#Aurora commits to water-conservation measures, reducing “nonfunctional turf” by 30%: City Council also gave the final OK on the proposal limiting cool-weather grasses — The #Denver Post

Aurora Reservoir via Active Rain

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Saja Hindi). Here’s an excerpt:

The Aurora City Council tackled several water issues Monday night, giving the final stamp of approval to the mayor’s proposal that would prohibit cool-weather grass for new golf courses and reduce the amount of grass in new developments. The City Council had to vote on the proposal again, despite passing it last month, because of a typo in the first reading that required the additional vote. The ordinance aimed at conserving water dictates where and how much “cool-season turf” or grasses, including Kentucky bluegrass and Fescue, can be placed in new developments. Ornamental water features would also be banned…In addition to eliminating the use of cool-season turf on new golf courses, the ordinance removes turf in residential front yards, curbside or median landscape areas, multifamily and commercial landscape areas that are not active recreation areas and spray irrigation in medians. It restricts using the grasses to 45% or 500 square feet of backyards, whichever is less…Site plans approved before Jan. 1, 2023, would be exempt from the new rules. Additionally, alley-load areas where small backyard sizes don’t allow for the installation of turf can have either 45% or 500 square feet, whichever is less, of front-yard turf.

The City Council also approved on Monday night a resolution supporting a “water conservation memorandum of understanding” among Colorado River Basin Water providers…In the memorandum, Aurora pledged to continue water conservation programs, introduce a new program to reduce nonfunctional turf by 30% (with a full plan brought forward next year), increase water and recycling programs and collaborate with other water users in the Colorado River Basin. But agriculture will have to be part of the solution because “we could turn off water in every state in the basin, every municipality, and it wouldn’t address the issue. It’s agriculture,” Council member Dustin Zvonek said.

Without settlement, #RioGrande Supreme Court case returns to trial

The Rio Grande Basin spans Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Credit: Chas Chamberlin

by Danielle Prokop, El Paso Matters, Source New Mexico

September 28, 2022

The Texas and New Mexico fight over Rio Grande water is headed to court in Iowa early next year unless a settlement can be reached within weeks — a shrinking prospect attorneys said as they prepare for trial.

“Settlement was not successful,” Lee Leininger, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, said of the monthslong confidential talks at a hearing Tuesday in the U.S. Western District of Texas in El Paso.

Settlement deadline looms in Rio Grande Supreme Court case

Former Judge Arthur Boylan, the appointed mediator in the case, said the remaining issues between the federal government and the states of New Mexico and Colorado are “dealbreakers, but are not insurmountable.” He could not speak to the specifics of the disagreements, since the negotiations are confidential, but attorneys for Colorado and New Mexico have raised concerns on the federal government’s role in the dispute. Colorado is named as a defendant in the case.

Boylan said a settlement could be possible.

Jeff Wechsler, attorney for New Mexico, said the state was ready for trial, but was “still open” for settlement possibilities.

Lawyers for the irrigation districts, who are “amici curiae” or “friends of the court,” asked for more time for a settlement and a later trial date.

Samantha Barncastle, who represents the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, urged Judge Michel Melloy, the special master overseeing the case, to delay the trial to March or April. She said a settlement would offer “better relief that’s longer-lasting” than a trial, but that attorneys could not negotiate and prepare arguments at the same time.

“We’re almost there,” she said. “If you set the trial in January, we will not get there.”

Barncastle said going to trial would cost millions more taxpayer dollars and take another three to five years before a decree could be handed down.

Texas attorney Stuart Somach said the remaining settlement issues were out of his hands and between other parties. He disagreed on pushing back the trial further, saying there has to be a limit on the time taken.

“We filed this in 2013,” he said. “In 10 years, we haven’t been able to even finish the trial.” White pelicans fly over the Elephant Butte Reservoir on Friday, Sept. 23. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters)

On Tuesday, Melloy ordered the trial to start on Jan. 17, 2023, but also urged the parties to take advantage of the further settlement talks, saying negotiation would better solve issues between them.

The in-person trial is expected to delve into expert testimony and would be a continuation of an October 2021 virtual trial which provided witness testimony. Melloy estimated the trial could last between four to six weeks.

Since January, the states and the federal government have been in negotiations to bring an end to the 9-year-old lawsuit before the Supreme Court. Officially called Original No. 141 Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, the legal fight has cost New Mexico and Texas taxpayers more than $30 million combined.

Trial starts in Rio Grande Supreme Court water lawsuit between New Mexico and Texas

The litigation stems from allegations that New Mexico is shorting Texas’ Rio Grande portion by groundwater pumping below Elephant Butte Reservoir, violating the 1938 Rio Grande Compact. The compact lays out how the states should split the waters. Colorado is named as a defendant since it is a signatory on the compact, but is not presenting a case on the allegations.

The fight in the Supreme Court is the culmination of decades of lawsuits over the management of the river.

A series of lawsuits erupted in the early 2000s between irrigation districts in Southern New Mexico and Far West Texas and the federal government over water management. Negotiations produced an eleventh-hour settlement called the 2008 Operating Agreement signed by Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District No.1 and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to change. The agreement explains the method of splitting the water and how balances for each of the districts are carried over. Neither Texas nor New Mexico were included in the agreement.

In 2011, the state of New Mexico sued in federal court, claiming the agreement allowed the federal government to short New Mexico on river water and gave too much to Texas. That lawsuit is on hold after Texas filed its claim in the Supreme Court, alleging New Mexico pumping removed tens of thousands of acre-feet of water from the river, water that was allocated downstream in Texas.  Texas filed the lawsuit in 2013, and was joined by the federal government, which agreed that New Mexico’s pumping was threatening both the compact, and the U.S. treaty obligations to deliver Rio Grande water to Mexico.

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: info@sourcenm.com. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.

Grant Awarded to @Northern_Water-Supported Initiative Aimed at Improving #ColoradoRiver Headwaters Health #COriver #aridification

Kawuneeche Valley Ecosystem Restoration Collaboartive Leadership Tour, July 2022. Photo credit: Northern Water

Click the link to read the release on the Northern Water website:

A multi-agency collaboration looking to restore critical elements of the Colorado River’s headwaters ecosystem recently received a significant funding boost that will help participants launch various aspects of the project. Grand County, on behalf of the Kawuneeche Valley Ecosystem Restoration Collaborative (KVERC), was awarded a $48,500 grant this month from the Colorado River District’s Accelerator Grant Program. 

Northern Water is a partner in KVERC, along with Grand County, Rocky Mountain National Park, U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado River District, Town of Grand Lake and Colorado State University. The Kawuneeche Valley ecosystem depends on functioning wetlands along the headwaters of the Colorado River to flow from Rocky Mountain National Park into Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Along with Lake Granby and Grand Lake, these three bodies of water move Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap project water to the Alva B. Adams Tunnel where it flows underneath Rocky Mountain National Park to more than 1 million water users in Northeastern Colorado. 

In 2020, KVERC was formed to facilitate planning, outreach and the implementation of restoration projects in the North Fork Colorado River watershed. The Kawuneeche Valley, at the headwaters of the Colorado River, has a history of human use and ecological change, which has increased erosion and channel incision, disconnected the floodplain, and impacted the once observed riparian and wetland vegetation. Additionally, the 2020 East Troublesome Fire, which burned within the southern half of the project area, will likely further exacerbate the sediment and nutrient impacts. 

The KVERC partners will use the Accelerator grant funds to complete assessments, surveys, outreach and final design for phase one of the project. River District support will also be leveraged to submit competitive federal grant applications for this and future project phases.

This video – featuring Northern Water’s Esther Vincent, Mark Coleman and Kimberly Mihelich, along with representatives of the other partner organizations – provides a 5-minute snapshot of this collaborative effort and the ultimate goals of the group.

How #California’s #SaltonSea went from vacation destination to toxic nightmare — Grist

Rising salinity levels have had a detrimental impact on wildlife at the Salton Sea. (Source: California Department of Water Resources)

Click the link to read the article on the Grist website (Zoya Teirstein):

This story is part of the Grist series Parched, an in-depth look at how climate change-fueled drought is reshaping communities, economies, and ecosystems.

Southern Pacific passenger train crosses to Salton Sea, August 1906. Photo via USBR.

In the spring of 1905, the Colorado River, bursting with seasonal rain, topped an irrigation canal and flooded the site of a dried lake bed in Southern California. The flooding, which continued for two years before engineers sealed up the busted channel, created an unexpected gem in the middle of the arid California landscape: the Salton Sea. In the decades that followed, vacationers, water skiers, and speed boat enthusiasts flocked to the body of water. The Beach Boys and the Marx Brothers docked their boats at the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, which opened in 1959. At the time, it seemed like the Salton Sea, and the vibrant communities that had sprung up around it, would be there for centuries to come. 

But the sea’s heyday was short-lived. Cut off from the life source that created it — the Colorado River — and sustained mainly by limited agricultural runoff from nearby farms, the landlocked waterbody began to evaporate. The water that remained became increasingly salty and toxic. Tourism dried up. The scent of rotten eggs, from high levels of hydrogen sulfide in the sea, filled the air. Fish died in droves from lack of oxygen, their bones washing up on the beach like sand. 

By the 1980s, the rich, white vacationers had fled. Today, the community is made up of predominantly Latino agricultural workers who labor in nearby fields in Imperial County, among the poorest counties in California, and Indigenous tribes that have called the region home for millennia. They suffer from a unique cocktail of health threats that stem from the Salton Sea. 

The waterbody is fed by about 50 agricultural channels, carrying limited amounts of water infused with pesticides, nitrogen, fertilizers, and other agricultural byproducts. As a result, the briny lake’s sediment is laced with toxins like lead, chromium, and DDT. Climate change and the prolonged megadrought gripping the western United States are only compounding these problems. The Salton Sea is projected to lose three quarters of its volume by the end of this decade; declining water levels could expose an additional 100,000 acres of lake bottom. The sea’s surface has already shrunk roughly 38 square miles since 2003.

More from Parched:

How Colorado River Basin tribes are managing water amid historic drought

Federal government announces historic water cuts as Colorado River falls to new lows

How climate change spurs megadroughts

As the sea dries and more shoreline is exposed, the strong winds that plague this part of California kick up chemical-laced dust and blow it into nearby communities, where roughly 650,000 people live. Residents complain of headaches, nosebleeds, asthma, and other health problems. 

“It’s a huge environmental justice issue,” Jenny Binstock, a senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club, told Grist. “It leads to increased asthma attacks, bronchitis, lung disease.” Hospitalization rates for children with asthma in facilities near the sea are nearly double the state average.

Beyond dust, Ryan Sinclair, an environmental microbiologist at the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in California, is concerned about bioaerosols — tiny airborne particles that come from plants and animals — that can develop from algae or bacteria in the sea’s shallow, tepid waters. 

“Algae produce algal toxins and bacteria can produce endotoxins,” he said, “and both of those can aerosolize and blow into nearby communities.” When researchers exposed mice to aerosolized Salton Sea water, the mice developed a “unique type of asthma,” Sinclair noted. He’s currently working with communities around the Salton Sea to measure and document levels of nutrients and algae in the water, something that is not currently being done by state or federal agencies. “Something needs to be done about this,” he said. 

But solutions are limited. The dust that gets kicked up can be suppressed, to some extent, with habitat restoration projects. The first-ever large-scale restoration project for the Salton Sea, a network of ponds on 30,000 acres of lake bed, is proposed to start this year. But the project is no substitute for the obvious: The sea is rapidly shrinking and it needs a fresh infusion of water to survive. “A perfect solution for the Salton Sea — in a world where we have an abundance of water and more reliable hydrological cycles — is we would just fill that thing back up,” Binstock, from the Sierra Club, said. 

But there’s no water to be had. One proposal is to ship saltwater in from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, 125 miles south, but Binstock isn’t so sure the positives of that plan outweigh the negatives. “The tremendous investments in hard infrastructure, the disturbance of playa, and the public health and environmental impacts, the costs are just … it’s pretty bananas to think about,” she said. 

Last week, an independent review panel appointed by the state to assess viable, long-term dust suppression options for the Salton Sea advised against importing water from the Sea of Cortez or any other nearby body of saltwater. Instead, the panel recommended the state build a desalination plant next to the sea to gradually filter out some of the lake’s salinity. It also suggested paying Imperial County farmers not to plant their fields, which would allow more water to reach the sea from the Colorado River instead of getting siphoned off by farmers. Both strategies would slowly replenish the sea with fresh water, revive its aquatic ecosystems, and allow the sea to “return to being a jewel in the Californian desert, and a place others will want to visit and live next to again,” the panel’s summary report said. 

Mariela Loera, a policy advocate at the California-based Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, doesn’t see an adequate, long-term solution to the problem. She has been doing work with communities surrounding the Salton Sea for years. Dust suppression efforts and habitat restoration projects are a useful bandaid, she said, “but ideally, there’s a long-term, clean water solution.” 

Meanwhile, the Salton Sea’s copious brine presents an unexpected opportunity: a bonanza of lithium, the highly sought-after metal. 

Lithium is the key ingredient in electric vehicles batteries and clean energy storage, but it is also in short supply. Lithium prices shot up some 400 percent this year as the global appetite for EVs rose and companies became increasingly desperate to find new sources of the metal. The state of California estimates that the Salton Sea has enough lithium to supply America’s entire appetite, now and in the future, and 40 percent of the globe’s demand on top of that. 

Loera and other local groups recognize the importance of the sea’s lithium stores, but they say communities affected by the region’s toxic dust and algae blooms need justice before extraction can begin. “A lot of residents have questions about potential impacts,” Loera said. Lithium mining requires copious amounts of water. Would that water come from the sea’s own limited supply? And what impacts would mining have on the state’s ongoing habitat restoration and dust suppression efforts? Those questions and others raised by the community haven’t been adequately answered yet. “There’s a lack of community engagement in the decision making process to date,” she said. “We need to have that conversation:  How are we going to continue this green transition, but in an environmentally just way?”

The President and Congress Deliver $11 Billion for Abandoned Mine Cleanups — @CircleofBlue

The abandoned Horse Creek Mine near Pinckeyville, Illinois. Photo © Department of the Interior

Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Laura Gersony):

Part one of two in Circle of Blue’s series on abandoned coal mines.

Dan Fisher’s father was a coal miner. So was his grandfather. So was his wife’s father and grandfather. So was just about everyone’s grandfather in Gillespie, Illinois, a town that was born to power the Great Chicago & North Western railway system.

West of the Appalachian shadow, the Midwest isn’t thought of as coal country. But until about half a century ago, coal was king in southern Illinois. Home to the largest deposit of steelmaking metallurgical coal in the country, Illinois was one of the cradles of the nation’s labor movement. It employed hundreds of thousands of people at its peak in the 1920s. And though the number of Illinois mines has dwindled to double digits, it remains the fourth-largest coal producing state in the U.S.

Spoiled lands and waters was the cost of doing business. Coal companies routinely walked away from gaping chasms in the land, polluted streams, and deforestation. As hotspots for this early, unregulated mining, the three states which make up the Illinois coal basin — Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana — have some of the highest environmental burdens from abandoned mines.

For the last 45 years, the U.S. chipped away at these cumulative environmental damages. Since the country began regulating abandoned mines in 1977 under the Abandoned Mine Land program, the country spent $5 billion, and about $400 million in the Illinois basin, to repair clogged and polluted streams, recontour steep highwalls, and reforest denuded landscapes.

But the program, funded by a per-ton tax on coal extraction that was not tied to inflation, was never going to be enough. The Illinois basin still has over 30,000 acres of unreclaimed land and waters, joining over 3 million acres nationwide.

(A separate program regulates mines abandoned after 1977, the subject of the next article in this series.)

In 2021, the Biden administration and Congress responded to the deficit. The infrastructure package enacted earlier this year adds $11 billion into the pre-1977 mine cleanup program to be spent over the next 15 years to finish the job. It joins the Inflation Reduction Act, enacted last month, in a renewed commitment by the country to address systemic ecological challenges and economic stress in former energy strongholds.

The latest infusion into the program, the largest in its history by far, could be enough to reclaim the vast majority of remaining pre-1977 abandoned mine sites. Accompanied by other federal and state jobs programs, it could breathe new life into affected communities, and the land and waters they depend on.

“This is huge. It is a historic investment in restoring the land, eliminating the hazards in coal country,” said Joe Pizarchik, former head of the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement. “There’s been only five or six billion dollars put into reclamation over the previous 40-something years. Now you’ve got 11 billion coming in in 15 years.”

Nearly half a century after its start, the AML program produced measurable accomplishments. The program spent $4.5 billion cleaning up 5 million acres of land. 

But 3 million acres—with an estimated $11 billion in damages—are still unreclaimed. Illinois has a total backlog of about 9,000 acres of reclamation, with 4,000 more in Indiana, and roughly 18,000 in western Kentucky, according to federal AML data

Some environmental harms have been long-term and diffuse. Many old mines were retired without modern-day flooding techniques. An estimated 10 percent of emissions of methane — a gas with 34 times more planet-warming potential than carbon dioxide — come from active or abandoned coal mines. One mine in White County, Illinois that just closed is one of the country’s top 5 methane emitters.

About a third of the nation’s 4,000 hazardous water bodies on the AML list are still unreclaimed. So are 6,000 miles of clogged streams, according to federal data.

Other harms are more proximate. Disheveled land, without either the thrum of industry or the solace of the environment, represents a liability for a community struggling to find its footing as coal fades. 

“When industry closes, it’s not like it packs up and leaves. You gotta deal with whatever’s left behind, like a bad divorce,” said Dan Fisher, the resident of Gillespie in Macoupin County, Illinois, a former coal stronghold.

It’s a story that Paul Robinson, a reclamation expert at the Southwest Research and Information Center in New Mexico, has seen across the country and across extractive sectors: “the company is getting the gold, the community is left with the shaft and the empty hole in the ground worth nothing.”

As former head of the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement during the Obama administration Joseph Pizarchik knows well that state regulators’ experience with the program has long been defined by triage.

“States were constantly having to make difficult choices about which AML problems to address,” he said. “Based on the numbers that were coming in from the Energy Information Administration, there was never going to be enough money for states to finish reclaiming their most dangerous mines,” 

Acid mine drainage at the Lead Queen Mine tunnel in Arizona. Photo © U.S. Geological Survey

Change in Fund Financing – From Private to Public

The infrastructure act’s use of taxpayer dollars to finance the AML fund marks an abandonment of the intention of the mine cleanup law. The original law made coal companies pay for the industry’s past environmental harms. It exacted a per-ton fee on coal, and funneled tax revenue to state agencies to reclaim land and waters that were damaged before the 1977 law was passed.

The roots of the deficit that soon emerged reach back to the birth of the AML program, with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. After an era when land and water degradation was treated by polluters as externalities, SMCRA was on the cutting edge of environmental legislation that sought to internalize the costs of environmental damage.

“SMCRA focused on surface restoration: establishment of approximate original contour and post-mining land use,” said Robinson. “Those were innovative and aggressive, and derived from the concerns of people who lived in and near mines.”

The program made slow but steady progress, cleaning up about a hundred thousand acres every year. It was designed to be reauthorized every few years as needed, to finish the job.

But as market trends started signaling trouble for the coal industry, lawmakers began to demand less and less from coal companies and rely more on taxpayers to keep the fund afloat.

In recent rounds of reauthorization, Congress reduced the AML fee: the 2006 reauthorization reduced the fee by 10 percent in 2008, and another 10 percent  in 2013. Accounting for inflation, the AML fee was equivalent to one-quarter of its original value, or less than half of the inflation-adjusted value of coal per ton, according to a 2020 report by the Appalachian Citizens Law Center. In 2021, the fee was lowered by an additional 20 percent.

The mid-2000s also marked a turning point in relying on taxpayers and not the AML fund to pay for cleanup. The political story behind this change in financing has a main character: the Wyoming congressional delegation. Appalachian and Midwest coal peaked decades earlier than in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which became the nation’s largest source of coal. Wyoming lawmakers represented state coal mine operators who objected to paying into the AML fund because Wyoming has few abandoned mines eligible for AML funds.

“That disconnect between who’s paying a large share of the fee, versus where fees are used, creates an imbalance,” said Shannon Anderson, of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a community group.

A regular tug-of-war ensued. In 2006, the Wyoming delegation pushed for an amendment, which established a new, taxpayer-funded AML revenue stream for a handful of states. In 2012, though, lawmakers from other states placed a cap on Wyoming’s AML funds after news broke that AML dollars were seen as a funding source to upgrade the University of Wyoming’s athletic facilities. 

The program never scaled up again to meet demand. In recent years, the closing of coal-power electric plants contributed to the deficit of the AML program. While markets for Powder River Basin and certain Illinois coal are still strong, the shift away from coal in Appalachia and the Midwest caused overall production nationally to fall to 577 million tons last year. That’s half of total US production in 2008, when production peaked at nearly 1.2 billion tons. It’s simple math: less coal means less AML revenue. 

Coal production has been in precipitous decline since 2008. Photo © U.S. Energy Information Administration

“The Best Social Binding Agent We Have”

Dan Fisher’s home town of Gillespie has been spared the downturn of the last few years: the last coal mine there closed in 1968, so Gillespie absorbed the job losses about 50 years ago. Because of reclamation law, former mine sites are now soccer fields or home to new manufacturing. 

But the nation’s coal-based energy overhaul will not be as kind to other communities further south in Illinois’ heartland, where most of the state’s AML acres are located, and where a prolonged dependence on coal still prevents economic diversification: Saline County in southern Illinois is one of the 25 counties hardest hit by job losses, hemorrhaging thousands of jobs in the last decade. 

Economic numbers suggest that the opportunity offered by mine reclamation is substantial. In addition to neutralizing the threat of dangers, reclaimed lands are an economic asset. Analyzing data from the Department of Interior, one study by the Appalachian Citizens Law Center estimated that the AML program, on net, supported about 4,700 jobs across the country in 2013, and added half a billion dollars to the U.S. economy that year: a 137 percent return on investment.

Even more difficult might be the socioeconomic piece of the puzzle. Fisher’s interest in abandoned mine cleanup stems mostly from his role as the founder and president of Grow Gillespie, a civic group interested in revitalizing their hometown. In conversation, Fisher comes across not with the tunnel-mindedness of most issue activists, but as something of a town historian. With a keen awareness of local history and community, he knows that mine cleanup programs could provide more than just jobs: they rebuild the culture, history, and sense of community that coal once provided.

“This is an industry in which there is a social and cultural context to it,” he said. “A melting pot of European immigrants formed this area. Coal mining was the bond that tied everyone together.”

One newer feature of AML is the Economic Revitalization program, established during the Obama Administration. It funds local investments, with the goal of “sustainable long-term rehabilitation of coalfield economies.”  Things like restoring parkland to attract tourism, fixing up industrial sites to attract manufacturing, or building music and event venues. With a total budget of just over $120 million, the plan currently focuses only on Appalachian states, though advocates on Capitol Hill are pushing for its expansion to other regions. 

In Illinois, new transition funding from Illinois’ recent Climate and Equitable Jobs Act has a similar goal of creating training and employment programs for displaced coal workers. Likewise, the 2021 infrastructure bill funding includes a nonbinding recommendation that states and tribes use their AML cleanup dollars to put former coal miners to work.

Coal country advocates say this is a good, if modest, start.

“Brick and mortar projects are some of the best social binding agents we have. It’s like getting a new suit, or a haircut: you just feel better about yourself, and better about your community,” said Fisher. “It’s not an accident that all of these things — the legislation, social activism, et cetera — those were by-products of the coal mines. You’ve gotta find that other thing that acts as a social engine.”

Laura Gersony

Laura Gersony covers water policy, infrastructure, and energy for Circle of Blue. She also writes FRESH, Circle of Blue’s biweekly digest of Great Lakes policy news, and HotSpots H2O, a monthly column about the regions and populations most at-risk for water-related hazards and conflict. She is an Environmental Studies and Political Science major at the University of Chicago and an avid Lake Michigan swimmer.

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

#GrandCanyon beach restoration program at risk because of #drought — KNAU #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A rare sight: Water shoots out of Glen Canyon Dam’s river outlets or “jet tubes” during a high-flow experimental release in 2013. Typically all of the dam’s outflows go through penstocks to turn the turbines on the hydroelectric plant. The outlets are only used during these experiments, meant to redistribute sediment downstream, and when lake levels get too high. Spillways are used as a last, last resort. The river outlets may be used again in the not so distant future: Once Lake Powell’s surface level drops below 3,490 feet, or minimum power pool, water can no longer be run through the turbines and can only be sent to the river below via the outlets. This is cause for concern because the river outlets were not built for long-term use. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on the KNAU website (Melissa Sevigny). Here’s an excerpt:

In the autumn of 2012, a flood swept through the Grand Canyon. Not one provided by nature, but by the engineers who cranked open the bypass tubes at the base of Glen Canyon Dam. It was the start of a program heralded by many as a triumph. Fall floods happened again in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018.

“And then,” says hydrologist Paul Grams, “we hit these drought conditions.”

The program is in trouble. Lake Powell is three quarters empty and just 40 feet above the level where hydropower production stops. It’s risky now to release floods.

“So we have a condition now, where it’s been four years since the last high flow and the sandbars have eroded a lot,” Grams explains…

Chapman says the beaches are vital: they create backwaters for native fish and habitat for plants and animals. And for more than 20,000 river runners in the Grand Canyon every year, Chapman says, “The sandbars themselves are the only durable, nonfragile environment that everyone can camp on; you don’t have to go bushwacking to find a place to camp.” Some scientists want to save the program by switching floods to spring, when snowmelt bolsters Lake Powell’s level. That could help balance the need for floods with the demand for hydropower.

Legal concerns for Douglas County remain unchanged, #water attorney says — @AlamosaCitizen #SanLuisValley #RioGrande

Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

Click the link to read the article on The Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

THE water attorney Douglas County hired to advise it on the proposed San Luis Valley water exportation project by former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and his Renewable Water Resources group said “many hurdles” remain and that his legal concerns are unchanged.

Stephen Leonhardt, Douglas County’s lead water attorney consultant, made his concerns known in a Sept. 13 closed-door meeting with the three Douglas County commissioners. An executive summary of that meeting was made available to Alamosa Citizen on Friday following a Colorado Open Records request.

Leonhardt, engineer Bruce Lytle and water attorney Glenn Porzak – all Douglas County consultants – met with John Kim of Renewable Water Resources on July 26, according to the memo, as a follow up to an outline of issues and concerns Leonhardt earlier presented to Douglas County following a “deep dive” into the RWR proposal.

“While it was a good meeting, the discussion did not alter my initial analysis and conclusions and there remain many hurdles to a successful project, which are not resolved at this time,” Leonhardt wrote in a Sept. 28 executive summary released to The Citizen. “The legal concerns with the project remain unchanged.”

Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas has been pushing her fellow commissioners, Abe Laydon and George Teal, to release more details from their executive session meetings with Leonhardt. She said Friday on Twitter, “I remain OPPOSED for @douglascounty continuing to spend time and resources on taking water from the San Luis Valley when none of the water providers in Dougco are interested in participation with the concept.”

Laydon is facing re-election against challenger Kari Solberg in November. For Douglas County to continue showing interest in the Owens-led plan, RWR needs Laydon to earn a second term in the commissioners’ chambers.

But even then, the RWR water exportation concept faces major barriers, not the least of which is complying with state groundwater pumping rules that govern water in the San Luis Valley and the confined and unconfined aquifers of the Upper Rio Grande Basin.

State Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa is already gearing up to knock back any legislative push Renewable Water Resources attempts to make in an effort to amend state rules governing groundwater pumping. He said RWR has lobbyists in place, and he expects the group to begin a lobbying process.

“I’ve always said they’ll be at the legislature at some point, going, ‘This is so important to the state we shouldn’t have to follow the same rules and regs,’” Simpson said. 

He said he’s heard recently that RWR might approach the legislature with this plan in the 2023 session, which would align with RWR telling Leonhardt that it was developing a “legislative strategy” when he first outlined the problems. 

“Why would they do that? They have zero chance of being successful, but that’s why they’ve hired lobbyists,” Simpson said.

“They don’t need a lobbyist if they’re just going to follow the rules as written,” Simpson said, alluding to RWR’s own statements in its proposal.

Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, said, “The last line of the memo says it all. The Douglas County Commissioners should take the extensive review provided by their independent water counsel to heart and move on from RWR. The legal issues with RWR’s proposal are insurmountable. In my opinion, any continued discussions or study of the RWR proposal is simply a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The plan Douglas County has been reviewing would pump 22,000-acre feet a year from the northern end of the Valley in Saguache County and Subdistrict 4 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

One monumental task RWR faces is getting a state water court-approved augmentation plan in place that would demonstrate to the court that RWR has a portfolio of replacement water on the injured streams under a worst-case scenario.

How water augmentation works in the San Luis Valley

Leonhardt has raised the required augmentation plan as a major barrier. “In the San Luis Valley, an augmentation plan for wells must not only prevent injury to water rights on the stream system, but must also maintain the sustainability of both the Confined Aquifer and the Unconfined Aquifer,” he wrote in his bulleted May memorandum to Douglas County Commissioners.

“This requires, at a minimum, providing one-for-one replacement for all water pumped, either by retiring historical well pumping or by recharging the aquifer.”

The attorney said back in May that not only does the RWR proposal lack a developed augmentation plan but…it cannot meet the state rule that requires “one-for-one replacement within the same Response Area.

He hasn’t changed his mind.

@GretaThunberg on the #climate delusion: ‘We’ve been greenwashed out of our senses. It’s time to stand our ground’ — The Guardian

Greta Thunberg via her Twitter Feed

Click the link to read the guest column on The Guardian website (Greta Thunberg). Here’s an excerpt:

Governments may say they’re doing all they can to halt the climate crisis. Don’t fall for it – then we might still have time to turn things around

Maybe it is the name that is the problem. Climate change. It doesn’t sound that bad. The word “change” resonates quite pleasantly in our restless world. No matter how fortunate we are, there is always room for the appealing possibility of improvement. Then there is the “climate” part. Again, it does not sound so bad. If you live in many of the high-emitting nations of the global north, the idea of a “changing climate” could well be interpreted as the very opposite of scary and dangerous. A changing world. A warming planet. What’s not to like?

Perhaps that is partly why so many people still think of climate change as a slow, linear and even rather harmless process. But the climate is not just changing. It is destabilising. It is breaking down. The delicately balanced natural patterns and cycles that are a vital part of the systems that sustain life on Earth are being disrupted, and the consequences could be catastrophic. Because there are negative tipping points, points of no return. And we do not know exactly when we might cross them. What we do know, however, is that they are getting awfully close, even the really big ones. Transformation often starts slowly, but then it begins to accelerate.

The German oceanographer and climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf writes: “We have enough ice on Earth to raise sea levels by 65 metres – about the height of a 20-storey building – and, at the end of the last ice age, sea levels rose by 120 metres as a result of about 5C of warming.” Taken together, these figures give us a perspective on the powers we are dealing with. Sea-level rise will not remain a question of centimetres for very long.

The Greenland ice sheet is melting, as are the “doomsday glaciers” of west Antarctica. Recent reports have stated that the tipping points for these two events have already been passed. Other reports say they are imminent. That means we might already have inflicted so much built-in warming that the melting process can no longer be stopped, or that we are very close to that point. Either way, we must do everything in our power to stop the process because, once that invisible line has been crossed, there might be no going back. We can slow it down, but once the snowball has been set in motion it will just keep going…

“This is the new normal” is a phrase we often hear when the rapid changes in our daily weather patterns – wildfires, hurricanes, heatwaves, floods, storms, droughts and so on – are being discussed. These weather events aren’t just increasing in frequency, they are becoming more and more extreme. The weather seems to be on steroids, and natural disasters increasingly appear less and less natural. But this is not the “new normal”. What we are seeing now is only the very beginning of a changing climate, caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. Until now, Earth’s natural systems have been acting as a shock absorber, smoothing out the dramatic transformations that are taking place. But the planetary resilience that has been so vital to us will not last for ever, and the evidence seems to suggest more and more clearly that we are entering a new era of more dramatic change.

Climate change has become a crisis sooner than expected. So many of the researchers I’ve spoken to have said that they were shocked to witness how quickly it is escalating.

Inaugural #ColoradoRiver Water Leaders class releases recommendations for post 2026 river operating guidelines — Water Education Foundation #COriver #aridification

Water Education Foundation Inaugural ColoradoRiver Water Leaders class with their suggested 2026 operating guidelines for the river basin. Photo credit: The Water Education Foundation

Click the link to read the announcement from the Water Education Foundation website:

Our inaugural 2022 Colorado River Water Leaders class completed its six-month program with a report outlining key policy recommendations for managing the Colorado River after existing operating guidelines expire in 2026.

The class of 13 up-and-coming leaders included engineers, lawyers, resource specialists, scientists and others working for public, private and nongovernmental organizations from across the river’s basin. The class had full editorial control to choose its recommendations.

Class members presented their recommendations at the Foundation’s biennial Colorado River Symposium, an invitation-only event in Santa Fe, N.M., whose audience included key water managers, state and federal officials, tribal leaders and other interested groups from throughout the Colorado River Basin.

The biennial Colorado River Water Leaders program is modeled after our California Water Leaders program, which allows participants to deepen their knowledge on water, enhance individual leadership skills and prepare participants to take an active, cooperative approach to decision-making about water resource issues. Leading experts and top policymakers served as mentors to class members. Our next Colorado River Water Leaders class will be in 2024.

Among the Colorado River Water Leaders’ key recommendations:

– Improve the planning process through increased frequency, communication and engagement with water interests

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck. Credit: Brad Udall via Twitter

– Establish a more holistic approach to systems management that balances water use with available supply and inflows that provides flexibility and allows the system to recover and build resilience.

Colorado River Allocations: Credit: The Congressional Research Service

– Leverage the political power of the Colorado River Basin to push Congress for large-scale, predictable federal investment.

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

– Incorporate the environment in the next round of Colorado River operating guidelines.