This Week’s Topsoil Short/Very Short by @usda_oce #drought

The Northwest across to the Northern Plains continues to reflect dire conditions.

WA a second week in a row at 100%.

MT 99%. ND 92%. OR 90%.

The surrounding states not much better.

Paper: Sources of Controversy in the Law of the #ColoradoRiver: An Upper Basin View — Lawrence J. MacDonnell #COriver #aridification

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click here to read the paper. Here’s the introduction and summary:


The first two decades of the 21st Century have been characterized by prolonged periods of drought in the Colorado River Basin, causing some to argue that the region’s hydrologic system has shifted into long-term aridification. One effect has been to highlight the disparity between the amounts of water allocated for use under various legal arrangements and the physical availability of water, even in a system with over sixty million acre-feet (maf) of storage. This prolonged and deepening shortage of water also highlights other disagreements in the legal framework governing uses of the system’s total water supply. Serious disagreements respecting key provisions of the Law of the River were largely avoided when the system contained enough water to satisfy all interests. That is no longer the case. The purpose of this working paper is to explore some of the uncertainties in the Law of the River most likely to cause conflicts in times of water shortage and to consider ways for their resolution. The paper concludes that some long-standing assumptions about aspects of the Law of the River must give way to the realities of growing water scarcity. The paper begins with a brief summary of the conclusions from each of the six areas of uncertainty.


1. Uncertainties Concerning Mainstream Water Use Entitlements in the Lower Basin Interpretation: Consumptive uses of water from the main Colorado River for the three mainstream states are not a fixed allocation but aspirational and adjustable according to water availability after accounting for water for Mexico and losses and need to be adjusted accordingly.

2. Uncertainties Respecting Uses of Water from Lower Basin Tributaries Interpretation: All beneficial consumptive uses of tributary water in the Lower Basin are included within the Articles III (a) and (b) apportionment and need to be fully identified and accounted for annually. The effect of these uses on water availability in the main Colorado must be taken into account. Uses exceeding 8.5 maf/year may constitute a violation of the Law of the River under certain circumstances such as if their existence causes a failure to meet treaty obligations with Mexico.

3. Uncertainties Respecting the Status of Article III (b) Water
Interpretation: Authorization for the Lower Basin to increase its consumptive uses an additional one million acre-feet (maf) resulted in an agreement limiting the Lower Basin to total protected consumptive uses of 8.5 maf/year, including those in the tributaries. Uses exceeding 8.5 maf are contingent and need to be identified and managed, if necessary.

4. Uncertainties Respecting the Meaning of Article III (d) in an Era of Climate Change- Induced Water Shortages
Interpretation: The Upper Basin’s obligation not to deplete flows at Lee Ferry below 75 maf over consecutive ten-year periods (75/10) must take into account climate-change-induced reductions in water availability unrelated to Upper Basin depletions and find more flexible ways to satisfy this obligation that reflect actual water availability.

5. Uncertainties Respecting the Sources of Water to Satisfy the Mexico Treaty Obligation
Interpretation: The traditional view that the Upper Basin has an obligation to provide 750,000 acre-feet per year to meet the Treaty obligation to Mexico needs to be reconsidered when Lower Basin uses exceed 8.5 maf/year, when Mexico adjusts its delivery requirements to reflect shortages, and in view of the fact that, in some manner, the treaty water is a national obligation.

6. Uncertainties Respecting Uses of Tribal Water Rights, including Existing but Unquantified Rights
Interpretation: Tribes with reservations in the basin have rights to more than 20% of the system’s water. The states and the United States should search out opportunities to enter into voluntary, compensated agreements with willing tribes to forego uses of portions of their water rights as needed to help maintain and increase system water.

John Fleck takes a look at the uncertainties in this post on Inkstain, “Sources of Controversy in the Law of the River – Larry MacDonnell.”:

As we lumber toward a renegotiation of the operating rules on the Colorado River, one of the challenges folks in basin management face is the differing understandings of the Law of the River. There’s stuff we all know, or think we know, or stuff Lower Basin folks think they know that Upper Basin people may disagree with, and stuff Upper Basin folks think they know that Lower Basin people may disagree with.

Larry MacDonnell, one of the Law of the River’s great legal minds, has written a terrific treatise to help us untangle this. It’s clearly written from an Upper Basin perspective (“Yay!” said the guy – me – who drinks Upper Basin water!), so Lower Basin folks may disagree with some of what Larry is saying. That’s OK, the important thing is to understand that the answers to these questions are not given – that there are genuine disagreements on this stuff, and the negotiations to come need to wrestle with these questions.

Assessing the U.S. #Climate in July 2021 — NOAA

Wyoming landscape. Photo credit: Courtesy of via NOAA

From NOAA:

Extreme heat, ongoing drought and wildfires plague much of the western contiguous U.S. during July

The July 2021 contiguous U.S. temperature was 75.5°F, 1.9°F above the 20th-century average, tying with 1954 and 2003 for 13th warmest in the 127-year record. For the year-to-date, the national temperature was 53.0°F, 1.8°F above average, ranking 14th warmest on record.

The July precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 3.36 inches, 0.58 inch above average, and sixth-wettest in the 127-year period of record. The year-to-date precipitation total for the Lower 48 was 18.00 inches, 0.09 inch below average, ranking in the middle one-third of the historical record.

This monthly summary fromNOAA National Center for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia, and the public to support informed decision-making.

July 2021

  • Temperatures were above average to record warm across the West, much of the northern Plains and portions of the mid-Atlantic and Southeast. Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada each had their warmest July on record with five additional states across the West and northern Plains having a top-10 warm month.
  • Temperatures were below average across portions of the southern and central Plains, Midwest, Southeast and Northeast.
  • A ridge of high pressure across the western U.S and a trough across the eastern U.S. for most of July kept the temperatures well-above average across the West and more moderate across the central and eastern states. This pattern remained in place for the duration of the month. An eastward shift in the ridge mid-month allowed the southwestern monsoon to kick off.
  • The Alaska average July temperature was 53.7°F, 1.0°F above the long-term mean and ranked in the warmest third of the historical record for the state.
    • Areas that experienced above-average precipitation across western Alaska during July also had temperatures that were below average.
    • Above-average temperatures occurred across much of the eastern half of Alaska and across the Aleutians.
    • The Alaskan wildfire season, to-date, is well-below average.


  • Precipitation was above average across much of the Northeast, Southeast, and South; portions of the Midwest, Ohio Valley, and Great Lakes; and much of the Southwest. New York and Massachusetts had their wettest July on record with nine additional states across the Northeast, South and Southwest experiencing a top-10 wettest July.
    • The Southwest monsoon season began in earnest during the second half of July, bringing some rainfall to the drought-stricken region. Portions of Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona saw some improvement in the drought intensity, but still remain entrenched in drought.
    • Much of the West, particularly the Northwest, remained entrenched in exceptional drought conditions, which was reflected in very high wildfire activity throughout the month.
  • Precipitation was below average across much of the Northwest, Northern Tier and portions of the central Plains, Midwest and central Appalachians. Minnesota ranked second driest while Washington ranked fourth driest.
  • Hurricane Elsa formed in the Atlantic Ocean in early July and made landfall in Cuba before reemerging in the Gulf of Mexico and making landfall as a tropical storm in Florida.
    • Elsa brought flooding, tornadoes and damage to portions of Georgia and the Carolinas as well as flooding in parts of the Northeast. At least 17 were injured and one fatality was reported.
    • Elsa was the earliest fifth-named storm on record.
  • Alaska received near-average precipitation during July, but regional amounts varied greatly. Precipitation was above average across much of western Alaska and below average across eastern Alaska.
    • Kotzebue had its wettest July and month on record while Nome and Bethel each had their wettest July since the 1920s.
  • According to the August 3 U.S. Drought Monitor, approximately 46 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down from about 47 percent at the end of June. Drought intensified and/or expanded across portions of the northern Plains, northern Rockies, Northwest and from the Great Basin to the Pacific Coast.
  • Drought also emerged across portions of Alaska and intensified across Maui in Hawaii. Drought severity lessened across the Northeast, Great Lakes and portions of the Southwest and central Rockies. Nearly 90 percent of the 11 states across the western U.S. are experiencing some level of drought.

Year-to-date (January-July 2021)

  • January-July temperatures were above average across the West, northern and central Plains, Great Lakes, Northeast, mid-Atlantic and portions of the Southeast. California, Oregon and Nevada each had their fourth-warmest year-to-date period on record with 11 additional states across the West, northern Plains, Northeast and Southeast experiencing a top-10 warmest January-July.
  • Temperatures were below average across portions of the South.
  • The Alaska statewide average temperature for this year-to-date period was 27.1°F, 1.3°F above average and ranked in the middle one-third of the record. Temperatures were above average across much of Bristol Bay, Northwest Gulf and the Aleutian regions with near-average temperatures present across much of the rest of the state.


  • Precipitation was above average from the southern and central Plains to the Midwest and into portions of the Southeast. Mississippi ranked sixth wettest for the first seven months of the year.
  • Precipitation was below average from the West Coast to the western Great Lakes. Minnesota and North Dakota each ranked third driest while Montana ranked fourth driest on record.
  • Precipitation across Alaska ranked in the wettest third of the historical record.

Other Notable Events

  • Wildfire activity exploded across the drought-stricken portions of the West, especially the Northwest, during July. As of July 31, 37,650 fires have burned through 2,982,960 acres during the first seven months of 2021. This is nearly 1 million more acres than were consumed by this time last year and about 1 million fewer acres burned than the 2011-2020 year-to-date average.
    • With multiple large fires burning across the West, forecasts for worsening conditions and a potential shortage of resources, on July 14, the National Multi-Agency Coordination Group raised the national Preparedness Level (PL) to the highest category — level 5. This is the earliest PL5 issued in the past 10 years.
    • As of July 31, the largest fire across the U.S., the Bootleg Fire, located in Oregon, has consumed more than 413,000 acres and was 56 percent contained.
    • The second largest fire in the U.S., the Dixie Fire, located in northern California, burned more than 240,000 acres and was 24 percent contained.
    • Heavy smoke from these and many other fires across the western U.S. and Canada contributed to low air quality across the U.S. during July.

Bad news for the West in a new international climate change report – The Deseret News

West Drought Monitor map August 3, 2021.

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

A blistering international report on the global effects of climate change says action is needed now to cut emissions and chart a new path for humanity.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which represents nearly 200 member nations, made clear the planet is warming at an even faster rate than scientists previously thought and those warming trends are causing chaos in every corner of the world.

Utah’s Salt City Lake International Airport, as an example, experienced the warmest July on record since records first started being kept in 1874, and the state, like the entire West, is in the grip of a protracted drought.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres described the report released Monday as “a code red for humanity.”

One of the U.S.-based authors of the report, Kim Cobb, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said the report’s findings are dire.

“There’s really one key message that emerges from this report: We are out of time. And this report really provides compelling, scientific linkages between the headlines that we see today and what we know about the physics of the climate system and how it’s being impacted by rising greenhouse gases.”

Some key takeaways include:

  • Climate change is intensifying the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions.
  • Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns. In high latitudes, precipitation is likely to increase, while it is projected to decrease over large parts of the subtropics. Changes to monsoon precipitation are expected, which will vary by region.
  • For cities, some aspects of climate change may be amplified, including heat (since urban areas are usually warmer than their surroundings), flooding from heavy precipitation events and sea level rise in coastal cities.
  • Logan Mitchell, an atmospheric scientist with the University of Utah, echoed Cobb’s concerns.

    “The thing that really strikes me is I thought that many of these climate impacts were going to hit us in a few decades in 2040 or 2050, but we are seeing them today with the wildfires, the smoke, these extreme heat events.”

    Jessica Tierney, associate professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona and one of the authors of the report, noted the widespread impacts in the West.

    “So we keep hearing more and more in the news about these extreme events, and the takeaway message from this new report is that these events are just going to occur more and more often as global temperatures rise. And they may get more and more intense. And so in the western U.S., for example, we need to think hard about issues like water conservation and water storage in order to sort of weather through these increasingly extreme events.”

    Credit: Colorado Water

    Tierney went on to add that snowpack in the western United States is almost certain to decline in the future.

    “And that has implications for water availability, because a lot of the stream flow in the Western United States — for example, the Colorado River — depends on snow. So we have increased confidence that we’re going to see less flow through our river systems in the western U.S., which means that we’re going to be even more prone to drought. And in fact, if emissions continue, then there is a very good chance that we’re going to see a level of drought and aridity that we haven’t seen in at least a thousand years.”

    Humans have pushed the #climate into ‘unprecedented’ territory, landmark U.N. report finds — The Washington Post

    Photo collage credit: NOAA

    From The Washington Post (Brady Dennis and Sarah Kaplan):

    U.N. chief calls findings ‘a code red for humanity’ with worse climate impacts to come unless greenhouse gas pollution falls dramatically

    More than three decades ago, a collection of scientists assembled by the United Nations first warned that humans were fueling a dangerous greenhouse effect and that if the world didn’t act collectively and deliberately to slow Earth’s warming, there could be “profound consequences” for people and nature alike.

    The scientists were right.

    On Monday, that same body — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — described how humans have altered the environment at an “unprecedented” pace and detailed how catastrophic impacts lie ahead unless the world rapidly and dramatically cuts greenhouse gas reductions.

    The landmark report states that there is no remaining scientific doubt that humans are fueling climate change. That much is “unequivocal.” The only real uncertainty that remains, its authors say, is whether the world can muster the will to stave off a darker future than the one it already has carved in stone.

    The sprawling assessment, compiled by 234 authors relying on more than 14,000 studies from around the globe, bluntly lays out for policymakers and the public the most up-to-date understanding of the physical science on climate change. Released amid a summer of deadly fires, floods and heat waves, it arrives less than three months before a critical summit this November in Scotland, where world leaders face mounting pressure to move more urgently to slow the Earth’s warming.

    Photo credit: Kim Delker/University of New Mexico

    U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called the findings “a code red for humanity” and said societies must find ways to embrace the transformational changes necessary to limit warming as much as possible. “We owe this to the entire human family,” he said in a statement. “There is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”

    From left, President François Hollande of France; Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister; and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the climate change conference [December 2015] in Le Bourget, near Paris. (Credit Francois Mori/Associated Press)

    But so far, the collective effort to slow climate change has proved gravely insufficient. Instead of the sort of emission cuts that scientists say must happen, global greenhouse gas pollution is still growing. Countries have failed to meet the targets they set under the 2015 Paris climate accord, and even the bolder pledges some nations recently have embraced still leave the world on a perilous path.

    “What the world requires now is real action,” John F. Kerry, the Biden administration’s special envoy for climate, said in a statement about Monday’s findings. “We can get to the low carbon economy we urgently need, but time is not on our side.”

    It certainly is not, according to Monday’s report.

    Humans can unleash less than 500 additional gigatons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of about 10 years of current global emissions — to have an even chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

    But hopes for remaining below that threshold — the most ambitious goal outlined in the Paris agreement — are undeniably slipping away. The world has already warmed more than 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), with few signs of slowing, and could pass the 1.5-degree mark early in the 2030s.

    “Unless we make immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5C will be beyond reach,” said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the IPCC and senior adviser for climate at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Each bit of warming will intensify the impacts we are likely to see.”

    Already, we are living on a changed and changing planet.

    Each of the past four decades has been successively warmer than any that preceded it, dating to 1850. Humans have warmed the climate at a rate unparalleled since before the fall of the Roman Empire. To find a time when the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere changed this much this fast, you’d need to rewind 66 million years to the end of the age of the dinosaurs.

    Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen to levels not seen in 2 million years, the authors state. The oceans are turning acidic. Sea levels continue to rise. Arctic ice is disintegrating. Weather-related disasters are growing more extreme and affecting every region of the world.