#Drought news (December 29, 2020): No change in depiction for #Colorado and the #ColoradoRiver Basin

Click on a thumbnail graphic below 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

Precipitation fell across much of the United States this week, with widespread moderate amounts (1-2 inches) falling on the eastern third of the CONUS, as a strong storm system moved eastward and exited the Northeast early in the week (Dec. 24-25). Ahead of the frontal boundary associated with this system, strong southerly flow resulted in a rapid warm up and heavy rainfall (2-3 inches, with locally heavier totals), leading to increased snowmelt throughout the Northeast. Behind this system, and in the following days due to lake effect, new snow blanketed many of the same locations that experienced the rapid snowmelt. Toward the end of the week, moderating temperatures led to additional snowmelt across the region. As a result, much of the Northeast saw 1-category improvements (D1 to D0, and D0 to removal). The Southeast also saw improvements in D0 coverage as the frontal boundary from this system extended all the way to the Gulf Coast as it tracked eastward. In the western CONUS, only minor improvements were made in Oregon as long-term indicators (going back to last year’s below normal rainy season) have improved enough to warrant some reduction in extreme drought (D3) coverage. Late in the week (Dec. 28-29), a storm system finally tracked southward this season, bringing above-normal weekly precipitation to coastal southern California. Unfortunately, long-term deficits (beyond 60 days) remained, foregoing D1 improvement. Status-quo was warranted from the Great Basin eastward to the Great Plains as the energy from this system propagated eastward, building upon snow water equivalent (SWE) values and preventing further deterioration; however, the precipitation that did fall was not enough to improve conditions either. In the Northern Plains, snowpack remains well below-normal, leading to some minor degradation in areas where temperatures averaged above freezing and winds were gusty. Elsewhere, the time of year has minimized degradation of drought in many locations, with low temperatures, little or no evapotranspiration, and frozen ground (upper Midwest and Great Plains).

Much of Alaska has received near to above-normal precipitation during the first half of Fall, with some sporadic stations depicting some minor dryness in the last month. However, snowpack is above-normal everywhere south of the Brooks Range for the season as a whole. Hawaii has experienced a dry December and this has led to some D0 degradation to D1 on the Big Island, as pasture conditions have begun to worsen. Puerto Rico observed below-normal precipitation in areas already experiencing abnormal dryness and moderate drought (D0 and D1, respectively), but USGS 7-day average stream flows remain steady from last week…

High Plains

A low pressure system developed over the Central Plains on Monday, associated with energy exiting the eastern Rockies Monday into Tuesday (Dec. 28-29). This provided above-normal precipitation, mostly in the form of snow, across the central and eastern High Plains Region (liquid water equivalent precipitation greater than 200 percent of normal). Despite below-normal precipitation southward, it was enough to stave off degradation across Kansas and Colorado. Further north, however, in northwestern South Dakota and southwestern North Dakota, average maximum temperatures remained above freezing, aided by reduced seasonal snowpack. Additionally, high winds, mainly early in the period, and 1 to 2-month SPEIs ranging from D1 to D4, led to degradation to D1, extending westward into southeastern Montana. SWE percent of normal values have continued to improve; however, most basins in the High Plains Region remained below-normal for the season. The exception was in southern Colorado (near to above-normal SWE) where near to above-normal weekly precipitation added to the snowpack…

West

Despite near to below-normal precipitation across the Pacific Northwest this week, precipitation for the season as a whole has finally improved long-term SPIs and SPEIs below D3 status, warranting some minor reduction in D3 (extreme drought) coverage. Ground water has been slower to recover, but given the continued region-wide improvements to SWE, the various indicators supported the improvement this week. Further south, coastal areas of southern California saw above-normal weekly rains late in the period, from San Luis Obispo County southward to the Mexico border. The heaviest rainfall was observed in Santa Barbara County, with some southeastern locations receiving more than 4 inches. However, this was not enough rainfall to overcome long-term deficits (2 to 4 inch deficits going back 60 days). Elsewhere in the Western Region, much-needed precipitation fell across the Great Basin and the Four Corners Region, adding some additional snowpack and preventing further degradation this week. Basin SWE values remain below 75 percent of normal for the southern Great Basin and the Four Corners, but some gains were made in northeastern New Mexico and southern Colorado…

South

Most of the precipitation fell on the eastern third of the Southern Region associated with a frontal boundary during Wednesday and Thursday (Dec. 23-24). This led to some minor trimming of D0 in south-central Tennessee and extreme northwestern Alabama which received 1.5 to 2 inches of rain. However, locations along and west of the Mississippi River observed below-normal weekly totals, warranting further expansion of D0 in eastern and northern Arkansas. Some slight improvement (D1 to D0) and removal (D0) north of Houston was also justified in localized areas that received more than 1.5 inches of rainfall. Light precipitation fell over parts of Oklahoma and Texas Monday into Tuesday (Dec. 28-29) as energy exiting the southern Rockies and intensified across the Central and Southern Plains. Despite the late arrival of the system in the Plains this week, the previous week’s release of the Drought Monitor remained representative of conditions across Oklahoma and most of Texas. However, southern Texas saw some slight degradation along the Lower Rio Grande Valley, with D3 expanded northward from Starr County to Webb County, and D2 expansion southward into southeastern Hidalgo and western Cameron Counties. This region has experienced low relative humidity and topsoil moisture. NASA SPoRT soil moisture data depicts the top 10 cm of soil below the 2nd percentile in areas where D3 was expanded, and between the 5th and 10th percentiles where D2 was expanded. NASA GRACE ground water data and the National Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS) also support this deterioration…

Looking Ahead

The 5-day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) from the NWS Weather Prediction Center (December 31, 2020 – January 4, 2021) depicted heavy precipitation along the West Coast, from northern California northward to Vancouver Island, associated with a series of potent storm systems. Across the eastern CONUS, an active storm track favors widespread precipitation totals exceeding an inch from the Southern Great Plains eastward and northeastward to the Atlantic Coast, excluding the Florida Peninsula. This is in addition to precipitation falling in the first 2 days of the period across many of these same areas. Heavier precipitation (more than 3 inches) is likely from eastern Texas to the Tennessee Valley over the next 5 days, and west of the Big Bend area in Florida. Little to no precipitation is expected from the Four Corners Region to the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest. A southern shift in the western storm track is expected to occur toward day 5, leading to below-normal temperatures across the southwestern CONUS. The lack of seasonal snowpack is expected to remain intact across the Northern Plains, contributing to large positive temperature anomalies. In the eastern CONUS, mean southerly flow is expected to dominate, keeping temperatures anywhere from 5°F to 10°F above-normal.

The 6-10 day CPC extended range outlook (January 5-9, 2021) favored amplified mean troughing from Alaska southeastward to the southwestern CONUS, indicating a southward shift in the storm track along the West Coast. Ridging is favored to dominate much of the eastern CONUS, with the highest mean mid-level positive geopotential height anomalies over the Great Lakes and Northeast. Below-normal temperatures and precipitation are favored over western and northern Mainland Alaska, respectively, while odds tilt toward above-normal precipitation along the southern Alaska coast. Increased odds of below-normal temperatures in the southwest CONUS are associated with below-normal mid-level heights. Ahead of the mean trough over the West, above-normal precipitation is favored over the Central Plains and western Corn Belt. Additionally, southerly to southwesterly mean flow enhances odds of above-normal temperatures across much of the eastern two-thirds of the CONUS. With the amplified troughing across the western CONUS, enhanced odds of above-normal precipitation extend along the entire West Coast and into the Great Basin and Four Corners region. Probabilities of below-normal precipitation are increased for the Northeast, underneath positive mean mid-level height anomalies, and in Florida and southeastern Georgia, as any passing frontal boundaries are expected to remain farther north.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending December 29, 2020.

Here’s the calendar year US Drought Monitor animation.

US Drought Monitor animation of calendar year 2020.

Tinkering with a pollutant, Colorado ranch seeks to improve fish habitat — @AspenJournalism

A fly fisherman on the Blue River in Silverthorne on Nov. 28, 2020, which is designated a “gold medal” status based on the size and abundance of trout. A downstream ranch is proposing adding phosphorus to the river in an effort to improve fish habitat. Photo credit: John Herrick/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (John Herrick):

A private ranch is seeking Colorado environmental regulators’ permission to inject the Blue River with phosphorus — a chemical regulated as a pollutant — as part of an experiment that could help improve trout habitat at a popular high-country fishing destination.

Kremmling-based Blue Valley Ranch, owned by the billionaire philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones II, proposes beginning the project as soon as next summer on an 8-mile stretch of the river running through its 25,000-acre ranch, which is located on both sides of the river between Green Mountain Reservoir and Colorado River.

The ranch has not yet applied for a state discharge permit, which it will need before beginning the project. In September, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, a 35-member group of water planners, voted to provide Blue Valley Ranch, which did not request a financial contribution, with a letter of support.

The ranch sits alongside the lower section of the river. Areas on this stretch that have public access are home to relatively large and abundant trout, earning a “gold medal” status from the state. The experiment may help explain why trout farther upstream above the Green Mountain Reservoir appear undernourished. The ranch expects that adding phosphorus to the river will grow more algae, a building block in the aquatic food-chain supporting fish.

Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69327693

If the project helps the fish, water managers could use a similar one to restore the gold-medal status of a section of the Blue River upstream from the ranch’s property that the state delisted in 2016. The designation is based on the size and abundance of fish in rivers with public access. The rare delisting on the river section, north of Silverthorne, was a blow to residents who saw the designation as a way to attract outdoor tourism to the region.

Scientists warn that adding too much phosphorus could create problems downstream. Excess phosphorus [enables algae blooms including cyanobacteria], an algae that can be toxic to humans. Last summer, such algae blooms prompted the state to issue warnings and closures to lakes across the state, from Steamboat Lake, north of Steamboat Springs, to Denver’s Cherry Creek Reservoir.

This is one reason why the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is working on new rules to limit phosphorus pollution based on the chemical’s ecological impacts. The state may soon require owners of large facilities, such as wastewater-treatment plants, to make costly upgrades to comply with new limits.

That same agency will have to decide whether to grant the ranch a discharge permit, weighing the possibility of improving trout habitat with the environmental risks. MaryAnn Nason, a spokeswoman for the state’s Water Quality Control Division, said in a statement that the state would evaluate whether the additional phosphorus protects aquatic life, drinking water and recreation, and complies with the state’s regulations on phosphorus.

The theory behind the project is that the river has too little phosphorus, a circumstance that may be preventing the growth of periphyton, an algae eaten by aquatic insects that state biologists say are “sparse” in the river. One of the reasons the river lacks nutrients is that the 231-foot dam in Silverthorne is causing it to back up. The dam was built in 1963 to create the Dillon Reservoir, which Denver Water uses to ship drinking water under the Continental Divide to residents on the Front Range. The dam traps nutrients such as phosphorus and prevents downstream flooding, a natural process that can pull phosphorus back into the river. In the 1980s, the state imposed strict limits on phosphorus pollution from wastewater-treatment plant operators in the basin, which has kept phosphorus concentrations to about 10 parts per billion in the reservoir to prevent algae blooms. That means the cold water flowing out of the bottom of the dam also is relatively low in phosphorus.

“This is a success story,” said William Lewis, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and director of its Center for Limnology and who has studied the reservoir’s chemistry for decades.

Whether the successes of curbing pollution are hurting fish habitat downstream is hard to say for sure, Lewis said. But supporters of the Blue Valley Ranch proposal say the experiment could test this one factor among the many affecting the river.

“We have to better understand those factors. And measure them. And then rate them,” said Richard Van Gytenbeek, the Colorado River Basin outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit that advocates for fish habitat and supports the ranch’s proposed experiment.

According to a presentation to the Colorado Basin Roundtable by Blue Valley Ranch, the company proposes placing jugs of liquid fertilizer at six sites along the river bordering its property, injecting it with as much as nearly 2,000 gallons per year. In an emailed statement from the company, it said it plans to increase the phosphorus concentrations in the river by 3 parts per billion. It would then sample the growth of periphyton, aquatic insects and the fish population. The company cites a project on Idaho’s Kootenai River in which researchers increased phosphorus levels of as much as about 12.5 parts per billion. Bob Steed, the surface water manager for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, said the Kootenai River project has increased the size and number of fish without causing toxic algae blooms or other problems with water quality.

But scientists still have reservations. Lisa Kunza, a professor of chemistry biology and health sciences at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology who has studied the ecological impacts of the Kootenai River project, said she wondered whether Blue Valley Ranch plans to spend enough time studying baseline conditions before the experiment. And she wondered what’s motivating the company to do the project.

The Blue River in Silverthorne on Nov. 28, 2020. The state has designated this section of the river a “gold medal” status based on the size and abundance of trout. Photo credit: John Herrick/Aspen Journalism

According to the company’s website, the ranch seeks “to be a leader in conservation.” Its owner, Jones, is an investor whose philanthropy has earned him recognition as a “conservationist.” Jones spent $805,000 on Highway 9 wildlife crossings north of Silverthorne as well as other projects across the county, including setting up a foundation aimed at protecting the Florida Mangroves. The property is known for its intensive management, such as using a diesel-powered backhoe to make the river narrower and deeper, and locals call the stretch of river flowing through the ranch “Jurassic Park.”

Brien Rose, a biologist with Blue Valley Ranch who has worked as a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey, has been giving presentations on the project and speaking with the Department of Public Health and Environment. Rose did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Before the ranch stepped up with the idea, the concept of its experiment was already being discussed among the region’s water managers, some of whom are monitoring conditions upstream and perhaps laying the groundwork for a similar project. The Blue River Watershed Group, which helps manage the river, is backing the project. Supporters see it as a way to help restore the river to a more natural state before the dam trapped its nutrients.

“Studies of the lower Blue River have shown that it is deficient in some nutrients because of the two upstream impoundments on the river. A major goal of this research is to add to the base of knowledge that will ultimately benefit other impounded rivers in the Western United States,” said Brett Davidson, a manager with Blue Valley Ranch, in an emailed statement.

But what the river looked like before the dam is unclear, researchers say. Aside from the Dillon and Green Mountain reservoirs, the Blue River has been impacted by hardrock mining and the growing mountain towns of Silverthorn, Frisco and Breckenridge. For decades, the state has been stocking the river with brown and rainbow trout, game fish that white settlers introduced to Colorado. One of the reasons the middle section of the Blue River lost its gold-medal status was because the state scaled back stocking.

Sarah Marshall, an ecohydrologist with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program at Colorado State University, said she sees the value in Blue Valley Ranch’s experiment. She, too, wants to better understand the effects of phosphorus on a river’s ecology.

But Marshall said “further tinkering” with the river to restore it could have its risks. She added: “The proposed study sounds like a Band-Aid, rather than fixing the underlying causes of degraded stream habitat.”

This story ran in the Dec. 28 edition of The Aspen Times.

#Snowpack news (December 31, 2020): #ColoradoSprings December precipitation above average, #Pueblo below average

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From KOAA.com (Alex O’Brien):

Snow

Colorado Springs wrapped up the month with a respectable 5.1″ of snow, just below the average of 5.7″. But, when melted down the snow totaled 0.52″ of liquid precipitation in 2020, which is above the average of 0.34″. This means that the water content of each inch of snow this month was higher than average.

Pueblo on the other hand had a rough month with only 1.4″ of snow, with the average being 5.5″.

This was common across the state this month, with some spots receiving lack-luster snow totals and others receiving just enough. For instance, the Denver Stapleton weather site saw 6.4″ this month, ending up below the average of 8.3″.

The slow season is beginning to leave its mark on the high country. The snowpack as of December 29th is at 85% of normal statewide. The Rio Grande Basin, fed from the San Juans, is the only zone above average at this time.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 31, 2020 via the NRCS.

Bill Trampe is retiring from the #ColoradoRiver District Board #COriver #GunnisonRiver

Bill Trampe via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

From The Crested Butte News (Katherine Nettles):

After 20 years as a member of the Colorado River Water Conservation District board of directors, prominent local rancher Bill Trampe has announced he will retire from the position in 2021. The vacancy has drawn interest from three candidates within Gunnison County, one of whom will be appointed to the position on January 12 by the Gunnison County commissioners. Commissioners conducted interviews with the candidates on Tuesday, December 29, including an interview with county commissioner Jonathan Houck himself…

The vacancy drew interest from Sonja Chavez, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, serving all of Gunnison County and portions of Saguache and Hinsdale counties. It also drew the interest of Kathleen Curry, who serves as chairperson of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, runs an active cattle and hay operation in the Tomichi Creek drainage and works as a lobbyist on behalf of two major water providers in Mesa County, the Ute Water Conservancy District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

The third candidate who applied is chairperson of the Gunnison County commissioners Jonathan Houck. Houck made his interest known publicly on the last day of the application process…

Before conducting interviews, county attorney David Baumgarten offered his professional opinion on how to conduct the appointment process, considering one of the commissioners was also an applicant. He reviewed the relevant state statute, CO 37-36-104, which identifies who may be on the River District board of directors. “There are 15. One should be from each of the respective counties, and shall be selected by the board of county commissioners,” he reviewed. “So the threshold question is, can you apply? Yes, you can. The statute is silent on how you make that decision,” said Baumgarten of Houck’s participation.

Baumgarten suggested that Houck participate in the interviews, and that he recuse himself from voting initially on the appointee, unless there is a tie between candidates.

Houck proceeded according to Baumgarten’s direction, participating in each interview before being interviewed himself by the other two commissioners…

Commissioners Roland Mason and Liz Smith will make their decision on January 12 in advance of the next River District quarterly board meeting on January 19.

Listen up: How to prevent big water pipes from breaking – News on TAP

Technology that listens for potential problems in pipes is part of Denver Water’s proactive approach to inspection and maintenance.

Source: Listen up: How to prevent big water pipes from breaking – News on TAP

Coke, Coors Seltzer, water trust announce #ColoradoRiver initiative — @WaterEdCO #COriver

The Grand River Diversion Dam, also known as the “Roller Dam”, was built in 1913 to divert water from the Colorado River to the Government Highline Canal, which farmers use to irrigate their lands in the Grand Valley. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

A coalition of high-profile businesses, including Coors Seltzer and Coca-Cola, as well as the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust have signed up to add additional water for fish, farmers and hydropower generation to a key segment of the drought-stressed Colorado River known as the 15-Mile Reach.

This stream segment begins just east of Grand Junction, Colo., and ends west of town where the Gunnison River merges with the Colorado River.

For decades this reach has been under intense scrutiny, in part because it is a key source of water for Western Colorado ranchers and fruit growers, and it is also considered critical habitat for four endangered fish species: the razorback sucker; the humpback chub, the bonytail and the Colorado pikeminnow.

Dec. 15, the Colorado Water Trust unveiled a 10-year funding commitment from Business for Water Stewardship that will help ensure that there is more water in the river during dry times to keep irrigators, a small federal hydro plant, and the fish healthy.

The Colorado Water Trust is a Denver-based nonprofit dedicated to helping secure water rights through purchase, lease or donation to benefit the environment. Business for Water Stewardship is a program of the Portland, Ore.-based Bonneville Environmental Foundation that brings companies together to aid the environment.

Bringing in corporate funders, who have the resources to commit to a multi-year effort is key, according to Todd Reeve, the founder of Business for Water Stewardship. Danone and Intel Corp. are also funders.

“Companies are increasingly realizing the state of our water resources,” Reeve said. “And they are stepping up to support these environmental water solutions.

“This project stands up as an important example of all of these entities coming together. We’d like to see more of them,” Reeve said.

How much money and water will be provided under the agreement isn’t clear yet, according to the Colorado Water Trust, in part because it will depend on weather conditions and the condition of the river each year.

To date nearly $100,000 has been raised to buy water, according to the water trust.

This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Experts are concerned that rain on the Grizzly Creek Fire burn area could create ash and sediment flows that could pose a threat to fish. Map credit: CWCB

Efforts to preserve Colorado’s 15-Mile Reach are coordinated by the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, a federal initiative launched in 1988 that also includes Utah and Wyoming. But because the river has multiple users, from growers to rafters and anglers, to power generators, dozens of other agencies, water users and towns are also involved, according to Kate Ryan, an attorney for the water trust.

The hope, according to Ryan, is that this long-term commitment to the area will build on and add more durability to what others have begun.

Under the agreement, the Colorado Water Trust each year will buy water from upstream sources for delivery to the Grand Valley Power Plant near Palisade. The power plant produces electricity to pump irrigation water to members of the Grand Valley Water Users Association and is operated by the Orchard Mesa Irrigation Company (OMIC).

After the water moves through the plant, it will continue downstream to the 15-Mile Reach.

“The water that comes down through the hydropower plant makes my system work better,” said Max Schmidt, OMIC’s manager. “But it’s also good for the fish.”

As the Colorado River Basin continues to dry out, natural flows in the river will have to be supplemented by water that can be obtained from those who have water in storage that they don’t need and are willing to sell or lease on a temporary or permanent basis.

Ryan said she is pleased the water trust was able to secure the agreements and funding that will allow it to be a long-term contributor to the health of the 15-Mile Reach.

“What was amazing and sobering this year is that the dry-year targets for flow are 650 cubic feet per second (cfs). But most of the summer they were down at 300 cfs,” Ryan said.

Despite the dire water forecasts, the potential for more cooperative efforts on the river appears to be growing.

Schmidt can reel off a list of cities, irrigation districts and water agencies that have stepped up in recent years to help, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Colorado River District, and the cities of Aspen, Snowmass, Palisade and Grand Junction.

That doesn’t count the cash and operating support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the recovery program, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, or the new contributions from the Colorado Water Trust and Business for Water Stewardship.

“When everybody wins, everybody wins,” Schmidt said. “I don’t care if it’s power water, irrigation water or fish water, wet water in the river makes everybody’s lives better.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

#Utah settles with Navajo Nation on water rights — The Navajo Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Lake Powell. Photo credit: The National Park Service

From The Navajo Times (Arlyssa Becenti):

The Navajo Utah Water Right Settlement is a long time coming.

Two days after Christmas President Donald Trump finally signed the omnibus appropriations package totaling $2.3 trillion. The omnibus bill includes $1.4 trillion for federal spending and $900 billion for COVID-19 relief, which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on Dec. 21 along with the water rights settlement.

This settlement has been years in the making. It settles all current and future claims by the Navajo Nation for water rights within Utah; confirms the Navajo Nation’s right to deplete 81,500 acre-feet of water per year from Utah’s Colorado River Basin apportionment; and authorizes approximately $220 million for water infrastructure to provide clean drinking water to Navajo communities in Utah.

“It was a big effort by Navajo. It’s been in the works for so long,” said President Jonathan Nez, who remembers this settlement being in the works even before being elected as a Navajo Nation Council Delegate…

Nez said that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was key to the bill’s passage. In a release Herbert stated it represents 15 years of “good faith work between our governments.”

Others who were instrumental include former Council Delegate Davis Filfred, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop and Sen. Mitt Romney (both R-Utah) and former Navajo Department of Justice attorney Stanley Pollack, among other people.

In 2003, a memorandum of agreement between the Navajo Nation and the state of Utah allowed the two sides to formally enter into discussions to determine the water rights of the Nation.

In December of 2015, representatives from the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources and Department of Justice, along with the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission, reached an agreement with the state of Utah as to the quantification and settlement of water rights claims.

“It’s a settlement,” said former Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates said. “That is very important. It’s no longer a claim. It’s a settlement.”

After two work sessions and other lengthy discussion to accept the proposed agreement, the 23rd Navajo Nation Council passed it. Bates remembers some delegates were “threatened” if they voted green.

Andrew Curley, assistant professor in the School of Geography Development, & Environment at the University of Arizona, has some qualms about the landmark settlement.

“Water settlements are like treaties and always come with concessions,” said Curley. “Unfortunately we have a political culture that doesn’t discuss the costs of settlements, costs like future and expanded claims to water, priority rights, who gets water first in times of drought, or even how sometimes water settlements impact our land claims through legal chicanery.”

He added that the Utah settlement appears to be better than past proposals, in terms of quantity of water and trade-offs. But the Navajo Nation has to remember that the state governments stole all this water in the first place, he said…

But Bates and Nez both said the settlement could lead to resolving the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement…

Bates said the Arizona settlement would require more strategy and negotiation. But for now the Utah Water Settlement will be able to address the more than 40 percent of Navajo households in Utah that lack running water or adequate sanitation.

#Elizabeth OKs 2021 budget of $12.7 million — The Elbert County News

Old Town Elizabeth Colorado. By ERoss99 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22708960

From The Elbert County News (Tabatha Stewart):

The Elizabeth Board of Trustees voted to adopt the 2021 budget at the Dec. 8 meeting. The budget was submitted in October, and a public hearing was held Nov. 24, where taxpayers were given the chance to raise any objections. The budget includes five funds—the general fund, street maintenance fund, street capital improvement fund, water sewer fund and a capital improvement fund, and the estimated balance of all funds going into 2021 totals $12,666,057…

The estimated general fund for 2021 includes $50,689 from unappropriated surpluses, and projects $2,134,782 from other sources such as water and sewer fees. Property taxes will account for $631,286, bringing the general fund total to $2,816,757. The general fund is used to pay for administration, courts, police services, community development and parks and building maintenance.

The street maintenance fund estimates $461,947, the street capital improvement fund comes in at $4,773,644, the water sewer fund is estimated at $4,243,709, and the capital improvement fund at $370,000.

Larimer County approves development agreement for #NISP — The #Loveland Reporter-Herald

Haystack rock near LaPorte. Photo credit: Active Rain

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Larimer County has approved a development agreement that delves into details surrounding construction of certain aspects of the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

The county commissioners on Tuesday voted 2-1 to approve the agreement with the Northern Integrated Supply Project Water Activity Enterprise, putting into writing some of the specific requirements that the elected board had put into place earlier in approving a 1041 permit for the water supply project…

The agreement focuses on recreational facilities for Glade Reservoir, and the amount of money Northern Water committed to that piece, as well as pipeline details, environmental mitigations and requirements surrounding the relocation of U.S. 287.

It puts in writing that the county will be involved in construction meetings and inspections and lays out some safety requirements.

“This agreement really protects the interest of Larimer County … whether one supports this project or not,” said Commissioner Steve Johnson, who along with Commissioner Tom Donnelly voted to approve the development agreement. (Both commissioners also voted in September to grant the 1041 permit, which allows the county some input on certain aspects of this water storage and pipeline project.)

The county does not have final say over whether the Northern Integrated Supply Project will be built. That approval would come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the federal agency’s decision is expected soon, following more than a decadelong environmental process.

Johnson stressed that the county does not have final say but that he wants to have some say on safety, recreation and construction that will affect residents…

Larimer County has agreed to manage the recreation on and around Glade Reservoir, with Northern Water committing to $20.6 million for recreational facilities and with either the county or another yet-to-be-identified partner bringing $3.775 million to the table.

The money would cover parking lots, boat ramps, a visitors center, camping areas and environmental mitigations at the reservoir and on the surrounding land.

Commissioner John Kefalas, the sole Democrat on the board and the lone vote against the 1041 permit in September, also voted against the development agreement Tuesday. He said he understands the purpose is to describe the water developer’s obligations to the county and “to enhance the general welfare of the county,” but that he had concerns about some pieces of the agreement and could not vote in favor of it without further information.

The development agreement was included on the consent agenda at the commissioners’ weekly administrative matters meeting. The consent agenda typically is a list of actions approved without discussion and all by a single vote. Kefalas moved the item from that single vote so the board could discuss it.

“My rationale for pulling this item from the consent agenda is first to highlight that approval of the NISP project is indeed one of the most significant decisions made by this board of county commissioners, one that will impact Larimer County and future generations in many ways,” Kefalas said. “As such, this development merits public attention and scrutiny and, from my perspective, it is necessary for the people to see how this NISP agreement seeks to mitigate the potential unintended consequences of the proposed Glade Reservoir.”

He also expressed “serious concerns” about the overall project and said two provisions in the agreement add to those worries. He highlighted wording in the agreement that stresses that recreation is a secondary use to the water supply and that Northern Water, which will manage the project, may vary water levels and may modify design and location, at its sole discretion, for operations, maintenance or other issues to prioritize water supply over recreational uses.

“So I ask the question: What will happen to the recreational benefits of the NISP project if it takes 10 years to fill the reservoir perhaps due to higher temperatures, extended droughts and reduced snowpack?” Kefalas said. “Without a science-based answer to this question today, I cannot support this NISP development agreement.”

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

Paa’tuuwa’qatsi: Water is Life — From the Earth Studio #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River. Photo credit: Lyle Balequah/From the Earth Studio

From From the Earth Studio (Lyle Balequah):

The Grand Canyon landscape contains some of the Southwests most unique ecosystems of rivers, springs and riparian zones. These areas are home to many plant and animal species, some found nowhere else in the world, or that represent the last viable populations holding on for existence.

The human connection to these areas also holds much significance for many Indigenous cultures here in the Southwest. The relationship between natural environments and Indigenous peoples is the foundation for much of our traditions, beliefs and values. Therefore, the result of healthy lands, air, water, and the plant and animals that reside within, manifests in healthy Indigenous communities.

Over the years, the water environments of the Grand Canyon have faced threats from various proposals, including uranium mining, pumping of limited groundwater, and large-scale development along the river banks. One area that continues to receive repeated attention is the Little Colorado River (LCR).

First, the Escalade Project sought to construct a large-scale tourist attraction on the rim overlooking the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. This also included a tramway from the rim down to the rivers edge. This proposal was ultimately defeated, for now.

Currently there are at least 3 new proposals threatening the fragile ecosystem of this area. Outside interests are seeking to build a series of dams within the walls of the LCR Gorge. These dams would flood large areas of the canyon floor, irrevocably damaging areas that are of high cultural significance to many local tribes, including the Hopi Salt Trail and the Hopi Emergence place.

3 Lower Colorado River Dam Proposals. Credit: From the Earth Studio

More details about these proposals, and how you can help STOP these actions, can be found on the Grand Canyon Trust’s website here https://www.grandcanyontrust.org/little-colorado-river-dam-proposals.

“We are of water, The water is of us.
When water is threatened,
All living things are threatened.
What we do to water,
We do to our selves.”

–Hopi Hisat Navoti Gathering, October 23, 2003, Second Mesa

Hopi tribal members cross Havasu Creek. Photo credit: From the Earth Studio

It is difficult to superficially discuss the connection between Hopi culture and water, in all its forms, including springs. This connection is held within the hearts and minds of Hopi people and cannot be easily explained in terms of geologic formation and hydrological processes.

The Hopi Tribe’s Integrated Resource Management Plan (IRMP) states (2001:30), “Water resources come in many forms such as springs, lakes, streams, rain, snow and fog. Water comes from the earth and is also a divine gift from the ancestors and Hopi religious deities. All Hopi ceremonies center around the need for water and it is a major cultural theme.”

Centrality of water is expressed in every aspect of Hopi life—thought, prayer, song, dance, and artworks (Sekaquaptewa et al. 2015).

Water metaphors from ancestral ceramics. Credit: From the Earth Studio

Therefore, the importance of springs (Nööngava, water flowing out) within Hopi culture cannot be understated. Since “Time Immemorial”, the phenomena of naturally occurring springs are proof to Hopi people that greater forces exist in the physical world we inhabit. The life-sustaining waters that issue forth are a precious resource, allowing Hopi people and their ancestors to survive within a desert environment. Springs are key components of a Hopi Cultural Landscape; one that is imbued with the history of a living culture such as Hopi.

Due to this importance, many springs are formally consecrated with religious shrines, obtaining ritual significance that is recalled in Hopi oral history, song, prayer, and ceremony. To this day, water is collected from springs, some from great distances, and used within ceremonies at Hopi. The riparian environments associated with springs and other water sources are also considered culturally important. Specific springs are often visited to collect flora, fauna, minerals and pigments, which are used in ceremonies, as medicine or as utilitarian items.

Hopi tribal members collecting spring water at Yam’taqa –Place of ever-flowing water- (vasey’s paradise) in the Grand Canyon. Photo credit: From the Earth Studio

In ancestral and historic times, springs drew people together, often being the place at which villages were built and named for, such as Paaqavi, “Reed Springs Village” located on Third Mesa. When a great drought occurred across the Southwest in the late 12th century, many Hopi clans migrated to areas where more reliable springs could be found, including the southern Black Mesa area, where the modern Hopi villages are located. In recent years, when some of these springs began to dwindle in output, or even completely dry up, Hopi people considered this a manifestation of a much larger problem than simply drought-related.

Activities such as the pumping of underground aquifers by Peabody Western Coal Company on Black Mesa, 50 miles north of the Hopi Mesas, were blamed for the depletion of springs’ output. More on this topic can be found in this in-depth article https://www.azcentral.com/in-depth/news/local/arizona-environment/2020/12/07/drought-and-pumping-hopi-natural-springs-drying-up/5972599002/

Rain clouds over Nankoweap Delta. Photo credit: From the Earth Studio

The Hopi Tribe’s IRMP states (2001:30), “Since aquifers depend on infiltration of surface water for recharge, they are vulnerable to overuse, drought, contamination and harmful human activities.” The Hopi people understand that there are connections between springs, the water found therein and its subterranean origins. These connections are both physical and spiritual.

For Hopi people, springs are considered to be living entities that breathe and exhale moisture; a metaphysical connection between the spiritual world of ancestors and the natural world of their descendants. “Water under the ground has much to do with rain clouds. Everything depends upon the proper balance being maintained. The water under the ground acts like a magnet attracting rain from the clouds and the rain in the clouds acts as a magnet raising the water table under the ground to the roots of our crops and plants” (Hopi elders and religious leaders, 1972).

The granting of life from one world to another is commemorated with ceremonial offerings left at springs, which formally acknowledge our ancestors’ existence, as they acknowledge ours.

Spider Grandmother’s presence along the LCR. Photo credit: From the Earth Studio

Blue Spring (Sakwa’vaahu) located along the Little Colorado River near the Confluence of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, is one of thousands of springs that exist within the ancestral Hopi homeland. The sensitive details of its religious context remains with Hopi practitioners, however, due to its proximity to Sipaapuni, the Hopi Emergence point – a spiritual and cultural genesis – its significance takes on added meaning. It is akin to Holy Water within a church.

The geographic area around Blue Spring and the Sipaapuni is also imbued with the essence of departed Hopi ancestors, who visit their Hopi relatives in the form of clouds and other moisture. Accordingly, the Blue Springs region is hallowed ground where Hopi ancestors reside, serving as spiritual guardians of the Grand Canyon and Hopi culture.

Again, due to its close association to the Hopi Emergence point and the Hopi Salt Trail (both of which are associated with life-fulfillment traditions for Hopi people), Blue Spring is intimately connected to a larger worldview of Hopi life. Yet, although Sakwa’vaahu lies outside the modern boundaries of the now established Hopi Reservation (a result of federal land policy), the traditional knowledge and connection to Hopi people remains.

The Confluence. Photo credit: From the Earth Studio

In addition, because of its unique qualities of issuing beautiful turquoise blue waters, Sakwa’vaahu serves as a metaphorical representation of a verdant and healthy ecosystem: “blue/green is a significant color because it is the color of plants and thus symbolic or growth as well as because it is the color of water and thus symbolic of rain (Sekaquaptewa et al. 2015:26). As with other springs known to Hopi people, a significant drop in the output at Blue Spring is an indicator of environmental changes or impacts elsewhere, which can negatively affect the spiritual well-being of Hopi people and their culture.

Grand Canyon Spring flowing directly into the Colorado River. Photo credit: From the Earth Studio

Hopi Anthropologist Ferrell Secakuku states (2005), “… every time we go out (to pray and leave offerings)…we also go to a spring…because the spring is very, very important. That represents the blood line of the earth, our mother….” Thus the importance of springs encompasses more than our daily need for survival. Springs are inter-twined with cultural preservation as a whole. As the opening statement remarks, springs are a reflection of the current state of our environment; ecologically, culturally and spiritually.

The Hopi Tribe’s IRMP states (2001:30): Paavahu, Water Resources, are highly valued by the Hopi as a main source of life in a harsh and arid environment. The central focus in Hopi ceremonial life is the propitiation of moisture in its various forms. Moisture provides for the domestic and agricultural needs of Hopi people as well as the supernatural and spiritual essence of Hopitutskwa, the Hopi indigenous lands. As a valuable natural resource to the Hopi people, water must be protected and conserved so that we may all fulfill our ultimate stewardship responsibility: the needs of our children and future generations for this life giving resource.

Grand Canyon Landscape. Photo credit: From the Earth Studio

References Cited

Hopi Elders and Religious Leaders. 1972. Oral Testimony from the Hopi Hearings. Transcript on file, Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff.

Hopi Tribe, et al. 2001. Hopi Tutskwat Makiwa’yta: Soosoy Himu Hopit Tutavoyat ev Hintsaktiwqa Qatsit Oovi Natwaniwa (Hop Land Stewardship: An Integrated Resources Management Plan for the Hopi Reservation).

Secakuku, Ferrell. 2005. Interview transcript on file, “Siitala Life in Balance, World in Bloom” exhibit planning project, Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff.

Sekaquaptewa, Emory, Kenneth C. Hill, and Dorothy K. Washburn. 2015. Hopi Katsina Songs. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Historic #Colorado Wildfire Season Could Impact Drinking #Water — CBS #Denver

From CBS Denver (Dillon Thomas):

The historic wildfire season of 2020 could impact drinking water for more than a million Colorado residents. Environmental researchers and natural resource specialists have conducted a BAER Survey, which stands for Burned Area Emergency Response.

The survey evaluated how the record-breaking Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires could impact Colorado’s snowpack and watershed.

The Colorado Big Thompson Project, which Northern Water operates for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, lies between the Cameron Peak fire, shown at the top of the map, and the East Troublesome Fire, shown at the bottom left. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

The Poudre and Upper Colorado River Basins provide drinking water for more than a million people in northern Colorado, and soon those in Thornton. The Colorado River also flows from Willow Creek Reservoir near Granby to Las Vegas and farther southwest.

The months-long battle with both blazes charred the natural filters along rivers and creeks, which eventually provide drinking water for most of the northern front range.

“Our concerns really are actually about the entire watershed,” said Jeff Stahla, spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

In an interview with CBS4’s Logan Smith, Stahla said the approach to preserving and protecting the watershed in the years to come was directly altered by the High Park Fire of 2012, where researchers learned what to do and what not to do.

A helicopter drops water on the Cameron Peak Fire near CSU’s Mountain Campus. Photo credit: Colorado State University

For example, pulling undersized culverts and digging water bars is more effective than reseeding or spreading hay bales.

“This is something you won’t be able to resolve by dropping seeds from a helicopter, the scale is so large,” Stahla said. “The concern is that if there is a large weather event that occurs over that area, that you will have uncontrolled removal of debris and sediment that will go in to our reservoirs.”

Ecologist Heidi Steltzer evaluates the site of a 2018 wildfire within 10 miles of her Colorado home. Changes in snow affect the disturbance regime of U.S. mountain regions. (Credit: Joel Dyar)

During the fires of 2020, water conservation experts monitored how the burn scar could impact drinking water.

“We recognized that it was no longer just a small localized event, but it was something that would effect the entire Upper Colorado River shed,” Stahla said.

Due to the extended period the fires burned, especially the Cameron Peak Fire, not every area of the burn scars impact nearby rivers and streams equally. While some portions of the terrain were significantly burned with hot fire that “resided” in the same spot for an extended period, others were more fortunate.

The East Troublesome fire as seen from Cottonwood Pass looking north on the evening of Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020. (Andrew Lussie via InciWeb via The Colorado Sun)

Stahla said many local water districts are now teaming up to help protect the health of the watershed in the years to come. By unifying and prioritizing the health of the water system as a whole, Stahla said the strength of the landscape and watershed can bounce back quicker…

Researchers hope to return to the burn scars in the spring once snow has melted to evaluate next steps. Local municipalities are working with the Bureau of Reclamation to expedite the process.

#Snowpack news (December 29, 2020): Only the #RioGrande and #ArkansasRiver basins at average or above, nice bump from the current storminess

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

And, here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for December 29, 2020 from the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 29, 2020 via the NRCS.

2020 closes a decade of exceptional heat — World Meteorological Organization #ActOnClimate

Global land ocean anomalies 2020. Credit: WMO

From the World Meteorological Organization:

As 2020 draws to an end, it closes the warmest decade (2011-2020) on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. This year remains on track to be one of the three warmest on record, and may even rival 2016 as the warmest on record. The six warmest years have all been since 2015.

The exceptional heat of 2020 is despite a cooling La Niña event, which is now mature and impacting weather patterns in many parts of the world. According to most models, La Niña is expected to peak in intensity in either December or January and continue through the early part of 2021, according to a new WMO summary.

“Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Niño event, as was the case in 2016. We are now experiencing a La Niña, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures, but has not been sufficient to put a brake on this year’s heat. Despite the current La Niña conditions, this year has already shown near record heat comparable to the previous record of 2016,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Taalas.

WMO will issue consolidated temperature figures for 2020 in the month of January, based on five global temperature datasets. This information will be incorporated into a final report on the State of the Climate in 2020 which will be issued in March 2021, including information on selected climate impacts.

According to WMO’s provisional report on the State of the Climate issued on 2 December, all five datasets for the first 10 months of the year (until the end of October) placed 2020 as the 2nd warmest for the year to date, following 2016 and ahead of 2019.

The heat continued in November, based on monthly reports from the European Unions’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Japan Meteorological Agency. This latest information classifies this November as either the warmest or second warmest on record.

The difference between the warmest three years is small and exact rankings for each data set could change once data for the entire year are available.

The temperature ranking of individual years is less important than long-term trends. Since the 1980s each decade has been warmer than the previous one. And that trend is expected to continue because of record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, in particular, remains in the atmosphere for many decades, thus committing the planet to future warming.

The average global temperature in 2020 is set to be about 1.2 °C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level. There is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5 °C by 2024, according to WMO’s Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, led by the United Kingdom’s Met Office.

The Met Office annual global temperature forecast for 2021 suggests that next year will once again enter the series of the Earth’s hottest years, despite being influenced by the temporary cooling of La Niña, the effects of which are typically strongest in the second year of the event.

Note:

WMO uses datasets (based on monthly climatological data from observing sites of the WMO Members) developed and maintained by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and the United Kingdom’s Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom.

It also uses reanalysis datasets from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and its Copernicus Climate Change Service, and the Japan Meteorological Agency. This method combines millions of meteorological and marine observations, including from satellites, with models to produce a complete reanalysis of the atmosphere. The combination of observations with models makes it possible to estimate temperatures at any time and in any place across the globe, even in data-sparse areas such as the polar regions.

Depositions delve into state engineers’ questions on proposed #WhiteRiver reservoir — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #GreenRiver #aridification

Kenney Reservoir, located just east of Rangely in late October, has a picnic area. Kenney Reservoir is silting in, and the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District is proposing building a new off-channel reservoir upstream on the White River, but the state’s top engineers are opposed to the project. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

As its trial date in water court approaches, hundreds of pages of depositions obtained by Aspen Journalism reveal state engineers’ sticking points regarding a proposed reservoir project they oppose in northwest Colorado.

Over a few days in November, state attorneys subpoenaed and interviewed several expert witnesses and the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District manager in the White River storage-project case, also known as the Wolf Creek project. Their questions centered on the town of Rangely’s water needs and on whether water is needed for irrigation.

The documents, obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request, also underscore the extent to which fear of a compact call is shaping this proposed dam and reservoir project between Meeker and Rangely.

The Rangely-based Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District is applying for a conditional water-storage right to build a 66,720-acre-foot, off-channel reservoir using water from the White River to be stored in the Wolf Creek drainage, behind a dam 110 feet tall and 3,800 feet long. It would involve pumping water uphill from the river into the reservoir.

There also is an option for a 72,720-acre-foot on-channel reservoir, although this scale of project is now rare in Colorado. Rio Blanco has said they prefer the off-channel option.

For more than five years, top state water engineers have repeatedly said the project is speculative because Rio Blanco has not proven a need for water above its current supply.

Despite Rio Blanco reducing its claim for water by more than 23,000 acre-feet from its initial proposal of 90,000 acre-feet, state engineers still say the water-right application should be denied in its entirety. After failing to reach a settlement, the case is scheduled for a 10-day trial in January. Division 6 Engineer Erin Light and top state engineers Kevin Rein and Tracy Kosloff are the sole opposers in this case.

Rio Blanco already operates Kenney Reservoir, just east of Rangely on the White River. But it is silting in at an average of 300 acre-feet per year and is nearing the end of its useful life, according to court documents.

This map shows the potential locations of the proposed White River storage project, also known as the Wolf Creek project, on the White River between Rangely and Meeker. State engineers oppose the project, saying the applicants have not proven a need for the water. Map credit: Colorado Division of Water Resources

Irrigation needs?

A main point of contention between Rio Blanco and state engineers is whether there will be an increased need for irrigation water in the future. Rio Blanco claims it needs 7,000 acre-feet per year for irrigation.

During the depositions, state attorneys questioned Rio Blanco manager Alden Vanden Brink about the need for irrigation water. He claimed there is a local boom in agriculture and that there is high-value farmland that is not being irrigated simply because of a lack of water. Vanden Brink said happiness for residents on the lower White River will increase with access to irrigation water from the proposed reservoir, adding that if irrigation water is made available, demand for it will increase.

“It will make water available in the lower White River so that people can increase their quality of life and have a garden, you can have a few pigs,” Vanden Brink’s deposition reads. “It’s just going to be improvement all the way around.”

But details were sketchy on what specific lands would be irrigated and the district’s plan to get water from the reservoir to irrigators. State engineers, in a subsequent trial brief, say that just because there are lands that might benefit from irrigation doesn’t mean there will be future increased demand. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come.

“Instead, the premise that there will be a demand for water if the water right is granted is exactly the sort of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy of growth’ prohibited under Colorado’s anti-speculation doctrine,” the state’s trial brief reads.

Engineers also say Rio Blanco has not identified how the reservoir, situated low in the White River basin, would serve the majority of irrigated acres located upstream.

“For instance, Rio Blanco has not identified any pipeline construction or other water project works that could run water up to these other locations,” the state trial brief reads.

Taylor Draw Dam holds back the White River to form Kenney Reservoir, located near Rangely. The reservoir is silting in, and a water conservancy district is proposing building a bigger, upstream, off-channel reservoir, a project that is opposed by the state of Colorado. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Rangely’s water needs

Rio Blanco and the state also disagree about the amount of water needed for Rangely, a high-desert town of about 2,300 people near the Utah border. Rangely takes its municipal water from the White River.

In their depositions, Vanden Brink and Gary Thompson, an expert witness and engineer with W.W. Wheeler and Associates, refer to “cow water” as the source of Rangely’s water issues.

According to Vanden Brink, who also is the town’s former utilities supervisor, when flows in the White River drop to around 100 cubic feet per second, water quality becomes impaired. That can include increased algae growth, decreased dissolved oxygen, increased alkalinity and increased mineral contaminants, which require more treatment, he said.

“If you want to look at that water and how you can take that water and make it potable, forgive me, but it looks worse than cow water,” Vanden Brink said in his deposition. “I know if I was a cow, I wouldn’t want to drink it. It’s pretty degraded; it’s pretty muddy, it’s bubbly, it’s gross. And there’s a reason Rangely’s got the extensive treatment that it does.”

In an April letter to Rio Blanco, Town Manager Lisa Piering and Utilities Director Don Reed said Rangely would commit to contract for at least 2,000 acre-feet of storage for municipal use after the reservoir is built. According to expert reports, Rangely’s current demands are 784 acre-feet per year.

Project proponents say that increased flows from reservoir releases will dilute contaminants and improve water quality at the town’s intake.

But this argument doesn’t work for state engineers, who say that the water Rio Blanco says Rangely needs is not based on projected population growth and that Rio Blanco has not analyzed whether the town’s existing water supplies would be sufficient to meet future demands.

“Rio Blanco at trial may attempt to offer evidence regarding needs based on water quality, but Rio Blanco has not disclosed any evidence quantifying the amount of water Rangely would need for that purpose,” the trial brief reads.

One option for the White River storage project would be an off-channel dam and reservoir at this location. Water would have to be pumped from the White River into the reservoir site. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Colorado River Compact influence

Depositions and water court documents reveal how water managers’ and experts’ fear — and expectation — of a compact call could influence the project proposal.

According to the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the upper-basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet a year to Lake Powell for use by the lower-basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). If the upper basin doesn’t make this delivery, the lower basin can “call” for its water, triggering involuntary cutbacks in water use for the upper basin.

Water managers and policymakers admit that no one knows how it would play out just yet, but risk of this hypothetical scenario becoming reality is increasing as drought and rising temperatures — both fueled by climate change — decrease flows into Lake Powell.

Water managers are especially worried that those with junior water rights, meaning those later than 1922, will be the first to be curtailed. Senior water rights that existed prior to the compact are generally thought to be exempt from compact curtailment.

Many water users in the White River basin, including the towns of Rangely and Meeker, have water rights that are junior to the compact, meaning the users could bear the brunt of involuntary cutbacks in the event of a compact call.

Rio Blanco is proposing that 11,887 acre-feet per year be stored as “augmentation,” or insurance, in case of a compact call. Releasing this replacement water stored in the proposed reservoir to meet these compact obligations would allow other water uses in the district to continue and avoid the mandatory cutbacks in the event of a compact call.

According to Rio Blanco’s trial brief, “there is significant risk of a compact curtailment in the next 25 years that could negatively impact 45% of the water used in the district.”

In his deposition in response to questions from Rio Blanco attorney Alan E. Curtis, Thompson said drought scenarios will get worse in the future, the White River will be more strictly administered and a compact call is likely to occur.

“Things are — in my opinion — drought conditions are increasingly pervasive,” he said.

But state engineers say that augmentation use in the event of a compact call is not a beneficial use under Colorado water law and is inherently speculative. Compact compliance and curtailment are issues to be sorted out by the Upper Colorado River Commission and the state engineer, not individual water users or conservancy districts, they say. The state of Colorado is currently exploring a concept called demand management, which could pay water users to use less water in an effort to boost levels in Lake Powell.

According to their trial brief, state engineers say that while the desire to plan for compact administration is understandable, “the significant uncertainties involved in future compliance under the Colorado River Compact mean that Rio Blanco cannot show a specific plan to control a specific quantity of water for augmentation in the event of compact curtailment.”

The trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 4 in Routt County District Court in Steamboat Springs. Among the witnesses that Rio Blanco plans to call are Colorado River Water Conservation District Manager Andy Mueller, Colorado Water Conservation Board Chief Operating Officer Anna Mauss and Rio Blanco County Commissioner Gary Moyer.

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Dec. 26 edition of The Aspen Times and the Vail Daily, and the Dec. 28 edition of Steamboat Pilot & Today.

White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69281367

Farmers Swap Out Irrigation Methods To Keep The #ColoradoRiver From Growing Saltier — KUNC #COriver #GunnisonRiver

The North Fork Valley, part of the service territory of Delta-Montrose Electric, has been known for its organic fruits and vegetables — including corn. Photo/Allen Best

From KVNF (Jodi Petersen) via KUNC:

[A.J.] Carrillo is planning to convert his Deer Tree Farm from flood irrigation, which is commonly used in Western Colorado, to a new and much more efficient style of irrigation – microsprinklers.

Changing irrigation methods is something more and more Western Slope producers are doing, from small to large. With help from federal funding, they’re able to apply less water to grow their crops and make their land more resilient to drought. And more importantly, the switch also means that fewer pollutants run off their fields into the Colorado River, keeping it cleaner all the way down to Mexico.

Salt and selenium occur naturally in the shaly soils of the Gunnison Basin, leftovers from a prehistoric inland sea. Both substances are harmful to plants, fish and humans. Flood irrigation of fields allows water to penetrate deep into the soil, where it dissolves out salt and selenium.

The contaminated water then runs off into ditches that eventually dump into the Gunnison River, and from there into the Colorado. The result is that farms in the Gunnison Basin send more than 360,000 tons of salt into the Colorado River each year…

All that salt must be removed before water can be used for drinking or industrial purposes, which is expensive. And when salty river water is used for irrigation, it stunts crop growth and can eventually make farmland unusable if the salt builds to a high enough concentration, said Perry Cabot, a water resources specialist with Colorado State University…

In California’s Imperial Valley, which grows about 80 percent of the nation’s winter vegetables, irrigating with Colorado River water has caused some fields to become so salty that they have been abandoned.

Selenium is a problem too. It’s especially harmful to the Colorado River’s four endangered fish species, including the humpback chub and razorback sucker…

The same actions that reduce selenium – improving irrigation efficiency and reducing runoff – help reduce salt as well. And those programs have a far-reaching impact.

During the 1960s, so much salt flowed into the Colorado River from U.S. farms that Mexico, at the downstream end, could no longer use it for irrigation; a solution was finally negotiated in the 1970s requiring major reductions in the river’s saltiness. Laws were passed, and an array of federal program were created that gave farmers incentives to improve their irrigation methods.

Since then, the Colorado has gotten considerably cleaner. Casey Harrison, a soil conservationist who works with farmers through the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, is part of that cleanup effort. In the Gunnison River Basin, the NRCS spends about $7 million a year to help roughly 75 farmers and ranchers convert to microsprinklers and other efficient irrigation methods.

The NRCS tailors plans to each producer’s operations, Harrison said, no matter how large or small…

The federal financial support is key. The costs of installing new irrigation systems cannot be borne by farmers alone, CSU’s Perry Cabot said. Agricultural producers are running a business, and they do not want to spend tens of thousands of dollars to make a change unless there is some clear incentive.

“If we as a society value food production as part of our economic infrastructure, it’s unrealistic to expect them to just bear the burden without societal help,” Cabot said.

Back at Deer Tree farm, farmer AJ Carillo says the operation will have a new irrigation system by fall 2021, thanks largely to NRCS funding and support. The change to microsprinklers will give him greater precision and control in water use.

Dragon Line irrigation system. Photo credit: AgriExpo.com.

Students and faculty urge deeper look at land-grant legacy — @HighCountryNews

A banner hangs on a statue of Cornell University’s founder, Ezra Cornell, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year. Photo credit: Della Keahna Uran via The High Country News

From The High Country News [December 22, 2020] (Jessica Grant):

University officials face pressure to address their history as the recipients of dispossessed Indigenous land.

When High Country News published “Land-Grab universities” last April, the two-year-long investigation shed new light on a dark open secret: One of the largest transfers of land and capital in the country’s history had masqueraded as a donation for university endowments.

HCN identified nearly 11 million acres of land, expropriated from approximately 250 tribes, bands and communities through more than 160 violence-backed treaties and land cessions. Now, in the wake of the investigation, land-grant universities across the country are re-evaluating the capital they built from these stolen Indigenous lands.

More than 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act — the legislation that transferred the lands — new discussions about the universities’ moral and ethical responsibilities have forced Americans to re-examine the law’s legacy. Land-grant institutions have long prided themselves on their accomplishments as beneficiaries: They used the proceeds generated by the land to broaden access to higher education, thereby contributing to economic development across the nation. But many of those institutions paid next to nothing for the public lands they received and sold.

By far the largest beneficiary was Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, which acquired almost 1 million acres from Ojibwe, Miwok, Yokuts, Dakota and other Indigenous nations through 63 treaties or seizures. The land came from 15 states, and by 1935, when the last parcel was sold, Cornell University had generated nearly $6 million for its endowment, the largest of any land-grant institution. Adjusted for inflation, it raised over $92 million.

Now, as the country reconsiders long-standing issues of racial equity and justice — focusing on everything from local political races to national legislation — students and faculty alike are pressuring administrators to address the investigation’s findings.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 12, 2020, members of Native American and Indigenous Students at Cornell (NAISAC) put forward a list of 10 demands in the form of a petition. The demands include turning the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program into a university department; recruiting new Indigenous faculty and students, specifically Indigenous students affected and/or displaced by the Morrill Act; waiving tuition for those students; acknowledging the land of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ’, or Cayuga Nation, before every Ithaca-based event; and reinstating an ad-hoc committee on Native American Affairs to oversee the approval of these demands.

“If the president’s office was responsible, then they would meet each of these demands to the extent that we’ve laid them out in our petition,” said Colin Benedict (Mohawk), the external relations chair for NAISAC. “Each of these demands in my mind is completely 100% justified and should already have been implemented by the university decades ago.”

As of Dec. 1, the petition had more than 900 signatures from students, staff, alumni and community members. The president’s office has yet to respond publicly, but in an email exchange, it stated, “The Office of the President is in receipt of the NAISAC petition, and the President is looking forward to working with the Native American and Indigenous community at Cornell on these issues.”

A faculty committee, headed by American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program Director Kurt Jordan, launched the Cornell University and Indigenous Dispossession Project. The project will research Cornell’s Morrill Act land history, identify the Indigenous communities affected, and foster discussion of possible remedies.

“We’ve had a number of statements that have been made by the administration in light of the George Floyd murder, Black Lives Matter, and all of the other things that have been happening this year about the need for Cornell to really address its legacy, its historical roots, its complicity in … to some degree, with white supremacy,” Jordan said. “Benefiting from stolen Indigenous land has to be part of that.”

History professor Jon Parmenter recently discovered that Cornell is in possession of over 420,000 acres of mineral rights in the Central and Southwestern U.S., a portion of which was retained through Morrill Act lands. In its petition, NAISAC urged the university to release a statement acknowledging the amount of land acquired, the interest accrued and mineral rights funds received, and pledging to refrain from mineral and resource extraction on those lands.

OVER 2,500 MILES WEST OF CORNELL, faculty and students at the University of California, Berkeley have also made strides. Established in 1868, the university received almost 150,000 acres from the Morrill Act. The land raised $730,000 for the university’s early endowment, and, adjusted for inflation, has generated over $13 million. The university paid nothing in return.

The presence and history of Indigenous people has been largely erased from the UC system, said Phenocia Bauerle (Apsáalooke), director of Native American Student Development at the University of California, Berkeley. Two years ago, Bauerle and the Native American Student Development center created a land acknowledgment to honor the Ohlone tribal lands that the university sits upon. However, the university has yet to adopt an official acknowledgment.

According to a California audit, UC Berkeley is the worst offender among the schools when it comes to complying with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which grants Indigenous nations the right to regain ancestral remains and objects from museums. UC Berkeley has only repatriated 20% of its 500,000-artifact collection. In comparison, the University of California Los Angeles has repatriated 96% of its collection.

“A lot of it comes down to, well, they see these issues as historical and not of the present because they see Natives as historical and not of the present,” Bauerle said. Since the dispossession occurred in the past, contemporary people don’t see themselves as responsible, and they feel no pressure to address the issue today. However, “ ‘Land-Grab’ gave us several concrete (points),” Bauerle said. “This dispossession of Native land that this whole country benefits from — here’s a specific way that we can show you that Berkeley actually played a part in it. These are the receipts. This is how much money you got.”

Bauerle partnered with Rosalie Z. Fanshel, a doctoral student in environmental science, policy and management and the program manager for the Berkeley Food Institute, to organize a conference on the Morrill Act and Indigenous land dispossession.

“The UC Land Grab: A Legacy of Profit from Indigenous Land” was held in two parts in September and October. The conference dug deep into the history of California’s genocide and the founding of the University of California. Participants called for action, including shared land stewardship, research opportunities and tuition options for Indigenous students.

More than 500 people attended both days of the conference. David Ackerly, dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources in Berkeley, was among them. “I felt like I was learning so much that I had not been aware of,” he said. “This is part of our story, I want to be part of this. I want to learn. I want to figure out where we’re heading.”

Other attendees included staff from the office of UC President Michael V. Drake, the office of the chancellor at UC Berkeley and the governor’s office, as well as deans and administrators from various UC campuses and units.

One of the panelists, Brittani Orona, a doctoral candidate in Native American studies and human rights at UC Davis and a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, was surprised by how many people within the university system had no knowledge of the history of land-grant institutions. “I think with Native people and Native students, you know that our land, our places have been taken away from us, from many different institutions and at many different points of time,” Orona said.

At the conference, Orona spoke about the history of genocide in California. “Scholars of California Indian genocide will say it ended in 1873, but I argue it is a continuous process,” Orona said. “Many Native and Indigenous people in the state and across the world have been made promises since colonization, and they’ve been broken. It’s hard not to remember that legacy; I live in that legacy.”

Orona, who will complete her Ph.D. in the coming year, hopes that future Native and Indigenous students have a different experience than she did. “What does that mean, when you’re having California Native students pay out of pocket on land that has been dispossessed from them? I appreciate the discussions that are going on, but I’ll believe it when I see it — and when it moves beyond acknowledgment towards actual actionable items that make life easier for Native and Indigenous students and peoples.”

Orona, who will complete her Ph.D. in the coming year, hopes that future Native and Indigenous students have a different experience than she did. “What does that mean, when you’re having California Native students pay out of pocket on land that has been dispossessed from them? I appreciate the discussions that are going on, but I’ll believe it when I see it — and when it moves beyond acknowledgment towards actual actionable items that make life easier for Native and Indigenous students and peoples.”

As of Dec. 4, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ has yet to respond about the conference publicly. In an email, however, she wrote, “To achieve this inclusive campus culture, we must acknowledge how our history, including the Morrill Land Grant Act, impacts Indigenous people. Now more than ever, we, as a university, must take immediate action to acknowledge past wrongs, build trusting and respectful relationships, and accelerate change and justice for our Native Nations and Tribal communities.”

Jessica Douglas is a fellow at High Country News. Email her at jessica.douglas@hcn.org.

This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on December 22, 2020.”

#Water districts prep for extended #drought period — The Rio Blanco Herald-Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #WhiteRiver #aridification #GreenRiver

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times (Lucas Turner):

On Nov. 30 Governor Jared Polis sent a “memorandum of drought emergency” to executive directors of state government departments. The memo marks the beginning of phase 3 “full plan activation” of the state’s Drought Mitigation and Response Plan.

The memo said “deep and persistent drought conditions” had covered the state for 15 weeks, noting that this level of drought had not been observed since 2013. It also activated the “Municipal Water Impact Task Force,” chaired by members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Department of Local Affairs.

The memo states: “The initial objective of the Task Force is for water suppliers to coordinate with each other and the state going into winter to prepare for anticipated drought-related challenges and opportunities in 2021.”

“So it’s telling you to get planning for a drought, which is what your water conservancy districts, Yellow Jacket and the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy districts are attempting to do” said Alden Vanden Brink, District Manager for the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District.

During a Dec. 14 Board of County Commissioners work session, he spoke about the Governor’s memo and its implications for the basin. “I’ve been following up on this quite a bit trying to make sure they understand that there is no drought contingency within our White River basin,” he said.

By drought contingency, Vanden Brink was referring to storage, of which he said there is very little in the basin. “You’re looking at just a couple of days worth of water, literally,” said Vanden Brink, later adding “we have a real problem with the lack of storage in our basin, a real problem, and it makes us extremely vulnerable.”

A view of the White River foreground, and the Wolf Creek gulch, across the river. The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District and the State of Colorado are headed to a water court trial because they can’t agree on whether the district actually needs the water it claims it does for a reservoir and dam project at this site. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

That vulnerability, though not exactly new to the basin, is growing more urgent. Colorado’s record drought in 2020 was just the beginning of a more long term trend, according to leading climatologists and groups like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)…

That planning includes preparations for an upcoming water court lawsuit set to begin in the first week of January. “It’s to get a conditional water right to construct a reservoir for drought contingency within the White River basin.” said Vanden Brink, referring to the Wolf Creek Reservoir, also known as the White River Storage project. The project would store between 66,000 and 73,000 acre feet of water, depending on the exact location.

In an expert report submitted earlier this year, state engineers contested that Rio Blanco had failed to identify the need for that much water. Ultimately that disagreement is what prompted the lawsuit between the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District and the State’s Division of Water Resources.

Adding to his message of urgency, Vanden Brink talked about proposed “demand management” strategies which are likely to become more prevalent in coming years. “What they’re looking at doing is paying a rancher to idle his field for a given period of time, and allow that water to flow by,” said Vanden Brink, noting that the development of those strategies was a changing dynamic. Although he didn’t speak negatively about the concept in general, he was concerned about its potential impact in the region. “Not allowing that water to go be used for flood irrigation….flood irrigation is what recharges our groundwater aquifer. That’s taking away from that groundwater aquifer what little storage we have, which is the aquifer” said Vanden Brink.

He argues that given the lack of existing storage, and thus lack of drought contingency in the basin, the Governor’s memorandum of drought emergency provides more legitimacy to Rio Blanco’s proposed reservoir project.

White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69281367

@ColoradoStateU acquires public #hydrogen fuel station, a first for the state of #Colorado #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

The state’s first public hydrogen fuel station is unloaded in front of the CSU Energy Institute at the Powerhouse Energy Campus. Photo credit: Colorado State University

From Colorado State University (Allison Vitt):

Colorado State University’s Energy Institute has acquired Colorado’s first public hydrogen fuel station to eventually enable the deployment of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) and support a wide variety of research projects focused on hydrogen.

The CSU station will be one of the few electrolyzer stations in the U.S. that will generate hydrogen on-site by splitting water molecules using electricity.

The acquisition of the station marks a significant milestone for Colorado as the transportation industry shifts away from fossil fuels to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Hydrogen can be used in both fuel cells and engines to power vehicles of any size including cars and heavy-duty trucks, as well as large stationary power systems.

The station will be operated and maintained by the CSU Energy Institute at the Powerhouse Energy Campus on North College Avenue in Fort Collins. It will be used to teach and train students in hydrogen technology and will allow researchers to gather cost and operational data that can inform future station deployment in Colorado by commercial operators and by the non-profit Colorado Hydrogen Network.

What the fueling station looks like once complete with two nozzles for truck/bus and passenger cars and a pay station. Photo credit: Colorado State University

Hydrogen also can be used to provide load leveling on electric grids with a high penetration of renewable energy, storing energy when renewable electricity is available and then generating electricity to put back on the grid when electric demand is high. The CSU Energy Institute is in discussions with Fort Collins Light & Power and Platte River Power Authority to maximize the use of renewable energy by timing hydrogen production to respond to the intermittency of renewable electricity.

“The Powerhouse hydrogen station represents a major advancement in our goal to promote the environmental and economic benefits of hydrogen and fuel cell technology for both transportation and large-scale power systems,” said Bryan Willson, executive director of the Energy Institute and co-founder of the Colorado Hydrogen Network.

“We will be able to use the station to conduct research on hydrogen fuel cell technology and hydrogen combustion, provide hands-on learning opportunities for students, and serve as a resource for the state of Colorado and the general public in research, testing and deployment of hydrogen-fueled vehicle and hydrogen energy systems,” he said.

Unlike more common battery EVs on the market, Fuel Cell Electrical Vehicles provide fast fueling, long cold-weather range and high cargo capacity. The declining costs of renewable electricity from wind and solar has only recently allowed FCEVs to compete with traditional petroleum vehicles.

The station that CSU acquired was operating in Washington, D.C., and scheduled to be decommissioned. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, was responsible for directing the decommissioning and alerted the Colorado Hydrogen Network of the station’s availability. CHN prepared a proposal to Nel Hydrogen, the current owner, requesting that the station be donated to the CSU Energy Institute.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are currently 44 hydrogen fueling stations in the country. Only a few of those stations are currently generating hydrogen with on-site electricity, which includes a non-public, research-focused station at NREL. CSU’s hydrogen station will initially operate in a semi-public mode with limited hours or by appointment.

Diagram of a proton conducting solid oxide fuel cell. By R.Dervisoglu – Own work, based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Solid_oxide_fuel_cell.svg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19314043

Here’s What It Takes To Keep #ColoradoRiver Fish From Going Extinct — KUNC #COriver

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The Colorado River is one of the most engineered river systems in the world. Over millions of years, the living creatures that call the river home have adapted to its natural variability, of seasonal highs and lows. But for the last century, they have struggled to keep up with rapid change in the river’s flows and ecology.

Dams throughout the watershed create barriers and alter flows that make life hard for native fish. Toss in 70 non-native fish species, rapidly growing invasive riparian plants and a slurry of pollutants, and the problem of endangered fish recovery becomes even more complex. The river system is home to four fish species currently listed as endangered: the razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail and humpback chub.

For decades, millions of dollars have been spent on boosting populations of the river’s fish species on the brink of extinction. While scientists are learning what helps some species survive in the wild, others are still struggling.

Ouray National Fish Hatchery. Photo credit: USFWS

“Darling little divas”

Much of the work of keeping these fish from going extinct is centered in a handful of hatcheries scattered throughout the West. One such hatchery, the Ouray National Fish Hatchery, is situated along the Green River in eastern Utah. It’s a squat, unassuming building next to a series of ponds where two of the river’s endangered fish — the bonytail and razorback sucker — are raised.

Inside, the room is filled with aqua-colored tubs of water. A pipe feeds each tub with fresh water and creates a whirlpool, simulating a river’s flow. Above the tubs, lights automatically dim up and down to give the fish some semblance of a sunrise, high noon and sunset.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Matt Fry peers into one of the tubs and warns not to do it too quickly to keep from stressing them out. “When they see you, they’ll scatter,” he said.

Fry is the acting manager of this hatchery. This kiddie pool-sized tub is full of bonytail, so named for their slender, tapered bodies.

“I call these guys my darling little divas because you really got to treat them with kid gloves,” Fry said.

A couple decades ago, bonytail were nearly extinct, the last few scooped up from Lake Mohave in the Colorado River’s lower reaches. Hatcheries like this one have kept them alive, while scientists tried to figure out the best way to help them survive and overcome the challenges humans keep throwing at them out in the wild…

“Hurdles to overcome”

That is the question for Tildon Jones, Fry’s colleague at the Fish and Wildlife Service. He’s a habitat coordinator for the agency, and looks for ways to help the endangered fish complete their life cycle in the wild, not just rely on people to keep raising them in hatcheries.

On a bluff overlooking the Green River near the hatchery, Jones points out the features of a riverside wetland. The river — a majority tributary to the Colorado — makes a narrow U-shaped bend, and in the middle is a wetland.

“The river would come up and flood these areas regularly in the past,” Jones said, pointing to the lines of cottonwood trees over a chorus of sandhill cranes that has taken up residence nearby.

Green River Basin

This stretch of the Green, with its abundance of low-lying wetlands, used to be a haven for the razorback sucker, known for its bony hump and down-turned vacuum-like mouth. The fish adapted to the Colorado River’s wild swings between high and low flows by spawning just before its annual spring snowmelt rise. Those flood waters would carry the tiny, just-born fish into protected riverside ponds to grow. At that point, the larval fish look like a grain of rice with two black dots for eyes…

But the Green River hasn’t acted like its former self in more than 50 years. The Flaming Gorge Dam just upstream holds back those flood waters, and regulates the river’s flow, making the tiny razorbacks less likely to end up in wetlands, and more vulnerable to non-native fish that gobble them up…

The fish don’t just have one thing working against them, but a confluence of factors keeping them from thriving. If it were just the restricted, regulated flows or just the addition of non-native fish predators, the problem might be easier to solve, Jones said.

Since 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Service along with other partners in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program have turned their focus to managing wetlands to give razorbacks a better chance of reproducing in the wild, and giving juvenile fish the opportunity to grow.

Canals move river water into the wetland during high flows, or coordinated releases from Flaming Gorge reservoir, and metal screens keep out the predatory fish. Researchers can then keep an eye on the growing razorbacks before releasing them back into the river.

After seeing some initial success in this approach, and seeing adult razorback populations stabilize due to stocking, Jones’s agency is proposing to move razorbacks from an endangered status to threatened…

Katie Creighton and Zach Ahrens both native aquatics biologists for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) standing on the temporary Matheson screen. The Nature Conservancy and UDWR partnered together to build the structure to allow the endangered razorback sucker larvae to enter the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve without the predators also coming in. Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer via Utah Public Radio

Reconnecting the river to its wetlands

After seeing managed wetlands demonstrate successes on the Green River, The Nature Conservancy’s Linda Whitham says it made sense to replicate the idea on a stretch of the Colorado River near Moab, Utah. The environmental group receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also supports KUNC’s Colorado River reporting.

On a warm fall day, big yellow dump trucks moved dirt, excavated as part of a pond expansion at the Matheson Wetlands Preserve. A deepened channel and water control structure with a screen to keep out the predatory fish were also added.

Colorado looks to logging to help rebalance forests in an era of climate-triggered megafires — The #Loveland Reporter-Herald

Photo credit: Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/forestry/forestry-assistance/pest-management

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Clearing swaths of trees creates fire breaks and helps take energy out of wildfires, state forest official says

“The consequences of inaction”

Colorado’s population growth and development boom, particularly the construction of mountain homes by people compelled to escape cities, complicates the forest imbalance. Houses in woods force progressively more aggressive fire-snuffing, which allows more increased thickening of trees.

A recent state report estimated a $4.2 billion backlog in forest-thinning needed to selectively clear trees and create safety buffers around the most at-risk forest homes. That’s tree removal that state agencies and property owners generally must pay for — in contrast to this industrial logging that brings in revenue when market conditions are right.

Last week, state foresters supervising the cutting of a 100-acre patch on Owl Mountain, within a 376-acre parcel controlled mostly by the federal Bureau of Land Management, pointed to the economics — revenue of about $200,000 to state and federal agencies from loggers. And even if logging wasn’t profitable, every dollar spent removing trees from fire-prone forests would save an estimated $7 in avoided firefighting costs, Steamboat Springs-based forester Carolina Manriquez said.

“Now we have 200,000-acre fires rolling through. What is 100 acres? Nothing at the landscape scale,” Manriquez said. “We need to do more of this. I mean, we’re spending millions to suppress fires.”

Colorado forests that increasingly burn, along with millions of acres where beetle-kill leaves trees unusable, might have helped sustain logging companies, said C.J. Pittington, a Walden-based logger running a 40-ton red feller-buncher last week clearing a 140-acre chunk of state land. He can mow through about 5 acres of lodgepole forest in a day and has built up a business his father began in 1973, currently employing a dozen workers, and expressed hope the big fires will lead to greater social acceptance of large-scale logging.

Logging in forests near sprawling mountain municipalities also will help protect people, Pittington said, referring to the East Troublesome fire’s destruction of 300 homes and other buildings…

Future expansion of logging in northwestern Colorado will depend on industrial capacity, said John Twitchell, the supervisory state forester overseeing the work, who also serves on the state’s forest advisory commission.

“Our logging industry has been small. We haven’t had a lot of users of the wood. Our capacity to use wood will dictate how much work we can do on our landscapes,” Twitchell said.

“We want to re-generate a new, healthy forest. As long as this dead timber is here, inevitably, it is going to fall… and in time it will burn,” he said. “We’ve seen the consequences of inaction. … If we can have more cuts like this, we can accomplish a lot of goals at once.”

“A storm of threats”

But forest ecologists raised concerns about the logging. Industrial clear-cuts of 40 acres or more widely have been seen as harmful. Lodgepole forests like those in northwestern Colorado play key roles in nature — stabilizing mountainsides that otherwise erode into streams and eventually municipal reservoirs, helping form soil, giving habitat for raptors and other wild animals.

“If it is just willy-nilly punching holes in forests, it may not do any good at all and may make things worse,” said Greg Aplet, a Denver-based senior scientist for the Wilderness Society.

Forest tree-cutting must be done based on large landscape-scale master plans, connected to broad restoration around the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak burn scars, he said. The risk is that Colorado forest officials, once beetle-killed lodgepole pines are removed from state land, will try to expand cutting on private and federal land by “using social concern about fires to grab the social license to conduct more logging without the kind of review and careful ecological analysis that normally would attend large-scale logging,” Aplet said.

“The Wilderness Society isn’t opposed to logging. We’re not opposed to ‘forest management.’ What we are opposed to is bogus science, poorly-planned projects and squandering money that could be spent on treatments that actually improve forest health,” he said. “There is reason to keep sawmills alive — so that we have a destination for the logs that come out of well-planned forest restoration projects.”

University of Colorado Denver forest ecologist Diana Tomback said much depends on how much forest thinning is done and where. When westerners began snuffing wildfires a century ago, this obligated some form of logging to replace disturbed natural processes, Tomback said. But large clear-cuts cause erosion and even standing majority-dead forests can be preferable ecologically, she said.

“A storm of threats” — climate warming, megafires, insect outbreaks and drought — “is converging now to greatly diminish our nation’s once-magnificent forests,” Tomback said, suggesting Gov. Jared Polis should convene a forest science brain trust to develop a strategy.

“This convergence… is new, and we are learning. And the answers may not all be there,” he said. “But we need a methodical approach. We have to sit down and talk about a new forest management paradigm. We don’t want to do things ad hoc.”

Federal forest managers at U.S. Forest Service headquarters weren’t available for comment. A newly-appointed regional director has declined for a month to discuss the overall health of Colorado forests in the face of climate warming, insect infestations and wildfires.

Lester was looking to make that connection. Most of the acres burned this year were in federally-managed forests, he said, urging better “shared stewardship.”

Polis recently proposed spending $6 million for grants to improve forest health, but the scale of work to save dying forests requires far more, Lester said.

“What do we need from the feds? Certainly we need financial resources. And we need to sit down and coordinate what we are going to do. How are we going to get this done?”

Secular ‘values voters’ are becoming an electoral force in the US – just look closely at 2020’s results


Being counted – secular voters are a growing force.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Phil Zuckerman, Pitzer College

The voting patterns of religious groups in the U.S. have been scrutinized since the presidential election for evidence of shifting allegiances among the faithful. Many have wondered if a boost in Catholic support was behind Biden’s win or if a dip in support among evangelicals helped doom Trump.

But much less attention has been paid to one of the largest growing demographics among the U.S. electorate, one that has increased from around 5% of Americans to over 23% in the last 50 years: “Nones” – that is, the nonreligious.

I am a scholar of secularism in the U.S., and my focus is on the social and cultural presence of secular people – nonreligious people such as atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and those who simply don’t identify with any religion. They are an increasingly significant presence in American society, one which inevitably spills into the political arena.

In this last election, the emerging influence of secular voters was felt not only at the presidential level, but also on many down-ballot issues.

The new ‘values voters’

For years, both scholars and pundits have referred to the political impact of “values voters” in America. What that designation generally refers to are religious men and women whose scripturally based values coagulate around issues such as opposing marriage equality and women’s reproductive autonomy.

But dubbing such religious voters as “values voters” is a real semantic bamboozle. While it is true that many religious Americans maintain certain values that motivate their voting behavior, it is also very much the case that secular Americans also maintain their own strongly held values. My research suggests they vote on these values with just as much motivation as the religious.

Sex education

This played out in November in a number of ballot initiatives that have flown under the national media radar.

Voters in Washington state, for example, passed Referendum 90, which requires that students receive sex education in all public schools. This was the first time that such a measure was ever on a state ballot, and it passed with ease – thanks, in part, to the significant number of nonreligious voters in the Pacific Northwest.

The fact is, Washington is one of the least religious states in the union. Well over a third of all Washingtonians do not affiliate with any religion, more than a third never pray and almost 40% never attend religious services.

The referendum’s passing was helped by the fact that nonreligious adults tend to value comprehensive sex education. Numerous studies have found that secular Americans are significantly more likely to support comprehensive sex education in school. In his research, sociologist Mark Regnerus found that secular parents were generally much more comfortable – and more likely – to have open and frank conversations with their children about safe sex than religious parents.

Drugs policy

Meanwhile, voters in Oregon – another Pacific Northwestern state that contains one of the most secular populations in the country – passed Measure 110, the first ever statewide law to decriminalize the possession and personal use of drugs.

This aligns with research showing that nonreligious Americans are much more likely to support the decriminalization of drugs than their religious peers. For instance, a 2016 study from Christian polling firm Barna found that 66% of evangelicals believe that all drugs should be illegal as did 43% of other Christians, but only 17% of Americans with no religious faith held such a view.

Science at the ballot box

Secular people are generally more trusting of scientific empiricism, and various studies have shown that the nonreligious are more likely to accept the evidence behind human-generated climate change. This translates to support for politicians and policies that take climate change seriously.

It may also have factored in to the success of a November ballot measure in Denver, Colorado, to fund programs that eliminate greenhouse gases, fight air pollution and actively adapt to climate change. The ballot passed with over 62% of the vote – and it is of note that Denver is one of the most secular cities in the nation.

Meanwhile voters in California – another area of relative secularity – passed Proposition 14 supporting the funding of stem cell research, the state being one of only a handful that has a publicly funded program. Pew studies have repeatedly found that secular Americans are far more likely than religious Americans to support stem cell research.

Values versus values

On issues that the religious right has held some sway in recent years, there is evidence of a counterbalance among secular “value voters.”

For example, while the religious have been more likely to oppose same-sex marriage, secular Americans are more likely to support it, and by significant margins. A recent Pew study found that 79% of secular Americans are supportive, compared to 66% of white mainline Protestants, 61% of Catholics, 44% of Black Protestants and 29% of white evangelicals.

There are many additional values that are prominent among secular Americans. For example, the U.S. Secular Survey of 2020 – the largest survey of nonreligious Americans ever conducted, with nearly 34,000 participants – found strong support for safeguarding the separation of church and state.

Other studies have found that secular Americans strongly support women’s reproductive rights, women working in the paid labor force, the DACA program, death with dignity and opposition to the death penalty.

[Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get expert takes on today’s news, every day.]

Secular surge

According to Eastern Illinois University professor Ryan Burge’s data analysis, around 80% of atheists and agnostics and 70% of those who described their religion as “nothing in particular” voted for Biden.

This may have been decisive. As Professor Burge argues, “it’s completely fair to say that these shifts generated a two percentage-point swing for Biden nationwide. There were five states where the gap between the candidates was less than two percentage points (Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina). Four of those five went for the Biden – and the nones were between 28% and 37% of the population in those key states.”

As this past election has shown, secular values are not only alive and well, but they are more pronounced than ever. It is also noteworthy that more openly nonreligious candidates were elected to public office than ever before. According to an analysis by the atheist author and activist Hemant Mehta, not only did every member of the secular Congressional Freethought Caucus win reelection, but 10 state senators who are openly secular – that is, they have made it publicly known that they are nonreligious – were voted into office, up from seven two years ago. There is now an all-time high of 45 openly secular state representatives nationwide, according to Mehta’s analysis. Every one of them is a Democrat.

Religious voters will certainly continue to vote their values – and for politicians that express similar views. But so, I argue, will secular voters.The Conversation

Phil Zuckerman, Professor of Sociology and Secular Studies, Pitzer College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

#SanJuanRiver Basin SWE = 83% of normal (December 26, 2020) #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Upper San Juan River Basin SWE December 26, 2020 via the NRCS.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Simone Mounsamy):

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center’s snow pack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 13.1 inches of snow water equivalent as of 1:15 p.m. on Dec. 23.

The median snow water equivalent amount for that date was 13 inches.

While the amount of 13.1 inches of snow water equivalent is 101 per- cent of the Dec. 23 median for Wolf Creek summit, the entire basin, including the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins, were at 72 percent of the Dec. 23 median in terms of snowpack.

Last week’s reading showed that the Wolf Creek summit had 12.7 inches of snow water equivalent.

River report

As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a flow of 45.4 cfs and the average for Dec. 23 was 62 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Based on 85 years of water records, the San Juan River had the lowest flow total for Dec. 23 back in 1990, when the river had a flow of 24 cfs.

The highest flow total came in 2011, when the San Juan River had a flow of 130 cfs.

#TABOR complicates Lower South Platte Water Conservancy mill increase

Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District boundary map.

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate:

Chuck Miller of Fort Morgan has been vocal in opposing action by the LSPWCD to raise its mill levy from 0.5 mill to 1 mill for the 2020 budget year and retaining that level for 2021. Miller contends that the increase is a violation of the TABOR amendment to the Colorado Constitution. He and others have appealed to county commissioners in Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties to refuse to certify the water district’s mill levy…

The group asserts that, although the water conservancy district freed itself from the restrictions of the TABOR amendment in 1996, it still promised not to raise taxes without a vote. The district board, however, takes the position that, when it was formed in 1964, it was statutorily authorized to levy up to 1 mill on real property within the district, and the 1996 “de-Brucing” question allows the district the right to levy up to 1 full mill; the public vote would only be needed if the district wanted to exceed its original allowance of 1 mill.

The mill levy must be certified in each of the four counties covered by the district. Only Sedgwick County, where Commissioner Chairman Donald Schneider also is a member of the LSPWCD board of directors, voted to certify the mill levy. Washington County Commissioner LeAnne Laybourn told the Journal-Advocate Thursday morning that, contrary to what was previously reported, the Washington County Commissioners pulled the water district’s mill levy from a group of levies they were to certify.

Miller said he has gotten conflicting answers to questions about who enforces the provisions of the so-called Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a 1992 amendment to the state constitution. TABOR restricts government spending and forbids raising taxes without voter approval.

Colorado Department of Local Affairs spokesperson Brett McPherson told the Journal-Advocate Wednesday that the state has no role in enforcing TABOR.

“TABOR contains the mill levy/tax rate restriction but is locally interpreted and enforced through the courts,” McPherson said. “TABOR is locally enforced by taxpayers, who elect board members and who can also bring a lawsuit against the taxing entity. There is no state agency role in enforcing TABOR.”

According to state statute, if a mill levy is not certified, the county can be instructed to extend the previous year’s mill levy which, in this case, is still 1 mill, since that was certified the previous year.

#ColoradoRiver management may change under @JoeBiden administration — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #COriver #aridification #DCP

Hoover Dam, straddling the border between Nevada and Arizona, holds back the waters of the Colorado River in Lake Mead. In 2016, Lake Mead declined to its lowest level since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s. Source: Bureau of Reclamation

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The week of Dec. 14, the seven states that are part of the Colorado River Compact began the first step for renegotiating guidelines that will decide how much water the three lower basin states and Mexico will get from Lake Mead, on the Arizona-Nevada border, and from Mead’s source, the Colorado River.

The guidelines are interim, signed in April 2007, and are due to expire in 2026. Among the most significant, the guidelines provide long-term stable management of the river and also determine the circumstances under which the Interior secretary could reduce the annual amount of water available from Lake Mead to the Colorado River lower basin states. The guidelines also are a way for the basin states to avoid litigation, part of what prompted the 2007 interim guidelines.

The seven states that make up the Colorado River Compact, and which will negotiate those guidelines, are divided into upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) and lower basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California). Mexico is also part of the lower basin water allotment, as well. About 40 million people across the seven states rely on the Colorado River for water.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 22, 2020 via the NRCS.

Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico are dealing with extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

What that means for the river heading into in the future, said John Fleck, a former journalist and author and now with the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, is water levels in Lake Mead could drop to 1,060 feet by 2022. That’s 15 feet below what triggers “the next tier of mandatory Lower Basin water use cuts under the river’s 2007 interim guidelines and the supplemental drought contingency plan” signed last year…

Last week, the seven states signed a joint letter to Trump administration Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman requesting technical support from the federal agency, as the states move forward with negotiations. The states are setting up a working group to look at modeling for the management and operations of Mead and Lake Powell, which is the water “bank” on the Colorado River for the upper basin states…

[Rebecca] Mitchell said she thinks “everything is on the table as we look toward the future.” What’s in the final report — or not — “doesn’t mean we can’t deal with bigger issues outside of the guidelines.”

That’s also where the Biden administration, and his Interior nominee, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, could make a difference. One of the signs from Biden toward the Colorado River is his appointment of Tanya Trujillo of New Mexico to the Department of the Interior’s transition team. Trujillo is vice chairwoman of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and lower basin project director for the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign. A water lawyer, Trujillo has experience working in Interior on water issues.

“We’re hoping (the new administration) will foster negotiations that are rooted in science and create a framework that recognizes how climate change is affecting and will continue to affect the basin,” Kim Mitchell, a senior water policy adviser with Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, told BloombergLaw.com in November.

Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Have a happy holiday

#Drought news: The mountainous areas of #Colorado and #WY saw some additions to their #snowpack this week, but amounts were near-normal at best

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

Most of this week’s precipitation across the CONUS fell on portions of the Pacific Northwest, Southeast, and Northeast. Typical of La Nina conditions, the northward displacement of the storm track across the West so far this season has resulted in near to above-normal snowpack across the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, and below-normal southward. This week mainly saw a continuation of that seasonal signal, with above-normal precipitation falling again along coastal ranges and the Cascades from central Oregon northward to Canada, leading to some minor improvements, mainly in northwestern Oregon. However, this week did see a slight southward shift in the storm track, providing central and northern California some much needed, albeit below near-normal, precipitation. Over the eastern United States, a storm system developed over the Southeast early in the period and transitioned into a strong Nor’easter that impacted much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, with a swath of 1 to 2 feet of snowfall extending northeastward from southern Pennsylvania into southern Maine. In the wake of that system, several short-wave troughs provided some additional precipitation across the Great Lakes and Northeast. Elsewhere in the CONUS, several areas of the High Plains, Southwest, and western sections of the Midwest saw little to no precipitation. However, the time of year has minimized degradation of drought in many of these areas with low temperatures, frozen ground, and little or no evapotranspiration. Additionally, temperatures averaged near to below-normal across the southern tier of States, further minimizing any deteriorations.

Much of Alaska has received near to above-normal precipitation during the first half of Fall, with some sporadic stations depicting some minor dryness in the last month. However, snowpack is above-normal everywhere south of the Brooks Range for the season as a whole, limiting impacts and warranting D0 removal in the Yukon Flats. In Hawaii, the Big Island received beneficial rainfall after a dry first half of December. However, farther west, southwestern Oahu has shown a drying trend over the past 90 days, resulting in some D1 expansion. Puerto Rico experienced a dry final 4-6 weeks of its wet season, which ended at the start of December. Some expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) was warranted, including some D1 introduction in counties with some locally higher deficits…

High Plains

The mountainous areas of Colorado and Wyoming saw some additions to their snowpack this week, but amounts were near-normal at best. Above-normal temperatures were widespread across the region, with the highest positive average temperature anomalies (greater than 8°F) across the Dakotas. These positive anomalies can mainly be attributed to below-normal snowpack across much of the Northern Plains. Liquid-equivalent precipitation amounts averaged between 0.01 and 0.25 inches across several locations in the High Plains Region, with several spotty near-normal amounts reported in the Central Plains (co-located with areas seeing the highest average high temperatures) and portions of the Dakotas, reducing further impacts and degradation. Several USGS stations across the region are reporting near and above-normal 7-average stream flows. As such, no changes to drought coverage are warranted this week across the High Plains Region…

West

Many improvements in the Western Region this season have been designated to the Pacific Northwest due to typical La Nina conditions aiding in a northward-displaced mean storm track. As a result, the Cascades and northern Rockies have accumulated above-normal snowpack, with snow water equivalent (SWE) of 100%-125%. Meanwhile, areas southward have experienced below-normal precipitation and reduced snowpack, ranging from 75% of normal in the central Rockies to less than 25% of normal in the Southwest. This week saw a continuation of the La Nina projection on seasonal precipitation, with the heaviest precipitation (150%-300% of normal) in the coastal ranges and Cascades, resulting in some localized D1 and D2 improvement in western and northeastern Oregon. Additionally, USGS 7-day average stream flows are above-normal, and these same areas are showing surpluses in water year-to-date (WYTD) precipitation estimates. Some precipitation also fell across northern and central California, the Great Basin, and central Rockies. However, amounts were modest, resulting in no major changes this week. Despite the Southwest missing out on precipitation this week, precipitation from the prior week and below-normal average temperatures this week warranted no further degradation…

South

Much of the region saw below-normal temperatures, and the largest precipitation amounts fell across southeastern Texas, extending eastward to Louisiana and northeastward to the Tennessee Valley. Locations east of Austin, Texas, and along the western Gulf Coast, saw above-normal precipitation (1 to 1.5 inch totals, with some localities receiving more than 2 inches), leading to some D1 and D2 improvement near Austin and a reduction in D0 coverage in southern Louisiana. Western and central Texas saw some degradation in D1-D3 areas, with lack of precipitation (less than 10 percent of normal precipitation in the last 90 days) and low relative humidity. Some slight trimming of the abnormally dry (D0) area in north-central Oklahoma, with 0.25 to 0.5 inches of precipitation falling last week, near-normal average temperatures, and 30-60 day precipitation totals ranging between 150 and 175 percent of normal. Some D0 reduction was also warranted in northern Louisiana and central Mississippi, as SPIs across several time periods show mixed weak above and below-normal signals, indicating near-normal conditions. Some expansion of D0 conditions occurred in north-central and central Arkansas, in favor of D0-D1 SPIs across various periods, coupled with 90-day deficits of 4 to 6 inches (localized 6 to 8 inches). Some southward D1 expansion in southern Tennessee was also warranted in areas missing out on relatively higher rainfall this week, continuing to add to deficits there (6 to 8 inch deficits going back 90 days)…

Looking Ahead

The 5-day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) from the NWS Weather Prediction Center (December 24-28) depicts the heaviest precipitation fall across the eastern and western CONUS. In the eastern CONUS, a strong low pressure system is expected to develop over the Midwest, with a trailing frontal boundary extending southward along the Mississippi Valley to the Gulf Coast, and move eastward early in the period, intensifying as it reaches the East Coast. Heavy precipitation is likely along and ahead of the frontal boundary, along with a strong moderation of temperatures, with some snowfall on the backside of the system. After the system’s departure, below-normal temperatures are favored to last through Saturday, before moderating again near the beginning of next week. In the West, a series of low pressure systems are expected to move into the West Coast bringing more than 1.5 inches of precipitation to many areas from Washington to central California, with some much needed precipitation also making into southern California. Later in the period, some of this energy is expected to move across the Southwest and into the Great Plains, increasing chances of precipitation in those regions.

The 6-10 day outlook (December 29, 2020 – January 2, 2021) favors amplified mean troughing across much of the CONUS, with the greatest negative 500-hPa height anomalies centered over the Southwest. This pattern favors an active storm track across the CONUS and above-normal precipitation extending from the eastern Rockies to the East Coast, with enhanced probabilities of above-normal precipitation over the Central Plains and Middle Mississippi Valley. Above-normal precipitation is also favored along the southern Alaska coast and the Pacific Northwest, with mean onshore mid-level flow. Mean surface high pressure over Canada tilts odds toward below-normal precipitation from Montana to northern Minnesota. In association with negative mid-level height anomalies, below-normal temperatures are favored from the Great Basin eastward to the Great Plains. Above-normal temperatures are favored for the eastern CONUS, associated with mean southerly mid-level flow ahead of the trough. Mean onshore mid-level flow from the Pacific increases odds of above-normal temperatures for much of Alaska, with weaker odds in the Pacific Northwest due to a larger northerly component to the flow.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending December 22, 2020.

Squeezed by two megafires: @Northern_Water’s race to save #Grand Lake — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The East Troublesome Fire in Grand County burned down to the shore of Willow Creek Reservoir, one of the lakes in Northern Water’s collection system in Grand County. Dec. 13, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Craig Friar and Steve Anderson had seen wildfires smolder and flare before. But they had never seen one run.

Until Oct. 21 when Grand County’s East Troublesome fire sprinted 17 miles in less than three hours, threatening to engulf communities across the county and giving these Northern Water staffers and others just hours to decide how best to move the water agency’s operations center out of Grand County and over to Northern’s emergency operations center in Berthoud, on Colorado’s Front Range.

It was unchartered territory. The backup center had never been used before.

Northern Water is the largest exporter of water from Colorado’s West Slope to the Front Range, serving farms and dozens of cities from Broomfield and Lafayette to Boulder, Loveland and Greeley.

As dark, fire-stained clouds billowed over the towns of Granby and Grand Lake that day, Northern’s West Slope team grabbed operation logs from the Farr pumping plant on the banks of Lake Granby. They tracked down the half dozen or so mechanics, electricians and operators who would need to make quick exits, and figured out how to ferry everyone to safety over the Continental Divide.

The East Troublesome Fire burns in Grand County in October 2020. Credit: Northern Water

Initially they hoped to keep most of their operators on the West Slope by moving the temporary command center farther West to another Northern operations site. But the East Troublesome Fire, already known for its cranky, unpredictable nature, changed direction, blocking access to the local site.

“Those [plans] quickly went away,” said Friar, who oversees the utility’s collection system. “When things blew up on Tuesday, we said, ‘Scrap that.’ Wednesday we had a call and began moving everyone over to Berthoud.”

Spare rooms and horse trailers

Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind and Director of Administration Karen Rademacher offered their homes to dislocated staffers until hotel rooms could be found.

West Slope staff who weren’t evacuated offered trailers to those who had been, hauling household goods and horses. They tracked down housing for co-workers who feared their homes had burned.

They had dozens of calls with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns Northern’s system, as well as emergency managers with the U.S. and Colorado State forest services and the Grand County fire and sheriff departments, and county emergency response teams.

Hundreds of homes and structures in Grand County were threatened or destroyed, and the lakes and reservoirs there that comprise Northern’s water collection system faced the same fate. The agency serves more than 1 million people on the Front Range.

Since mid-August, Northern’s team had watched the Cameron Peak Fire burning in Rocky Mountain National Park just to the north of Grand County, threatening some of Northern’s customers and watersheds, but not the heart of its collection system.

When East Troublesome exploded eight weeks later, the water utility found itself suddenly squeezed between what have now become Colorado’s two largest wildfires in recorded history, with Cameron Peak consuming 209,000 acres and East Troublesome 194,000, before both were declared contained in November.

The Colorado Big Thompson Project, which Northern Water operates for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, lies between the Cameron Peak fire, shown at the top of the map, and the East Troublesome Fire, shown at the bottom left. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

Beyond bad

“It was worse than any worst-case scenario we had,” said Northern’s Environmental Services Manager Esther Vincent during a debriefing with the utility’s customers and others post-fire.

East Troublesome Fire. Photo credit: Brad White via The Mountain Town News

Water infrastructure in the West is often built in high-altitude mountain ranges in order to collect the winter snows that fall and melt into streams.

For years, Colorado and other Western States have planned for and dealt with wildfires and their aftermath: the scorched soils and trees that clog their delivery systems, fill their reservoirs with eroded soils, and cloud their once-pristine water supplies.

But the situation now is much worse. As climate change and searing droughts have dried out the forests that blanket these watersheds, impossibly large, so-called megafires are becoming the dangerous new norm.

These fires devastated California over the summer and the same phenomenon struck Colorado in the fall.

That Northern Water found itself stranded between the two fires in hurricane-force winds was something no one had ever envisioned. There was a sense of awful wonder, amid all the emergency phone calls and late-night planning sessions, at the sheer size of the disaster.

Powering down

There was also plenty of worry. Early on, as the fire raged, Northern staffers knew power to the Farr Pump Plant would be cut off in order to keep firefighters safe from exploding transformers, falling power poles and downed electric lines.

The East Troublesome Fire burns near the Farr Pump Plant on Lake Granby October 2020. Credit: Northern Water

The pumping plant lies almost entirely below the surface of Lake Granby. Without power to run its dewatering system, the plant would flood.

But there would be an even bigger problem once the electricity was cut. The Adams Tunnel takes water pumped from Lake Granby to Grand Lake and pipes it under the Continental Divide to the Front Range. If they couldn’t get the Adams Tunnel shut down before the power went off, it would continue to deliver water, dramatically lowering Grand Lake in violation of federal law, something that would trigger an environmental, legal and political firestorm.

The prospect of such an event is unfathomable, Friar said. “I don’t know what would happen. And I don’t want to know. We don’t even go there.”

They moved quickly to get to the controls that operate the tunnel, successfully closing it down.

Ten minutes later, Friar said, the power went off.

For days afterward, they would rotate the chore of going into the silent pumping plant, filling its generators with diesel fuel and checking to make sure the dewatering system was still working.

In and out

Roads in and out of the area remained closed and it took close coordination with the Grand County Fire Department and sheriff for Northern staffers to get past the fire barricades.

“We had to make sure we could get in, get what we needed done, and get out of there,” Friar said.

If there was any comfort during the tense, fast-changing days that the fires ruled Larimer and Grand counties, it was seeing local residents pulling out clothes and food for those in need, offering up spare rooms, spare trucks and trailers, and extra flash lights, snow plows and generators.

“I don’t think anyone up here ever felt alone,” Friar said.

December has delivered more elegant white snows to Grand and Larimer counties since October, when the first winter storm calmed the fires. The white slopes, covered with charred forests that are now stark and black, are a welcome respite from the gray smoke and flames that enveloped the area just a few weeks ago.

Friar and others know they have four short months, the time until winter snows melt, to engineer and put into action a high-stakes rescue plan for the devastated watersheds and reservoirs.

Roughly 30 percent to 80 percent of Northern’s four major watersheds have burned, they estimate. Cleaning them up and protecting the lakes from the debris that is sure to come after the snow melts next spring will take one to three years of “acute” work, fire officials said, and decades of additional treatment, a process so expensive that Northern hasn’t yet put a number to it.

The East Troublesome fire as it tore through the Trail Creek Estates subdivision on Oct. 21, 2020. (Brian White, Grand Fire Protection District)

A daunting future

Denver Water, the only utility larger than Northern in Colorado, battled two smaller—but still epic—fires within the past three decades: the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire and the 2002 Hayman Fire, which until this year had been the state’s largest. They spent $28 million cleaning up and restoring reservoirs in the first 10 post-fire years and continue to spend millions annually planting trees and doing erosion control, according to Christina Burri, a watershed scientist with Denver Water.

Northern’s Greg Dewey will oversee the fire restoration work. The prospect, he said, is daunting.

“For years we’ve planned for treatments [for the overgrown forests already decimated by pine beetles]. And the ultimate treatment is a wildfire, but I don’t think anyone could have gauged the extent of this,” he said.

The Cameron Peak and East Troublesome megafires have blazed permanent images in the minds of people across Grand and Larimer counties.

What Anderson remembers most now is returning to his Granby home when the evacuation orders were finally lifted. There, he and his family encountered a strange sight:

The house was unharmed, but the front door stood wide open.

As they walked warily up the front steps the first thing they heard was the fire alarm, issuing one piercing screech after another, providing a crazy, haunting reminder of those days in October, when two megafires ruled the skies, the forests and their lives.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

R.I.P. Leslie West: “She taught me everything”

Leslie West live at the Florida Theatre in 2008. By Leslie_west.jpg: Wilson Bilkovichderivative work: Nymf (talk) – Leslie_west.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9699842

From The New York Times (Jim Farber):

Leslie West, whose meaty guitar riffs and snarling lead lines powered the hit band Mountain through “Mississippi Queen” and other rock anthems of the 1970s, died on Wednesday in Palm Coast, Fla. He was 75.

The cause was cardiac arrest, said a spokesman, Steve Karas.

Mr. West had battled various health problems over the years. In the early 2000s he had bladder cancer. In 2011 he had his lower right leg amputated because of complications of diabetes.

Mr. West, who struggled with his weight for most of his life, used his ample size to his advantage onstage. In an era ruled by rail-thin rock stars, his physique stood out. His guitar tone matched it in girth: It was uncommonly thick, with a vibrato that could shake with earthquake force.

“I didn’t play fast — I only used the first and the third finger on the fingering hand,” Mr. West told the website Best Classic Bands in 2011. “So I worked on my tone all the time. I wanted to have the greatest, biggest tone, and I wanted vibrato like somebody who plays violin in a hundred-piece orchestra.”

His singing style mirrored his guitar playing, marked by barking declarations that at their most stentorian could pin a listener to the wall. The weight of Mr. West’s sound has been cited as an early example of heavy metal, though Mountain offered a striking contrast to its more forceful songs with other numbers that displayed the prettier vocals and more elegant melodies of the band’s bassist, co-lead singer and producer, Felix Pappalardi…

Leslie West was born Leslie Weinstein on Oct. 22, 1945, in New York City to Bill and Rita Weinstein. His mother was a hair model, his father the vice president of a rug shampoo company. He grew up in the suburbs.

When Leslie was 8, his mother bought him his first instrument, a ukulele, but he became entranced with the guitar after seeing Elvis Presley play one on television. He bought his first guitar with the money given to him for his bar mitzvah…

His professional career began in a band he formed in the mid-1960s with his brother Larry, who played bass. The band, the Vagrants, was a blue-eyed soul group inspired by a hit act from Long Island, the Rascals. The two bands played the same local clubs, as did Billy Joel’s early group, the Hassles…

One of Mountain’s first gigs was at the Woodstock festival, a booking the band received because it shared an agent with Jimi Hendrix. The band’s debut album was released the next spring, with Steve Knight, who came aboard for the Woodstock performance, on keyboards, and Mr. Laing on drums.

The addition of Mr. Knight’s surging organ added warmth to the band’s sound and differentiated Mountain from Cream’s power-trio format. The album’s lead track, “Mississippi Queen,” had what became one of the most famous cowbell intros in rock, though it was originally used by Mr. Pappalardi simply as a way to count the band into the song. The song reached No. 21 on the Billboard singles chart and became an FM radio staple.

Colorado Public Utilities Commission Approves Plan to Advance Vehicle Electrification in #Colorado #ActOnClimate

Coyote Gulch’s Leaf connected in the parking garage in Winter Park, August 21, 2017.

Here’s the release from the PUC via Governor Polis’ office:

Today, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted to approve Xcel Energy’s roughly $110 million investment in new electric vehicle infrastructure and programs. The Commission provided an emphasis on support for programs that benefit lower-income households and communities impacted by transportation pollution, including a rebate for customers who qualify based on income to purchase electric vehicles, to ensure that the benefits of electrification are broadly shared.

“Xcel filed a plan to accelerate Colorado’s transition to vehicle electrification,” said Will Toor, Director of the Colorado Energy Office. “With today’s decision, the PUC tapped the accelerator. The decision clearly keeps Colorado moving forward toward vehicle electrification by providing important investment in EV infrastructure.”

Earlier this year, the state released the Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan 2020 that calls for putting 940,000 electric vehicles on the roads by 2030 in order to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and improve air quality. This target is part of Colorado’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap. The Plan approved by the PUC provides support to make significant strides toward meeting the state’s vehicle electrification goals.

Infrastructure is a key barrier to widespread EV adoption. Xcel Energy’s Transportation Electrification Plan includes support for expanding access to public charging, charging at home, and at multi-family homes. The plan also advances support for fleet investments in vehicle electrification. To help customers understand the transition, Xcel will offer education and outreach programs. The plan approved today largely adopts Xcel’s plan and will result in a significant investment in the charging infrastructure needed to meet the state’s EV goals.

The Colorado Energy Office advocated for point of sale rebates to reduce the upfront cost and make it easier for Coloradans to purchase. As part of its decision, the Commission concluded that state law permits a utility transportation electrification plan to include rebates for customers to purchase new or used electric vehicles. The Commission approved a $5 million pilot program to provide rebates to income-qualified customers that will enable lower-income customers to enter the EV market.

With support from CEO and other intervenors, the PUC adopted provisions that require Xcel to identify communities most heavily impacted by transportation pollution, to work with those communities, and to target vehicle electrification investments in those areas.

“Transportation is the leading source of greenhouse gas pollution in Colorado, “ said Keith Hay, Director of Policy at the Colorado Energy Office. “The PUC’s decision is a downpayment on transition to cleaner air and lower emissions. We are especially encouraged that the PUC adopted recommendations focusing on equity in the transition to transportation electrification.”

Electrifying transportation will reduce greenhouse gas pollution, lead to cleaner air, save drivers money, and provide benefits to Xcel’s customers:
The Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan 2020 concluded that meeting the goal of 940,000 EVs by 2030 could help Colorado reduce annual ozone-forming pollutants by an estimated 800 tons of NOx, 800 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOC), and up to 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. An analysis performed by M. J. Bradley & Associates found that under a high EV growth scenario, economic benefits would total $1.3 billion per year by 2050, with 80% of the benefits accruing to EV drivers and the rest to utility customers.

The M. J. Bradley & Associates also found that meeting state EV goals would put downward pressure on future rates, delaying or reducing future rate increases, thereby reducing customer bills by roughly $3 per month in 2030 and rising to potentially $42 per month in 2050. A second study by the International Council for Clean Transportation found that by 2030, the lifetime cost savings of an EV over an internal combustion engine will be more than $3,000.

Xcel Energy customers who are EV owners will see additional annual cost savings from reduced fuel and maintenance costs of approximately $260–$276.

#ColoradoRiver tribes seek approval from Congress to put water on the market in #Arizona — Arizona Central #COriver #aridification

Headgate Rock Dam was constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation and is located in southwestern Arizona along the Lower Colorado River. It forms Lake Moovalya and provides irrigation supply for surrounding agriculture. The dam has ten radial gates which are each 30 feet wide and 24 feet tall. The scope of this project included performing repairs to the stoplog assemblies, lifting beams, and slings that were required for control of water during construction. Once the stoplog assemblies were repaired radial gate rehabilitation could commence. The work included replacement of trunnion pins and bushings, wallplates, removal of radial gate arms, replacement of gate seals and clamp bars, weld repairs, roller refurbishment, flat wire rope replacement, rehabilitation of the gate operating machinery, hazardous waste disposal of paint removed from the gates, and surface preparation and recoating of the gates. Photo credit: Alltech Engineering

From Arizona Central (Ian James):

On the Arizona-California border, where the Colorado River pushes against Headgate Rock Dam, churning water pours into a wide canal and runs across the desert, flowing toward the farmlands of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.

This tribal nation is the largest single user of Colorado River water in Arizona, with rights to divert about 662,000 acre-feet per year, more than double the amount of water diverted for the state of Nevada.

But unlike other tribes elsewhere in Arizona, the Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, are legally barred from leasing water to growing cities and suburbs. The reasons go back to a 1964 decree by the U.S. Supreme Court that established the tribal water rights, and to a law enacted in the 1790s that limits tribes’ authority to make such deals without congressional approval.

Now tribal leaders plan to ask Congress to pass legislation that would allow them to put some of their water on the market by leasing it out. They say their water can help Arizona endure shortages as drought and climate change reduce the river’s flow.

They’re already leaving some farmlands dry in exchange for payments, helping Arizona deal with cutbacks under an agreement aimed at boosting the water level in Lake Mead…

Chairman Dennis Patch said the tribe can do more to help as the Southwest grapples with declining water supplies, and in turn would benefit by leasing some of its water. He said it’s also time the Colorado River Indian Tribes gain the ability to use their water as they choose.

“We did this as a tribe because we wanted to claim our own destiny with our land and our water,” Patch said during a virtual meeting on the proposal earlier this month. “Our water is critical to the state’s water security as the drought continues and possibly worsens.”

And because CRIT holds the most senior first-priority rights, its water likely won’t be at risk of cuts during shortages…

Leasing some water would also generate funds to repair and upgrade the aging irrigation system on the reservation, helping its farms use water more efficiently, Patch said. He called the plan “a win for Arizona water users, for the river and for our people and the reservation economy.”

CRIT has about 4,500 tribal members. In January 2019, members voted in a referendum to endorse the approach of seeking federal legislation to lease a portion of the water for use off the reservation.

If Congress agrees and passes a law, the legislation would be the first of its kind in Arizona and could clear a path for other tribal governments along the river to seek authorization for similar water deals…

The Colorado River Indian Tribes’ reservation was established by the federal government in 1865.

Its members come from four tribal affiliations. The Mohave have lived along the river for thousands of years. They were joined by Chemehuevi people, some of whom were displaced by flooding on their lands when dams were built. Later, in the 1940s and 50s, the U.S. government encouraged Navajo and Hopi families to move to the reservation to farm.

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

#Snowpack news (December 23, 2020): The #ColoradoRiver Basin SWE in #Colorado is at or below 2002

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for December 23, 2020 via the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled snowpack map December 23, 2020 via the NRCS.

Western Water Legislation Advances Conservation, Resilience, and Equity — Audubon

Ridgway’s Rail. Photo: Rick Lewis/Audubon Photography Awards

From Audubon:

Newly passed western water package will support 21st century infrastructure, water supply security, and ecological resilience.

Tucked away in the giant omnibus spending legislation passed this week was a small package of bills focused on western water. Western rivers provide important benefits to rural communities, the recreation economy, and bird and wildlife habitat, in addition to providing critical water supplies for cities, irrigated farmland, and tribes.

More than 40 million people rely on the Colorado River or its tributaries for water, and the Colorado also irrigates over five million acres of ranch and farmland, providing food for the entire nation. Reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin, filled to the brim at the end of the 20th Century, are at historic lows due to a 19-year drought and growing demands. Diminished stream flows now pose serious challenges for cities, farms, wildlife, and recreation. Western birds like the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Ridgway’s Rail, and Wilson’s Phalarope depend on ecosystems and habitat throughout the west.

This package of bills expands and improves grant programs within the Bureau of Reclamation that address water conservation and efficiency, drought response, and ecological resiliency. These bills will reauthorize and expand participation in the Cooperative Watershed Management program, an important, collaborative conservation program. In addition, the WaterSMART program is expanded to make non-governmental entities eligible in some circumstances and to fund natural and nature-based projects.

It also establishes a new program to fund fish passage and other improvements to fish and wildlife habitat. The package also includes two sections which provide important funding for scientific advances and improved technology for water desalination and snow supply forecasting.

Finally, the package supports the Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement Act and the Aamodt Litigation Settlement Completion Act. Audubon supports the recognition of Tribal water rights and providing funding for water infrastructure in these communities. Read more about the Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement Act from my colleague, Jennifer Pitt.

This western water package which will help Tribes, states, communities, and ecosystems throughout the West move towards a more resilient water future for birds and people.

#Dolores #water and sewer rates to increase — The Cortez Journal

Dolores

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Funds will upgrade plants, replace aging pipelines

An increase in monthly water and sewer service rates in Dolores will go into effect in January.

The base water rate will increase by $5 to $30.84 per month, up from $25.84.

The base sewer rate will increase by $2.50 to $31.16 per month, up from $28.66.

Rate increases were approved by the town board in March, but implementation was delayed until 2021 because of economic challenges due to the pandemic.

The last time water and sewer rates were raised was in 2015. The town is reviewing a senior, income-based exemption from the latest rate increase.

Inflation and the need for infrastructure upgrades are the reasons for the rate increase, said Mayor Chad Wheelus.

While both the sewer plant and water plant are in good condition, outdated pipelines are deteriorating and need replacement.

Many water service pipelines are more than 50 years old, and their 4-inch diameter size is insufficient. The undersized pipes puts limitations on fire protection needs.

Wheelus said the town has replaced aging leaking water and sewer collection lines, more needs to be done…

Priority needs for the water and wastewater pipeline system in Dolores are estimated to cost $2.7 million, according to a recent assessment from SGM Engineering.

Rate increases will help cover current and future repairs and upgrades at the water and sewer plants over several years, town officials said during recent budget discussions.

In the fall, 10 deteriorated water lines passing under Colorado Highway 145 were replaced. The job was a priority because the highway through town is scheduled to be repaved by Colorado Department of Transportation in 2021. An upgrade to the water treatment plant also was completed this year.

To cover the approximate $800,000 cost, the town secured a $292,363 grant from the Department of Local Affairs, and a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Remaining costs were covered from town reserves and a loan from Dolores State Bank.

The water rate increase will go toward paying off the loan…

According to town documents, there are numerous other infrastructure needs pending within the next 5 to 10 years in Dolores. The rate increase will help build up the reserve to pay for future water and sewer upgrade and maintenance projects.

The increase will also help offset ordinary inflation of costs to operate and maintain water and sewer utilities, officials said.

Dolores has significant remaining capacity in both treatment plants, they said, and both plants are also meeting state standards for water quality. Regarding water quantity, SGM said water supply, and the water and sewer treatment systems are sufficient, and the plants have capacity to meet growth in town without major repairs or expansion.

#COVID19 Relief Package Includes Navajo Settlement, Funds For Infrastructure — Fronteras #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Snowmelt is an important part of the freshwater system in the Colorado River Basin. Photo: NASA/ Thaddeus Cesari

From Fronteras (Ron Dungan):

A recent COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress includes assistance for Navajo Nation water development in Utah, where more than 40% of Navajo homes lack running water or adequate sanitation…

But the COVID-19 relief bill included legislation that will secure Navajo water rights, including a portion of Utah’s Colorado River apportionment.

The bill included funds for water infrastructure, as well as health, education and transportation needs.

Navajo Nation. Image via Cronkite News.

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Zak Podmore):

In June, the Senate unanimously passed the Utah Navajo Water Rights Settlement Act, a long-awaited piece of legislation aimed to do just that for the Utah portion of the reservation. The legislation would recognize the Navajo Nation’s right to 81,500 acre feet of water from the Colorado River basin in Utah — enough to meet the annual needs of an estimated 160,000 typical American households. It also would settle the tribe’s current and future water rights claims and provide $220 million to build much-needed water projects in San Juan County.

Despite its bipartisan passage, outgoing President Donald Trump threw the entire funding and relief package into uncertainty Tuesday night when he sharply criticized it as “wasteful and unnecessary.”

Over 40% of Navajo Nation homes in San Juan County — where tribal water rights have never been formalized — lack running water and many residents have to fill containers at public taps, a time-consuming and expensive process. Others rely on water delivery from nonprofit organizations.

The bill, made more urgent by the pandemic, garnered bipartisan support after nearly 18 years of negotiation. Every member of the Utah delegation to the House of Representatives, three Republicans and one Democrat, cosponsored it, and the public appeared to back its premise as well…

But months passed and nothing happened. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, put out a joint news release in October urging the House to pass the bill. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez spoke to a water conference at Colorado Mesa University in November, and worried that if the legislation did not go to a vote in the House before the end of the year, it could continue to founder in Congress like it has since first being introduced by then-Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in 2016.

On Monday, however, the legislation finally saw renewed life when it was included in the massive Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, a $2.3 trillion spending bill that includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief and a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package. The legislation is now waiting for Trump’s signature.

“This is truly a historic milestone for the Navajo people and the state of Utah,” Nez said in a statement Monday. “For years, Navajo leaders have advocated for the passage of the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act to provide clean water for our people that reside in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation. The COVID-19 pandemic has punctuated our critical need for more clean water resources to keep our people safe and healthy.”

Nez thanked the bill’s advocates in Congress, including Romney, McAdams and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, as well as Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the state’s governor-elect.

Black Phoebe. Photo: Rick Derevan/Audubon Photography Awards

From Audubon (Jennifer Pitt):

For decades, too many Native American tribes in the Colorado River basin have been denied their fair share of water. Too many families on too many reservations have not had the access to clean water that most Americans enjoy. Today, Congress took a step in the right direction with the Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement Act, a bill included in the large omnibus package, the final legislative act of 2020. Audubon supported this settlement and its many benefits including:

Long-needed water infrastructure for citizens of the Navajo Nation in Utah, as well as access to freshwater and wastewater facilities

Affirmed allocation of 81,500 acre-feet of water for the tribe in Utah

More than $200 million from the federal treasury and $8 million from the State of Utah to develop infrastructure for water services on the Navajo reservation in Utah

The right to lease their water off reservation (a right currently denied other tribes in the Colorado River Basin)

Final settlement of all claims for the Navajo Nation in Utah, avoiding the need for future litigation.

As climate change impacts increasingly threaten the Colorado River, the Navajo-Utah settlement will make certain that underserved communities on the Navajo reservation have access to water. Moreover, it ensures the Navajo can realize the full benefit of their water rights as they choose, for their families, their economy, and for the Colorado River and every living thing that depends on it, including hundreds of species of birds.

Audubon will continue to advocate for sensible water legislation and policies at the local, state, and federal levels.

Chaffee County commissioners extend Nestlé 1041 permit to August 4, 2021 #ArkansasRiver

A plane flying across the Sawatch Range in Colorado in the approximate location of Monarch Pass in February 2017 showed the string of 14,000-foot peaks commonly called the Collegiate Peaks to the north. Photo/Allen Best

From Heart of the Rockies Radio (Joe Stone):

The Chaffee County Commissioners approved a contract for Denver-based Harvey Economics to conduct an economic impact study of Nestlé Waters North America’s local operations.

In corresponding moves, the Commissioners voted to extend Nestlé’s existing 1041 permit to Aug. 4, 2021, and voted to continue the permit hearing to Jan. 19, 2021.

The existing permit allows Nestlé to pump up to 196 acre-feet of water per year at Ruby Mountain Spring, and Nestlé has applied for a 10-year permit extension.

The Commissioners have temporarily extended the original permit by more than a year, and this most recent extension will allow Nestlé to continue its operations while the economic study is conducted.

The extension also allows time for county officials, Nestlé and members of the public to review and comment on the economic study.

In discussing the timeline for the ongoing 1041 hearing, the Commissioners indicated they expect Harvey Economics to complete the study in approximately 3 months, after which Nestlé will have the study reviewed by a consultant.

Members of the public will have an opportunity to review the study, review Nestlé’s response, and comment on both documents, with Commissioners expecting to render a decision on Nestlé’s permit application by early June.

If the Commissioners deny the permit extension, Nestlé would have until Aug. 4, 2021, to phase out its Chaffee County operations.

Commissioners Chairman Greg Felt raised the issue of plastic bottles and asked Nestlé Natural Resource Manager Larry Lawrence about the feasibility of converting an existing bottling plant to use biodegradable bottles.

What Has the Administration Meant for #Water? — Circle of Blue #WOTUS

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

The fires burning in the American West were the prompt. Turning to the president, Wallace asked Trump what he believed about climate science and what he would do in the next four years to confront carbon pollution. Trump, at first, demurred.

“I want crystal clean water and air,” Trump responded. Then he pivoted to a familiar talking point: railing against cluttered forests as the cause of wildfires in California and other western states.

The initial line — the desire for crystal clean water — is one that the president repeats frequently, even dating to his 2016 presidential campaign. Immaculate water, he has also said. Clear water. Beautiful water. But the focus on appearances is superficial, according to a number of water advocates and analysts. Revisions to environmental rules that the administration has pursued during the first term of the Trump presidency will be detrimental to the nation’s waters, they said.

“President Trump loves to say that he wants crystal clear water,” Bob Irvin, president and chief executive of the conservation group American Rivers, told Circle of Blue. “But his administration has adopted policies that will result in dirtier water across the country.”

Irvin, an environmental lawyer by training, has worked in Washington D.C. for more than three decades, starting out as a trial attorney in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration. He was senior counsel for fish and wildlife for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He worked for conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the National Wildlife Federation. His career has spanned Republican and Democratic administrations and there was always at least some common ground for environmental priorities, he reflected.

Not during the Trump administration, though. Irvin could not name any beneficial administration policy for waterways. “It is stunning for me to say that,” he said.

Others interviewed for this story were not as absolute, but they echoed, to varying degrees, Irvin’s thoughts: “This administration has been unrelentingly hostile to the idea of conservation and environmental protection, and has been single-minded in its determination to undermine that protection.”

[…]

Failure to secure a big win for infrastructure was surpassed by an agenda to undo environmental protections.

First under Scott Pruitt and currently led by Andrew Wheeler, who lobbied for fossil fuel industries he now regulates, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the reins in the administration’s plan to weaken federal authority and relinquish power to the states.

Like his boss, Wheeler made public statements that lifted water to a place of prominence.

“My frustration with the current dialogue around environmental issues is that water issues often take a backseat,” Wheeler told the audience at the Wilson Center on March 20, 2019, in an event to mark World Water Day. “It’s time to change that.”

And yet, many critics and analysts say that the administration did not change that. Regulatory rollbacks not only at the EPA but from the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and the Department of Energy leave the country’s waters more vulnerable to pollution and development, they say. States, which are enduring budget cuts to their environmental units, are not in a position to be a backstop, argues Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

“The assumption that states are going to come in and fill the gap is not warranted,” Schaeffer told Circle of Blue. Schaeffer was the director of EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement from 1997 to 2002. His group released a study showing that 31 states reduced funding for state pollution control agencies from 2008 to 2018. “When EPA leaves the field, it leaves a lot of work undone,” he said.

The list of places where EPA has left the field or stepped back from it is long. The administration gave coal power plants more time to close unlined waste pits and relaxed standards for pollutants in power plant wastewater that is discharged to rivers and lakes. It narrowed the scope of state reviews of pollution impacts under the Clean Water Act. It withdrew a proposal that would have required mining companies to provide more financial assurance that they could clean up future water contamination. Reversing an Obama-era decision, it decided not to regulate perchlorate in drinking water. Draft rules for lead in drinking water appear to give utilities more time to replace lead service lines.

The U.S. Forest Service, for its part, overturned an Obama-era prohibition on mining leases in about 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. The administration is proceeding with an environmental review of the contested Twin Metals mine, a proposed copper-nickel mine that would be located in the national forest some five miles from Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The Bureau of Reclamation, meanwhile, has sought to increase the height of Shasta Dam over the objections of the state of California and the Winnemem Wintu tribe, which do not want higher waters to submerge salmon habitat and cultural sites along the McCloud River. And the Bureau is carrying out an executive order to maximize water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta.

Laura Ziemer, the senior counsel and water policy advisor for Trout Unlimited, said that there is a lot of opportunity for the Bureau of Reclamation to invest in drought and climate preparedness in the western states through certain forms of natural water storage and irrigation efficiency. But projects like the Shasta Dam raise are not that…

Rewriting WOTUS

Out of all these deregulatory actions, one stood out. Most people interviewed for this story singled out the administration’s changes to the scope of the Clean Water Act — the definition of what counts as a water of the United States, or WOTUS — as the most damaging policy for water.

“It’s going to have consequences that are irreversible and far-reaching,” Kyla Bennett, New England director and science policy director at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Circle of Blue.

Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

Written by the EPA and Army Corps, the WOTUS rule reduces protections for wetlands and ephemeral streams that only flow after rainfall. Agency staff used national hydrological datasets to calculate that as many as half of the nation’s wetlands and 18 percent of streams would be excluded under the new rule. That means developers will not have to seek permits to fill in wetlands and stream segments that formerly had protection. It also means that requirements to minimize damage and offset unavoidable impacts by restoring wetlands elsewhere have been stricken.

Ziemer noted that western rivers are particularly vulnerable to the removal of protections for ephemeral streams…

Watersheds that are connected from headwater channels to floodplains absorb high flows and retain that water through drought periods. “If we allow all of our hydrologic function to be paved over, we are going to expose ourselves to both flood and drought risk moving forward,” Ziemer said.

The EPA press office declined requests from Circle of Blue for interviews with Wheeler and David Ross, head of the Office of Water. It is the agency’s position that no existing map depicts accurately the boundaries of federal regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act. Several federal agencies are now working to publish such a guidepost.

Tipping the Balance of Power

What is the effect of this overhaul? In most cases, it is too early to say. Narrowing the scope of the Clean Water Act took effect this June for every state but Colorado. “It takes a while between the time you push the lever on a new policy or decision and the time the impacts show up in water quality,” Schaeffer said.

The administration touts other steps it has taken to secure the nation’s water: a national plan to coordinate the reuse of water, orders to speed up reviews and permitting of things like the management plan for federally managed dams on the Columbia River, and formalizing a water “subcabinet” of department heads who will coordinate policy, a determination that it will regulate two toxic PFAS substances in drinking water. FEMA, to the pleasure of green groups, also quietly advanced new guidance that allows greater use of federal flood prevention funds for natural infrastructure such as wetlands.

In general, the administration’s rules have tipped the balance of power to users of water: mining companies, energy developers, farmers, homebuilders. Even as it moves to regulate two PFAS in drinking water, the EPA is allowing the chemical industry to produce and sell new PFAS substances.

Among the president’s most ardent supporters is the American Farm Bureau Federation. Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the Farm Bureau, told Circle of Blue that the administration has assisted in three ways: collaborating with states on nutrient pollution, encouraging market-based systems for trading pollution credits, and simply listening to farm groups.

“One of our biggest priorities coming into this administration was a more realistic definition of waters of the United States,” Parrish told Circle of Blue. Narrowing the scope of the Clean Water Act accomplished that, Parrish said, though the Farm Bureau did not get everything it wanted in the revised rule.

The Utility Water Act Group, a coalition of energy utilities and industry groups that sued to overturn Obama-era coal ash regulations and to support the Trump administration’s environmental policies, declined to comment for this story.

It’s not just the policies that have drawn ire. The Trump administration has sought to transform the process by which those decisions are made: by sidelining scientific evidence and shrinking the environmental review process.

According to a survey of federal scientists, political appointees in the Trump administration raised barriers to using science in policy decisions. More than 4,200 federal scientists responded to the survey, which was conducted in 2018 by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Iowa State University. Half of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that political considerations outweighed scientific conclusions.

The legacy of these four years is still being written. The administration’s policy changes have fared poorly in court. Many have been overturned because of procedural missteps and hastily written justifications. Other rules like the definition of waters of the United States are in the early stages of litigation.

“Discourses of #climate delay” spells out almost all the problems we are having now when it comes to climate actions and sustainable development issues Christine Lian Ho #ActOnClimate

Local groups want mitigation, public hearing on marble quarry water issue — @AspenJournalism

Vehicles and machinery were parked outside the entrances to the marble galleries of the Pride of America Mine in January. Local governments and environmental groups want the quarry operators to undertake mitigation projects to compensate for moving a creek, which violated the Clean Water Act. Photo credit: EcoFlight via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Local governments and environmental groups don’t think a proposal submitted by a mining company goes far enough to restore the damage done when the company diverted a section of creek near Marble, and they are asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold a public hearing to address various concerns.

They also say the company, which was found to have violated the Clean Water Act for moving the section of Yule Creek without first applying for a permit, should undertake river restoration projects elsewhere in the Crystal River basin as compensatory mitigation for damage the company caused when it moved the waterway to construct a road to better access its marble quarry.

The quarry site and Yule Creek are in Gunnison County, but the creek is a tributary of the Crystal River, which flows through Pitkin County.

In separate comments submitted to the Army Corps, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, the Crystal River Caucus, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) are asking for monitoring, restoration, mitigation and a chance for the public to weigh in about the situation at the Pride of America Mine above the town of Marble.

“I think this is an activity of significant interest for those living in the Crystal River Valley,” said Pitkin County Assistant Attorney Laura Makar.

In its comment letter, CVEPA requested that the Army Corps hold a public hearing in the Crystal River Valley to “allow impacted residents a meaningful opportunity to engage in this decision-making process, and to better understand the situation that has transpired in our local watershed.”

In the fall of 2018, mine operator Colorado Stone Quarries (CSQ) diverted a 1,500-foot section of Yule Creek from its natural channel on the west side of Franklin Ridge, a rock outcropping, to the east side of the ridge so it could build a road. Operators piled the streambed with 97,000 cubic yards of fill material, including marble blocks.

In March, the Army Corps determined that these actions, which were done without the proper permit, violated the Clean Water Act. CSQ is now retroactively applying for that permit, known as a 404 individual permit. Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, a project requires a permit from the Army Corps if it includes the discharge of dredged or fill materials into waters, such as rivers, streams and wetlands.

In its permit application, CSQ proposed making the creek relocation permanent by leaving it where it is on the east side of the ridge. The company says this is the most efficient and environmentally sound option, and it results in the closest return to pre-diversion stream conditions. But that analysis doesn’t sit well with some local groups.

The Crystal River Caucus, which represents Pitkin County residents downstream of the site, said in its comment letter that the company’s proposed solution focuses too much on practicability above environmental factors.

“CSQ’s illegal activities have severely reduced, if not eliminated, many viable alternatives which could have been considered if the mining company had complied with the state and federal laws intended to regulate its activities,” the caucus wrote in its comment letter. “CSQ should not be rewarded for its violation of those laws.”

These marble blocks stamped with quarry owner’s name, Red Graniti, and operator’s initials, CSQ, line the banks of the Crystal River near the company’s load-out area in the town of Marble. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to issue the operator a retroactive permit to allow it to move a stream. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Mitigation projects

In its comment letter, Pitkin County said CSQ has not demonstrated that it has a plan that eliminates its detrimental impacts. In addition to a public hearing, the county wants the mining company to restore the riparian habitat, conduct water-quality monitoring at multiple sites in the basin and compensate for any damage by doing restoration projects in other areas.

Pitkin County and the Healthy Rivers board identified eight projects that could provide compensatory mitigation in the Crystal River basin, including restoration of Filoha Meadows streambanks, Thompson Creek riparian restoration and Crystal River streambank stabilization.

“These projects could provide the following types of benefits to the watershed: riparian zone improvement, floodplain connectivity, erosion control, habitat for aquatic life and water quantity increase,” the letter reads.

The Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, in its letter, said it is interested in assisting with developing and implementing a long-term water-quality monitoring plan. According to the conservancy’s 2016 Crystal River Management Plan, the areas near Marble were some of the most ecologically intact prior to the recent mining activity on Yule Creek.

“RFC strongly encourages the applicant to undertake significant efforts, through a qualified and independent organization(s) to design and implement restoration projects and related long-term monitoring to restore the necessary and lasting ecological function in this severely impacted reach of Yule Creek,” the letter reads.

Yule Creek can be seen from a small viewing area at the entrance to the Pride of America Mine, three miles up County Road 3C from the town of Marble. The creek now flows on the east side of Franklin Ridge because mine operators moved it without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Next steps

In a prepared statement, CSQ said it is awaiting guidance from the Army Corps on next steps in the process.

“Once CSQ has received all of the public comments and the Corps’ response, it will review all of this information and consider the best course of action,” said CSQ senior consultant Katie Todt, who is with Lewicki & Associates.

The Army Corps will now decide whether to issue a permit after the fact — an unusual situation. CSQ did not submit any compensatory mitigation plans as part of its application, but the Army Corps could require them if it determines that CSQ can’t minimize all its impacts.

“The applicant is currently considering various options to conduct compensatory mitigation, if needed,” says the Army Corps’ public notice of the application from October. “Discussions thus far have included wetland enhancement and preservation near the confluence of Yule Creek and the Crystal River in effort to improve water quality within the watershed, among other options that seek to improve the ecological function of the Yule Creek watershed. CSQ is amenable to receiving information related to additional compensatory mitigation options.”

According to its public notice, the Army Corps says it will use the public comments received to prepare an environmental assessment of CSQ’s activities.

The public comment period closed Dec. 16, a deadline that had been extended by a month at the request of the Crystal River Caucus. According to Susan Nall, chief of the Colorado West Section of the Army Corps, it is the Army Corps’ goal to issue a decision on a permit within 120 days after receiving the application.

The Pride of America Mine, known locally as the Yule Quarry, is owned by Italy-based Red Graniti. The quarry has been the source of marble for many well-known monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Colorado Capitol building. In 2016, the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety granted the quarry a permit for a 114-acre expansion for a total of 124 permitted acres. CSQ officials say there is enough marble in its quarries to continue mining at the current rate for more than 100 years.

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Dec. 21 edition of The Aspen Times.

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy