The Year in Water, 2021 #Water Crises Take Center Stage — Circle of Blue #ActOnClimate

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton). Click through to read the whole article and for the photographs:

Too much. Too little. Too polluted.

For years these compact phrases, mantra-like in their repetition, have come to define the world’s water problems.

Now add a fourth: too frequent.

If nothing else, the last 12 months of floods, fires, droughts, and other meteorological torments delivered an uncomfortable message. Extreme events are happening more often. And they are happening almost everywhere.

Communities rich and poor bore witness to horrific devastation in 2021…

The pain is instead distributed in other ways. Homes washed away. Dry wells. Persistent hunger after failed harvests and reliance on food aid. Rebuilding again and again like this is wearying. People on the Louisiana Gulf Coast and the Sahel, in central Africa, have come to see their homelands as places of danger. Some want to move. Their neighbors may already have.

Limiting the damage from a fevered planet was the goal of a U.N. climate summit in November. Negotiators made incremental progress in Glasgow, but the world’s carbon trajectory is still off course for keeping the global average temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above what it was two centuries ago.

Coming out of the summit, climate campaigners accused political leaders of another compact phrase — of being too timid. Low-carbon energy plans could be deployed quicker. More money could flow to poorer countries to aid adaptation to severe storms. Fossil fuel subsidies could be ratcheted down. Carbon-trapping forests and wetlands, which also filter water and calm floods, could be protected from plows and shovels.

Without a greater sense of urgency this decade, the hill to climb becomes much steeper. Future leaders don’t want to find themselves adding another phrase to the list: too late…

West Drought Monitor map December 28, 2021.

Severe Drought Challenges American West

Intense heat and meager precipitation produced tinderbox landscapes across the American West. Though no stranger to drought, the region buckled under extreme conditions. Seattle, known for mild, pleasant summers, witnessed three consecutive days of 100 degree F heat. The city had only three such days in the previous century. Hundreds of people died in the Pacific Northwest heat wave.

Water systems were at the center of the story. Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in California, dropped to a record low, too depleted to generate hydropower. Wells across the region dried up, fish and birds perished, marinas closed, algae outbreaks intensified, and wildfires scorched forests and homes.

In a drying region, communities are trying to make do with less. Nevada lawmakers banned ornamental grass – the sort that fills median strips and surrounds shopping centers – in the Las Vegas area. Utah lawmakers sought to spend $50 million of the state’s pandemic relief funds on water meters for lawn irrigation. Meanwhile, a coalition of federal agencies, NGOs, and academic partners introduced OpenET, a satellite-based tool for monitoring irrigation water use.

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

Colorado River Basin Reaches Pivotal Moment

This year the Colorado River basin’s unforgiving math — too many promises of water and too little actual water — began to hit home. Lakes Mead and Powell, the country’s largest reservoirs, fell to record lows. The federal government declared a first-ever Tier 1 shortage, which meant mandatory water cuts for Arizona and Nevada.

The events of 2021 are likely to be only a prelude for sterner tasks ahead. The basin is overallocated. The region is drying. Though residents are trying to use less water, they can’t live with none. It is up to all parties in the basin to ensure that the unforgiving math does not work out to an answer of zero water.

The Colorado River basin, said John Matthews, executive director of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation, is a place “where we only have hard choices now.”

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

U.S. Water Access and Affordability

The U.S. government took a major step toward revitalizing the nation’s water systems when President Biden signed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package on November 15. That is in addition to hundreds of billions in the American Rescue Plan Act that state, local, and tribal governments can use for urgent system repairs.

The funding is needed. Water utilities around California’s Clear Lake faced extraordinarily high levels of cyanobacteria that are clogging their equipment. Small communities in Michigan wondered where the money would come from for repairing sewers and removing lead pipes. The $15 billion included in the infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement could help towns like Benton Harbor, the latest Michigan community to struggle with dirty water.

At the same time, municipalities continue to sue chemical companies over PFAS contamination of groundwater and rivers. Utilities from Alabama to Vermont have settled lawsuits for tens of millions of dollars – money that will help pay the cost of water treatment, chemical cleanup, and connecting homes with polluted wells to municipal water…

Looking towards Boulder at the Marshall Fire December 30, 2021 From 53rd and Stuart in Adams County.

Disasters Disrupt Water

A deep freeze in Texas. Hurricane damage in Louisiana. Fires in California that shrouded the sky and lasted for months. Each hazard, in its own way, exposed the vulnerabilities of water systems to climate shocks. The Texas freeze, which extended into Louisiana and Mississippi, caused pipes to burst and left millions without water for several days. The water system in Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, was so deeply damaged from the event that it had a boil-water advisory in place for a month.

Academics refer to incidents like these as “compounding” disasters — when, for example, a power outage cripples a wastewater plant that then floods rivers and streets with untreated sewage. Or when heavy rains wash sediment and debris from a fire-scorched hillside into a reservoir, clogging a utility’s drinking water intake.

The pace of such multifaceted disasters is unlikely to slow. People continue to move into risky terrain while aging infrastructure and misguided land developments, like draining and paving flood-buffering wetlands, prove inadequate to the moment. A study based on satellite data revealed that the number of people living in floodplains grew by 58 million to 86 million between 2000 and 2015.

“We are creating risk even faster than we can mitigate it,” said Alessandra Jerolleman, an assistant professor of emergency management at Jacksonville State University. “Even if we didn’t have climate as a compounding factor.”


Dr. Crystal Tulley-Cordova speaking at the 2021 Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference

Indigenous Groups Seek Voice in Water Decisions
Indigenous groups across the continents put themselves at the front lines of environmental protection, often at great personal and community risk.

By protesting against the Line 3 oil pipeline project in Minnesota or opposing dams in the Mekong basin that could damage important fisheries and wetlands, activists opened themselves to the threat of retaliation. An Indigenous campaigner in Honduras who was protesting a hydropower dam on the Ulúa River was shot and killed outside his home. His death was the latest in a string of attacks in recent years against environmentalists in Latin America.

Even in academia, Indigenous voices still struggle to be heard. In climate research in Alaska, Native communities are seeking greater representation of their oral traditions and centuries-old knowledge…

A rancher digs a boot heel into the dry ground of the Little Bear Ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colo., during the Northwest Colorado Drought Tour on August 11, 2021. Credit: Dean Krakel, special to Fresh Water News.

Climate Change Brings Water Risks

In northern Kenya, cattle carcasses putrefy on sunbaked ground, casualties of the region’s unforgiving drought. In China’s Henan province, subway commuters were trapped underground this summer when flash floods inundated the rail tunnel. These scenes were repeated in New York City’s subways during Hurricane Ida, in September. In British Columbia, a convoy of moisture-rich storms encircled the region with landslides and floods, cutting off major road and rail corridors that will take months to repair.

More of these events are to be expected as the planet continues to warm, according to the U.N. climate change panel’s most recent report, which noted that a buildup of greenhouse gases is intensifying the water cycle. Big rains are more likely to swell into monster storms because a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture. Higher heat will amplify droughts, as is the case in the Colorado River basin.

“We now have increased evidence that extreme events are becoming both more frequent and more severe,” said Matthew Barlow, a professor of climate science at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

These extreme events are an economic risk. Countries that rely on hydropower dams for a large portion of their electricity supply can face shortages when the rains fail. It happened this year in Brazil, where low reservoirs caused hydropower generation to plunge. Power companies turned instead to natural gas — but also displayed new interest in wind and solar.

They are environmental and public health risks, too. Witness the salmon suffocating in Northern California streams and the explosive growth of harmful algal blooms in lakes.

Weather and climate shifts can also lead to social unravelings. People leave home when they feel that their prospects are dim. World Bank research found that droughts are more likely to spur people to migrate than floods.

Explaining Extreme Events from a #Climate Perspective — The American Meteorological Society

Click here to access the report:

This BAMS special report presents assessments of how human-caused climate change may have affected the strength and likelihood of individual extreme events.

This BAMS special report presents assessments of how human-caused climate change may have affected the strength and likelihood of individual extreme events.

The tenth edition of the report, Explaining Extreme Events in 2020 from a Climate Perspective, presents 18 new peer-reviewed analyses of extreme weather from across the world during 2020. It features the research of 89 scientists from nine countries looking at both historical observations and model simulations to determine whether and by how much climate change may have influenced particular extreme events.

Two dwindling river basins, one solution: Pay farmers and ranchers to use less #water — #Colorado Public Radio

Colorado Rivers. Credit:

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Farmers and ranchers in two different river basins in Colorado are facing rapidly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use. The reductions are necessary to maintain interstate river agreements preserve underground water supplies.

The state wants to pay farmers and ranchers to stop irrigating some of their acreages to help keep more water in the ground. Gov. Jared Polis’ budget proposal for next year includes $15 million of COVID relief funds to fund such a program.

These river basins have their own legal arrangements and are managed by different rules. State agriculture commissioner Kate Greenberg said the solution for both areas is fewer irrigated acres.

Greenberg said the northeastern region needs to stop irrigating 10,000 acres by the end of 2024 and a total of 25,000 acres by the end of 2029 to stay in compliance with the agreement. So far, only 3,000 acres have been retired, she said.

Farmers and ranchers in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado also need to stop irrigating to preserve that region’s aquifer, said Kevin Rein is the director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources…

For both river basins, taking no action to reduce agricultural water use would mean “dire” consequences, said Kelly Romero-Heany, the assistant director for water at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. In the San Luis Valley, thousands of well users could face water cuts if the river basins don’t meet their goals. Those cuts could include local water utilities.

Greenberg, the state agriculture commissioner, supports the funding outlined in Polis’s budget. But she doesn’t want the water cuts to hurt agricultural production.

Greenberg says some of that funding could also be used to teach, train and equip farmers and ranchers to use drought-resistant crops and other techniques to farm and raise livestock with less water.

Livestock controversies, water issues top ag stories of 2021: Logan County Fair back on track, but conservation easement issues derailed again — The #Sterling Journal-Advocate

South Platte River at Goodrich, Colorado, Sunday, November 15, 2020. Photo credit: Allen Best

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Colorado’s agriculture industry saw COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror in 2021 and focused on securing a future for farmers and ranchers. As if low commodity prices and rising input costs weren’t enough, ag folks – especially in the livestock sector – saw themselves beset by even more challenges.

Colorado’s livestock industry staged a statewide celebration in March as thousands of Coloradans feasted on beef at an estimated 100 events across the state.

The events were held as a protest against Gov. Jared Polis’ proclamation recognizing the national MeatOut observance on March 21. MeatOut is a national movement to reduce or eliminate animal protein from Americans’ diet.

Sterling’s Meat-In event was conceived by Jason Santomaso, hosted by Sterling Livestock Commission Co. and the Santomaso family, and drew approximately 2,400 people to dine on all-beef hamburgers and bratwursts. They also bid on a wide range of items to raise funds for the Santas of Sterling Miracle Letter program. The event raised in the neighborhood of $130,000, some of which the Santas turned back to help a family in need.

At the time, Gov. Polis was already trying to mend fences after backlash from his MeatOut proclamation. On March 12 the Colorado Livestock Association was notified that Polis had signed a proclamation naming March 22 Colorado Livestock Proud Day.

The governor had another opportunity to support the livestock industry in Colorado, and didn’t hesitate to grab it. At the end of March, as if to nail down his credibility among stockmen, Polis issued a strongly-worded statement opposing the proposed Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation initiative, nicknamed PAUSE, saying it would destroy the state’s livestock industry and devastate Colorado’s economy.

Livestock producers claimed that, if passed, PAUSE would criminalize many widely accepted animal husbandry practices necessary for successful livestock production. The question, officially known as Initiative 16, passed muster with the state’s Title Board, but that decision was appealed by a coalition of agricultural organizations. In June, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously struck down the initiative, saying it didn’t meet statutory requirements.

Landowners suffered another setback at the hands of the Colorado General Assembly when Colorado’s conservation easement fix bill failed get needed support.

Senate Bill 21-033, Sponsored by Sterling’s Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, would have created a new state income tax credit for certain taxpayers who were denied state income tax credits for conservation easements donated between 2000 and 2013 if the IRS allowed a federal income tax deduction for the same donation.

The bill would have helped landowners who donated development rights on their properties by setting aside $149 million from the state treasury to pay for the conservation easement tax credits rejected by the Colorado Department of Revenue more than a decade ago.

Sonnenberg and his allies had shepherded the bill, seen by many as the last chance to correct a gross injustice, through six committee hearings and a Senate floor vote before it arrived in the House Appropriations Committee to be referred to the House floor for final vote. On the last day of the legislative session, however, Democrats on the committee killed the bill with a 7-4 party line vote…

Water continued to be an issue of contention in 2021 with two steps forward and one step backward. The forward steps were in the formation of a partnership between the Parker Water and Sanitation District and the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District to develop a new water right in the lower South Platte. But a lawsuit filed against the LSPWCD, if successful, would probably end that partnership.

In September, LSPWCD and PW&SD issued a joint press release announcing the formation of the Platte Valley Water Partnership, a joint water supply project to use a new water right that the two entities own along the South Platte River near Sterling.

The project will make use of new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range. The partnership involves the phased development of the water right. The early phases would involve a pipeline from Prewitt Reservoir in Logan and Washington counties to Parker Reservoir, which supplies the City of Parker. Later developments would see a 4,000 acre-foot reservoir near Iliff on land owned by Parker, and a 72,000 acre-foot reservoir near Fremont Butte north of Akron. A pipeline, pump stations, and treatment facility will also be built as part of the project.

Two months later, however, a Colorado taxpayer group filed a class action lawsuit in the 13th Judicial District Court in Logan County to try to overturn a mill levy increase by the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. The increase was primarily to help pay the District’s share of the cost of developing a new water right and building infrastructure for the Platte Valley Water Partnership project.

The Public Trust Institute, a Colorado-based public interest law firm, and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation of Washington, D.C., filed the lawsuit on behalf of an ad hoc group of taxpayers in Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties. Jim Aranci of Crook, Charles Miller, Jack Darnell and William Lauck of Morgan County and Curtis Werner of Merino are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Besides the water district, the defendants include the county treasurers of the four counties, who collected the taxes and handed the funds over to the district.

The suit was filed, the plaintiffs said, because although LSPWCD voters relieved the district of the requirements of the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, the district still promised to go to the public for a vote to raise taxes. They maintain that raising the district mill levy from 0.5 mill to 1 mill violates that promise.

The district argues that it was authorized to levy up to 1 mill when it was created in the 1960s, but had never done so because it wasn’t needed. Now that it’s needed, the district says, the 1964 statute forming the district supersedes TABOR and levying the full mill without a vote is legal.

The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.