#Colorado’s statewide #drought “pretty dire.” It’ll take more than a season’s snowfall to get out of it — The Colorado Sun #snowpack (January 8, 2021)

From The Colorado Sun (Lucy Haggard):

Rehydrating would require at least 10 to 20 inches of good precipitation in the next 6 months, but this season’s snow totals are already well behind normal

More than a quarter of the state is in the worst level of drought, and with snowpack significantly below what’s expected this time of year — especially on the Western Slope — scientists are warning that it will take more than just a big snowstorm to alleviate this dry spell.

Colorado has been in drought to varying degrees since August, and this week is no different. Thursday’s U.S. Drought Monitor report found that all of Colorado is in at least “moderate” drought — the second lowest drought category — with 27.6% classified in the most intense category of “exceptional.” The past five weeks of reports have maintained that 27.6% figure; there hasn’t been less than a quarter of the state in “exceptional” drought since eight weeks ago.

US Drought Monitor June 25, 2002.

The last time Colorado saw drought this widespread was in 2002. On one hand, it’s good that the state’s drought status isn’t getting worse; on the other hand, it’s also not improving, and likely won’t anytime soon…

Colorado Drought Monitor January 5, 2021.

Much of Colorado’s water supply is banked up in winter snow, which, to be comparable in analyses, is converted to a liquid water equivalent. In a normal year, Colorado would have accumulated about 45% of its “normal” snowpack by now. Right now, the state has about 35% of its expected snowpack for the year, according to Karl Wetlaufer, hydrologist with the National Resources Conservation Service. Some areas are faring better than others, but across the board, the state is into month four of a concerningly dry water year.

Colorado snowpack basin-filled map January 8, 2021 via the NRCS.

It’s not just that the state isn’t getting much precipitation now; Colorado hasn’t had good precipitation for a long time. Nearly half of the NRCS snow telemetry sites saw their record lowest or second lowest precipitation measures on record from May to October last year, [Karl] Wetlaufer said. The telemetry sites have collected data for three to four decades, depending on the location.

“The drought situation now is pretty dire,” Wetlaufer said.

Even if the state meets or exceeds its snow-water-equivalent totals sometime this season, Wetlaufer noted that the lack of precipitation last year means that this year’s runoff will almost certainly be below average. Already, rivers across the state are reporting record-low streamflows.

A few factors influence how much water runs off into rivers and streams. For one, if soils are dry as they are now, any water that either melts from snow or falls from rain will first go into the ground, with soil soaking it up like a sponge. Plants will also absorb water as it falls or melts until they are satisfied, and right now the state’s vegetation is parched.

The ramifications of the current drought are wide-reaching, according to Wetlaufer; agricultural land is degrading, reservoirs are low, and scant stream flows are putting some wildlife and plant species at risk. The state recently activated its municipal drought response for the second time ever, after activating the agricultural portion of the plan last summer.

Based on the PHDI. PHDI is a primary measure of long-term drought but may not apply to all areas, including those with heavily managed surface water. No additional precipitation is needed for white areas. Map credit: NOAA (Screenshot)

It will take a lot to pull the state out of drought. According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration model, the state needs at least 10 inches of water-equivalent precipitation, and almost 20 inches on the Western Slope, in the next six months to emerge from its current drought.

It remains to be seen whether a good spring snow season is in the cards, but Wetlaufer said, “from all the outlooks I’ve seen, it’s not looking incredibly encouraging.”

January 7, 2021 Water Supply Forecast Discussion — #ColoradoRiver Basin Forecast Center #COriver #aridification

Upper Colorado, Great, Virgin River Basins: Jan 2021 April-July forecast volumes as a percent of 1981-2010 average (50% exceedance probability forecast).
Lower Colorado Basin (AZ/NM): 2021 January-May forecast volumes as a percent of 1981-2010 median (50% exceedance probability forecast).

Click here to read the forecast:

Water Supply Forecast Summary
Early January water supply volume forecasts are below to much below average throughout the Colorado River Basin and Great Basin. Upper Colorado River Basin water supply forecasts generally range between 40-80% of the 1981-2010 historical April-July average. Great Basin water supply forecasts are less favorable at 40-65% of average. Lower Colorado River Basin January-May water supply runoff volumes are fairing the worst at 10-40% of the historical median. Water supply forecast ranges by basin:

Water year 2021 is off to a poor start over much of the region with below to much below normal precipitation. Many SNOTEL sites in the Colorado River and Great Basins are below the 20th percentile for water year precipitation. In addition, the period from April-December was one of the driest on record. As a result, antecedent soil moisture conditions entering the winter are worse compared to a year ago due to record low April-October precipitation across the region and a below average runoff last spring. Modeled soil moisture is generally in the bottom five across the Upper Colorado over the 1981-2020 40-year period.

Much below average October precipitation across the region resulted in a slow start to the high elevation snow accumulation season. Early January snow water equivalent (SWE) conditions are below to much below normal (median) throughout the CBRFC forecast area. Given the dry conditions, an above normal snowpack or a wet spring will be needed to see near average water supply volumes.

April-July unregulated inflow forecasts for some of the major reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin include Fontenelle 460 KAF (63% average), Flaming Gorge 585 KAF (60%), Green Mountain 190 KAF (69%), Blue Mesa 470 KAF (70%), McPhee 170 KAF (58%), and Navajo 450 KAF (61%). The Lake Powell inflow forecast is 3.8 MAF (53% of average).

Water Supply Discussion

December Precipitation

The precipitation in December was mostly below to well below normal over much of the Colorado River Basin and Great Basin. The first 10 days of the month were exceptionally dry as a strong ridge was located across the Intermountain West. A weak storm system brought modest precipitation amounts to the Lower Basin and into southwest Colorado on December 10-11. A more significant storm system moved across southern Utah and Colorado on December 28, producing over 1.5 inches of precipitation in the San Juans and widespread 0.5-1.0 inches across the rest of the Colorado mountains. The higher amounts with this system resulted in near normal monthly precipitation for the headwaters of the San Juan/Gunnison basins.

December 2020 percent of normal precipitation. (Averaged by basins defined in the CBRFC hydrologic model)

Water Year Precipitation

The water year precipitation can be used as a good indicator of early season water supply conditions. The 2021 water year is off to a rather dismal start over much of the region with below to well below normal precipitation. In fact, many of the SNOTELs in the Colorado River and Great Basins are below the 20th percentile for water year precipitation. In addition, the period from April-December was one of the driest on record. As a result of the prolonged period of below normal precipitation since last spring, drought conditions continue to worsen across much of the region.

Water Year 2021 percent of​ normal precipitation. (Averaged by basins defined in the CBRFC hydrologic model)
West Drought Monitor January 5, 2021 showing Extreme to Exceptional Drought covering an extensive area of the Colorado River and Great Basins.


U.S. Drought Monitor showing Extreme to Exceptional Drought covering an extensive area of the Colorado River and Great Basins.

Much below average October precipitation across the region resulted in a slow start to the high elevation snow accumulation season. As of early January, snow water equivalent (SWE) conditions are below to much below normal (median) throughout the CBRFC forecast area. Snowpack conditions generally range from 60-80% of the 1981-2010 historical median across the Upper Colorado River Basin. While the majority of SNOTEL sites are reporting below normal SWE conditions, there are a few SNOTEL stations reporting near to above normal snow conditions scattered throughout the region, most notably in the Upper Green River Basin near the Utah/Wyoming/Idaho border and the headwaters of the San Juan River Basin in southwest Colorado. SWE above Lake Powell is around 75% of normal.

Early January Great Basin snow conditions are well below normal and generally range between 50-70% of the historical median. Lower Colorado River Basin SWE conditions are very poor at 5-40% of median. It should be noted that snowpack conditions in the Lower Colorado River Basin are more variable and tend to fluctuate more frequently over time.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 7, 2021 via the NRCS.

Soil Moisture

CBRFC hydrologic model soil moisture states are adjusted in the fall after the irrigation season and prior to the winter snowpack accumulation to accurately reflect observed baseflow conditions. CBRFC model fall soil moisture conditions impact early season water supply forecasts and potentially the efficiency of spring runoff. Above average fall soil moisture conditions have a positive impact on early season water supply forecasts while below average conditions have a negative impact. The impacts are most pronounced when soil moisture conditions and snowpack conditions are both much above or much below average.

Modeled soil moisture conditions as of November 15th were below average across the entire Upper Colorado River Basin and Great Basin. Hydrologic model soil moisture conditions entering the winter are worse compared to a year ago due to record low April-October precipitation across the region and a below average runoff last spring. Modeled soil moisture is generally in the bottom five of the 1981-2020 40-year period across the Upper Colorado. San Juan and Dolores basin soil moisture conditions fall in the bottom three with some areas being record dry. Two consecutive years of poor monsoon seasons have exacerbated the dry conditions in southwest Colorado.

It is not often that such widespread poor soil moisture conditions exist across the region. Similar, but not as poor conditions, existed in the fall of 2002, 2012, and 2018. To produce average runoff, an above normal snowpack or a wet spring will likely be needed to overcome these large soil moisture deficits…

Comparison of November 2019 (left) and November 2020 (right) CBRFC hydrologic model soil moisture conditions entering the winter season.

Upcoming Weather

A ridge of high pressure will dominate the weather pattern through the middle of next week. As such, there will be a lack of significant storms to impact the region. A weak storm system is forecasted to move across Utah/Colorado on Saturday, with only light precipitation amounts (generally less than a half inch). Thus, we continue to be locked into an anomalous ridge pattern with another mostly dry week ahead for the Colorado River and Great Basins.

While there is somewhat more uncertainty looking ahead to the third week of January, the weather models suggest that general ridging will remain in place over much of the Western U.S. There is some indication that storm systems will begin to clip the Upper Green and Upper Colorado basins in northwesterly flow. However, drier than normal conditions are favored for much of the Utah and the Lower Colorado region. With little indication of a significant change to a wetter pattern through at least the third week of January, it is likely that ESP water supply volume guidance will decrease in the next few weeks over much of the region.

The #Climate Emergency: 2020 in Review — Scientific American #ActOnClimate

March for Science, Denver, Colorado, April 22, 2017

Here’s an in-depth look at 2020 and the climate emergency from William J. Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, William R. Moomaw that’s running in Scientific American. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The climate emergency has arrived and is accelerating more rapidly than most scientists anticipated, and many of them are deeply concerned. The adverse effects of climate change are much more severe than expected, and now threaten both the biosphere and humanity. There is mounting evidence linking increases in extreme weather frequency and intensity to climate change. The year 2020, one of the hottest years on record, also saw extraordinary wildfire activity in the Western United States and Australia, a Siberian heat wave with record high temperatures exceeding 38 degrees C (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) within the Arctic circle, a record low for October Arctic sea ice extent of 2.04 million square miles, an Atlantic hurricane season resulting in more than $46 billion in damage, and deadly floods and landslides in South Asia that displaced more than 12 million people.

Every effort must be made to reduce emissions and increase removals of atmospheric carbon in order to restore the melting Arctic and end the deadly cycle of damage that the current climate is delivering. Scientists now find that catastrophic climate change could render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable consequent to continued high emissions, self-reinforcing climate feedback loops and looming tipping points. To date, 1,859 jurisdictions in 33 countries have issued climate emergency declarations covering more than 820 million people.

In January 2020, we warned of untold human suffering in a report titled World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from 153 countries at time of publication. As an Alliance of World Scientists, we continue to collect signatures from scientists, with now more than 13,700 signatories. In our paper, we presented graphs showing vital signs of very troubling climate change trends with little progress by humanity.

Based on these trends and scientists’ moral obligation to “clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat” and to “tell it like it is,” we declared a climate emergency and proposed policy suggestions. We called for transformative change with six steps involving energy, short-lived air pollutants, nature, food, economy and population. A short video discussion by thought leaders on the six steps is now available (see below).

Here, we investigate progress for these six steps during 2020. We have seen a few promising developments on energy, nature and food. Impressively, the European Union is on track to meet its emissions reduction goal for 2020 and become zero net carbon by 2050; however, this goal will still increase temperatures from the damaging levels of today. We are also encouraged by the recent trend of governments committing to zero net carbon, including China by 2060 and Japan by 2050. Similar pledges have been made by the United Kingdom, many subnational governments and some corporations, although there is mounting evidence that a 2050 or later target may be inadequate and net zero carbon should be reached much earlier, for example, by 2030.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged that the U.S. will rejoin the Paris agreement and proposed a $2 trillion climate plan to phase down fossil fuels by expanding renewable energy capacity while creating jobs, reducing pollution and investing in historically disadvantaged communities. It is critically important to significantly reduce CO2 emissions while simultaneously increasing carbon accumulation by forests, mangroves, wetlands and other ecosystems. Progress for nature came in the form of the Bonn Challenge to restore forest and other ecosystems, but much more investment is needed in natural climate solutions. Global meat consumption, which must be reduced for climate mitigation, is expected to decline 3 percent this year, largely as a result of COVID-19. While likely a temporary decline, this coincides with increasingly popular meat substitutes; annual U.S. sales are projected to reach $1 billion in 2020.

Although lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a decrease in CO2 emissions of 7 percent in 2020, this reduction is unlikely to be long-lived because there has been no major concurrent shift in the way we produce energy. This drop in emissions was a tiny blip compared to the cumulative buildup of greenhouse gases, which has led to all five of the hottest years on record occurring since 2015. In fact, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 continued to rise rapidly in 2020 reaching a record high in September. COVID-19 also led to a one year postponement of the COP26 United Nations climate change conference, after the 2019 failure of the COP25 conference to make meaningful progress. We are concerned that no major industrialized country is on track to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, the target of the Paris Agreement. Instead, the actions of many wealthy countries—including the U.S. —are consistent with greater than three degrees C warming. Unfortunately, progress in 2020 has also been limited in the areas of short-lived air pollutants, the economy and population.

As we move into 2021 and beyond, we need a massive-scale mobilization to address the climate crisis, including much more progress on the six steps of climate change mitigation. Key actions for each step include the following:

  • Energy. Swiftly phasing out fossil fuels is a top priority. This can be achieved through a multipronged strategy based on rapidly transitioning to low-carbon renewables such as solar and wind power, implementing massive conservation practices, and imposing carbon fees high enough to curtail the use of fossil fuels.
  • Short-lived pollutants. Quickly cutting emissions of methane, black carbon (soot), hydrofluorocarbons and other short-lived climate pollutants is vital. It can dramatically reduce the short-term rate of warming, which may otherwise be difficult to affect. Specific actions to address short-lived pollutants include reducing methane emissions from landfills and the energy sector (methane), promoting improved clean cookstoves (soot) and developing better refrigerant options and management (hydrofluorocarbons).
  • Nature. We must restore and protect natural ecosystems such as forests, mangroves, wetlands and grasslands, allowing these ecosystems to reach their ecological potential for sequestering carbon dioxide. The logging of the Amazon, tropical forests in Southeast Asia, and other rainforests including the proposed cutting in the Tongass National Forest of Alaska is especially devastating to the climate. Creation of new protected areas, including strategic forest carbon reserves, should be a top priority. Payment for ecosystem services programs offer an equitable way for wealthier nations to help protect natural ecosystems.
  • Food. A dietary shift toward eating more plant-based foods and consuming fewer animal products, especially beef, would significantly reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases. It would also free up agricultural lands for growing human food and, potentially, reforestation (“Nature” step). Relevant policy actions include minimizing tillage to maximize soil carbon, cutting livestock subsidies and supporting research and development of environmentally friendly meat substitutes. Reducing food waste is also critical, given that at least one third of all food produced is wasted.
  • Economy. We must transition to a carbon-free economy that reflects our dependence on the biosphere. Exploitation of ecosystems for profit absolutely must be halted for long-term sustainability. While this is a broad, holistic step involving ecological economics, there are specific actions that support this transition. Examples include cutting subsidies to and divesting from the fossil fuel industry.
  • Population. The global human population, growing by more than 200,000 people per day, must be stabilized and gradually reduced using approaches that ensure social and economic justice such as supporting education for all girls and women, and increasing the availability of voluntary family planning services.
  • @EPA orders access to water treatment plant north of Silverton — The #Durango Herald

    The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    The water treatment plant, however, is located on a site known as Gladstone, about 8 miles north of Silverton up County Road 110, owned by the same person who owns the Gold King Mine, Todd Hennis.

    Hennis, an entrepreneur based in Golden, has long had an interest in the mines that dot the San Juan Mountains around Silverton, and over the years, has been buying up old mine sites with the hopes of revamping the industry…

    After the spill, Hennis agreed to let the EPA use the Gladstone property for a temporary water treatment plant, albeit somewhat begrudgingly.

    “When the Gold King event happened, I gave the keys to (the EPA) for Gladstone, and said ‘Go ahead, use anything, just return it after you’re done,’” Hennis said in October 2015. “That rapidly changed into having the hell torn out of my land.”

    The water treatment plant continues to operate to this day, and is seen by some invested in the cleanup of mines around Silverton as a possible long-term solution to improving water quality in the Animas River.

    Since 2015, the EPA has operated on the Gladstone property through a “general access order,” though the agency has not paid Hennis for use of the land, said EPA spokeswoman Katherine Jenkins.

    The EPA has, however, worked for years to come to a long-term lease agreement with Hennis that would include payments for use of the land based on fair market value, but those efforts have not been successful.

    “Mr. Hennis has declined EPA’s multiple requests for long-term access and has rejected a long-term lease agreement for EPA’s use of the Gladstone property,” Jenkins said.

    Because, in part, of the resources and staff time required to send Hennis monthly general access orders, the EPA on Jan. 6 sent him an “administrative order” that requires him to give the EPA full access to the Gladstone property.

    An administrative order, according to the EPA website, is an enforcement tool under the Superfund program.

    “We want to have consistent access to the water treatment plant so we can maintain and provide water treatment, that’s the reasoning,” Jenkins said.

    When contacted, Hennis said, “I cannot comment on this development, other than to say the EPA currently has access to the site.”

    Indeed, Jenkins said that while Hennis has refused to come to a long-term lease agreement, he has not blocked access to the site.

    The long-term future of the water treatment plant is an issue high atop the list of priorities in the Superfund around Silverton, known as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    Some local officials and members of the public have called to expand the operating capacity of the plant to take in discharges from other mines around Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.

    But questions have loomed about this prospect, namely who would be financially on the hook to operate the plant in perpetuity.

    But for Hennis, all this is a moot point. He’s still adamant that there are plenty of metals, like gold and tellurium, to be mined in the mountains around Silverton.

    “Some of you have government pensions to rely on when you retire,” Hennis said at a public meeting in October 2015. “My retirement is Gladstone. Sitting here, listening to people say Gladstone would make a perfect site for a remediation laboratory, having my land cavalierly dealt with, is not a happy feeling.

    “I know you wouldn’t want your backyard or your retirement stolen from you,” he continued. “This is not going to happen. I’ve tried to be very reasonable.”

    The EPA’s Jenkins said the administrative order would terminate if a lease agreement is signed or if access to the property is no longer needed by the EPA to conduct response activities at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    A snapshot from the journey of water: Geneva Creek – News on TAP

    Even in the depths of winter, water flows. This creek flows along a trail above U.S. Highway 285. The water in it will eventually reach Denver.

    Source: A snapshot from the journey of water: Geneva Creek – News on TAP