A long-planned project to restore healthy ecosystems along the South Platte River and two other waterways in central Denver got a major boost from the federal government this week, in the form of $350 million in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The funding for the South Platte River Project, spearheaded by Denver and Adams counties, will cover nearly two-thirds of the $550 million that civic leaders plan to spend restoring wetland habitats, improving recreation and mitigating flood risk along a 6.5-mile stretch of the river, along with Weir Gulch and Harvard Gulch.
The funds awarded Tuesday by the Biden administration are part of the $17 billion appropriated by a new federal infrastructure law to the Army Corps of Engineers to support flood mitigation projects across the country.
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“I’m delighted to welcome funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for the South Platte River and surrounding communities after years of urging Washington to support this project,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “For decades, the neighborhoods bordering the South Platte River have experienced environmental hardship. This project is an important part of Denver’s efforts to protect communities and businesses from flooding, build resilient infrastructure, and help ensure that anyone who wants to live and work in Denver is able to.”
The Army Corps of Engineers finalized a feasibility and impact study on the project in 2019, concluding more than a decade of planning and environmental reviews. In addition to restoring aquatic, wetland and riparian wildlife habitats along the South Platte, supporters say the plan will create more than 7,000 jobs and protect hundreds of homes and other structures from flood risk.
In December, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock convened a coalition of two dozen interest groups that signed a memorandum of understanding on the project in order to secure federal funding. Signatories included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water and multiple environmental and conservation organizations — as well as business and real-estate groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Revesco Properties.
Revesco is the developer behind the massive, multi-billion-dollar River Mile project, which aims to redevelop 62 acres along the Platte south of Confluence Park over the next 25 years, adding homes for new 15,000 residents and ultimately displacing the Elitch Gardens amusement park. The river restoration project, too, is likely to take decades to complete, with city officials estimating in 2018 that the project could be finished in 10 to 20 years.
“The restoration and conservation of the South Platte River ecosystem is a phenomenal opportunity,” Hancock said in a statement. “Infrastructure investments like this do more than just improve our waterways, they build lives, they build communities and they build futures.”
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Click the link to read the article on the Vox website (Ranjani Chakraborty). Here’s an excerpt:
For decades, the US took thousands of Native American children and enrolled them in off-reservation boarding schools. Students were systematically stripped of their languages, customs, and culture. And even though there were accounts of neglect, abuse, and death at these schools, they became a blueprint for how the US government could forcibly assimilate native people into white America.
At the peak of this era, there were more than 350 government-funded, and often church-run, Native American boarding schools across the US.
The schools weren’t just a tool for cultural genocide. They were also a way to separate native children from their land. During the same era in which thousands of children were sent away, the US encroached on tribal lands through war, broken treaties, and new policies.
As years of indigenous activism led the US to begin phasing out the schools, the government found a new way to assimilate Native American children: adoption. Native children were funneled into the child welfare system. And programs, like the little-known government “Indian Adoption Project” intentionally placed them with white adoptive families.
In our latest episode of Missing Chapter, we explore this long legacy of the forced assimilation of Native American children. And how native families are still fighting back against the impacts today.
Two fast-moving storms impacted the Lower 48 last week. Heavy rain fell across parts of the Midwest and South, leading to broad areas of drought improvement in these regions. Parts of the West saw much-needed rainfall. In most cases, these amounts were not enough to bring relief to the region’s relentless long-term drought conditions. Pockets of dryness also continued across the northern High Plains, South, and Southeast leading to drought expansion…
Much of the High Plains remained dry last week resulting in deteriorating drought conditions across parts of the Dakotas and Nebraska. The eastern edges of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) crept eastward. Severe drought (D2) expanded over a large swath from southwest North Dakota to central Nebraska. Extreme drought spread in central Nebraska. Short-term dryness is superimposed over long-term moisture deficits across the region. The lack of seasonal snow cover combined with the onset of spring has people in the region worried. Soil moisture is very low, stream flows continue to decline and state reports indicate that stock ponds are drying up…
Parts of the West saw much needed precipitation with rain over the West Coast and higher elevation snow over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In most cases, these amounts were not enough to bring relief to drought conditions that have plagued the region for months. Only western Oregon saw minor improvements to abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) in response to recent precipitation. Across much of the West, higher than normal temperatures last week caused premature snow melt, with snowpack values plummeting over just a few days. The California Department of Water Resources noted that about one-third of the water equivalency disappeared in a week. Extreme drought (D3) expanded in northern California, parts of Utah, and New Mexico. In these locations, the warm weather has led to increased evaporative demand and stress on vegetation. The rest of the West remained unchanged this week…
This week the South saw drought worsen across west and south Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. Above-normal temperatures combined with below-normal precipitation and high winds exacerbated conditions. Drought indicators supporting the degradations include increasing precipitation deficits, dry surface and root zone soil moisture and low stream flow. State drought teams noted reports of blowing dust and crop failures in the area. Drought also expanded across southern Louisiana. This area has been in severe drought (D2) since March without any relief in weeks. One-category improvements were made to drought conditions across east Texas, southern Arkansas, north and central Louisiana and Mississippi in areas where the heaviest rain (3 inches or more) fell and where warranted by short-term precipitation indicators, streamflow, soil moisture and other measures…
The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center forecast (valid March 31 – April 7) calls for heavy rain and storms ahead of an advancing cold front extending from south of Lake Michigan to East Texas. Storms will progress eastward through the remainder of the week. The Northern Plains, Upper Midwest, and New England can expect snow/freezing rain. Heavy rain and mountain snow are expected from the Pacific Northwest to the Rockies. Moving into next week, the Climate Prediction Center Outlook (Valid April 7 – 13) favors above normal temperature for a large part of the West, extending from California across the Great Basin and into the southern Rockies. Meanwhile, near to above normal temperatures are favored for the Northeast and Eastern Seaboard. Below normal temperatures are expected over the eastern central CONUS. The outlook favors above normal precipitation across much of the northern tier of the Lower 48 and Alaska. Near to below normal precipitation is favored over southern areas of the West and the Southern and Central Plains.
Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 775 cfs to 700 cfs on Wednesday, March 30th. Releases are being decreased as flows in the lower Gunnison River are well above the baseflow target. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is 109% of normal and the forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 92% of average.
Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 790 cfs for March and 1050 cfs for April.
Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 300 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 475 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 300 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 400 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
The reservoir could drop below the level needed to generate power at the Glen Canyon Dam this year if other ways of increasing the elevation of the lake aren’t used
…water managers in Colorado announced last week that they will stop exploring one proposal to prop up the rapidly depleting levels in Lake Powell. The plan — known as demand management — would compensate farmers and ranchers for voluntarily stopping irrigation on a temporary basis, sending water that would have been used for agriculture to the reservoir. A drought contingency plan developed in 2019 by Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming identified demand management as one method that could be used to keep the water level in Lake Powell above 3,525 feet in elevation, around a quarter of its capacity, in order to protect electricity generation. The four-state demand management proposal was met with suspicion by agricultural interests, according to Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the University of Colorado Law School who previously worked on Colorado River issues under the Obama administration. Skeptics of the plan feared it could “wipe out irrigated agriculture” in parts of the river basin and fundamentally alter rural economies, Castle said at a recent University of Utah symposium hosted by the Wallace Stegner Center. She said those fears were “not unfounded” and “they would have to be dealt with in an equitable demand management program.”
Utah still supports a four-state demand management program, said Amy Haas, executive director of the Colorado River Authority of Utah, but it is also prepared to move forward with water conservation pilot projects and potentially pursue a smaller-scale demand management program on its own. She pointed to Utah’s investments in water measuring infrastructure, studies looking at switching to crops that require less water and other programs…
The Bureau of Reclamation recently announced that it is studying modifications to the Glen Canyon Dam that would allow for power generation at lower water levels. That could include installing turbines on bypass tubes that are located below the current hydropower intakes…
But Brad Udall said finding the political will and leadership at federal and state levels to permanently reduce demand is difficult.
“My biggest fear,” Udall said, “is that it’s easier to let the system crash than it is to find the painful solutions that are needed.”
He defined a system crash as letting the two largest reservoirs in the U.S. — Lake Mead and Lake Powell — empty because of an inability to respond to declining flows. Udall added there have been incremental, positive solutions implemented in the basin over the last two decades, but he said future solutions have to be “more than incremental” to deal with the crisis.
El Paso County is accepting applications for its American Rescue Plan Act Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Grant funding opportunity. According to a news release, “[t]he county has allocated $20 million in ARPA funding for necessary investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, to include improvements to drinking water infrastructure, upgrading facilities, managing sewage and other eligible uses.”
“The community has expressed great interest in this particular grant, and it truly is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many communities and projects,” Commissioner Holly Williams said in the release. “This grant will have a monumental impact for decades to come, as it increases peoples’ access to clean drinking water, and replaces many aging infrastructures.”
According to the release, “[a]ll levels of infrastructure have seen increased demands during the pandemic, and our water and wastewater infrastructures are no exception. This $20 million allocation will help El Paso County preserve and be better stewards of our most precious and scarce resource, and is an investment directly allowed under ARPA guidance.”
The application opens Monday, March 28, 2022, and will remain open through 5 p.m. Friday, April 22.
All projects must meet federal eligibility requirements, which include 17 project categories under guidelines published through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
Projects must be located in El Paso County.
The entire allocation for this funding is $20 million and the county expects to fund several projects, the release said, adding a portion of the funding will be reserved specifically for smaller communities and projects.
El Paso County will be hosting a pre-application webinar at 11:30 a.m. on April 4 to answer specific application related questions. To participate in the webinar, join using this link. Participants are encouraged to send questions ahead of time to ARPArequests@elpasoco.com. If you require accommodations or need a translator, send an email to JyotsnaKhattri@elpasoco.com by March 30.
New Mexico water agencies are slowly piecing together a regulatory puzzle in order to store Rio Grande water in Abiquiú Reservoir for middle valley irrigation this summer as El Vado Dam is repaired. But an objection from Texas water managers could interfere with the reservoir’s use for non-pueblo irrigators. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the northern New Mexico reservoir on the Rio Chama. Nabil Shafike, the Army Corps Albuquerque District’s water management chief, said Abiquiu was once authorized only to store Colorado River Basin water that is diverted into the Rio Grande Basin with a series of tunnels and dams for the San Juan-Chama Project.
“All the Corps reservoirs – Abiquiú, Cochiti, Galisteo and Jemez Canyon – work as one unit to protect the middle valley from flood,” Shafike said. “Any storing of native (Rio Grande) water would require a deviation from the current operation.”
The agency is weighing two potential changes at Abiquiu:
• A request from the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission to store up to 45,000 acre-feet, or 14.6 billion gallons, of Rio Grande water in Abiquiú each year for release later in the season to meet middle Rio Grande irrigation demand.
• A request from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to store up to 20,000 acre-feet, or 6.5 billion gallons, of Rio Grande water in Abiquiú each year to meet direct flow right for the six middle Rio Grande pueblos of Isleta, Sandia, Santa Ana, San Felipe, Santo Domingo and Cochiti.
The Army Corps could approve both storage plans or may choose only one.
The amount of water in the snowpack blanketing the Yampa River Basin started declining on Friday, March 25, potentially marking the earliest peak since 2017…Erin Light, engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, has put the river under administration three of the last four years. At the Colorado River District’s State of the Yampa River event last week, she said 2022, so far, is tracking in line with other dry years over the last two decades.
This year’s snowpack is rivaling that of 2002 and 2012 — two of the driest years during the current 22-year drought that is the worst ever recorded, Light said…Snowpack is important, but precipitation in the spring and late summer is also a key metric, and it seems harder to come by…
The Yampa is one of most free flowing rivers in Colorado. Of the five main reservoirs feeding into the Yampa, Light estimated that at least two and maybe three of them won’t fill up this year. Stillwater Reservoir is the farthest upstream and was sitting at about 310 acre-feet when it was last measured in October. Light said there was water released last year for both agricultural purposes and for work on the dam. Farther downstream, Yamcolo Reservoir was about 45% full, and Stagecoach reservoir was 75% full as of late last week. Two reservoirs in the basin — Fish Creek Reservoir on Buffalo Pass, where Steamboat Springs gets much of its water, and Elkhead Reservoir near the Routt and Moffat county line — are both likely to fill, Light said.
Residents in Big Thompson Canyon east of Estes Park became the latest Coloradans to flee their homes in fear of a nearby wildfire on Monday, just hours after the NCAR Fire forced evacuations and closures 30 miles to the south in Boulder.
It’s been three months since the Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes and left two people dead, and nearly two years since Colorado’s three largest wildfires on record burned in the summer and fall of 2020, razing mountainsides, choking the skies with haze and eventually causing mudslides that killed four people in Larimer County and left Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon shut down for weeks.
The increasingly tangible impacts of the climate-driven “megadrought” that has affected much of Colorado since 2000 — stressed water supplies, more intense wildfires, losses in the agricultural and tourism sectors — have served as a rallying cry for Democrats who highlight the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But the 2022 campaign season has brought little sign of a change in Colorado Republicans’ long-running pattern of denying or downplaying human-caused climate change.
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In the crowded GOP primary for U.S. Senate, misinformation, half-truths and conspiracy theories still dominate candidates’ rhetoric on climate and energy issues.
State Rep. Ron Hanks of Cañon City, the race’s only sitting lawmaker, said earlier this month that climate change is a Chinese hoax designed to “emasculate” the American economy.
Eli Bremer, a first-time candidate and former Olympic pentathlete, has spread debunked claims that wind power emits more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.
And Gino Campana, a former Fort Collins city councilman who once supported the city’s emissions-cutting programs and co-founded a clean-energy startup, has joined other Republicans in blasting Democrats for holding back domestic energy production — an assertion belied by the oil and gas industry’s own statements.
Ahead of the state GOP assembly next month, climate change has rarely come up in debates and other campaign events featuring Republican Senate candidates. Several leading contenders ignored repeated requests from Newsline to comment on climate issues, and none have detailed a plan to achieve the greenhouse gas emissions cuts that an overwhelming scientific consensus says is necessary to avoid increasingly catastrophic effects. Other GOP candidates who filed to run for the Senate seat include Joe O’Dea, Deborah Flora and Peter Yu. Observers generally name Hanks, Bremer and Campana among the frontrunners.
“Human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability,” wrote 270 scientists in the latest report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last month. “The magnitude and rate of climate change and associated risks depend strongly on near-term mitigation and adaptation actions, and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages escalate with every increment of global warming.”
‘It’s called weather’
A Colorado College poll released last month found that 82% of Centennial State voters agreed that climate change is a serious problem, up from 60% in 2011. Nearly 7 in 10 Coloradans say they’re supportive of climate action, including efforts to transition to 100% clean energy within “the next ten to fifteen years,” the school’s annual State of the Rockies poll found.
Republican voters, however, are much more evenly split on the issue, with about half declaring climate change “not a problem,” according to poll results across an eight-state Western region. And despite periodicpredictions of a Republican shift on climate issues from pollsters and pundits, little about party leaders’ views has changed over the last decade.
During his six-year U.S. Senate term, former Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner acknowledged that “the climate is changing” but consistently cast doubt on the extent to which warming is human-caused. The same position is held by many Republicans in the state Legislature, including Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker, who said of “so-called climate change” during a floor debate last year: “I do not believe that it is man-made.”
In fact, virtually all of the 1.07 degrees Celsius average global temperature increase observed since 1850 has been the result of rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations “unequivocally caused by human activities,” IPCC scientists wrote last year. Non-human drivers like solar and volcanic activity and natural variability have had no quantifiable long-term effect.
Hanks, a first-term lawmaker who was present at the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and a leading proponent of conspiracy theories relating to the 2020 election, staked out the primary’s most extreme position on climate change at a candidate forum earlier this month.
Asked how he would respond to concerns about climate change in a general election matchup with incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, Hanks replied that Republicans need to “start marketing the truth.”
“I don’t want to sit here and pretend climate change is a real issue. It’s called weather,” Hanks said to laughter and applause, according to video posted by his campaign.
Echoing baseless claims made by former President Donald Trump, Hanks called climate change a “serious effort from China to emasculate us” by impeding domestic manufacturing and economic growth.
Bremer, a onetime chair of the El Paso County Republican Party, is among the only candidates in the primary to have publicly addressed the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Our approach should be led by data, science, and common sense rather than tilting to the political winds of the day,” reads a section devoted to environmental policy on his website.
But Bremer’s recent claims about emissions from renewable energy sources like wind turbines are contradicted by a vast body of existing research.
“On the yardstick of greenhouse gas emissions, environmental policies fail … If you look at windmills, there’s a lot of greenhouse gas emission cost that we gloss over,” Bremer said in a March 23 Fox News interview, claiming that the emissions resulting from the manufacture and construction of wind farms offsets their lower operating emissions. “Virtually every expert that I’ve talked to believes that the overall return is negative.”
In fact, a 2021 analysis by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden concluded that even when “total life cycle” emissions are calculated wind energy projects produce only a tiny fraction of the emissions of fossil-fuel-powered electricity generation. Evaluating the results of hundreds of previous studies, researchers concluded that the 13 grams of CO2-equivalent emissions per kilowatt-hour produced by wind generation — nearly all the result of one-time construction emissions — are 77 times smaller than the emissions from a typical coal plant and 37 times smaller than emissions from a natural gas plant.
From smart-grid investor to ‘unleash Colorado energy’
Campana, a wealthy real estate developer who served a term on the Fort Collins City Council between 2013 and 2017, has attracted establishment support for his Senate candidacy, including endorsements from former Trump administration figures like Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Kellyanne Conway, who joined Campana’s campaign as an advisor last month.
During his city council term, Campana frequently aligned himself with Fort Collins’ ambitious emissions-cutting efforts. In 2014, he voted to approve an update to the city’s climate action plan, which aimed to reduce emissions 80% by 2030, and endorsed another resolution calling for the city to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. In 2016, he also expressed support for the “objectives” of a legal brief filed by city officials in support of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, though he didn’t vote in favor of it. The Trump administration later gutted the policy.
Years earlier, Campana had been one of four founders of Windsor-based Ice Energy, a manufacturer of thermal energy storage systems. Experts say so-called “smart grid” technologies are a key part of the transition to a fully renewable electric grid, helping improve efficiency and offset the intermittency of wind and solar resources.
In 2010, Ice Energy received millions in government funding in the form of tax credits authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the same stimulus bill under which California-based solar panel manufacturer Solyndra received a $535 million federal loan guarantee that became notorious among conservatives after the firm went bankrupt a year later. Campana reported income from Ice Energy in a financial disclosure as late as 2013; the company later moved out of Colorado and declared bankruptcy in 2019.
In a financial disclosure filed earlier this year, Campana estimated his net worth at between $44 million and $141 million, and detailed an extensive list of corporate stock holdings that include tens of thousands of dollars invested in both fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum and clean-energy firms like Tesla and Vestas Wind.
As he looks to win support from the GOP base ahead of next month’s state assembly — and fight off attacks from opponents who say his city council record makes him a “tax-and-spend-liberal” — Campana has positioned himself as a champion of the oil and gas industry, calling on policymakers to “unleash Colorado energy.”
“Biden and Bennet are stifling America’s energy production, costing us jobs and higher gas prices,” he wrote in a tweet earlier this month. That’s a widely repeated GOP attack line that’s contradicted by the thousands of approved drilling permits held by oil and gas producers in Colorado and beyond, and the repeated assurances companies have made to investors to limit production growth.
On his website, Campana touts his “background in environmental engineering” and endorses an “all of the above energy strategy” that he says can lead to reduced emissions.
Scientists, however, warn that plans for continued fossil fuel production by governments around the world are “dangerously out of sync” with the targets outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which called for limiting average global temperature rise to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius.
“The research is clear: Global coal, oil, and gas production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author on the 2021 U.N. Production Gap report, said upon the report’s release last year. “However, governments continue to plan for and support levels of fossil fuel production that are vastly in excess of what we can safely burn.”
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On an average day, 25 people move to Douglas County. Each one needs to drink, shower, water their lawn and wash their dishes. The full impact of that growth is difficult to see, but it’s easy to understand: more people need more water. And in a county where thousands of homes rely on a limited supply of underground aquifers, water providers are constantly working to shift to more sustainable resources before they run out.
Some aquifers buried under Douglas County have lost two to six feet in depth of water. Local water providers have noticed their supply wells aren’t producing like they once did.
“It’s like sucking water out of the bathtub with a straw,” said Rick McLoud, water resources manager for Centennial Water & Sanitation. “There’s only so much water in the bathtub and the sooner you suck it out with a straw, the sooner it will be gone.”
To meet those demands, water providers are planning a mix of conservation efforts, wastewater projects and new infrastructure for renewable resources of water. The county government is also looking at how to bring in more water and is considering spending a portion of their $68 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act on the issue.
‘Overreliance on groundwater’
As Douglas County’s development has surged since the 1990s, many of the largest communities such as Parker and Castle Rock have relied on groundwater to fill residents’ bathtubs and sinks, said State Engineer Kevin Rein…Groundwater from aquifers makes up about 65% of the water used by Parker Water and Sanitation, which is the provider for Parker and parts of Lone Tree and Castle Pines, and by Castle Rock Water. Centennial Water uses about 20% groundwater. Those ratios can change depending on drought conditions…
Douglas County sits on a layer of several aquifers, including the Arapahoe, Denver, Dawson and the Laramie-Fox Hills aquifers. Most major water providers use the water in the Arapahoe and Denver aquifers, which reach depths of 1,700 and 600 feet beneath the ground, respectively…
Under Douglas County’s guidelines for development in unincorporated areas, only the western part of the county is not allowed to rely on their groundwater for development, said Steve Koster, assistant director of planning services for the county. Those communities must provide either a renewable water source or use groundwater from the eastern part of the county. Koster said the county is not actively looking at requiring or incentivizing developers to instead look for renewable resources of water…
Parker Water and Sanitation is working on a project that will partner with a water conservancy district in Sterling, a town in eastern Colorado, to capture unused water during high runoff years from the South Platte River there and store it to pipe back to the town. The project won’t impact existing water rights and won’t allow buy-and-dry of nearby agriculture, Redd said. In order to meet Parker’s projected water demands, the project will need to be complete by 2040, Redd said. That project would get Parker Water to 75% renewable water and would provide water for more than 300,000 people in Douglas County, including in Parker, Castle Rock and portions of Castle Pines and Lone Tree, according to a project proposal. Castle Rock Water is a partner on that project.
Over the next 20 to 30 years, Castle Rock plans to invest about $500 million in renewable water projects including new pipelines, additional storage and water rights. Marlowe said the reason they spread out those projects over time is to keep rates for their customers down. By 2050, Castle Rock plans to move to 75% renewable and by 2065 have a 100% renewable system for wet or average years.
Dominion Water and Sanitation, which serves about 1,200 homes in Sterling Ranch, plans to be 90% renewable by 2040. Sterling Ranch is slated to add about 11,000 more homes to their community in that same time period at a rate of 450 homes per year. Dominion also plans to include about 700 other existing homes from smaller communities to their service area soon. Right now, Dominion is 100% renewable but is set to drill wells in the Cherokee Ranch area to blend some groundwater into their system, making it more drought-resistant, Cole said. They are also planning to build a river intake on the South Platte River and a wastewater treatment facility, which will provide at least 1,600 acre-feet of water per year to Sterling Ranch…
Castle Rock plans to incorporate programs in the coming years that encourage more efficient utilities and lawns that don’t require heavy irrigation. At the statewide level, a bill being considered by the legislature this session would pay residents up to $2 per square foot to rip out their irrigated turf and replace it with less thirsty alternatives. Sterling Ranch has focused on a program they call “demand management” that allows residents to have a live look at their water usage and bills…Their community also has banned the use of bluegrass, a type of turf that demands lots of water. Instead they offer a variety of drought-resistant plants for landscaping…
As the commissioners consider how to approach the issue, $68 million in federal funds has the potential to aid in addressing the water demands of a growing community. One proposal for the money, which the commissioners have dedicated six two-hour meetings to discussing, would pump about 22,000 acre-feet of water per year to Douglas County from the San Luis Valley. Renewable Water Resources, the private company proposing the project, says that’s enough for 70,000 houses. The project has been met with ire from many in the valley, though, as multiple water conservation districts and elected officials there have said they don’t have enough water to spare and it would damage their agriculture-based economy…So far, all the major water providers in Douglas County have said they are not interested in using the water from the RWR proposal. Darling says that’s in part because many providers have already heavily invested in other projects…
Commissioners have also heard presentations from Parker Water, who asked them to consider using about $20 million of the federal funds to help their South Platte River project, and Dominion, who asked for help funding their regional wastewater plant in partnership with Castle Rock Water and the Plum Creek Reclamation Authority.
Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website (Theo Stein):
The people, economy, and ecosystems of the Pacific coast states of California, Oregon and Washington are highly dependent on cool-season atmospheric rivers for their annual water supply. These long, narrow flows of saturated air can transport enormous amounts of water vapor – roughly equivalent to the flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River. They can unload heavy precipitation on the Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges, but their annual yield regularly swings between boom and bust.
When atmospheric rivers, or ARs, fail to materialize, droughts often follow – especially in California, where they account for over 50% of the total annual precipitation. Anticipating future climate-induced changes to AR patterns is therefore exceedingly important. Global models, however, do a poor job of simulating precipitation over the complex terrain of coastal and inland mountain ranges. Now, a new NOAA study using data generated by regional climate models and published in the journal Climate Dynamics suggests climate change will likely alter atmospheric rivers in ways that will make managing water more difficult.
“These high-resolution climate simulations showed something we hadn’t seen before, which was decreased future precipitation amounts across many mountainous regions of the western United States,” said lead author Mimi Hughes, a research scientist in NOAA’s Physical Sciences Laboratory.
Atmospheric rivers can be both beneficial — when they provide water to fill reservoirs and build snowpack — and calamitous — when they generate so much precipitation over a short period of time that they cause flooding. Although numerous studies have investigated climate projections for atmospheric rivers, few have examined whether climate change would have a uniform impact on all events.
Downscaling climate models to better predict future impacts
For the new paper, Hughes and a team of Physical Science Lab and colleagues from CIRES and NCAR analyzed data from regional climate models simulating weather conditions over most of North America for the period 1950–2100. They specifically looked at the end-of-21st-century changes in integrated water vapor transport (IVT) events along the western US coast in three of the highest-resolution regional climate models. IVT is a measure of how much water vapor is moving through the air and was used as an indicator of atmospheric rivers making landfall.
Rather than evaluate the simulated impact on all model-generated atmospheric rivers, researchers partitioned the events into two categories – modest and extreme – and then looked for different outcomes.
Hughes said their findings are consistent with previous global climate model projections of increased lower-elevation precipitation across much of the western U.S. However, differences did emerge. The simulations projected moderate events to be less frequent and deliver less high-elevation precipitation, a finding that tracks another recent NOAA study.
A drier future for California’s most important “reservoir”?
The Sierra Nevada mountains are an irreplaceable component of California’s current water system. Snowpack in the high Sierras acts like a giant reservoir, releasing clean water during the melt season. Sixty percent of California’s water supply originates in the high Sierras. More than 75% percent of Californians drink water generated by Sierra snows.
Notably, more than half of the model runs in the new study showed that Sierra snowpack would receive decreased precipitation by 2100, while the arid Great Basin might benefit from a moisture boost.
This study suggests these two types of atmospheric rivers could change in different ways under climate change, with the beneficial kind becoming less frequent, Hughes said.
“While we did not specifically examine seasonal precipitation outcomes like droughts, it’s fair to conclude that if these projections bear out, California’s strained water resources may become even more challenging to manage,” she said.
For more information, contact Theo Stein, NOAA Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Collaboration will yield a lot more South Platte River water for Nebraska than trying to finish a ditch that’s been abandoned for more than a century. That was the consensus at a freewheeling panel discussion in Sterling Monday afternoon as Nebraska Sen. Theresa Thibodeau met with water experts from Colorado to learn more about the water that flows into her state across the state line near Julesburg.
Thibodeau is a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in Nebraska. Her visit was prompted a proposal by incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts to finish digging the Perkins County Canal from the South Platte River near Ovid to a reservoir somewhere in Nebraska. The canal is allowed under the terms of the South Platte River Compact of 1923, and can divert up to 500 cubic feet per second out of the river. But without the canal, Nebraska can’t exercise that water right…
The panel consisted of Thibodeau, Bruce Gerk, a member of the South Platte Roundtable, Jim Yahn, manager of the Prewitt and North Sterling reservoirs, Don Chapman, manager of Riverside Irrigation District near Sterling, and Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platter Water Conservancy District. Among the dozen or so attendees were Colorado Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, former state senator and agriculture commissioner Don Ament, Gene Manuello, vice president of the LSPWCD, and Logan County Commissioner Byron Pelton. During Monday’s discussion, Thibodeau made it clear that Nebraskans will do whatever is necessary to protect the water they now get and that they have a right o in the 1923 compact…
Yahn. Chapman and Frank gave Thibodeau a short course on Colorado’s water reality. The most important point, and one they stressed repeatedly, is that return flow and seepage from irrigation in Colorado is what makes the South Platte the year-round river it is today. Sonnenberg pointedly asked the panel what would happen to the multitude of water augmentation projects that operate during the winter months along the lower Colorado reach of the river if Colorado had to try to deliver 500 cubic feet per second into the Perkins Canal. Chapman said it was “very likely” that those projects, which replace water drawn out by pumps during the irrigation season, would be harmed, leading to curtailment of pumping. It also would probably diminish the return flow that ends up in Nebraska. Manuello said one of the worst myths about the river is the amount of water that flows out of Colorado. He said that, while it’s true spring runoff and occasional flooding send large amounts of water downstream, those events are of short duration and probably wouldn’t be available for use in the Perkins Canal.
What’s happening in the million-dollar homes of Rio Verde Foothills, one of the Phoenix metropolitan region’s choice places to live, is a future shock “buyer beware” scenario certain to be replicated over the next several decades in many other Arizona communities contending with urgent water constraints.
About 50 miles south, another scenario of 21st century Arizona is taking shape. The nearly 23,000-member Gila River Indian Community is modernizing: adding to its group of casinos, preparing to expand its irrigated farm acres, and elevating its influence in Arizona’s politics and economy. It’s doing so by virtue of one of the most secure and abundant water supplies in Arizona and the entire Southwest.
Following decades of brutal discrimination and abuse by white settlers and state authorities during which the two Gila River tribes’ rights to their historic water supply were not honored, Congress approved an agreement between the United States and the State of Arizona that essentially guarantees tribal access to 653,500 acre-feet of water per year…
…from previous statements by tribal leaders and in interviews with state water authorities, it is clear that the Gila River Indian Community, or GRIC, is using its abundant water to build a new age of wealth and influence on the 372,000-acre reservation south of Phoenix. GRIC is constructing a federally-financed irrigation network to increase farming operations to 75,000 ancestral acres from the current 35,000. It negotiated lucrative agreements to lease water to Phoenix, Chandler, and other communities. It is also marketing water that it stores in aquifers to willing suburbs and subdivision builders interested in long-term leases.
Since 2016, GRIC has played a central role in storing over 370,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead, plus 130,000 more acre-feet this year to keep lake levels high enough to prevent a water shortage declaration more dire than the one the federal government issued last August. GRIC received $274 per acre-foot from the state and federal governments. In short, ample and secure water supply is the basis of the community’s plan to rebuild the vitality of its 8,000 year-old desert civilization that was ruined in the 20th century…
Arizona’s Future Water Shock
The water-abundant and thriving Gila River Indian Community amounts to one bookend scenario of Arizona’s 21st century condition. The other bookend is the arid Rio Verde Foothills, where government decisions and meteorological disruptions trap residents in a water-related crisis that heat and drought aggravated, and state law did not anticipate.
In 1980, Arizona enacted an innovative groundwater management program intended to ensure adequate reserves of water for rapid home development and expansive population growth by designating four regions from Prescott to Tucson as Active Management Areas. (Santa Cruz, the fifth AMA, was carved out from the Tucson AMA in 1994.) The program included two important exemptions, however: its provisions did not apply to groundwater withdrawals outside of the AMAs. And within the AMA boundaries, owners of private wells that pumped less than 35 gallons per minute — in other words, many of the wells drilled for the state’s exploding residential real estate markets — did not come under state oversight.
In 1995, the law set in place a consumer protection measure to require developers building subdivisions in AMAs with six or more homes to assure buyers that their houses had a 100-year supply of water. But the requirement did not apply for residential construction projects with less than six homes. Builders constructing individual homes, or clusters of five homes or less in an AMA, avoided the 100-year water requirement. Outside the AMAs, groundwater safeguards did not apply, creating what amounted to a home construction free-for-all.
Little more than 40 years after the statute was enacted and less than 30 years after the 100-year assured water supply rules were adopted, the subdivision and private well waivers have resulted in Rio Verde’s emergency. They also influenced a boom in home construction that has caused — and continues to cause — thousands of wells to fail inside and outside of AMAs. It is clearer by the day that, without significant strengthening, the state’s water management program is becoming increasingly irrelevant. The emergence of serious instances of water shortage from Kingman in the north, to the Chino Valley north of Prescott, to Cochise County in Arizona’s southeast has prompted civic campaigns for reform. They have yet to attract sufficient legislative support.
That seems certain to change. And soon, because of climate change.
This year alone, the latest scientifically respected studies reveal a number of disconcerting findings. The megadrought that has Arizona in its tightening grip is the worst in 1200 years. Climate change is responsible for at least 40 percent of the decline in Colorado River water supplies. And the Southwest, like other desert regions, is getting steadily hotter, drier, and more dangerous. Though future weather conditions are always difficult to accurately predict, a worst-case scenario for Arizona looks like this: Population growth stops. Residents start to migrate in droves away from the stifling hot and dry state. Home values collapse. The state enters an era of relentless decline. By 2060, according to several published projections, extreme heat and water scarcity could make Phoenix one of the continent’s most uninhabitable places.
It’s not much of a reach to conclude that Arizona is at the intersection of two paths to the future. By mid-century it will be a model of desert dwelling resiliency. Or it will be a weakened civilization that is starting to waste away…
Taken as a whole, the data mean that Arizona’s share of the Colorado River will likely shrink to less than half the current 2.8 million acre-feet allotment. Arizona will rely much more heavily on its finite groundwater reserves to support population growth, residential construction, and new business starts that state officials continue to encourage. And though Arizona has stored over 13 million acre-feet of water underground to supplement supply during years of water shortage, never since statehood in 1912 has Arizona encountered such a long and deep period of water scarcity that science predicts will grow steadily more severe…
This year, the governor proposed establishing a new state agency, the Arizona Water Authority, to pursue new supplies and also asked the Legislature for $1 billion more, framing the request around the need to build a desalination plant, perhaps in Mexican waters, to produce 250,000 acre-feet a year.
Other ideas for securing Arizona’s water supply — regulating groundwater use in rural areas, metering private water wells, increasing use of recycled wastewater, restricting natural grass lawns, and imposing land use and urban design requirements to collect and store stormwater — haven’t reached nearly the same level of clarity and legislative purpose.
There’s a reason for that. Regulatory changes in water policy and practice are some of the steepest cliffs in Arizona’s political landscape. Any proposal judged by lawmakers to challenge property rights, raise costs, and impede growth is dead on arrival in the Legislature. Such proposals generate powerful winds of opposition in the executive offices of home builders, chambers of commerce, and every other economic development agency.
Spring runoff last year in the Colorado River Basin was a bust, with snowpack of almost 90% of average reduced to a 30% inflow at Lake Powell.
Nobody yet predicts another bust this year. Maybe a meteorological March madness will compensate for last year. While we wait, water managers talk about “the math problem.”
The gap between water flows and demands in the Colorado River is enormous and likely to widen. The dysfunctional equation begins with 20 million acre-feet, the average annual flows assumed by the Colorado River Compact that was crafted 100 years ago by delegates from the seven basin states.
This cheerful assumption was based on early 20th century flows. It was made with almost willful disregard of evidence available even then of the river’s lesser flows during the prior half-century. The delegates who met at a lodge near Santa Fe in 1922 were determined to yoke all irrigable acres into agricultural production.
In this math problem, another key number is 12.3 million acre-feet. That’s been the river’s average flow in the 21st century. Some of this reduced flow seems to be entirely natural, what we call drought, if exceptional in duration.
Something else has been going on. Temperatures have risen 3 degrees C altogether since 1970. By some estimates, half or more of the reduced flows can be attributed to this global warming effect. This warming explains the grand larceny in the Colorado River, decent snowpacks reduced to a shrug in the Utah desert because of evaporation but also because plants need more water. Too, baked soil sops up water.
We can’t flip the switch on global warming, and it’s almost certain to worsen, the temperature rise doubling or tripling, as Colorado State University’s Brad Udall warns. He describes what is occurring as aridification. Unlike drought, it’s not temporary.
This brings us to another number for this Colorado River Basin math problem: 11 million acre-feet.
That’s the number cited last week at a University of Utah conference about future flows of the Colorado River. “The best climate scientists in the world say we will be lucky to have 11 million acre-feet,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the agency serving Las Vegas.
To recap this math problem, the Colorado River Compact assumed 20 million-acre feet, the reality has been 12.3 in the last two decades, and we’ll end up with 11 million-acre feet—or conceivably less.
“Every new use will have to be mitigated by someone, somewhere, using less water,” Entsminger added.
That’s not entirely right either. We all will have to use less water. Keep in mind that not one drop of the Colorado River gets to the Sea of Cortez.
Cinching of the water belt has been underway from Mexico to Colorado. It’s not happening as rapidly as needed, though. Consider the rapidly emerging walls of Glen Canyon and the dam that creates Lake Powell. Despite emergency releases from upstream reservoirs in Colorado and Utah last summer to bolster Powell, the water levels last week dipped below 3,525 feet.
That elevation is arbitrary but a loud warning that a further decline of 35 feet leaves Glen Canyon unable to generate electricity. Recent modeling by the U.S. Geological Survey shows a 25% risk. If —or perhaps when—that happens, municipalities and cooperative members who get power from Glen Canyon will still get electricity from elsewhere, but it will cost more. That includes Holy Cross Electric.
Long term, this worsening situation of subpar runoff in the Colorado River matters to well more than 90% of Colorado’s population. The Colorado River and its tributaries deliver half of Front Range water. Even the easterly flowing rivers in Colorado that pass through more distant, less citified places, Sterling and La Junta, carry water augmented by diversions from the Colorado River.
Much remains to be worked out. Within Colorado, agriculture uses 80% to 90% of all water. Farmers and ranchers who own the more senior water rights, not subject to compact limitations, have served emphatic notice that their water will not be the answer to the math problem.
Another problem is the compact clause that puts the upper basin states—Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming—on the hook for diminished flows. It says they “will not cause” the flows at Lee Ferry, just below Glen Canyon, to be depleted below 75 million acre-feet of water over a rolling 10-year average. The upper basin states cannot do this alone. The risk must be shared.
This sounds gloomy. That said, the seven basin states, Mexico, and the sovereign tribes who collectively own about 20% the basin’s water have yet to throw rocks at each other. They are talking. They just haven’t solved this math problem.
Most Empire residents and businesses are still without water, as of March 25, 2022 as town officials continue to search for a suspected large leak in the town’s water infrastructure. Anyone who does have water service is under a boil warning, which will remain in place until water service is restored to the entire town and it has been tested, Mayor Wendy Koch said. According to Koch and Police Chief John Stein, most of the town’s infrastructure has been pressurized with gas to locate the suspected leak. Those efforts didn’t yield any major leaks, but several smaller issues were noted and are now being addressed, Koch said. Now, Empire is restoring water service to different sections of the town to see if that helps to locate the suspected leak.
Stein said Empire will be hosting public updates at 10 a.m. March 28 and 6:30 p.m. March 29 at Town Hall. The latter will include an opportunity for public comment, but the former is an informational meeting only…
An emergency declaration has been made to assist with resources and seeking funding, Stein stated. Colorado’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response has been activated and is assisting, and volunteers were scheduled to deliver two cases of bottled water to every housing unit on March 25…
Stein said that, thankfully, several municipalities have offered to help fix whatever the problem is. However, the town is “still in detection mode,” he said. Another piece of good news, Koch detailed, is that surface water levels are back up thanks to the warmer weather. Additionally, Koch and Stein stated, Empire is adding a new filtration system to its old well. The state health department approved the design on March 24, and crews will start work on March 28.
If all goes according to plan, Koch said the town might have water service mostly restored by April 1. However, she stressed that she couldn’t guarantee it.
Climatologists no longer consider the Denver metro to be suffering from drought conditions, instead the area’s now considered “abnormally dry.” The change shows a significant improvement over conditions in December, during which Denver was considered to be swathed in an “extreme drought,” data collected by the National Drought Mitigation Center shows.
While the improvement around Denver is reflected this week around much of the rest of Colorado, more than 80% of the state’s land is still in what is considered to be a “moderate drought,” the data indicates. Climatologists repeatedly said this winter that the state needed consistent, above-average snowfall to recoup lost moisture and that didn’t happen. Other areas, like those around Grand Junction and most of Pitkin County are also now considered to be abnormally dry, the data shows. Swathes of extreme and “exceptional” drought still cover large portions of Colorado’s southern counties.
The $1 million in restoration work is part of the $11 million settlement New Mexico reached last year with Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its two parent companies…
The plan calls for:
San Juan County to build the Cedar Hill Boat Ramp on the Animas River.
The city of Farmington to build the Festival and Farmers Market Pavilion at Gateway Park.
The San Juan County Soil and Water Conservation District to implement a soil restoration project in San Juan Valley.
The Tse Daa Kaan Chapter of Navajo Nation to upgrade its irrigation system.
The other $10 million in the settlement covers environmental response costs and lost tax revenue, among other things.
Sunnyside Gold oversaw construction of the bulkheads that led to mines filling with acidic water…
Some money from the EPA settlement will go to northwestern New Mexico communities for agriculture and outdoor recreation, partly to ease the stigma the spill caused in that region, state officials said in a news release. It will cover some of New Mexico’s costs responding to the spill. And it will pay the state to restore and conserve river and land habitats, monitor water quality, and clean up pollution to protect drinking water.
Ruedi Reservoir is at about its lowest level of the year — and also of the past 19 years — according to numbers from the Bureau of Reclamation.
As of Wednesday, the reservoir on the Fryingpan River contained 54,914 acre-feet of water and was about 54% full. And according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data, outflow is currently slightly more than inflow, meaning levels may not have bottomed out yet.
The last time the level was this low was in the drought year of 2003 when Ruedi hit 46,117 acre-feet, according to Timothy Miller, a hydrologist with Reclamation, which operates the reservoir. Many reservoirs across the West are at their lowest levels of the year right before spring runoff starts, and water managers will start to see in the next month what this year will bring and whether it’s enough to fill depleted storage buckets.
Despite the current low levels, Miller said forecasts show Ruedi should be able to fill this year — but just barely. The most recent forecast from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center shows that spring inflow for Ruedi will be about 96% of average.
“If we continue to get average precipitation, we should be able to fill by the skin of our teeth,” he said. “We won’t have any extra water. It’s going to be a tight fill.”
In 2021, Ruedi, which has a capacity of about 102,000 acre-feet, was only about 80% full after spring runoff.
Something that may influence if and how Ruedi fills this year is a phenomenon called the “April hole.” Agricultural irrigators downstream in the Grand Valley usually begin filling their ditches around April 1, and if irrigation ramps up faster than the snow melts in the high country, there may not be enough water to meet their demand.
Grand Valley irrigators, with large senior water rights dating to 1912, can command the entire Colorado River and its tributaries in western Colorado by placing a call. This means water users with junior water rights have to stop taking water so that the Grand Valley irrigators can get their entire amount of water to which they are entitled. When these irrigators put a call on the river, known as the “Cameo call,” it can control all junior water rights upstream of their diversion at the roller dam in DeBeque Canyon.
The Cameo call doesn’t come in April of every year, but it did in 2021 and lasted for 16 days — the longest April hole ever. Dry soils and hot temperatures in 2020 and 2021, fueled by climate change and drought, robbed the river of flows and created conditions never before seen by water managers.
“Last year was definitely the extreme,” said James Heath, Division 5 Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “We never had a call in April last that long. The prior longest was in 2002, with five days of call.”
Instead of curbing their water use when the Cameo call is on, some water users simply release water from Ruedi that they have bought and store there as part of an augmentation plan. The problem, Heath said, is that many of these water replacement plans counted on a call lasting at most seven days.
“What we are finding is a lot of the plans were originally decreed for a worst-case call scenario of seven days in April,” he said. “Last year, they were diverting out of priority and injuring the downstream water rights.”
Heath said his office is still figuring out how to address these shortfalls and analyze different entities’ augmentation plans. He said Ruedi had to release about 1,300 acre-feet of water last year to satisfy the Cameo call in April.
A consequence of low levels in Ruedi is a reduced capacity to generate power at the hydroelectric plant, which is operated by the city of Aspen. Steve Hunter, utilities resource manager with the city, said the bottom line is this: the less water, the less power that is able to be produced. Hunter said if water levels fall below 7,700 feet elevation, utilities staff may decide to shut the unit off because the water pressure may not be generating much power. Ruedi was at 7,708.7 feet Wednesday. When Ruedi is full, the surface elevation is 7,766 feet above sea level.
When hydropower production decreases, Hunter said Aspen fills its all-renewable portfolio by buying more wind power.
“When hydro goes down, wind picks up the slack,” he said. “We are not in a terrible place right now. We are not Glen Canyon Dam.”
Hunter was referring to water levels in Lake Powell, which last week dipped to their lowest ever, hitting a target elevation of 3,525 feet, just 35 feet above the minimum level needed to generate hydropower at the dam.
“Hydropower across the board in the West is being affected by drought,” Hunter said. “This is crunch time, just watching what happens in the next month as we approach peak snow-water equivalent and see what the snowpack does.”
Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the March 25 edition of The Aspen Times.
In an ongoing effort to understand the connections between water resources, water systems, and international security and conflict, the Pacific Institute initiated a project in the late 1980s to track and categorize events related to water and conflict, which has been continuously updated since. The database, most recently updated in March 2022, presents the information as a chronology and map. Use the links below to explore the chronological list of events or the interactive events map.
Click the link to read “War in Ukraine Lengthens List of Violent Acts over Water” on the Circle of Blue website (Brett Walton). Here’s an excerpt:
In late February, as Vladimir Putin’s war machine was beginning to uncoil, Russian forces destroyed a dam in Ukraine that was blocking water from a Soviet-era canal that flows into Crimea, the peninsula that Russia wrested from its neighbor in 2014. Ukrainians had erected the dam in retaliation for the loss of territory nearly eight years ago.
The destruction of the dam across the North Crimean Canal is the most recent entry in the Water Conflict Chronology, a compendium of violent acts related to water throughout 4,500 years of history. The database is maintained by the Pacific Institute, a water policy think tank…
The newly added incidents reveal the geographic and political dimensions of water-related violence in an era of social turmoil and ecological upheaval. They range in scale from distinctly local disputes to longstanding regional and international flashpoints. In the last year:
Two people in Somalia were killed during a fight between militias over water and grazing access.
A man was shot and killed in Pakistan in a dispute over an irrigation canal.
An activist who led protests for water service was shot and killed in central Mexico.
Israeli military forces destroyed a Palestinian-owned irrigation well and other agricultural facilities in a West Bank community.
Villagers and farmers in Iran demolished an earthen dam in the western province of Khuzestan to protest the illegal diversion of water by a sugar cane company.
Peter Gleick, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Pacific Institute, helped compile the chronology. He told Circle of Blue that an array of environmental, social, and political forces are contributing to the rise in water-related violence. Droughts in farm regions have put pressure on farmers, whose livelihoods depend on water for their crops. Meanwhile, the absence of basic services can aggravate existing tensions.
At its March 15 work session, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) heard an update and funds request from Al Pfister, project manager for Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP). Pfister gave a brief overview of WEP’s Yamaguchi South Project, which will include river restoration, the creation of a new whitewater feature and a new boat put in ad- jacent to the planned Yamaguchi Park South.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which submitted the 373-page permit for Suncor, has 90 days to respond to the EPA’s objections and then resubmit. The operating permit regulates the level of various toxic pollutants the refinery can release into the air. The EPA’s objections do not affect the Suncor refinery’s operations and they do not mean the agency will eventually deny the permit renewal.
The refinery has been operating under a permit that was issued in 2006. Those air-quality permits are supposed to be renewed every five years, but Suncor and the state have not applied for renewal since then, meaning the plant has been operating on an expired permit for 16 years.
The EPA’s objections focused on three sites at the refinery where Suncor uses flares to burn off excess chemicals. The state’s Air Pollution Control Division, which falls under the health department, wanted to exempt those flaring sources from regular monitoring requirements, according to a letter to the agency from KC Becker, the EPA’s regional administrator. The EPA is asking the state to do more analysis and better explain why it believes the flare sites don’t need additional monitoring. The EPA also expressed significant concern about the refinery’s environmental impact on people who live and work within a three-mile radius of the plant, and the federal agency suggested multiple steps the state can take to improve communication with the community when it comes to permitting for the plant and reporting on the pollution that comes from it, the letter said.
In short, the kind of clouds that create snowstorms contain massive amounts of super-chilled water vapor, Rickert said. Left alone, those clouds can release some snow and retain the rest of their water vapor. Cloud seeders look to agitate those super-chilled water particles, causing them to freeze inside the cloud. From there they form snowflakes and fall to the ground, Rickert said. Seeders can agitate those particles by plane or from machines on the ground, both processes typically use a silver iodide compound. Airplanes will “pretty much fly right through the cloud,” spraying the compound across a flame, and spreading it throughout the air, sparking the chemical reaction, Rickert said. Ground generators do the same except they use wind drafts to carry the compound into the clouds, he said. he end result? Up to a 12% increase in snowfall for a particular storm, [Andrew] Rickert said…
Seeding efforts in central Colorado are working well too, according to Dave Kanzer, director of science and interstate matters for the Colorado River District, which helps manage the program in Eagle, Grand, Pitkin and Summit counties. Water from the extra snowfall eventually melts, flowing down Colorado’s rivers and streams and eventually out of state, Rickert noted, so downstream states like Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico all chip in to the state’s $1.5 million budget. But there’s a catch, Kanzer added. Cloud seeding can’t create snow storms out of nowhere. They can only enhance existing storms…
“It’s the only option for physically augmenting snowpack,” Rickert said. “And the only way to actually create and add water to the system.”
The most affordable and effective way to keep waste out of the landfill is to avoid creating it in the first place. To this end, the city aims to build a circular economy that focuses on the reuse and repair of an increasing number of items.
Individual action is the backbone for societal impact and systemic change. By reducing how much each of us buys new and reusing materials as much as possible, we collectively save energy, natural resources and money.
Together, we can achieve our goal of 85% waste diversion by 2025 and become a zero waste community.
Here are 12 ways to reduce and reuse on a daily basis.
Practice zero waste dining by using reusable takeout containers through the Repeater app.
Reduce your food waste by planning weekly meals, buying only what you need, and donating unused food to local food banks.
Borrow, share and rent items when possible. Borrow a book or movie from the library or swap clothes with a friend. Rent tools from the Tool Library at Resource Central.
Repurpose worn out items by turning them into fun, creative projects. An old shirt could be transformed into a reusable bag, quilt or cleaning rags.
Repair items with life left. Check out Boulder U-Fix-It Clinic events for repair trainings.
Try to cut down on plastic purchases at the grocery store by shopping in the bulk section or buying products in certified compostable packaging. If your favorite grocery store does not have a bulk section, let them know that reducing packaging by buying in bulk is important to you.
Bring reusable containers to grocery stores for produce and bulk purchases, and to restaurants for leftovers. Glass jars, cloth bags and plastic containers are great vessels for bulk and produce purchases at your local grocery store, and they reduce the amount of material sent to the recycling center. Instead of reaching for single-use plastic and compostable produce bags, bring your own reusable cotton bags.
Shop for used clothes, shoes, furniture and other items from thrift stores, garage sales, flea markets and consignment shops.
Donate gently-used items to secondhand stores.
Bring reusable bags whenever you shop. This helps keep disposable plastic bags out of the landfill, conserves water and energy required to produce paper bags, and saves you 10 cents per bag at local grocery stores.
Carry reusable water bottles and coffee mugs when you are on the go.
Look for products made with recycled materials. These products help create a market for our recyclables – allowing them to circulate in our economy.
Click the link to read the article and view the video on the 9News.com website (Janet Oravetz and Courtney Yuen). Here’s an excerpt:
The city is considering a first of its kind ordinance that would restrict the use of cool weather turf in new developments and new golf courses beginning next year. According to the city, Aurora averages just 15 inches of precipitation each year, and said that cool weather turf typically requires “substantial watering” to survive. Outdoor usage accounts for roughly 50% of water usage annually in Aurora, according to the city…
Turf means any cool season species, variety or blend, including but not limited to Kentucky bluegrass and Fescue, according to the city. In general, it would include those with an annual irrigation water requirement greater than about 9.3 gallons per square foot.
The ordinance, if passed, would prohibit turf for aesthetic purposes only, but would allow it in new developments “in active or programmed recreation areas.” Those are defined as an area with a primary function of sport field but can also accommodate secondary functions, including but not limited to non-organized sporting events, cultural activities and organized social gatherings. The ordinance will prohibit turf in common areas, medians, curbside landscape and front yards. For backyards, turf would be restricted to 45% of the yard, or 500 square feet, whichever is smaller.
Click the link to read “Say ‘goodbye’ to grassy yards – [Aurora] may implement heavy restrictions on turf” usage on OutThereColorado.com (Spencer McKee). Here’s an excerpt:
According to Aurora Water, about half of the city’s outdoor water usage is due to people watering their ‘turf,’ with turf being defined as ‘cool weather’ grass species, such as Kentucky bluegrass. This ‘turf’ is the type of grass that is specifically addressed in the proposal, with the goal of the suggested change being to limit overall outdoor water usage amid the city’s continued growth…
The changes would take effect next year, if the proposal is approved.
A story of transition and renewal in the rural west, Craig, America shares the many perspectives that encompass a community upheld by coal but looks towards a future without it. It brings to life the unique story of Craig, Colorado, and how its people, economy, and community are both resilient and adaptive.
Craig, Colorado is a small town in Northwest Colorado, about 40 miles west of Steamboat Springs. While Craig lies in the high mountain plains above the meandering Yampa River, it is a case study as a town, and region, that is in transition. Craig has traditionally been a town defined by the extraction of fossil fuels and ranching. There are multiple coal mines, and energy generating stations (power plants) in the area. Under pressure from environmental groups and government agencies state-wide and nationally, the owners of Craig Station voted unanimously to close all three units of Craig Station, one of Colorado’s largest coal-fired power plants, by 2030. The decision to close the plant will send waves of change across the city of Craig and surrounding Moffat Country for decades to come, costing the region hundreds of high-paying jobs, removing an estimated 60% of the town’s tax revenue, and forcing a reckoning with its future.
Fortunately, Craig sits in a region of abundant beauty, and accessible opportunities for outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing, rafting, hiking and mountain biking and other pursuits or plentiful. As the recreation economy grows, Craig is in an ideal position to make that transition as well. As Jennifer Holloway, the new Executive Director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce puts it, “Craig is a community with a lot of opportunities, and in a unique moment to seize them.” As the town reckons with the closure of the plant and surrounding mines, a growing coalition of leaders and community advocates are working to save their town and move from a extraction based economy to one focused in recreation, tourism, and that centers the health and well being of our planet and its inhabitants.
This situation in Craig is one in which we are currently seeing across the United States. As renewable sources of energy continue to grow in demand and the profitability of coal continues to plummet in tandem with its role in climate change, small towns and cities that depend on these industries are questioning their future. The story of Craig can be a moment of hope for many regions across the country, and potentially a guidepost for how they can embrace the natural beauty of their regions, rather than think of them only for extraction and consumption.
Thousands of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley who’ve struggled to deal with contaminated water for more than 20 years will have access to clean water by 2024 under a new agreement signed by the federal government and two Colorado water agencies last week.
The Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), as the clean water delivery project is known, will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir through the city of Pueblo and out to communities on the Eastern Plains, such as Avondale and Boone, by 2024, and other communities, such as La Junta, as soon as 2027.
Water officials said the entire pipeline should be completed by 2035 if not sooner. The project will ultimately serve 50,000 people, officials said.
Under the agreements, signed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Pueblo Water Board, and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District March 18, some $40 million in federal and local funding will be available to launch construction, with subsequent funding for the $600 million project anticipated to come from Congress and local water agencies.
In addition, the agreement allows Reclamation and Southeastern to pipe the water through the city of Pueblo’s water system, rather than building a separate system to move the water out to the Eastern Plains. Officials said this new agreement will shave costs and several years off the project.
“This contract signing marks one of the most significant milestones to date towards making the AVC a reality and bringing clean water to communities that desperately need it. It advances the project over 14 miles east from Pueblo Reservoir which puts us much closer to our first participants in Avondale and Boone,” said Brent Esplin, regional director of the Missouri Basin and Arkansas-Rio Grande-Texas Gulf regions for Reclamation, in a statement.
Naturally occurring selenium and lead, as well as radionuclides, have dogged the region’s water systems since the 1960s. Many of the communities face enforcement actions from the state health department because they don’t have the financial resources to treat the water for drinking and then to treat it again for discharge into the wastewater systems that discharge to the Lower Arkansas River and its tributaries, according to Chris Woodka, senior policy manager with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Southeastern operates the federal Fryingpan-Arkansas Project’s Pueblo Reservoir.
“This project will relieve some of the pressures that they face. They will get better quality drinking water and they will see improvements to their discharged water,” Woodka said.
The idea is to deliver clean water from Pueblo Reservoir directly to the communities via the 34-mile pipeline, reducing and sometimes eliminating the contaminants that the water now picks up when it travels through streams and irrigation ditches.
The conduit has been on planning boards for more than 50 years but it wasn’t until a new federal law was approved in 2009 stipulating that the federal government would pick up 65% of the costs that the plan began to advance, Woodka said.
Since then the region has wrestled with getting federal cash to start work and convincing local water agencies and the communities who need the water to cooperate on design issues and costs, Woodka said.
“People are convinced it will get built,” Woodka said. “Now the questions are about affordability.”
And for small towns, those are big questions.
Tom Seaba is La Junta’s director of utilities. His city has comparatively clean water, with no radionuclides and a selenium issue that it is treating via reverse osmosis.
“It could be the silver bullet that everyone would like to take care of the contaminants that are in the water. The flip side is the cost,” Seaba said.
La Junta charges customer $2.50 per thousand gallons for water now, which includes treatment costs. The new water will cost $2.19 per thousand gallons, untreated, and La Junta will still have to find a way to recoup the cost to disinfect and treat the water.
“Now that we’re getting down to brass tacks, we need to see if the underlying reality will do for us what everyone hopes it will. If we can connect and that takes care of the problems we have, sign us up. But if it doesn’t, we will have to do something else,” Seaba said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
THIS was supposed to be the week that the three Douglas County Commissioners, Lora Thomas, Abe Laydon and George Teal, visited the San Luis Valley to host a community meeting on Douglas County’s consideration of the Renewable Water Resources proposal to export water out of the Valley north.
There’s still an expectation that Laydon and Teal will find their way down, on their own, away from the public spotlight in their own pursuit of reasons to support or not the Renewable Water Resources plan.
For her part, Thomas has been opposed from the outset and prefers that Douglas County focus on a water project in its own backyard – the Platte Valley Water Project with Parker Water & Sanitation and Castle Rock Water.
She’s also been troubled by what she sees as conflicts of interest among her fellow commissioners for their public positioning of RWR and their perceived coziness with Republican moneyman Bill Owens, a former governor of Colorado, and his entourage at Renewable Water Resources.
It would have been those dynamics, a split and at times feuding Douglas County commission, that would have arrived at the Ski Hi Regional Events Complex in Monte Vista to hear from Valley residents. But after Teal made comments that there was nothing to gain from such a meeting since Valley residents didn’t seem interested in finding a deal with Douglas County and supporters of RWR felt threatened and silenced, the commissioners punted.
That doesn’t mean Douglas County – and Laydon and Teal, specifically – has lost interest in RWR. Quite the contrary. What’s puzzling is nobody outside RWR understands why, particularly since Douglas County is not a provider of water services and would find itself entangled in years of litigation at a minimum.
“I have zero ulterior motives, other than wanting to secure proactive win/win water solutions for both communities,” Laydon said to Alamosa Citizen. “I’m persuaded by facts, not noise or propaganda. We have engaged in a deep-dive water series and study with a hydrologist and water attorney who have yet to compile their findings into final recommendations.”
The three commissioners huddled in executive session for two hours Monday to hear from Stephen H. Leonhardt with the law firm Burns Figa & Will, and Tom Hatton from Applegate Group, Inc. Leonhardt and Burns Figa & Will have been retained as special counsel to help Douglas County understand the legal issues surrounding the Renewable Water Resources proposal, while Applegate Group, Inc., has been retained to consult on engineering and hydraulic aspects of the RWR plan, according to public files.
Both the special legal counsel and Applegate consultants had their contracts recently amended to include more money and more time on the RWR plan. Douglas County also this month issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) for additional water consultant services. The RFQ has an April 8 deadline.
Following Monday’s lengthy executive session, the commissioners will receive a confidential memo summarizing what they heard. Where they are with a decision on RWR is harder to determine. Since Thomas is opposed and Teal is in support of RWR, the past weeks have become the Abe Laydon show to see where he lands.
“I don’t know where we’re headed,” said State Sen. Cleave Simpson, who is also general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is a farmer and rancher in the San Luis Valley.
Like others who have made presentations to help Douglas County commissioners understand the ever-declining water conditions of the San Luis Valley aquifers – the unconfined and confined – and threats to the Valley’s ecosystem from 20 years of drought and loss of wetlands, Simpson is frustrated at the spectacle Douglas County has created.
“To make this thing work they have to change the rules and regulations that we all have lived under and crafted over the last 20 years,” he said of the Renewable Water Resources proposal.
It’s not simply Laydon casting the deciding vote to move the RWR proposal forward. If he were to take that gamble for Douglas County, RWR then would have to ask State Engineer Kevin Rein to change the rules governing water to meet the intent of their proposal, said Simpson.
“If I was Douglas County I’d say ‘I’m not going to give you a dime until you get the rules changed’ and the likelihood of them changing the rules here is nearly zero percent from my perspective,” Simpson said.
Coming out of Monday’s executive session with their special counsel and hydrologist consultant, Laydon said he was happy to hear the expertise and “objective facts” that were discussed. He and Teal have made it a point to say Valley representatives and residents they’ve heard from are not objective and instead overfilled with emotion.
“I very intentionally have taken the emotion out of my presentations and conversations with them,” said Simpson. “And honestly, even the folks at RWR from the very beginning, I said ‘I appreciate this is a business proposition from your perspective, I’m happy to sit down with you and let’s debate the pros and cons, but you can’t put out false information.’
“They claim we’re putting out false information and I can say with absolute certainty none of the stuff that I’ve presented or the meetings I’ve been in with them is false information. It’s all 100 percent accurate and quite the contrary from the other perspective. I can demonstrate without doubt that the information they’re getting is false.”
Simpson has sat with Laydon and extended invitations to bring in others like Ken Salazar, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and one of Colorado’s foremost experts in water law, to help Laydon better grasp the drought conditions and over pumping situation in the Valley. Former Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen is another person Laydon has been invited to hear from.
For Laydon, he’s focused on the consultants that Douglas County has hired to help him make a decision. Presumably he heard some of what he’s looking for in Monday’s closed meeting. Following it he, Thomas and Teal sat through their first presentation on the Platte Valley Water Project.
A series of storm systems moved across the lower 48 states this past week. Heavy rain fell across parts of the Great Plains and Southeast, with lighter amounts observed across parts of the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West. The Central and Southern Plains, Lower Mississippi Valley, and Southeast mostly saw improvements to drought conditions, with several locations receiving more than 2 inches of rainfall (more than 5 inches, locally) during the 7 days leading up to March 22. Throughout much of the U.S., where antecedent dryness coincided with below-normal precipitation, drought either continued or worsened in intensity. The only areas where this was not true was across parts of the Upper Midwest, which experienced some removal of long-term drought due to improvements from melting snow cover…
Associated with a storm system intensifying and moving slowly northeastward from the Central Plains March 21-22, heavy rainfall was observed across much of central and eastern Kansas, southeastern Nebraska, and eastern Colorado. Rainfall in excess of 1.5 inches resulted in 1-category improvements across many of these areas. However, improvements were less widespread for some locations in central Kansas and southeastern Nebraska, as longer-term deficits remain intact. Additionally, soil moisture still remains D2-equivalent (indicating severe drought conditions) or worse across many areas, region-wide stream flows are running near and below normal, and standardized precipitation indices (SPIs) are D2-equivalent or worse for all periods between 60 and 120 days. Farther north across western North Dakota and southern South Dakota, the lack of seasonal snow cover, above-normal temperatures this past week (10 °F to 15°F above-normal), and high winds resulted in the expansion of extreme (D3) and severe (D2) drought, respectively. Reports from western North Dakota indicate rangeland conditions are worse than this time last year. Groundwater and root zone soil moisture is very low and watering holes are dried up, supported by NASA GRACE groundwater and NASA SPoRT 0-100 cm soil moisture indicators. In southern North Dakota, shallower soil depths (0-40 cm) have dried out further this past week due to above-normal temperatures and high winds. Additionally, SPIs are at D2-equivalent or worse for all periods going back 120 days. Locals continue to be concerned about the antecedent dryness leading up to the spring. Water availability, forage for feed, and livestock are all at risk if the rains do not come during the spring and summer months, as the Northern Plains begins transitioning into a climatologically wetter time of year in April…
Following a very wet December 2021 across parts of the West, a very dry pattern has persisted during much of 2022 so far, mainly from southern Oregon southward. Average basin snow water equivalent (SWE) values have continued to decline across the West and are now below-normal since the start of the water year (October 1, 2021). Despite the drying trend leading up to this week across many areas of the region, a stormy pattern brought above-normal precipitation to the windward (west-facing) slopes of Washington, with some additions to the snowpack. Snowpack gains were also evident across parts of the Northern Rockies. Given the smalls gains made over the past couple of weeks, targeted improvements were made across northern Oregon, northern Idaho, and western Montana. Additionally, sub-basin average SWE values are near and slightly above-normal for the water year, USGS average stream flows are running near and above-normal, and standardized precipitation evapotranspiration indices (SPEIs) are D0 to D1 equivalent (indicating abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions) for all periods going back 6 months. However, longer-term drought remains entrenched across much of the West, supported by NASA GRACE shallow groundwater remaining below the 5th percentile for many areas. Deterioration of drought was also observed in northwestern California, where 7-day precipitation was below-normal again this week. Widespread along the coastal ranges of northern California, USGS 28-day average stream flows are below the 5th percentile of the climatological distribution, with more having fallen into the bottom 1 percent of their respective distributions for the same period. Groundwater, soil moisture, and SWE are all below-normal and nearby reservoir levels are, on average, 50 percent of their historical averages as we begin transitioning into a drier time of year. Elsewhere in the Western Region, a low pressure system tracking eastward in the days leading up to March 22 produced enough precipitation and high elevation snowfall to stave off any further degradation this week. Some basins across the Four Corners region are even reporting near and above-normal seasonal snowpack following the event. However, more will be needed to curb long-term drought across these areas…
Two storm systems brought heavy rainfall across much of the Southern Region this past week. The first system dropped heavy rain across parts of central Louisiana and much of Mississippi before moving eastward very early in the period (March 15-16). The second storm system intensified over the Southern and Central Plains in the final day leading up to March 22, dropping heavy rain across central and eastern Oklahoma and northern and eastern Texas, extending eastward to the Mississippi River. Rainfall totals across many of these areas exceeded 2 inches, leading to large swaths of 1-category improvements in the drought depiction. 2-category improvements were also warranted in isolated locations receiving, in some cases, more than 5 inches of rain. Given the short-term nature of the drought, soil moisture indicators and stream flows responded quickly, leading to more aggressive improvements in eastern Oklahoma, eastern Texas, and the Ark-La-Tex. Farther west and south in Texas, many locations missed out entirely, receiving little to no precipitation this past week. This increased rainfall deficits that go back several months, resulting in the continued deterioration of drought across these areas…
A storm system that brought heavy rainfall to eastern parts of the lower 48 states March 22-23 will continue to move northeastward and into the Great Lakes by Thursday, March 24. This storm will continue to bring the potential for rainfall across parts of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic and mixed precipitation types across the Northeast and Great Lakes through Friday, March 25. By March 26, another fast-moving low pressure system is expected to sweep in behind the Great Lakes system to help push it out to sea by the weekend. Following the passage of these storm systems, colder air is likely across northeastern and north-central parts of the U.S., starting on March 26, with maximum temperature anomalies expected to be anywhere from 10°F to 20°F below-normal across parts of the Midwest. These cold temperatures will shift eastward toward the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic through March 29. Across the western U.S. high pressure is expected to dominate, favoring below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures through Monday, March 28. Maximum temperatures are predicted to be on the order of 15°F to 20°F above-normal, and greater, with the warmer temperatures shifting from the West Coast to the Great Plains and into the Southeast March 24-29, before beginning to moderate. On March 29, another storm system is predicted to move into the West Coast bringing an opportunity for much needed precipitation across portions of California.
The Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 day outlook (valid March 29 to April 2, 2022) favors near to above-normal temperatures across much of the western and eastern contiguous U.S. (CONUS) and the Gulf Coast. Below-normal temperatures are favored for the north-central and northeastern CONUS, behind strong low pressure exiting the East Coast near the start of the period. Above-normal precipitation is favored for much of the eastern two-thirds of the CONUS, as a storm system is expected to intensify and move eastward across U.S. during the period. Behind this storm system and farther to its south, below-normal precipitation is likely across parts of the western CONUS and southern Texas, respectively.
About 20 people attended an in-person meeting to discuss the Colorado River Connectivity Channel last month in Granby. Another 30 attended via Zoom, with the group learning about the benefits of the Connectivity Channel and other impacts associated with the project. Water Resources Project Engineer and CRCC Project Manager Kevin Lock was joined by Director of Engineering Jeff Drager, Collections Systems Department Manager Craig Friar and Public Information Officer Jeff Stahla at the in-person meeting.
The meeting took place as part of a public comment period on the Draft Watershed Plan and Environmental Assessment (Plan-EA) for the Colorado River Headwaters Connectivity Project. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and project sponsors (Grand County, Trout Unlimited and Northern Water) recently announced the availability of that draft plan.
The Connectivity Channel is one of the key elements of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project’s $90 million mitigation and enhancement package. Once complete, it will reconnect the Colorado River around Windy Gap Reservoir.
U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland issued an order in November declaring “squaw” a derogatory term and established a task force to rename more than 600 geographical sites across the country that have the word in their names.
“Squaw” — a racist and sexist term for Native American women — is just the latest target for renaming as the United States continues to reconcile historical names and events to modern sensibilities. Haaland also called for the creation of a complementary Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names to solicit, review and recommend changes to other derogatory geographic and federal place names.
“Place names are very powerful,” said Sara Jackson Shumate, Ph.D., a human geographer and the director of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Center for Individualized Learning. “It’s important to rethink our landscapes and what we are valuing through these geographical names.”
The federal Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force convened by Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, has recommended 28 sites in Colorado for renaming. All of those sites incorporate the word “squaw.”
The task force works closely with the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which gives final determinations for standardizing the names of geographic and natural features. The board is a federal body created in 1890 that was established to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the federal government.
“You can’t erase history,” said Adriana Nieto, Ph.D., associate professor chair of Chicana/o Studies at MSU Denver. “Changing geological names doesn’t change our history; it reframes it. Reframing history is important because it points out the holes. Naming important places should be a way to remember or learn about important people and events. It changes what we talk about.”
Nieto said she’s hopeful the conversation is now happening at the national level. “It means it won’t go away easily like it has at a local level,” Nieto said. “A lot of credit goes to Secretary Haaland, who has created an opening for a conversation and brought the significance of names to the public eye.”
Jared Polis established the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board last year to evaluate proposals concerning name changes, new names and name controversies of geographic features and public places in Colorado.
In September, the board made its first recommendation: to change the name of Squaw Mountain in Clear Creek County to Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain. Pronounced mess-taw-HAY, the name honors an influential Cheyenne translator known as Owl Woman.
Other discussions at the state level include renaming Negro Creek and Negro Mesa in Delta County to Clay Creek and Clay Mesa, respectively; changing the name of Redskin Mountain in Jefferson County to Mount Jerome; and renaming Mount Evans as Mount Blue Sky, the name the Arapaho people call themselves.
Mount Evans was named for Territorial Gov. John Evans, who oversaw the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, in which volunteer soldiers attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho village, killing approximately 750 people.
Jackson Shumate is hopeful that renaming such a well-known site might spur conversations about past and current values.
“People vacation at these sites. If we start renaming places like Denali (from Mount McKinley) and Mount Evans, it creates an inflection point to begin a critical conversation about our past and what we value as Americans and Coloradans,” Jackson Shumate said. “Do we want the [a] peak in Colorado to be named for a territorial governor who was forced to resign because of his part in the infamous Sand Creek Massacre and its subsequent coverup or something we can all be proud of?”
Mount Evans’ name change may soon be a reality. On Tuesday, the Clear Creek County commissioners recommended changing its name to Mount Blue Sky. The recommendation will go to the state Geographic Naming Advisory Board and Polis before a final decision.
Last June, Colorado legislators passed Senate Bill 116, which prohibits the use of American Indian symbols and names by Colorado public schools beginning this June. Schools that do not come into compliance by June 1 face a $25,000 monthly fine.
“These efforts are steps, albeit baby ones, in the right direction,” Jackson Shumate said. “This is scratching the surface of what really needs to change, which is how we think about and relate to one another, but it gets us moving in the right direction.”
Water managers from across the Colorado River Basin are preparing to negotiate new rules for allocating the river’s dwindling flow and sharing the pain of a deepening shortage. They’re adapting the 100-year-old Colorado River Compact to a river that little resembles the bountiful gusher that negotiators from seven states and the federal government in 1922 thought — or hoped — would bless the Southwest forever. The stakes rise with every foot that Lake Mead and Lake Powell fall, as the states and the water users within them recognize they’re due for a tighter squeeze.
Arizona gets more than a third of its water from the river, growing abundant crops around Yuma and homes around Phoenix and Tucson. The Las Vegas area gets most of its water from the river and has built a deeper pipe in Lake Mead to assure its continued access. Late-developing states like Wyoming use water for ranching and energy development, and are hoping to continue growing on it…
Re-thinking the river’s flow
Before the states, Indigenous communities and water districts can agree on a new plan to more conservatively divvy the water, they’ll need to agree on how low the river might go…
The 2022 negotiators are debating whether they should plan for just 11 million acre-feet, as Entsminger’s Nevada agency already has penciled into its water security plans…
Since 2000, the river has delivered on average 12.3 million acre-feet a year, which is generally a couple of million less than the region has used. Consequently, the giant reservoirs that were full back then have tanked, Lake Mead to about a third of capacity, Lake Powell to a quarter…Planning for a regular supply of just 11 million acre-feet would obliterate long-held assumptions about how much water some or all of the users thought they were entitled for future growth. Contingencies for that level could severely limit growth potential in the Upper Basin, where Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah are far from fully developing their collective 7.5 million acre-foot share outlined by the compact…
Graphic credit: Brad Udall via InkStain
Decline of Lake Mead. Graphic credit: Brad Udall via InkStain
Climate scientists who study and project the Colorado’s flows as the region warms believe even 11 million acre-feet could be wishful thinking. Some studies suggest heat’s toll on the water supply will drop the river to just 9 million acre-feet in coming decades, said Brad Udall, a Colorado State University researcher who has focused on the river for 20 years. “I could live with 11” as a planning guideline, even if it’s optimistic, Udall said. That projection is stark enough to require bold action that water managers could later build upon. It would follow the trajectory that scientists like Udall say represents the region’s heat-induced aridification, as opposed to temporary drought.
The Routt County Conservation District (RCCD) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are looking at the basin from a watershed health perspective and developing programs to improve and protect the private lands that catch the precipitation in much of the basin.
The foundation of a healthy watershed is healthy soils. Not only do soils allow vegetation to grow, but they can act as a sponge that absorbs and stores precipitation. They provide the nutrients that allow life to flourish. At its base, soil is a combination of sand, silt and clay, but it’s much more than that. A single teaspoon of soil can contain billions of living organisms that make up an entire ecosystem. When this ecosystem is thriving, it provides the glues that hold the soil particles in place as water rushes through them, it cycles nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable for plant growth and it helps to build organic matter in the soil. Keeping a healthy soil ecosystem can help increase plant productivity, increase drought resilience and decrease the need for additional inputs.
NRCS has developed five principles that can be followed to maintain and develop healthy soils.
The first is to minimize soil disturbance. Plowing the soil not only destroys the habitat that these microorganisms have created, but it negates all of the benefits that they provide.
The second is to keep the soil covered with plant residue. Residue increases infiltration and decreases erosion.
The third is to maximize plant diversity. Just like any ecosystem, soil ecosystems benefit from diversity, and diversity above ground means diversity below ground.
The fourth principle is to maintain a continuous growing root in the soil. We are limited by a short growing season, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t keep a live root in the soil year-round.
The fifth and final principle is to integrate livestock into the growing system. Livestock play a critical role in nutrient distribution and residue cycling.
A good first step to improving soil health on your property is to get a soil test that will give you a baseline to better understand where nutrients are limited or in abundance. The Routt County Conservation District has a grant program available that can pay for a soil test on fields that have the ability and intention of implementing management changes that could improve soil health.
Lyn Halliday is the Board President of the Routt County Conservation District, and the Upper Yampa River Watershed coordinator. Clinton Whitten is the resource team lead with the National Resource Conservation Service. For more about the Community Agriculture Alliance, go to CommunityAgAlliance.org.
Local leaders are celebrating a win this week, after learning last Friday that the Norwood area was awarded a $110,000 grant for water. The Wright’s Mesa Water Planning and Prioritization Project (WMWPPP) partners are the recipients, and they were supported in the application process by the West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC)…
WMWPPP is a group that includes the Town of Norwood, San Miguel County, WEEDC, Norwood Water Commission, Farmers Water Development, the Lone Cone Ditch Company, the Norwood Fire Protection District, and the San Miguel Watershed Coalition.
The idea to go for funding came together in the summer of 2021, when Norwood Town Trustee Candy Meehan and District 3 Commissioner Holstrom were both students in Water Education Colorado’s program “Water Fluency.” One session in Water Fluency was focused on funding, and learning about the availability of funds for just the type of infrastructure needed in the local region “lit a fire” for Meehan and Holstrom. Meehan spearheaded the grant application effort, and she and Holstrom worked with Deanna Sheriff, of WEEDC, and April Montgomery, of the Telluride Foundation, to flesh out their idea of looking for ways to get some of the $80 million in monies available for known water projects identified by the Southwest Basin Roundtable…
With funding secured, an engineering firm will be chosen to conduct a collaborative water infrastructure planning and prioritization analysis for all of Wright’s Mesa…
Though this winter appears to be looking good regarding snowpack, the local region is still classified in drought — with a changing climate, the need for housing and development, and the critical need for repairing and updating the town’s current water infrastructure…
The Colorado Water Conservation Board made its decision to fund Norwood during its March 15 meeting and announced the decision on March 18.
The construction of Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant is on budget and on track to open in 2024, having overcome challenges during 2021 stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic that affected everything from staffing to the supply chain.
The Northwater plant, on Highway 93 north of Golden, will be the fourth drinking water treatment plant in Denver Water’s system.
When finished, the new plant will be capable of producing up to 75 million gallons of clean drinking water per day using state-of-the-art technology. The new plant, part of Denver Water’s North System Renewal work, supplements the utility’s aging Moffat Treatment Plant on West 20th Avenue in Lakewood, which was built in the 1930s.
The new plant is being built on 100 acres of Denver Water land next to the utility’s Ralston Reservoir. The site will include seven primary buildings and multiple auxiliary facilities including tanks, clearwells, pump stations and vaults.
Here are some of the highlights from the work done during 2021:
Passed 50% construction completion.
Passed 1 million hours worked.
Completed all the remaining excavation needed to build the structures that will be part of the plant.
Placed concrete base slabs for the two underground storage tanks. Called “clearwells,” these 10-million-gallon storage tanks will hold clean, treated drinking water from the plant until it is released into Denver Water’s distribution system.
Dried in” the first building on-site, meaning the work was done to make the exterior surfaces of the Clearwell Influent Valve Vault building impermeable to rain and weather.
Installed the roof and windows and applied a stone veneer on the plant’s Operations Building and started installation of mechanical, electrical and plumbing works.
Completed most of the necessary connections with the Moffat Treatment Plant to enable Moffat to eventually store treated water piped from the Northwater Treatment Plant once the new facility is operational.
Earned the Envision Gold Award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. Envision Awards recognize leadership in building sustainable infrastructure around the world and encourage those involved to consider sustainable choices throughout the life of the project.
Click the link to read the article on the Reclamation website (Camille Collett and Becki Bryant):
A new report released today and compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation provides updated information on Lake Powell’s storage capacity. The report confirms Lake Powell has lost 4% of its potential storage capacity since 1986, when the last survey was completed, and 6.79% since 1963, when the diversion tunnels of Glen Canyon Dam closed and the reservoir began to fill. The loss is largely due to sediments continuously transported by the Colorado and San Juan rivers settling on the reservoir bottom.
“It is vitally important we have the best-available scientific information like this report to provide a clear understanding of water availability in Lake Powell as we plan for the future,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “The Colorado River system faces multiple challenges, including the effects of a 22-year-long drought and the increased impacts of climate change.”
Lake Powell is the reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam. It extends from just south of the Utah-Arizona border northeast along the southern edge of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and is a key water storage unit in the Colorado River system, which provides water to approximately 40 million people, irrigates 5.5 million acres of agricultural land, and has the capacity to generate more than 4,200 megawatts of hydropower electricity.
Lake Powell’s storage capacity has been calculated twice before this study: pre-Glen Canyon Dam elevation-area-capacity tables were calculated from contour maps in 1963, and a reservoir-wide, range-line bathymetric survey was conducted in 1986. This most recent survey, conducted by the USGS in 2017 and 2018, indicates: 1) the total storage capacity is 25,160,000 acre-feet, 2) a decrease of 1,833,000 acre-feet or 6.79% of storage capacity from 1963 to 2018, and 3) 1,048,000 acre-feet or 4% decrease from 1986 to 2018. The average annual loss in storage capacity was approximately 33,270 acre-feet per year between 1963 and 2018.
“Conducting repeat surveys with the most up-to-date technology is critical to understanding water storage capacity in Lake Powell,” said Dan Jones, USGS scientist and co-author of the study. “The new surveys show that the rate of reservoir storage capacity loss observed between the three surveys has remained consistent.”
During the most recent survey of Lake Powell, USGS scientists used high-resolution multibeam bathymetry and lidar to create the equivalent of an underwater topographic map of the reservoir. The data were then combined to create a topobathymetric digital elevation model (TBDEM), a continuous representation of submerged bathymetry and subaerial topography.
Reclamation converted the TBDEM data into a format that is useful for the management of Lake Powell and operations at Glen Canyon Dam. Those data will be incorporated into the reservoir’s databases and models for planning and operations.
The USGS Scientific Investigations Report is titled “Elevation-Area-Capacity Relationships of Lake Powell in 2018 and Estimated Loss of Storage Capacity Since 1963” and can be found on the USGS Publications Warehouse.
USGS and Reclamation will host a joint webinar on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, at 10 a.m. (MDT) to discuss the report. A brief question and answer period will be held at the conclusion of the presentation. Click here to join the webinar.
Kyle Roerink’s recent “Writers on the Range” opinion (“A dangerous game of chicken on the Colorado River”) reminds one of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1983 caution in a Washington Post op-ed: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
Roerink, who heads the Great Basin Water Network, claims that the Upper Colorado River Basin states are shirking their responsibilities while the Lower Basin states valiantly work to grapple with the ongoing basin-wide drought. “With (reservoir) water savings gone,” he says, “the Lower Basin has been trying to cope, though the Upper Basin carries on business as usual.”
“Business as usual” in the Upper Basin has always been dealing with the realities of an erratic river, the annual flows of which can go from 5.8 million acre-feet in 1977 to 24.8 million acre-feet in 1984. The Upper Basin lives with that reality, dry years and wet. [ed. emphasis mine]
But the Bureau of Reclamation has regularly and faithfully released to the Lower Basin, from Powell Reservoir, the Colorado River Compact and Mexican Treaty allotments –- 8.23 million acre-feet only dropping a little below those allotments half a dozen times since Powell began to fill in the 1960s. Dry year or wet, the Lower Basin always gets its full allotment.
Usually, more than that designated quantity is sent to the Lower Basin (as much as 12 million acre-feet above in 1984). The Compact and Mexican Treaty require that the Upper Basin send downriver 82.5 million acre-feet over a 10-year period; as of 2020, the 10-year running total was 92.5 million acre-feet.
So the Lower Basin never bears the brunt of low flows, as Roerink claims; it has always received its Compact and Treaty allocations since Powell Reservoir filled, usually with some extra, regardless of what was happening in the “real river” the Upper Basin states live with.
It is true that the Lower Basin states are currently “’trying to cope” with river shortages by making some difficult cutbacks in their uses. But what they are trying to cope with is their own excessive use of the water stored in Mead Reservoir.
For decades the three downstream states –- primarily California –- have been using considerably more than their Compact allotment of 7.5 million acre-feet; they have also not been subtracting from their allotment the significant losses to evaporation in desert storage and transit (automatically figured into Upper Basin use through the Powell releases).
This has resulted in what is euphemistically called a “structural deficit,” but is just the Lower Basin using more water than its entitlement. That was more or less okay before the Upper Basin use was fully developed, and before the Central Arizona Project came online; the Bureau’s extra releases, above Compact requirements, covered the overuse. No more.
So now the Lower Basin states, which have been drawing an annual average of 1.2 million acre-feet more out of Mead Reservoir than has flowed into it, are trying to bring their usage down to the actual Compact allotment. Drought might exacerbate that challenge, but it doesn’t cause it, nor does Upper Basin lollygagging.
The Upper Basin has not even used its full Compact allocation because it became obvious that the river could not supply that on a dependable basis. The Upper Colorado River Compact divides the Upper Basin states’ permissible consumptive uses by percentages rather than a set amount like the Lower Basin gets, but exactly what that allows each state is obviously ambiguous, depending on what “average flow” is used.
Are the Upper Basin states doing their part to ensure prudent uses of the river? They are developing “demand management” programs to pay farmers and ranchers to fallow some of their land to increase flows to Powell Reservoir. Last summer, Blue Mesa Reservoir’s recreation season was cut short to send most of the Reservoir’s water down to bolster Powell.
Denver Water is also working hard to re-plumb its city for reuse, as well as running an ongoing conservation program that has reduced their deliveries to a 1970 level with half a million more people.
Could the Upper Basin states be doing more? Probably, and they probably will be. But they are less to blame for the Lower Basin state’s dilemmas than are the Lower Basin states themselves.
George Sibley is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively discussion about Western issues. He has written extensively about the Colorado River.
A majority of Coloradans believe the state will face significant water shortages within the next century, a poll released Monday found.
Conducted earlier this month by Morning Consult on behalf of the Walton Family Foundation, the poll surveyed about 300 registered voters in Colorado, among 2,000 respondents nationally. It found that Coloradans are more concerned on average about the threat of climate change than voters nationwide, with 57% agreeing that rising global temperatures are “having a massive impact on my community,” and 55% worrying that the state won’t “have enough water to meet its needs in 100 years.”
“It’s shocking that more than half of the residents in Colorado don’t think there will be enough water in their home state for their grandchildren to live out their lives,” Moira Mcdonald, environment program director for the Walton Family Foundation, said in a statement. “The Colorado River Basin is living through a historic drought fueled by climate change, and this poll shows there is urgency and unity among all voters to meet these challenges head-on. This is a time for bold leadership.”
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The poll’s release comes a week after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced that Lake Powell, a key Colorado River reservoir along the Utah-Arizona border, dropped to its lowest level since it was filled in 1980. Years of declining flows have led to a complex series of negotiations over usage rights and management strategies between the seven states that rely on the Colorado River, collectively supplying water to over 40 million people.
A study released earlier this year concluded that the “megadrought” that has gripped the basin since 2000 is the worst dry spell the region has experienced in at least 1,200 years, and nearly half of the drought’s severity is due to higher temperatures driven by human-caused climate change. Rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have caused parts of Colorado — especially areas on the Western Slope — to warm by an annual average of 4 degrees Fahrenheit or more above pre-1900 levels, temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show.
The Walton Family Foundation’s poll found that 65% of Colorado voters believe that governments “need stricter regulations in place to limit the impacts of climate change,” a position shared by 67% of voters nationwide. Plans for significant climate legislation by Democrats in Congress, however, remain stalled amid opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The poll was released ahead of World Water Day, a U.N. event observed annually on March 22. The Walton Family Foundation, launched by heirs of Walmart founder Sam Walton, has donated tens of millions of dollars to nonprofits promoting water conservation in the Colorado River Basin in recent years.
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A group of Valley farmers announced in a press release that they have come together to create the Sustainable Water Augmentation Group (SWAG), an alternative to Rio Grande Water Conservation District, Subdistrict 1.
“It is no secret that we are at a critical moment for the future of the San Luis Valley, as drought deepens, climate change intensifies, and the unconfined aquifer’s water level continues to drop at a dangerous rate. Decisive action is required now before the aquifer runs dry and the way of life for the 46,000 residents of the San Luis Valley, where agriculture is the driving economic force is threatened,” the release stated.
The San Luis Valley has a mostly unconfined aquifer and is subject to many variables including drought. A confined aquifer is surrounded by rock and clay pieces which confine it to an area and make it less at risk for loss, but an unconfined aquifer is exposed and can be impacted more severely by outside factors. A confined aquifer is found deep beneath the ground, while an unconfined aquifer is just below the ground level…
The Rio Grande Water Conservation District, Subdistrict 1 covers much of the San Luis Valley area. According to the Subdistrict 1 Plan of Water Management, “The goals of the Subdistrict are to cause groundwater levels in the Unconfined Aquifer of the Closed Basin to recover, and then to maintain a sustainable irrigation water supply in the Unconfined Aquifer with due regard for the daily, seasonal and longer-term demands on the aquifer and to protect senior surface water rights and avoid interference with Colorado’s obligations under the Rio Grande Compact. To achieve these goals, reducing and managing overall groundwater consumption is essential.” The group of farmers behind SWAG disputes the effectiveness of the plans in place and proposed by Subdistrict 1.
“Despite making little progress towards sustainability with the fee-based model, Subdistrict No. 1’s Board of Managers is now poised to vote on raising the over-pumping fee from $150 to $500 per acre-foot. That’s a 233% increase on top of a 386% increase over the past decade. While this plan may work for some producers, it is not a viable option for the members of SWAG who have paid these ever-increasing fees only to see reduced yields and declining water levels in the aquifer. It is clear the status quo is unsustainable for the farmers of the Valley, nor the aquifer that we rely on for our water. We simply do not have the time to double down on a one-size-fits-all fee-based approach,” SWAG stated in the release.
The SWAG press release included an answer to the ongoing water crisis in the Valley.
“SWAG has entered into an agreement to purchase and retire approximately 4,500 acres, irrigated by wells, that have historically consumed an average of 5,678 acre-feet per year from the unconfined aquifer at a cost of over $35 million. If real progress towards sustainability is not made, the sad truth is that SWAG members’ wells are subject to the very real threat of forced curtailment; whether by the State of Colorado if the subdistrict cannot prove its plan for sustainability will work; or by the Subdistrict itself through ever-increasing fees for pumping which would punish those water users who rely on their decreed water rights for their wells, or the absence of water at their wellheads due to the overuse of the unconfined aquifer. The only way to solve this threat and ensure the future vitality of the Valley is to work together to find solutions which work for everyone. We need more options to promote conservation, not less. SWAG’s augmentation plan is one of those options, and we hope that other members of the community make your voices heard before it is too late,” SWAG concluded.
The town of Empire is warning residents of possible interruptions to their water service as its treatment plant struggles to meet demand. In a press release Saturday, town officials warned residents that they should prepare for intermittent loss of water and low pressure, with residents at higher elevations expected to see a greater loss of water pressure.
The Clear Creek County town’s water treatment facility is not able to produce enough clean water to meet demand and is at critically low levels, the release said. Officials said the facility’s water supply, Madd Creek, is too low because of freezing conditions and an ongoing suspected water leak, which crews are attempting to locate, is compounding problems. The town is working to increase the water intake at the source and supplement water into the plant.
Some residents and businesses Sunday morning were reporting no running water, which has forced businesses like Guenella Pass Brewery to close indefinitely.
Click the link to read a snowpack article on the Summit Daily website (Eliza Noe). Here’s an excerpt:
Last week’s snowfall has finally pushed local river basins to over the average median, a level that water experts have been following for months into this water year, which runs from October through September.
According to data from the National Resource Conservation Service, the Blue River Basin was steadily on par with its median over the last 10 days. Last week, the basin had been almost exactly along the median before dipping very slightly by Sunday, March 20.
Sunday’s most recent data shows that current levels have a snow-water equivalent of 13.7 inches, whereas the 30-year median is 13.9 inches. This puts the Blue River Basin at 99% of the median at this point in the year and 83% of the median’s peak. The median’s peak is set to crest on April 27, so it is possible that future snowfalls in coming weeks could keep the basin’s trajectory on track.
Click the link to read “Colorado snowpack 100% of median Friday ahead of next week’s storm” on TheDenverChannel.com website (Blair Miller). Here’s an excerpt:
Colorado’s snowpack sat at 100% of median Friday after this week’s snowstorm and ahead of another storm that will bring snow to the state on Monday, though forecast models are still showing wide variations in how much snow will fall. The snowpack has increased fairly steadily over the past two weeks after a dry period at the end of January and beginning of March. The foothills west of Denver and Boulder saw the most snow in this week’s storm, but other areas of the state saw a few inches as well…
All eight of the state’s river basins were above 90% median snowpack levels as of Friday. The Gunnison basin (112% of median) had the most robust snowpack, followed by the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan (104% of median), the Upper Colorado Headwaters (104% of median), Upper Rio Grande (101% of median), and South Platte (101% of median) basins. The Laramie and North Platte (99% of median), Arkansas (96% of median), and Yampa and White (91% of median) basins were all slightly below median levels…
While the snowpack is at 100%, Colorado’s drought remains relatively unchanged again this week. Ninety-two percent of Colorado is experiencing moderate or worse drought. Fifty-seven percent of the state, mostly along the eastern plains, is experiencing severe drought or worse. And about 8% of the state – mostly along the southern border with New Mexico – is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Last week on 17 – 18 March 2022 a two-day conference on ‘The Colorado River Compact – Navigating the Future’ was held at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law in Salt Lake City…
This year marks 100 years since the Compact was signed in November 1922.
Day 1 – 17 March 2022
Speaker 1: Jason Robinson, University of Wyoming College of Law
An introduction relating how all of us are sitting here in this room 100 years after the Colorado River Compact was written. Look at how ideas have changed There are 30 indigenous tribes within the Colorado River Basin, many with water rights unrecognized. The first ever shortage officially declared on the Colorado river was in summer of 2021, but there has been a supply and demand imbalance since the very beginning. Jason finished his short speech with the comment “For culture is the soil which law and policy grow.”
Speaker 2: Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of Interior.
Progress made regarding the Colorado River is slow, but it progresses, nonetheless. The Department of Interior is trying to work quickly to rebuild and protect the system of the Colorado River. Part of the 2022 drought response operations is protecting the Lake Powell elevation at 3525 feet. This is the chosen elevation to protect due to hydropower generation and the location of downstream bypass tubes. In the past the “law of hydrology” has been ignored, but this time around the science of hydrology is being considered. Mexico and indigenous populations are being included within the conversation.
Speaker 3: Larry MacDonnell, University of Colorado Law School
In 1922 when the Colorado River was divvied up there was 17.3 MAF annually flow out of Yuma to Mexico. It was decided that with storage there could be 13.93 MAF/yr of water used for irrigation within the basin. The storage of this water uses dams to control flooding, store water, and create hydropower. Four critical elements decided on by Delph E. Carpenter about the Colorado River Compact are: 1) Dividing the basin into two parts, the upper and lower; 2) “Equal” division of all systems as measured in Yuma; 3) Flow guarantee at Lee’s Ferry over a 10 consecutive year period; and 4) Mexico’s needs for the water must also be considered.
Speaker 4: Anne Castle, University of Colorado Law School
Anne shared a history over time of the Colorado River Compact and the changes that have been made to it since 1922. In 1928 there was the addition of the Boulder Canyon Project where the lower basin states entered an interstate agreement for allocation. In 1944 Mexico was added to the treaty receiving 1.5 MAF annually. In 1948 the upper basin states created allocation by percentages, not fixed volumes and established the Upper Colorado River Commission naming a commissioner from every state. This also included the penalty box provision where a framework was created to curtail states for using more water than they were allocated. 1952 contained a conflict between Arizona and California about who gets the extra 1 MAF, what beneficial use is, and how we account for evaporation. SCOTUS made a decision in 1963 but only reinterpreted the Boulder Canyon Project Act which only accounts for water in the mainstem of the river and not the tributaries. In 1968 the Colorado River Basin Project Act set long range operation criteria for reservoirs. The 21st century contained the worst megadrought this area has experienced in the last 1200 years which affects the whole system. In 2007 Interim guidelines were set for the sharing of shortage/surplus of water as well as water banks and lake contents. These guidelines are set to expire in 2025 and contained reductions to Arizona and Nevada’s delivery. In 2012 the historic binational agreement Minute 319 was with Mexico to create more environmental efforts and allow Mexico to store water in US reservoirs. In 2017 Minute 323 was passed as a renewal of Minute 319 but included a drought contingency plan that expires in 2026. Current efforts are focused on the 500+ Plan which is a commitment to conserve 500,000 acre-feet/year. Demand management is being investigated on a state-by-state basis.