Six Feet in Solidarity Week 8: Drinking Water @WaterEdCO

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

We’ve been sending a weekly “Six Feet in Solidarity” email on Thursdays to stay connected and continue serving up resources to build your water knowledge around different topics while social distancing. We’ve been pulling from our library of publications, news stories, webinars, videos, radio programs, and more, and also sharing key resources produced by others in the water community.

Thus far we’ve sent emails focused on land use and water, stream management plans in Colorado, environmental justice and equity in the water sector, water reuse, alternatives to ag transfers or ATMs, forest and watershed health, and climate change and its projected impacts on Western water.

After eight weeks, as Colorado’s stay-at-home order is replaced with its new safer at home, we bring you the last in our Six Feet in Solidarity series. This week is Drinking Water Week, which recognizes the vital role tap water plays in daily life, the infrastructure that is required to carry it to and from homes and businesses, and the important behind-the-scences work of water professionals. To celebrate, we’re focusing our final solidarity email on drinking water. Read on to learn more. Continue to be well and don’t stop social distancing!

The #Colorado River District is moving all of their “State of the River” meetings online #ColoradoRiver #COriver @ColoradoWater

Click here to read the May 2020 newsletter from the Colorado River District:

As the snow melts, reservoirs clear of ice and ditches and rivers swell with runoff, Colorado River District staff normally look forward to our State of the River meetings, which provide local updates on important water issues in throughout the District.

Few events have gone as planned this spring. In light of COVID-19, the District will hold some State of the River events virtually as webinars. Presentations will include the same information the West Slope has come to expect: updates on runoff and hydrology, the latest on local water issues and information about how our water fits into the larger Colorado River basin.

We’ve got two virtual State of the River events planned so far.

The Summit State of the River will be 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 14 on Zoom. You can complete the required registration for the event and find an agenda here: bit.ly/SummitSOR. This event is hosted by the Colorado River District and the Blue River Watershed Group. A recording of the webinar will be emailed to registrants after the event.

The Mesa State of the River webinar will be 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 20. You can complete the required registration for the event and find an agenda here: bit.ly/MesaSOR. This event is hosted by the Colorado River District and the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University. A recording of the webinar will be emailed to registrants after the event.

The Colorado River District will hold a public forum to provide important updates on the River District, West Slope water and big river issues featuring Colorado River District Manager Andy Mueller and Colorado State Climatologist Russ Schumacher. The event will be noon Wednesday, June 10. More information about the event will be available soon at http://www.ColoradoRiverDistrict.org.

#Drought news: 1-category intensification of drought conditions across parts of W., S., and S.E. #Colorado

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

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

A strong cold front progressed southeast across the Great Plains, Mississippi Valley, and Southeast on April 28 and 29. This cold front was a focus for a severe weather outbreak from Oklahoma and eastern Texas east to the middle and lower Mississippi Valley. As this front shifted south, heavy rain (more than 2 inches) fell from the western Gulf Coast east to the Florida Big Bend and Florida Gulf Coast. A summer-like ridge of high pressure aloft led to an early and persistent heat wave across southern California and the Desert Southwest during late April into early May. Much above normal temperatures also affected the southern Rockies and southern Great Plains. To the north of this upper-level ridge, multiple low pressure systems along a nearly stationary front resulted in occasional thunderstorms with locally heavy rain (1 inch or more) to the central Great Plains, middle Mississippi Valley, and Ohio Valley. Onshore flow led to a wet start to May across the coastal Pacific Northwest, but little to no precipitation was observed across the Great Basin. Surface low pressure, centered across the Gulf of Alaska, resulted in light to moderate precipitation amounts to the Kenai Peninsula, southeast mainland Alaska, and the Alaska Panhandle. Rainfall was generally suppressed across the tropical central and eastern Pacific, including Hawaii, during late April into the beginning of May. This dry pattern over the tropics extended east to Puerto Rico…

High Plains

Increasing short-term precipitation deficits, exacerbated by above-normal temperatures recently and high evapotranspiration rates, support an expansion of abnormal dryness (D0), moderate drought (D1), and severe drought (D2) across Kansas. 60-day precipitation deficits range from 2 to 4 inches extending from southwest Kansas northeast to north-central Kansas. Russell, KS received only 0.40 inches of precipitation during April which was the 2nd driest on record (dating back to 1950) for the month. Russell’s normal April precipitation is 2.62 inches. Abnormal dryness was reduced in coverage across parts of South Dakota that received more than 1 inch of rainfall at the beginning of May. Recent heavy rainfall (more than 1 inch) also brought a 1-category improvement to the high Plains of northeast Colorado. Conversely, a 1-category intensification of drought conditions were necessary across parts of western, southern, and southeast Colorado. Southern parts of the San Luis Valley and southeast Colorado have experienced abnormal heat and high evaporative demand. SPI values on multiple time scales support the introduction of extreme drought (D3) to parts of the San Luis Valley and southeast Colorado. Farther to the north, abnormal dryness (D0) was expanded northeast Wyoming that missed the recent rainfall and where 60-day SPI values support it…

West

Precipitation for the water year to date (WYTD) , since Oct 1, 2019, has averaged less than 50 percent of normal across parts of Oregon, northern California, and the Great Basin. Based on 6 to 9-month SPI values, moderate (D1) to severe (D2) drought was expanded across parts of northern Nevada. Salt Lake City is coming off its driest April on record as it only measured 0.26 inches of precipitation (1.73 inches below normal). This dry April prompted an expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) north to include more of northern Utah. In contrast to the worsening conditions across the Great Basin, a wet start to May (1 to 3 inches, locally more) brought slight amelioration to extreme drought across coastal southwest Oregon and extreme northwest California. Intensifying drought conditions have occurred east of Cascades in Oregon and Washington. Based on poor WYTD precipitation (50 percent or less), severe drought was expanded across southeast Washington. Also, the lack of precipitation during April has adversely affected dryland farming in this part of the state. For similar reasons and support from SPI values on multiple time scales, moderate to severe drought expanded across eastern Oregon. Extreme drought (D3) was introduced to north-central Oregon and extends slightly north into south-central Washington…

South

Heavy rain (widespread amounts of more than 2 inches) at the end of April prompted a 1-category improvement to parts of the western and northern Gulf Coast, including southern Louisiana and southeast Texas. This recent heavy rain resulted in precipitation surpluses during the past 30 days and normal (25th to 75th percentile) 28-day streamflows. However, dating back 6-months, large precipitation deficits (more than 8 inches) remain across southeast Louisiana and the along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In contrast to the improving conditions across southeast Texas, drought coverage/intensity remained nearly steady or worsened slightly across south Texas. Abnormal dryness (D0) was expanded across the Texas Panhandle and northwest Oklahoma due to increasing 30 to 60-day precipitation deficits, above normal temperatures (highs well into the 90s and low 100s), and periods of strong winds during late April into the beginning of May. These indicators along with impact reports (poor pastures, low ponds, and poor winter wheat quality) support the introduction of a small D1 area in northwest Oklahoma…

Looking Ahead

On May 7 and 8, a low pressure system is forecast to track rapidly east across the central and eastern U.S. with a swath of moderate rainfall (0.5 to 1 inch) across the central Great Plains, middle to lower Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley, and mid-Atlantic. Behind this low pressure system, much below normal temperatures are forecast to overspread the east-central U.S. with at least a light freeze likely across the Great Lakes and eastern Corn Belt. Frost may extend south to the Shenandoah Valley and southern Appalachians. This late frost and/or freeze could damage vegetation in areas where the growing season has started. Meanwhile, a wave of low pressure is expected to develop along the tail end of a stationary front which could bring beneficial rainfall to southern Florida. The early and prolonged heat wave is forecast to ease across the Desert Southwest during the second week of May.

The CPC 6-10 day outlook (May 12-16) indicates that unseasonably cool temperatures are likely to persist into mid-May across the Corn Belt and much of the eastern U.S. A cooling trend is forecast across the western U.S., although above normal temperatures remain favored across the southern Rockies and southern Great Plains. The largest probabilities of above normal temperatures are forecast across Alaska. The evolving upper-level pattern favors above normal precipitation across much of the Great Plains and Mississippi Valley. These increased chances of above normal precipitation also cover much of the West.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 5, 2020.

#Snowpack news: Dry April, declining snowpack, lowered #runoff expectations

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

“April is normally one of our wettest months,” said Dan Cuevas, a technician for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

But Grand Junction got only 0.20 inches of precipitation during the last month, a fraction of the 0.91 inches that is the normal amount for April. Last month tied with several other Aprils in which Grand Junction got a fifth of an inch of rain, and they rank in the mid-teens on the list of driest Aprils in the city in data going back to 1893.

Much of western and southern Colorado “saw the driest or one of the driest Aprils on record,” according to a weekly assessment put out by the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University.

Cuevas said Montrose got only 0.15 inches of precipitation in April, compared to a normal 0.97 inches there for that month.

Mineral County in southwest Colorado was among places having record-low precipitation in April, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data, said Becky Bolinger, assistant state climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center. Mesa Verde National Park got absolutely no precipitation for the month, tying a record set in 1989, she said.

Mesa County and surrounding areas are already in moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. But the Colorado Climate Center assessment is recommending a severe drought categorization for eastern Mesa County, Delta, Gunnison and eastern Montrose counties, as well as some counties farther south, and it is recommending parts of southwest and southern Colorado be deemed as being in extreme drought. The assessment says Garfield, Rio Blanco and Pitkin counties also should be considered for moderate-drought status.

Colorado’s snowpack was right around 100% of median in mid-April, about the time that the state’s seasonal snowpack normally peaks. But by Wednesday it had fallen to 79% of the median for May 6, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Levels in northern basins remain fairly strong, with the Upper Colorado River Basin at 90%. But the Gunnison basin is now at just 60% of median, river basins in far-southwest Colorado are combined at only about half of normal, and the Upper Rio Grande is at only 35% of median…

Bolinger said the Gunnison Basin as a whole had an average of 14 inches of snowpack less than two weeks ago, but that is now down to seven inches, a level that normally wouldn’t be seen till late May.

Snowpack on Grand Mesa lagged well below normal this winter and now some NRCS measurement sites there are quickly drying out. The Overland Reservoir site has just 0.2 inches of snow-water equivalent remaining, just 3% of normal, and the Mesa Lakes site is at 22% of normal, while the (Trickle) Park Reservoir site is doing comparatively far better, at 71%…

Bolinger said she isn’t expecting a turnaround of conditions in May and into June, and water supply forecasts based on spring runoff are plummeting. Even earlier, those forecasts had called for below-average streamflows due to dry soil conditions going into winter.

Here’s the Westwide basin-filled snowpack map for May 7, 2020 via the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map May 7, 2020 via the NRCS.

And, just for grins, here’s a gallery of early May Westwide basin-filled maps from the past few years.

Thirsty Future for American West, as ”#Megadrought” Grips Some of the Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities — Fair Warning #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Farm Security Administration members post on a cooperative pipe line used for irrigation in Saint George in 1940. Contributor Names Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer Created / Published-1940 Oct.-Subject Headings – United States–Utah–Washington County–Saint George

From Fair Warning (Alexandra Tempus):

In 2002, Utah was reeling from four years of dry conditions that turned the state ‘’into a parched tinderbox,’’ as the Associated Press reported at the time. “Drought Could Last Another 1-2 years,” the headline proclaimed. Right on time, in 2004, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a similar article, on “Coming To Terms with Utah’s Six-Year Drought,” that was “believed to be the worst to strike the Southwest in half a millennium.”

Almost two decades later, the drought has raged on. In October 2019, the water supplier for St. George, a rapidly growing resort and retirement community in southwest Utah, released a statement declaring the city’s longest-ever dry spell: 122 days without rain.

A study published last month in the journal Science identified an emerging “megadrought” across all or parts of 11 western states and part of northern Mexico—a drought likely, with the influence of climate change, to be more severe and long-lasting than any since the 1500s. The area includes Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and portions of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

This region is also experiencing explosive population growth—with Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and Utah topping the list of states with the highest percentage increase in residents from 2018 to 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For decades, these states and their mushrooming municipalities have been grappling with the twin concerns of rapid growth and dwindling water supply projections. Now, in the midst of an historic megadrought predicted to last many more years, the issue has grown increasingly urgent.

For the megadrought study, scientists analyzed tree rings from nearly 1,600 trees that had grown across the region over hundreds of years, says the study’s lead author, A. Park Williams, an associate research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Examining the rings under a microscope, the researchers could see when growth was slow, indicating time periods when the region was especially dry.

The authors identified megadroughts—droughts more severe and much longer than anything observed in the written record, says Williams—over the last 1200 years. The most recent was in the late 1500s, until now. Today’s megadrought has been marked by more frequent and severe wildfires, a decline in groundwater, lake and river levels and a reduced snowpack.

And climate change, added Williams, is “making it easier to go into a megadrought without the ocean and atmosphere needing to team up in as extreme of a way” as they did to create such conditions in the past.

In Utah, the situation might be considered dire.

“Our population is one of the fastest-growing in the country and we’re also one of the driest states in the country and our water supply in large part is mountain snow,” said Michelle Baker, an aquatic hydrologist at Utah State University who was project director for iUtah, a years-long research effort to transition the state to sustainable water usage.

With the mountain snowpack dwindling due to climate change, Utah researchers identified several ways to help close the supply gap, said Baker. One included storing more water underground than in reservoirs to limit the amount of water lost to evaporation. Another involved replacing Utah’s old-fashioned dirt-lined irrigation canals with pipes to curb evaporation and seepage.

In March, Utah adopted a law creating a new water banking program, similar to those in other states, that will allow water rights holders to “bank” their unused water rights and lease them temporarily to others without selling them outright…

St. George currently uses 33,000 acre-feet of water per year, Karry Rathje, a spokesperson for the Washington County Water Conservancy District, told FairWarning in an email. (An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land with one foot of water, and is roughly enough to supply three homes for a year.

Washington County, which includes St. George, “is projected to need an additional 86,000 acre feet of water to meet the demands of a population that’s projected to nearly triple by 2060,” Rathje said.

This is to say nothing of exponential growth in greater Salt Lake City, which by 2060 could swell to the size of the Seattle metropolitan area of 3.7 million residents, according to one estimate.

Utah Rivers map via Geology.com