In a July 22 letter, the leaders of 14 Colorado River Basin Tribal governments complained to the U.S. Department of Interior about being left out – again – of the current negotiations around short terms Colorado River cutbacks:
Janet Wilson had a helpful story yesterday in the Desert Sun about California’s negotiations over its piece of the looming Colorado River cutbacks. Its bottom line is that California – the state with the largest Colorado River allocation – is talking about kicking in 500,000 acre feet of water. Or maybe it’s really just 400,000 acre feet of water – as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Bill Hasencamp told her, paraphrased, the negotiations are fluid and numbers could change.
4 million acre feet is obviously out of reach. It always was.
But if Wilson’s numbers about California’s contributions are right – and she’s a good reporter, we have every reason to believe they’re in the ballpark – 2 million acre feet of additional conservation is beyond the grasp of a voluntary deal as well.
Nevada’s share of the river is so tiny that its contribution is couch cushion change, a rounding error.
That leaves, in round numbers, 1.5 million acre feet of water to come out of Arizona just to get to Touton’s bottom line number for additional conservation. That would require completely drying up the Central Arizona Project canal. (CAP is taking 1.031maf this year, and averaged ~1.4maf over the previous fives years). I’m frequently surprised by Arizona, but it seems unlikely that they’ll agree to a voluntary deal that dries up the CAP canal. If that’s where we end up, Arizona’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement will be to just make the feds do it, make them take the heat. (Worth noting that FiveThirtyEight has Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly slightly favored to hold his seat. Water politics is high stakes politics.)
Combine that with the reality that Arizona’s Native American communities, major water rights holders, have complained that they’ve been cut out of this entire process, according to a July 22 letter just surfaced.
I can imagine creative accounting that might allow everyone to grin through their teeth and count water moved down to Lake Powell from Flaming Gorge and other Upper Basin reservoirs as part of the 2 million. That’s pretty clearly not what Touton called for in June. It’s not “additional conservation”. But it might create some space for a face-saving deal.
Whether that would be enough to protect us from dead pool is another question.
A REMINDER OF THE STAKES
The Bureau of Reclamation’s most recent “minimum probable” model runs show Lake Powell dropping below power pool – unable to generate electricity, and forced to move water through bypass tubes that Reclamation has made clear it does not trust – by October 2023.
Under that same scenario, Lake Mead drops to elevation 992 feet above sea level over the next 24 months.
(Trust me, having to type a Lake Mead elevation level without having to use a comma made me clench.)
At that point, a lack of water will make massive cuts a self-executing reality. We’ve drained our buffer. You can’t use water that doesn’t exist.
AT THE NATIONAL WESTERN CENTER, an unparalleled system is mining dirty water for clean energy. It’s the largest sewer-heat recovery project in North America.
You’re not alone if you read the word “sewer” and thought, “Wait, what?”
Yes, this green energy relies on raw sewage from thousands of homes and businesses in Denver – a great gush of wastewater expelled from dishwashers, washing machines, sinks, showers, tubs, and toilets. Sewage often is associated with its fecal content, but it contains something far more relevant to sustainable energy. That’s heat. Consider: An 8-minute shower typically uses a whopping 20 gallons of water at roughly 105 degrees Fahrenheit. With each load of laundry, a high-efficiency washing machine could gulp 13 gallons of water at up to 130 degrees. And, with each cycle, a dishwasher might use 4 gallons of water at 140 degrees. That’s a lot of water – and a lot of heat – down the drain.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that Americans send the equivalent of 350 billion kilowatt-hours of energy down our drains each year – enough to power about 32 million U.S. homes.
“It really is just wasted heat,” said Leslie Fangman, a civil engineer and vice president of corporate development for CenTrio. CenTrio is part of a consortium called EAS Energy Partners, which was selected by the National Western Center Authority and the city and county of Denver to finance, design, build, operate, and maintain the sewer-heat recovery system.
The project relies on technology that is more than a decade old but has not been widely adopted, largely because of infrastructure complexities and high upfront costs. Yet, the concept is straightforward: During wintertime, extract heat from sewage and recycle it to warm a network of buildings, called an energy district; during summertime, use the same system to reject heat and cool the buildings. In so doing, dramatically reduce use of natural gas and electricity, which power furnaces and air conditioners.
After several years of planning and construction, the sewer-heat recovery system is poised to become a highlight of sustainability at the National Western Center. The center comprises 250 acres near I-25 and I-70 in north Denver. It is a $1 billion redevelopment, transforming the historic grounds of the National Western Stock Show into a year-round site for entertainment, education, and innovation. CSU Spur is the center’s educational anchor, with three new buildings dedicated to public education, research, and community outreach around the critical topics of food, water, and animal and human health.
“When I first heard about this system, I remember thinking, ‘Holy cow, there’s a lot of thermal energy capacity that’s going downstream that we could capture,’” said Brad Buchanan, chief executive officer of the National Western Center Authority, which contracted with EAS Energy Partners to build the sewer-heat recovery system. “It really grabbed my attention because we decided to hold a very high bar for sustainability. It seemed to be the perfect fit if we were really going to walk the talk of reducing carbon emissions.”
The heat recovery system took 18 months to design and build. It is projected to fill 90 percent of heating and cooling needs in seven buildings encompassing more than 1 million square feet. That makes the system the largest of its kind in North America. With buildout of the National Western Center’s initial phases, the heat recovery system is expected to save 2,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year – equivalent to eliminating 6.6 million vehicle miles from roadways. And it has capacity to expand even beyond the center’s first planned phases of construction.
The system began operating in April. For now, it serves the Vida and Terra buildings on the CSU Spur campus, as well as the nearby HW Hutchison Family Stockyards Event Center; they are the first new buildings at the National Western Center. Soon, the Hydro building will open at CSU Spur, becoming the fourth building in the energy district.
“It’s a great way to recover resources that we usually think about as waste,” said Jocelyn Hittle, who has led development of CSU Spur for the Colorado State University System. “I love the idea of Spur being able to help advance the state of the art by using nascent technology that is novel at this scale.”
The system diverts sewage from a 72-inch pipeline that runs along the western border of the National Western Center. The pipeline carries wastewater from tens of thousands of homes and businesses to the Robert W. Hite Treatment Facility, which is operated by Metro Water Recovery on the city’s northern edge. It is the largest wastewater treatment facility in the Rocky Mountain West.
The side stream of dirty water enters the Central Utility Plant at the National Western Center and runs through a grinding system to break down solids before wastewater goes through a heat exchanger and then flushes back to the sewer. During cold months, an industrial plate-and-frame heat exchanger draws warmth from the dirty water and transfers it to clean water that constantly circulates through the energy district in a closed loop. Clean water never touches dirty water as it runs through this “ambient loop.” When warm water arrives at each building, equipment again transfers heat – this time, from the ambient loop to a forced-air system, which then cycles warmth through building air. Back at the Central Utility Plant, dirty water returns to the sewer; it is enclosed in pipes, so the sewage does not emit odors.
During warm months, the process reverses: The system extracts heat from air in district buildings and transfers it to the ambient loop, then on to sewage – thereby rejecting heat from the energy district. Wastewater again runs to the Hite Treatment Facility, while cool, clean water runs into the energy district. At each building, cooler temperatures then are pulled from the ambient loop and cycled through building air.
In both cases, heat pumps are needed to extract and exchange thermal energy, and water is the medium sharing that energy. In this way, the sewer-heat recovery system may warm or cool buildings. If clean water in the ambient loop isn’t the desired temperature, boilers give it a boost in cold months, and cooling towers reduce it in hot months.
“You wouldn’t even be aware it exists, but the system really is revolutionary. It really represents a lot of the city’s goals toward resiliency, and it’s a great example of how we can do something creatively and innovatively,” said Mike Bouchard, program director for the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center. The city and county of Denver owns National Western Center land and several center facilities; the office spearheaded the procurement process for the heat recovery system, coordinated efforts with center partners, and constructed the ambient loop.
The system saves significant energy in part because sewage maintains a fairly constant temperature, typically ranging between 55 degrees and 75 degrees throughout the year. That means the source already is close to ideal building temperatures, said René Moffet, who managed system engineering and design for AECOM Technical Services Inc., another of the EAS Energy Partners. Saunders Construction of Denver built the system as part of the partnership.
“This system is something we can take a lot of pride in,” Moffet said. “It’s awesome – especially with a project that’s the first of this scope in North America. A lot of people are watching this to see how it will go.”
The sewer-heat recovery system cost $34 million, financed through a public-private partnership spanning 40 years. At the end of that period, total system costs are expected to be slightly above those of conventional systems, Buchanan, of the National Western Center Authority, said. However, those costs would decrease if the system were expanded to additional construction at the site or if partners were able to capitalize on potential carbon offsets, he said.
“I’m an evangelist for this system,” Buchanan said. “It will be a substantial difference maker with carbon reduction, and it’s pretty easy to get excited about that.”
The concept emerged in 2015 with Jim McQuarrie, former director of technology and innovation for Metro Water Recovery, Denver’s wastewater utility. The utility pursues sustainability and cost savings at the energy-water nexus. It also has a significant issue to manage: To meet state and federal regulations, effluent – or treated wastewater – must be a sufficiently low temperature, especially during cold months, before it can be discharged to the South Platte River. The guidelines are designed to avoid disrupting river ecology. Cooling effluent is a costly and energy-intensive undertaking, so Metro Water Recovery sought an environmentally sustainable way to do it – one that might have benefits well beyond regulatory compliance.
An opportunity arose during master planning for the National Western Center. Among stakeholder objectives was burial of the Delgany Interceptor sewer lines – two pipes, both 6 feet in diameter, that run along the South Platte River on the west side of the National Western Center. The pipes carry Denver sewage to the Hite Treatment Facility. For years, they were above ground – an eyesore that blocked access to the river. McQuarrie and other leaders thought site redevelopment offered a chance to replace and bury the interceptor lines, while fulfilling additional goals: It would be an ideal time to install a landmark renewable energy project, which would save carbon emissions and reduce wastewater temperatures to help meet effluent guidelines; meantime, pipeline burial would open the riverfront for new trails, open space, and National Western Center programming.
The new system cuts “thermal pollution” in effluent and contributes to Denver’s climate goals, making it a model for utilities and municipalities nationwide, said Blair Wisdom, who succeeded McQuarrie as director of technology and innovation at Metro Water Recovery. “It’s really a recycling concept that addresses single-use heat,” Wisdom said. “Denver and the state are recognizing that a lot of greenhouse gas emissions are from people heating and cooling their built environments, and that includes household water.”
The project, which involved dozens of National Western Center stakeholders, also demonstrates the power of collaboration, noted McQuarrie, who now leads water projects for Tetra Tech, a global engineering firm. “One of the most striking things about this whole project is the impact that can be created when people partner together and work toward a common goal,” McQuarrie said. “Something like this requires people to think big and challenge themselves about whether adhering to traditional past practices is truly the best thing for future generations.”
Early in the planning process, McQuarrie discussed the concept of a sewer-heat recovery system with Ken Carlson, a Colorado State University professor who served as McQuarrie’s adviser as he attained a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering. Carlson is director of CSU’s Center for Energy Water Sustainability and is an expert on water recycling technologies. He agreed the heat recovery system might work well at the National Western Center; the two pitched the idea to the CSU System, which, in turn, took it to a larger leadership group. Carlson then asked six undergraduates to study the concept – a move that fit well with CSU Spur’s educational goals.
The students – calling themselves “the Sustainulators” – evaluated sewer-heat recovery systems as part of a senior design project, a capstone for CSU students in civil and environmental engineering. During 2015-2016, with the guidance of senior research manager Asma Hanif, the student team gathered reams of data; their meetings, site visits, and final report generated information and enthusiasm leading into formal planning for the heat recovery system. In fact, the CSU team recommended pipeline burial and system installation much like that later accomplished.
Natalie Thompson led the student team. In May 2016, she earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering, with a minor in global environmental sustainability, and went on to attain a master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati. The CSU project heightened her interest in designing water and wastewater systems, Thompson said. Now, she’s doing that engineering work as part of international development projects throughout Uganda.
“Our project was such an exciting time to see how you can incorporate sustainability into design, while also making a space more beautiful,” Thompson wrote in an email sent from Kampala, Uganda. “This project opened my eyes to heat recovery, which makes so much sense when thinking about all the hot water we use in America. It made me see that we should not view wastewater as a waste, but as an opportunity. That really shifted my perspective as someone who has always been inspired by sustainability.”
Viewing wastewater as an opportunity – and, specifically, as an important source of thermal energy, nutrients, and fresh water – is at the core of a principle called “One Water.” The theory holds that water has value in all its forms and may be managed through integrated systems and technologies that together improve water quality, access, and sustainability on an increasingly thirsty planet. The sewer-heat recovery system at the National Western Center exemplifies the One Water concept, and university students and researchers will continue to study the system and its benefits, Hittle said. In the forthcoming Hydro building at CSU Spur, researchers with CSU’s One Water Solutions Institute also will advance the One Water idea by testing new technologies for the treatment and use of wastewater, stormwater, and roof runoff.
The combination of big ideas and technical challenges inspired the engineering students who first evaluated the sewer-heat recovery system, Thompson said. “It really ignited my passion for working with communities, understanding needs, and then designing,” she wrote. “I love the idea that sustainability is not just a buzzword, but a lifetime of serving a community.”
Most of the $9-$10 billion that Xcel Energy will spend in the next few years will be spent on Colorado’s eastern plains. Why is this such a big deal for Colorado?
Colorado will soon embark on a change with few rivals in the last 100 years. Think of the dismantling of geography by construction of Interstate 70 through the tunnels, over Vail Pass, and through Glenwood Canyon. Think of Denver International Airport. Think of the arrival of electricity to farms and small towns in the 1930s and 1940s.
Within a decade, Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electrical utility, will retire all its coal plants, convert one to burn natural gas, and add massive amounts of wind on Colorado’s eastern plains and solar generation, some of it in the Western Slope’s Grand Valley, along with batteries nad perhaps other storage, as it pursues a mid-century goal of net-zero carbon. Combined with potentially 740 miles of new transmission lines looping around eastern Colorado, this investment in new generation could hit $9 billion to $10 billion. Xcel will likely get its final green light from state regulators in the next month, maybe two.
This has repercussions beyond Xcel Energy, which sells more than half the electricity in Colorado. It also delivers wholesale sales to some municipalities and cooperatives, including Holy Cross Energy, Yampa Valley Electric, and Grand Valley Power.
Is this money well spent? If you’re a climate hawk, as I am, convinced we must dramatically reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, this represents a giant step forward. We must immediately reduce emissions from electrical generation and also displace fossil fuels in transportation and buildings.
True, China’s emissions keep growing. But Colorado can lead the United States by example, and the United States can lead the world.
Some people, even champions of this transition, disagree with the precise pathway. For example, if demand were shaved through energy efficiency and other programs, will less investment in new generating resources be needed, says Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group.
From Colorado eastern plains, already dotted with wind turbines, come other complaints about cluttered skylines. This is not universal. Other plainsmen (and women) welcome the property taxes local governments will realize and the lease payments to land owners.
Nuclear power represents another question. Colorado’s lone experiment with nuclear power, at the St. Vrain plant near Greeley, went seriously awry. But now come efforts with presumably smaller and hence lower-risk modular reactors, such as are being planned in Idaho and also Wyoming. Cost, more than safety, is the fulcrum for the debate. Nuclear has had exorbitant cost overruns. Will this new technology be better?
Comanche 3, a coal plant in Pueblo, has become the symbol for this energy transition. It was approved 18 years ago by Colorado regulators, a $1 billion investment (in today’s dollars). Utilities had been building ever-bigger coal-fired coal plants, abetted by natural gas plants to meet peak demands, for a half-century. Few were willing to give credence to the vision of renewable energy. I remember in about 2008, a geologist in Meeker who still hoped for the dream of milking hydrocarbons from the oil shale of northwestern Colorado. “We can’t run a civilization on windmills,” he fumed.
We still can’t. And as somebody pointed out to me, even wind turbines need oil and grease and so forth. But we can do far, far more than Xcel or most others thought just 18 years ago.
This has come in increments. Almost simultaneous with approval of Comanche 3 came Colorado’s first renewable energy mandate. Xcel fought it. Then it set out to comply. Costs of wind tumbled dramatically, and then so did solar. Something of the same thing is now happening with lithium-ion batteries.
It’s not yet possible on a large scale to affordably eliminate all emissions. But also note this. In 2005, when Xcel began building Comanche 3, about two-thirds of its electricity came from coal plants. Within a decade, it will be close to zero. We’re moving fast, because we can and because we must.
Will there be adverse consequences beyond altered prairie vistas on the Great Plains? Quite possibly. With I-70, what once was close to a full-day journey from Grand Junction to Denver was shortened to a long morning. But the highway has made mountain valleys a little less lovely and far more noisy.
This course correction in our energy foundation may also prove to have flaws that may require further altering. And in 18 years we may look back and wonder if we should have held off just a little longer for a technological breakthrough instead of making Colorado’s eastern plains look like Paul Bunyan’s playground for Erector Set creations.
What we cannot afford is to do nothing. Given what we know today, about the cost of energy and the cost of climate change, this massive investment soon to happen looks to be the wisest path forward.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact, an innovative and influential legal agreement among seven U.S. states that governs water rights to the Colorado River. In recognition of this anniversary, the Colorado State University Libraries will be spotlighting a series of stories in SOURCE about the ripple effects of this 100-year-old document on diverse people, disciplines and industries in 2022.
One hundred and fifty two years ago, Colorado Agricultural College’s first buildings sat among sagebrush and prairie grasses. As the campus grew, its center became enshrined in a green meadow ringed by elms, a space now known as the iconic Oval.
Today, Colorado State University’s green spaces are woven into the tapestry of campus life – from the Intramural Fields to Monfort Quad, they serve as informal parks for students and faculty alike to revel in the beauty of the Front Range.
A western campus shaped by urban ideals
These spaces speak to the larger power of the designed landscape in American life. Popularized by the public park movement and Frederick Law Olmsted’s layout of suburban landscapes in the late 1800s, large, green public spaces provided serene outdoor recreation in cities after the Industrial Revolution.
“The democratic nature of large, open spaces on the East Coast was brought with people as they moved West,” said CSU landscape architecture professor Lori Catalano. “It was a way of creating central green spaces that were shared, but the plants and ideas migrated from a humid climate in the East to the semi-arid climate in the West.”
As a growing land-grant institution, CSU’s adoption of the green aesthetic instilled the idea of parks as public spaces accessible to all.
Though the Oval’s first elms were planted in 1881, it wasn’t until 1919 that it became the center of campus, soon after Fort Collins’ City Park was established. These spaces signified how far green spaces had spread from their wealthy urban roots and democratized access to parks in northern Colorado.
“As humans, plants, and animals moved west, they modified the landscape,” Catalano said. “Alfred Crosby’s concept of ecological imperialism helps explain how emigrants moved westward with a variety of diseases, plants, and animals co-creating an environment that reinforced the presence of open grassy fields with trees.”
After World War II, green spaces were adopted into front lawns by middle-class residents seeking a taste of luxury. CSU’s own green aesthetic bloomed as it grew. Spaces like the Monfort Quad, the Intramural Fields and the Lagoon complemented new architecture while creating new outdoor spaces for students between classes.
Green oases in the prairie
“Traditionally on campuses, buildings are grouped to create a series of outdoor rooms,” Catalano said. “Aesthetically, people and students expect large areas of green lawns with trees – they don’t expect it to look like prairie.”
In the American West, these green landscapes live on and signal the continuing legacy of centuries-old ecological imperialism, but they contrast with the region’s naturally dry, beige prairies. CSU’s green spaces remain a central part of its identity and help unify landscapes without sacrificing flexibility and durability – which is critical for a campus that has thousands of students traverse its grounds during the school year.
“College campuses are used a lot like parks and need a surface that is flexible and durable,” Catalano said. “Grass is very durable, as it can tolerate students walking over it, (playing) frisbee, picnicking, whereas our native grasses that require less water cannot tolerate that level of compaction.”
Lawns are also simpler to maintain compared to native plants – all that’s required is mowing, fertilizing, and watering. But throughout the American West, green lawns contrast with dry, semi-arid landscapes and may not survive a resource-scarce future.
“If campus reflected the natural landscape of Fort Collins, we’d see grasslands with Cottonwood trees and peach leaf willows along waterways,” Catalano said. “Visually, lawns hold a cultural power. They look good, they’re green … it’s what we know and what makes us comfortable.”
What will green spaces look like in the future?
With an unprecedented mega-drought in the Colorado River Basin, some states have challenged the ubiquity of green lawns.
In Las Vegas, authorities started paying people to remove their irrigated lawns in the 1980s, and the program has been largely successful in curbing residential water use. As of 2021, any “non-functional” lawns are banned in Las Vegas to conserve water, reflecting how Nevada’s lower allocation of Colorado River water is already stretched thin.
In Colorado, House Bill 22-1151, which was signed into law this past April, requires the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create a statewide program with $2 million in funding to incentivize replacing grass with “water-wise” landscaping.
But, according to Catalano, changing how people understand and perceive the landscape can prove daunting.
“It takes a lot of will and intention to make a commitment to changing the landscape,” she said. “We could incentivize it, but one challenge is, the price of water is relatively inexpensive – it takes someone who’s passionate and intentional about it to be enticed by incentives, because there’s not a huge financial gain. It’s a little like solar – we all want it, but how much are we willing to pay for it?”
Curbing water usage through changing landscape aesthetics will be necessary to ensure the long-term health of the Colorado River Basin.
In June, the U.S. government declared that the basin must cut its water usage by 2 to 4 million acre-feet or risk federal intervention. Meanwhile, CSU researchers found that most streams flowing through the Denver parks system only exist because of runoff sprinkler water. Reducing water consumption through limiting green lawns, then, could prove effective.
Though CSU’s campus design now seems set in stone, its history reflects a century of cultural changes that have cultivated tree-lined avenues, sprawling fields and verdant quads. A long cry from Old Main set atop rolling plains, the future of these unifying spaces will be influenced by the state of the Colorado River Basin and pending water shortages.
“Landscapes are often unseen, undervalued, and not understood. When people can’t see or don’t understand the processes and systems involved in creating and maintaining landscapes, it is difficult for them to value making a change,” she said. “When we begin to see and value alternative landscapes that require less water, reducing the dominance of lawns is possible.”
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.
US Drought Monitor map August 2, 2022.
High Plains Drought map Monitor August 2, 2022.
West Drought map Monitor August 2, 2022.
Colorado Drought map Monitor August 2, 2022.
Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
Weather and drought conditions varied widely in the contiguous U.S. this week. From the Desert Southwest and southern Colorado eastward into the Texas Panhandle, western Kansas, eastern Colorado, northern Oklahoma, and Arkansas, heavy rainfall fell in some areas, leading to localized improvements in ongoing drought. Drier conditions in the Northeast led to the expansion of moderate and severe drought in the New York City area and in parts of New England. Drier weather also led to expansion of drought conditions in parts of the central Great Plains and Upper Midwest. Similar conditions in Texas led to expansion of drought conditions there, while recent precipitation led to some improvements in southwest Texas. For more local details, please refer to the regional summaries below…
Moderate to heavy rains fell this week across portions of Colorado and western Kansas, related to an active North American Monsoon. Aside from other localized pockets of moderate to heavy rain, the High Plains region saw mostly dry weather this week. Temperatures from 2-4 degrees below normal were common across most of Kansas, southeast Colorado, central and eastern Nebraska, eastern South Dakota, and North Dakota this week. Near-normal temperatures mostly prevailed elsewhere, with parts of western Wyoming experiencing temperatures from 2-6 degrees above normal. The heavier rains in Colorado and western Kansas led to some improvements in ongoing drought, with localized removal of drought occurring, as precipitation deficits lessened. Conditions worsened in parts of southwestern, central, eastern, and northern Nebraska, and in adjacent southern South Dakota, where deficits in soil moisture and precipitation worsened. In Columbus, Nebraska, the Platte River ran dry, indicative of the moderate and severe drought conditions ongoing in and near the eastern Nebraska town. Two reservoirs in eastern Colorado are expected to run dry soon due to drought and water demand from irrigation…
In the West region, moderate to heavy rain fell across parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and far southeast California. In locations where long-term rainfall deficits, soil moisture, and groundwater improved substantially, ongoing drought conditions improved locally. A south-to-north temperature gradient set up this week, with temperatures in Arizona and southern Nevada coming in 3-6 degrees below normal in spots, while a heat wave developed in the Pacific Northwest, pushing temperatures more than 9 degrees above normal in parts of northern California, Oregon, and Washington. In southeast and east-central Oregon, the evaporative stress from the heat locally worsened drought conditions. A myriad of drought impacts continued in the West this week, including wildfires in northern Utah and a central California reservoir dropping to its lowest level in 5 years…
The South region saw highly variable weather this week. This led to a wide range of changes to the ongoing drought areas across the region. Temperatures across most of Texas were above normal for the week, with many readings of 4-8 degrees above normal. Temperatures across the rest of the South were more moderate, generally within 4 degrees of normal on either side. Heavy rainfall occurred from the central and northern Texas Panhandle eastward through the northern half of Oklahoma, Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and portions of Tennessee. This led to improvements in the Texas Panhandle, northern Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Conditions also improved a bit in southwest Texas, where recent rainfall began to alleviate short- and long-term precipitation deficits. Meanwhile, short-term drying combined with above-normal temperatures to worsen drought conditions across some other parts of Texas and Oklahoma. Drought impacts across Texas ranged from crop failure to water supply problems, in one case from a well failure…
From Thursday, August 4 to the evening of Monday, August 8, the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center is forecasting moderate to heavy precipitation in parts of Arizona, western and northern New Mexico, high elevation areas of Colorado, northwest Wyoming, and localized areas of east-central California, central Nevada, and western and northern Utah. Widespread precipitation is also forecast in parts of the Upper Midwest, Middle Mississippi River Valley, Ohio River Valley, and southern Appalachians. Some precipitation is also forecast in western parts of the Northeast region, and along the Louisiana Gulf Coast.
For August 9-13, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center’s precipitation forecast favors above-normal precipitation near and west of the Continental Divide, especially in eastern Nevada and most of Utah. Farther east, below-normal precipitation is favored in the Central Great Plains and Upper Midwest. A narrow swath from southern Texas northeast to southern New England is slightly favored for above-normal precipitation. In Alaska, above-normal precipitation is favored in the east, while below-normal precipitation is favored in the southwest part of the state. Below-normal temperatures are strongly favored in most of Alaska, especially in west-central areas. Below-normal temperatures are slightly favored in most of Arizona, southern Nevada, and southeast California. Above-normal temperatures are favored across most of the Great Plains, Pacific Coast, and Northwest, especially from western Nebraska to the Dakotas and eastern Montana. Above-normal temperatures are also favored for most areas along the East Coast.
Just for grins here’s a gallery of US Drought Monitor maps for early August for the past few years.
Day 8’s drive was from Mesquite, Nevada to Fruita, Colorado. I always enjoy the Virgin River Canyon. The drive takes you up from St. George through central Utah, over the San Rafael Swell and then into Colorado.
We charged the night before in Mesquite during dinner, then again in Beaver, Utah, a short bump in Richfield, Utah, and then again in Green River. The Tesla seems to be designed for these high speed highways.