The Rancher Trying to Solve the #West’s #Water Crisis — Politico #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Rancher and fly-fishing guide Paul Bruchez raises cattle on 6,000 acres near Kremmling. Bruchez has taken an active role in Colorado River issues ever since his family suffered from a critical water shortage during the 2002 drought. Photo credit: Russ Schnitzer via Aspen Journalism

Politico (Annie Snider) takes a deep dive featuring Paul Bruchez and the efforts to keep water in the Colorado River. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

The power politics of the Colorado River have long pitted families like Paul Bruchez’s against big cities. Under pressure from climate change, they might be finding a path out.

Paul Bruchez’s family has ranched cattle in Colorado for five generations. And twice in his lifetime, his generation has nearly become the last.

The first time, it was the city of Denver that squeezed them out. By the 1990s, when Bruchez was still in high school, the city’s fast-growing suburbs had swept north and totally surrounded their roughly 2,000 acres in Westminster. Bruchez’s father had taken dirt roads to get to school, but by the time Bruchez was a teenager development had engulfed the family homestead so completely that at one point the city needed to send a police escort to help move their harvest equipment safely between fields on what were by then city roads. Running a full-scale farm operation in the middle of a city soon became untenable and the family opted to cut a land deal with the city and start fresh on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.

The second time, it was a drought. Their new land near Kremmling, a small ranching community 100 miles to the west, had one particularly appealing feature for a family that needed hay to feed its cattle: the Colorado River literally ran through it. The ice-cold mountain runoff from the river’s headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park would feed their land through a network of ditches, offering plentiful water to grow 2,000 acres of hay. And for a family of fly fishermen, it had another attraction. The lush cottonwood trees lining the main stem of the river promised cool water and insects, a spot where trout would bite.

They had one good year before the ditches went dry.

The drought hit while Bruchez was in college and his father was facing a battle with cancer, and it nearly bankrupted the family. It marked the beginning of Bruchez’s mission to secure the future of not just his family’s operation, but the very West that made cowboys like him…

Technically, families like Bruchez’s have the upper hand in water disputes. The whole Western water system is built on a roughly 150-year-old legal regime that gives priority access to whoever put the water to use first. Farmers and ranchers led the settlement of the West, giving them the most “senior” rights and ensuring that they get their water before newer users like sprawling suburbs. Some 70 percent of the Colorado River’s flow is consumed by agriculture.

But as climate change keeps squeezing the water supply, the ranchers’ position is growing more precarious. They are far less powerful and wealthy than the cities that need water, which have often swooped in and bought out farms for their water rights. It is inevitable, now, that large amounts of water will have to leave agriculture in order to sustain cities and suburbs in the far-drier future; the question is simply whether it can be done in a way that keeps agriculture on the landscape.

Over the past century, Denver, Boulder and other cities on Colorado’s dry Front Range have steadily bought up farmers’ water rights on the wet, western slope of the Rockies and built massive, transmountain tunnels to ship the water to thirsty city dwellers. Today, roughly 65 percent of the water that would naturally flow into Grand County, where Kremmling sits, is diverted elsewhere. Many farm and ranch families nurse a grudge to this day, holding tight to the old Mark Twain adage that “whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting.”

But Bruchez’s twin near-disasters and his path to recovering from them led him to a different conclusion: that in the long term, financial and climatic forces are aligned against agriculture, and ranchers and farmers are likely to lose if they don’t find a way to make themselves part of the solution.

Instead of seeing agriculture and new suburbanites as locked in a zero-sum struggle over who gets the West’s diminishing water, Bruchez has spent the past two decades hatching a series of projects to help ranchers by making common cause with sportsmen, environmental groups and even some big city water officials and lawyers.

Now, Bruchez has emerged as a leading voice for agriculture in Colorado as the state explores a controversial new scheme to manage its own, internal water usage—almost certainly by paying farmers to forgo using their water—in a bid to avoid a nightmare scenario in which river flows dip so low that the terms of a 1922 river compact force junior users like cities to be abruptly cut off. It’s an idea that has been knocking around water policy circles across the West for years without action, but that could be called into place quickly if the river’s flows continue to shrink rapidly.

Bruchez, 39, is as comfortable on a Zoom conference call with state water managers as he is riding horseback with a neighbor to steer cattle away from a quickly spreading forest fire, and in between he steals quiet moments to cast a line into the nearby river, in search of a rainbow or brown trout. What drives him is not just a desire to protect his family’s way of life, but to prove that farmers and ranchers aren’t just part of a mythical Western past but can be a part of the solution to weathering climate change and preserving the environment for the future.

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The 2020 Atlantic #hurricane season was a record-breaker, and it’s raising more concerns about #climatechange — The Conversation #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Hurricanes Sally and Paulette, Tropical Depression Rene, and Tropical Storms Teddy and Vicky were all active on Sept. 14, 2020.

James H. Ruppert Jr., Penn State and Allison Wing, Florida State University

It was clear before the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season started that it was going to be busy. Six months later, we’re looking back at a trail of broken records, and the storms may still not be over even though the season officially ended on Nov. 30.

This season had the most named storms, with 30, taking the record from the calamitous 2005 season that brought Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans. It was only the second time the list of storm names was exhausted since naming began in the 1950s.

Ten storms underwent rapid intensification, a number not seen since 1995. Twelve made landfall in the U.S., also setting a new record. Six of those landfalling storms were hurricane strength, tying yet another record.

2020 Atlantic tropical storm tracks
Tropical storm tracks show how busy the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was.
Brian McNoldy, CC BY-ND

As atmospheric scientists, we target our research at better understanding both what drives the formation of tropical cyclones and how climate change is affecting them on longer time scales. Here’s what research tells us about the 2020 season and what may be ahead.

Why did 2020 have so many storms?

An unfortunate combination of two key factors made this season ripe for tropical storms.

First, a La Niña pattern of cool surface waters developed in the equatorial Pacific, and it was stronger than anticipated.

Ironically, cooling in the equatorial Pacific makes it easier for tropical storms to form and gain strength in the Atlantic. That’s because La Niña weakens the vertical wind shear over the tropical Atlantic. Vertical wind shear – a change in wind speeds with altitude – is highly disruptive to storm development.

As the La Niña pattern became established this season, it made the tropical Atlantic much more hospitable for storms to form and intensify.

Sea surface temperature map
Atlantic sea surface temperatures in September 2020 were warmer than the 1981-2010 average.

The second critical factor was the extremely warm temperatures in the Atlantic, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

Hurricanes are powered by the transfer of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere. The sea surface temperature therefore dictates the maximum potential intensity a storm can attain under perfect conditions – it’s like a thermodynamic “speed limit” on hurricane intensity.

The sea surface temperature approached record levels in the Atlantic hurricane basin this season, including in September, the most active Atlantic storm month on record.

What does climate change have to do with it?

An important part of this season’s story is the Atlantic warming trend we’re witnessing, which is unprecedented going back at least several millennia.

The oceans store much of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases. With greenhouse gas concentrations still increasing due to human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, average sea surface temperatures are likely to continue rising over the coming decades.

NOAA’s satellite imagery shows 2020’s named Atlantic storms through Nov. 18.

Whether climate change caused the extremely high number of storms this season is unclear. There is no detectable trend in global hurricane frequency, and computer modeling studies have had conflicting results.

However, the warming climate is increasing the threat posed by hurricanes in other ways.

A growing proportion of high-intensity storms, Category 3, 4 and 5, is being observed around the world, including in the Atlantic. Since ocean temperature controls the potential intensity of tropical cyclones, climate change is likely behind this trend, which is expected to continue.

The U.S. is also seeing more storms with extreme rainfall. Think about Hurricane Harvey’s 50 inches of rain in the Houston area in 2017 and Florence’s 30-plus inches in North Carolina in 2018. The warming climate plays a key role here, too. With warmer temperatures, more water is able to evaporate into the atmosphere, resulting in greater moisture in the air.

Implications of the 2020 season

Ten storms this season underwent rapid intensification – a 35 mph increase in maximum winds within 24 hours. Rapidly intensifying storms are especially dangerous because 1) they are challenging to accurately predict, and 2) they provide minimal time for evacuations when they intensify just before making landfall.

Data to make plot retrieved from NOAA
Satellite instruments capture Hurricane Iota making landfall in Nicaragua on Nov. 16. The image shows the temperature of cloud tops, which tells scientists how tall the clouds are.
NOAA; James H. Ruppert Jr.

Hurricanes Laura and Sally both rapidly intensified just before making landfall on the Gulf Coast this season. Eta rapidly intensified to a Category 4 just before hitting Nicaragua, and just two weeks later, Iota essentially repeated the act in the same location.

Forecasts for the tracks or paths of tropical cyclones have dramatically improved in recent decades, as much as five days in advance. However, forecasts of storm formation and intensification have improved very little by comparison.

The forecasts for hurricane rapid intensification are especially poor.

While the official forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center are issued by human forecasters, they depend on the guidance of prediction models, which aren’t very accurate when it comes to rapid intensification.

The complexity of weather models makes this a daunting challenge. However, it becomes more tractable as researchers learn more about how hurricanes form and intensify and identify the root causes for errors in computer model predictions.

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Our latest research explores how clouds create their own greenhouse effect, trapping heat that causes hurricanes to form and intensify more quickly. Improving how numerical models account for this cloud feedback may ultimately hold promise for more accurate forecasts. Innovative ways of collecting new measurements in developing storms, down to their smallest scales, will also be necessary for guiding these improvements.

Given the upward trend in high-intensity storms, the risks from these storms will only grow. The ability to accurately predict how and when they will form, intensify and threaten coastal populations is crucial.

This article has been updated with the season ending and NOAA video of 2020’s Atlantic storms.The Conversation

James H. Ruppert Jr., Assistant Research Professor, Penn State and Allison Wing, Assistant Professor of Meteorology, Florida State University

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

#Snowpack news: Too early to panic?

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

From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

So far, Mother Nature hasn’t gifted Colorado with much snow overall, and that’s following a dry summer that has left Montrose and other counties locked in exceptional drought. Because it is early enough in the winter season, though, water users and hydrologists aren’t panicking.

“It’s concerning, but we’ve survived before. We’ll survive again,” Steve Anderson, manager of the Uncompahgre Water Users Association, said. “It’s a lot easier to run the project when you’ve got lots of ammunition. I certainly hope we get some snowpack this winter, and we’ll go from there.”

The water users association, or UVWUA, stores its water rights allocations in Ridgway and Taylor Park reservoirs. This past spring, it was faced with a “hole,” when, because of less snow and colder weather in the high country, there was not enough water to feed the project in April. The association at the time took some from its storage to meet contracts; it was able to meet demands for its irrigation season.

As of Monday, Ridgway Reservoir held 52,185 acre-feet of water and sat at an elevation of about 6,837. Taylor Park stood at 67,491 acre-feet and about 9,308 elevation, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data.

“We don’t have a full reservoir, but we’re awfully close at Taylor,” Anderson said.

The big bucket for the Aspinall Unit, Blue Mesa Reservoir, was at 7,464 elevation and 399,755 acre-feet on Monday. It’s sitting lower than what BuRec would like and the hope is for a winter of at least average precipitation.

“If we have another year like this year, operations will be challenging,” BuRec hydrologist Ryan Christianson said.

Normally, the bureau is releasing water from Blue Mesa to hit winter targets, but is about 25 feet below where hydrologists like to be for the winter.

When it comes to how full Blue Mesa is, though, at 48%, that’s typical for the lower part of the year.

Currently, there are about 2 inches of snow-water equivalent as the snowpack starts to build for the season. Over the course of a winter, there is typically 15 to 20 inches and it is not unusual to have only a few inches at this time of year, Christianson said.

The basin is about 15% of average for its typical median peak for snowpack, which tends to peak-out in early April. The basin has several months to catch up; however, below-average runoff is anticipated.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Preliminary data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service Colorado Snow Survey program pegged the statewide snowpack level at 82% of median on Tuesday.

Powderhorn had hoped to open the day after Thanksgiving Day but temperatures were too warm before then for it to make snow with its new system. But it’s now saying on its website that the Bill’s Run and Peacemaker trails will be open top to bottom thanks to its new system making snow “when Mother Nature has refused to cooperate.”;


NRCS data for snow measurement sites helps explain the challenges Powderhorn and some other Colorado resorts are facing. At Grand Mesa sites, measurements of snow-water equivalent are around half of average, with snow depths ranging from 5 to 14 inches.

Snowpack as of Tuesday was 73% of median for the Upper Colorado River Basin in Colorado and 71% in the Gunnison River Basin. Snowpack levels in basins in the state range from a low of 65% of median in the Yampa/White basins to 118% in the Upper Rio Grande Basin. That runs a bit counter to expectations for this winter, a La Niña winter characterized by below-average surface water temperatures in the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean. Such winters tend to result in more snow in northern Colorado than southern Colorado.

Only one week ago today, the state’s snowpack was at 97% of median. The level of drop since then reflects not just a dry pattern in recent days but how quickly the percentage can change early in the snowpack season when overall accumulations are relatively low. Snowpack levels in the state generally don’t peak until sometime in early April.

Brian Domonkos, NRCS snow survey supervisor in Colorado, said he believes about 40% of the state’s snowpack typically accumulates by Jan. 1. This year’s snowpack is off to a slow start in a season where water-watchers hope to see it exceed average peak accumulation because of the drought that currently is gripping the entire state. Much of western Colorado, including eastern and southern Mesa County, is in exceptional drought, the worst category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

That results in poor soil moisture, which means when the snow melts next year, more of it will be soaked into the ground and less will reach streams, just as happened this year when a fairly average snowpack in Colorado resulted in below-average runoff because of dry ground. This year, “the spigot turned off in April and May and then it got warm into June,” and that was followed by a monsoon season that failed to produce appreciable moisture, said Jim Pokrandt with the West Slope’s Colorado River District…

Warmer temperatures in the summer and fall aggravated things. That has further heightened the desire for an above-average snowpack this winter for the sake of farmers and ranchers, municipal utilities and others dependent on Colorado River water flows, given the inadequate runoff seen this past year.

As I’ve said before, average isn’t good enough anymore,” Pokrandt said…

Pokrandt said it’s still early in the snowpack season, too early to panic about how things may shape up. For the short term, though, there are no big storms on the horizon…

Longer term, the federal Climate Prediction Center is forecasting below-average precipitation in Colorado over the next 30 days. The same goes for its 90-day outlook for southern Colorado, whereas it is forecasting an equal chance of above- or below-average precipitation over that timeframe for northern Colorado.

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for December 4, 2020.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 4, 2020 via the NRCS.