From The Washington Post (Becky Bollinger):
The season’s latest snowpack numbers in the Western United States are a big improvement from where they were in early December. But there’s a lot of winter left, and long-term drought remains an ever-present hurdle. So where are we, and what’s to come?
Let’s start with the good news. Since early December, weather patterns have boosted snowpack across the West to above-normal levels for this time of the year.
On Dec. 1, snowpack across most of the basins in the West was less than 75 percent of historical norms; many were below 25 percent. Starting Dec. 10, a series of atmospheric rivers and snow events erased those deficits. By January, basin totals in California had increased to about 200 percent of normal. California ended the month much wetter than average, which was much needed, since seven of its last 10 winters have been drier than average.
In Colorado, all Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) stations showed that snowpack was below the 50th percentile in early December. In early January, nearly half of the stations reported in the 75th percentile. Wolf Creek Summit, one of Colorado’s highest-elevation observation sites, reported an impressive 18-inch increase in snowpack.
Current snow cover is holding steady across the mountain areas, with the highest elevations at around 50 inches or more of snow depth, and mid-elevations between 20 and 50 inches. In Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, the Paradise Ranger Station is reporting snow depth of 110 inches (after reporting 100 inches of snowfall over one month).
The shift from dry conditions to a wet pattern has been evident in the U.S. Drought Monitor. Most high-elevation areas have seen a one-category improvement in drought from Dec. 14 to Jan. 11. Isolated areas in California, western Nevada, northern Idaho, western Montana and northern Colorado have seen two-category improvements.
In Utah, “extreme” to “exceptional” drought conditions covered more than half the state from September 2020 until Dec. 28, 2021. As of Jan. 18, only 30 percent of the state was in extreme drought, with no areas under exceptional drought. Since early December, severe to exceptional drought conditions also eased in Idaho, decreasing by nearly half…
La Niña is expected to continue into the spring. For the Northwest, the wet pattern is likely to continue, which means snowpack will probably remain in good condition.
For the Southwest, it’s going to be tough. Precipitation is likely to be less than average for Arizona, New Mexico, and the southern portions of California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. If the outlook pans out, expect to see those spring water supply forecasts decrease and for drought to persist through the summer months.
From Big Pivots (Allen Best):
Todd Oppenheimer has had a 33-year career in Vail, where he serves as the landscape architect and capital projects manager. Even 20 years ago, he was designing parks with turf. Now, he’s tearing it out.
“Maybe I’m making up for past sins here,” he said in a telephone interview after the town council approved his plans for partially de-turfing—it’s not a word yet, but maybe it will be someday—the second park in the municipality. The master list calls for removing what Oppenheimer calls “non-functional bluegrass” in eight parks.
The council OK’d ripping out 53% of the turf in the more south-facing and difficult-to-irrigate part of a small park called Ellefson.
Oppenheimer claims to have coined the saying that if the only person who walks on the grass is the person pushing a lawnmower, the grass shouldn’t be there. With that adage in mind, the town three years ago replaced 25% of the grass at the Buffehr Creek Park with less water-intensive plants. Included was the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the streets.
None of this is necessarily new. Denver Water decades ago created the word “xeriscape” to push the idea of vegetation appropriate to a semi-arid environment.
Xeriscaping has yet to become a mainstream thought in landscape architecture, but it’s gaining ground, says Oppenheimer.
“People are almost forced to,” he says, “because of climate change.”
If nestled in a valley at the headwaters of a Colorado River tributary, Vail has begun to see the effects of a warming climate. Dry years have been occurring more often, the temperatures have been rising. Oppenheimer says he sees no need to choose plants for warmer climates—yet. He does see an obligation to reduce water use appropriate to a drying climate.
About 95% of water used in homes and other buildings returns to streams after wastewater treatment. But of irrigation water, he says, only 25% does.
Oppenheimer insists he can only do his part as the landscape architect for one town, but in citing new policies in Las Vegas in a recent presentation to the Vail Town Council, he’s obviously aware of a much larger story in the Colorado River Basin.
Las Vegas has been ripping out turf for well more than a decade and has recently ratcheted up incentives even more. It has used both carrots and sticks. The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates that unused grass in Las Vegas and its suburbs soaks up about 10% of Nevada’s entire allocation of water from the Colorado River—the main source of Southern Nevada’s drinking water.
A Nevada law prohibits Colorado River water from watering nonfunctional turf by 2027.
Tightening in Vegas continues in other ways. At the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in mid-December, Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager for resources at Southern Nevada, described new proposals to trim water use at existing golf courses and ban water for new courses. Swimming pools will be cropped in size. Attention is being focused on the water use of evaporative cooling.
From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):
The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors recently approved increases in the district’s monthly service and volume charges. The board voted unanimously to approve the increases at its regular meeting held last week on Thursday, Jan. 13.
The board initially discussed the increases at its regular meeting held on Dec. 9, 2021.
District Manager Justin Ramsey explained during that meeting that the increases approved were the result of a water rate study that was performed in 2018. That study suggested a 6 percent increase in rates annually through 2022…
According to documentation attached in the meeting’s agenda, the approved increases included an increase in the monthly service charge from $27.98 to $29.66. Also approved were increases in the volume charges for 2,001 to 8,000 gallons used from $5.02 to $5.32, 8,001 to 20,000 gallons used from $10.05 to $10.65, and over 20,001 gallons used from $12.61 to $13.37. Additionally, the water fill station charge per 1,000 gallons increased from $10.84 to $11.49. Also noted in the agenda documentation is that the wastewater service charge will increase at an annual rate of 2.5 percent beginning in 2024 and ending in 2027…
Treasurer Glenn Walsh men- tioned the board may consider ad- ditional changes in the water and wastewater fees for next year…
Accessory dwelling unit fee discussion
During the same meeting, the board held a discussion on the topic of accessory dwelling units (ADU) and if the district should be charging additional monthly service fees for properties with an ADU that uses the district’s infrastructure. Walsh indicated that the board has held previous discussion on the topic and the consensus was that it would not impose any additional fees.