#Colorado winter snow outlook bleak after dry summer; emergency #drought plan activated — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #snowpack

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling for drought conditions across the state to persist and possibly worsen into next year as a La Niña weather pattern brings above-normal temperatures and dry conditions to the southwestern U.S., said David Miskus, a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center.

US Drought Monitor December 8, 2020.

The entire state is already seeing drought conditions, with more than two-thirds in extreme or exceptional drought. Most of El Paso County is in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

To help prepare, Colorado has activated its municipal emergency drought plan for only the second time in history as several cities say they need to prepare for what is almost certainly going to be a dangerously dry 2021.

For Colorado Springs Utilities, activating the drought plan means increasing its communication between other major water users about water storage, future water supplies, and operational plans, said Patrick Wells, general manager with Colorado Springs Utilities Water Resources and Demand Management…

Planning for drought and water supply in the state is becoming harder as supply becomes increasingly variable, Wells and other experts said…

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

For example, last winter’s snowfall was fairly strong across the state and, on April 1, the snowpack for the upper Colorado River Basin had reached 100% of average. But the basin saw only 52% of normal runoff when experts would have expected to see much, much more water, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

Colorado Springs relies heavily on water from the Colorado River basin.

Water in the Colorado basin was likely lost to thirsty soils because the fall of 2019 was so dry and some water likely evaporated in the warm spring temperatures, he said.

“It’s not typical, but it could very well be our future,” Udall said…

For water users along the lower Arkansas River, in counties like Pueblo and Otero, the runoff from the 2020 snowpack came fast along with higher temperatures that drove evaporation, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

But, he agrees with Udall, that higher temperatures and lower flows could be the new normal. Lakes east of Pueblo are seeing 50% of their capacity lost to evaporation and that could go up, he said. So projects to preserve water in the system need to get underway to help deal with it, he said.

“We are still managing water like we did 50 years ago,” Winner said.

Lining ditches and ponds can help more water reach the fields and once it gets there, center-pivot sprinkler systems and drip irrigation can also help farms water more efficiently, he said.

Silver lining: Lining canals to cut for salinity also boosts efficiency — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ActOnClimate #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Winter may be the offseason when it comes to a lot of construction work, but for ongoing efforts to line local irrigation canals, it’s the only practical time for further pursuing multi-year efforts to line them.

Doing so locally helps address salinity problems throughout the Colorado River Basin, meaning that irrigation entities can tap federal funds to pay for much of the work. But it also provides the side benefit of making canals able to deliver water more efficiently, in higher volumes, multiplying the payback for the millions of dollars that get invested in such work.

In September, the federal Bureau of Reclamation announced that it will distribute $33.7 million for salinity control projects in western Colorado over the next three to five years. This includes nearly $4.7 million for the Grand Valley Water Users Association for continued lining of the Government Highline Canal, and about $1.23 million to the Grand Valley Irrigation Company for a fifth phase of lining it has been doing over the past decade or so thanks to Bureau of Reclamation salinity control funding.

Lining canals limits seepage of water into the ground, where that water can pick up salt before eventually reaching the Colorado River, which is relied upon by downstream states and Mexico. High salinity in the river reduces crop yields downstream for farmers reliant on the river water, and can increase water treatment costs and corrode things such as household appliances, reducing their useful life.

In Colorado, salinity control efforts by the Bureau of Reclamation also include the operation of a deep injection well for salty groundwater in Montrose County’s Paradox Valley. While that project has been highly effective in salt removal, it is increasingly causing earthquakes and the future of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Paradox desalination program is uncertain as the well nears the end of its serviceable life.

23,426 TONS OF SALT A YEAR

In the Grand Junction area, groundwater reaching the river percolates through Mancos shale associated with an inland sea that left salt deposits behind tens of millions of years ago. The Bureau of Reclamation estimates that a total of $37.2 million it will distribute to 11 projects in western Colorado and Wyoming over the next few years will keep about 23,426 tons a year from entering the Colorado River.

The last lining work the Grand Valley Water Users Association did on the Government Highline Canal was finished last year and ended at 36-3/10 Road in the Palisade area. The work being undertaken now will pick up from there and run to 35 3/10 Road, covering some 6,100 feet of canal length, said Mark Harris, the association’s general manager.

The canal is operated by the association and owned by the Bureau of Reclamation. The project the new funding will cover most of will take place over three winters, and Grand Valley Water Users Association is covering about 10% of the cost through cash and in-kind contributions.

The funding the Grand Valley Irrigation Company is getting will be used for work on close to a mile of the Grand Valley Canal over multiple years, on stretches running by Bookcliff Gardens and the Crown Point Cemetery area. Phil Bertrand with the Grand Valley Irrigation Company said the hope is to get about 300 or 400 feet lined in the first phase of that work this year.

Grand Valley Irrigation’s project involves a little more than $149,000 in matching funding, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Harris said the work on the Government Highline Canal will include restoring its shape where needed. A fuzzy geotextile layer will be laid down to help protect the water-sealing PVC liner that’s put on top of it from the underlying earth and rocks. The PVC liner is covered with another fabric liner, and then three inches of concrete are added on top to help protect the canal from abrasion from sand and silt flowing through the canal.

A drainage system also is being installed below the canal to help control the accumulation of underlying groundwater that can damage the canal lining when it is drained due to pressure exerted on it. The water in the canal when full otherwise counters that pressure…

Canal lining also reduces seepage that can impact adjacent private property. In addition, it can reduce the amount of selenium that also leaches along with salt into the river. High selenium levels in soil are particularly a concern in the Gunnison River Valley, and high levels in the Gunnison and Colorado rivers can threaten wildlife including endangered fish…

Harris said some sections along the Government Highline Canal cause more salt loading in the river than others. Localized levels of salt underground, the underground geological structure in an area and how much water that seeps from the canal actually makes it to the river all can play roles in salt loading, and areas of the canal with a lot of seeping aren’t necessarily where lining results in the most reduction of salt…

GUNNISON PROJECTS

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association got more than $5 million in funding, and Grandview Canal & Irrigation Co. in the Crawford area received more than $6.3 million. Needle/Rock Ditch Company, also in the Crawford area, is receiving about $4.24 million, and Pilot Rock Ditch Company in eastern Delta County is getting more than $940,000. The Turner Ditch Company near Paonia will receive about $6.15 million.

All of those projects entail installing pressurized pipe. Some involve matching funds and others are being completely paid for by the Bureau of Reclamation.

A local initiative called the Lower Gunnison Project tries to take advantage of salinity-control funds and leverage them with other funding sources to make projects go further, Kanzer said. That project’s goals are wide-ranging, from reducing salt and selenium loading in the Gunnison River, to pursuing more efficient delivery and on-farm application of irrigation water, to improving soil health and boosting agricultural productivity…

WETLANDS MITIGATION

Canal-lining projects also can have wetlands projects associated with them. Where wetland habitat is destroyed as a result of the work, it has to be replaced elsewhere, Harris said. In the case of the Grand Valley Water Users Association project, crews will be creating new wetlands at the Colorado River Island State Wildlife Area south of D Road. Harris said the project will involve some 1,500 plantings and will result in creation of habitat far superior to what is being replaced…

The Grand Valley Water Users Association’s canal project is occurring as the association also is in the middle of work to replace electrical and operating equipment at the Grand Valley Diversion Dam, the roller dam in De Beque Canyon. Harris said such projects “all kind of fit together” in improving water delivery in the Grand Valley, but are expensive. It’s hard for the association to pay for something like the current lining project internally through assessments, he said.

The Drying U.S. West — @NASAClimate #ActOnClimate

US Drought Monitor December 8, 2020.

From NASA Earth Observatory (Adam Voiland):

A drought that flared up in the western United States in spring 2020 has expanded and intensified across the summer and fall. In August, a third of the United States was experiencing at least a moderate level of drought. By December, roughly half of that area was, with about 33 percent facing what the U.S. National Drought Monitor classifies as “extreme” or “exceptional drought.” Initially, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and northern California faced the most severe conditions. Over the summer and fall, the drought intensified in Arizona and New Mexico and spread onto the Great Plains and Texas.

The map above, built with data from the Drought Monitor, depicts areas of drought in progressive shades of orange to red on December 8, 2020. It is based on measurements of climate, soil, and water conditions from more than 350 federal, state, and local observers around the country. NASA provides experimental measurements and models to this drought monitoring effort.

“Compared to late 2019 and early 2020, when there was very little drought in the continental United States, this is quite an extreme single-year event that developed rapidly over the course of 2020,” said Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “But if you look over longer time scales, I would argue this is really a continuation of a multi-decadal event that began around 2000. There have been some breaks, but the Southwest has been in more-or-less continuous drought conditions since then.”

The consequences of the unusually dry and warm temperatures in 2020 have shown up in a variety of ways. Several states, particularly California, have endured unusually active and destructive fire seasons. Some farmers have already seen—or anticipate—poor yields as they struggle with a lack of water for crops and livestock. Reservoirs, lakes, and streams in several areas are reaching unusually low levels.

This map depicts shallow groundwater storage in the continental U.S. as of December 7, 2020, as measured by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow On (GRACE-FO) satellites. The colors depict the wetness percentile; that is, how the levels of groundwater compare to long-term records for the month. Blue areas have more abundant water than usual, and orange and red areas have less. The darkest reds represent dry conditions that should occur only 2 percent of the time (about once every 50 years).

“The Southwest monsoon was underwhelming this year, and many places in that region rely on that precipitation as part of their water budgets,”” said Christopher Hain, a research meteorologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “Given the La Niña happening now, there is a higher-than-normal chance that winter rains will not help much and below-average precipitation will further exacerbate the drought. That could set the stage for even worse conditions next spring, summer, and fall.”

La Niña—cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean—tends to cause dry weather in the Southwest U.S. The associated weather patterns push the jet stream north and cause it to curve, driving storms to the Pacific Northwest and the Great Plains instead.

“The long-term, multi-decadal drought is largely driven by precipitation deficits connected to persistently cold sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific—in essence a string of years with long-lasting and intense La Niñas,” said Cook. “However, there is strong evidence from climate models and centuries of tree ring data that suggest about one-third to one-half of the severity of the current drought can be attributed to climate change.”

NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using GRACE data from the National Drought Mitigation Center and data from the United States Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Story by Adam Voiland.