#Drought news: One category improvements in parts of north central #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

Much of the eastern half of the country saw widespread snow and rain combined with record-breaking cold during the Drought Monitor week ending Tuesday, November 12. The combination helped alleviate short-term dryness and drought in much of Texas, the Ohio River Valley, the Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast. Meanwhile, the dry pattern continued across California and the Great Basin, leading to a deterioration in conditions. Six weeks into the water year, many parts of the country have yet to see any precipitation, while higher than normal temperatures have kept evaporative demand high…

High Plains

Weather this week in the High Plains was marked by temperature swings ranging from 4 to 16 degrees above normal on Saturday, November 9th to 11 to 29 degrees below normal on Tuesday, November 11th. Most of the region less than 0.5 inches of precipitation. The only changes to this week’s map were in Kansas and Colorado. In Kansas, the west-central region saw the expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) and the southwest saw small degradations in moderate (D1) and severe (D2) drought as precipitation deficits continue to build. Colorado saw a one-category improvement in the north-central part of the state based on feedback from the state coordination group and the cold, snowy start to the winter. SNOTEL sites in the region indicate that the water year is starting off with snow water equivalent values ranging from near to more than 200 percent of normal…

West

Analysis and discussions regarding the map’s depiction in the West focused on the effects of above-normal temperatures combined with a dry monsoon season in Arizona and New Mexico and a lack of precipitation to start the water year in parts of California, Nevada, and Utah. Coordination with state monitoring groups led to the expansion of D0 across the southern two-thirds of California and central Nevada; expansion of moderate drought (D1) in southern California, southern Nevada, and Utah; and severe drought (D2) in southern Nevada, Utah, and northwest Arizona. While reservoirs remain high, numerous indicators support dryness, including 60-day precipitation deficits, high evaporative demand, and vegetation health. In New Mexico, abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) expanded to the southeast…

South

Widespread rain and cooler than normal temperatures across the region led to one-category improvements in southeast Tennessee, west-central Oklahoma, and much of Texas. Improvements in Tennessee are supported by precipitation, streamflow, and soil moisture. In Oklahoma, the northern edge of abnormal dryness was trimmed as precipitation deficits in this area have been erased out to six months. Many of the drought-affected areas in Texas saw weekly precipitation that exceeded 300 to 600 percent of normal, resulting in the elimination of extreme drought (D3) in the northern part of the state and overall reductions to the other categories. The southern part of the state also saw broad areas of improvement. Note that the designation “SL” was added to the southwest region to reflect the short- and long-term nature of the precipitation deficits and impacts…

Looking Ahead

Over the next week, generally warmer than normal temperatures are expected in the western U.S. Farther east, the cold, polar air mass responsible for the early week chill in the central and eastern U.S. will exit to the east, leaving more moderate temperatures in its wake. Some rain is forecast by the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center in east Texas on Thursday, with rain also occurring in the Southeast through Monday. Elsewhere, some precipitation is also expected in the Pacific Northwest, and generally dry conditions are forecast elsewhere.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending November 12, 2019.

Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin Water Forum Day 1 recap #COriver #aridification @WaterCenterCMU

In 1922, Federal and State representatives met for the Colorado River Compact Commission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among the attendees were Arthur P. Davis, Director of Reclamation Service, and Herbert Hoover, who at the time, was the Secretary of Commerce. Photo taken November 24, 1922. USBR photo.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Demand management “is a form of insurance,” Anne Castle said at the ninth annual Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum, which continues today and is presented by CMU’s Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center…

Castle and John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program, recently released a report evaluating the risk of future curtailment of river water use in Upper Colorado River Basin states under a 1922 river basin compact. The report discusses the concept of working to take an insurance-based approach to address the risk of curtailment.

“As with any form of risk, you can insure against it,” Castle said…

Earlier this year, Congress approved legislation allowing implementation of drought contingency agreements involving both Upper and Lower basin states. The agreements are aimed at helping keep water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead from falling so low as to jeopardize hydropower production and force water supply reductions. In the Upper Basin, an agreement allows in part for any water conserved by possible demand management programs to be stored in a separate account in Lake Powell to protect the reservoir’s water levels.

Colorado and other Upper Basin states since have begun exploring the possibility of pursuing demand management programs. Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said at Wednesday’s forum that in Colorado, nearly 100 members of work groups have been meeting as the state begins “to investigate just the feasibility of that program.”

Colorado is looking into issues surrounding the idea of a possible program involving temporary, compensated, voluntary reductions in use by agricultural and other water users.

Castle said demand management is complex and “not an easy solution but it does give us the opportunity to plan and we can hedge our bets a little bit.”

[…]

Castle said a legal question surrounds whether the 1922 [Colorado River Compact] requirement not to deplete water means a requirement to deliver it.

If it only means don’t deplete, the Upper Basin is fine as as long as it doesn’t use more than 7.5 million acre feet a year under the 1922 compact, she said. But if it must deliver that much, it bears all the risk of climate change and reduced river flows in future years, she said…

Meanwhile, climate scientists have projected a 20 to 30% reduction in the river’s flows by mid-century, and a 35 to 55% drop by the end of the century…

She said demand management would have costs, including payments to water users and secondary impacts. Some on the Western Slope want to ensure that temporary cutbacks in use aren’t borne disproportionately by agricultural users, harming rural economies.

Castle said the costs of curtailment need to be considered as well, and those costs could be greater, could last longer and potentially can’t be planned for.

Curtailment would particularly affect municipal transmountain diversions of Colorado River water to the Front Range, because those generally involve more junior water rights.

But Castle and Fleck note in a white-paper, summary version of their report, “While that might sound superficially attractive to West Slope agricultural interests, such a prospect could motivate affected municipal water providers to buy or lease pre-Compact West Slope irrigation water rights, possibly in substantial volume. Although these would almost certainly be market-based, arms-length transactions, the resulting economic impact could be geographically concentrated and tremendously disruptive to commodity supply chains and rural communities.”

[…]

The full report may be found at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3483654. The white paper is available at https://www.getches-wilkinsoncenter.cu.law/wpcontent/uploads/2019/11/Summary-of-Risk-Assessment-White-Paper.pdf.

Photo credit: Maricopa County, Arizona

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

Declining flows could force Southwest water managers to confront long-standing legal uncertainties, and threaten the water security of Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

A new paper by Anne Castle at the University of Colorado-Boulder and John Fleck at the University of New Mexico identified many risks facing the basin. These risks need to be addressed in order to avoid disaster for the Colorado River, a water source relied on by more than 40 million people in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, the paper’s authors wrote. (Some of Castle’s work receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also supports KUNC’s Colorado River coverage).

Reclamation’s forecast for Lake Mead elevations using both the full hydrologic record from 1906 to 2017 and the stress test hydrology.

Much of the risk lies in the relationship between the river’s two basins. Ambiguity exists in the language of the river’s foundational document, the Colorado River Compact. That agreement’s language remains unclear on whether Upper Basin states, where the Colorado River originates, are legally obligated to deliver a certain amount of water over a 10-year period to those in the Lower Basin: Arizona, California, and Nevada.

According to that document, each basin is entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet of water, with the Lower Basin given the ability to call for its water if it wasn’t receiving its full entitlement. That call could result in a cascade of curtailments in the Upper Basin, where cities and farmers with newer water rights would be shut off to meet those downstream obligations. That’s a future scenario water managers need to acknowledge and plan for, Castle argues…

Back in the early 2000s the Colorado River basin saw one of its driest periods on record. Castle and Fleck’s analysis suggests that if that the dry period from 2001 to 2007 were to repeat, within a few years the river’s biggest reservoirs would decline so rapidly that the threat of a Lower Basin call would become much more real.

In the long term, Castle said, the risk grows even higher. Layer on climate change models, which project that the river will likely experience significant declines in coming decades, and “things get pretty serious pretty quickly,” Castle said.

Much like the calculation of whether or not to buy insurance to hedge against a catastrophic or costly loss of home, car or health, Castle said the Upper Basin states need to fully explore what kinds of risks they’re facing when it comes to water supplies from the Colorado River.

Geothermal energy potential update

Subsurface Temperature Map at 20,000 ft. Map via the University of Utah FORGE project.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Joe Vaccarelli):

New research in Milford, Utah led by the University of Utah will study geothermal reservoirs. The university received $140 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) site.

John McLennan, a research scientist and associate professor with the Energy and Geoscience Institute at the University of Utah, shared his insights into the new facility and the potential for geothermal energy in the U.S. during an energy briefing Wednesday hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce at the DoubleTree Hotel.

FORGE will be an underground lab that will drill wells in an effort to extract geothermal energy. Geothermal power can help with agriculture, aquaculture, space heating and more. The site is near the intersection of Interstate 70 and Interstate 15 in central Utah…

Utah has three geothermal plants producing energy at the moment. Colorado does not have any, McLennan said. However, he pointed out that Colorado Mesa University heats and cools its buildings on campus using a geothermal system that includes seven well fields and 171,000 feet of pipes. He noted it could save the university upward of $1 million.

During his presentation Wednesday, McLennan pointed to the benefits and challenges of geothermal energy, noting that many of the areas that have used it are along the so-called “Ring of Fire” of the Pacific Rim or in areas with natural hot springs. He did say that it takes a great deal more water to create energy than oil, but it is a cleaner energy source.

However, the drilling can create a problem and he pointed to several failures over the past 40 years. He said new technology with drilling and connecting wells could have a positive impact on the industry, especially at the FORGE site.

The University of Utah has studied the site since 1980, particularly on seismic level as drilling can spur some activity. He said FORGE is in an area of low seismic activity and small populations of both animals and people.

As for its potential, McLennan said geothermal isn’t in line to replace other forms of energy, but could be a nice supplement of power for communities around the country.