When the CC Ditch washed out on June 8 outside of Nucla, West End water shareholders did what they’ve been doing for more than a century in rallying together to do what needed to be done.
Stan Galley, the Colorado Cooperative Company Ditch board president, told The Norwood Post that upon investigation, the ditch appeared to have been leaking through the bank for some time and then ended up washing out about 175 feet of the waterway, leaving the area without its source of raw water.
The oldest water right on the San Miguel River and established in the late 1800s, the ditch runs 17 miles from the old site of Pinion and made the town of Nucla, otherwise a desert, possible.
Not having water in early June sounded an alarm for shareholders who have animals, crops, gardens, fruit trees and fields.
“We didn’t have any water on the morning of June 9,” Galley said.
As a result, Dean Naslund, who is the ditch superintendent, went to see what the issue was and found water running across the road below the head gate.
“We basically started work that afternoon-evening to start getting it fixed,” Galley said.
And that work took a few weeks to accomplish.
Shareholders had to dig about 15 feet back into the hillside to set the ditch back. There was no bank left. Then, they poured a concrete floor, and next a wall.
“You could see where they stacked rock and filled dirt,” Galley said. “It had been there 120 years before it gave out.”
The CC Ditch board hired Monty Spor, since he had the right size excavator. He and Chas Burbridge dug the hillside out.
“I was pretty impressed by that,” Galley said. “Monty got the machine out there and started digging at 2:30 p.m., and then by the next day had it to grade. … By the weekend, they started forming the grade and got the floor all ready.”
Galley’s family has been using CC ditchwater since its inception. His grandmother’s step-dad, a Bowen, was involved in constructing the ditch. A farmer and rancher, Galley said not having water in Nucla was difficult. For him, his corn suffered, and things got pretty dry. He’d already started haying, though, so he went ahead and cut hay and tried to be ready for when the water came back on…
Last week, Galley reported that the ditch was not back “at a full head” at that point. He said Naslund wanted to make sure the fix worked properly, like they wanted it to, before they started using water like they normally do.
Graphic courtesy of Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49) showing locations that have ever recorded temperatures as high (yellow) or higher (red) than the 121F recorded in Lytton British Columbia today. pic.twitter.com/2kv7X8On1a
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:
Join us in Northern Colorado this summer as we visit areas impacted by the states worst wildfires. We will also view ongoing infrastructure projects and water operations using innovative approaches to meet future demands.
Science denial is not new, of course. But it is more important than ever to understand why some people deny, doubt or resist scientific explanations – and what can be done to overcome these barriers to accepting science.
Action #1: Each person has multiple social identities. One of us talked with a climate change denier and discovered he was also a grandparent. He opened up when thinking about his grandchildren’s future, and the conversation turned to economic concerns, the root of his denial. Or maybe someone is vaccine-hesitant because so are mothers in her child’s play group, but she is also a caring person, concerned about immunocompromised children.
We have found it effective to listen to others’ concerns and try to find common ground. Someone you connect with is more persuasive than those with whom you share less in common. When one identity is blocking acceptance of the science, leverage a second identity to make a connection.
Challenge #2: Mental shortcuts
Everyone’s busy, and it would be exhausting to be vigilant deep thinkers all the time. You see an article online with a clickbait headline such as “Eat Chocolate and Live Longer” and you share it, because you assume it is true, want it to be or think it is ridiculous.
Action #2: Instead of sharing that article on how GMOs are unhealthy, learn to slow down and monitor the quick, intuitive responses that psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 thinking. Instead turn on the rational, analytical mind of System 2 and ask yourself, how do I know this is true? Is it plausible? Why do I think it is true? Then do some fact-checking. Learn to not immediately accept information you already believe, which is called confirmation bias.
Action #3: Recognize that other people (or possibly even you) may be operating with misguided beliefs about science. You can help them adopt what philosopher of science Lee McIntyre calls a scientific attitude, an openness to seeking new evidence and a willingness to change one’s mind.
Recognize that very few individuals rely on a single authority for knowledge and expertise. Vaccine hesitancy, for example, has been successfully countered by doctors who persuasively contradict erroneous beliefs, as well as by friends who explain why they changed their own minds. Clergy can step forward, for example, and some have offered places of worship as vaccination hubs.
Challenge #4: Motivated reasoning
You might not think that how you interpret a simple graph could depend on your political views. But when people were asked to look at the same charts depicting either housing costs or the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over time, interpretations differed by political affiliation. Conservatives were more likely than progressives to misinterpret the graph when it depicted a rise in CO2 than when it displayed housing costs. When people reason not just by examining facts, but with an unconscious bias to come to a preferred conclusion, their reasoning will be flawed.
Action #4: Maybe you think that eating food from genetically modified organisms is harmful to your health, but have you really examined the evidence? Look at articles with both pro and con information, evaluate the source of that information, and be open to the evidence leaning one way or the other. If you give yourself the time to think and reason, you can short-circuit your own motivated reasoning and open your mind to new information.
Challenge #5: Emotions and attitudes
When Pluto got demoted to a dwarf planet, many children and some adults responded with anger and opposition. Emotions and attitudes are linked. Reactions to hearing that humans influence the climate can range from anger (if you do not believe it) to frustration (if you are concerned you may need to change your lifestyle) to anxiety and hopelessness (if you accept it is happening but think it’s too late to fix things). How you feel about climate mitigation or GMO labeling aligns with whether you are for or against these policies.
Action #5: Recognize the role of emotions in decision-making about science. If you react strongly to a story about stem cells used to develop Parkinson’s treatments, ask yourself if you are overly hopeful because you have a relative in early stages of the disease. Or are you rejecting a possibly lifesaving treatment because of your emotions?
Feelings shouldn’t (and can’t) be put in a box separate from how you think about science. Rather, it’s important to understand and recognize that emotions are fully integrated ways of thinking and learning about science. Ask yourself if your attitude toward a science topic is based on your emotions and, if so, give yourself some time to think and reason as well as feel about the issue.
Everyone can be susceptible to these five psychological challenges that can lead to science denial, doubt and resistance. Being aware of these challenges is the first step toward taking action to meet them.
Fish and wildlife leaders say they have their eye on potential closures of the Animas and San Juan rivers as well.
Devastating drought and disappearing runoff in far southwestern Colorado have prompted state officials to seek voluntary fishing restrictions on the Dolores River for the first time, and fish and wildlife leaders say they have their eye on potential closures of the Animas and San Juan rivers as well.
Intense rain over the weekend — generating eye-opening but perhaps deceptive coverage of flash floods and mudslides — are not nearly enough to bring Colorado’s Western Slope out of a 20-year drought that has drained rivers and desiccated pastures.
Conservation groups, meanwhile, say they are also worried about low river levels in more visible, main-stem branches of waterways usually popular with anglers and recreators in July, including the Colorado River…
Voluntary fishing closures on prime stretches of the Colorado are “imminent,” too, as soon as state weather warms up as expected in a few days, said Kendall Bakich, aquatic biologist for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division in the Glenwood Springs area. Portions of the Colorado are seeing water temperatures above 70 degrees and related fish stress a month earlier than in a usual year, Bakich said.
Moreover, sediment from the heavy rains and mudslides that make some Front Range residents hear “drought relief” are actually making things harder on trout and other species, Bakich said. The murky water makes it harder for them to find food.
Even if you release a caught trout and it survives, Bakich said, this year’s far earlier than normal heat stresses are threatening the sperm and egg health in the species…
Bakich said she has worked the waters from Glenwood Springs upstream to State Bridge since 2007, and has not seen Colorado River temperatures rise this fast, this early…
Flow in the Dolores River is controlled almost completely by McPhee’s dam. Normally at this time of year, the stream is running at 60 to 80 cubic feet per second. Last week, it ran at 9 cfs, White said. Managers believe it will be down to 5 cfs later in the summer, barely a trickle in the wide stream bed.
So Parks and Wildlife is asking Dolores anglers to stop fishing by noon each day. Water comes out the bottom of McPhee at a chilly, trout-friendly 45 degrees, White said. In typical weather, anglers have a few miles of river to work below the dam before the water heats up to 75 degrees, a temperature band that starts weakening fish survival rates. Those 75-degree stretches have moved much closer to the dam this summer, he said.
The same is happening on the Animas and San Juan rivers in the southwest corner of the state, and voluntary closures are close on the horizon there, White said.
“We anticipate probably asking anglers to refrain from fishing at some point later in the summer if water temperatures start to get high, which we do anticipate this year,” he said.
The Colorado River sections could see some relief, from engineering if not from the weather.
Wildlife and conservation leaders said they are in talks with Front Range water diverters, who have rights to send Western Slope river water under the Continental Divide for urban and suburban household water, to release more flow west from their healthy reservoirs on the Colorado and its tributaries.
FromInside Climate News (Bob Berwyn and Judy Fahys):
As residents prepare for even more temperature records to fall in the heat dome forecast to persist for days, scientists see a heavy climate change fingerprint.
The latest in a seemingly endless series of heat waves around the world hit the Pacific Northwest last weekend and will continue through the week, showing that even regions with cool coastlines and lush forests cannot avoid the blistering extremes of global warming.
Temperatures across most of Oregon and Washington spiked 20 to 30 degrees Celsius above normal, with even hotter conditions expected through Tuesday driving concerns about impacts to human health, infrastructure and ecosystems.
In a Twitter thread over the weekend, Ben Noll, a meteorologist with the New Zealand National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, reported that Portland, Oregon would be hotter than 99.9 percent of the rest of the planet on Sunday. “The only places expected to be hotter: Africa’s Sahara Desert, Persian Gulf, California’s deserts,” he tweeted.
On Sunday, the heat buckled roads as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington reached a record temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, 12 degrees hotter than its previous record of 92, which was set in 2015. And the western Canadian community of Lytton reached 116 on Sunday, an all-time record for the nation and one of 40 records set in British Columbia that day, according to the BBC.
Meanwhile, in Washington and Oregon east of the Cascade Mountains, the heat was expected to endure through the week, after reaching a projected high of 117 on Tuesday. At least 11 towns in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington state recorded all-time high temperatures, many surging past the previous maximums by 4 or 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Excessive heat warnings covered western maps from British Columbia, Canada, to Montana in the east, and south to the U.S.-Mexico border. The heat wave shattered all-time temperature records on Saturday and Sunday with triple-digit temperatures, according to the National Weather Service. But still higher temperatures were forecast for Monday and Tuesday, as the “unprecedented event” continued to scorch the landscape and put health at risk through the week…
The intensity of the heat wave, measured by how far temperatures are spiking above normal, is among the greatest ever measured globally. The extremes are on par with a 2003 European heat wave that killed about 70,000 people, and a 2013 heat wave in Australia, when meteorologists added new shades of dark purple to their maps to show unprecedented temperatures.
And the more extreme the temperature records, climate scientists said, the more obvious the fingerprint of global warming will be on the heat wave. But even among climate scientists, the biggest concern was the immediate impacts of the record shattering temperatures…
North Seattle College climate scientist Heather Price taped aluminum foil inside her windows to try and protect her family of four as temperatures reached the 90s early Sunday morning. She used a handheld thermometer to check how much it cooled their home.
“This really is a public health emergency,” she said. “Of all disasters, heat kills the most people. The data is out there, and it’s worse in cool climates.” Even though Seattle has opened wading pools and spray parks that have been closed since early in the Covid-19 pandemic, some public water fountains are still turned off to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
Three consecutive years largely without monsoons, record-low soil moistures in the fall and below average winter snowpack have set the stage for the giant smoke plumes rising over Colorado this week…
The Sylvan fire was one of seven large fires in the state this year that collectively have burned 26,114 acres as of Friday. The fires put the state way ahead of where it was last year at this time. The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, which helps to coordinate firefighting across five states, upgraded its preparedness level to 3 this week which did not happen until Aug. 7 last year. The level reflects the number of fires and crews needed to fight them, said Larry Helmerick, a spokesman for the agency…
As a potentially dry summer sets in, the state has been split by vastly different fire-danger conditions. Two back-to-back drought years have set the Western Slope up for an early and intense fire season while eastern Colorado made an unexpected recovery with a cold and wet May that has given rise to green slopes. The new, tall grasses could pose their own danger if hot temperatures dry them out in the coming months, experts say.
However, the conditions on the Western Slope and many part of the west are already reaching record drought levels. It’s possible the coming wildfire season could be worse than last year in the extreme conditions, said Jeff Colton, a warning coordination and incident meteorologist for the National Weather Service…
When the monsoon largely failed for the third year in a row on the Western Slope in 2020, the soils hit record low moisture levels and that dry soil soaked up the below average snowfall, hurting runoff, he said. Then last week, high temperatures hit in force with even Aspen hitting 90 degrees, he said. Humidity has also been extremely low, a contributor to fire risk…
Conditions in Colorado Springs
In Colorado Springs, the fire danger is higher than it would be in an average year even though the community is not currently in a drought, Fire Marshal Brett Lacey said.
The tall green grasses that flourished after a wet spring will likely pose a risk as they go dormant or die and dry out during the predicted hot and dry summer, he said.
When the grass catches fire they can produce flame lengths, up to triple the height of their own height, he said…
In eastern Utah the vegetation is starting to disappear, similar to conditions seen in 2012 when the region saw blowing dust.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday unanimously declined a petition by Imperial Valley farmer Michael Abatti claiming he and a handful of other agricultural landowners, not the Imperial Irrigation District, held senior rights to Colorado River water that nearly 40 million people across the West depend on.
The decision likely is the last stop for a torturous legal battle that dates back to 2013. As the law stands, farmers have a guaranteed right to water delivery but not a special claim above other users like homes and geothermal plants…
The case’s legal questions dealt with intricate water law, but the stakes were high. If Abatti and the other small group of farmers had been ceded control of some of the oldest, largest rights to Colorado River water supply, the ripple effects could have affected Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas and rural users across several states.
IID board President James Hanks said the decision “brings closure to this dispute and clarifies certain misunderstandings about IID’s water rights.”
He said while “IID has always agreed that agricultural water users in Imperial Valley have a legally enforceable right to service by the district,” so do all water users in the district’s service area, thanks to water rights that IID holds in trust for its customers…
IID board Vice President J.B. Hamby said the decision allows the district to focus on ensuring supply for all its customers both now and in the long-term, including “preparing for critical drought discussions on the Colorado River.”
Abatti wanted the court to vacate the judgement of the Fourth Appellate Court which ruled mostly in favor of IID, determining the water did not belong to the landowners, only the right of water service.
Abatti began the suit in 2013 after the IID instituted its Equitable Distribution Plan (EDP). In light of the continuing drought in the Western states, the IID needed a tool to ration Colorado water if needed. Abatti believed the IID had overstepped its jurisdiction and took the District to the Superior Court where Judge Brooks Anderholt ruled in favor of Abatti.
The IID appealed, and the Fourth Appellate Court’s three-paneled judges reversed Anderholt’s decision.
Abatti argued in his brief to the Supreme Court that landowners have actual water rights per the 1902 Federal Reclamation Act, not just the right to water service. The Abatti brief said his claim is not a new one but has long been protected under federal law.
He also argued that the Imperial Valley farmers and landowners have witnessed a loss of property value since the Fourth Appellate Court’s decision. According to the brief, farmers can’t make produce or field crop contracts, which are worth billions, because they cannot guarantee water delivery. The ruling, according to the brief, has reduced production and investment back into the land, a detriment, Abatti said, to the Nation.
The US Supreme Court did not validate Abatti’s claim by letting the lower court’s verdict stand.
Birdsong fills the air on a sunny May morning along Severance’s cottonwood-lined main street – but it’s soon drowned out by the roar of a backhoe.
The former farm town is replacing crumbling old water lines that serve a rapidly growing population. Severance, which is about an hour’s drive north of Denver, has seen its population double in the past five years, as home buyers thwarted by soaring prices in larger Front Range cities look for more affordable options.
“(We’re) a very quickly growing community in northern Colorado, I think a really good community, but definitely have seen a lot of growth,” said the town’s community development director, Mitch Nelson.
One of the biggest challenges Severance faces as its population climbs toward 8,000 is securing enough water for continued growth.
That wasn’t something Severance had to worry about just a decade ago. Now, as drought strains much of the state and tens of thousands of newcomers move to the bustling Front Range each year, places like Severance are thinking about growth – and water usage – in ways they never have before.
“In the past, the town’s future goals, from a land use standpoint, weren’t discussed alongside water conservation,” Nelson said. “That was the first step.”
As growing towns compare their existing water supplies to the needs of the new residents and businesses coming their way, they expect they’ll need more water. But figuring out where this new water will come from is the question. Large cities on the Front Range have senior water rights and long-established supplies, whereas small towns like Severance usually don’t.
Severance gets its water from the Northern Weld County Water District, which in turn draws on the Colorado-Big Thompson project. The CBT, as it’s called, delivers water to more than 1 million Front Range residents each year. That water comes from the state’s Western Slope, where snowmelt in the headwaters of the Colorado River is diverted through a tunnel through the Continental Divide.
However, the cost of one unit of CBT water is approaching $65,000, double the cost just a few years ago, thanks to rapidly escalating demand and shrinking supplies due to a 20-year drought. A unit, which is enough to serve two average households in northern Colorado for one year, sold for $1,500 in 1990.
The burgeoning costs mean that towns have a financial incentive to conserve their existing water instead of simply trying to buy more. Lindsay Rogers, the Colorado Basin program manager for the WaterNow Alliance, says the choice is obvious…
Conserving water also is cheaper for homeowners; their rates don’t have to be increased to cover expensive new water sources. But conservation alone can’t meet all of a town’s future needs, Nelson said.
“You have to do both,” he said. “You have to acquire the potable water because that is what people use to drink, and reduce the usage of water for irrigation.”
That reduction in irrigation water is mostly going to happen in new developments, as Severance and similar towns work to integrate water planning into their land use planning.
Making growth water-smart from the start provides more bang for the buck…
Colorado towns can get help with planning from the state, and through such nonprofits as the Babbitt Center, the WaterNow Alliance and the Sonoran Institute. Severance participated in WaterNow’s training last winter and will get ongoing support from the group’s experts. In January, town officials approved an updated comprehensive plan.
The final plan, which will guide Severance’s land use code, incorporates water conservation throughout and is in line with state objectives for water planning. The plan identifies such opportunities as adopting water-efficient regulations for landscaping, requiring developers to secure their own water supplies for new subdivisions, and working with the Northern Weld County Water District to develop a fee structure that will encourage conservation…
Other small Front Range towns, such as Frederick, Johnstown and Evans, have created similar maps and plans. They’ve implemented water efficiency improvements and passed conservation ordinances. And they’ve bought out farms to use the water rights for more subdivisions.
Nelson said Severance is trying to avoid that.
“I think the goal is to maintain those historic uses and not dry this area up,” he said, “but allow for small scale farming all the way up to the standard agriculture operations we’ve seen historically.”
Much of the groundwater pumped up from the Denver basin in northern and central El Paso County flows down Monument or Fountain creeks, never to be seen again after it’s been used and treated once.
Colorado Springs Utilities, Monument and six groundwater districts want to see that water returned back to homes and businesses to be reused and to help ease the pressure on groundwater.
The groundwater that’s already flowed through showers, sinks and toilets once could potentially be treated and reused twice, and that could help the diminishing aquifer last longer, said Jenny Bishop, a senior project engineer with the water resources group within Colorado Springs Utilities.
Reusing the water could reduce the amount of fresh groundwater that must be pumped annually, limit the need for new wells, give districts more time to pursue additional water rights and make the most of a finite resource, she said. The deeper groundwater in El Paso County is not replenished by rain or other natural sources.
While Colorado Springs Utilities does not rely on Denver basin groundwater, future water reuse projects identified by an ongoing study involving Monument and the groundwater districts could rely on Utilities infrastructure. In recent years, Utilities has also started to focus more on effective water use across the county.
Utilities “recognizes that long-term water security for the Pikes Peak region depends on the efficient use and reuse of reusable water supplies,” Bishop said.
The Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority Regional Water Reuse Study is going to determine how and where groundwater could be diverted from Monument or Fountain creeks and returned to the water providers. It’s possible the water could be diverted below Colorado Springs and may require new water storage, such as a reservoir or a tank, she said.
Larger projects that could serve multiple water providers, such as Tri-View and Forest Lakes metro districts, are expected to be efficient, Bishop said. The study could also recommend more than one project to recapture water, she said.
Not all of the groundwater that is pumped up from the ground will be available for reuse, because some of it goes into outdoor irrigation, some is used up by thirsty residents, some is lost in the treatment process and some is lost to evaporation in the creeks, among other points of loss. But the water returned to districts could be substantial…
The following water providers are participating the water reuse study although not all of them would benefit from groundwater flowing back to be used again. Some are interested in portions of the project like additional water storage
Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District
Town of Monument
Triview Metropolitan District
Forest Lakes Metropolitan District
Cherokee Metropolitan District
Donala Water and Sanitation District
Security Water District
Colorado Springs Utilities…
The $100,000 study to identify the projects that would allow the most water reuse may be finished by the end of the year. The document is expected to project cost estimates for construction and operation of the projects. The work could include new water storage, such as reservoirs.
Funding, permitting and designing the projects is expected to take a few years as well, Bishop said.
American Lithium Corp. (“American Lithium” or the “Company”) (TSX-V:LI | OTCQB: LIACF | Frankfurt:5LA1) is pleased to provide details of a recent breakthrough on process development at its Tonopah Lithium Claims Project (“TLC”) located close to Tonopah, Nevada.
Ongoing process work at Hazen Research Inc. has shown that roasting TLC lithium bearing claystones with sulfate and chloride salts, followed by water leaching, results in 82% of lithium being extracted with a significantly lower impurity load as compared to acid leaching.
This alternative processing method will be investigated further at both Hazen Research Inc. in Golden, Colorado (“Hazen”) and at TECMMINE in Lima, Peru (“TECMMINE”).
Test work at Hazen has so far utilized non-upgraded TLC claystones. Additional work will also commence on mechanically upgraded TLC claystones with even better results anticipated.
Full roasting / water leaching results will be compared to results for sulfuric acid leaching to ascertain which method is best from an economic and environmental perspective.
TLC claystone mineralization continues to demonstrate exceptional ability to be concentrated and amenable to multiple process options with lithium carbonate having already been produced.
This latest round of process work is focused on optimizing flow-sheet design to deliver strong environmental and economic benefits to enable a robust Preliminary Economic Assessment.
Dr. Laurence Stefan, COO of American Lithium, states, “The early success of roasting demonstrates once again the robust nature of the TLC lithium resource and its processing versatility. This new metallurgical approach opens the door widely to produce either lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide or both from the TLC project. The extremely low level of impurities in the leachate provides many advantages over the successful sulfuric acid leaching technique that has been the focus to date. We are excited to investigate the roasting route further and will be comparing the overall environmental and economic profiles of each route to make the best decision for the project moving forward.”
American Lithium Provides TLC Process Update:
The TLC project has previously shown that its Li-rich claystones are amenable to rapid sulfuric acid leaching, with lithium extraction in sulfate solution reaching 92% in 10 minutes, for some of the samples. While the flowsheet for sulfuric acid leaching has been successful and is being further optimized, an alternative roasting / water leaching technique has demonstrated early success and will be investigated with additional laboratory test work.
Experiments performed at Hazen Research Inc. in Golden, Colorado, demonstrate that roasting the lithium bearing claystones at 900°C with sulfate and chloride salts (sodium chloride, sodium sulfate, and/or gypsum – calcium sulfate dihydrate) and then leaching in 60°C water for 2 hours, results in 82% of the lithium being extracted into aqueous solution. This roasting process followed by water leaching not only increased the final pH of the solution to 8.5, making the eventual final lithium carbonate or hydroxide precipitation much easier, but also produced an astonishingly low level of impurities, when compared to sulfuric acid leaching.
Heavy elements such as iron, aluminum, and manganese in the leachate are below detection limit (<10 ppm), with magnesium extraction below 1% (54 ppm) and calcium extraction below 3% (500 ppm). As expected, sodium and potassium are leached in greater quantities, but still at manageable levels (Na 78%; K 52% extraction in aqueous solution). Test work at TECMMINE shows a good rubidium extraction of 63%. The high extraction of potassium and rubidium presents the opportunity to produce saleable by-products such as potash as fertilizer and rubidium hydroxide for industrial applications. The overall impurities level in the aqueous solution obtained to date, through roasting and water leaching, presents a legitimate alternative route to producing battery-grade lithium chemicals from TLC claystone mineralization.
Additional test work is underway to build on these initial results and further investigate the roasting process-route at Hazen and at TECMMINE and the results will be fully compared to sulfuric acid leaching once sufficient data is compiled. American Lithium plans to compare the roasting option to acid leaching both in terms of capex, opex, environmental footprint and economic performance.
As previously announced on March 23, 2021, TLC claystones can be upgraded by up to 66%, in terms of lithium grades, using hydrocyclones and centrifuges. The preliminary test work on roasting was performed on non-upgraded claystones and further progress and efficiencies are anticipated from testing upgraded samples.
In parallel, hydrochloric acid leaching test work has started with TECMMINE. TECMMINE was instrumental in optimizing the leaching and precipitation of battery grade lithium from the Company’s high-grade Falchani project in Peru and will be a key player in the optimization of flowsheets for TLC.
Dr. Laurence Stefan, COO of American Lithium, concluded “As we continue to optimize processes for the extraction of lithium from TLC claystone mineralization, we will be comparing overall environmental and economic performance for all relevant routes. American Lithium is fortunate that we have so many excellent options from which to produce battery grade lithium compounds from TLC which will enable us to select the best overall route for feasibility and to have other options if needed in the future. We currently anticipate finalizing this process this Fall.”
A heat dome occurs when the atmosphere traps hot ocean air like a lid or cap.
Summertime means hot weather — sometimes dangerously hot — and extreme heat waves have become more frequent in recent decades. Sometimes, the scorching heat is ensnared in what is called a heat dome. This happens when strong, high-pressure atmospheric conditions combine with influences from La Niña, creating vast areas of sweltering heat that gets trapped under the high-pressure “dome.”
A team of scientists funded by the NOAA MAPP Program investigated what triggers heat domes and found the main cause was a strong change (or gradient) in ocean temperatures from west to east in the tropical Pacific Ocean during the preceding winter.
Imagine a swimming pool when the heater is turned on — temperatures rise quickly in the areas surrounding the heater jets, while the rest of the pool takes longer to warm up. If one thinks of the Pacific as a very large pool, the western Pacific’s temperatures have risen over the past few decades as compared to the eastern Pacific, creating a strong temperature gradient, or pressure differences that drive wind, across the entire ocean in winter. In a process known as convection, the gradient causes more warm air, heated by the ocean surface, to rise over the western Pacific, and decreases convection over the central and eastern Pacific.
As prevailing winds move the hot air east, the northern shifts of the jet stream trap the air and move it toward land, where it sinks, resulting in heat waves.
The multitude of studies and reports about the impacts of climate change on western water and the Colorado River Basin increasingly come to parallel, if not precisely the same, conclusions: the future will be warmer and drier, with less water. The studies also show that the process of warming and aridification is happening faster than anticipated.
In 2008, Science Magazine published a short article claiming that the concept of “stationarity” in water management was dead. Stationarity—a fundamental concept in water resource management and planning— is the “idea that natural systems fluctuate within an unchanging envelope of variability”. The envelope of variability, however, is definitely changing.
But this is a difficult principal to let go of. It loosens the moorings of decades of water supply thinking.
While many water managers and policy professionals agree that stationarity is no longer valid, I wonder how well they understand its full implications. Many still assess temperatures and precipitation today as compared to “normal”. That “normal” is based on the concept of stationarity.
A 2019 report by the Colorado River Research Group, Thinking About Risk in the Colorado River, emphasized the loss of stationarity and the growing likelihood of what are called “Black Swan” events. These are events that fall outside the scope of normal expectations and planning efforts, thereby inflicting an unexpected shock to the system. While the current southwestern drought, possibly a megadrought, could be called a Black Swan, it’s more likely to become the norm than to disappear.
With the advent of increasing warming and aridification due to greenhouse gas emissions, any past certainty of droughts eventually breaking is now in question. We are in a time that climate scientists Brad Udall has labeled “The New Abnormal”.
The Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University recently released a new white paper, Alternative Management Paradigms for the future of the Colorado and Green Rivers (White Paper #6). This study takes a look at the future of water supplies in the Colorado Basin, using science as opposed to aspirational politics. We covered the report in more detail in a series of blogs titled, “Colorado River Futures”, which includes an overview, a “changed river” edition, and a “climate and the river” edition.
The study begins with the statement, “Our ability to sustainably manage the Colorado River is clearly in doubt”.
While we have responded to recent crises by developing new planning and management techniques, the report warns that “A gradual and incremental approach to adaptation… is unlikely to meet the challenges of the future.”
Simply put, we need to change how we think about the Colorado River and water supply in the southwest. The paradigms of the past no longer suffice.
The paper states “The Colorado River can be sustainably managed only if consumptive uses are matched to available supply. This will require Upper Basin limitations and substantially larger Lower Basin reductions than are currently envisaged.” The paper suggests that by capping Upper Basin use to 4 MAF or less and reducing Lower Basin use by 1.4 to 3 MAF critical storage levels in Lakes Powell and Mead might be maintained.
Across the basin, individual states are thinking about how they can address their climate and water supply challenges. Renegotiations of the 2007 Interim Guidelines are in their nascent stage. This round of discussions will be different from 2007 as the rights of the 29 Native American tribes, along with those of the environment, will be at the table. The tribes hold as much as 20% of the Basin’s water rights, 2.9 MAF. That’s more than Arizona’s compact allotment and a right that has never been included in basin wide agreements. This more inclusive and collaborative approach to negotiations is essential to address the serious challenges that are facing all of us.
Water conservation and evolving technologies will become increasingly important. But we need more than that. We also need to shift our perspectives, our ways of seeing and imagining water and rivers in the Colorado Basin.
I suggest that we think about water and rivers as Native Americans do, as sacred. Water IS life.
Whether or not we use water is not the question here, but our attitudes and how we use it are. Water should be used with respect, with reverence, with gratitude and within limits. You only take what you need, and never so much as to impair the integrity of the rivers and watersheds that supply us with that water.
We already have an idea of water as sacred codified in Colorado and Western water law in the concept of the Duty of Water.
The Water Rights Handbook for Colorado Conservation Professionals defines the Duty of Water as “The amount of water that through careful management and use, without wastage, is reasonably required to be applied to a tract of land for a length of time that is adequate to produce the maximum amount of crops that are ordinarily grown there.” If you don’t need the water, you have no right to it.
As irrigation technology and infrastructure improve, less water is required for transport and other “non-consumptive” uses. Less water is needed at the point of diversion and can be left in the river.
Seeing water as sacred also means that we must not regard it strictly as a commodity.
Water is a “natural resource” for our use and benefit, but water has worth far beyond base economics. This worth includes its spiritual, cultural and environmental value. While markets and economics do play a role in water supply management, seeing water solely as a tradeable commodity diminishes its true value.
We need to see and think of rivers and their watersheds as a whole and integrated system, rather than parceling them into separate disconnected “resource” and jurisdictional bins.
To do so, it is critical that we rely on the most up to date science. Science reveals the situation we are in, in all its complexity, uncertainty and without judgement. And we need to pair that modern science with the traditional knowledge that has guided water management for centuries. It is up to us to do the right thing, being clear-eyed and honest. If we hope to adapt and gain true resilience we need to change how we perceive, plan and use water.
Officials say back-up water supply plan will not affect Wild & Scenic designation
Representatives from the Colorado River Water Conservation District say their efforts to develop a solution to a water shortage on the Crystal River will probably include natural fixes before a dam and reservoir and that the plan should not impact a future Wild & Scenic designation.
Staff from the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District presented some preliminary findings of a study of a back-up water supply plan, known as an augmentation plan, to Pitkin County commissioners [June 22, 2021]. They said their preference is to find and develop natural infrastructure like aquifer recharge or wetlands restoration before proposing a dam and reservoir.
Water could be diverted and stored in an underground aquifer during peak flows and then be allowed to slowly seep back into the river when it’s needed. Restoring wetlands can raise the water table throughout the valley floor, creating a sponge that holds water.
River District staff said they would absolutely not consider storage on the main stem of the Crystal — any potential small reservoir would be on a tributary — and that whatever solutions they come up with shouldn’t affect the long-held goal of some residents to get a federal Wild & Scenic designation to protect the free-flowing nature of the river.
River District Director of Government Relations Zane Kessler said the River District is working with environmental groups like American Rivers to find a solution to the shortage.
“We see a real opportunity to do something cool here and think outside the box,” he said. “I don’t know that natural infrastructure could take care of all of it, but we want to prioritize that first and look at opportunities.”
The River District, along with Rifle-based West Divide Water Conservancy District, undertook the study, paid for by a state grant, to examine a problem that became evident during the summer of 2018: that in dry years there may not be enough water for both irrigators and residential subdivisions.
“2018 was a wake-up call for water users on the Crystal,” Kessler said.
That August, the Ella Ditch, which irrigates land south of Carbondale, placed a call on the river for the first time ever. That meant that junior water rights holders upstream were supposed to stop taking water so that the Ella Ditch, which has water rights dating to 1902, could receive its full amount. Under Colorado’s prior appropriation system, those with the oldest water rights have first use of the river.
The Colorado Division of Water Resources did not enforce the call by turning off water to homes, but instead told water users they must work together to create a basin-wide augmentation plan.
Most junior water rights holders have augmentation plans, which allows them to continue using water during a call by replacing it with water from another source, like releasing it from a reservoir. The problem on the Crystal is that several residential subdivisions don’t have augmentation plans.
Until water users come up with a permanent solution, DWR has said it may not allow outdoor water use when a senior call is on as a temporary fix. Water managers expect once-rare calls by irrigators to become more frequent as rising temperatures result in less water in streams.
River District staff presented the first step in the study: a demand quantification or putting numbers on the amount of water needed for different uses throughout the year.
Engineers found 90 structures — many of them wells for in-house water use — that take water from the river system and which would need to be included in the augmentation plan. These 90 structures deliver water to 197 homes, 80 service connections in Marble, nearly 23 irrigated acres, Beaver Lake and Orlosky Reservoir in Marble, 16,925 square-feet of commercial space, plus some water for livestock.
In order for these water users to keep taking water during a downstream call by an irrigator, they would have to replace about 113 acre-feet of water in the Crystal River per year. The amount of extra flow that would need to be added to the river is small — just .58 cubic feet per second during July, the peak replacement month.
Some commissioners asked if simply using less water — instead of creating a new supply of water — especially by irrigators on the lower Crystal, could solve the problem.
“I’d love to see an analysis of the conservation opportunities,” said Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury. “What can we do that’s not taking the water out, but preserving it in the stream?”
River District General Manager Andy Mueller acknowledged there may be more “aggressive” irrigators on the Crystal, but that in addition, climate change is decreasing the amount of water available. He said he wants the River District to work more closely with Pitkin County to find conservation opportunities.
“I think those types of opportunities require identifying the potential for them but then developing relationships with the water users,” Mueller said.
Tuesday’s meeting was a chance for board members from both organizations, which have not historically seen eye to eye on water issues, to work together and ask questions. Next steps include public outreach and education, coordinating with water managers and eventually developing a basin-wide augmentation strategy.
“We are going to continue to evaluate alternatives and try to get some additional expertise in the realm of natural infrastructure or aquifer recharge,” Kessler said. “We are going to do our best to make sure that this effort aligns with the Wild & Scenic values that the community supports.”
What are climate tipping points and how will we know when they have been breached? A collection of climate scientists provide insight to these fundamental questions by looking at a series of potential tipping points around the world in the second episode of the Mostly Climate podcast, hosted by the Met Office.
The Met Office’s Dr Doug McNeall is the host of the podcast. He said: “The phrase ‘tipping point’ was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell journalist and author who published his first book “The Tipping Point” in 2000. Here he explained how small changes – spreading ideas, messages, behaviours and products – can make a big difference.”
At first the inspiration for the book came from reduced crime rates in New York City, but later expanded to explain similar phenomena in epidemiology. Doug McNeall added: “Tipping points have since been applied to other areas of science and they have become a large area of research in climate science, whereby small changes can make a big difference to Earth’s subsystems, such the Amazon rainforest or the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which includes the Gulf Stream.”
In 2018 and 2020, the IPCC Special Reports suggested that tipping points could be exceeded even if warming was contained between 1-2ᵒC. Professor Tim Lenton – a world-renowned expert on tipping points from the University of Exeter – is a major contributor to the podcast. He highlights that with the probability of crossing tipping points, evidence is mounting they could be more likely to ‘tip’ than previously thought and more attention needs to be given to these high-impact events.
Professor Tim Lenton breaks up Earth’s system into three categories:
Ice, including elements such as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Greenland Ice Sheet;
Ocean and Atmospheric Circulation, which includes the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or Monsoonal systems;
Biosphere, which includes the Amazon rainforest, or coral reefs.
Tipping points are often considered in isolation, whereby typically parameters are changed very slowly and at some point you reach a critical threshold where the system can collapse. But this isn’t realistic according to Johannes Lohman, due to a phenomenon called ‘rate-induced tipping’. Here we consider that climate change is unfolding at an accelerated pace. Also, there may be other types of tipping points at play. As a result, a system could tip before reaching a critical threshold.
Johannes explains: “Rate induced tipping necessitates that the rate of climate change needs to be limited, as well as the absolute amount, since a critical threshold may not be relevant in practice, if parameters and climate change is not slow to change. Due to the chaotic nature of complex systems, there is no well-defined critical rate of change for any one element, severely limiting the predictability of tipping points.”
Next week, in our series on tipping elements on the Met Office news blog we will focus on The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.
The Met Office’s second episode of Mostly Climate can be found here.
This month has been bill-signing season for Colorado Governor Jared Polis, after a frantic and historically productive General Assembly session. On June 24 alone, Governor Jared Polis signed 18 pieces of legislation into law during signing ceremonies in Denver and Boulder.
Among them were several bills meant to boost Colorado’s economy, improve energy efficiency, protect clean air and address some of the water issues resulting from climate change.
HB-1286 Energy Performance For Buildings – the rule requires the owners of large buildings to improve energy efficiency, and, in connection with that effort, to collect and report on energy-use benchmarking data and comply with rules regarding performance standards related to energy and greenhouse gas emissions and modifying statutory requirements regarding energy performance contracts. Sponsored by Reps. C. Kipp, A. Valdez and Senators K. Priola, B. Pettersen.
HB21-1284 Limit Fee Install Active Solar Energy System– The bill focuses on solar energy, setting moderate limitations on the aggregate amount of fees that may be assessed by governmental bodies for the installation of active solar energy systems. Representatives A. Valdez. and K. Van Winkle, and Senators C. Hansen, and K. Priola.
SB21-264 Adoption of Programs Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions Utilities – The bill defines a “gas distribution utility” (GDU) as a gas public utility with more than 90,000 retail customers. It requires each GDU to file a clean heat plan (plan) with the public utilities commission (PUC). A plan must demonstrate how the GDU will use clean heat resources to meet clean heat targets (targets) established in the bill. The targets are a four percent reduction below 2015 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission levels by 2025 and 22 percent below 2015 GHG emission levels by 2030. Sponsored by Representatives A. Valdez, T. Bernett, and Senator C. Hansen.
SB21-072 Public Utilities Commission Modernize Electric Transmission Infrastructure – with the expansion of electric transmission facilities to meet Colorado’s clean energy goals and the creation of the Colorado electric transmission authority, this bill requires transmission utilities to join organized wholesale markets. It allows additional classes of transmission utilities to obtain revenue through the co-location of broadband facilities within their existing rights-of-way. Sponsored by Representatives A. Valdez, and M. Catlin, and Senators C. Hansen, and D. Coram.
HB21-1238 Public Utilities Commission Modernize Gas Utility Demand-side Management Standards – The bill updates the methods used to determine the cost-effectiveness of demand-side management (DSM) programs of public utilities selling natural gas at retail. It requires that the calculation of future benefits reflects the avoided costs to ratepayers resulting from reduced consumption of natural gas. Representative T. Bernett, and Senator C. Hansen.
Later that afternoon in Confluence Park, Polis signed into law HB21-1260 , a General Fund Transfer Implement State Water Plan. The bill allocates $20 million from the general fund to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to be spent to implement the state water plan as follows:
$15 million, which is transferred to the water plan implementation cash fund for expenditures and grants administered by the CWCB to implement the state water plan.
$5 million, which is transferred to the water supply reserve fund for CWCB to disperse to the basin roundtables.
It was sponsored by Representatives A. Garnett and M. Catlin, and Senators Kerry Donovan, and C. Simpson.
Governor Polis also signed two bills that directly relate to the state’s water challenges in the face of accelerating climate changes: HB21-1242 , this bill creates the Colorado Agricultural Drought And Climate Resilience Office – The office will be empowered to provide voluntary technical assistance, non-regulatory programs, and incentives that increase the ability to anticipate, prepare for, mitigate, adapt to, and respond to hazardous events, trends, or disturbances related to drought or the climate. On July 1, 2021, the state treasurer shall transfer all unobligated money in the agriculture value-added cash fund to the newly created agriculture drought and climate resiliency cash fund. It was sponsored by Representative B. McLachlan, and Senator Kerry Donovan.
SB21-189Colorado Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project – Among the many water-related projects this bill funds, it appropriates the following amounts from the Colorado water conservation board (CWCB) construction fund to the CWCB or the division of water resources in the department of natural resources for the following projects:
Continuation of the satellite monitoring system, $100,000 ( section 1 of the bill);
Continuation of the Colorado floodplain map modernization program, $500,000
Continuation of the weather modification permitting program, $350,000 ( section 3 )
Continuation of technical assistance for federal cost-share programs, $300,000
It was sponsored by Senator Kerry Donovan, and Representatives M. Catlin, and K. McCormick
The Arkansas Valley Conduit promises to bring clean drinking water to more residents of southeast Colorado
n the 1940s, the Arkansas River was dammed south of town to build [John Martin Reservoir], a place locals call the Sapphire on the Plains. The reservoir was tied up in a 40-year battle until Colorado and Kansas came to an agreement, in 2019, to provide an additional water source to help keep the levels high enough for recreation and to support fish.
Forty years may seem like a long time to develop a plan to save fish and improve water levels for a reservoir, but southeastern Colorado is used to long fights when it comes to water…
For nearly a century, leaders in southeastern Colorado have worked on plans to bring clean drinking water to the area through the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit, but progress on the pipeline project stalled after a major push in the 1960s. Pollution, water transfers and years of worsening drought amid a warming climate continue to build stress for water systems in the area. Adding to that, the area continues to see population decline combined with a struggling economy.
The water needed for the conduit will be sourced from melting snowpack in the Mosquito and Sawatch mountain ranges [ed. and Colorado River Basin]. Under the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, passed in the early 1960s, the water has been allocated for usage in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The water will be stored at Pueblo Reservoir and travel through existing infrastructure to east Pueblo near the airport. From there, the conduit will tie into nearly 230 miles of pipeline to feed water to 40 communities in need.
Renewed plans to build a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley are bringing hope for many people in southeastern Colorado. But in an area that is inextricably linked to its water, the future can seem unclear…
“Deliver on that promise”
“It was nearly 100 years ago, in the 1930s, that the residents of southeast Colorado recognized that the water quality in the lower valley of the Arkansas River was quite poor,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and a former Bent County commissioner.
Water systems in the district, which includes Pueblo, Crowley, Bent, Prowers, Kiowa and Otero counties, have two main issues affecting drinking water.
The first is that a majority of those systems rely on alluvial groundwater, which can have a high level of dissolved solids. This can include selenium, sulfate, manganese and uranium, which are linked to human health concerns.
Second, the remaining systems in the water district rely on the Dakota-Cheyenne bedrock aquifer that can be affected by naturally occurring radionuclides. Radium and other radionuclides in the underlying geologic rock formation can dissolve into the water table and then be present in drinking water wells, also carrying health risks.
In 1962, residents in southeastern Colorado thought President John F. Kennedy was delivering a solution to their drinking water problem during a ceremony in Pueblo. Congress had passed the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, and Kennedy came to Pueblo to authorize the construction of a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water…
Residents of the 1930s began working on ideas to deliver clean drinking water to southeastern Colorado. By the 1950s, they were selling gold frying pans to raise money to send backers to Washington, D.C., to encourage Congress to pass the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act. But it wasn’t until 1962 that the pipeline authorization became a reality.
Fast forward 58 years, and two more politicians came to Pueblo to address a crowd about the same pipeline project. This time, on Oct. 3, 2020, it was at the base of Pueblo Dam. Because of funding shortfalls, the Arkansas Valley Conduit was never built after it was authorized in 1962.
The Colorado communities could not afford to cover 100% of the costs, as initially required, so in 2009, the act was amended to include a 65% federal share and a 35% local cost share. Additionally, in 2020, Congress appropriated $28 million more toward the project, according to the water conservancy district.
That October day, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner took turns talking about the importance of the project. They told a small crowd that when the pipeline is built, it will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 residents in southeastern Colorado…
The water conservancy district estimates the pipeline project’s cost will range from $546 million to $610 million…
Physical construction of the pipeline won’t start until 2022, according to the water district…
“The solution to pollution Is dilution”
A hand-painted sign with stenciled letters welcomes travelers on Highway 96 into Olney Springs. The highway cuts across four blocks that make up the width of the small town with around 340 residents.
Olney Springs is one of six water systems in Crowley County that plans to have a delivery point, known as a spur, on the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The plans for the pipeline call for two spurs in Pueblo County, three in both Bent and Prowers counties, and one in Kiowa County. Out of the 40 total participants, the remaining 25 are in Otero County…
Located along the Arkansas River about 70 miles east of Pueblo, La Junta is the largest municipality in Otero County. With its population around 7,000 and a Walmart Supercenter, a Holiday Inn Express and Sonic Drive-In, La Junta can feel like a metropolis when compared to Olney Springs.
La Junta is one of two Arkansas Valley Conduit participants, along with Las Animas, that uses reverse osmosis to remove potentially harmful and naturally occurring toxins from the water. Reverse osmosis is a process that uses pressure to push water through a membrane to remove contaminants. According to the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Arkansas Valley Conduit Environmental Impact Statement, reverse osmosis can treat source water to meet standards, but the brine from the process “is an environmental concern, and operation costs are high.”
The other participants use conventional methods to treat water. The environmental impact statement said those methods can be as simple as adding chlorine for disinfection and filtration or adding chemicals to remove suspended solids, but that those treatments “…cannot remove salt or radionuclides from water.”
Tom Seaba, director of water and wastewater for La Junta, said out of a total of 24 water districts in Otero County, 19 were in violation with the state due to elevated levels of radionuclide.
Four of the 19 came into compliance with the state’s drinking water standards after La Junta brought them onto its water system. The remaining 15 are still in violation with the state, according to Seaba.
La Junta spent $18.5 million to build a wastewater treatment plant that came online in 2019 to help meet water standards for its community. But the city’s water treatment came with its own issue: selenium.
After La Junta treats its water using reverse osmosis, the water system is left with a concentrate, which is safe drinking water. However, it’s also left with a waste stream high in selenium. “That wastewater has to go somewhere,” Seaba said. It goes to the city’s new wastewater treatment plant…
According to the environmental impact statement, “La Junta’s wastewater discharge makes up about 1.5% of average annual flow in the Arkansas River.” The study goes on to say that during drought or low-flow events, the wastewater discharge can contribute up to half of the streamflow downstream from the gage.
Seaba is looking to the Arkansas Valley Conduit as a possible answer. “The solution to pollution is dilution,” he said. The water from the pipeline will not have a selenium problem, Seaba explained. By blending water from the conduit with the selenium waste from reverse osmosis, La Junta hopes to reduce costs and stay compliant with Environmental Protection Agency standards to discharge into the river.
The environmental review studied a section of the Arkansas River from where Fountain Creek runs into the river east to the Kansas border. The study found that a section of the river was impaired by selenium…
“I sure don’t drink it”
The EPA sets a maximum contaminant level in drinking water at 5 picocuries per liter of air for combined radium and 30 micrograms per liter for combined uranium. If contaminant levels are above those numbers, the water system is in violation of drinking water regulations, which the state enforces.
According to data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Patterson Valley Water Company in Otero County, one of the 40 pipeline participants, had the highest result of 31 picocuries per liter for combined radium in 2020. In that same county, Rocky Ford, another pipeline participant, had a high result of 0.2 picocuries per liter for combined radium. According to the state health department, Rocky Ford’s combined radium sample numbers were last recorded in 2013.
Manzanola, also in Otero County and a pipeline participant, topped the list with the highest result of 42 micrograms per liter for combined uranium in 2020. In contrast, 19 other pipeline participants, from across the valley, had results of 0 micrograms per liter for combined uranium, according to the most recent numbers from the state health department.
Levels of the two carcinogens are sporadic throughout the valley. The average of the highest results of all 40 participants in the pipeline for combined radium is roughly 8 picocuries per liter and combined uranium is roughly 5 micrograms per liter. According to Seaba, averaging the members’ highest results might seem unfair to some individual water systems because it brings their numbers up, but what those averages do show is that water in Pueblo Reservoir, which will feed the future conduit, is approximately three times less affected by combined radium and combined uranium than the average of current water used by pipeline participants. In 2020, the highest result of combined radium in the Pueblo Reservoir was 2.52 picocuries per liter, and the highest result of combined uranium was 1.7 micrograms per liter…
“I sure don’t drink it,” said Manny Rodriquez. “I don’t think anybody in town drinks the water.”
Rodriquez, who grew up in and still lives in Rocky Ford, was not sure if the water at his apartment was in violation of the state’s clean drinking water act or not. State data showed at that time his water was not in violation. Colorado is required to notify residents if their water system is in violation of the clean drinking water act…
MaryAnn Nason, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, used an example to show how violations can add up: “If a public water system has two entry points that fail for both combined radium and gross alpha (measures of radionuclides), and they have those same violations for 10 years each quarter, that is going to appear as 160 violations on the website. But really, it is one naturally occurring situation that exists for a relatively long time,” Nason said.
For some residents like Ruby Lucero, 83, it makes little difference to her if her water is in violation with the state or not. She plans to buy her drinking water no matter what the results say about her tap water…
“The struggling farmer”
In the past decade, Otero County has seen a 2.9% drop in population. Residents have a ballpark difference of $38,000 in the median household income compared to the rest of the state, and the county is not alone. All six counties that are part of current plans for the Arkansas Valley Conduit are seeing economic hard times.
Adding to those factors is drought. Years of drought keep hitting the area’s No. 1 industry: agriculture.
The Rocky Ford Ditch’s water rights date back to 1874, making them some of the most senior water rights in the Arkansas River system. In the early 1980s, Aurora was able to buy a majority of those water rights. Over time, Aurora acquired more shares and has converted them to municipal use…
“We still have a heavy lift before us”
Planned off the main trunk of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pump station near Wiley will push water along a spur to support Eads in Kiowa County. Water that ends up in Eads will have traveled the longest distance of the pipeline project. The majority of the pipeline will be gravity-fed, but this section will need to be pumped uphill.
The journey is a good representation of Eads’ battle with water. Not only is clean drinking water needed, but the area is also desperate for relief from years of drought exacerbated by climate change…
Long said that Eads is different from a majority of the other participants in the project because it is not located along the Arkansas River…
The domestic water that will be delivered via the conduit is even more important for a town like Eads, said Long. “It’s very difficult to attract new industry when you have a limited supply of very poor water.”
Long believes the conduit will make a huge difference to support communities in the Lower Arkansas River Valley…
Long has been working on the Arkansas Valley Conduit project for nearly 18 years.
“After such a long fight, to finally be where we are feels good, but honestly I can say it doesn’t feel as good as I thought it would. Only because I know we have so much work still to do, and I know how difficult the past 18 years have been,” Long said. “We still have a heavy lift before us.”
Another record breaking day of heat lies ahead for Western Washington. Along with this, high fire danger is expected today along and east of I-5 as conditions remain dry and easterly winds increase this afternoon. Use extreme caution today! #wawxpic.twitter.com/Rhy6FhYwJj
That’s how the National Weather Service described the historic heat wave that is hitting the Pacific Northwest, pushing daytime temperatures into the triple digits and breaking all-time high temperature records in places unaccustomed to such extreme heat.
Portland, Oregon, reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius) Sunday, breaking the all-time temperature record of 108 F (42.2C), which was set just a day earlier. Oregon’s Capital city, Salem, also recorded the highest temperature in its history on Sunday: 112 F (44.4 C), breaking the old mark by 4 degrees.
Records were being broken across the region, and the sizzling temperatures were expected to get even hotter Monday.
The temperature hit 101 F (38.3 C) at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Sunday. The National Weather Service said that is the first time the area recorded two triple digit days since records began being kept in 1894.
It got so hot in Seattle that the city parks department closed a community pool in the southern portion of the city because of “unsafe, dangerous pool deck temperatures.”
Seattle’s light rail trains may have to operate at reduced speeds because of excessive heat on the tracks, causing delays that could continue into the work week, Sound Transit said Sunday.
The heat wave also moved into Idaho, where temperatures above 100 F (38 C) are forecast in Boise for at least seven days starting Monday. Ontario, Oregon — a city near the Idaho border — could see at least a week of triple-digit temperatures, including a high of 109 F (42.8 C) Wednesday, forecasters said.
Cities were reminding residents where pools, splash pads and cooling centers were available and urging people to stay hydrated, check on their neighbors and avoid strenuous activities…
The National Weather Service in Coeur d’Alene said this week’s weather “will likely be one of the most extreme and prolonged heat waves in the recorded history of the Inland Northwest.”
The scorching weather was caused by an extended “heat dome” parked over the Pacific Northwest. Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington who studies global warming and its effects on public health, says the days-long heat wave was a taste of the future as climate change reshapes global weather patterns.
The high temperatures were forecast to move into western Montana beginning Monday.
The 2021 fire season is off to a quick and disconcerting start.
Summer is fire season in the arid West, and this year is already off to a historic start. There are currently 800 square miles of land burning, and the National Interagency Fire Center has raised national wildfire preparedness to level 4 out of 5—meaning that “much of the country is experiencing wildland fire activity” and that “more than half firefighting resources are committed.” If that sounds bad, it’s because it is: This is the second-earliest level-4 designation since 1990 and only the fourth time in the past 20 years to reach this level in June.
More than 9,000 wildland firefighters across the U.S. are currently battling 52 large fires in 13 states. Arizona has 14 of those fires, followed by California, Utah, and Colorado with 6. Not all are western states, either. North Carolina and Florida each have one.
Experts say the current fire behavior more resembles what’s seen in August, not June. This persistent fire activity has led to a rash of land closures.
Nowhere has been hit as hard as Arizona. Coconino and Kaibab national forests are closed as of 8 a.m. June 23, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests are closed to visitors as of June 24. Prescott National Forest will close this week as well, starting at 8 a.m. June 25. All state land is also closed, as is half of the Arizona Trail. The restrictions are expected to last several weeks.
Other states have started closing fire-affected public lands as well. Portions of Custer Gallatin National Forest System lands near Red Lodge, Montana are closed as is Sylvan Lake State Park in Colorado, where the Sylvan Fire has burned more than 3,700 acres as of the time of writing. With ongoing, severe drought conditions throughout the west, hikers should expect more closures throughout the season.
During a meeting on June 17, the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) Board of Directors voted unanimously to accept a grant award from the Small Communities Water and Wastewater Grant Fund.
According to the agenda brief, in early March PSSGID, staff informed the board that they had taken the initiative to apply for a grant to repair the lift stations that pump sewage to the Vista Treatment Plant. The grants are specifically for small communities that need funds to protect the water quality in the region.
“The grant application was for the maximum amount of that grant, $400,000 and the GID of- fered a match of $100,000 for a total amount of $500,000,” said Public Works Director Martin Schmidt. “That amount was determined by what [we] anticipated were the costs for replacing the pumps and pricing at the lift stations.”
The brief states that the staff made it very clear in the applica- tion that the failing lift stations are a serious problem and must be remedied with a long-term solution.
On Tuesday, June 7, the staff received a letter informing the district that the application was successful…
The agenda brief states that the funds will be used for replacement of equipment at Pump Stations 1 and 2, where there continue to be unsustainable failures with the pumps.
Pagosa Country is still in a voluntary drought stage, according to a June 21 press release from the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Manager Justin Ramsey.
To avoid entering the next drought stage, PAWSD has asked for home and business owners to voluntarily implement an odd/ even irrigation schedule. The odd/ even schedule means that houses and businesses with odd numbered addresses will water on odd numbered days of the month and even numbered addresses will water on even numbered days of the month.
“Compliance with this voluntary schedule would all but guarantee that there would be adequate supply for the entire system without the need to implement further restrictions,” Ramsey notes in the press release.
Ramsey explains in his press release that water use increases by up to 300 percent in the summer versus winter, putting a strain on PAWSD’s ability to deliver water throughout the entire 70-square-mile service area…
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 322 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 23.
Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 1,030 cfs.
The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1941 at 4,040 cfs. The lowest recored rate was 32.1 cfs, recorded in 2002.
As of 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 23, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 170 cfs.
Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for this date is 732 cfs.
The highest recorded rate for this date was 2,160 cfs in 1979. The lowest recorded rate was 16.8 cfs in 2002.
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), as of June 15, 100 percent of Archuleta County remains in a moderate drought stage.
The NIDIS website notes that under a moderate drought stage dry-land crops may suffer, rangeland growth is stunted, very little hay is available and risk of wildfires may increase.
The NIDIS website also notes that 99.36 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage.
According to the NIDIS, under a severe drought stage, the fire season is extended.
FromField & Stream (Sage Marshall) (Click through for the photos from Rig to Flip):
“The stream is flowing anywhere between 5 and 9 cfs,” reports Jim White, an aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). “Typical flows are around 70 cfs or higher.”
Such low flows are taking a toll on the river’s trout population. The lack of water leads to higher water temperatures, which directly harm cold-water species such as trout.
“We’ve got a temperature logger placed 2 miles below the dam, and we’re starting to see temperatures upwards of 80 degrees in the evenings,” says White. “We’re starting to exceed what’s called the ‘acute temperature threshold’ for trout, meaning they’re gonna die.”
Managers Expect “Total Mortality” in At Least Half of the Tailwater
The CPW manages a 12 mile stretch below McPhee Reservoir as a catch-and-release tailwater trout fishery. Given the conditions, the agency’s plan is to institute a voluntary fishing closure on the area. Regardless, White expects total mortality of the trout population in the lower half of that section, and potentially in part of the upper half as well. He is also concerned about the river’s mottled sculpin, a native cold-water species and favorite trout food, as well as warm-water native fish such as the flannelmouth sucker, the bluehead sucker, and the roundtail chub populations. That’s not to mention the insects, such as mayflies and caddis, that can’t live in high water temps…
There are two main culprits in the Dolores’ plight: agricultural water use and drought. McPhee Reservoir was a man-made project completed in 1985 primarily to store and provide water for agricultural use in the region. The reservoir itself has become a known hotspot for cliff jumping and catching smallmouth bass, but recent drought conditions have put the project’s long-term viability in question. Not only is the tailwater at 5 to 10 percent of its usual flows, but farmers are only receiving similarly meager water allocations.
Before the creation of the dam, spring runoff would provide enough water to replenish deep pools and runs in the stretch of river that is now suffering. The reservoir is expected to reach its lowest level since its inception this summer.
Experts Eye Trouble for Trout Rivers Across the Region
“We’ve been in a drought for almost 20 years,” says White. “Everybody is suffering from dry conditions here on the West Slope of Colorado and region-wide in Utah and Wyoming.”
White adds that climate change is playing a role in creating extended drought conditions “without a doubt.” According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, every state in the Western U.S. is currently experiencing drought conditions.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski):
Due to continuing drought conditions, trout fishing in the Dolores River below the McPhee Reservoir dam will be adversely affected this year, said a Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist.
Water releases from the dam will probably be under 15 cubic feet per second (cfs) and could possibly drop as low at three cfs, explained Jim White, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango. In normal years, the sustained release from the dam is usually about 60 cfs. The section of river, which flows through the Lone Dome State Wildlife area, from below the dam to Bradfield Bridge ─ a distance of about 12 miles ─ is a popular tail-water fishery. Most trout fishing is done within the first six miles.
White said the lower flows will shrink the river habitat and many brown and rainbow trout will likely die. The water coming out of the dam is about 42 degrees, which is an ideal temperature for trout. But with such a low flow the water will warm quickly as it moves downstream.
“This is going to impact the trout fishery,” White said. “I would expect to see about half or more of the trout fishery habitat suffer and lose much of the trout population.”
White suggested that anglers fish early in the day and carry a thermometer to check the water temperature. Fishing should stop when the water hits 70 degrees.
The low flows will also affect native fish that live in the lower reaches of the Dolores River ─ the Flannelmouth Sucker, the Bluehead Sucker and the Roundtail Chub. These fish are listed by CPW as species of concern. The fish are adapted to survive in warm water, but they still need pools and flowing water to survive.
White is concerned about lower sections of the river drying up or being connected by only tiny rivulets of water.
“I’m worried that the natives are going to be stuck in isolated pools throughout most of the year at these flows,” White said.
Exacerbating the problem are Smallmouth Bass, an invasive non-native fish that thrives in the lower Dolores but are predators on the young of the native fish. Anglers are encouraged to fish for Smallmouth Bass; they are abundant, fairly easy to catch, tasty and there are no bag or possession limits.
As drought continues to grip the West, more and more rivers will be facing the same scenario – this year and beyond.
“All of this is a result of three things: low snowpack, dry soil that will absorb run-off and no carry-over water in the reservoir from last year,” White said.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Anything would be better than a “nonsoon,” but what monsoonal rains western Colorado may get this summer are looking like they’ll be below-average in terms of the total precipitation they deliver.
“If we do get a monsoon this year, right now the indications are, the models and the outlooks are that it would be a below-normal monsoon, so it’s something that maybe we shouldn’t rely on right now” in terms of relief from drought, Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist with the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said Wednesday.
He was speaking during an online coordination meeting between reservoir operators, local irrigators, water utilities and others involved with managing and using water in the Colorado River basin in Colorado.
The region has gotten little in the way of summer monsoonal rain in recent years, adding to drought conditions and leading to the “nonsoon” references by some in the water community. So it might not take much monsoon rain this summer to be viewed as an improvement. But Strautins thinks the models and outlooks call for tempering expectations…
There is a high chance that monsoonal precipitation will develop over the Southwest in the first week of July, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System. Strautins said the moisture that arrived in the area in recent days wasn’t necessarily monsoonal, as it came in from the west, but it did tap into some moisture from the south…
The federal Climate Prediction Center is saying there’s a higher probability of below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures in the combined period of July through September in Colorado. Those trends continue to be projected in outlooks as far out as November for Colorado, with much of the West looking like it could be drier-than-normal in the fall and the entire country looking like it could be warmer than average.
Dry conditions resulting in part from near-nonsoon conditions in the region last summer were followed by below-normal snowpack this winter, and much of the spring snowmelt got soaked up by parched soil rather than making it into waterways and reservoirs. Above-average temperatures only have aggravated the situation thanks to things like reservoir evaporation and increased demand for irrigation water, while increasing the likelihood of wildfires like those currently burning in western Colorado.
Cody Moser, a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, told those in Wednesday’s meeting that the Colorado River at Palisade was flowing at only 13% of its average for this time of year. The river’s peak runoff flows this year at Cameo reached 6,330 cubic feet per second on June 6, the fourth-lowest annual peak there on record.
Dennis Dougherty is the Executive Director of the Colorado AFL-CIO. Photo credit: Colorado AFL-CIO
The good news is we can accomplish both with the American Jobs Plan, which would invest in updating and modernizing Colorado’s infrastructure and create good-paying, clean energy union jobs while funding training and apprenticeship programs.
The plan fits our state’s exact challenges, putting us back to work in the very act of creating a 21st century clean economy to curb climate change.
The lack of good jobs and global climate change are urgent problems. This year, wildfire season has already started – and local officials now say Coloradans should prepare for wildfires all year, not just during the summer season. These wildfires are not part of a healthy environmental cycle but will destroy homes and lives.
At the same time, thousands of Coloradans are still out of work from the aftershocks of COVID-19. Every day, families write into both of our offices, wondering when jobs will come back? When will we receive meaningful economic recovery from COVID-19? What will happen with the planned closure of so many fossil fuel and coal-fired power plants?
In our eyes, the answer is clear: we must fight for the passage of the American Jobs Plan, which would bring tens of thousands of good-paying, union jobs to Colorado by bolstering our growing clean energy economy. The jobs created by the plan will allow us to fight against climate change and safeguard our state’s natural beauty while rebuilding our economy.
As society has changed and developed, so too has the definition of infrastructure. Our investment must match that new breadth.
For example, as consumers and automakers shift toward electric vehicles, we must build charging infrastructure. That means good clean energy jobs. We must also update and retrofit municipal buildings like schools and hospitals to be resilient and energy efficient. That means even more jobs. There are many more examples.
Infrastructure investments can also help mitigate the destruction from increasingly dangerous wildfires driven by climate change. Upgrading water management systems will enable us to better manage drought conditions that fuel fires, while rebuilding with different materials can reduce ignition risk, protecting our homes and businesses. All these infrastructure upgrades require workers.
President Biden’s American Jobs Plan also includes the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, which is a bipartisan piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Crow and Sen. Michael Bennet. It will create and sustain 2 million jobs by supporting locally led forest health and watershed restoration projects.
The American Jobs Plan is about making investments in workers while simultaneously fighting climate change and robust training and apprenticeship programs must be a part of the plan. These programs will equip our workers to lead in the modern economy.
As the representative for Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, a proud member of the House Small Business Committee, and chairman of the Innovation, Workforce Development and Entrepreneurship Subcommittee; and as the executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, we are laser-focused on this momentous opportunity to rebuild our state the right way to adequately solve the crises we face.
The American Jobs Plan will help Colorado create tens of thousands of good-paying, clean energy, union jobs, and move us past the worst consequences of climate change. At an inflection point for economic recovery such as this one, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
We urge our colleagues in Washington to pass this bill, and we thank our friends in the Colorado labor movement for being our partners in this work.
Jason Crow, D-Centennial, represents Colorado’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dennis Dougherty is the executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO.
From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):
Western Water In-depth: Rising temperatures are expected to drive up water demand as historic drought in the Colorado River basin imperils southern Nevada’s key water source
Las Vegas, known for its searing summertime heat and glitzy casino fountains, is projected to get even hotter in the coming years as climate change intensifies. As temperatures rise, possibly as much as 10 degrees by end of the century, according to some models, water demand for the desert community is expected to spike. That is not good news in a fast-growing region that depends largely on a limited supply of water from an already drought-stressed Colorado River.
With this in mind, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), the wholesale water provider to more than 2 million people in the Las Vegas metro area, is seeking to drive down daily per capita water use (now at about 112 gallons), through wide-ranging, innovative and permanent conservation methods. The goal is to reduce daily water use to 98 gallons by 2035, even as projections indicate per capita water use could increase by nine gallons a day as the climate warms.
Meanwhile, the Colorado River Basin plunges deeper into historic drought that seems certain to lead to water supply curtailments for Nevada and Arizona. Cities in the arid Southwest for years have sought to drive down water use to stretch supplies. Now, a warming climate, continued population growth and increased water demand have raised the stakes.
In response, SNWA aims to wring more water savings out of everything from ice machines and grassy medians to industrial cooling towers, an aggressive conservation effort that could provide examples for communities throughout the Southwest.
“We have been extremely successful helping the community embrace living in the desert and adopting a conservation mindset,” said Marilyn Kirkpatrick, chair of SNWA’s board of directors. “However, we have more work ahead to continue helping the community – especially new residents – use water as efficiently as possible.”
A Warming Basin
Arguably the hardest-working river system on Earth, the Colorado River helps meet the water needs of 40 million people, farms and ecosystems across a huge landscape. Premised on an annual flow that was overestimated and overallocated, the river is under extreme stress as climate change drives warming temperatures.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation’s January 2021 Colorado River Basin SECURE Water Act Report to Congress, 2000 to 2019 was the driest stretch in more than 100 years of record-keeping. Average annual temperatures are creeping up and the past 20 years were likely warmer than at any time in the past 2,000 years, the report said. Of the 20 warmest years on record, 17 have occurred since 1994. The trend shows no sign of abating.
A warming climate has major implications for water supply in the Colorado River Basin. A warmer atmosphere sponges up more water from the land surface and water bodies, leaving less to run off or flow to downstream reservoirs. Everything – people, wildlife and vegetation – is left thirstier.
Writing in their 2020 report, Climate Change and the Aridification of North America, climate scientists Jonathan Overpeck and Brad Udall explained the phenomenon of aridification: “Soils dry out in a straightforward manner understood by anyone gardening on a hot day, and they dry out faster the warmer it gets.”
Overpeck, at the University of Michigan, explained that hotter temperatures are robbing moisture from the Colorado River Basin. The drought in the Basin, he wrote in a May 18 Twitter post, “is really an ongoing temperature-driven aridification, that if combined with a true precip-dominated megadrought, will get much worse.”
Absent fast action on climate change, we must halt new diversions, & plan for continued millennium drought conditions. Problem: this drought is really an on-going temperature-drive aridification, that if combined with a true precip-dominated megadrought, will get much worse. pic.twitter.com/ywOp4xssMz
SNWA’s 2020 Water Resource Plan notes that the impacts of climate change on water supply can no longer be considered as something that might happen later. Instead, “evidence supports the fact that climate change is happening now and that it will have a lasting effect on the availability of Colorado River water supplies.”
Already in the midst of a decades-long drought, conditions in the Colorado River Basin dramatically worsened in 2021, with record low inflows into the anchor reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Over the last 20 years, Lake Mead’s water level has dropped about 130 feet. As Mead’s level continues to fall, water supply reductions increasingly kick in.
Ensuring Water Security
Lake Mead, filled by Colorado River water, is Las Vegas’ mainstay. Ninety percent of the area’s water supply comes from the lake. Nevada’s Colorado River allocation is 300,000 acre-feet per year. In the past 10 years, SNWA’s take from Lake Mead has been about 445,000 acre-feet. However, factoring in the approximately 220,000 acre-feet of treated effluent returned to Mead each year means the average net consumptive use of Colorado River water has been 225,000 acre-feet.
SNWA’s water conservation campaign has helped cut its Colorado River consumption by about 23 percent between 2002 and 2020 even as 780,000 new residents arrived.
But the thermometer is inching up. Clark County, home to about 75 percent of Nevada’s population, is projected to warm by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to SNWA. That means incorporating warming temperatures into water accounting with greater intensity and urgency.
“We have acknowledged that warming is going to go on in the valley for a very long time,” said Colby Pellegrino, SNWA’s deputy general manager for resources.
“Two years ago, we started taking a more serious approach to defining the conservation programs that would be necessary to meet our goal,” she said. “We have done a lot of work on what local temperature projections would look like in the future. While we’ve been making progress … there are going to be these upward pressures on demand occurring at the same time.”
Like some other Southwest cities that depend on the Colorado River, SNWA has an aggressive water conservation program that pairs education and outreach with financial incentives. The agency relentlessly pursues saving water wherever possible, from urging restaurant customers to forego the complimentary glass of drinking water (and all that gets saved as a result) to rebates for turf removal and ensuring the efficiency of all water-using machinery.
Kathryn Sorensen, director of research at Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy in Phoenix, said Las Vegas and Phoenix have pursued similar approaches in that they are desert cities that emphasize certainty and the preservation of reliable water supplies.
“Both of these cities are held to a really high standard compared to other cities across the United States in terms of water security,” said Sorensen, who previously served as director of the city of Phoenix’s Water Services Department. “They are very risk-averse and spend a large amount of money and go through a very large effort to make sure that they are planning methodically for what might come.”
In Phoenix’s case, she said, that meant devising a water rate structure that charges users more for water in the summer than in the winter. Sorensen called it a “direct financial signal” for people to get rid of their lawns and lush landscaping without employing a rebate program. As a result, grass landscaping at single-family homes in Phoenix fell from about 85 percent in the 1970s to about 10 percent in 2021, she said, noting that turf for median strips has been prohibited since the 1990s.
Southern Nevada’s hunt for water savings knows no limits. The uses may seem miniscule, but they add up. A glass of water not served at a restaurant saves about three gallons, when considering the amount used for dishwashing, ice production and filling the glass, said Patrick Watson, SNWA’s conservation programs administrator. SNWA subsidies for new ice machines at the region’s many golf courses saves 3 million gallons a year. The list goes on.
“We reward innovation,” Watson said. “If you have a project and it involves a new technology or an innovative way to save water, we’ll take a look at it.”
Case in point, the Ocean Spray bottling plant in Henderson. An engineer there devised a process in which industrial water is used three times during production before it gets sent out as wastewater.
“We never saw something like that before,” Watson said. “We studied it for six months, determined what the water savings was and ended up paying them an incentive.” Ocean Spray received $45,600 for saving 5.7 million gallons a year through that engineering change. Ocean Spray pursued two other water-saving innovations for which they were rewarded $27,000 by the agency, Watson said.
One of the big water users targeted for reduction are the evaporative cooling towers that keep Las Vegas’ commercial and industrial buildings cool. Transitioning that technology to other cooling processes such as air conditioning is one way to save water, more than two gallons per person per day, according to SNWA.
SNWA subsidizes tunnel washers, an amazing piece of hardware that uses less than a gallon of water per pound to wash 150 pounds of laundry in 90 seconds. Tunnel washers reduce the amount of water used per pound of laundry by three gallons, a considerable figure considering that commercial laundries in Las Vegas can wash as much as 1 million pounds of laundry each month.
The agency is now targeting homes that are on septic systems to connect them to the wastewater stream, where the effluent can be cleaned and reused or returned to Lake Mead.
One of the highest-profile conservation tactics is the war on turf. Outdoor landscaping is the single largest consumptive water user in Southern Nevada. Las Vegas’ desert environment is an unlikely place for lush, water-guzzling lawns more suited for the Midwest and East Coast. In the hot and dry West, average customer demand for water (mostly for outdoor irrigation) can be 50 to 80 percent higher than in the humid East, according to the Water Research Foundation. Limiting outdoor irrigation is critical in a region where 4 inches of rain is considered a good year.
Grass requires about 73 gallons per square foot, per year, while drip-irrigated landscaping only consumes about 18 gallons, according to SNWA.
The agency for years has preached that turf only belongs where it’s regularly used, such as in parks and athletic fields. In 2003, local municipalities in Southern Nevada adopted ordinances that prohibited the installation of grass in front yards of new homes and limited backyard grass to 50 percent of the area. Grass was also prohibited in commercial developments.
For yards with existing turf, SNWA pays homeowners $3 for every square foot of grass replaced with water-smart landscaping. The money applies to as much as 10,000 square feet per site per year and $1.50 per square foot thereafter. It’s a popular program that’s removed more than 4,500 acres of grass, amounting to about a quarter of the turf in the Las Vegas Valley, saving about 11 billion gallons of water every year. SNWA also offers incentives for installation of artificial turf on athletic fields.
Southeast of Las Vegas, the city of Henderson adds funds to the SNWA rebate to promote turf replacement for swaths as large as 40,000 square feet in commercial, industrial and multifamily housing areas.
“We know it’s important to replace natural turf in areas where it doesn’t make much sense… so we built our program to accelerate conversions there,” Henderson’s conservation supervisor Tina Chen said on SNWA’s Water Smarts podcast. “We believe the additional incentive will entice more businesses to participate and streamline their operating costs.”
Henderson’s assistance means participants can receive as much as $120,000 for those large conversions.
Now, the focus is on eliminating as much turf from Southern Nevada as possible, with an emphasis on reshaping parts of the urban landscape installed years ago and modeled after American communities much wetter than Las Vegas.
A bill passed by the Nevada Legislature and signed into law in early June will prohibit Colorado River water from being used to irrigate ornamental grass on non-residential properties starting in 2027. Of the more than 12,000 acres of turf in the Las Vegas Valley, 5,000 is considered nonfunctional.
“It’s only being walked on by the person that’s mowing it,” said Pellegrino, SNWA’s deputy general manager for resources.
Clinging to Turf
While turf removal has been successful, enthusiasm for it may be waning, said Tom Warden, senior vice president with Summerlin, the largest master planned community in Nevada. Warden, a Las Vegas resident of more than 30 years, said a renewed emphasis is necessary because water rates are likely to jump and SNWA’s rebate will eventually vanish.
“It is safe to say there are folks who resist it,” said Warden, who interacts with the homeowner associations and sub associations that are part of the 22,500-acre Summerlin development. He said initially many people didn’t like the idea of not having turf everywhere, but they have come to accept the much-improved desert landscape designs.
“Southern Nevadans understand that we all have to embrace a more sustainable approach,” he said. “They are getting the picture. It’s the growth of stewardship.”
Still the conservation ethic has changed significantly since the days before the drought when Lake Mead was full and spilling water.
Back then, “nobody was thinking about conservation,” Warden said. “They were building other master planned communities that were wall-to-wall turf without a thought.”
But ornamental turf is still a part of many neighborhoods.
“Homeowner’s associations in Southern Nevada are still watering more than 64 million square feet of non-functional turf,” SNWA’s Watson said. “That’s close to five billion gallons of water every year to maintain grass for purely visual effect.”
SNWA’s turf replacement has reached residents but business participation has been more challenging, SNWA spokesman Bronson Mack said. Many owners of business parks, strip malls and shopping centers are out of state and disconnected from the community.
“They don’t hear the same conservation messages on a regular basis, and they are not attuned to desert living or the need to replace grass,” Mack said.
The Road Ahead
Climate change and the plummeting Colorado River, where a 20-plus year drought is forcing unprecedented adaptation measures, are pushing desert cities toward more aggressive water management. Anticipating drier times, SNWA in 2015 took the extraordinary step of building a third intake deeper into Lake Mead, at a cost of nearly $1 billion, to ensure it could continue to draw water from a dropping reservoir. Phoenix spent $500 million to move Salt and Verde River supplies to areas of its service territory that historically have been entirely dependent on the Colorado River.
The actions signal that both cities are able to ensure reliable water deliveries, come what may on the Colorado River, said Sorensen, with Arizona State’s Kyl Center. Increased demand management and extended use of recycled water are areas “where there’s still a lot that can be done.”
John Berggren, water policy analyst with Western Resource Advocates in Boulder, Colo., said that as municipalities realize their irrigation demand is going to go up because of warming temperatures and their water is becoming scarcer, they’ll begin taking a hard look at landscapes to see what’s expendable. It’s important to note that the effort doesn’t stop with getting rid of ornamental turf.
Berggren said more attention is being focused on gray water reuse, where types of household wastewater from dishwashers, sinks and the like can be used to irrigate outdoor landscaping.
“All communities around the West can find more ways to be water efficient, both on the indoor and outdoor side of things,” he said. “The banning of non-functional turf is a great step on an already well-developed conservation path for Nevada, but the path is long, and I hope they continue to push the envelope. I hope more states and more water providers take that step.”
Halting irrigation to ornamental turf can free up quite a bit of water that provides a cushion for future growth, Berggren said, and even allows for putting water back into rivers.
Kirkpatrick, chair of the SNWA board, said it’s up to community leaders to push the water conservation message and get people to participate in rebate programs.
“We’ve made a lot of very impressive gains over the past 20 years, but we have more work to do, she said. “Any efforts on the part of Clark County and other municipalities to implement policies that increase sustainability will help us meet the challenge together.”
Here’s the release from Oregon State University (Steve Lundeberg and David A. Lytle):
Researchers from Oregon State University say ecological data gathered during a recent low-flow experiment in the Grand Canyon is a key step toward understanding Colorado River ecosystems as the amount of water in the river continues to decline.
Dave Lytle, professor of integrative biology, and Ph.D. students Angelika Kurthen and Jared Freedman teamed with scientists from the United States Geological Survey during the March 2021 project to examine the quantity and diversity of invertebrates in the river. Monitoring aquatic invertebrates is an important tool for keeping track of stream health.
“The Colorado River and its dams are important to cities throughout the Southwest, and as a result of that management the river experiences some pretty unusual flows,” Lytle said. “During the day in the Grand Canyon, river levels can rise several feet, then they can drop down several feet, stranding your boat if you’re not careful. That’s because there’s high electricity demand during the day and lower demand at night.”
The high flow during times of heavy demand for power is known as hydropeaking.
“Hydropeaking can cause trouble for ecosystems downstream, and with our collaborators we’re experimenting with ways to change river flows to make them more compatible with productive ecosystems,” Lytle said. “Invertebrates are food for fish, birds and bats, and we want to enhance that food base by testing out different flow regimes that mesh with management ideas.”
During the low-flow event, releases from Lake Powell through the Glen Canyon Dam were restricted so that the Colorado ran at 4,000 cubic feet per second compared to its usual flow of 8,000 to 15,000 CFS. Lytle’s team took samples to measure the quantity of invertebrates stranded by the low flows and environmental DNA samples to analyze the diversity of invertebrates in the water.
“During this spring’s low flow, gravel bars and parts of channels that had been submerged were exposed for the first time in decades,” Lytle said. “We saw really large areas of vegetation and invasive species like New Zealand mud snails and quagga mussels, which are there in high numbers at the expense of native invertebrates such as black flies, mayflies and midges that are better food sources for native fish.”
The Colorado River follows a 1,450-mile route generally southwest from north central Colorado to just east of Las Vegas. From there it turns south to form Arizona’s western border with Nevada and California, and then the border between Mexican states Sonora and Baja California before emptying into the Gulf of California.
Between the U.S. and Mexico, 40 million people depend on water from the Colorado. The snowmelt-fed river has seen its flows drop by 20% over the last 100 years as runoff efficiency – the percentage of precipitation that ends up in the river – has declined as summers have become hotter and drier, cooking the soil.
This year, for example, snowpack is 80% of average but sending just 30% of the average amount of water into the Colorado. Lake Mead, the reservoir behind Hoover Dam, is at an all-time low, and between them Lake Mead and Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, are projected to be just 29% full within two years.
Completed in 1966, Glen Canyon Dam is 710 feet high and 1,560 feet long and named for the series of deep sandstone gorges flooded by Lake Powell. The lake draws its name from John Wesley Powell, the leader of the first boat expedition to traverse the Grand Canyon.
“Typically the Colorado River is coming out of Lake Powell fast and cold, which is a hostile environment for desert adapted organisms,” Lytle said.
For the recent experiment, low flow was maintained from March 15 through March 20, and immediately after that there was a big release of water, known as a high-pulse flow event, intended to scour out areas and possibly create new habitat for native fish and their food sources.
“During the first part of the low flow, we were in the far upper reaches of the canyon, and as soon as we finished sampling, we packed up the truck and raced across the desert 200 river miles away to Diamond Creek, where you can access the Grand Canyon from a road, just in time to capture the low-flow event moving its way down a long, sinuous canyon,” Lytle said. “And a USGS team was taking samples by boat throughout the entire canyon, complementary to what our group was doing. It was a real team effort, with people measuring riparian vegetation, taking drift samples of invertebrates in water, checking respiration of aquatic plants, and also noting the effect on fish and fisheries.”
As the climate continues to warm and the amount of water available for humans continues to drop, low flows such as the one during this year’s experiment may become the new normal, he added.
“That presents challenges but also opportunities for research,” Lytle said. “Prior to there being any dams on the river, low-flow events were part of the normal annual cycle of flows. In the spring, the river could flood quite spectacularly in some years, and by late summer or early fall into winter, flows could get to 4,000 CFS or even lower than that.”
Lytle says that kind of variation amounts to “exercise” for the river, which needs it for health just like a person needs both activity and rest.
“One question we’re asking is whether there could be ecological benefits, at least at certain important times of year, to low flows,” he said. “Low flows allow the water temperature to increase and let more light to reach the benthic zone, where the productivity of algae and invertebrates occurs. It also might favor greater production of those important native black flies, mayflies and midges.”
A recap of water in the 2021 Colorado legislative session.
Water—Colorado’s most precious resource for birds and people—was a central issue for legislators in the 2021 legislative session. Lawmakers approved more than $53 million in new bills for water-related projects. We all depend on healthy, flowing rivers. Amid brutal drought conditions on the West Slope, the Colorado Water Plan update, watershed and wildfire resilience needs, Audubon’s engagement amplified water awareness for legislators and partners across the state. Read on for highlights of what we accomplished together.
Water Funding Wins
Colorado Water Plan
Birds and people need clean, reliable water, and that is linked to funding. Audubon’s network submitted more than 900 action alerts to legislators to support HB21-1260, General Fund Transfer to Implement State Water Plan. HB1260 allocates $15 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund and $5 million to basin roundtables.
Do you have an environmental project, study, or planning idea ready to go? If yes, now is the time to apply. With these additional funds to the Water Plan grant fund, matches have been reduced to 25 percent for studies and planning, and the standard 50 percent match for construction projects remains. Grant application deadlines for 2021 are July 1 and December 1.
Watershed and Wildfire Resilience
The historic wildfires of 2020 and concerns over a strong 2021 wildfire season elevated watershed and wildfire resilience as top priorities. Two bills passed to help address these needs: SB21-054, Transfers for Wildfire Mitigation and Response, which allocates $9 million total with $4 million to CWCB Watershed grant program, and SB21-240, Watershed Restoration Stimulus, which distributes $30 million to the CWCB Watershed Grant program to protect watersheds from wildfires through study and restoration.
Agriculture and Drought Resiliency
Colorado’s ranchers and farmers are struggling through yet another dry year. The Western Slope has suffered a drought three of the last four years. The birds, other wildlife, and communities that depend on agricultural landscapes are struggling too. Audubon and our partners supported three bills to help with agricultural drought resilience and improve soil health.
HB21-1242, Create Agricultural Drought and Climate Resilience Office, allots $500,000 to the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) for the new Drought and Climate Resilience Cash Fund.
SB21-235, Efficiency Programs Stimulus, distributes $5 million total with $2 million for soil health grants to CDA.
SB21-234, Agriculture and Drought Resiliency, allocates $3 million to the Drought Resiliency Fund for uses providing financial and technical assistance to transport hay or feed from areas outside of Colorado, supports recovery of grazing lands post-fire/drought, and provides technical assistance to help producers prepare for future droughts.
The success of water funding clearly demonstrates to our state lawmakers that water is a priority issue for Coloradans. We hope policymakers will continue to focus on ensuring our natural infrastructure of watersheds, rivers, and wetlands are protected to meet our state’s environmental and community needs for generations to come.
Decision-maker Water Awareness
In May, Audubon Rockies and Business for Water Stewardship concluded the 2021 morning water legislator webinar series. Audubon and Business for Water Stewardship want to express deep appreciation to presenters and attendees of the water legislator webinar series. Over three sessions (The Value of Colorado’s Water, Water Connections, and Water Quality), more than 230 legislators, staff/aids, and informed members of the public attended the live sessions.
Collectively as a state, from residents to decision-makers, we need to lean in, learn more, and participate in the decisions around our water resources. The decisions we make about water and river health impact all of Colorado—birds and people alike.
When water stops flowing, painful days are at hand.
89 percent of nine western states are in some form of drought, and more than a quarter of the region is considered in exceptional drought, the worst category in the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Droughts leave deep bruises that may not surface for months or years. Too much heat and too little rain can cause ecosystems to collapse and hasten the spread of non-native species.
Over the coming decades, a warming climate will cause more frequent and intense droughts, especially in the Colorado River basin.
It develops in stages, a story that builds upon itself. A few cloudless days. Then a rain-free week. Soon a hot, dry month.
Now the hills are brown and the crops need watering — the first signs of drought.
The intensely dry conditions that have settled over the American West and Upper Midwest this year are well past the brown hills stage. Nearly 89 percent of nine western states are in some form of drought, and more than a quarter of the region is considered in exceptional drought, the worst category in the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The indicators of widespread dryness are everywhere. Lakes Mead and Powell, the major reservoirs on the Colorado River, are 35 percent full with a two-year outlook that worsened each month this spring. California officials told vineyards along the Russian River in May that the system is too depleted for irrigation. In Utah’s Great Salt Lake in April, sailboats were lifted out of receding waters too shallow to float. In the Klamath River that flows between Oregon and California, few juvenile salmon are expected to survive this season. In Arizona, the Rafael Fire, burning in the Prescott National Forest some 25 miles southwest of Flagstaff, grew to 36,000 acres since it was sparked on June 18 by lightning.
When water stops flowing, painful days are at hand — even if the pain is not immediately evident.
“The complexity of the drought phenomenon is not well understood by most people,” said Roger Pulwarty. Some people will say that we’ve experienced drought before, he mused. “Well, not like these. Not for this extent, not really addressing all the diverse ways in which it affects our economy, through the environment, through trade.”
Pulwarty has wrestled with these questions about the consequences of drought longer than most. He was the director of the National Integrated Drought Information System, a drought monitoring and planning collaborative set up by Congress. And he was the coordinating lead author for a United Nations special report on drought that was published earlier this month.
Drought, like a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake, is a potentially dangerous natural hazard. But Pulwarty notes that droughts have distinctive characteristics that separate them from other calamities. They are geographically diverse, spreading across a few counties or entire watersheds and regions. They are slow to begin but can last indefinitely, some “megadroughts” upending social and political stability over several decades.
Drought, like a fearsome boxer, has a long reach. And like that fearsome boxer, the long reach of drought is pummeling.
One Thing Leads to Another…And Another
Specialists like Pulwarty, who is currently a senior scientist in the physical sciences laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, use the word “cascade” to describe the long reach.
Consider this chain of events. Drought increases the risk of fire. It dries out vegetation and kills trees, turning forests into matchsticks. Fires in river headwaters don’t just burn trees. They also send ash and debris into reservoirs and rivers. The Las Conchas fire in northern New Mexico in June 2011 pumped so much ash into the Rio Grande that the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority had to close its drinking water intake on the river. When they rampage through developed areas, fires can contaminate plumbing systems and water distribution pipes with volatile organic chemicals. The smoke is a public health threat.
Or this scenario: low reservoirs mean that dams equipped with turbines generate less hydropower. Hoover Dam’s power-generating capacity is down 28 percent today compared to when Lake Mead is full. The Western Area Power Administration markets the power from Hoover and other federal hydropower projects in the West. Jack Murray, the acting vice president and desert southwest regional manager, told Circle of Blue that the shortfall in cheap hydropower means the agency has to make up the difference by buying more expensive — and sometimes more carbon-intensive — power on the spot market. That is an economic punishment for the small communities, irrigation districts, and Indian tribes that are some of the end users of the electricity.
“Drought filters through any economic activity in which water is involved,” said Pulwarty. Hydropower, farm production, shipping on inland waterways, commercial river rafting, nuclear plants that need water to cool their equipment — the list is long. Drought is also a mental and physical strain, weighing on the minds of farmers who can’t plant fields and homeowners who run short of water.
When farmers pump groundwater to counteract water deficits in rivers and lakes, shallower domestic wells can dry up, which is beginning to happen throughout California. As of June 21, the Department of Water Resources had received 64 reports of dry wells this month, the most in any month since August 2016.
There is a lesson here, drought researchers say. People can bankrupt a water system just as much as nature can. A full understanding of drought, they argued in a journal article published in January, takes into account the human failures of water and land management.
Besides dry wells, pumping too heavily in California’s San Joaquin Valley caused the land to compact and sink. It’s another example of the cascade. That land subsidence, in turn, buckled the canals that carry irrigation water, reducing their water-carrying capacity in some areas by 60 percent. The estimated cost to repair the three major canals suffering from subsidence damage is more than $2.3 billion.
Drinking water providers that rely on lakes instead of groundwater have a different concern in drought: the presence of algal blooms. Though some blooms contain toxins that are harmful to humans, the sheer mass of algae is also a problem, encumbering the water treatment process. The algae clog filters, which have to be replaced more frequently. There is more sludge to discard. These all raise costs, says Frank Costner, the general manager of Konocti County Water District. The blooms are particularly bad in Costner’s water source: Clear Lake, the second largest freshwater lake in California. Water testing done by the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians on June 7 showed that toxins in the lake’s eastern basins had already reached dangerous levels.
Droughts leave deep bruises that may not surface for months or years, Pulwarty said. Even after rains return, reservoirs and aquifers take time to refill. Trees killed this year are fuel for next year’s fire. Too much heat and too little rain can cause ecosystems to collapse and hasten the spread of non-native species.
Lawsuit threatened to protect river flows and trigger commitments to long-term solutions
To maintain a living Rio Grande and seek climate resilience for both people and ecosystems, WildEarth Guardians today warned federal and state water managers in New Mexico that it will file a lawsuit in federal court if the water agencies don’t do more to protect and ensure recovery of imperiled species. The group sent its 60-day notice of intent to sue to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, State of New Mexico, and Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District detailing how past and present water management decisions continue to harm river flows, ecosystem health, and violate the Endangered Species Act.
“The West is experiencing a collision of crises and the Rio Grande is at its center,” said Jen Pelz, Rio Grande Waterkeeper and Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The path forward to a sustainable, climate resilient, living river will require learning to live within the river’s means and developing creative solutions that give a voice to values long ignored including flowing rivers, healthy ecosystems, and equity for human communities.”
This year’s flows in the Rio Grande at the Otowi Gauge in northern New Mexico were estimated at 44 percent of average. The meager flows, the very limited amount of water in storage, and the inability to store spring runoff due to restrictions under the Rio Grande Compact mean very few opportunities for maintaining a connected river or flows to farmers through the summer.
“This is really a worst-case scenario year on the Rio Grande,” explained Pelz. “Our hope is that these conditions will bring urgency and willingness for water managers and other interested communities and organizations to develop a comprehensive suite of solutions to deal with the crippling effects of climate change in an already overallocated river system.”
The Rio Grande’s management in central New Mexico through Albuquerque is guided by the 2016 Biological Opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The document is a collection of commitments made by the federal and state agencies to ensure the survival and recovery of three listed species including the Rio Grande silvery minnow, the Southwestern willow flycatcher, and the yellow-billed cuckoo. The group argues that the existing commitments are not enough to protect the river ecosystem or the vulnerable species given the warming climate and reduced flows in the river.
“As conditions on the river continue to deteriorate due to climate change, the federal and state agencies have a duty to review their commitments and the assessment of harm to the listed species in the Biological Opinion,” said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, Legal Director at WildEarth Guardians. “We hope this notice letter does what it is intended to do, which is to allow the agencies to engage in dialogue, reassess the situation, and meet the moment with solutions that evolve with the times. We look forward to engaging with the named parties and anyone else who has ideas for sustaining a living Rio Grande.”
Over the two past decades, Guardians and other groups have urged the agencies to implement a water acquisition and leasing program to allow water to be used for environmental flows. These strategies are beginning to be implemented, but there is urgency to bring this program (as well as others) up to scale so that opportunities exist, even in less than ideal years, to help ensure the survival of river ecosystems, meet downstream water obligations, and rebalance inequities to the river and communities.
“It’s becoming crystal clear that the predictions of climate scientists will and are coming to fruition,” added Pelz. “The solutions we thought we had decades to implement to avoid a catastrophe need to be designed and implemented now. It’s like the saying that ‘the best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago and the next best time is now.’”
A new assessment of climate change in the two national parks and surrounding forests and ranchland warns of the potential for significant changes as the region continues to heat up.
Since 1950, average temperatures in the Greater Yellowstone Area have risen 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 C), and potentially more importantly, the region has lost a quarter of its annual snowfall. With the region projected to warm 5-6 F by 2061-2080, compared with the average from 1986-2005, and by as much as 10-11 F by the end of the century, the high country around Yellowstone is poised to lose its snow altogether.
The loss of snow there has repercussions for a vast range of ecosystems and wildlife, as well as cities and farms downstream that rely on rivers that start in these mountains.
Broad impact on wildlife and ecosystems
The Greater Yellowstone Area comprises 22 million acres in northwest Wyoming and portions of Montana and Idaho. In addition to geysers and hot springs, it’s home to the southernmost range of grizzly bear populations in North America and some of the longest intact wildlife migrations, including the seasonal traverses of elk, pronghorn, mule deer and bison.
The area also represents the one point where the three major river basins of the western U.S. converge. The rivers of the Snake-Columbia basin, Green-Colorado basin, and Missouri River Basin all begin as snow on the Continental Divide as it weaves across Yellowstone’s peaks and plateaus.
How climate change alters the Greater Yellowstone Area is, therefore, a question with implications far beyond the impact on Yellowstone’s declining cutthroat trout population and disruptions to the food supplies critical for the region’s recovering grizzly population. By altering the water supply, it also shapes the fate of major Western reservoirs and their dependent cities and farms hundreds of miles downstream.
We wanted to create a common baseline for discussion among the region’s many voices, from the Indigenous nations who have lived in these landscapes for over 10,000 years to the federal agencies mandated to care for the region’s public lands. What information would ranchers and outfitters, skiers and energy producers need to know to begin planning for the future?
Shifting from snow to rain
Standing at the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Station and looking up at the snow on the Grand Teton, over 13,000 feet above sea level, I cannot help but think that the transition away from snow is the most striking outcome that the assessment anticipates – and the most dire.
Today the average winter snowline – the level where almost all winter precipitation falls as snow – is at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. By the end of the century, warming is forecast to raise it to at least 10,000 feet, the top of Jackson Hole’s famous ski areas.
The climate assessment uses projections of future climates based on a scenario that assumes countries substantially reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. When we looked at scenarios in which global emissions continue at a high rate instead, the differences by the end of century compared with today became stark. Not even the highest peaks would regularly receive snow.
In interviews with people across the region, nearly everyone agreed that the challenge ahead is directly connected to water. As a member of one of the regional tribes noted, “Water is a big concern for everybody.”
Precipitation may increase slightly as the region warms, but less of it will fall as snow. More of it will fall in spring and autumn, while summers will become drier than they have been, our assessment found.
The timing of the spring runoff, when winter snow melts and feeds into streams and rivers, has already shifted ahead by about eight days since 1950. The shift means a longer, drier late summer when drought can turn the landscape brown – or black as the wildfire season becomes longer and hotter.
The outcomes will affect wildlife migrations dependent on the “green wave” of new leaves that rises up the mountain slopes each spring. Low streamflow and warm water in late summer will threaten the survival of coldwater fisheries, like the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and Yellowstone’s unique species like the western glacier stonefly, which depends on the meltwater from mountain glaciers.
Preparing for a warming future
These outcomes will vary somewhat from location to location, but no area will be untouched.
We hope the climate assessment will help communities anticipate the complex impacts ahead and start planning for the future.
As the report indicates, that future will depend on choices made now and in the coming years. Federal and state policy choices will determine whether the world will see optimistic scenarios or scenarios where adaption becomes more difficult. The Yellowstone region, one of the coldest parts of the U.S., will face changes, but actions now can help avoid the worst. High-elevation mountain towns like Jackson, Wyoming, which today rarely experience 90 F, may face a couple of weeks of such heat by the end of the century – or they may face two months of it, depending in large part on those decisions.
The assessment underscores the need for discussion. What choices do we want to make?
Kestrel Kunz is surfing, Colorado style, in her kayak among the waves at the Gunnison Whitewater Park a few miles west of town. The waves are more than recreational play for Kunz. Flowing water is an important part of the work she does for American Whitewater as the organization’s Southern Rockies associate stewardship director. For Kunz, the Gunnison River is like a watery crystal ball that gives her a glimpse into a future increasingly threatened by drought and climate change.
Kunz is the mastermind behind a prototype web tool developed by American Whitewater and the Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District that may change the future of river management across Colorado and eventually the West. The tool, the Upper Gunnison Basin Boatable Days Web Tool, is based on historical wet and dry year flows and other data and gives river users and water managers the ability to check an entire season’s flow forecast.
The Boatable Days Web Tool, Kunz said, “shows the relationship between river flow and recreational opportunities. With a little research we can use historic flows to project how a dry or wet year, a new diversion project, a climate change scenario, or reservoir operations can positively or negatively impact river recreation opportunities and thus Colorado’s robust outdoor economy.”
Being able to look ahead is an especially important feature for the state’s fishing and rafting outfitters, Kunz said. “The web tool will give an estimation on what flows are going to look like and how that is going to affect the number of commercial operating days in an upcoming season and help them plan in advance.” If outfitters know they’re not going to have sufficient boatable flows in September and October they might bring employees in earlier or may have to shift the way they do business and when they do it.
Kunz sees the tool as an opportunity for water managers both locally and at the state level to use the information to better balance flows for recreation with other needs. “This tool provides an important snapshot into how recreation opportunities are going to be impacted by drought. The web tool in no way is going to solve our drought problem, but it’s a critical piece of the puzzle that’s been missing before now.”
Kunz and American Whitewater are currently working to fit other pieces of Colorado’s river puzzle together by finalizing boatable days studies on the Roaring Fork, Crystal, and Poudre rivers and creating similar web tools.
“I think the biggest thing the tool does is give us a perspective on how climate change and drought are impacting our rivers,” said Sonja Chavez, general manager of The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. Chavez believes the next step will be to gain a better understanding of how changing river flows affect the local economy.
“Gunnison has been discovered,” Chavez said. “We have a lot of people visiting and a lot more people on the river.” As river flows drop, rafters, boaters, and other water users are concentrated into certain segments of the river with more frequency, impacting the fishery and wildlife, boat ramps, wetlands and the boating experience. You can see in water short years how that recreation season is shortened and that’s important for a community like Gunnison that is dependent on recreation.
This web tool is going to be a good model for how communities can come together and identify how their rivers are functioning,” said Trout Unlimited’s Dan Omasta. Omasta was TU’s grassroots coordinator during the development stage of the Boatable Days Water Tool and worked with Kunz and American Whitewater to identify ideal flow ranges for fishing and floating, and the high and low thresholds for navigation.
“When is the river too low to float for a dory or raft with clients?” said Omasta. “The tool will especially help identify sections of river that become unnavigable at certain flows. The Taylor and Gunnison rivers are seeing a lot of pressure. They get busier every year and one of the ways to tackle that challenge is to spread people out and encourage them to be floating and fishing different sections.
“More people are recreating on rivers and that’s awesome to see. We just need to be smarter about how we manage it and hopefully this tool can play a part in that,” Omasta said.
Dean Krakel is a photographer and writer based in Almont, Colo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following the Weld County Board of Commissioners’ decision to deny the city of Thornton’s application to build a water pipeline through the county, Thornton intends to use a state statute to overrule the commissioners’ decision.
Thornton City Council will vote on a resolution at a June 29 meeting directing the city to bypass the board’s denial and commence pipeline construction, according to a meeting agenda posted Thursday. If approved by the city council at that meeting, Thornton will skip past an otherwise lengthy and cumbersome process for getting the pipeline approved at a point where the city feels like time is wearing thin…
Thornton’s goal is to complete the entire Thornton Water Project, a 75-mile-long pipeline from a reservoir near Fort Collins, by 2025. So far, the city has built six miles of the pipeline in other municipalities where Thornton has negotiated agreements. However, the two biggest sections – one in unincorporated Larimer County and the other in unincorporated Weld County – have faced setbacks.
The Larimer County Board of Commissioners denied Thornton’s application for a “1041 permit” to build the pipeline in 2019, leading to a series of ongoing court battles between the city and Larimer County board. Then in May, the Weld County board denied Thornton’s application for a “use by special review” permit, causing Thornton to file a complaint against the board in Weld County District Court.
Thornton began to seriously consider using a state statute that would essentially reverse the board’s decision right after the Weld County commissioners’ denial, said city spokesperson Todd Barnes. Colorado Revised Statutes 30-28-110(1)(c) allows a utility that is financing and authorizing the construction of a project to overrule a denial by a county board of commissioners.
Thornton can use the statute for the denial in Weld Co., but not in Larimer Co. because the two permit application processes are different. Barnes said the city’s legal challenge in Weld County District Court “remains in place to preserve Thornton’s rights.”
The Weld County board was made aware of Thornton’s intentions to overrule the commissioners’ decision before the June 29 city council meeting agenda published, and the board negotiated with the city certain terms and conditions for the pipeline’s construction. Board Chairperson Steve Moreno issued a response to the city that was included in the agenda packet.
Moreno said, “Clearly, the Thornton City Council has statutory authority to override the Board’s decision.” Moreno asks the city to comply with the newly negotiated terms and conditions that are “based upon the original Conditions of Approval and Development Standards of USR 18-0130 (use by special review permit) but have been modified to better fit the circumstance of an override by Thornton.”
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor map June 22, 2021.
High Plains Drought Monitor map June 22, 2021.
West Drought Monitor map June 22, 2021.
Colorado Drought Monitor map June 22, 2021.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
This week, Claudette, the third named tropical cyclone of the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season, made landfall in the central Gulf Coast and moved across the southeast United States. Results from Claudette’s rainfall included widespread improvement to drought conditions in North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as improved conditions in northern Florida and southern Georgia. Severe thunderstorms, including an EF3 tornado that hit western suburbs of Chicago, affected parts of northern Illinois, northern Indiana, northern Ohio, and southern Michigan on Sunday. While they caused widespread damage from wind and hail, the storms also delivered beneficial rainfall to areas suffering from moderate, severe, and extreme drought. Meanwhile, relatively dry weeks in both the Northeast and the West caused drought conditions to worsen, for the most part, in both regions…
Rainfall was paltry in areas of ongoing drought and abnormal dryness in the High Plains region. The dry weather combined with warmer than normal temperatures in much of Nebraska, Kansas, and western South Dakota to lead to widespread worsening of drought and abnormal dryness in these areas. Extreme drought developed along the Missouri River in northern Nebraska and southern South Dakota, and severe and moderate drought expanded around this. Widespread extreme and exceptional drought still covered North Dakota, where adverse effects to crops and pastures from drought is widespread. In eastern Wyoming, short-term dryness and hot weather led to expansions of moderate, severe, and extreme drought as well…
The drought situation in the western United States continued to worsen after another mostly hot and dry week. A few areas of drought in south-central and southeast New Mexico saw some slight improvement due to effects from several rain and thunderstorm events in the last month. Unfortunately, widespread severe or worse drought continued in New Mexico, and conditions remained the same or worsened elsewhere. Increases in moderate, severe, extreme (and in a few cases, exceptional) drought coverage occurred in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana. Severe drought also expanded in western Idaho. Wildfires and increasing wildfire danger, water restrictions, and damage to agriculture are very common across the West region…
Across the South, in areas not affected by Claudette, rain was relatively scarce. Temperatures were generally near normal in the eastern part of the region, while the Texas Panhandle and northwest Oklahoma were warmer than normal. Moderate drought developed near Woodward, Oklahoma, and slightly expanded in the northwest Texas Panhandle. Moderate and severe drought continued in southwest Oklahoma, and conditions ranging from abnormal dryness to exceptional drought (D4) continued along the Texas/Mexico border…
As of the afternoon of Wednesday, June 23, the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center is forecasting widespread rain, some possibly heavy, to occur over the next five days from southeast New Mexico to the western Great Lakes. The largest totals, ranging from 2 inches to as much as 5 inches of rain, are forecast to fall from central Missouri to northern Illinois and southern Michigan. The northern edge of the area where the heaviest rains are predicted to fall is suffering from drought, and the precipitation could be beneficial if that occurs. For the next six to 10 days, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center’s forecast favors warmer than normal temperatures extending from the Pacific Coast to the northern Great Plains, as well as in the Northeast, while an area of cooler than normal temperatures is favored in between, stretching from near the Arizona/New Mexico border to Iowa to central Florida. In Alaska, above normal precipitation and near or below normal temperatures are favored in the west, while drier than normal weather and warmer than normal temperatures are favored in the eastern part of Alaska. The eight to 14 day outlook for the Lower 48 and for Alaska paints a similar picture, though the eight to 14 day outlook features a higher probability for above normal precipitation in the central Great Plains.
From the Environmental Defense Fund blog (Dan Grossman and Ben Hmiel):
Newly released research is shedding more light on the largest sources of methane emissions in the nation’s largest oilfield.
Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas and has a huge impact on the current rate of global warming. The oil and gas industry is one of the biggest emitters.
Using a helicopter equipped with an infrared camera, we surveyed over a thousand sites across the Permian Basin to get specific information about the types of facilities, equipment and events that make the Permian Basin the highest-polluting oilfield in the country. Three things immediately stood out.
More equipment equals more emissions
We wanted to learn more about emissions from “marginal wells” — those that typically produce less than 15 barrels of oil or 60,000 cubic feet of gas a day. Despite the fact that marginal wells make up the vast majority of wells across the country, operators often seek to have them exempted from emissions standards. The argument is based on an assumption that because they produce less, they pollute less. But that is not the case. Our research indicates it is the volume of equipment — not the volume of production — that is likely to impact emissions levels.
We looked at two types of marginal well sites:
Simple sites — those with just a pumpjack or well head and no other equipment.
Complex sites — those with tanks, flares, compressors and other machinery.
The simple sites with fewer pieces of equipment had virtually no large emissions. Comparatively, we measured emissions at about 16% of more complex sites, and about 80% of the emissions were coming from tanks. Cumulatively, these emissions add up. About half of emissions from the Permian Basin well sites come from these smaller, lower producing wells.
Flares malfunction at a much higher rate than previously thought
We also examined emissions from flares. Our previous surveys of Permian flares indicated that about 10% are malfunctioning — leading to large emissions of methane. However, those surveys mostly looked at high-production sites that rely upon routine flaring. When we expanded our survey to include marginal wells with more intermittent flares, we found that number tripled. Approximately 30% of flares were pumping methane emissions into the air rather than burning the methane as they are designed to do. Regularly checking these marginal facilities for equipment failures could help substantially reduce the rate of flare malfunctions.
Oil and gas production is not the only problem
The other significant finding from this research confirms that the midstream sector — sites that process and move oil and gas through the system — is just as much of an emitter as the production sites. We detected large emissions at nearly 40% of midstream sites surveyed. Data released last week from researchers at the University of Arizona and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory similarly confirmed that about half of all Permian emissions are from the midstream sector.
Congress is currently debating whether it should use the Congressional Review Act to reinstate sensible methane standards that would limit this pollution from newer well sites and lay the groundwork for next-generation standards for new and existing facilities. Doing so would be an important step to help address this pollution.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new rules this fall that could and should go even further to reduce emissions. Applying these rules to older facilities, complex marginal well sites and midstream operations will be necessary for the U.S. to meet its climate goals.
A sensible path forward
Reducing emissions from oil and gas facilities is one of the fastest, cheapest and most effective ways to slow the rate of climate change. Many reduction measures pay for themselves, since they result in more gas being captured and delivered to customers.
Methane mitigation is also a huge job creator. Research shows that policies requiring companies to reduce emissions produce a net increase in jobs. In fact, the methane mitigation industry already employs thousands of high-paying individuals across the country and is projected to grow as companies and regulators increase their focus on methane reductions.
The good news is we know that programs designed to reduce emissions are incredibly effective. In 2014, Colorado started regulating methane from its oil and gas industry, and in the year after regulations were implemented, operators reported a 75% drop in the number of methane leaks detected during routine field surveys.
Strong, national standards to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is achievable and is supported by some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Ensuring that methane standards are as effective and encompassing as possible is critical to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
The city of Colorado Springs posted a request for proposals (RFP) on June 3 for Flying Horse Pond 1 Retrofit, a detention pond noted as a potential violation of the Clean Water Act in the lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency against the city in 2016.
Deadline for proposals is July 8.
The EPA lawsuit has since been settled, and the city is expected to pay up to $45 million for additional projects to satisfy the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. City Council raised stormwater rates, which kick in on July 1, to fund the settlement.
The scope of work for the Flying Horse pond is stated this way in the RFP: “Reconstruct existing detention pond with new concrete facilities that include sediment forebays and outlet structure. Construct soil rip rap trickle channels and overflow spillway, maintenance/access roads, MSE retaining walls, boulder lined permanent aesthetic pond and extensive riparian and upland plantings.”
But how much is this project costing and who’s paying for it?
Stormwater manager Rich Mulledy says via email that this pond project cited in the RFP is, indeed, the same pond referenced in the lawsuit.
The budget for the project is $2,541,419, he says. Design will cost $284,878 and the construction costs are estimated at $2,256,541.
But the city’s Stormwater Enterprise will pay for only the design. Construction is being picked up by a grant the city received, he says.
“The developer is not responsible to contribute for several reasons,” Mulledy says.
“First, the City reviewed and accepted the facility as designed and constructed when it was built. The City believed then and believes now that the facility was designed and constructed correctly and in compliance with our criteria at the time,” he says.
Mulledy emphasizes that the pond issue wasn’t ever ruled upon by the court as to whether it, in fact, was a water quality regulation violation.
The city settled the case before that happened.
Mulledy continued, “The main reasons we are reconstructing the facility are to make it easier to maintain and to eliminate any potential water rights issues with the permanent pool of water. We are also redesigning the facility to accept future flows from the Powers Blvd. extension.”
Stormwater fees generate $16 million to $17 million a year, which will grow by several million dollars through the rate hike set by a Feb. 23 City Council vote that takes effect next month.
Residential rates will rise to $7 this year, $7.50 next year and $8 in 2023, a cumulative increase of 60 percent. Non-residential rates will increase to $40.50 per acre this year, $43 in 2022 and $45 in 2023, an overall hike of 50 percent.
In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Friday, June 25th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.
From the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction:
The UN agency responsible for leading global disaster risk management today warned that drought affects more people than any other slow onset disaster and will determine the course of human development in the coming years as the climate emergency worsens.
“Drought is on the verge of becoming the next pandemic and there is no vaccine to cure it. Drought has directly affected 1.5 billion people so far this century and this number will grow dramatically unless the world gets better at managing this risk and understanding its root causes and taking action to stop them,” said Mami Mizutori, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.
“Most of the world will be living with water stress in the next few years. Demand will outstrip supply during certain periods. Drought manifests over months, years, sometimes decades, and the results are felt just as long. Drought exhibits and exacerbates the social and economic inequalities that are deep-rooted within our systems and hits the most vulnerable the hardest.”
Ms. Mizutori was speaking at the launch of the GAR Special Report on Drought 2021, which was prepared by a team of experts commissioned by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Also, speaking at the event, Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive-Secretary for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, spoke before opening the global observance of the World Day for Combating Desertification. “We must all act now to ensure that droughts do not set humanity back on its great endeavour to build a sustainable future,” he said.
Droughts have always been part of the human experience, but the damage and costs resulting from them are seriously underestimated. This is due to widespread and cascading impacts that are often not explicitly attributed to the knock-on effects of drought.
Estimates of costs arising from drought impacts from 1998 to 2017 show droughts have affected at least 1.5 billion people and led to economic losses of at least US$124 billion across the world. Estimates of some of the direct costs include annual losses in the United States of America of approximately US$6.4 billion per annum, and some €9 billion in the European Union.
The effect of severe droughts on India’s gross domestic product is estimated at 2–5%. As a result of the Australian Millennium Drought, total factor agricultural productivity in Australia fell by 18% in the period 2002–2010.
The Special Report on Drought 2021 calls for a new global mechanism to support countries in addressing the transboundary nature of drought risk through strengthened risk governance, partnerships and innovation at regional level and risk-informed action at community level.
The report also promotes the establishment of national drought resilience partnerships that would mobilize public, private and civil society partners and work to ensure a seamless link between national and local levels.
It makes the following recommendations:
Prevention has far lower human, financial and environmental costs than reaction and response.
Increased understanding of complex systemic risks and improved risk governance can lead to effective action on drought risk.
Drought resilience partnerships at the national and local levels will be critical to managing drought in a warming world where rainfall will become ever more unpredictable and require practical solutions to tackle issues like deforestation, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, overgrazing, salination, waterlogging and soil erosion.
A mechanism for drought management at the international and national levels could help address the complex and cascading nature of drought risk.
Financial systems and services need to evolve to encourage cooperative approaches, to promote social protection mechanisms and to encourage risk transfer and contingent financing, so as to provide diversified adaptive support to drought risk management.
New pathways are needed to encourage inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge, sharing of values and opportunities for realizing the benefits of effective risk governance, and effective sharing of drought risk management experiences.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Penny Stine):
Ute Water is celebrating 65 years of serving the Grand Valley community with clean and safe drinking water, and owes its existence to a bunch of visionary farmers who wouldn’t take no for an answer. The towns of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade, as well as the community of Clifton, all had municipal water sources by the mid-twentieth century, and were able to deliver convenient, safe water directly to their faucets.
There were, however, plenty of Grand Valley residents who didn’t live in Clifton, or the municipalities of Palisade, Fruita or Grand Junction. Most of them were farmers or involved in agriculture, and most of them didn’t just use irrigation water to water their fields, but they had to also use it to fill their cisterns for household use, as well, and then hope that the chlorine they added to it protected their health. If they didn’t pull water from irrigation canals, they got it from the Colorado River, or had to contract with a water service delivery company to come and fill their cisterns.
When the Bureau of Reclamation announced that there would be water available from the reservoirs on Grand Mesa as a result of the Collbran project’s two hydroelectric plants in Molina, and that water would be enough to supply the needs of the entire Grand Valley, those farmers decided they were ready to abandon their cisterns…
Undeterred, the farmers formed a water conservancy district, elected a board of directors and raised money to build the necessary infrastructure to bring water from Grand Mesa into the rural homes in the valley.
When Ute Water started, it had just 1,800 water taps to serve. Today, the upstart water district serves more than 85,000 people with 35,000 water taps, serving an area that’s larger than 250 square miles, with more than 900 miles of distribution pipe.
“We serve about 70% of the valley,” said Larry Clever, general manager for Ute Water.
Ute Water began servicing the city of Fruita several decades ago when Fruita’s original system that brought water from the Uncompahgre Plateau through Colorado National Monument couldn’t be upgraded and brought to modern standards.
Although the Western Slope is in a severe drought, and many of Grand Mesa’s reservoirs won’t fill to capacity this year, Ute Water has been steadily diversifying its portfolio of water sources, and isn’t solely reliant on water from the Collbran project. In addition to its stake in 31 Grand Mesa reservoirs, Ute Water bought water rights from Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt almost a decade ago, and also has rights to pull from the Colorado River, although that’s not its first choice.
Parts of Colorado’s West Slope face an above-normal risk for significant wildfire activity through August, a four-month wildfire forecast from the National Interagency Fire Center suggests.
During a presentation on the report, Gina Palma, a fire meteorologist with the Great Basin Coordination Center for the United States Department of Agriculture, said the unprecedented heat wave that just swept across the western United States rapidly worsened fuel conditions.
Credit: National Interagency Fire Center
Credit: National Interagency Fire Center
Credit: National Interagency Fire Center
Credit: National Interagency Fire Center
“That is quickly pushing many areas into an early start to the fire season that we typically do not see,” Palma said.
About 30 percent of Colorado is in extreme or exceptional drought — all west of the Continental Divide. Palma said this region is experiencing fire and fuel conditions that wouldn’t typically be seen until July and August.
Palma said vegetation like sagebrush and timber is drier than normal, making the wildfire fuel easier to burn. Large fires tend to grow on their own when fuels are this dry, Palma said, even without high heat or strong winds. Another impact of the drought is a widespread report of die-off in Western Colorado’s pinyon and juniper forests, Palma said. Those dead trees increase available fuel for wildfires.
The forecast shows that the risk for wildfire will return to normal levels for all of the Western Slope by September due to seasonal monsoon rains.
For the Parker Water and Sanitation District, collaboration is a guiding principle when it comes to water storage. To add supply for its 50,000-person Douglas County district and surrounding agricultural users, Parker acquired land that had water rights in Prewitt Reservoir, the 32,000 acre-foot reservoir south of Sterling, which it could pump more than 100 miles south to store in its own reservoirs. The Prewitt Reservoir was built for sugar beet farmers in northeastern Colorado, where North Sterling Irrigation District manager Jim Yahn says he worries that having municipalities draw from it could end up taking storage from agricultural users. Yahn encouraged Parker to consider a way to serve all users, including farmers.
“Buy and dry is the old way, and on the one hand, it’s probably easier to do it that old way. But it’s not the right way,” says Ron Redd, executive director for Parker Water. “Farmers have knowledge and they’ve helped us out on what we can and can’t do. When multiple stakeholders benefit, it’s a win all around.”
Parker is now looking at two new reservoirs, both on the Eastern Plains: a 6,000-7,000 acre-foot site near Iliff, northeast of Sterling, and, eventually, a 72,000 acre-foot site near Fremont Butte, southwest of Sterling and still some 100 miles from Parker’s Rueter-Hess Reservoir. Not only will they serve Parker, but through a partnership with the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, local agricultural users could draw from the reservoirs as well. The project will efficiently convey water through existing and improved Prewitt infrastructure.
Project partners are still working out how to share the water, but Yahn says the partnership represents a new way of thinking. “Even if agriculture can’t afford a new storage project, a new storage project can incorporate agriculture.” Parker will offset some maintenance costs for Prewitt when it draws from the reservoir as part of a deal Yahn describes as “a little like a toll road.”
Redd says the deal is just the start of work that could continue with the collaborative South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group.
“Partnerships are hard and that’s why most people used to go it alone,” Redd says. “But our customers pay us to do the hard work and we’re seeing a lot more benefits when we partner with other districts.”
FromThe Santa Fe New Mexican (Scott Wyland) via The Taos News:
U.S. regulators aim to repeal a contentious Trump-era rule that stirred fierce opposition from conservationists and many New Mexico leaders because it removed most of the state’s water from federal protection.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s head said the agency and the Army Corps of Engineers had determined the rule was causing substantial harm to water bodies and pointed to New Mexico and Arizona as among the states most affected.
The current rule, which has spurred a string of lawsuits, only protects waterways that flow year-round or seasonally and connect to another body of water.
It excludes as “ephemeral” storm-generated streams as well as tributaries that don’t flow continuously to another water body – disqualifying most of New Mexico’s waters. Unregulated storm runoff can carry contaminants into rivers used for drinking water, conservationists say.
Water advocates see the announced change as an encouraging move, but warned it will take time to repeal and replace the rule…
After the EPA states its intention to scrap “the dirty water rule” in the Federal Register, a 30-day public comment period will follow and then the agency can work to repeal it, said Rachel Conn, projects director for Taos-based Amigos Bravos.
Establishing a new rule will take considerably more time, Conn said, but in the meantime it’s crucial to get rid of a standard that is leaving most of New Mexico’s waters unprotected…
Conn and other critics of the current rule have worried it would nix the EPA’s oversight of heavily polluted runoff from Los Alamos County into the Río Grande – a prime source of drinking water – and that it might disqualify the Gila River from protection because that waterway runs dry before reaching the Colorado River.
“After reviewing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule as directed by President Biden, the EPA and Department of the Army have determined that this rule is leading to significant environmental degradation,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
The lack of protections is especially significant in arid states such as New Mexico and Arizona, where nearly every one of over 1,500 streams has been found to be outside federal jurisdiction, the EPA said in a news release.
Regan said the agency is committed to creating a “durable definition” of U.S. waters based on Supreme Court precedents, learning from past regulations and getting input from a variety of interested parties. The agency also will consider the impacts of climate change, he said…
New Mexico is one of just three states that has no authority from the EPA to regulate discharges of pollution into rivers, streams and lakes under the Clean Water Act, which leaves it at the mercy of whomever is in the White House, Conn said…
If the rule is repealed, the regulations will revert to more stringent ones enacted in 1987, said Charles de Saillan, staff attorney for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center…
Congress should intervene and create well-defined and permanent updates to the Clean Water Act to stop the political seesawing that happens every change of administration, de Saillan said.
Congressional action would be much better than having the U.S. Supreme Court make rulings on it, de Saillan said. The last high court decision on which waters merited federal protection was ambiguous, causing more confusion and legal battles, he said.