#Drought news: One class improvement in a few small areas of western #Colorado

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

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

The heaviest precipitation this week fell on a swath across southwestern Kentucky and immediately adjacent locales (3.0 to 4.5 inches), and the higher elevations of Arizona (3.5 to locally over 6 inches). Moderate to heavy amounts of 1.5 to locally 4.0 inches pelted the rest of Kentucky, southern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, just north of the central Gulf Coast, and patchy areas across southern Virginia and the interior Southeast. Similar amounts dotted southern California and the higher elevations of the southern Sierra Nevada and the Four Corners region, especially across Arizona. Light to moderate precipitation extended across the remainder of the interior Southeast, from central Texas northward through the upper Midwest, across some lower elevations of the Four Corners region, in parts of the southern Great Basin, through most of the Sierra Nevada, and along much of the immediate West Coast. Much of the precipitation fell as heavy snow late in the period from Kansas and Nebraska to the lower Great Lakes. Amounts topped one foot at scattered spots across southwestern Iowa and southeastern Nebraska, with Omaha, NE reporting just under a foot. Small areas of moderate precipitation were observed in some areas to the lee of Lakes Erie and Ontario, but otherwise, the driest areas this week – reporting little or no precipitation – stretched along the northern tier of states from the Cascades through New England, most of the Intermountain West, the High Plains, southern Texas, Florida, the southern Atlantic Coast, the northern Ohio Valley, and the middle Atlantic States. No large, broad-scale changes were appropriate as a result, but numerous smaller-scale adjustments were introduced…

High Plains

Moderate precipitation and/or heavy snow hit eastern Nebraska and Kansas, and isolated but heavy precipitation fell on some of the higher elevations of Colorado. Other areas received light amounts at best. Decent snowpack and recent heavy precipitation in the highest mountains led to some improvement in the protracted D2-D4 in a few ranges in north-central and south-central Colorado. Areas farther north experienced another dry week, resulting primarily in a fairly broad expansion of severe drought into northeastern Wyoming and the western Dakotas…

West

Persistent above-normal precipitation led to improvements across the southern tier of the region as well as the southern Oregon coast. At the same time, continued deficient precipitation led to significant expansion and/or deterioration of D3 and D4 conditions near the Nevada/California border, and D0 to D2 conditions across Montana and adjacent Wyoming. Notably, the protracted D4 conditions in central Arizona finally eased slightly as the higher elevations report above-normal precipitation and a favorably enhanced snowpack. Smaller areas of improvement due to recent increased precipitation were brought into north-central New Mexico, southwestern Arizona, and southeastern California…

South
Moderate to heavy precipitation fell on swaths of Tennessee and the lower Mississippi Valley, bringing improvements to some of those regions. But the precipitation was not widespread, and some parts of this area that missed the heavier precipitation saw an increase in dryness and drought. Farther east, heavier precipitation was more sparsely distributed through Oklahoma, northeastern Texas, and central Texas, with the remainder of Texas recording only light amounts. Besides adjustments to short-term cry areas in response to the rainfall pattern, moderate drought persisted in southwestern Tennessee, and expanded into larger sections of northwestern Mississippi and south-central Louisiana. In addition, an area of severe drought was assessed in an area centered near Tallahatchie County, MS where 90-day rainfall totals were 8 to 10 inches below normal and 6-month totals were 10 to 12 inches below normal. In the expanded area of moderate drought in southern Louisiana, 6-month rainfall totals were as much as 15 inches below normal, but shorter-term deficits are less remarkable…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5 days (January 28 – February 1, 2021) the heaviest precipitation is expected along the immediate West Coast, southern Cascades, and Sierra Nevada. These areas are expecting 3 to locally 7 inches of precipitation. Meanwhile, 1 to 3 inches are expected in the central and northern Cascades and the higher elevations from northeastern Oregon to northwestern Wyoming. Up to 2 inches may fall on north-central Utah, the higher elevations of Arizona, and part of Nevada. Farther east, the western half of the Plains should be dry, and only light precipitation is forecast across the northern Great Lakes, lower Mississippi Valley, Gulf Coast, Florida, and upper New England. Moderate to locally heavy precipitation should fall on a swath from much of the Mississippi Valley eastward through the southern half of the Appalachians, middle Atlantic region, and upper Southeast. The eastern half of North Carolina should pick up 1 to 2 inches. In the portions of the Plains expecting very little if any precipitation, daytime temperatures should average at least 3 degrees F above normal, with a swath from the Texas Panhandle to eastern Montana averaging 6 to 12 degrees F warmer than normal. In contrast, most of the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts and the Southwest should average at least 3 degrees F below normal. Daytime high temperatures will average at least 6 degrees F below normal in central Arizona, northern California, the upper Northeast, and lower New England.

The ensuing 5 days (February 2 – 6, 2021) bring enhanced chances of surplus precipitation in a broad area from the Rockies to the East Coast, excluding much of Texas and Florida. Odds favor above-normal precipitation throughout Alaska as well. Meanwhile, deficient precipitation is more likely across the Florida Panhandle, the southern one-third of Texas, northern California, and the Pacific Northwest. Warmer than normal weather is favored east of the Mississippi Valley and north of Florida, with the highest probabilities covering New England. Milder than usual conditions are also expected in the southern half of Alaska. Meanwhile, the odds favor subnormal temperatures from the High Plains to the West Coast, especially across California and most of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 26, 2021.

From The Clear Creek Courant (Deb Hurley Brobst):

The first six months of 2021 are predicted to be dryer than normal, and the Evergreen Metropolitan District is reminding residents that it isn’t too soon to conserve water.

All foothills residents, whether in a water district or on private wells, should be concerned about drought, and EMD General Manager Dave Lighthart is already expecting to impose water restrictions in the district as soon as April.

“The stream-flow forecast that came out in January is showing critical issues throughout the state but most importantly in the Bear Creek and the Mount Evans watersheds,” Lighthart said. “We want people to be aware that we are extremely dry. The long-range forecasts for the (foothills) are that temperatures will likely be higher than normal with an equal chance of lower-than-normal precipitation.”

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as of Jan. 1, Colorado’s year-to-date mountain snowpack was 83% of normal and precipitation was 70% of normal. Last year, the snowpack was 119% and precipitation was 92% of normal.

The 2020 water year, which ended on Sept. 30, 2020, finished on a record dry note, according to the conservation service. The combined precipitation in August and September 2020 totaled the lowest in the 36 years the service has kept records. Then October precipitation across Colorado was 47% of average.

Last summer, EMD instituted Level 2 drought restrictions and was concerned it would need to move to Level 3 — the strictest level — until a couple of rainstorms in July increased water flows in Clear Creek.

EMD’s Level 1 requests voluntary reductions in water usage; Level 2 requires mandatory cutbacks in both residential and commercial outside watering; Level 3 requires no outside water uses and assesses fines for violations.

Lighthart said EMD generally waits until April to begin water restrictions, hoping that the typical spring snowstorms will positively impact snowpack, but “the long-range forecasts are not being very positive in that regard.”

#Snowpack news: Below average snowpack could impact #MesaCounty — KJCT8 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Upper Colorado River Basin High/Low graph January 26, 2021 via the NRCS.

From KJCT8 (Stacy Rasmussen):

UTE Water and the Bureau of Land Management said that the lack of runoff from the snowpack could impact our community. Not only does it limit our supply of water but could also lead to increased fire risk.

According to UTE Water, last year was the fourth worst drought in Colorado’s history…

Ute Water is urging people to conserve water. “Right now, what we want from our customers is make voluntary cutbacks. Do what they can to conserve the water that they have right now,” said Andrea Lopez, External Affairs Manager, UTE Water.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 27, 2021 via the NRCS.

#Colorado’s ornery, independent #water guardians finally agree on one thing: #WallStreet can look elsewhere — The #ColoradoSun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Water from the Colorado River flows through the Grand Valley Irrigation Company’s canal near Palisade, shown in a file photo. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

The calls came in shortly after the story in The New York Times announced Wall Street was on the prowl for “billions in the Colorado’s water.”

“Can you help us? How do we get started?” wondered the New York financiers, pals of Andy Mueller, the manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

“My response was really that if you want to invest in Colorado, you might want to look at something other than water,” Mueller said. “There is nothing to see here.”

The national story raised hackles across Colorado. It defined agriculture as a “wrong” use of Colorado River water and detailed a growing swarm of investors eager to inject Wall Street’s strategies into the West’s century-old water laws. The idea of private investment in public water has galvanized the state’s factious water guardians…

Population growth and persistent drought exacerbated by climate change are stressing the Colorado River, which supports 40 million people in seven states and Mexico and irrigates some 5.5 million acres of crop land. Now, the increasingly parched communities along the 1,450-mile river can add an additional threat: speculation.

It’s rare to see Front Range water managers like Denver Water and Northern Water joining counterparts on the Western Slope. Heck, neighbors on the Western Slope don’t often agree over agricultural, municipal, recreation and tourism-based uses of water. But everyone involved in the perpetual tug-of-war over Colorado water is ready to fight Wall Street investors eyeing “billions” in the state’s most precious resource.

“We have different interests and we have different things we use water for on the Western Slope,” Martha Whitmore, the Ouray County board member on the Colorado River Water Conservation District Board, said during the board’s quarterly meeting last week. “but the one thing we are really unified on … is we don’t want this to be a New York hedge fund’s new thing.”

Water law requires beneficial use

Colorado has some of the toughest laws to prevent profiteering on water in the West, anchored in a nearly 160-year-old state water law that requires users to put their rights to beneficial use. That definition has expanded from irrigation and home taps to include snowmaking, protecting wildlife and even kayaking in a whitewater park. Beneficial use does not include making money.

Even with the state’s strict law preventing a gold rush on water, an 18-member Anti-Speculation Law Work Group created by Colorado lawmakers last year is studying how to give the law preventing water profiteering even more teeth.

A view of the popular Pumphouse campground, boat put-in and the upper Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Jim Lochhead, the head of Denver Water, agrees with water managers around the state that institutionalized private investment in water “is inherently a problem for the entire state of Colorado.”

[…]

The Law of the River could be upended by Wall Street investors buying up and fallowing farmland for water rights, or even worse, buying agricultural water and holding it unused until it makes them rich, like some kind of water-logged bitcoin bros. (Which, by the way, is illegal under Colorado law that doesn’t really allow the sale of actual water as much as the right to use water for beneficial use.)

But, in a way, that buy-and-dry scenario is already part of Colorado’s water landscape. Cities like Aurora and Pueblo often buy water rights to support growth. And more of that is coming. The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan — part of a historic water management agreement inked in 2019 by federal officials and leaders in seven states — aims to cut water use, by, in part, paying farmers and ranchers and other water users to temporarily suspend their water rights.

Details on the controversial “demand management” element of the drought contingency plan are still being hammered out. But the prospect of water speculation has led to calls for all types of safeguards of public water in a demand-management market.

There is a big difference between investors who likely would be moving water from farms to cities willing to pay big and water districts trying to temporarily secure water rights to bolster supplies, said Taylor Hawes, who directs The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program.

Demand management is about conserving water and “creating water security, which is a public good,” said Hawes, who earlier this month published a letter in Western Slope Colorado newspapers along with the the national Family Farm Alliance and Trout Unlimited urging partnerships among often-contentious Colorado River users “to find durable solutions that make economic sense for water users and rural communities, as well as cities.”

“Demand management should be more of a guided market not a free market,” Hawes said in an interview. “It needs to have sideboards and restrictions, and one of those restrictions needs to be that it is serving the public good, to make sure we have water security for the future and that we can adapt to the changing climate.”

[…]

Mueller, with the Colorado River District, led a spirited discussion last week with his board, detailing specific issues with the increasing call for private investment in water. He warned that eroding trust in government institutions could sway more people toward a revamp of Colorado laws that would increase the role of market forces.

“The demand-management market needs to focus on rules and regulations and structures that protect our communities and if it can’t be done, the program should go away,” Mueller said.

Mueller, who has many issues with the New York Times article, says the article may “help make our case” as a launching point to rally not just water managers, but state residents, around the need to protect water.

Private, profit-driven investment in Colorado River water might not respect agricultural roots of communities that exist because of the river. But the eye of Wall Street might help champion the case for drought management and it’s share-the-pain plan to spread potential cuts. Mueller said the threat of speculators moving into Colorado’s water market could help convince residents about the need for big, climate-adapting changes in how water is conserved and protected in the state…

Most of the angst over Wall Street is coming from a group called Water Asset Management, a New York investment firm that has spent more than $16 million over the past few years buying more than 2,000 acres of farmland in the Grand Valley. The company is the largest landowner in the influential Grand Valley Water Users Association, which operates the 55-mile Government Highline Canal and 150 miles of irrigation pipe and ditches that water more than 23,000 acres of farmland.

It’s safe to say that Water Asset Management has succeeded where all others have failed: The fund has found a way to get Front Range and Western Slope water users in quick and easy agreement.

And advising the investment firm is James Eklund, the former director of the state’s top water protector, the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Eklund spent years as the state’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission, helping to draw up the drought contingency plan that, among many things, creates a pool of water for Upper Basin states inside Lake Powell that serves as the upper state’s own bank within the larger bank.

Eklund bristles at the notion that the WAM group is angling to take over that bank of Upper Basin water in Lake Powell.

“You can’t do that now and you could not do that before the Drought Contingency Plan and you can’t do it in the future. Because the Law of the River forbids it,” he said. “If we allow private accounts in Lake Powell, we will undo the benefits of the bargain of the 1922 compact.”

Water Asset Management buys farms, pays for upgrades that increase the efficiency of water used in irrigating crops and then leases the property back to the farmer, Eklund said.

The firm’s investment fund “develops and markets the water assets while our farming operators manage the farming operations of the properties, mitigating agriculture risk,” reads the firm’s website details of its Water Property Investor Fund.

The group is not trying to flip water. If it was, it would have already sold the water rights it has, Eklund said. The group wants to invest in agriculture in the Western United States, he said…

Across Colorado, water managers agree with at least of one of Eklund’s ideas: It is time to work together. But not necessarily with his group. A host of water managers across the state have been meeting, amiably, to discuss how best they can form a united front to stop Wall Street speculation on public water.

“The coming together of all these different interests is a recognition that the challenges we face on the Colorado River are already complex enough. So, so complex,” said Hawes with the Nature Conservancy. “The last thing we need is Wall Street getting in the middle of this as we try to work out the solutions which are going to be really really difficult to do.”

@potus signs order that includes lease moratorium for oil and gas development on federal lands, #water — The #KiowaCounty Press #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

From The Center Square (Derek Draplin) via The Kiowa County Press:

President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order halting new leases for oil and natural gas development on federal land, a move criticized by the industry and some state governors.

“We’re going to review and reset the oil and gas leasing program,” Biden said Wednesday at the White House.

Biden said his administration is going to “properly manage lands and waterways in ways that allow us to protect, preserve them and the full value that they provide for us for future generations,” adding that his administration won’t ban fracking.

The administration cites greenhouse gas emissions and “irresponsible leasing” that negatively affects communities as the reason for the order, which won’t affect existing oil and gas development on federal land and doesn’t apply to tribal land.

The lease moratorium, which also applies to offshore leases, expands a secretarial order signed last week suspending new land leases and drilling permits for 60 days unless approved by Department of Interior (DOI) leadership. It’s also part of broader executive actions Biden took on Wednesday.

The executive actions establish an Office of Domestic Climate Policy in the White House along with a National Climate Task Force. Biden is also directing DOI to establish a plan that will conserve 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030…

Other states, like Colorado, welcomed Biden’s climate actions and pledge to work with his administration.

“We will also work closely with the Biden administration as they begin a program-wide review of energy development policy on public lands to ensure that it works for Colorado,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement. “And as long as the review is completed expeditiously we don’t expect an economic impact in the short-term with current market factors and the many existing unused leases and permits.”

Environmental advocacy groups praised the moratorium along with the administration’s broader efforts on fighting climate change.

“Hitting pause on oil and gas leasing is a crucial first step toward reforming a rigged and broken system that for too long has put oil and gas lobbyists ahead of the American people,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Denver, Colo.-based Center for Western Priorities.

The Sierra Club said the lease moratorium “will improve the health of our communities, our climate and our wild places.”

“We look forward to working with the Biden administration to secure lasting solutions that address the climate impacts of coal, oil and gas leasing and put in place long-overdue protections for communities, taxpayers, and the climate,” said Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s director of Public Lands Protection.

Say hello to the 117th Congress #Climate Scorecard

Click here to view the scorecard.

Screen shot from the 117th Congress Climate Scorecard website showing Michael Bennet’s scores.

Great Expectations: Deconstructing the Process Pathways Underlying #Beaver-Related #Restoration

Three beaver-related restoration methods via BioScience online.

Click here to read the article (Caroline S Nash, Gordon E Grant, Susan Charnley, jason B Dunham, Hannah Gosnell, Mark B Hausner, David S Pilliod, Jimmy D Taylor). Here’s the abstract:

Beaver-related restoration is a process-based strategy that seeks to address wide-ranging ecological objectives by reestablishing dam building in degraded stream systems. Although the beaver-related restoration has broad appeal, especially in water-limited systems, its effectiveness is not yet well documented. In this article, we present a process-expectation framework that links beaver-related restoration tactics to commonly expected outcomes by identifying the set of process pathways that must occur to achieve those expected outcomes. We explore the contingency implicit within this framework using social and biophysical data from project and research sites. This analysis reveals that outcomes are often predicated on complex process pathways over which humans have limited control. Consequently, expectations often shift through the course of projects, suggesting that a more useful paradigm for evaluating process-based restoration would be to identify relevant processes and to rigorously document how projects do or do not proceed along expected process pathways using both quantitative and qualitative data.

14 Denver-area cities to coordinate #drought response — @WaterEdCO

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Disclaimer: I work for the City of Thornton and I am quoted in this article.

As drought conditions intensify across Colorado, at least 14 cities in the Denver metro area say they will join forces to warn residents of looming water shortages and the need to cut back use this spring.

Denver Water’s Jason Finehout said a metro drought coordination effort would help ensure a consistent message on reducing water use in what is shaping up to be another alarmingly dry year.

“Right now 14 cities have signed up, but I expect that number to grow,” Finehout said.

Finehout said Denver Water would likely not decide until March whether to impose tough watering restrictions, but other participating communities, such as Thornton, are likely to move ahead.

Thornton’s John Orr said the city planned to implement restrictions sooner rather than later in order to prepare for what is likely to be a water-short year.

“Our team recommends that we treat this as a start to a multi-year drought,” Orr said. “We’re trying to be cautious.”

Orr’s comments came at the Jan. 21 meeting of the state Drought and Water Availability Task Force.

Last year was the state’s second-driest calendar year on record, according to the Colorado Climate Center, leaving soils ultra dry. That is worrisome to weather trackers and water utilities, because the soil is likely to absorb much of the water coming out of this year’s snowpack.

Right now snowpack statewide is at 78 percent of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and stored water supplies are also below average. Last year reservoirs stood at 107 percent of average at this time, but are now at just 82 percent of average.

“2020 was a doozy of a year,” said Peter Goble, climate specialist at the Colorado Climate Center. “And we just continue to fall farther and farther behind,”

In November the state announced it would activate a statewide emergency municipal drought response plan for only the second time in its history, citing the deteriorating water forecasts. The agricultural portion of the plan had already been activated over the summer.

Colorado Drought Monitor January 19, 2021.

Colorado has experienced four severe droughts since 2000, but the trend has intensified with the drought of 2018 barely lifting before 2020 brought searing temperatures and dry weather again.

Few expect this year to be any different. “My personal demeanor has gone from cautious to concerned,” said Swithin Dick with the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves Highlands Ranch and which is a member of the new drought group. The district’s water reservoirs stand at 55 percent of capacity, a benchmark that is 25 percent lower than normal for this time of year, he said.

Denver Water will partner with Aurora Water to lead the coordinated drought communications response effort, Finehout said, with the first meeting tentatively scheduled for early February.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.