#Aridification Watch: May edition As the snow season wraps up, how are things looking? — @Land_Desk #snowpack #runoff

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson) and to drop some dough in the tip jar:

It’s that time of the year, again, folks. Yep, you guessed it, it’s … Yukigata Time! Okay, maybe you didn’t guess it. Maybe you have no idea what the word even means. But I’m willing to bet you are familiar with the concept and, if you are a farmer or a gardener, you probably use a yukigata.

A yukigata is a pattern formed by melting snow on a mountain slope or hillside in the spring. They often serve as agricultural calendars, letting farmers know when to plant certain crops, or when the danger of a tomato-killing freeze has passed. The calendars can be simple: over in the Montezuma Valley gardeners wait until Ute Mountain is free of snow to plant. Or more elaborate: In the Grand Valley of Colorado, it would be foolish to plant before the Swan’s Neck has melted. And in the North Fork Valley of Western Colorado, gardeners wait for the Devil’s Neck on Mt. Lamborn to “break.”

But the yukigatas have been doing their thing, or disappearing, sooner than in the past, tricking people into planting too early and making their crops vulnerable to the inevitable spring freeze. In Durango, Colorado, for example, gardeners once planted according to when the snow melted off the north face of Smelter Mountain. Now that can happen as soon as March—if there’s snow on the mountain at all—which is just too early.

This also messes with plants’ internal calendars, tricking fruit trees into blossoming too early. A study published this spring found wildflowers in the sagebrush ecosystem now bloom weeks earlier than they did in the 1970s. And here’s a cool map from the National Phenology Network showing where trees leafed out earlier (or later) than usual this year.

Clearly the premature melting of the yukigata is caused by less snow to begin with combined with warming temperatures. Dust on the snow causes it to melt faster, too. As does, wait for it, atmospheric thirst! That’s right, the increasing temperatures are making the atmosphere thirstier, and it’s guzzling up snow, drying out plants, sucking up reservoirs, and so on. Last month, scientists from the Desert Research Institute published a study tracking changes in evaporative demand and found it is increasing everywhere, especially in the Southwest.

As evaporative demand increases, it pulls more water from the land into the air via evaporation and transpiration from plants (and snow and reservoirs), leaving less in the streams and soil. In the Rio Grande Basin, the authors say, that means crops need 8% to 15% more irrigation now than they did in 1980. They go on to note, “These increases in crop water requirements are coincident with declining runoff ratios on the Rio Grande due to warming temperatures and increased evaporative losses, representing a compounding stress on water supplies.”

The authors conclude:

“These higher evaporative demands mean that, for every drop of precipitation that falls, less water is likely to drain into streams, wetlands, and aquifers across the region. Soils and vegetation spend more time in drier conditions, increasing potential for forest fire, tree mortality, and tree regeneration failure.”

So the thirsty atmosphere is likely a factor in the catastrophic fires currently burning in New Mexico. The Hermits Peak Fire—in the Pecos River watershed, east of the Rio Grande—has grown to a monstrous 166,000 acres and is threatening Las Vegas, Mora, and Montezuma.

This year neither the Rio Grande nor the Pecos watershed has done all that well, snowpack-wise. Not many watersheds have, although Southwest Colorado is in better shape than it was last year. Snow season is pretty much over. That doesn’t mean it won’t snow any more in the high country. It’s just that the snowpack peak has almost certainly passed, runoff is underway, and many lower elevation SNOTEL stations are registering zero, which can throw off basin-wide graphs. So, below we offer the snowpack season finale with May 1 readings at our three go-to high country SNOTEL , plus the current graph for the Rio Grande Basin.

The bright spot is definitely Columbus Basin, high in the La Plata Mountains. It’s below the average level for the period of record, but still doing far better than 2021. The La Platas feed the Animas, La Plata, Mancos, and Dolores Rivers. Last year the Dolores had an awful year. Things are looking up this time around—relatively speaking. The Dolores River through its namesake town shot up to 1,800 cfs at one point, dropped, then shot back up again, pushing up levels at McPhee significantly. Still, don’t goo excited. McPhee’s only at 59% of capacity and water managers are releasing virtually nothing from the dam.

River runners better get out on the water now, while they still can.

#Drought prompts ‘unprecedented’ Flaming Gorge drawdown — #WyoFile #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Cliffs tower over Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah. (RJ Pieper)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Dustin Bleizeffer):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will release an extra 500,000 acre feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to help maintain hydroelectric generation at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam amid drought conditions that have parched the West for more than two decades.

The action will draw down Flaming Gorge Reservoir’s surface about 10 feet by August and possibly a total of 15 feet later in the fall, according to the BOR. News of the Flaming Gorge release follows calls on two other river systems in Wyoming in April. Those actions were also prompted by “supply side” water shortages due to persisting drought and lower snowpack.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, on the Green River, straddles the Wyoming-Utah border south of Rock Springs. The Flaming Gorge dam, on the Utah side, was completed in 1964 and is a critical component of the Colorado River water storage system. The Green River, the chief tributary to the Colorado River, originates in the Wind River Range, flows to Flaming Gorge Reservoir, then connects with the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, on the Green River, straddles the Wyoming-Utah border south of Rock Springs. The Flaming Gorge dam, on the Utah side, was completed in 1964 and is a critical component of the Colorado River water storage system. The Green River, the chief tributary to the Colorado River, originates in the Wind River Range, flows to Flaming Gorge Reservoir, then connects with the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the largest in Wyoming with a storage capacity of nearly 3.8 million acre feet of water, is well-suited to provide extra flows to help address supply shortages on the Colorado River, according to former Wyoming State Engineer Patrick Tyrrell, who represents Wyoming on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

“There will be no additional regulation for municipalities or irrigators or industry in the Wyoming part of the [Colorado River] basin because of what’s going on at Flaming Gorge,” Tyrrell said. “However, we have to be vigilant.”

‘Unprecedented’ conservation measures

The release from Flaming Gorge is part of an “unprecedented” water conservation effort on the Colorado River, which serves tens of millions of people in the American southwest and northern Mexico.

In addition to the release from Flaming Gorge, the BOR will withhold 480,000 acre feet of water in Lake Powell, while Colorado River Lower Basin users have agreed to increased water conservation measures. The Upper Colorado Basin 2022 Drought Response Operations Plan will remain in effect until early 2023.

“We have never taken this step before in the Colorado River Basin,” Interior Department Assistant Secretary Tanya Trujillo said during a press call on Tuesday. “The conditions we see today, and the potential risks we see on the horizon, demands that we take prompt action.”

Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Utah side near the dam in September 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The surface elevation at Lake Powell recently fell to 3,522 feet, the lowest since construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s. Water intake ducts at the dam’s hydroelectric power station would no longer function if the lake’s surface level reaches 3,490 feet, according to the BOR.

The rebalancing of water supplies between the Upper Basin — which includes Wyoming — and Lower Basin stakeholders is necessary to ensure hydroelectric generation and water supply for the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation and the city of Page, Ariz., the BOR said. Stakeholders in all seven Colorado River Basin states, along with partners in Mexico, agreed to BOR’s conservation actions for this year through a process spelled out in the Colorado River 2019 Drought Contingency Plan.

Although the BOR’s authority over the Colorado River water storage system didn’t require Wyoming’s approval for the drought contingency actions, Wyoming supports the effort, said Tyrrell, adding that it is also in the state’s interest.

“We can’t sit by and just keep [Flaming] Gorge full while everybody else below us is drying up,” Tyrrell said. “Protecting the power pool Lake Powell is really an ultimate goal for all of us — from compact compliance, to the power grid, to funding for reclamation, to environmental programs. Lake Powell is a very key component in that river.”

The Highway 191 Cart Creek Bridge spans Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah. (RJ Pieper)

#Drought won’t impact #GlenwoodSprings drinking #water supply — The Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

Click the link to read the article on the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent website (Ike Fredregill). Here’s an excerpt:

While snow water equivalent, aka snowpack, feeding the basins north of Glenwood Springs is 8% below average, Langhorst said the city’s main water sources — Grizzly and No Name creeks — provide more than enough water to meet the city’s needs, even in the dry years. The first of two primary water sources, Grizzly Creek basin’s lowest snowpack was recorded in 1977, yet the basin still produced more than 4,000 acre feet of water that year. Glenwood Springs uses about 2,200 acre feet of water annually, Langhorst said. Before pulling from Grizzly Creek, however, the city relies on No Name Creek, but no monitors are in place to monitor snowpack feeding the source…

The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

Ample water supply, however, doesn’t mean water restrictions are off the table. Langhorst said the city’s watering restrictions in recent years were implemented to facilitate repairs to water plant infrastructure and accommodate for historic spikes of sediment flowing into the system as a result of debris flows. To alleviate stress on the system and lessen the likelihood of future restrictions, the city invested about $8.5 million in water infrastructure upgrades in anticipation to and as a result of the debris flows. Following the infrastructure upgrades, the city can treat about 8.5 million gallons a day and store up to 6 million gallons.

On the hottest days, the city typically uses up to 4.5 million gallons a day.

#Water rights secured for #Ouray Ice Park — Ouray County Plain Dealer

Ari Schneider ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Julia McGonigle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Click the link to read the article on the Ouray County Plain Dealer website (Mike Wiggins). Here’s an excerpt:

Water court referee S. Gregg Stanway approved a conditional water right for the city of Ouray that will provide 1.1111 cubic feet per second of water from Canyon Creek to the ice park, as well as Ouray Silver Mines’ request to effectively convey its conditional recreational water right to the ice park, providing an additional 3.34 cfs of water. District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick confirmed Stanway’s rulings. The granting of the conditional water rights was the lynchpin in an arrangement among the city, the mine and the ice park. The mine agreed to lease to the city a portion of its water rights that are currently decreed to the Revenue-Virginius Mine, with the city paying $1 a year for the lease for a 10-year term that can be renewed. The ice park will manage the lease…

Ice park managers had initially planned to build a 3-mile water line along County Road 361 and use the city’s water rights to obtain water from Weehawken Creek. But that project carried a $3 million price tag and a lengthy timeline for completion, given that the pipeline would have crossed U.S. Forest Service and private land.

Instead, mine officials proposed donating the conditional recreational water right to the park, noting the mine wasn’t using that water. The mine has access to close to another 3 cfs as part of its water right. Water will be pumped out of Canyon Creek into the park. The revised project is expected to cost around $1 million. The ice park currently uses about 350 gallons a minute to create ice in the Uncompahgre Gorge. The water right from the mine will provide three or four times that amount. And more water should allow for the creation of another 25 to 40 climbing routes, joining the roughly 150 routes that already exist in the park.

“We’ll have more than enough water now,” Ice Park Executive Director Peter O’Neil said Tuesday. “The biggest issue is making sure we have cold enough temperatures, but when we do, we’ll be able to make ice like a maniac.”

Graphic credit Xylem US.

With the water rights in hand, the plan now is for the mine to hire a contractor to drill a well in Canyon Creek just upstream from the confluence with the Uncompahgre River and install a vertical turbine pump in the bottom of the creek. Water can then be pumped into the gorge and the pipeline in the park. O’Neil said the timing of the pump installation depends on flows in Canyon Creek. He’s hoping to do it either late this spring or early in the fall. The goal is to have the project finished in time for park employees to start farming ice using the new system in the fall of 2022.