Click the link to go to the Colorado Water Plan website:
The Colorado Water Plan provides a framework for helping Colorado meet its water challenges through collaborative action around water development and water conservation. The plan includes a range of collaborative partner actions that stakeholders can advance through grant funding & local projects, as well as specific actions the Colorado Water Conservation Board and other agency partners will commit to in order to advance the plan. The plan guides future decision-making and supports local actions to address water challenges with a collaborative, balanced, and solutions-oriented approach that builds resilience.
The Colorado Water Plan uses state-of-the-art data and tools to analyze the state’s water issues, including adapting to aridification and climate change, embracing innovative ideas and new technology that align with Colorado’s evolving water goals. The Plan includes four main focus areas that work together for a stronger state: Vibrant Communities, Robust Agriculture, Thriving Watersheds, and Resilient Planning.
Colorado Water Plan grants support a range of multi-beneficial projects for water storage, water conservation, the water-land use nexus, agricultural efficiency, water education and awareness, watershed health, and outdoor recreation. The Colorado Water Plan’s focus areas will address overlapping themes to address identified risks and challenges: funding, supply, equity, climate change, land use planning, storage, efficiency, education, and forest health.
The EPA issued new or updated health advisories for four PFAS chemicals: PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PFBS.
Health advisories are not enforceable.
The science behind the health advisories will inform federal drinking water standards that will be published later this year.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new warnings about the danger of certain PFAS chemicals to human health are a stepping stone toward the agency’s development of national drinking water standards later this year. The warnings also test the limits of laboratory observation.
On June 15, the agency substantially lowered existing health advisories for two of the so-called “forever” chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. The agency also posted first-ever advisories for two additional chemicals, GenX and PFBS.
The new interim advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS are almost inconceivably small. So small, in fact, that laboratory methods cannot detect the chemicals in drinking water at these levels: 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS. The previous advisory level, set in 2016, was 70 parts per trillion combined — more than 10,000 times higher than the new level for PFOA.
“It’s unclear what to do,” said Alan Roberson, executive director of the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, a group that represents state regulators. Roberson said a health advisory set below the detection level has never happened before.
For members of the general public who are attuned to drinking water contaminants, the EPA announcement is raising concerns, according to John Lovie, president of the Whidbey Island Water Systems Association. Located in Washington state, the association counts about 100 water systems as members, which range in size from several thousand customers to just three or four. The town of Coupeville, one of the largest in the association, is dealing with PFAS chemicals in its water.
Lovie said that people on the island have already started to ask water systems what they are planning to do about the health advisories.
“The short answer is: not very much at the moment,” Lovie said.
Not very much because of the nature of the tool that the EPA is using. Unlike federal drinking water standards, health advisories are not enforceable. Water utilities are not punished if they exceed the limits. The advisories instead are meant as guidance for utilities, notifying them of chemical concentrations at which health damage can occur.
The EPA’s 2016 revision of the PFOA and PFOS health advisories helped to lift the class of nonstick, water-repelling chemicals into the national spotlight. Found in cookware, clothes, carpets, firefighting foams, and burger wrappers, PFAS chemicals number in the thousands. They have been linked to a cluster of undesirable health problems: high cholesterol, kidney cancer, low birth weight, and hampered immune systems.
In developing the new advisory levels, the EPA considered recent scientific findings that suggest health damage occurs at minuscule concentrations. The revised health advisories for PFOA and PFOS are due in large part because the chemicals inhibit vaccine response in children. The advisories are based on a lifetime of tap water consumption.
Two other PFAS chemicals received their first health advisories. The advisory level for GenX (10 parts per trillion) was based on liver damage. The advisory level for PFBS (2,000 parts per trillion), on thyroid effects.
Lovie is concerned that drinking water is being “singled out” in the regulatory world because measuring PFAS in water is easier compared to measuring exposure from other sources of PFAS, like clothing, food packaging, or dental floss.
“It’s thrown a lot of pressure on water systems to do something,” Lovie said. “It seems a bit of a mess.”
Health advisories are the EPA’s first step. The official name for an enforceable federal drinking water standard is a maximum contaminant level, or MCL. The EPA intends to publish draft MCLs for PFOA and PFOS by the end of 2022 and finalize the rules next year.
The lack of federal rules has not stopped states from acting. According to the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, 11 states have instituted their own health advisories, MCLs, or notification levels. These rules are a mixed bag of mandates and guidance, covering nine PFAS chemicals.
Roberson said that many states are waiting for the federal MCL before taking any additional action.
New Hampshire set its own standards in 2019. Jim Martin, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said the state will be engaging with the EPA as the MCL process unfolds.
That process has a second layer. At the same time as the MCL, the EPA will publish a maximum contaminant level goal, or MCLG. This is the level below which no health problems are expected for people who drink tap water over a lifetime.
Because the MCL incorporates economic factors like the cost of compliance, it will undoubtedly be higher than the MCLG. According to an EPA spokesperson, the MCLG will be based on the same science that the agency consulted when developing the health advisories.
For Lovie, the likely divergence between a regulatory standard in parts per trillion and a health advisory in parts per quadrillion means that the EPA and utilities will confront a public communications challenge. They will need to explain why the federal standard is higher than the level which provides the most health protection.
“Hopefully they’re going to come up with some further information on how to rationalize an MCL that’s going to be probably 1,000 times higher at least than the lifetime health advisories that they put out there,” Lovie said. “That’s a hard circle to square.”
Click the link to read the article on the NREL website (Harrison Dreves. Photos by Dennis Schroeder. Video by Josh Bauer):
Low-Impact Development of Solar Installations Could Be Win-Win-Win for Food, Water, and Renewable Energy
On a humid, overcast day in central Minnesota, a dozen researchers crouch in the grass between rows of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Only their bright yellow hard hats are clearly visible above the tall, nearly overgrown prairie grasses—which are growing exactly as expected.
Bent over white, square frames, some of the researchers catalog the number and type of native plants growing on a square foot of land. Others press double-forked meters into the ground, measuring the soil moisture below the solar panels and in open ground. Nearby, beekeepers check on the health of local hives.
Their research is part of an ongoing study to quantify the benefits of a new approach to solar installations: low-impact solar development.
To better understand the benefits of—and barriers to—low-impact solar development, the Innovative Site Preparation and Impact Reductions on the Environment (InSPIRE) project brings together researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Argonne National Laboratory, universities, local governments, environmental and clean energy groups, and industry partners. The project is funded by DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.
Bees Benefit—and That’s Just the Beginning
Traditionally, large solar installations are deployed on land that is first leveled, removing much of the topsoil and vegetation. After the mounting racks and solar panels are installed, the ground is covered in gravel or turf grass. With low-impact solar development, the ground may also be leveled in some places, but the topsoil is preserved. After the panels are installed, native and other beneficial vegetation—often friendly to bees and other pollinators—is planted.
The deep roots of native vegetation retain more water than turf grass and gravel during heavy storms and periods of drought. They also help retain topsoil and improve soil health over time, even in “brownfield” areas with polluted soils.
Perhaps most importantly, native and flowering vegetation provides a habitat for native species, especially pollinators and other beneficial insects that can improve yields at nearby farms.
“One surprising thing is how rapidly and significantly pollinator-friendly solar has taken off in the states,” said Jordan Macknick, NREL’s lead energy-water-land analyst and principal investigator for the InSPIRE project. “Every state we work with wants more information on pollinator-friendly solar.”
At several InSPIRE sites, local beekeepers and university and national laboratory researchers are tracking their bees’ visits to the pollinator-friendly vegetation under the solar panels. The goal is to determine how vegetation at solar sites can benefit insect populations and to understand the extent to which pollinator-friendly solar installations can boost crop yields at surrounding farms.
The low-impact approach also benefits solar developers. For example, skipping the removal of topsoil reduces site preparation expenses. As prices continue to fall for solar panels and other hardware, nonhardware costs (including site preparation) will soon account for 20% of total utility-scale solar costs. Native vegetation, if selected appropriately, also requires less ongoing maintenance than traditional gravel or turf grass approaches, as there is less of a need for mowing or spraying.
Flourishing vegetation can even boost energy production from solar panels. Warmer temperatures can reduce the efficiency with which PV cells convert sunlight into electricity. The ground shading and increased evaporation provided by a healthy layer of undergrowth can actually cool solar panels, increasing their energy output.
So, why isn’t low-impact solar development more widely adopted?
“In a risk-averse industry, this is perceived as a risky practice because there haven’t been any studies and there isn’t any data to say that this works or that there can be benefits to the solar project,” said Macknick. “That’s why we are doing the first systematic and robust research on low-impact solar development—to see what works and to quantify costs and benefits.”
Low-Impact Solar Saves More Than Soil
At the Minnesota test site, Macknick and his colleagues have planted nine different seed mixes and are studying their impact on temperatures, soil moisture levels, energy production, and maintenance over several years. At sites in six other states, representing the country’s diverse climates, similar research is underway.
To ensure research stays abreast of current industry practices, an InSPIRE stakeholder group called ASTRO (Agriculture and Solar Together: Research Opportunities) brings together researchers, solar developers, and government agencies to share the latest data and best practices. Ultimately, InSPIRE’s research should yield actionable suggestions for the solar industry, answering questions such as “What seed mixes do we plant to minimize maintenance costs in certain climates?” or “How frequently do we mow?”
At InSPIRE’s Massachusetts, Arizona, and Oregon sites, the team is testing a particular low-impact approach that adds food to the mix: agrivoltaics. Growing agricultural crops under the shade of solar panels uses water much more efficiently while shielding plants from the worst of the midday heat.
Agrivoltaics probably won’t be feasible for large-scale, single-crop farms that rely on heavy machinery. But preliminary results already suggest it can significantly boost the yields of certain plants in hotter-than-average years. At the Arizona site, cherry tomato yields are doubled and require less water when grown in the shade of solar panels.
The solar energy generation also offers farmers a steady, additional source of income—a valuable assurance in a potentially volatile agriculture industry.
For states and municipalities with limited farmland, agrivoltaics offers another benefit. Gerry Palano, an energy program coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, has been working with cities and farmers to ensure new solar projects strike a balance between meeting the state’s renewable energy goals and maintaining local agriculture.
Agrivoltaics could help offset the impacts of extreme weather by reducing water use, increasing food yields, and limiting the negative effects of heat on solar panels.
Low-impact solar development does require additional up-front planning and expenditures, but—according to the data gathered by InSPIRE researchers so far—offers surprisingly robust benefits over time.
Perhaps most importantly, low-impact solar development can make solar projects more responsive to the priorities and concerns of local communities.
Click the link to read “Inside Clean Energy: Yes, There Are Benefits of Growing Broccoli Beneath Solar Panels” on the Inside Climate News website (Dan Gearino). Here’s an excerpt:
Despite being “yucky” according to some picky eaters, broccoli is well-suited to grow alongside solar panels, according to a new study.
The research from Chonnam National University in South Korea is part of the growing field of “agrivoltaics,” in which agronomists and energy experts look for opportunities for solar power and agriculture to exist on the same land in an effort to meet the world’s needs for both energy and food.
The findings, published in the journal Agronomy, show that shade provided by solar panels helps to make broccoli a deeper shade of green, which makes the vegetable more appealing for grocery stores and consumers without a significant loss of the crop’s size or nutritional value.
But the greatest financial benefits for farmers come from producing energy. Income from solar was about 10 times the income from broccoli, which indicates that farmers already growing the vegetable are missing out on an opportunity by not having solar panels in the same fields, according to the study. The authors include Kang Mo-Ku, a horticulture professor.
The paper is “a great case study,” said Jordan Macknick, a lead analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, whose work deals with agrivoltaics.
His main caveat is that the results only apply to one crop being grown in one region. He said the paper provides evidence that should encourage additional research in other places and with other crops.
He would know. His team at NREL has several projects involving solar alongside carrots, chard, kale, peppers and tomatoes, among others.
As back-to-back drought years continue to reduce snowpack and spring runoff, Colorado’s reservoirs are seeing little to any recovery in storage levels, members of the state’s Water Availability Task Force said Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a challenge for this year and the forseeable future until we get a banner snowpack year,” said Karl Wetlaufer, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and a task force member.
Statewide reservoir storage is at 85% of average, a number that hasn’t improved much in the past three years, Wetlaufer said.
Colorado derives the majority of its drinking and farm water supplies from mountain snows that are collected in reservoirs, and as a result, reservoir levels are closely watched.
Across the state’s eight major river basins, those to the north remain the wettest, with the South Platte Basin, which includes metro Denver and the Northern Front Range, seeing storage levels at roughly 94% of normal.
The Colorado River Basin headwater region has storage levels of 98%.
But to the southwest, in the hard-hit San Juan Dolores Basin, which includes Durango, reservoir storage levels are the lowest in the state, registering just 67% of normal
At the same time, a new report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that the majority of Colorado remains in moderate to severe drought, with the southern portion of the state still mired in extreme drought.
Looking ahead to September, the forecast shows near normal precipitation for the state, but much higher temperatures as well.
At the same time, the drought continues to sap Colorado’s rivers. Statewide stream flows are expected to hit just 69% of average. And in the picture in the dry southwest corner of the state is grim, with the San Juan Basin expected to see stream flows of just 26% of normal, while the Rio Grande Basin streams are expected to hit 33% of average, according to the NRCS.
Task force member Becky Bolinger, assistant state climatologist at Colorado State University’s Climate Center, said the drought will likely continue into the fall and early winter. Though summer rains will help improve soil moisture levels, it won’t be enough to compensate for the damage already done this year.
According to Bolinger, it is likely that La Niña conditions will continue into the fall and beginning of winter. But if the fall is warm and dry, that could worsen drought conditions and Colorado could start another snowpack season at a deficit.
Still, Colorado’s ability to store water is a bright spot in the broader Colorado River Basin, where Lake Mead and Lake Powell are hovering around just 25% full.
The seven Colorado River Basin states, which include Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, in the Upper Basin, and Arizona, California and Nevada, in the Lower basin, are under an emergency order to come up with a plan to slash water use by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet by August or face mandatory cuts imposed by the federal government.
“We are not getting enough years like 2019 (which had above average mountain snowpacks) to boost reservoirs again,” Bolinger said. “The more likely scenarios are for less water.
“Despite sounding all gloom and doom, if everybody knows what they have to work with, they will adjust. When you know what you’re working with, then you can make good decisions,” she 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.