Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1350 cfs to 1400 cfs on Thursday, September 8th. Releases are being increased due to the hot and dry conditions that have caused the river to drop below the baseflow target on the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 68% of average.
Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently under the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to be under the baseflow target until the additional release from Crystal Dam arrives.
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for September.
Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 345 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 400 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
This U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week saw continued improvements on the map across areas of the South, including Texas, in response to another round of localized heavy rainfall during the past week. Overall, the recent rainfall in Texas throughout the past month has started to make a significant dent in the state’s drought conditions in some areas. In contrast, drought conditions intensified in areas of the central and northern Plains with additional degradations on this week’s map. In these areas, recent drought impact reports submitted to the National Drought Mitigation Center indicated drought-related impacts within the agricultural sector including reduced crop yields as well as deteriorating pasture and rangeland conditions. Out West, the big story of the past week has been the heat wave that has impacted the region with record-setting temperatures and critical fire-weather conditions. The hot temperatures and strong winds exacerbated conditions on the Mill Fire, which broke out in Northern California on Friday, forcing the evacuation of the town of Weed, California as well as neighboring communities. In Death Valley, California, high temperatures exceeded 125 deg F multiple times during the past week including on September 1st when the high temperature reached 127 deg F―potentially breaking the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded during September, according to preliminary reports. Elsewhere, shower activity in the Northeast led to isolated improvements in drought-affected areas of Massachusetts and Connecticut, while further to the south conditions deteriorated on the map in Delaware. In the Midwest, short-term precipitation deficits and declining soil moisture levels led to the expansion of areas of drought in northern Missouri and central Illinois…
On this week’s map, drought-related conditions continued to intensify across areas of southeastern Wyoming, northeastern Montana, Nebraska, southern South Dakota, and western Kansas, as anomalously hot temperatures impacted western portions of the region. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center’s Condition Monitoring Observer Reports (CMOR), numerous drought impact reports have been submitted during the past 30-day period. Impacts include reduced crop yields, poor pasture conditions, and the need for supplemental feeding of livestock. The current drought situation was exacerbated by this week’s intense heat, with average maximum temperatures ranging from 95 to 100 deg F in areas of eastern Montana, northern and eastern Wyoming, and western portions of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas…
Out West, an anomalous upper-level ridge parked over the central Great Basin during the past week—leading to a dangerous heat wave and record-high temperatures across the region. The record heat exacerbated fire-weather conditions across Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Northern Rockies as well as taxed California’s power grid in response to the record-high demand reported this week. Most of the region saw no precipitation this week, except for some isolated storm activity in western Washington, Arizona, eastern Colorado, and eastern New Mexico. On this week’s map, areas of drought expanded in southwestern and central Montana, and in northern Wyoming. Areas of Extreme Drought (D3) in the Four Corners region were trimmed back as part of a re-assessment of the impact of monsoonal rainfall during the past several months. Looking at reservoir storage conditions, the two largest reservoirs in the Colorado River system, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are currently 28% and 24% full, respectively.
In the South, widespread improvements were made across Texas this week in response to another round of moderate-to-heavy rainfall that impacted isolated areas of the state, with accumulations ranging from 2 to 6+ inches. The recent rains have provided a much-needed boost to soil moisture and streamflow levels. Despite the recent rains, streamflow levels in some areas of the Hill Country have yet to recover, with gaging stations on numerous rivers and creeks reporting below-normal flows (ranging from the 2nd to the 24th percentile), according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Elsewhere in the region, this week’s rainfall led to improvements in eastern Oklahoma, northern Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and western portions of Tennessee. For the past 30-day period, much of the region experienced above-normal precipitation with the greatest positive departures (ranging from 6 to 12+ inches) observed in the Basin and Range and southern portion of the Gulf Coastal Plains of Texas, northern Louisiana, and central Mississippi. Overall, average temperatures for the week were within a few degrees of normal, with larger negative departures (2 to 4 deg F below normal) observed in western Texas.
The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate-to-heavy precipitation accumulations ranging from 2 to 5+ inches across areas of the Southeast including Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. Likewise, 2 to 4+ inch accumulations are forecasted for areas of the Upper Midwest in Wisconsin and Upper Peninsula Michigan. Conversely, lighter accumulations (<1.5 inches) are expected across eastern portions of the South, Lower Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and the southern extent of the Northeast. Out West, accumulations of less than an inch are expected in areas of Southern California including the Mojave Desert, Transverse Ranges, and the southern Sierra. Elsewhere, areas of the central Great Basin, Northern Arizona, and Northern Rockies are expected to receive modest rainfall accumulations. The CPC 6-10-day Outlooks calls for a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal temperatures across the West, the Plains states, and along much of the Eastern Seaboard. Below-normal temperatures are expected across the Pacific Northwest and the Upper Midwest while there is a low-to-moderate probability of below-normal temperatures across areas of the South and Lower Midwest. In terms of precipitation, below-normal precipitation is expected across the South, Plains states, and Upper Midwest, whereas above-normal precipitation is expected across much of the West, and East Coast. In Alaska, above-normal precipitation is forecasted across much of the Interior, Southwest, and Southcentral, while areas of the southern Panhandle have a low-probability of below-normal precipitation.
Just for grins here’s a gallery of early September Drought Monitor maps for the past few years.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, Army Corps of Engineers and City of Lakewood partnered on a study to examine gaps in water supply and demand, as part of the Colorado Water Plan. The study looked at several different scenarios to forecast and address water supply gaps through the year 2050. The South Platte Basin, which serves the Denver metro area, Northern Colorado, and the northeastern plains, is projected to have a gap anywhere between 509,000 acre-feet and 835,000 acre-feet per year.
The CWCB and Army Corps of Engineers chose Bear Lake because it has an existing dam and provides an opportunity to store more water at what the group calls a more reasonable cost. The study is examining whether an expansion can decrease the supply/demand gap, possible impacts to flood control, and environmental and recreational impacts.
If deemed feasible, funding for expansion and enhancement of recreational areas and open space would be a large part of the project.
There is no set timeline for the project. The feasibility study is ongoing.
Over the last two decades, however, the river has generated average flows of only 12.3 million acre-feet annually, a huge shortfall despite serious municipal conservation and reuse efforts. Southern Nevada has led the way in those laudable efforts. Despite adding 750,000 to our population since 2000, we’ve somehow managed to cut consumptive use by 26 percent due to aggressive conservation and recycling programs. Still, it’s not nearly enough. Global warming and the megadrought are projected to continue, which means river flows and lake levels will keep plummeting without drastic policy changes. We’re now only 90 feet above the “dead pool” level at which Hoover Dam will cease generating electricity.
And it’s no longer alarmist to prophesy that it could happen within our lifetime or even the next decade. That’s why the federal government recently issued its first-ever shortage declarations, reducing Nevada, Arizona and Mexico’s collective allocations by over 700,000 acre-feet annually, then tasking the seven river states to create a collaborative plan cutting an additional 2-4 million acre-feet annually next year.
So, here’s where I get brutally honest, which always seems to get me in big trouble. But I’ll say it anyway. Nevada isn’t the problem. If we were feeling generous, Nevadans could permanently donate back our entire annual allocation and it wouldn’t even make a dent. River flows would still be woefully insufficient to supply current uses and Lake Mead would still be rapidly draining. Of course, just because Nevada isn’t the problem doesn’t mean we can’t be part of the solution. Southern Nevadans should continue our conservation and recycling efforts, even if only to set an example and because it’s the right thing to do. But we need to stop pretending that eliminating more Clark County lawns, reducing the size of more (Las) Vegas golf courses and swimming pools, or even recycling all 1 million gallons of Boulder City’s daily wastewater will somehow solve the systemic river and lake problems. It won’t. Nevada amounts to nothing more than a statistical rounding error in the riverwide problem, and absolutely nothing Nevadans do to better conserve or recycle is going to change that…
Domestic water use also isn’t the problem. Nor are golf courses and resorts. If we completely wiped out the residential populations of Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, for instance, drying up millions or acres of turf and water features in the process, the lake would still be dropping.
Let’s be honest. Desert agriculture is the real problem source. It uses approximately 80 percent of the Colorado River’s water to irrigate 15 percent of the nation’s farmland, producing a high percentage of winter fruits and vegetables. In fact, 20 percent of the entire Colorado River system’s output is channeled across the desert to a few wealthy landowners in California’s once-arid but now-productive Imperial Valley. And growers of cattle feed like alfalfa are by far the biggest river water consumers. So, if we really want to solve our Colorado River problem, then desert agriculture either needs to evaporate out of existence like the water it uses or become vastly more efficient. The best way to ensure that happens is to let the market dictate price. Make agriculture, commercial and industrial users pay for every drop they use, sending it to the highest bidders. With the market in control, we’ll be shocked how quickly irrigation ditches get lined with concrete, recycling projects ramp up and the lake start rising again.
The 1960s and 1970s were a golden age of infrastructure development in the U.S., with the expansion of the interstate system and widespread construction of new water treatment, wastewater and flood control systems reflecting national priorities in public health and national defense. But infrastructure requires maintenance, and, eventually, it has to be replaced.
That hasn’t been happening in many parts of the country. Increasingly, extreme heat and storms are putting roads, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure under stress.
Two recent examples – an intense heat wave that pushed California’s power grid to its limits in September 2022, and the failure of the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, amid flooding in August – show how a growing maintenance backlog and increasing climate change are turning the 2020s and 2030s into a golden age of infrastructure failure.
I am a civil engineer whose work focuses on the impacts of climate change on infrastructure. Often, low-income communities and communities of color like Jackson see the least investment in infrastructure replacements and repairs.
Crumbling bridge and water systems
The United States is consistently falling short on funding infrastructure maintenance. A report by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker’s Volcker Alliance in 2019 estimated the U.S. has a US$1 trillion backlog of needed repairs.
A water main break now occurs somewhere in the U.S. every two minutes, and an estimated 6 million gallons of treated water are lost each day. This is happening at the same time the western United States is implementing water restrictions amid the driest 20-year span in 1,200 years. Similarly, drinking water distribution in the United States relies on over 2 million miles of pipes that have limited life spans.
The underlying issue for infrastructure failure is age, resulting in the failure of critical parts such as pumps and motors.
Jackson, a majority-Black state capital, has dealt with water system breakdowns for years and has repeatedly requested infrastructure funding from the state to upgrade its struggling water treatment plants.
Climate change exacerbates the risk
The consequences of inadequate maintenance are compounded by climate change, which is accelerating infrastructure failure with increased flooding, extreme heat and growing storm intensity.
Much of the world’s infrastructure was designed for an environment that no longer exists. The historic precipitation levels, temperature profiles, extreme weather events and storm surge levels those systems were designed and built to handle are now exceeded on a regular basis.
Unprecedented rainfall in the California desert in 2015 tore apart a bridge over Interstate 10, one of the state’s most important east-west routes. Temperatures near 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C) forced the Phoenix airport to cancel flights in 2017 out of concern the planes might not be able to safely take off.
Power outages during California’s September 2022 heat wave are another potentially life-threatening infrastructure problem.
The rising costs of delayed repairs
My research with colleagues shows that the vulnerability of the national transportation system, energy distribution system, water treatment facilities and coastal infrastructure will significantly increase over the next decade due to climate change.
We estimate that rail infrastructure faces additional repair costs of $5 billion to $10 billion annually by 2050, while road repairs due to temperature increases could reach a cumulative $200 billion to $300 billion by the end of the century. Similarly, water utilities are facing the possibility of a trillion-dollar price tag by 2050.
After studying the issue of climate change impacts on infrastructure for two decades, with climate projections getting worse, not better, I believe addressing the multiple challenges to the nation’s infrastructure requires systemic change.
Two items are at the top of the list: national prioritization and funding.
Prioritizing the infrastructure challenge is essential to bring government responsibilities into the national conversation. Most local jurisdictions simply can’t afford to absorb the cost of needed infrastructure. The recent infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act are starting points, but they still fall short of fixing the long-term issue.
Without systemic change, Jackson, Mississippi, will be just the start of an escalating trend.
Click the link to read the article on the Rocky Mountain Collegian website (Ivy Secrest):
Dry, hot air settles over a small suburb in Fort Collins. The heat pushes residents indoors to crank the air conditioning, and the constant spurt of sprinklers is the only sound breaking the midday silence. This is a common occurrence of exceptional waste that may need to become a scene that only exists in memory, especially for states like Colorado.
Colorado has been experiencing drought conditions on and off for decades. And combating the issue of water scarcity in the region has been a priority for the states that rely on Colorado’s water resources.
“As a headwater state, we’re a really critical location in terms of the different rivers that originate in Colorado,” said Melinda Laituri, professor emeritus in ecosystem science and sustainability at Colorado State University.
One of these rivers is the Colorado River, the sixth-longest river in the country, which serves nearly 40 million people. It’s a critical resource for the Southwest United States and Mexico.
“The lower basin and the southern half of the upper basin had been in drought for 22 years,” said Steven Fassnacht, a snow hydrologist and professor at CSU.
A lot of this water access is dependent on snowpack. From the flow of the Colorado River to ground water resources, snow is integral to water access, and Colorado is simply not getting the amount it used to.
“From the mid ’30s to the mid ’70s, the snowpack was actually increasing,” Fassnacht said. “And since then, the trend has been a decrease in the snowpack.”
This is particularly concerning when resources are used to manufacture snow for skiing or water lawns that aren’t beneficial to local ecosystems. The larger ecological impacts Colorado has been facing, like fires and excess use of resources, have to be considered.
“If you burn the hillside, then you really increase the likelihood that you’re going to have rainfall causing erosion,” Fassnacht said. “You’ve got a lot of sediment that ends up in the river. Ash is terrible for the water treatment plants.”
Think of what it would mean to have ash in your drinking water or even just damaging water treatment facilities. This reality means the way we interact with water may have to drastically change in order to protect it.
“We have the expectation that we can go to the tap and turn it on and water will be there,” Laituri said.
Even using your sprinklers in the middle of the day or overusing natural resources by running your AC all of the time can have serious impacts on water resources and the ecosystems they serve.
“It comes down to education too because not everyone is a watershed scientist,” said Eric Williams, president of the Watershed Science Club at Colorado State University.
Williams said lawns and developers should concern the public in regard to water use.
“I think if we want to point the finger at something, it should be all of these lawns that we have,” Fassnacht said. “I’m not saying let’s get rid of every last piece of lawn, but let’s be a lot more strategic.”
This is not a new idea. Nevada has begun to remove lawns, and the City of Fort Collins has an initiative to encourage xeriscaping, the replacement of lawn with local plants that fare better in drought conditions. Participating in these programs and educating yourself, Williams said, are some of the best ways to get involved. However, the average citizen can’t simply stop watering their lawn and expect the drought to no longer exist.
“I don’t know if this can be really driven at the individual level,” Laituri said. “Yes, it makes us feel good to do things that we feel are contributing. … Will that be enough? It’s the larger water users that are going to have to really come to the table.”
We cannot continue to live in a world wherein wealthy citizens and major celebrities can abuse their water allocations while others go without access to clean water at all. The issue of water scarcity is an elaborate entanglement of social justice and environmental concern, meaning the resource must first be treated like a necessity before it can be allocated for luxury.
“There’s 30 federally recognized (Indigenous) tribes across the lower basin that should have access to water, and many other reservations actually don’t have running water,” Laituri said. “Assuring that they have access to that resource is part of this conversation.”
Indigenous groups were not included in the Colorado River Compact, and as some of the most prominent advocates of water rights, they have a lot to contribute to the conversation.
Indigenous groups are not the only population to be considered as water rights are negotiated. Laituri emphasized new populations coming to Fort Collins should be considered.
Laituri said if we want to conserve water, we need to consider the state’s capacity when developing. We need to consider if we can house more people and if it’s responsible to continue this growth in population.
While the concerns around the river are complex and still not fully understood, that doesn’t mean action isn’t being taken. And it doesn’t mean there aren’t any solutions.
“Please be curious,” Williams said. “No question is (a) dumb question.”
Click the link to read the article on the Westword website (Catie Cheshire). Here’s an excerpt:
People who use the South Platte River for recreation, particularly river surfers, are hoping the next iteration of the Colorado Water Plan will include stronger language about the importance of recreation on the river. An updated version of the plan originally developed in 2015 during the John Hickenlooper administration will take effect in 2023, and the public can currently weigh in on the Colorado Department of Natural Resources draft. David Riordon, an avid river surfer in Denver, says he was pleasantly surprised that the draft indicated a positive approach to recreation, but hopes there will be more specifics regarding the use of the South Platte in the final document. While Riordon recognizes that the plan must tackle big issues across the state, he points out that river surfers keep a close eye on the South Platte’s status in metro Denver when they spend time on the waves at River Run Park in Englewood. “We see what comes by us or what doesn’t come by us,” Riordon says. “That could be water. It could be people. It could be fish, it could be trash. It could be plants. All kinds of stuff comes by us.”
Currently, river surfers gauge several factors, such as the discharge from Chatfield Reservoir and the City of Englewood, to see if the water is running at enough cubic feet per second to surf, generally 180 cfs. Riordon thinks the flow of the South Platte should be controlled the way it is on the Arkansas River, where a voluntary flow management program ensures that the Arkansas will be high enough for recreation during summer months, including rafting and fishing…Although the agreement guiding the Arkansas River program is between the Colorado DNR, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation actually operates it, measuring the reservoirs and controlling the outlet gates to ensure a constant flow of at least 700 cfs from July 1 to August 15. It also maintains a 250 cfs level during fall and winter months to improve conditions for trout. To create something similar on the South Platte, Riordon, who’s president of the Colorado River Surfers Association, hopes to connect with other stakeholders to apply for a grant from the Metro Basin Roundtable to determine if the idea would be feasible…
The new iteration [of the Colorado Water Plan] includes goals for protecting and enhancing both environmental and recreational attributes of the South Platte. Compared to the first version, completed before the original 2015 Colorado Water Plan, it takes a stronger stance on social justice and ensuring equitable access to recreation on the river, [Sean Chambers] continues.
In response to a hot dry weather pattern and continued decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 750 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs for tomorrow, September 8th, at 4:00 AM.
Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. This scheduled release change is calculated to be the minimum required to meet the minimum target baseflow.