This essay appeared in Adventure Journal on Aug. 5, 2019. I stood up to admire my haul, and for the first time, paused to look around. I had been so hyper-focused on the forest floor, which was blooming with glorious eruptions of chanterelles, that I hadn’t stopped to look up in … 30 minutes? An […]
From the Chinese Academy of Sciences via Phys.org:
Flash drought is a new phenomenon with increasing prominence due to global warming. Drought develops rapidly without sufficient early warning, and has stricken the world with severe impacts during recent years, such as the droughts over central USA in 2012 that caused billions of dollars of economic losses; southern China in 2013 that affected 2 million hectares of crops in Guizhou and Hunan provinces alone; and those in southern Africa in 2015, and northern USA in 2017. There is hence an urgent need to investigate flash drought risk and its underlying drivers in a changing climate.
“Still, how will the flash drought risk change in a warming future climate remains unknown for a number of reasons,” said Xing Yuan from the Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology, “for example, there’s a diversity of flash drought definitions that scientists haven’t agreed upon, the role of anthropogenic fingerprints is not clear, and we are not sure of future socioeconomic scenarios.”
Yuan and his Ph.D. students Linying Wang, Peng Ji, and Miao Zhang from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dr. Peili Wu from the UK Met Office and Prof. Justin Sheffield from the University of Southampton, address the above issues in a recently published study in Nature Communications.
Their study focuses on China where rapid industrialization and urbanization have significantly increased environmental vulnerability under global warming. They proposed a new definition of flash drought based on rapid decline rate of soil moisture and the dry persistency. The new definition captures both the “flash” and “drought” characteristics, and the duration constraint gives enough time for a flash drought event to cause ecological impacts.
“We carried out land surface ensemble simulations driven by multiple climate models under different external forcings, such as greenhouse gases,” said Yuan.
Results show a significant increasing trend of flash drought frequency in China during 1961-2005, with a clear 77% footprint from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Under moderate emission scenarios, the exposure risk in China will increase by 23% in the middle of this century. This increase can reach up to 40% in the southern provinces with humid climates (such as Guizhou, Guangxi, Guangdong, Zhejiang, etc.), while the exposure risk in semi-arid northern areas will decrease.
“This indicates that anthropogenic climate change has changed the traditional arid areas, and more attention should be paid to deal with flash drought risks in humid and semi-humid areas.” Said Yuan.
Here’s an interview with Becky Mitchell Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, from Abby Burk, that’s running on the Audubon Rockies website:
Interview with Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission.
October 1st kicked off the new water year. This is when water managers and water wonks focus on existing water supplies and precipitation predictions. Water years run from October 1st through the following September 30th, and Water Year 2020 is poised to be one we will all be talking about for years to come. During it, we’ll see the start of discussions around the agreement that needs to be reached in 2026 to replace the Colorado River Interim Operating Guidelines, further investigation of a potential Upper Colorado River Basin demand management program after the adoption of the Drought Contingency Plans in 2019, and the launch of the first update to Colorado’s Water Plan. It’s a dynamic time for both Colorado River and Colorado water management!
Abby Burk, western rivers regional program manager for Audubon Rockies, reached out to Becky Mitchell—director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and Colorado commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission—to ask six key questions and learn how she’s leading Colorado through these water milestone moments.
Q: Water is such a broad issue that connects all of us. Colorado’s Water Plan, completed in 2015, is four years old. What have been the plan’s successes and challenges? What is your most celebrated Water Plan implementation project?
A: At the CWCB, we work every day to implement the Water Plan, and because of that, I would call the plan’s biggest success its ability to bring all of the important projects and programs that the agency does into better focus with a cohesive whole. In fact, far beyond the CWCB, the Water Plan continually helps to unite countless efforts occurring throughout the state at every level of the public, private, and nongovernmental sphere. While it will always be an ongoing and iterative process, the concrete goals and objectives of the Water Plan have really helped to motivate our community to collectively address our (many) water challenges, which include maintaining momentum, coordinating efforts at every level, and continually funding the innovative and effective projects.
While it’s hard to pick just one example of a celebrated project, the first one that comes to mind is the Homestake Arkansas River Diversion Project. Currently under construction, this project is managed by the City of Aurora and Colorado Springs Utilities to improve the reliability of a major aging diversion structure while at the same time removing the last critical barrier to boat and fish passage on the Upper Arkansas River and restoring important habitat. The CWCB contributed $700,000 to help fund the project, along with funding from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, various other project supporters, and donated easements from the Pueblo Board of Water Works, totaling $7.7 million.
Q: Water is a critical issue for all Coloradans. Whether you play in/around our world class rivers, irrigate your crops, or take a sip of our abundant clean drinking water, our valuable and limited water supply impacts each of us every day. How will the Water Plan keep pace with a growing Colorado and protect what makes Colorado so special: our rivers?
A: From day one, the Water Plan has been a living document. The plan is fundamentally a broad ongoing effort to collectively meet our state’s evolving water challenges in the most effective and mutually beneficial ways. To keep pace with a growing Colorado, Chapter 11 of the plan sets the process for continually refreshing the plan. We have now unified all of the Water Plan components into three main pillars: the main Water Plan (the primary policy document), the Basin Implementation Plans (the local application of the plan), and the Analysis and Tech Update (the plan’s technical foundation). In summer 2019, we finalized the Tech Update and are now updating the Basin Implementation Plans and the Water Plan to support the Tech Update.
A critical aspect of all of these efforts is protecting our special rivers. The Tech Update included the development of an environmental flow tool to help interpret how potential future stream conditions may change, and how to plan for those impacts. We hope this tool and the wealth of other data in the Tech Update will better inform local efforts to address environmental needs, starting with updated analyses in the Basin Implementation Plans.
Q: This is an exciting time for Colorado River water management with the passage of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) and the ramp up to the renegotiation of the 2007 interim guidelines in 2026. Considering the DCP, how are you leading Colorado’s place in exploring a possible demand management program? How is Colorado working with other Upper Basin states in looking at options for demand management?
A: The CWCB has taken two major policy actions regarding a potential demand management program. First, the board passed a support and policy statement back in November, 2018. This statement took into account public comments, stakeholder and water user concerns, as well as board guidance and support for the draft DCPs. This was aimed at guiding the assessment of demand management feasibility.
The board also adopted the 2019 Work Plan in March of this year. This Work Plan represents the first steps toward assessing demand management feasibility as identified in the support and policy statement. The Work Plan tasks CWCB with setting up workgroups to help identify priority issues regarding demand management and holding public regional workshops to garner input and discussion. It also directs the legal, technical, and policy investigations that will inform the Board’s next moves in determining whether a demand management program is appropriate for Colorado.
We communicate regularly with our Upper Basin state partners on their own intrastate efforts to assess demand management feasibility, who are all engaged in similar processes within their borders. As the intrastate investigations continue, the Upper Basin states will share information through the auspices of the Upper Colorado River Commission and their committees to further assess the feasibility of demand management across borders and throughout the Upper Basin.
Q: We have to acknowledge that storage is a part of our water portfolio future. However, none of us have an appetite for big new reservoirs. What are ways that storage can be leveraged for fulfilling the growing needs of water certainty while still supporting Colorado’s healthy rivers?
A: Without sufficient water storage, the vast majority of our current population could not live in this environment; and with a growing population, we will very likely need some additional storage. However, we also need to more effectively manage our existing infrastructure to support healthy rivers.
Examples of this include iterative efforts to re-operate the Ruedi and Chatfield Reservoirs to meet multiple needs, and in the case of Chatfield, to increase storage without raising the dam. Another example is the South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group, which is currently conducting a feasibility study to examine aquifer storage and recharge, off channel reservoirs, and storage of municipal reuse water, among other things.
Q: What’s your message for people who care about Colorado’s rivers, and the birds and wildlife they support? How will the state take care of its rivers as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of droughts?
A: The takeaway message here is healthy rivers are vital to Colorado’s conservation efforts and quality of life, and the CWCB is committed to maintaining those stream flows for all fish and wildlife that depend on them as well as for the enjoyment of our outdoor recreationists.
More specifically, the CWCB works with partners on appropriating new instream flow water rights to maintain stream flows that support Colorado’s fish, birds, and wildlife and the food and habitat that they need. Particularly in dry years, we work with the Colorado Water Trust, other nonprofit organizations, and water rights owners on leases and other mechanisms for providing and protecting stream flows.
In last year’s example of the Coats Brothers Ditch temporary lease on Tomichi Creek, the ditch owners used the water right for irrigation until July 1, when the CWCB started using it for the Tomichi Creek instream flow water right. This lease provided approximately 202 acre-feet of water to the stream during low flow conditions while providing an economic benefit to the ditch owners. This type of flexible tool is very effective at addressing low flow conditions.
In the face of climate change, which we know will present unique challenges to protecting our rivers and streams, we are committed to finding ways to address those challenges, including working with groups who have identified needs and opportunities in their stream management plans to implement additional stream protection.
Q: What is the one thing that gives you the most hope about where we are heading with water in Colorado?
A: We have engaged stakeholders who care deeply about maintaining the Colorado way of life and the values in the Colorado Water Plan. These stakeholders work with the CWCB, the basin roundtables and communities every day to collaboratively plan for our future and implement projects that drive the Colorado Water Plan forward. These efforts forge partnerships, remove barriers, inspire new generations and encourage a spirit of cooperation that is so important to building multi-purpose, multi-benefit initiatives that meet multiple water needs for farms, urban communities and the environment.
For the Water Plan to be successful, we need to balance all of these needs. Our stakeholders are the lifeblood of Colorado water planning and they serve as a shining example of what public engagement can accomplish.
From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):
Imperial County is seeking to declare a public health emergency at the Salton Sea, The Desert Sun has learned, aiming to force Gov. Gavin Newsom and federal officials to free up emergency funds and take immediate action to tamp down dangerous dust.
County supervisors will vote Tuesday on an urgent action item to proclaim a local air pollution emergency due to airpollution at the state’s largest lake, which is rapidly shrinking and exposing shoreline that is potentially loaded with contaminants from decades of agricultural runoff and military testing.
The county air pollution control board is “aware of harmful dust and pollution at the Salton Sea that is harming Imperial County citizens,” according to agenda materials. “This is a peril to human life and a crisis beyond the control of the local County of Imperial.”
County Supervisor Ryan Kelley, who chairs the board, said he proposed the drastic action and it had the full support of fellow supervisors in public discussion two weeks ago.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
The Future of Fountain Creek: Frost Ranch Owner Takes the Long View
Here in the Pikes Peak region, many of us play in the Fountain Creek Watershed, whether we’re aware of it or not. We might hike or ride our bikes along Fountain Creek and its tributaries. We might fish or paddle our kayak in the creeks or lakes. But most of us don’t work the land – and we rarely witness Fountain Creek’s tempestuous nature.
But Jay Frost, third-generation owner of Frost Ranch south of Fountain, Colorado, has endured the creek’s unruly temperament for decades. “I’ve been watching the creek all my life,” he says. “We make a living here. We try to deal with its unpredictable nature.”
Frost Ranch has deep roots in local ranching and farming traditions. The Frost family raises grass-fed and grass-finished lamb and beef in its irrigated meadows. They grow non-certified organic vegetables and grass/alfalfa hay in the irrigated parts of the farm. The Frost family takes pride in growing healthy, sustainable food. The lamb and beef are free of hormones, antibiotics, and corn; fields are never sprayed; and vegetable planting, irrigating, weeding, and harvesting are all done using holistic and traditional methods.
Fountain Creek’s erosion and sedimentation issues are vexing. How does this impact Frost Ranch?
“The creek is flashy,” Jay says. “If there’s a little sniffle of rain in Colorado Springs, here comes the water! We can go from a base flow of 60 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 22,000 cfs. When the water calms down, all the sediment drops. The sediment load in Fountain Creek is crazy!”
Simultaneously, the ranch is literally losing property from erosion. “We have a big cut bank – we refer to it as the Great Wall,” Jay notes. “It’s 60 feet deep and at least a quarter of a mile long. It’s sloughing off soil all the time.”
Jay adds that floodwater can wash away fences and irrigation pipes, and sedimentation can damage irrigation infrastructure. The Frost family no longer grazes livestock near the creek due to the invasion of non-native plants. “Parts of the creek are choked with trees and exotic species like salt cedar [tamarisk] and Russian olive trees,” he says. “You can’t fence the dang thing. It’s just gnarly.”
That’s why, nearly three decades ago, Jay helped to form a coalition to begin focusing on the Fountain Creek Watershed – and begin addressing its many issues regarding flooding, erosion, and sedimentation.
This early initiative helped to pave the way for the formation of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control & Greenway District. Soon after the District was formed, Frost Ranch collaborated with District engineers to address a serious erosion issue on the ranch. According to the Project Summary, the lack of vegetation along approximately 400 feet of the creek’s bank allowed soil to be readily removed during high-flow events, resulting in flood damage, bank erosion, and increased downstream sedimentation.
Unfortunately, the repair project didn’t hold – a flooding incident washed it away. But Jay isn’t completely surprised, due to the turbulent nature of the creek. “Fountain Creek is normally a dribble, but it’s prone to flooding,” he says. “It can be wilder than hell when it’s really rolling.”
A Comprehensive Solution is the Best Way Forward
When it comes to Fountain Creek, Jay Frost takes the long view. “I believe we can find a comprehensive solution – a silver bullet – that will address the entire Fountain Creek Watershed,” he says. “A comprehensive solution – an absolutely engineered approach – is always better than just taking a stab at the issues, project by project.”
This is one of the benefits of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which is addressing the watershed comprehensively. In fact, since 2009, the District has planned and/or implemented more than a dozen construction projects to address critical erosion and sedimentation issues throughout the watershed. Various project aspects involve restoring the main channel, realigning the creek, stabilizing steep cut banks, revegetating, protecting wetlands, and restoring riparian habitat. At the end of the day, if Fountain Creek has less erosion, less sedimentation, better quality and accessible water, we all benefit.
I n the conversation with Jay, it was noted that ranchers and farmers are on the front lines of water issues, fighting the good fight. “Yeah,” Jay replies, “but it’s so worth it.”
Learn more about the Frost Ranch Stabilization Project: http://www.fountain-crk.org/completed-projects/frost-ranch-bank-stabilization-project/
Learn more about Frost Ranch farm dinners, hunting club, and wedding packages: http://www.Frost-Livestock.com
Brand image and photos courtesy of Frost Ranch.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Funding opportunities in the Gunnison River Basin
Funding opportunities for water projects that help improve and conserve water and land resources can be found on http://gunnisonriverbasin.org, including:
US Department of Agriculture federal grants and loans Colorado Water Conservation Board state grants and loans Additional Grant Funding Opportunities
Click here to view a table of grand funding opportunities.
Click here to register.
From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):
Buy low, sell high? Not so fast.
As demand and prices for Colorado water rise, state lawmakers are concerned that Wall Street investment firms and even local finance groups may seek to circumvent state laws designed to prevent water profiteering.
Last month, the Colorado Legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee initially approved a bill authorizing a study to determine whether the state’s anti-speculation laws, already considered among the strongest in the West, need to be further strengthened.
“The reason I drafted it is because I’m hearing stories from the West Slope and the San Luis Valley of outside groups coming in and buying water rights. While we’re not entirely sure if this is speculation, some of these companies are more like financial and hedge fund institutions instead of agricultural interests. That seems to have the color of water speculation,” said Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat who represents several West Slope counties and who is chair of the interim committee. (Editor’s note: Sen. Donovan sits on the board of Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News.)
Under Colorado law, water is considered a public resource, but the legal right to take it and use it toward some beneficial purpose must be approved in water court. Once obtained, water rights are considered a private property right, one that can be bought and sold as long as water courts approve the transaction.
Water has always been a scarce resource in Colorado and in the 1800s, as miners and farmers were moving in, the courts developed a system so that no one could hoard water and profit from its sale. To combat the problem, they required that water rights be granted only to those who could put them to beneficial use, whether in farm fields or mines, or in people’s homes and businesses.
The anti-speculation laws have been challenged and upheld many times in water court, leading several water experts to question the need to amend them.
Dave Taussig, a Denver water attorney, said he was surprised to see lawmakers move in this direction.
“This is one of the few areas of Colorado [water] law that is pretty well defined and established,” Taussig said. “I don’t see the need for this.”
For many transactions, as long as the water is being put to use, the deal is not considered speculative.
On the West Slope for instance, New York City-based Water Asset Management has purchased ranches with valuable, senior water rights. Right now, the company continues to operate the farms and the water is still being used as it had been before the purchase, so it is not considered speculative. That’s because, under existing law, there is nothing to prevent someone from buying water rights with an eye toward a future sale, where the interim use is just a placeholder.
Water Asset Management could not be reached for comment. But its website spells out a clear investment strategy that includes acquiring Western farm water and holding onto it until it appreciates in value, at which point it could be leased or sold for a profit.
Closer to home, Denver-based Renewable Water Resources has assembled an investment group which intends to purchase farm water in the San Luis Valley and pipe it to the Front Range.
Sean Tonner, a principal in RWR, said the proposal isn’t a buy-low, sell-high proposition because his company is offering $2,500 to $2,800 an acre-foot for the farm water, which normally sells locally for much less, around $65 to $200 an acre-foot, according to San Luis Valley water officials.
Tonner declined to provide a sales price, but Front Range developers routinely pay $20,000 an acre-foot and more for water.
RWR has not yet identified an end-user for the project, but has committed to do so before it seeks approval from state water court.
“Colorado has great anti-speculation laws. If there is a way to make them stronger, I’m all for it,” Tonner said. “But I would disagree with the assertion that what we’re doing is buy-low, sell-high.”
Still lawmakers are concerned. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, is also on the interim water committee and said the state needs to be vigilant about how its agricultural water rights are being bought and sold.
“Yes we do have strong anti-speculation laws,” Coram said, “but hedge funds also have very good attorneys. There are ways to work around [the laws].”
According to the initial bill draft, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources would form a work group next year to examine what the state can do to ensure its market-based water management system isn’t manipulated by moneyed interests. The bill directs the group to report back to lawmakers in August of 2021.
The committee will vote Oct. 24 on whether the bill should advance further. If approved, it will be introduced during the regular session that opens Jan. 8, 2020.
Donovan is hopeful the process will uncover new tools, even beyond the anti-speculation laws, to help the state prevent profiteering.
“Water speculation is something we need to ensure we have a firm grip on as a state. I expect there will be a lot of conversations in upcoming years about how we make sure that water isn’t exploited and doesn’t become a way for people to make a quick dollar,” Donovan said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.