Race is on for #ColoradoRiver basin states to conserve before feds take action: #Colorado’s contribution to keep system from crashing remains unclear — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification #GetchesWilkinson2022

This photo from December 2021 shows one of the intake towers at Hoover Dam. Federal officials said basin states must conserve 2 to 4 million acre-feet to protect reservoir levels in 2023. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

As water experts gathered this week for an annual conference in Boulder, it was with the sobering knowledge that despite everything they have done so far, it is still not enough to keep the Colorado River system from crashing.

Federal officials this week made the earth-shaking announcement that the seven basin states must quickly conserve an enormous amount of water and threatened unilateral action if they do not. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton, testifying at a U.S. Senate hearing on drought on Tuesday, said an additional 2 to 4 million acre-feet of conservation was needed just to protect critical reservoir levels in 2023.

Department of Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo reiterated this position in a talk at Thursday’s Conference on Natural Resources at the University of Colorado Law School. She said the federal government has the responsibility and authority to take action to protect the system and the infrastructure if the states can’t reach an agreement on their own.

“We are facing the growing reality that water supplies for agriculture, fisheries, ecosystems, industry and cities are no longer stable due to climate change,” Trujillo said. “Our collective goal is to be able to very quickly identify and implement strategies that will stabilize and rebuild the system so we don’t find ourselves constantly on the brink of a crisis.”

Houseboats on Lake Powell on Dec. 13, 2021, near Wahweap Marina, where the quarter-mile-long boat ramp is unusable due to low water levels. Federal officials have threatened unilateral actions to prop up levels in the nation’s largest reservoirs and protect the Colorado River System.

Worsening conditions

Over the past year, water managers have implemented measures to keep water levels from falling below critical thresholds for hydropower production in the nation’s two largest reservoirs, including a plan for holding back water in Lake Powell, emergency releases from upstream reservoirs, and a much-celebrated plan to save 500,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead.

The actions taken in the 2022 Drought Response Operations Plan will add about 1 million acre-feet, or 16 feet of elevation, to Lake Powell.

But these actions are not enough.

“It’s buying us a bit more time, but not much,” said James Prairie, the upper Colorado basin research and modeling chief for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Prairie kicked off the conference by sharing numbers from the Bureau’s June 24-month study, which predicted that 2022 will be another anemic year for spring runoff into Powell at just 55% of average. Total Colorado River system storage stands at about 35% full; last year at this time it was about 42% full. In March, Lake Powell dipped below a critical threshold of 3,525 feet, just 35 feet above the minimum level needed to generate hydropower for millions of people in the southwest.

The announcement of what one water expert dubbed the “2-to-4-million-acre-foot challenge” overshadowed many of the conference’s planned topics and left some presenters scrambling to change their talks or at least their tone. Debating the finer points of the Colorado River Compact, which divided the waters between the upper and lower basin states and marks its 100th anniversary this year, all of a sudden took a backseat.

“Everything has changed beneath our feet with Commissioner Touton’s announcement Tuesday,” said author and conference moderator John Fleck.

Touton gave the states until Aug. 16 to figure out a path to conservation before Reclamation would take unilateral action to protect the system. That’s when Reclamation’s August 24-month study comes out, which lays out a plan for how the agency will operate its reservoirs in the coming year.

Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Ariz., forms Lake Powell. It’s still unclear how Colorado would participate in a federally mandated plan to conserve 2 to 4 million acre-feet water to protect the Colorado River system.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Upper basin contribution

Federal officials made it clear that conserving the 2 to 4 million acre-feet is the responsibility of all seven basin states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nevada, California and Arizona. But they were not prescriptive about how to do it or how the shortages should be shared; that’s for the states to figure out among themselves.

“Do we have any specific recipe in mind? The short answer is no, we don’t have a formula already pre-baked and pre-worked,” Trujillo said. “We are likely going to be in a situation of doing things we have never done before.”

How Colorado will conserve is unclear, especially since the state’s exploration of a demand management program that would have paid water users to cut back has been shelved for now. The program proved a hard sell, especially for some agricultural water users who questioned why Colorado should send water to prop up Lake Powell and fix a problem that is caused by what they say is over-use in California, Nevada and Arizona.

The compact divided the flows of the Colorado River equally between the upper and lower basin at 7.5 million acre-feet each. But the upper basin has never come close to using its full allocation, while the lower basin, by some estimates, uses more than 8.5 million acre-feet. Meanwhile, climate change and a two-decade-long drought have diminished river flows basin-wide in the 20th century by about 20%; scientists say about one-third of that loss can be attributed to warmer temperatures.

Chuck Cullom, the executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said that while all seven states share the resource of the Colorado River and have an obligation to contribute to conservation, most of the water savings should come from the lower basin.

“Everyone needs to participate, but the vast majority of the effort needs to come from the lower basin because that’s where the preponderance of the uses are,” he said.

Upper basin water managers point to the emergency releases of 161,000 acre-feet last year from Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo reservoirs as a way they have responded to the crisis. But that decision was made unilaterally by Reclamation and is not the same as conservation.

Colorado’s commissioner to the UCRC and head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board Rebecca Mitchell did not give specific examples of where Colorado could increase its water conservation, but said the state will continue to work with other basin states, the federal governments and tribal nations to find solutions.

“Colorado water users are on the front lines of climate change,” Mitchell said in an emailed statement. “We are continuing to work closely with our federal and state partners across the basin to address water shortages.”

Fleck ended Thursday’s session by striking an emotional tone that captured the mood in the room. We are at a moment of reckoning and realizing the West of the future will look much different than it does now, he said.

“We are in a moment of grieving,” he said. “The tools we developed were not enough.”

This story ran in the June 17 edition of the Vail Daily.

Low waters in Navajo Lake impact recreation, marina — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. View looking north toward marina. The Navajo Dam can be seen on the left of the image. By Timthefinn at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4040102

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’a an excerpt:

According to the Lake Navajo Water Database, the lake was at 56.4 feet below full pool, an eleva- tion of 6,028.6 feet, on June 12 and at 55.78 percent by volume of full pool on that same date. Before this year, the lowest level that had been observed in Navajo Lake on June 12 in the last 10 years was in 2013, when the lake was at 6,029.17 feet of elevation. Last year, the water level on June 12 was 6,041.47 feet of elevation. The Navajo LakeWater Database also notes that the San Juan and Piedra rivers, which feed Navajo Lake, are at 11.92 percent of their combined aver- age and that inflows for water year 2022, which began on Oct. 1, 2021, and ends on Sept. 30, 2022, are at 89.6 percent of those for water year 2021.

In an interview with The SUN, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Manager for Navajo State Park Brian Sandy explained the impact the low water levels have had on the park. He commented that the low water levels have had a “really negative impact” on the park’s marina and the services it can provide, with the on-the-water fuel pump dock and the pump-out station for houseboats both inactive. He noted that no slips are available at the dock, with the few that remain usable reserved for patrol and rental boats. He added that the water level in the mooring cove is sufficiently low to render most of the mooring balls unusable. Sandy stated that the low water level has had a particularly severe impact on houseboats, many of which depend on the mooring cove and the pump-out station…

Sandy commented that water levels in the reservoir are likely to continue to drop over the season with water commitments for the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and municipal water for communities including Farmington, N.M., contributing to the decrease in lake levels, along with the drought and high winds.

Sandy added that releases of water from the reservoir also occur for the purposes of improving endangered fish species habitat downstream by raising water levels in rivers.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

Microplastics found in freshly fallen Antarctic snow for first time: New Zealand researchers identified tiny plastics, which can be toxic to plants and animals, in 19 snow samples — The Guardian

Ross Ice Shelf, 1997 The Ross Ice Shelf from the NATHANIEL B. PALMER Ross Sea, Antarctica. Photo credit: Public Domain

Click the link to read the article on The Guardian website (Eva Corlett). Here’s an excerpt:

Microplastics have been found in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica for the first time, which could accelerate snow and ice melting and pose a threat to the health of the continent’s unique ecosystems. The tiny plastics – smaller than a grain of rice – have previously been found in Antarctic sea ice and surface water but this is the first time it has been reported in fresh snowfall, the researchers say. The research, conducted by University of Canterbury PhD student, Alex Aves, and supervised by Dr Laura Revell has been published in the scientific journal The Cryosphere.

Aves collected snow samples from the Ross Ice Shelf in late 2019 to determine whether microplastics had been transferred from the atmosphere into the snow. Up until then, there had been few studies on this in Antarctica…“We were optimistic that she wouldn’t find any microplastics in such a pristine and remote location,” Revell said. She instructed Aves to also collect samples from Scott Base and the McMurdo Station roadways – where microplastics had previously been detected – so “she’d have at least some microplastics to study,” Revell said. But that was an unnecessary precaution – plastic particles were found in every one of the 19 samples from the Ross Ice Shelf.

“It’s incredibly sad but finding microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow highlights the extent of plastic pollution into even the most remote regions of the world,” Aves said.

EPA Announces New Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFAS Chemicals, $1 Billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding to Strengthen Health Protections #PFAS

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

Click the link to read the release on the EPA website:

Agency establishes new health advisories for GenX and PFBS and lowers health advisories for PFOA and PFOS

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released four drinking water health advisories for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the latest action under President Biden’s action plan to deliver clean water and Administrator Regan’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap. EPA also announced that it is inviting states and territories to apply for $1 billion – the first of $5 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant funding – to address PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water, specifically in small or disadvantaged communities. These actions build on EPA’s progress to safeguard communities from PFAS pollution and scientifically inform upcoming efforts, including EPA’s forthcoming proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for PFOA and PFOS, which EPA will release in the fall of 2022.

“People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long. That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are also investing $1 billion to reduce PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water.”

“Today’s actions highlight EPA’s commitment to use the best available science to tackle PFAS pollution, protect public health, and provide critical information quickly and transparently,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “EPA is also demonstrating its commitment to harmonize policies that strengthen public health protections with infrastructure funding to help communities—especially disadvantaged communities—deliver safe water.”

Assistant Administrator Fox announced these actions at the 3rd National PFAS Conference in Wilmington, North Carolina.

$1 Billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding

As part of a government-wide effort to confront PFAS pollution, EPA is making available $1 billion in grant funding through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities that are on the frontlines of PFAS contamination, the first of $5 billion through the Law that can be used to reduce PFAS in drinking water in communities facing disproportionate impacts. These funds can be used in small or disadvantaged communities to address emerging contaminants like PFAS in drinking water through actions such as technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training, and installation of centralized treatment technologies and systems.

EPA will be reaching out to states and territories with information on how to submit their letter of intent to participate in this new grant program. EPA will also consult with Tribes and Alaskan Native Villages regarding the Tribal set-aside for this grant program. This funding complements $3.4 billion in funding that is going through the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) and $3.2 billion through the Clean Water SRFs that can also be used to address PFAS in water this year.

Lifetime Drinking Water Health Advisories for Four PFAS

The agency is releasing PFAS health advisories in light of newly available science and in accordance with EPA’s responsibility to protect public health. These advisories indicate the level of drinking water contamination below which adverse health effects are not expected to occur. Health advisories provide technical information that federal, state, and local officials can use to inform the development of monitoring plans, investments in treatment solutions, and future policies to protect the public from PFAS exposure.

EPA’s lifetime health advisories identify levels to protect all people, including sensitive populations and life stages, from adverse health effects resulting from a lifetime of exposure to these PFAS in drinking water. EPA’s lifetime health advisories also take into account other potential sources of exposure to these PFAS beyond drinking water (for example, food, air, consumer products, etc.), which provides an additional layer of protection.

EPA is issuing interim, updated drinking water health advisories for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) that replace those EPA issued in 2016. The updated advisory levels, which are based on new science and consider lifetime exposure, indicate that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero and below EPA’s ability to detect at this time. The lower the level of PFOA and PFOS, the lower the risk to public health. EPA recommends states, Tribes, territories, and drinking water utilities that detect PFOA and PFOS take steps to reduce exposure. Most uses of PFOA and PFOS were voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers, although there are a limited number of ongoing uses, and these chemicals remain in the environment due to their lack of degradation.

For the first time, EPA is issuing final health advisories for perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its potassium salt (PFBS) and for hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) dimer acid and its ammonium salt (“GenX” chemicals). In chemical and product manufacturing, GenX chemicals are considered a replacement for PFOA, and PFBS is considered a replacement for PFOS. The GenX chemicals and PFBS health advisory levels are well above the level of detection, based on risk analyses in recent scientific studies.

The agency’s new health advisories provide technical information that federal, state, and local agencies can use to inform actions to address PFAS in drinking water, including water quality monitoring, optimization of existing technologies that reduce PFAS, and strategies to reduce exposure to these substances. EPA encourages states, Tribes, territories, drinking water utilities, and community leaders that find PFAS in their drinking water to take steps to inform residents, undertake additional monitoring to assess the level, scope, and source of contamination, and examine steps to reduce exposure. Individuals concerned about levels of PFAS found in their drinking water should consider actions that may reduce exposure, including installing a home or point of use filter.

Next Steps

EPA is moving forward with proposing a PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation in fall 2022. As EPA develops this proposed rule, the agency is also evaluating additional PFAS beyond PFOA and PFOS and considering actions to address groups of PFAS. The interim health advisories will provide guidance to states, Tribes, and water systems for the period prior to the regulation going into effect.

The EPA’s work to identify and confront the risks that PFAS pose to human health and the environment is a key component in the Biden-Harris Administration whole-of-government approach to confronting these emerging contaminants. This strategy includes steps by the Food and Drug Administration to increase testing for PFAS in food and packaging, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help dairy farmers address contamination of livestock, and by the Department of Defense to clean-up contaminated military installations and the elimination of unnecessary PFAS uses.

To receive grant funding announced today through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states and territories should submit a letter of intent by August 15, 2022.

To provide the public with more information about these actions, EPA will be hosting a webinar on June 23, 2022 at 12:00 pm Eastern. Learn more or register for the event.

A whistleblower and watchdog advocacy group used an EPA database of locations that may have handled PFAS materials or products to map the potential impact of PFAS throughout Colorado. They found about 21,000 Colorado locations in the EPA listings, which were uncovered through a freedom of information lawsuit. Locations are listed by industry category. (Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility analysis of EPA database)

Click the link to read “EPA warns toxic ‘forever chemicals’ more dangerous than once thought” on The Washington Post website (Dino Grandoni). Here’s an excerpt:

The guidance may spur water utilities to tackle PFAS, but health advocates are still waiting for mandatory standards

The new health advisories for a ubiquitous class of compounds known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, underscore the risk facing dozens of communities across the country. Linked to infertility, thyroid problems and several types of cancer, these “forever chemicals” can persist in the environment for years without breaking down…

The guidance aims to prompt local officials to install water filters or at least notify residents of contamination. But for now, the federal government does not regulate the chemicals. Health advocates have called on the Biden administration to act more quickly to address what officials from both parties describe as a contamination crisis that has touched every state…

Agency officials assessed two of the most common ones, known as PFOA and PFOS, in recent human health studies and announced Wednesday that lifetime exposure at staggeringly low levels of 0.004 and 0.02 parts per trillion, respectively, can compromise the immune and cardiovascular systems and are linked to decreased birth weights.

Those drinking-water concentrations represent “really sharp reductions” from previous health advisories set at 70 parts per trillion in 2016, said Erik Olson, a senior strategic director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. The announcement, he added, sends “an important signal to get this stuff out of our drinking water.”

More significantly, the EPA is preparing to propose mandatory standards for the two chemicals this fall. Once finalized, water utilities will face penalties if they neglect to meet them. The advisories will remain in place until the rule comes out. The EPA also said Wednesday that it is offering $1 billion in grants to states and tribes through the bipartisan infrastructure law to address drinking-water contamination.

These five people could make or break the #ColoradoRiver — The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridification

The All American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.

Click the link to read the article on the Los Angeles Times website (Sammy Roth). Here’s an excerpt:

Alex Cardenas. J.B. Hamby. Jim Hanks. Javier Gonzalez. Norma Sierra Galindo. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of them. But with the Colorado River in crisis, they’re arguably five of the most powerful people in the American West. They’re the elected directors of the Imperial Irrigation District, or IID, which provides water to the desert farm fields of California’s Imperial Valley, in the state’s southeastern corner. They control 3.1 million acre-feet of Colorado River water — roughly one-fifth of all the Colorado River water rights in the United States.

And if you live in Southern California — or in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver or Salt Lake City — the future reliability of your water supply will depend at least in part on what IID does next…

That’s because the Colorado River has been over-tapped for a century — and now climate change is making things worse, sharply reducing the river’s flow. Lake Mead is just 28% full, its lowest level ever. Lake Powell is at 27%. A federal official said this week that the seven states dependent on the river — including California — will need to cut their water use between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet next year to avoid outright catastrophe at the two major reservoirs…

Those kinds of cutbacks almost certainly won’t be possible without IID’s help. And that help is not guaranteed.

The Imperial Valley’s landowning farmers have fought bitterly to protect their senior water rights — hence the importance of the five individuals whose campaigns they fund, and whose actions they closely scrutinize. In 2002, for instance, the IID board voted down a proposal to sell lots of Colorado River water to San Diego County. Under pressure from the George. W Bush administration, they eventually reversed themselves — a move that invited the wrath of farmers, with long-lasting political consequences. As recently as last year, IID didn’t participate in a deal between California, Arizona and Nevada agencies to leave more water in Lake Mead. Two years earlier, the district sued to block a similar agreement known as the Drought Contingency Plan.

Colorado River drought contingency plans signing ceremony in May 2019. Photo: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Shifts in #ElNiño May Be Driving #Climate Extremes in Both Hemispheres — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate

La Niña intensifies the average atmospheric circulation—surface and high-altitude winds, rainfall, pressure patterns—in the tropical Pacific. Over the contiguous United States, the average location of the jet stream shifts northward. The southern tier of the country is often drier and warmer than average. NOAA Climate.gov illustration.

Click the link to read the article on the Inside Climate News website (Bob Berwyn). Here’s an excerpt:

Global warming is shifting cyclical temperature swings in the Pacific Ocean, and that affects floods in Australia, fires in South America and even temperature in the polar regions.

Other “unthinkable” extremes hit the Northern Hemisphere in the months before that. A December wildfire in the Rocky Mountain foothills of Colorado completely changed how some forest and fire scientists see the fire risk in that area, and the Pacific Northwest heat wave that started in June 2021 was an extreme not forecast by climate models. As that heat wave ebbed in July, parts of several German towns were destroyed by flooding rainstorms that were intensified by global warming. And in recent days, temperatures surged to 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the Siberian Arctic near the North Pole and above the adjacent Arctic Ocean.

Scientists exploring possible connections between the remarkable series of extremes in both hemispheres say they are increasingly certain that the powerful El Niño-La Niña cycle in the Pacific Ocean is one of the key links. New research shows the cycle has shifted in a way that is likely to fuel extremes, including wild swings between heat and drought and flooding rains.

In the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), huge masses of water surge eastward and westward every two to seven years along a vast region of the equatorial Pacific. One of the strongest El Niños on record in 2016 helped boost the average global temperature to a new record high that year.

It’s Happening. Now

The most recent global science report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that the global warming fingerprint on the El Niño-La Niña cycle would become apparent after about 2050. But the accelerating pace of record-breaking weather events shows that the destructive effects are already here, said Wenju Cai, director of the Center for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia…

Oceans hold 93 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gasses, and the tropical Pacific is the biggest tank for this heat, pure energy for the climate system. The El Niño-La Niña cycle is the pump distributing that energy, as heat and moisture, to the global climate system, to the east and west of the equator, as well as the north and south.