#Drought developments, @JoeBiden moves likely to be big natural-resource, public-land stories in 2021 — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 6, 2021 via the NRCS.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Drought continues to grip the entire state of Colorado, and drought more regionally continues to drive increasing concerns about the adequacy of water supplies throughout the Colorado River Basin given the drier and warmer weather that generally has prevailed through much of the 21st century. That has added urgency to efforts by Upper Basin states such as Colorado to continue exploring measures to reduce water demand by agriculture, cities and other users in times of drought to help head off the possibility of a mandatory curtailment of uses under an interstate compact.

With snowpack below average so far, this winter has offered little promise of reversing the continuing dry trend. But the winter is young and a few big storms can improve the outlook quickly, which is why everyone from ranchers to municipal water providers to firefighters will be listening closely in coming months to what forecasters have to say about what weather is in store…

Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s actions on other matters related to public lands and the environment should prove interesting in coming months. For example, Biden could decide to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to shrink the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

Among other actions that would draw strong reactions pro and con, he could follow through on a campaign promise to ban oil and gas leasing and drilling on federal lands. Such a move likely would be cheered heartily by some conservationist and activist groups concerned about the greenhouse-gas, public health and other impacts of oil and gas development.

But the Western Energy Alliance industry group already has promised a legal challenge of such an action, which a University of Wyoming professor has estimated would result in Colorado in an annual average loss of $73 million in tax revenues from 2021-25 and average annual job losses in the state nearing 5,200 over that same timeframe…


Public-land use is yet one more issue where what has happened in 2020 raises questions about what might come in 2021. With all the limitations that COVID-19 forced on people, one way they responded was to head in huge numbers into the great outdoors where the socially distanced solace of scenery and fresh air has provided a balm for the malaise of pandemic-related restrictions.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, the Forest Service and the National Park Service all reported strong visitation numbers, from hikers to boaters to back-country skiers.

While those agencies love the fact that people are enjoying the lands and facilities they manage, they cringe at the many problems that can result, such as trail heads overflowing with cars, illegal camping and improper disposal of human waste.

This year, we can only hope, the threat from COVID-19 will subside as vaccination rates increase. It will be interesting to watch if public land visitation eases as well. Here’s guessing that it won’t, at least not by much.

Who, having discovered the joys of getting outdoors and enjoying the lands that belong to all of us, wants to then go backward, retreating to a life involving more indoor pursuits?

We love our public lands, perhaps now more than ever. The trick for us, and for those challenged with managing those lands, is how to prevent our loving them to death.

#CameronPeakFire assessment contains sobering news for watershed, recreation — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

Two assessments conducted by Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests officials offered a sobering look into the devastation the Cameron Peak Fire left on Larimer County’s landscape and recreational sites.

The Burned Area Emergency Response studies were released Dec. 17 as part of the initial fire recovery process.

While the Cameron Peak Fire had a fire perimeter that enclosed nearly 209,000 acres, the impacts on the landscape by the largest wildfire in Colorado history varied widely, ranging from swaths that went unscathed to areas that were severely burned.

The survey showed an estimated 36% of the area within the Cameron Peak Fire perimeter suffered high (6%) or moderate (30%) soil burn severity. That indicates an increased risk of erosion and flooding caused by the soil being less able to absorb moisture, along with a lack of vegetation to absorb water and roots to stabilize the soil…

Another 44% of the area suffered low burn severity and 20% was unburned.

The assessment said determining soil hydrophobicity, or the ability to repel water, was hampered by snowfall during the assessments. However, it estimated 55% of the burn area could contain water-repellant soil.

The assessment said there is a 90% to 100% chance that water quality would be impacted by post-fire ash and sediment-laden runoff, nutrient loading and potential debris flows within the first few years following the fire.

Options to reduce the impacts to stream flows, soil erosion and debris flows are limited due to the nature of the burn and slope characteristics, the assessment noted. It stated treatment recommendations should focus on minimizing life/safety threats and damage to property through road and trail closures, trail stabilization, campground treatments and warning signs.

A burnt sign on Larimer County Road 103 near Chambers Lake. The fire started in the area near Cameron Peak, which it is named after. The fire burned over 200,000 acres during its three-month run. Photo courtesy of Kate Stahla via the University of Northern Colorado

Given all the recreational sites in or near the burn area, the assessment said the consequences for potential impacts on life and safety are “major.”

Where it burned hottest

Soil burn severity is the result of fire progression and intensity. The longer the fire remains in an area, the higher the likelihood of high and moderate soil burn impacts. Areas burned during large runs from the wind-driven fire generally suffered lower soil burn severities due to the fire moving more through the tree canopy than on the ground.

The assessment’s soil burn severity map shows the area around the starting point on the west side of the fire near Chambers Lake suffered high soil burn severities. Other high soil severity burn areas occurred north of the Colorado State University Mountain Campus east into the Buckhorn Road area and in the northern section of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Thompson Zone of the East Troublesome Fire that burned over the Continental Divide to near Estes Park burned mostly in the low to moderate category.

Most of the fire’s rapid growth was driven by high winds usually preceding precipitation events, mostly snow. The map shows the area to the east of the fire’s initial starting point suffered low soil burn severities during such an event.

Cameron Peak Soil Burn Severity map. Map credit: Roosevelt National Forest

Community Agricultural Alliance: 6 critical concepts all Coloradans should know about #water

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

Here’s a guest column from Patrick Stanko that’s running in the Steamboat Pilot & Today:

Do you know the critical water concepts? The Colorado State Water Education plan has identified six critical concepts that all Coloradans should understand about water.

The first concept is “The physical and chemical properties of water are unique and constant.” The physical properties of H2O are unique because its molecular structure gives rise to surface tension. The solid form of water, the white stuff so important to our community, is less dense than the liquid form allowing it to float.

The second concept states, “Water is essential for life, our economy and a key component of healthy ecosystems.” As we all know, there would be no life without water, and the ecosystems need clean water to survive. But the Routt County economy, both recreational and agricultural, depends upon water.

The Yampa Valley receives most of its water in the form of snow, the basin’s biggest reservoir, which is used by the recreational industry to ski and play on. When the spring melt happens, that water is used by agriculture to irrigate and produce the lush green hay fields we all have grown accustomed to, and of course, the river is used for fishing, boating and tubing.

The third and fourth concepts are “Water is a scarce resource, limited and variable” and “The quality and quantity of water, and the timing of its availability, are all directly impacted by human actions and natural events.” One only has to compare the last two years to see how variable and scarce water is in Colorado.

s the weather becomes drier and more variable and the population of Colorado continues to grow, water will become scarer. An update by the Colorado Water Plan predicts that the municipal and industrial gap in water supply will be in the range of 250,000 to 750,000 acre-feet of water annually. As a reference, the Dillon Reservoir holds approximately 250,000-acre feet.

The fifth concept is “Water cycles naturally through Colorado’s watersheds, often intercepted and manipulated through an extensive infrastructure system built by people.” Again, the biggest reservoir and storage of water in the Yampa Valley is snow.

In the spring the snow melts, some of the water returns to the atmosphere via sublimation, evaporation or transpiration. If the soil is dry, then most of the water will seep back into the ground filling the aquifers. The water that makes it to the river is used by the agriculture community to irrigate meadows for grazing and crops. Water is also captured in reservoirs, like Fish Creek Reservoir, that supplies Steamboat Springs with drinking water.

The sixth concept states “Water is a public resource governed by water law.” Colorado has a long doctrine of water laws dating back to the 1860s. A water right allows one to put a public resource to beneficial use as well as a place in line, where the junior water right may be curtailed to meet the needs of the senior water right, “first in time, first in right.”

For more information about critical water facts please see the Water Education Colorado SWEAP website at https://www.cowateredplan.org/ or the Colorado Water Plan formed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board at https://cowaterplan.colorado.gov/. And for information on the local water issues, visit Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable at https://yampawhitegreen.com.

Patrick Stanko wrote this column on behalf of the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable public education participation and outreach coordinator.

#Drought news (January 6, 2020): #AnimasRiver shatters all-time record low flow based on 109 years of data — The #Durango Herald #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

1913 record is broken amid prolonged drought

Records show the Animas River recently broke the all-time low flow set on the water gauge behind the Powerhouse Science Center, which has collected data for 109 years.

The previous record low flow at the U.S. Geological Survey’s water gauge was set March 2, 1913, when the Animas River was running at 94 cubic feet per second…

On Dec. 21, flows on the Animas dipped below 94 cfs and continued to fall. At its lowest point, the river was running at 79.6 cfs on Christmas Day, as well as the day after.

As of Tuesday, the Animas was running around 120 cfs, nearly half the historic average on the more than century-old water gauge.

“It’s one of the oldest gauges in Southwest Colorado,” said Steve Harris, with Harris Water Engineering…

A few years ago, the USGS, looking to cut costs, floated the idea of decommissioning the gauge by the Powerhouse Science Center. In response, local stakeholders banded together to form a partnership to help with funding…

The fact the Animas recorded an all-time record low in 109 years of records is a testament to the prolonged drought hitting the region.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. Drought Monitor had Southwest Colorado listed in an “exceptional” drought – the highest category of drought…

West Drought Monitor December 29, 2020.

And snowpack, so far, in Southwest Colorado is behind – federal records show snowpack is just 74% of historic averages as of Tuesday.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 4, 2021 via the NRCS.