#Drought news (August 19, 2021): D1 (Moderate Drought) developed in some areas of northeast #Colorado

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

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

Monsoonal moisture, and associated heavy rainfall, returned to Arizona and New Mexico after a brief hiatus last week, leading to widespread improvements in drought conditions, as well as some flash flooding. In most of Arizona and New Mexico, long-term drought remains, but recent conditions have been wet enough for a green-up in vegetation. Meanwhile, warm and dry weather continued from the West Coast to the northern Great Plains. Tropical Storm Fred, and its remnants, progressed across the Southeast U.S., dropping heavy rain along the storm’s track, and to its east as well. Much of the rain in the drier areas of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia fell after 8 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, so the effects from this heavy rain on dryness will be incorporated into next week’s analysis. However, some limited improvements to conditions did occur with rainfall before the Tuesday morning cutoff. Water shortages and wildfires continued to plague drought-stricken regions of the western and northwestern U.S., while very poor soil moisture conditions and severe agricultural impacts were felt in the northern Great Plains. In Minnesota, hydroelectric power generation along the Mississippi River halted near St. Cloud. River levels in the state lowered towards 1988 drought levels, creating a danger for boats to scrape along the bottoms of rivers. Rainfall from tropical cyclones in Puerto Rico led to improvement in moderate drought in southeast sections of the island. Maui and Hawaii also saw localized improvements of drought conditions from recent rainfall…

High Plains

Aside from a few pockets of heavier rain in parts of Kansas and in eastern and central Colorado, most of the region was dry this week. Warm temperatures held sway in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota, where temperatures generally ranged from 3 to 6 degrees above normal. Moderate drought developed in northeast Colorado in areas which did not receive significant rainfall this week. Severe and extreme drought grew in coverage along the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska and adjacent South Dakota. Drought coverage also increased in northeast South Dakota and across parts of North Dakota. In North Dakota, some farmers have harvested corn to use as livestock feed as drought continues to adversely affect agriculture. A few parts of south-central Wyoming saw localized improvement in drought conditions due to recent rainfall, while others in the southeast and northwest corners of the state experienced worsening conditions…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 17, 2021.


Amid water shortages and restrictions in the Colorado River Basin and widespread wildfires and extreme fire behavior in northern California and the Northwest, widespread severe, extreme, and exceptional drought continued across much of the region. Conditions worsened in northern California, western Oregon (and adjacent southwest Washington), southeast Oregon (and adjacent Nevada), and in northern and eastern portions of Montana, where soil moisture continued to degrade as hot and dry weather continued. In stark contrast, widespread improvements in drought conditions occurred in Arizona and New Mexico this week, as heavy monsoonal rains made their return after a one-week hiatus. Two-inch rainfall totals were commonplace, particularly in the southern halves of both states, and localized higher amounts also occurred. Most of the remaining drought in these states, while still extreme or exceptional in some locales, is confined to long-term impacts, as conditions are wet in many places on the short-term. While heavy monsoonal rain occurred in Arizona and New Mexico, moderate to heavy amounts were mostly confined to these two states. In central and southern Arizona and New Mexico, temperatures were cooler than normal, in some areas by 3 to 9 degrees. Otherwise, the rest of the region was warmer than normal, in particular northern California, Oregon, and Washington, where temperatures from 9 to 12 degrees above normal were widespread…


Rain amounts from 2 to 6 inches occurred in far southwest Texas, in association with heavy monsoonal rainfall this week. Elsewhere, scattered moderate-to-heavy rainfall amounts occurred, with a few pockets, notably south Texas and northwest Oklahoma, staying mostly dry. Long-term drought continued in a small area around Big Bend National Park in southern Texas, while a few areas of shorter-term drought were occurring along the Red River and in northwest Oklahoma. Cooler than normal weather was common in southern parts of Texas this week, in particular where heavy monsoonal rains fell, where temperatures were 3 to 9 degrees below normal for the week…

Looking Ahead

As of Aug. 18, the National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Prediction Center is forecasting several areas of significant precipitation from Aug. 18-23. As a storm system advances eastward out of the West, moderate to heavy rain is possible from central and eastern Utah northeast into the northern Great Plains and western Minnesota. Significant precipitation is also possible in western Wyoming and in parts of Montana. Any rainfall in these areas would be welcome, as much of the region forecast to receive rain is in drought. Additionally, moderate to heavy rain may occur in Tennessee and northern sections of Alabama and Mississippi. Finally, heavier rain may also fall in the Mid-Atlantic and in the Northeast. In the Northeast, the eventual track of Tropical Cyclone Henri may play a large role in rainfall amounts. To monitor the track and possible local impacts of Henri, please refer to the NWS National Hurricane Center’s latest forecasts, or those from your local NWS office. For the period from Aug. 24-28, the NWS Climate Prediction Center forecast leans towards warmer than normal temperatures in most of the contiguous United States, with the exception of the northern Great Plains and the Upper Midwest. Forecast probabilities strongly lean towards below normal precipitation in much of the West and northern Great Plains, while the Northeast, Southeast, and portions of the South are skewed towards likely wetter conditions.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 17, 2021.

Colorado work group fails to reach consensus in anti-speculation report — @AspenJournalism

The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park in the Grand Valley. Water Asset Management, a New York City-based hedge fund, has been buying up parcels of land that are irrigated with water from the canal.

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

After nearly a year’s worth of meetings, a work group has not reached a consensus about what Colorado should do to prevent investors from profiting off of speculating on the state’s water.

A report released last week by a group of water managers, policy experts and users — who were convened to explore ways to strengthen current anti-speculation law — lays out a list of concepts but does not give clear direction to state legislators about which concepts to pursue.

“Due in part to the drawbacks that the Work Group identified for each of the brainstormed concepts in Section 5, and a lack of consensus, the Work Group does not recommend any of the concepts for implementation,” the report reads.

The work group was made up of representatives from across water sectors, including Front Range municipal-water providers, Western Slope agricultural-water users, nonprofit organizations and others. At the direction of state lawmakers, the work group looked into how legislation could be enacted or amended to crack down on investment water speculation. The group defined investment water speculation as the purchase of water rights with the primary purpose of profiting from the increased value of the water in a future sale.

The lack of consensus or recommendations underscores how difficult it is to answer the thorny question at the heart of the issue: How can the government balance protecting a public resource from profit-seeking investors without infringing on private-property rights?

“The lack of consensus is informative in and of itself,” said state engineer Kevin Rein, who co-chaired the work group. “That tells the (Water Resources Review) Committee a lot right there.”

This irrigated parcel in Fruita is owned by Water Asset Management, a private equity group that has been accused of water speculation. A state work group has released its report on investment water speculation, but failed to come to a consensus or make recommendations to lawmakers.

Eight concepts

Under Colorado law, a water-rights holder must put their water to “beneficial use,” meaning they must use the water for what it was decreed, such as irrigating crops. But Colorado also treats the right to use water as a private-property right. People can buy and sell water rights and change what the water is allowed to be used for by getting the approval of the water court.

This system creates an opening for investors who see water as an increasingly valuable commodity in a water-short future, driven by climate change. A New York City-based private equity fund, Water Asset Management, is now the largest landowner in the Grand Valley Water Users Association, which provides water from the Colorado River to the farmland of Fruita, Mack and Loma. Concern about WAM’s activity in the Grand Valley was a main reason that legislators convened the anti-speculation work group through 2020’s Senate Bill 48.

Of the 19 concepts presented in the report, eight were identified as having the potential to reduce investment water speculation on a large scale. These include taxing profits from the sale of water rights; eliminating agriculture tax benefits when water is removed from the land; encouraging local governments to police speculation through their 1041 powers; and creating a right of first refusal for a public entity to purchase water rights for long-term irrigation use for public benefit.

The most ambitious of the concepts, Concept J, is creating a statewide process to identify and prohibit investment water speculation. State Rep. Dylan Roberts, who represents Eagle and Routt counties and sits on the Water Resources Review Committee, said this concept has a lot of merit.

“I think it’s clear there are a lot of ways people could slip through the cracks of our current system if they did want to speculate in water,” he said. “If we created a statewide process, we might get a better handle on some of this activity that’s happening and find ways to work on a case-by-case basis to prevent it.”

A lateral brings water from the Grand Valley Irrigation Company canal to this parcel of land, which is owned by private equity firm Water Asset Management, a company that has been accused of water speculation. A state work group has released its report on investment water speculation, but failed to come to a consensus and did not make recommendations to lawmakers.

Concept drawbacks

All of the concepts had major drawbacks, the most common of which were high implementation costs and potential impacts to all water users, even those who are not speculative investors. According to the report, the drawbacks also include potentially reducing the sale price of water rights and, therefore, their value as property, which presents a risk to the current owners of irrigation water rights.

“The Work Group wants to stress to the Committee the complexity and nuance of the problem identified in SB 20-048 and the fact that any concept that would be effective in reducing or preventing Investment Water Speculation also comes with significant drawbacks,” the report reads.

Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River Water Conservation District and a member of the work group, said one reason the group couldn’t come to a consensus was because some members were uncomfortable with concepts that peered too closely at water-rights transactions between willing buyers and sellers.

“I do think the (concepts) that are most likely to be met with the least amount of opposition from existing water rights holders might be those that don’t penalize the private-property transaction itself,” Fleming said. “Don’t focus on the transaction. Focus on how the water is used or not used to figure out if there is speculation going on. Even then, it’s not an easy task.”

The Government Highline Canal, near Grand Junction, delivers water from the Colorado River, and is managed by the Grand Valley Water Users Association. Prompted by concerns about outside investors speculating on Grand Valley water, the state convened a work group to study the issue.

Comprehensive report

Although the work group couldn’t find consensus, Fleming and Rein said that doesn’t mean they were unsuccessful. The 66-page report presents a lot of information and the group now leaves the issue in the hands of the Water Resources Review Committee. The report is on the committee’s agenda for discussion at the Colorado Water Congress summer convention next week in Steamboat Springs.

“I think the simple fact that there aren’t consensus recommendations doesn’t mean the report doesn’t contain good information; I think it does,” Fleming said. “It’s up to the legislature at this point whether they want to pick anything up.”

Roberts said the committee should carefully consider all eight of the concepts that have the potential to reduce investment water speculation on a large scale. He called the report comprehensive and said he was not surprised that the work group could not come to a unanimous agreement, especially when members represented so many varied and sometimes conflicting interests.

“I commend them for giving us everything that they considered even if they didn’t reach consensus,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s not their job to formally propose changes in law; that’s the job of us at the legislature now. I’m glad we have this resource.”

This story ran in the Aug. 18 edition of The Aspen Times.

Task force lacks consensus on how to boost anti-speculation water law — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

The Grand River Diversion Dam, also known as the “Roller Dam”, was built in 1913 to divert water from the Colorado River to the Government Highline Canal, which farmers use to irrigate their lands in the Grand Valley. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Tax disincentives, requiring water rights to remain tied to irrigated agricultural land, and penalizing or prohibiting owners of water rights from being paid to not divert and use water are among concepts a water anti-speculation task force has forwarded for consideration by the state Legislature.

The task force’s report focuses on eight conceptual changes in law that the group says could reduce investment water speculation on a large scale, but the 22-member group was unable to come to a consensus on any recommendation.

A state law, Senate Bill 20-048, directed the state Department of Natural Resources to form the work group to explore ways to strengthen current water anti-speculation law…

The task force delivered its 66-page report to the state Water Resources Review Committee [August 13, 2021]. The task force included representation from the legal, nonprofit, municipal and agricultural communities and from a variety of water basins, along with several state-level officials.

Ultimately, group members couldn’t all see eye- to-eye on how to address the challenge.

“The Work Group wants to stress to the Committee the complexity and nuance of the problem identified in SB 20-048 and the fact that any concept that would be effective in reducing or preventing Investment Water Speculation also comes with significant drawbacks,” the report says.

It said the group is diverse, with varied and sometimes conflicting interests, and some of its members found that any concept, “even if further developed to minimize drawbacks, is unacceptable.”

Common drawbacks of the concepts included the high cost of implementation, the time and cost impacts of water transactions for all water users, and the potential reduction in the sale price of water rights and thus their value as property, which presents “a risk to the current owners of irrigation water rights,” the report says.

According to the report, investment water speculation “violates the intent of Colorado’s anti-speculation doctrine because the investor’s primary goal is profit from the water value rather than beneficial use of the water (and the profit that comes from the use).”


Speculation concerns center around things such as water brokers buying water rights and quickly flipping them to a third party for profit, or investors continuing to use water rights for their historical use with the primary goal of later profiting from the increased value of water through a sale, lease or payment for nondiversion of water for the benefit of a downstream user. Another concern is investors cornering a water market, driving up the price for others in need of water…

Other concepts include:

  • eliminating or reducing the agricultural tax benefit for lands from which water is removed, to reduce the benefit for lands converted from irrigated uses;
  • requiring water to be tied to the land unless irrigated land is going to be changed to a new land use;
  • funding and/or creating a right of first refusal before water rights are sold, which would allow for the purchase of the rights by the state or another public entity for long-term irrigation use for public benefit;
  • creating a statewide process, such as through water courts or a state agency, to identify and prohibit investment water speculation;
  • encouraging local governments to police investment water speculation through their “1041” powers, which get their name from a law that already lets counties require permits for things like reservoirs;
  • taxing the profit from sale or lease of water previously bought for investment water speculation purposes;
  • establishing a maximum rate of water right price increase and imposing higher taxes when exceeded.
  • One concept [Peter Fleming] was interested in but wasn’t seen as ultimately likely to have a large-scale impact on speculation would be modifying the state’s land conservation easement statute as incentive to tying water rights to their place of historical use.

    Fleming said it’s unfortunate there are no recommendations, but even if there were, it would have been a long road to any change in law.