#Drought news (July 21, 2022): Severe drought expanded on the plains of E. #Colorado and extreme S.E. #Wyoming

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

Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

Most of the eastern third of the U.S. recorded precipitation during the last week, with only a few pockets that missed out. Portions of the Midwest and into the Southeast had some amounts over 3 inches for the week and even widespread 5+ inch amounts in the coastal areas of Florida, and some rain at the end of the period allowed for much of New England to stay status quo for the week and even see a few improvements. The areas with the most rain also had the coolest temperatures, with much of the Midwest and Southeast cooler than normal for the week with departures of 2-4 degrees below normal. Warmer-than-normal temperatures dominated the western half of the country with areas from Montana to Texas recording temperatures that were 6-8 degrees above normal. The coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest were cooler than normal while the Great Basin was warmer than normal with departures of 6-8 degrees above normal. With the dryness and heat, the flash drought that has been developing in the central to southern Plains developed even more this week with the wet conditions of May and June quickly being forgotten…

High Plains

A warm and mainly dry week dominated the region. Temperatures were warmest in eastern Montana and from western North Dakota to western Kansas, where departures were 6-8 degrees above normal. There were some pockets of very intense rains in Nebraska, North Dakota and eastern Colorado, but widespread rains were minimal. South Dakota had expansion of abnormally dry and moderate drought over much of the southern tier of the state while eastern Kansas had widespread introduction of abnormally dry conditions and moderate drought expansion. Severe and extreme drought expanded over much of western Kansas while severe drought expanded over north-central Nebraska and in the panhandle. Severe drought also expanded on the plains of eastern Colorado and extreme southeast Wyoming. There was a slight improvement in extreme drought in northeast Nebraska where some intense rains fell in the middle of the previous extreme drought area…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending July 19, 2022.

West

Temperatures were warmer than normal over much of Montana and into northern Nevada, southern Idaho, and eastern Wyoming with departures of 6-8 degrees above normal. Temperatures were cooler than normal by 1-2 degrees over the coastal regions of Washington and Oregon. Highly variable and scattered monsoonal moisture continues to impact the region, with some areas with above-normal precipitation for the week in Nevada, Arizona, and southern California as well as into areas of southern Colorado and Utah. Only minimal changes were made this week as the full impact of the recent precipitation is not fully known yet, but improvements are possible depending on how the rest of the monsoon season continues…

South

As with areas of the central Plains, the South had widespread hot and dry conditions for the week. Areas of northeast Arkansas, western Louisiana and northern Mississippi had the most rain, with pockets of rain throughout central and southern Texas. Temperatures were warmer than normal with departures of 4-6 degrees above normal over most of northern Texas and Oklahoma. As both long-term and short-term dryness have impacted this area, extreme and exceptional drought expanded over Oklahoma and Texas while flash drought development has impacted much of eastern Oklahoma into Arkansas. Widespread degradation took place this week with a full category degradation over much of Oklahoma, Arkansas and into northern Texas. Further degradation took place over portions of east Texas with just small areas of improvement over far west Texas, the western Panhandle and into southwest Texas…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days, it is anticipated that wet conditions will continue over the Southeast and along the Gulf Coast. Areas of the Midwest will also continue with the recent wet pattern, with the greatest rains anticipated over southern Wisconsin. Dry conditions will dominate the West and South and monsoonal moisture will continue to bring rains to the Four Corners region and into the central Plains. Temperatures during this time will be above normal for most of the country; the greatest departures of 6-9 degrees above normal will be over the West and into the Plains. Cooler-than-normal conditions will be experienced over the northern Plains, where temperatures in North Dakota are anticipated to be 6-9 degrees below normal.

The 6-10 day outlooks show that the West, South, Midwest and East Coast have the best chances to record above-normal temperatures, with the best chances over the South and Pacific Northwest. The best probability for below-normal temperatures will be over the northern Plains, southern Arizona and Alaska. The best chances of above-normal precipitation appear to be over the central to southern Plains, Southwest and Midwest, with the best chances over Kansas, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. Below-normal precipitation chances are best over the Pacific Northwest and into portions of the Southeast.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending July 19, 2022.

6 Big Findings from the IPCC 2022 Report on #Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability — World Resources Institute #ActOnClimate

Click the link to go to the World Resources Institute website:

The newest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a troubling picture: Climate change is already impacting every corner of the world, and much more severe impacts are in store if we fail to halve greenhouse gas emissions this decade and immediately scale up adaptation.

Comparing risks from rising temperatures. Credit: World Resources Institute via Ravi Karkara

2021 #COleg: Walking the legislative talk of environmental justice — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Suncor Refinery with Sand Creek in the foreground July 9, 2022. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

Colorado legislators in 2021 passed a suite of laws that in various ways give state agencies new marching orders that this energy transition will reconcile past wrongs and put people on an equal footing. But there’s a lot to sort through in this.

Now comes the part where the rhetoric about a just transition of the energy economy — paying special attention to disproportionately impacted communities and rectifying past wrongs with the word “equity” in mind — gets tested in the field.

In late July and early August, the three members of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission will take turns hosting six meetings from Lamar to Grand Junction, places selectively chosen because of evidence of disproportionate impacts from energy.

The meetings serve a dual purpose. The commissioners are gathering thoughts about how the state’s four regulated gas-distribution utilities will start changing how we heat buildings and water in order to reduce emissions. They are required to submit what are called clean-heat plans.

The four gas utilities —Xcel Energy, Black Hills Energy, Atmos Energy, and Colorado Natural Gas — must show how they will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 4% by 2025 and 22% by 2030, based on a 2015 baseline.

But the commissioners are also very deliberately meeting in cities that have been identified by mapping tools as having, or being proximate to, disproportionately impacted communities.

Get accustomed to hearing that phrase, now used so often it has been reduced to an acronym in many documents: DIC. Among other things, the commissioners want to better understand how to define equity (as distinct from equality) and what constitutes a DIC community.

It’s an early milestone in Colorado’s difficult and still new process, one parallel to others underway in several states around the country.

Pushing their investigation are five laws passed by Colorado legislators in 2021 that collectively seek to put the hands of those communities on the steering wheel in ways that they have not before.

SB 21-272, “Modernize the Public Utilities Commission,” tells the PUC that it must adopt rules that “consider how best to provide equity, minimize impacts, and prioritize benefits to disproportionately impacted communities and address historical inequalities.”

What are disproportionately impacted communities? This law provides a glimpse:

“Certain communities, both in Colorado and internationally, have historically been forced to bear a disproportionate burden of adverse human health or environmental effects, as documented in numerous studies, while also facing systemic exclusion from environmental decision-making processes and enjoying fewer environmental benefits,” says SB21-272.

The law cites a 2021 report from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. The project, called Mapping for Environmental Justice, attempted to paint a holistic picture of intersecting environmental, social, and health impacts in individual states, including Colorado.

The study found that “communities of color breathe nearly twice as much diesel pollution and are 1.5 times more likely to live near a Superfund site than white communities. The disparity holds across an array of environmental hazards: from wastewater releases to air toxins, Coloradoans of color are consistently exposed to more pollution.”

This same law, SB 21-272, instructs the PUC to “identify disproportionately impacted communities” and host meetings and in other ways invite input from them to ensure that they will have at least proportionate access to the benefits of retail customer programs, incentives and investments.”

The PUC must go through a rule-making process that governs how the PUC reviews plans by utilities —including not just energy utilities, but also transportation and other sectors it regulates.

The goal is to deliver equity – which will be defined later – in programs and incentives that serve low-income customers and disproportionately impacted communities.

Clean Heat

The second law of relevance, SB 21-264, the “Clean Heat Bill,” requires Colorado’s four natural gas utilities to start figuring out how to reduce fossil fuel combustion from buildings. It gives the largest gas utilities, including Xcel, various ways to achieve a 22% reduction in emissions by 2030. They can, for example, help customers convert to electricity through use of air-source heat pumps. Utilities are required to submit clean-heat plans.

This clean-heat bill also has an environmental justice component. That law also calls out the “historic injustices that impact lower-income Coloradans and black, indigenous, and other people of color who have borne a disproportionate share of environmental risks while also enjoying fewer environmental benefits.”

As the PUC goes about creating the rules for evaluating clean-heat plans, it must hold at least two meetings in disproportionately impacted communities.

In planning six meetings, not just two, the PUC obviously aims for a robust compliance with the letter of the law. The PUC has gone a step beyond, and we’ll explain that later in this article.

Yet a third law, HB 21-1266, called the “Environmental Justice Act,” takes direct aim and, unlike the others, delivers more explicit instructions for the Air Quality Control Commission – an agency within the state’s health department – to engage with disproportionately impacted communities.

The law incorporates demographic factors but delegated to a new Environmental Justice Action Task Force the work of defining what exactly constitutes a disproportionately impacted community. The law also added transition to a more equitable clean energy economy to the mission of the Colorado Energy Office.

Two more laws deserve mention.

SB 21-246, Promote Beneficial Electrification, requires investor-owned utilities to file plans with the PUC that must include “programs targeted to low-income housing or disproportionately impacted communities with at least 20% of the total beneficial electrification program funding” directed to those communities and income levels.

HB21-1105 modified the eligibility standards for low-income programs.

The trajectory

Why did all of this come together in 2021?

Ean Tafoya, of GreenLatinos, who is co-chair of the new task force, says the thinking had been growing for years of the need to “redress” inequities.

In 2019, the first year that Democrats gained a majority in both chambers, as well as the governor’s mansion, the legislators who might have carried the bills were too new to the General Assembly to be effective.

Then came the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020, spurring national protests, including in Denver. This was just months after the covid pandemic descended, hitting minority populations harder.

Those things “helped to galvanize the creation of a more formidable environmental justice coalition,” says Tafoya. This pressure seems to have created “more political room for the politicians to move forward.”

Tafoya also says that this powerful new environmental justice coalition wouldn’t settle for legislation that in early drafts didn’t initially include equity provisions.

In this, he refers to major bills driven by Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver and two Boulder County legislators, Sen. Steve Fenberg and Rep. Tracey Bernett, as well as Rep. Alex Valdez and Rep. Meg Froehlich.

A bill that started out as SB 200 was recreated in SB 1266 with Faith Winter as a primary author. She did not respond to several requests for an interview.

The Environmental Justice Act is sweeping. It requires the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas operations. It also requires that commission to adopt rules to reduce emissions from the industrial and manufacturing sector in Colorado by at least 20% by 2030 relative to 2015 levels.

This is from Big Pivots 59 (July 17, 2022). Please consider subscribing.

Environmental justice, though, is front and center in the law. It requires the Air Quality Control Commission to promote outreach to disproportionately impacted communities by creating new ways to gather input from communities across Colorado, using multiple languages and multiple formats.

The law also created the task force of which Tafoya is a member with the responsibility to make recommendations to legislators of “practical means to address environmental justice inequities” by Nov. 14.

That task force has met four times beginning in December, and it also has five subcommittees that meet monthly.

Pueblo’s Jamie Valdez, who is also on the task force, describes it as a “very difficult process.” But the goal is to avoid compromising as has occurred in the past.

Members have received much testimony “that there has not been enough consideration or responsiveness to community and too much to industry,” he says.

The table has been tilted heavily to a discussion between industry and regulators, to the exclusion of others, says Valdez, who is paid staff and a community organizer for southern Colorado on behalf of Mothers Outfront, a mothers-funded environmental justice organization whose mission is to work for a livable climate for all children.

Equity and equitable

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has also been moving along. The commission held a workshop in February to get insights from participants about how to implement the environmental justice component of HB21-264, the law that requires the meetings in disproportionately impacted communities. In March, the PUC asked the states’ four natural gas utilities – Xcel, Black Hills Energy, Atmos, and Colorado Natural Gas – to identify three ideas for meeting locations.

Xcel identified Grand Junction, metro Denver, and Pueblo. Black Hills identified Montrose, Rocky Ford, and Yuma. Atmos Energy identified Greeley, Lamar, and Craig.

The utilities were advised to consult a data-rich mapping tool created by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment called EnviroScreen. This was a result of the Environmental Justice Bill. When I first looked at this a year ago, I found it primitive. It showed the Wildridge neighborhood north of Avon and the Singletree neighborhood of Edwards to be in an environmentally impacted tract. (That all of us should be so unfortunate as to live in such areas.)

A review for this article shows a sophisticated tool, if still not complete. A tutorial explains it was created “to help identify the relative health burdens and environmental risks facing different communities across Colorado.”

On June 1, the PUC hosted a session on equity initiatives. Kelly Crandell, of the PUC staff, explained the SB 21-272 requirement to promulgate rules that seek to “provide equity and minimize impacts and prioritizes benefits to disproportionately impacted communities that have experienced historical inequalities.”

During the next few months, she said, the PUC commissioners and staff will be focusing on learning things that can be used to shape these new rules, the ones being drawn up to govern how the PUC evaluates plans by utilities.

Crandell carefully distinguished between equality and equity. With the equality, the idea is to provide something to everyone equally. So, your residential rates for electricity will be the same as your neighbors’.

Equity as Crandell explained it has a historical dimension. It recognizes that things may need to change so that others can participate, that actions of the past such as redlining must be acknowledged to properly rectify going forward.

“It’s challenging to an agency such as ours because conversations more traditionally operated in the vein of equality,” she said.

The legislation, she explained, had three dimensions: 1) recognize why certain communities have suffered, such as because of redlining practices; 2) procedural inequalities. How can the PUC make its process more accessible to the public; and 3) broadly prioritizing the benefits of new energy programs to disproportionately impacted communities.

Different sorts of meetings

Most interesting of these meetings may be at Montbello, located in northeastern Denver on the north side of I-70. It will use a new format of outreach.

There, community members will be paid to attend and share their thoughts. The meeting will be led by the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency. That municipal agency has been hosting community meetings. In this case two community-based organizations have been enlisted to put it together.

“The event will include a listening session on energy priorities within these neighborhoods in addition to a discussion about clean heat plans,” the decision notice issued by the PUC on July 6 says. The event will be presented in both English and Spanish.

Ah yes – the clean heat plans. The natural gas utilities must figure out how to reduce emissions from buildings. A small bit of this can be accomplished by augmenting supplies of methane distributed to homes for heating and cooking with what is called renewable natural gas, such as that harvested from landfills. But there are many other tools – including beneficial electrification, including the use of air source heat pumps to displace or at least augment natural gas furnaces. They’re still relatively expensive, though, with a payback that in most cases will take at least several years.

Tafoya observes that focus groups have already found that tax credits won’t work for lower-income residents. “It’s clear that people want down-payment assistance, not just tax credits.”

Colorado is far from alone in trying to look at utility decisions through the new lenses of equity. A report called “Advancing Equity in Utility Regulation” issued in November 2021 by Berkeley National Laboratory notes an effort in California in 2020 requiring “environmental justice” to be part of the state’s mission. New York and Washington also adopted legislation in 2019, the latter state charging the utilities commission with “ensuring that all customers are benefiting from the transition to clean energy.”

In 2021, Massachusetts, Oregon, Illinois, and Maine all passed somewhat parallel legislation along with Colorado.

Also worth checking out:

Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment Environmental Justice page

Colorado Public Utilities Commission Equity Initiatives page

Meetings

July 21: Greeley, Greeley Recreation Center, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

July 21: Denver, Montebello Recreation Center, 5-7:30 p.m.

July 27: Grand Junction, Colorado Mesa University Center, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

July 28: Montrose, Montrose Event Center, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Aug. 4: Pueblo, Bessemer Community Room at Steelworks Center for the West, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Aug. 4: Lamar Cultural Events Center, 4:30-6 p.m.

The 5 bills:
SB21-272 “Measures to Modernize the Public Utilities Commission.” Requires PUC to identify disproportionately impacted communities (DICs) and to reach out to let them help create new rules.

SB 21-264, “Clean Heat Bill.” Requires natural gas utilities to begin decarbonizing gas distributed to buildings. Requires PUC to hold at least two meetings in DICs.

HB 21-1266 “Environmental Justice Act.” Instructions specifically to Air Quality Control Commission.

SB 21-246, “Promote Beneficial Electrification.” Requires 20% of program funds be used for low-income households or disproportionately impacted communities.

HB21-1105, modifies eligibility standards for low-income programs.

Photo from http://trmurf.com/about/

Say hello to Project Drawdown #Climate Solutions 101 #ActOnClimate

Click the link to go to the Project Drawdown website:

Your climate solutions journey begins now. Filled with the latest need-to-know science and fascinating insights from global leaders in climate policy, research, investment, and beyond, this video series is a brain-shift toward a brighter climate reality.

Climate Solutions 101 is the world’s first major educational effort focused solely on solutions. Rather than rehashing well-known climate challenges, Project Drawdown centers game-changing climate action based on its own rigorous scientific research and analysis. This course, presented in video units and in-depth conversations, combines Project Drawdown’s trusted resources with the expertise of several inspiring voices from around the world. Climate solutions become attainable with increased access to free, science-based educational resources, elevated public discourse, and tangible examples of real-world action. Continue your climate solutions journey, today.

This week’s Topsoil Moisture Short/Very Short by @usda_oce

From NIDIS on Twitter:

A 3% jump across the Lower 48. The last 3 weeks have seen the highest levels of topsoil moisture short/very short for this time range in 8 years. TX (94%) and AR (90%) have the highest levels short/very short.

Upper Division States and Upper #ColoradoRiver Commission Provide 5-Point Plan for Additional Protection Actions

Map credit: AGU

Click the link to read the UCRC letter on the Upper Colorado River Commsission website (Alyx Richards):

Upper Division States 5 Point Plan for Additional Actions to Protect Colorado Storage Project Initial Units:

Dear Commissioner Touton,

The Upper Division States of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, through the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC), are writing in response to your request that the Colorado River Basin States take
additional actions in response to the continuing drought and depleted system storage. During your testimony to the Senate Natural Resources Committee on June 14, 2022, you asked the Basin States to develop plans to provide an additional 2-4 million acre-feet (MAF) of water in 2023 to protect critical elevations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead. You also indicated that, absent such plans being developed by mid-August, the Bureau of Reclamation is prepared to take unilateral action under its existing authority to protect the system.

The Upper Division States recognize that bringing the system into balance will require collaboration and efforts from all Basin States and water use sectors. Accordingly, we stand ready to participate in and support efforts, across the Basin, to address the continuing dry hydrology and depleted storage conditions. However, the options the Upper Division States have available to protect critical reservoir elevations are limited. The Upper Basin is naturally limited to the shrinking supply of the river, and previous drought response actions are
depleting upstream storage by 661,000 acre-feet. Our water users already suffer chronic shortages under current conditions resulting in uncompensated priority administration, which includes cuts to numerous present perfected rights in each of our states.

In order to proactively support critical infrastructure and resources related to the Colorado River Storage Project Act Initial Units, we have developed a 5 Point Plan. We intend to implement the 5 Point Plan to the
extent it is effective, in conjunction with plans developed for the Lower Basin. The components of the 5 Point Plan are as follows:

(1) Seek amendment and reauthorization of the System Conservation Pilot Project legislation originally enacted in 2014. The amendment will provide for extension of the authorization and reporting periods
to September 30, 2026, and September 30, 2027, respectively, and seek funding to support the program in the Upper Basin. Upon obtaining reauthorization, the necessary funding, and finalizing any
required agreements, we intend to reactivate the program in the Upper Basin in 2023.

(2) Commence development of a 2023 Drought Response Operations Plan (2023 Plan) in August 2022 with finalization in April 2023 consistent with the Drought Response Operations Plan Framework (Framework). A 2023 Plan must meet all the requirements of the Drought Response Operations Agreement and the Framework. These requirements include, but are not limited to, determining the effectiveness of any potential releases from upstream Initial Units to protect critical elevations at Glen
Canyon Dam, and ensuring that the benefits provided to Glen Canyon Dam facilities and operations are preserved.

(3) Consider an Upper Basin Demand Management program as interstate and intrastate investigations are completed.

(4) Implement, in cooperation with Reclamation, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan funding to accelerate enhanced measurement, monitoring, and reporting
infrastructure to improve water management tools across the Upper Division States.

(5) Continue strict water management and administration within the available annual water supply in the Upper Division States, including implementation and expansion of intrastate water conservation programs and regulation and enforcement under the doctrine of prior appropriation.

The challenges in the Colorado River Basin affect us all and require collaboration across the entire Basin. We request your support as we advance our 5 Point Plan, including for federal legislation to reauthorize the System Conservation Pilot Program and for funding to support the Plan through September 2026.

Reclamation data shows that Lower Basin and Mexico depletions are more than double the depletions in the Upper Basin. Therefore, additional efforts to protect critical reservoir elevations must include significant actions focused downstream of Lake Powell. Otherwise, the effectiveness of our 5 Point Plan will be limited.

We look forward to working with you on this critical effort while also developing sustainable long-term solutions to address the challenges we face in the Colorado River Basin.

Becky Mitchell, the state of Colorado’s top water official. (Source: Colorado Water Conservation Board)

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (UCRC Commissioner Rebecca Mitchell):

In coordination with the other Upper Division States of New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, Colorado is taking action in response to the call from the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton to the Colorado River Basin states to conserve a total of 2-4 million acre-feet to protect critical infrastructure at Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The Upper Division States’ 5 Point Plan is outlined in a letter sent to Commissioner Touton by the Upper Colorado River Commission on July 18.

“The challenges facing the Colorado River are significant and require action across the entire Basin. While the options available in the Upper Division states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming are limited by hydrologic conditions, we are doing our part to protect the system. The Upper Basin states take water cuts responsive to hydrologic conditions and have also provided a significant amount of water from our upstream reservoirs. On top of these actions, we have developed a comprehensive new 5 Point Plan. But these efforts will be successful only if additional actions are taken downstream of Lake Powell,” said Colorado River Commissioner Becky Mitchell.

Registration is now open for the 2022 Sustaining #Colorado Watersheds Conference Oct. 11-13, 2022 — @WaterEdCO