Reclamation weighs emergency action as #ColoradoRiver demand outpaces supply — The #Nevada Independent #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell, just upstream from Glen Canyon Dam. At the time of this photo, in May 2021, Lake Powell was 34% full. (Ted Wood/The Water Desk)

Click the link to read the article on the Nevada Independent website (Daniel Rothberg). Here’s an excerpt:

… Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are at historically low levels and operating in uncharted territory.The reservoirs, stocked with water that originates as snowpack, are not expected to refill soon. Forecasters predict a lackluster runoff, the amount of snow that melts away, drains into the river and eventually reaches the reservoirs. A hotter and drier climate has contributed to a smaller river — less supply. And water managers are struggling to figure out how to move forward, as some cuts and reductions have been made, but not enough to match the water that’s available.

At the same time, similar arid conditions are contributing to upward pressures on demand to use water. The states in the Lower Colorado River Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada) depend on Lake Mead, held back by the Hoover Dam. In Arizona and California, agricultural districts are meeting or exceeding their expected water use due, in part, to a very hot and dry start to the year. And water users, including the large municipal purveyor that supplies Southern California, might have to draw on their reserve account at Lake Mead, further lowering the reservoir levels…

In a recent letter first reported by the Arizona Daily Star’s Tony Davis, federal water managers warned the states that they are considering an emergency action that could accelerate the decline of Lake Mead. They are proposing to keep more water in Lake Powell, which is held back by Glen Canyon Dam upstream. Lake Powell and Lake Mead work together in tandem. By keeping more water in Lake Powell, federal officials would release less water downstream to Lake Mead than expected. The move is intended to keep Lake Powell stable, providing a small window of relief to the system. But it comes with a cost: Such a move would lead to the further decline of Lake Mead, potentially making the risk of deeper, short-term water cuts more likely.

In addition to the action resulting in Lake Mead dropping roughly 7 feet lower, it could also have an impact on the hydroelectric power produced at Hoover Dam. In California alone, the cost of replacement power could be about $5 million, said Bill Hasencamp, the manager of Colorado River Resources for the Metropolitan Water District, which serves most of Southern California.

But he suggested the sacrifice was worth stabilizing Lake Powell, noting that “the proposal, based on the modeling I’ve seen, would significantly reduce the risk in the next 18 months.”

The Bureau of Reclamation had planned to release 7.48 million acre-feet from Lake Powell to Lake Mead…Under the proposed action, federal water managers contemplate leaving 480,000 acre-feet in Lake Powell…

In the letter, Tanya Trujillo, a top official with the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, asked the seven states in the Colorado River Basin to provide input on its proposed emergency action to keep more water in Lake Powell…

State officials are expected to comment on the federal emergency plan by April 22. Those comments are likely to focus, at least in part, on how the action would affect Lake Mead. Several water officials across the basin said that whatever action the federal government takes should not trigger a new series of cuts. Water reductions in Arizona, California and Nevada are based on the elevation of Lake Mead, in accordance with the basin’s Drought Contingency Plan.

“We want the outcome to be that there are no additional reductions because of holding back [the water],” said Tom Buschatzke, who leads the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

On that, there appears to be some agreement across the watershed, including within the Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Chuck Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said “the discussion among the basin states currently, as we prepare a response back to the [Interior] Secretary, is to operate and account for the held back water in a way that avoids penalizing the Upper Basin or the Lower Basin. We’ll leave it to the [Interior] Secretary on how best to achieve that goal.” But the mechanics are still being worked out, and negotiators remain in active talks to reach a consensus decision. Although the Bureau of Reclamation’s action could temporarily halt Lake Powell’s drop for the next 18 months, it does not address the systemic issues at the center of the unfolding crisis…

The situation, Hasencamp said, underscores how tough the negotiations will be over the long-term management of the river.

“The hope is and the expectation is that we have enough agreements in place to get us through the next four years,” Hasencamp said. “The last few years have also shown us that the future risks that we were all kind of hearing about came a lot sooner — and are in our face.”

The El Paso region braces for deeper #drought, less #RioGrande #water for farming — El Paso Matters

Click the link to read the article on the El Paso Matters website (Danielle Prokop). Here’s an excerpt:

In previous years, water would begin to flow in the Rio Grande in springtime, released from storage from Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico, and pour into fields and ditches for cotton, pecans, chiles and other crops. Instead, once again, the riverbed remains sandy and bare, and Elephant Butte is at just 12% of its capacity, awaiting snowmelt from the mountains in Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

US Drought Monitor map April 12, 2022.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map currently shows about half of El Paso county remains “abnormally dry,” but experts said Tuesday they expect hotter temperatures and little rain to desiccate the Western United States — 90% of which is already in a drought.

Local irrigation managers for New Mexico, Far West Texas and Mexico anticipate a short, small season starting in June, despite the predicted hotter temperatures. A formal announcement with the exact numbers for irrigation will be released from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation later this month, Mary Carlson, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 13, 2022 via the NRCS.

Snowpacks in New Mexico were boosted by winter storms, and a late March snow, as records showed snowpacks at 100% of median, or higher, in New Mexico. But even good years are not replenishing the river as well as before. That threatens the Rio Grande, which relies on snowmelt for three-fourths of its water…

Hotter temperatures dry out soils, and that can absorb as much as 20% of water before it hits the riverbed, meaning less water to flow downstream…

Projections show El Paso farmers are expecting only 18 inches of water per acre, rather than the full 48 inches, said Jesús Reyes, the manager for El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1.

Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin Commissioner Mitchell Statement on US Dept of Interior Actions to Reduce Risk to #LakePowell Elevations and Critical Infrastructure — Colorado #Water Conservation Board #COriver #aridification

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

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website (Chris Arend):

The U.S. Department of the Interior has proposed a reduction in the annual release volume from Lake Powell from 7.48 to 7.0 million acre-feet for water year 2022. This is based on the Department’s determination that additional actions are needed to protect dam operations and hydropower production, and to address public health and safety concerns.

Below is a statement from Colorado River Commissioner Becky Mitchell:

“Colorado understands the unprecedented challenges facing the Colorado River Basin and will work collaboratively to protect critical infrastructure at Lake Powell. While we support the Assistant Secretary’s proposal, we also acknowledge that this is a temporary solution and that it is incumbent on all who rely on the Colorado River to develop longer-term solutions that address the imbalance between supply and demand in the Basin.”

For more information see: http://www.ucrcommission.com/cooperative-actions-to-protect-lake-powell/

#Colorado to receive $18.1M for #wildfire mitigation projects along Front Range — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, at the microphone, speaks during a visit to Heil Valley Ranch in Boulder County on April 11, 2022. Sens. John Hickenlooper, left, and Michael Bennet, third from left, Rep. Joe Neguse, second from left, U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, second from right, and regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region Frank Beum, right, also joined. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado will receive over $18 million this fiscal year from the federal government to treat thousands of acres susceptible to increasingly damaging wildfires, part of a strategy leaders hope will emphasize lowering fire risk before disaster strikes.

The Colorado Front Range is one of 10 landscapes selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service to benefit from an initial $131 million investment with funding from last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

In Colorado, money will head to nine identified projects in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and four projects in the Pike and San Isabel National Forests. It will treat up to 10,000 acres this year.

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“At this point, there is no margin for error. We must and we will continue to stay coordinated, because the reality is that these days, as everyone has said, fire season is now fire years,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said during a visit to Heil Valley Ranch on Monday, with trees still blackened from the 2020 CalWood Fire on a hillside behind her.

“Climate change is making the fire seasons more intense, as our firefighters deal with hotter, drier conditions and more extreme fire behavior. The increased frequency in urban areas is impacting more homes, businesses and communities every year,” she said.

Colorado faced a record-year for wildfires in 2020 with the CalWood, East Troublesome and Pine Gulch fires. In December, the Marshall Fire burned over 6,000 acres and destroyed entire neighborhoods in Boulder County.

Colorado also faces harsh, ongoing drought.

“It is all the more reason and motivation for us to take wildfire mitigation and resiliency seriously,” Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, said during the press conference with Haaland.

Climate change has increased the risk of dangerous wildfires in Colorado, and it has contributed to a drought in the Southwest that has lasted more than two decades. Rising concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere, largely due to human activity, have caused many parts of the state to warm by an average of more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

Haaland said the financial investments enabled by last year’s bipartisan legislation will facilitate a “collaborative, multi-jurisdictional approach” to reducing wildfire risk. Wildfires, after all, do not discriminate between land managed by the county, private citizens, the Forest Service or the National Park Service, and experts say the best approach is informed by all land managers.

Those projects are about reducing the grasses, shrubs, trees, dead leaves and fallen pine needles that increase the chances of a catastrophic wildfire, forest supervisor for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests Monte Williams said.

“It’s about fuel,” he said. “And not just the fuel that’s standing up, but about the fuel that is actually laying on the ground. For a long time, we thought all we needed to do was go thin the forest, and that would create a place where the fire would hit, slow down and stop because there would be nothing left to burn. The truth is we recognize it’s a lot more than that.”

In addition to forest thinning, Williams said prescribed burns are crucial in wildfire mitigation. It’s a similar strategy that he said prevented the 2020 Cameron Peak fire from spreading on two of its largest days. In that case, it was coordinated treatments on local, state and federal lands that stopped the fire in its tracks.

“The actual results of this have already been shown,” he said of the type of projects the incoming money will fund.

A view from the highway of the massive East Troublesome wildfire smoke cloud near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado on October 16, 2020. Photo credit: Inciweb

The beginning of a long process

U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said it is necessary to combat the scale of recent wildfires with an appropriately large response. A 10-year strategy from the Forest Service calls for the treatment of tens of millions of acres across the country. This fiscal year’s investment will begin the implementation of that ambitious strategy.

“This is an opportunity for us to come from a place of want into a place of have,” Moore said. “For a long time, we’ve known what to do, but we have not had the ability to do it at a scale that made a difference on the landscape.”

Sen. Michael Bennet said there’s still a chance Congress could pass a reconciliation bill — what was known as the Build Back Better Act — that has $27 billion in additional investments for wildfire risk reduction. That would be the largest investment into forestry in United States history. Build Back Better was stalled after holdout from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“That may or may not pass now,” Bennet said. “But what we’ve been able to do this year, with the 5.6 (billion dollars) we’ve been able to put in the bipartisan bill, is demonstrate that the country, for the first time, really recognizes the scale of the challenge that we have.”

It will take much more money to implement the full 10-year plan, but Bennet said the financial puzzle is well worth it, comparing an estimated $50,000 per acre cost to fight a wildfire versus a $1,500 per acre to do mitigation work.

“I am optimistic that we will figure out how to do it over the long haul,” he said.

Sen. John Hickenlooper also attended the event.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was slated to join the visit to Heil Valley Ranch with Haaland and members of the congressional delegation, but he is quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19.

The other regions that will benefit from this initial investment are in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.

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

Wild Earth Guardians letter to Douglas County April 12, 2022

Sunrise March 16, 2022 San Luis Valley with Mount Blanca in the distance. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the letter on the Wild Earth Guardians website (Jen Pelz):

Dear Commissioners Laydon, Teal, and Thomas,

We write to you today, on behalf of our organizations and tens of thousands of supporters across the American West, to express extreme concern over Renewable Water Resources’ proposal to develop a groundwater pumping project in the San Luis Valley that would then export water to the Colorado Front Range. This project represents a serious threat to the water security of the San Luis Valley and to the plant, wildlife, and human communities that depend on this water source. As downstream neighbors we have grave concerns over the cascading effects of this project throughout the entire Rio Grande Basin, and we urge the Commission to reject this proposal.

The Rio Grande Basin cannot afford for any water to be exported out of the Valley.

This project would be the first pipeline built in the San Luis Valley with the intent to export water. But the idea of taking water out of the San Luis Valley for use in other basins is not new. Renewable Water Resources’ proposal is the most recent in a string of such schemes that began in the 1980s. Similar proposals have been decidedly shut down by Colorado courts, which have noted the adverse effects these proposals would have on the aquifer and to surface water rights. In fact, surface waters in the Valley have been recognized as over appropriated since the early 20th century, meaning every drop that flows through the Valley and more is promised to someone. It is incredibly clear that the San Luis Valley has no water to spare.

Sandhill Cranes West of Dunes by NPS/Patrick Myers

Exporting water from the San Luis Valley will threaten hope for a sustainable aquifer.

In addition to surface waters, groundwater is also over appropriated in the Valley. We have serious concerns over the effects of the proposed pumping on overall groundwater levels and their impacts to surrounding wetlands and streams. Of particular concern are potential effects to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. Farmers in the Valley are already working together and making sacrifices to reduce water demand through the sub-district project, which was created following decades of drought conditions. This voluntary project facilitates farmers within the Valley combining efforts to ensure groundwater levels are maintained. Renewable Water Resources’ proposal undermines years of this difficult work. The demands for water and challenges associated with allocating it equitably will only increase as the impacts of climate change continue to intensify, this proposal will make an already challenging situation worse and undo years of community-driven efforts to find solutions.

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

Exporting water from the San Luis Valley will have consequences for the entire Rio Grande Basin.

The concerns over this project expand beyond the San Luis Valley. The project also has the potential to threaten the downstream communities and the environment in the Rio Grande Basin for thousands of miles. The Rio Grande Compact and the 1944 treaty with Mexico define how much water must flow from the Rio Grande’s headwaters in Colorado to New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. As a headwaters state, Colorado has a significant responsibility to its neighbors and it is keenly felt downstream when those responsibilities are ignored. For example, during the twentieth century, Colorado consumed more water than it was allotted under the Compact and subsequently accrued a nearly one-million-acre-foot debt to downstream states. This overuse had consequences to downstream communities, agricultural production, and ecosystems. It resulted in lawsuits that ultimately ended with the U.S. Supreme Court requiring Colorado to repay this debt over time. Luckily for Colorado, a wet period of hydrology that filled downstream reservoirs triggered a provision of the Compact that forgave the prior debt and wiped the slate clean for better management going forward. With projected precipitation regime shifts under climate change, we are unlikely to see such a wet period again.

The water challenges we are facing within the Rio Grande Basin make it painfully obvious that a repeat of this situation would be catastrophic for water users across all three states and Mexico. We must think more holistically about the river systems on which we all depend. The San Luis Valley is an integral part of the Rio Grande Basin, a river that runs nearly 1,900 miles and sustains municipal and irrigation uses for more than six million people and two million acres of land across three states and two countries. We urge the Commission to not further complicate this situation by taking vital water from the San Luis Valley and threatening it and others’ water futures.

The communities of the San Luis Valley are working to address their water scarcity challenges in collaborative and inclusive ways. Although there is still much work to do to create a sustainable aquifer and healthy Rio Grande for people and the environment, Renewable Water Resources’ proposal flies in the face of these efforts. Please do the right thing for the communities within the San Luis Valley and those that depend on the water, also vital downstream, by rejecting this ill-advised project.

#Drought news (April 14, 2022): Episodes of low humidity and strong winds worsened dryness across much of the Plains and adjacent Rockies

Click on the thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

A series of storms dropped moderate to heavy precipitation on much of the eastern half of the country, with 3 to locally 6 inches of rain falling on a swath from central Alabama to central South Carolina, near the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers confluence, areas from the Delmarva Peninsula to southeastern New York state, and portions of the Cascades and coastal areas in Washington and portions of Oregon. Temperatures did not average far from normal except in the southwestern and northeastern parts of the country. The Southwest, The Great Basin, most of California, and New England experienced temperatures up to 5 deg. F in spots. In addition, episodes of low humidity and strong winds worsened dryness across much of the Plains and adjacent Rockies…

High Plains

An inch or two of precipitation fell on northwestern South Dakota, a small part of eastern North Dakota, and the highest elevations of north-central Colorado. Elsewhere, a few areas of 0.5 to 1.0 inch was observed in parts of the central and southern Dakotas, northwestern Nebraska, and several swaths scattered across Wyoming. A few tenths of an inch, at best, fell elsewhere. Dryness and drought cover a large majority of the High Plains Region; only the east-central and northeastern Dakotas and eastern Kansas are free of any significant dryness. D2 to D3 cover central and western parts of the Region, including all of Wyoming, Colorado, and most of Nebraska. Slow intensification and expansion has been noted across many areas over the past several months, and D3 expanded to cover additional portions of north-central Wyoming, central Nebraska, and an area near the western Kansas/Nebraska border. Elsewhere, few changes were introduced. Recently, strong winds and low humidity have made dryness more acute, especially in southern parts of the Region…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending April 12, 2022.

West

The West Region endured another dry week, with the heaviest precipitation falling along and west of the Cascades in Washington and northern Oregon (generally 1.5 to 3.5 inches, with isolated amounts reaching 6 inches in the highest elevations). This is one of two areas free of dryness and drought (northwestern Montana and adjacent Idaho is the other). D2 and D3 cover a large majority of the West Region, and exceptional drought (D4) has become entrenched in the Oregon Cascades, south-central Nevada, parts of southern New Mexico, and northeastern New Mexico. Slow worsening and expansion continued, with noticeable deterioration in parts of New Mexico, Nevada, and California this week. Water storage in the two largest reservoirs in the west – Lake Powell along the central Arizona/Utah border, and Lake Mead farther downstream along the Colorado River – has dropped to unprecedented levels. In early April, the combined storage was only 44 percent of the average since 1964, and less than 75 percent of the storage in Lake Mead alone just before Lake Powell started to fill…

South

Only limited areas recorded light to moderate precipitation, with most sites reporting little or none. Between 2 and 4 inches fell on small areas in northeastern Oklahoma, northeastern Arkansas, and northwestern Tennessee. Most other areas of northern Tennessee observed 1.5 to 2.5 inches, and similar amounts fell on much of northern Arkansas and parts of eastern Louisiana. Several tenths of an inch were measured in the rest of Tennessee and central Louisiana, but a majority of the Region – including almost all of Texas and Oklahoma – experienced a precipitation-free week. In general, dryness and drought worsens moving from northeast to southwest across the South Region. Eastern Oklahoma, central and northern Arkansas, and almost all of Tennessee are free of significant dryness. In sharp contrast, D2 to D4 drought covers southern Louisiana, most of the western half of Oklahoma, and the central and eastern reaches of Texas. Exceptional drought (D4) covers several sizeable areas in the western half of Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. Only a few tenths of an inch of precipitation has fallen at best since early February across central and south-central Texas, with 17 sites reporting rainfall totals among the driest 2 percent of the historical distribution for the period, as did a few sites in northwestern Texas outside the Panhandle. For the past half-year as a whole, less than 10 percent of normal precipitation has been observed in part of west-central Texas, including much of the Big Bend, while less than 25 percent of normal fell on most of the western half of Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. In addition, episodes of low humidity and strong winds worsened the situation across the already-parched region, leading to high wildfire danger and areas of blowing dust…

Looking Ahead

The storm system bringing blizzard conditions to the northern Plains will be moving out, followed by a late-season outbreak of Arctic air. Unseasonably low temperatures will push through much of the Nation during April 14 – 18, 2022. Daytime maximum temperatures will average at least 3 deg. F below normal everywhere outside the Atlantic Seaboard and the southern tier of the country from the Southeast to the desert Southwest. In the northern Plains and adjacent areas, daytime highs are expected to average 18 to 25 deg. F below normal. In contrast, highs should average 3 or more deg. F above normal from most of Texas through the Four Corners Region and parts of Nevada. The greatest departures from normal will be in the southern High Plains and lower Rio Grande Valley (+5 to +10 deg. F). Heavy precipitation (2 to 4 inches and locally more in higher elevations) is expected across central and southern parts of Mississippi and Alabama, southeastern North Carolina, upper New England, and the coastal and elevated parts of the Northwest from central Virginia to the Canadian Border. Moderate amounts (0.5 to 2.0 inches) should pelt the rest of the Pacific Northwest, most of the Southeast and the lower Mississippi Valley, most of the coastal Carolinas, southern New England and the adjacent Northeast, the northern Great Lakes Region, and the higher elevations of the northern Rockies. Meanwhile, light precipitation at best is expected across the southwestern quarter of the country, the central and eastern Plains, the upper Mississippi and Ohio Valleys, the Appalachians, and the middle Atlantic region.

The ensuing 5 days (April 19 – 23) should see below-normal temperatures lingering across the northern Great Plains and most locations from the Mississippi Valley to the Atlantic Coast. The northern Intermountain West, Pacific Northwest, and northern two-thirds of California are also expected to average colder than normal. Meanwhile, odds favor warmer than normal conditions across most of the Plains, Rockies, Great Basin, and Southwest. New Mexico, eastern Colorado, and adjacent areas have the best odds for above-normal temperatures. Above-normal precipitation is expected in New England, southwestern Texas and adjacent New Mexico, the upper Mississippi Valley, the northern Plains, and most places in and west of the Rockies outside the Southwest. Meanwhile, there are enhanced chances for subnormal precipitation from the central and southeastern Plains eastward through the Ohio Valley, much of the Mississippi Valley, the Appalachians, the Southeast, and the middle Atlantic region.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending 04122022.