#Drought news (January 14, 2021): Improvements were made in S.E. #Colorado, where widespread precipitation, which was near to above-average for the entire month

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

Storms continued to take aim at the Pacific Northwest this week, bringing multiple rounds of heavy rain along the coast and lower elevations, and snow to the mountains. Many locations along the coast have measured rain nearly every day this year. While the heaviest rains fell outside of most of the region’s current drought areas, parts of western Oregon have received 125% to 300% of normal precipitation since the beginning of the year, helping to chip away at long-term drought conditions. A winter storm brought snow to Rockies and eastern New Mexico before moving eastward. Several locations from far southeastern New Mexico into western, central and eastern Texas, northern Louisiana and Mississippi were blanketed by at least 6 inches of snow. Dryness continued to deteriorate conditions in locations such as Southern California, south-central Oregon, north-central Kansas, and south Texas. In all, the percent area of the Lower 48 experiencing moderate drought or worse stands at 44.85%, down from 45.76% last week…

High Plains

Like the upper Midwest, much of the High Plains experienced relatively warm, dry conditions. Temperatures ranged from 4 degrees above normal in north-central Kansas to more 20 degrees above normal in north-central Minnesota. These conditions led to expansions of moderate drought (D1) in northeast Wyoming and western North Dakota and in north-central Kansas as precipitation deficits continued to build and soil moisture decreased. The only improvements were made in southeast Colorado, where widespread precipitation, which was near to above-average for the entire month, lessened precipitation deficits and replenished soil moisture…

West

While the Pacific Northwest saw continued wet weather, the Southwest remained dry. One-category improvements were made in west Oregon, where 125% to 300% of normal precipitation has fallen since the beginning of the year. This has led to improvements in streamflow and groundwater. East of the Cascades, water year-to-date precipitation is well below normal, resulting in extremely low streamflows and degradations to exceptional (D3) drought in south-central Oregon. In the Southwest, moderate (D2) and extreme (D3) drought expanded in central California where water year-to-date precipitation is less than 25% of normal. With the exception of an expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) in northern Montana, the rest of the West remained unchanged. Once again, many state drought teams noted that in areas where rain and snow fell, it wasn’t enough to increase moisture availability. In areas where it didn’t, such as the Southwest, the conditions either didn’t yet warrant additional degradations or, because they were already in exceptional drought (D4), could not be degraded further. Snowpack and snow-water equivalent are well below normal and soils are dry. Ranchers have noted that natural forage is insufficient or depleted…

South

The South was hit with another winter storm this week, spreading rain and snow from Texas to Mississippi. Widespread snow fell across much of East Texas and northern Louisiana, with totals generally ranging from 2 to 5 inches, with isolated higher amounts near 6 inches across portions of deep East Texas and west-central Louisiana. As a result, one-category improvements were made across much of the state. The rain and snow even helped chip away at the extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4) areas inthe western part of the state as soil moisture and groundwater began to improve. Drought conditions deteriorated in far South Texas, which has experienced warmer than normal temperatures, combined with rainfall less than 25% of normal over the last 90 days. To the east, rain and snow helped improve parts of the abnormally dry areas in southwest Arkansas and central Mississippi…

Looking Ahead

The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center forecast for the remainder of the week calls for snow across the Upper Midwest. Widespread precipitation is also forecast in New England this weekend, which is likely to fall as rain along the coast and snow through the interior. Areas of ongoing drought in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho are forecast to remain dry into the middle of next week. Looking farther ahead to Jan. 19-23, the Climate Prediction Center Outlooks favor colder than normal temperatures in the western Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, as well as other parts of the West. Warmer than normal temperatures are expected in roughly the eastern half of the Lower 48. The greatest chances for above-normal precipitation are in eastern Montana, northeast Wyoming, and adjacent western North Dakota and South Dakota, and from southeast Texas through northwest Georgia. The Pacific Coast, as well as much of inland central and northern California, Oregon, and Washington, are favored to receive below-normal precipitation, as are south Florida and northern New England.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 12, 2021.

Report: Ex-#Michigan governor Rick Snyder to face criminal charges in #Flint water crisis — The Washington Post

From The Washington Post (Kim Bellware and Brady Dennis):

Former Michigan governor Rick Snyder (R) and several former officials are expected to be indicted in connection with the 2014 Flint water crisis that led to at least 12 deaths and dozens of illnesses in the predominantly Black city, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Snyder, his former health department director Nick Lyon and former adviser Rich Baird were among those notified by the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) of the pending indictments and advised to expect imminent court dates, the AP reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the prosecution.

The nature of the criminal charges were not immediately clear.

Randall L. Levine, an attorney representing Baird, confirmed in a statement to the Post Tuesday that authorities notified him this week about indictments. He said Baird “will be facing charges stemming from his work helping to restore safe drinking water for all residents and faith in the community where he grew up.” But he added that Baird had not yet “been made aware of what the charges are, or how they are related to his position with former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s administration.”

[…]

Nessel’s office dropped all criminal charges in the case in 2019, shortly after she took office, effectively restarting the probe.

Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician whose research in 2015 first documented dangerously high lead levels in children’s blood, welcomed news of the reported charges.

“As a pediatrician privileged to care for our Flint children, I have increasingly come to understand that accountability and justice are critical to health and recovery,” Hanna-Attisha told The Post in a text message Tuesday. “Without justice, it’s impossible to heal the scars of the crisis.”

Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at the Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint, warned that while the news was a salve for the many families whose lives had been affected by the poisoned water, criminal charges are only part of the story…

“Residents of Flint were repeatedly told they were crazy. They were belittled. They were harmed by the water physically, emotionally,” Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said in an interview Tuesday. “I’ve always said that I think criminal charges are important, because I think it’s criminal what happened to my town.”

Ananich emphasized that he doesn’t know the extent of the charges expected later this week, but he does hope they send a clear message: “No person, no politician, no one is above the law.”
For Flint families who continue to live with the irreversible effects of the tainted water, Tuesday’s news symbolized a level of vindication.

“I can’t believe it,” Gina Luster, a Flint community activist, told The Post in a message. “Finally, after 7 years of fighting for justice.”

#NavajoNation, #NewMexico reach settlements over #GoldKingMine spill — The #Colorado Sun

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From The Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Colorado Sun:

Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million

The Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice announced Wednesday it has settled with mining companies to resolve claims stemming from a 2015 spill that resulted in rivers in three western states being fouled with a bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

Under the settlement with the Navajo Nation, Sunnyside Gold Corp. — a subsidiary of Canada’s Kinross Gold — will pay the tribe $10 million…

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

The tribe said the toxic water coursed through 200 miles (322 kilometers) of river on Navajo lands…

The tribe’s claims against the EPA and its contractors remain pending. About 300 individual tribal members also have claims pending as part of a separate lawsuit…

The state of New Mexico also confirmed Wednesday that it has reached a settlement with the mining companies. Under that agreement, $10 million will be paid to New Mexico for environmental response costs and lost tax revenue and $1 million will go to Office of the Natural Resources Trustee for injuries to New Mexico’s natural resources…

The settlement was not an admission of liability or wrongdoing, but Sunnyside agreed to it “as a matter of practicality to eliminate the costs and resources needed to continue to defend against ongoing litigation,” Myers said in an email…

In August, the U.S. government settled a lawsuit brought by the state of Utah for a fraction of what that state was initially seeking in damages.

In that case, the EPA agreed to fund $3 million in Utah clean water projects and spend $220 million of its own money to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah.

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

After the spill, the EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area a Superfund cleanup district. The agency still reviewing options for a broader cleanup.

From the Land Desk newsletter (Jonathan Thompson):

Whether the company [Kinross] is at all culpable for the spill is a question the courts have yet to answer. But there is definitely a connection, both hydrological and historical.

Here’s the short(ish) bulleted explanation:

  • The Gold King Mine workings are on one side of Bonita Peak (in the Cement Creek drainage) and the Sunnyside Mine workings are on the other side of Bonita Peak (in the Eureka Creek drainage). If you look at the two mines in a cross-section of the peak, they sit side-by-side, separated by a lot of rock.
  • In the early 1900s the owners of the Gold King started drilling the American Tunnel straight into Bonita Peak below the Gold King. The plan was then to link up with the Gold King in order to provide easier access. More than one mile of tunnel was dug, but the link was never completed, prior to the Gold King’s shutdown in the 1920s.
  • Photographic and other evidence suggests that prior to the construction of the American Tunnel, water drained from the Gold King Mine. However, after the tunnel’s construction the mine was said to be dry, suggesting that the tunnel hijacked the hydrology of the Gold King.
  • In 1959 Standard Metals continued drilling the American Tunnel through the mountain in order to provide a better access (from the Cement Creek side) to the then-defunct Sunnyside Mine.
  • After the Sunnyside shut down, the parent company at the time (Echo Bay), reached an agreement with the state to plug the American Tunnel with huge bulkheads to stop or slow acid mine drainage. They placed three bulkheads, one at the edge of the workings of the Sunnyside Mine (1996), one just inside the opening of the American Tunnel (2003), and another in between (2001).
  • Shortly after the bulkheads were placed, the Gold King ceased being a “dry” mine, and drainage resumed, eventually flowing at more than 250 gallons per minute. After the ceiling of the adit collapsed, water began backing up behind it until it was finally released in one catastrophic swoop in August 2015.
  • It seems pretty clear that one or more of the bulkheads caused water to back up inside the mountain and enter the Gold King Mine workings, eventually leading to the blowout. At this point, however, no one knows which bulkhead is the culprit, so no one knows whether the water is coming from the Sunnyside mine pool, or whether it is actually coming from the part of the American Tunnel that is still on Gold King property. Until that is determined, the root cause of the Gold King blowout will remain a mystery.

    For the longer explanation of the Gold King saga, read my book, River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. And for more maps showing the relationship between the Sunnyside and the Gold King, check out my River of Lost Souls reading guide.

    Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Dry Conditions Persist — NRCS #Colorado Snow Survey

    Click here to read the release (Brian Domonkos):

    The 2021 water year is off to a slow start. As of January 1st, 2021, Colorado year-to-date mountain snowpack and precipitation was 83% and 70% of normal respectively. For comparison, the at this time last year snowpack and precipitation were 119% and 92% of normal, respectively. “Persistent dry conditions maintain a firm hold on Colorado, not only in the new water year, but extending back into 2020”, states Brian Domonkos, Snow Survey Supervisor for the USDA NRCS Colorado Snow Survey Program. The 2020 water year, ending on September 30th, 2020, finished on a record dry note. According to the SNOTEL network across the state of Colorado, August and September 2020 combined precipitation totaled the lowest in the 36-year period of record. Adding to the drought, October precipitation across Colorado was 47% of average. Domonkos goes on to say, “These dry fall and late summer conditions will impact spring 2021 runoff in similar ways that dry conditions at the end of 2019 impacted water supplies in 2020.”

    Near normal snowpack and reservoir storage leading into the spring of 2020 helped Colorado stave off significant runoff shortages. However, this year’s snowpack is below normal, as is reservoir storage across the state which sets up a potentially drier situation than last year. Due to below normal precipitation late this past summer streamflow currently remain low and subsequently reservoirs will see little recharge this winter. Currently statewide reservoir storage is at 82% of average.

    There is a bright spot in the state. Over the last few years, the Rio Grande has been quite dry, but this year boasts the best snowpack in the state. The basin currently has 114% of median snowpack, driving streamflow forecasts to indicate a considerable chance of near normal streamflow runoff this spring and summer. These same near normal snowpack conditions also extend into portions of the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains draining to Southern Arkansas and Upper San Juan River Basins which currently have a better chance of near normal streamflow come spring.

    Currently, water supplies this spring and summer are projected to range from just above normal in parts of the Rio Grande, to around half the normal runoff in the Gunnison as well as in the combined Yampa- White-North Platte basins. These water supply projections assume near normal future precipitation. Domonkos remains optimistic, “With slightly more than half of the snowpack accumulation season remaining there is potential for snowpack to improve.”

    For more detailed information about January 1 mountain snowpack refer to the January 1, 2021 Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report. For the most up to date information about Colorado snowpack and water supply related information, refer to the Colorado Snow Survey website.