New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was among those who helped snip the ribbon at the Taos Mesa Solar Array on June 3.
Altogether the cooperative now has 41 megawatts of solar capacity within its service territory in addition to 15 megawatts of battery storage.
This is sufficient to meet the daytime needs of the 7,500 homes within the service territory of Kit Carson in northern New Mexico.
Kit Carson set out to develop its solar capacity in 2002, long before solar was competitive. In 2016, though, directors as well as Luis Reyes Jr., the long-time chief executive, were clear about the future. They negotiated an exit fee of $37 million from wholesale provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission and realigned with a new wholesale provider, Guzman Energy.
Kit Carson is scheduled to make its final payment to Tri-State on June 30.
What is Kit Carson’s carbon mix? Reyes says he doesn’t know, and Guzman does not disclose that information.
Widespread moderate drought and abnormal dryness continued to form and expand across a large swath of the eastern U.S. this week, with a few areas of severe drought forming or expanding as well. Spotty rain and storms occurred across the East, but in areas that missed out on heavy rainfall, high temperatures, browning lawns, and curling corn signaled that rapid drying was taking place in many areas. An early start to the North American Monsoon, particularly in New Mexico and southern Colorado, led to widespread improvement of extreme and exceptional drought in those states. Extreme drought formed or expanded in parts of the central Great Plains this week, where warm, dry weather continued. Moderate short-term drought also began to expand in parts of New England this week. Short-term moderate and severe drought expanded in coverage in Alaska and Puerto Rico, and drought conditions continued to expand in parts of Hawaii. Finally, despite some improvements to conditions in parts of the West, severe, extreme, and some exceptional drought remains widespread there…
Extreme drought developed in far northeast Nebraska, and in adjacent portions of South Dakota and Iowa, near the Sioux City area. Here, on the short- and long-term precipitation deficits have combined with high evaporation rates to create significant soil moisture and groundwater shortages, which have recently been reported. Severe and extreme drought also expanded across northeast and central Colorado, southeast Wyoming, and parts of southwest Nebraska, where dry weather continued. North Platte, Nebraska may tie its second driest June on record, with 0.43 inches of rain having accumulated so far as of the morning of June 29. In southern Colorado, an early and active North American Monsoon has delivered heavy enough rainfall to cut into short- and long-term deficits, leading to widespread improvement of drought conditions in the southwestern part of the state. After recent heavy rains, drought conditions have continued to improve in northwest Wyoming. Heavy rain in central and south-central Kansas alleviated precipitation deficits and increased soil moisture and streamflow, such that drought conditions retreated to the west…
Improvements to drought conditions in the West continued this week, though much of the region remains entrenched in drought or abnormal dryness. After recent heavy precipitation, and cool temperatures during April-June, drought conditions continued to improve in Montana and adjacent northeast Idaho this week. Due to heavy precipitation associated with the early and active start to the North American Monsoon, most of New Mexico, and parts of southeast Arizona, saw improvements to ongoing drought conditions. Despite these improvements, drought, still ranging from severe to exceptional in many areas, continued in the West, leading to cricket and grasshopper swarms…
Mainly dry conditions prevailed in the South this week, particularly from central Oklahoma and northeast Texas through Arkansas. Elsewhere, conditions were mostly dry, though some areas of heavier precipitation fell locally. Precipitation deficits improved enough in parts of western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle for some limited improvements to long-term drought conditions. Elsewhere, conditions mostly stayed the same or degraded, and abnormal dryness and moderate short-term drought quickly became entrenched in parts of east Texas, northern Louisiana, northern Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and Tennessee. Severe and extreme short- and long-term drought continued to plague southern Louisiana and a large portion of Texas this week. In drought areas in Texas, soil moisture deficits and low streamflow remained a major impact this week. There, extreme heat made drought-related problems worse. White-tailed deer are expected to have lower antler quality this fall in Texas due to the conditions. Additionally, crop stress continued and stock tanks lowered…
Through the evening of Monday, July 4, the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center is forecasting dry weather across roughly the western two-thirds of Texas, much of Oklahoma, and most of the Intermountain West. Some precipitation is forecast across parts of Colorado and the Lower Missouri River Valley. Along the Gulf Coast, widespread precipitation is forecast to occur, with the heaviest amounts centered over parts of the Texas coast, where a tropical disturbance will approach. Heavy rainfall is also possible in coastal portions of Georgia and South Carolina. Elsewhere, pockets of moderate to heavy precipitation may fall across parts of the Southeast, mainly in the southern Appalachians or closer to the coasts.
For the period from Wednesday, July 6 to Saturday, July 9, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecast favors above-normal precipitation across much of the Upper Midwest, northern Great Plains, and Ohio River Valley. To a lesser extent, above-normal precipitation is also favored in remaining areas of the U.S., except for northern New England, where equal chances for above- or below-normal precipitation exist. Below-normal precipitation is favored in much of Texas and Oklahoma, and across most of the West, with the highest probabilities for below-normal precipitation occurring across northeast Nevada, northern Utah, southern Idaho, and western Wyoming. The forecast slightly favors above-normal precipitation in Washington, and above-normal precipitation is favored in western and central Alaska, while below-normal precipitation is favored in the Alaska Panhandle. A large area of high probabilities for warmer than normal temperatures exists across the central U.S., especially from the Great Plains to the Missouri and Mississippi River valleys. Above-normal temperatures are also favored in parts of the West and Southeast. Within the contiguous U.S., the only locations where below-normal temperatures are favored for this period are central and northern California to western Oregon and Washington, and New England. In Alaska, cooler than normal temperatures are favored in the west, and above-normal temperatures are favored in the east.
Click the link to read the article on the Wyofile website (Dustin Bleizeffer:
Frustrated by state and federal inaction on climate change, community organizers have begun taking action in several Wyoming towns by showing the cost savings of energy efficiency measures and nudging municipal leaders toward small-scale renewable energy.
It’s a start, but not enough, Lander resident Ariel Greene said. The conversation about how climate change is already transforming Wyoming landscapes and threatening communities must become more inclusive and prominent, he told attendees of the inaugural Wyoming Climate Summit.
“The good news is that we have a fair idea about how to do this and much of the technology is available to do it,” said Greene, co-organizer of the summit. “It’s just that we’re not prioritizing the need to act now, collectively, and at speed and scale. We need many more people working on this problem.”
About 200 people attended the Saturday event, organized by the Lander Climate Action Network. The summit featured discussions on initiating and sustaining local climate action, as well as strengthening ties between climate science and community sustainability through traditional Native American ecological knowledge.
“[Traditional ecological knowledge] helps engage communities and science partnerships,” said Margaret Redsteer, an enrolled member of the Crow Tribe and assistant professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at the University of Washington. “When people see that their own observations are being acknowledged and that their own observations aren’t just something of a fluke that they happen to see, it is really, really a powerful thing.”
Turning frustration into action
The same frustration with inaction spurred the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and regional scientists to study the current and projected impacts of climate change in and around Yellowstone National Park.
Bryan Shuman, director of the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Center in Grand Teton Park co-authored the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment. The study, published in 2021, confirms critical changes already underway in six watersheds due to declining snowpack and warming temperatures. Using such information to encourage conversations at the local level is as important as the science itself, according to Shuman.
“This is exactly why we did the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment — to facilitate discussions like this,” Shuman told Wyoming Climate Summit attendees.
The hydrological and ecological changes that are already occurring in the region will only intensify, Shuman said. To what degree, however, depends on local policies and actions that must be part of a global response.
“We’re not totally doomed here,” Shuman said, adding that the far range of global temperature modeling can be avoided. “We’re going to face change, that’s unquestionable. But we have a lot of choices before us as to how to approach [climate change]. I think the biggest uncertainty about the future isn’t the physics of the climate system — it is what are our choices going to mean.”
Hope and local knowledge
Cody Pitz, a coordinator for the Jackson chapter of the Sunrise Movement, said a lot of young people he talks with about climate change are frustrated to the point of giving up. However, messages he heard at the Wyoming Climate Summit gave him more hope.
“It’s clear to me, based on politics and society, that we will not reach the levels [limiting global temperature rise] that a lot of us would like to, to have a more livable planet,” Pitz said. “But it’s clear to me that doing something is better than nothing, and I think that’s really motivating.”
The climate conversation must include and prioritize Indigenous people — a realization that is gaining traction among those advocating for climate action, Redsteer said. Indigenous people all over the world have adapted to changing ecosystems, and their responses are rooted in community and living sustainably with what each landscape offers.
“There’s nobody more resilient than a tribal community,” Redsteer said. “One of the things about Indigenous and local knowledge is it really is focused on living within the natural world and all of our relations to the ecosystems in the land and animals — all of the beings around us.”
From email from the Division of Water Resources Division 5 (James Heath):
Professional Engineer I (Glenwood Springs) – State of Colorado, Division of Water Resources is now accepting applications for our full time Professional Engineer I (Glenwood Springs). This position exists to provide management to the Division 5 operations group responsible for Water Court activities.
The Water Court related duties include to assist the public through the Water Court process; prepare expert witness reports; consult with the Water Court regarding Water Court applications; negotiate or provide expert engineering support / testimony to litigate any conditions necessary to protect existing water rights; and be the work lead for administrative staff.
This position will also assist the Augmentation Plan group by providing engineering expertise and analysis necessary for the adjudication and administration of plans for augmentation; support water rights administration by developing methodologies to collect and analyze water diversion and delivery data to verify augmentation plan operators are operating in compliance with all applicable court decrees, statutes, rules and regulations; and provide assistance to the public in understanding Colorado water law.
Applicant must possess a current, valid license as a Professional Engineer from the Colorado State Board of Licensure for Architects, Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors. Must be willing and able to possess and maintain a State of Colorado Driver’s License.
Click here to apply online. State of Colorado is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Application deadline is 11:59 pm on 7/11/2022.
The Colorado River’s precipitous decline pushed Arizona lawmakers to deliver Gov. Doug Ducey’s $1 billion water augmentation fund — and then some — late Friday, their final night in session.
Before the votes, the growing urgency for addressing the state’s oncoming water shortage and the long timeline for approving and building new water projects nearly sank the legislation. Just over a week after the federal government warned that the seven states that use the Colorado must make major new cutbacks by next year, Democrats held out until they got an additional $200 million commitment for water conservation, which they argued could help Arizonans much faster than the costlier seawater desalination plan that the governor has touted. Some of the water importation schemes that had been discussed would require multiple billions of dollars and interstate or international partnerships, making this three-year investment effectively a fund for down payments for big-ticket pipes or treatment plants. The water conservation measures, such as grants to help cities reduce turf grass, could be cheaper…
One after another, a bipartisan stream of legislators picked up a microphone in a two-day blitz for the package to say that spending to plug the emerging holes in Arizona’s water supply was critical to the state’s future. They eventually passed it as Senate Bill 1740 with just one dissenter in each chamber.
The Waldo Canyon fire started in the mountains west of Colorado Springs ten years ago on June 23. Smoke was actually first reported on June 22, 2012 but it wasn’t located until the next day. Just days later it roared into the city, killing two people and destroying hundreds of homes in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. It also burned the Flying W Ranch.
Tony Cheng leads the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute and the Southern Rockies Fire Science Exchange Network at Colorado State University-Fort Collins. He visited the area with KRCC’s Shanna Lewis and reflected on the significance of the Waldo Canyon fire for Colorado.
Here’s an excerpt from their conversation, which has been edited for clarity.
Shanna Lewis: How does the Waldo Canyon fire fit into the historical context of wildfires in Colorado?
Tony Cheng: Wildfires in Colorado have always been around. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we had an event like Waldo. What was unique about Waldo was how it got into the suburban communities of Colorado Springs and transformed from a wildland fire into an urban conflagration. We really had never seen that in Colorado, nothing that really was of the magnitude of destruction.
Now, we’ve seen similar kinds of transitions from wildland fire into urban fire in places like California, but when it happened here, I think it was a real wake up call, especially at that time.
The other thing (is) that Waldo Canyon came on the heels of other fires, such as the Hayman fire in 2002, that burned almost 138,000 acres. There was definitely some loss of homes and structures, but not of the magnitude of Waldo. Subsequent to that, we’ve seen more and more of these fires that transitioned from a wildland fire into an urban conflagration.
Click the link to read the release on the NOAA website (Susan Buchanan):
Today, NOAA inaugurated the nation’s newest weather and climate supercomputers with an operational run of the National Blend of Models. The new supercomputers, first announced in Febuary 2020 with a contract award to General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), provide a significant upgrade to computing capacity, storage space and interconnect speed of the nation’s Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System.
“Accurate weather and climate predictions are critical to informing public safety, supporting local economies, and addressing the threat of climate change,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “Through strategic and sustained investments, the U.S. is reclaiming a global top spot in high-performance computing to provide more accurate and timely climate forecasts to the public.”
“More computing power will enable NOAA to provide the public with more detailed weather forecasts further in advance,” said NOAA Administrator, Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “Today’s supercomputer implementation is the culmination of years of hard work by incredible teams across NOAA — everyone should be proud of this accomplishment.”
“This is a big day for NOAA and the state of weather forecasting,” said Ken Graham, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Researchers are developing new ensemble-based forecast models at record speed, and now we have the computing power needed to implement many of these substantial advancements to improve weather and climate prediction.”
Enhanced computing and storage capacity will allow NOAA to deploy higher-resolution models to better capture small-scale features like severe thunderstorms, more realistic model physics to better capture the formation of clouds and precipitation, and a larger number of individual model simulations to better quantify model certainty. The end result is even better forecasts and warnings to support public safety and the national economy.
The new supercomputers will enable an upgrade to the U.S. Global Forecast System (GFS) this fall and the launch of a new hurricane forecast model called the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System (HAFS), slated to be in operation for the 2023 hurricane season pending tests and evaluation.
In addition, the new supercomputers will enable NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center — a division of the National Weather Service’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction — to implement other new applications created by model developers across the U.S. under the Unified Forecast System link over the next five years.
The twin Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Cray supercomputers, called Dogwood and Cactus, are named after the flora native to their geographic locations of Manassas, Virginia, and Phoenix, Arizona, respectively. They replace NOAA’s previous Cray and IBM supercomputers in Reston, Virginia, and Orlando, Florida. The computers serve as a primary and a backup for seamless transfer of operations from one system to another.
Each supercomputer operates at a speed of 12.1 petaflops, three times faster than NOAA’s former system. Coupled with NOAA’s research and development supercomputers in West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Colorado, which have a combined capacity of 18 petaflops, the supercomputing capacity supporting NOAA’s new operational prediction and research is now 42 petaflops.
According to GDIT, Dogwood and Cactus are currently ranked as the 49th and 50th fastest computers in the world by TOP500.
Under the initial 8-year contract with a 2-year optional renewal, GDIT designed and serves as owner/operator of the computers with the responsibility to maintain them and provide all supplies and services, including labor, facilities and computing components.
The first phase of the contract covers products and services for the first five years, after which NOAA will work with the contractor to plan the next upgrade phase,” said David Michaud, director of the National Weather Service’s Office of Central Processing. “This new total managed service approach ensured that we could acquire the best system in the marketplace that can be adjusted as our needs grow in the future.”
In response to continued forecast precipitation and sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs for Wednesday, June 29th, at 4:00 AM.
Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.
Federal officials’ call for massive cuts along the Colorado River has water managers in the American West scrambling to find common ground before the federal government comes down with its own proverbial hammer. It’s a blow Southern Nevada is well positioned to absorb, thanks to a two-decade head start on conservation and significant investments in infrastructure to ensure water continues to flow in the Las Vegas Valley even in the worst of conditions.
“We’re far and away the best positioned,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
For more than 20 years the authority has pushed for conservation efforts to reduce the valley’s water consumption. And those efforts have paid off. Nevada consumed 242,000 acre-feet of water in 2021, roughly about 80 percent of the 300,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water its entitled to annually under a series of agreements that stretch back 100 years. That’s more than 80,000 acre-feet, or about 27 million gallons, less than the Las Vegas Valley consumed in 2002 when there were 800,000 fewer residents.
Still, Lake Mead’s levels have continued to decline over the past two decades as a persistent drought has strained the Colorado River…
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said last week that climate-change-fueled shortages along the Colorado River basin will require additional cuts of 2 million to 4 million acre-feet next year to preserve critical levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
Entsminger doesn’t foresee outright limitations on development or growth amid those cuts. But the reductions along the river that supplies about 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water could move up the need for future conservation efforts and will put a larger magnifying glass on what kinds of companies and businesses Southern Nevada can target for economic development.
Glen Canyon Dam created an opportunity. At the time of its construction, this opportunity was sometimes viewed in terms of water storage, power generation and flood control. Recreation on newly-formed Lake Powell, while clearly envisioned as a planned benefit, was perceived by some as a byproduct of the other reasons the dam was built, rather than as a primary purpose. That perception must change to align with current realities.
Lake Powell, which was once a remote but breathtaking recreational outpost with little supporting infrastructure, had by 2019 become a $420 million economic engine each year, and that’s just from direct revenue generated, not even counting any multiplier effect in the region. Annual visitation, which in 1967 was under 500,000, had increased eight-fold by the end of the second decade of the 21st century. By 2019, recreation on Lake Powell was producing more revenue than the power generated through the dam, a trend that will likely continue as other new energy options present themselves, but only if—and this is the crucial part—Lake Powell and its supporting infrastructure continue to exist and be maintained.
Water supply issues are evolving as well. Water rights have been well-established, and the seven states in the Upper and Lower Basin, along with Mexico, work closely with the Bureau of Reclamation to manage water supply based on a series of laws and protocols first established a century ago. But the legal framework they operate under no longer works as intended, especially as long-term drought has gripped the region, especially in the 21st century. As water supply from the Colorado River has become less reliable, water managers in those states will become more creative with conservation practices while working to develop new supplies through recycled water, desalination opportunities, and engineered solutions.
As the need to focus on water and power from the Colorado River system continues to diminish, the importance of recreational opportunities only increases. Lake Powell is a unique resource not just in the country, but in the entire world: a desert oasis providing unlikely access to some of the most beautiful canyons on the planet, while providing a haven for anglers, campers, hikers and anybody with a camera. It’s an international treasure.
As times have changed, so must the focus of those who manage the lake. Priorities change. The purpose of the dam and the lake it created have evolved. While there are loud and persistent voices who see draining the lake as the only reasonable path forward, we offer an alternative vision. Now is the time to Fill Lake Powell.
If yes, then you’re familiar with Denver Water’s decadelong campaign, launched a few years after the 2002 drought, that urged customers to reduce the amount of water they used in their everyday lives.
The occasionally cheeky campaign showcased images like a park bench with only room for one person, water from a broken sprinkler head cascading onto a giant billboard and suggestions for using less water — like showering with a friend.
And it worked. By the time the campaign — created by Denver’s Sukle Advertising & Design — ended in 2015, water use by Denver Water’s customers had dropped 22% compared to usage before the drought.
The “Use Only What You Need” campaign has been recognized repeatedly over the years for its effectiveness and memorability, and on May 17 the Out of Home Advertising Association of America inducted it into the OBIE Hall of Fame, a group dominated by advertising campaigns backed by national and international brand names.
“Denver Water’s signature orange box asking customers to ‘Use Only What You Need’ became advertising legend in the Denver metro area,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager.
“In a light-hearted and at times outrageous way, the campaign led the charge for our conservation programing where we had a critical call to action: Reduce water use by 22%. Eight years after achieving that goal, Use Only What You Need has remained a one-of-a-kind catchphrase that has continued to help Coloradans embrace a culture of conservation, which is so vital in the arid West where water is such a precious resource.”
Out-of-home advertising is visual advertising outside of the home, such as billboards, indoor and outdoor signs, ads on bus shelters or benches, in airports or train stations, and in a stadium or movie theater.
Previous OBIE Hall of Fame winners include the insurance company Geico (2021), entertainment giants The Walt Disney Co. (2007) and Universal Studios (2019), brewer MillerCoors (2018) and technology company Apple Inc. (2005).
Competition for the 2022 Hall of Fame award put Denver Water up against international heavyweights — and household names — Google, Netflix, Procter & Gamble Co., Pepsi and Samsung.
In the 30-year history of the OBIE Hall of Fame awards, Denver Water’s award is only the second time a regional brand has won the judges’ nod. The first was the San Diego Zoo in 1995.
“This is one of the highest creative honors in our industry, and we are immensely proud to be recognized by OAAA and our peers,” said Mike Sukle, owner of Sukle Advertising & Design.
“Creating and managing the campaign for a decade shaped how we approach every campaign we create. It cemented our philosophy that work must be both smart and creative to generate exceptional results. And while mass media including out of home was critical, the campaign spread almost as much through word-of-mouth. Our audience became our media. That’s an important lesson for all brands. And if you can make people like you, they may also listen to you,” he said.
Anna Bager, president and CEO of the association, called Denver Water’s campaign “truly brilliant and entertaining.”
“Denver Water has achieved legendary out-of-home status with a sustained level of creative excellence over many years. Their commitment to the ‘Use Only What You Need’ headline came to life in a seemingly endless number of creative solutions,” she said.
And while Denver Water’s message that water is precious and should be used wisely hasn’t changed, the utility’s campaign around water has evolved into a simple main message: Water is everything.
Using the tagline “Life Is Better With Water,” the utility’s current campaign with Denver advertising agency Pure Brand celebrates the importance of water as a precious resource in our everyday lives and one that plays a vital role in Colorado’s unique lifestyle.
“It’s about elevating the value of water in our daily lives. Together, we all can help create a ripple effect that ensures our Colorado lifestyle continues for generations to come,” said Kathie Dudas, manager of brand and marketing at Denver Water.
Low river flows in the San Juan river have triggered drought stage 1 for the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), according to a June 21 press release from District Manager Justin Ramsey. Ramsey’s press release contin- ues that entering the drought stage requires a vote of the PAWSD Board of Directors, which is scheduled to come during a 4 p.m. special meeting on Wednesday, [June 22, 2022].
In an interview with The SUN, Ramsey explained that drought stage determinations are based on lake levels at Hatcher Lake, river flow in the San Juan River and the state drought stage, with the variables to weighted to give Hatcher the highest priority, followed by the river flows, followed by the state drought stage. Ramsey commented that, while Hatcher is “still in good shape,” the median river flow for June 21 is 929 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the flow for that day in 2022 was 250 cfs…
Rivers and drought
Stream flow for the San Juan River on June 22 at approximately 9 a.m. was 220 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This is down from a recent peak of 662 cfs at 7:15 p.m. on June 19 and up from last week’s reading of 137 cfs at 9 a.m. on June 15.
According to Ramsey, the rise in river levels is linked to the recent storms in the area.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports hat 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought. It notes May 2022 was the 19th driest May in 128 years, with 1.03 fewer inches of precipitation than normal, and with 2022 to date being the sixth driest year in the last 128 years, with 5.22 inches of precipitation less than normal. The NIDIS also places the entire county in an extreme drought, which may cause pasture conditions to worsen and large fires to develop. The NIDIS also notes that an extreme drought can cause extremely low reservoir levels, mandatory water use restrictions and increases in water temperatures.
Xerces’ conservation efforts span across many different types of landscapes, and the organization has long been interested in expanding upon work being done in urban settings. To support those goals, my position was created: Pollinator Conservation Specialist for Urban and Small Farms in Historically Underserved Communities. Through this work, we strive to bridge the gap between pollinator habitat efforts in urban and agricultural areas.
Like many others on Xerces’ pollinator team, I also work closely with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as a partner biologist. Based in Michigan, I will work with the greater Detroit and Flint metro areas to provide education and technical assistance on their conservation programs, including through monitoring, establishing, or expanding habitat for pollinator insects, beneficial predatory invertebrates, and soil invertebrates.
As a new member of the Detroit community, my top priority in beginning this work is to listen and learn from the people who have been on the ground working on urban ag and community food systems. It is so important to understand the existing urban ag and conservation efforts here, to work towards developing genuine connections and building trust, and have conversations on how the pollinator and biodiversity conservation work of Xerces and NRCS can support existing efforts.
In my short time here, I am quickly learning how many wonderful local organizations and urban farms have already adopted pollinator habitat into their work, and many more are excited to develop new habitats. However, much of the community here has been marginalized and historically excluded from conservation efforts. So, having open conversations on what habitats can look like in their spaces, how we may work together to incorporate pollinator habitat needs into other urban conservation efforts (such as storm water management or soil pollution remediation), and how we can work together to achieve their long-term goals will be important for integrating our work in a collaborative way.
Community gains from urban agriculture initiatives
The Detroit area is a unique model in the development of urban agriculture. Understanding the history of the city will not only better inform us on the land use, but also the impact that the changing landscape has had on the people living here. When the automotive industry established in the city, Detroit saw a large increase in population. However, after the industry moved out of the city, many of the more affluent community members left with them. Detroit became less financially stable and social tension was high amongst the community. As a result, an increasing number of properties across the area became vacant (homes, schools, businesses) and often left communities isolated.
This also created or expanded food deserts, further limiting access to nutritious foods. Community members have since been working with the city and legislature to revitalize many vacant lots as community gardens and small urban farm sites. These sites grow crops to feed the local community, but there are other driving factors of urban agriculture:
Community development and job growth
Food sovereignty, production, and nutrition
Beautification and reduction of blight
Education and skills training
Biodiversity conservation through corridors and islands of habitat
Combating heat islands
These urban farm sites act as excellent learning opportunities and demonstrations of the importance of biodiversity. Our society’s agricultural demand has developed to rely on European honey bees, but small urban agriculture areas offer a great opportunity to learn about other beneficial insects that are often overlooked. These beneficial insects include native solitary bees, who are often smaller than honey bees and are particularly efficient pollinators of our native plants. Predatory and parasitoid wasps are often underappreciated and are valuable in the garden as they can act as great natural biological control of other invertebrates that you may consider “pests”. Urban areas are also important for invertebrate diversity because they have been shown to help foster corridors and islands of habitat for wildlife.
Exciting things are also happening on a national level with the start of a new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. With this new office, diverse committees are being formed across the country to assist urban farmers through a variety of programs, technical support, and funding for their operations, including conservation practices. The Biden administration is also reinvesting in the People’s Garden Initiative (PGI), which recognizes the value of collaborative, community driven, local food production (e.g. urban farms, community gardens, school gardens).
Xerces is working closely with the Office of Urban Ag and the People’s Garden to support the creation of demonstration habitats with PGI urban farm partners across the U.S. At the same time, NRCS Chief Terry Cosby has committed to step up work on supporting historically marginalized communities and urban agriculture. Xerces will work closely with NRCS to support pollinator conservation in other urban ag settings, such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis.
There are many exciting possibilities to work in support of both pollinators and urban agriculture. I look forward to working with these communities more, learning from and supporting their efforts, and sharing my passion for pollinators.
Pollinator Conservation Specialist for Urban and Small Farms in Underserved Communities and NRCS Partner Biologist
Stefanie is the Pollinator Conservation Specialist for Urban and Small Farms in Underserved Communities and a NRCS Partner Biologist in the Upper Midwest – Detroit, Michigan area. Through this work, she provides technical assistance, planning, and education on incorporating pollinator and other beneficial invertebrate habitat in small urban agricultural areas and community gardens in historically excluded communities. Her work supports projects including the Xerces Habitat Kit Program, People’s Garden Initiative, and NRCS Conservation Programs through the USDA Farm Bill.
Colorado River Basin states will succeed in complying with an emergency federal order that came just last week to slash water use by millions of acre-feet, experts said, but it will take time plus major deals with farm interests and tribal communities, and will likely require that the basin, whose flows and operational structure were divided by the 1922 Colorado River Compact, be united and managed as one entity.
“The world has shifted under our feet this week,” said Doug Kenney, former director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. “We are all being asked to innovate at a pace and scale that I don’t think we were thinking of. Sometimes a big threat from the federal government is what you need.”
The states have 60 days to come up with a water reduction plan.
Kenney’s comments came June 17 at the Getches-Wilkinson Law Conference on Natural Resources at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Kenney was referring to a June 14 emergency request from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton, telling the seven states that comprise the Colorado River Basin that they will need to find 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water use reductions in the next 18 months to stave off a potential collapse in the Colorado River system.
Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, in comparison, use roughly 3.5 million acre-feet (maf) annually.
Lake Powell, which can store roughly 26 maf of water when full, and its sister reservoir, Lake Mead, with 29.4 maf of storage, are two of the largest reservoirs in the United States.
A 20-year megadrought, considered to be the worst in 1,200 years, including two back-to-back intense drought periods during 2020 and 2021, has left each of the reservoirs well below their former levels, with Lake Mead just 24% full, and Lake Powell down to about 27% of capacity.
Touton’s order came just six weeks after the federal government and the states approved two other major agreements, one to hold 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell that would normally have been released to Lake Mead for Arizona, California and Nevada, and another releasing 500,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming state line to further boost levels in Lake Powell.
Under the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Upper Basin is made up of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, while the Lower Basin comprises Arizona, California and Nevada and Mexico.
Each basin was given the rights to 7.5 million acre-feet of water, with an additional 1.5 million acre-feet of water for Mexico. But the river has generated much less than that for decades, and since the megadrought began in the early 2000s, the river’s flows have declined and stored water supplies in Powell and Mead have shrunk as well.
How the new reduction orders will affect supplies in Colorado and other Upper Basin states, who have never used their full entitlements to the river’s flows, isn’t clear yet.
To find ways to cut 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water will require intense negotiations, and maybe even legal action, according to Bill Hasencamp, who manages Colorado River supplies for the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million people in Los Angeles, San Diego and elsewhere.
Under the terms of the 1922 compact and subsequent agreements, California was entitled to use 4.4 million acre-feet of Colorado River Water, but because supplies were abundant and the river generated millions of acre-feet of extra water every year, California routinely used more than its share. That changed in 2003, when the federal government ordered it to cut back.
With last week’s announcement, Hasencamp said, “It feels like I am going through 2003 again. The lessons are still applicable today. Having a federal threat is a pretty good motivator.”
Despite the enormity of the challenge, Hasencamp said he was optimistic that the states would reach a deal, just as they did 20 years ago.
“It’s going to be painful,” Hasencamp said. “Some people will lose their jobs. These are such tough decisions that there could be fallout…but we have some pretty smart people in the basin. Let them be creative.”
Twenty years ago, California was able to reduce its use by arranging intermittent land fallowing deals with major agricultural irrigators, such as the Imperial Irrigation District. It also made deals with Arizona and Utah to stabilize its water supplies.
Now, Hasencamp said, California is down to using just 4.2 million acre-feet of Colorado River water annually, below its formal allocation.
Tribal concerns will have to be addressed to reach a deal, said Lorelei Cloud, a council member with the Southern Ute Tribe in southwestern Colorado.
Even now, she said, “Tribes are not compensated for their water that is in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Everybody is depending on tribes not to use their water. But the federal government needs to fulfill its trust responsibilities to the tribes.”
James Eklund, a water attorney and former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said that the federal government and the states will have to relax or eliminate the divisions between the upper and lower basins, because they sharply limit flexibility in managing the drought-strapped river system.
“We are in a crisis and we have an opportunity to reexamine [the 1922 compact]. Even five years ago, I would have said that is too much. That’s going too far.
“But a whole-basin approach is much more appropriate than continuing this fiction of an artificially bifurcated basin,” Eklund said.
Colorado officials have said repeatedly that they have always had to live with cutbacks as a result of lower flows that naturally occur in the system when you’re up high in the headwaters and don’t have substantial water storage to fall back on.
They also point to the two emergency releases from Flaming Gorge in 2021 and 2022, and releases from Colorado’s federally owned Blue Mesa Reservoir, as evidence of their having already given plenty of water to help stabilize the system.
And though Lower Basin states have already begun implementing cutbacks involving hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water, this new ask is much larger and must be answered quickly, experts said.
Because farm interests control roughly 80% of the river’s water supplies, farmers are going to be asked to fallow land and to put a price on how much that will cost other water users and federal government.
Peter Nichols is a Colorado water attorney who helped craft a large-scale farm fallowing program in the Lower Arkansas Valley that was modeled after work that California’s Metropolitan District did in the early 2000s. Rather than buying farm land and drying it up, what’s known as the Super Ditch project allows farmers to lease their water when it is convenient and in times of drought.
The Super Ditch took years in water court and three trips to the Colorado legislature to finally implement, but it serves as an example of what can be done through the seven-state basin to achieve the federally mandated cutbacks, Nichols said.
“Irrigators are going to be willing to do this,” Nichols said. “But they’re going to be interested in three things: price, price and price.”
“They are also interested in flexibility,” Nichols said. “They don’t want to be tied in forever. If the price of onions goes through the roof, they will want out. They will want to be able to grow onions.”
Still the framework is out there and is workable, he said.
“[California’s] Metropolitan proved you can do this. But you can’t do it quickly. Reclamation has drawn a couple of lines in the sand and it has changed what we have to do and the amount of time we have to do it in,” he said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
Last week, 96 percent of people in the contiguous United States experienced nighttime temperatures more likely to occur due to human-caused warming. The findings come from a Washington Post analysis of data provided by the nonprofit Climate Central, which released the world’s first tool to show how climate change is affecting daily temperatures in real time. Overnight temperatures, as opposed to daytime temperatures, were boosted the most by climate change. While more and more people are increasingly exposed to warmer nighttime temperatures, which are potentially more dangerous to the body, last week’s number stands out.
More than 3,000 new daily high temperatures were reached in the Lower 48 states that week – with nearly twice as many unprecedented warm temperatures reached at night than during daytime.
“Climate change is impacting us every day somewhere. That’s a big part of the world that we’re living in right now,” said Andrew Pershing, director of climate science at Climate Central. “Our goal is really to be able to talk about everyday conditions.”
WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Wednesday that the agency is investing $1.4 billion into rural economies through job training, business loans and the expansion of technical assistance.
“It’s a good day for rural America,” Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, said during a call with reporters.
Eight programs will dole out 751 awards across 49 states, including Colorado. Vilsack added that these programs will help create wealth in rural communities.
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“The rural economy, which plays an important role in our national economy, has historically lagged behind the urban and suburban counterparts,” he said. That’s why it’s important for us to focus on building back that rural economy better.”
Some of the grants and loans will assist with needs ranging from housing to expansion of small businesses and family farms to providing capital for new small businesses owners.
One of the programs, the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program, allocated $8.4 million in grant awards and $1.7 million in loans. In Iowa, the Pella Cooperative Electric Association received a $300,000 grant from that program to replenish the association’s revolving loan fund, which will help fund the construction of a women’s housing and health care facility.
The Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program gave out $5.8 million in grants. Some grants were awarded to cooperatives such as the Georgia Cooperative Development Center, which received $70,000 in funding, and the Cooperative Development Foundation in Virginia, which received a $200,000 grant.
Several universities also received those grants, such as Ohio State University, which received nearly $200,000 and the Board Of Regents, the governing body at the University Of Nebraska, which was awarded $200,000.
Vilsack added that the agency is also hoping to partner with other entities “to ensure that the workforce needed is being trained and is being prepared to take on that opportunity and responsibility.”
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These are thorny questions. What do tribes do now with their coal? What about the country? And what’s the best transition plan that will preserve at least some of the best paying jobs in rural communities?
Globally, the stage is set. The United Nations has been clear about the need to “dismantle coal infrastructure” and phase out that fossil fuel over the next eight years.
“The only true path to energy security, stable power prices, prosperity and a liveable planet lies in abandoning polluting fossil fuels, especially coal, and accelerating the renewables-based energy transition,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in Australia this month.
In other words there is no possible route to reach greenhouse gas emission targets unless coal is no longer mined and processed. And not every government, or company, is on board with that notion.
There are some 25 tribes that have some form of coal reserves, power plants or mines. On top of that the Associated Press reported in 2012 that 10 percent of all U.S. power plants operate within 20 miles of tribal nations, impacting nearly 50 tribal nations.
The shift away from coal is a big story.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, at a conference on coal transition, called the challenge “unprecendented” and it’s coming faster than anyone expected. “We would like to continue our role as an Arizona energy generator,” he said, “but through the renewable energy projects that will make our shared clean energy future possible.”
Modern societies have dramatically disrupted the water cycle. We have paved wetlands, diverted rivers, overpumped groundwater, and built levees that allow no room for streams to ebb and flow.
The problems — and the opportunities — that spring from this mismatch between the natural world and the built environment are the topic of Water Always Wins, a new book from journalist Erica Gies.
“In our standard development, we’ve taken a very control-oriented mindset toward water,” Gies told Circle of Blue. “We want to keep it in its little channel, we want to store it in a big reservoir. When we push water in that way, we find that there are limits to our powers of control.”
Gies suggests that many societies need a major cultural shift in how people relate to water. She calls this shift a “slow water” movement — an ethic that gives water space to move across the landscape and seeks local solutions.
“The way that we view water as a sort of contest is not required,” Gies says. “We can choose a different way.”
Welcome to Speaking of Water. I’m Brett Walton, I’m a reporter for Circle of Blue. What does water want? That’s one of the central questions in a new book called Water Always Wins that explores failures and opportunities in water management. The author is Erica Gies, who joins me today. Thanks for being here Erica.
Thank you for having me.
It’s a big book. There’s a lot going on here. We have flood plains and drought and microbes and beavers and sponge cities and stories that range from the U.S. to Iraq, to the Netherlands, to China. And in all of these stories, there’s a thread in that there’s often a mismatch between how the natural world operates and how we designed our built environment.
And your book title, Water Always Wins, suggests that it’s a one sided contest. So what does it mean that that water always wins?
Well, sooner or later, water does always win. You know, that old joke you’ve probably heard about levees, two kinds of levees, ones that have failed and ones that are going to fail. So I think that’s kind of illustrative of the concept. Anyone who’s ever tried to keep water out of a building understands the power of water. But my subtitle is “Driving in an Age of Drought and Deluge.”
So that’s the key message of the book, is that if in our standard development, we’ve taken a very control-oriented mindset toward water, we want to keep it in its little channel. We want to store it in a big reservoir. And when we push water in that way, then we find that there are limits to our powers of control.
And we’re seeing that increasingly often now, both with climate change, which is exacerbating water extremes and also just population growth and development. You know, the area of cities worldwide has doubled since 1992. So that’s a really good indicator of why we’re seeing so much urban flooding now. We just have so much more pavement. I think this attitude of control is not necessarily a given.
You know, I went around the world and I met people from all different cultures and not everybody approaches water with this attitude of control, which sees water is either a commodity or a threat. There are a lot of Indigenous traditions that see water as a relative. Rural traditions that see water as a friend. Water brings nutrients to the soil.
People who have amphibious housing rely on water to lift them to safety. So the way that we view water as this sort of contest is not required. We can choose a different way.
So in the contest that Western societies and cities are set up today, you know, water wins we’re not talking about bingo or checkers here. There are real consequences when water wins in these scenarios. What are the stakes that are involved here when we’re talking about water winning?
Right. Well, flooding is the big one and also water scarcity. We’ve filled in 87% of the world’s wetlands to build in or plant upon. We have dammed or otherwise intervened on two thirds of the world’s big rivers. There’s the massive urban paving that I talked about. And all these ways, we’ve dramatically disrupted the water cycle. And I’m sure you and some of your listeners know that, you know, 96% of liquid freshwater on Earth is underground.
And the underground and surface water are linked. And so when we don’t allow water to flow on land, we’re disrupting that hydrological cycle. And that creates all kinds of unintended consequences. So, you know, flooding is the really obvious thing when you have water where you don’t want it to be. But a lot of our water scarcity problems that we have in the West are also due to this same phenomenon.
We tend to think of surface waterways, streams in the West as seasonal features that only run in the winter. But in fact, that wasn’t always the case. There are, of course, some streams that only run during wet season, but a lot of the streams we think of as dry in the summer, in fact, used to run in the summer, and it was because groundwater systems were healthier and connected to the surface water and they were feeding them in the summer And, you know, we look at the fire problems that we’re having in the West, and partly that’s because the lands, the soil, the plants are so desiccated.
And again, that is a problem that could be helped quite a bit if we allowed our hydrological system to be healthier.
Your subtitle mentions thriving. And throughout the book, you mention and bring up and reference a concept called ‘slow water’ as a way to position us towards a more thriving future. So I wonder if you could just explain what ‘slow water’ is and how that term has come about.
Slow water is when you look at how standard development has preceded, a lot of what we’ve done is erase water’s natural slow phases. You know, wetlands, which we’ve filled in 87% of them, the floodplains that we’ve built on or planted upon, even a high altitude grasslands and forests that generate a lot of our rain and downstream water flow.
When we cut those or change that landscape, then we impact the ability of water to be generated from these water towers. So all of the people that I met around the world who were trying to ask what water wants and trying to figure out how to accommodate that desire within our human landscapes, we’re all looking to either conserve or restore some of these slow phases for water.
And slow water has some commonalities with slow food in that it draws attention to where our water comes from and how our treatment of it affects the environment and other people. And it is ideally local, which is sort of anathema for someone from California to say, because we have such a dramatically engineered water landscape there. But, you know, there’s a lot of problems of moving water from one place to another.
You’re depleting the donor ecosystem. You’re potentially introducing invasive species to the new system, but also you’re creating this false sense of security. And so again and again, when people bring large quantities of water from one area to another, demand expands to use all the new water. And then you have a water scarcity problem again. The big problem is just that we’ve become so disconnected from our water, so we don’t understand where it comes from or what it’s doing or how it functions and its relationships with rocks, microbes, beavers, people.
So local water helps people to better understand that. And we’ve also moved toward this very centralized water system where we have centralized drinking water treatment, sewage treatment. I’m not saying we should do away with those things. They’re very important. But the result has been that people really take water for granted. They turn on the tap, they have clean drinking water, and many countries, their sewage goes away and this is treated.
But in the past, people were very intimately involved with their water and caretaking it and capturing it when it rained and moving it underground and keeping canal systems clean of sediment. And the result was that they understood very clearly how much water was available to them in a given year and what they could do with that. And there was also this kind of stewardship attitude toward it.
And you see that in a lot of these indigenous traditions as well. You know, rights come with responsibilities. There’s a reciprocity in that relationship where, you know, you take care of water and what water needs, and then water provides you with the things that you need.
Well, you start the book with the example of a water detective in the book is dedicated to water detectives. And the opening scene is you looking around San Francisco for evidence of where water is or was. And it can be ghost streams that we have buried, or paved over, or places where water seeps out of the ground. And you mentioned, you know, with the slow water movement that it’s going to take a change in how we relate to water.
We’ve built a very large ship so to speak, with our water systems, our pipelines and centralized treatment plants and large ships take a long time to change course. So I’m wondering, you know, in reporting the book, if you saw how these cultural, political, economic, social changes can occur to change course towards more of a slow water movement?
That’s a really big question, because what I’m suggesting in this book is that we need a major cultural shift in how we relate to water. But, you know, the most recent IPCC report called for a radical change in how we do everything, including how we obtain and manage water. And so I think the time for small measures is over if we want to avoid significant disaster and harm.
So how to do it is tricky. One thing I will say is the way we’ve related to water has often focused on kind of single-minded problem solving. You know, we have water scarcity, so let’s build the dam and create this big pool of water. Or, you know, we don’t want this field to flood, so let’s build a levee.
But single minded problems solving in nature is problematic because you’re operating in a system and you’re not considering how the system works. So we need a way to better make decisions that takes into account the system and the unintended consequences that we might have. And, you know, that’s beginning to happen with more complex computer modeling. But I think we also need a way to quantify those benefits.
There are a lot of co-benefits with these slow water projects. Like support for biodiversity, prevention of flooding and water scarcity and … carbon storage in these wetland ecosystems. Better habitat for humans, you know, more nature in our cities and, you know, nicer areas for us to spend time in. And a lot of those benefits are not at all counted or measured when these decisions are being made.
And that is a bigger problem in our economic system. Where externalities are not counted and a lot of the costs of development are born not by the people making money, but by the environment. And by taxpayers or people in disadvantaged communities. You know, our economic system is predicated upon this myth of eternal growth which is an impossibility. And in the field of economics, people talk about moving towards steady state economics or environmental economics.
You know, things like getting money out of politics. I mean.
Yeah, there’s a lot, there’s a whole lot.
You know, let me say two more things. One is, so in Kenya, there are two policies. One is that water is apportioned not first in time, first in right kind of thing. There are people who have bigger water benefits than others, but the apportionment is dependent upon how much water they get in a given year, which sounds like common sense that, you know, if there’s a drought, people share the pain.
But of course, that doesn’t happen in a lot of places. And then they also have a community water users program across the country. Where community groups have some investment in managing their water. So I think that’s really important to give people some agency and some buy in.
One of the things that people often look for in this type of reporting is solutions. Everyone wants to know who’s doing things well. And can I copy what they’re doing and bring it to my place. In the book, you write that the slow water movement ideas are meant to inspire rather than prescribe. And so that suggests that it’s not so easy in some cases to just transfer one project from one area to another.
Talk a bit more about the inspire rather than prescribe and how solutions may not just be as simple as copying project A into area B.
Yeah. So unlike a dam or a levee where we have kind of gone around the world and put those everywhere, slow water solutions are unique to their place. So every place has unique geology, ecology, hydrology and culture. And a slow water solution needs to be specific to each of those particular variables. And I think the culture aspect is very important.
In some cases, Western civilization has gone to places that have fairly sustainable water systems and said what you really need is a dam, a big dam that you’re going to go into debt for and have to pay for forever. And you know, it’s going to disrupt your sustainable fishing economy, et cetera. And one person in my book called this hydro colonialism.
So I would say slow water is the antithesis of that. It is very much specific to each place. What I tried to do in this book is look around the world to find different cultures and to find different water situations, whether somebody was experiencing scarcity because their glaciers are melting or experiencing flooding because they’ve grown their cities too quickly.
So I looked for all these different kinds of water situations and the goal in doing that was that people, no matter where they were, no matter what their water problems were, could find some inspiration of here’s an idea of something along the lines that might work in our place. And then you take that idea and then look at the specifics of your place and figure out how it can work for you.
Given all that reporting, everything that went into the book and all the places you went, you know, after doing all this work, what did you find if anything, that inspires you?
Everyone I met I thought was very inspiring because they really are setting their own path. You know, the dominant culture is kind of screaming that we do things this way. And all of these people are saying, you know what? That way isn’t working. And we’re going to try something radically different. But one entity I found very inspiring were beavers.
So I have a chapter on beavers in the book. And people in the U.K. are using beavers to prevent flooding in towns downstream. And people in the western U.S. are using beavers as a hedge against water scarcity and helping to move water underground and heal hydrology also as a protection against fires. So here’s this amazing animal that can do so much to heal our hydrology.
And there’s a longer story about how humans have interfered with that in the past. But beavers are really incredible. If we give them space to do their work, they can do so much to help us and to help many, many other species that benefit from the habitats that they create. Plus, they’re—
So you’ve turned into a beaver believer.
I’ve been speaking with Erica Gies, author of Water Always Wins, which will be published in the U.S. in June. It’s already out in the U.K. For Circle of Blue, I’m Brett Walton. Erica, thanks for being here.
Data from the National Resources Conservation Service shows that snowpack sensor sites measured zero inches starting on June 17. The 30-year median was just above that level on that date, 0.4 inches, and the median shows a completion of snow melt by June 22.
In recent weeks, this year’s snow-water equivalent levels stayed on par with the median after a late-May snow boosted levels back up from being several inches below. Before that, snow-water equivalent had fallen behind the median.
On May 20, just before the spring snowstorm, the Blue River basin had just 5.5 inches left, almost half of what was charted for the median, 10.2 inches. By May 28, snowmelt had begun to match that of the median again.
This late-June coolish spell in Colorado is unusual. The trend is toward hot and hotter. Denver in June matched a record set just a few years ago for the earliest time to hit 100 degrees. Grand Junction last year set an all-time record of 107.
What if the heat rises to 116 degrees, such as baked Portland a year ago? Could Xcel Energy deliver the electricity needed to chill the air?
It can in 2022, the company says, but it has less confidence for 2023 and 2024 after it shuts down a coal plant. Xcel frets about disruption to supply chains necessary to add renewable generation.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission, Colorado’s second-largest electrical supplier, also foresees supply-chain issues as it replaces coal-fired generation with renewables. It has extended the deadline for bids from developers of wind, solar, and storage projects by more than two months, to Sept. 16.
Colorado has hit a bump in its energy transition. The climate sends ever-louder signals that we must quit polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. After a sluggish response, Colorado has been hurrying to pivot. Now, inflation and other problems threaten to gum up the switch.
The glitch is significant enough that Eric Blank, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission chair, asked Xcel representatives at a June 17 meeting whether it might be wise to keep Comanche I, the aging coal plant in Pueblo, operating beyond its scheduled retirement at the end of 2022.
“It kills me to even ask this question,” said Blank, a former developer of wind and solar energy projects.
In northwestern New Mexico, the aging San Juan Generating Station has been allowed to puff several months past its planned retirement because of problems in getting a new solar farm on line. Even so, the utility predicts rolling blackouts, as has happened in other states.
No blackouts have been predicted in Colorado. Xcel has a healthy reserve margin of 18%.
But even if Xcel wanted to keep Comanche 1 operating beyond 2022, it lacks the permits to do so, company representatives told PUC commissioners at a June 17 meeting devoted to “resource adequacy.”
In addition to the supply chain disruptions, Xcel failed to adequately foresee demand growth. Residential demand was expected to decline as people returned to offices after the covid shutdown. They have, but less than expected. Too, demand from Xcel’s wholesale customers – it provides power for Holy Cross Energy but also some other utilities – has grown more than projected.
“We can’t go into the summer of 2023 with less than 10% reserve margins,” said Blank. “We just can’t.”
Old technology, though, isn’t always a sure-fire answer. Coal plants routinely must shut down for maintenance. Then there are the fiascos. Problems have repeatedly idled Comanche 3, the state’s youngest and largest coal plant, during its 12 years. Cabin Creek, Xcel’s trusty pumped-storage hydro project at Georgetown, has also been down.
The electrical grid now being assembled will be more diverse, dispersed, and flexible. Many homes will have storage, the batteries of electric vehicles will be integrated into the grid, and demand will be shaved and then shaped to better correspond with supplies. Megan Gilman, a PUC commissioner from Edwards, pointed out that this strategy could be a key response to tightening margins between supplies and demands. Xcel has had a small-scale peak-shaving program but will soon submit plans for expanded demand management.
Meanwhile, it gets hotter and hotter. Russ Schumacher, the state climatologist, says Colorado’s seven of the nine warmest years on record have occurred since 2012. We haven’t had a year cooler than the 20th century average since 1992. Air conditioning has become the new normal for high-end real estate offerings even in Winter Park, elevation 9,000 feet. It’s not just the heat. There’s also the matter of smoke, as more intense wildfires grow larger and expand across the calendar, too. For weeks, sometimes months on end, opening the windows is no option.
Colorado’s record temperature of 115 degrees was set in 2019 near Lamar, in southeastern Colorado. Nobody yet has made public modeling of the potential for that kind of heat in Front Range cities, where 90% of Coloradans live. Last year the deaths of 339 people were attributed to heat in the Phoenix area, where nighttime temperatures sometimes stay above 90.
Power outages in Texas during February 2021 were blamed — mostly without merit — on wind farms. Nobody in Colorado wants to see any plausible excuse to blame renewables. The best way to avoid that is to keep the air conditioners running.
Two of Colorado’s fastest-growing towns are suing the state over rules used to manage vast quantities of water that lie underground, saying that if the state moves forward with a new permitting requirement it could sharply limit their future water supplies.
Experts say the lawsuit, filed 14 months ago by Parker Water and Sanitation District and joined by Castle Rock, could dramatically change the way underground aquifers containing millions of acre-feet of water are managed and could also impact future water supplies for dozens of Front Range communities.
At issue is whether a 1985 state law regulates only the rate at which wells are pumped or whether the state can also limit the total volume of water pumped. Under what’s known as the 100-year rule, well owners in the Denver Basin aquifers, which underlie much of the Front Range and Eastern Plains, can pump 1% of the water estimated to be under their land annually for 100 years. The law applies to aquifers known as “non-tributary,” meaning they do not receive any natural recharge from snow and rain and are also not connected in any way to rivers.
Last March, as part of what it describes as an administrative effort to ensure wells across the state are regulated in a uniform way, the Colorado Division of Water Resources also began including the total amount of water a Denver Basin aquifer well permit holder was entitled to pump during the lifetime of the well permit.
“Not only is there an annual maximum, but we also interpreted the law to mean that you are limited to the total amount of water under your property,” said Tracy Kosloff, deputy state engineer at the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
Parker Water and Sanitation District objected, saying that placing a lifetime limit on the total volume of water available to withdraw would improperly limit their water supplies, violating their property rights.
At the same time Greeley and Aurora have also joined the legal battle, saying they support the state’s effort to more closely manage underground supplies by including a specific volume on permits because it will better protect everyone over the long run.
Parker and other Douglas County entities declined to comment on the suit, but in its court filing Parker described the state’s efforts as “arbitrary and capricious.”
The Denver Basin aquifers once served as a plentiful, pure and inexpensive water source for fast-growing Douglas County communities and others. Instead of buying expensive water rights in nearby rivers and streams, and building dams and reservoirs to store that water, developers could simply obtain a permit and drill a well.
For years the aquifers had been accessed largely by individual homeowners and ranchers. But as growth took off in the 1970s, Parker, Castle Rock and others began drilling new high-powered wells, capable of pumping 1,000 gallons a minute, deep into the aquifers.
Water in aquifers is often under intense pressure and when wells are drilled, pressure is released, allowing the water to rise quickly to the surface. But eventually, the pressure subsides and the water no longer rises naturally, meaning electricity has to be used to draw the water to the surface. And as the water is pumped, because there is no natural recharge, the water table gets lower and lower, requiring that expensive new wells be drilled deeper to maintain water supplies.
By the 1980s it was clear the aquifers were in decline, and in 1985 the state imposed the 100-year rule and began monitoring aquifer levels and calculating how much was contained in the four geographic formations that comprise the Denver Basin. But back then there was little money to do the detailed, widespread mapping and hydrological studies needed to pinpoint how much water lay under each entity’s land holdings.
Since then more wells have been drilled, and the aquifers are being used heavily not just for water supply, but also for water storage. Cities such as Highlands Ranch, Parker and others have implemented sophisticated programs that put surface water back into the aquifer, using it like a savings account which can be accessed in drought years.
It is this banked water that the state, and Greeley and others, want to protect.
And that’s not an easy task, because these non-tributary aquifers have widely different geologic formations including sand, silt and bedrock, which allow water to freely move from one place to another, making it difficult to track.
“The water in the Denver Basin aquifers isn’t static, like an ice cube in a tray. It’s a leaky ice cube tray,” said Kosloff.
More science, please
Sean Chambers, director of the Greeley Water and Sewer Department, said his concern is that allowing Parker and Castle Rock to pump without an overall volume limit could mean that water he and other cities are injecting into the ground is unknowingly extracted, harming their own supplies. Greeley has begun an ambitious groundwater supply program with its purchase last year of the Terry Ranch. Chambers said it is critical that the aquifers are closely monitored and managed to ensure everyone’s water supplies are protected.
“You shouldn’t be allowed to pump water from someone else’s property,” Chambers said.
Ralf Topper is a groundwater expert who formerly oversaw the state’s groundwater programs at the Division of Water Resources. Though Parker, Castle Rock and other communities have done a good job of regulating their non-renewable aquifer supplies and slowing the aquifers’ declines, interference between wells in urban areas is becoming more of an issue, Topper said.
Topper and other experts say the issue will only be resolved when more sophisticated aquifer management tools are implemented, including thousands of new site-specific water studies, underground mapping, and public processes to ensure other water users aren’t injured by over-pumping.
“Our fundamental concern is that we want science-based, data-driven analysis of all non-tributary aquifer determinations. Lastly, we want to be sure if an aquifer is deemed non-tributary it is deemed as such by a scientific analysis that is subject to a public hearing and appeals process,” he said.
Topper and others have questioned whether existing state law gives water regulators the authority to make this change and that is something the court is examining now.
Parker, Castle Rock and other water districts in Douglas and Arapahoe counties have dramatically reduced their use of groundwater and they intend to continue weaning themselves off the aquifers. But they still want to protect their rights to the ground water because the aquifers are the best tool they have to protect against future droughts.
“The imposition of this condition … is a denial of a statutory right, is contrary to a constitutional right, and is a clearly unwarranted exercise [of the state engineer’s] discretion,” Parker said in its court filing.
How quickly the court will decide the case isn’t clear yet. Still, said Deputy Engineer Kosloff, “It’s good for us to understand sooner rather than later so we can all plan for that.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
On [June 14, 2022] the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission designated the headwaters of the Taylor River and lower Soap Creek as “Outstanding Waters,” a label that will protect the water quality of the stream reaches for future generations. During its June rulemaking hearing, the state commission voted to protect 25 of the 26 stream segments proposed — encompassing 520 river miles throughout the Animas, Gunnison, San Juan, San Miguel and the Upper Dolores basins. The proposal, three years in the making, was created by the Southwest Colorado Outstanding Waters Coalition, a group of stakeholders and organizations from across the state, to conserve the segments’ exceptionally high water quality and the benefits they provide for wildlife and communities throughout southwestern Colorado.
Through the Clean Water Act, the state can designate a waterway as “outstanding” to protect it from actions that would permanently degrade the water quality such as mining, road development and oil and gas extractions.
The commission reviews each river basin across the state for new designations every three years. The process to nominate a stream is rigorous, and includes year-round water sampling, data analysis and evaluation and widespread public outreach. A stream must meet three main criteria to qualify as outstanding. First it must have either exceptional recreational or ecological significance. Examples include Gold Medal fisheries as well as waters within national parks and monuments. Nominees must also need additional protections from the state to maintain existing quality, and meet water quality standards that support aquatic life, recreation and domestic water supply use — requiring measurements of pH levels, dissolved oxygen, E. coli, metals and other trace elements.
The Bureau of Reclamation today published a Federal Register notice to assist in its efforts to develop future Colorado River operating provisions. Several decisional documents and agreements that govern the operation of crucial Colorado River facilities, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and the management of Colorado River water will expire at the end of 2026. The notice seeks specific input on how to foster meaningful participation by all stakeholders in preparation for beginning the National Environmental Policy Act process to develop post-2026 operating approaches for the Colorado River, and operating strategies to address post-2026.
“In my testimony last week, I stressed the need for a quick response and action from across the basin to reduce water use and protect the sustainability of the Colorado River system,” said Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “As we focus on these short-term response actions, we also clearly recognize the importance of simultaneously planning for the longer-term to stabilize our reservoirs before we face an even larger crisis.”
The publication of this notice is not the start of the NEPA process but is a tool to seek input and encourage brainstorming and input before the formal initiation of the NEPA process.Reclamation is targeting an early 2023 start for the NEPA process to develop post-2026 operating guidelines.
“We want to hear from everyone who has a stake in this basin. We intend to develop our next operating rules in an inclusive, transparent manner, relying on the best available science,” said Senior Water Resources Program Manager Carly Jerla. “We’re seeking input to foster a meaningful participation of Colorado River partners and stakeholders and to gather ideas and strategies for the post-2026 operations that should also be considered in the NEPA process.”
The notice asks for specific suggestions on the process and the substance of how best to analyze future operations and what those operations should include. It also highlights the changing circumstances in the Colorado River Basin since 2007, including declining hydrology, drought and low-runoff conditions impacted by a warmer, changing climate, inclusivity in Colorado River decision-making and the need for continued operational alignment and partnership with the Republic of Mexico.
Specific documents and agreements that expire at the end of 2026 include the December 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead, among other essential management documents, both within the United States as well as international agreements between the United States and Mexico under the 1944 Water Treaty.
The Colorado River Basin is experiencing a 22-year drought and low runoff conditions, and reservoirs within the basin are at historic low levels. There are extensive impacts throughout the Colorado River Basin, including water for homes and crops to the generation of electricity that supports everything we do.
While continuing to work with its partners to mitigate the impacts of this 22-year drought, Reclamation is focused on the next phase of Colorado River operational decision-making.
To help explain the process and answer questions, Reclamation is hosting two webinars:
The ongoing drought and climatic conditions facing much of the West are “unprecedented,” said Camille Calimlim Touton, who leads the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for managing water infrastructure across the region. Touton told federal lawmakers on June 14 that Colorado River users must reduce diversions by a substantial amount: 2 to 4 million acre-feet. One acre-foot, alone, is a massive amount of water. It is enough water to fill one acre, about the size of a football field, to a depth of one foot. It is 325,851 gallons of water and weighs about 2.7 million pounds. Multiply that by two to four million, and that is how much water the states are being asked to conserve. For perspective, Nevada has the legal right to consume 300,000 acre-feet, about 1.8 percent of all the legal entitlements in the Colorado River system. Together, Arizona, Nevada and California used about 7 million acre-feet from the Colorado River last year.
The cutbacks are necessary, Touton explained, to stabilize Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River. Over the past year, both reservoirs have hit record-low levels and have continued to drop. If they drop further, the West faces extreme risks in the production of hydroelectric power — which is shepherded across the region — and the deliveries of water downstream for millions of residents and farmers in the Southwest.
The size of the cutbacks is not necessarily a surprise. Nearly all of the state water officials and experts I’ve spoken to have crunched the numbers and come to a similar conclusion. But the speed at which the cuts must be made presents a challenging task for negotiators.
The Air Pollution Control Division invites you to two upcoming stakeholder engagement meetings on the to-be-proposed Recovered Methane Protocol rule. Come learn more, ask questions, and share your thoughts!
To address climate change and meet requirements from Senate Bill 21-264 and House Bill 21-1238, the Division will develop recovered methane protocols for use in Clean Heat Plans to help demonstrate greenhouse gas reductions by gas utilities, and a crediting and tracking system for recovered methane projects. In July 2022 will propose a rule to the Air Quality Control Commission to establish recovered methane protocols and a crediting and tracking system for recovered methane in Colorado, as required by statute. The rulemaking will take place in November 2022.
Under state statute, recovered methane includes biomethane, coal mine methane, methane derived from municipal solid waste, wastewater treatment, or the conversion or thermal decomposition of biomass, and methane that would have leaked without repairs of the gas distribution and service pipelines from the city gate to customer end use.
La División de Control de la Contaminación del Aire lo invita a dos próximas reuniones de participación de las partes interesadas sobre la regla del Protocolo de Metano Recuperado. ¡Ven a aprender más, haz preguntas y comparte tus pensamientos!
Para abordar el cambio climático y cumplir con los requisitos del Proyecto de Ley del Senado 21-264 y el Proyecto de Ley de la Cámara de Representantes 21-1238, la División desarrollará protocolos de metano recuperado para usar en Planes de Calor Limpio para ayudar a demostrar reducciones de gases de efecto invernadero por parte de las empresas de servicios públicos de gas, y un sistema de acreditación y seguimiento para proyectos de recuperación de metano. En julio de 2022 propondrá una regla a la Comisión de Control de la Calidad del Aire para establecer protocolos de metano recuperado y un sistema de acreditación y seguimiento para el metano recuperado en Colorado, según lo exige la ley. La reglamentación tendrá lugar en noviembre de 2022.
Según la ley estatal, el metano recuperado incluye el biometano, el metano de las minas de carbón, el metano derivado de los desechos sólidos municipales, el tratamiento de aguas residuales o la conversión o descomposición térmica de la biomasa, y el metano que se habría filtrado sin las reparaciones de las tuberías de servicio y distribución de gas de la ciudad. puerta al uso final del cliente.
It should come as good news then that the bipartisan infrastructure package Congress passed last fall appropriated a landmark $8.3 billion for investment in western water, along with $50 billion earmarked for projects to bolster resilience to climate change. Collectively, the infrastructure package is the largest investment in water infrastructure and the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history. Additionally, last year’s American Rescue Plan Act delivered $3.8 billion to Colorado, a portion of which will fund necessary and overdue investments in projects to protect sources of drinking water, increase resilience to climate-driven drought, and provide capital for critical infrastructure that would finally deliver safe, reliable drinking water to Tribal communities.
While these historic federal investments have been made, the equally vital work of putting them to use has only just begun. Given the high demand and the competitive nature of the funding available through the federal infrastructure bill, Colorado must take proactive steps to secure these federal funds. As two Western Slope residents — one a former state senator and CWCB director, one the Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies — we thank the general assembly and Governor Polis for making Colorado more competitive by passing and signing into law HB22-1379 and SB22-215 this past legislative session. This is a down payment toward a more secure water future…
The billions of dollars that have been set aside for western water and climate resilience in the infrastructure package represent an unparalleled opportunity for state decision makers to advance implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan. The coalition members of Water for Colorado, along with our partners across the state, stand ready to help the administration expedite the pace and scale of efforts to fund and implement water projects across Colorado. Our investment in these efforts now will pay dividends to strengthen Colorado’s communities and protect Colorado’s water resources for future generations.
Capturing these federal funds isn’t a given. It necessitates a concerted effort and leadership from local governments and state agencies such as the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado State Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Public Health and Environment to apply for federal infrastructure funds and work with eligible entities to move swiftly, implementing projects that protect our water resources. Additionally, in many cases, access to funds is contingent upon being matched by state or private dollars, making it critically important that money appropriated toward that end from HB1379 — Wildfire Prevention Watershed Restoration Funding and SB216 — Responsible Gaming Grant Program reaches its goals. Multi-benefit projects that support healthy watersheds, protect rivers, enhance climate resilience, accelerate urban water conservation and work toward a future in which everyone has access to clean, reliable water supplies are within reach if we meet this moment.
For decades, so much water has been diverted to supply farms and cities that the Colorado River has seldom met the sea and much of its delta in Mexico has been reduced to a dry riverbed, with only small remnants of its once-vast wetlands surviving. Over the last eight weeks, water has been flowing in parts of the delta once again, restoring a stretch of river in Mexico where previously there had been miles of desert sand. The water is being released from an irrigation canal to aid the delta’s parched environment as part of an agreement between the Mexican and U.S. governments and with support from environmental groups. Those who are involved in the effort say that even as severe drought and the warming climate sap the Colorado River, the initiative shows how small amounts of water can be used to benefit struggling ecosystems…
This site, a habitat restoration area called El Chausse, is located in the southern portion of the delta, downstream from long stretches of dry riverbed, and was chosen as a place where limited water releases would boost the ecosystem by nourishing vegetation and expanding habitat for wildlife. It’s one of a few sites in Mexico where conservationists have been restoring wetlands and forests along the path where the river once flowed. Six years ago, workers removed invasive tamarisk trees at the site and planted a forest of native cottonwoods, willows and mesquites. Those trees have grown rapidly and now drape the wetland in shade, attracting a variety of birds, such as yellow warblers, blue-gray gnatcatchers and vermilion flycatchers…
This is the second straight year of water releases in Mexico. When the water flowed through part of the delta last year, plants released seeds that settled along the banks. [Eduardo] Blancas and his colleagues have seen vegetation flourish along the river channel. They’ve spotted about 120 species of birds in the area.
Click here to access the paper on the USGS website. Here’s the abstract:
Countless species of animals—big game, birds, bats, insects, amphibians, reptiles, and fish—migrate to reach suitable habitats to feed, reproduce, and raise their young. Animal migrations developed over millennia commonly follow migration corridors—unique routes for each species—to move among seasonal habitats. Changes along those corridors, whether from human development (buildings, roads, dams) or from natural disturbances (for example, climate change, drought, fire, flooding, or invasive species), can make them harder to navigate. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Ecosystems Mission Area provides science that assists land managers in mapping, enhancing, protecting, and reconnecting migration corridors critical for diverse fish and wildlife populations that migrate, such as Odocoileus hemionus (mule deer) and Antilocapra americana (pronghorn), trout and salmon, salamanders, tortoises, bats, and Danaus plexippus (monarch butterflies).
Conservation easements protect specific conservation values of a property, such as wildlife habitat. Photo: Michael Menefee
The Rio Grande cutthroat is the only trout native to the San Luis Valley. Evidence suggests it was a native fish to Lake Alamosa 700,000 years ago. Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo
Please join us at South Park’s Buffalo Peaks Ranch as author Ben Goldfarb discusses the world of beavers and the landscapes they create. Ben is the author of of Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, the winner of the 2019 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award and named one of the best books of 2018 by the Washington Post. This special event is FREE for all who register!
Buffalo Peaks Ranch will stay open after Ben’s talk,until 3pm. We’ll be offering a Ranch Tour, and the opportunity for you roam the ranch and river, with time to sketch, take photos, and add to the ranch’s Bird List. Bring a picnic lunch if you like. You’ll also be able to explore the ranch’s new beaver pond — but be sure to bring your boots for that!
The tax-funded West Slope entity has launched a special round of “Accelerator Grant” opportunities aimed at providing support for grant-writing, feasibility evaluation, design, preliminary environmental review, benefits analysis, and engineering to support applications for federal funding made available by the law. The district will consider paying for up to 85% of the funding needed by an applicant to pursue the federal funds. It also is planning a free online webinar June 29 to help Western Slope water users navigate the funding opportunities provided by the law and discuss the Accelerator Grant program. District staff will discuss federal funding categories for water projects, how to put together a successful federal grant application, and how to leverage other grant opportunities to maximize funding and project impacts…
The financial aid the river district is offering to help entities apply for federal funding is made possible by a tax measure that voters in its 15 counties approved in 2020. Some of the tax revenues go toward the district’s operations, but most of it, more than $4 million a year, goes to support entities on a range of water-related projects.
The deadline to apply for Accelerator Grants is Aug. 1. More information may be found by visiting https://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/ and clicking on the Community Funding Partnership link.
Western Resource Advocates signed on to a revised settlement agreement filed today in Xcel Energy’s Electric Resource and Clean Energy Plan proceeding before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The new settlement includes accelerated dates for retiring the Comanche 3 coal unit, helps avoid building unnecessary and potentially stranded new fossil gas generation, and establishes commitments to achieve interim carbon emission reductions in 2024 and 2027.
“If approved, this settlement secures the next stage of Colorado’s energy transition, ensuring commitments from Xcel to reduce its harmful fossil-fuel emissions that contribute to climate change,” said Gwen Farnsworth, Western Resource Advocates’ managing senior policy advisor in Colorado. “The earlier date for retiring Comanche 3, plus cutting the assumed lifetime for any new fossil gas generation and establishing interim targets for reducing carbon emissions, will all help Colorado reach its climate goals. Important provisions also extend community assistance to the Pueblo community for 10 years and will help in the transition to new economic opportunities as the coal-fired Comanche unit closes.”
These are all key improvements to the settlement WRA has advocated for during the commission proceeding on Xcel’s plan. WRA opposed a previous version of the settlement signed by other parties late last year. Specifically, the new settlement calls for Xcel to:
Retire Comanche 3 by January 1, 2031 — four years earlier than the original settlement, which will avoid an additional 3.5 million tons of carbon emissions compared to the original settlement filed in November and will cut toxic local air pollutants in Pueblo;
Commit to interim reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, with targets of a 50% reduction by 2024 and 65% by 2027, compared with the utility’s 2005 levels;
Cut the modeled lifetime for any new fossil gas generation to 25 years; and
Expand Xcel’s Just Transition Plan, by extending the community assistance benefits for Pueblo to 10 years.
The settlement overall will provide more than 17 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions reductions. Reducing these fossil-fuel emissions will help curb the harmful effects of climate change. The Comanche generating station is also responsible for over 80% of all toxic chemicals released into the surrounding community of Pueblo.
Several provisions in the revised settlement reduce the utility’s expected future reliance on fossil-fuel gas generation. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reducing methane emissions from fossil-fuel gas is one of the biggest and fastest strategies for slowing climate change.
The Xcel settlement today follows the utility’s February 2021 announcement of its Clean Energy Plan committing to achieve an 85% reduction in carbon emissions and 80% renewable energy generation by 2030, as well as 100% clean energy by 2050. A 2019 Colorado law requires Xcel to reduce its emissions by 80% below 2005 levels by 2030. In 2019, the Colorado Legislature also passed House Bill 1261, requiring the state to reduce its economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 90% by 2050.
Much above-normal temperatures plagued much of the central and eastern contiguous U.S. (CONUS) this week from the Great Plains eastward to the Mississippi Valley and Southeast. The western third of CONUS, the Northeast, and coastal Mid-Atlantic experienced seasonal to below-normal temperatures. Precipitation was lacking in many locations that experienced excessive (in some cases record) heat, leading to widespread expansion of abnormal dryness and moderate drought conditions along the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys, the Southern Plains, and the Southeast. From the Central Plains northward, despite the excessive heat (daytime high temperatures above 100°F several days this week), recent improvements driven by an active storm track leading up to this week resulted in modest, more targeted degradations in the drought depiction. Another week of heavy rainfall warranted improvements in Montana. In the Pacific Northwest, below-normal temperatures and recent improvements from an active weather pattern leading up to this week resulted in improvements in some of the long-term drought indicators. Heavy rainfall associated with the Southwest Monsoon also fell across parts of the Four Corners region. However, this only acted to halt any further degradations this week. Given drought is strongly entrenched in the Four Corners, an active Southwest Monsoon circulation will need to persist for conditions to improve…
Much of the High Plains Region has seen beneficial rainfall and temperatures averaging near to below-normal over the past 30 days, with the exception of a few locations. Some targeted improvements were warranted across parts of southeastern Nebraska this week, which picked up 1.5 to 3 inches of rainfall (per AHPS estimates). Targeted improvements were also made in parts of Colorado and northern Wyoming due to a robust Southwest Monsoon circulation and an active storm track across the Northern Tier, respectively. Conversely, high winds and hot temperatures, which exceeded 100°F several days this week, resulted in high evapotranspiration rates and, subsequently, degradations for parts of the Central Plains. Evapotranspiration rates approaching 0.5 inches per day were reported in western Nebraska…
Much of the Northern Tier of the U.S. from the Pacific Northwest to the Northern Plains has seen marked improvements in recents months due to a persistent storm track and near to below-normal temperatures. That same pattern continued this week, leading to 1-category improvements from the Pacific Northwest eastward to Montana. Improvements in Montana are the result of 7-day precipitation surpluses of more than 1 inch for many locations and near to below-normal temperatures. In the Pacific Northwest, long-term indicators continued to improve due to the recent storminess and below-normal temperatures leading up to this week. In the Four Corners region, heavy rainfall was observed in a large swath stretching across western New Mexico, due to a robust Southwest Monsoon circulation. However, there were no marked improvements to drought indicators this week to warrant improvements. Given drought is strongly entrenched in the Four Corners, an active Southwest Monsoon circulation will need to persist for conditions to improve…
Extreme heat, high winds, and below-normal precipitation continued in Texas, leading to another round of degradations this week across the state. Extreme heat and below-normal precipitation also lead to the widespread expansion and addition of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) across the Lower Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys. Soil moisture conditions quickly deteriorated this week (falling below the 30th percentile across many areas that saw expansion). Additionally, daily and 7-day average USGS stream flows fell below-normal (below the 24th percentile) and vegetation indices are also indicating increased stress to plants. Short-term (30 to 60-day) deficits are starting to accumulate also, with many areas across the Lower Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys experiencing 4 to 6 inch rainfall deficits over the last 60 days…
A storm system near the coast of the Carolinas will bring chances for heavy rainfall to parts of the Eastern Seaboard over the next couple of days (June 23-24). Meanwhile, another storm system will intensify and move eastward from the Northern Plains to the Great Lakes. The trailing frontal boundary associated with this system will bring increased chances of rainfall to much of the eastern U.S. However, rainfall is likely to be hit-or-miss and remain below-normal for many locations, especially along the Lower and Middle Mississippi Valley. The passage of the frontal boundary in the eastern U.S. should bring more seasonal daytime temperatures by the start of the work week (Monday, June 27). An active Southwest Monsoon circulation is forecast to bring increased precipitation and below-normal maximum temperatures to parts of the Four Corners region, with below-normal maximum temperatures extending into the Central Plains.
The Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 day outlook (valid June 28 to July 2, 2022) favors above-normal temperatures across much of California, the Great Basin, and Eastern Rockies. Above-normal temperature probabilities also extend from the Central and Southern Plains eastward to the Appalachians and southward to the Gulf Coast. Near to below-normal temperatures are favored across the Northern Tier of the contiguous U.S. (CONUS), as mean mid-level high pressure is expected to remain farther to the south. Below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation are favored for much of the Four Corners region, associated with a robust Southwest Monsoon circulation. Near to above-normal precipitation probabilities also extend along the Northern Tier from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes, associated with storm activity. Increased chances of below-normal precipitation across the northern Great Basin and from the Middle Mississippi Valley to the Northeast are associated with dry northerly mean surface flow and surface high pressure, respectively.
Glen Canyon Dam is operating at 60 percent of its hydroelectric capacity.
Hydropower generation will likely shut down when Lake Powell’s elevation drops below 3,490 feet. Currently the lake is at 3,534 feet.
Besides the kilowatt-hours it generates, Glen Canyon provides key services to the electric grid.
Critics of the Bureau of Reclamation had a favored slur for the concrete and earthen walls that the federal agency raised across magnificent canyons of the Colorado River watershed: cash register dams.
The dig wasn’t wrong, especially during the agency’s mid-20th century construction spree. For decades, hydroelectric dams in the Colorado River Storage Project supplied cheap power and a relatively steady revenue stream from electricity sales that helped repay dam construction and operation costs while also subsidizing crop production and settlement of the American West.
Today, the cash registers are ringing at much lower decibels. Sapped by a warming climate, the grand reservoirs of the Colorado River are in a two-decade decline, dropping low enough that hydropower from one of the grandest, Lake Powell, may soon be in doubt.
The country’s second largest reservoir and a lynchpin in the intermountain electric grid, Powell is more dirt than water these days. The reservoir holds just 27 percent of its full capacity. In April it dropped to a level not witnessed since Glen Canyon Dam was completed nearly six decades ago. Water in Powell is released through turbines in the dam, generating power that electrifies homes, businesses, rural coops, and irrigation pumps across six states and more than 50 Native American tribes.
Lake Powell’s feeble condition is part of a climate reckoning in the West that links water, ecosystems, food production, and energy generation. A drying climate and withering heat in recent years have pummeled the region: water cuts to farmers, dry wells, mass fish and bird die-offs, and depleted reservoirs that have decimated hydropower output.
Glen Canyon Dam is now operating at about 60 percent of its designed hydroelectric capacity, according to Nick Williams, the Upper Colorado River Basin power office manager for the Bureau of Reclamation. Rated for 1,320 megawatts — roughly the size of a large fossil fuel plant — the dam is now capable of only 800 megawatts.
The failure of Glen Canyon Dam to produce hydropower, in isolation, would be bothersome for energy markets but not a catastrophe. It would raise the cost of electricity for 5 million retail power customers, increase greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity generation, and eliminate key grid-support services that hydropower provides.
But a loss of generating capacity at Glen Canyon at the wrong time — in the summer, for instance, when electricity demands are high — combined with other power station outages could contribute to an electric supply contagion, grid strain, and blackouts in the western states, according to a recent reliability assessment from a national energy watchdog.
Recognizing this, the Department of the Interior took emergency action last month to throw a life preserver at Lake Powell. The Bureau of Reclamation’s parent agency ordered it to hold back more water in the reservoir and at the same time release reinforcement supplies from Flaming Gorge, a smaller reservoir higher in the watershed. Together the actions will add nearly 1 million acre-feet to Powell this year, equivalent to 16 feet of water in the beleaguered reservoir.
Explaining the decision, Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, said that the integrity not only of the dam’s power generation but also its water delivery system was at stake if Powell were to breach elevation 3,490 feet — the level at which hydropower generation at Glen Canyon Dam would likely cease.
“In such circumstances,” Trujillo wrote to water leaders in the basin states, “Glen Canyon Dam facilities face unprecedented operational reliability challenges, water users in the Basin face increased uncertainty, downstream resources could be impacted, the western electrical grid would experience uncertain risk and instability, and water and power supplies to the West and Southwestern United States would be subject to increased operational uncertainty.”
Uncertain, Unstable Times
A dress rehearsal already occurred last summer when Lake Oroville, California’s second largest reservoir, dropped below its minimum power level, and Hyatt Powerplant stopped producing electricity due to low water for the first time in its history. The same fate could await Lake Powell.
Bureau of Reclamation projections indicate the reservoir has a 10 percent chance in the next two years of breaching 3,490 feet. As of June 5, the reservoir’s elevation was 3,534 feet and slowly climbing as melting snow and Interior’s emergency actions contribute to a seasonal rise that has added nearly 12 feet to the reservoir since it bottomed out in April. It is out of the danger zone, for now.
Water users in the Colorado River basin are already feeling the effects of depleted reservoirs. Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir and located on the Colorado River a few hundred miles downstream, also plunged to a record low this spring. A subsequent shortage declaration means that Arizona and Nevada must reduce their withdrawals.
Water reaches Mead by flowing through Glen Canyon. The Interior Department moved this spring to prop up Powell because it worried about Glen Canyon’s water delivery system in low-water conditions. Water is released downstream through the penstocks, which feed the dam’s turbines. If the lake drops too low to produce power, that route is cut off. Water would instead be released through the outlet works, which are untested in extended use as the primary water delivery option.
Glen Canyon’s power customers are also in a pinch.
When Powell drops closer to the 3,490-foot level, operating the dam becomes a game of inches, Williams said. The top of the penstocks — the 15-foot diameter pipes that send water to the turbines — are at elevation 3,477.5 feet. But as the reservoir approaches that level, vortexes could form as water is drawn into the pipes. The violent whorls can injure the dam’s power-generating equipment.
For now, 3,490 feet is the red line because that was the designer’s safe estimate and Glen Canyon was able to generate at that level when Powell was being filled in the 1960s. Even so, Williams, the power office manager, said that Reclamation staff is modeling operational changes to eke out a few more feet of operating range.
The power that Glen Canyon generates is pooled with other federal dams in the upper basin and sold by the Western Area Power Administration. Until last December, WAPA was purchasing power for its customers to compensate for the hydropower shortfall. That model led to a financial cliff.
Due to the expense of market-rate replacement power, WAPA was at risk of depleting the upper basin fund. The fund functions as a checking account, taking in power revenues and paying out costs. Those costs include dam construction repayment and annual dam operations and maintenance. They also include successful environmental programs intended to protect endangered fish in the Colorado and San Juan rivers, reduce salt loads in the river, and make Glen Canyon water releases less damaging to the river corridor.
In 2021, the fund was in jeopardy due to declining hydropower generation. The fund balance was cut in half, dropping from $146 million in January 2021 to $74 million by the end of the year. That resulted in an emergency rate change in December that is expected to stabilize the fund, said Lisa Meiman, a WAPA spokesperson. In most cases, WAPA will no longer buy market-rate power. Individual utilities will shoulder all the added expense. One other action alleviated financial pressure on the basin fund: direct appropriations from Congress to the environmental programs.
Less hydropower will force utilities to look elsewhere for replacement supplies, including from fossil fuel sources. The effect of a hydropower shortfall varies with region, weather, and time of day or year. More coal and natural gas will certainly increase greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.
But how much? Kelly Sanders of the University of Southern California says the magnitude of a carbon emissions increase due to drought is difficult to calculate, owing to the complexity of electricity supply and demand. The answer is usually only apparent much later, after rigorous data analysis. However, losing a carbon-free source like hydropower means that, all else being equal, the average carbon emissions for electricity goes up.
Customers of Glen Canyon power are confronting those tradeoffs as they search for replacement power.
As a share of its electricity supply, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is one of the biggest consumers of Upper Colorado hydropower. In 2020, NTUA acquired 42 percent of its electricity from the Upper Colorado dams.
If power generation forecasts hold true, NTUA estimates that the utility would pay $4.5 million more for electricity this year, according to Srinivasa Venigalla, the deputy general manager. Those costs would be passed on to the utility’s roughly 43,000 residential and commercial customers, he said.
Venigalla hopes Glen Canyon does not go dark. But his utility is preparing in case that day comes. NTUA already has 55 megawatts of solar generation capacity on Navajo lands and another 4 megawatts will come online by the end of this year.
The solar installations won’t completely replace Glen Canyon’s hydropower, Venigalla said. But they will reduce the utility’s purchases of market power.
A diversity of power sources will help other utilities that receive Glen Canyon hydropower. Tri-State Generation and Transmission, a cooperative with 42 utility members in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming, usually acquires 8 percent of its power from the Upper Colorado hydroelectric system.
Lee Baughey, vice president for communications, said that the utility expects its hydropower allocation to drop by a third this year.
“It places pressure on our costs, but we can manage through,” Baughey said.
Households have company in that regard. Roosevelt Irrigation District pumps water to about 38,000 acres in Maricopa County, Arizona. Donovan Neese, the district superintendent since 2011, said retail power customers span the breadth of the county’s agribusiness: cold storage facilities for fruits and vegetables, dairies, cotton gins, and feed mills.
About half the district’s power comes from Glen Canyon and Hoover dams. Neese is in the process of developing the budget for the next fiscal year and did not have exact numbers, but the effect for Roosevelt customers is the same as elsewhere: less hydropower means higher costs.
“That means we continue to advocate for water conservation,” Neese said.
Hydropower as a Service
Glen Canyon’s value extends far beyond the customers. The dam is more than just the kilowatt-hours it generates, said Nathalie Voisin of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. It also plays an important role in the operation of regional electric grids.
In the southwestern states encircling the Colorado River basin, the majority of power generation is not derived from the force of flowing water. Most comes from fossil fuels, wind, and solar. Nonetheless, hydropower fulfills a valuable niche. Because its generators can deliver electricity quickly — “ramping” in the lingo — hydro bridges the period when solar and wind power wane and before gas-fired turbines can power up. This quick-start capability is especially important when electricity demand is high, such as summer heat waves.
“The economic and reliability values from ramping are very large,” said Voisin, who studies hydropower and its response to changes in climate, season, and technology. “There’s a lot at stake for not being able to get Glen Canyon working for hydropower operation during the summer time.”
Lake Powell, in effect, functions as a large battery, able to be turned on and off to meet fluctuating power demands. Even if Powell were to be drained and the water stored in Lake Mead, as some environmental groups advocate, the grid benefits of Glen Canyon would still need to be reckoned with.
“Glen Canyon cannot be easily replaced with other renewables because Glen Canyon is already critical in their integration into the grid,” Voisin explained. “The replacement technology needs to compensate for the range of grid services provided by Glen Canyon, which is more than capacity and generation. Storage in particular would be needed.”
A rapid increase in water storage behind Glen Canyon is unlikely. Analysts at the Bureau of Reclamation simulate future Colorado River conditions every month. The latest model scenarios show a 10 percent chance that Lake Powell drops below 3,490 feet by April 2024. That’s less than two years away. Not enough days to completely reconfigure the region’s energy services. But plenty of time to ponder a future without Glen Canyon hydropower.
The Division of Water Resources, Division 1 Office in Greeley, CO is hiring for the Deputy Water Commissioner for Water Districts 6 & 7 – Engineering/Physical Sciences Tech I position. The purpose of this position is to ascertain the available surface water supply and distribute, control and regulate the surface and groundwater tributary to the South Platte River in the Boulder Creek and Clear Creek basins on a daily basis pursuant to water decrees, substitute water supply plans and state statutes, and may assist in adjacent water districts with water administration. Anyone interested in learning more about the position or seeking to apply can access the following link to the job announcement on the State of Colorado Job Opportunities website:
Investments will fund water efficiency and drought resilience projects in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming
The Department of the Interior today announced $25.5 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds for WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grants to safeguard local water supplies in the face of severe western drought.
Fourteen projects in eight western states will be awarded funding to help local communities improve water use efficiency by lining canals, upgrading water meters, installing automated gates to control water flow and making other infrastructure improvements. The projects are anticipated to save more than 12 billion gallons of water annually – enough to fill over roughly 880,000 swimming pools–through reductions in residential water use and improvements to increase irrigation efficiency. Two of the projects will also receive funding for solar energy installations to power the affiliated water facility and water district buildings. Including non-federal funding contributions, the projects represent more than $130 million in water management improvements.
“Through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are making a historic investment in drought resilience and water infrastructure to help more families, farmers and Tribes gain access to clean water,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “The WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grants will help communities conserve and use water more efficiency, increase the production of hydropower and help us tackle historic drought.”
“Delivering water more efficiently is key to helping Western communities become more resilient to drought. These community-led projects are an example of how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law supports our work to minimize drought impacts and develop long-term solutions to facilitate water conservation and economic growth.” said Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “These grants represent a once in a generation opportunity to meet the long-term adaptation for drought and a changing climate.”
President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects to repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, protect aquatic ecosystems and fulfill Indian Water Rights Settlements. The funding announced today is part of the $160 million in WaterSMART grants provided by the Law in 2022. Local governments in eight states set to receive funding must complete their project within three years.
Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:
[Emily Fairfax’s] latest publication suggests that ecosystems, broadly, could stand to benefit from beaver wetlands in ways that are uniquely resistant and resilient in the face of climate change. Scientists have already touted the benefits of process-based restoration, a low-tech means of rebuilding floodplains over time. The new paper contends that beavers are “a force of 15-40 million highly skilled environmental engineers” whose tiny hands and teeth are ready to help implement that restoration.
The study is largely a summary of existing research, pulling together and contextualizing established science about rivers and beavers. It makes the case that beavers were once pivotal in shaping and maintaining healthy riverscapes before their populations were crippled by years of trapping. Chris Jordan, an Oregon-based ecologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, is one of the study’s co-authors. He said the research stands in the face of “dire warnings” and the “doom” of harm beyond our control.
“In reality,” he said, “it’s not out of our control. Here is something that we can do. Here is something that we can think about as an adaptation and mitigation strategy – returning riverscapes to their natural state. And that’s going to give us climate change protection and resilience.”
That protection and resilience comes in a few forms. The first is a safeguard against flooding. Warming temperatures are increasing the frequency of heavy rain and rapidly melting snow. In the channel of a narrow stream or river, that surge of water is likely to quickly overtop the banks and flood. Beaver wetlands, with their wide swaths of soggy land, would help spread some of that water out and limit flooding downstream.
Just as they are helpful in the face of too much water, beaver complexes have proven useful in areas with not enough. High-mountain snow serves as a kind of natural reservoir for the region, slowly releasing water throughout the spring and early summer, assuring a steady supply to the places where humans divert and collect it. But as the West rapidly warms and dries, snowpack is getting smaller and melting earlier. Beavers, meanwhile, are essentially building miniature reservoirs in mountainous areas throughout the region.
Drought also means an increased risk of wildfires, and beavers have proven their mettle against the flames. Even in areas completely ravaged by wildfire, where tree trunks are scorched into blackened toothpicks and soil is left gray and ashen, beaver complexes survive unscathed. The wet earth and thriving greenery resist burning, leaving oases of green in the middle of the lifeless moonscapes left behind by wildfire.
Spreading water out across valley floors also has proven benefits for water temperature, water quality and even carbon sequestration. Water laden with sediment, nitrates or carbon slows down in beaver ponds, allowing particles in it to settle or get consumed by microbes, unlike in a fast-moving stream…
Jordan said allowing or helping beavers to expand their work would help more areas, at least locally, steel themselves against more extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change. But he is candid that the animals won’t turn things around entirely.
During a U.S. Senate hearing on Western drought [June 14, 2022], the commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation told the states in the Colorado River Basin that they have 60 days to create an emergency plan to stop using between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of water in the next year or the agency will use its emergency authority to make the cuts itself…Touton said the seven states must “stay at the table until the job is done.”
Commissioner Touton’s directive dropped just a couple of days before the University of Colorado Boulder’s annual Colorado law conference on natural resources, which is focused on the Colorado River.
“That elephant is filling this whole room,” John Fleck, a water policy professor at the University of New Mexico, said at the start of his talk at the conference. Fleck, who has also written multiple books on the Colorado River, watched Touton’s testimony in his Alamosa hotel room en route to the conference…
Fleck said the directive, combined with the “threat” of federal action if the states don’t act, creates an extraordinary challenge for water managers and users in the Colorado River Basin — a group he noted included many of the people at the CU Boulder conference.
To explain the federal agency’s reasoning for calling for such massive cuts, bureau hydrologic engineer James Prairie presented to attendees an updated forecast of expected flows into Lakes Powell and Mead over the next few years. By early 2024, projections show water levels in Lake Powell could drop too low for hydropower turbines to operate and generate electricity.
THE IRS. Head lice. Bill Cosby. Nickleback. Congress.
Every member of this unlikely group has one thing in common: Each is more popular than the Renewable Water Resources plan to pump water from the San Luis Valley to the Front Range of Colorado.
According to the Alamosa Citizen survey of voter attitudes in the San Luis Valley, the RWR plan is supported by less than 1 percent of local voters. It is opposed by 91 percent. Eight percent said they had no opinion of the water export project proposed by former Gov. Bill Owens and several other leaders of his administration.
Widespread opposition to RWR was one of the major findings on natural resource issues to come from the random survey, which was directed by the Alamosa Citizen and financed, in part, by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.
The survey also yielded many other strong local opinions on the health of the Rio Grande (pessimistic), climate change (it’s hurting the river), and the impact of drought on local farms and businesses (not good.) More on those issues below.
Still, it’s hard to find anything in modern American life liked less than RWR’s approval rating of 0.7 percent. Among the things with better approval ratings among voters than the RWR project: head lice, colonoscopies, used car salesmen, and dental root canal procedures, according to one national poll.
Anchovies on pizza, as well as turnips and brussel sprouts for dinner, get higher ratings than RWR. Disgraced comedian Bill Cosby is 20 times more popular in the U.S. than RWR is in the San Luis Valley. The Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Congress all get higher marks, according to another poll.
RWR backers said their own polling showed better numbers, but they declined to release the poll.
“From day one to today, our team has never wavered in visiting the San Luis Valley, meeting with individuals and educating them about what we aim to do,” said Renewable Water Resources spokeswoman Monica McCafferty in a statement. “We are naturally suspect of this survey (Alamosa Citizen) that is likely agenda-driven. We stand by our proposal, which took years to craft and presents numerous advantages for the San Luis Valley.”
The Alamosa Citizen conducted a 48-question survey which included questions on water and environmental issues. The survey was mailed to a random sampling of registered voters in each of the six counties of the San Luis Valley and was conducted by Nebraska-based rural survey specialist Craig Schroeder, who has surveyed attitudes of more than 60,000 people in 47 states over the past 20 years.
RWR proposes to pump out 22,000 acre-feet of water per year from a deep aquifer in the San Luis Valley while buying and retiring 31,000 acre feet of water currently used in the Valley for irrigated agriculture. As a result, RWR says a “surplus of 9,000 acre-feet will go back into the San Luis Valley’s shallow section of the aquifer.”
Local water officials have disputed RWR’s ability to export supplies from the Valley without harming existing farmers, wildlife, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The region faces increasing water restrictions after two decades of drought.
RWR had been wooing suburban Douglas County as a destination for the water, but the Alamosa Citizen reported last month that county commissioners there backed away from the proposal after their attorney highlighted several legal and engineering hurdles.
The company told Douglas County it is pursuing a “legislative strategy” for some of those issues.
“People here have been hearing about these water export proposals for 60 years now, and we’re just tired of it,” said state Sen. Cleave Simpson, who also serves as general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. “When it happened in other places, the outcome of selling your water rights for export has not turned out well for the community.”
HE Alamosa Citizen survey showed citizen awareness of the water project is extremely high. Nearly 94 percent of respondents said they had heard of a project to export water from the San Luis Valley to the Front Range of Colorado.
About two-thirds of respondents said they had heard specifically of Renewable Water Resources.
Of the residents who were familiar with RWR, 63 percent said they disapproved of the company. Eight percent approved. The remainder said they had no opinion about the company.
“Leave our water here,” one survey respondent wrote. “If Denver can’t handle their needs, then they need to control growth.”
“Exporting SLV water will devastate the valley – farming, wildlife, and habitat,” wrote another.
“Water export to Douglas County would be an economic death sentence for the San Luis Valley and the communities it sustains,” said another respondent.
The Alamosa Citizen survey showed the RWR plan comes at a tough time for water users in the San Luis Valley.
When asked whether the Rio Grande aquifer had enough water to share with growing areas of Colorado that need more water, Valley residents responded with a resounding no – 89 percent disagreed.
Eight of every 10 survey respondents agreed that the Rio Grande is “diminishing from severe drought.” By a 48 to 35 percent margin, Valley residents disagreed with this statement: “The Rio Grande is a healthy river.”
Two-thirds of Valley residents agreed that climate change is negatively affecting the Rio Grande. Only 14 percent agreed that the Rio Grande can “withstand climate change.”
In some ways, this means the San Luis Valley is more concerned about climate change than other regions, especially rural areas where voters have been more skeptical about the issue. The most recent national poll by Gallup on environmental issues found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the effects of climate change have already begun to happen.
The Valley’s belief in climate change is unusual especially when politics are considered. Nationally, only 11 percent of Republicans say they believe climate change will pose a serious threat in their own lifetimes. But in the San Luis Valley, most survey respondents say the threat is already here.
Only one in 10 local respondents agree that the Valley has enough water to meet local needs for the next 30 years. Nearly 85 percent of respondents say the Valley will face cutbacks in irrigation water in the next five years.
“Farmers are out of time to self-regulate,” wrote one respondent. “The state should start imposing harsh restrictions now instead of kicking the can down the road.”
“The San Luis Valley has become a desert because of climate change and the farmers / ranchers who have drained the aquifer by installing sprinkler systems,” wrote another respondent.
“Farmers don’t need bossy legislators telling them how to use their water,” wrote another. “Most farmers are already on the brink of fiscal disaster. They need help, not more laws curtailing their use of water.”
Almost every resident said there was a chance they would be personally impacted by drought.
About seven of 10 Valley residents agreed with this statement: “We need to act now to reduce water use to continue to grow the San Luis Valley’s economy in the future.”
Only 8 percent disagreed with this statement: “Rising temperatures will impact the San Luis Valley’s future water needs.”
“Climate change is bigger than we are,” wrote one respondent.
Denver Water sits on the front lines of climate change.
Rising temperatures, long-term drought and less dependable snowpack are all making the job of providing water to 1.5 million people tougher.
In response, the utility is preparing for a future with a less consistent water supply for its customers, through innovations including greater efficiency, One Water and new storage projects such as the Gross Reservoir expansion.
The utility also is moving aggressively to cut its own carbon footprint, striving to meet goals for producing renewable energy and reducing dependence on energy sources tied directly to warming temperatures.
In 2020, Denver Water met an organizational goal for “net zero” annual energy consumption. That’s a fancy way of saying it produced as much or more energy than it consumed, and that its energy was generated using carbon-free sources: hydropower and solar power.
To be precise, the utility produced roughly 1.5 million more “kilowatt-hour equivalents” than it used in 2020.
The utility’s solar power panels and hydropower generators produced enough clean energy to account for not only its electricity use but also the natural gas it uses for heat. Natural gas burned to supply heat is an energy category that’s not always factored into “net zero” calculations, but Denver Water made a point of including it to create a stretch goal for its effort.
“Several years earlier, we had set a goal to hit ‘net-zero’ as a benchmark for our sustainability efforts,” said Kate Taft, Denver Water’s sustainability manager. “Hitting that in 2020 was the result of a lot of focused, dedicated work across the organization and represents an important milestone in the utility’s long history of environmental progress.”
Net-zero is a big deal in the era of climate change.
Many major corporations are striving to attain the status, including companies such as Coca-Cola and General Motors. Many companies and governments have set net-zero goals for 2030 and 2040, for example.
Denver Water got there sooner. Though, to be sure, Denver Water benefits from — wait for it — water in this endeavor.
Hydroelectric power is generated at seven locations in Denver Water’s 4,000-square-mile collection area. That includes power generated at reservoirs but also at places like Roberts Tunnel, where the energy of water moving downhill through a tunnel that traverses the Continental Divide creates electricity.
All told, Denver Water’s hydropower operations generate about 65 million emission-free kilowatt-hours per year. That translates to about the amount of electricity consumed by 6,000 homes for a year.
While Denver Water generated hydropower for decades and is continuing to look for additional opportunities to generate power from moving water, including at its Northwater Treatment Plant currently under construction near Golden, the addition of solar power to its renewable energy portfolio is more recent.
At the utility’s newly redeveloped Operations Complex, completed in 2019, solar power panels on the roof of the Administration Building and atop parking structures generated more than 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020. That offset the Administration Building’s use with more than 300,000 kilowatt-hours to spare.
That’s extra clean electricity that can go back into the grid for use by others.
And in Denver Water’s new sustainability goals issued in 2021, the utility set a new target for itself: to increase its capacity to generate renewable energy by 1 megawatt and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from a 2015 baseline.
How much is that 1 megawatt? Roughly, it would be like adding another solar array about the size of the one at the Operations Complex. Or, like adding the hydropower capacity that now exists at Strontia Springs Reservoir, situated 6 miles up Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver.
Even as it works to add more green power, Denver Water may not always be able to meet its net-zero goal, at least in the short term.
That’s because maintenance projects at times take hydroelectric facilities off-line or reduce their capacity. For example, for the next five years, Gross Reservoir will generate less power because its storage space for water will be cut by about one-third while a dam-raising project proceeds.
However once that project is completed, and the capacity of the reservoir is tripled, the location is expected to be a greater source of clean energy, increasing its production capacity by nearly 15% compared to its capacity before the project.
In 2021, too, Denver Water fell short of its goal due in part to work on the hydroelectric facility at Roberts Tunnel. Work to upgrade the hydro facility at the tunnel kicked off in 2019.
Finally, while Denver Water focuses on offsetting electricity and heat generated by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, its net-zero calculations don’t currently count gasoline burned by its fleet vehicles or propane needed at some remote sites.
“As we make a long-term shift to cleaner energy sources, there will be bumps in the road,” Taft said. “We still, inevitably, will depend on more traditional sources at times and in certain locations. But we are relentlessly pushing to generate more of our own green energy and cut emissions associated with natural gas, coal and vehicles.”
As part of its effort to cut emissions, Denver Water is beginning the long transition to electric fleet vehicles.
The utility already has six Ford F-150 hybrid trucks and hopes to test the use of some all-electric pickups in 2023, pending supply chain challenges.
And as the utility continues to look at other electric vehicle options, it is partnering with analysts at Drive Clean Colorado and Xcel Energy’s Fleet Electrification Advisory Program to help guide the process.
“Getting this right will take time and a constant push forward,” said Brian Good, Denver Water’s chief administrative officer. “But it is the right thing to do. We are a water utility, and providing reliable, safe, clean water isn’t possible without protecting the natural environment from which it flows.”