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HPRCC Staff Conduct Climate Summary Workshop for Tribes in the Region
As part of a Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded tribal resilience project, HPRCC staff developed and conducted the “Lower Missouri River Tribes Resilience Training Climate Summary Workshop” in mid-March for tribal environmental professionals from nine tribes in EPA Region 7: Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. The workshop was one in a series of workshops that are part of a larger project aiming to increase tribal resilience to climate change and extremes. While the workshop was supposed to take place on the Winnebago Reservation in Sloan, IA, the workshop ended up being conducted remotely via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The workshop began with a series of presentations that introduced participants to basic climate concepts, the climate of the region, including trends and projections, and the process for creating a climate summary. Much of the rest of the workshop was hands-on, as participants had the opportunity to explore tools and obtain data on general climate conditions, drought and vegetation, stream- flow and snowpack, and climate outlooks.
Tune into the 24th episode of our podcast: We Are Rivers. Learn all about Colorado’s instream flow program, and the significance it has on surrounding rivers and communities.
Join us for Episode 24 of We Are Rivers, as we de-wonk Colorado’s instream flow program, a critical tool to protect and enhance river flows across the state of Colorado.
Rivers form the lifelines of Colorado’s economy and lifestyle. On both sides of the Continental Divide, rivers provide world class fishing, paddling and fantastic scenic canyons. Not only do rivers provide engaging recreation opportunities, they also provide most of Colorado’s clean, safe, reliable drinking water, support our thriving agricultural communities, and substantially contribute to Colorado’s culture, heritage, and economy.
Recognizing the importance of rivers and the fact that the state needed to correlate the demands humans place on rivers with the reasonable preservation of the natural environment, Colorado established its Instream Flow Program in 1973. This program allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to hold instream flow water rights – a legal mechanism to keep water in a specific reach of a river – to preserve or improve the natural environment of a stream or lake. The CWCB is responsible for the appropriation, acquisition, protection and monitoring of instream flow water rights.
The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can hold an instream flow water right, however many different entities including cities, agriculture, recreation and the environment benefit from instream flow water rights. In this episode of We Are Rivers, we explore the benefits of the program and discuss the important partnerships and collaborations that occur between different water users.
Take for example the City of Steamboat Springs. The 2002 and 2012 droughts significantly reduced flows in the Yampa River, impacting all water users. In 2002, the river experienced some of its lowest flows on record. River sports shops closed their doors, there was a voluntary ban on angling, and farmers and ranchers had less water. The river and the community suffered. Flash forward to 2012, and the community faced similar drought conditions. But partners got creative, and used the instream flow program to bolster flows in the Yampa River, preventing history from repeating itself. This partnership included the CWCB, Colorado Water Trust, and Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. Together, they temporarily leased water from Stagecoach Reservoir, improving flows in the Yampa through the City of Steamboat. The short-term leases from Stagecoach Reservoir were vital to the health of the Yampa River and its surrounding communities, and were used not only in 2012, but also 2013 and 2017. This is just one example of how a diverse set of partners came together and utilized the instream flow program for many benefits.
The instream flow program underwent an exciting expansion earlier this year that will provide more opportunities for communities to benefit from collaborative instream flow solutions. After a multi-year stakeholder effort, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill to expand Colorado’s existing instream flow loan program – HB20-1157. The law expands protection of rivers without threatening or hindering existing water rights. It authorizes a targeted expansion of the loan program that makes the program more useful to water right owners and benefits Colorado’s rivers and streams. Specifically, it adjusts the amount of time a user can exercise a renewable loan from 3 years out of 10, to 5 years out of 10 years and it allows water right owners to renew participation in the program for up to two additional 10-year periods, for a total of 30 years. This is a huge opportunity for rivers and communities: take, for example, the benefit this provides to the Yampa River. The partners working together to secure the 3 in 10 instream flow loan on the Yampa through the city of Steamboat Springs now have two additional years in this 10-year period where water can be leased under the expanded program. Future climate conditions make frequent droughts more likely, and the opportunity to curb impacts during those back-to-back drought years is another important and timely benefit of the expanded ISF program.
The complexity of Colorado Water Law is a lot to digest, and the instream flow program is no exception. We hope you join us for Episode 24 to break down the specifics of the instream flow program and what it means for rivers and communities.
From the Colorado River District via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:
A growing body of research shows that the Upper Colorado River Basin is growing warmer on average. In fact, the national hot spot centers on Western Colorado and much of the Southwest.
A result: a significant reduction in the snowpack that makes up the Southwest’s main water supply.
In the Colorado River District’s “Know Your Snow” webinar, Deputy Chief Engineer Dave Kanzer and National Snow and Ice Data Center researcher Jeff Deems explored how water managers and snow scientists are studying and adapting to the changes to our snowpack and water supply.
About three-quarters of the snowmelt that forms the Colorado River’s flow falls as snow at elevations above 8,500 feet in the mountains of the Upper Colorado Basin, Kanzer explained. Deems pointed out that the 15 Western Slope counties that make up the Colorado River District have warmed at a rate from about 2 degrees Fahrenheit in Summit County to more than 4 degrees in Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and Rio Blanco counties since about the early 1900s, according to data developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We’re seeing changes on the order of 4 or 5 degrees in parts of the District,” Deems said. “This is just a slice out of this big, warming bullseye that is hitting the Upper Colorado (River) Basin over that time period. This is a problem for us because we rely on the snowpack, and that’s because warming reduces stream flow through a number of different mechanisms in this snowmelt-dominated basin.”
That reduction comes from several factors: more snow falling as rain, earlier spring snowmelt, more snow directly evaporating into the atmosphere instead of melting into streams and a longer growing season that has plants taking up more water.
Deems explained that for every 1 degree of warming, there is an estimated 3 to 4% decline in annual runoff. That’s about double the amount of water Las Vegas uses in one year, and 18 months of water supply for the city of Los Angeles, Deems said.
A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that a decline in flow due to warming is even greater than earlier studies have shown, with statistics suggesting that average annual flow decreases by 9.3% for every 1.8 degrees of warming.
All of this poses a threat to drinking water, irrigation to grow our food and water to maintain healthy wildlife habitats. The Colorado River District is not only studying the water-supply risks posed by warming temperatures but also implementing solutions such as cloud seeding to make sure West Slope communities are prepared for future challenges.
Cloud seeding to increase snowpack
As part of an effort to boost snowpack, Kanzer coordinates the Colorado River District’s cloud seeding program. Increasingly, water managers are turning to cloud seeding, a practice that can increase how much snow winter storms produce.
“We’re trying to figure out how to mitigate and adapt to a changing world,” Kanzer said. “We’re doing this through cloud seeding, and (we’re) implementing these programs throughout Western Colorado. In fact, this is going on throughout the West and throughout the world.”
Cloud seeding requires a specific set of conditions to be successful, Kanzer explained. A cloud must contain super-cooled water. Water vapor in these clouds is cold enough to form ice crystals, around 5 to 23 degrees Fahrenheit, but it needs something on which to crystalize. When conditions in a storm system are right, with favorable winds with proper uplift, cloud seeding generators send tiny particles of silver iodide into the moisture-laden clouds, typically using propane-fired burners on the ground.
Silver iodide has been proven to be safe for the environment, Kanzer said, adding that it is effective because and it naturally has a similar crystal structure to the ice crystals that form snowflakes.
The super-cooled liquid water more efficiently freezes on to these introduced tiny particles of silver iodide, building small ice crystals that grow into snowflakes.
Kanzer said cloud seeding could increase snow on the ground by up to 15%, boosting what might have been a 10-inch snowstorm by 1.5 inches. After a successful season of cloud seeding, this might, in turn, lead to as much as a 5% increase in streamflow in watersheds where cloud seeding occurred. This increases recreation opportunities for skiers in the winter and boaters in the warmer months, he added.
“And it helps us with our water supplies, of course, and that’s what we’re really focused on here at the Colorado River District,” Kanzer said.
Improving predictions with better data
While Kanzer’s work focuses on increasing the amount of snowpack, Deems’ research seeks to better understand what snow we have.
He explained that water supply forecasts are traditionally generated by comparing the current amount of snow on the ground at fixed locations to historical streamflow records. With the changes we are experiencing, Deems said these methods of comparing the present to the past are no longer accurate.
Additionally, snowpack is measured by a network of weather stations widely spread out across the mountain landscape where Colorado’s snowfall accumulates. While these stations provide accurate measurements in very specific locations, they don’t indicate how much snow, and how much water, might be stored high in the mountains, above the elevations where these stations are located.
Deems’ company, the Airborne Snow Observatory, uses a system called light detection and ranging — LIDAR for short — to measure snow across the entire landscape. From a plane, Deems’ team sends pulses of scanning laser light toward the earth, which reflect off the snow. Researchers can then use information in the reflection to build a three-dimensional picture of the snowscape.
This technology gives snow scientists and water planners landscape-based information about how much snow, and water, is present. This technology is detailed enough to reveal the deep pockets of snow below bare slopes where avalanches occurred or even areas where snowmaking was used to make terrain parks on a ski run.
This more comprehensive of the snowpack significantly improves water supply forecasts critical to water managers in making decisions.
Together with cloud seeding, this technology is helping water managers turn the corner from historical practices to prepare for and adapt to a changing world in the Upper Colorado River Basin.