#Drought news (May 19, 2022): Most of #Colorado received no precipitation this week and very little occurred over S. #WY and W. parts of #NE and #KS. Moderate to exceptional drought expanded in Colorado

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

In the upper levels of the atmosphere, a strong ridge of high pressure dominated the contiguous U.S. (CONUS), from the southern Plains to Northeast, at the beginning of this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week, while an upper-level trough dominated the West. The trough moved east as the week progressed, dragging a surface low pressure system and cold fronts across the northern Plains to Great Lakes, while another upper-level low moved over the Southeast and weakened. Weekly temperatures averaged much warmer than normal beneath the ridge and cooler than normal in the West beneath the trough. The fronts, lows, and upper-level troughs brought above-normal precipitation to parts of the Pacific Northwest, northern Plains to western Great Lakes, and spotty areas in the South, New England, and along the Atlantic Coast. The week was drier than normal across the rest of the CONUS. The continued lack of precipitation further dried soils, lowered stream levels, and stressed crops and other vegetation, while the excessively warm temperatures increased evapotranspiration and added to the stress. Drought or abnormal dryness contracted where precipitation was above normal, especially in the Northwest, northern Plains, and Mid-Atlantic. Drought or abnormal dryness expanded or intensified where it continued dry, especially in the Southwest, southern to central Plains, Southeast, and parts of the Northeast…

High Plains

Northern and eastern parts of the High Plains were wet this week while western and southern parts were dry. Two inches to locally over 4 inches of precipitation fell over parts of North Dakota and eastern Montana, and half an inch or more was widespread over the Dakotas, northern Wyoming, and eastern parts of Nebraska and Kansas. But most of Colorado received no precipitation this week and very little occurred over southern Wyoming and western parts of Nebraska and Kansas. Moderate to exceptional drought expanded in Colorado, extreme to exceptional drought expanded in Kansas, extreme drought expanded in Nebraska, and abnormal dryness expanded in western Montana. To the north, abnormal dryness and moderate to severe drought contracted in North Dakota, eastern Montana, and northern Wyoming. Severe to extreme drought expanded in Meade County, South Dakota, to reflect impacts and moisture conditions that included low or no surface water, very short pasture and range conditions, and general poor vegetation. The widespread D3 degradations through southeast Colorado and into the San Luis Valley were a result of very dry and windy conditions over the last few months. According to USDA statistics, in Colorado, 52% of the pasture and rangeland and 45% of the winter wheat were in poor to very poor condition, and 41% of winter wheat in Kansas was in poor or very poor condition, with the statistics 77% for pasture and rangeland in Montana, 49% for pasture and rangeland in Wyoming, 44% for pasture and rangeland in South Dakota, and 41% for pasture and rangeland in Nebraska. The USDA statistics show 60% of Colorado’s topsoil short or very short of moisture, 73% for Montana, 58% for Wyoming, 51% for Kansas, and 37% for Nebraska…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 17, 2022.

West

Pacific weather systems brought 2 or more inches of precipitation to the coastal ranges and windward portions of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington, with half an inch or more from northeast Oregon to northern Idaho and in eastern Montana. Less than half an inch fell in other parts of the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies. Little to no precipitation occurred across the southern states in the West region, from California to New Mexico. Weekly temperatures averaged cooler than normal except in the Four Corners states. The hot temperatures in New Mexico continued to increase evapotranspiration and dry soils. The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire exceeded 298,000 acres burned, becoming the largest wildfire in modern New Mexico history. Moderate to exceptional drought expanded in New Mexico; extreme drought expanded in Utah; moderate to extreme drought expanded in Arizona; and exceptional drought from Nevada crept southward into northwest Arizona. Further north, extreme drought was removed from Washington, while abnormal dryness and moderate to exceptional drought contracted in Oregon. The precipitation of recent months in the Pacific Northwest has helped refill some reservoirs, especially the smaller ones. But larger ones remain depleted, including Oregon’s Crescent Lake reservoir, which is 12% full, Prineville (32%), Phillips (13%), Warm Springs (18%), Owyhee (46%), Howard Prairie (16%), Emigrant (26%), and Hyatt (20%). According to USDA statistics, 89% of the topsoil moisture was short or very short in New Mexico, 47% in Utah, and 40% in Nevada, and 51% of the pasture and rangeland was in poor or very poor condition in New Mexico…

South

All of the states in the South region had areas of rain with amounts of half an inch or more, but large areas also received no rain. Temperatures were persistently hot throughout the week, increasing evapotranspiration, further drying soils, and stressing crops and vegetation. On May 15, Abilene, Texas recorded 8 days in May with 100-degree-F temperatures. This set a new record for the highest number of days in May with 100 degree temperatures. The previous highest number of days for Abilene was 7 days, set in 2000 and in 1927. Recent dryness is compounding long-term dryness, especially in western parts of the region. By some measures, Culberson County in Texas had the driest September-April on record and second driest December-April, and that is not counting the dryness so far in May. Corpus Christi, Texas recorded the third driest February-May to date out of 136 years of record. According to USDA statistics, 86% of the topsoil moisture in Texas was short or very short, and 53% was short or very short in Oklahoma and Louisiana; 74% of the pasture and rangeland was in poor or very poor condition in Texas; and 81% of the winter wheat in Texas and 52% in Oklahoma was in poor or very poor condition. Drought or abnormal dryness contracted in the few areas in Texas and Oklahoma where more than an inch of rain fell on Dx areas. But abnormal dryness and moderate to exceptional drought expanded in many more areas of Texas. Abnormal dryness and moderate to extreme drought expanded in southwest Louisiana, and abnormal dryness grew in Tennessee…

Looking Ahead

The upper-level circulation will continue to bring Pacific weather systems across the CONUS during the next USDM week. Temperatures are forecast to be below normal from the Pacific Northwest to Great Lakes and southward into the central Plains. An eastern ridge will keep temperatures warmer than normal along the East Coast. An inch or more of precipitation is predicted to fall through Tuesday morning for some of the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and central to northern Rockies. An inch or more is expected from the southern Plains to Great Lakes and eastward to the East Coast, but some areas along the East Coast will have less than an inch and some areas from the Lower Mississippi Valley to Ohio Valley, as well as much of Florida, can expect 2 or more inches. Most of the Great Plains will see less than half of an inch of rain. Much of the Southwest, from California to New Mexico and including parts of the Pacific Northwest, will receive little to no precipitation. For the period May 24-28, odds favor above-normal temperatures for the Southwest, Deep South, East Coast, and southwest Alaska, and below-normal temperatures in Washington, the Upper Mississippi Valley, and eastern Alaska. Odds favor below-normal precipitation from California to the western portions of the central and southern Plains, as well as western Alaska, while above-normal precipitation is likely in Washington, east-central Alaska, eastern portions of the southern Plains, and from the Mississippi Valley to East Coast.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 17, 2022.

Pueblos again seek inclusion in #RioGrande decision-making: Experts say 2022 looks grim for the river, and irrigation season is likely to be brief and dry — Source #NM

Some parts of the Rio Grande already experience a dry river most of the year. Photo by WildEarth Guardians.

Click the link to read the article on the Source NM website (Danielle Prokop). Here’s an excerpt:

Members of six New Mexico Pueblos are calling for a seat at the table from the body that oversees how the Rio Grande’s water is split, managed and used between states. A coalition representing Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Sandia and Isleta attended the annual Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting on May 6. Gov. Vernon Abeita (Isleta) spoke on behalf of the coalition, saying the Pueblos should be included in all correspondence and meetings that may impact access to Rio Grande water. They should also be invited to future commission meetings, he said.

The headwaters of the Rio Grande River in Colorado. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

“In the past, Bureau of Indian Affairs represented Pueblos at commission meetings,” Albeita said. “It is now time the coalition interacts with the commission directly, and for the commission to engage the coalition Pueblos, so that our voices can be heard.”

Cochiti Pueblo between c. 1871-c. 1907. By John K. Hillers, 1843-1925, Photographer (NARA record: 3028457) – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17208641

He said the Pueblos have cultivated and lived on their land “for time immemorial” and want a formal relationship to manage the water they depend on. This also the first time the Pueblos have sought “a seat at the table,” a direct quote from a 1999 request to join discussions on the operating contract between the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation. The U.S. Department of the Interior relaxed rules last month to allow tribes more control over their water rights. The department also established a federal assessment team to help the six Pueblos resolve water claim issues between the state of New Mexico and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Abeita said.

Native land loss 1776 to 1930. Credit: Alvin Chang/Ranjani Chakraborty

#Colorado, #Nebraska Jostle Over #Water Rights Amid #Drought — The Associated Press #SouthPlatteRiver

Thornton near the South Platte River November 6, 2021. Photo credit: Zack Wilkerson

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

[Don] Schneider and [Steve] Hanson find themselves on opposite sides of a looming, politically-fraught dispute over water resembling the kind that until now has been reserved for the parched U.S. states along the Colorado River Basin. As climate change-fueled megadrought edges eastward, Nebraska’s Republican-controlled Legislature this year voted to move forward with a plan that stunned Colorado state leaders. The Cornhusker State wants to divert water in Colorado by invoking an obscure, 99-year-old compact between the states that allows Nebraska to seize Colorado land along the South Platte River to build a canal. Nebraska’s plan underscores an increasing appetite throughout the West to preemptively secure water as winter snows and year-round rainfall diminish, forcing states to reallocate increasingly scarce flows in basins such as the South Platte and its better-known cousin, the Colorado River…

Governor Clarence J. Morley signing Colorado River compact and South Platte River compact bills, Delph Carpenter standing center. Unidentified photographer. Date 1925. Print from Denver Post. From the CSU Water Archives

Nebraska’s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, gave precious few details in calling for $500 million in cash reserves and one-time federal pandemic funds to be spent on the project, other than to say it will benefit agriculture, power generation and municipal drinking water. Ricketts decried proposals in Colorado to either siphon or store more South Platte water, especially in the rapidly-growing Denver metro area, saying they threaten Nebraska’s water rights hundreds of miles downstream. The announcement sent Colorado officials scrambling to dust off the 1923 compact, which both Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court signed off on and still stands as the law of the land. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis vowed to “aggressively assert” Colorado’s water rights, and state lawmakers lambasted the proposal. GOP Rep. Richard Holtorf, an area cattleman, declared: “You give Nebraska what they’re due but you don’t give them much else.”

For now, Colorado is not going to legally challenge Nebraska’s right to a canal under the compact, said Kevin Rein, Colorado’s state engineer and director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “The other side of that coin is that we’ll make every effort that their operation is in compliance with the compact” and protects Colorado’s rights, Rein said.

2022 #COleg: Turf replacement, wildfire, #groundwater sustainability funding among #water wins as #Colorado legislative session ends — @WaterEdCO

Colorado State Capitol. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Larry Moriandi):

The Colorado General Assembly adjourned its 2022 session on May 11. Among the water bills that passed, four share a common theme—funding. A rare confluence of new revenue sources led to strong bipartisan support of bills dealing with groundwater compact compliance and sustainability, state water plan projects, wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration, and urban turf replacement. A bill designed to strengthen Colorado’s water speculation laws failed.

An orangethroat darter, one of the nine remaining native fish species in the Arikaree River. Photo: Jeremy Monroe, Freshwaters Illustrated.

Groundwater compact compliance and sustainability

Senate Bill 28 creates a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund to help pay for the purchase and retirement of wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican and Rio Grande basins in northeast and south-central Colorado. It appropriates into the fund $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) revenue that had been transferred into the state’s Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will distribute the money based on recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, with approval by the state engineer. These are one-time dollars that must be obligated by the end of 2024; if not spent by then, they will be used to support the state water plan.

The bill seeks to reduce groundwater pumping connected to surface water flows in the Republican River to comply with a compact among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. It will also help meet aquifer sustainability standards required by state statute and rules in the Rio Grande Basin, home to the San Luis Valley. To achieve those goals, 25,000 acres of irrigated land must be retired in the Republican Basin, and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande, by 2029. If the targets are not met, the state engineer may have no choice but to shut down wells without compensation.

Water sustains the San Luis Valley’s working farms and ranches and is vital to the environment, economy and livelihoods, but we face many critical issues and uncertainties for our future water supply. (Photo by Rio de la Vista.)

Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, noted that agricultural production coming out of the two basins benefits the overall state economy, not just the local communities. “The state has some skin in the game,” he said, and the availability of ARPA revenue “presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to support the districts.

Simpson emphasized that neither district is looking for a handout. The Republican has already assessed its water users over $140 million since 2004 to retire irrigated land and purchase or lease surface and groundwater to meet Colorado’s water delivery obligations. The Rio Grande district has taxed its farmers nearly $70 million since 2006 to take irrigated land out of production and has cut groundwater pumping by a third. Simpson requested $80 million from the Economic Recovery Task Force and, by demonstrating the interconnectivity between the state and local economies and the commitment already shown by the districts—along with strong bipartisan support from legislators—was able to secure the $60 million appropriation.

State water plan projects

Each year the Colorado General Assembly considers the CWCB’s “projects bill,” which, among other things, has included appropriations from CWCB’s Construction Fund to support grants for projects that help implement the state water plan in recent years. The funding source for those grants is different this year, with gambling revenue from Proposition DD, which the electorate passed in 2019, becoming available for the first time. Proposition DD legalized sports betting and levied a 10% tax on sports betting proceeds, with the majority of that revenue going into the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund.

House Bill 1316 appropriates $8.2 million from the fund for grants to help implement the state water plan; $7.2 million of that amount is from sports betting revenue. Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, said, “This is the first appropriation of funds from Proposition DD … and it looks like it’s starting to grow into what we had hoped.”

The bill also appropriates $2 million to CWCB from its Construction Fund to help the Republican River Water Conservation District retire irrigated acreage. Rod Lenz, district president, said the district has doubled its water use fee on irrigators but that “we’re in need of short-term funding while we wait for that rate increase.” The $2 million in state revenue will help the district meet its 2024 interim target of retiring 10,000 acres of the 25,000 acres necessary to comply with the Republican River Compact by 2029. This is on top of the funds the district will receive from Senate Bill 28.

A forest fire next to the Bitterroot River in Montana. UCLA-led research revealed that larger fires tend to be followed by larger increases in streamflow. | Photo by John MacColgan/Creative Commons

Wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration

Like Senate Bill 28, House Bill 1379 takes advantage of ARPA revenue by appropriating $20 million from the Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund for projects to restore, mitigate and protect watersheds from damage caused by wildfire-induced erosion and flooding. Testimony on the bill in the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee emphasized how investing mitigation dollars now helps avoid spending even more on very expensive recovery efforts later.

The bill allocates $3 million to the Healthy Forests and Vibrant Communities Fund to help communities reduce wildfire risks by promoting watershed resilience. It moves $2 million into the Wildfire Mitigation Capacity Development Fund for wildfire mitigation and fuel reduction projects. And $15 million goes to CWCB to fund watershed restoration and flood mitigation projects, and to help local governments and other entities apply for federal grants under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act related to water and natural resources management.

Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

Turf replacement

While most of the focus at the Capitol in reducing water use has been on agriculture through retiring irrigated farmland, House Bill 1151 elevates urban turf replacement in importance. The bill requires CWCB to develop a statewide program to provide financial incentives for residential, commercial, institutional and industrial property owners to voluntarily replace non-native grasses with water-wise landscaping. It appropriates $2 million in general funds to a newly created Turf Replacement Fund and authorizes local governments, nonprofits and other entities to apply to CWCB for grants to help finance their programs. Landscape contractors, to whom individuals can apply for money to replace their lawns, are also eligible.

Rep. Catlin pointed out that “50% of the water that comes from the tap and goes through the meter and into the house is used outside.”

“We’re building ourselves a shortage,” he warned, “by continuing to use treated water for irrigation.” Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, added, “For too long the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains have borne the brunt of water conservation … but this is a bill that will give the tools to metro areas for them to play their fair part in this problem that is our drought.”

WAM bought this 57-acre parcel as part of a $6 million deal in January 2020, leading some to suspect the company was engaging in investment water speculation. WAM’s activity in the Grand Valley helped prompt state legislators to propose a bill aimed at curbing speculation.
CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Investment water speculation

Senate Bill 29 was an attempt to strengthen protections against investment water speculation, defined as the purchase of agricultural water rights “with the intent, at the time of purchase, to profit from an increase in the water’s value in a subsequent transaction, such as the sale or lease of the water, or by receiving payment from another person for nonuse of all or a portion of the water.” It was aimed at curbing outside investors who may have little or no interest in agriculture from using the water right to maximize its value as the price of water increases during drought. It authorized the state engineer to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and, if found, to levy fines and prohibit the buyer from purchasing additional water rights for two years without the state engineer’s approval.

The 2021 interim Water Resources Review Committee recommended the bill, but it was never viewed as more than a “placeholder.” Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, a co-sponsor of the bill, expressed her disappointment that the bill did not generate more engagement between the water community and policymakers. “I was certainly hopeful that by having a bill we would force conversation,” she said, “but it did not result in having some forthright ‘let’s get around a table and hammer this out.’” Members struggled with trying to balance concerns over speculation with protecting property rights. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, the other co-sponsor of the bill, emphasized, “We are certainly not trying to take a farmer’s or rancher’s ability away from selling that water. In many cases that is their 401K, their retirement.”

Opposition from water user groups in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee sent a clear message: Existing legal requirements provide the necessary safeguards to address water speculation. Travis Smith, representing the Colorado Water Congress, said what’s needed is “having more voices, taking more time.”

Senate Bill 29 was amended to strike the language in the bill and refer the issue to interim study. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who was chairing the committee, expressed his frustration: “We have an ineffective water group that won’t have a conversation with lawmakers anymore. When they have a bill they just take a position and quit working with people.”

With that said he carried the bill over for further consideration, effectively killing it since this was the last committee meeting of the year. It’s unclear whether the issue will be studied this interim since it’s an election year and fewer committee meetings will be held.

Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.