A #ColoradoRiver veteran takes on the top #Water & Science post at Interior Department — @WaterEdFdn #CRWUA2021 #COriver #aridification #ClimateChange

Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Interior Secretary for Water and Science (Source: U.S. Department of the Interior)

From the Water Education Foundation (Douglas Beeman):

Western Water Q&A: Tanya Trujillo brings two decades of experience on Colorado River issues as she takes on the challenges of a river basin stressed by climate change

For more than 20 years, Tanya Trujillo has been immersed in the many challenges of the Colorado River, the drought-stressed lifeline for 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles and the source of irrigation water for more than 5 million acres of winter lettuce, supermarket melons and other crops.

Trujillo has experience working in both the Upper and Lower Basins of the Colorado River, basins that split the river’s water evenly but are sometimes at odds with each other. She was a lawyer for the state of New Mexico, one of four states in the Upper Colorado River Basin, when key operating guidelines for sharing shortages on the river were negotiated in 2007. She later worked as executive director for the Colorado River Board of California, exposing her to the different perspectives and challenges facing California and the other states in the river’s Lower Basin.

Now, she’ll have a chance to draw upon those different perspectives as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, where she oversees the U.S. Geological Survey and – more important for the Colorado River and federal water projects in California – the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lake Powell, a key reservoir on the Colorado River, has seen water levels drop precipitously as a result of two decades of drought. (Source: The Water Desk and Lighthawk Conservation Flying)

Trujillo has ample challenges ahead of her. For two decades, drought – fueled in no small part by climate change – has gripped the Colorado River Basin, starving the huge reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead of runoff. Drought plans in place since 2019 failed to stop the decline of these critical reservoirs. New operating guidelines for the river are now being discussed and the Basin’s 30 tribes, which have substantial rights to the river’s waters, want to make sure they get a seat at the negotiating table.

The Department of Interior faces still other water challenges: For example, in southeastern desert of California, the ecologically troubled Salton Sea has nearly upended past Colorado River negotiations involving drought contingency planning.

Trujillo talked with Western Water news about how her experience on the Colorado River will play into her new job, the impacts from the drought and how the river’s history of innovation should help.

WESTERN WATER: You’ve worked on Colorado River issues for years, both in the Upper Basin (as a member of New Mexico’s Interstate Stream Commission) and Lower Basin (as executive director of the Colorado River Board of California). How is that informing your work now on Colorado River Basin issues?

TRUJILLO: I’m very appreciative of having had several different positions that have allowed me to work on Colorado River issues from different perspectives. As the general counsel of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, we were finalizing the 2007 Interim Guideline process [for the Colorado River] and I very much had an Upper Basin hat on at that time. That was also right in the middle of our work in New Mexico on negotiating the Indian water rights settlements with the Navajo Nation. Both the Guidelines and the Navajo settlement work really expanded the notion of flexibility in the Basin with respect to the existing statutes and the existing regulations.

I had a Lower Basin perspective when I was working for the state of California on Colorado River issues with the Colorado River Board of California although I was working with a lot of the same people and there were a lot of familiar legal and operational questions. But for the other half of the job, I was brand new to California and was having to learn the whole Lower Basin perspective from scratch.… It was great just to learn the perspective of the Lower Basin and because there are quite a few challenges just within the Lower Basin that are independent of what’s going on in the Upper Basin.

WW:It’s pretty clear the Colorado River Basin is in trouble – too little snowpack and runoff, too little water left in Lakes Powell and Mead. Are we headed toward a Compact call? Or are there still enough opportunities to protect Powell and Mead and meet obligations to the Lower Basin and Mexico without draining upstream reservoirs?

More than two decades of drought in the Colorado River Basin have left Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, at just 34 percent of capacity. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

TRUJILLO: I think in some respects it’s the wrong way to think about this question…. A better approach is to focus on the strategies the Upper Basin develop to continue to protect the water resources and communities and economies that rely on that water. There’s a lot to build off of.

Going back to the ‘07 guidelines, we were thinking about building off of the existing regulations that described the operating criteria. We were thinking about how to protect those resources in the Upper Basin, even when there is a drought, even when there is less water that’s naturally occurring in the system on a continual basis.

But that translates into concerns about how to protect the system in the context of the lower reservoir levels, including the impact on hydropower generation. Each of the Upper Basin states is carefully watching that not only from a power supply perspective, but because if there’s less [hydropower] production, there’s less funding coming in and the funding supports programs that are very important and beneficial to the Upper Basin, like the salinity control program and the [endangered] species recovery programs in the San Juan Basin and the Colorado Basin.

So I know those are concerns that the states have, to protect the elevations at Lake Powell. And another important concern that we specifically agree on is the need to be very careful with respect to the infrastructure and the structural integrity of the [Glen Canyon] dam itself. We may have to operate the facilities at levels that we haven’t experienced before. So we have no operational experience with how the turbines are going to function – and not only the turbines but also how the structures are going to function if we have to use the jet tubes if the turbines are not available.

WW: So there’s concern about how the structures function in terms of getting water from one side of the dam to the other? Or in terms of the physical structure itself?

TRUJILLO: I’m a lawyer and not going to be opining on the actual engineering situation. But we have lots of people who are working in the Upper Basin and Denver Technical Center who are dam safety engineers and they have not had experience in working at this facility under those low water levels. And so that’s where there’s uncertainty. We don’t know how the structures will function under those conditions and that means that people are concerned about that uncertainty because that’s such a critical piece of the infrastructure. [That is] additional motivation among the Upper Basin states for trying to think proactively about how to make sure that the supply and the flows that extend down to Glen Canyon Dam can be maintained.

WW: Given how drought and climate change have left far less water in the Colorado River than the 1922 Compact assumes, is it time to rethink that Compact? Or do you think the Compact and the rest of the Law of the River has the flexibility to accommodate the current realities? And how?

TRUJILLO: I might take the liberty of quarreling a bit with the context of the question because I think the focus should be a forward-looking focus as opposed to rethinking the situation that existed 100 years ago. Even just looking at the past 20 years, we’ve been able to be very innovative and very focused on continued efforts to improve the [weather] prediction capabilities and continued efforts to make sure we have additional flexibility, additional tools, and additional conservation options that can help us work at a multi-faceted level. There are multiple layers of innovations and flexibilities that we have been able to successfully pull together, and my expectation and hope is that will be the same kind of approach that we will continue to work through.

WW: In July, you toured portions of western Colorado to discuss drought and water challenges across the Upper Colorado River Basin. What did you hear? What did you tell them?

TRUJILLO: That was a great trip. The basis of that trip was a listening session that was co-hosted with the governor of Colorado and our Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland. It was an opportunity to hear updates and perspectives from a wide variety of water users in Colorado…. I personally was able to visit quite a few communities in the West Slope, starting in Grand Junction, and see some of the innovative agreements that are coming together in that area with respect to some upgraded hydropower facilities. So it’s great to have the aging infrastructure issues being addressed in that area.

Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary of the Interior, speaks speaks during a stop while on a tour of Colorado this summer with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (second from left). (Source: U.S. Department of the Interior)

There is obviously a lot of strong, productive agricultural communities that are clearly watching with respect to any drought developments. I was also able to visit the Colorado River District board meeting and heard a discussion about the different perspectives relating to support for additional infrastructure and funding different infrastructure projects. There was a USGS proposal that was being approved by the River District, and they were able to really showcase the tremendous contribution that USGS is able to provide to some of their cooperative investigations. I also met with representatives from Northern Water and the Arkansas Valley Conduit Project, so it was a great opportunity to get an overview of the many important projects that are underway in Colorado.

WW: Did they tell you anything that surprised you?

TRUJILLO: No, I don’t think so. I have a pretty good base of background with some of the challenges that exist in that area. Maybe one way to sum up that that week of visits is that the broad variety of examples there in Colorado can be replicated in other states as well. It was great to just see a diversity of projects that are that are in place there. I would go back there in a second. It was the first trip for me in my tenure as assistant secretary and it was very informative.

WW: As you know, the Salton Sea has been a festering environmental problem for years, and it threatened to upend California’s participation in the 2019 Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan when Imperial Irrigation District insisted that the sea’s ills needed to be addressed as part of the DCP. What can — or should — Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation do to help find a sustainable solution for the Salton Sea?

TRUJILLO: The Salton Sea has had a long history over the past century and is a dynamic and changing terminal lake. For decades there has been a recognition that the changing conditions at the Salton Sea needed to be addressed. The Bureau of Reclamation, other entities within the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies have been involved in the Salton Sea for many decades.

The receding Salton Sea exposes large swaths of playa that generate harmful dust emissions. (Source: Department of Water Resources)

There are various types of federal lands surrounding the Salton Sea, the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge provides a sanctuary and breeding ground for migrating birds, and Reclamation plays an important role as a partner with respect to ongoing habitat and air quality projects in support of the state of California’s Salton Sea Management Program and the Dust Suppression Action Plan. Reclamation also works in partnership with Imperial Irrigation District to implement the Salton Sea Air Quality dust control plan. Since 2016, for example, Reclamation has provided approximately $14 million for Salton Sea projects, technical assistance and program management. Reclamation and its federal partners participate in a number of state-led committees and processes, providing technical expertise on activities related to the long-term restoration of the sea.

Science & the Sacred: the Duty of #Water in the #West: We need to change how we think about the #ColoradoRiver and water supply in the southwest — American Rivers #CRWUA2021 #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2021

Photo credit: Ken Neubecker

From American Rivers (Ken Neubecker):

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.

Crystal River. Photo credit: Ken Neubecker

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.

Upper #SanJuanRiver #snowpack, #streamflow, and #drought report — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 48.1 cfs as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8.

Based on 59 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for that date is 101 cfs.

The highest recorded rate for this date was 645 cfs in 2008, while the lowest recorded rate was 26 cfs in 1964.

According to the USGS, the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 49.4 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8.

Based on 86 years of water re- cords at this site, the lowest recorded flow rate for this date is 15 cfs, recorded in 1964.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 2008 at 459 cfs. The average flow rate for this date is 76 cfs.

Colorado Drought Monitor map December 7, 2021.

Drought report

The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) was last updated on [December 7, 2021]

The NIDIS website indicates 100 percent of Archuleta County is abnormally dry.

The website also notes that 100 percent of the county is in a moderate drought. This is up from the previous report of 70.86 percent from previous report.

The NIDIS website also notes that 47.66 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage, consistent with the previous report.

Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 10.33 of the county remains in an extreme drought, consistent with the previous report.

For more information and maps, visit: http://www.drought.gov/states/Colorado/county/Archuleta.