Click the link to read the article on the Wyoming Public Media website (Will Walkey). Here’s an excerpt:
Officials in Jackson sent notices last month asking property owners to cut back on water use following a record-breaking July for the town’s pumping system, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Carlin Girard, Executive Director of the Teton Conservation District, said collective action can make a massive difference…In particular, Girard points to landscaping as an area that could be improved. He said simple changes, like planting native vegetation in your yard or cutting and watering your lawn less frequently, can save precious aquifer resources…A rainy summer has been helpful for reducing local drought conditions, but it doesn’t replace a recent string of dry winters with relatively low snowpack, according to Girard…
Girard also said his advice could be extended to other parts of the Cowboy State. Rawlins users have been asked to cut back in recent months, in part due to infrastructure issues. And Southeast Wyoming is currently facing “severe” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Lake Mead is projected to drop about 30 feet over the next two years based on the “most probable” outlook by the Bureau of Reclamation released Aug. 31. It is most likely that Lake Mead will be at 1,013.70 feet above sea level by July 2024, according to officials.
As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, the surface of the lake at Hoover Dam was at 1,044.12 feet, a rise of 3.41 feet since its summer low of 1,040.71 feet on July 27 — partly because of unusually heavy monsoon rainfall runoff into the lake and partly because of lower demand from downstream users.
Beavers are having a good week. Click the link to read “Beavers Are Finally Getting the Rebrand They Deserve” on the Mother Jones website (Jackie Flynn Mogensen). Here’s an excerpt:
It’s been a good week for beavers. On Monday, the New York Times ran an article highlighting the rodents’ position as “highly skilled environmental engineers” capable of mitigating threats like wildfires and drought. The same day, the San Francisco Chronicledubbed beavers “one of California’s best chances to fight climate change.” And on Tuesday the Los Angeles Timesreported that the Golden State is seeking applications for its brand-new beaver restoration unit to protect this “untapped, creative climate solving hero.”
And it’s not just California; pro-beaver policy changes are happening across the US. Here’s the Times:
“Beavers, you might say, are having a moment. In Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management is working with partners to build beaver-like dams that they hope real beavers will claim and expand…In Maryland, groups are trying to lure beavers to help clean the water that flows into Chesapeake Bay. In Wisconsin, one study found that beavers could substantially reduce flooding in some of the most vulnerable areas of Milwaukee County.”
The Biden administration has given Western states a deadline to tackle the escalating emergency.
The Colorado River’s literal race to the bottom hit another low last month.
As the waterline dropped farther and shortages hit dire new levels, the Biden administration announced unprecedented cuts, giving Colorado and six other Western states 60 days to reach an agreement on how to radically reduce their water use.
There is good reason for such urgency. Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation imposed the first-ever Tier 2 water restrictions — a “break glass” emergency measure that was unthinkable even a few years ago.
The latest stark cuts mean that Arizona, Nevada and Mexico next year will see their shares of Colorado River water drop by 21%, 8% and 7%, respectively. And there are likely even more grueling restrictions ahead.
“People need to understand how important the Colorado River is for all of us,” said Elizabeth McVicker, Ph.D., J.D., a Management professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver who was instrumental in creating the One World One Water Center (OWOW). “It provides drinking water for 40 million people across seven states, fuels many major cities and generates electricity for 5 million households. If it fails, we all fail.”
Standoff among states
The crux of the current problem? Neither Upper Basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) nor Lower Basin states (California, Nevada and Arizona) want to make further water cuts — they each think the other side should make more sacrifices.
In essence, they are like seven people arguing over who gets the biggest bite of an ice-cream sandwich as it melts away before them.
However, McVicker sees glimmers of light. “Personally, I’m optimistic that the states will ultimately make progress because there’s a growing awareness that without serious action, we’ll all lose,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, she points out, state politicians are rattling their sabres and fighting their respective corners. “But we are seeing more meaningful collaboration between on-the-ground water agencies,” she added, “and that’s what counts.”
It’s no mystery how we got here. The U.S. is caught up in a historic 23-year megadrought. Our mountain snowpack is rapidly diminishing. Extreme heat is evaporating more water off the top of the great reservoirs. And unprecedented signs of depletion are seemingly everywhere.
Around the Lake Powell reservoir, a white “bathtub ring” outlines the recent steep water loss.
At Lake Mead, once-sunken boats have risen from the depths like ghoulish tombstones. Last month, receding waters in Texas revealed 113 million-year-old dinosaur tracks.
“We reached this point much more quickly than anyone thought,” McVicker conceded. “Most people thought it would be several more years before we reached Tier 2 status, but then it came along all at once.”
Students with answers
The urgency of the U.S. water shortage has long been recognized at MSU Denver, which runs a range of pioneering water-studies courses, including via the OWOW Center and a noncredit option via Innovative and Lifelong Learning. And many MSU Denver students are rolling up their sleeves to tackle an issue that will likely be around for their entire adult lives.
This summer, Victor Lemus Gomez took part in a Colorado fellowship program designed to give policymaking experience to STEM students. He created a proposal urging water providers to conduct water-loss audits, which would help state leaders plan better for the future. And the best part? He got to deliver it personally.
“It was such a privilege to present my policy proposal directly to lawmakers,” he said. “It gave me a firsthand look at the hard work and urgency that our state elected officials bring to this fight.”
Also in the fellowship program was fellow student Claire Sanford, who focused her efforts on water-wise landscaping. “It’s so important for water conservation,” she said. “Using native plants empowers people to tackle climate change while simultaneously lowering their water bills and encouraging biodiversity.”
Equally important, she said, it gives Coloradans a chance to connect with beautiful native landscapes that flourished in these same spaces centuries ago. “It’s always exciting to see people interacting with regionally appropriate plant life,” she said, “and it makes me feel hopeful for the future.”
Tackling this imminent crisis will necessarily mean improving the efficiency of U.S. agriculture, which accounts for 80% of the Colorado River’s water use. But that’s a tall order, given that there is so much waste, leakage and, sometimes, plain poor judgment.
“Right now, our desert-based farmers are using billions of gallons of American water to grow crops such as cotton and hay for export to competitor countries like Saudi Arabia and China,” McVicker said. “Where is the sense in that?” The whole agricultural industry, she argues, needs to take a strong look at itself.
For a better example of how to do things, McVicker points to Aurora, where a new city proposal seeks to eliminate “nonfunctional turf” in almost all new developments, including residential lawns, medians and commercial properties. “They are taking real, concrete action and standing up for the simple idea that we have to preserve to thrive,” she said.
Persuading Coloradans to adopt a more responsible approach is also at the core of Sanford’s fellowship work. “People are awestruck when I show them how our native plants have complex root systems up to 5 feet deep, as opposed to the shallow Kentucky bluegrass,” she said. “These plants are literally rooted in our tradition, so we should be using them much more.”
One positive side effect of the ongoing crisis has been that the water industry is growing fast and increasingly becoming a realistic career choice for students. Smitten by the water bug himself, Gomez is encouraging others to explore potential opportunities in this fascinating field.
“Water is one of those critical elements that encompasses every aspect of our lives,” he said. “And the great courses at MSU Denver offer a pathway into a field of study that isn’t just fascinating and rewarding — it can also bring about real social change.”
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 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 900 cfs for tomorrow, September 10th, 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.