Basalt photographer Pete McBride raked in another round of awards for his film and book about the Grand Canyon this month, but he isn’t gloating about the accolades.
His mission to educate people about the perils facing the national treasure isn’t accomplished. The Trump administration is considering stripping protections from uranium mining in the vicinity, he said, and four dams have been proposed on the Little Colorado River. The dams would affect the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
“With conservation, you just need to lose once (and risk disaster). It’s a never-ending battle,” McBride said by telephone Tuesday while navigating Denver International Airport and trying to figure out how to get back to the Roaring Fork Valley in a snowstorm.
He got involved in the Grand Canyon project with buddy and writer Kevin Fedarko to raise awareness to the various man-made threats facing the spectacular setting. They hiked the length of the Grand Canyon in sections between September 2015 and November 2016. They covered between 750 and 800 miles during a cumulative 71 days and 70 nights.
The hiking was physically taxing and occasionally nerve-wracking even for the two experienced adventurers. They had to deal with extreme heat and cold. They had to pick their way through a maze of side canyons and sheer rock walls. They estimated 70% of the route was off established trails during the assignment for National Geographic magazine.
McBride was so moved by the experience that he documented it in the 2018 book “The Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim” and the 2019 film “Into the Canyon.”
The book won a “Best Mountain Image” award while the film won “Best Feature-Length Film” earlier this month at the prestigious Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival.
On Nov. 14, the book was won the design and artistic merit category in the National Outdoor Book Awards.
“It’s always nice to get recognized,”McBride said. “It’s like a cherry on top because it was such a long project.”
Banff officials told him their research indicated it was the first time someone has won both the film and book award in the same year…
[McBride] will be one of the speakers at an event presented in the Roaring Fork Valley on Dec. 18 by Aspen Public Radio, titled “The Colorado River: Lifeline of the West”.
From the La Plata County Board of Commissioners via The Durango Herald:
The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners is seeking applicants to serve on the board of the Southwest Basin Roundtable.
There are nine basin roundtables in Colorado, each of which facilitates local discussion about water issues and encourages locally driven, collaborative solutions on interstate water issues and works with other roundtables on interbasin and interstate water issues.
Applicants with education and/or experience with local and state water concerns are preferred.
Term length is five years, and meetings are held quarterly, alternating between Durango and Cortez.
This position is advisory only and is not monetarily compensated.
The fight over damming the Crystal River has been resurrected, this time before there are even any dam projects to fight over.
The Colorado Basin Roundtable voted Monday to recommend the state give $25,000 toward a water study in the Crystal River basin, despite calls from some to deny the Water Supply Reserve Fund request because of concerns that a study might conclude there is a need for water storage.
The Colorado River Water Conservation District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District brought the grant request to the roundtable in Glenwood Springs in an effort to solve a long-acknowledged problem on the Crystal: In dry years, there may not be enough water for both irrigators and some residential subdivisions.
On Nov. 18, the Gunnison Basin Roundtable gave its unanimous support to the grant application, even though its support was not necessary. Although the Crystal is in the Colorado River basin, its headwaters are in Gunnison County, and so the Gunnison roundtable decided to voice its support.
The feasibility study would look at water demands and options for creating a basinwide backup water supply plan, known as an augmentation plan. The study will look at small storage alternatives, probably off the main stem of the Crystal. Until the study is completed, it’s unclear how much water is needed for a basinwide backup supply.
But some fear that the plan could include dams and reservoirs on the free-flowing Crystal, and they opposed the grant unless storage was off the table.
Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury requested two amendments to the grant application: that any reservoir would be off the main stem of the river and would only be located downstream of the Sweet Jessup Canal diversion (about 2 miles downstream of Avalanche Creek) to preserve the possibility of designating 39 miles of the Crystal River as Wild and Scenic.
“We are not going to support this application as it’s currently written,” McNicholas Kury told roundtable members Monday. “The county continues to support Wild and Scenic designation on the Crystal.”
McNicholas Kury and two other roundtable members voted against the funding: recreation representative Ken Ransford and Eagle County representative Chuck Ogliby, who owns the Avalanche Ranch Cabins & Hot Springs in the Crystal River Valley.
The Crystal River Caucus, which doesn’t have a seat on the roundtable, also objected to the grant application and passed a resolution at its Nov. 14 meeting to that effect. In a letter to the roundtable, the caucus said it does not support the grant and urged voting roundtable members to deny the request. The caucus would, however, support a study and augmentation plan that evaluates options other than storage.
But others downplayed the threat of dams, insisting they won’t happen.
“You’re not going to see a dam on the main stem of the Crystal,” said Colorado River District President Dave Merritt. “It’s not going to happen. The river district is not predisposed to dams. There is a need for a small amount of augmentation water up there. We are talking tens of acre-feet, probably.”
No backup supply
During the historic drought of late summer of 2018, the Ella Ditch, which irrigates agricultural land south of Carbondale, placed a call on the river for the first time ever. This means, in theory, that junior-rights holders upstream have to stop taking water so that the Ella Ditch, which has water rights dating to 1885, can receive its full decreed amount.
Most junior-rights holders have what’s known as an augmentation plan, which lets them continue using water during a call by replacing the called-for water with water from another source, such as a reservoir or exchange. The problem on the Crystal is that several residential subdivisions don’t have augmentation plans.
Without an augmentation plan, these entities — which are the town of Carbondale, the Marble Water Company, Chair Mountain Ranch, Crystal River Resort, Crystal View Heights and Seven Oaks Commons — could be fined for every day they are out of priority and could potentially have their water shut off, if there is a call on the river.
Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 5 engineer Alan Martellaro said instead of each subdivision coming up with its own augmentation plan, a basinwide approach makes more sense.
“We think it would save everyone money if we had a reasonable regional solution,” he said. “It looks a lot to us that a call from the Ella Ditch is going to be more common in the future.”
To understand why some groups are opposed to even just a study whether storage is an option, it helps to review the contentious history of water development in the Crystal River Valley.
In 2011, the West Divide district and the Colorado River District abandoned their conditional water rights for nearly 200,000 acre-feet of water storage on the Crystal River after local groups — Crystal River Caucus, Pitkin County and Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association — opposed the reservoirs tied to the conditional rights. Known as the West Divide project, the now-defunct conditional water rights were tied to a dam on the Crystal just downstream from Redstone, which would have created Osgood Reservoir, and a dam on the Crystal at Placita, which is at the bottom of McClure Pass.
To try to prevent the specter of dams coming back to haunt the Crystal in the future, Pitkin County and other local groups have pushed for a federal designation under the Wild and Scenic River Act of 1968, which requires rivers to be free-flowing. The Colorado River District opposes the designation.
“With our challenging history with both the river district and West Divide … this is why we are very nervous whenever we hear discussion of any dams on the Crystal River,” said Bill Jochems, Redstone resident and member of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board.
In the end, the roundtable approved the grant request. A motion to amend the request with a no-storage requirement failed.
“Obviously, storage is not the first choice,” said Ken Neubecker, the roundtable’s environmental representative and Colorado project director for environmental organization American Rivers. “But you have to look at all the options, including storage, or you’re just not being responsible.”
The two conservation districts plan to ask for a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Water Plan grant fund in early 2020 to fund the roughly $100,000 project. West Divide plans to contribute $15,000 and the Colorado River District $10,000.
Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Aspen Times.
Social media can be intimidating for many of us in the white-haired set, but I was reminded recently that online platforms like Facebook and Twitter command a virtual army of potential citizen scientists armed with tools that were once only available to a handful of professionals. Nancy Averett reported in the November 2019 issue of Discover magazine that an amateur Colorado photographer named Sue Dickerson recently discovered a previously unknown example of tool use by an animal: a skunk was caught in the act of using a stone to poke a hole in the ice covering the surface of water in a dish to get a late night drink. Dickerson, a Colorado Springs resident, posted her photos on Twitter. A scientist ran across the post, and nine months later Dickerson became a co-author of a scientific paper that appeared in the journal Ecosphere.
Averett quoted an animal behaviorist named Christian Rutz who said, “We’re starting to see some of the first examples of people doing this, but I think there is much more to come.”
Being at the right place at the right time—or having a motion-activated camera that you check regularly like Dickerson—can result in important scientific discoveries…
Other opportunities abound at the national level. A program called Nature’s Notebook enlists citizens to track changes in the seasonal appearances of various plants and animals. This provides valuable information about animal and plant distribution during a time of shifting climate. (See https://www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook)
Kit Carson Electric Cooperative recently signed a contract that will give it enough solar capacity backed by storage to meet all of its peak daytime needs by 2021, about nine months earlier than had previous been expected.
An agreement reached recently with solar developer Torch Clean Energy will give Kit Carson 21 megawatts of additional solar capacity, to a new total of 38 megawatts of solar. The deal will also produce 15 megawatts of storage capacity, the first for the cooperative.
Mindful of the wildfires in California and Colorado during recent years, location of the battery storage was chosen with the goal of improving resiliency of vital community functions in Kit Carson’s three-county service area. The majority of the battery storage will be at Taos, to meet needs of a hospital and emergency services in cases of disruption. The rest will be located near the Angle Fire ski area. If wildfire should cause power losses, the batteries will provide for four hours of electricity for pumping of water into the community water tank.
“If for some reason, we were separated from the grid, we would at least have some battery storage for a couple of hours,” said Luis Reyes, chief executive of the 23,000-member cooperative.
Battery storage will also help Kit Carson shave costs of transmission paid to the Public Service Co. of New Mexico and to Tri-State Generation and Transmission, said Reyes. Prices of neither solar nor storage have been divulged, but they will be.
Kit Carson first invested in solar in 2002. Then, in 2010, members of the coop voted to adopt a goal of 100% renewables.
In 2016, the coop began negotiating with wholesale provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission for an exit fee. It also hooked up with Guzman Energy, then a new full-requirements power supplier. With Guzman paying the $37 million exit fee, Kit Carson and Guzman in 2017 accelerated investments in solar energy.
According to the media kit on Kit Carson’s website, a collaboration of Kit Carson and Guzman, the co-op will save $50 million to $70 million over the life of the 10-year contract. Unlike the contract with Tri-State, which had a 5% cap on locally generated electricity, the contract with Guzman has no limit. Price increases for Guzman’s wholesale power are capped.
Chris Miller, chief operating office for Guzman, called it an “exciting time for Kit Carson, and for all local energy co-ops around the country that are setting ambitious goals and realizing the benefits of renewable energy capacity for the communities they serve.”
Guzman is also scheduled to begin delivering electricity to Colorado’s Delta-Montrose Electric Association beginning next Monday, and it has been courting other potential customers, including cooperatives and municipalities.
Beyond the solar capacity that will allow Kit Carson to hit 48% renewables, Kit Carson hopes to add wind generation from eastern New Mexico in coming years, putting it at 75% to 80% renewable.
Achieving the 100% renewables goal, however, will take something more. Reyes says Kit Carson hopes for further improvements in energy technology, possibly including hydrogen.
“In the next few years, some new technology will come into fruition that will provide energy for night and for cloudy days and will be a renewable product,” said Reyes in an interview with Mountain Town News.
Here’s the release from the Utah Department of Natural Resources (Kim Wells:
After reviewing and incorporating over 330 public comments, the Utah Division of Water Resources has finalized regional water conservation goals. Goals were established for nine regions around the state for municipal and industrial (M&I) water conservation. M&I includes residential, commercial, institutional (for example, schools and parks), and industrial water use, and excludes agriculture, mining and power generation.
“We appreciate all those who took the time to review the goals and share their opinions,” said Division of Water Resources Director Eric Millis. “There were some insightful comments, which were incorporated into the report. There is always value in soliciting public input.”
Although the numbers did not change, the comments improved the readability of the report including text clarifications that make the report better. All 334 comments and the division’s response to them are included in Appendix J of the report. The comments were collected during a 30-day comment period that ran from Aug. 27-Sept. 25.
The goals vary by region. When every region reaches its goal, a 16% water use reduction will be realized by 2030. This approach allows the goals to be tailored to each region’s characteristics.
“When you look at the amazing variety we have in our great state – from southern Utah’s red rocks to the Alpine mountains in the north – targeting goals for a specific region allows the goals to account for things like climate, elevation, growing season and specific needs,” said Millis. “It’s a more local and customized approach.”
“The regional goals replace the ‘25% by 2025’ goal. They also build on the previous statewide goal and will require everyone to do their part to conserve this precious resource,” said River Basin Planning Manager Rachel Shilton. “Every step counts and water conservation needs to become a way of life for all Utahns.”
Utah’s previous statewide conservation goal of reducing per-capita use 25% by 2025 was introduced by Gov. Gary Herbert during his 2013 State of the State address. (Gov. Mike Leavitt first set a target to use 25% less water by the year 2050 back in 2000.) Utahns were making great progress on the water conservation front, so Herbert challenged Utahns to cut the time in half. The regional goals are designed to continue to improve the state’s conservation efforts.
To formulate the regional water conservation goals, the Division of Water Resources first gathered public input. During fall 2018, over 1,650 people participated in a water conservation survey, and eight open houses across the state were held. After public input was tallied, a team consisting of water providers, members from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, and Water Resources staff worked with a third-party consultant to provide input on the region-specific goals. Public input was gathered during a 30-day comment period, reviewed and incorporated.
“These goals will help guide the state’s water managers in planning future infrastructure, policies and programs consistent with Utah’s semiarid climate and growing demand for water,” said Millis. “They will also be used to plan conservation programs.”
While I’ve usually written this post in October, this year we decided to wait until a month before winter (December–February) starts. In past years, we’ve asked if El Niño (or La Niña) will play a role in the winter’s outcome. This year is different, however, as ENSO-neutral is present and expected to persist through the winter and into the spring. So what does NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) base their winter outlook on when ENSO-neutral is in the cards? Read on to find out.
Other clues for seasonal prediction
Aside from ENSO, the recent trend in temperature and precipitation turns out to be the most skillful predictor on seasonal time scales. As Tom said in his post on the topic, “simply put, the trend is how temperatures and precipitation have changed over some length of time.” Trends are actually more skillful overall than ENSO for informing temperature forecasts, largely because of the patterns from global warming due to human-emitted greenhouse gases. However, ENSO trumps trends for precipitation. When El Niño or La Niña is a no-show, though, trends often become the primary consideration for both temperature and precipitation.
When CPC makes seasonal outlooks, predictions are always relative to the recent three decades (or “base period”). Right now, that base period is from 1981 to 2010, so, for example, the outlook is the chance that winter will be warmer or cooler than the average during 1981–2010. CPC utilizes trends by comparing the most recent 15 winters to the base period because studies have shown that this maximizes the skill in the forecasts. So for this upcoming winter of 2019–20, we compare the winter averages from 2004 through 2019 to the base period. Tom’s article has a lot more detail about how this 15-year idea, called the “Optimum Climate Normal,” was developed.
The temperature trend map (1) shows that warmer-than-average winters have become more prevalent across the South and up the East Coast, with the largest trends in California, the Southeast and Florida. Interestingly, trends in much of the central and northern Plains and the Pacific Northwest are quite flat, with even a few regions in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Washington State trending colder during recent winters. This does not mean that global warming is making these regions colder—rather, recent winters have shown a large range of temperature changes, what we call “interannual (year-to-year) variability,” that are likely obscuring the influence of increasing greenhouse gases in these regions.
In a general sense, trends in rain, snow, and other forms of water falling from the sky (precipitation!) favor above-average across much of the northern part of the country, with trends toward drier-than-average conditions along the West Coast, the southern Plains and along the Atlantic South Coast. Both the temperature and precipitation trends share some resemblance to the patterns we would expect during La Niña (northward shift in the jet stream), although temperature trends are warmer compared to historical La Niña patterns, and precipitation trends are somewhat wetter (2).
CPC also uses computer model predictions for the forecasts, leaning on them more during ENSO-neutral times. In this case, the model forecasts (temperature, precipitation) are somewhat consistent with the trends, although most of the model forecasts are even warmer than what would be expected from the recent 15-year trend. The precipitation forecasts have a wide range of possible outcomes, although the average of all model forecasts generally favors wetter-than-average across the northern part of the country with drier-than-average conditions across parts of the South, so again—mostly consistent with trends.
To the outlook!
The temperature outlook favors above-average temperatures across the western, southern, and eastern parts of the nation, and Alaska and Hawaii (not shown here).
Other than over Hawaii and western Alaska, probabilities are all between 33-50%, indicating the confidence of this outlook is less than for other winter outlooks. This lower confidence is partly due to the absence of ENSO’s influence.
The precipitation outlook shows that wetter-than-average conditions are favored over much of the northern part of the country, as well as Hawaii and Alaska (not shown). Below-average precipitation is only favored over central and southern California and southern Arizona and in parts of the southern Plains. Again, confidence is quite modest, with probabilities only exceeding 50% over Hawaii and southwestern Alaska.
Both maps include blank regions where neither above-, near- nor below-normal is favored. These areas (shown in white and labeled EC for “equal chances”), have the same chance for above, near, or below-normal (33.33%). This doesn’t mean that near-average temperature or precipitation is favored this winter in those regions, but rather that there’s no tilt in the odds toward any outcome.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t again provide a reminder that these forecasts are probabilities (% chance) for below-, near-, or above-average outcomes with the maps showing only the most likely outcome (3). Because the probabilities shown are less than 100% (of course), there is no guarantee you will see temperature or precipitation departures that match the color on the map. As we’ve explained in earlier blog posts, even when one outcome is more likely than another, there is still always a chance that a less favored outcome will occur (last winter’s forecast for the northern Plains and Pacific Northwest are a good example of the less likely outcome occurring).
CPC issues probabilistic seasonal temperature and precipitation forecasts so users can understand risk and opportunities in order to make informed climate-sensitive decisions. However, the nature of a probabilistic forecast means that other outcomes are always possible, just less likely. In fact, for our probabilities to be “reliable,” the less likely outcomes will and must occur from time-to-time.
(1) These maps show temperature and precipitation trends in standard deviation, which is a way of showing the change relative to the usual range.
(2) Our own Nat Johnson speculated on why the global temperature and precipitation trends resemble La Niña: sea surface temperature trends over the past decades are La Niña-like, with overall somewhat cooler-than-average trends in the central and eastern tropical Pacific, and so the trends over North America are likely to reflect, in part, decadal to multidecadal La Niña-like sea surface temperature variability. Global warming interacts with this La Niña-ish trend, leading to a warming pattern mostly where La Niña-like and global warming effects add together, and small changes to temperature patterns where they are opposite. The global warming precipitation signal is generally similar to the La Niña pattern, with more precipitation north and less south, so perhaps the La Niña pattern and global warming are working together in this case.
(3) The terciles, technically, are the 33.33 and 66.67 percentile positions in the distribution. In other words, they are the boundaries between the lower and middle thirds of the distribution, and between the middle and upper thirds. These two boundaries define three categories: below-normal, near-normal and above-normal. The CPC forecasts show the probability of the favored category only when there is a favored category; otherwise, they show EC (“equal chances”). In the maps, the probability is shown only for the favored category, but not for the other two categories. Often, the near-normal category remains at 33.33, and the category opposite the favored one is below 33.33 by the same amount that the favored category is above 33.33. When the probability of the favored category becomes very large, such as 70% (which is very rare for a seasonal outlook), this rule for assigning the probabilities for the two non-favored categories becomes different.
It only takes one voice, at the right pitch, to start an avalanche ~Dianna Hardy (Wolf Conservation Center)
This year I am thankful for so much but especially the young people (particularly Greta Thunberg) that are calling out climate deniers and the folks that are dragging their feet about the climate crisis. It’s your future and it’s about damn time for the world to listen.
Greta Thunberg via Twitter
Greta Thunberg, Montreal, September 27, 2019 via Facebook.
Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.
Youth activists rally for climate justice in front of the US Capitol in Washington,DC (photo from earlier in the year). Image: Lorie Shaull,CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
This time of year always reminds me that we have so much to be thankful for. But we also have a lot to be concerned about. Climate change, for example.
Climate change can be difficult to talk about, especially with family and friends. In fact researchers have found that roughly 6 in 10 Americans rarely, if ever talk about climate change with their friends or family. And it can be hard to know where to start. Thankfully, The Nature Conservancy has developed a set of resources, including a handy guide that you can download with tips for how to approach the conversation for best results.
In addition to arming yourself with the right approach to the conversation, it helps to have good information. Here are the four essential things that everyone should know about climate change. And they’re simple enough that you can explain them while you’re passing the gravy, even if your little niece or nephew is throwing peas at you from across the table.
The Earth has already warmed by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit (0.98 degrees C), continuing the warming trend we’ve seen since the industrial revolution. It is now warmer than it has been in the past 125,000 years.
In theory, things other than human emissions of greenhouse gases could have caused changes in the temperature of the planet. Scientists have already studied all of these things. The conclusion is clear: only greenhouse gas emissions — mostly carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels — can explain the warming that we see, even after taking into account the effect of volcanoes, sun spots, Earth’s orbit, ozone, and aerosols. (Check out this cool interactive graph that shows the effects of all these things independently and combined.)
We have already seen significant impacts from climate change. Increased flooding, fires, and heat waves are all linked to climate change. Natural disasters are already a big problem — they displaced 17 million people in 2018 and they cause $100 billion in damages every year in the United States alone. With so many people already in harm’s way, we can little afford the significant increases in natural disasters that unchecked climate change would bring.
If we keep burning fossil fuels at a reckless pace, the Earth will warm by 5 to 9 degrees F by the year 2100 (2.6 to 4.8 degrees C). This may not sound like much, but note that when it was only 7 degrees F colder than it is now, we were in the last ice age.
A 5 or 9 degree warmer planet would be a completely different world than the one we currently live in, with more flooding, crop failures, hurricanes, and sea level rise than we’ve ever seen. We would lose coral reefs, as bleaching events become more intense and frequent, leaving reefs no time to recover. And one in six species would be threatened with extinction due to climate change.
The impacts on human societies are less certain. Can society afford to pay for the economic damages from more floods, droughts, fires, and heat waves without breaking down? The sea level is projected to rise by 1 to 2 feet (11 to 22 inches) by 2050, and up to 5 feet by 2100 if melting causes ice sheets collapse the way some scientists think they will.
Just 1 to 3 feet of sea level rise will cause the dislocation of 250 million people. Could our societies withstand this disruption?
For my children’s sake, I hope we never find out the answer to these questions. It’s not too late to make some the investments needed to insure against the worst impacts of climate. But we have to act decisively. Now.
We Can Fix It.
The future will be powered by wind and solar with electric vehicles, and it will be much more efficient. Not only will these technologies help solve climate change, they will eliminate the more than 600,00 premature deaths per year that occur globally due to our current polluting forms of land transportation and power generation. These gains will make our whole society more productive and wealthier.
We will also need to invest more in natural climate solutions — protecting nature, planting trees, and building healthy soil — to help remove carbon from the atmosphere. A common worry is that it would cost too much to solve climate change. But most people don’t realize how affordable wind and solar, energy storage, electric cars, and even electric airplanes have already become.
The only question is whether we will transition to this better world in time to avoid the most damaging and destabilizing effects of climate change.
With the clock ticking on moving its conditional water-storage rights, the city of Aspen is taking steps toward developing a water integrated resource plan, or IRP.
City Council last month approved spending $81,674 to hire Broomfield-based Carollo Engineers as a consultant for the first phase of the IRP. A main goal of the plan will be to decide where to move the city’s conditional water-storage rights after a water court judge in June approved the city’s settlement with opposing parties in two water court cases. The decrees issued by the judge in those cases rule out the possibility of the city building dams or reservoirs on upper Castle or Maroon creeks.
The city has six years to finalize a plan to move the water rights and associated storage to new locations. That and the increasing effects of a hotter, drier climate, which means less water in streams, have the city feeling a sense of urgency when it comes to figuring out its water supply.
“We do have a sense of urgency, but we also recognize we are only going to get one chance to make such a large change to our system,” said Margaret Medellin, Aspen’s utilities resource manager. “We want to do it right.”
Conditional water rights
All 10 parties who settled with the city in water court, one of which was environmental group American Rivers, agreed not to oppose the city’s efforts to change its conditional water-storage rights to different sites.
Instead of flooding two pristine valleys to create reservoirs, the city has identified five other locations to where it could possibly store water. Those sites are the city golf course; the Maroon Creek Club golf course; the city’s Cozy Point open space; the Woody Creek gravel pit; and a 63-acre parcel of land next to the gravel pit, which the city bought in 2018.
“We don’t have any issue with Aspen’s plan to move forward with those conditional water rights,” said Matt Rice, director of American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program. “That’s a decision for them and local stakeholders to make.”
Carollo Engineers was one of five firms that responded to the city’s summer request for proposals. The more than $81,000 that the City Council approved will pay for Carollo to complete only Phase 1 of the IRP, which will define goals and develop a detailed scope of work. Phase 2 would create the IRP using community input.
“Normally, when we do an IRP, we are looking at what the future looks like in terms of water needs and trying to characterize those and predict them out several decades,” said John Rehring, senior project manager and vice president of Carollo Engineers.
City officials maintain that a lack of reservoir storage is a problem.
Medellin said the lack of water-storage facilities is a big weakness in the city’s water system and that it is controversial to build dams and reservoirs “because every valley up here is beautiful.”
But, Medellin said, climate change may increase the need for water storage.
“We’ve acknowledged these storage rights are very important to the future of Aspen, especially as we start to see climate-change implications,” she said.
Carollo Engineers agrees with that assessment.
“Clearly, the city of Aspen’s system lacks the water storage it needs to reliably meet demands through a range of supply-and-demand conditions even now — before the impacts of climate change have fully taken hold,” the proposal reads.
The issue of storage came to the forefront in the Aspen community in 2012 when news broke that the city was contemplating using its conditional water-storage rights to build dams and reservoirs in Castle and Maroon valleys.
Consultants have come to different conclusions about how much water storage the city actually needs. A 2017 report by Deere and Ault Consultants, which was based on conclusions in a risk analysis by Headwaters Corporation, said Aspen needs 8,500 acre-feet of water storage. But a 2016 study by Wilson Water concluded Aspen does not need any storage.
Two other areas that the IRP will address is the vulnerability of Aspen’s water supply to natural disasters such as 2018’s Lake Christine Fire and last winter’s historic avalanches in Castle and Maroon valleys, as well as how to decrease customers’ demand for water. Even though Aspen has taken steps to reduce the use of water for outdoor irrigation through a landscape ordinance, those gains could be wiped out because in a warmer future, there will be less water flowing in local streams.
“It’s almost like you are playing this game where you, on one hand, lower the level of demand but, on the other side of the equation, climate change is decreasing our supply,” Medellin said.
Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Nov. 26 edition of The Aspen Times.
Members of the Colorado Water Availability Task Force talked happily about the snowstorm Tuesday, with high hopes that it will put Colorado above average for precipitation and snowpack for the water year that started on Oct. 1.
The 2019 water year saw three state weather records: largest hailstone (at 4.83 inches at Bethune), the hottest day (115 degrees at John Martin Reservoir), and the March bomb cyclone, which resulted in a record low barometric pressure reading near Lamar…
In the 2019 water year that ended on Sept. 30, the biggest snowfall of the season was 23 inches (which has already been substantially surpassed by Tuesday’s storm); the coldest temperature recorded in 2019 was minus 40 degrees at Taylor Park Reservoir in Gunnison County.
Colorado also experienced the warmest September in the 125 years tracked by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Assistant state climatologist Becky Bolinger said that it was warmer on average in September than it had been in June, the traditional start to the summer season. That was followed by one of the coldest Octobers on record, the fourth coldest in state history…
Colorado got out of drought for the first time in 20 years, briefly, but the state has returned to drought conditions as the summer ended, especially in southwestern Colorado.
Recent drought maps show three-quarters of the state back in drought, with the most severe in southwestern and western Colorado, which are in severe drought…
Thanks to a good El Niño year in 2019, which produced above average rain and snowfall, almost all of Colorado’s reservoirs are in good shape, according to Karl Wetlaufer of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Statewide, reservoir storage is above average everywhere except for the Upper Rio Grande Basin, which includes the San Luis Valley. Reservoirs in the Upper Rio Grande are down to 25% of capacity.
Reservoirs in the Colorado River basin were at 81% of capacity at the end of October; in the Gunnison, home to the state’s largest at Blue Mesa, reservoirs were at 78% of capacity, also at the end of October.
Traditionally, a good October-November snowpack — which this year has allowed many ski areas to open early — portends a good water year. Colorado’s October-November snowpack in 2019 is only slightly below average and is likely to be above average when Tuesday’s storm is factored in, Bolinger said. Wetlaufer said statewide, snowpack is 90% of normal for October and November, and the state has received 17% of its normal snowfall accumulation, where it normally should be at 19% at this time of year.
“We could definitely make up water year deficits” with this storm, Bolinger said. “Cross your fingers and do your snow dances.”
Click here to go the CWCB website to view the slides. Click here to view the Twitter hash tag #cwcbwatf from the meeting.
McEvoy says recent winter storms throughout the region will help those odds improve when new numbers are released in December…
But this slow start isn’t necessarily a sign of things to come. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the areas within our region most impacted by drought have a higher probability of seeing above average precipitation in early December. And it predicts minimal drought impacts for most of the region, with the exception of southeastern Colorado.
Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor November 26, 2019.
West Drought Monitor November 26, 2019.
Colorado Drought Monitor November 26, 2019.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
Mild weather returned across much of the country for several days, following a mid-November cold blast in the central and eastern United States. Meanwhile, significant precipitation fell during the drought-monitoring period in several areas, including the Southwest and interior Southeast. The Southwestern precipitation, which reversed a drying trend that began with a sub-par monsoon season, provided much-needed moisture and limited drought relief. In contrast, little precipitation fell in the Northwest, which continued to experience an increase in dryness-related impacts (e.g. poor snowpack, low streamflow, and dry soils). Farther east, rain further chipped away at lingering dryness across the South and East. Patchy drought persisted, however, across portions of the central and southern Plains, leading to adverse effects on some rangeland, pastures, and winter grains. As the drought-monitoring period ended on November 26, a pair of major storm systems—one emerging from the central Rockies and the other approaching the Pacific Coast—brought the promise of widespread precipitation that will be evaluated for next week’s U.S. Drought Monitor…
Drought is confined to parts of Colorado and Kansas. However, further worsening of the drought situation occurred from southwestern through central Kansas, where moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) was expanded. More than one-sixth (17%) of the winter wheat in Kansas was reported in very poor to poor condition on November 24, according to USDA. On the same date, USDA reported that topsoil moisture was more than 40% very short to short in Kansas (48%) and Colorado (42%)…
The Southwest’s most significant storm since spring 2019 delivered drought-easing precipitation in Arizona and portions of neighboring states, starting on November 19. A record-setting, 155-day streak without measurable precipitation finally ended in Saint George, Utah, as 1.29 inches fell in a 24-hour period on November 19-20. Elsewhere in Utah, Bryce Canyon Airport netted 1.85 inches in a 48-hour period from November 19-21. In northern Arizona, Flagstaff received 2.37 inches (6.6 inches of snow) on November 20-21. The 20th was a particularly wet day in several desert locations, including Kingman, Arizona (0.83 inch), and Las Vegas, Nevada (0.67 inch). From November 19-21, totals in southern California reached 2.67 inches in Campo and 2.14 inches in Ramona. Where the heaviest precipitation fell in southern California, abnormal dryness (D0) was removed. General reductions in the severity of moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) were introduced across Arizona’s wettest areas, including the central one-third of the state. Farther east, however, drought continued to worsen in northeastern New Mexico, where severe drought (D2) was bridged across two previously existing areas. On November 24, New Mexico’s topsoil moisture was rated 57% very short to short, according to USDA, while subsoil moisture was 68% very short to short. Meanwhile, precipitation remained scarce across much of the Northwest. Although September was wet in the Northwest and October was rather cold, effects of short-term dryness are becoming more apparent in indicators such as streamflow, snowpack, and soil moisture. On November 24, topsoil moisture was rated 60% very short to short in Nevada, along with 44% in Oregon. Abnormal dry (D0) were expanded across northern sections of California and Nevada, as well as parts of Oregon and Washington. Through November 25, early-season snowpack was less than 25% of average in several river basins across California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. In addition, low streamflow values were apparent in the Pacific Northwest, especially across western Oregon…
There were only minor changes made to the drought depiction in Oklahoma and Texas, where mostly dry weather accompanied a gradual warming trend. Oklahoma’s panhandle (and neighboring areas) continued to experience some of the region’s harshest conditions, with moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) further expanding. On November 24, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that topsoil moisture was 43% very short to short in Texas, along with 41% in Oklahoma. On the same date, Texas led the nation with 28% of its winter wheat rated in very poor to poor condition, compared to the national average of 14%. Farther east, there were few changes, although rain chipped away at pockets of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) in a few areas. Though not in an area experiencing dryness, Knoxville, Tennessee, reported a daily-record rainfall total of 2.64 inches on November 23…
During the remainder of Thanksgiving week, a pair of major storm systems will result in a variety of weather hazards across the country. Both low-pressure systems will take similar paths across the central Plains, upper Midwest, and Northeast, although the latter storm will be a higher-impact event across the West. Five-day precipitation totals could broadly reach 1 to 3 inches or more from the Plains to the Appalachians, with higher liquid amounts (in the form of heavy snow) expected in some Western mountain locations—especially in California and the Southwest. East of the Rockies, both storms have the potential to produce major accumulations of wind-driven snow, particularly across portions of the northern and central Plains and upper Midwest, leading to holiday-week travel disruptions. In addition, strong to locally severe thunderstorms could sweep across the South, especially on November 29-30. By December 1, a coastal low-pressure system may begin to intensify along the Atlantic Seaboard, while a new Pacific storm will begin to affect the Far West.
The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for December 2 – 6 calls for the likelihood of near- or below-normal temperatures nationwide, except for warmer-than-normal weather in coastal California and across portions of the southern High Plains and the Southwest. Meanwhile, near- or below-normal precipitation in the eastern half of the country should contrast with wetter-than-normal conditions from California to the Rockies and northern High Plains.
As much as 2 feet of snow fell across parts of the metro area on Monday and Tuesday, and some parts of Colorado saw as much as 33 inches of snowfall from what was likely most of northeast Colorado’s biggest snowstorm in at least three years.
While most of the immediate Denver metro area saw slightly higher snowfall totals, Denver officially received 9.5 inches of snow at the city’s official observation site at Denver International Airport. The 8.5-inch snow on Tuesday made it Denver’s snowiest day since April 16, 2016 -0 a three-and-a-half-year stretch.
It’s also been a long time since Denver’s seen a November snow day of that magnitude. Tuesday was Denver’s snowiest November day since 1994, according to official records from the National Weather Service in Boulder.
For the season, Denver’s now up to 25.7 inches of snowfall so far this winter, making it the snowiest start to a winter season since 2009. That 25.7 total is also already as much as or more than two of Denver’s past three entire winter totals. That’s right: Denver’s already seen more snow than what it saw during the entire 2016-17 winter (21.8 inches) and equal to what it saw in 2017-18 (25.7 inches)…
So far this November, Denver’s now seen 13.2 inches of snowfall, making it the snowiest November since 1994…
In Boulder, a total of 20.7 inches of snow fell, according to the National Weather Service. That made it the city’s third-snowiest day on record, and the snowiest overall since 1979…
Fort Collins saw 11.6 inches of snow on Tuesday, making it the city’s snowiest November day since 1979, and second-snowiest November day ever recorded. The city finished with an impressive 16.5 inches of total snowfall, falling closer to the bull’s-eye of highest snowfall amounts from this storm.
FromThe Chaffee County Times (Max R. Smith) via The Leadville Herald:
In the mid-1960s, a partnership between the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora installed a diversion dam in the Arkansas River south of Granite near Clear Creek Reservoir as part of a pipeline system bringing water from the western slope of the Continental Divide to the Front Range.
The presence of the diversion dam caused that portion of the river to be non-navigable, requiring portaging of one’s raft or kayak.
By the end of this year, however, Colorado Springs Utilities is on schedule to complete a three-year project to build a new river diversion that will allow boaters to float right through, meaning that the 2020 rafting season will be the first in over 50 years in which the entirety of the Arkansas can be travelled without portage.
“We’ll see how the snow treats us over the next couple weeks, but we’re really down to some final boulder work in the river and general site cleanup at this point,” said CSU project manager Brian McCormick.
The intake that pumped water out of the Arkansas (which, legally speaking, comes from the Eagle River Basin as part of the Homestake Project), destined for Aurora and Colorado Springs, “as with anything in the river for 50-plus years, it took some wear and tear,” McCormick said. “By about the mid-2000s, the cities recognized we needed to rehabilitate this structure to keep it as a reliable facility and ensure safety of the river users.”
Construction on the new $9.1 million diversion project began in 2016 after a number of years of planning, budgeting, and engineering. Support for the project included $1.2 million in grant funding from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board…
Significant to water consumers in Colorado Springs and Aurora, the project utilizes a new intake and piping structure to send water to the Otero pump station, he said.
Significant to boaters is a chute constructed of boulders and mortar with six two-foot drops that will allow them to pass the intake facility without exiting the river. McCormick said that CSU put the call out to members of Colorado’s river recreation community to participate in a trial run down the chute in November, testing the Arkansas’s newest whitewater feature…
Significant to the scaled, Omega-3 rich denizens of the Arkansas who swim upstream to spawn every year, the new diversion also features a fish ladder: a sequence of weirs and pools that give brown and rainbow trout a route to move up the river to their spawning grounds.
From the Associated Press via The Mohave Valley Daily News:
Native American tribes, environmentalists, state and federal agencies, river rafters and others say they have significant concerns about proposals to dam a Colorado River tributary in northern Arizona for hydropower…
The Navajo Nation owns the land, and the projects won’t move forward without the tribe’s OK. The tribe wrote in comments posted online Monday that the dams could negatively impact its land, water, wildlife and cultural resources. Cameron, the Navajo community closest to the proposed projects, already has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny the permits.
The Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai tribes also said they are concerned about possible impacts to sacred and historical sites and want to ensure the federal government keeps them in the loop on the proposals.
“A project such as this would forever disturb a traditional cultural landscape that maintains historic and sacred value and that is part of the cultural identity of the Hualapai people and other neighboring tribes,” Hualapai Chairman Damon Clarke and Peter Bungart, the tribe’s historic preservation officer, wrote in their comments.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has no hard deadline to act on the request for the preliminary permits. Construction would not start on the dams for at least a decade if they ultimately are licensed.
The projects would create power by moving water between upper and lower reservoirs, known as pumped storage. Such projects are seeing renewed interest as a way to supplement the electric grid.
Irwin said the Navajo Nation is an ideal location because of the steep canyon walls and the water source. But he said he is willing to tweak the proposals in response to comments. He also has said it’s unlikely both proposed projects will be built…
More than 100 comments were filed on each of the two proposals. People across the country urged the federal government to consider the impacts to recreation, an endangered fish, the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River downstream, the solitude of the region and water rights.
The Little Colorado River is the subject of a long-running water rights case in Arizona.
The river flows intermittently and can carry heavy sediment during the spring runoff and monsoon season. It’s also the primary spawning habitat for the endangered humpback chub in the lower Colorado River basin. Two-thirds of that habitat could be destroyed if the dams are built, the Interior Department wrote in its comments.
Here’s the release from the New Climate Institute:
On current unconditional pledges, the world is heading for a 3.2°C temperature rise
Technologies and policy knowledge exist to cut emissions, but transformations must begin now
G20 nations account for 78 per cent of all emissions, but 15 G20 members have not committed to a timeline for net-zero emissions
Geneva, 26 November 2019 – On the eve of a year in which nations are due to strengthen their Paris climate pledges, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report warns that unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6 per cent each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.
UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap Report says that even if all current unconditional commitments under the Paris Agreement are implemented, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2°C, bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts. Collective ambition must increase more than fivefold over current levels to deliver the cuts needed over the next decade for the 1.5°C goal.
2020 is a critical year for climate action, with the UN climate change conference in Glasgow aiming to determine the future course of efforts to avert crisis, and countries expected to significantly step up their climate commitments.
“For ten years, the Emissions Gap Report has been sounding the alarm – and for ten years, the world has only increased its emissions,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “There has never been a more important time to listen to the science. Failure to heed these warnings and take drastic action to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic heatwaves, storms and pollution.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that going beyond 1.5°C will increase the frequency and intensity of climate impacts.
“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions – over 7 per cent each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director. “This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They – and every city, region, business and individual – need to act now.”
“We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020, then stronger Nationally Determined Contributions to kick-start the major transformations of economies and societies. We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated,” she added. “If we don’t do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.”
G20 nations collectively account for 78 per cent of all emissions, but only five G20 members have committed to a long-term zero emissions target.
In the short-term, developed countries will have to reduce their emissions quicker than developing countries, for reasons of fairness and equity. However, all countries will need to contribute more to collective effects. Developing countries can learn from successful efforts in developed countries; they can even leapfrog them and adopt cleaner technologies at a faster rate.
Crucially, the report says all nations must substantially increase ambition in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as the Paris commitments are known, in 2020 and follow up with policies and strategies to implement them. Solutions are available to make meeting the Paris goals possible, but they are not being deployed fast enough or at a sufficiently large scale.
Each year, the Emissions Gap Report assesses the gap between anticipated emissions in 2030 and levels consistent with the 1.5°C and 2°C targets of the Paris Agreement. The report finds that greenhouse gas emissions have risen 1.5 per cent per year over the last decade. Emissions in 2018, including from land-use changes such as deforestation, hit a new high of 55.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent.
To limit temperatures, annual emissions in 2030 need to be 15 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent lower than current unconditional NDCs imply for the 2°C goal; they need to be 32 gigatonnes lower for the 1.5°C goal. On an annual basis, this means cuts in emissions of 7.6 per cent per year from 2020 to 2030 to meet the 1.5°C goal and 2.7 per cent per year for the 2°C goal.
To deliver on these cuts, the levels of ambition in the NDCs must increase at least fivefold for the 1.5°C goal and threefold for the 2°C.
Climate change can still be limited to 1.5°C, the report says. There is increased understanding of the additional benefits of climate action – such as clean air and a boost to the Sustainable Development Goals. There are many ambitious efforts from governments, cities, businesses and investors. Solutions, and the pressure and will to implement them, are abundant.
As it does each year, the report focuses on the potential of selected sectors to deliver emissions cuts. This year it looks at the energy transition and the potential of efficiency in the use of materials, which can go a long way to closing the emissions gap.
“We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated,” a top official says.
The world has squandered so much time mustering the action necessary to combat climate change that rapid, unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas emissions offer the only hope of averting an ever-intensifying cascade of consequences, according to new findings from the United Nations.
Already, the past year has brought devastating hurricanes, relentless wildfires and crippling heat waves, prompting millions of protesters to take to the streets to demand more attention to a problem that seems increasingly urgent.
Amid that growing pressure to act, Tuesday’s U.N. report offers a grim assessment of how off-track the world remains. Global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, according to the United Nations’ annual “emissions gap” report, which assesses the difference between the world’s current path and the changes needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord.
As part of that deal, world leaders agreed to hold warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels; the current trajectory is nearly twice that.
Should that pace continue, scientists say, the result could be widespread, catastrophic effects: Coral reefs, already dying in some places, would probably dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Some coastal cities, already wrestling with flooding, would be constantly inundated by rising seas. In much of the world, severe heat, already intense, could become unbearable.
Global greenhouse gas emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning 2020 — a rate currently nowhere in sight — to meet the most ambitious aims of the Paris climate accord, the report issued early Tuesday found. Its authors acknowledged that the findings are “bleak.” After all, the world has never demonstrated the ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions on such a scale.
Atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) reached the highest ever recorded in human history in 2018, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced in a new report Monday.
Why it matters: If the trend continues, as predicted, the impact of climate change will become even more severe, the intergovernmental organization warns. “The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement accompanying the report.
“Carbon dioxide is the most important long-lived greenhouse gas, with a single molecule lasting in the air for hundreds to around 1,000 years,” science journalist Andrew Freedman has noted for Axios. “The continued buildup of carbon dioxide due to human activities, such as burning fossil fuels for energy, is driving global temperatures up and instigating harmful impacts worldwide.”
By the numbers: The WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports that globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 407.8 parts per million last year. That means for every 1 million molecules of gas in the atmosphere, almost 408 was carbon dioxide.
It’s an increase of 405.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2017. “The increase in CO2 from 2017 to 2018 was very close to that observed from 2016 to 2017 and just above the average over the last decade,” the WMO notes.
Global levels of CO2 crossed the symbolic and significant 400 parts per million benchmark in 2015.
What they’re saying: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director Inger Andersen said in a statement the WMO data and preliminary findings in the 2019 UN Emissions Gap Report, released in September, “point us in a clear direction — in this critical period, the world must deliver concrete, stepped-up action on emissions.”
“There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of the mankind.”
— Statement by WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas
The big picture: This continuing long-term trend means that future generations can expect “rising temperatures, more extreme weather, water stress, sea level rise and disruption to marine and land ecosystems” unless drastic action is taken, the WMO says.
The WMO says global emissions are “not estimated to peak by 2030, let alone by 2020,” if current climate policies and ambition levels of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are maintained.
Separate findings in the UN Environment’s Emissions Gap Report assessing the latest scientific studies on current and estimated future greenhouse gas emissions, was due to be released Tuesday, ahead of next month’s UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid.
Here’s the release from the World Meteorological Organization:
Geneva, 25 November 2019 – Levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached another new record high, according to the World Meteorological Organization. This continuing long-term trend means that future generations will be confronted with increasingly severe impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures, more extreme weather, water stress, sea level rise and disruption to marine and land ecosystems.
The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin showed that globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2017.
The increase in CO2 from 2017 to 2018 was very close to that observed from 2016 to 2017 and just above the average over the last decade. Global levels of CO2 crossed the symbolic and significant 400 parts per million benchmark in 2015.
CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the oceans for even longer.
Concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide also surged by higher amounts than during the past decade, according to observations from the Global Atmosphere Watch network which includes stations in the remote Arctic, mountain areas and tropical islands.
Since 1990, there has been a 43% increase in total radiative forcing – the warming effect on the climate – by long-lived greenhouse gases. CO2 accounts for about 80% of this, according to figures from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration quoted in the WMO Bulletin.
“There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,» said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of the mankind,” he said.
“It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago. Back then, the temperature was 2-3°C warmer, sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now,” said Mr Taalas.
The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Emissions represent what goes into the atmosphere. Concentrations represent what remains in the atmosphere after the complex system of interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere and the oceans. About a quarter of the total emissions is absorbed by the oceans and another quarter by the biosphere.
Global emissions are not estimated to peak by 2030, let alone by 2020, if current climate policies and ambition levels of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are maintained. Preliminary findings from the Emissions Gap Report 2019 indicate that greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise in 2018, according to an advanced chapter of the Emissions Gap Report released as part of a United in Science synthesis for the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in September.
The United in Science report, which brought together major partner organizations in the domain of global climate change research, underlined the glaring – and growing – gap between agreed targets to tackle global warming and the actual reality.
“The findings of WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin and UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report point us in a clear direction – in this critical period, the world must deliver concrete, stepped-up action on emissions,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “We face a stark choice: set in motion the radical transformations we need now, or face the consequences of a planet radically altered by climate change.”
A separate and complementary Emissions Gap Report by UN Environment will be released on 26 November. Now in its tenths year, the Emissions Gap report assesses the latest scientific studies on current and estimated future greenhouse gas emissions; they compare these with the emission levels permissible for the world to progress on a least-cost pathway to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. This difference between “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” is known as the emissions gap.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the Summit had delivered “a boost in momentum, cooperation and ambition. But we have a long way to go.”
This will now be taken forward by the UN Climate Change Conference, which will be held from 2 to15 December in Madrid, Spain, under the presidency of Chile.
Key Findings of the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin
The bulletin includes a focus on how isotopes confirm the dominant role of fossil fuel combustion in the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
There are multiple indications that the increase in the atmospheric levels of CO2 are related to fossil fuel combustion. Fossil fuels were formed from plant material millions of years ago and do not contain radiocarbon. Thus, burning it will add to the atmosphere radiocarbon-free CO2, increasing CO2 levels and decreasing its radiocarbon content. And this is exactly what is demonstrated by the measurements.
Carbon dioxide is the main long-lived greenhouse gas in the atmosphere related to human activities. Its concentration reached new highs in 2018 of 407.8 ppm, or 147% of pre-industrial level in 1750.
The increase in CO2 from 2017 to 2018 was above the average growth rate over the last decade. The growth rate of CO2 averaged over three consecutive decades (1985–1995, 1995–2005 and 2005–2015) increased from 1.42 ppm/yr to 1.86 ppm/yr and to 2.06 ppm/yr with the highest annual growth rates observed during El Niño events.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index shows that from 1990 to 2018 radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases (LLGHGs) increased by 43%, with CO2 accounting for about 80% of this increase
Methane (CH4) is the second most important long-lived greenhouse gas and contributes about 17% of radiative forcing. Approximately 40% of methane is emitted into the atmosphere by natural sources (e.g., wetlands and termites), and about 60% comes from human activities like cattle breeding, rice agriculture, fossil fuel exploitation, landfills and biomass burning.
Atmospheric methane reached a new high of about 1869 parts per billion (ppb) in 2018 and is now 259% of the pre-industrial level. For CH4, the increase from 2017 to 2018 was higher than both that observed from 2016 to 2017 and the average over the last decade.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is emitted into the atmosphere from both natural (about 60%) and anthropogenic sources (approximately 40%), including oceans, soil, biomass burning, fertilizer use, and various industrial processes.
Its atmospheric concentration in 2018 was 331.1 parts per billion. This is 123% of pre-industrial levels. The increase from 2017 to 2018 was also higher than that observed from 2016 to 2017 and the average growth rate over the past 10 years.
Nitrous oxide also plays an important role in the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer which protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. It accounts for about 6% of radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases.
Click here to read the paper (Patrick W.Keys, Miina Porkka, Lan Wang-Erlandsson, Ingo Fetzer, Tom Gleeson, Line J.Gordon). Here’s the abstract:
Water security is key to planetary resilience for human society to flourish in the face of global change. Atmospheric moisture recycling – the process of water evaporating from land, flowing through the atmosphere, and falling out again as precipitation over land – is the invisible mechanism by which water influences resilience, that is the capacity to persist, adapt, and transform. Through land-use change, mainly by agricultural expansion, humans are destabilizing and modifying moisture recycling and precipitation patterns across the world. Here, we provide an overview of how moisture recycling changes may threaten tropical forests, dryland ecosystems, agriculture production, river flows, and water supplies in megacities, and review the budding literature that explores possibilities to more consciously manage and govern moisture recycling. Novel concepts such as the precipitationshed allows for the source region of precipitation to be understood, addressed and incorporated in existing water resources tools and sustainability frameworks. We conclude that achieving water security and resilience requires that we understand the implications of human influence on moisture recycling, and that new research is paving the way for future possibilities to manage and mitigate potentially catastrophic effects of land use and water system change.
Water sufficient for more than 1 million homes on the Front Range could be lost, and thousands of acres of farm land on both the Eastern and Western Slopes could go dry, if the state can’t supply enough water from the drought-stricken Colorado River to downstream states as it is legally required to do, according to a new study.
Among the study’s key findings:
+ In the next 25 years, if the state does nothing to set more water aside in Lake Powell, the Front Range could lose up to 97 percent of its Colorado River water.
+ All but two of the state’s eight major river basins, under that same “do nothing” scenario, also face dramatic water cutbacks.
+ If Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico increase their water use by as little as 11.5 percent, as predictions indicate they will by 2037, the risk of a legal crisis spurring such cutbacks on the river doubles, rising from 39 percent to 78 percent, under one scenario, and 46 percent to 92 percent under another.
“Every water user in every river basin [linked to the Colorado] faces some risk,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, one of the sponsors of the Colorado River Risk Study, as it is known. The Durango-based Southwestern Water Conservation District also sponsored the work.
“That’s an important takeaway because when you begin to realize the extent of potential damage, whether it is on the West Slope or the Front Range, then we all come to the realization that we have a shared risk,” Mueller said.
Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the river’s supplies are divided between the four Upper Basin states (Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico) and three Lower Basin states (California, Nevada and Arizona). The compact dictates that cities and farmers in the Upper Basin whose water rights were obtained after the compact was signed would have to give up some or all of their water to the Lower Basin if there isn’t enough water in Lake Powell to meet the terms of the compact. Colorado uses the most water of all the Upper Basin states and therefore faces the most risk.
The study was conducted by Boulder-based Hydros Consulting and released in June. It looked at different scenarios for the way river conditions and reductions to diversions could play out, as well as ways to reduce the risk cities and farms face, including spreading the cutbacks proportionately among all the river basins, something that isn’t typically done.
Front Range water utilities are wary of the study and have begun a new round of analysis to determine if they agree with the results.
Alex Davis is a water attorney for the City of Aurora. At a recent forum on the risk study, she said that the chances of a Colorado River crisis were being exaggerated. And the study acknowledges that under some scenarios the risk of such a legal crisis is low.
“All of this talk is helpful to get people to think about the issue, but it also seems like a bit of scare tactics. If the Lower Basin states did try to do something, there would be a whole number of reasons [they would not get far],” she said.
Including the fact that they continue to overuse their share of the river by about 1.2 million acre-feet a year. Before Colorado and its northern neighbors were asked to cut back, the Lower Basin would have to do additional cutbacks as well, she said.
West meets east
Though the Colorado River flows west, and originates in Colorado’s Never Summer Mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park, a large chunk of its flows, more than 530,000 acre-feet, are pumped east over the Continental Divide to the state’s Front Range cities, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Boulder, Fort Collins and Broomfield, among others. That’s enough water to supply 1.06 million homes or to irrigate more than one-half million acres of crops.
Because these water users built their tunnels and reservoirs decades after the 1922 Compact was signed, they could be among the first to be cut off. Denver’s largest storage pool, Dillon Reservoir, was completed in the 1960s. East Slope cities and farmers would lose 97 percent of their Colorado River supplies if those diversions were completely shut down, according to the study.
“You have to start with the fact that 50 percent of the water on the Front Range comes from the West Slope. Should the Upper Basin fail to meet its delivery obligation, half of water use on the Front Range would be curtailed. That’s an enormous problem,” said Brad Udall, a senior climate and water scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center.
Other parts of the state also face risk, some more than others. The Yampa River Basin, home to Steamboat Springs, would lose slightly more than 70,000 acre-feet of water, or 30 percent of its Colorado River supplies.
The Gunnison Basin, where agriculture controls historic water rights that pre-date the compact, is better protected, with the potential to lose just over 57,000 acre-feet of water, or 10 percent of its share of the river.
But a large swath of the southwestern part of the state would also be hard hit. Despite the historic farm water rights in this region, several small communities and irrigation districts built reservoirs after the compact was signed, just as cities did on the Front Range, meaning that those stored water supplies are also at high risk. In this basin, 178,000 acre-feet of water, roughly 36 percent of its Colorado River supplies, could be lost, according to the study.
The likelihood of ongoing drought and hotter summers only deepens the uneasiness over the river’s ability to produce the amount of water the state once relied on.
“We don’t expect to see cooler temperatures in the future, we expect to see warmer temps,” Mueller said. “If that is true, then we have to plan on reduced water supplies within our state.”
Saving more water?
The study comes as the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the lead water policy agency in the state, is examining whether to launch a massive, voluntary conservation program that would allow the state and its neighbors to save some 500,000 acre-feet of water and store it in a newly authorized drought pool in Lake Powell. The pool, to be used only by the Upper Basin states, could help protect Colorado and its neighbors if drought and climate change continue to sap the river’s flows.
Michelle Garrison is a modeler with the CWCB who has analyzed the study’s results. She said the scenarios it considered are important for comparative purposes and may help the West Slope and Front Range collaborate on any water cutbacks, something that hasn’t always occurred in the past.
“It’s a tough one,” she said. “The hydrology in the Colorado River has always been extremely variable and it’s predicted to become even more variable. But I’m really pleased to see them sharing their results.”
In places like the Yampa Basin, if the state cut back water use based strictly on prior appropriation, where water right dates determine who gets water first in times of shortage, Stagecoach Reservoir, the most significant storage pool in the valley, could be shut off because its storage rights date only to the 1980s. And residents would be hard pressed to cope if another long-term drought drained the river and their only source of stored water was no longer able to refill.
Kevin McBride is manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which owns Stagecoach. He, like dozens of other water managers across the state, is still contemplating the options. (Editor’s note: McBride serves on the board of Water Education Colorado, which houses Fresh Water News.)
“Generally being safe from drought is what it’s all about,” McBride said. “But how do you get there?
“It’s complicated and it comes down to how it’s done.”
McBride and others on the West Slope are asking for another round of modeling that would examine more equitable ways to cut back water use, so that no one takes the brunt of the reductions.
With insurance, or without?
Others have suggested that the state should let the rules embedded in the 1922 Compact and Colorado’s water rights system play out, rather than creating an expensive, legally complex water conservation program.
Anne Castle is a senior fellow at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources who specializes in Colorado River issues. Going without a major conservation program carries its own set of very high risks, such as decades of expensive lawsuits or unplanned water shortages.
Over the next several months, the state will continue to examine how best to protect its Colorado River water as part of drought planning work it is engaged in with the other Upper Basin states. Late next year, all Colorado River Basin states will begin negotiating a new set of operating guidelines for the entire river system, designed to bring it back into balance and slash the risk of major cutbacks.
“Truly one of the points of this risk study is to make sure that anyone who is at risk understands the risk,” Mueller said. “If you’re a water planner, it may set off some alarm bells. But we don’t want people to panic. The hope is people will look at this and say, ‘Our community is at risk…what are we going to do about it?’”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
FromThe La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren) viaThe Bent County Democrat:
Roy Vaughan of the Bureau of Reclamation thinks the Colorado water supply is good overall and particularly so in the Pueblo Reservoir.
As of Nov. 12, 188,138 acre feet of water were stored in Pueblo, of which 141,594 a/f is water tied to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Water Project, the massive project that more than 50 years ago built Lake Pueblo; 41,475 a/f is excess capacity water; 16,142 a/f is winter water storage. There is room for more water — 103,779 a/f of project space in Pueblo; 5,287 a/f of project space in Twin and Turquoise Lakes.
More than 300 people attended the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s fall symposium [November 20, 2019] at the Embassy Suites in Loveland to discuss the region’s water future.
Several city officials from Loveland attended, including City Council member Steve Olson…
The majority of Northern Colorado’s water comes from the Colorado River, over the Continental Divide. Water is diverted through Rocky Mountains by the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and stored in reservoirs.
As water flows become more unpredictable, with droughts some years and heavy snowfalls in other, having the infrastructure to store larger quantities of water is becoming increasingly important…
The city has rights to water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and the Windy Gap Project as well as rights to water from the Eastern Slope.
Most of Loveland’s water comes from the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, which stores water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
Water & Power is currently updating its raw water master plan, which details how the city will provide water to customers for several decades, Bernosky said.
As Loveland’s population has grown, water usage has remained relatively flat, due to more efficient home and building construction. The city has been on a 20-year trend of reducing its gallons per capita per day, said Larry Howard, a senior civil engineer in the city of Loveland’s water resources division.
If the Chimney Hollow Reservoir project goes through, Loveland will have adequate water supply through 2060, Howard said. The city has rights to 10.5% of the water in the proposed reservoir, which is currently being held up by a lawsuit.
The key mission of the Refuge System — to protect and restore wildlife habitat — may be falling by the wayside.
The Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is nestled between the boggy wetlands and glistening ponds of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Inside, near a cluttered display of taxidermy birds — a tall American white pelican with a bright orange beak and an osprey caught in midflight — Frances “Wa” Correia greets visitors. The 92-year-old has been volunteering here for 15 years, fielding questions, answering the phone and keeping the kiosk outside filled up with pamphlets. It’s work she enjoys doing. Still, as the number of full-time professional staff dwindles, volunteers like Correia are forced to take on even more tasks, while other important projects are left undone.
The refuge once employed 13 people to manage and study its land. Now, it has only three full-time staffers and one seasonal worker. Consequently, key jobs — such as bird migration surveys, weed management and prescribed wildfires — are being left unfinished. This is a problem plaguing the entire National Wildlife Refuge System, which has suffered from a string of budget cuts and a shrinking staff for the last decade or more.
That means that refuges nationwide have fewer scientists, reduced law enforcement and a lack of habitat restoration. As a result, one of the system’s central responsibilities — to protect and restore wildlife habitat — is falling by the wayside.
The National Wildlife Refuge System, a branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, protects more than 850 million acres of land and water. From the marshy Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida to arid landscapes like the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, the Refuge System is home to nearly every species of bird, fish, reptile and amphibian in the U.S., making it the world’s largest collection of habitats set aside for wildlife conservation. Around 50 million people visit the nation’s refuges each year.
But funding has not kept up with the system’s needs. Accounting for inflation, the overall Refuge System budget has decreased by almost 18% since 2010. As a result, the number of staff is currently around 2,600, which is an almost 20% drop from 2013. Additionally, as of 2015, there were only 318 refuge officers, down 65% from 1990, according to the 2015 annual report. Fewer officers mean higher chances of damaged property and hunting violations, a matter of particular concern since the Trump administration is opening up additional refuge acreage to hunting and fishing.
On a sunny, early-October afternoon, a cacophony of birdsong — the staccato chirp of the Song Sparrow against the loud whistle of the European Starling — could be heard throughout the 2,800-acre Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. A group of visitors sat on descending rows of stairs, shaped like an open-air theater, as they watched trumpeter swans glide across the shimmering pond.
While budget and staff cuts may not diminish this experience, they do dampen scientists’ understanding of the local avian population, which includes some 240 species of migratory birds. Deborah Goslin, the refuge’s former biological technician, used to spend her days surveying the migrations of waterfowl, raptor and shorebirds and studying their responses to floods, wildfire burns and other environmental changes.
Goslin was let go, however, and now no one is doing that work. These days, the refuge leans heavily on volunteers, especially for less specialized tasks, such as running the environmental education program or staffing the visitor center. But even with that help, the visitor center is closed many days due to insufficient staffing. “There’s so much information right behind that door,” said volunteer Richard Davis, “and it’s not even available.”
The Trump administration’s budget cuts are hitting all the public-land agencies. But the National Wildlife Refuge System has been struggling for years, never receiving the funding and recognition that it needs, said Geoff Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, a nonprofit based in D.C. “I don’t think it’s a Democrat or Republican thing,” he said. He suspects that some of the Refuge System’s woes stem from its lack of visibility compared to, say, national parks. But despite these challenges, said Haskett, keeping refuges working remains crucial. Not only do they protect some of the country’s most iconic ecosystems and wildlife, refuges allow the public to connect with the nature around them.
That’s the part that keeps Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge Manager Tom Reed going. A few years ago, a family traveled all the way from Hong Kong to the refuge just to go birding, Reed recalled. “Seeing the joy on the face of what they just observed, it humbles me,” he said. “It makes me realize how lucky I am to look out at this refuge each day.”
Note: This story has been updated to include current National Wildlife Refuge System staff numbers.
Helen Santoro is an editorial intern at High Country News. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a letter to the editor.
The Colorado River at the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge near Cabin Lake, Arizona. Photo credit: USGS
The drying riverbed of the Middle Rio Grande near the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on April 4, 2018. Photo credit: USBR
A cottonwood forest in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Matthew Schmader/Open Space Division
Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge via the National Park Service
Truman Middle School students begin a day of water quality testing at the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge by carrying waders into the Rio Grande bosque.
Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research
Baca National Wildlife Refuge
Closer to home and to my heart — Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge.
Greater Sandhill Cranes in flight over the San Luis Valley. The annual Monte Vista Crane Festival takes place during March each year. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Coyote Gulch at the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge March 10, 2018 during the Monte Vista Crane Festival.
Here’s the release from Southeastern (Chris Woodka):
The Colorado Water Conservation Board unanimously approved a $90 million loan and $10 million non-reimbursable investment for the Arkansas Valley Conduit at its November meeting.
The loan, which still requires approval by the Colorado Legislature, will assist in a $500 million project that is being planned by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation. The AVC will bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo in Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.
The Southeastern District and Reclamation are working to reduce project costs and the need for up-front federal funding in order to begin construction of the AVC project. About $30 million has been invested in planning since 2011.
“Poor water quality has been an issue in this area of the state since before Colorado even existed. All the way back to explorers traveling along the Arkansas River in the early 1800s noted the poor drinking water in their journals,” said CWCB board member Jack Goble, who lives in Hasty. “And the lack of clean drinking water still exists today. Taking a drive down Highway 50, you’ll pass by dozens of water filling stations, with at least one in almost every town in the Valley.”
In its presentation, the Southeastern District noted strong support from the State Legislature, the congressional delegation and Gov. Jerad Polis for AVC. The Legislature approved a resolution in January asking the Administration to restore AVC funding. The congressional delegation drafted its own letter to the Administration as well.
“I will continue to support efforts to work with our departments on opportunities to seek state financing and grant opportunities to advance this project,” Polis wrote in a letter earlier this year.
Bill Long, President of the Southeastern Board, introduced three of the system operators who will benefit from AVC: Rick Jones of the May Valley Water Association, Norman Noe of the South Swink Water Company, and Tom Seaba of La Junta.
“The only way we can move forward in the Arkansas Valley is to have safe drinking water for all of our residents,” Long said.
May Valley faces state enforcement actions for violations of state standards for radioactive contaminants it has dealt with for 20 years, and other solutions would cost as much as $200 per month per customer, Jones said.
“It’s disheartening to be told you can’t drink the water,” Jones said.
Noe told the CWCB that it is also becoming increasingly expensive to deal with radioactive waste that is produced by the wells that the communities rely on for a water supply.
Seaba said 15 of the 24 public water systems in Otero County have state water violations for naturally occurring radioactive contamination. Four of the systems have already connected with La Junta. La Junta treats water with reverse-osmosis, but the waste stream contains selenium. The city spent $19 million on a wastewater plant and still cannot meet selenium standards.
“If the conduit is funded and built, you will solve the problems for these communities,” Seaba said.
The AVC was authorized in 1962, but was not built because local communities could not afford to pay 100 percent of the cost. New federal legislation in 2009 requires a 35 percent local cost share, but also allows revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to be used for construction and repayment of the AVC.
The presentation was at times emotional, teeing off with a recap of the history of the AVC by Alan Hamel, a Southeastern board member and former CWCB member. He showed a video of President John F. Kennedy, who came to Pueblo in 1962 and delivered a stirring speech about the importance of water projects to all of the people in the United States.
Several CWCB members shared their own emotional comments during discussion.
“It’s the responsibility of all of us on the board to make sure that all Coloradans have the basic right for clean drinking water,” said Heather Dutton, who chairs the CWCB.
“Blue Mesa (Reservoir) still has a lot of water in it. Everybody is doing pretty well for carryover storage,” Erik Knight, a hydrologist for the Bureau of Reclamation, said.
Taylor Park Reservoir and Ridgway Reservoir — both of which are storage pots for Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association members’ river water rights — are bearing up fairly well too, he said, and although Ridgway is a little lower, it is in “much better shape” than it was this time last year.
“Our accounts are full at both Ridgway and Taylor and we filled our first and second fill both at Taylor,” UVWUA manager Steve Anderson said. “This is only the second time ever that we’ve had a full second-fill account. So that’s all good news.”
This past summer, however, did not bring the type of monsoonal moisture that is usually anticipated.
Apart from one storm in October, the month was quite dry and November has so far been even drier, Knight said, although current storms were expected to help.
On Thursday, the Gunnison River Basin’s snow water equivalent was 1.5 inches; normally, it would be 3 inches for this time of year, Knight said. However, at this time of year, BuRec only would expect 15 percent of total snowpack to be present…
Powell, at about 53 percent, is faring better than Mead, at 39 percent, but hasn’t recovered above its 50-year average, according to information from Western Resource Advocates. For the first time, levels at Mead prompted mandatory cuts next year for the Lower Basin States, in accordance with the provisions of the recently approved Drought Contingency Plan.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Hannah Holm):
Our rivers are shrinking, populations are rising, and many rural communities are suffering from drought and economic dislocation.
Urban water use is declining, despite population growth, and communities are transforming their rivers from utilitarian conveyances into playgrounds and economic development engines.
Farmers and conservation organizations are partnering to help fish, and scientists are developing better forecasting tools, which will help everyone plan better for whatever quantity of water is coming their way.
All these statements are true, and they were among the messages delivered by speakers at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum at Colorado Mesa University on Nov. 13-14.
As reported by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and KUNC, participants were warned that the Upper Basin States of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming are at risk of getting into trouble with the terms of the 1922 Compact between the states that share the Colorado River. A “demand management” program to compensate water users for voluntary, temporary cuts in their Colorado River water use is the most commonly discussed “insurance policy” for managing this risk. The upper basin states are studying the feasibility of this option now.
The risk of failing to meet downstream obligations, and therefore facing mandatory, uncompensated water use cuts, is real. However, as other speakers at the forum demonstrated, our regional water challenges go far beyond compact compliance, and state officials aren’t the only ones with the capacity to take action.
Even without compact trouble, many agricultural communities are regularly short of water, because the mountains don’t always catch enough snow for the fields we want to irrigate. The Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch Enterprise, which operates southwest of Cortez, and irrigates with water from the Dolores Project, often gets less than their full supply. Enterprise managers respond by adjusting their crop plans in accordance with spring supply forecasts and employing highly efficient sprinkler technology. They also run a mill to add value to their corn crops, which brings more dollars per drop to the tribe, as well as more employment opportunities.
Urban communities have also responded to water stress with leak detection programs, pricing strategies and consumer education that have significantly dropped per capita consumption – with a big assist from more efficient toilets and appliances. New technologies and policies for cleaning up sewage to potable standards, individuals’ choices to install water-thrifty landscapes, and denser development patterns offer the promise of further stretching supplies.
Wildfires have been getting fiercer, as a result of beetle kill, hot and dry climate conditions and years of suppression that let fuels build up. Most of our rivers originate in high mountain forests, and when those forests burn hot and intense, subsequent storms can wash fish-choking ash and sediment into streams and foul up water diversion infrastructure. Speakers from southwest Colorado discussed how federal, state and local groups, including private sector forest product firms, are working together to improve forest health and resilience through thinning and prescribed fire, as well as by educating property owners on creating defensible spaces around buildings.
At the same time as our rivers have begun shrinking (on average), we’ve started expecting more from them: in addition to supplying water to our taps and fields, we want them to continue to nurture native fish and provide us with enjoyable boating experiences. Speakers working in the Price River watershed in Utah described how conservation organizations have built relationships with local farmers and brought resources to the table to improve how diversions, ditches and reservoirs serve all these interests.
The examples above demonstrate that those of us who care about the Colorado River, its tributaries and its communities don’t have to limit ourselves to wringing our hands over the seemingly intractable challenge of balancing supply and demand on the Colorado River and sit passively by, hoping that state, federal and tribal leaders will find a good fix. Getting involved in those discussions is good, but so is getting to know your neighbors on your local stream, learning how water works in your community, and finding ways to work together on whatever your particular challenges are. In addressing those challenges, you might even end up contributing to basin-wide solutions.
Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.
Click here to read the draft EIS. Here’s the abstract:
The Halligan Water Supply Project (Halligan Project) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) evaluates the effects of enlarging the existing Halligan Reservoir located about 25 miles northwest of Fort Collins on the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre River (North Fork) in Larimer County in north central Colorado. The City of Fort Collins Utilities (Fort Collins) proposes to raise Halligan Dam by 25.4 feet to enlarge Halligan Reservoir from its current capacity of 6,400 acre-feet to approximately 14,525 acre-feet to provide about 7,900 acre-feet of additional annual firm yield to meet Fort Collins’ projected 2065 municipal and industrial water demands. The existing reservoir surface area is approximately 253 acres; the proposed enlargement would result in a surface area of approximately 386 acres. The Halligan Project would result in the placement of fill material into waters of the U.S., which requires a Department of the Army permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act
Halligan Dam is a concrete arch dam built over 100 years ago and will require rehabilitation in the near future to address safety risks. These safety risks would be addressed by Fort Collins under their proposed action during enlargement of the dam. Under the Project Alternatives, ownership of and responsibility for the dam rehabilitation would revert back to the North Poudre Irrigation Company. Under Fort Collins’ proposed action, Halligan Reservoir would continue to be filled with direct flows from the North Fork. Releases would be made to the North Fork downstream of the dam and would flow through Seaman Reservoir to the confluence with the Cache La Poudre River. From there, water would be exchanged up to Fort Collins’ intake or to the Monroe Canal intake and delivered to Fort Collins’ water treatment facility through the Pleasant Valley Pipeline. Under the proposed action, Fort Collins would maintain a minimum flow of five cubic feet per second in the North Fork from May 1 to September 30, a minimum flow of three cubic feet per second the remainder of the year, and forego all diversions to the enlarged pool and Halligan Reservoir for the three days that coincide with the forecasted peak runoff flow event for the North Fork.
This Draft EIS also evaluates the effects of the following alternatives to the Halligan Project: the No- Action Alternative; the Expanded Glade Alternative; the Gravel Pits Alternative; the Agricultural Reservoirs Alternative and the No-Action Alternative.
From the Central Colorado Conservancy via The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):
Adam Beh has joined the Central Colorado Conservancy as its new executive director, bringing more than 20 years of experience in conservation and rural development to the position. He started the job in late October, relocating from northern Colorado where he served as the Chief Conservation Officer for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.
Beh, an active outdoorsman, received his PhD in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University (2010). He says he is always interested in exploring the social dynamics that influence success in landscape-level conservation. With a focus on applied science, land stewardship and community education, he led the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies land stewardship investments in the Intermountain West, including public-private partnerships among federal, state and nonprofit groups.
He says Central Colorado Conservancy’s focus on community involvement, including the countywide Envision process, was a strong draw in his decision to take the position. The Conservancy’s support of the agricultural community was another key facet in his decision.
“I wanted to stay focused on true community-based conservation efforts,” said Beh, adding that he is excited at the prospect of exporting the community-driven model to other places. “Not every organization out there has a rural way of life component as a driver.” He points to the Conservancy’s Hands for Lands volunteer program as a good example of reaching out to the rural community and supplying help with labor-intensive tasks such as spring ditch clearing.
He notes that the Conservancy recently began the important Forever Chaffee project. It includes conservation easements of nearly 2,000 total acres for the Centerville Ranch, the Tri Lazy Ranch property (which connects the Centerville land east to Brown’s Canyon National Monument), and the Arrowpoint Cattle Company, which lies north of the Tri Lazy W.
Beh plans to continue to grow the Conservancy’s existing programs, including restoration of the Sands Lake Wildlife Area. The project serves to restore Sands Lake to enhance the site for both wildlife and citizens of Colorado, using Natural Resource Damages settlement money from the California Gulch Mining Site. The project collaborates with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Southwest Conservation Corps, with volunteer help from Hands for Lands.
Based on his work with birds, Beh emphasizes the importance of habitat links across the landscape. “Birds need those spaces – from Canada to Mexico. It makes you think differently.” He sees Central Colorado Conservancy as “a different type of land trust” that brings multiple resources to a property to enhance habitat, water quality and other factors that support the long-term health and beauty of the space.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
Within weeks Arizona finished its portion of the [Drought Contingency Plan]. Tribal leaders in the state didn’t receive any accolades in Ducey’s speech. But a recent Arizona State University report suggests they should have. The report’s authors said without the actions of two tribes — the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes — the deal would’ve likely collapsed.
“We know that you have to live in harmony with your surrounding community, with the water resources, you have to respect that,” Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said after Ducey’s speech.
To get the deal across the finish line, Lewis’s tribe agreed to lease a portion of its water to the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District, which supplies water for new homebuilding in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas. The Colorado River Indian Tribes agreed to fallow cropland on its reservation, which spans the Arizona-California border, and leave the unused water in Lake Mead…
Arizona’s portion of the drought contingency plan became a unique example in the basin of tribal leaders asserting themselves in broader discussions about the river’s management. Historically, tribes in the Colorado River basin have been marginalized and ignored, left out or outright banned from discussions of Western water development.
With the drought plan done, some tribal leaders say their water rights can’t be ignored any longer, and that it’s irresponsible of Western water leaders to leave them out of large multi-state agreements. And a recently finished federal study is amplifying tribes’ call for a seat at the table to negotiate the river’s future.
“Early on, five years ago, the tribes didn’t think, well, how do we participate in this process?” said Daryl Vigil, member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation in northern New Mexico, and acting director of the Ten Tribes Partnership, an organization that represents the interests of 10 Colorado River basin tribes.
“But, I think given the nature of the senior nature of tribal water rights, they absolutely needed to be involved in that process,” Vigil said.
In December 2018, the federal government released the Tribal Water Study, which looked at water use within tribes, and projected future demands. One big takeaway from the report gained attention across the Southwest: On paper, tribes have rights to about 20% of all the water in the Colorado River watershed. Tribes aren’t using all the water they have rights to, but they plan to, which have ripple effects throughout the entire southwestern watershed, Vigil said…
The river’s current managing guidelines — which dictate how its biggest reservoirs are run and a series of cutbacks when they drop in elevation — are set to expire in 2026. Formal negotiations to come up with a brand new agreement start in 2020.
Interested parties, including state leaders, water agencies, farm groups, environmentalists and recreational interests are already starting to posture. Right after the Drought Contingency Plan was inked, the arguments began about what or who should be included in those negotiations and what or who should be left out.
Celene Hawkins, who heads up The Nature Conservancy’s work on tribal water issues in the Colorado basin, said while tribes were largely left out of the negotiating process that led to the 2007 guidelines, the tone is different now. (The Nature Conservancy receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also supports KUNC’s Colorado River coverage)…
When the tribes show up to negotiate, they’ll be entering the room with some of the most senior water rights in the basin, which comes with their own level of value and power. Selwyn Whiteskunk, who manages water issues for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in southern Colorado, said he plans to push for more flexibility in the tribe’s water rights portfolio…
A settlement agreement currently limits how the tribe can market and lease its water, Whiteskunk said. He’d like to see a deal that would give his tribe the ability to work with the West’s fast-growing cities, particularly in the river’s Upper Basin, and solve some of the region’s water scarcity woes. But that door is closed right now, he said. He sees tribes in Arizona, like the Gila River Indian Community, being a part of a multi-state deal to share water.
“They’re they’re helping the city of Phoenix. They’re helping the city of Tucson,” Whiteskunk said. “Why can’t we do that? Why can’t we help the city of Salt Lake? The city of Albuquerque?”
Many of the comments filed before the comment window closed criticized Pumped Hydro Storage LLC’s applications for four dams in the Little Colorado River.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permits, if granted, would allow Pumped Hydro Storage to study the impacts of constructing the four possible dams. The Navajo Nation owns the land where the dams are proposed, and would need to approve any project for development. The first proposal is a half mile from the boundary of the Grand Canyon National Park and is called the Little Colorado River Pumped Storage Project. The other is five miles upstream and called the Salt Trail Canyon Pumped Storage Project.
The comments filed stem from many groups, including conservation and recreation groups as well as Native American tribes.
Earthjustice, a legal environmental organization, filed a motion to intervene in the process on behalf of seven conservation groups: Save the Colorado, Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, Colorado Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance Inc., and Wildearth Guardians. Some of these conservation groups also filed comments on behalf of other members of the public.
The filing argues that allowing the corporations to conduct the studies would be a waste of FERC’s time, Earthjustice’s attorney Michael Hiatt said…
The Humpback Chub is endangered species that can be found in the Colorado River at the confluence where the river merges with the Little Colorado River. The proposal closer to the park, deemed the Little Colorado proposal, could directly impact the threatened fish.
The chub originally evolved within the rushing waters of the Colorado River before Glen Canyon Dam was constructed, and thrives in warmer waters. The Little Colorado River has become a critical resource for the restoration effort, as its warmer and undammed waters offer a place for it to spawn.
Steve Irwin, the applicant from Pumped Hydro Storage LLC, now understands the impact the dam could have on the chub, saying he had heard many people’s complaints. Despite the complaints, Irwin suggested the location is great for a dam due to the steady source of water and steep walls.
He defended his proposal, saying the electricity and jobs are needed in the region, and that he would be willing to modify the project going forward to a certain extent…
These proposals are two of five that Pumped Hydro Storage has filed around Arizona, including one on the San Francisco River, one on the Gila River and one on the Salt River, according to FERC documents.
The Little Colorado proposal would create two dams: one 150-foot high, 1,000-foot long lower dam and a reservoir that can store 15,000 acre-feet of water. The second 200 foot-high, 3,200-foot long upper dam and reservoir would store 15,400 acre-feet of water.
Both the Little Colorado and Salt Trail Canyon proposals would have water travel from the higher reservoir into the lower reservoir and pass the water through turbines to create their energy…
In order to transmit power from the dam to the Moenkopi switchyard near Cameron, Pumped Hydro Storage proposes building a 22-mile long, 500 kilovolt transmission line.
The second proposal took the name of the Salt Trail Canyon, a trail still used to this day. The Salt Trail Canyon project proposes two dams a few miles up the river, and would create reservoirs that hold 6,750 acre-feet of water and 6,000 acre-feet of water.
The transmission line from the dam to the Moenkopi switchyard would only be 20 miles long.
Opposition from many groups
The Hopi Tribe’s chairman and vice-chairman opposed the proposal due to the “living relationship” their people have with the land of the Grand Canyon, Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma wrote in the filing. The people of the Hopi Tribe make pilgrimages and deliver offerings to their ancestral Hopi lands to reinforce that connection…
Hualapai Chairman Damon Clarke questioned why the Navajo Nation is the only tribe considered as “interested in, or affected by” the proposal in the tribe’s filing, citing the original proposal. Clarke used the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program as an example of their tribe’s inclusion in dam management, including the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni Pueblo Tribes and Southern Paiute Consortium also as active participants…
The National Parks Conservation Association also filed a motion to intervene in the project, citing impacts on the banks of the Colorado River.
When the Glen Canyon Dam was first completed, the sediment that flows down the Colorado River that forms beaches and banks decreased. The banks acted as critical habitat for the plants, animals and insects of the river, Kevin Dahl, Arizona Senior Program Manager for the association wrote.
Dahl said that the Little Colorado River has become one of two important sources of sediment for the Colorado River. Additionally, those beaches are also critical for another factor in the river’s economic ecosystem: river trips.
The Western Colorado River Runners association filed to intervene and requested consultation with many state agencies, including Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona Geological Survey and Arizona Department of Water Quality. While brief, they demanded the proposal consider the impacts to the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992, climate impacts and mineral content.
Despite all the opposition, Irwin isn’t sure how FERC, or the Navajo Nation, will act.
Until quite recently, I partly believed in the modern western myth that a snake can survive by eating its own tail. Sure, I watchdogged wetlands, development and ski resort expansions, and tried to hold governments and agencies accountable to environmental laws as an environmental reporter in Summit County, starting in 1996.
Even in the early days, I already understood that global societies were on an unsustainable path. But I was partly in denial, so I failed to convey crucial information to readers, letting them, and myself, believe that it would all be OK.
Water, of course, was discussed at nearly all of the hundreds of meetings I covered, and I unquestioningly adopted the frame of reference and the parlance of the officials who seemed to have everything under control.
By adopting the terminology wholesale, I enabled them to shape the narrative around natural resources and create a version of reality that leaves out many important things, including the complete displacement of Indigenous People from the very lands and rivers that are still being exploited to this day.
How can that possibly be fair, I started asking myself. I slowly realized that I was becoming part of the problem rather than the solution, which made me frustrated and sad. I wrote angry op-eds that made me feel slightly better, but probably didn’t change things a bit.
And I realized that, deep down, the institution I was working for was still part of the same colonial tradition, still mostly denouncing “obstacles to the advancement” of business, as described in the “Utes Must Go! chapter” of Peter Cozzens’ 2017 book, The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West.
Back in the late 1800s, the governor of Colorado vowed to expel the Utes in a decade, and Denver newspapers wanted the job done immediately, similar to the way today’s government, business and media institutions push for more water development, fracking or ski area expansions with an oversized sense of entitlement and absent humility, with any opposition being seen as an impediment to progress.
The initial ruthlessness and the artificial veneer of structural legitimacy we’ve created since then enables decision-makers and societies to disconnect from the moral and ethical implications of our choices. We’ve created strictures with no room for emotions, which makes them dehumanizing. That’s why we numbly accept that, still today, streets, and for that matter, entire counties, are still named after a man who advocated for the expulsion of Indigenous People.
That structure also makes it easy to justify small things like a half acre wetlands encroachment, or another 5 cfs diversion from a river, but all these unsustainable small things add up to the global climate and biodiversity crisis we’re facing right now. It can’t go on if we want to survive. Scientists are telling us we’re literally killing the things that keep us alive, including our rivers.
So what to do after nearly 20 years of failure? And it’s hard to describe it any other way, because things have not really improved during the time I spent reporting in Colorado. In significant ways, like the escalating climate crisis, they’re getting worse.
I can’t change the world, but I can change myself. So I decided to start learning about the Indigenous history of the Colorado River. I figured that awareness and knowledge might be the first step to making amends some day. And I decided to start with a simple thing, like learning the indigenous name for the river valley in Summit County where I lived for nearly 20 years without ever giving it much thought.
But every now and then during that span, there were flashes of awareness, like on a hot summer day in the main plaza of Keystone Resort, when my then seven-year-old son and I listened to Leon Littlebird tell Native American stories and make music beside a wood fire pit that’s long since been replaced by a gas fireplace.
“What happened to those people?” Dylan asked me after the fireside session. Explaining the expulsion of Native Americans in second-grade terms wasn’t all that hard — I told him that the playground bully came along and shoved the smaller kids off the swings.
Littlebird, well-loved in Summit County, gives guest lectures these days at Colorado Mountain College to share music and Indigenous lore, and his local concerts are always packed. I called him to see if he could help answer some of the questions I had about Indigenous names for the Colorado River and its tributaries.
Thanks to some support from The Water Desk, we were able to spend a half day with him near one of the Colorado River’s major headwater streams near an area we now call Hoosier Pass.
Some of the answers were more complicated than I expected.
Here’s a guest column from Charles E. Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse that’s running in The Boston Globe:
Pro-climate companies, shareholders, and board members should demand that business associations stop blocking climate action and instead support real action in Congress to address climate change.
The earth is spinning toward climate catastrophe. The international community has about a decade to take the steps necessary to avoid breaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius safety zone that the scientific community has established. It will take American leadership to achieve that goal, which means not only bold action in Congress, but meaningful leadership from the president, our allies around the globe, and leadership from powerful forces like major corporations.
Unfortunately, much of corporate America so far failed to step up and sufficiently support policies that would begin to address the existential threat of climate change. Many individual corporations, perhaps out of conviction, perhaps out of the desire to keep and win over new customers, profess to be on the side of fighting climate change. But in an act of rank hypocrisy, they turn around and support business associations, like the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, which have been relentless adversaries of climate action.
Take the Chamber. The US Chamber is not the local chamber of commerce sponsoring your main street businesses. It runs a massive influence machine on behalf of big corporations, touching every part of the federal government.
In federal agencies, the Chamber is an 800-pound gorilla in virtually every room where climate policy comes up. It lobbies agency officials, files regulatory comments by the dozen, and deploys its public relations machine whenever regulators turn to matters affecting the fossil fuel industry.
In courts, the Chamber is in a league of its own. During a three-year period late in the Obama administration, the Chamber filed friend-of-the-court briefs in 476 cases and was a litigant in another 25. Environmental issues were its third most litigated subject, and its position always aligns with polluters.
In Congress, the Chamber is the largest lobbyist, spending roughly three times more than the next biggest group. Energy and environmental issues are a big part of that lobbying effort. Every year, the Chamber sends out dozens of letters and key vote alerts telling members which way it expects them to vote. Those letters and alerts inevitably support fossil fuel and oppose reducing emissions.
The Chamber aggressively attacks climate action with the last piece of its machine: election spending. The Chamber has spent almost $150 million on congressional races since the Citizens United decision of 2010. In most congressional election cycles, it is the biggest dark-money spender. The Chamber is known for having sharp political elbows. Cross them and you risk triggering an ad against you — like the one run against a US Senate candidate in Pennsylvania in 2016 suggesting her climate position was akin to stealing youthful energy from American children.
Some Chamber members who say they support climate action may well be funding the efforts to oppose climate action in Washington through the Chamber and other groups. This doubletalk needs to end.
To fight back, companies that care about climate ought to demand full disclosure of who funds climate obstruction at the Chamber, as well as at API and other big lobbying and influence groups. Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is . . . the best of disinfectants.” Send sunbeams into the dark-money corners where climate denial and obstruction fester.
Better yet, these “pro-climate” companies should demand that those organizations stop blocking climate action and instead support real action in Congress to address climate change. Corporate shareholders ought to know whether their company funds groups that block climate legislation. And corporations who are board members of these denial and obstruction groups have their own governance obligations to know if they’re throwing good money after bad, allowing their goals to be diluted by the influence of the fossil fuel industry.
The stakes are high: There are massive economic risks flowing from climate change. Don’t take our word for it; listen to the Bank of England, Freddie Mac, Nobel Prize laureate economists, and hundreds of our own government’s most knowledgeable experts.
Corporate America can still choose which side of the climate fight to be on. But the clock is running out.
US Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat from New York, is the Senate minority leader. US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is a Democrat from Rhode Island.
The Next Generation Water Observing System provides high-fidelity, real-time data on water quantity, quality, and use to support modern water prediction and decision-support systems that are necessary for informing water operations on a daily basis and decision-making during water emergencies. The headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison River Basin provide an opportunity to implement the NGWOS in a snowmelt-dominated system in the mountain west.
The USGS Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS) is generating integrated data on streamflow, groundwater, evapotranspiration, snowpack, soil moisture, water quality, and water use. When fully implemented, the NGWOS will intensively monitor at least 10 medium-sized watersheds (10,000-20,000 square miles) and underlying aquifers that represent larger regions across the Nation.
The USGS has selected the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison River Basin (Upper Colorado River Basin) in central Colorado as its second NGWOS basin. This decision was based on rigorous quantitative ranking of western basins, input from USGS regions and science centers, and feedback from targeted external stakeholders in the west.
The Upper Colorado River Basin is important because nearly all flow in the Colorado River originates in the upper basin states and runoff from the Upper Colorado River Basin is nearly three times that of other basins in the area. Thus, the Upper Colorado River Basin is particularly critical for downstream users.
Long-term drought conditions facing the Upper Colorado region, interstate ramifications of the drought, water-quality issues, stakeholder support, and alignment with Department of Interior and USGS priorities make the Upper Colorado an ideal basin to implement the USGS’s integrated approach to observing, delivering, assessing, predicting, and informing water resource conditions and decisions now and into the future. Of note, a newly released (October 2019) Federal Action Plan for Improving Forecasts of Water Availability includes a milestone to pilot long-range water prediction in the Upper Colorado River Basin, an activity that will greatly benefit from the newly selected USGS NGWOS basin.
An integrated data-to-modeling approach in the Upper Colorado River Basin will help improve regional water prediction in other snowmelt dominated systems in the Rockies and beyond. The approach is useful for addressing issues of both water availability and water quality and for evaluating the effects of both short-term climate perturbation (for example, fire, insect mortality, drought) and long-term climate change.
Water Resources Challenges in the Colorado River Basin
The Colorado River supplies water for more than 40 million people and nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland across the western United States and Mexico. The Colorado River and its main tributaries originate in the mountains of western Wyoming, central Colorado, and northeastern Utah. The large amount of snowmelt that feeds the Upper Colorado is central to water availability throughout the Basin. In 2019, urgent action was required to prevent previously developed rules from potentially reducing Colorado River water allocations to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico due to declining water levels in the two largest reservoirs within the Colorado River Basin—Lake Powell and Lake Mead. A Colorado Drought Contingency Plan was signed in April 2019.
Dense array of sensors at selected sites
Increased spatial and temporal data coverage of all primary components of the hydrologic cycle
New monitoring technology testing and implementation
While the ink was still drying on the final draft of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), policy makers in Colorado were turning their attention to the bigger challenge ahead.
With the agreement’s signing in May 2019, the state and its neighboring upper Colorado River Basin states of New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming were granted the ability to bank conserved water in Lake Powell and other upper basin reservoirs in case of a future water crisis—but only if the states agree on an upper basin demand management program. Getting all the parties on the Colorado River to agree to that so-called “drought pool” in Lake Powell was difficult, but designing the demand management program to get water into the pool will be much harder. Determining when to release water from the pool could also prove challenging.
Demand management is water conservation on such a large scale that it reduces the amount of water drawn from the river in a significant, measurable way. If the upper basin states develop a demand management program, they will collectively use less water, then track, deliver and bank those savings in upper basin reservoirs. That water could be sent downstream when flows are low to meet the upper basin’s commitment to the lower basin states and Mexico, as outlined under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and subsequent agreements.
The compact stipulates that the upper basin states must not deplete the flow of the river at Lee Ferry below 75 million acre-feet based on a 10-year running average. Although the upper basin is a long way from running out of water, if the future brings more dry years and low reservoir levels, as is projected, it will become increasingly difficult to send water downstream while still meeting upper basin water needs. If the lower basin does not receive its share of water, a legal battle could ensue, threatening water rights in the upper basin—so the upper basin complies with the compact to maintain control over its own water supply.
The DCP lays out processes for how this might be achieved but is only in effect through 2026, at which time the federal government, in consultation with all Colorado River Basin states, will reconsider how the system should be operated.
Exploring demand management is just one of the upper basin’s commitments under the DCP—the other two elements include a new plan to move water from smaller upper basin reservoirs to Lake Powell, and finally, water supply augmentation. As a whole, the upper basin’s DCP aims to maintain storage volumes at Lake Powell, enabling continued hydropower generation, thereby funding continued operation of the reservoir system and use of Colorado River water in the upper basin. But demand management could be part of the upper basin’s strategy. So work is underway to determine what demand management might look like, if a program is developed. “There are still a lot of big ifs,” said Brent Newman, the former interstate and federal section leader for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, during a presentation in August.
Newman was addressing about a dozen people gathered in the Summit County Library in Silverthorne for the first meeting of the Economic and Local Governments Working Group on demand management. The group of county commissioners, lawyers, consultants and utility managers will spend the next year identifying critical issues for the feasibility of a demand management program.
As the meeting closed, the group filled three large boards with sticky notes of questions and possible problems with demand management, issues to be hashed out in the coming months. Similar brainstorming sessions are playing out across the state in eight other working groups, each dedicated to exploring demand management from a different perspective, like agriculture and the environment. Simultaneously, each of the other upper basin states is also examining how it could approach demand management. Unless all four upper basin states agree, there will be no demand management program.
This massive planning effort from four different states will cost millions of dollars and require tough negotiations. And while each upper basin state is putting its best foot forward to create a plan, there is no guarantee that conditions will get bad enough that it will be needed. There’s also no guarantee that a demand management plan will be adopted—and even if adopted, will it be adopted in time to make a difference?
The DCP and Colorado
Over the last 20 years, the Colorado River has experienced extreme drought, unprecedented in modern history. Now, states throughout the West are planning for a future with less water, and for good reason—modeling shows an increasing likelihood of water shortage in the basin. According to Phase III of the Colorado River Risk Study, an effort completed in June 2019, the upper basin faces a 45 percent chance of a water shortage in the next 25 years at current water use levels. If upper basin water use increases by just 11.5 percent, that risk doubles, creating a 90 percent chance of coming up short, the study says. Instead of tumbling unprepared into shortage, representatives from the seven states that rely on the Colorado River created the DCP to stave off a future water crisis by readying for dry times.
The objective of the DCP, which is really two plans, one for the upper basin and one for the lower, is to prevent water in the river system and its two primary reservoirs—Lake Powell and Lake Mead —from dropping too low. Reaching these critical levels would trigger a crisis-level response in the region with some states taking significant reductions in their water allocations and some areas losing access to clean power due to the loss of production from the reservoirs’ hydroelectric dams. The revenue earned from hydropower contracts is used to fund conservation for rivers and programs like endangered fish recovery. The loss in funding would also limit the government’s ability to run the dams and distribute any water remaining in storage.
The lower basin’s DCP laid out cuts in lower basin water use that are tied to projected reservoir levels. But the upper basin is in a different position. Its DCP gives the upper basin tools to manage its water supply in case of shortage, which should help it meet its obligations under the 1922 compact and avoid involuntary cutbacks. The first of these tools, which is really the basin’s first line of defense in protecting Lake Powell’s storage levels, is a new mechanism to move water from upstream reservoirs down to Powell when Lake Powell is facing a critically low level, what is known as the Drought Response Operations Agreement. The second is a 500,000 acre-foot storage pool in upper basin reservoirs, which the basin can use to store water from a demand management program, if such a program is deemed feasible and adopted. The third, known as augmentation, which is already in use, is a combination of cloud seeding to stimulate precipitation, and the control of phreatophytes like tamarisk and Russian olive, which are deep-rooted non-native plants that soak up water from riverways.
Over the next several years, the upper basin will use these tools and determine whether to bank water for shortage. While the upper basin’s work is just beginning, it could shift the way water has been managed in the West for more than a century.
This possible shift matters to water users across Colorado, that’s why the scene of the demand management workgroup in Summit County yielded three boards covered in questions and concerns. The Colorado River starts as snow high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. In the spring, it melts down into a web of tributaries that flow across the upper basin states into the river’s mainstem. Each of the basin states relies heavily on water from the river, but Colorado, in particular, plays an outsized role in how the Colorado River water system works. Colorado snowmelt contributes about 70 percent of the total flow of the Colorado River.
But Colorado also gets the lion’s share of the upper basin’s water—it can use 51.75 percent of the upper basin’s allocation per the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948. Colorado’s average annual consumptive use of Colorado River water is about 2.5 million acre-feet, according to the Colorado River Risk Study. And though only about 20 percent of the state’s population lives in the greater Colorado River Basin—which in Colorado includes not only the Colorado Basin but all West Slope rivers such as the Gunnison, Yampa, White, San Juan, San Miguel, and other smaller tributaries—more than 570,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water is piped across the Continental Divide each year, reaching the Rio Grande, South Platte and Arkansas basins. More than 80 percent of the state’s population lives along the Front Range, where transbasin diversion water accounts for about 60 percent of water use. Users of Colorado River water range from municipalities to farmers to industrial users like oil and gas operations.
If a severe water shortage resulted in the upper basin not meeting its compact obligations, water rights across the state would be at risk of curtailment. Although no curtailment procedure has been decided upon, water rights adjudicated after 1922, the year the compact was signed, are often considered to be more at risk than pre-1922 rights. In Colorado, transbasin diversions serving the state’s population center constitute more than half of the state’s post-compact depletions, which means that Front Range municipal water users, though geographically disconnected from the Colorado, have an extreme interest in protecting the river and Lake Powell reservoir levels—thus in seeing the upper basin DCP succeed. If the actions in the upper basin’s DCP aren’t sufficient to protect reservoir levels in Lake Powell and if releases below Lee Ferry were too low and violated the compact, a compact deficit could result and lead to involuntary curtailment.
Drought Response Operations Agreement
Rather than a step-by-step plan, the upper basin’s DCP is all about process. The new elements of the DCP, the Drought Response Operations Agreement and demand management, are plans to create a plan if conditions warrant it. The plan first lays out strategies to maintain water levels in Lake Powell during a drought. If those operations are not enough, the agreement describes how water from the three federal storage projects in the upper basin—Fontenelle in Wyoming, Flaming Gorge in Wyoming and Utah, Navajo in New Mexico and Colorado, and the Aspinall Unit which is composed of Blue Mesa, Crystal and Morrow Point reservoirs in Colorado—could be used to bolster storage volumes in Lake Powell.
The agreement does not designate how much water will be sent downstream or specify which reservoir will make the release, it simply says those negotiations will begin once the Bureau of Reclamation’s 24-month study models indicate that Lake Powell might fall below the target elevation of 3,525 feet mean sea level.
The three reservoir units, along with Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, were authorized with the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) Act in 1956 to stabilize the upper basin’s water supply against variability in the Colorado River. Since the CRSP units were built, their water has been used to fulfill water rights throughout the upper basin, satisfy increasing water demand, and meet environmental standards for river flows. The U.S. Interior Secretary oversees the reservoirs and determines their operations every year.
While the original CRSP Act was designed with the idea of storing and releasing water to meet the compact agreements, it does not clarify the states’ roles in this process. By laying out this process in the Drought Response Operations Agreement, the upper basin states and the federal government clarified how they would interact—hopefully avoiding future conflict—if reservoir releases become necessary to protect Lake Powell storage.
“But if we have 10 years of hydrology just like this [year], it may never come to pass”, says Amy Haas, the executive director and secretary of the Upper Colorado River Commission.
The agreement also sets ground rules for how those negotiations would play out. First, any water releases from the reservoirs would need to fit within the existing records of decision and biological opinions, including each reservoir’s existing environmental impact study in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Any reservoir releases also must come with a plan to refill the water that was released to Lake Powell once hydrological conditions improve. The agreement also stipulates that if a facility makes a release one year, the other two facilities will be considered first if further need arises, before tapping the same reservoir twice.
The Drought Response Operations Agreement is the first plan of attack for the upper basin in case of a shortage. While this could be executed without too much controversy, there are still some concerns with the agreement.
The first concern is that while the agreement places three of the upper basin’s federal water storage projects on the table for water releases, both the Aspinall Unit and Navajo Reservoir have very little additional water available each year. This puts a burden on Flaming Gorge as the reservoir most likely to make a release. The second issue is that, while all of the states’ attorney general’s offices call for actions taken under the Drought Response Operations Agreement to fit in existing NEPA permitting, some believe that a new environmental impact study under NEPA might be required before releases can be made to Lake Powell. Even with these issues, the Drought Response Operations Agreement is mostly uncontested. It’s the second element of the Upper Basin DCP—demand management—that could mark a paradigm shift in Western water law.
When people think of water conservation, they typically think of home-grown efforts to take shorter showers. But with a demand management program, the upper basin states would work collectively to use less water and bank those savings in Lake Powell or other CRSP reservoirs. If necessary, that water could be sent to the lower basin to comply with the compact. Although this may seem like a common-sense solution, it’s complicated by the laws surrounding water rights.
“The reason that it is a problem legally is that our whole water law framework is set up to encourage maximum utilization of water,” says Anne Castle, senior fellow at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment and former assistant secretary for water and science with the Department of the Interior. “So the way our laws work is that if you’re not using your full entitlement of water then other people get to use it.”
Because of the legal framework surrounding Western water, water conservation is not simply a matter of turning off the taps. Large-scale conservation only occurs when conserved water is accounted for and, in the case of demand management, that water must also reach its target area without being diverted by a downstream user, a process known as shepherding. This is more complicated when moving water through multiple states, as the water authorities in each state must shepherd the water downstream. Calculating the quantity of conserved water is also challenging. Some of the water saved through demand management will evaporate or be lost through transit as it moves down the river, and lost water isn’t considered conserved.
These legal and technical issues must be solved before a demand management program is implemented, but the DCP didn’t create a program, the DCP simply makes exploring such a program possible.
Before diving into the details of how to conserve water, the upper basin needed the ability to bank its savings in a CRSP reservoir. While there is room in Lake Powell—which has been hovering at around 50 percent full—prior to the DCP, any water in Lake Powell was considered unused by the upper basin and therefore was subject to release to the lower basin. But the DCP authorized a pool of up to 500,000 acre-feet for the upper basin to store water in CRSP reservoirs to be used, if needed, to comply with the compact. This water can be tracked and accounted for, and cannot be called for by the lower basin.
“This is a big change to the Law of the River, and a new wrinkle in the way the river is managed,” says Newman, who was leading the demand management work for the CWCB. “But there is a lot to do before one drop of water can be stored in that pool.”
First, each state must assess the feasibility of a demand management program. The states are considering everything from specifying how much water each state would need to contribute to the pool, to identifying what laws to modify, if any. Each state also needs to ensure that water users participating in the program can do so voluntarily and temporarily and will be compensated for the water they conserve. The costs of such a program are still unclear, but the four-year System Conservation Pilot Program, which ended in 2018 and can be likened to demand management, paid an average of $205 per acre-foot for conserved water. The pilot program was implemented on the ground in various places, including with the Grand Valley Water Users Association, where 10 members took more than 1,000 acres of land out of production and, in 2017, received $560 per acre to help make up for the crops they would have grown otherwise. That year, the project returned an estimated 3,200 acre-feet of water to the Colorado River—a drop in the bucket.
That program and the Colorado River Water Bank Workgroup, which started in 2009 and has since evolved, gave Colorado a head start into considering some of these questions. But there’s more to learn, says Taylor Hawes, Colorado River Program Director for The Nature Conservancy, who has long been involved with these water banking discussions.
Even after years of studies, the workgroup made the most significant progress when the System Conservation Pilot Program put water banking to the test on the ground. So Hawes recommends piloting demand management. “It’s in our best interest to have a program up and running, to see what the kinks are and what the critical needs are, to be in a better position to negotiate for that,” Hawes says. Negotiations to determine what will happen in 2026 could begin next year, so there’s reason for Colorado and the other upper basin states to get practice. “We could easily overcomplicate it. We need to be really systematic in our thinking on how to work through these issues. It is feasible so I hope we can put a plan in place and start to test it a little bit to make sure it can work for all sectors in the long run.”
In addition to the technical logistics, the upper basin states must account for attitudes about demand management. “There’s a general curiosity about what demand management will or could be,” says Kelsea Macilroy, a Ph.D candidate in Sociology at Colorado State University. Macilroy, in a project for The Nature Conservancy, spoke with 34 West Slope agricultural stakeholders in May 2019 to hear about perceptions and barriers to demand management. She heard from an equal number of people who said they would never participate in a demand management program and people who were excited about it. She heard people question if demand management is an opportunity, a burden, or both.
She also unveiled cultural beliefs that shape how the West Slope responds to the idea of demand management. “When the demand management conversation arises, it triggers these historical injustices,” Macilroy says, like loss of other natural resource industries such as logging in southwestern Colorado, for example. “I heard, almost unanimously, people referencing buy and dry. Not only that water could be taken away but that a way of life is under attack. That this is just the next thing that threatens the way that we live that’s coming from the Front Range,” she says.
But Front Range water managers are eager to share in demand management. “From a Front Range perspective, this problem of reducing demand is not a Front Range [versus] West Slope issue. It’s a whole state issue. It’s an upper basin issue,” said Jim Lochhead CEO/manager of Denver Water at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in October 2019. Denver Water, which receives about 50 percent of its supply from Colorado River sources developed after the 1922 compact and serves about a quarter of the state’s entire population, has a lot to lose if supplies are curtailed without a plan in place. Thus, the utility plans to cut water use along with other water users if a demand management program is created. “Our participation is not just funding someone else to use less water,” Lochhead says. “Our obligation is to participate equitably with other geographic regions in Colorado to create wet water that will get to Powell.”
Questions around demand management are deep and many, but for the time being, each state has separated to internally assess whether a program is feasible. In Colorado, the process is with the CWCB’s nine workgroups. The CWCB has $1.7 million for demand management at its disposal, which will be used for meeting logistics, for commissioning some consulting work to study feasibility for demand management, and for other relevant needs. This first round of funding expires in June 2020.
As every state conducts its own process, interstate issues are also being discussed through the Upper Colorado River Commission. If any one state decides that demand management is not feasible, it could serve as a veto for the entire basin.
While there is no hard deadline for the formation of a demand management program, the DCP agreements expire in 2026, and the availability of the 500,000 acre-foot conservation pool arrangement for upper basin use is only guaranteed until then.
If the states reach consensus and create a program, it will be reviewed by the lower basin, and subject to approval from the Upper Colorado River Commission and the Department of the Interior. The DCP also requires the upper basin to create a plan for verifying the amount of water conserved by demand management. The plan could then move forward only if the Upper Colorado River Commission determines that conservation is necessary in order to maintain compact compliance.
If the region has another series of wet years, the plan may never go forward. But in the face of climate change, many believe demand management is critical.
Brian Werner 38 Years With Northern Water,
A Celebration at the Source and Heart
of Western Water Education!
When we look to the future
it’s no more fortuitous
than finding each other
on the journey of the great
surveys of our lives.
A special thank you goes out to everyone who helped us celebrate the career of our long-time Public Information Officer Brian Werner during his retirement reception yesterday. It was obvious at the event, as it is elsewhere, you've made an impact and touched many lives, Brian. pic.twitter.com/xq5YvWDoS7
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor November 19, 2019.
West Drought Monitor November 19, 2019.
Colorado Drought Monitor November 19, 2019.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
Following a harsh, early-season cold outbreak, which peaked from November 11-14 across the central and eastern United States, temperatures began to rebound. Although cool conditions lingered for several days in the East, above-normal temperatures quickly returned across the nation’s mid-section. In the days following the cold snap, significant precipitation was limited to areas from southern Texas into parts of the Southeast. The rain further eased Southeastern drought that had peaked in coverage and intensity during the first half of October. Meanwhile, patchy, generally light precipitation stretched across the northern U.S., including the Midwest. Higher totals were observed in a few spots, including western Washington and northern New England. Dry weather covered other parts of the country, stretching from California to the central and southern Plains, leading to further development, expansion, and intensification of dryness (D0) and moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3). In Western drought areas, warm weather aggravated the effects of ongoing dryness. As the drought-monitoring period came to an end, an approaching storm system brought the promise of Southwestern rain and snow—precipitation that will evaluated for next week’s Drought Monitor…
Drought in the High Plains region is limited to southern areas—parts of Colorado and Kansas. However, in areas experiencing drought, the situation continued to worsen. A new sliver of extreme drought (D3) was added in southwestern Kansas, where several locations have reported less than one-half inch of precipitation since September 1. Specifically, September 1 – November 19 precipitation in Kansas totaled 0.32 inch near Ulysses (Grant County); 0.40 inch near Lakin (Kearny County); and 0.48 inch at the Garden City Experiment Station (Finney County). Those values are less than 15% of normal. In the driest areas, winter wheat has struggled to emerge and become established, with the recent cold wave being a complicating factor. Overall, Kansas’ winter wheat was rated 18% very poor to poor on November 17, up from 13% at the end of October. On the same date, statewide topsoil moisture was 47% very short to short in Kansas and 44% very short to short in Colorado…
The end of this monitoring period (early November 19) came at an interesting time for southern California, the Great Basin, and the Southwest, as significant precipitation arrived the following day. Any impact of the precipitation on Western drought will be reflected next week. On November 19, however, Saint George, Utah, marked its 155th consecutive day without measurable rain—erasing a record originally set with a 121-day dry spell from September 8, 1929 – January 6, 1930. In other Southwestern areas where monsoon rains (largely) failed to materialize, moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) has developed. A new area of extreme drought (D3) was introduced in a small area centered on southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona. The drought is also being reflected in soil moisture shortages and poor vegetation health. According to USDA, California’s “foothill rangeland and non-irrigated pasture(s) were reported to be in poor condition.” One November 17, three-quarters of Arizona’s rangeland and pastures were rated in very poor to poor condition. USDA noted that topsoil moisture was rated 80% very short to short in California, along with 60% in New Mexico and 50% in Nevada. Subsoil moisture was similarly very short to short in many of the same states—80% in California, 66% in New Mexico, and 35% in Nevada. Farther north, there have been periodic autumn storms, although some Northwestern areas are being monitored for the need to introduce abnormally dry conditions. On the 17th, topsoil moisture was rated 45% very short to short in Oregon…
The South had a mix of degradations and improvements. Heavy rain dampened parts of southern Texas, where Harlingen netted 2.69 inches from November 11-14. One of the two remaining areas of extreme drought (D3) in southern Texas was removed due to rain, and reductions in the coverage of moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) were noted in some areas. Most other areas in the South either continued to experience no drought or had only minor increases in the coverage of dryness and drought. Among areas reporting dry weather during the drought-monitoring period, some of the most serious drought stretched across the Plains from western Oklahoma to central Texas. On November 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that topsoil moisture was 47% very short to short in Oklahoma and 42% very short to short in Texas. On the same date, Texas led the nation with 31% of its winter wheat rated in very poor to poor condition, compared to the national value of 14%…
A complex, two-part storm system will emerge from the Southwest during the next several days. Storm-total precipitation through Friday could reach 1 to 3 inches in portions of southern California, the Great Basin, and the Southwest, providing drought relief but possibly resulting in flash flooding and debris flows—especially in areas that have experienced wildfires in recent weeks. Meanwhile, a low-pressure system will cross the Midwest on Thursday and early Friday, delivering rain and wet snow and bringing renewed fieldwork delays. Farther south, another piece of the storm system should result in showers and thunderstorms, starting on Thursday across the southern Plains and shifting into the East during the weekend. Five-day rainfall amounts could total 1 to 2 inches or more in parts of the South. In contrast, mostly dry weather will prevail during the next 5 days in the lower Rio Grande Valley, southern Florida, and from northern California to the northern High Plains.
The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for November 26 – 30 calls for the likelihood of colder-than-normal conditions across the western half of the country, while above-normal temperatures will cover the East and areas along the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, wetter-than-normal weather across most of the nation should contrast with below-normal rainfall in central and southern Texas.
The number of places where the U.S. military spilled or suspects it discharged perfluorinated compounds has grown, Pentagon officials said Wednesday, but they did not say where or how many sites are under investigation for possible contamination.
The Department of Defense previously identified 401 sites on active and former military bases where the compounds — perfluorooctane sulfonate or perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOS and PFOA — were released or a suspected discharge occurred.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon said Wednesday that continued Department of Defense efforts to identify locations with potentially harmful levels of chemicals uncovered more sites, namely National Guard facilities.
He said the department will name the sites when it has verified the number and locations.
“As part of this process, we think there are probably more installations, and I’m not ready to tell you what that number is, but we found that we under-counted,” McMahon told reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon.
The chemicals, which are used in firefighting foams to battle aircraft and ship fires and also found in household items such as non-stick cookware, stain repellents and food wrappers, have been linked to some types of cancer and birth defects.
In July, Defense Secretary Mark Esper created a task force to determine the extent of the contamination and potential health risks to military personnel and families posed by the chemicals, which fall under a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The task force also is charged with finding alternatives to PFAS-free firefighting foams.
The group is expected to release an interim report on its findings this month. Originally, the final report was due by January, but Esper shortened the timeline for completion from 180 days to 120, and now, McMahon said, the goal is to release an interim report that will be an “accurate picture of the multitude of things we are doing.” With McMahon retiring from the Department of Defense on Friday, it’s unknown whether there will be a final report.
“I don’t know what will happen after 120 days, whether the task force continues to go or if it stands down. It’s irrelevant to me because the focus is on doing what’s right for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and their families and the communities. We are going to be just as aggressive,” McMahon said.
The Department of Defense established a new website Tuesday that focuses on its work on PFAS and includes congressional reports and other DoD initiatives addressing the investigation and cleanup.
The move comes the week that a movie about PFAS, “Dark Waters,” premiers. The film tells the story of attorney Robert Bilott’s 20-year fight against DuPont, one of the manufacturers of PFAS chemicals. On Tuesday, the movie’s star, Mark Ruffalo, testified before Congress about the dangers of these chemicals.
They are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down, and build up in blood and tissues if absorbed.
“It’s time to regulate PFAS chemicals,” Ruffalo told members of the House Oversight and Reform Environment Subcommittee. “It’s time to end industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water, it’s time to end needless uses of PFAS in everyday products like food packaging, it’s time to finally filter PFAS out of drinking water and it’s time to clean up legacy PFAS contamination, especially at our military bases.”
Peterson is one of the locations where on-base and community water sources tested significantly above the EPA’s recommended PFAS or PFOA exposure limit of 70 parts per trillion.
“Colorado Health Department investigators found that lung, bladder and kidney cancer rates are significantly higher than expected in the same areas of the PFAS water contamination, yet the state has never offered contaminated residents medical monitoring or PFAS blood level tests,” said Favors, who respresented the Fountain Valley (Colorado) Clean Water Coalition.
Dozens of PFAS compounds are used in medical devices, pharmaceuticals and laboratory supplies. As such, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the subcommittee’s ranking member, said, caution should be taken when considering “sweeping action” against an entire class of substances.
“We should be careful of taking actions that have the potential to affect vast swaths of the economy, including hospitals and other [industries] that use lifesaving products made from PFAS compounds,” Comer said during the hearing.
Of the 401 sites named by the Defense Department as having a known or suspected discharge of PFAS, 36 on-base locations had contaminated drinking water and more than 90 had either off-base drinking water or groundwater contamination at levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s accepted threshold.
In cases where the Defense Department found drinking water supplies exceeding the 70 parts per trillion recommendation, the services supplied bottled water and in-home water filtration systems to ensure water quality.
“In some places, we had very marginal levels, so part of this is ‘You don’t have to worry about it.’ But in some places, we have levels that are higher … and we’ve reacted to that,” McMahon said.
Advocacy groups say that no amount of PFAS is safe; the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that has been sounding the alarm on the problem, says that 1 part per trillion is the maximum safe level, based on independent studies.
The EPA has released a draft proposing that the screening level of a contaminated site that would trigger further investigation of PFOS and PFOA should be 40 parts per trillion individually, and for remediation, 70 parts per trillion, combined, in groundwater.
The DoD follows the EPA’s current recommendation of 70 parts per trillion.
McMahon said this week that installation commanders can expect to receive letters instructing them to begin a dialogue, if they have not already done so, with their local communities on the DoD’s PFAS investigation, its findings and any clean up efforts within their communities, according to McMahon.
“One of the things we haven’t done real well is our transparency and activity in getting the message out,” McMahon said. I want our installation commanders to go talk to the community.”
The Environmental Working Group maintains a map as well as lists of the military installations and sites with known PFAS contamination. According to EWG, of the 100 most contaminated sites, 64 had groundwater contamination exceeding 100,000 parts per trillion. The highest known contamination was seen at the former England Air Force Base, near Alexandria, Louisiana, that measured 201.7 million parts per trillion of a PFAS chemical known as PFHxS.
Climate change will require municipal water planners to do a lot of planning in the 21st century.
Jeff Lukas, a water researcher at the University of Colorado, and Meagan Smith, water resource engineer for the city of Fort Collins, told the Northern Water Fall Symposium in Loveland Wednesday that water planners will have to think outside the box to keep up with risks to Colorado’s water supply.
Lukas told the more than 300 people attending the symposium, hosted by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, that traditional methods of water planning won’t serve as well going forward.
“Traditional water planning assumes history will repeat itself,” Lukas said. “It’s the ‘assumption of the stationary,’ and it looks at a single target for meeting water demand.”
The drought of 2000-2002 called all of those assumptions into doubt, Lukas said, when the Colorado River showed the lowest annual flows on record.
Meanwhile, northern Colorado experienced an increase in average temperatures of 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Projections are that Colorado will warm up by another 2 to 6 degrees by 2050. That means Colorado will become drier and the swings between wet and dry years will become greater.
“We can expect more variability from year to year,” Lukas said. “That means the future is inherently uncertain, but we have to keep planning.”
He said tree ring studies have yielded some information going back several hundred years and, if the conclusions are correct, Colorado may have endured much worse droughts than anything humans have recorded.
Smith said Fort Collins had embraced that uncertainty and has conducted a supply and demand study that yielded as many as 2,000 different scenarios the city could face. Smith said the study tracked 100 different river flows and 20 climate probabilities to try to find the variabilities her office might have to plan for. Looking at the Poudre River flows at the mouth of Poudre Canyon, Smith said the current average of 273,000 acre feet per year could shrink to as little as 190,000 acre feet, or about 30 percent less. But that’s not the number people should be focused on, she said…
While much of the concern about future water supplies tends to focus on the Colorado River, Lukas said, the headwaters of the Colorado and the headwaters of the South Platte Basin share the same climate.
The Poudre Runs Through It Action Work Group is seeking nominations for its annual Poudre Pioneer Award, and will recognize the honoree on Feb. 28, 2020 at the Poudre River Forum at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Loveland.
Each year, the Forum brings together those on the Poudre who farm, deliver clean potable water, drink beer, recreate and advocate for river health to learn from one another and to explore how we can move from conflict to collaboration. The awardee will be selected prior to the forum, invited to share a short acceptance speech and will be recognized through local media.
Those eligible are individuals or organizations, including businesses, public agencies, and non- profits, who have substantially contributed to the goal of making the Poudre a river that supplies the goods and services demanded by our complex society, within the existing and evolving water rights system and honoring existing property rights, while maintaining and improving ecological integrity and resilience.
Many contributions can further the goal of a healthy working river, including, but not limited to, fostering collaboration across water use sectors including agricultural, urban, and environmental, production of scientific or technical information, fundraising, engineering excellence, public outreach, water resources management, or water quality and quantity monitoring. These contributions may be judged on their degree of effectiveness, innovation, creativity, novelty, problem solving ability, ease of duplication by others, and leadership.
Nominees need not live or work in the Poudre Basin, but the tangible results of their efforts must be evident within the basin and have a direct nexus to our goal for the Poudre River.
Nominations can be made by anyone and are due on Sunday, Dec. 1. Nominations can be submitted online.
All of the materials for the nomination must be uploaded at once, so have the following prepared prior to accessing the online form:
Information about why you think your nominee should receive the Poudre Pioneer Award.
Nominee’s notable accomplishments.
Nominee’s impacts and contributions in the Poudre River Basin.
Up to three letters of support.
For more information,contact nomination committee chairman Aaron Goldman at firstname.lastname@example.org.