This #EarthDay, Rising to Meet the Challenges Facing Our Rivers — @Water4Colorado

From Water for Colorado:

Earth Day falls at a precarious time of year for Coloradans and our rivers. As spring arrives, many of us are returning to our favorite hiking trails, riverbanks, and camping spots for warm-weather recreation; others are enjoying the waning days of spring skiing or working off the winter rust and getting back on the river for some fishing.

But by mid-April, Coloradans will also stand on the precipice of fire season. As the water year passes its peak, we take stock of drought conditions across the state; and snowpack begins to melt and start its journey from the headwaters in the Rocky Mountains to our rivers.

The State of Our Rivers

This year, snowpack in the mountains — which provides 85-90% of the Colorado River’s flow — has peaked early and is below average, again. The “Millenium Drought” in the southwestern U.S. is now over 20 years old. On top of last year’s dry summer and fall, forecasters expect below average runoff, and low streamflows later this year.

Many of you may recall that last year, around this time, nearly a third of the state was drought-free. Unfortunately, all of Colorado is now experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with 32% classified as being in “extreme” or “exceptional drought.” This comes, too, on the heels of last year’s historic fire season that saw the three largest wildfires in state history.

Additionally, as of Friday, April 23 — the day after Earth Day — 25% or more of Colorado’s streams, rivers, and wetlands lost protection as the roll-back of federal Clean Water Act protection went into effect in Colorado. This Trump-era policy exposes Colorado’s streams and wetlands — the state’s sources of clean drinking water and wildlife habitat — to degradation as a result of construction activities. Without a state program to backstop the loss of federal protection, this policy threatens many iconic areas of Colorado. Until 4/23, Colorado had been the only state to avoid implementing the rule because a judge issued an order keeping the policy from going into effect; now, that has been overturned. The below maps, put together by Coalition partners The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited, illustrate the extent of potential damages to our critical streams and wetlands.

The Good News

Poised on the brink of another drought-heavy summer and devastating roll-backs to clean water protection, Earth Day may feel more urgent this year. Indeed, this holiday was created to recognize and promote environmental protection; and although on this Earth Day we are confronting sobering drought maps, below-average streamflow predictions and threats to Colorado’s vital headwater streams and wetlands, we also have a lot to celebrate.

In the Colorado Recovery Act, Governor Jared Polis and Colorado House Speaker Alec Garnett allocated up to $75 million for funding river-projects, wildfire mitigation, and drought response. Earlier this week, the Legislature gathered for a committee hearing on HB21-1260, which would allocate an additional $20 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board and grant-funded projects. And, sports-betting revenue continues to generate millions to fund Colorado’s Water Plan.

Where the Money Goes

Water plan funding allows for increased resilience to the types of climate change-induced drought we’re seeing statewide, and ensures that our rivers don’t dry up, agricultural heritage sustains, and flows are available to support world-renowned recreation.

You can explore our interactive Colorado Water Plan Grant Projects Map here, and learn about the types of projects these funds benefit. Some examples include:

  • Updating agricultural infrastructure to replace aging equipment, improve efficiency and flows, prevent wasteful leakages, and restore natural environmental features.
  • Providing municipalities funding to ensure safe and reliable drinking water for all.
  • Sustaining Colorado’s rivers for recreational use, including flow restoration and river health projects which supports the robust ~$19 billion in economic activity that river-related recreation generates.
  • Funding innovative water education conversations, workshops, and experiences statewide on issues such as sustaining agriculture, educating the next generation of water users, and protecting watershed health.

The CWCB is in the process of updating the Colorado Water Plan to include all of this and more. Do you have ideas for how the Water Plan can benefit your community? Share them here.

Taking Time to Reflect

Understanding the threats facing our rivers and the importance of well-funded, on-the-ground projects is crucial not only to our work here at Water for Colorado, but to our state and future generations of Coloradans.

But in the end:

We feel the best way to truly understand Colorado’s rivers — and therefore protect them — is to experience them. So, this Earth Day, find a riverbank, cast a line, watch a sunset over a reservoir, or simply give thanks for the clean water that flows from your tap. These things are precious, and Earth Day reminds us of that.

Photo courtesy of Russ Schnitzer

Drought Maps courtesy of U.S. Drought Monitor

Clean Water Rule roll-back maps courtesy of Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy.

The Spring Newsletter 2021 is hot off the presses from the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt (Beverly Richards):

Drought Conditions Stay Strong on the Western Slope

West Drought Monitor April 20, 2021.

As spring runoff begins, water managers on the Western Slope turn to drought predictions for the season and well into the summer. Drought conditions continue to persist in most of western Colorado and throughout the southwestern United States. Many areas have continued in or have moved into the exceptional (D4) category and these conditions will likely carry us through the summer and into the fall.

Gunnison River Basin High/Low graph April 23, 2021 via the NRCS.

What does this mean for the water resources in the Upper Gunnison River Basin and downstream? Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently at 77 percent of average and the snow water equivalent (SWE) is at 12.9” for this time of year. The peak for SWE usually occurs between April 5 to April 17 and is typically at 14.7” at the peak.

This means that going into spring runoff, we are below average in both snowpack and SWE. Add this to the fact that Taylor Park and Blue Mesa Reservoir are currently at 59 and 49 percent of full respectively, conditions this runoff season could continue to deteriorate, though demands will likely stay the same. The Bureau of Reclamation is forecasting that Blue Mesa Reservoir will only fill to 67 percent full and NRCS forecasts that streamflow will only be 57 percent of average for the season.

Lack of soil moisture will also add to the problems for water managers this coming water season. Soil moisture in the entire state is classified as either the second lowest or record lowest in the 10-year average. This will have implications on streamflow if the soil profile must be filled first.

The predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are that these drier conditions that are currently being experienced throughout the entire southwestern United States will continue and could result in the most significant drought since 2013. From April through June, warmer than normal temperatures and lower than normal precipitation is forecasted to continue, adding to the drier than normal conditions.

The Upper Gunnison District realizes that diminished supplies means special attention MUST be paid to how we manage our water. We will continue planning for every contingency. Our mission this year is to get the word out about ways we can all adjust to drought and how we can all be mindful of our water use. It will take cooperation from everyone within the District to meet all our needs. Be an Upper Gunnison Basin Water Hero!

‘Forever Chemicals’ Levels In #Frisco Drinking Water Would Be Illegal In Three Other States, Residents ‘Shocked’ — CBS #Denver #PFAS

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via [Click the map to go to the website.]

From CBS Denver (Kati Weis):

A CBS4 Investigates analysis of public testing data has found levels of perfluoroalkyl substances – commonly known as forever chemicals – in Frisco’s drinking water would be considered too high in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York. The levels would also trigger further testing requirements in Michigan.

Jessica Johnson, who lives and works in Frisco, said she was unaware of the elevated levels.

“I was pretty shocked, honestly, to learn that the forever chemicals were in our water,” Johnson said. “It’s concerning for me; thyroid issues run in my family, so I don’t really want to do anything that would exacerbate that, because I’m sure it’s probably looming on the horizon for me anyway.”

The Findings

While there is no federal legal limit, the EPA recommends drinking water not have more than 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS combined, but some states say that’s not good enough, setting more stringent legal limits…

State health department testing conducted last summer found Frisco’s drinking water had a level of 58.5 for the chemicals regulated in Massachusetts and Vermont, more than twice the legal limits in those states. The testing also found Frisco had a level of 11 parts per trillion of PFOS, which would be above the safe limit set in New York. Frisco’s PFOA level was only 6.2 part per trillion, but would require quarterly testing in Michigan…

The Town of Frisco says right now, there’s no health concern, because the PFAS levels are below the EPA’s health advisory of 70 parts per trillion…

Frisco spokesperson Vanessa Agee wrote in an email, “an interview with Frisco’s Water Division would do nothing to further your viewer’s understanding of PFAS or alert them to a health danger, which are in fact really admirable and helpful goals that we hope you have much success with, as it is vital that we have the facts and current understanding around this evolving research into PFAS and PFAS’ potential impacts on our health.”

Asked why residents were not notified about the PFAS testing results, Agee wrote, “if there were a health concern, then the EPA and CDPHE would require individual notification of residents, and the Town would of course provide that notification swiftly because we authentically care about the health of our neighbors and friends, which is what Frisco’s residents are in this very close-knit community and county. The public would be very well served by understanding that the science around PFAS is evolving, understanding where that science is right now, and having knowledge about what is being done across Colorado and the country to better understand PFAS and their impact on health.”

The state health department has also told CBS4 in a past interview that residents should not be concerned about the elevated levels, because they are below the health advisory, but that if residents are still concerned, they can look at purchasing a reverse osmosis filtration system for their home or bottled water…

The Laws

Currently, the state of Colorado has taken its own steps to begin regulating PFAS, for example, new state legislation has created a PFAS registry, so state officials know where industrial PFAS sources are located.

But Josh Kuhn with Conservation Colorado says the centennial state should study the issue further and look at setting its own more stringent legal limits…

What’s Next

In the meantime, Agee says Frisco is in the process of conducting further testing in other areas of its water distribution system, including at the tap “to get a more comprehensive picture.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also says it’s in the process of developing a grant program to assist Frisco and other communities with additional testing.

“The CDPHE grant program has not been launched yet so the Town Water Division is doing what it does best, providing safe and delicious water, while always striving to have a full understanding of the facts,” Agee said in an email to CBS4.

The CDPHE says the testing will help officials determine what areas and private wells may be at risk for PFAS.

One question remains: what is the source of the PFAS pollution in Frisco? PFAS can be found in a variety of household products, and even your clothes. The Environmental Working Group also found PFAS in cosmetics.

The state health department is working to find an answer in Frisco, writing to CBS4, “we expect these (test) results to provide insight into where the chemicals may be coming from.”

Opinion: Recycling #water has to become the norm because it is too scarce and too valuable to waste — The #Colorado Sun

Morrow Point Dam, on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Colorado Sun (Ari Goldfarb):

Like millions of teens around the world, my daughter enjoys long showers. Unlike many fathers of teens, however, I see a bright side to the family water bill.

We’re not just taking showers. We’re growing grapes.

Our family lives in Israel, the international capital of water recycling, where nearly 90% of our supply is used more than once. In our area of southern Israel, that means the water flowing down our home drain is used on nearby farms to grow some of the tastiest table grapes on Earth. Turns out my daughter is a friend of agriculture.

Ari Goldfarb via

All over the globe, climate change is turning fresh water into an increasingly precious commodity. Many countries and regions suffer from extended drought. Rising temperatures increase evaporation from reservoirs. Snow falls less and melts sooner on mountains. And rising sea levels increase saltwater intrusion contamination in fresh water wells along coastal communities.

The worldwide fresh water supply crunch comes as the Earth’s population grows by more than 80 million people per year.

With increasing demand for water and a jeopardized supply, communities increasingly are turning to recycling technologies to stretch and make the most efficient use of existing water supplies. Critical to this is having a clear understanding of the quality of the water coming into any treatment plant before it is recycled.

The greatest reuse per capita is happening in arid Middle Eastern countries such as Israel, Qatar, and Kuwait, though the No. 1 recycler of water by volume is the United States. The leading states for water recycling are Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.

In Orange County, California, engineers found it’s 15% cheaper to recycle water than to buy new supplies from rivers and reservoirs.

But what about the yuck factor?

The most important thing to remember is: No matter the water source — untrammeled mountain spring, or the river mouth of a major industrial city — it all must pass stringent health and safety tests before reaching your tap. In fact, recycled water often faces tougher quality control tests than river or lake water. Water reuse is safe.

Another key point is that we’ve been relying on recycled water for years without realizing it. In the Southwestern United States, stream water in places like the Rio Grande and Colorado River is typically used several times before it ever reaches the ocean. (The demands on the Colorado River are so great from Colorado to Mexico that it sometimes does not contain enough water to reach the sea.) The same water used by cities near the headwaters is used again and again downstream by farmers for irrigation.

Few people have second thoughts about using the same air as someone else. Why think about water differently?

It’s important to remember that the vast majority of water, whether recycled or first-use, does not go to the tap for drinking. It’s for growing crops, irrigating parks and golf courses, and watering lawns. In many places where water is scarce, it’s possible, and often economical, to set up two separate water systems, one for outdoor and one for indoor potable use.

Almost every city using recycled water in the U.S. sends the treated supply outside. Some cities pump recycled water underground to replenish aquifers. Most, however, reuse the water as an irrigation supply for farming or landscaping. One advantage of using recycled water outdoors: natural cleansing processes via vegetation, bacteria, and UV radiation do for free what would be more costly industrial processes in water treatment plants.

The reality is that water on this planet exists in a closed loop on a closed cycle. There is a limited amount of this precious resource, and the double-whammy of climate change and population growth are putting extra pressure on the supplies we have.

Water is too valuable to waste. In fact, it’s so valuable that we should use it again and again.

Ari Goldfarb is CEO of Kando, an Israel-based company, providing data-driven wastewater management solutions to help cities worldwide keep rivers and oceans cleaner while stimulating the reuse of water. Kando is affiliated with the Israel-Colorado Innovation Fund which invests in and connects Israeli entrepreneurs with U.S. markets through Innosphere Ventures, a Colorado technology incubator.

#Snowpack news: The #SouthPlatteRiver Basin’s second peak for the season very near the normal peak date

Click on a thumbnail below to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS. Now that all the basins are melting-out pay more attention to the percent of peak, slope of the downward line (melt rate), and this year’s peak date which were earlier than average.

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for April 26, 2021 via the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 26, 2021 via the NRCS.