2021 U.S. billion-dollar weather and #climate disasters in historical context — NOAA #ActOnClimate

From NOAA (Adam B. Smith):

Last week, our team at NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) released the final update to its 2021 Billion-dollar disaster report (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions), confirming what much of the nation experienced throughout 2021: another year of frequent and costly extremes. The year came in second to 2020 in terms of number of disasters (20 versus 22) and third in total costs (behind 2017 and 2005), with a price tag of $145 billion.

2021 Highlights

In 2021, the U.S. experienced 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, putting 2021 in second place for the most disasters in a calendar year, behind the record 22 separate billion-dollar events in 2020. What really made 2021 stand out was the diversity of disasters:

  • 1 winter storm/cold wave event (focused across the deep south and Texas);
  • 1 wildfire event (combined impacts of wildfires across Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington);
  • 1 drought and heat wave event (summer/fall across western U.S.);
  • 2 flood events (in California and Louisiana);
  • 3 tornado outbreaks (including the December tornado outbreaks);
  • 4 tropical cyclones (Elsa, Fred, Ida and Nicholas); and
  • 8 severe weather events (across many parts of the country, including the December Midwest derecho).
  • In 2021, the United States experienced record-smashing 20 weather or climate disasters that each resulted in at least $1 billion in damages. NOAA map by NCEI.

    2021 was also unusually deadly, in that the 20 events of 2021 caused at least 688 direct or indirect fatalities—the most disaster-related fatalities for the contiguous U.S. since 2011 and more than double last year’s number of 262. In addition, these U.S. disasters also went late into the year, as December produced the Southeast, Central Tornado Outbreak (December 10); the Midwest Derecho and Tornado Outbreak (December 15); and the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado, on December 30.

    Month-by-month accumulation of estimated costs of each year’s billion-dollar disasters, with colored lines showing 2021 (red) and the previous top-5 costliest years. Other years are light gray. 2021 finished the year in third place for annual costs.

    Damages from the 2021 disasters totaled approximately $145 billion. (All cost estimates are adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index, 2021). The costliest 2021 events were Hurricane Ida ($75 billion), the mid-February Winter Storm / Cold Wave ($24.0 billion), and the Western wildfires ($10.9 billion). Adding the 2021 events to the record that began in 1980, the U.S. has sustained 310 weather and climate disasters where the overall damage costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. The cumulative cost for these 310 events exceeds $2.15 trillion.

    2021 costs in historical context

    In broader context, the total cost of U.S. billion-dollar disasters over the last 5 years (2017-2021) is $742.1 billion, with a 5-year annual cost average of $148.4 billion, both of which are new records and nearly triple the 42-year inflation adjusted annual average cost. The U.S. billion-dollar disaster damage costs over the last 10-years (2012-2021) were also historically large: at least $1.0 trillion from 142 separate billion-dollar events.

    It is concerning that 2021 was another year in a series of years where we had a high frequency, a high cost, and large diversity of extreme events that affect people’s lives and livelihoods—concerning because it hints that the extremely high activity of recent years is becoming the new normal. 2021 (red line) marks the seventh consecutive year (2015-21) in which 10 or more separate billion-dollar disaster events have impacted the U.S. The 1980–2021 annual average (black line) is 7.4 events (CPI-adjusted); the annual average for the most recent 5 years (2017–2021) is 17.2 events (CPI-adjusted).

    Month-by-month accumulation of billion-dollar disasters for each year on record. The colored lines represent the top 6 years for most billion-dollar disasters. All other years are colored light gray. NOAA image by NCEI.

    Increasing trend of high-cost disasters: exposure, vulnerability and climate change influence on extremes

    The number and cost of weather and climate disasters are increasing in the United States due to a combination of increased exposure (i.e., more assets at risk), vulnerability (i.e., how much damage a hazard of given intensity—wind speed, or flood depth, for example—causes at a location), and the fact that climate change is increasing the frequency of some types of extremes that lead to billion-dollar disasters (NCA 2018, Chapter 2).

    It is important to keep in mind that these estimates do not reflect the total cost of U.S. weather and climate disasters, only those associated with events more than $1 billion in damages. That means they are a conservative estimate of how much extreme weather costs the U.S. each year. However, these billion-dollar events do account for the majority (>80%) of the damage from all recorded U.S. weather and climate events (NCEI; Munich Re), and they are becoming an increasingly larger percentage of the total damage costs from weather-related events at all scales and loss levels.

    The history of billion-dollar disasters in the United States each year from 1980 to 2021, showing event type (colors), frequency (left-hand vertical axis), and cost (right-hand vertical axis.) The number and cost of weather and climate disasters is rising due to a combination of population growth and development along with the influence of human-caused climate change on some type of extreme events that lead to billion-dollar disasters. NOAA NCEI.

    The historically large U.S. losses from hurricanes and wildfires over the last five years (2017-2021) have further skewed the total distribution of extreme weather costs. From 1980-2000, about 75% of all disaster-related costs were due to billion-dollar disasters, and by 2010, the percentage had risen to about 80%. By 2021, it had risen again to about 85% of all disaster-related costs, or $2.15 trillion out of $2.5 trillion.

    The increase in population and material wealth over the last several decades, are an important cause for the rising costs. These trends are further complicated by the fact that much of the growth has taken place in vulnerable areas like coasts, the wildland urban interface or river floodplains. Vulnerability is especially high where building codes are insufficient for reducing damage from extreme events. This is part of the reason that the 2010s decade is far costlier than the 2000s, 1990s or 1980s (all inflation adjusted to 2021 dollars).

    Screenshot of a table of summary statistics of billion-dollar disasters by decade and by latest 1, 3-, and 5-year periods.

    However, climate change is also supercharging the increasing frequency and intensity of certain types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters—most notably the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons in the Western states, and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall becoming more common in the eastern states. Sea level rise is worsening hurricane storm surge flooding. (Read more about changes in climate and weather extremes in the U.S. National Climate Assessment.) Given all these compounding hazard risks, there is an increased need to focus on where we build, how we build, and investing in infrastructure updates that are designed for a 21st century climate.

    Notable U.S. billion-dollar disasters of 2021

    Among the many weather and climate-related disasters to affect the U.S. in 2021, the following caused the most damaging impacts and broke numerous records.

    Hurricane Ida (August 2021): $75.0 billion, 96 deaths

    Category 4 Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (240km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 930 millibars. Ida was one of three hurricanes in recorded history to make landfall in Louisiana with 150 mph winds, along with Hurricane Laura in 2020 and the ‘Last Island’ hurricane of 1856. Grand Isle, Louisiana took a direct hit with 100% of its homes damaged and nearly 40% were destroyed. There was heavy damage to the energy infrastructure across southern Louisiana causing widespread, long-duration power outages to millions of people. Parts of New Orleans were without power for nearly a week.

    As the remnants of Ida moved into the Northeast it merged with a second weather system, creating severe weather and flash flooding across a wide region from eastern Pennsylvania to New York. Flash flood emergencies were declared in New Jersey and New York for the first time. The floods caused dozens of fatalities, and damaged homes, businesses, vehicles, and infrastructure. 2021 was the fifth consecutive year (2017-2021) that the U.S. has been impacted by a slow-moving tropical cyclone that produced extreme rainfall and damaging floods: Harvey, Florence, Imelda, Sally, and Ida.

    Historic Cold Wave / Winter Storm (February 2021): $24.0 billion, 226 deaths

    An historic cold wave and winter storm impacted many northwest, central, and eastern states in February 2021. Temperature departures exceeding 40.0 degrees F (22.2 degrees C) below normal occurred from Nebraska southward to Texas. The prolonged Arctic air caused widespread power outages in Texas, as well as other southern states, with multiple days of sustained below-freezing temperatures. At the peak of the outage, nearly 10 million people were without power. Additional impacts were frozen water pipes, which burst upon thawing causing water damage to buildings.

    These extreme conditions also caused or contributed to the direct and indirect deaths of more than 210 people in Texas alone. There were also snow and ice impacts across numerous states including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. The February event is now the costliest U.S. winter storm event on record, more than doubling the inflation-adjusted cost of the ‘Storm of the Century’ that occurred in March 1993.

    Western Wildfire Season (2021): $10.6 billion, 8 deaths

    Severe drought conditions and periods of extreme heat provided conditions favorable for another demanding western wildfire season, most focused across California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The Dixie Fire consumed over 960,000 acres making it the second-largest wildfire on record in California, while also destroying more than 1,000 structures. California’s Caldor Fire grew rapidly during August, threatening South Lake Tahoe communities and burned over 220,000 acres.

    The Marshall Fire left smoldering ruins in a Louisville, Colorado, neighborhood, at the end of December 2021. Photo courtesy WXChasing. Used with permission.

    Other large wildfires include the Ford Corkscrew Fire (Washington), the Bootleg Fire (Oregon), the Boundary Fire (Idaho), the Trail Creek Fire (Montana) and the Telegraph Fire (Arizona), among many others. There was also the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado on December 30 that damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses. This wildfire is the most destructive on record in Colorado. Throughout the wildfire season, air quality was also a concern across numerous states, as ash and fine particulates from many wildfires hid the skies and made outdoor activities more hazardous. Over 7.1 million acres have burned nationally during the 2021 wildfire season.

    Historic Heat Wave (June-July 2021) and Persistent Western Drought: $8.9 billion, 229 deaths

    Western drought conditions were persistent throughout 2021, as the drought expanded and intensified across many Western states. A historic heat wave also developed for many days across the Pacific Northwest shattering numerous all-time high temperature records across the region. This prolonged heat dome was maximized over the states of Oregon and Washington and extended well into Canada.

    Daytime high temperatures across the western United States on June 23-28, 2021, according to data from NOAA’s Real-Time Mesoscale Analysis/URMA. Climate.gov animation based on NOAA URMA data.

    hese extreme temperatures impacted several major cities and millions of people. For example, Portland reached a high of 116 degrees F while Seattle reached 108 degrees F. These extreme temperatures caused hundreds of direct and indirect heat-related fatalities across Oregon and Washington. This combined drought and heat rapidly dried out vegetation across the West, impacting agriculture. Low water levels also forced the hydroelectric power plant at Lake Oroville in California to shut down for the first time since it opened in 1967.

    1980-2021 costs and fatalities by disaster type

    The distribution of damage from U.S. billion-dollar disaster events from 1980 to 2021 is dominated by tropical cyclone losses. Tropical cyclones have caused the most damage ($1,148.0 billion) and have the highest average event cost ($20.5 billion per event). Drought ($285.4 billion), severe storms ($330.7 billion), and inland flooding ($164.2 billion) have also caused considerable damage based on the list of billion-dollar events.

    Severe storms have caused the highest number of billion-dollar disaster events (143), but they have the lowest average event cost ($2.3 billion). Tropical cyclones and flooding represent the second and third most frequent event types (56 and 35), respectively. Tropical cyclones are responsible for the highest number of deaths (6,697), followed by drought/heatwave events (4,139) and severe storms (1,880).

    This table shows the breakdown, by hazard type, of the 310 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters assessed since 1980. Screenshot from the NOAA NCEI Billion-dollar Disasters webpage.

    Climatology of billion-dollar disasters

    Disasters by region

    The South, Central and Southeast regions of the U.S., including the Caribbean U.S. territories, have suffered the highest cumulative damage costs, reflecting the severity and widespread vulnerability of those regions to a variety of weather and climate events. In addition to the highest number of billion-dollar disasters experienced, Texas also leads the U.S. in total cumulative costs (~$343 billion) from billion-dollar disasters since 1980. Florida is the third-leading state in total costs since 1980 (~$248 billion), largely the result of destructive hurricane impacts.

    This map depicts the total estimated cost borne by each state from billion-dollar weather and climate events from 1980-2021.

    Louisiana’s total costs passed Florida’s in 2021 and are now the 2nd highest total costs (~$270 billion) from billion-dollar disasters–eclipsing Florida this year with the impacts from Ida. Louisiana, like Texas, also suffers from a high frequency of disaster events, which often leads to a compounding, cascading series of socioeconomic impacts. 2021 is no exception as Louisiana was impacted by another category 4 hurricane (Ida) one year after category 4 Hurricane Laura. Louisiana also continues to recover from several different tropical cyclones that caused widespread damage during the 2020 hurricane season. It is also important to note that Louisiana has a much smaller population and economy than either Texas or Florida. Therefore, the relative cost and impact from extremes in Louisiana are more severe and recovery is more difficult.

    Screenshot of a map the US showing billion-dollar disasters costs as a percentage of each state’s gross domestic product (GDP) over the historical record from 1980-2021.

    Another way to examine damage is to compare each state’s annual disaster losses relative to their Gross State Product (GSP), which represents economic output. The damage costs from Hurricane Ida across Louisiana were impactful during 2021 reflecting 15-20% of Louisiana’s 2021 economic output (GSP). Several other states across the Nation also sustained relatively large hazard impacts from other extremes including drought, wildfire, flooding and tornadoes.

    Billion-dollar disasters by month

    The 42-year climatology of U.S. billion-dollar disasters offers a view of risk from extreme events, which are often seasonal in nature. For example, during the spring months (March-May) severe storms including tornadoes, hail, and high winds often occur in many Central and Southeast states. During the spring months there is also potential for major river flooding (i.e., deep blue events in chart above). U.S. springtime flooding from snowmelt and/or heavy rainfall is a persistent hazard that affects many towns and agriculture regions within the Missouri and Mississippi River basins, among others.

    During the fall season, Gulf and Atlantic coast states must be vigilant about hurricane season particularly during August and September (i.e., yellow events in chart above). Hurricanes are the most destructive and costly of these events totaling damage losses exceeding $1 trillion since 1980. For example, in 2016-2018, the U.S. was impacted by 6 separate billion-dollar hurricanes (i.e., Matthew, Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence, Michael) with 3,318 fatalities and an inflation-adjusted loss total of $365.1 billion. As a comparison, the U.S. also experienced a series of active hurricane seasons from 2003-2005 where 9 separate billion-dollar hurricanes (e.g., Charley, Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, etc.) made landfall, with 2,225 fatalities and an inflation-adjusted loss total of $329.9 billion.

    The monthly climatology of U.S. billion-dollar weather and climate disasters from 1980 to 2021, showing which months have the greater frequency of disasters (height of bar) and which types of events (colors) are most likely to occur in a given month. NOAA NCEI

    Also, the peak of the Western U.S. wildfire season occurs during the fall months of September, October and November (i.e., orange events in chart above). California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Colorado often experience enhanced wildfire risk and related poor air quality for weeks to months. Western wildfire risk is also becoming more hazardous, as 17 of the 20 largest California wildfires by acreage and 18 of the 20 most destructive wildfires by # of buildings destroyed have occurred since the year 2000. In four of the last five years (2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021) California has experienced historically large and costly wildfires with losses well exceeding $50.0 billion.

    In total, each region of the U.S. faces a unique combination of recurring hazards, as billion-dollar disaster events have affected every state since 1980. The chart above highlights how the frequency of billion-dollar disasters differs across both time and space. The combined historical risk of U.S. severe storms and river flooding events places the spring and summer seasons in the high-risk category for simultaneous extreme weather and climate events. Hurricane, wildfire and drought impacts dominate the Fall season. The Winter months are also sometimes active with the potential for many types of extreme events and impacts, as we saw in 2021.

    Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters occur in all months, but the spring and summer (March–Aug) are the time when multiple, concurrent disasters are likely. A second maximum occurs in the Fall driving by tropical cyclones. Screenshot from the NCEI Billion-dollar Disasters webpage.

    he increase in disasters create ‘compound extremes’ (e.g., billion-dollar disaster events that occur at the same time or in sequence), which are also an increasing problem for recovery. As noted in National Climate Assessment (2017) “the physical and socioeconomic impacts of compound extreme events (such as simultaneous heat and drought, wildfires associated with hot and dry conditions, or flooding associated with high precipitation on top of snow or waterlogged ground) can be greater than the sum of the parts.” For example, in 2021 California experienced drought-enhanced wildfire seasons that produced wildfires and mountain-side burn scars, followed by atmospheric rivers of heavy rainfall that enhanced landslides and flooding.

    Mapping County Level Hazard Risk, Vulnerability, and Projected Future Impacts

    To better reflect multi-hazard risk – the Billion-dollar disaster site now provides a mapping tool that provides county-level information on natural disaster hazards across the United States. This interactive NOAA mapping tool provides detailed information on a location’s susceptibility to weather and climate hazards that can lead to billion-dollar disasters—such as wildfires, floods, drought and heat waves, tornado outbreaks, and hurricanes. The tool expands upon FEMA’s National Risk Index to provide a view of a location’s risk for, and vulnerability to, single or multiple combinations of weather and climate hazards for every county and county-equivalent in all 50 states, and the District of Columbia: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/mapping

    Happy Birthday U.S. Forest Service (February 1st)

    Gifford Pinchot portrait via the Forest History Society

    Click here to go to the USFS History webpage:

    Federal forest management dates back to 1876 when Congress created the office of Special Agent in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assess the quality and conditions of forests in the United States. In 1881 the Department expanded the office into the Division of Forestry. A decade later Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 authorizing the President to designate public lands in the West into what were then called “forest reserves.” Responsibility for these reserves fell under the Department of the Interior until 1905 when President Theodore Roosevelt transferred their care to the Department of Agriculture’s new U.S. Forest Service. Gifford Pinchot led this new agency as its first Chief, charged with caring for the newly renamed national forests.

    National forests and grasslands

    Q&A with an expert: Winter Olympics in a warming world — CU #Boulder Today

    Mikaela Shiffrin via the Beijing Games website.

    From The University of Colorado (Kelsey Simpkins):

    When the 2022 Winter Olympics kick off in and around Beijing, China, this Friday it will mark the first time in the history of the Winter Games that outdoor events rely almost entirely on artificial snow.

    The mountains 100 miles north of the city, where ski and snowboarding events will be held, only receive about 7 to 8 inches of snow annually, so reliance on artificial snow was part of the picture when Beijing was selected to host. But recent estimates that it will take 49 million gallons of water to support snowmaking for the two-week event have some criticizing its environmental impacts. Meanwhile, a new 2022 report asserts that conditions created by artificial snow can be unpredictable and dangerous for athletes.

    Noah Molotch, associate professor of geography and co-director of the Mountain Hydrology Group at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), studies the distribution of snow in mountains around the world. CU Boulder Today spoke with Molotch about the science of human-made snow, its use at the Olympics, and how climate change may impact the future of snow sports around the world and right here in Colorado.

    Snowmaking. Photo credit: Allen Best

    What is artificial snow made of?

    Human-made snow is a replication of how snow forms naturally in the atmosphere. It requires compressed air, water and some type of small particle, known as a nucleating agent, for the ice crystal to form on, similar to how natural snow is formed. Other than that, the only weather conditions needed are relatively cold air temperatures, right around the freezing point (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

    Why is artificial snow useful for ski resorts?

    Ski resorts use it to augment natural snowfall. It’s denser than natural snowfall and it’s more cohesive, so it sticks together more effectively than natural snow once it’s on the ground. As a result, it creates pretty firm snow on ski runs, and that can be good for ski resorts that want to cover all the obstacles on the mountain. Then the natural snow that falls on top has a nice solid base to accumulate on. But it’s expensive to make: So most of the resorts in Colorado primarily do their snow making in the fall, or only until they get all the terrain open.

    Do people like skiing on human-made snow?

    In general, most recreational skiers don’t really like to ski on human-made snow because it’s so firm and icy. But because of that firmness and how icy it is, it’s actually really good for ski racing.

    How is snow a factor in who gets to host the Winter Olympics?

    It has to take place near a metropolitan area because of ice skating and all the other events that need the infrastructure of a metro area. Depending on what country the Olympics are in, that can put it at odds with proximity to mountains that get a lot of natural snowfall.

    The last time the Winter Olympics were in the United States it was in Salt Lake City, which is famous for its natural snowfall. But when you look at places like Sochi, which hosted the Olympics in 2014, and the locations near Beijing [Zhangjiakou and Yanqing] that are going to host the alpine skiing events this winter, they are actually famous for their lack of snowfall. So the criteria is not natural snowfall, but guaranteed conditions that are conducive for snowmaking. The most important thing is that you know that the temperatures will be cold enough to make snow.

    Is climate change affecting snowfall and snowpack here in Colorado?

    Looking solely at the amount of snow that we get each year, Colorado stands out as being a little less sensitive to the warming that’s occurred over the last 30 to 40 years. But when you look at how much that snow melts during the winter period over that same 30 to 40 years, in Colorado we see an increase in the amount of snow melt over time.

    That doesn’t mean the ski seasons have gotten shorter yet, but it means snow might get a bit slushier and icier. Depending on the kind of snow you like to ski on, I think of it as a deterioration in the quality of the skiing experience.

    How might climate change affect the Winter Games?

    It is inevitable that at some point in the future, the ski resorts that we currently ski on will not be viable. Whether or not that occurs in my lifetime is an open question, but within the lifetime of my grandchildren it is probable. That means we may be skiing somewhere else in the future. We’re going to have to start thinking higher in elevation when it comes to winter recreation, and we’ll fly longer distances than we’ve historically flown to go skiing.

    The same is likely true when you think about the Winter Olympics: Some of the locations that are viable now will not be viable in 30 to 50 years.

    Justice Greg Hobbs and Governor Richard Lamm. Lamm led the opposition to the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Colorado. Photo credit: Greg and Bobbie Hobbs

    What are Denver’s chances of hosting the Winter Games?

    I think it would be interesting to consider Denver as a location for the Winter Olympics! As the climate changes, Denver actually may become increasingly more viable as a place to host the Winter Olympics, compared with other places that aren’t quite naturally as cold and snowy.

    World Wetlands Day February 2, 2022

    Wetlands, which are havens of biodiversity, offer priceless ecological benefits. As wetlands are lost to development nationwide, critics of the dam project worry about its local impact.
    (Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

    Click here to go to the World Wetlands Day website.

    New plan lays out ways to protect #LakePowell from #drought — KUER #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Glen Canyon Dam August 2021. The white on the sandstone reflects where the water level once was. Dropping levels at Lake Powell are forcing a reduction in outflows from the Glen Canyon Dam. Photo credit: USBR

    From KUER (Lexi Peery):

    The framework for how Upper Colorado River Basin states will respond to low water levels at Lake Powell is now out for public review.

    It’s called the Drought Response Operations Plan, which is part of the larger Drought Contingency Plan signed in 2019. These policies were put in place because of the troubling hydrology in the region.

    The four Upper Basin states, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, are working with federal agencies to keep Lake Powell above critical levels. The drought response plan is triggered when Lake Powell’s elevation hits 3,525 feet. Just 35 feet below that is the lowest water level that still allows the Glen Canyon Dam to generate hydropower…

    Boaters at Cedar Springs Marina on Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir’s levels are expected to drop 2 feet a month under an emergency release of water designed to keep Lake Powell’s hydropower system operating. July 22, 2021 Credit: Jerd Smith

    The plan will be modified yearly depending on the water levels in the Colorado River Basin. It could include releases from reservoirs in the Upper Basin, including Flaming Gorge on the border of Utah and Wyoming.

    Rod Smith, an attorney with the U.S. Department of the Interior, said this has been in the works since the Drought Response Operations Agreement was signed in 2019. He said they thought they’d have more time to lay out the framework, but last year sped up the process.

    “What we saw instead were some particularly dry springtime numbers in 2021,” he said during a virtual presentation Friday afternoon. “We did not have as much time at that point relative to when we were projected to 3,525 [feet]. So it accelerated things a lot.”


    The plan released Friday is a framework for how things will operate. It doesn’t include specifics because officials are waiting to see the totals for winter and spring precipitation…

    The draft plan is open for public comment until Feb. 17. It’s expected to be completed in April.

    #ColoradoSprings weighing new residential landscaping standards to preserve #water — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    New Colorado Springs homes could be surrounded by far more native grasses and flowers like penstemons and coneflowers, rather than endless seas of Kentucky bluegrass, to help preserve water.

    The proposed Colorado Springs zoning code could limit the amount of grass irrigated with sprinklers around new homes to 25% of the yard, excluding areas where plants can’t grow, such as a driveway, patio or deck. The code would also encourage drought resistant and native plants. The limits on lawns would not apply to existing homes.

    Putting in native plants rather than lawns would not only help conserve water but also help support native insects and birds, said Judith Rice-Jones, co-manager of the Mid Shooks Run Community Garden and a local conservation advocate…

    As the U.S. urbanizes and new neighborhoods spring up with nonnative grass planted around every home it cuts into habitat and many species have to look elsewhere for food, she said. Lawns are the No. 1 irrigated crop in the country, according to NASA. In 2005, three times as many acres were dedicated to lawns compared to corn.

    Instead of trying to replicate what grows easily in the Midwest, the new standards could better fit what grows naturally in town, Rice-Jones said…

    Moving away from water-hungry grass is also key for the community as hundreds of thousands of new people move to the area and Colorado Springs Utilities seeks to bring in additional water from other basins to serve them. The city is already heavily dependent on outside watersheds, with up to 70% of the city’s water coming from the Colorado River basin. The river has been hit hard by drought in recent years with Lake Powell, a major reservoir for the western U.S., hitting a record low.

    About 40% of total water use in Colorado Springs is used for outdoor irrigation, depending on weather. In the summer months, irrigation can make up about 60% of consumption, said Scott Winter, project manager for Utilities Water Resources and Demand Management.

    The proposed landscaping rules that encourage native, drought tolerant plants are expected to be a “significant component” of future water conservation efforts, in part because the city has so much land yet to be developed, he said. For example, the 21,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch on the city’s eastern edge that accounts for one-third of the community is largely undeveloped.

    US Facing Dire #Water Scarcity on its Biggest Freshwater Reserves, Says New Study — Nature World News

    Ouray County Water Users Association wants to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir on the upper reach of Cow Creek, shown here. Ouray County has requested that the CWCB delay a filing for an instream flow water right below this reach.

    From Nature World News (Louise Franco):

    Water scarcity is occurring in some of the US’ biggest freshwater reserves, as per a new study. Not only the crisis is evident in the US but also to other parts of the world.

    Amid a growing human population, US and other government policymakers, water specialists, and water conservators are left with the task to help alleviate the water scarcity.

    The crisis surrounding water scarcity in the US’ freshwater reserves is also evident in other parts of the planet, according to a research study published in the journal Nature on May 16, 2018.

    The research study was conducted by Xander Huggins, a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria and Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, and his fellow researchers.

    The Earth has less than 3% freshwater with only 1% is accessible to the growing human population. Both natural freshwater reserves and freshwater in reservoirs may be at risk if their amount continues to drop and the population continues to increase. In 2021, there are approximately 7.9 billion people as of January 31, as per the United States Census Bureau.

    The research study found 34 trends in terrestrial water reserves observed by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites from 2002 to 2016.

    Time is Running Out on Freshwater Resources

    Based on the observation, the changing availability of freshwater worldwide are affected by various factors such as: natural interannual variability, unsustainable groundwater consumption, or climate change.

    These trends were acquired when the researchers examined 1,024 basins across the world with the objective of understanding how water availability is related with social processes in the community.

    According to Huggins, the main factor they studied were freshwater stress, which pertains to the amount of H2O that naturally leaves the watershed or basin per year. The higher the stress or exit of water from the watershed or basin means that there will be less water available for ecosystems and for people’s demands, Huggins explains.

    The relevance of the study can be of interest not only to water specialists and water conservators but also to government policymakers. Huggins stated that after mapping the most high-risk freshwater sources and creating a framework to identify hotspot basins, policy makers will be able to prioritize a specific location.

    Water Scarcity on Freshwater Reserves in the US

    Huggins shows that while the US score highly in terms of social adaptiveness based on the study’s freshwater stress factor, the country has many freshwater issues that goes beyond between freshwater stress and freshwater storage. In Huggin’s work, water scarcity affects some of the US biggest freshwater reserves such as the Great Lakes, Colorado River, and Rio Grande River basins.

    The states of Illinois and Ohio have the highest levels of lead pipes carrying water from freshwater basins to residential households, as per the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

    Meanwhile in Colorado, an estimate from the Colorado Water Center predicts there will be a 20% to 30% less water of the Colorado River Basin by 2050.

    The biggest issues surrounding water scarcity and equal distribution of water are water contamination and cost, according to Jill Ryan, the executive director of Freshwater Future, an advocacy group which protests drinking reservoirs in the Great Lakes region of the US.

    In addition to human-related challenges discussed by Ryan, the water scarcity are also mainly affected by human-induced climate change and overallocation, says Michael Fiebig, director of the Southwest River Protection program for American Rivers.

    2022 #COleg: #Colorado should limit kids’ lead exposure with school water filters, advocates say — #Colorado Newsline

    Denver Water delivers safe, clean water to 1.5 million people every day, 25% of Colorado’s population. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Nearly 3 in 4 Colorado kids have detectable levels of lead in their bloodstream, according to a peer-reviewed study published in September.

    The September analysis — published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics — found that nationwide, slightly more than half of children tested positive for lead, making Colorado’s rate above average.


    Some state lawmakers and public health advocates want to address Colorado’s lead problem by installing water filters in every K-12 public and charter school in the state. They plan to introduce a bill that would leverage federal funds to pay for the water filter installation.

    Colorado People’s Alliance, a racial justice organization with offices in Denver and Aurora, and Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental advocacy group, are backing the bill, which has yet to be officially introduced. Sponsors include three Democrats: Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora along with Reps. Emily Sirota of Denver and Barbara McLachlan of Durango.

    “Lead is a problem in Colorado schools,” said Cori Bell, an attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council who advocates for healthy and affordable water. Bell spoke during a virtual news conference Monday to announce the upcoming bill.

    “Schools and child care centers may have older plumbing materials, such as pipes and faucets, which are more likely to contain high levels of lead,” Bell continued. “There are so many times when pipes at schools sit unused. Think about the weekends, school breaks and summer vacation. During these times, lead can dissolve in the water that’s sitting in the pipes. No one would hand a child a lead straw for their glass, so why would we allow lead contamination in school drinking water?”

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that exposure to lead can cause serious health effects for children, including brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.

    Lead exposure is most common among children who live in communities with older housing and high poverty rates, according to the September study, which also found higher-than-average lead exposure in children from predominantly Black and Hispanic ZIP codes.

    Rachel Lehman, a member of Colorado People’s Alliance, said she didn’t trust the drinking water in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood where her family lives. She buys water filters for her home once a month, and her daughter lugs water from home in a Hydro Flask when she goes to class.

    “Water is life,” Lehman said during the news conference. “I don’t see how this is a political issue at all, and I urge the state of Colorado to do some kind of action in this matter to support clean drinking water for all of our children.”

    Dr. PJ Parmar, whose clinic serves refugees in the East Colfax neighborhood, pointed out the difficulty of testing individual kids for lead.

    “If anyone has tried to test the blood of a 1- or 2-year-old, it’s impractical,” Parmar said. But his clients would be on board with the broader filter proposal, he said, because “many of them come from places where they don’t trust the drinking water anyway.”

    Under the upcoming bill, the $26.7 million filter installation cost would be paid for using existing federal funds.

    Advocates say President Joe Biden’s social spending plan, which remains stalled in the U.S. Senate, would cover annual filter maintenance costs totaling $12.7 million for Colorado schools. But if Congress doesn’t pass the social spending plan, or some version of it, it’s unclear who would pay for maintenance. State funding for K-12 education already falls more than $500 million short of the amount that lawmakers are required to pay school districts under a formula in state law.


    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    The January 2021 #Drought Update is hot off the presses from @CWCB_DNR and @DWR_CO

    Drought monitor Colorado Drought Monitor map January 25, 2022.

    Here’s the release from CWCB and DNR:

    Current statewide drought conditions for Colorado have improved since October 2021. The first quarter of water year 2022 was above normal in terms of temperature. As of mid-January a rough divide appeared in Colorado with regard to precipitation, with western slope generally experiencing wetter conditions, while the eastern slope generally continues in drought conditions. La Niña is currently in effect and projections show somewhat equal chances for above or below average precipitation moving into the spring. La Niña years in Colorado tend to result in smaller, drier storms overall.

    Colorado Snowpack basin-filled map February 1, 2022 via the NRCS.

    Statewide snowpack as of January 16 is 119% of median, setting the state up well going into the spring. A significant and much-needed increase in snowpack occurred from Dec 1 – Jan 6, which translated to a 7.1 inch increase in water. Precipitation in December was 193% of average. Statewide, year-to-date (Jan 16) precipitation is currently at 112% of average. Overall, conditions are some of the best we have seen at this point in the year, especially when compared to the last few years. All major river basins show above normal snow water equivalent, with the exception of the Arkansas (89% of normal) and the Upper Rio Grande (90% of normal).

    State drought response remains in Phase 3 activation though both agricultural and municipal water provider task forces have reduced their meeting frequency to monitor conditions through the winter season. Learn more about these coordination groups, outlined in the Colorado Drought Plan at cwcb.colorado.gov/drought.

    The January 18 U.S. Drought Monitor recorded extreme (D3) drought conditions across 19.7% of the state, primarily on the eastern slope and Rio Grande Basin. Severe (D2) drought covers about 46% of the state, while moderate (D1) drought holds in 22% of the state. About 11% of the state is experiencing abnormally dry (D0) conditions.

    The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) values from Oct 23 to Jan 20 highlight dry conditions in the southeastern and eastern parts of the state.

    The NOAA Climate Prediction Center three month outlook maps indicate increased chances for above average temperatures into February, March, and April with below average precipitation probabilities.

    Statewide reservoir storage is currently at 74% of normal. Streamflow forecasts are generally near to or slightly above normal come spring and summer. East of the divide, streamflow forecasts are projecting about 100% of average and the forecasts improve to the west.