Proposed river authority would assert #Utah’s claims to the #ColoradoRiver’s dwindling water — The #SaltLake Tribune #COriver #aridification

Glen Canyon in 1873, near the confluence of the Colorado and San Juan Rivers. By Timothy H. O'Sullivan – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain,

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

A bill would allow the new agency — which environmentalists call “shadowy” — to close its meetings and keep its records confidential.

Utah legislative leaders on Thursday unveiled plans for a new $9 million state agency to advance Utah’s claims to the Colorado River in hopes of wrangling more of the river’s diminishing flows, potentially at the expense of six neighboring states that also tap the river.

Without any prior public involvement or notice, lawmakers assembled legislation to create a six-member entity called the Colorado River Authority of Utah, charged with implementing “a management plan to ensure that Utah can protect and develop the Colorado River system.”

Sponsored by House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, HB297 would establish the Colorado River Commission of Utah, with a $600,000 annual budget. Utah shares the river’s flow with six neighboring states, most of which have dedicated large resources and expertise to preserve their interests in the river, according to Wilson. HB297 would help Utah better compete as it renegotiates the century-old agreement that governs how the river’s water is apportioned…

Dismayed the bill was drafted in secrecy, environmentalists argued the legislation is premised on the false idea that Utah is not receiving its full allotment of the Colorado’s flow. They characterized the commission as a “shadowy new government agency” aimed at promoting the Lake Powell pipeline and other big water diversions…

The bill would give broad authority to the new agency to close its meetings and keep its records confidential.

“This bill isn’t about water. It’s about money. It’s about climate change denial,” said Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council. “This bill is a water war. This bill ignites more frustration from other states by creating mythologies and ignorances and disinformation. And those conversations can be done behind closed doors because this bill exempts [the authority] from having to comply with all of the open and public meetings.”

Frankel’s impassioned remarks swayed no Republicans on the committee, who voted to advance HB297 on a party-line 9-2 vote…

Utah officials have long complained that the Beehive State is not taking its full allotment, which they say is 1.4 million acre-feet. For years, Utah’s unused share has been slipping past Glen Canyon Dam for use elsewhere, they complain.

But Frankel and others say state water officials ignore the reality of climate change, which has reduced the river’s flows by about 20% over the past two decades. That means Utah’s cut is a lot less than what has been claimed.

HB297 appears to be an outgrowth of a resolution passed last year that commits Utah agencies to “expeditiously develop and place to beneficial use [the Colorado’s flow] wherever within the state the need may arise.”

HCR22 sponsor Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, told colleagues Utah must either use its share of the Colorado or lose it to the other states, framing the question of water development as an us-versus-them proposition…

According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Utah is drawing about 1 million acre-feet from the Colorado, or about two-thirds of what Utah water officials contend is Utah’s share under the 1922 compact.

The river is under severe pressure from drought and urban growth, according to Gene Shawcroft, Utah’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission and the general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.

Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

#ColoradoRiver outlook darkens dramatically in new study — Tucson Star #COriver #aridification

From (Tony Davis):

In the gloomiest long-term forecast yet for the drought-stricken Colorado River, a new study warns that lower river basin states including Arizona may have to slash their take from the river up to 40% by the 2050s to keep reservoirs from falling too low.

Such a cut would amount to about twice as much as the three Lower Basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada — agreed to absorb under the drought contingency plan they approved in early 2019.

Overall, the study warned that managing the river sustainably will require substantially larger cuts in use by Lower Basin states than currently envisioned, along with curbs on future diversions by Upper Basin states.

While climate change’s impacts on the river have been repeatedly studied, this is the first study that seeks to pinpoint how warming temperatures would translate into reductions in water that river basin states could take over the long term.

Carrying out the study’s recommendations, under the most likely conditions of climate change, almost certainly would mean more supply curbs for the $4 billion Central Arizona Project.

The CAP is already slated to lose nearly half its total allocation under the worst case, shorter-term scenarios envisioned under the 2019 drought plan.

Tucson and Phoenix-area cities and tribes, along with Central Arizona farmers, all depend on the CAP for water for drinking or irrigation.

The study, written by 13 researchers, was posted online about a week ago, at a time the drying river is on the edge of its first major shortage.

Federal forecasters predict Lake Mead will drop low enough to require cutbacks in water deliveries to Central Arizona farmers in 2022 due to river flow declines.

But exactly how much will be cut in long-term, future water deliveries is far from settled. The seven states are about to start renegotiating guidelines under which the river has been managed since 2007. Changes to the guidelines won’t take effect until 2026.


In other forecasts, the study took a shot at longstanding plans by the four Upper Basin states — New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — to increase their take from the river under rights held from the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

The Upper Basin states’ forecasts of river diversions are unrealistic and would make it virtually impossible to maintain stable water supplies over an extended period, the study said.

“New demands in the era of climate change resulting in decreasing flows are the equivalent of self-inflicted wounds,” the study said.

Also, more, major Upper Basin diversions could drain both lakes Mead and Powell, dramatically reducing the amount of water available to serve people for drinking and irrigation and to generate electricity, the study said.

That would also result in the release of very warm water from Powell, compared to colder waters being released today. The Grand Canyon’s ecosystem downstream would be drastically changed, said Jack Schmidt, one of the study’s authors.

The study also warned that the current, downward trend in river flows will likely continue or worsen as temperatures keep rising.

That will lead to additional evapotranspiration — the absorption of atmospheric water supplies by plants — and aridification of the landscape, in which soils get drier and runoff keeps declining, the study said.

“Under this scenario, the basin will soon face a tipping point,” the study said.

Locals advise @SenatorBennet on West’s #climatechange strategy — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

The carbon dioxide data on Mauna Loa constitute the longest record of direct measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. C. David Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography began measurements in 1958 at the NOAA weather station. NOAA started its own CO2 measurements in May of 1974, and they have run in parallel with those made by Scripps since then. Credit: NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Diminishing water supply part of report

Numerous western Coloradans were part of a group that has presented U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., with recommendations for how to increase resilience to climate change in the West.

Bennet said in a news release that he plans to use the recommended priorities to drive his policy work in the Senate and in working with the Biden administration on its national climate strategy.

“The terrific work this group has done to reimagine climate policy is already informing my team’s work. I plan to share their framework with my colleagues in the Senate and the Biden Administration to help them understand why climate resilience is so important to Colorado and the rest of the Mountain West,” Bennet said in the release. “I will do my part to ensure these priorities are part of every discussion going forward about climate and the country’s economy. I think this framework will be an important tool to demonstrate to the country that climate change isn’t a future condition in the West — it’s here now. And the survival of our economy and our way of life depends on tackling this challenge.”

The group was formed in November and chaired by Andy Mueller, general manager of western Colorado’s Colorado River District, which has been focused on dealing with the challenges of diminishing water supply in a warming climate, and the implications that may have for Western Slope agriculture and communities…

The group made recommendations focused on three overall priorities, saying:

  • Resilience is dependent on strong local economies in the West, and a climate resilience strategy must include tools for local economies to adapt to changing climate and economic conditions and build long-term prosperity in a future powered by a clean economy.
  • Supporting healthy soils, forests, rangeland, rivers and watersheds will make communities more resilient and help maximize the climate mitigation potential of western landscapes.
  • Climate resilience is dependent on a thorough and science-based understanding of actions needed to sustainably adapt to and mitigate climate change.
  • A wide range of more specific recommendations within the framework of those priorities include:

  • Helping communities transitioning from fossil-fuel-based economies through measures such as job training, support for building broadband infrastructure, and investing in forest restoration, clean energy and outdoor recreation to attract new business, jobs and tax revenues;
  • Modernizing and building new infrastructure, including water infrastructure that protects and enhances rivers and habitat, and provides water for communities and agriculture while enhancing a vibrant outdoor economy;
  • Updating federal management of natural resources so it is informed by the best available science;
  • Increasing funding for research and development programs throughout the West that focus on developing climate change solutions.
  • Bennet’s office said he already is taking action based on the recommendations.

    He recently urged the Biden administration to prioritize locally driven economic development solutions for communities transitioning away from fossil fuels. He plans in coming weeks to reintroduce a bill to invest in $60 billion in forest and watershed restoration across the West.

    Shakeup at the Southwestern Water Conservation District brings in new face to deal with old problems — The Durango Herald #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Amy Novak Huff. Photo via Colorado Water & Land Law, LLC and LinkedIn

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A fresh face was appointed to the Southwestern Water Conservation District to bring new ideas to decades-old problems surrounding water in the arid Southwest – at least that’s the hope of La Plata County officials.

    In January, La Plata County commissioners Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff, in their last meeting before leaving office, along with commissioner Clyde Church, appointed local water attorney Amy Novak Huff to the district.

    The move ousted longtime board member Bob Wolff, who has represented La Plata County on the commission for more than 10 years.

    Lachelt, speaking to The Durango Herald, said commissioners will sometimes replace people who have served long bouts of time to bring in new perspectives about various issues facing the county…

    Huff was raised in Southern California, but went to school at the University of Colorado-Boulder and never looked back. After teaching high school in Durango and Mancos, she went to law school at the University of Denver while working at Denver Water, where she became drawn to water law.

    After she passed the bar exam, Huff was selected for a judicial clerkship in Division No. 1 Water Court and then worked for a water law firm in Denver. All those years on the Front Range, where water is scarce, allowed her to experience firsthand the contentious water issues…

    Huff said she has now been practicing water law for 18 years, the majority of which has been in Southwest Colorado where water issues abound, exacerbated by drought, increasing demand and tricky multi-state compacts…

    Huff, for her part, will take a seat at her first board meeting Tuesday. She said she understands the gravity of the moment and how important local decisions will affect water availability and people’s way of life.

    “We’re going to be faced with water restrictions, changing landscapes and people are going to be forced to learn (about water issues),” she said. “It’s a lot more complicated than people think.”

    #Snowpack news: February storms have improved the outlook

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data via the NRCS.

    From KOAA (Alan Rose):

    Several Colorado ski resorts are now reporting more than 2 feet of fresh powder this month, and more is on the way.

    It’s a welcoming sight as we’re now more than halfway through the ski season, and still lagging behind.

    In just the past week, Vail has reported nearly 2.5 feet of fresh snow.

    Places like Breckenridge, Aspen Snowmass, Beaver Creek and Copper Mountain all picked up between 20-25 inches of new snow this past week.

    Crested Butte, Keystone, Winter Park and Monarch are all reporting around 1.5 feet of fresh snow…

    Home to Wolf Creek Ski Area, the Upper Rio Grande Basin is the only region that’s above average. Currently, Wolf Creek is reporting a base depth of 88-95″, nearly double that of Breckenridge, which has a base of 46″.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 9, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

    Vail Mountain is reporting 29 inches of new snow in the past seven days. That’s been enough to boost the measurement site on Vail Mountain — which measures “snow water equivalent,” the amount of water in snow — to 88% of the 30-year median. The same site on Jan. 18 showed snowpack at just 69% of that 30-year median.

    The numbers were roughly the same at sites on Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass, the sites closest to Vail Pass and the headwaters of the Eagle River, respectively.

    Tom Renwick, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the Central Rockies, including the area around Vail, could see between 6 and 12 inches starting late Monday and continuing to Wednesday…

    West Drought Monitor February 2, 2021.

    The drought persists

    But even if the local snowpack nears normal levels, the fact is that Eagle County remains in a prolonged drought period.

    Even with normal snowfall, the ground is parched underneath that snow. That means much of the snowpack will melt into the ground before it runs off into local streams.

    With that and other factors in mind — including summers when expected rainfall hasn’t materialized — local water officials are urging customers to adapt to a continued dry climate…

    [Diane] Johnson’s email notes that reducing outdoor water use is particularly important. Outdoor irrigation uses far more water than indoor domestic use, Johnson wrote. And, while almost all water used indoors eventually returns to local streams, very little water used for outdoor irrigation returns to streams…

    It’s all part of being able to “adapt to an aridifying environment,” Johnson wrote. That holds no matter how much more snow this season may bring.

    From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Kari Dequine Harden):

    Based on recent data and statistical modeling, there is only a 10% chance spring precipitation will be robust enough to bring a normal water supply to the Yampa Valley heading into the summer, said Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer at the Colorado River District.

    There’s also a 10% chance of reaching record low water supply levels for the Yampa River, Kanzer warned.

    And in terms of the drought bell curve, Kanzer said the fringe areas on either side of the middle are increasingly important, as the entire curve looks to be shifting toward a higher propensity for less precipitation and warmer temperatures.

    Making summer drought predictions in February is certainly early, Kanzer noted, with the forecast season just beginning.

    But the current snowpack is already well below average for the Yampa River Basin.

    Based upon data from SNOTEL sites around Routt County that are maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the area is currently tracking in the range of 75% of what’s typical for this time of year. It should be noted 75% of snowpack does not translate to 75% of water supply season volume.

    Runoff primarily occurs between April and July, and that’s the data to show the water flow that makes up about 80% of the whole year’s balance, Kanzer said…

    The Yampa River, Kanzer said, has a relatively low amount of storage. And a lot of that flow is essentially gone from the system by July, he said.

    Entering this winter with what Kanzer described as “about six to nine months of record dry soil moisture conditions,” the moisture level of soil will also play a critical role in how the summer looks.

    The soil is so dry it will soak up a lot of the moisture before it has a chance to run off into streams and rivers.

    The above normal temperatures of recent years — some record setting — also causes more evaporation…

    Todd Hagenbuch, director and agriculture agent for the Colorado State University Extension Office in Routt County, said he’s seeing data suggesting drought seasons like in 2002 and 2012…

    And given a very dry fall for 2020, and very low soil moisture levels, “We are starting way behind the eight ball.”

    As of Feb. 1, Kanzer said the forecast for the Yampa River is to be at 50% to 65% of its normal water supply…

    Looking at the Colorado River Basin as a whole — of which the Yampa River is part — the numbers are alarming.

    A recent article by Yale Climate Connections displayed the headline, “Drought-stricken Colorado River Basin could see additional 20% drop in water flow by 2050.”

    The Bureau of Reclamation’s recent quarterly report was grim, showing Lake Powell and Lake Mead, both fed by the Colorado River, at 42% and 40% of capacity, respectively.

    Colorado has been experiencing drought conditions for nearly 20 years. About three-quarters of the state is designated as being in extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

    It’s the second worst 20-year period in the past 1,200 years, according to Bradley Udall, a senior climate and water scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center.

    According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, statewide snowpack is at about 73% of normal.

    “That’s the fourth lowest snowpack that we’ve measured for this date in the past 36 years,” said Brian Domonkos, supervisor of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Colorado Snow Survey, in a KUNC story.

    Most scientists are now projecting a continuation of the hotter and drier conditions — accepting a world in which the current drought is not part of a shorter cycle that will balance itself out, but rather part of the enduring impacts of climate change.