#Drought news: No change in depiction for #Colorado

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

In contrast to the prior week, most of the country had a relatively dry week, with the significant exception of the Pacific Northwest and northern Intermountain West. Amounts over 1.5 inches were common, with parts of the Cascades and the coastline recording 4 to as much as 8 inches of precipitation. Elsewhere, most of New England had moderate precipitation, with over 1.5 inches falling on southern Maine and adjacent New Hampshire. Areas from the upper Midwest eastward through the Great Lakes Region and lower Northeast recorded 0.25 to locally 1.0 inch, but the entire remainder of the nation received little or none. But given the time of year, the dry week did not lead to widespread deterioration. Most areas did not change, and significant improvement was limited to the Pacific Northwest…

High Plains

Similar to conditions in other regions, little or no precipitation was observed this week, outside parts of eastern North Dakota. Almost the entire region was unchanged compared to last week keeping most areas intact. Exceptions were found in eastern North Dakota, where light precipitation was sufficient to reduce the extent of D2 conditions. Farther west, small areas of deterioration were noted in north-central Wyoming (to D1) and the west-central Dakotas (deteriorating to D1-D2)…

West

In stark contrast to areas farther east and south, heavy precipitation was dropped on parts of the Pacific Northwest and the northern Intermountain West. Much of the Idaho Panhandle and adjacent parts of Montana reported heavy precipitation, with the highest elevations measuring up to 4 inches. Farther west, heavy precipitation also soaked the Cascades, and the Pacific Coast from Washington southward to northwestern California. Most of these areas – including lower elevations between the Cascades and the coastal areas – recorded at least 1.5 inches of precipitation while parts of the higher elevations were covered by 4 to locally 8 inches of precipitation. Patches of improvement were introduced as a result, with D3 removed entirely from central Washington, and spotty reductions in the D0 to D3 coverage across Oregon and northwesternmost California. With large sections of the central and southern parts of the West Region already in D3 to D4, not much more deterioration can be introduced, but a few small areas deteriorated enough to be reflected on the map, specifically north-central Utah (to D2), interior northeastern Utah (to D4), and southeasternmost New Mexico along the Mexican border (to D4)…

South

Little or no precipitation fell region-wide, leading to a few areas of deterioration in southern and western Texas. D2 to D4 conditions have become entrenched. Meanwhile, the dry weather led to the introduction of abnormal dryness through much of Tennessee and large sections of Mississippi. Smaller areas developed in Arkansas and Louisiana. Since mid-October 2020, between 4 and 8 inches less precipitation than normal in a swath from northeastern Louisiana through northwestern Mississippi and western Tennessee…

Looking Ahead

The most significant weather for the next 5 days (January 21-26, 2021) will be widespread heavy precipitation across the Southeast. Between 1.5 and 4.0 inches are forecast from eastern Texas through southern Alabama and northern Georgia. Light to moderate amounts should dampen the rest of the Southeast. Farther west, from the central and southern Rockies to the California Coast, significant precipitation will fall on the higher elevations. Most of the mountains are expecting 1 to 3 inches. The rest of the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest are expecting 0.5 to 2.5 inches. Elsewhere, light to moderate precipitation of up to 0.5 inch is forecast for the upper Midwest, and little none is expected over the Northeast, High Plains, and the remainder of the Midwest and Great Pains.

The 6-10 day CPC extended range outlook (January 27-31, 2021) favors surplus precipitation from the Rockies to the West Coast, most of the Midwest, and part of the interior Southeast. Much of Alaska is also expecting above-normal precipitation. Meanwhile, the odds favor subnormal precipitation across Florida, in the Northeast and Ohio Valley, southern Plains, and eastern Montana. Meanwhile, cooler than normal weather is anticipated in the Northeast, the middle Atlantic States, and a broad area from the Rockies to the West Coast. In contrast, enhanced chances for above-normal temperatures cover roughly the southeastern quarter of the country.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 19, 2021.

Tanya Trujillo named Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej , a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River, in pink.

Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

The Department of the Interior today announced key members of agency leadership who will advance the Biden-Harris administration’s agenda to build back better and address the four intersecting challenges of our time: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change.

“With today’s announcement, President Biden is delivering on his commitment to build teams that exude talent and experience, and look like America,” said Jennifer Van der Heide, incoming Chief of Staff. “We look forward to working with the dedicated civil servants at the Department to fulfill Interior’s missions, advance President Biden’s vision to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes and uphold the trust and treaty responsibilities to them, address the climate and nature crises, and build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation. We are ready to get to work on behalf of the American people.”

Interior’s team reflects the Biden-Harris commitment to diversity, with more than 80% of First Day appointees identifying as people of color, women, or LGBTQ. Additional members of the Biden-Harris appointee team will be named in the days and weeks to come.

The incoming leadership team possesses a broad range of expertise and perspectives — representing decades of experience in federal, state, and tribal governments; academia; and non-profit and advocacy organizations. As part of the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to the highest ethical standards, all appointees received an initial ethics training today following their swearing-in.

The leadership team is listed here in alphabetical order along with their new role:

  • Robert Anderson, Principal Deputy Solicitor
  • Travis Annatoyn, Deputy Solicitor for Energy and Mineral Resources
  • Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs
  • Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary
  • Laura Daniel Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Land and Minerals Management
  • Shannon Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks
  • Morgan Gray, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – Senate
  • Ruchi Jain, Deputy Solicitor for General Law
  • Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy
  • Marissa Knodel, Advisor, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
  • Shantha Ready Alonso, Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs
  • Paniz Rezaeerod, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – House
  • Melissa Schwartz, Communications Director
  • Janea Scott, Counselor to the Secretary
  • Rachael Taylor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management and Budget
  • Maggie Thompson, White House Liaison
  • Maria (Camille) Touton, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
  • Tanya Trujillo, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science
  • Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff
  • Andrew Wallace, Director of Congressional Affairs
  • Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Biographies of the new team are listed below:

    Robert Anderson, Principal Deputy Solicitor
    Bob Anderson is a law professor with extensive experience in American Indian law, public land, and water law. He is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. He taught at the University of Washington School of Law and directed its Native American Law Center for the past twenty years. For over a decade he has been an annual visiting professor at Harvard Law School. He served as the Associate Solicitor for Indian Affairs and Counselor to the Secretary under Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. He began his career as a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund.

    Travis Annatoyn, Deputy Solicitor for Energy and Mineral Resources
    Travis Annatoyn joins the Department of the Interior from Democracy Forward Foundation, where he represented national and regional conservation organizations in novel challenges to the Trump administration’s environmental agenda. He began his litigation career as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from Columbia University.

    Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs
    Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes most recently served as the Executive Vice President of Community Impact and Engagement at Ho-Chunk, Inc. She previously served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior and as Interim Director of the Bureau of Indian Education. She was also Executive Director of the Indian Legal Program (ILP) at ASU. She received a B.A. from Wayne State College and a J.D. from Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

    Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary
    Tyler Cherry most recently served as Director of Rapid Response for the Biden-Harris Arizona coordinated campaign. Before joining the campaign, Tyler was Director of Public Affairs at the political consulting firm SKDK, where he crafted and executed strategic communications plans for dozens of political, advocacy, corporate, and legal clients. He also previously worked at Media Matters for America as a campaigns associate and researcher. Tyler is a Los Angeles native and graduated from UCLA with a political science degree. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his partner and two exuberant cats.

    Laura Daniel Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Land and Mineral
    Management

    Laura Daniel Davis has more than two decades of experience in the public and non-profit sectors. She served as Chief of Staff to Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar in the Obama administration. She was most recently the Chief of Policy and Advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation.

    Shannon Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks
    Shannon Estenoz most recently was the Chief Operating Officer of The Everglades Foundation. Previously, Shannon served as Interior’s Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives and Executive Director of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Shannon’s twenty four-year career in conservation includes roles with the World Wildlife Fund and the National Parks Conservation Association, and appointments by three Florida Governors including to the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District. Shannon is a fifth generation native of Key West, Florida, and holds degrees in International Affairs and Civil Engineering from Florida State University.

    Morgan Gray, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – Senate
    Morgan Gray has nearly two decades of experience in the Senate and House of Representatives working on climate, energy and environmental policy. Prior to joining the Department, he served as Legislative Director for Senator Edward J. Markey, where he oversaw the Senator’s policy agenda. Morgan previously served as Senator Markey’s Senior Policy Advisor, directing his climate and energy policy, and before that as a senior staffer on the House Natural Resources Committee and on the staff of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Morgan graduated from Pomona College and is originally from Lincoln, Massachusetts.

    Ruchi Jain, Deputy Solicitor for General Law
    Before joining Interior, Ruchi Jain was the Pro Bono Counsel for the Washington, D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Previously, Ruchi served as Special Assistant to President Obama, where she worked with other senior White House officials on federal agency management, Executive Branch nominations, and personnel matters. She held several other roles in the Obama-Biden White House and the Department of Justice. She began her career in private law practice. Ruchi has a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. from Rice University.

    Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy
    Kate Kelly most recently was the Public Lands Director at the Center for American Progress. During the Obama administration, Kate served as senior advisor to then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and also served as communications director on behalf of Secretary Jewell and former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Prior to joining the Interior Department, Kate worked in the U.S. Senate. Kate received her bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and hails from Colorado.

    Marissa Knodel, Advisor, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
    Marissa Knodel is a passionate advocate for climate and environmental justice through a just and equitable transition to a clean energy-based society, and resilient adaptation to a changing climate. As Legislative Counsel with Earthjustice, her area of expertise included federal onshore, offshore, and Arctic oil and gas leasing and regulations. Prior to joining Earthjustice, Marissa managed a campaign at Friends of the Earth to stop new fossil fuel development on federal lands and waters. Marissa holds a dual J.D. and Master of Environmental Management degree from Vermont Law School and the Yale School of the Environment.

    Shantha Ready-Alonso, Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs
    Shantha Ready-Alonso served as Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries, Community Mobilization Manager for NETWORK Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and Director of the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative. Shantha is listed among the 2018 “Grist 50 Fixers” and is the recipient of the 2020 National Council of Churches USA J. Irwin Miller Excellence in Ecumenical Leadership award. Shantha holds a Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Pastoral Studies from Eden Theological Seminary. She did her undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame.

    Paniz Rezaeerod, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – House
    Paniz Rezaeerod previously served on the staff of Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-01), where she was responsible for legislation to ban offshore drilling, protect irreplaceable natural resources, and secure full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund through the Great American Outdoors Act. Prior to Rep. Cunningham’s office, Paniz worked for the House Financial Services Committee and for CoBank. A first-generation American born in Iran and raised in South Carolina, Paniz is a graduate of Sewanee: The University of the South.

    Melissa Schwartz, Communications Director
    Melissa Schwartz is a strategic communicator and adjunct professor with two decades of experience in government, the private sector, and at nonprofit organizations. She most recently served as Senior Advisor to Dr. Jill Biden. As Chief Operating Officer at The Bromwich Group for nine years, projects included coordinating communications strategy to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, raise awareness of the rape kit backlog and gender-based violence, defend national monuments and the ocean, and facilitate a just transition for coal communities. Melissa is a former senior spokesperson for the U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior, and Senator Barbara Mikulski.

    Janea Scott, Counselor to the Secretary
    Janea A. Scott was most recently a Commissioner and Vice Chair of the California Energy Commission. Janea also served as the Vice Chair of the Western Interconnection Regional Advisory Body and is a member of the Western Interstate Energy Board and the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee. Janea previously worked at Interior as the Deputy Counselor for Renewable Energy and at Environmental Defense Fund as a senior attorney. She earned her J.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder Law School and her master’s of science and bachelor’s of science in earth systems from Stanford University.

    Rachael Taylor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management, and Budget
    Rachael Taylor most recently served on the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations for nearly 16 years. In her role as Democratic clerk of the Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, she negotiated a $38 billion annual appropriations bill and oversaw the budgets of Federal environmental, Tribal and cultural agencies. Rachael has also served in several other legislative and executive branch roles during her career, including in the Office of Vice President Al Gore. A West Virginia native, she received a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master in Public Administration from American University.

    Maggie Thompson, White House Liaison
    Maggie Thompson was most recently the North Carolina State Advisor and Chief of Staff for the Biden campaign and currently serves on the campaign’s Education Unity Task Force. Maggie was also the State Director for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. She is the former Executive Director of Generation Progress, the youth engagement arm of the Center for American Progress. Maggie also worked in the Obama administration at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and in the office of the Director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She graduated with a degree in economics and classical archaeology from Macalester College.

    Maria (Camille) Touton, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
    Camille Calimlim Touton returns to Interior after serving as Professional Staff for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She was the staff lead on the resiliency provisions enacted as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020. Camille’s congressional experience also includes serving as Professional Staff for Interior’s authorization committees: the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. Camille also served as Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science under the Obama administration. Camille holds a BS in Engineering (Civil), BA in Communication Studies, and a Master of Public Policy.

    Tanya Trujillo, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science
    Tanya Trujillo is a water lawyer with more than 20 years of experience working on complex natural resources management issues and interstate and transboundary water agreements. She most recently worked as a project director with the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign. Before then, she served as the Executive Director of the Colorado River Board of California. She has served as Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and as Counselor to the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at Interior. A native New Mexican, Tanya attended Stanford University and the University of Iowa College of Law.

    Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff
    Jennifer Van der Heide has over 25 years of federal, state and local experience in legislative, legal and electoral sectors. She most recently served as Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Deb Haaland, and had been Chief of Staff and Political Director for Rep. Mike Honda. Jennifer previously served as the Washington Director and on-reservation Tribal Attorney for the Hoopa Valley Tribe; Tribal Attorney for California Indian Legal Services; and in private litigation practice in CA. She has a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University, and a J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, with a focus on public interest law.

    Andrew (Drew) Wallace, Director of Congressional Affairs
    A native of Houston, Texas, Drew Wallace has worked in senior policy roles in both houses of Congress. Over the last twelve years, he has served in the office of former Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), finishing as Chief of Staff. Drew has a record of significant contributions to bipartisan legislative successes across a range of issues, in particular energy, the environment, and conservation. He received a B.A. in Political Science from Kenyon College in Ohio and a J.D. from George Mason University School of Law in Virginia. Drew lives in Arlington, Va. with his wife and two sons.

    Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
    Martha has spent her career fostering a love of the outdoors. Growing up on a farm, she gained an appreciation for place and all that comprises it. This passion led her to the wild places of the West where she focused on public lands and wildlife – first as attorney for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, then as Deputy Solicitor Parks and Wildlife at the Department of the Interior, as a professor at the Blewett School of Law at the University of Montana, and most recently returning to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks as its Director.

    Congratulations Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden

    Kamala Harris and Joe Biden November, 2020. Photo credit: JoeBiden.com

    From The New York Times (Megan Specia, Michael Crowley and Katie Glueck):

    On Wednesday, 232 years after John Adams became the nation’s first vice president, Kamala Harris became the first woman — and the first woman of color — sworn into the office. The history-making moment is a milestone for Americans who have fought tirelessly for generations to see faces that resemble their own in the government’s executive branch.

    But Ms. Harris’s role in the new administration will be much more than a symbolic one.

    With the Senate now split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Ms. Harris may find herself casting the decisive vote in many crucial moments, as the vice president wields tiebreaking power. Ambitious legislation on the coronavirus, the economy, climate change and other policy matters will be high on President Biden’s agenda, and her vote may prove critical. One of her first official acts in her new role will be to swear in three new Democratic senators.

    Many expect Mr. Biden will also rely on her prosecutorial chops and her personal energy as a crucial member of the administration. And given speculation that Mr. Biden, who is 78, may not seek a second term, Ms. Harris is sure to face intense scrutiny over her own political future.

    But for many, it’s the voice she will offer to women and people of color that was being reflected on as she took office.

    “That’s so important, to have a Black woman, a South Asian woman’s perspective, on the big issues that this administration has to tackle,” said Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California and a longtime ally of Ms. Harris’s. “She’ll bring a justice lens, a racial justice lens, racial equity, to everything and every policy and every decision that’s going to be made.”

    Across the country, women are wearing pearls on Wednesday to mark the occasion, a nod to the signature pearls that Ms. Harris has worn throughout major milestones in her life, and is likely to wear again when she is sworn in for her history-making turn as the first female vice president. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who as the first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court has broken barriers of her own, administered the oath.

    Hillary Clinton, the only woman ever to receive a major party’s presidential nomination, highlighted the barrier-breaking nature of Ms. Harris’s achievement in a tweet on Wednesday.

    “It delights me to think that what feels historical and amazing to us today — a woman sworn in to the vice presidency — will seem normal, obvious, “of course” to Kamala’s grand-nieces as they grow up,” she wrote, posting a photo of Ms. Harris with the two little girls. “And they will be right.”

    With the inauguration of Ms. Harris as vice president, her husband, Douglas Emhoff, 56, had two firsts of his own: the first “second gentleman” and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president. The details of what Mr. Emhoff, an entertainment lawyer, might do with the platform are unclear, but he has discussed focusing on “access to justice.”

    #Colorado Ag Alliance February 2, 2021: Planning for #Drought

    From email from the Colorado Ag Alliance:

    Drought Advisors

    Farmers and ranchers throughout the state can call/text (970) 988-0043 or email droughtadvisors@colostate.edu to be connected to resources and a team to work with you to address short and long-term drought conditions.

    #EastTroublesomeFire could cause water-quality impacts for years — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Drivers between Granby and Walden will encounter many scenes of hillsides where only snags remain from the 193,000-acre East Troublesome Fire in October. Water managers say the worst impacts of the fire may be felt with summer rains. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best):

    For some ranchers in Troublesome Valley, the worst impacts of the wildfire that began near there in October might not arrive until summer — or even summers beyond.

    Experts say the greatest danger of sedimentation from the East Troublesome Fire will occur during and after a hard rain, especially of an inch or more. That is when the severe soil damage from the fire will cause sediment to wash into the east fork of Troublesome Creek and into a diversion ditch used to irrigate 10,000 acres of hay.

    “It’s a real concern for us,” said Kent Whitmer, one of seven ranch owners who get water from the ditch owned by the East Troublesome Mutual Irrigation Co.

    Whitmer said he most fears sediment filling the ditch so badly that it overflows.

    “That would be disastrous,” he said.

    Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the 193,812-acre fire.

    The East Troublesome Fire, which had been burning east of Colorado Highway 125, exploded on the afternoon of Oct. 21, driven by 70 mph winds. In all, the fire grew 100,000 acres in 24 hours, eventually becoming the second-largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history. The fire was formally designated as contained Nov. 30, although small plumes of smoke could be seen in the golf course area as recently as Christmas Day. All but about 5,000 acres of the fire burned in Grand County.

    Denver Water may offer lessons useful to water managers, who will be dealing with impacts from the East Troublesome Fire for years, perhaps decades. Denver Water has struggled with sediment and debris clogging its two major reservoirs in the foothills southwest of Denver. The fires that caused problems for those reservoirs — Buffalo Creek in 1996 and Hayman in 2002 — fried soils, removing their ability to absorb moisture. Sediment has been washed up to 11 miles into Strontia Springs and Cheesman reservoirs, pushed by water during summer cloudbursts.

    Denver Water has spent $28 million in reservoir dredging, facilities repair and landscape-restoration projects. It discovered that debris and sediment can travel downstream to cause problems in critical water infrastructure. At Strontia Springs, Denver Water dredged for sediment as recently as five years ago but may need to do so again this year.

    “Dredging is very costly,” Denver Water watershed scientist Christina Burri said during the recent post-fire water impacts webinar. Retrieving sediment and debris can be challenging, and then there’s the issue of what to do with the debris. “Do you pile it? Do you burn it? Where can you take it?” Burri said.

    The East Troublesome Fire might produce fewer problems. A fire assessment called burned-area emergency response was conducted by U.S. Forest Service land managers and shows mostly low to moderate soil burn severity, suggesting lesser impacts to water quality.

    But water managers still expect significant challenges come spring, when melting snow produces debris and sediment that can clog bridges, culverts and reservoirs.

    This house north of Windy Gap Reservoir was among the 589 private structures burned in the East Troublesome Creek Fire. Water managers worry soil damage by the fire will cause sediment to clog irrigation ditches and municipal water infrastructure alike. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Assessing the damage

    The fire came through in October “so quickly that it didn’t have a chance to do long-term scarring of the soil,” said Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “However, this is still a sobering assessment because it really lays out the challenge we have going forward.”

    Northern Water operates the Colorado-Big Thompson diversion project, which employs Willow Creek, Granby and Shadow Mountain reservoirs as well as Grand Lake to deliver water to more than a million people and 615,000 irrigated acres along the northern Front Range and in northeastern Colorado.

    The district estimates the fire burned as much as 94% of the Willow Creek watershed, 90% of the area drained by Stillwater Creek, 29% of the Colorado River drainage above Shadow Mountain Reservoir and 42% of the North Inlet watershed. A more detailed assessment will be needed in the spring after snow has melted, Strahla said.

    “It’s not as bad as Hayman, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad,” Stahla said, referring to the 138,000-acre fire in 2002 that was the largest forest fire in Colorado’s recorded history until last year. In size, Hayman was eclipsed by the three Colorado fires in 2020: East Troublesome, Cameron Peak and Pine Gulch.

    In assessing the damages caused by the East Troublesome Fire, resource specialists estimated 5% of the soil suffered high severity, 48% of it moderate severity and 37% of it low severity burns. Within the fire perimeter, 10% of the land was unburned.

    The mapping for the 22,668 acres of the East Troublesome Fire within Rocky Mountain National Park has not yet been released.

    Soil in severely burned areas has lost its structure, as the fire burned the forest litter and duff, weakening the roots of trees and other material that hold soil together.

    Areas of severe damage include the basin drained by the east fork of Troublesome Creek, where the fire was first reported Oct. 14. There, the fire hunkered down, moving slowly but burning most everything. Other notable severe burn areas are near Willow Creek Pass, between Granby and Walden, and a gulch immediately north of Windy Gap Reservoir. Some areas near Grand Lake burned with surprising severity.

    Erosion in high or moderate soil burn areas depends on the specific characteristics, such as the slope and soil texture, of each area, according to the burn report.

    Little that was live remained standing in this area along Colorado Highway 25, north of Windy Gap Reservoir, after the East Troublesome Fire. Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the fire. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Watching the water

    Impacts to drinking water in Grand County will vary. Well owners generally should have no problems with the debris.

    “These folks will want to make sure that wellheads and components are not damaged, to test for coliform bacteria before drinking the water post-fire and to treat it if necessary,” said Katherine Morris, water-quality specialist for Grand County. “If a well is located in an area known to be down-gradient from an area where homes burned, it may be prudent to ensure that your water treatment is adequate.”

    At Grand Lake, the town draws water from 80-foot wells.

    “We have not seen anything yet,” said Dave Johnson, the water superintendent for Grand Lake. He said he doesn’t expect problems but that the water will continue to be monitored, as it has been.

    But Grand Lake’s microhydro plant could have problems. Located on Tonohutu Creek, the small plant constantly generates 5 kilowatts of electricity used in treating the town’s domestic water.

    “We can only filter out so much debris before we have to close the intake,” Johnson said.

    In that case, the water treatment plant will be operated solely by electricity from Mountain Parks Electric.

    Hot Sulphur Springs, which draws water from wells that tap the river aquifer, will be the only town in Grand County with municipal water supplies directly impacted by the fire. Kremmling also can tap the Colorado River, but it does so only in emergencies.

    Hot Sulphur Springs Mayor Bob McVay said his town expects challenges when the snow melts this spring, producing ash-laden water and debris. The town already has set out to take precautions, but it’s not yet clear what will be required.

    Upgrading of the filters in the town’s water treatment plant, a project that began a year ago, probably will be completed in January, providing duplicate filtering systems. But that might not be enough. Secondary wells in the groundwater along the river remain an option.

    In Troublesome Valley, Whitmer hopes to consult the expertise of the Natural Resources Conservation Service about how to mitigate effects of the fire on the irrigation ditch. He also wonders whether beaver dams in the East Fork will trap at least some sediment.

    For Northern Water, this was just one of several fires affecting its operations in 2020. It was impacted by fires on both sides of the Continental Divide, including the Cameron Peak Fire, the state’s largest wildfire, which affected the Poudre River and other creeks and drainages.

    Stahla said managers attempt to prepare for wildfire and other contingencies, but they did not prepare for such a severe wildfire season.

    “If you had come to us with a scenario that there is wildfire burning above Grand Lake, above Estes Park and throughout the Poudre River Basin, we probably would have pushed back, thinking that’s a little too over the top,” he said.

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Our water desk is funded in part by the Catena Foundation. This story ran in the Jan. 16 edition of the Summit Daily News and the Jan. 15 edition of Sky-Hi News.