Federal Funding Provides Some Wins for #Water #Conservation and Birds in the West — The Audubon Society

American Dipper, Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo: Troy Gruetzmacher/Audubon Photography Awards

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Caitlin Wall):

In March, Congress passed and President Biden signed a federal spending bill that will fund the government through September 30, 2022. Overall, the funding is a win for conservation and provides helpful increases for programs that address climate change, build community resilience, and protect birds and wildlife. Compared with four years of drastic funding cuts implemented from 2016-2020, this bill sets the stage for a positive trend in federal funding for the environment.

One bright spot is the (at least) $1.25 million included for Saline Lakes science, a key Audubon priority. In addition to this startup funding, Audubon is hopeful that Congress works to pass the bipartisan Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act and additional appropriations for this critical assessment and monitoring program.

For the Colorado River, the spending bill is a bit of a mixed bag. The Cooperative Watershed Management Program received only $5 million, which is a slight increase over the $4.25 million it received last year, but far below our request of $20 million. However, this program received a huge boost in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)—$200 million over five years. And the relatively new Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program received only $100,000 in Fiscal Year (FY)22, but will benefit from $250 million over five years in IIJA funding. These programs fund multi-benefit projects that support rivers, wetlands, communities, and water users and we are hopeful they continue to receive additional funding in future years. Audubon urges Congress to continue boosting annual funding for programs like these. Coupled with the historic amounts of funding in the IIJA, the river is receiving an influx of funding over the next few years to address the ongoing drought and water challenges.

Yuma desalting plant. Photo credit: USBR

We were also pleased to see that funding for the operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant was prohibited by the omnibus bill. Audubon remains opposed to the operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant, and encourages Congress to continue prohibiting appropriations for this purpose, as it would decimate irreplaceable bird habitat in the Colorado River Delta, particularly in the Ciénega de Santa Clara. And, the Lower Colorado River Basin received $25 million to implement the Drought Contingency Plans (DCP); this critical funding is in addition to $250 million in the IIJA, pointing to ongoing interest in ensuring these plans are implemented effectively.

For the Department of Agriculture, several important conservation programs were fully funded (meaning they received no cuts)—these include the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). RCPP promotes innovative regional approaches to improve the health of working landscapes and rivers with partner-driven, multi-benefit projects. EQIP promotes the voluntary application of land use practices to maintain or improve the condition of natural resources, including grassland health, water quality, and wildlife habitat. Both of these helps support overall watershed health and build the resilience of these ecosystems.

The Salton Sea is a major nesting, wintering and stopover site for about 400 bird species (Source: California Department of Water Resources)

Finally, the FY22 spending bill included Congressionally Directed Spending projects (previously known as earmarks) for the first time in many years. Audubon supported numerous project requests, and was pleased to see $2.546 million for a Salton Sea Research Project, secured by Representative Vargas. And, Representative Stanton secured $1.841 million for the Tres Rios project in Arizona, which Audubon also supported.

Audubon looks forward to the implementation of this funding for on-the-ground conservation activities, habitat restoration projects, and community resilience efforts. Federal dollars are critical to addressing climate change and the ongoing Western drought and aridification. Protecting watersheds protects people and birds, particularly in the West.

Looking ahead, President Biden released his FY23 budget on March 28, which initiated the appropriations process for the rest of this fiscal year. While the budget is only a statement of priorities and Congress will decide the actual spending amounts, Audubon was pleased to see investments for clean energy research, a civilian conservation corps, and equity initiatives to help historically marginalized communities.

The budget appropriates $1.4 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the West’s major waterways. This funding would include $2.254 million for the Cooperative Watershed Management Program and $500,000 for the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program. Audubon urges Congress to fully fund these programs at $20 million and $15 million, respectively. Audubon also supports a full $5 million for the Saline Lakes science program at USGS, to build upon the initial investment made last year. We will be working with our partners to support other conservation programs and projects for FY23, and help continue this positive trend in funding.

Audubon urges the Administration and Congress to continue increasing funding amounts for programs that restore habitat, build community resilience, combat climate change and its devastating effects, and protect the places that people and birds need.

The April 1, 2022 #Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report is hot off the presses from the @NRCS_CO

Click the link to read the report on the NRCS website (Brian Domonkos). Here’ the summary:

@Northern_Water increases #Colorado-Big Thompson Project quota to 70 percent #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A “rooster tail” is formed by the water descending the Granby Dam spillway on July 19, 2019. Photo credit: Northern Water

Here’s the release from Northern Water (Jeff Stahla):

The Northern Water Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday to increase its 2022 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.

Board members expressed their desire to take a conservative approach that protects the ability of the C-BT Project to provide a water supply to its beneficiaries while considering the current water supply conditions in the Colorado River basin and the possibility that adverse conditions persist.

Luke Shawcross, manager of the Water Resources Department at Northern Water, outlined water modeling showing the projected outcomes of several quota declaration options, and he also discussed the available water supplies in regional reservoirs. Water resources specialist Emily Carbone also provided board members with current water availability data.

Public input was also considered in the board’s decision.

While current soil moisture conditions on Eastern Plains farmland prompted several board members to ask for consideration of a higher quota, others cited the uncertainty of future hydrology to support a more-conservative approach this year.

The Board has been setting C-BT quota since 1957, and 70 percent is the most common quota declared. It was also the quota set for the 2021 water delivery season. Quotas are expressed as a percentage of 310,000 acre-feet, the amount of water the C-BT Project was initially envisioned to deliver to allottees each year. A 70 percent quota means that the Board is making 0.70 acre-feet of water available for each C-BT Project unit.

The quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November. Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, more than 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit http://www.northernwater.org.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Click the link to read “Northern Water sets allocation at 70% for the season” on the Loveland Reporter-Herald website (Ken Amundson). Here’s an excerpt:

The allocation, which is the amount of water that the district will make available to owners of shares of the Colorado-Big Thompson project, means that of the 310,000 acre feet available at 100%, 217,000 acre feet will be made available to shareholders. An acre foot of water — essentially the amount of water that would cover an acre of land one-foot deep — is about 325,851 gallons of water. The board chose what has become the typical allocation. It has the option of increasing it later if conditions permit.

Board members expressed their desire to take a conservative approach that protects the ability of the C-BT Project to provide a water supply while considering the current water supply conditions in the Colorado River basin and the possibility that adverse conditions could persist. While current soil moisture conditions on eastern plains farmland prompted several board members to ask for consideration of a higher quota, others cited the uncertainty of weather conditions to come…

As reported by Northern Water staff Wednesday and again this morning at the board meeting, the district is in good shape on water already stored in the system’s reservoirs. A total of about 563,000 acre feet is stored in Lake Granby, Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake before the runoff season gets fully underway. That’s about 32,000 acre feet above average. The storage levels have been above average for the past eight years, the staff reported.

As reported Wednesday, streamflow levels are predicted to be near average, and snowpack levels are about 90% of average. Uncertain is the amount of precipitation on the Western Slope or Eastern Slope yet this spring and early summer, and whether soil conditions will remain dry.

In #drought-stricken West, officials weigh emergency actions — The Associated Press #LakePowell #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A rare sight: Water shoots out of Glen Canyon Dam’s river outlets or “jet tubes” during a high-flow experimental release in 2013. Typically all of the dam’s outflows go through penstocks to turn the turbines on the hydroelectric plant. The outlets are only used during these experiments, meant to redistribute sediment downstream, and when lake levels get too high. Spillways are used as a last, last resort. The river outlets may be used again in the not so distant future: Once Lake Powell’s surface level drops below 3,490 feet, or minimum power pool, water can no longer be run through the turbines and can only be sent to the river below via the outlets. This is cause for concern because the river outlets were not built for long-term use. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Felicia Fonseca). Here’s an excerpt:

Officials had hoped snowmelt would buoy Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border to ensure [Glen Canyon Dam] could continue to supply power. But snow is already melting, and hotter-than-normal temperatures and prolonged drought are further shrinking the lake. The Interior Department has proposed holding back water in the lake to maintain Glen Canyon Dam’s ability to generate electricity amid what it said were the driest conditions in the region in more than 1,200 years.

“The best available science indicates that the effects of climate change will continue to adversely impact the basin,” Tanya Trujillo, the Interior’s assistant secretary for water and science wrote to seven states in the basin [April 8, 2022].

These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Trujillo asked for feedback on the proposal to keep 480,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell…In the Colorado River basin, Glen Canyon Dam is the mammoth of power production, delivering electricity to about 5 million customers in seven states — Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. As Lake Powell falls, the dam becomes less efficient. At 3,490 feet, it can’t produce power…

The Pacific Northwest, and the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and Texas are facing similar strains on water supplies…

Water managers in the basin states — Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado — are evaluating the proposal. The Interior Department has set an April 22 deadline for feedback.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 14, 2022 via the NRCS.

April 2022 #LaNiña update: measuring up — NOAA #ENSO

Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website (Emily Becker):

La Niña continues in the tropical Pacific, with both the ocean and atmosphere clearly reflecting La Niña conditions. The current forecast favors the continuation of La Niña through the summer (59% chance), with a slightly lower chance into the fall (50-55% chance). A third-year La Niña would be pretty unusual—we’ve only seen two others since 1950. I’ll run the numbers to see how current conditions add up and what’s factoring into the odds for La Niña later this year.

Paint by numbers

Let’s take stock of current ENSO conditions (ENSO=El Niño/Southern Oscillation, the whole ocean-atmosphere El Niño/La Niña system) in the tropical Pacific. In March, the sea surface temperature in the key ENSO monitoring region (Niño-3.4) was still well within the La Niña range, about 1.0 °C cooler than the long-term (1991-2020) average, based our most reliable historical record, ERSSTv5. Remember: the La Niña threshold is a temperature anomaly—a difference from the long-term average—in the Niño-3.4 region of -0.5 °C or lower. March 2022 was the 6th most negative March sea surface temperature anomaly in Niño-3.4 since 1950.

Monthly sea surface temperature anomalies (difference from average) in the Niño 3.4 region of the tropical Pacific for 2020–22 (purple line) and all other multi-year La Niñas (gray lines) starting since 1950. Climate.gov graph based on ERSSTv5 temperature data.

As you can see from the graph, March 2022 was also tied for the coldest of the nine second-year La Niña events on record, for this time of year.

One plus one

While the ocean surface temperature confidently indicates that La Niña is still going strong, it’s not unusual for this time of year, and wouldn’t necessarily tell us much about how long this La Niña might last. Things start to get interesting when we look at the atmosphere, though, providing a bit more insight into why forecasters are favoring La Niña to continue through the summer.

ENSO Blog frequent flyers will know that ENSO is a coupled ocean-atmosphere system. Changes in the tropical Pacific Ocean temperature influence the circulation of the atmosphere (the Walker circulation); those atmospheric changes in turn affect the ocean temperature, and so on. For example, La Niña features cooler-than-average surface water in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific and warmer-than-average surface water in the far western Pacific. This cool-versus-warm pattern leads to less rising air and storms over the central Pacific and more over Indonesia, amping up the normal Walker circulation and driving stronger near-surface winds along the equator—the trade winds. Stronger trade winds further cool the surface and keep even more warm water piled up in the far western Pacific, reinforcing La Niña… you see where I’m going! For more details, visit Michelle’s post on the mechanics of ENSO.

La Niña feedbacks between the ocean and atmosphere. Climate.gov schematic by Emily Eng and inspired by NOAA PMEL.

Baby, don’t lose my number

Enough preamble—what’s the Walker circulation doing right now? I thought you’d never ask. It’s really feeling its oats these days, as several different atmospheric measurements tell us.

First, let’s talk Equatorial Southern Oscillation, an index that measures the relative sea level pressure in the far western Pacific vs. that in the eastern Pacific. When the EQSOI is positive, it indicates lower-than-average pressure over the west (more rain and clouds) and higher-than-average pressure over the east (less rain and clouds), i.e., evidence of a stronger Walker circulation. In March, the EQSOI measured 1.4, the 6th strongest since 1950.

As I mentioned above, stronger trade winds are key to the La Niña feedback between the ocean and atmosphere. The trade winds were enhanced through March, and remain stronger than average into mid-April. You want a number, you say? Okay! There’s an index that measures the near-surface winds in the central Pacific region of 5°N–5°S, 175°W–140°W; it was 4.3 meters per second (9.6 miles per hour) faster than average in March. This is the strongest March value on record, but there’s a catch—this record only goes back to 1979.

One more index! The central Pacific was much less cloudy and rainy than average in March. We monitor cloudiness via satellite, by looking at how much radiation is leaving the Earth’s surface and reaching the satellites. Less radiation making it to the satellite means more clouds are blocking the path.

March 2022 outgoing longwave radiation compared to 1991–2020 average. Brown regions show where satellites received more radiation from the Earth’s surface, indicating fewer clouds and drier conditions. Green shows regions with more clouds. Figure from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society’s maproom.

The index that measures outgoing radiation (and therefore cloudiness), the CPOLR, tells us that this March featured the least amount of clouds for any March on record over the central Pacific. We’re number 1! Again, though, like the winds, this record only goes back to 1979, when the satellite measurement era began. So, a grain of salt with your records.

One last measurement today—let’s look under the surface of the tropical Pacific Ocean. The amount of cooler-than-average water under the surface increased in March. This cooler subsurface water provides a supply of cooler water to the surface, contributing to ENSO forecasters’ prediction that La Niña will remain into the summer. Index-wise, last month the water under the surface was the 9th coolest March since 1979.

Water temperatures in the top 700 meters (2,300 feet) of the tropical Pacific Ocean compared to the 1991–2020 average in early spring 2022. NOAA Climate.gov animation, based on data from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Add it all up

There are two main information sources for ENSO forecasters: current atmosphere-ocean conditions and computer model predictions. Computer models have a harder time making successful long-range predictions in April, during the spring predictability barrier, although they remain a critical tool. Current model predictions are mostly split between staying in La Niña or transitioning to neutral in summer. Looking out to next fall, the North American Multi-Model Ensemble is leaning toward La Niña conditions.

There is a lot of uncertainty in the current forecast, which is reflected in the probabilities. The odds for La Niña to remain through the next few months are fairly confident, bolstered by the cooler subsurface water and the current strong Walker circulation. The chance of a third-year La Niña has a slight edge for the fall, over the chance of neutral conditions. El Niño is unlikely—less than 10% chance. None of the models are predicting El Niño for the fall, and none of those March atmospheric conditions I described earlier have been followed by El Niño later in the year. It’s not impossible—nature is full of surprises—but very unlikely.

Water temperatures in the top 700 meters (2,300 feet) of the tropical Pacific Ocean compared to the 1991–2020 average in early spring 2022. NOAA Climate.gov animation, based on data from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

La Niña influences the hurricane season (more storms in the Atlantic, fewer in the eastern Pacific), has links to springtime tornado activity (complicated links!), and can increase the chance of drought in some regions. Given all these important relationships, we will closely watch the forecast and look forward to starting to emerge from the spring predictability barrier in the months ahead.