The perplexity of a useless boat ramp at #LakePowell — Big Pivots #crwua2021 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Boat ramp at Page, Arizona, December 17, 2021. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

As the sun slipped behind the canyon wall last Friday, I lingered at the bottom of a concrete boat ramp just outside Page, Arizona. I was there to study the disappearing Lake Powell.

We expect the sun to vanish. Not so the giant reservoirs of the Colorado River Basin. We are perplexed.

Earlier in the afternoon I had walked along and above Glen Canyon Dam. The dam was completed in 1963, its primary job being to store water at the direction of Colorado and the three other states in the upper Colorado River Basin. It took 20 years to fill and then stayed full, more or less, through the 20th century.

One year, 1983, it got too full. The winter had been snowy, but not incredibly so. Then came March — and April, May and even early June, sunshine scarce and the snow unrelenting. Vail and other ski areas that had closed reopened.

During the 1983 Colorado River flood, described by some as an example of a “black swan” event, sheets of plywood (visible just above the steel barrier) were installed to prevent Glen Canyon Dam from overflowing. Source: Bureau of Reclamation

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, operator of the dam, was caught by surprise. It should have released more water from Powell to roar down the Grand Canyon and into Lake Mead, the reservoir created by Hoover Dam, just outside of Las Vegas. As the snowmelt from Colorado surged through Utah, a catastrophe loomed. Plywood planks were erected along the rim of Glen Canyon Dam, to hold the water back. The dam survived, just barely.

US Drought Monitor August 6, 2002

Then came the 21st century. The winter and spring of 2002 were sobering, the Colorado River carrying less than a quarter of what was assumed to be average when these and the other dams of the 20th century were built and the compacts and other legal architecture that underpinned them were struck.

Other years since 2002 have been better, but the trend line is clear and troubling. Some call this a long-term drought, but that word implies a temporary condition. Others, with compelling scientific studies to cite, see a climate rapidly changing because of human-caused atmospheric pollution. Aridification, they say, describes what we have been seeing — and there’s no end in sight.

This shift underway was illustrated by 2020. The winter snows were productive in Aspen, Vail and Steamboat Springs, average or above, but the flow into Powell was worse than disappointing, less than 30% of average. You don’t replenish reservoirs when most of the melting snow disappears into the warming air or the drying soil.

Powell, the reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam, was about 28% full when these photos were taken on December 17, 2021. Photo/Allen Best

Reservoir levels have dropped and then dropped more. Mead, the reservoir outside Las Vegas and the largest in the Colorado River Basin, was 36% full when I visited last week. The Powell I saw a day later was 28% full.

The boat ramp along the shores of Lake Powell told the story of decline far better than the semi-abstraction of water levels at Glen Canyon Dam. We had driven past the marina, with the stored houseboats, and then down the concrete ramp sloping toward the reservoir below. The ramp was about a football field in length and tilted at the angle of a beginners’ ski slope. At the bottom were barriers, then broken ground. Far below was the water.

A few days prior, water leaders from the seven basin states had met in Las Vegas for the annual Colorado River Water Users Association. They represented roughly 40 million people, most of whom live in cities outside the basin, including Denver, Los Angeles and Albuquerque. Also represented were the farmers on both sides of the Continental Divide in Colorado but also the Mojave Desert of Arizona and California. The latter deliver 80% of the nation’s vegetables during winter.

Water leaders recognize the need for changes. Much has already occurred. Enough? Those who have urged accelerated action have been proven right so far, and in the conference hallways of Las Vegas last week I saw their heads shake. The pace has quickened, they said, but not enough.

Still, there was a remarkable shift from the last in-person conference in 2019. At that conference, officials from the Trump administration spent an hour on the dais congratulating themselves and each other about a minor milepost of achievement. Adoption of a drought contingency plan.

This year, Maria Camille Calimlim Touton, the new Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, stressed the need to think hard beyond the next few years and a new agreement among the basin states scheduled to take effect in 2026.

In the past two years, Lake Powell’s surface elevation has declined 60 feet. Glass half fully or half empty? At this point, it’s far closer to empty. Then again, maybe it’ll snow until June next year.

The Twelve Days of Christmas Have Grown More Than 8 Degrees F Warmer in Parts of the U.S. — Yale Environment 360 #ActOnClimate

Average temperatures across the twelve days of Christmas, December 25 to January 5, in Reno, Nevada from 1969 until today. CLIMATE CENTRAL

From Yale Environment 360:

The Twelve Days of Christmas, which last from December 25 through January 5, have grown warmer in 97 percent of the U.S., according to a new analysis from Climate Central that evaluated temperature trends across 246 locations since 1969.

Warming has surpassed 5 degrees F in 37 percent of locations, 3 degrees F in 75 percent of locations, and 1 degree F in 95 percent of locations. The cities that have seen the greatest warming are Milwaukee, Wisconsin (8.6 degrees F), Burlington, Vermont (9.1 degrees F), and Reno, Nevada (9.5 degrees F). Winter is the fastest-warming season across most of the country.

In a warmer climate, precipitation is more likely to come down as rain than snow. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analysis of winter weather from 1991 to 2020 reveals where people are most likely to enjoy a snowy Christmas in today’s warmer climate. The odds are best in the Allegheny, Rocky, and Sierra Nevada Mountains, as well as in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Maine.

Probability of seeing snow on the ground at Christmas, based on data from 1991 to 2020. NOAA / CLIMATE CENTRAL

Diminished snowpack threatens water supplies in the West, where streams and reservoirs are filled by melting snow in the spring. Levels of freshwater derived from snow have dropped by as much as 30 percent since 1955.

Southern #Nevada #Water Authority manager says #ColoradoRiver out of easy solutions — The Las Vegas Review-Journal #COriver #aridification

Las Vegas Lake Mead intake schematic, courtesy SNWA.

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Blake Apgar):

John Entsminger walks a fine line as Southern Nevada’s top water official.

On one side, he has to explain the seriousness of a shrinking Colorado River to climate change skeptics and people who are content with not immediately handling the West’s water woes.

On the other, he has to quell concerns of crisis on a river that supplies water to 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico.

“That’s a delicate balance,” he said.

How we got here

How Lake Mead got to its lowest levels in history — enough to trigger a water shortage — isn’t a mystery. Part of it is basic math.

Historically, the lower basin has used more water than has been released to Lake Mead by the upper basin, largely because there is no agreement between the lower basin states on how to cut allocations to account for evaporation.

Couple that with decades of unfavorable hydrology, and Lake Mead begins to decline.

But Southern Nevada has lived within its means in recent decades, using less than its legal entitlement of water every year since 2002, Entsminger said.

Entsminger said he wishes water use had been brought into balance with the river’s flows sooner, but he’s part of a generation of water managers that has addressed the deficit.

He said agreements that have been signed since 2007 seek to create an equilibrium. Lower basin states last week signed a new deal with the federal government that will conserve water beyond those existing agreements to protect Lake Mead from crashing to critical levels.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with

Southern Nevada ‘immunized’ from crisis

Entsminger doesn’t think the Colorado River is in a crisis, but it is out of easy solutions.

If the river experiences two more years of hydrology like what it just experienced, it could become a question of how much water the federal government will be able to send downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam, he said.

But even in that case, Entsminger doesn’t see a crisis on the horizon for Southern Nevada.

“And that’s because we’ve essentially immunized ourself from that by the construction of new infrastructure on the shore of Lake Mead,” he said.

About $1.5 billion in local money has gone to ensuring Las Vegas can pump water from Lake Mead, even when the federal government can’t send it downstream to others.

Entsminger said he thinks Southern Nevada is “the most water-secure municipal area in the Colorado River Basin.”

Sustainability in the basin depends on agricultural efficiencies, he said. Locally, Entsminger continues to push for conservation as a way out of a dire situation.

Growth in Las Vegas is possible, he said, but it requires driving down existing water demands and tightly controlling new demands, something he said Southern Nevada has a track record of doing successfully.

One method of meeting conservation goals is through a law signed this year that bans nonfunctional grass in coming years. Another is increased enforcement of compliance with seasonal watering restrictions.

Those measures will be able to save about 15 percent of Southern Nevada’s allocation of Colorado River water under a nonshortage year and help provide the water for additional growth.

The pain of the West-wide #drought in 2021 — The Deseret News

Utah Drought Monitor map December 21, 2021.

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

Like a sinister specter that won’t vanish, drought was already writing the playbook for water supplies in Utah and the rest of the West as early as fall of 2020.

The year 2021 may have been months ahead, but extremely dry conditions during those last few months of 2020 amplified the reality of what was to come: drought, and a nasty one.

Looking back, water supply managers who had their fingers and toes crossed hoping for a different outcome via a wet spring realized their hopes were not to be.

By March, Gov. Spencer Cox declared a state of emergency, putting out the plea for all water users to cut back and cut back severely. Nearly all of Utah, about 90%, was already classified in extreme drought at that time.

By June, he asked residents of all dominations to pray for relief from the drought, sparking national headlines and stoking some criticism.

The state Division of Water Resources, in conjunction with the governor and other state agencies, also launched an aggressive campaign challenging residents to take pride in yellowed and dried-out lawns and expanded efforts to help residents replace water-guzzling curbside turf with other, less consumptive vegetation…

In addition, Cox announced ambitious plans to make metering secondary water a standard for irrigators, especially given that 60% of Utah’s municipal and industrial consumption is for outdoor use.

A drought poll commissioned by the Deseret News last summer showed the majority of Utah residents on board with state initiatives, with strong support by residents for financial incentives to be water wise and support of penalties for water users who ignore restrictions, such as prohibitions on daytime sprinklers operating under the heat of the sun.

With agricultural use consuming the bulk of Utah’s overall water supply, Cox also turned his attention to ways farmers could be more efficient in their water use through better technology and the need to replace earthen ditches with cement lining to curtail leaks.

While farmers and ranchers are often in the harsh glare of scrutiny for water use, the governor defended the state’s ability to provide food and fiber for residents and called on everyone to do their part to conserve. Farmers, he noted at an event this summer, experienced water cuts this year by as much as 75%…

The protracted drought had Utah leaders revisiting a list of 300 potential sites for new dams to capture runoff and led to a congressional webinar in which one lawmaker lamented that the West had fallen behind when it comes to water storage.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., bemoaned the lack of foresight — foresight he said was demonstrated by generations before — to construct new dams and water delivery systems to keep pace with weather conditions…

Cox echoed that concern at a media event staged at the shrinking Great Salt Lake where he unveiled his budget proposal that includes $500 million in one-time money aimed at water infrastructure and conservation.

“We think it’s crazy that we’re growing as a country and that we’re not investing in additional water storage,” Cox told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards ahead of his budget unveiling. “It’s an abomination.”

The Great Salt Lake reached historic all-time low levels this summer, giving rise to growing concerns about the lake’s support of industry, its ecosystem serving as a stop for millions of birds and the exposed lake dust leading to increased air pollution.

Insufferably high temperatures in the summer led to two heat-related deaths in Utah and spurred warnings about the effect of urban heat islands in areas like Salt Lake City.

July broke or tied heat records in the state and already dry lawns turned more brown…

By November, the weather delivered more bad news for Utah and other states in the West.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, November was the second-driest on record for the West and Southwest regions and in Utah, Nevada and Colorado, the month logged the second warmest minimum average temperature on record…

A recent report by the U.S. Drought Monitor noted that the majority of Utah continues to linger in severe or extreme drought.

West Drought Monitor map December 21, 2021.

#Snowpack news (December 26, 2021): A beautiful snow

Colorado snowpack basin-filled map December 25, 2021 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 25, 2021 via the NRCS.

New rules to cut oil, gas emissions seen as step forward in meeting #climate goals: Some environmental, community groups don’t think regulations go far enough — The #Denver Post #ActOnClimate

Hydrocarbon processing in the Wattenberg Field east of Fort Lupton, Colo., on July 2, 2020. Photo/Allen Best

From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler):

New rules approved by air-quality regulators are intended to keep the oil and gas industry on track to meet state-mandated reductions in emissions to cut pollution and address the effects of climate change.

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission approved the rules [December 17, 2021] that are seen as a big step forward in meeting goals outlined in state law. Environmental and community organizations have said the new rules can be a national example for other states and federal regulators to follow.

The rules target emissions of methane, a powerful heat-trapping gas, and the pollutants that form ground-level ozone, which creates the haze along the Front Range and health problems.

The commission’s decision to largely adopt the state Air Pollution Control Division’s proposal requiring more frequent inspections of oil and gas sites will go far to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in Colorado, said Joro Walker, general counsel for Western Resource Advocates, an environmental organization…

The new rules increase how often oil and gas sites must be inspected for leaks and emissions. Low-producing wells now subject to a once-in-a-lifetime check will be inspected at least annually.

Higher-producing wells will undergo semiannual rather than annual inspections and others will shift to bimonthly from quarterly. Leaks in disproportionately affected communities must be repaired in five days…

The new rules are also a response to a 2021 law that requires paying particular attention to emissions and pollution in communities that have been disproportionately affected by oil and gas operations. The communities are many times in lower-income areas and have higher populations of people of color.

The commission faced a deadline of Jan. 1 to pass rules directing the oil and gas industry to cut emissions by at least 26% by 2025 and 60% by 2030, based on 2005 levels. Most agree the industry is on track to meet the 2025 goal, but more is needed to realize the next objective.

To help hit the 2030 goal, state regulators proposed an approach that combines more direct regulations and what’s called an intensity program, which directs companies to come up with plans to further reduce emissions. Some organizations, including members of an environmental justice coalition, argued against giving oil and gas operators leeway to craft their own plans.

Renee Millard-Chacon, co-director of Womxn from the Mountain, said Indigenous communities and people of color want to see the environment and public health restored in areas that have been heavily affected by pollution and industrial operations…

Jeremy Nichols, the climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said requiring more frequent inspections of well sites for leaks and emissions is important, but the intensity program will allow for increased oil and gas production, resulting in more heat-trapping greenhouse gasses…

While expressing concerns, Elise Jones, a member of the commission, voted for the combined plan of direct regulation and allowing companies to develop their own plans. She said a program to verify that companies are making the necessary emissions reductions is critical.

The commission is expected to consider the makeup of a verification program in 2023…

The plan proposed by the air pollution control division staff and approved by the commission does contemplate some increase in production over the next few years, said Robyn Wille, the division’s chief strategy officer…

The division believes the industry will still be on track to meet the target of 60% reductions by 2030, Wille added…

Lynn Granger, executive director of the American Petroleum Institute-Colorado, called the emissions intensity program “the centerpiece” of the new rules. She said in a statement that it gives companies the flexibility to be proactive and innovative.

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

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

Snow report

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snow pack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 9.6 inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 22.

That amount is 75 percent of that date’s median snow water equivalent.

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 72 percent of the Dec. 22 median in terms of snow pack.

Note: It looks like the gage may be icing up.

River report

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 40.6 cubic feet per second (cfs) in Pagosa Springs as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 22.

Based on 86 years of water records at this site, the lowest recorded flow rate for this date is 23 cfs, recorded in 1990.

The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1987 at 132 cfs. The average flow rate for this date is 62 cfs.

An instantaneous reading was not available as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 22, for the Piedra River near Arboles.