Navajo Dam operations update (September 22, 2022): Bumping down to 500 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Map credit: USBR

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to wet weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs for today at 12:00 PM.

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. 

#Climate Prediction Center outlooks through March 31, 2023 #snowpack

During the fall season water managers in the Colorado River Basin start looking at the outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center. This is particularly important in the Upper Basin where 90% of the river flows come from snowpack accumulation. Weather patterns this year will be influenced by a third La Niña in a row.

Here are the typical outcomes from both El Niño and La Niña for the US. Note each El Niño and La Niña can present differently, these are just the average impacts. Graphic credit: NWS Salt Lake City office

The southern tier of the CONUS trends drier in La Niña winters. Thankfully, La Niña influences in the Upper Basin (Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming) are mixed and snowfall can be ample in these headwater states.

So what is the Climate Prediction Center forecast through December 31, 2022? Here are the precipitation, temperature, and drought outlooks and it looks like much of the last year warm and dry. However, if you look at the Colorado River in Colorado drought is expected to re-develop in the headwaters there.

I said we’d look at the outlooks through March 31, 2022 so here you go.

The outlook through March 31, 2023 is mostly “Equal chances” which tells us that the CPC is leaning on history and the current La Niña.

This is the Upper Colorado River Basin dilemma — we won’t know how much water we have in our largest reservoir (the snowpack) until next Spring and actual streamflow until the end of the Summer runoff season.

#Drought news (September 22, 2022): D1 and D2 expanded in parts of #Colorado, and D3 expanded in southeast #Wyoming

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

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

An upper-level ridge dominated the central contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week (September 14-20). It was bracketed by an upper-level trough which moved out of the Northeast early in the week, and a Pacific upper-level trough that moved into the West as the week progressed. Pacific weather systems moved across the northern states between the troughs. This pattern resulted in above-normal precipitation across much of the West and parts of the Northeast. Fronts associated with the Pacific systems triggered showers and thunderstorms across parts of the central and northern Plains to Mid and Upper Mississippi Valley. For the rest of the CONUS, a large dry air mass covered much of the southern Plains and East throughout the week. Rain occurred along a stationary front draped across Florida that was associated with the southern edge of the air mass, but for much of the South, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest regions it was a dry week. Temperatures averaged warmer than normal across the Plains to Great Lakes, and cooler than normal across much of the West, Southeast, and northern New England. A tropical system brought heavy rain to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Drought or abnormal dryness expanded or intensified across northern parts of the West, from the central and northern Plains to the Mid- and Upper Mississippi Valley, and over parts of the Mid-Atlantic coast. Drought or abnormal dryness contracted where it rained, especially in parts of Florida, New Mexico, and the Northeast, in a swath from Iowa to Illinois, and across Puerto Rico…

High Plains

Parts of the High Plains region had rain while other parts were dry. Up to two inches fell locally in parts of several states. Especially dry areas occurred in parts of the Dakotas, Montana, Kansas, and Colorado. The lack of rain was accompanied by unusually hot temperatures regionwide, which increased evapotranspiration and accelerated the drying of soils. The drying soils and dry ponds and waterholes led to extensive expansion of D0-D2 in North Dakota and Montana, and D0-D4 in South Dakota and Kansas. Groundwater levels are low with wells in Wichita, Kansas, going dry. According to media reports, a water emergency developed in Caney, a town in southeast Kansas, when water stopped flowing over the Little Caney River’s dam; there are 6 weeks of water supply left. D1 and D2 expanded in parts of Colorado, and D3 expanded in southeast Wyoming while other parts of the state saw contraction of D0 and D1. Nebraska also had some contraction of D2, but expansion of D1-D3 in other parts of the state. According to USDA statistics, all states in the region had half or more of the topsoil moisture short or very short of moisture. In Nebraska and Kansas, three-fourths of the pasture and rangeland was in poor to very poor condition, while the value was 50% for Colorado, 55% for South Dakota, and 58% for Montana…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 20, 2022.

West

Pacific weather systems dropped locally 2 or more inches of rain across parts of central and northern California, and over local areas of the Great Basin and southern New Mexico. Half an inch or more of precipitation occurred over large parts of the interior West. Other parts, especially much of Washington, Oregon, northern Idaho to northwestern Montana, and southern California to parts of New Mexico, were dry this week. Groundwater continues low and many reservoirs were still very low to near record low. The water levels in most reservoirs in New Mexico are well below average. The August 2022 total combined end-of-month storage of 12 large reservoirs in the state ranked among the three smallest August totals since 1990. The precipitation that fell this week did little to make up deficits that have built up over the last 5 years, so little improvement was made on this week’s map over the areas that received precipitation. One exception was southern New Mexico and adjacent Arizona, where D1-D3 contracted in the wetter areas this week that have also benefited from a wet monsoon season. In northern parts of the West region, D0 was added to western Washington and northwest Oregon where streams were low, very warm temperatures increased evapotranspiration and continued to dry soils, and precipitation was below normal for the last 3 months. D1 expanded in northern Idaho where several indicators reflected the dry conditions of the last 3 months, and several dozen large wildfires continued to blaze. According to USDA statistics, all of the states in the region except California, Nevada, and Arizona had half or more of their topsoil moisture short or very short of moisture…

South

A few areas of the Gulf Coast and western Texas received up to half an inch of rain this week, but the South region was, for the most part, dry with no rain falling. Moderate and severe drought contracted slightly in a couple spots in southern Texas, and abnormal dryness and moderate drought expanded in a couple other areas of the Lone Star State and abnormal dryness expanded in Tennessee. But the biggest changes occurred in Oklahoma and Arkansas. D1-D4 expanded in Oklahoma and D0-D2 expanded in Arkansas. Soils continue to dry and groundwater and stream levels are low. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, 82% of Oklahoma’s topsoil moisture is short to very short of moisture (dry to very dry). The only drier years in mid-September in data going back to 2010 were 2011 and 2012, which were very bad drought years. All states in the region except Louisiana and Mississippi had half or more of the topsoil moisture short or very short of moisture. Almost 70% of the pasture and rangeland in Oklahoma was in poor to very poor condition. Ponds in Oklahoma are drying up and 63% of the cotton crop is in poor to very poor condition…

Looking Ahead

A strong upper-level low pressure system will move across the northern half of the CONUS during September 22-27 while high pressure generally dominates the southern half of the country. By the end of the period, the upper-level circulation pattern will consist of a ridge over the West and a trough over the East. This scenario will result in above-normal temperatures in the West and South with below-normal temperatures in the Northeast. Half an inch or more of precipitation, locally up to 2 inches, is forecast to fall from the Four Corners states to the northern Rockies and eastward to the central and northern Plains, as well as across parts of the Great Lakes, much of the Northeast, and over southern Florida. Half an inch or less is expected over Oregon, the Mid to Upper Mississippi Valley, the Tennessee Valley to Appalachian chain, and Mid-Atlantic Coast. Little to no precipitation is predicted for Washington, California, and Nevada in the West, across the southern Plains to Southeast, and over parts of the Midwest. For September 28-October 5, the western ridge and eastern trough pattern is expected to persist. Odds favor warmer-than-normal temperatures across the West to Mississippi Valley and the Alaskan panhandle, with cooler-than-normal temperatures from the Northeast to southern Appalachians and over southwest Alaska. The circulation pattern will likely result in below-normal precipitation from the Pacific Northwest to Northeast, across the Great Plains to Mississippi Valley, and over the Ohio Valley as well as western Alaska. Odds favor above-normal precipitation over the coastal Southeast, the eastern half of Alaska, and a small area in the Four Corners states.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 20, 2022.

Wolf Creek reservoir project to have additional public engagement: BLM overseeing process — @AspenJournalism #WhiteRiver

A view looking down the Wolf Creek valley toward the White River. The proposed off-channel dam would stretch between the dirt hillside on the right, across the flat mouth of the valley, to the hillside on the left. CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials have decided to increase the opportunities for members of the public to weigh in on a controversial reservoir project in northwest Colorado with an additional round of public engagement. 

Members of the BLM’s Northwest Resource Advisory Council last week expressed support for early public engagement on the Wolf Creek reservoir project between Meeker and Rangely in Rio Blanco County. This will be an extra opportunity for interested people to get involved, in addition to the scoping, public comment and protest periods of the normal National Environmental Policy Act permitting process.

Some pointed out that the Wolf Creek project is sure to get lots of scrutiny and, perhaps, national attention, especially with the current spotlight on the declining reservoirs of the Colorado River system. RAC member Jeff Comstock, who represents the Moffat County Natural Resources Department, said he is very much in support of additional public sessions.

“Moffat, myself, most of your collaborators … have always been requesting public involvement prior to Notice of Intent,” Comstock told BLM staffers at the Thursday meeting in Glenwood Springs. “I am a big supporter of having those meetings.”

The project applicant, the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, is proposing an off-channel reservoir with a dam 110 feet tall and 3,800 feet long, with water that will be pumped from the White River. In January 2021, the district secured a water right for 66,720 acre-feet, which can be used for municipal purposes in the downstream town of Rangely, for mitigation of environmental impacts, for recreation, for fish and for wildlife habitat. 

The BLM is overseeing the NEPA process because the federal agency would need to amend its resource management plan and grant a right of way to build Wolf Creek reservoir since the project site is on BLM land. The formal NEPA process is on a tight timeline, and once the BLM issues the Notice of Intent, it has two years to enter a Record of Decision on whether to allow the right of way. The additional public engagement may delay the start of this timeline, but it is unclear by how long. 

This map shows the location of the proposed Wolf Creek reservoir in northwest Colorado. The BLM is moving forward with an additional early public engagement process, prior to the NEPA permitting process, on the Wolf Creek Reservoir project.

Grave concerns

[Two] people who oppose and have concerns about the reservoir project spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Matt Rice, Southwest regional director at environmental group American Rivers, encouraged BLM staff to focus on as much public participation as possible.

“We have grave concerns about this project,” Rice said. “As everybody is aware, the Colorado River is in crisis. … This project is going to be extremely controversial.” 

[…]

Deirdre Macnab, whose 4M Ranch is adjacent to the reservoir site, also spoke and gave her reasons for opposing the project. She said a new reservoir in the proposed location would lead to water loss through evaporation.

“Now is not the time to facilitate new reservoirs in hot, dry, desert areas,” she told RAC members. “Consider the ramifications of this proposal for future generations and just say no.”

Securing the water right for the project took longer than the conservancy district expected because for five years, Colorado’s top engineers at the Department of Water Resources argued the project was speculative because Rio Blanco could not prove a need for the water. The water right was eventually granted after years of back and forth in water court, and the decree came after an 11th-hour negotiation right before the case was scheduled to go to trial. The water right gave Rio Blanco the amount of water it was seeking, but it does not allow the district all the water uses that it initially wanted, including for irrigation or Colorado River Compact compliance.

The project has received $330,000 from the Colorado River Water Conservation District and $4 million from Rio Blanco County to fund the permitting phase. 

What the additional public engagement will look like remains unclear. BLM staff will now refer the project to their Collaborative Action and Dispute Resolution Program to figure out the best strategy. 

“One thing we want to avoid is just doing what we typically do for scoping twice,” said Heather Sauls, BLM project manager and planning and environment coordinator. “Whether we would have public meetings or workshops to talk about focused topics, I don’t know the answers to that yet.”

Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District General Manager Alden Vanden Brink was unavailable for comment. 

The BLM plans to create a webpage about the project. Those who want to join the mailing list and get alerts about future public-engagement opportunities can email BLM_CO_Reservoir@blm.gov

This story ran in the Sept. 21 edition of The Aspen Times and the Summit Daily.

White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69281367

Tribal breakthrough? Four states, six tribes announce first formal talks on #ColoradoRiver negotiating authority — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification #overdrawn22

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education website (Jerd Smith):

Colorado and three other Upper Colorado River Basin states have, for the first time in history, embarked on a series of formal meetings to find a way to negotiate jointly with some of the largest owners of Colorado River water rights: tribal communities.

The states, which include New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, began meeting with six tribes several weeks ago, according to Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board who also represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Basin Commission.

The tribes are the Jicarilla Apache Nation in New Mexico, the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Utah, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Paiute Tribe in Utah, as well as Colorado’s Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, based in Towaoc, and Southern Ute Indian Tribe, whose lands lie in and around Ignacio.

“We have four Upper Basin states and the six Upper Basin tribes, 10 sovereigns, in the room together saying that the table that is set is not the table that works for all, and we are going to create our own table. They are really focused on solutions and being part of the burden and part of the success,” Mitchell said.

The six tribes are among 30 tribal communities in the seven-state Colorado River Basin, which, combined, have paper water rights to roughly 25% to 30% of the river’s flows, more than 3.2 million acre-feet of water.

Graphic credit: Chas Chamberlin/Water Education Colorado

The news came Sept. 16 at the Colorado River District’s Annual Seminar in Grand Junction. The river district represents 15 counties on Colorado’s West Slope and is responsible for policy and managing the river within those boundaries.

For more than 100 years, modern water management in the American West has been conducted by the federal and state governments, without formal tribal leaders.

Under Western water law, water has to be measured, its historical use rates certified, and it has to be diverted so that it can be put to beneficial use. Tribal water rights are treated differently. Tribes’ water rights date back to the time when the reservations were created, based on a law that was applied retroactively – many reservations were established before the law existed and so the amount of water they received was never quantified or adjudicated. For this reason, many tribes have had to settle their water rights within the state or states where their reservation lies— some of those negotiations remain unsettled. Many tribes have never measured their water use and, even among those tribes with quantified water rights, many have never had the money to build the dams, pipelines and reservoirs that allow them to put the resource to use.

Roughly 60% of the water the tribes legally possess has never been developed or integrated into the region’s hierarchy of water rights, though they are often some of the oldest, according to tribal estimates.

Daryl Vigil, Jicarilla Apache Nation Water Administrator, said tribal leaders want the federal government to create a new framework to right past wrongs and establish a process for tribes to participate in critical river negotiations.

For too long, he said, “The policy-making process has been left up to the seven basin states and the federal government. We want to speak on behalf of our own water. We’ve heard a whole lot about scarcity and pain,” he told the Grand Junction audience of roughly 400 people. “And we know a whole lot about that. We’re asking, we’re demanding participation because it is a basic human right.”

During the past five years, as the Colorado River has sunk deeper into crisis, the tribes have begun working together and asserting their right to negotiate with federal, state and local water agencies to determine how their water will be used, how badly needed tribal water systems can be built, and how tribes can be fairly compensated for the water that has long been used by others.

Despite increased public pressure to recognize the tribes’ water rights and to include them in critical negotiations and decision-making processes, they continue to be shut out, including in the most recent talks over how to achieve the 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of cuts that U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton ordered back in June in order to keep lakes Mead and Powell operating.

Another set of critical talks set to begin in the near future still has no mechanism for including the tribes. These are talks that will determine how to operate the river well into the future, after the current framework for river operations, known as the 2007 Interim Guidelines, expires at the end of 2026. Tribes were not included in the talks leading up to the 2007 agreement either.

Lorelei Cloud, a member of the Southern Ute Tribal Council, said traditional water users in the Colorado River Basin won’t survive unless tribal waters are legally recognized, developed and put to use by tribes and other users in the basin.

“We are a sovereign government. We should be considered just as a state would be. If you think that we shouldn’t be involved, then don’t include our 30% allocation for anyone else’s use … We need to be included in every one of these conversations. My reservation was established in 1868. We are first in time first in line. You cannot discount us,” she said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Native land loss 1776 to 1930. Credit: Alvin Chang/Ranjani Chakraborty

What does the Inflation Reduction Act mean for rivers — @AmericanRivers

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the American Rivers website (Eric Boucher):

On August 16, 2022 President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which will provide an estimated $369 billion to tackle climate change over the next decade. That’s a big number, but what does it mean for rivers?  

Overall, this is a bold step forward, as it provides a significant investment that would cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2030, and provides over $30 billion in financial assistance for green house gas reduction projects. In a country like the U.S. where passing climate change legislation can be difficult, these investments could be game- changing.  

Here are some key provisions:  

Drought Response  

$4 billion for water infrastructure modernization projects, as well as projects to reduce harmful effects of drought on rivers and inland water bodies. This comes in three main forms:  

Water users would be compensated for voluntary reductions that are made in water deliveries.  

Conservation projects to help bolster water levels in the Colorado River system would receive funding support.  

Environmental restoration projects to mitigate damage from drought con- ditions will be a central priority. The funds, to be administered by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over the next four years, could be used to pay farmers, rural districts and others to fallow crops and in- stall efficient watering technology, or to pay for other voluntary water reductions in the Lower and Upper Colorado Basins, which combined provide drinking water and irri- gation to nearly 40 million people across seven states and Mexico.  

Tribal Nations  

$12.5 million through FY 26 for near-term drought relief actions to mitigate drought impacts for Indian tribes that are impacted by the operation of a Bureau of Reclama- tion water project.  

$220 million for tribal climate resilience and adaptation programs, and $10 million for fish hatchery operations and maintenance programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  

Conservation and Climate Resilience  

$3 billion in grants to states, tribes and municipalities and community-based nonprofit organizations for financial and technical assistance to address clean air and climate pollution in disadvantaged communities.  

$3 billion in investment to help reduce air pollution and carbon emissions at and surrounding our nation’s ports. Most of our nation’s ports continue to use antiquated diesel technology that pollutes our air, harms our planet, and is not fuel efficient.  

$250 million for wildlife recovery and to rebuild and restore units of the National Wildlife Refuge System and state wildlife management areas. Restored habitat will mit- igate the impacts of climate-induced weather events and increase resiliency, benefit- ting wildlife and surrounding communities.  

$2.6 billion for NOAA to assist coastal states, the District of Columbia, Tribal Gov- ernments, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and institutions of higher edu- cation to become more prepared and resilient to changes in climate.  

$190 million for high performance computing capacity and research for weather, oceans and climate.  

$50 million for NOAA to administer climate research grants to address climate challenges such as impacts of extreme events; water availability and quality; impacts of changing ocean conditions on marine life; improved greenhouse gas and ocean carbon monitoring; coastal resilience and sea level rise. This research will provide the science that Americans need to understand how, where, and when Earth’s conditions are changing.  

$12 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop and implement recov- ery plans under Section 4(f) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Section 4(f) of the Endangered Species Act requires the Secretary to develop and implement recov- ery plans for listed species.  

$250 million to carry out projects for the conservation, protection and resiliency of lands and resources administered by the National Park Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  

$250 million to carry out conservation, ecosystem and habitat restoration projects on lands administered by the NPS and BLM.  

Environmental Justice  

$1.5 billion to plant trees, establish community and urban forests, and expand green spaces in cities, which combats climate change and provides significant community benefits by increasing recreation opportunities, cooling cities, lowering electric bills, and reducing heat-related death and illness.  

$50 million for investments in Urban Parks through grants to localities for acquisi- tion of land or interests in land, or for development of recreation facilities to create or significantly enhance access to parks or outdoor recreation in urban areas.  

$397.5 million for programs aimed at building resilience across Tribal govern- ments and communities by providing support to transition electrified homes to re- newable energy sources and provide renewable energy to homes without electricity; address drinking water shortages and provide financial assistance for drought relief; maintain and operate hatcheries; and fund Tribal climate resilience and adaptation programs.  

$550 million to ensure disadvantaged communities have the resources needed to plan, design, and construct water supply projects, particularly in communities and households that do not currently have reliable domestic water supplies.  

$1 billion to improve Energy Efficiency or Water Efficiency or Climate Resilience of Affordable Housing, that help covers the cost of energy efficiency upgrades.  

$1.9 billion to support efforts to improve walkability, safety, and affordable transportation access, including natural infrastructure and stormwater management improvements related to surface transportation in disadvantaged areas. 

Energy  

$260 billion in new and extended clean-energy tax credits meant to incentivize energy companies and public utilities to produce more solar, wind and hydropower energy.  

It also expands or creates a host of new environmental tax credits for electric vehicles, residential and commercial buildings, certain manufacturing, and carbon sequestration.  

Wildfire Protections and other Forestry improvements  

$5 billion to protect communities from wildfires while combating the climate crisis and supporting the workforce through climate-smart forestry, including:  

$2.15 billion for National Forest System Restoration and Fuels Reduction projects  

$1.8B for hazardous fuels reduction projects on National Forest System land within the wildland-urban interface  

$200M for vegetation management projects on National Forest System land 

$100M for environmental reviews by the Chief of the Forest Service  

$50M for the protection of old-growth forests on National Forest System land and to complete an inventory of old-growth forests and mature forests within the National Forest System  

Plus $2.75 billion for investing in climate-smart forestry to boost carbon sequestration and another $1.5B to provide grants for tree planting and related activities.