Click here to read the update (Megan Holcomb, Tracy Kosloff):
As of August 25th, dry conditions cover 100% of the state with 91.6% of Colorado in severe, extreme, or exceptional drought categories. The Water Availability Task Force and drought‐plan‐activated Agriculture and Drought Task Forces continue to respond to challenging multi‐hazard conditions around the state. In lieu of the widely valued 2018 in‐person southwestern drought tour, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Department of Agriculture, and Colorado State University Water Center are co‐ leading a “Virtual Drought Tour.” This multimedia outreach effort aims to capture direct reports from producers and communities significantly impacted by drought. The primary audience for anecdotal reports, stories, questions, and suggestions are the three interagency drought teams (listed above) and state legislators. Ag Task Force representatives across the state may also record local interviews where possible and safe.
For the first time this year, the August 25th U.S. Drought Monitor, logged abnormally dry or drought conditions in 100% of the state. D4 (exceptional) drought conditions returned and continue to hold in Kiowa county. D3 (extreme) conditions now cover 36.47% of the state; D2 (severe drought) covers 54.69%; D1 (moderate drought) covers 7.25%; and D0 (abnormally dry) covers only 1.2% of the state (stats from Sept 1 monitor).
The 90‐day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) (June 6 to Sept 6) continues to show deeply below average moisture for the far majority of Colorado with deeper shortfalls more prevalent in the northwest quadrant of the state.
El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions continue to show borderline La Niña conditions, with the atmospheric response at weak La Niña or neutral. Sea surface temperature outlooks continue with 60% chance of La Niña this fall and 55% change through winter.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center’s three month outlook maps continue to show very high confidence for above average temperatures Sept through Nov., with highest confidence over the four‐corners region and a 40% probability of below average precipitation Sept. through Nov. for Colorado.
Compared to last month’s (Aug 1st) map, the VegDri Index shows notable deeping of severe and extreme vegetation drought conditions statewide. VegDri is a satellite derived product that looks at how well plants are photosynthesizing.
Statewide reservoir storage is at 53% capacity which is 85% of average for Sept 1st. Last year at this time, reservoirs were at 73% capacity and 114% of average.
In a joint letter Tuesday, water officials from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming asked Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to “refrain from issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement of Record of Decision regarding the Lake Powell Pipeline until such time as the Seven Basin States and the Department of the Interior are able to reach consensus regarding outstanding legal and operational concerns raised by the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.”
If the approval process for the Lake Powell Pipeline is not halted so concerns can be addressed, the letter states it may result in “multi-year litigation” that could also complicate future interstate cooperation concerning use of the Colorado River…
Despite a potential threat of litigation if their concerns are not resolved, Brock Belnap, an assistant general manager at the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said Thursday the water district hopes issues can be resolved without too much disturbance to the pipeline’s timetable.
“We appreciate that they express they want to resolve the issues they may have and we are pledging likewise to work with them to address the issue they may have in regard to the Law of the River in the Colorado River,” Belnap said…
An example of the issues some of the other states have is that Washington County is geographically located in the Lower Colorado River Basin, Belnap said, and the compacts state that water rights cannot be transferred from the one basin to the other. However, Utah is counted among the Upper Colorado River Basin States, and the compacts also say each state has a right to develop its allocated portion of the Colorado River within its boundaries, he said…
The government received more than 10,000 public comments on an environmental impact report for the proposed pipeline before Tuesday’s deadline, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Marlon Duke said. The Interior Department, which oversees the bureau, is expected to issue a final report, which could bring the project a step closer to approval.
Although the proposal isolates Utah from the other states that rely on the river, it’s committed to bringing water it’s entitled to tap to those who need it, said Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.
He said the project has been under review for about 20 years, and many other projects have gone through federal review while states worked through unresolved issues…
Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, attended the meeting and asked if the committee planned to halt the project due to the concerns expressed by the other states in Tuesday’s letter.
Utah’s largest new water diversion in Colorado River Basin ignites a modern water war, results in veiled threat of litigation by other states.
In a stunning letter to the Secretary of Interior, a coalition of state water agencies, large water suppliers, and Governors’ representatives of Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are asking that Utah’s controversial Lake Powell Pipeline be placed on hold.
The shocking move demonstrates how out of touch the Utah Division of Water Resources and its lobbying partners have been in understanding the impacts of climate change on the Colorado River and of the Pipeline’s impact to the water supplies of seven states. The letter notes:
“As Governors’ representatives of the Colorado River Basin States of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming, we write to respectfully request that your office refrain from issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) or Record of Decision (ROD) regarding the Lake Powell Pipeline until such time as the seven Basin States and the Department of the Interior (Interior) are able to reach consensus regarding outstanding legal and operational concerns raised by the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.”
The strong letter of opposition was signed by representatives of the Colorado River Board of California, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Colorado River Commission of Nevada and the State of Wyoming.
They joined scores of groups and many hundreds of people across seven states submitting comments of opposition to the Lake Powell Pipeline to the Provo Office of the Bureau of Reclamation for the DEIS. The project drew criticism across the American West because the Colorado River has dropped dramatically with reservoir levels at 50% of capacity in an era of water cuts and climate change.
This is a historic first for 6 of the 7 Colorado River Basin States to reprimand another state on what they see as:
“Serious legal concerns relating to the 1922 and 1948 Compacts, including the accounting of the Lake Powell Pipeline diversion and other operational issues under the Law of the River.”
Utah ignited the water war with other Colorado River Basin states by pushing the Lake Powell Pipeline even without a demonstrable need for the water. Utah water officials justified the Pipeline with a high municipal water use of over 300 gallons per person per day, while other cities like Las Vegas, Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix have water use between 120 and 150 gpcd, or less.
In a separate letter, the Southern Nevada Water Authority noted:
“What the Utah Board of Water Resources characterizes as extreme conservation efforts and impractical conservation, are actually commonly applied in an efficient and effective manner in many other communities.”
“This project is water hoarding at its finest. Utah wants to cash in on its ‘water entitlement’ under the Colorado River Compact so badly that it is willing to upset the fragile balance of a basin that supports 40 million people, recreational and agricultural economies, tribal lands and cultures, and irreplaceable landscapes and ecosystems.” — said Jen Pelz, the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians
“Secretary Bernhardt should listen to the six Colorado River states that just asked him to delay any decision regarding the Utah’s unnecessary and harmful proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. All six states, especially Arizona, would be hurt by Utah’s attempted water grab from the drought- stricken Colorado River.” — said Douglas Wolf, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity
“It is not often where grassroots groups and government water buffaloes are aligned on bad water projects, but the Lake Powell Pipeline is such a boondoggle that opposition is now widespread. We hope St. George finally begins to follow the lead of communities like Las Vegas, Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix and others that have implemented world-class conservation programs.” — said Kyle Roerink, Executive Director of the Great Basin Water Network
A coalition of groups also submitted extensive comments opposing the embattled Lake Powell Pipeline. The coalition has requested the Bureau of Reclamation explore other less expensive and environmentally destructive means for meeting the water needs of residents of Washington County in southwest Utah. This is also an Alternative identified as missing from the DEIS in the letter sent to the Secretary of the Interior by the 6 State Coalition. The 224 page letter can be found HERE.
The letter was submitted by Utah Rivers Council, Save the Colorado, WildEarth Guardians, Great Basin Water Network, Living Rivers, Glen Canyon Institute, Utah Audubon Council, SUWA, Conserve Southwest Utah, Citizen’s Water Advocacy Group of Arizona, Sunrise Movement of Las Vegas, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, San Diego Coast Keeper and Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. It details flaws in Reclamation’s environmental review including challenging the basis and need for the project itself, the lack of examining more cost-effective and less destructive alternatives, and its failure to analyze and mitigate the environmental harms that would arise if the project goes forward.
The Lake Powell Pipeline is one of the projects identified by the Trump Administration–in its June 4, 2020, Executive Order No. 13927–to be fast tracked through the environmental review process.
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):
Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use on the Fryingpan River and the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River
The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering an offer from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acting through its Colorado River Water Projects Enterprise (“District”) of a short-term lease of 3,500 acre-feet of water that the District holds in Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow (“ISF”) use. The proposal is to use the released water to supplement winter flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir from January 1, 2021 – March 31, 2021; and from April 1 – December 31, 2021, to help meet or reduce shortfalls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s flow recommendations for the endangered fish critical habitat in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The Board will consider this proposal at its September 16-17, 2020 virtual meeting. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at:
Consideration of this proposal initiates the 120-day period for Board review pursuant to Rule 6b. of the Board’s Rules Concerning the Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”), which became effective on March 2, 2009. No formal Board action will be taken at this time.
Information concerning the ISF Rules and water acquisitions can be found here.
The following information concerning the proposed lease of water is provided pursuant to ISF
Decree: 81CW0034 (Second Filling)
Appropriation Date: 1/22/1981
Adjudication Date: 12/31/1981
Decreed Amount: 101,280 acre-feet
Bureau of Reclamation Contract: 139D6C0101
Contract Use: Municipal use in Colorado River Basin; includes “use of water by . . . piscatorial users, including delivery of water to supplement streamflow. . . .”
Contract Amount: 4,683.5 acre-feet
Amount Offered for Consideration: Up to 3,500 acre-feet.
Proposed Reach of Stream:
Fryingpan River: From the confluence with Rocky Ford Creek, adjacent to the outlet of Ruedi Reservoir, downstream to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, a distance of approximately 14.4 miles.
15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River: From the confluence with the headgate of the Grand Valley Irrigation Company (lat 39 06 06N long 108 20 48W) downstream to its confluence with the Gunnison River.
Purpose of the Acquisition and Proposed Season of Use:
The leased water would be used to supplement the existing 39 cfs ISF water right in the Fryingpan River to preserve the natural environment, and used at rates up to 70 cfs to meet the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife flow recommendations to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. The leased water would be used to also supplement the existing ISF water rights in the 15-Mile Reach to preserve the natural environment from July 1 – September 30, 2019, and to provide water at rates above the existing decreed ISF rates to help meet or reduce shortfalls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“USFWS”) flow recommendations for the endangered fish critical habitat in that reach to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree from April 1 –December 31, 2019.
Water stored in Ruedi Reservoir will be released to the Fryingpan River during the winter time period. The existing instream flow water right is decreed for 39 cfs from November 1 – April 30. The objective of the lease would be to maintain Fryingpan River flows at a rate of 70 cfs to prevent the formation of anchor ice at times when temperatures and low flows could otherwise combine to create anchor ice, which adversely impacts aquatic macroinvertebrates and trout fry.
The 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River provides critical habitat for two species of endangered fish: the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. This reach is sensitive to water depletions because of its location downstream of several large diversions. It provides spawning habitat for these endangered fish species as well as high-quality habitat for adult fish. Due to development on the Colorado River, this reach has experienced declining flows and significant dewatering during the late summer months, and at times, there are shortages in the springtime. As a result, the USFWS has issued flow recommendations for the 15-Mile Reach since 1989 to protect instream habitat for the endangered fish.
Available information concerning the purpose of the acquisition and the degree of preservation and improvement of the natural environment, and available scientific data is available at:
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources:
The Department of Natural Resources released the names of a 18-member Anti-Speculation Law Work Group (Work Group) whose objective is to explore ways to strengthen current Colorado water anti-speculation law. The Work Group arose out of passage of Senate Bill 20-048 sponsored by Senators Donovan and Coram and Representatives Roberts and Catlin and signed by Governor Polis on March 11, 2021.
“I’m encouraged by the participation in the Work Group, which represents diverse stakeholders from all across the state,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, who appointed the Work Group members. “Our goal is to have a transparent and thoughtful process over the next year.”
Senate Bill 20-048 requires the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to convene a work group to explore ways to strengthen current anti-speculation law and to report to the water resources review committee by August 15, 2021, regarding any recommended changes. Colorado water law prohibits speculation by requiring water to be used for a beneficial purpose.
The Work Group will be co-chaired by Kevin Rein, State Engineer, and Scott Steinbrecher, Assistant Deputy Attorney General. Meetings will be noticed to the public via the Colorado Water Conservation Board website and will be open to the public. Meeting summaries will be posted publicly, and opportunities will be available for the public to review and comment on the recommendations of the Work Group before the written report is finalized.
The Work Group membership consists of:
Kevin Rein (Co-Chair), State Engineer, Division of Water Resources
Scott Steinbrecher (Co-Chair), Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Attorney General’s Office
Tracy Kosloff, Deputy State Engineer, Division of Water Resources
Erin Light, Division 6 Engineer, Division of Water Resources
Lauren Ris, Deputy Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board
Amy Ostdiek, Deputy Section Chief, Colorado Water Conservation Board
Alex Funk, Agricultural Water Resource Specialist, Colorado Water Conservation Board
Justice Gregory Hobbs Jr., Colorado Supreme Court Justice (ret.)
Joe Bernal, Bernal Farms
Daris Jutten, Lazy K Bar Land and Cattle Co.
Joe Frank, General Manager, Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District
Larry Clever, General Manager, Ute Water Conservancy District
Alex Davis, Water Resources Division Manager, Aurora Water
Peggy Montaño, Trout Raley
Peter Fleming, General Counsel to the Colorado River District
Adam Reeves, Maynes, Bradford, Shipps and Sheftel LLP
Drew Peternell, Colorado Director, Trout Unlimited
Kate Ryan, Senior Attorney, Colorado Water Trust
The first meeting of the Work Group will be held virtually this fall.
Intense wildfires are raging in California, Oregon and Washington state, spurring mass evacuations and leaving charred towns in their wake. A regional heat wave is keeping temperatures high and humidity low, creating difficult conditions for firefighters. These five articles from The Conversation’s archive explain what’s driving Western fires and how they’re affecting residents.
1. Welcome to the Pyrocene Age
Many factors have combined to create conditions for today’s epic wildfires, including climate change, land use patterns and decades of fire suppression.
Arizona State University emeritus professor Stephen Pyne, a historian of fire, argues that Earth may be “entering a fire age comparable to the ice ages of the Pleistocene, complete with the pyric equivalent of ice sheets, pluvial lakes, periglacial outwash plains, mass extinctions and sea level changes. It’s an epoch in which fire is both prime mover and principal expression.”
This transition reflects how humans interact with the land and how they use fire, Pyne writes. Humans believed that they could contain fire on the land, as they did in factories. Meanwhile, they burned more fossil fuels, adding to combustion sources. Today, Pyne writes, “The climate is unhinged. When flame returns, as it must, it comes as wildfire.”
2. Climate change’s fingerprint
While climate change isn’t the only driver of Western fires, Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, sees its influence clearly. Typically, lightning, power lines or poorly doused campfires ignite these conflagrations – but climate change is making the U.S. west hotter and dryer, and thus more prone to burn.
Water “acts as the air conditioner of the planet,” Trenberth explains. “In the absence of water, the excess heat effects accumulate on land both by drying everything out and wilting plants, and by raising temperatures. In turn, this leads to heat waves and increased risk of wildfire.”
Because scientists can estimate how much extra heat climate change is adding to the atmosphere, its role in creating conditions for wildfires is clear, Trenberth argues. Researchers who study climate and fire have observed these trends playing out in the West, with longer fire seasons and more destructive fires since the 1980s.
3. Treating wildfires like earthquakes
Californians have lived for decades with the risk of earthquakes. Now, in the view of University of California Santa Barbara scholars Max Moritz, Naomi Tague and Sarah Anderson, they need to think about wildfire risk in the same way.
This means taking long-term steps, such as limiting development in the wildland-urban interface, where homes and businesses adjoin fire-prone undeveloped areas; retrofiting homes to make them more fire-resistant; and improving evacuation planning and warming systems.
As wildfire smoke turns Western skies orange and red, millions of people face serious health risks from inhaling it, even many who are far from active fires. Wood smoke is a complex mixture of gases and large and small particles that can cause eye and throat irritation and lung inflammation. It also can worsen asthma, cardiovascular problems – and possibly even the impacts of COVID-19, warns Luke Montrose, assistant professor of community and environmental health at Boise State University.
If you’re downwind from a wildfire, Montrose offers this advice: Pay attention to local air alerts; avoid being outdoors or engaging in strenuous exercise; use a window air conditioner and a portable air purifier to create a clean, cool space; and skip activities that can add to indoor air pollution, such as burning candles or lighting gas stoves.
As insurers drop policyholders in fire-prone areas, the main alternative is a state-backed insurance pool that provides basic coverage at a high price as a last resort. To address this squeeze, Shrimali recommends separating wildfire coverage from general property insurance and requiring all California homeowners to purchase it. He also calls for risk-based pricing, so that owners pay more if they choose to build or buy in fire-prone areas.
“Insurance is not a substitute for fire prevention policies or investments in wildfire response, but it is one necessary tool for managing the state’s serious wildfire risks,” Shrimali writes.