Summary: June 23, 2020
While the Intermountain West saw widespread beneficial moisture early in the month, conditions have again turned for the worse. The last seven days have been hotter and drier than normal for much of Colorado. Areas that did receive moisture this week were northern Utah, northern Wyoming, the northern Colorado Front Range and far SE Colorado. While moisture in SE Colorado is much needed, these short lived storms were not enough to make improvements in this area with high temperatures and high winds continuing to play a factor. The eastern plains of Colorado have been 6-8 degrees warmer than normal for the month of June to date. This includes several episodes of 100-degree temperatures in SE CO, and widespread wind events. Agricultural weather stations have shown a sharp uptick in potential evapotranspiration, as has the Evaporative Demand Drought Index. Red flag warnings have been common, top soil is short, winter wheat crops are failing, and cattle are being sold. Campo, on the CO/OK border, is still showing about a 5 inch deficit in precipitation for 2020 and is the 3rd driest start to 2020. Northeast Colorado also continues to see dry and warm conditions, no precipitation and 2-6 degrees warmer than average over the last week, which are leading to worsening drought conditions.
The forecast for the next week indicates warmer than average temperatures for eastern Colorado and cooler than average temperatures for western Colorado. Moisture is expected for much of Colorado, scattered showers along the eastern plains with the greatest probability being over the Front Range with little to no precipitation in the forecast for western Colorado. The 8-14 day outlook is showing a similar story of warmer than average temperatures for eastern Colorado, cooler temperatures in western Colorado and uncertain precipitation probability for most of the state.
From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):
Moderate and severe drought advanced northward on the plains of eastern Colorado this week according to the latest update from the National Drought Mitigation Center.
While extreme drought – the second worst category – remained steady across most of southern and southeast Colorado, severe conditions advanced in Washington and Yuma counties. Moderate drought expanded to cover the remainder of Yuma County, along with an additional area in Washington County that had been abnormally dry. Moderate conditions also entered southeast Logan and most of Phillips counties. Abnormally dry conditions now cover most of Logan County, the remainder of Phillips County, and all of Sedgwick County.
Above-normal temperatures, strong wind and little rain have contributed to rapid drought expansion in Colorado over the past month. Soil moisture continues to decline, contributing to cattle sales by ranchers as pasture conditions deteriorate, and yield concerns about wheat crops as harvest season gets underway. Southeast counties, where harvest has begun, are seeing low test weights.
Nick Palmer at Golden Plains Insurance Agency in Lamar stated Thursday that, “generally, field conditions are fair to poor, with very small pockets of fair to good – mostly caused by isolated thunderstorm events.”
Governor Jared Polis activated Colorado’s Drought Task Force and Phase 2 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan this week as drought conditions deepen. All or portions of 40 of the states 64 counties are experiencing severe or extreme drought. Phase 2 activates the Agricultural Impact Task Force, which will conduct an initial assessment on physical and economic impacts and recommend opportunities for mitigation.
The seasonal drought outlook from the Climate Prediction Center shows drought increasing through September. Portions of central and northwest Colorado that are currently drought-free or abnormally dry are expected to fall to at least moderate drought over the coming months. The precipitation outlook for July across much of that area shows a 33-40 percent chance of below-normal precipitation. Most of Colorado has a 50-60 percent chance of above-normal temperatures during the coming month.
Overall, 33 percent of Colorado is in extreme drought, unchanged from the prior week. Severe and moderate conditions both increased one percent to 23 and 12 percent, respectively. Abnormally dry areas decreased one percent to 15 as they were overtaken by more severe conditions. Only 17 percent of the state is drought-free, down one percent from the previous week.
From The DenverChannel.com (Blair Miller):
The [drought] task force will have to measure what damage drought has caused in areas experiencing severe or extreme drought and recommend to counties how to mitigate the effects of the drought.
An Agricultural Impact Task Force will also be activated to assess physical and economic impacts of the drought, the Colorado Water Conservation Board said. Polis’ request task force chairpersons and members will be provided by the Colorado Water Center at CSU…
Drought has gradually crept back into Colorado over the past year. Last year, there were 14 straight weeks of drought-free conditions in Colorado, a streak that ended in August.
In early May, 76% of Colorado was experiencing at least “abnormally dry” conditions. Sixty-two percent of the state is experiencing moderate drought, while 41% is under severe drought conditions and 11% is experiencing extreme drought conditions.
But as of last, week 81% of the state was abnormally dry, 65% was experiencing moderate drought, 55% was experiencing severe drought and 33% of Colorado was experiencing extreme drought conditions, according to the Drought Monitor.
The NRCS also presented a snow survey and water supply forecast Tuesday showing that while snowpack peaked over the median this year, precipitation in the mountains was below average April-May. Reservoir storage remains average, but is far below normal in the Rio Grande Basin and is below normal in southern Colorado. Streamflows have also dropped sharply in the northern mountains because of a dry fall and spring, NRCS said.
Colorado last activated the Drought Mitigation and Response Plan in May 2018. At the meeting Tuesday, the Colorado Climate Center showed a presentation showing Colorado had its 8th-driest April on record and its 18th driest May since 1895. The presentation also showed above-average temperatures for much of the state in May and June.
The upcoming seasonal outlook for the next three months from NOAA also shows above-average temperatures and likely below-average rainfall for most of Colorado.
From The Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca) via The Rock Springs Rocket-Miner:
Arizona is getting a jump start on what will be a yearslong process to address a dwindling but key water source in the U.S. West…
Arizona water officials are gathering Thursday to start talking about what comes next, while other states have had more informal discussions.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is reviewing the effectiveness of the 2007 guidelines. The report is expected later this year.
From The Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan):
The nation’s largest Native American tribe and several environmental groups are waging a legal challenge to a revised federal rule that lifts protections for many streams, creeks and wetlands across the U.S.
The rule, which took effect Monday, narrows the types of waterways that qualify for federal protection under the half-century-old Clean Water Act. As a result, critics say the number of waterways across the Navajo Nation and other arid states in the West that were previously protected under the act have been drastically reduced.
Public health advocates, environmentalists and some Western states, among other opponents, had promised court fights once the rule was imposed, saying the rollback will leave many of the nation’s millions of miles of waterways more vulnerable to pollution.
“At this point in time, with climate change occurring around the world, it’s more prudent than ever to protect our land, water and air,” said Navajo President Jonathan Nez. “We, as Diné People, have a duty to preserve and conserve our natural resources to ensure that our future generations have access to clean water, air and land.”
The tribe filed its claim Monday in U.S. District Court in New Mexico.
Amigos Bravos, the New Mexico Acequia Association and the Gila Resources Information Project followed with their own appeal Tuesday and the Environmental Integrity Project filed a separate claim in Washington, D.C. on behalf of four other environmental groups. The cases name the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agencies in charge of administering aspects of the rule…
Paula Garcia, the executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association, said communities around the state rely on traditional irrigation systems that are fed by snow, rain and runoff for crops and livestock. With protections removed for the seasonal waterways that feed the acequia systems, she said agricultural livelihoods will be put at risk.
Rachel Conn with Amigos Bravos said the rule protects the interests of polluters. “The Trump administration has opened the pollution floodgates,” she said.
Under the new regulation, permits are no longer necessary for discharging pollution into many rivers, lakes and streams. Charles de Saillan, an attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said the effects could be felt by a number of businesses, from rafting companies to community farmers.
On the Navajo reservation, which spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, officials say there already are businesses not complying with tribal and federal environmental laws and the revised rule won’t help bring them into compliance…
New Mexico was among the states that went to court in May seeking to keep the rule from taking effect.
At the time, New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney warned that the rule would leave nearly 90% of the state’s rivers and streams and about 40% of its wetlands without federal protection. He predicted that would “devastate New Mexico’s scarce and limited water resources.”
The state had pointed out in comments previously submitted to the federal government that New Mexico has no state protections to fall back on. New Mexico is one of three states that don’t have delegated authority from the EPA to regulate discharges of pollution into rivers, streams, and lakes.
From Cronkite News (Ellie Borst) via Indian Country Today:
Two Arizona tribes and a Phoenix-based advocacy group joined a pair of lawsuits this week to reverse a Trump administration clean-water rule that critics said would open the “vast majority of Arizona’s waterways” to pollution and degradation.
The suits were filed Monday, the same day a new Environmental Protection Agency rule took effect replacing an Obama-era rule that expanded federal oversight to include seasonal and other waterways.
Critics said the old rule placed a huge burden on farmers and landowners and they unveiled the Trump administration plan in January as a “commonsense” solution.
But the lawsuits – one joined by Mi Familia Vota and the other by the Pascua Yaqui tribe and Tohono O’odham Nation – say the Trump administration’s replacement has virtually no protection, and that Americans “stand to lose their most important resource: clean water.” Mi Familia Vota CEO Hector Sanchez Barba derided the new regulation as the “Dirty Water Rule.”
“The widespread negative community impacts of the Dirty Water Rule are another demonstration that Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is not interested in protecting scientifically critical sources of water in our neighborhoods, communities, and states from polluting corporations,” Sanchez Barba said in a statement.
The suits are just the latest efforts to block the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, after a federal district judge in the Northern District of California on Friday rejected a push by 17 states to block implementation of the rule.
That allowed the rule to take effect except in Colorado: It had pursued its own case and won approval from a federal judge, also on Friday, blocking the Trump administration rule in that state…
Molly Block, EPA assistant deputy associate administrator for policy, said the agency is reviewing the latest lawsuits, but thanked the district judge in California for upholding the navigable waters rule last week.
“EPA and the Army are confident that the new rule provides much-needed regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, and businesses and protects the Nation’s navigable waters while striking an appropriate balance between federal and state authority over aquatic resources,” Block wrote in the email.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):
The Larimer County Planning Commission on Wednesday heard details of plans for constructing and operating the project, which would include building Glade northwest of Fort Collins and laying 35.6 miles of pipeline to carry NISP water out of the county.
The information packet given to commissioners, including staff reports, environmental impact statements and comments from numerous government agencies, is 3,242 pages.
The packet includes more than 500 comments from members of the public, including groups and individuals who have been fighting NISP since it was proposed in 2004.
Concerns about the project and its impact to the Poudre River during federal and state permitting processes were raised again along with new issues on the county level by environmental group Save the Poudre and others.
Larimer County plans several hearings
Wednesday’s meeting was the first of three planned by the planning commission on NISP. It consisted of presentations by county staff members and representatives of Northern Water, the main proponent of NISP.
No public comment was taken. That will happen during hearings scheduled July 8 and 15. An additional meeting would be scheduled if needed to allow Northern Water time for rebuttal following the public comment, county officials said.
Northern Water is seeking a 1041 permit — named for the state law giving authority to local governments to make decisions on certain types of infrastructure projects — for NISP. The planning commission will make a recommendation on the application to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide whether to grant a permit.
Three of the nine planning commission members recused themselves from the proceedings citing the potential appearance of impartiality or conflicts of interest: Anne Best Johnson, community development director for the city of Evans, which is a participant in NISP; Bob Choate, an attorney who might be called upon to give legal advice on the project to the Weld County commissioners; and Sean Dougherty, a Realtor who represents a landowner who might be affected by the project…
Under the county’s 1041 regulations, the county’s purview of NISP is limited to the siting of Glade and associated recreational facilities and the locations of four large pipelines that would carry NISP water through Larimer County.
The project must meet 12 criteria for approval, including that the project would not negatively impact public health and safety and the “proposal demonstrates a reasonable balance between the costs to the applicant to mitigate significant adverse (effects) and the benefits achieved by such mitigation,” according to the land-use code.
County development review staff members said the proposal meets the criteria and recommended approval of the permit with 82 conditions, including requirements for several reports and plans for addressing issues such as noise and dust during construction.
As part of the project, Northern would build recreational facilities that would be managed by the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. The department manages recreation at Carter Lake and Horsetooth, Pinewood and Flatiron reservoirs.
Facilities at Glade would include a visitor center, campgrounds, hiking, fishing and boating. A four-lane boat ramp would be built on the southeast side of the reservoir.
The facilities would increase recreational opportunities as envisioned in county master plans, said Daylan Figgs, Natural Resources director.
Demand for access to recreation will likely increase as the county grows in the years to come, Figgs said. The facilities proposed by Northern would cost about $21.8 million. NISP would cover 75% of the cost, with the rest coming from the county directly or through partnerships.
[Nancy] Wallace said she was “struck” that the county might have to contribute to the cost of recreational facilities. NISP doesn’t appear to “give much to the county” other than its recreation components and water for Windsor and the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, she said…
Christine Coleman, a water resources engineer with Northern, told the commissioners $49 million in NISP environmental mitigation work would be done in the county.
The final environmental impact statement for NISP estimated development of the reservoir could bring in $13 million to $30 million a year in economic benefits, Coleman said. The project would contribute $16.35 million to recreation facilities at Glade…
To keep water flowing in the Poudre, which can dry up in spots under certain circumstances, NISP would release water from Glade back to the river through a 1.3-mile pipeline.
The added water would flow 13 miles through Fort Collins before it is picked up by another pipeline upstream from the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Mulberry Street. The guaranteed flow through the city would be between 18 and 25 cubic feet per second.
“This will increase flows at the Lincoln (Street) gauge in Fort Collins and the Poudre River in eight out of 12 months in average years and 10 out of 12 months in dry years,” said Stephanie Cecil, a water resources engineer with Northern.
Water would be pumped into a pipeline running east to a pipeline along County Road 1 running south. The pipeline would affect some city-owned natural areas.
A fourth pipeline would carry water from Glade along a route known as the “northern tier” and connect with the county line pipeline.
The pipe would run through the Eagle Lake subdivision, sparking resistance to the proposal from local residents…
Cecil said the pipelines would require 100-foot easements, of which 60 feet would be permanent and 40 feet would be temporary for constructions. Property owners would be paid fair market value for easements, and surface disruptions would be reclaimed to pre-existing conditions or better.
NISP’s pipelines would range from 32 to 54 inches in diameter. The northern tier pipeline would carry about two-thirds of the water going to NISP participants, Cecil said…
What’s next for NISP in Larimer County
The Larimer County Planning Commission is scheduled to take public comment on NISP during hearings schedule July 8 and July 15 at the County Courthouse Offices Building, 200 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins.
Both meetings will begin at 6 p.m. Attendance will be limited to 50 people because of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.
Comments will be limited to 2 minutes per person. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed. Groups and individuals who wish to speak in person or remotely must register at larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041.
The planning commission will make a recommendation on a permit for NISP to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide on the application.
Hearings by the commissioners are scheduled:
6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony. 2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30-6:30 p.m.) 3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30-6:30 p.m.) 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – questions, final deliberation and decision
From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):
Larimer County staff has recommended approval of a 1041 permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project with requirements that include noise, water and air quality monitoring and mitigation during construction of its reservoirs and associated pipelines.
Engineering, health department and planning staff members outlined that recommendation to the Larimer County Planning Commission on Wednesday during the first of a three-part public hearing for the reservoir project, which over the past decade has drawn vocal opposition and support.
Northern Water hopes to build the water project on behalf of 15 water providers as a way to pull water in wet years, from both the Poudre and South Platte rivers, to store for when needed. All of the participants have water conservation plans and have reduced their water use by 10%, but still need future water supplies, according to Northern Water…
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the main permit to build the project — a decision expected sometime this year after more than a decade of evaluation. However, Larimer County does have some authority through its 1041 permit on certain aspects of construction of the reservoir and its associated pipelines as well as recreation on and surrounding the reservoir.
The planning commission will make a recommendation to the Larimer County commissioners, who will hold a public hearing that is scheduled across three Mondays starting Aug. 17 and will end with a decision on whether to grant the 1041 permit.
The first of the planning commission dates, Wednesday, was a presentation by Northern Water and by Larimer County staff. Public comment is slated for the next two hearings, scheduled July 8 and July 15…
Some highlights of the presentation, from both county staff and Northern Water representatives, include:
The realignment of U.S. 287 north of Fort Collins is not part of the 1041 permit, but Larimer County is asking that the design take into effect the impacts on nearby county roads including the already dangerous intersection with U.S. 287 and Colo. 14. Glade Reservoir would be able to store 170,000 acre feet of water with 1,600 surface acres and water that could hit 250 feet at its deepest. The reservoir would be 5 miles long, and the project would include four separate pipeline segments spanning a total of 35.6 miles. Recreation at the reservoir would be detailed closer to construction to reflect trends and interests at the time but would include a mixture of boating, camping, fishing and trails that would help meet demands for a growing Larimer County population. Overall, Northern Water has proposed $21.8 million in recreation amenities and improvements, including a visitors center. Northern Water has committed to covering 75% of those costs through the project; the remainder would be covered through partnerships. Northern Water would need to mitigate impacts on traffic that would range between 400 and 1,600 average daily trips during construction of the reservoir, up to 300 daily trips associated with construction of the pipelines and an average of 1,150 daily trips associated with recreation. Larimer County would require traffic management, dust and noise mitigation plans, as well as groundwater monitoring. Construction would be limited to daytime, and the county would require private well monitoring to ensure that those water sources are not polluted. County staff members believe any impacts on wildlife, wetlands, streamflow, fisheries and other natural resources would be mitigated by existing measures in a Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan that was approved by state officials in 2017, as well as through a water quality permit based on multiple studies and evaluations. The mitigation plan calls call for $53 million in improvements, including fish-friendly bypasses at diversion structures, a low flow plan to keep more water in the Poudre River through Fort Collins and enhancements to wetlands and wildlife habitat. The project proposes swapping irrigation water from the Poudre River with water from the South Platte River, which will prevent “buy and dry” of farmland. This could keep more than 60,000 acres of irrigated farmland in production, according to Northern Water.
The Arctic heat wave that sent Siberian temperatures soaring to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the first day of summer put an exclamation point on an astonishing transformation of the Arctic environment that’s been underway for about 30 years.
As long ago as the 1890s, scientists predicted that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to a warming planet, particularly in the Arctic, where the loss of reflective snow and sea ice would further warm the region. Climate models have consistently pointed to “Arctic amplification” emerging as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.
Well, Arctic amplification is now here in a big way. The Arctic is warming at roughly twice the rate of the globe as a whole. When extreme heat waves like this one strike, it stands out to everyone. Scientists are generally reluctant to say “We told you so,” but the record shows that we did.
As director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center and an Arctic climate scientist who first set foot in the far North in 1982, I’ve had a front-row seat to watch the transformation.
Arctic heat waves are happening more often
Arctic heat waves now arrive on top of an already warmer planet, so they’re more frequent than they used to be.
Western Siberia recorded its hottest spring on record this year, according the EU’s Copernicus Earth Observation Program, and that unusual heat isn’t expected to end soon. The Arctic Climate Forum has forecast above-average temperatures across the majority of the Arctic through at least August.
How heat waves get stuck
Why is this heat wave sticking around? No one has a full answer yet, but we can look at the weather patterns around it.
As a rule, heat waves are related to unusual jet stream patterns, and the Siberian heat wave is no different. A persistent northward swing of the jet stream has placed the area under what meteorologists call a “ridge.” When the jet stream swings northward like this, it allows warmer air into the region, raising the surface temperature.
Some scientists expect rising global temperatures to influence the jet stream. The jet stream is driven by temperature contrasts. As the Arctic warms more quickly, these contrasts shrink, and the jet stream can slow.
Is that what we’re seeing right now? We don’t yet know.
Swiss cheese sea ice and feedback loops
We do know that we’re seeing significant effects from this heat wave, particularly in the early loss of sea ice.
The ice along the shores of Siberia has the appearance of Swiss cheese right now in satellite images, with big areas of open water that would normally still be covered. The sea ice extent in the Laptev Sea, north of Russia, is the lowest recorded for this time of year since satellite observations began.
The loss of sea ice also affects the temperature, creating a feedback loop. Earth’s ice and snow cover reflect the Sun’s incoming energy, helping to keep the region cool. When that reflective cover is gone, the dark ocean and land absorb the heat, further raising the surface temperature.
Sea surface temperatures are already unusually high along parts of the Siberian Coast, and the warm ocean waters will lead to more melting.
The risks of thawing permafrost
On land, a big concern is warming permafrost – the perennially frozen ground that underlies most Arctic terrain.
When permafrost thaws under homes and bridges, infrastructure can sink, tilt and collapse. Alaskans have been contending with this for several years. Near Norilsk, Russia, thawing permafrost was blamed for an oil tank collapse in late May that spilled thousands of tons of oil into a river.
In a study published last year, researchers found that permafrost test sites around the world had warmed by nearly half a degree Fahrenheit on average over the decade from 2007 to 2016. The greatest increase was in Siberia, where some areas had warmed by 1.6 degrees. The current Siberian heat wave, especially if it continues, will regionally exacerbate that permafrost warming and thawing.
Wildfires are back again
The extreme warmth also raises the risk of wildfires, which radically change the landscape in other ways.
Drier forests are more prone to fires, often from lightning strikes. When forests burn, the dark, exposed soil left behind can absorb more heat and hasten warming.
We’ve seen a few years now of extreme forest fires across the Arctic. This year, some scientists have speculated that some of the Siberian fires that broke out last year may have continued to burn through the winter in peat bogs and reemerged.
A disturbing pattern
The Siberian heat wave and its impacts will doubtless be widely studied. There will certainly be those eager to dismiss the event as just the result of an unusual persistent weather pattern.
Caution must always be exercised about reading too much into a single event – heat waves happen. But this is part of a disturbing pattern.
What is happening in the Arctic is very real and should serve as a warning to everyone who cares about the future of the planet as we know it.
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