From Metropolitan Water District via Smart Water Magazine:
Building on increased collaboration on the Colorado River, water agencies in Southern California and Arizona have forged a new partnership to advance development of one of the largest water recycling plants in the country – a project that would help restore balance to the over-stressed river.
Through an agreement approved Tuesday [October 12, 2021] by Metropolitan Water District’s Board of Directors, the Central Arizona Project and Arizona Department of Water Resources will contribute up to $6 million to environmental planning of the Regional Recycled Water Program, a project to purify treated wastewater to produce a new, drought-proof water supply for Southern California. Southern Nevada Water Authority signed a similar agreement with Metropolitan earlier this year.
If fully developed, the $3.4 billion project would produce up to 150 million gallons daily, enough to serve more than 500,000 homes.
“This project could help the entire Southwest. We know that eliminating the supply-demand imbalance that threatens the Colorado River will take both reducing demand, through conservation, and adding new supplies, like recycled water,” Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said. “That’s why our partners in the Lower Basin are interested in helping us develop the project.”
The initial investment from Arizona could lead to a long-term agreement with the agencies to help fund the project’s construction and operation – helping offset the project’s significant cost for Metropolitan – in exchange for Colorado River water, Hagekhalil said. But more research and planning must be conducted before such a long-term partnership could be developed, he added.
Environmental planning work on the project began last year and will take approximately three years, at a cost of about $30 million. The work, including a Program Environmental Impact Report and engineering and technical studies, will help determine the value and feasibility of developing the full-scale project.
Under the new agreement, the Central Arizona Project will contribute $5 million and the Arizona Department of Water Resources will contribute $1 million to this planning work.
“We are eager to further our partnership with the Metropolitan Water District to collaboratively explore and develop opportunities to improve the long-term reliability and resiliency of our shared resource – the Colorado River,” said Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke.
The latest agreement reinforces the long-standing commitment between California and Arizona to work together to develop solutions on the Colorado River, including supply augmentation, conservation and storage. This partnership, together with Metropolitan’s collaboration with Nevada, will be critical as the Colorado River Basin states begin to create new operating guidelines for the river. The current guidelines are set to expire in 2025.
“Increasing the reuse of recycled water is critical to augmenting water supplies and creating a more resilient Colorado River,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.
Expanding the value of the Regional Recycled Water Program to the entire Southwest could also help earn federal financial support for the project.
Sitting in front of a large computer monitor in the back of a Pilatus PC-12 airplane parked at the Centennial Airport, firefighter Adam Hanson says his work feels more important this year than it ever has before.
He flies in this plane alongside a small crew armed with an infrared camera that can detect an unattended campfire from 25 miles away.
And this year, the plane and its camera have detected at least 206 fires no human could see…
Bruce Dikken, who manages the state’s fleet of firefighting aircraft, says dozens of fires could have become bigger ones last summer had the camera not detected them shortly after they started…
Many are caused by lighting strikes in very remote areas.
A year after the East Troublesome Fire advanced with unprecedented fury and became one of the state’s biggest and most destructive blazes, the state’s firefighters say there is more pressure to detect and extinguish fires before they grow…
And Dikken says the state has been improving the aerial reconnaissance program since it started seven years ago.
“We can create a fire perimeter, draw a line around the edge of it, and then we can send that out to anybody that has access to the internet so they know where that fire’s at right now, including having pictures and video of the fire activity so they know what to expect,” he says.
But even with two of these infrared cameras monitoring the landscape around the entire state, blazes like the East Troublesome and the Cameron Peak fires convinced lawmakers this year they needed more tools to join the fight.
Looking to the skies
The most immediate step the state took in response to Colorado’s record fire season last year was ordering a $24 million aircraft called a Firehawk.
It’s a Sikorsky, military-grade helicopter modified to quickly drop water on approaching flames…
Colorado’s first Firehawk is currently being built in a hangar in Englewood and will take to the skies next year.
In the meantime, engineers in Colorado have been busy this summer testing and developing a brand-new technology they say is starting to revolutionize how firefighters battle wildfires down on the ground.
Adapting battlefield tech
Brad Schmidt starts a program on his laptop at the Centennial Airport and small dots start rapidly moving around a map.
He’s demonstrating the TAK app, a smartphone program that allows firefighters to see the location of their colleagues, fire engines and even aircraft in real-time.
“They’ve never had this type of real-time information before, and some of them have been working in fire for 20 or 30 years,” he said. “Typically, they’ll get one map of the fire every 24 hours, and a lot of cases it literally is a paper map of the fire.”
The smartphone app was originally developed by the military to give soldiers a better idea of what was happening on the battlefield.
And Schmidt says this new digital platform brings lots of benefits to firefighters.
“You’re out in the woods. You might not know at a fork in the road which way to go,” he said. “And rather than having to talk on a voice radio for a couple of minutes to figure out which direction, you could just look at your phone and see exactly where your boss is that that needs you to come down and meet with them.”
Schmidt says he tested the technology this year on the Muddy Slide Fire in Routt County near Steamboat Springs, as well as a large blaze in California.
Click here to read the report (Adnan Rajib, Qianjin Zheng, Heather E. Golden, Qiusheng Wu, Charles R. Lane, Jay R. Christensen, Ryan R. Morrison, Antonio Annis & Fernando Nardi). Here’s the abstract:
Floodplains provide essential ecosystem functions, yet >80% of European and North American floodplains are substantially modified. Despite floodplain changes over the past century, comprehensive, long-term land use change data within large river basin floodplains are limited. Long-term land use data can be used to quantify floodplain functions and provide spatially explicit information for management, restoration, and flood-risk mitigation. We present a comprehensive dataset quantifying floodplain land use change along the 3.3 million km2 Mississippi River Basin (MRB) covering 60 years (1941–2000) at 250-m resolution. We developed four unique products as part of this work: Google Earth Engine interactive map visualization interface, Python code that runs in any internet browser, online tutorial with visualizations facilitating classroom code application, and instructional video demonstrating code application and database reproduction. Our data show that MRB’s natural floodplain ecosystems have been substantially altered to agricultural and developed land uses. These products will support MRB resilience and sustainability goals by advancing data-driven decision making on floodplain restoration, buyout, and conservation scenarios.
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.
On October 31, the world will gather in Glasgow for COP26, a major summit on climate change. As the U.S. rejoins the Paris Agreement, Indigenous Peoples, their traditional knowledge, and relationship with the earth are also at the forefront. Join Colorado Law for a discussion with Indigenous leaders and advocates to learn what’s at stake for all of us.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor map October 12, 2021.
High Plains Drought Monitor map October 12, 2021.
West Drought Monitor map October 12, 2021.
Colorado Drought Monitor map October 12, 2021.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
A long wave trough resulted in seasonal to below-normal temperatures across the western third of the contiguous U.S. (CONUS). A ridge of high pressure dominated the eastern two-thirds of the CONUS leading to above-normal temperatures, with the highest positive anomalies across the Northern Plains and Midwest. Despite the amplified ridge in the East, early in the week an upper level low pressure system drifted slowly northward from the Southeast to the Great Lakes bringing unsettled weather and keeping many areas across the Southeast and Ohio Valley wet. A coastal low pressure system along the coastal Carolinas brought some additional precipitation to coastal and inland areas of the Carolinas, leading to mixed reductions and expansion in coverage of abnormal dryness across the Carolinas and Virginia. In the Northeast, little to no precipitation fell and above-normal temperatures, coupled with long-term deficits, led to degradation and expansion of abnormally dry and severe drought areas across Upstate New York and New England. The Northern Plains and Upper Midwest experienced some of the largest positive temperature anomalies (8-10°F above normal) this week. However, a strong surface low pressure system brought heavy rainfall across the Dakotas and northern Minnesota, leading to broad 1-category improvements. In the wake of this storm system, a surface low pressure system developed in the lee of the Rockies over the Southern Plains dropping several inches of rainfall, further improving drought conditions (1-category improvements) in areas affected by the recent rapid onset and intensification of drought during September. As this low pressure system moved across the Midwest later in the week, it led to further improvements across portions of the western Corn Belt, due to heavy rainfall. Areas that missed out on the rainfall over the Great Plains experienced worsening conditions due to above-normal temperatures and high winds increasing evaporation and leading to increased soil moisture loss. An active storm track in the West, associated with a long wave trough, resulted in improving conditions along fringe drought areas in the Pacific Northwest and the Four Corners, where antecedent wetness leading up to this week resulted in more immediate improvements. Given the intensity and duration of drought across the remainder of the West, more precipitation will be needed to warrant more meaningful improvements…
Similar to the Southern Plains, much of the High Plains region is susceptible to extended periods of above-normal temperatures and high winds. In areas where little to no rain fell, these conditions helped to further degrade ongoing drought east of the Front Range across portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska, where many areas have seen drastic deterioration in topsoil moisture in recent weeks (widespread D1-D4 equivalent NASA SPoRT soil moisture percentiles down to 10 cm). Farther north over the Dakotas, a strong low pressure system brought widespread heavy rainfall over the weekend, where several areas received more than 2 inches of rain, with some localized areas of more than 4 inches. This warranted 1-category improvements across large portions of the Dakotas. However, improvements were targeted in nature due to the longer-term deficits and above-normal temperatures increasing the evaporative demand and slowing soil recharge. Farther south in the High Plains Region, surface low pressure developed late in the period in the wake of the system farther north and moved north-northeastward across the central U.S. Rainfall from this system mainly fell over drought-free areas of eastern Kansas before moving into the Midwest and Great Lakes. However, some locations did receive meaningful rainfall; enough to warrant 1-category improvements in northeastern and southeastern corners of the state. Another storm system began propagating across the western U.S. on the final day of the period (Monday-Tuesday), bringing precipitation in various forms to the eastern Rockies. However, given the intensity of drought in the higher-terrain areas of the High Plains Region, the late arrival of precipitation did little to warrant any improvements this week, given the duration and intensity of drought in those areas…
An active storm track across the western U.S. this week brought seasonal to cooler than normal temperatures and beneficial precipitation to much of the region. Improvements were mainly limited to portions of the Pacific Northwest and Four Corners due to improving soil moisture conditions. For the Four Corners region, this precipitation was on the heels of an active Southwest Monsoon season, so reduced evaporative demand coupled with above-normal precipitation led to immediate improvements. For much of the remainder of the West, more precipitation is needed to recharge soil moisture and increase groundwater levels, stream flows, and reservoir levels. The only minor degradations of drought in the Western Region was in southeastern New Mexico and western Montana, where above-normal temperatures and high evaporative demand warranted expansion of D0 (abnormally dry) and D3 (extreme drought) areas, respectively…
Ahead of a long-wave trough across the western U.S., an area of low pressure developed over the Southern Plains, bringing with it much needed precipitation to areas affected by the rapid onset of drought conditions in recent weeks. This has helped to improve conditions, mainly across parts of Oklahoma, where many locations received 2-3 inches of rainfall (greater than 1 inch positive weekly anomalies). Unfortunately, many locations outside of Oklahoma in the Southern Region continued to see further degradation and expansion of drought conditions in, and adjacent to, areas where the rains did not fall or was insufficient. Worsening conditions were observed across Texas and the Ark-La-Tex region were exacerbated by above-normal temperatures and high winds leading to increased evaporation and evapotranspiration rates…
During the next 5 days (October 14 – 18, 2021), a strong surface low pressure system will track across the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, bringing the potential for heavy rainfall. Along the tail end of the trailing frontal boundary associated with this low pressure system, the remnants of Tropical Depression Pamela from the East Pacific are expected to bring a surge of moisture to the south-central U.S. Surface low pressure is expected to develop along the remnant frontal boundary and move quickly northeastward bringing increased chances of rainfall from the Middle Mississippi Valley to the Northeast. Despite the active pattern across the central and eastern U.S., temperatures are likely to moderate across the Northern Plains and Midwest by the end of the week, while in the East temperatures will likely be more variable due to the passage of frontal boundaries. In the West, temperatures are expected to be relatively seasonal during the next 5 days, with an abrupt cool down toward Tuesday.
The CPC 6-10 day extended range outlook (October 19 – 23, 2021) favors below-normal rainfall from the eastern Rockies to the East Coast, with weak tilts in the odds toward above-normal precipitation across portions of the Southern Plains and the Florida Peninsula. Enhanced chances of above-normal precipitation are favored along the West Coast inland to the western Great Basin. Above-normal temperatures are favored across much of the CONUS, with the exception of portions of southern and central California, where near to below-normal temperatures favored.
A Colorado water seminar always had climatechange on the agenda, but the tone was different this year, more alarmed, more worried, if still optimistic
What a flip-flop from 2001. We were going to war in Afghanistan, worrying about terrorists in our midst, and anthrax arriving in the mail.
The reservoirs of the Colorado River were close to full.
At the time I had given little thought to climate change, other than to be somewhat skeptical about the alarm. That changed in 2003, when I was given an assignment by the editor of Ski Area Management to round up what was being said. I read a year’s worth of articles in the New York Times and then—my eyes widened considerably—set out to find much more. It has been front and center for me ever since.
Brad Udall also immersed himself in climate change beginning in 2003. He had been trying to preserve open space in Eagle County for a few years but then returned to the Front Range. There, he directed the Western Water Assessment in Boulder and, more recently, joined the staff of the Colorado State University Water Institute as a scholar and scientist. He has expertise in hydrology but also in crunching numbers.
Over the years, Udall has distinguished himself as an expert on the effects of the warming climate on the Colorado River. His most prominent insight was a paper published in 2017 by the prestigious journal Science. Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, who also was originally schooled in Boulder and I believe still has a cabin in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride, sifted through the data before concluding that at least a third of the reduced flows in the Colorado River should be attributed to heat, not reduced precipitation.
On Oct. 1, speaking to the Colorado River District’s annual seminar in Grand Junction remotely from Boulder, Udall described the strengthened evidence that half of the reduced flows could be explained by rising temperatures. He calls it aridification.
Much worse, he said, is yet to come.
Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based River District, had introduced the session, using words of greater alarm than I had heard at the annual seminar—and I’ve attended most, in person or virtually, since the first session in 2003. He used the metaphor of a train wreck.
“For a decade or more, we have seen the train wreck slowly moving this way,” he reiterated afterwards when I spoke to him for a story published by Fresh Water News. “It has picked up speed pretty significantly in the last couple of years. The question is how do we avert the train wreck (from coming into our station).”
Mueller had described reduced flows and warm temperatures in the Yampa River as it flows through Steamboat Springs that have caused the river to be closed to recreation something like 8 of the last 14 years. There were fish kills in the Colorado River this year. He told of shortening ski seasons and warned lower-elevation ski areas may not make it in the future.
He had also told the audience in Grand Junction that adaptations to lower flows would be necessary. Farmer and ranchers might have to cut irrigation to marginal areas, forego low-income crops. He vowed that Front Range cities would have to conserve and not expect the Western Slope to bear the burden.
Climate change has never been a verboten word at River District seminars, even if this is from an area that elected Lauren Boebert to Congress. Udall, for example, has spoken at least three times in my memory and probably more.
This year’s outlook was different, less cautious, more worried. The tone was reflected in the seminar title: “Wake-Up Call on the Colorado River.”
National publications this summer brimmed with stories about the distress of the Colorado River, especially after the Bureau of Reclamation on Aug. 16 issued a shortage declaration. Arizona is most immediately affected, but this is huge for the five other basin states, including Colorado.
Mueller agreed with me when we talked by phone that none of what happened this year was surprising. Most people involved with the river saw it coming.
I remember talking with Udall in 2019 (for a story in Headwaters, the magazine), when something called the Drought Contingency Plan was completed. That agreement tightened the belt of Arizona but kicked the fundamental decisions down the road to a plan projected to be implemented in 2026. Udall was skeptical that the emergency would be that slow to arrive.
Now there’s an awareness in the public of the brittleness of the hydraulic empire created in the 20th century in Southwest states, including Colorado. A decade, ago, there was hope that some big snow years like we had in the ‘80s and ‘90s would fill the reservoirs. We’ve had some big snow years, but the runoff doesn’t show it.
Now, one major question is whether they will go so low as to make it impossible to generate electricity.
I asked Mueller about his remarks, the tone of this year’s session. “The tone has to reflect the reality on the ground,” he said.
“I think at every level our folks who are paying attention to the science and the hydrology, there is an increasing sense of urgency in the Colorado River Basin, and it’s shared by folks on the ground today, from ranchers in the Yampa River Valley to farmers in the Uncompahgre Valley to major urban providers like Denver Water. We all recognize there is something very different going on than there was 10 years ago in the Colorado River,” he said.
“People like Brad have been saying for years that this is coming. I have seen lots of people in power turn their backs to Brad when he’s talking,” he said, likely meaning that metaphorically. “They’re not doing that so much anymore.”
What is happening is complex but understandable. There is drought, as conventionally understood, but then the overlay of higher temperatures. The warmer temperatures cause more evaporation. They cause more transpiration from plants. More precipitation can overcome this, but particularly in Southern Colorado, there’s actually been less.
The most interesting slide Udall showed compared the runoff of several rivers over time. The San Juan River—which originates in Colorado, near Pagosa Springs—had 30% less water in 2000-2019 at Bluff, Utah, as compared to 1906-1999. The decline of the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs was 6%.
Another compelling statistic reported during the seminar was about soil moisture. Dry soil sops up snowmelt before it can get to the stream. Runoff from deep snows can be lost to the previous years’ dry soils.
In 2020, the snowpack was 100% but the runoff was 50%. That soil-moisture deficit played into this year’s even worse runoff, 30% of average from a snowpack that was 90% of average.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation during the Trump years operated well, although I do remember a session at the Colorado River Water Users Association in December 2019 of top Trump water officials who sat on a panel and patted themselves on the back for the better part of an hour, seemingly oblivious to the big issue of that day. It was like the famous Trump cabinet meeting where the cabinet heads took turns praising Trump like he was the North Korean dictator.
Udall, in his presentation to the River District seminar, pointed to the tremendous drop in storage. The two giant reservoirs, Mead and Powell, in January 2020 were 90% full and held 47 million acre-feet. They are projected to fall to 15 million acre-feet combined by April 22, leaving them 30% full.
This has manifold implications—including for Colorado. In 2009, I wrote my first story about Colorado’s possible need to curtail diversions in order to comply with the Colorado River Compact. That possibility is far more concrete now, and Udall mentioned it in his presentation.
But even when it was more remote, water managers in Colorado were talking about various programs that could allow cities to pay farmers and ranchers, especially on the Western Slope, to use their water (for a price, of course). The farmers and ranchers tend to have the oldest and most senior water rights; the cities tend to have the more junior rights – almost exclusively junior to the Colorado River Compact.
Looking around me on the Front Range, I don’t see a response that I think the situation justifies. From Pueblo to Fort Collins, we all depend greatly upon imported water. That will almost certainly change. We’re going to see a very different water paradigm a decade from now. Predicting the changes is beyond me, but the water in the 21st century isn’t there to satisfy 20th century expectations.
There may be implications in other realms. I am reminded what Colorado State Sen. Chris Hansen said at a fundraiser this summer, about the growing room for new alliances with conservatives to move forward on climate action. The evidence—wildfires, heat waves, the drying of the Colorado River – is becoming overwhelming.
Visiting Greeley to attend the Energy and Environmental Leadership Symposium on Oct 8-9, I was struck by the shift. This is in Weld County, where 90% of oil and gas production occurs in Colorado. The keynote speaker, Chris Wright, the chief executive of Liberty Oilfield Services, downplayed the risks and costs of climate change and emphasized the cost of trying to shift from fossil fuels. This will be a 200-year journey, he said, not something done in 30 years.
But for the next day and a half, whether talking about fossil fuels or renewables, all the sessions in some way had to do with a carbon-constrained world.
To modify Mueller’s cliché about the train, it seems like the train has left the station on this energy transition and it’s picking up speed. This train will have to move a lot quicker. Just what value will those giant reservoirs built during the 20th century on the Colorado River have in the 21st century? It’s an open question.
In his 2021 letter to CEOs, Larry Fink, the CEO and chairman of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment manager, wrote: “No issue ranks higher than climate change on our clients’ lists of priorities.”
His comment reflected a growing unease with how the climate crisis is already disrupting businesses.
Over the past few decades, many companies came to embrace sustainability. It became the corporate norm to seek ways to reduce a company’s negative impacts on society and the planet and operate more responsibly.
Sustainability-as-usual is the slow and voluntary adoption of sustainability in business, where companies commit to changes they feel comfortable making. It’s not necessarily the same as what science shows is needed to slow climate change, or what the United Nations recommends for an equitable society. Businesses’ response to both will be drawing global attention in November when world leaders gather for the annual U.N. climate conference.
One notable example is Heinz. The ketchup maker announced a cap for its ketchup bottle that is 100% recyclable. It was the outcome of $1.2 million invested and 185,000 hours of work over eight years, according to the company.
Climate change requires a new approach
While companies appear to grasp the magnitude of the climate crisis, they have been trying to address it mainly in a sustainability-as-usual fashion – one ketchup bottle cap at a time.
Consider emissions reductions. Companies have been slow to commit to reducing their emissions to zero no later than mid-century, a target that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considers necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – roughly 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit – and avoid the worst effects of climate change. Only about one-fifth of the major companies have 2030 goals that are in line with reaching net-zero goals by 2050 at the latest.
Companies have tried to rebrand their efforts in ways that sound more sophisticated, moving from terms like “corporate social responsibility (CSR)” to “environmental, social and governance (ESG),” “purposeful companies” and “carbon-neutral products.”
Business is at a strategic inflection point, which Andy Grove, the former CEO of computer chip-maker Intel, described as “a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change.”
This transformation could evolve in different ways, but as I suggest in my book, fighting climate change effectively requires a new mindset that shifts the relationships between profit maximization and sustainability to prioritize sustainability over profit.
Early signs of evolution
There are early signs of evolution, both within companies and from the forces that shape the environment in which companies operate.
Another example is changes in companies’ relationships with suppliers – for example, the business software company Salesforce added a sustainability clause to its contracts requiring suppliers to set carbon reduction goals.
Add to these bright spots changes in regulation and policy worldwide that aim to put in place key sustainability principles and push to cut emissions at a faster pace, plus the changing expectations of young job seekers when it comes to environmental and social issues, such as inclusion and diversity, and you can start to see how the end of sustainability-as-usual may be closer than many people think. Due to climate change, the question is more “when” than “if” it will happen.
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Here’s the release from the University of Nebraska Lincoln (Cory Matteson):
To provide people with accurate data about rainfall, temperature, wind speed and more, climatologists in states across the nation lead strategic installations of research-grade weather stations across their states. Weather stations are finely tuned machines, expected to record key data within finite margins of error. But even high-tech systems need a tune-up once in a while, Nebraska State Climatologist Martha Shulski observes.
This past summer, the State Climate Office in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s School of Natural Resources began offering weather station sensor calibration services for research-grade equipment used in other states.
The State Climate Office stepped in to consolidate and streamline a calibration process that is often time-consuming, Shulski said. Four different companies manufacture the sensors on a typical U.S. weather station, she said, meaning a state office must send parts to multiple companies that often have backlogs.
The Nebraska program began with a shipment from the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, which sent a set of 17 temperature and humidity sensors from weather stations to Hardin Hall. There, in a basement lab, senior Nebraska Mesonet technician Glen Roebke ran the meteorological instruments through a battery of tests with instruments that can calibrate air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure readings and more.
The calibration center is an extension of the work the Nebraska State Climate Office has long performed for weather station sensors in its statewide Nebraska Mesonet weather-monitoring network, Shulski said.
“We’ve always calibrated our instrumentation in house,” Shulski said. “Now we’re opening up this service to other state weather networks. We’ve got the expertise. Glen has been doing this for roughly 20 years. He looked at what manufacturers do when you ship sensors to them for calibration tests and determined what we could replicate here in the lab. He looked at what other weather networks use for their sensors and equipment and developed techniques based on that.”
That effort led to the development of, among other tools, an indoor solar calibration table that is now located in the basement lab. Roebke previously only had a finite window of time to test the solar readings of the Nebraska State Climate Office’s pyranometers, which measure solar radiation.
“We’ve done a study in the past on when the best time of year to calibrate is, and the magic month is May,” Roebke said. “There are a lot of things that go into it. We want clear days, but there are a lot of clouds in the month of May, so it limits the number of days we can use it. And the other thing that’s a huge variable is temperature. Temperature affects how these instruments work. So we don’t want to do it in late July or the middle of August, because temperature changes the output. We want to stabilize it.”
Before the table was installed, Roebke could be found in the Hardin Hall elevators every spring, bringing pyranometers up to be tested on a platform on the 10-story building’s roof, where a precision spectral pyranometer was installed.
The indoor solar calibration table allows any time in the basement lab to simulate a sunny day in May, as far as a weather station’s pyranometer is concerned.
The lab also features equipment that can test each of the typical sensors that would have normally been sent to a manufacturer when they required calibration, Shulski added.
A weather station in Nebraska observes air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, solar radiation, warm-season liquid precipitation every minute, and soil temperature and soil moisture at five depths every hour. Checking equipment yearly, Roebke said, helps the Nebraska Mesonet sensors stay within a half-percent margin of error, rather than drifting 2% to 4% off, as equipment can when it’s not checked over two- or three-year stretches. “It’s a huge difference in the world of meteorology,” he said. It costs about $2,600 a year, per weather station, to run and calibrate the equipment, Shulski said. The stations are often sponsored by natural resource districts, and the equipment is in service for about a decade before its components are all replaced.
Some maintenance still requires field trips, she said. Lightning, gophers and coyotes are among a weather station’s natural enemies. If rain is measured in an area surrounding another weather station but not at that particular station, for instance, there’s a good chance that a spider web has been constructed atop its precipitation gauge. (Shulski said they spray vinegar on the gauges to prevent that.) Nebraska Mesonet’s 63 stations get inspected, and the grass around them mowed, at least four times a year.
The information collected from the sensors feeds into critical weather information systems, such as the National Weather Service. It is used to determine when to issue flood warnings and when to declare drought emergencies. It helps ag producers make irrigation decisions and parents decide whether their kids need coats at recess. It helps track the changing climate over time. Shulski said it’s imperative to make sure the weather stations are providing readings that are as accurate as possible.
Shulski said the University of Nebraska has the people, knowledge and gear to offer calibration services to states that don’t have similar in-house setups. The services help augment operational funding for the Nebraska Mesonet, she said, and could help contribute to continued expansion of the network.
Currently, 47 of the state’s 93 counties have weather stations, a strong spatial representation of what’s going on with Nebraska weather, Shulski said. However, she hopes to install at least one weather station in each of the remaining counties without one.
As more states utilize Nebraska’s calibration lab, the revenue that the project brings in will allow for students to learn on-the-job calibration training in the lab, while also testing new equipment and sensors as weather station technology evolves.
“The calibration facility is part of our long-term vision for the (Nebraska) Mesonet, and it’s quite exciting to see it come to fruition in such a short time,” Shulski said.
Just like your car doesn’t reach top speed the instant you step on the gas, Earth’s temperature doesn’t react instantly to each year’s new record-high carbon dioxide levels. Thanks to the high heat capacity of water and the huge volume of the global oceans, Earth’s surface temperature resists rapid changes. Said another way, some of the excess heat that greenhouse gases force the Earth’s surface to absorb in any given year is hidden for a time by the ocean. This delayed reaction means rising greenhouse gas levels don’t immediately have their full impact on surface temperature. Still, when we step back and look at the big picture, it’s clear the two are tightly connected.
As the graph above shows, both global temperature (colored bars) and atmospheric carbon dioxide (gray line) increased more slowly during the first half of the observational record in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose by around 20 parts per million over the 7 decades from 1880–1950, while the temperature increased by an average of 0.04° C per decade.
Over the next 7 decades, however, carbon dioxide climbed nearly 100 ppm—5 times as fast! To put those changes in some historical context, the amount of rise in carbon dioxide levels since the late 1950s would naturally, in the context of past ice ages, have taken somewhere in the range of 5,000 to 20,000 years; we’ve managed to do it in about 60. At the same time, the rate of warming averaged 0.14° C per decade. The rapid rate of temperature rise over such a short period time points to only one thing, and that is the addition of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, into the environment.
Within any given decade, however, the temperature bounces around between warm and cool years. The warmest years are usually El Niño years, when the eastern and central tropical Pacific is warmer than average. The coldest years are generally La Niña years. On a longer time scale, warm decades are often associated with strongly positive phases of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and cool decades with strongly negative phases.
And while these natural climate patterns—through which the ocean alternately accumulates and releases heat—are the most important cause of short-term variations in global surface temperature, other factors occasionally contribute: volcanic eruptions, solar variability, and smoke and other pollution particles.
Pros and cons of thermal inertia
The global ocean buffers Earth’s temperature from rapid change; that stability has been fundamental to the evolution of complex life on our planet over millions of years. Even with respect to global warming, the ocean’s inertia works in our favor in one way: it provides us with a modest window of time to adapt to and begin to combat climate change before we are forced to confront its full effects on human health, coastal communities, and agriculture.
But there’s a downside to the delayed reaction, too. Like a speeding train, the warming won’t stop the instant we hit the brakes. At whatever point we manage to halt or reverse the trend in greenhouse gases, some additional warming will occur due to the heating imbalance that is already in the pipeline. A recent special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates how much we could currently expect based on emissions to date:
“If all anthropogenic emissions…were reduced to zero immediately, any further warming beyond the 1°C already experienced would likely be less than 0.5°C over the next two to three decades (high confidence), and likely less than 0.5°C on a century time scale (medium confidence)…. A warming greater than 1.5°C is therefore not geophysically unavoidable: whether it will occur depends on future rates of emission reductions.”
Allen, M.R., O.P. Dube, W. Solecki, F. Aragón-Durand, W. Cramer, S. Humphreys, M. Kainuma, J. Kala, N. Mahowald, Y. Mulugetta, R. Perez, M. Wairiu, and K. Zickfeld, 2018: Framing and Context. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press.
This stretch of the South Platte and its world-class fishing have been damaged by floods, but borrowed root wads and other material could repair and protect it for years to come
Situated at 8,700-feet elevation in one of the largest plateau basins in North America, cradled by hills with snow-dusted peaks in the distance, this stretch of the South Platte owes its reputation to a combination of circumstances that create ideal habitat for fish — largely brown and rainbow trout but also species like kokanee salmon. They not only breed in sustainable numbers but also live long and grow to eye-popping sizes.
The stretch of river meanders through easily accessible flatlands between two reservoirs, Spinney Mountain to the northwest and Eleven Mile to the southeast, for three miles as the crow flies, though anglers walk its winding path for closer to five miles. But multiple floods over the past several years have chipped away at the banks and vegetation that provided safe harbor and attractive spawning grounds for the fish, threatening the optimal conditions.
Last month, Colorado Parks and Wildlife workers launched a project to restore the banks of this picturesque and prolific fishery in South Park, about 45 minutes west of Colorado Springs. And in a unique twist, the project was linked with another several miles away, focused on improving habitat for elk and mule deer.
Matt Kondratieff, aquatic researcher and stream restoration manager, already had done significant restoration on the Dream Stream back in 2013, but the project took a major hit months after its 2015 completion when a major flood ripped through the river and undid much of the work…
This wasn’t just any stretch of river. The Dream Stream ranks in the highest tier of Colorado fisheries, called Gold Medal waters. Those areas can produce 60 pounds of trout per acre, including a dozen that measure 14 inches or larger. Of the state’s roughly 9,000 miles of trout streams, only 322 miles meet those criteria — and this section of the South Platte exceeds the standards significantly.
“When we look at the Dream Stream numbers, the number of pounds per acre, we are 4.25 times the Gold Medal standards for biomass,” says Tyler Swarr, a CPW aquatic biologist whose territory includes the waterway. “And we’re almost five times the Gold Medal standard for the number of quality trout. So it’s a very robust fishery — really phenomenal, especially the brown trout population.”
The portion of the river that connects Spinney and Eleven Mile reservoirs now lies within what since 2010 has been known as the Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area, named for the longtime Denver Post outdoors writer whose combination of eloquence and policy-minded conservation advocacy defined Colorado’s landscape. A memorial near the parking area celebrates Meyers, who died at 72 of complications from lung cancer…
Reality behind the dream
It may fly-fish like a dream, but there are plenty of reasons — both biological and hydrological — for this waterway’s abundance.
Start with Eleven Mile Reservoir, built in 1970. Lake species like brown and rainbow trout do well in the deep (more than 100 feet) and cool habitat, where they remain largely safe from predators and reside for most of the year — until it’s time to spawn. Then, they head upriver into the South Platte, where undercut banks provide further refuge while they pursue their journey to deposit their eggs in the river’s riffle habitat.
Riffles are generally shallower, faster parts of a stream where protruding rocks churn and oxygenate the water — which in turn aids water-dwelling insects, which become a current-driven buffet for fish. The gravel beneath provides the ideal repository for trout eggs.
Spinney Mountain Reservoir formally opened in 1982, providing a bookend to a remarkable ecosystem. The standing water of Spinney, plus gravity, creates groundwater movement that eventually rises into the Dream Stream from below — and the gentle upwelling provides prime conditions for trout eggs.
Too much sediment in a stream can smother them, but the rising water essentially cleans the gravel where the eggs lie and tumbles them in oxygen to enhance their development. Hatcheries replicate that natural water movement.
But as flooding washed away the river banks, once-prime spawning areas began accumulating fine sediment that hindered egg development. Left unrepaired, the stream would continually widen and become shallower. Water temperature would rise — a detriment to cold-water species like trout — and crucial hiding spots would disappear, exposing fish to predators from above…
Since water is released into the South Platte from the depths of Spinney, not the surface, the temperature remains hospitably cool, even in the heat of summer…
While Spinney also provides water to Aurora, the city has been accommodating in scheduling releases so that they don’t impact fish health or spawning — especially for the large population of browns in the area, notes John Davenport, chapter president for Denver Trout Unlimited.
“The way it has been managed and improved,” he says, “and with Aurora such a good partner to keep water flowing and take into consideration fish health, those fish grow large. If you’re not from Colorado, the Dream Stream will look nothing like your preconceptions. This is a meandering stream through flat, dry, sagebrush desert. It’s more like you’re on the plains than into the mountains. But as soon as visiting fishermen hook into big fish, they forget all about that.”
An unusual repair project
When Matt Kondratieff started formulating a plan for restoring the Dream Stream, he huddled with the project’s primary architects: CPW engineers, aquatic researchers and biologists Swarr and Spohn — people with decades of experience in the watershed.
He also consulted with several outfitters and anglers — including Landon Mayer — to fine tune the plans…
The project’s primary goal was to repair damage resulting from record high runoff in 2015, and two years later from a storm cell over the drainage that produced flash flooding. The use of toewood — a technique that employs submerged wood to reinforce the stream bank — would be augmented by other materials like cobble (basically rocks ranging from baseball- to basketball-size), large gravel and sod transferred from upland areas.
The area has a history of periodic flooding, often from localized storms that drench the region. One particularly freak storm just a few years ago dumped 3 inches of rain in less than an hour. Then rain turned to heavy hail and triggered a wall of water estimated at 10 feet high on the river.
What made the Dream Stream project unusual is that it fed off another CPW land management effort several miles away to enhance habitat for elk and mule deer. As the proliferation of mature conifer trees began to crowd out stands of aspen, a favored food source, crews worked in the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area to thin the conifer.
“Bottom line,” Kondratieff says, “we needed large trees with root wads. So they figured out where there was overcrowding, took those trees and trucked them down. We used the root wad with the stem to weave into the banks, leaving root wads toward the channel, which creates complex habitat trout love.”
In all, workers moved nearly 60 15-foot tall trees, root wads still in place, four that measured 35 feet, plus 102 logs and more than 200 cubic yards of slash. Those elements were woven into the banks, while 15 tons of rock and boulders were strategically placed to enhance riffles…
By repairing the Dream Stream’s banks, CPW also aims to maintain a narrower channel that will effectively transport the fine sediment that can threaten egg-laying areas farther down the river to the next reservoir…
CPW research has determined that adding in-stream wood more than doubles trout abundance, as the root wads in particular provide cover for the fish to avoid predators, Swarr explains. Aside from anglers, the fish also must be wary of predatory birds that patrol the area, including eagles, herons, pelicans and osprey.
The project was funded largely by insurance money from the 2015 flood — about $60,000 — along with about $40,000 from CPW’s capital construction fund. Swarr estimates that to pay a private contractor for the work would have cost about $1.2 million compared to a little over $100,000 that it cost CPW to keep the work in-house, source materials on its own and combine it with the work on the department’s high-country project…
The heavy equipment required for the bank repair work is gone, but tracks remain as lingering evidence of the short-term disruption of the Dream Stream. Although plant life requires time to take hold and flourish — it could be a decade before it matures — the fish adapt quickly to the changes. Often it takes only days or weeks for them to adjust to the river’s new design, to discover new safe havens and food-rich riffles.
Spinney Mountain Reservoir
Managed flows along the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon have helped rainbow trout eggs and young fish survive during spring runoff.
WHILE Colorado remains largely an observer in the ongoing federal court case over the Rio Grande Compact, the issues that could increase its involvement have become clearer since Texas filed its initial complaint eight years ago.
Texas originally made no claims against Colorado as its arguments focused on New Mexico’s delivery obligations and the use of groundwater below Elephant Butte Reservoir. Colorado was named a party to the initial complaint simply because it is a signatory to the 1938 compact. But the state’s role in the proceedings could change, depending on whether the case impacts Colorado’s ability to manage Platoro Reservoir, the Upper Rio Grande Basin’s largest post-compact reservoir, and the debits the state is allowed to accrue under the compact. Likewise, court decisions might change how federal water compacts are interpreted, which could also spur greater involvement by Colorado.
In August, Special Master Michael J. Melloy ordered Texas to file a supplemental complaint with the U.S. Supreme Court because it raised issues distinct from the original complaint and had the potential to greatly expand the scope of the lawsuit. That supplemental complaint claimed, among other issues, that New Mexico violated the compact by not keeping a pool of water equal to the delivery debits it is allowed to accrue in reservoir storage.
While Colorado was not named directly in the complaint, Colorado sees that claim as an attack on how the state manages its reservoirs and the 100,000 acre-feet of debits it is allowed to accrue against its downstream delivery obligation. “It is a bigger concern because it directly affects us,” Division Engineer Craig Cotten said earlier this month.
Water users in Colorado’s section of the Rio Grande have also informed Attorney General Phil Weiser that they would seek amicus status to join the case should Texas prevail with its claim. “If Texas were to prevail on its claimed interpretation of Arts. VI-VIII, Platoro Reservoir would be rendered effectively useless to the Conejos District because it would be the only reservoir where Colorado could store debit water,” stated the memorandum signed by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the Conejos Water Conservancy District and the Rio Grande Water Users Association.
Platoro Reservoir has a storage capacity of only 53,571 acre-feet, which would put Colorado in the position of losing roughly half of its allowable debits under the compact. Those debits, as the memorandum noted, were intended to recognize that variations in stream flow would impact Colorado’s ability to strictly adhere to the delivery obligations laid out by the compact.
Colorado is also leery of the proceedings giving the Rio Grande Project, which is made up mainly of Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs in New Mexico, an authority not called for by the compact. Both the United States, which operates the reservoirs under the Bureau of Reclamation, and New Mexico have argued that the project and its contracts with downstream irrigation districts are silently incorporated into the compact. “They’re really trying to add a lot to the compact,” Cotten said. A brief by Colorado has asked the special master to rule as a matter of law that the Rio Grande Project is not incorporated into the compact and does not impose obligations to the states under the compact. The issue of obligations under those contracts should be addressed outside the compact, Colorado argued.
Virtual testimony in the case began last week, with in-person testimony coming later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Both Cotten and Deputy State Engineer Mike Sullivan are expected to testify as fact witnesses, although they may not take the stand until a second phase of the trial in spring.
The 96-degree heat has barely broken early on a September evening near Fruita, Colo. As the sun prepares to set, the ailing Colorado River moves thick and quiet next to Interstate 70, crawling across the Utah state line as it prepares to deliver billions of gallons of water to Lake Powell, 320 miles south.
This summer the river has been badly depleted—again—by a drought year whose spring runoff was so meager it left water managers here in Western Colorado stunned. As a result Lake Powell is just one-third full and its hydropower plants could cease operating as soon as July of 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
“We’re looking at a very serious situation from Denver all the way to California and the Sea of Cortez,” said Ken Neubecker, an environmental consultant who has been working on the river’s issues for some 30 years. “I’ve never seen it in a worse state.”
The Colorado River Basin is made up of seven states. Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico comprise the upper basin and are responsible for keeping Lake Powell full.
Arizona, California and Nevada comprise the lower basin and rely on Powell’s larger, downstream sister reservoir, Lake Mead, just outside Las Vegas, to store water for delivery to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and more than 1 million acres of farmland.
These are two of the largest reservoirs in the United States. Few believed Mead, built in the 1930s, and Powell, built in the 1960s when the American West had just begun a 50-year growth spurt, would face a future where they were in seeming freefall. The two reservoirs were last full in 2000. Two years ago they dropped to 50% of capacity. Now they are operating at just over one-third their original 51 million-acre-foot combined capacity.
First-ever drought accord
Two years ago, this unprecedented megadrought prompted all seven states to agree, for the first time, to a dual drought contingency plan—one for the upper basin and one for the lower. In the lower basin, a specific set of water cutbacks, all tied to reservoir levels in Mead, were put in place. As levels falls, water cutbacks rise.
Those cutbacks began this year in Arizona.
But in the upper basin, though the states agreed to their own drought contingency plan, they still haven’t agreed on the biggest, most controversial of the plan’s elements: setting aside up to 500,000 acre-feet of water in a special, protected drought pool in Lake Powell. Under the terms of the agreement, the water would not have to be released to lower basin states under existing rules for balancing the contents of Powell and Mead, but would remain in Powell, helping to keep hydropower operations going and protecting the upper basin from losing access to river water if they fail to meet their obligations to Arizona, Nevada and California.
The pool was considered a political breakthrough when it was approved, something to which the lower basin states had never previously agreed.
“It was a complete reversal by the lower basin,” said Melinda Kassen, a retired water attorney who formerly monitored Colorado River issues for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
But the idea was controversial among some powerful upper basin agricultural interests. Ranchers, who use some 80% of the river’s water, feared they would lose too much control of their own water supplies.
As proposed, the drought pool would be filled voluntarily, largely by farmers and ranchers, who would be paid to temporarily dry up their hay meadows and corn fields, allowing the saved water to flow down to Powell.
Two years ago, when the drought contingency plan was approved, the four upper basin states thought they would have several years to create the new pool if they chose to.
But Powell’s plunging water levels have dramatically shortened timelines. With a price tag likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars, confusion over whether saved farm water can be safely conveyed to Powell without being picked up by other users, and concerns over whether there is enough time to get it done, major water players are questioning whether the pool is a good idea.
“It was probably a good idea at the time and it’s still worth studying,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, the largest water utility in Colorado. “But it can’t be implemented in the short term. We don’t have the tools, we don’t have the money to pay for it, and we don’t have the water.”
Neubecker has similar concerns. “I fear it’s going to be Band-Aid on an endlessly bleeding problem…we need to do more.”
Since 2019 the State of Colorado has spent $800,000 holding public meetings and analyzing the legal, economic and water supply issues that would come with such a major change in Colorado River management.
Still no decisions have been made.
A call to act
Becky Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is overseeing the analysis.
Aware of frustration with the state’s progress on studying the drought pool’s feasibility, formally known as its demand management investigation, Mitchell said the work done to date will help the state better manage the river in a drier future with or without the drought pool.
“We’re still ahead of the game in terms of what we’ve done with the study. The other states are looking at feasibility investigations but ours has been incredibly robust,” Mitchell said. “If we’re going to do it we have to do it right and factor all these things in. Otherwise we’re going to be moving backward.”
One example of a step forward is that new tools to measure water saved from fallowing agricultural land are now being developed.
A large-scale experiment in a swath of high-altitude hayfields near Kremmling has demonstrated that ranchers can successfully dry their fields and deliver Colorado River water to the stream in a measurable way, and the data is considered strong enough that it could be used to quantify water contributions to the drought pool.
But other regulatory and physical barriers remain.
Under Colorado’s water regulations, rivers are only regulated where they cross state boundaries when water is scarce and the state would otherwise be unable to meet the terms of agreements with downstream states. But this is not yet the case on the Colorado River and its tributaries, so rules for determining who would get what in the event of cutbacks haven’t been developed.
In addition, because there has never been a so-called “call” on the Colorado River, the state has yet to require that all those who have diversion structures pulling from the Colorado River system measure their water use.
The situation is changing fast, though, with the 20-year drought and the storage crisis at Powell and Mead increasing pressure on state regulators to take action.
Now the state is taking steps to better monitor the river and its tributaries, moving to require that all diversion structures have measuring devices so it has the data it needs to enforce its legal obligations to the lower basin. If, for instance, some water users had to be cut off to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the state could manage those cutbacks based on the water right decrees users hold that specify amount and priority date of use.
Such data would also be needed to administer a mass-fallowing program to help fill the Lake Powell drought pool.
Kevin Rein, Colorado’s State Engineer and top water regulator, said what’s known as the mainstem of the Colorado River is fairly well monitored but major tributaries, such as the Yampa and Gunnison, are not.
“A lot of tributaries don’t have the devices,” Rein said, adding that the state doesn’t know the extent of the problem. “But in important areas a lot of commissioners know there is a significant lack of measurement devices and that makes water administration difficult.”
Joe Bernal is a West Slope rancher whose family has been farming near Fruita since 1920. He has water rights that date back to 1898 and, like others in this rich agricultural region, he and his family have abundant water.
Bernal was an early supporter of the drought pool. He and his family participated in an experimental fallowing program in 2016, where they were paid to dry up their fields. He’s confident the problems can be solved.
But he’s also worried that the 500,000 acre-foot pool may not hold enough water to stabilize the river system and that it may not be done fast enough.
“We want to be sure the solution does some good, but the clock is ticking,” he said. “We don’t want to change the culture of this valley or our ability to produce food. But I think things need to move faster. We are taking too long implementing these solutions.”
Checking the averages
As Powell and Mead continue to drop—they were roughly half full just two years ago— Mitchell and Rein are quick to point out that Colorado remains in compliance with the 1922 Compact, which requires the upper basin to ensure 7.5 million acre-feet of water reaches the lower basin at Lee Ferry, Ariz., based on a 10-year rolling average. Right now the average is at roughly 9.2 million acre-feet, although it too is declining as the upper basin’s supplies continue to erode due to drought and climate change.
Climate scientist and researcher Brad Udall has estimated that the upper basin may not be able to deliver the base 7.5 million acre-feet in a year as soon as 2025. But the upper basin would remain in compliance with the 1922 Compact even then because the rolling average remains healthy.
Still, if the reservoirs continue to plummet as quickly as they have in the past two years, when they dropped from 50% to 30% full, the upper basin could face a compact crisis faster than anyone ever anticipated.
Major water users in the state, such as Denver Water, Northern Water and Pueblo Water, have water rights that post-date, or are junior to, the 1922 water compact, meaning their water supplies are at risk of being slashed to help meet lower basin demands.
The big dry out
Many river advocates hope the drought pool is approved because they believe it is an opportunity to test how the river and its reservoirs will work as the region continues to dry out.
“What we knew in 2018 [when the drought pool was conceived] is that we have more to do,” said Kassen. The drought pool, she said, “was a big win and offers a way of testing what the upper basin can do. It’s squandered if they don’t use it.”
Neubecker and others say it’s becoming increasingly clear that the river’s management needs to be re-aligned with the reality of this new era of climate change and multi-year drought cycles.
And that means that water users in the lower basin and upper basin will need to learn to live with how much water the river can produce, rather than how much a century-old water decree says they’re legally entitled too.
“We’re facing a 21st Century situation that was totally unforeseen by anyone,” Neubecker said, “and we no longer have the luxury of time.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
Wet meadows and riparian areas in sagebrush country only account for about 2% of the landscape. Trouble for these systems started when white settlers moved West. Instead of taking their wagons through the sagebrush where it was rocky and rough, they followed the edges of the meadows.
Seward said the wagon wheels created trenches that were reinforced by livestock trailing between water sources, and eventually off-road vehicles using the same paths. These trenches caused water to pool.
“When water gets captured in those trails it speeds up and becomes more erosive and it starts to downcut,” he said. “It starts actually washing away the topsoil and working its way until it finally hits the bedrock.”
Sawyer said these impacts are being sped up by climate change.
“We are trying to prevent these systems from disappearing entirely from our landscape,” he said.
Wet meadows provide critical habitat for deer, elk, migratory birds, pollinators, livestock and the federally threatened Gunnison sage grouse.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates there about 3,500 Gunnison sage grouse left, with a majority of the population living in the Gunnison Basin. In 2015, there were around 5,000.
The species suffers habitat loss due to human-driven growth and development. The birds need large swaths of healthy sagebrush habitat to thrive. Climate change also threatens what’s left of the species habitat. Wet meadows provide sage grouse with important brood-rearing habitat to raise chicks.
The Wet Meadows Restoration Resilience Building Project is a local effort to restore habitat for the threatened Gunnison sage grouse. It’s a collaboration by government agencies, nonprofits, private landowners and the public.
Wet meadows also act as natural sponges, holding water in the soil and slowly releasing it over time. Seward said the restoration work helps build resiliency into the ecosystem. That will only get more important as climate projections indicate the area will get warmer and drier.
“Everyone knows that water in the West is life,” he said. “All life needs water, so by holding more water here in the Gunnison Basin longer and putting it to good beneficial use for wildlife, for our agricultural industries, like ranching as well — really everyone benefits from this kind of work.”
Project organizers said the restoration is working in the Gunnison Basin. Overall, they’ve seen wetland vegetation double in treated areas since the program started in 2012.
This is just one of dozens of watershed restoration projects in Colorado and states across the West. Wet meadow restoration projects to benefit the Gunnison sage grouse are also happening in San Miguel, Montrose, Mesa and Delta counties.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Jason Clay):
Each fall, brown trout spawn in the mountain creeks and rivers across Colorado. It is also when aquatic biologists, hatchery staff, wildlife officers and volunteers for Colorado Parks and Wildlife come together to conduct its annual brown trout spawning operation at North Delaney Butte Lake and Antero Reservoir.
A quota is set to collect the number of eggs necessary to meet the needs for hatchery production, which CPW uses to augment natural reproduction across Colorado’s creeks, rivers and reservoirs.
This year, that quota was 1.1 million brown trout eggs. It took just three working days at those two brood stock bodies of water to meet the quota of fertilized eggs that get sent to CPW’s Mt. Shavano Hatchery in Salida and its Poudre Rearing Hatchery in Larimer County.
The hatcheries will rear the fish to a fingerling size, around three inches, before being stocked out across Colorado in 2022. Those brown trout fingerlings will get stocked back into both Antero Reservoir and North Delaney Butte Lake to ensure a strong brood stock population, but also across many other reservoirs and rivers.
“Some of them will come back and be stocked into Antero and some will go to North Delaney as well, so we can come back in three or four years and still will have fish,” said Tyler Swarr, aquatic biologist leading the brown trout spawning operation at Antero Reservoir. “The rest of them will get stocked out across the state.”
CPW stocks more than 700,000 brown trout annually to provide exceptional fishing opportunities.
Crews at Antero Reservoir were able to collect and fertilize 227,026 brown trout eggs from 117 females during its lone spawning day on Wednesday, Oct. 6.
At North Delaney Butte Lake in North Park, CPW’s team needed just three days (Oct. 5-7) to gather 888,574 eggs to surpass the quota of 1.1 million fertilized brown trout eggs for the year.
“2021 was another good brown trout spawn year at North Delaney,” said Kyle Battige, aquatic biologist leading the brown trout spawning operation there. “We saw many year classes present, handled over 1,500 brown trout in three days and I’m happy overall with the current condition of the brood lake”
Brown trout spawn in the wild occurs over the months of October and November. It is temperature dependent.
“River fish spawn a little bit later since it is colder,” Swarr said. “Since reservoirs absorb a lot more solar radiation, they are warmer, so they’ll actually spawn earlier here than they will in rivers.”
In the reservoirs, the silt from the wave action can cover the eggs and prevent them from getting the fresh oxygen they need to grow and hatch. In a river setting, brown trout will lay eggs in the gravel on the river bottom. Those eggs typically get laid in places of upwelling where there is a crest of a riffle and you have a plunge that causes the water to travel through the gravel, slowly turning the eggs and delivering oxygen to them.
“Our spawning operation helps to sustain some of our brown trout fisheries in the state and provides a little bit more fishing diversity for anglers,” Swarr said.
Brown trout are a hard-fighting fish and have beautiful coloration that matches the autumn season. Brown trout are golden brown with vibrant black, red and orange spots.
“The cool thing about them in the state of Colorado is they are resistant to whirling disease since they evolved with that in Europe,” Swarr said. “So, they’ve become kind of the bread and butter of our wild trout fisheries, at least in our northeast region, because really most of the brown trout in the state of Colorado are naturally reproducing wild populations and we don’t have to stock them to the numbers we do with rainbows. Rainbow trout are still impacted heavily by whirling disease.”
Communities that rely on the Colorado River are facing a water crisis. Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir, has fallen to levels not seen since it was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam roughly a century ago. Arizona and Nevada are facing their first-ever mandated water cuts, while water is being released from other reservoirs to keep the Colorado River’s hydropower plants running.
If even the mighty Colorado and its reservoirs are not immune to the heat and drought worsened by climate change, where will the West get its water?
What many people don’t realize is how old – and how vulnerable – much of that water is.
Most water stored underground has been there for decades, and much of it has sat for hundreds, thousands or even millions of years. Older groundwater tends to reside deep underground, where it is less easily affected by surface conditions such as drought and pollution.
As shallower wells dry out under the pressure of urban development, population growth and climate change, old groundwater is becoming increasingly important.
Drinking ancient groundwater
If you bit into a piece of bread that was 1,000 years old, you’d probably notice.
Water that has been underground for a thousand years can taste different, too. It leaches natural chemicals from the surrounding rock, changing its mineral content. Some natural contaminants linked to groundwater age – like mood-boosting lithium – can have positive effects. Other contaminants, like iron and manganese, can be troublesome.
Older groundwater is also sometimes too salty to drink without expensive treatment. This problem can be worse near the coasts: Overpumping creates space that can draw seawater into aquifers and contaminate drinking supplies.
Ancient groundwater can take thousands of years to replenish naturally. And, as California saw during its 2011-2017 drought, natural underground storage spaces compress as they empty, so they can’t refill to their previous capacity. This compaction in turn causes the land above to crack, buckle and sink.
Let’s imagine a rainstorm over central California 15,000 years ago. As the storm rolls over what’s now San Francisco, most of the rain falls into the Pacific Ocean, where it will eventually evaporate back into the atmosphere. However, some rain also falls into rivers and lakes and over dry land. As that rain seeps through layers of soil, it enters slowly trickling “flowpaths” of underground water.
Some of these paths lead deeper and deeper, where water collects in crevices within the bedrock hundreds of meters underground. The water gathered in these underground reserves is in a sense cut off from the active water cycle – at least on timescales relevant to human life.
In 2014, midway through their worst drought in modern memory, California became the last western state to pass a law requiring local groundwater sustainability plans. Groundwater may be resilient to heat waves and climate change, but if you use it all, you’re in trouble.
First, it’s expensive: Large agricultural companies and lithium mining firms tend to be the sort of investors who can afford to drill deep enough, while small rural communities can’t.
Second, once you pump ancient groundwater, aquifers need time to refill. Flowpaths may be disrupted, choking off a natural water supply to springs, wetlands and rivers. Meanwhile, the change in pressure underground can destabilize the earth, causing land to sink and even leading to earthquakes.
Third is contamination: While deep, mineral-rich ancient groundwater is often cleaner and safer to drink than younger, shallower groundwater, overpumping can change that. As water-strapped regions rely more heavily on deep groundwater, overpumping lowers the water table and draws down polluted modern water that can mix with the older water. This mixing causes the water quality to deteriorate, leading to demand for ever-deeper wells.
Reading climate history in ancient groundwater
There are other reasons to care about ancient groundwater. Like actual fossils, extremely old “fossil groundwater” can teach us about the past.
Envision our prehistoric rainstorm again: 15,000 years ago, the climate was quite different from today. Chemicals that dissolved in ancient groundwater are detectable today, opening windows into a past world. Certain dissolved chemicals act as clocks, telling scientists the groundwater’s age. For example, we know how fast dissolved carbon-14 and krypton-18 decay, so we can measure them to calculate when the water last interacted with air.
Younger groundwater that disappeared underground after the 1950s has a unique, man-made chemical signature: high levels of tritium from atomic bomb testing.
Other dissolved chemicals behave like tiny thermometers. Noble gases like argon and xenon, for instance, dissolve more in cold water than in warm water, along a precisely known temperature curve. Once groundwater is isolated from air, dissolved noble gases don’t do much. As a result, they preserve information about environmental conditions at the time the water first seeped into the subsurface.
The concentrations of noble gases in fossil groundwater have provided some of our most reliable estimates of temperature on land during the last ice age. Such findings provide insight into modern climates, including how sensitive Earth’s average temperature is to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These methods support a recent study that found 3.4 degrees Celsius of warming with each doubling of carbon dioxide.
Groundwater’s past and future
People in some regions, like New England, have been drinking ancient groundwater for years with little danger of exhausting usable supplies. Regular rainfall and varied water sources – including surface water in lakes, rivers and snowpack – provide alternatives to groundwater and also refill aquifers with new water. If aquifers can keep up with the demand, the water can be used sustainably.
Out West, though, over a century of unmanaged and exorbitant water use means that some of the places most dependent on groundwater – arid regions vulnerable to drought – have squandered the ancient water resources that once existed underground.
As the planet warms, ancient groundwater is becoming increasingly important – whether flowing from your kitchen tap, irrigating food crops, or offering warnings about Earth’s past that can help us prepare for an uncertain future.
The importance of protecting water, the communities that rely on it and the ecosystems that supply it, is embedded in Denver Water’s mission.
And the utility’s efforts toward sustainability were recognized in early October by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, a group representing the largest publicly owned drinking water suppliers in the United States.
At the association’s annual meeting, held in Denver this year, Denver Water received the group’s 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award. It was the second time Denver Water’s efforts were recognized. The utility also won the award in 2018.
Denver Water was among four utilities recognized by their peer utilities for innovative and successful efforts in economic, social and environmental endeavors.
“AMWA’s 2021 award winners are innovative water systems helmed by visionary executives and committed workforces who create sustainable utilities. In addition to delivering affordable and high-quality water and top-notch customer service, the systems provide exceptional environmental protection and resource management,” said AMWA President Angela Licata, who also is the deputy commissioner for sustainability in the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
“We are always making improvements to how we operate because working in a sustainable manner ensures we will continue to deliver clean, safe water to the 1.5 million people who rely on us every day,” said Kate Taft, Denver Water’s manager of sustainability.
“We are honored that our efforts were recognized by AMWA, as so many of our peers across the nation share our focus on sustainability.”
AMWA recognized Denver Water for its efforts to improve operations and protect its surrounding ecosystem and communities. Among that work, AMWA noted that Denver Water has set formal goals to reduce carbon emissions, maintain a net-energy neutral operations, expand the use of renewable energy in its day-to-day work, and improve green infrastructure.
The group also highlighted Denver Water’s work through the Lead Reduction Program to protect customers from the risk of lead from customer-owned pipes and plumbing getting into their drinking water. The program, launched in 2020, will replace the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines over the course of 15 years.
The group also focused on another aspect of Denver Water’s award-winning efforts, its From Forests to Faucets partnership with other government agencies to support work that reduces the risk of damage in the watershed from wildfires, including the planting of more than 1 million new trees.
Along with Denver Water, the group honored three other utilities for their management efforts:
Knoxville Utilities Board also was named for its sustainable management efforts.
Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust received the 2021 AMWA Platinum Award for Utility Excellent.
Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority received the 2021 Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance.
Denver Water’s sustainability efforts include:
LEED certification for the buildings involved in the overhaul of Denver Water’s Operations Campus, a 34.6-acre complex on West 12th Avenue near downtown that has been the site of different Denver Water operations since 1881.
Creating a sustainability guide that outlined goals for Denver Water from 2018 through 2020, and updating that guide to set down new goals to guide the organization from 2021 through 2025.
Starting a waste diversion program that, since its beginning in 2018, has diverted nearly 94,000 pounds of waste from the landfill by composting. That’s nearly 47 tons.
Supporting efforts, such as Resource Central’s Garden In A Box program, that have helped Denver-area customers plant more than 100,000 square feet of low-water gardens — instead of turf — to save water and create beauty around their homes.
The San Juan Mountains and parts of Larimer County also had their hottest September on record, the data shows. Statewide, it was the third-warmest September in Colorado’s history, tying with September 1998…
It was also a drier month than usual for the Front Range and much of southern Colorado, according to state climatologists. After a wet spring and summer — the result of timely monsoon rains — moderate to severe drought conditions have started to return to eastern parts of the state. A swath of northwest Colorado remains under exceptional drought.
State officials anticipate fall will be warmer and drier than normal, stressing vegetation and soil that is already parched across the state, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
San Luis Valley residents are currently fighting about how much water is available to them, McCracken said. Farmers growing potatoes, barley and alfalfa are pumping much of that water from wells, he said, all while the area’s snowpack is melting earlier than normal and evaporating before it can recharge local water sources.
The Colorado River Basin encompasses seven U.S. states and supplies water to 40 million people. Over the past two decades, the basin has experienced record-setting heat and some of the driest years ever recorded, which have combined to sap the river of water at unprecedented rates. The largest reservoirs on the river have dropped to alarmingly low levels in recent months, forcing Western water managers to rethink how they operate in the face of scarcity.
Last month, federal officials sounded the alarm by declaring the first-ever water shortage in the basin. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cited “historic drought,” climate change, and low levels of runoff from the Rocky Mountains as reasons for the continued decline of Lake Mead…
With every foot that Lake Mead falls, the basin comes closer to triggering substantial cutbacks for certain water users along the river. The first round of reductions, which will take effect next year, will primarily impact farmers in central Arizona. But if lake levels continue to decline, future cutbacks could impact the 30 Native American tribes with lands in the basin…
Indigenous nations have recognized rights to more than one-fifth of the basin’s annual supply — more than a trillion gallons, or nearly enough to cover an area the size of Connecticut in a foot of water. That allocation is likely to increase in the future, because 12 of the tribes in the Colorado River Basin are still engaged in the decades-long process of resolving their water rights claims, according to the Water & Tribes Initiative, a coalition of tribal representatives, water rights attorneys and academics.
Tribal water rights differ from state-based rights in several ways. Unlike a state or irrigation district, a tribe’s right to water dates back at least as early as the creation of its reservation. Despite having federally reserved water rights, tribal claims were largely ignored until the 1960s, when the U.S. Supreme Court adopted standards allowing tribes to have their rights quantified, a form of legal recognition that identifies the amount of water to which users hold rights.
But even for tribes that have resolved their rights, some face significant barriers to fully using their water, including a lack of necessary infrastructure, funding challenges, and limited legal options to put their water to use outside their reservations through leases or other arrangements.
If a tribe does not (or cannot) use all the water it is entitled to, it doesn’t go unused; thirsty cities and agricultural fields downstream from reservations siphon off the surplus, but with no compensation for the tribe…
Tribes with substantial diversion rights may remain unscathed by the initial reductions, with some even in the position to contribute water back into the system. But other tribes are less fortunate; in addition to unrecognized water rights, deteriorating infrastructure, and water insecurity issues, some tribes could face cutbacks to their water supply as early as 2023.
Whether a tribe is flush with mainstream flows or struggling to access clean drinking water, every tribe in the basin must navigate the complicated legal landscape that governs water rights on the Colorado.
Much of the water that flows through the Colorado River starts as snowpack in the southern Rockies. The snowmelt produced in spring then flows into tributaries in states like Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. These states are part of the Upper Colorado River Basin: The lands fed by waters of the Colorado River system were divided into an upper basin and a lower basin during the negotiations for the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The so-called “law of the river” is an amalgamation of interstate compacts, statutes, regulations, court decisions, an international treaty, and the seminal 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decree in Arizona v. California, which enabled several tribes to quantify their rights.
In Utah, one of those tributaries — the Green River — flows through the lands of the Ute Indian Tribe, which had a portion of its water rights quantified in the 1920s but is still litigating unresolved claims. Because the Ute tribe has not fully resolved nor developed those rights, much of the tribe’s water goes unused and flows toward Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir on the Colorado River.
Despite the declining water levels at the lake, the state of Utah is forging ahead with a proposed $2 billion pipeline that would pump water from Lake Powell to largely non-Native communities near St. George — 140 miles away, in southwestern Utah. Critics blasted the proposal, citing the state’s failure to recognize the tribe’s water entitlements, its refusal to conduct meaningful tribal consultation and, more generally, its antiquated approach to water development in the Western U.S.
The Ute Indian Tribe has a pending lawsuit challenging the project, arguing that the pipeline would obstruct the tribe’s efforts to fully develop its water rights. (The Ute Indian Tribe declined a request to be interviewed for this article, citing the ongoing litigation.)
Battling for water rights is more than just a struggle for adequate water resources; it’s a fight for better health.
Tribes with unresolved water rights must undertake a convoluted settlement process to have their share of the river quantified. And while every tribe is legally entitled to enough water to satisfy their on-reservation needs, having unquantified rights poses additional challenges for those tribes, according to Bidtah Becker, an associate attorney with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.
The Navajo Nation has extensive water rights in both the upper and lower basins, but the tribe’s claims in the state of Arizona remain unquantified. Proposed settlements negotiated by the tribe a decade ago never materialized. In the coming years, court proceedings are scheduled to resolve the water rights of the Navajo, as well as the neighboring Hopi Tribe.
Becker said tribes without recognized water rights often face challenges in securing funding for water infrastructure projects, especially in areas where substantial water pipelines and other facilities would be required. The lack of adequate water infrastructure has long plagued the Navajo Nation, where residents are 67 times more likely than other Americans to live without access to running water…
As tribes with unresolved rights fight to settle their claims, the basin-wide shortage is forcing all stakeholders on the river to find ways to conserve water. That scarcity is likely to make striking a deal even more challenging than it has been in the past…
[Pam] Adams is one of the chief liaisons between the tribes and Reclamation, an agency under the Department of the Interior. Acknowledging the persistent challenges faced by tribes seeking settlements in the past, Adams said resolving all outstanding tribal claims is a priority among the department’s leaders, including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is a member of the Laguna Pueblo. Clarifying the rights of each tribe also gives greater certainty to other stakeholders in the basin, Adams said, adding, “It’s best for everyone to get them settled and this administration is certainly very supportive of that.”
The Bureau of Reclamation is currently building a 300-mile-long pipeline that will supply water from the San Juan River to portions of the Navajo Nation and Jicarilla Apache Nation. Becker said projects like the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project are significant steps, but that more needs to be done to address the lack of water security in Native American communities…
Members of the Gila River Indian Community, or GRIC, irrigate thousands of acres south of Phoenix. With a population of more than 13,000 living on the reservation, the tribe traces its roots to ancient cultures that built expansive networks of irrigation canals to support large villages along the waterway. These days, the farmlands are fed by a new stream. The Central Arizona Project, or CAP, completed in the 1990s, is a 330-mile-long canal that conveys Colorado River water from Lake Havasu, on the California border, to central and southern Arizona…
Because the CAP has some of the lowest-priority rights on the river, the canal is subject to the first round of reductions next year. The basin-wide Drought Contingency Plan established a three-tiered system for imposing reductions in the lower basin based on the level of Lake Mead. Under a Tier 1 shortage (which is triggered when the elevation of Lake Mead falls below 1,075 feet), CAP water supplies will be cut by 30 percent — reductions that will primarily impact farmers in places like Pinal County.
The five tribes that draw from the CAP have some of the highest-priority rights on the canal, which largely buffers them from the initial round of cutbacks. If Lake Mead were to fall below 1,025 feet in elevation, the lower basin would enter a Tier 3 shortage, at which point Arizona’s diversion rights would be reduced by roughly 45 percent compared to the canal’s current supply…
Even if continued declines were to trigger a Tier 3 shortage — the direst scenario envisioned in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan — water deliveries to the Gila River Indian Community would be largely the same, according to Jason Hauter, a tribal member who represents the GRIC as an attorney…
But a Tier 3 shortage is far from the worst-case scenario, because declining streamflows could push the level of Lake Mead below the 1,025-foot mark — a situation left unaddressed by the Drought Contingency Plan. While the chances of Lake Mead reaching critically low levels seemed remote when planning efforts began, projections released by Reclamation last month indicate there is a 66 percent chance the reservoir falls below 1,025 feet by 2025.
Falling below that level would trigger additional cutbacks, which would likely include curtailing tribal water deliveries from the CAP. And, because tribes on the CAP are allowed to lease their water rights directly to municipalities, future reductions to tribal water could also impact the water-supply holdings of cities and towns throughout central Arizona.
If Lake Mead were to fall below 900 feet, it would elicit the disaster scenario known as “dead pool,” in which water would no longer flow through Hoover Dam, cutting off the lower basin and shutting down a hydroelectric plant that provides electricity for millions of people in the Southwest.
Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community, said via email that the tribe is committed to working with other stakeholders in the basin to avoid that fate.
But, as hydrological conditions in the basin continue to worsen, deeper cuts seem inevitable…
For thousands of years before the first concrete dams were built on the Colorado, the Mojave people — or AhaMacav, which means “people of the river” — maintained large settlements on either side of the surging stream. In 1865, the U.S. government lumped members of the Mojave and Chemehuevi tribes together to form the Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, which later came to include Navajo and Hopi families.
The CRIT’s water rights were quantified as part of Arizona v. California, the series of U.S. Supreme Court cases beginning in the 1930s that dealt with water disputes between the two states. Along with confirming the rights of the five mainstream tribes in the lower basin, the case also established the standard of determining tribal entitlements based on a tribe’s “practicably irrigable acreage.”
The tribe’s history of agriculture, including an 80,000-acre irrigation project built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, enabled the CRIT to secure annual diversion rights of more than 700,000 acre-feet, the largest entitlement of any tribe in the basin. Although the CRIT uses a large portion of its water for farming and agriculture, much of its entitlements in both Arizona and California go unused — a fortunate fact for farmers in central Arizona.
The tribe has employed a number of creative approaches to generate revenue using its reserved water rights, including discontinuing certain existing water uses on tribal land, and using the water that is conserved to prop up levels in Lake Mead.
The tribe has agreed to fallow a portion of its historically irrigated farmland over the next three years, conserving a total of 150,000 acre-feet of water that will be left in Lake Mead. For its help in minimizing cutbacks for lower-priority users — such as agriculture served by the CAP — the tribe is receiving $38 million, mostly from the state of Arizona.
Margaret Vick, an attorney for the CRIT, said that although the tribe is well-positioned to contribute conservation water, its ability to benefit from other types of off-reservation uses are limited. Unlike tribes with water settlements, she said, the CRIT’s decreed water rights generally prohibit the tribe from directly leasing its water to off-reservation users. The tribe proposed federal legislation last year that would allow it to market some of its Arizona allocation, but the bill hasn’t been introduced in Congress, Vick said.
Although the CRIT’s water rights are quantified and it has enough water to contribute to Mead, the tribe has historically suffered from a lack of funding for necessary infrastructure — something that is often negotiated as part of a water settlement, Vick said. According to the Tribal Water Study, parts of the federal irrigation project were built in the late 1800s, and suffer from “design limitations and simple aging problems,” such as unlined canals and deteriorating gates.
Weiner, the attorney for the Quechan tribe, said that while each tribe is in a different situation, they generally agree on the need for more flexibility in the legal framework that governs the river…
Despite the challenges facing tribes in the basin, tribal leaders and water managers see opportunities for solutions that would help alleviate some of the water-supply pressures on non-Native stakeholders while enabling the tribes to benefit from their water. And, regardless of the water management decisions that are made going forward, the tribes want a seat at the table.
Tribal leaders often lament the lack of tribal consultation that occurs when federal or state governments make decisions that impact tribal resources. Secretary Haaland has emphasized the importance of tribal engagement during her time leading the Interior Department, but the level of tribal involvement in the basin’s next round of drought planning remains to be seen.
Noting the importance of cooperation between basin stakeholders, Becker, the attorney for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, said the ongoing shortage should also serve as a reminder that water is not simply a commodity, but a vital substance on which our survival depends.
Our rivers are the lifeblood of the American West, and we all know that river and water management are both fundamentally important and infinitely complex, governed through a dizzying network of boards and contracts, local entities and statewide groups, individual expertise, and communal understanding.
Known as the “Mother of Rivers,” Colorado’s water impacts everyone and everything. It’s important that Coloradans from across the state have their voices heard as decisions about our critical waterways are made.
It’s especially important to engage right now. The Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) — locally driven documents identifying goals and actions in each of Colorado’s nine river basins — are undergoing updates and will help inform the update of the state’s Water Plan, due to be final in late 2022. The public comment period for BIPs begins next week and represents a critically important opportunity to learn more, engage in local conversations, and help shape the content of these plans which inform how water is managed at a local level. Before the comment period begins, Water for Colorado has prepared this blog to help you and your community understand the world of river basins and roundtables, and how you can speak up to protect healthy rivers for all who depend on them.
Basins: In order to facilitate conversations around managing our water, Colorado developed nine unique Basins that encompass multiple rivers, natural or artificial boundaries, and watersheds. Each basin has its own governing body called a “basin roundtable” composed of local volunteers who plan and make decisions about how to manage precious water resources.
So why are there nine basins and basin roundtables? The concerns of the Arkansas Basin — from the San Luis Valley to the Eastern Plains, where agriculture reigns supreme — are different from the concerns of the Metro South Platte — where rapid growth and a booming population are key challenges — which are different from the concerns of the Colorado — where the conversations around America’s hardest working river are both intensely local and surprisingly broad. As such, having governing bodies familiar with the unique concerns and opportunities in each basin helps ensure that the management within each basin is driven by locals. This process allows for decisions to be discussed and decided by locals who deeply engage with the rivers that support our environment, economies, and Colorado way of life.
You can check out a map below to determine your river basin; and engage with the graphics at the bottom of this post to learn more about how each basin’s economy is impacted by the recreation in the area.
Basin Roundtable: The basin roundtables were developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2005 to “facilitate discussions on water management issues and encourage locally driven collaborative solutions” (CWCB Basin Roundtables). These roundtables are composed of local volunteer members who represent a variety of interests including basin agriculture, environment,and recreation. Each basin has its own bank account and funds local projects. Monthly meetings are open to the public, and are where funding and other strategic decisions are made. This means you, and others who care about water conservation can participate and help influence the decision making process. Better yet, you can join these meetings virtually from the comfort of your home.
Basin Implementation Plan: Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) are developed by basin roundtables to help frame regional issues as part of the overall creation of Colorado’s statewide water plan. While the Colorado Water Plan seeks to address statewide water concerns, BIPs are more focused on local needs, plans, projects, and goals. The BIPs are developed by basin roundtable members with support from the community and ultimately help inform the statewide water plan as well as direct spending priorities for the Roundtables.
Colorado Water Plan: In 2015, then-governor John Hickenlooper ordered the creation of a plan to help coordinate and manage Colorado water. That moment was the impetus for our nine partner organizations to come together to form the Water for Colorado Coalition. The Water Plan was written and developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board with support from stakeholders, interest groups, and the general public, who submitted 30,000 comments (which Water for Colorado played a major role in gathering) to inform the plan. The core values of the plan are designed to support a productive economy, create efficient water infrastructure, and protect the state’s diverse ecosystems. Colorado’s Water Plan remains a living piece of guidance that undergoes regular updates, the next of which is coming up in June 2022 — and is therefore already underway.
The first step toward responsibly managing water is working to ensure the public helps shape these plans. Members of the public need to speak up ensuring environmental concerns are addressed in the BIP updates. There’s no one better suited to inform local planning than people like you, who live, work, and recreate in the basins and understand the critical role that water and healthy rivers play in our economy, environment, and everyday lives. In the coming weeks, Water for Colorado will share opportunities for you to engage in the update process for the Basin Implementation Plans during the public comment phase that runs from October 13 through November 15. This is a critical opportunity for you to make your voice heard! Until then, we hope that you share this blog with members of your community to help all Coloradans understand the role they can play in supporting Colorado’s rivers and water!
WASHINGTON — Experts in government, agriculture, water management and the environment stressed during a U.S. Senate hearing on Wednesday the danger that droughts fueled by climate change pose in the West, including the Colorado River Basin.
During a hearing before an Energy and Natural Resources Committee panel, witnesses said long-term solutions and an investment in water infrastructure are needed to combat the effects of climate change.
“Water has always been a limited resource in the West,” Sen. Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat who chaired the hearing of the Water and Power Subcommittee, said. “We have this old saying in Arizona that ‘whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.’”
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He said that the issue is a priority for him because Arizona is on the front lines of a major drought, which can increase the risk of wildfires in the West.
Tanya Trujillo, the assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior, said that “water supply is below average.”
She said the federal government should continue to make investments in water infrastructure, and new technology such as water recycling and desalination systems that remove salt from salt water.
Kelly asked her how the Interior Department will use the $8.4 billion provided for the West in an infrastructure bill passed by the Senate.
Trujillo said that by replacing aging water infrastructure, water will be prevented from escaping, and that the bill also invests in technology that can capture water.
“We will experience unavoidable reductions in farm water supplies and hydropower generation, ecosystem degradation, and urban areas will need to conserve water,” she said, adding that Interior and its state and local partners “have planned for this by being proactive and fully using the tools we have.”
We will experience unavoidable reductions in farm water supplies and hydropower generation, ecosystem degradation, and urban areas will need to conserve water.
– Tanya Tujillo, assistantr secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior
Tom Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said that Arizona has been under a state of drought emergency since 1999.
“The past two decades of ongoing drought in the western United States, and in particular the Colorado River Basin, is challenging the seven Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as the Republic of Mexico, to meet the needs of the 40 million people and millions of acres of farmland that rely on the river,” he said in his opening statement.
More than 40% of country in drought
Several senators raised their concerns about water availability for farmers, such as Kelly and John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican.
Kelly asked what can be done immediately to help those farmers and ranchers.
Buschatzke said the state of Arizona has currently made $40 million available for farmers to maintain their infrastructure to help move and use their water supply.
Kelly had requested a Senate hearing on the drought conditions along the Colorado River after water level projections for Lake Mead and Lake Powell were released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Lake Mead, a reservoir of the Hoover Dam, hit its lowest levels since 1930.
In a letter to Water and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and the top Republican, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Kelly expressed his concern that the “U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued its first-ever drought shortage declaration for the Colorado River.”
“More than 40 million Americans rely on Colorado River water to support our cities, tribes, and farms,” he wrote. “As of today, total Colorado River system storage is 40% of capacity, down from 49% at this time last year.”
Jennifer Pitt, the Colorado River Program Director at the National Audubon Society, said that 30 tribes also rely on the river.
“Climate change has come barging through the front doors of the Colorado basin,” Pitt said.
An August report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that for every 0.9 degree Fahrenheit the atmosphere warms, some regions will experience an increase in droughts, which can harm agriculture production and the ecosystem.
Droughts, exacerbated by climate change, will likely be more common by 2050, according to Yale Climate Connections, which is an initiative of the Yale Center for Environmental Communication.
As of late September, the National Integrated Drought Information System — part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — has determined that more than 40% of the U.S., and nearly 48% of the lower states, are in drought.
NIDIS flagged the Illinois-Wisconsin border as a new area of concern and the area where the border meets Lake Michigan as being in extreme drought.
However, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is predicting that “more than half the country, including parts of the West, are favored to have a warmer-than-average October, but for the first time in months, there’s no brown on the map out West, and even a little green. That means the odds of (a) much wetter than average month are as good as or better than the odds of a much drier than average month.”
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OCTOBER 1 is a date virtually every farmer in the San Luis Valley’s ag-rich Subdistrict 1 has circled on their calendar. It’s when farm managers across Special Improvement District No. 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District will go to their center pivot sprinkler and read their flow meter, and then record that number with the subdistrict’s program manager, Marisa Fricke.
The reading will tell the farm operator how many acre-feet of water they’ve used this irrigation season, and the total of all the meter readings that Fricke records will determine the next steps in the urgent efforts to replenish the shallowest aquifer in the Valley, the unconfined aquifer of Subdistrict 1.
“It’s the ‘hold your breath’ couple of months,” said Fricke, as she navigates her SUV through the subdistrict on a recent fall morning and gives lessons on the state of the Rio Grande. “Everything is riding on it.”
The number she’s looking for is 240,000-acre-feet of water or less. Remember that figure.
The Valley’s Most Lucrative Corridor
Subdistrict 1 came into being in 2006 to “take action to help restore a balance between available water supplies and current levels of water use.” Remember, the unconfined aquifer had lost an estimated 1 million acre-feet of water to the changing climate from 2002 to 2004, and now efforts to replenish it have become vital to the Valley’s way of life, its $340 million annual ag economy, its growing tourist economy, and the quality of life, particularly in Alamosa, Saguache and Rio Grande counties where the boundaries of Subdistrict 1 largely lie.
It’s the biggest land subdivision in the San Luis Valley, with 3,000 water wells. When you think about Subdistrict 1, think of Coors and barley. Think about the Valley as the fifth-largest producer of potatoes in America. Think about lucrative ag contracts with Walmart and Safeway. Collectively the cash crops in the subdistrict are valued at approximately $400 million, said Fricke. Think about the farming communities of Center and Sargent and Mosca. Think about the Gator Farm, and the hot springs at the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool in Hooper. All of these attributes of the Valley reside in the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s Subdistrict 1, and collectively they show what a devastating blow it would be to the Valley if the state of Colorado were to ever shut down wells in the subdistrict.
The state hinted at such a drastic step as recently as 2018 and 2019, when State Engineer Kevin Rein sounded the alarms about the importance of reducing groundwater withdrawals during a drought season and concerns about bringing the aquifer to sustainable levels by 2031. That’s what’s been agreed upon and what a state court-approved water plan calls for.
ENTER Marisa Fricke. After she receives the October flow meter readings from approximately 310 farms in Subdistrict 1, she will analyze the figures and draft a report to the State Engineer and Colorado Water Resources Division on the status of the unconfined aquifer. Her report will tell the state the total amount of groundwater pumped out and the amount of surface water diverted and re-charged through ponds and irrigation ditches.
She’ll get around 1,800 meter readings in October, and she’ll then calculate how much groundwater was pumped, minus the amount of surface water that was diverted in. The net balance will reveal the amount of water that was truly over pumped from the aquifer.
She will also convey that it’s been yet another dry year in 2021 for the San Luis Valley, compounding an even drier 2020. Without consistent snowpack and summer monsoon seasons, the surest way the unconfined aquifer gets restored is through voluntary conservation efforts put in place by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. Those efforts include:
A Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) that pays producers to not use their well for 15 years.
Paying farmers not to plant a field.
Purchasing acres of farmland and retiring the water wells on that land.
Creating water credits so farmers who return more water to the aquifer than they took out can sell credits to other farmers who need more water for their fields.
All of these items will show up in Fricke’s report. “We are trying everything,” she said.
The odd thing is the unconfined aquifer, because of its unique hydrology and recharge decree, adds little injury to the Rio Grande Basin itself. The change in climate, though, means the aquifer struggles to restore itself naturally and farmers then must shoulder more of the burden.
“In my lifetime, I’ve seen the climate changes,” said Fricke, an Alamosa High and Adams State graduate. She was raised in Alamosa county, knows farming, understands the agricultural life of the San Luis Valley, and worries about what’s to come.
“Everyone is very concerned,” she said.
Nine years left to 2031
The subdistrict basically has nine years left to recover 864,000 acre-feet of water, maybe. If Rein determines that it has become evident that the goal to return the unconfined aquifer to a sustainable level by 2031 can’t be met, then the state could take action sooner.
Now you understand the importance of October 1. In 2020, 247,000 acre-feet of water was pulled out of the aquifer. While this year hasn’t been as dry, 2021 certainly has not been a good year for precipitation in the San Luis Valley, and the forecast for October, November and December shows a probability of more of the same – dry and little moisture, which likely translates into an earlier spring runoff in 2022 if snow arrives late in the winter.
This is how the changing climate affects the situation, and why the conservation efforts in Subdistrict 1 are critical to the Valley’s ag and farming industry. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District has purchased another 11 wells this year in an effort to retire groundwater and will offer the same program again in 2022.
Fricke will litter her report to the state with these types of facts to show all the work being done to preserve the aquifer. She describes the next few months as “the worst stress ever.” But then she smiles and flexes her determination to prove to the state that the water plan is working.
Asked what would be a good figure for 2021, she paused, gave it some thought, and said 240,000 acre-feet or less would signal some relief.
Asked when she’ll know, she turned and said, “December we’ll know the numbers.”
Colorado’s second largest electrical utility has committed to 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 as compared to 2005. But can it cut even deeper, faster?
Filings with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in late September offer a peek into the thinking of both that utility, Tri-State Generation & Transmission, and various other groups at the table.
“It is not reasonable to construct and integrate the sheer quantity of modeled new resources under this scenario,” says Tri-State in a filing submitted on Sept. 28. “The extent of the resources called for in eastern Colorado and Wyoming before 2028 are not physically possible on Tri-State’s transmission system.”
Tri-State was responding to a scenario called Roadmap, which calls for early retirement of 800 megawatts of coal generation—including the final unit at the Craig Generation Station in Colorado by 2028, ahead of Tri-State’s current plans of New Year’s Eve 2029.
That same Roadmap scenario would also have Tri-State curtail its use of a coal-fired power plant in Arizona called Springerville, cutting off production from the plant altogether in 2028 and also idling its share of Wyoming’s Laramie River Station coal plant for three to five months at a time.
Tri-State supplies electricity to 18 of Colorado’s 22 electrical cooperatives as well as 24 others in New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Unlike Colorado’s two investor-owned electrical utilities, Xcel Energy and Black Hills, it had not been required to submit electric resource plans to the state regulatory body until a 2019 state law said it must.
In practice, Tri-State operated much like the private companies even if it is a non-profit cooperative, a creation of its member cooperatives. Individual cooperatives as well as municipal utilities still are not required to submit such plans.
In general, Tri-State wants to go slower in shifting off its coal plants. To go quicker means adding more natural-gas fired generation more rapidly, and the time for permitting such plants remains an unknown.
Several times, Tri-State says it wants to give time for other technologies to become more competitive. In other words, don’t rush the solutions. At least in its rebuttal document filed on Sept. 28, it does not describe those other technologies. It is known to be interested in both hydrogen storage and advanced nuclear technology—as, for that matter, most other utilities also are.
The filing also contains information about how it intends to assist the Craig community as it exits coal. The filings also emphasize the importance of a regional transportation organization, or RTO, in decarbonizing electricity while ensuring reliability and lower costs.
In this inaugural voyage under the 2019 law, Tri-State submitted its electric resource plan in December 2020. Tri-State promises 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 as compared to 2005 (and 70% renewables). Xcel, the state’s largest utility, says it can achieve an 85% reduction (and 80% renewables).
Tri-State sees its path forward including more than 2,000 megawatts of new renewables, both wind and solar, as well as energy storage, by 2030.
Stakeholders have alternative ideas about how Tri-State should move forward, most calling for a more rapid retreat from coal. Their proposed scenarios have been modeled by Tri-State with aid of its new modeling software developed for utility planning.
Those stakeholders—who didn’t necessarily agree with each other in all cases—consist of the Colorado Energy Office, Colorado Independent Energy Association; the staff of the PUC; the Conservation Coalition (including Sierra Club and Natural Resource Defense Council); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 111; Interwest Energy Alliance; Southwest Energy Efficiency Project; Western Resource Advocates; and Wyoming Rural Electric Cooperatives.
One of the disagreements involves the schedule for closing the units at Craig. Tri-State plans to close the first unit by the end of 2025, the second unit in September 2028, and then the third unit on New Year’s Eve 2029. It proposes to operate the coal units at lower levels during the latter part of the decade as it brings on renewables.
Three of the six alternative scenarios would have the final unit at Craig closed by the end of 2025.
Disagreements are also found in the sequence for closing the Arizona coal plant, Springerville. Tri-State has a contract through 2036 to lease 100% of the power generated by a 420-megawatt unit at the coal plant. Tri-State says it would be costly to escape that commitment quickly, although the details are blacked out in the public version of the filing.
Another point of contention is Laramie River Station in Wyoming. Tri-State is a partial owner as a result of its ownership in the Missouri River Power Project but has not had discussions with its partners. “Therefore, the costs are assumed to be immitigable in the modeling,” Tri-State says, using a word that means unable to be made less severe or serious.
A separate statement posted by Tri-State on its website notes that Tri-State is actually lowering rates, with a 2% reduction in March to be followed by another 2% in 2022.
Eric Frankowski, executive director of the Western Clean Energy Campaign, a group premised in a more rapid retreat from fossil fuels by utilities, found the latest filing by Tri-State to be lacking critical information. “Where is the explanation for why they want to operate Craig (unit 3) until 2029 while the modeling shows it would be better for customers to operate until only 2025. I don’t see that explanation in there.”
Also absent is any exploration of what it would take to close the coal plants in Arizona and Wyoming.
“With the exception of some new gas being delayed, (Tri-State’s revised preferred alternative) doesn’t do a whole lot to move the needle on retiring coal early and getting customers away from one of its most expensive generating sources.”
The other stakeholders have until November to respond to Tri-State’s latest filing. This is the way of the long, drawn-out process for creating the electrical grid of the future.
From The Upper San Juan Enhancement Partnership (Mandy Eskelson) via The Pagosa Springs Sun:
This summer, the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP) started Phase 3, the last phase of a planning process to develop a local water plan, with potential project opportunities that support river health and our community’s ability to rely on rivers for multiple uses, now and in the future.
The WEP originally planned to host a public workshop in September to share updates and next steps of this planning process, but our group needed to delay this event due to scheduling challenges, as well as developments on new multipurpose pilot projects along the San Juan River that WEP and our partners have been exploring.
The WEP hopes exploring project ideas now could address immediate needs revealed through our Phase 2 watershed assessments and stakeholder interests for ecological and recreational improvements on the San Juan River. We hope these will just be the start of many project ideas community members can consider when we all get together again to develop a list of on-the-ground opportunities to support the agricultural, environmental, municipal and recreational water use needs in the San Juan, Blanco and Navajo watersheds.
We plan to share more about these concept-level projects at our upcoming workshop in October for the community to consider and weigh in on. Projects within the Yamaguchi South area have been publicly shared and reviewed through several town council meetings and http://MyPagosa.org. We hope to share other developing project components very soon, but first, the WEP is connecting with individual landowners adjacent to the project areas to gather their feedback and approval before we open it up to the broader community for input.
The WEP will announce a new workshop date in the next few weeks and details on how anyone from the public can attend this event. The goal of the workshop will be to share areas that our Phase 2 assessment results identified as highly valuable or areas of concerns for river health and/or our community’s ability to use the rivers we rely on.
The WEP is also working on drafting an initial list of goals and objectives to help in identifying specific actions or projects to address these broader watershed goals. We need your feedback to refine and add to this initial list, so we hope you all will attend the WEP’s future workshop to share locations, actions and projects you would like prioritized for this water plan.
If community members cannot attend the workshop, the WEP will offer other options for you to share your feedback and participate. We are currently finalizing a survey that can be done via your computer, phone app or printed options to submit your answers. We also intend to host other public events for stakeholders to help with this planning process.
The WEP will announce the workshop date and share details on how you can get involved and share your ideas in the next few weeks.
If you would like to learn more about the WEP and the planning process, visit http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan/smp and contact Mandy Eskelson (email@example.com) or Al Pfister (firstname.lastname@example.org).
At its regular meeting held on Thursday, Sept. 23, the Pagosa Springs Town Council unani- mously approved two resolutions which approved $150,000 in matching funds needed for grants for river improvement projects in the San Juan River along Yamaguchi South Park and a portion of the river northeast of town.
Planning Director James Dickhoff presented the resolutions to the council, beginning with Resolution 2021-13, supporting submitting grant applications to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for recreational and ecological enhancement of the San Juan River adjacent to Yamaguchi South Park.
With this resolution, the council approved $96,000 of matching funds needed for the grant.
Town Manager Andrea Phillips explained in an email to The SUN that the council approved those funds to be taken out of the reserves for the 2021 budget.
“However, due to the timing of the grant application and notification, it may need to be included in next year’s budget instead. This would require additional council action in the future,” Philips wrote.
Dickhoff noted during the meeting that the total budget for the project along Yamaguchi South Park is $664,720 and the grant application is for $498,540.
Dickhoff explained that the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership ( WEP) has been working on identifying projects that are eligible for grant funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
He noted that the town will administer the grant, if awarded, with help from the WEP…
The initial proposal presented by Dickhoff was structured in a fashion that contemplates the project over three years.
However, the council determined that it would have a stronger application for the funds if the entire amount of matching funds from the town is committed up-front…
Dickhoff explained that a total of $166,180 in matching funds is need- ed for the grant to be awarded.
Along with the $96,000 committed from the council, the WEP will also be requesting funds from other local entities.
He explained that WEP is planning on requesting $22,500 from the tourism board, $30,000 from Archuleta County, $10,000 from the Southwest Water Conservation District, $3,000 from Trout Unlimited, $750 from Friends of the Upper San Juan, $750 from Weminuche Audubon, $1,500 from the Nature Conservancy and $2,500 from Great Outdoors Fund…
The second resolution presented by Dickhoff during the meeting was Resolution 2021-14, supporting grant applications to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for recreational and ecological enhance- ments of the San Juan River upstream of town.
Dickhoff explained that the WEP is also assisting the town with this grant application as well, and that Trout Unlimited would be the entity to administer the grant “on behalf of the community.”
With the resolution, the council unanimously approved $56,000 in matching funds to be taken from the town’s 2022 budget and is contingent upon Trout Unlimited being approved for the grant.
Dickhoff explained that this grant is for river cleanup projects along the section of the San Juan River stretching from Bob’s LP to the Running Iron Ranch…
Dickhoff indicated that the WEP will also be presenting this opportunity to the other entities for requests for matching funds.
He explained that the WEP is planning on requesting $86,859 from the RESTORE Colorado Grant; $300,000 from the Bureau of Reclamation Watersmart Program; $22,500 from the tourism board; $30,000 from Archuleta County; $10,000 from the Southwest Water Conservation District; $3,000 from Trout Unlimited; $750 from Friends of the Upper San Juan; $750 from the Weminuche Audubon; $1,500 from the Nature Conservancy at $1,500 and $2,500 from the Great Outdoors Fund.
Agenda documentation on the topic also indicates funding being requested from the San Juan Water Conservancy District.
The perpetual pump problems that have perplexed the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) continue to persist, with two additional pump failures occurring, leaving the district with no operational backup pump on site.
Should the pumps go down, there is potential for a sewage spill, with the district looking to reduce the possibility of any sewage going into the river.
The district’s sanitation system includes “three lift stations, and the pumping stations that transport
the town’s wastewater to Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) for treatment. There are approximately 835 customers using … the collection system,” according to an agenda brief from Tuesday’s PSSGID meeting.
“In 2016, the GID and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) to pump the town’s sewage to the PAWSD Vista Treatment Plant,” explains the brief.
The board discussed the challenge of securing a backup pump in the event of another pump failure at Tuesday’s meeting.
“There continue to be unsustainable failures with the pumps,” a June board agenda brief reads.
The root of the issue is the ability for the district to pump poop uphill from town to the PAWSD ponds west of town.
“Since the last update to the board, we have experienced two more pump failures,” said Public Works Director Martin Schmidt as part of his update on the pump replacement process and the state of the district’s pump stations. “Staff was able to make the adjustments, and move the pumps around to keep the sewage pumping. We are currently out of spare shufflable pumps.”
“The pumps failed due to a seal failure and due to an electrical failure,” reads an agenda brief for the meeting. “Both were stemming from issues that we are addressing with the replacement pumps.”
Schmidt noted that an American Technical team from Farmington came up Tuesday to look at rebuilding a pump…
Schmidt explained they could get the pump to work with bearings and seal replacements. He also noted that it was an older type of pump that has tended to last longer and had the potential to become a spare for the future redesign.
The downside, according to Schmidt, is that rebuilt pump would not be at 100 percent of capacity. It would take about a month to rebuild the pump at a cost between $10,000 and $13,000. The district has spent approximately $2,000 on investi- gating the potential of the pump rebuild…
The rebuild project
The district is in the process of a re-engineering of the pump system. “A $400,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health Environment has been awarded for replacement of the eight pumps at Pump Stations 1 and 2,” reads an
“The cost of the pump replacement project is $800,000 with a $400,000 grant helping to pay for that project,” Martin explained of the rebuild project.
“Staff is continuing to work with Pentair-Fairbanks on getting the pump engineering complete and all of the orders submitted. Pentair has assured staff that every element of the construction of the pumps is being expedited and and that the last of the submittals for construction are imminent. Once the submittals are complete, a meeting with all involved parties will be conducted to coordi- nate the planning and replacement of the pumps. This meeting will be critical for the smooth transition to the new pumping system because of the complexity of making the change while we are still receiving sewage at the pump station,” reads the agenda brief. “Staff is cautiously optimistic about getting the pumps changed out before the I&I season in the spring, but at this time there is no set schedule.”
In response to a question from board president DonVolger, Schmidt clarified that the district will be getting eight pumps from Pentair-Fairbanks.
“We’re hoping that when we take care of the re-engineering and installation of eight new pumps that our system will be pretty much intact, maybe like it should have been engineered in the first place,” said Volger, with Schmidt confirming.
Schmidt reminded the board that former employee Gene Tautges wrote a grant and the district built a 250,000-gallon overflow tank.
“Right now, in a 24-hour period, we are anywhere between about 215,000 and 260,000 gallons,” Schmidt said regarding current sewage flows. “That usually holds
THE Colorado Water Conservation Board handed out roughly $2.8 million last week to five projects in the San Luis Valley, including a first-of-its kind conservation easement program aimed at protecting the region’s groundwater.
Colorado Open Lands garnered $1.4 million for a voluntary conservation easement program, which would reduce groundwater pumping while allowing for continued agricultural use. The management plans accompanying the easements would draw on the experience of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The total cost of the project is $8.2 million, the majority of which will come from the NRCS.
CWCB granted $818,030 to the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project for work on the Anaconda, Independent No. 2, Knoblauch, Ehrowitz, and Billings ditches. The project would improve diversions for the respective ditches, all of which are in Rio Grande County, while also including fish and boat passage. Work crews would also restore 3,960 linear feet of stream bank and enhance aquatic habitat through willow planting, channel and stream bank shaping, and the installation of rock clusters.
The board awarded $163,406 to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to develop an in-basin water marketing strategy to secure the roughly 16,000 acre-feet needed by the Subdistricts to offset stream depletions. The program’s managers are eyeing tools such as temporary water leases or rotational fallowing toward that end. The Rio Grande Basin Cooperative Project, as the effort is known, also received $212,105 from the U.S Bureau of Reclamation, and roughly $163,000 from three other funders toward the $425,511 project cost.
The Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association received $24,500 to hold seminars around irrigation, soil health and cropping in 2022. Funds would also go toward developing a stakeholder group to implement projects and the association’s hosting of the Congreso de Acequias.
Colorado Master Irrigator, a nonprofit educational group, received $414,875 to expand trainings on water and energy conservation and other efficiency practices across the state. Part of those funds will focus on expanding offerings into the San Luis Valley through a partnership with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and Subdistrict No. 1.
All of the funding for the Valley projects came from the Colorado Water Plan Grant Program. State lawmakers and Governor Jared Polis gave the grant program a boost in spring with $15 million from the state’s General Fund.
President Barack Obama’s establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument in Proclamation 9558 of December 28, 2016, represented the culmination of more than a century of efforts to protect the ancestral homeland of Tribal Nations that all refer to the area by the same name — Hoon’Naqvut (Hopi), Shash Jaa’ (Navajo), Kwiyagatu Nukavachi (Ute), and Ansh An Lashokdiwe (Zuni): Bears Ears. Preserving the sacred landscape and unique cultural resources in the Bears Ears region was an impetus for passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906. As early as 1904, advocates for protection of cultural landscapes described for the Congress the tragedy of the destruction of objects of historic and scientific interest across the American Southwest and identified the Bears Ears region as one of seven areas in need of immediate protection. Nevertheless, for more than 100 years, indigenous people, historians, conservationists, scientists, archaeologists, and other groups advocated unsuccessfully for protection of the Bears Ears landscape. It was not until the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni united in a common vision to protect these sacred lands and requested permanent protection from President Obama that Bears Ears National Monument became a reality. Few national monuments more clearly meet the Antiquities Act’s criteria for protection than the Bears Ears Buttes and surrounding areas. This proclamation confirms, restores, and supplements the boundaries and protections provided by Proclamation 9558, including the continued reservation of land added to the monument by Proclamation 9681 of December 4, 2017.
As Proclamation 9558 recognizes, the greater Bears Ears landscape, characterized by deep sandstone canyons, broad desert mesas, towering monoliths, forested mountaintops dotted with lush meadows, and the striking Bears Ears Buttes, has supported indigenous people of the Southwest from time immemorial and continues to be sacred land to the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni. Approximately two dozen other Tribal Nations and Pueblos have cultural ties to the area as well.
Describing as much as 13,000 years of human occupation of the Bears Ears landscape, Proclamation 9558 contextualizes the compelling need to protect one of the most extraordinary cultural landscapes in the United States. The proclamation describes the landscape’s unique density of significant cultural, historical, and archaeological artifacts spanning thousands of years, including remains of single family homes, ancient cliff dwellings, large villages, granaries, kivas, towers, ceremonial sites, prehistoric steps cut into cliff faces, and a prehistoric road system that connected the people of Bears Ears to each other and possibly beyond. Proclamation 9558 also describes the cultural significance and importance of the area, exemplified by the petroglyphs, pictographs, and recent rock writings left by the indigenous people that have inhabited the area since time immemorial.
In addition to cultural and historic sites, Proclamation 9558 describes the Bears Ears landscape’s unique geology, biology, ecology, paleontology, and topography. The proclamation identifies geologic formations rich with fossils that provide a rare and relatively complete picture of the paleoenvironment, striking landscapes, unique landforms, and rare and important plant and animal species. While not objects of historic and scientific interest designated for protection, the proclamation also describes other resources in the area, historic grazing, and world class outdoor recreation opportunities — including rock climbing, hunting, hiking, backpacking, canyoneering, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and horseback riding — that support a booming travel and tourism sector that is a source of economic opportunity for local communities.
To protect this singular and sacred landscape, President Obama reserved approximately 1.35 million acres through Proclamation 9558 as the smallest area compatible with protection of the objects identified within the boundaries of the monument. He also established the Bears Ears Commission to ensure that management of the monument would be guided by, and benefit from, expertise of Tribal Nations and traditional and historical knowledge of the area.
On December 4, 2017, President Donald Trump issued Proclamation 9681 to reduce the lands within the monument by more than 1.1 million acres. In doing so, Proclamation 9681 removes protection from objects of historic and scientific interest across the Bears Ears landscape, including some objects that Proclamation 9558 specifically identifies by name for protection. Multiple parties challenged Proclamation 9681 in Federal court, asserting that it exceeds the President’s authority under the Antiquities Act.
Restoring the Bears Ears National Monument honors the special relationship between the Federal Government and Tribal Nations, correcting the exclusion of lands and resources profoundly sacred to Tribal Nations, and ensuring the long-term protection of, and respect for, this remarkable and revered region. Given the unique nature and cultural significance of the objects identified across the Bears Ears landscape, the threat of damage and destruction to those objects, their spiritual, cultural, and historical significance to Tribal Nations, and the insufficiency of the protections afforded in the absence of Antiquities Act protections, the reservation described below is the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of historic and scientific interest named in this proclamation and Proclamation 9558.
he Bears Ears landscape — bordered by the Colorado River to the west, the San Juan River and the Navajo Nation to the south, low bluffs and high mesas to the east and north, and Canyonlands National Park to the northwest, and brimming with towering sandstone spires, serpentine canyons, awe-inspiring natural bridges and arches, as well as the famous twin Bears Ears Buttes standing sentinel over the sacred region — is not just a series of isolated objects, but is, itself, an object of historic and scientific interest requiring protection under the Antiquities Act. Bears Ears is sacred land of spiritual significance, a historic homeland, and a place of belonging for indigenous people from the Southwest. Bears Ears is a living, breathing landscape, that — owing to the area’s arid environment and overall remoteness, as well as the building techniques that its inhabitants employed — retains remarkable and spiritually significant evidence of indigenous use and habitation since time immemorial, including from the Paleoindian Period, through the time of the Basketmakers and Ancestral Pueblos, to the more recent Navajo and Ute period, and continuing to this day. There are innumerable objects of historic or scientific interest within this extraordinary landscape. Some of the objects are also sacred to Tribal Nations, are sensitive, rare, or vulnerable to vandalism and theft, or are dangerous to visit and, therefore, revealing their specific names and locations could pose a danger to the objects or the public. The variety, density, and prevalence of these objects, such as prehistoric roads, structures, shrines, ceremonial sites, graves, pots, baskets, tools, petroglyphs, pictographs, and items of clothing, all contribute to the uniqueness of this region and underscore its sacred nature and living spiritual significance to indigenous people.
Many of the Tribal Nations that trace their ancestral origin to this area and continue their spiritual practices on these lands today view Bears Ears as a part of the personal identity of their members and as a cultural living space — a landscape where their traditions began, where their ancestors engaged in and handed down cultural practices, and where they developed and refined complex protocols for caring for the land. The Bears Ears region is also a tangible location that is integral to indigenous ceremonial practices, cultural traditions, and the sustainment of the daily lives of indigenous peoples. Since time immemorial, the lands of the Bears Ears region have fostered indigenous identity and spirituality. Indigenous people lived, hunted, gathered, prayed, and built homes in the Bears Ears region. As a result, each geographic subregion and the mountains, canyons, mesa tops, ridges, rivers, and streams therein that make up the Bears Ears landscape hold cultural significance. These individual locales come together as objects of historic and scientific interest — many of which have spiritual significance to indigenous people and are located across this living landscape ‑- to tell stories, facilitate the practice of traditions, and serve as a mnemonic device that elders use to teach younger generations where they came from, who they are, and how to live. Resources found throughout the Bears Ears region, including wildlife and plants that are native to the region, continue to serve integral roles in the development and practice of indigenous ceremonial and cultural lifeways. From family gatherings, dances, and ceremonies held on these sacred lands, to gathering roots, berries, firewood, piñon nuts, weaving materials, and medicines across the region, Bears Ears remains an essential landscape that members of Tribal Nations regularly visit to heal, practice their spirituality, pray, rejuvenate, and connect with their history.
The Bears Ears region is also important to, and shows recent evidence of, non-Native migrants to the area. From the smoothed-over surfaces of the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail to the historic cattle-ranching cabins, and the convoluted series of passages and hideouts used by men like Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and other members of the Wild Bunch on the Outlaw Trail, including Hideout Canyon, the Bears Ears landscape conveys the story of westward expansion of European Americans and the settlement of Latter-day Saint communities in southern Utah. Hispanic sheep herders from New Mexico also migrated into this area during the late 1800s, and many of their descendants continue to live in local communities.
Despite millennia of human habitation, the Bears Ears landscape remains one of the most ecologically intact and least‑roaded regions in the contiguous United States. As a result, the area continues to provide habitat to a variety of threatened, endangered, sensitive, endemic, or otherwise rare species of wildlife, fish, and plants. The area also contains a diverse array of species that benefit from the preservation of the landscape’s intact ecosystems.
The Bears Ears landscape also tells the stories of epochs past. The area’s exposed geologic formations provide a continuous record of vertebrate life in North America as well as a rich history of invertebrate fossils. The Chinle Formation, and the Wingate, Kayenta, and Navajo Formations above it, demonstrate how the Triassic Period transitioned into the Jurassic Period and provide critical insight into both how dinosaurs dominated terrestrial ecosystems and how our mammalian ancestors evolved. The discovery of several taxa, including a prosauropod that gets its name from a Navajo word tied to the region where it was found, the archosauromorph Crosbysaurus harrisae, and a unique phytosaur, have occurred exclusively within Bears Ears or have significantly extended an extinct species’ known range. While paleontologists have only recently begun to systematically survey and study much of the fossil record in this region, experts are confident that scientifically important paleontological resources remain to be discovered, and future exploration will greatly expand our understanding of prehistoric life on the Colorado Plateau.
The landscape itself is composed of several areas, each of which is unique and an object of scientific and historic interest requiring protection under the Antiquities Act. Near the center is the Bears Ears Buttes and Headwaters, the location of the iconic twin buttes, which soar over the surrounding landscape and maintain watch over the ancestral home of numerous Tribal Nations. Containing dense fir and aspen forests that provide firewood to heat homes as well as powerful medicines and habitat for wild game species, Tribal Nations view the high elevation oasis as the key to life in the Bears Ears region. The Bears Ears Buttes also hold historical significance to the Navajo people, as the landscape and natural cliff dwellings served as hiding places to escape the United States military during the forced Long Walk, where more than 11,000 Navajo were marched up to 450 miles on foot to internment camps in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Many Navajo hid in the remote canyons to avoid the forced removal from their traditional homelands in the Southwest by the United States from 1864 to 1868.
In the northern part of the Bears Ears landscape lies Indian Creek, the home of a world-renowned canyon characterized by sheer red cliffs and spires of exposed and eroded layers of Navajo, Kayenta, Wingate, and Cedar Mesa Sandstone, including the iconic North and South Six-Shooter Peaks. The canyon includes famous vertical cracks striating its sandstone walls and the area provides important habitat for a multitude of plant and animal species. Indian Creek’s palisades provide eyries for peregrine falcons and potential nesting sites for bald and golden eagles, and the Lockhart Basin area and Donnelly Canyon contain Mexican spotted owl habitat. The Indian Creek area further provides critical winter grounds for big-game species such as mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep and potential habitat for endangered fish and threatened plant species. The prominent Bridger Jack and Lavender Mesas are home to largely unaltered relict plant communities composed of pinyon-juniper woodlands interspersed with small sagebrush islands. It is also in Indian Creek that one can find Newspaper Rock, a massive petroglyph panel displaying a notable concentration of rock writings from persons of the Basketmaker and Ancestral Pueblo periods, the Ute and Navajo people who still live in the Four Corners area and beyond, and early settlers of European descent. Indian Creek also contains possible evidence of trade with cultures extending into Mesoamerica, including a thousand-year-old ornamental sash found in the area made from azure and scarlet macaw feathers as well as a petroglyph featuring a macaw-like bird figure. Shay Canyon is a side canyon that houses extensive, well-preserved petroglyph panels from multiple prehistoric periods. The panels contain a unique rock writing style that is believed to be both Freemont and Ancestral Pueblo in origin. Harts Point is an escarpment that provides spectacular views of the Indian Creek Canyon. These mesa tops also contain evidence of historic connections of indigenous people to the region. Additionally, Indian Creek provides fossilized trackways of early tetrapods and fossilized traces of marine and aquatic creatures such as clams, crayfish, fish, and aquatic reptiles dating to the Triassic Period.
Southwest of Indian Creek and geographically nestled between the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, the Dark Canyon Wilderness area, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, lie Beef Basin and Fable Valley, areas characterized by well-preserved Ancestral Pueblo surface sites ‑- including freestanding Pueblo masonry structures and towers — as well as petroglyphs and pictographs. The areas are unique in their high concentration of large, mesa-top Pueblo structures. Sites in this region may also provide evidence of some of the furthest north migration of Pueblo in the Mesa Verde region.
Just south of Indian Creek, the westernmost edge of the Abajo Mountains forms the eastern boundary of the Bears Ears landscape. An island laccolith series of peaks and domes known also as the Blue Mountains due to the appearance of their heavily forested slopes contrasted against the red desert that surrounds them, the Abajo Mountains are rich in wildlife and home to several rare and sensitive plant species. As a result of the breadth of species, the Abajo Mountains have long been a traditional hunting ground for the indigenous people that have lived in the area and are held sacred by a number of Tribal Nations, including the Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribes. These peaks represent the highest elevations in the Bears Ears landscape and provide unbroken views of the entire region.
South of Beef Basin and Indian Creek, the landscape contains a number of sandstone canyons that drain the northern edge of the Abajo Mountains and Elk Ridge, including the Tuerto, Trough, Ruin, and North Cottonwood Canyons, at the bottom of which runs a perennial creek. Ancestral Pueblo sites within this area have special significance to the Pueblos of New Mexico, who identify these sites as part of their ancestral footprints that extend their traditional territory north of the Abajo Mountains. The area, which is composed of both Cedar Mesa Sandstone and Chinle Formation deposits, has a very high potential for Permian and Triassic fossils.
The South Cottonwood Canyon region, characterized by prominent sandstone escarpments surrounded by forests of pinyon, juniper, and Gambel oak, interspersed with stands of ponderosa pine and mixed conifers, is situated west of the Abajo Mountains and south of the prominent sandstone towers known as the Chippean Rocks. The isolated area contains intact cultural landscapes of early Ancestral Pueblo communities. Some sites are organized as a larger central village surrounded by smaller family-sized dwellings, while others are large and inaccessible granaries. This region is home to a diversity of wildlife, including Townsend’s big-eared bats, beavers, and ringtail cats, as well as the Cliff Dwellers Pasture Research Natural Area, an ungrazed box canyon with a unique vegetative community and an imposing sandstone arch and natural bridge. The area also contains excellent big game habitat and is considered prime mule deer, elk, and black bear hunting grounds.
Further west, South Cottonwood Canyon is home to a unique density of Pueblo I to early Pueblo II village sites that are considered important to both archaeologists and Tribal Nations. One site, a collapsed two-story block masonry structure that appears to be an early version of a great house, was built during a time when the development of this kind of community structure was only beginning in Chaco Canyon. More recently, the South Cottonwood Canyon area proved critical to the survival of the White Mesa Ute during Anglo settlement of southern Utah. Paleontologically, there is high potential fossil yield on both the west side of the area, which contains portions of the Triassic Period Chinle and Moenkopi Formations, and the east side, which is composed of Jurassic Period Glen Canyon Group Kayenta Formation. The area also provides critical habitat for Mexican spotted owls, peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and spotted bats.
The Dark Canyon, Dry Mesa complex, located between Beef Basin and White Canyon, is wild and remote. In Dark Canyon — a canyon system that includes Peavine, Woodenshoe, and other minor tributaries — rock walls, which tower 3,000 feet above the canyon floor, provide a sense of solitude and isolation from the surrounding mesa tops. The canyon system, one of the only entirely intact and protected canyons from its headwaters on the Colorado Plateau to its confluence with the Colorado River, includes numerous hanging gardens, springs, and riparian areas and provides habitat for a wide range of wildlife, including known populations of Mexican spotted owl. Dry Mesa is relatively flat with stands of ponderosa pine, oak, and pinyon and juniper that provide foraging habitat for golden eagles and peregrine falcons. Many Tribal Nations have strong connections to sites in the area from three specific time periods: ancient hunter-gatherers during the Archaic period, Ancestral Pueblos during the Pueblo III period, and finally, Navajo, Ute, and Paiute families just before and during European migration into the Four Corners area. Visitors to the Dark Canyon Wilderness area will find the Doll House, a fully-intact and well-preserved single-room granary. Located at the bottom of Horse Pasture Canyon and Dark Canyon, visitors will also find Scorup Cabin, a line cabin originally built in Rig Canyon and later moved to its current location, that cowboys used as a summer camp while running cattle in the area. The area also contains exposures of Permian Period Cutler Group deposits that have a high potential to contain both vertebrate and invertebrate fossils.
Utah’s White Canyon makes a gorgeous, serpentine cut through Cedar Mesa, near Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. But it remains unprotected. It lies at the heart of the proposed Glen Canyon Wilderness, where the vast expanse of Paleozoic-era sandstone known as Nokai Dome eases its way to the upper reaches of Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This region also includes the soaring Wingate Cliffs of the Red Rock Plateau, Mancos Mesa, Moqui Canyon with its meandering stream, Red Canyon, and the serpentine side canyons of White Canyon. This is one of the most remote regions of the state, but it lacks protection and is threatened by increasing ORV use.
It is all part of the San Juan-Canyonlands region of Southeastern Utah, one of the most iconic landscapes recommended for protection in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, boasting dramatic geologic features wrought by elemental forces, as well as internationally significant cultural sites of the Ancestral Puebloans and the Mormon Pioneers. Adorned with buttes and arches, vast stretches of slickrock deposited over 250 million years ago, ancient pinyon-juniper forests and an artist’s pallet of red-hued sandstone, the San Juan-Canyonlands region has inspired explorers since the days of John Wesley Powell, and its wonders represent some of the greatest unprotected wilderness in the country.[/caption]
The White Canyon region, west of Dark Canyon, is a remote area featuring an extensive complex of steep and narrow canyons cut through light-colored Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Once used by outlaws to evade authorities, the area’s slot canyons, including the Black Hole, Fry Canyon, and Cheesebox Canyon, now draw adventurers in search of multi-day, technical canyoneering opportunities. The entire White Canyon area has a rich paleontological history. Research in the area is ongoing, but recent discoveries of track sites in the Triassic Moenkopi Formation and an assemblage of invertebrate burrows suggest that a diverse fauna once thrived here. Mollusks, phytosaurs, and possible theropod and ornithischian fossils have also been found in White Canyon.
Located between the Abajo Mountains and the Colorado River, the high plateau of Elk Ridge provides stunning views of the surrounding canyons and the Bears Ears Buttes to the south. Visitors passing through the Notch, a naturally occurring narrow pass between north and south Elk Ridge, are treated to spectacular vistas of Dark Canyon to the west and Notch Canyon to the east. The area’s higher elevations, which contain pockets of ancient Engelmann spruce, rare stands of old-growth ponderosa pine, aspen, and subalpine fir, and a genetically distinct population of Kachina daisy, provide welcome respite from the higher temperatures found in the region’s lower elevations, especially during the summer. There is evidence that indigenous people have hunted and gathered plants on Elk Ridge for at least 8,000 years, a practice that continues today and is considered sacred by the Navajo Nation. Elk Ridge also has a long history of livestock grazing by Navajo and Ute families and later Anglo settlers. While the mesa top is primarily dry, water naturally occurs at the area’s seeps and springs, as well as the ephemeral Duck Lake, a seasonal wetland located on top of Elk Ridge that results from snowmelt. The upper reaches of the ridge also contain Upper Triassic formations with a high potential to contain fossils.
To the east of Elk Ridge lies a major system of canyons on National Forest System lands, including Hammond Canyon, Upper Arch Canyon, Texas Canyon, and Notch Canyon. This deeply incised canyon system is composed of stunning red sandstone walls, white pinnacles, lush green foliage, and several small waterfalls. Uniquely, the area also contains large sandstone towers and hoodoos in a forested setting. The Hammond Canyon area, which is central to the history of the White Mesa Utes, contains numerous Ancestral Pueblo sites, including cliff dwellings. Hammond Canyon also contains an Ancestral Pueblo village with structures and pottery from multiple Ancestral Pueblo periods. High fossil potential exists in both the Upper Triassic and Lower Jurassic Glen Canyon Sandstone of Hammond Canyon’s lower half as well as the Permian Period Cedar Mesa Sandstone found in its upper half.
Just south of Elk Ridge, Arch Canyon is a 12-mile long box canyon containing numerous arches, including Cathedral Arch, Angel Arch, and Keystone Arch. The area is teeming with fossilized remains, including numerous specimens from the Permian and Upper Permian eras. Cliff dwellings and hanging gardens are located throughout the canyon. Arch Canyon Great House, which spans the Pueblo II and III periods and contains pictographs and petroglyphs ranging from the Archaic to the historic periods, is located at the canyon’s mouth. A perennial stream that provides potential habitat for sensitive fish species and for the threatened Navajo sedge is located in the canyon’s bottom.
Mule Canyon, a 500-foot deep, 5-mile long chasm, is situated northeast of the Fish Creek area and southeast of the Bears Ears Buttes. Throughout the canyon, cliff dwellings and other archaeological sites are sheltered by rock walls composed of alternating layers of red and white sandstone. Among those are the stunning House on Fire, which has different masonry styles that indicate several episodes of construction and use. The area’s rich archaeological history is also evidenced on the nearby tablelands, where the Mule Canyon Village site allows visitors to view the exposed masonry walls of ancient living quarters and a partially restored kiva. Recent research suggests that Ancestral Pueblos in this area may have cultivated a variety of plants that are uncommon across the wider landscape and persist to this day, such as the Four Corners potato, goosefoot, wolfberry, and sumac. Although similar cultivation may have been occurring near Ancestral Pueblo sites across the Bears Ears landscape, it appears to have been particularly prevalent in and around the Mule, South Cottonwood, Dry, Arch, and Owl Canyons.
Tilted at almost 20 degrees and running along a north-south axis from the foothills of the Abajo Mountains, past the San Juan River, and onto the Navajo Nation, the serrated cliffs of the Comb Ridge monocline are visible from space and have both spiritual and practical significance to many Tribal Nations. It is in this area that one can find a series of alcoves in Whiskers Draw that have sheltered evidence of human habitation for thousands of years, including the site where Richard Wetherill first identified what we know today as the Basketmaker people, as well as Milk Ranch Point, where early Ancestral Pueblo farmers found refuge when the climate turned hotter and dryer at lower elevations. Comb Ridge, flanked on the west by Comb Wash and on the east by Butler Wash, holds additional evidence of centuries of human habitation, including cliff dwellings, such as the well-known Butler Wash Village and Monarch Cave, kivas, ceremonial sites, and rock writings, like the Procession Panel, Wolfman Panel, and Lower Butler Wash Panel, a wall-sized mural depicting San Juan Anthropomorph figures dating to the Basketmaker period that is considered important for understanding the daily life and rituals of the Basketmaker people. Chacoan roads as well as the handholds and steps carved into cliff faces found in this area formed part of the region’s migration system and are integral to the story of the Bears Ears landscape. The Comb Ridge area also contains a rich paleontological history, including an Upper Triassic microvertebrate site with greater taxonomic diversity than any other published site of the same nature in Utah, and the earliest recorded instance of a giant arthropod trackway in Utah. Paleontologists have also found phytosaur and dinosaur fossils from the Triassic Period and have identified new species of plant-eating crocodile-like reptiles and rich bonebeds of lumbering sauropods in the area.
South Cottonwood Wash is an extensive drainage just east of Comb Ridge that extends from the Abajo Mountains to the San Juan River near Bluff, Utah. The drainage contains at least three great houses as well as a number of alcove sites, and it has a high density of petroglyphs and pictographs, including a cave with more than 200 handprints in a variety of colors. There is also evidence of a Chacoan road that connected multiple great houses and kiva sites. These prehistoric transportation systems in the Bears Ears region are critical to understanding the trading patterns, economy, and social organization of ancient Pueblo communities and the other major cultural centers with whom they interacted, such as Chaco Canyon.
At the far southern end of the Bears Ears landscape lies Valley of the Gods, a broad expanse of sandstone monoliths, pinnacles, and other geological features of historic and scientific interest. Towering spires of red sandstone that rise from the valley floor are held sacred by the Navajo people, who view the formations as ancient warriors frozen in stone and places of power in which spirits reside. The austere valley, which is noteworthy in both its geology and ecology, provides habitat for Eucosma navajoensis, an endemic moth that lives nowhere else. The Mars-like landscape also contains evidence of our own planet’s distant past, including early tetrapod trackways, Paleozoic freshwater sharks, ray-finned fishes, lobe-finned fishes, giant primitive amphibians, and multiple unique taxa of mammal-like reptiles. Paleontologists have also uncovered notable plant macrofossils including ancestral conifers, giant horsetail-like plants, ferns the size of trees, and lycopsids (similar to modern clubmoss).
The San Juan River forms the southern boundary of the Bears Ears landscape. One of the four sacred rivers that Tribal Nations believe were established by the gods to act as defensive guardians over their ancestral lands, the river is closely tied to traditional stories of creation, danger, protection, and healing. The Lime Ridge Clovis site demonstrates that the history of human occupation within the river corridor dates back at least 13,000 years. The Sand Island Petroglyph Panel presents petroglyphs primarily from the Basketmaker through the Pueblo III periods as well as more modern Navajo and Ute carvings. There are also a number of Ancestral Pueblo structures that are accessible by river, such as River House. Nearby San Juan Hill was the last major obstacle for the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition and presents visible evidence of the weary expedition’s effort to cross Comb Ridge, including parts of a road, wagon ruts, and an inscription at the top of the ridge. The river corridor also contains a number of unique geologic formations, such as the well-known balancing rock at Mexican Hat, and provides important habitat for the threatened yellow-billed cuckoo and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The river itself is home to two endangered fish species: Colorado pikeminnow, the largest minnow in North America, which is believed to have evolved more than 3 million years ago, and the razorback sucker, the only member of its genus.
Cedar Mesa is located in the heart of the Bears Ears landscape, west of Comb Ridge and north of the San Juan River. Ranging from approximately 4,000 to 6,500 feet in elevation, the approximately 400-square mile plateau is of deep significance to Tribal Nations. Characterized by pinyon-juniper forests on the mesa tops and canyons along its periphery, the entirety of Cedar Mesa is an object of scientific and historic interest, providing a broader context for the individual resources found there. It is the density of world-class cultural resources found throughout the remote, sloping plateau and its numerous canyons that make Cedar Mesa truly unique. For example, an open-twined yucca fiber sandal believed to be more than 7,000 years old was discovered in a dry shelter located in a narrow slickrock canyon in Cedar Mesa. Moon House is an example of iconic Pueblo-decorated architecture and was likely the last occupied site on Cedar Mesa. On the top of the plateau, Chacoan roads connect several Ancestral Pueblo great houses that show architectural influence from the Chaco Canyon region as well as ceramics that demonstrate both historic and modern Pueblo connections. And in the heart of Cedar Mesa, a multi-room, multi-story great house contains kivas with distinctive Chacoan features that are much larger than kivas found elsewhere on Cedar Mesa. Today, Cedar Mesa is home to bighorn sheep, but fossil evidence in the area’s sandstone has revealed large, mammal-like reptiles that burrowed into the sand to survive the blistering heat of the end of the Permian Period, when the region was dominated by a seaside desert. Later, during the Upper Triassic Period, seasonal monsoons flooded an ancient river system that fed a vast desert here. Salvation Knoll, a point from which lost Latter-day Saint pioneers were able to obtain their bearings on Christmas Day in 1879, is also located in the area.
Cedar Mesa is striated with deep chasms housing remarkably intact Ancestral Pueblo sites. John’s Canyon and Slickhorn Canyon, which empty into the San Juan River in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to the south, contain numerous petroglyphs, pictographs, and Ancestral Pueblo structures built into elongated alcoves on buff-colored cliffs. Similarly, the canyons on the east side of Cedar Mesa hold a significant density of archaeological sites providing a glimpse into the region’s past, including rock writings and Ancestral Pueblo dwellings. The Citadel cliff dwelling is just one example of the striking Ancestral Pueblo sites located in Road Canyon, while other sites include painted handprints and evidence of daily life left by Ancestral Pueblos. Located to the north of Road Canyon, the Fish Canyon area contains a number of Pueblo structures. The Fish Canyon area also contains one of the few perennial streams in the area and an important potential habitat for the Mexican spotted owl. Finally, the rust-colored, 145‑foot span of Nevills Arch awaits those who make the challenging trek down Owl Canyon. Opening to a height of 80 feet and named after Norman Nevills, the first boatman to take paying customers on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, the arch creates a striking window to the sky on the upper reaches of the canyon walls.
Grand Gulch, a mostly dry canyon that meanders for nearly 50 miles on the western edge of Cedar Mesa and is replete with thousands of cliff dwellings and rock writing sites, likely contains the highest concentration of Ancestral Pueblo sites on the Colorado Plateau. Initially occupied in the Basketmaker II and III periods, Grand Gulch’s initial inhabitants left pictographs and constructed shallow pithouses and camps on the mesa top and dry shelters for storage. One pictograph dating from this time period depicting two large, anthropomorphic figures is of special religious significance to Tribal Nations. Grand Gulch also contains a multitude of Pueblo II to III sites and was one of the first prehistoric national historic districts designated on the National Register of Historic Places. The area contains the Turkey Pen site, which is believed to provide some of the earliest evidence of turkey domestication in North America, a pristine kiva in a remote canyon bend, and countless other unique Pueblo structures, such as Junction Village, a large Pueblo habitation site; Split Level Village, a multi-level Pueblo habitation; and Bannister House, a habitation consisting of two relatively intact structures and a spring at the base of the cliff face. Grand Gulch also contains unique artifacts, such as a tattoo needle, a site containing a multichromatic pictograph of a mask, important historic archaeological inscriptions from the Wetherill expedition, and a multitude of other rock writings.
Kane Gulch is a tributary canyon of Grand Gulch incised through Cedar Mesa Sandstone and clogged with house-sized boulders. The canyon houses an aspen grove — an uncommon occurrence at such elevations in the desert — and contains a number of archaeological sites that are perched on canyon walls high above cottonwood trees that provide welcomed shade to the riparian areas in the canyon bottom. Nearby, Bullet Canyon, which intersects with the upper reaches of Grand Gulch, also holds numerous structures, petroglyphs, pictographs, and other artifacts, such as the well-preserved Perfect Kiva — a partly restored kiva, accompanied by several rooms and other smaller structures.
To the west of Cedar Mesa, the Clay Hills, Red House Cliffs, and Mike’s Canyon form the southwest corner of the Bears Ears landscape. This remote and rarely visited area remains largely unstudied by scientists. Tool- and arrowhead-making sites, dwellings, and granaries in the lower reaches of the canyons indicate that they sustained Archaic, Basketmaker, and Ancestral Pueblo cultures. The area’s unforgiving topography, composed of expansive stretches of slickrock periodically interrupted by deep canyons, challenged Latter-day Saint settlers that traveled along the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail and left wheel ruts and other traces of pioneer life. The harsh ecosystem still supports a herd of desert bighorn sheep throughout the year, and in the canyon bottoms, including Mike’s Canyon, intrepid beavers can be found in small areas of riparian habitat. The Clay Hills area contains the first discovery of vertebrate fossils from the Bears Ears region, which was also the first occurrence of a phytosaur identified in Utah.
Standing alone west of Cedar Mesa and adjacent to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Mancos Mesa is likely the largest isolated slickrock mesa in southern Utah. Covering approximately 180 square miles, Mancos Mesa’s roughly triangular shape is bounded by towering cliffs, some reaching more than 1,000 feet high. The entire area is dominated by Navajo Sandstone and is incised with canyons, including Moqui Canyon, a 20-mile canyon with sheer walls rising over 600 feet. The mesa, an ecological island in the sky, contains a relict plant community that supports Native perennial grasses, shrubs, and some cacti. Mancos Mesa also contains archaeological remains dating back 2,000 years and spanning across the Basketmaker II and III and Pueblo I, II, and III periods.
Protection of the Bears Ears area will preserve its spiritual, cultural, prehistoric, and historic legacy and maintain its diverse array of natural and scientific resources, ensuring that the prehistoric, historic, and scientific values of this area remain for the benefit of all Americans. For more than 100 years, and sometimes predating the enactment of the Antiquities Act, Presidents, Members of Congress, Secretaries of the Interior, Tribal Nations, State and local governments, scientists, and local conservationists have understood and championed the need to protect the Bears Ears area. The area contains numerous objects of historic and scientific interest and also includes other resources that contribute to the social and economic well-being of the area’s modern communities as a result of world-class outdoor recreation opportunities, including unparalleled rock climbing available at places like the canyons in Indian Creek; the paradise for hikers, birders, and horseback riders provided in areas like the canyons east of Elk Ridge; and other destinations for hunting, backpacking, canyoneering, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking, that are important to the increasing travel- and tourism-based economy in the region.
WHEREAS, section 320301 of title 54, United States Code (known as the “Antiquities Act”), authorizes the President, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be national monuments, and to reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected; and
WHEREAS, Proclamation 9558 of December 28, 2016, designated the Bears Ears National Monument in the State of Utah and reserved approximately 1.35 million acres of Federal lands as the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of historic and scientific interest declared part of the monument; and
WHEREAS, Proclamation 9681 of December 4, 2017, modified the management direction of the Bears Ears National Monument and modified the boundaries to add approximately 11,200 new acres of Federal lands, and the objects of historic and scientific interest contained therein, and to exclude more than 1.1 million acres of Federal lands from the reservation, including lands containing objects of historic and scientific interest identified as needing protection in Proclamation 9558, such as Valley of the Gods, Hideout Canyon, portions of the San Juan River and Abajo Mountains, genetically distinct populations of Kachina daisy, and the Eucosma navajoensis moth; and
WHEREAS, December 4, 2017, was the first time that a President asserted that the Antiquities Act included the authority to reduce the boundaries of a national monument or remove objects from protection under the Antiquities Act since passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, as amended (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.); and
WHEREAS, the entire Bears Ears landscape is profoundly sacred to sovereign Tribal Nations and indigenous people of the southwest region of the United States; and
WHEREAS, I find that the unique nature of the Bears Ears landscape, and the collection of objects and resources therein, make the entire landscape within the boundaries reserved by this proclamation an object of historic and scientific interest in need of protection under 54 U.S.C. 320301; and
WHEREAS, I find that all the historic and scientific resources identified above and in Proclamation 9558 are objects of historic or scientific interest in need of protection under 54 U.S.C. 320301; and
WHEREAS, I find that there are threats to the objects identified in this proclamation; and
WHEREAS, I find, in the absence of a reservation under the Antiquities Act, the objects identified in this proclamation and in Proclamation 9558 are not adequately protected by otherwise applicable law or administrative designations because neither provide Federal agencies with the specific mandate to ensure proper care and management of the objects, nor do they withdraw the lands from the operation of the public land, mining, and mineral leasing laws; thus a national monument reservation is necessary to protect the objects of historic and scientific interest in the Bears Ears region for current and future generations; and
WHEREAS, I find that the boundaries of the monument reserved by this proclamation represent the smallest area compatible with the protection of the objects of scientific or historic interest as required by the Antiquities Act; and
WHEREAS, it is in the public interest to ensure the preservation, restoration, and protection of the objects of scientific and historic interest on the Bears Ears region, including the entire monument landscape, reserved within the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument, as established by this proclamation;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by section 320301 of title 54, United States Code, hereby proclaim the objects identified above and in Proclamation 9558 that are situated upon lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be the Bears Ears National Monument (monument) and, for the purpose of protecting those objects, reserve as part thereof all lands and interests in lands not currently reserved as part of a monument reservation and that are owned or controlled by the Federal Government within the boundaries described on the accompanying map, which is attached to and forms a part of this proclamation. These reserved Federal lands and interests in lands consist of those lands reserved as part of the Bears Ears National Monument as of December 3, 2017, and the approximately 11,200 acres added by Proclamation 9681, encompassing approximately 1.36 million acres. As a result of the distribution of the objects across the Bears Ears landscape, and additionally and independently, because the landscape itself is an object in need of protection, the boundaries described on the accompanying map are confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of historic or scientific interest identified above and in Proclamation 9558.
All Federal lands and interests in lands within the boundaries of the monument are hereby appropriated and withdrawn from all forms of entry, location, selection, sale, or other disposition under the public land laws or laws applicable to the United States Forest Service (USFS), from location, entry, and patent under the mining laws, and from disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing, other than by exchange that furthers the protective purposes of the monument.
This proclamation is subject to valid existing rights. If the Federal Government subsequently acquires any lands or interests in lands not currently owned or controlled by the Federal Government within the boundaries described on the accompanying map, such lands and interests in lands shall be reserved as a part of the monument, and objects identified above that are situated upon those lands and interests in lands shall be part of the monument, upon acquisition of ownership or control by the Federal Government.
The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior (Secretaries) shall manage the monument through the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), respectively, in accordance with the terms, conditions, and management direction provided by this proclamation and, unless otherwise specifically provided herein, those provided by Proclamation 9558, the latter of which are incorporated herein by reference. The USFS shall manage that portion of the monument within the boundaries of the National Forest System (NFS), and the BLM shall manage the remainder of the monument. The lands administered by the USFS shall be managed as part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. The lands administered by the BLM shall be managed as a unit of the National Landscape Conservation System. To the extent any provision of Proclamation 9681 is inconsistent with this proclamation or Proclamation 9558, the terms of this proclamation and Proclamation 9558 shall govern. To further the orderly management of monument lands, the monument will be jointly managed as a single unit consisting of the entire 1.36 million-acre monument.
For purposes of protecting and restoring the objects identified above and in Proclamation 9558, the Secretaries shall jointly prepare and maintain a new management plan for the entire monument and shall promulgate such regulations for its management as they deem appropriate. The Secretaries, through the USFS and BLM, shall consult with other Federal land management agencies or agency components in the local area, including the National Park Service, in developing the management plan. In promulgating any management rules and regulations governing the NFS lands within the monument and developing the management plan, the Secretary of Agriculture, through the USFS, shall consult with the Secretary of the Interior, through the BLM. The Secretaries shall provide for maximum public involvement in the development of that plan, including consultation with federally recognized Tribes and State and local governments. In the development and implementation of the management plan, the Secretaries shall maximize opportunities, pursuant to applicable legal authorities, for shared resources, operational efficiency, and cooperation.
In recognition of the importance of knowledge of Tribal Nations about these lands and objects and participation in the care and management of the objects identified above, and to ensure that management decisions affecting the monument reflect expertise and traditional and historical knowledge of Tribal Nations, a Bears Ears Commission (Commission) is reestablished in accordance with the terms, conditions, and obligations set forth in Proclamation 9558 to provide guidance and recommendations on the development and implementation of management plans and on management of the entire monument.
To further the protective purposes of the monument, the Secretary of the Interior shall explore entering into a memorandum of understanding with the State of Utah that would set forth terms, pursuant to applicable laws and regulations, for an exchange of land owned by the State of Utah and administered by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration within the boundary of the monument for land of approximately equal value managed by the BLM outside the boundary of the monument. Consolidation of lands within the monument boundary through exchange in this manner provides for the orderly management of public lands and is in the public interest.
The Secretaries shall manage livestock grazing as authorized under existing permits or leases, and subject to appropriate terms and conditions in accordance with existing laws and regulations, consistent with the care and management of the objects identified above and in Proclamation 9558. Should grazing permits or leases be voluntarily relinquished by existing holders, the Secretaries shall retire from livestock grazing the lands covered by such permits or leases pursuant to the processes of applicable law. Forage shall not be reallocated for livestock grazing purposes unless the Secretaries specifically find that such reallocation will advance the purposes of this proclamation and Proclamation 9558.
Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to revoke any existing withdrawal, reservation, or appropriation; however, the monument shall be the dominant reservation.
Warning is hereby given to all unauthorized persons not to appropriate, injure, destroy, or remove any feature of the monument and not to locate or settle upon any of the lands thereof.
If any provision of this proclamation, including its application to a particular parcel of land, is held to be invalid, the remainder of this proclamation and its application to other parcels of land shall not be affected thereby.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.
Groundwater provides an important source of irrigation for farmers in southern New Mexico, but Texas alleges that New Mexico’s use of groundwater below Elephant Butte reservoir has reduced surface water in the Rio Grande that is available for farmers downstream.
Texas filed a lawsuit in 2013 before the U.S. Supreme Court alleging that New Mexico has violated the Rio Grande Compact. This week, special master Judge Michael Melloy heard witness testimony and opening arguments during the first week of a virtual trial. Melloy is tasked with compiling a report for the U.S. Supreme Court. The virtual section of the trial will be followed by an in-person section in the spring in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in March.
The United States has intervened in the case, arguing that New Mexico has failed to administer the groundwater use and that failure threatens not only the compact but also the 1906 treaty agreement with Mexico. This treaty requires the United States to provide Mexico with up to 60,000 acre-feet of water annually. The amount of water that Mexico receives can be reduced due to drought conditions and, when this occurs, the reductions must be proportional to reductions to water allocations for the two irrigation districts that use Rio Grande project water.
While Texas says groundwater pumping has hurt deliveries of Rio Grande project water to El Paso County Water Improvement District Number 1 (EP1), New Mexico claims a 2008 operating agreement that shifted some of the surface water to Texas has led farmers to rely more on groundwater.
New Mexico argues that the operating agreement led to farmers receiving less Rio Grande project water, however it allowed farmers to use groundwater. The two water districts agreed to this operating agreement as a way to address drought conditions, but neither Texas nor New Mexico were parties to the agreement.
Elephant Butte Irrigation District Vice President Robert Sloan said that the operating agreement is one of the factors that has made him more dependent on groundwater at his farm located south of Las Cruces. Sloan was on the EBID Board of Directors in 2008 and voted in favor of the operating agreement.
The Rio Grande project water is stored in two reservoirs in New Mexico—Elephant Butte and Caballo. Each year, based on the amount of water in storage, the allocations are made to the two irrigation districts. About 57 percent of the project water is allocated to EBID and 43 percent is allocated to EP1.
Groundwater pumping is not unique to New Mexico. There are also wells in Texas that impact the Rio Grande.
History of groundwater pumping
The Rio Grande project dates back to the 1930s. In the 1940s, a drought hit the region. EBID Treasurer and Manager Gary Esslinger told the court that this prompted farmers to drill groundwater wells. And, until 1980 when the state engineer closed the basin, Esslinger said property owners did not have to seek approval to drill a well. After the state engineer closed the basin, property owners had to get permission from the Office of the State Engineer prior to drilling a well.
Esslinger said in the 1940s farmers approached EBID about using groundwater to augment the surface water supplies. The U.S. Geological Survey was brought on board to study the impacts that this could have. While the study found there could be impacts to return flows and the amount of water in the drains–which take project water that seeps into the groundwater and return it to the river–the study did not address the impacts that these wells could have on deliveries of surface water to downstream users.
Now, as New Mexico is once again in a period of drought, groundwater provides a vital resource to farmers.
New Mexico farmers rely on groundwater
Sloan has about a dozen irrigation wells on his property. These wells were first drilled in the 1950s, however about six of them have had to be replaced since then. Sloan said when they replaced the wells they did drill deeper.
Prior to 2011, Sloan said farmers were able to pump as much as they needed. But then a court adjudication process resulted in a cap. This cap means that farmers can use four and a half acre feet of combined surface and groundwater. He explained that means that if he receives two acre feet of surface water then he can pump two and a half acre feet of groundwater. The wells have been metered since a 2006 order from the Office of the State Engineer. The OSE tracks the amount of water used and, if too much groundwater is pumped, the farmers receive a notice of over-diversion, Sloan said.
Sloan said farmers prefer the surface water because it is better quality as groundwater tends to have higher levels of salt, which can be detrimental to crops.
In the early 2000s, following 23 years of good water supplies, New Mexico entered into a drought that continues today. And, while farmers are hopeful that the drought will end soon, climate change is anticipated to lead to less water available.
“We are looking at a warmer, drier, more arid future where we will have to deal with less water, in fact we will have to deal with a lot less water,” said J. Phillip King, a consultant for EBID who has also been involved in the Interstate Stream Commission’s water planning.
This year, Sloan was allotted four inches of surface water, which was not enough to irrigate any of his crops. While he bought additional water from his neighbors, Sloan said he did have to rely on his groundwater wells to grow crops.
Groundwater salinity impacts Texas farmers
Further downstream, Art Ivey is a Texas farmer and board member of EP1. Like Sloan, Ivey grows pecans and uses both surface and groundwater. His original farm has seven wells on it and acreage he recently bought has two wells. Unlikely New Mexico, Ivey said Texas does not require farmers to meter their groundwater use.
Ivey said farmers prefer surface water because the groundwater has high salinity. If he was to only use groundwater, Ivey said it would be like “putting poison on our ground” and within a few years the plants would die.
He provided details about how he manages salinity on his farm, including trying to rebuild soil. This has included removing some clay and bringing in sand. Spraying sulfuric acid on the soil can also leach out salt, he said. However, Ivey said he no longer uses sulfuric acid because it is very dangerous. Gypsum and elemental sulfur can also be used and Ivey said he applies these soil amendments annually.
Ivey said when using well water he has to provide the trees with more water because of the salt levels.
Ivey was on the board of directors during the 2008 negotiations. He said the operating agreement included the ability to carry over water, which he described as “vitally important.” That means if the district does not use all the water it is allocated for one year, it can store the unused water for future use.
Ivey said this can allow the district to provide early season irrigation water.
Not all of the farmers in his valley have wells and, Ivey said, cotton farmers rely on early season water. He said cotton farmers need water in March and, this year, surface water was not available until June.
“If they don’t have wells, they don’t plant. And so they’ve lost a year of trying to grow a crop,” Ivey said.
For September, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 67.8°F, 3.0°F above the 20th-century average, the fifth-warmest September in the 127-year period of record. For the year-to-date, the contiguous U.S. temperature was 57.0°F, 1.9°F above the 20th-century average, ranking 10th warmest in the January-September record.
The September precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 2.33 inches, 0.16 inch below average, ranking in the middle one-third of the 127-year period of record. For the year-to-date, the national precipitation total was 23.58 inches, 0.38 inch above average, ranking in the middle one-third of the January-September record.
NCEI updated the 2021 billion-dollar weather and climate disaster dataset to include 10 additional events — five severe storm events, four tropical cyclone events and one wildfire event. This brings the year-to-date total to 18 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U.S. and is four events shy of the 2020 record for the most disasters on record in a calendar year.
This monthly summary from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia, and the public to support informed decision-making.
September temperatures were above average from the West Coast to the Great Lakes and into New England. Colorado and Rhode Island ranked third warmest on record for the month while five additional states across the West and Northeast ranked in the top five for September.
Temperatures were near average across parts of the Northwest, Gulf Coast and Southeast.
Alaska had a statewide average temperature of 39.3°F, 1.3°F below the long-term average and ranking in the coolest one-third of the 97-year record. Temperatures were below average across much of the state with near-average temperatures dominating the North Slope and portions of the northern interior regions. Temperatures were above average across the Central Panhandle.
Precipitation was above average across portions of the Northwest, Southwest, northern and central Plains and from the central Gulf Coast to New England. A series of atmospheric river events during the second half of September contributed to the above-average precipitation received across the Northwest. Resulting primarily from precipitation received as a result of the remnants of Hurricane Ida, Pennsylvania had its seventh-wettest September while Massachusetts ranked eighth wettest. Precipitation was below average across much of the northern Rockies, Deep South and Midwest. Oklahoma had its ninth-driest September on record.
Alaska’s average of 4.36 inches of precipitation in September was 0.21 inch below average and ranked in the middle one-third of the 97-year record. Precipitation was above average across the North Slope and the South Panhandle regions and below average from Bristol Bay to the Northeast Gulf region.
According to the September 28 U.S. Drought Monitor report, approximately 47.8 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up about 1 percent from the end of August. Drought conditions expanded or intensified across portions of the Midwest and central Plains and rapidly developed across the southern Plains during the second half of September. Drought severity and/or coverage lessened across parts of the West, northern Plains and New England.
The western U.S. continues to battle an active fire season in 2021.
By the end of September, almost six million acres were consumed across the U.S.
This is approximately 500,000 acres less than the year-to-date 10-year (2011-2020) average.
The KNP Complex wildfires erupted in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California during September, threatening some of the oldest and largest sequoia trees in the world.
On September 21, the Wildfire Preparedness Level was reduced to PL4, indicating that officials expected fire activity and demand on resources to continue declining as the wildfire season begins to wane. By September 28, officials further reduced the Preparedness Level to PL3.
The Atlantic Basin hurricane season continued to be active with 20 named storms identified during the first nine months of 2021. In September alone, nine new named storms formed — Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa and Victor.
Remnants of Hurricane Ida combined with a frontal system and brought unprecedented rainfall to parts of the Northeast on September 1. Flash Flood Emergencies were declared for the first time on record across parts of New Jersey and New York. Flash flooding, strong tornadoes and many fatalities resulted.
Tropical Storm Mindy made landfall on St. Vincent Island, Florida, on September 8 and quickly moved across Georgia and into the Atlantic Ocean causing minimal damage.
Hurricane Nicholas made landfall near Sargent Beach, Texas, on September 14 and drifted slowly toward Louisiana over the next several days, bringing flooding rainfall to parts of the Gulf Coast already saturated from Hurricane Ida.
Year-to-date temperatures were above average across the West, the northern and central Plains, Great Lakes, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and portions of the Southeast. Maine had its second-warmest January-September on record while California ranked third warmest. Temperatures were below average across parts of the Deep South.
Year-to-date temperatures averaged across Alaska were near normal. Above-average temperatures observed across the southwestern and northeastern portions of the state, while most of Alaska had near-average temperatures over the first nine months of 2021.
January-September precipitation was above average across portions of the Southwest and from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley and into the Northeast. Mississippi had its third-wettest year-to-date period while Louisiana ranked fourth wettest on record. Precipitation was below average from the West Coast to the northern Plains. Montana had its third-driest year-to-date on record, while North Dakota was fifth driest.
For Alaska as a whole, January-September precipitation was above average. Precipitation was average to below average from the Aleutians to the Northeast Gulf and above average across much of the remaining portions of the state.
Billion-dollar weater and climate disasters
Through the end of September, 18 weather and climate disaster events have been identified with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U.S. during 2021. These events include one drought/heat wave event, two flooding events, nine severe storm events, four tropical cyclone events, one wildfire event and one winter storm/cold wave event. This is four events shy of the 2020 annual record of 22 events.
The U.S. disaster costs for the first nine months of 2021 are $104.8 billion, already surpassing the disaster costs for all of 2020 ($100.2 billion, inflation-adjusted).
Through September, disasters in 2021 have also caused more than twice the number of fatalities than from all the events that occurred in 2020.
Hurricane Ida is the most costly disaster to-date in 2021 — exceeding $60 billion — and will be ranked among the top-five most costly hurricanes on record (since 1980) for the U.S. Ida’s total cost will likely increase further, which will be reflected in our end-of-year report.
Since records began in 1980, the U.S. has sustained 308 separate weather and climate disasters where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (based on the CPI adjustment to 2021) per event. The total cost of these 308 events exceeds $2.085 trillion. Disaster costs over the last five years (2017-2021) will exceed a record $700 billion, reflecting the increased exposure and vulnerability of the U.S. to extreme weather and climate events.
The United States saw an unprecedented 18 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the first nine months of the year, according to scientists with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information
Not only was September 2021 quite warm, but it also brought with it devastating impacts from four of the 18 disasters: flooding from Hurricane Ida, landfall of Hurricane Nicholas, and ongoing drought and wildfires tormenting communities in the West.
Below follow highlights from NOAA’s September U.S. climate report:
Climate by the numbers
The average September temperature across the contiguous U.S. was 67.8 degrees F — 3.0 degrees above the 20th-century average — making it the fifth-warmest September in the 127-year climate record.
Colorado and Rhode Island had a September that ranked third warmest on record, while California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming logged a top-five warmest September.
The average precipitation last month was 2.33 inches (0.16 of an inch below average), which ranked in the middle third of the climate record.
Some extremes included Oklahoma, which had its ninth-driest September, as well as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, which saw their seventh- and eighth-wettest Septembers on record respectively, due to the remnants of Hurricane Ida.
Year to date | January through September 2021
The year-to-date average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 57.0 degrees F — 1.9 degrees above average — making it the 10th-warmest YTD on record. Maine had its second-warmest YTD, while California ranked third warmest on record.
Looking at the year so far, the average precipitation total was 23.58 inches (0.38 of an inch above average) and ranked in the middle third of the record.
Mississippi had its third-wettest YTD while Louisiana saw its fourth wettest. Meanwhile, Montana had its third-driest YTD on record, while North Dakota saw its fifth driest.
The loss of human life from these disasters is staggering: 538 people died, which is more than twice the number of deaths from all billion-dollar disasters that occurred in 2020.
Total losses due to property and infrastructure damage is up to $104.8 billion so far — eclipsing $100.2 billion incurred last year (adjusted for 2021 inflation).
The first nine months of 2021 have tallied the largest number of disasters in a calendar year so far, with 2021 currently placing second behind 2020.
This is also a record seventh-consecutive year where the U.S. experienced 10 or more billion-dollar disasters.
More notable takeaways from the report
Ida leads the year’s most expensive disasters: To date, Hurricane Ida is the costliest disaster this year — exceeding $60 billion. Ida already ranks among the top-five most costly hurricanes on record for the U.S. since 1980, and its total cost will likely increase as damage costs continue to accumulate.
Another active year for the tropics: The 2021 Atlantic Basin hurricane season has seen 20 named storms as of the end of September. In September alone, nine new named storms formed — Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa and Victor.
Columbus Day celebrations in the United States – meant to honor the legacy of the man credited with “discovering” the New World – are almost as old as the nation itself. The earliest known Columbus Day celebration took place on Oct. 12, 1792, on the 300th anniversary of his landing. But since the 1990s, a growing number of states have begun to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day – a holiday meant to honor the culture and history of the people living in the Americas both before and after Columbus’ arrival.
In the following Q&A, Susan C. Faircloth, an enrolled member of the Coharie Tribe of North Carolina and professor of education at Colorado State University, explains the history of Indigenous Peoples Day and what it means to American education.