February 2020 #Drought Update — @CWCB_DNR

From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Megan Holcomb/Tracy Kosloff):

2020 is off to an average start. But how? Globally, January was the warmest January on record and 4th warmest month ever on record with respect to global averages. In Colorado, January was warm throughout the entire state except for South Park and the San Luis Valley. After a few early warm days in February, the temperature flipped for Colorado, with most of the state colder than average. Thus far, the Colorado water year (Oct to Feb) shows business as usual, with statewide snowpack at 114% of record median and reservoir storage at 105% of average. The Intermountain West region is similarly experiencing typical winter patterns. This February, Colorado precipitation has been heaviest in the central and north mountain ranges.

● The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) (from Nov 18 – Feb 5) shows geographically distributed average precipitation statewide. The eastern plains are exceptions with SPI values slightly below average.
● The U.S. Drought Monitor, released February 18, shows similar drought distributions to last month. D0 (abnormally dry) and D1 (moderate) conditions cover 68% of Colorado. D2 (severe) drought covers 3% of the south east and west state corners and 29% of the state (north-central) remains drought free.
● While equatorial sea surface temperatures were warmer than average over the Pacific the last few months, ENSO forecasts still suggest conditions will revert back to neutral conditions for spring and summer 2020. This could mean reduced​ odds of SW Colorado spring moisture.

Colorado Drought Monitor February 25, 2020.

● NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center maps continue to show warmer than average temperature outlooks March through May for the SW half of the state, and equal chances of near, above, or below average precipitation outlooks.
● Reservoir storage remains near to above normal: 85% to 127% of average in all major basins and 105% of average statewide.
● SNOTEL Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) sites show statewide snowpack at 114% of record median (as of Feb 14).
● Water providers and water users did not report any unusual impacts or concerns at this time.

Click here to download the presentations.

Chlorine Could Increase Antimicrobial Resistance — the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

Mutagens, such as disinfection byproducts, in treated wastewater elicit a colorimetric response in this 96-well plate. Photo credit: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

From King Abdullah University of Science and Technology:

Ultraviolet light could thwart antimicrobial resistance by damaging DNA material in wastewater.

Conventional wastewater disinfection using chlorine could facilitate the spread of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria1. Treating some types of wastewater with ultraviolet (UV) light instead could be part of the solution2, according to a study at KAUST’s Water Desalination and Reuse Center, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Bacteria are rapidly developing mechanisms to evade the effects of antimicrobial drugs, and this resistance is increasingly threatening public health. Pharmaceutical compounds and resistant bacteria that reach municipal and agricultural wastewater are partially to blame. Interestingly, the antimicrobial resistance of bacteria in wastewater entering water treatment plants is lower than after the wastewater leaves the treatment plant.

This may be because during wastewater disinfection, genetic material breaks out of bacteria into the surrounding water. This extracellular DNA can contain antimicrobial resistance genes. “The big question is are these extracellular resistance genes of concern to public health?” says KAUST postdoctoral fellow, David Mantilla-Calderon. “We don’t have an answer to this question yet, but the first prerequisite these genes must fulfill to be of concern is that they need to be harbored within a viable bacterial cell. This is only possible through a process called natural transformation, which allows extracellular DNA uptake and integration into the bacterial chromosome.”

Mantilla-Calderon and colleagues at KAUST found1 that natural transformation was stimulated in a bacterium commonly found in water and soil, called Acinetobacter baylyi, when it was in the presence of the chlorine byproduct, bromoacetic acid. They found that this disinfection byproduct caused DNA damage in the bacterium, inducing a DNA repair pathway that is known to also increase the integration of foreign DNA into the bacterium’s genome.

Ph.D. student Nicolas Augsburger next investigated2 the effects of sunlight and one component of sunlight, UV light, on natural transformation. “We wanted to see if there was a safer way to disinfect treated wastewater without provoking an increase in natural transformation in environmental bacteria,” he explains.

Interestingly, Augsburger and his colleagues found that, similar to bromoacetic acid, treatment with either the full spectrum of sunlight or only with UV light caused increased natural transformation in Acinetobacter baylyi.

David Mantilla-Calderon (left) and Nicholas Augsburger discuss the results of their UV treatment of the natural transformation they stimulated in a common bacterium when it was in the presence of the chlorine byproduct, bromoacetic acid, casting doubt on commonly used wastewater treatment. Photo credit: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

“What surprised us was the finding that after treatment with UV light, the bacterium’s genes were damaged to the extent that they were no longer functional,” says Augsburger. “Thus, although treatment with UV light increased the integration of foreign DNA into the bacterium, just like disinfection byproducts and sunlight, it will not be able to express those genes.”

“Our studies question our current reliance on the use of chlorine as the final disinfection step in most wastewater treatment plants,” says microbiologist Peiying Hong, who supervised the studies. “A disinfection strategy using UV light could be considered for disinfecting low turbidity water. This could help in minimizing wastewater contribution to antimicrobial resistance.”

Hong’s lab is now investigating how various stressors might interact to affect uptake and integration rates of extracellular DNA into bacteria.

Parties to Juliana v. United States appeal 3 judge panel ruling, request to be heard en banc by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

From The Hill (Rebecca Beitsch):

Attorneys for 21 youth climate activists are filing an appeal after a judge ruled they cannot sue the federal government for failure to act on climate change.

The activists sought a court order to force the government to phase out the use of fossil fuels, but a panel of three judges in January ruled such a decision was beyond the reach of the judicial branch.

Lawyers are now petitioning for a ruling from all 11 judges in the 9th Circuit, arguing that reversing an earlier district court decision fails to ensure the youth activists’ right to a trial.

“In overturning the district court, the majority fundamentally changed the way our branches of our government operate, placing the president and Congress beyond the reach of judicial oversight. If this opinion stands, there will be no more constitutional checks and balances on government conduct,” Philip Gregory, a co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs, argued.

In August, two of the three judges said they did not have the power to push the government to address climate change.

“Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power,” 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote for the majority. “Rather, the plaintiffs’ impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government.”

But the decision from the court’s majority sparked a powerful dissent from Judge Josephine Staton, who said the climate change issues raised in the suit were within the court’s authority to redress, and warned that “waiting is not an option.”

The youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States attended the Ninth Circuit hearing in December. Photo credit: Robin Loznak

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly #Climate, #Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Intermountain West February 2020 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s the summary:

Summary: March 3, 2020

Mostly dry, yet cooler than average conditions prevailed across the IMW over the last week. There were two waves of precipitation that impacted the region. A cold front dropping out of the northwest early last week brought up to several tenths of moisture to eastern Wyoming and Colorado. A second system impacted Colorado Sunday into Monday. Neither wave carried large amounts of moisture, and neither gave any more than a glancing blow to areas currently experiencing drought.

The high elevations of the IMW by and large had a drier week than normal for late February/early March. Snowpack is still strong through most of the IMW with a few stations already over 100% of normal peak values. However, recent dryness has led to a regression in snowpack values for the southern portion of the region. The San Juans in Colorado have regressed to 89% of average for this point in the season. Snowpack is also below normal in Arizona and western New Mexico. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center is anticipating low cumulative runoff numbers for this spring and summer from the San Juan Basin southward. This is due not only to low snowpack, but also very low soil moisture prior to the start of the cold season. Snowpack numbers are above normal east of the Continental Divide.

Surface water supplies are in generally average to above average conditions for small-to-medium reservoirs across the IMW. This is thanks in large part to a high snowpack in 2019. The giant exceptions are Lake Powell, and Lake Mead, which have been consistently lower than normal for years. Powell and Mead would need an anomalous cool, wet period spanning multiple years to return to levels seen in the 1980s and 90s.

Grasslands east of the Continental Divide are seeing mixed surface conditions, but things have been trending drier. According to the NLDAS NOAH model from nationalsoilmoisture.com, northeastern Colorado is seeing widespread dry topsoils and root zone soils. Soil moisture in northeast Wyoming is in better condition.

Dry weather is in the forecast for much of the UCRB and eastern Colorado. The Tetons, Uintahs, and western Colorado Rockies are forecasted to receive 0.50-1.50″ of moisture in the week to come. Stronger than normal elevational gradients are expected with this moisture. Lower elevations are unlikely to see more than 0.10″. Conditions east of the divide will be dry. The 8-14 day outlook will be important to keep an eye on. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center currently favors increased chance of above normal precipitation over the Four Corners Region over this time period. Given the persisting drought conditions, and deteriorating snowpack, a widespread precipitation event over this area would be valuable.

And, here is the March climatological contribution to annual precipitation map from Russ Schumacher.

A Transformative Deal for Nature — The Nature Conservancy

From the Nature Conservancy (Linda Krueger):

In October 2020, representatives of the 196 countries that are party to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will gather in Kunming, China, to finalize a new Global Biodiversity Framework. Like the 2015 Paris climate accord, this new agreement could mark a turning point in how we manage our relationship to nature.

But biodiversity advocates must learn an important lesson from climate activists. Global climate action gained momentum only after it became clear that the issue was about more than the environment, and would require a transformation of transport, energy, agriculture, infrastructure, and many industries. Likewise, the rapid loss of biodiversity that we are witnessing is about much more than nature. The collapse of ecosystems will threaten the wellbeing and livelihoods of everyone on the planet. Accordingly, the CBD must move beyond traditional notions of “conservation” to engage with all relevant sectors of the economy and civil society.

Since its creation following the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the CBD has been largely successful in pushing countries to establish new protected areas, such that nearly 15 percent of global land areas are now under some sort of park designation (though the share of protected marine areas is much smaller). But despite this relative success, biodiversity loss has continued, suggesting that the creation of nature refuges is necessary but not sufficient. To slow and halt the rapid decline of species and habitats, we must address how human societies manage land and seascapes and the resources that are being extracted from them.

As matters stand, all of our economic incentives are geared toward encouraging activities that drive biodiversity loss. Agriculture, infrastructure, and urban areas are all rapidly expanding, as are extractive industries like forestry, mining, and fishing. In addition to converting landscapes directly, these practices can disrupt natural habitats and degrade much larger areas, by creating access points for illegal hunting, logging, and other activities. Pollutants, runoff, and industrial and agricultural water usage cause still more damage.

A mere 5 percent of the planet’s land surface remains unaltered by human activities, and that share is likely to shrink further unless we institute changes soon. A recent study by scientists from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) finds that if current trends hold, the construction of roads and energy infrastructure (including renewables), together with mining and agriculture, threatens to double the conversion of remaining intact wild areas in Latin America, and to triple converted lands in Africa by 2050.

HONG KONG A Scheepmaker’s crowned pigeon holds a twig in its beak. © W.K Pang/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Responsibility for protecting the natural world has traditionally fallen to environment ministries, park managers, and conservationists, all of whom will be at the negotiating table next year. But to be truly transformational, the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework must also involve finance, planning, transportation, energy, and agriculture officials, particularly those with the clout to effect change across entire economies.

Agriculture ministries, for example, are critical for maintaining natural habitats and protecting biodiversity corridors for pollinators and other wildlife. To slow habitat conversion, governments can make agricultural subsidies conditional on environmental considerations, and require foreign agribusinesses to prove that imports are produced without converting natural habitats.

Similarly, energy generation, transportation, and infrastructure are all major drivers of biodiversity loss, requiring more robust planning and mitigation efforts by ministries far beyond those charged with conservation. Whether by regulation or incentives, governments must do more to minimize the impact of these activities on nature. And when avoidance is impossible, projects should be required to compensate for biodiversity loss by investing in the restoration of degraded or deforested lands. To that end, the new framework should establish guidelines for how specific sectors can improve over time.

Ensuring real accountability and transparency requires a clear agenda. But what, specifically, should countries be accountable for? TNC has proposed a metric based on the “net gain for nature,” which would enable parties to show year-on-year improvements in the condition of natural habitats, and of biodiversity within production landscapes such as agricultural lands.

Admittedly, this kind of indicator is harder to measure than are more standard benchmarks such as protected acreage. But with new low-cost spatial technologies such as geographic positioning systems (GPS), geographic information systems (GIS), and remote sensing, the data needed to measure progress is well within reach. Ideally, we would assess the conditions of every habitat at a global scale, forming a detailed understanding of all ecosystems. And with these data, we could then monitor progress in habitats by country, ecoregion, or biome.

SAN SEBASTIAN, YUCATAN, MEXICO Elizar Samuel Gamara waters plantings under solar panels that generate electricity for a water well pump at the 4,500 acre Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve. © Erich Schlegel via The Nature Conservancy

Saving nature is not a task for government alone; it must be a whole-of-society effort. Even with optimal legislation and enforcement, governments probably cannot eliminate all of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. Support from business, local governments, Indigenous communities, civil-society groups, and faith-based organizations will be essential. A sector-based approach that supports “net gains for nature” can be a platform whereby all stakeholders will make voluntary commitments to our broader goals.

The international community has less than one year to negotiate a framework capable of transforming our relationship to nature. If governments want the CBD meeting in Kunming to be a turning point, they will have to engage in the hard work of overhauling how we manage our land and sea resources through all stages of extraction, production, and consumption. That can happen only if negotiators recognize that the Global Biodiversity Framework is not just a matter for environmentalists.

Utah House reaffirms intent to develop #ColoradoRiver water — The Deseret News #COriver #aridification #LakePowellPipeline

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

…the Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday passed HCR22, which makes clear to neighboring states and policymakers that Utah will someday develop its unused portion of the Colorado River…

Utah has not fully developed its full 23% allocation of the river, with much of that unused water flowing downstream to lower basin states.

Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane — who lives in southern Utah where the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline would take the unused allocation — said it is important Utah send a message to its neighbors that the resource will be developed…

The resolution passed on a 57-13 vote because the Lake Powell Pipeline — and development of the Colorado River in light of drought and a changing climate — has stoked opposition by some groups that assert it’s a failed proposal that will drain an already struggling river.

Last’s measure urges development of the water in the most expeditious fashion, and Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, questioned what those parameters might be.

“As soon as we can effectively use it,” Last told him.

Briscoe added that conservation practices should have been emphasized more in the resolution and addressed higher in the language of the measure.

But Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara — another lawmaker who lives in the Utah region where the pipeline would deliver water — said the resolution is a critical message that merits support.

“It is important as a state that we indicate our intent to preserve our allocation,” Snow said. “I can’t begin to evaluate the monetary value of our water right in the Colorado. It is invaluable and will become more so in the future.”

The resolution is now awaiting action in the Senate.

Brad Udall: “…latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
@GreatLakesPeck

#Snowpack news: Less SWE from SW basins (88%) NE to #SouthPlatte Basin (128%)

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

From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

Copper Mountain measurement site has already hit the 30-year median peak, weeks early

The latest figures on the “snow water equivalent” in and near the headwaters of Gore Creek and the Eagle River includes some good news, thanks to a snowy February.

The three main snow measurement sites used by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District show numbers well above 30-year median figures.

As of March 2, Vail Mountain’s snow measurement site is at 117% percent of that 30-year median. Fremont Pass, the closest measurement site to the headwaters of the Eagle River, is at 124% of the 30-year median. The measurement site at Copper Mountain, the closest to the headwaters of Gore Creek, has the most snow, at 139% of the 30-year median.

In fact, the Copper Mountain measurement site has now accumulated its peak snow water equivalent compared to the 30-year median. That peak generally comes in early May…

That’s good news, for now, but several weeks remain in the area’s “snow year,” with the usually snowiest months of March and April still to come…

In the 2018-19 snow year, a snowy March boosted the snowpack. But a dry April caused the snowpack at Vail to peak in early April, instead of the usual late-April peak.

In fact, the Vail snowpack finished the previous snow year a bit below the 30-year median…

While an even chance of normal precipitation is fine, much of the state remains in some form of drought, according to the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. Those conditions range from “abnormally dry” to “moderate drought.” Only the far southwestern corner of Eagle County is on that map. The rest of the county is drought-free.

And, here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for March 3, 2020 via the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.