not only did we experience a tremendous amount of precipitation but this winter was the coldest winter since 2010. The cold, wet winter built a significant snowpack in the mountains (130% of average snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin). Snowpack is essential for the region as the Colorado River and most other rivers in the region are primarily driven by runoff that melts throughout the spring and summer. Runoff provides rivers with flushing, peak flows and a firm baseline heading into fall. A wet, cold winter was welcome after one of the worst drought years in 2018, and this year’s snowpack pushed the state of Colorado out of a statewide drought conditions for the first time in 20 years.

The American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.

However, winter wasn’t the only season in the record books this year. The Southwest experienced extreme heat and lack of precipitation in the later months of the summer. In his Colorado River District seminar presentation, Jeff Lukas noted that June – August 2019 was the 8th driest year since 1900, with July and August being the 6th warmest. Despite the significant snowpack, the hot summer temps coupled with dry soils and reduced late summer flows resulted in a smaller runoff that might have been anticipated. This year’s runoff was 118% of average at Lee’s Ferry versus the 130% of average snowpack for the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Warmer winter temperatures hold more moisture in the air – in turn, the warmer summer temperatures increase evaporation and dry the region out much faster than in the past. This not only reduces soil moisture but also river flows. Between 2000 and 2014, the Colorado River experienced a 20% reduction in flows when compared to the period of 1906-1999. According to Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, one-third of this reduction is linked to warming temperatures and it’s likely that flows will only continue to decline as temperatures continue to rise.

The Upper Colorado River meanders through the high plateau around Kremmling, Colorado. (Source: Russell Schnitzer, used with permission via the Water Education Foundation)

“Weather whiplash,” a term coined by climatologist Dan Swain, can best describe our new normal in the Colorado River Basin. The whiplash of temperatures, precipitation, and extreme weather attributed to climate change affects all corners of the globe. Regions like the Southwest that are already dry will experience increased vulnerability in the form of higher temperatures, variable precipitation, earlier runoff, more intense wildfires and punctuated flooding events. These events will only intensify over time and will vary depend on the specific location within the region – some areas will get hotter and drier while other will experience more precipitation in the winter months. As Brad Udall says in the podcast, in the Colorado River Basin, climate change is water change.

One thing everyone can do to address the climate crisis is to call your representative and let them know it’s time to take action on climate change! We must reduce greenhouse gases and make our communities and ecosystems more resilient to a changing climate. We need to use more renewable energy sources, improve renewable portfolio standards, ensure regulations are in place to reduce greenhouse gases, and develop new technologies utilizing renewable energies. Let your representatives know that along with slowing global warming (by reducing greenhouse gases), we must adapt to the changes we are already experiencing. This includes protecting and restoring the wetlands, forests, and riverside lands that slow floods and provide clean water is essential to help us adapt to the new normal. Together, we can use water more efficiently and install green infrastructure to decrease polluted runoff, improve air quality, and lower temperatures. Make your voice heard today – do your part.

#Drought news: “We lose our urgency when we have years like 2019” — Matt Rice #aridification

West Drought Monitor October 1, 2019.

From Westword (Chase Woodruff):

“Water Year 2019 ended in an unfortunate whimper,” read an advisory from the Colorado Climate Center issued October 1. “What started out with a bang (cooler than average temperatures, above average snow, wet spring into early summer) shifted to hot and dry conditions for much of the Intermountain West, ending with an underperforming monsoon season.”

For hydrologists and water managers, each October 1 marks the start of a new “water year,” and in Colorado and across much of the Southwest, Water Year 2020 is off to a dry start. After several drought-free months earlier this calendar year, nearly a third of Colorado is now experiencing drought conditions, and 70 percent of the state is considered “abnormally dry,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The quick reversal is part of a long-term trend toward hotter, drier conditions in the state, particularly on the Western Slope…

The reduced stream flows, snowpack and reservoir levels experienced by communities across the West in recent years are here to stay, experts warn, and these drought conditions can’t be easily reversed by one year of high precipitation. After a good 2019 snow year, drought designations have returned to Colorado in large part because the North American Monsoon, a weather pattern that typically brings precipitation to the Southwest in late summer, was a no-show this year…

Scientists with the Colorado River Research Group suggested a new word for what the West is experiencing in a 2018 paper: “Perhaps the best available term is aridification, which describes a period of transition to an increasingly water scarce environment — an evolving new baseline around which future extreme events (droughts and floods) will occur,” the report’s authors wrote. “Aridification, not drought, is the contingency that should guide the refinement of Colorado River management practices.”


Better management of drought conditions — and ultimately, halting climate change — is a top policy priority for many Coloradans, from the farmers and ranchers who bear the brunt of water shortages and communities facing increased wildfire risks to resort towns that rely on good snowpack in the winter and healthy stream flows in the summer. Rice says that policymakers and members of the public should remember that — even in the good years.

“We lose our urgency when we have years like 2019,” he says.

#Colorado Lawmakers Call For More Federal Money To Clean Up Chemical Contamination From #PFAS — Colorado Public Radio

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From Colorado Public Radio (Dan Boyce):

Local environmental activists and state lawmakers gathered near Colorado Springs on Tuesday to call for more federal support in cleaning up toxic PFAS chemical contamination near some of the state’s military bases, most recently including the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Firefighting foams used regularly on military bases for decades leached chemicals into local groundwater supplies. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory warning of a connection between PFAS and certain types of cancer.

The military has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on cleanup nationwide, including $50 million at Peterson Air Force Base alone.

But speakers at the event organized by the nonprofit Environment Colorado said much more funding is still needed.

Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition founder Liz Rosenbaum urged Colorado’s congressional delegation to fight for more PFAS cleanup funds in next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“We have done everything that we can possibly do from the local level, from our city, the county and the state,” Rosenbaum said. “This is a national contamination because it has been done by the department of defense. So we have to look to Congress and our elected officials in D.C.”

Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn sits on the conference committee which is working out differences between Senate and House versions of the NDAA. Lamborn’s office did not send a representative to the press conference.

Republican state Sen. Dennis Hisey said he doesn’t think it matters where the money comes from, as long as Congressional leaders work to raise awareness of how much is left to do in cleaning up these so-called “forever chemicals.”