#Methane’s record rate increase — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

CH4 trend: This graph shows globally-averaged, monthly mean atmospheric methane abundance determined from marine surface sites since 1983. Values for the last year are preliminary. (NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory)

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

What a wallop it has during its 9-year life

Scientists last year observed a record annual increase in atmospheric levels of methane, the largest since systematic measurements began in 1983, reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Measurements of carbon dioxide go back much longer, to the 1950s at Mauna Loa, but the story is the same. The C02 accumulations increased 2.3 parts per million in 2021 compared to the previous year. It was the 10th consecutive year for increases of more than 2 parts per million. That’s the fastest sustained rate of increase in the 63 years since monitoring began.

CO2 emissions stood at 414 ppm last year, compared to 358 when measurements began at Mauna Loa and 280 ppm before the start of the industrial era.

The last time they were this high, around 43 million years ago, sea level was about 75 feet higher than today, the average temperature was 7 degrees F higher, and large forests occupied areas of the Arctic that are now tundra.

Carbon dioxide dissipates slowly, over thousands of years.

“About 40% of the Ford Model T emissions from 1911 are still in the air today,” said Pieter Tans, senior scientist with the Global Monitoring Laboratory. “We’re halfway to doubling the abundance of carbon dioxide that was in the atmosphere at the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Methane lingers in the atmosphere only 9 years, but during that relatively brief time it has vastly more heat-trapping properties than carbon dioxide.

Beef cattle on a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle. Photo credit: Wikimedia

Atmospheric methane comes from many sources, including fossil fuel extraction, from the decay of organic matter in wetlands, and as a byproduct of digestion by ruminant animals, including cows.

In Boulder, the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado has conducted research that indicates biological sources of methane such as wetlands or ruminant agriculture are a primary driver of post-2006 increases in methane. What this means, say NOAA scientists, is that a feedback loop may be occurring. In other words, more warming begets more methane, in this case more rain over wetlands in the Tropics that would largely be beyond the ability of humans to control.

Determining which specific sources are responsible for variations in annual increases of methane is complex, says NOAA, but scientists estimate that fossil fuel production and use contributes roughly 30% of the total methane emissions.

Scientists from the International Panel on Climate Change issued another warning in early April of the need to immediately slash emissions to keep temperature rise below 2.7 degrees F. That report also cited three actions—reducing the destruction of forests and other ecosystems, restoring them, and improving the management of working lands, such as farms—as among the top five most effective strategies for mitigating carbon emissions by 2030.

New forecast: #LakePowell electricity production to drop, as officials race to boost #water levels — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Electricity produced at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam, which serves some 50 Colorado utilities, and dozens of others in the Colorado River Basin, has been cut in half by the 20-year drought, with power levels over the next two years projected to be 47% lower than normal, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“We’re going to be generating less than we have in quite some time. It will be among the lowest years of generation ever,” said Nick Williams, power manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River Region in an interview last week.

The grim forecast comes as water officials race to bolster Lake Powell’s water levels. On April 8, Reclamation announced it would likely keep more water in Lake Powell, reducing releases from the planned 7.5 million acre-feet to 7 million acre-feet, a move that could trigger emergency water cutbacks in Arizona, California and Nevada.

Hydroelectric Dam

At the same time, electric utilities across the West are looking for other green power options and hoping that hydropower production won’t stop altogether. According to Reclamation, there is a 27% chance that Powell will still stop generating electricity completely over the next four years.

“If Glen Canyon Dam ceases to operate, we are going to have to replace that power somewhere else and it will have a bigger carbon footprint,” said Bryan Hannegan, CEO of Holy Cross Energy, which buys Lake Powell’s hydropower to serve customers in Western Colorado.

The picture was much different 60 years ago, when the giant storage reservoir on the Colorado River was filling, its electricity helping power the West and the revenue from its power sales helping fund endangered fish protection programs across the Colorado River Basin.

Back then, Hannegan said, “We made an assumption that our WAPA (Western Area Power Administration) allocation would be firm, reliable and always there. Now, though, we know that it’s not firm, it’s not reliable, and it’s coming at a much higher cost.”

Late last fall WAPA, which operates the electric grid and distributes the power to utilities, raised rates 30% to cover reductions in power revenue. Few expected to ever see this drop in hydropower production, let alone consider what to do if Glen Canyon were to cease electricity production entirely.

“The forecast is changing daily and there are still a lot of variables,” said Lisa Meiman, a spokeswoman for WAPA. ”But it is concerning. This is the big warning bell.”

The drop in the power forecast comes as Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming prepare to finalize a new drought operations plan for the giant river system. The draft plan is expected to be released next week, according to Becki Bryant, a spokeswoman for Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River Region.

The critical issue is how to maintain the lake at 3,525, which marks an elevation that is the top of the liquid buffer zone designed to protect the lake’s mighty electricity turbines.

Last July, to protect the 3,525 buffer zone, Reclamation ordered emergency water releases from three reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa and New Mexico’s Navajo.

Despite those releases, Powell dropped below 3,525 last month, hitting 3,523, another historic drought landmark.

Though the 2022 forecast isn’t expected to be finalized until later this month, water officials expect that more water will have to be released from Upper Basin storage reservoirs this summer because inflows into the lake from the drought-stressed Colorado River are expected to be well below average again, in the 60% to 80% range.

Becky Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water planning agency. She also sits on the Upper Colorado River Commission. Mitchell declined to discuss the pending drought operations plan. But in a statement, she said, “The Upper Basin States are working collaboratively with the Bureau of Reclamation to draft a 2022 Drought Response Operations Plan outlining potential releases from Upper Basin reservoirs in an effort to protect critical elevations at Lake Powell. The Upper Basin reservoirs have already provided 161,000 acre-feet of water pursuant to the ’imminent need‘ provision of the Drought Response Operations Agreement, including 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado. Water availability, appropriate timing of releases, and impacts on other resources are all being considered as the 2022 Plan is being drafted.”

Across the region, water utilities are in high-alert mode, preparing for another dry year on the Colorado River and holding hope that the Upper Basin reservoirs can be protected as long as possible from large-scale drought releases.

“The forecast isn’t great,” said Kyle Whitaker, Colorado River Manager for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, one of the largest diverters of water in the headwaters region of the river.

“It’s better than last year, but we’ll just have to see what the next two to four weeks holds for precipitation.”

At the same time, power producers are gearing up to craft a fallback plan for extending hydropower production at Glen Canyon Dam if water levels continue to fall.

“We have to take a strong look at what we will do in the unlikely event that Lake Powell stops producing hydropower,” said WAPA’s Meiman. “It’s not a hypothetical situation anymore.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

#LakePowell is critically low, and still shrinking. Here’s what happens next — KUNC #ColoradoRiver #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 KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:

Lake Powell is in crisis. The nation’s second-largest reservoir is strained by more than two decades of drought, and its water levels are slipping dangerously low. In March, the reservoir passed an important threshold. Water levels dipped below 3,525 feet — the last major milestone before a serious threat to hydropower generation at the Glen Canyon Dam. The future of the reservoir is largely uncertain, but climate science and recent actions by the government are providing some hints as to what might happen in the near future…

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 16, 2022 via the NRCS.

Will water levels go back up?

In the short term, yes. In the long term, probably not. While levels are on a long downward trend, they fluctuate with the seasons. A large portion of the water in the Colorado River and Lake Powell comes from high-mountain snowmelt in Colorado and Wyoming. Because of that, the spring and early summer will bring a temporary boost to water levels while snow runs into rivers and eventually flows into Lake Powell. Mountain snowpack is generally below average for this time of year, so that boost may not be as big as it has been in years past.

Forecasts are calling for 4.1 million acre-feet of water to flow into Lake Powell from April to July this year, but water managers are obligated to release more than 7 million acre-feet out of the lake. An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to fill one acre of land to a height of one foot. One acre-foot generally provides enough water for one to two households for a year…

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.

What is the long-term future of Lake Powell?

All signs point to a hotter, drier future for the Western U.S. The big question is how water managers will divvy up a shrinking supply to feed a growing region. Climate change is driving more than two decades of drought across the region, and making it increasingly unlikely that Lake Powell will ever climb back to previous levels.

The Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District Board of Directors authorizes more emergency expenditures — The #PagosaSprings Sun

Wastewater lift station

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Dorothy Elder). Here’s an excerpt:

At its April 6 meeting, the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District Board of Directors authorized up to $120,000 to be spent out of the sanitation fund reserve for additional emergency expenditures, most of which are meant to safeguard the system from an emergency as the sanitation system’s issues continue to worsen. The system has two pump stations. Each pump station is meant to have two pump trains and four pumps, and each is down to a single pump train with two pumps, Manager Andrea Phillips reminded the board on Wednesday.

Attorney General Phil Weiser asks #Colorado Supreme Court to review case and maintain state’s long-settled rules for river access

Photo credit: The Perfect Fly Store

Click the link to read the release on the Attorney General’s website (Lawrence Pacheco):

The Attorney General’s Office today [April 11, 2022] asked the Colorado Supreme Court to review a case that threatens to upend how water and access to Colorado rivers have been managed since Colorado joined the Union.

“Recreation on Colorado’s rivers is vital to Colorado’s economy and our way of life. For decades, property owners, water users, and leaders in the recreation industry have worked together to increase public access to rivers for recreation. Many cities, farms, and other water rights holders have relied on our settled rules to invest in critical infrastructure that sustains our agricultural communities and supports our cities. This lawsuit puts these agreements and practices at risk,” Weiser said. “If this longstanding Colorado approach to water and river access is to change, the decision-making process rightly belongs to the legislative and executive branches of government. Courts should not upend this long-settled practice.”

When Colorado became a state, who owned the bed of the river depended on whether it was navigable. Title to the bed of any navigable river would have passed to the State of Colorado, while title to the beds of non-navigable rivers remained with the United States. No river within Colorado was declared navigable at statehood, so title to all riverbeds remained with the United States when Colorado became a state. The federal government has given title to its non-navigable riverbeds to streamside landowners through federal patents. Here, one person is trying to get courts to change this rule on a river-segment by river-segment basis. But to disturb these long-settled holdings, the legislative and executive branches need to start a comprehensive process to consider all important factors and establish state-wide standards.

Over the last several decades, state and federal partners have worked together to increase fishing access, delineate private land boundaries, and increase public education about public access to the river. And water users have relied on this settled ownership to build improvements so that cities and farms can efficiently use their water. In this case, someone tried to fish on a segment of the Arkansas River that is on private property and not open to the public. After trespassing and being refused access by the property owners, he sued the landowners, claiming that a court should order that the riverbed belonged to the state and, as a member of the public, he had a right to use it.

A district court and the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that this person had no claim to title and failed to show a legally protected right in that title. But the Court of Appeals also concluded that Hill could continue with his lawsuit and seek a court order preventing the private landowners from denying him access to the river because of his theory that title to the riverbed passed to the state at statehood.

According to the state’s filing, if the case is allowed to proceed, it would force courts to determine navigability for every river and stream in Colorado and have staggering implications for settled agreements governing the use of our state’s rivers. Since Colorado became a state, the state legislature and Governor have never advanced the position that the state actually owns any of the riverbeds in Colorado. This case is seeking to allow an individual to make this decision on behalf of the state.