Spatial Estimates of Snow-Water Equivalent (SWE) Intermountain West Region March 12, 2020 — Western Water Assessment

Click here to read the report (Noah Molotch , Dominik Schneider , Leanne Lestak , Benét Duncan , Jeff Lukas). Here’s the summary of current conditions as of March 12, 2020:

Summary of current conditions (as of 3/12/20)
On March 12th the modeled snow conditions are mostly below the 2001-12 average across the Intermountain West domain, with most basins at 75-95% and a couple above 100% of average . Snow conditions remain low (<80% of average) in the central basins: North Platte, White-Yampa, CO Headwaters, Dolores, San Juan and Upper Arkansas. The eastern and western basins are between 80-95%, with the Big Horn and South Platte above average. At lower elevations, our model estimates indicate generally below average SWE for this time of year, while SWE predictions at higher elevations are above average – consistent with SNOTEL observations. The basin-wide percent of average from the spatial SWE estimates is not directly comparable with the SNOTEL basin-wide percent of average. A better comparison might be made with the % average in the elevation bands that contain SNOTEL sites.

#Colorado water utilities race to protect workers from COVID-19 as they declare tap water safe — @WaterEdCO #COVID19

Workers pose for a photo in the Moffat Water Tunnel in this 1930 photo.

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

As COVID-19 cases spread across Colorado, water utilities initiated emergency action plans, asking hundreds of employees to work from home to limit the virus’ spread and to help protect the workers needed to operate water treatment and delivery systems.

COVID-19 isn’t typically found in treated water systems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because it is easily susceptible to the disinfectants used in standard water treatment systems.

“This virus is fragile,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water, Colorado’s largest municipal water supplier. “The EPA and CDC and WHO [World Health Organization] have all put out guidance that drinking water systems that are treating water properly are perfectly safe. Our treatment protocols exceed federal and state standards and so we are doing better than we are required to do.”

Though water safety isn’t an issue in this pandemic, at least not yet, worker safety is.

In the heart of Colorado’s ski country, where COVID-19 cases have spread quickly, the Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, as well as its sister agency the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, issued an emergency declaration March 13, a move that will allow them to apply for state and federal funds and extra equipment should they be needed.

The primary worry, said Eagle River District general manager Linn Brooks, is to prevent a rapid onset of COVID-19 among operations staff, something that could hamper the districts’ ability to ensure consistent water treatment and delivery.

“My biggest concern is that if it spreads quickly through our staff and we have a lot of people out, straining our capacity to do our work. Still, we could absorb a fair amount [of employee absences] before it impacts the service we provide,” Brooks said.

To date no Eagle River or Upper Eagle River District employees have tested positive for the virus nor is her district seeing high rates of absenteeism, Brooks said.

But the Eagle River District has imposed new sanitation and cleaning protocols at its plants and is requiring workers to stay home, with or without testing, if they exhibit any cold or flu-like symptoms. They can return to work only after they’ve been symptom free for at least 72 hours.

On the Front Range, Berthoud-based Northern Water, which serves more than 1 million agricultural and municipal customers, has also instituted emergency action plans, asking non-essential personnel to work from home and keeping operators on the job. Northern serves cities across the northern Front Range, including Fort Collins, Greeley, Boulder and Longmont, among others.

Northern offers workers unlimited sick leave as a matter course, while other utilities, such as Denver Water, are offering special administrative leave to employees who become ill to encourage them to remain home, allowing them to protect their personal vacation and sick time.

The pandemic has arrived just as the spring water delivery season begins. At least three regularly scheduled major water planning meetings across the state, used to inform the public and collect input on how much water should be made available for the year, have been cancelled.

“The hard part is getting the word out,” said Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla.

Northern’s board will make a decision April 9 on how much water will be delivered to users this year, based on final snowpack numbers and reservoir storage. But that meeting, like many others, may end up being conducted online or via conference call, Stahla said.

Colorado State of the River meetings, typically hosted by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, have also been postponed until further notice.

Back in Denver, Lochhead said his agency will remain in emergency mode “indefinitely.”

“We have calls every morning to assess. It’s a dynamic situation that changes daily if not hourly,” Lochhead said. “But in the uncertain world we’re in right now, the safety and reliability of the supply is the surest thing we have going.”

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

Experts agree that Trump’s coronavirus response was poor, but the US was ill-prepared in the first place — @ConversationUS

President Donald Trump with members of the president’s Coronavirus Task Force at the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Simon F. Haeder, Pennsylvania State University

As the coronavirus pandemic exerts a tighter grip on the nation, critics of the Trump administration have repeatedly highlighted the administration’s changes to the nation’s pandemic response team in 2018 as a major contributor to the current crisis. This combines with a hiring freeze at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leaving hundreds of positions unfilled. The administration also has repeatedly sought to reduce CDC funding by billions of dollars. Experts agree that the slow and uncoordinated response has been inadequate and has likely failed to mitigate the coming widespread outbreak in the U.S.

As a health policy expert, I agree with this assessment. However, it is also important to acknowledge that we have underfunded our public health system for decades, perpetuated a poorly working health care system and failed to bring our social safety nets in line with other developed nations. As a result, I expect significant repercussions for the country, much of which will disproportionately fall on those who can least afford it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, March 6, 2020. President Trump visited the CDC that day in an effort to calm fears about coronavirus.
AP Photo/Ron Harris

Decades of underfunding

Spending on public health has historically proven to be one of humanity’s best investments. Indeed, some of the largest increases in life expectancy have come as the direct result of public health interventions, such as sanitation improvements and vaccinations.

Even today, return on investments for public health spending is substantial and tends to significantly outweigh many medical interventions. For example, one study found that every US$10 per person spent by local health departments reduces infectious disease morbidity by 7.4%.

However, despite their importance to national well-being, public health expenditures have been neglected at all levels. Since 2008, for example, local health departments have lost more than 55,000 staff. By 2016, only about 133,000 full-time equivalent staff remained. State funding for public health was lower in 2016-2017 than in 2008-2009. And the CDC’s prevention and public health budget has been flat and significantly underfunded for years. Overall, of the more than $3.5 trillion the U.S. spends annually on health care, a meager 2.5% goes to public health.

Not surprisingly, the nation has experienced a number of outbreaks of easily preventable diseases. Currently, we are in the middle of significant outbreaks of hepatitis A (more than 31,000 cases), syphilis (more than 35,000 cases), gonorrhea (more than 580,000 cases) and chlamydia (more than 1,750,000 cases). Our failure to contain known diseases bodes ill for our ability to rein in the emerging coronavirus pandemic.

Failures of health care systems

Yet while we have underinvested in public health, we have been spending massive and growing amounts of money on our medical care system. Indeed, we are spending more than any other country for a system that is significantly underperforming.

To make things worse, it is also highly inequitable. Yet, the system is highly profitable for all players involved. And to maximize income, both for- and nonprofits have consistently pushed for greater privatization and the elimination of competitors.

As a result, thousands of public and private hospitals deemed “inefficient” because of unfilled beds have closed. This eliminated a significant cushion in the system to buffer spikes in demand.

At any given time, this decrease in capacity does not pose much of a problem for the nation. Yet in the middle of a global pandemic, communities will face significant challenges without this surge capacity. If the outbreak mirrors anything close to what we have seen in other countries, “there could be almost six seriously ill patients for every existing hospital bed.” A worst-case scenario from the same study puts the number at 17 to 1. To make things worse, there will likely be a particular shortage ofunoccupied intensive care beds.

Of course, the lack of overall hospitals beds is not the most pressing issue. Hospitals also lack the levels of staffing and supplies needed to cope with a mass influx of patients. However, the lack of ventilators might prove the most daunting challenge.

Virginia Hollins-Davidson is taken away by a California Highway Patrol officer after she and other protesters blocked the door to the governor’s office during a protest by the Poor People’s Campaign at the Capitol, June 18, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Limits of the overall social safety net

While the U.S. spends trillions of dollars each year on medical care, our social safety net has increasingly come under strain. Even after the Affordable Care Act, almost 30 million Americans do not have health insurance coverage. Many others are struggling with high out-of-pocket payments.

To make things worse, spending on social programs, outside of those protecting the elderly, has been shrinking, and is significantly smaller than in other developed nations. Moreover, public assistance is highly uneven and differs significantly from state to state.

And of course, the U.S. heavily relies on private entities, mostly employers, to offer benefits taken for granted in other developed countries, including paid sick leave and child care. This arrangement leaves 1 in 4 American workers without paid sick leave, resulting in highly inequitable coverage. As a result, many low-income families struggle to make ends meet even when times are good.

Can the US adapt?

I believe that the limitations of the U.S. public health response and a potentially overwhelmed medical care system are likely going to be exacerbated by the blatant limitations of the U.S. welfare state. However, after weathering the current storm, I expect us to go back to business as usual relatively quickly. After all, that’s what happened after every previous pandemic, such as H1N1 in 2009 or even the 1918 flu epidemic.

The problems are in the incentive structure for elected officials. I expect that policymakers will remain hesitant to invest in public health, let alone revamp our safety net. While the costs are high, particularly for the latter, there are no buildings to be named, and no quick victories to be had. The few advocates for greater investments lack resources compared to the trillion-dollar interests from the medical sector.

Yet, if altruism is not enough, we should keep reminding policymakers that outbreaks of communicable diseases pose tremendous challenges for local health care systems and communities. They also create remarkable societal costs. The coronavirus serves as a stark reminder.

[You need to understand the coronavirus pandemic, and we can help. Read our newsletter.]The Conversation

Simon F. Haeder, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Pennsylvania State University

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

#Snowpack news: Widespread precipitation on the way for #Colorado

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

From The Fort Collins Coloradodoan (Miles Blumhardt):

Fort Collins has a good chance of receiving its first snow of 3 inches or more since November, with a strong storm system moving into the area.

Early indications are the Fort Collins area will receive 3 to 6 inches of snow with the foothills and mountains west of the city to see a foot or more of snow, according to some models.

The National Weather Service issued Tuesday afternoon a winter storm watch for much of the northeastern quadrant of the state, including Fort Collins and Denver, from 10 a.m. Thursday through 6 a.m. Friday…

Meteorologists are unsure how much of the precipitation will fall as rain and how much of it snow. They do agree there is a lot of moisture with the system and what snow does fall will be wet and heavy…

They also are unsure where the low-pressure system funneling the moisture will set up. Even short distances in the tracking of low pressure can dramatically change how much snow areas receive. If it stays on its more northerly track through Colorado, that favors Denver and north. If it tracks more southerly, it favors Denver and south…

NWS said 3 to 7 inches of snow is expected along with 45 mph winds in the watch area, which will impact travel from Interstate 76 north.

The weather service also said widespread snow in the mountains will likely be heaviest along the Front Range mountains and foothills, mainly north of Interstate 70…

The National Weather Service in Cheyenne has issued a blizzard warning from Wednesday evening through Friday for a large swath of eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. It includes area from Laramie to Sidney and will impact Interstate 80 travel. The forecast calls for 4 to 9 inches of snow and winds up to 50 mph…

Fort Collins’ traditional snowiest month — March — hasn’t delivered thus far. As of Tuesday, the city has received 0.7 inches of snow. The monthly average is around 11 inches.

We are at 51.9 inches of snow on the season, which is just less than 4 inches below our annual average and 9.4 inches above normal for this time of the snow season, according to the Colorado Climate Center.

While mountain snowpack has regressed in recent weeks, it’s still above average in five of the state’s river basins. The South Platte basin, which covers Fort Collins and Denver, is the highest at 117% of average.

During yesterday’s Governor’s Water Availability Task Force meeting Brian Domonkos (NRCS) made the point that while snowpack is fair across Colorado precipitation has not been stellar. Here’s a gallery of precipitation data from the NRCS.

And finally, here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for today from the NRCS.