My final Earth Notes of the year aired recently. Click on the photo below to hear the story. You can also read more about Hopi Trails by continuing below. “Earth Notes” is produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program of Northern Arizona University. In 2007 I worked with the Village of Sipaulovi (2nd Mesa) […]Earth Notes: Hopi Trails in the Southwest — PAA’TUUWI
“One of the big problems with bringing water from somewhere else is a false sense of security. When we live long distances from our water, we may not understand the limits of that supply or ecosystem- so conservation is less likely” — Abby Burk
Reprinted with permisssion from Don Siefkes:
Mike Wade, “Imperial Valley can’t sustain another water cut,” Dec. 14, is absolutely right. However, if we can’t get new water to the Colorado River, and even though conservation is important, no amount of conservation is going to fix this problem.
Here’s one solution to avoid the looming disaster. The National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) set out in House Resolution 3339 would provide $5 trillion in low-cost loans for a broad range of public infrastructure projects – including massive water systems – without the need for increasing taxes or any deficit budget spending. This bill is modeled on the successful Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) started by President Herbert Hoover and used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to build Hoover Dam and bring water and electricity to the Southwest.
The NIB is prepared to invest up to $400 billion to bring new water to the Colorado River and the Southwest. One possibility would be to divert water from the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and up to the Glen Canyon Dam.
In this proposal, no water would be taken from the main channel of the Mississippi. As of Dec. 19, 1.43 million gals/sec of Atchafalaya River water was simply going into the Gulf of Mexico without producing electricity or supporting commercial shipping. Taking just 100,000 gals/sec (7%) of this water would fill Lakes Powell and Mead to 50% capacity in one year and 9 months. The project would save on construction costs by using an existing facility – the Old River Control Complex just south of Vidalia, Louisiana, where the Army Corps of Engineers diverts 30% of the downflow of the Mississippi to prevent flooding in New Orleans.
This undertaking would build a 1,400 mile series of pipelines, open channels, tunnels and pumping stations (similar to the California, Los Angeles, Colorado River Aqueducts and the Central Arizona Project). It could be built in a year, along interstate highway rights-of-way, using huge earth-moving machines like those employed in Holland for their canal systems.
There is historical precedent for building systems like this project with deliberate, urgent, speed. In less than a year between 1942 and 1943, the RFC financed and built two pipelines of similar length, 1,200 and 1,400 miles, to carry crude oil from Texas oil fields to the East Coast. These pipelines rescued the entire East Coast industrial oil refining system and won World War II for the Allies.
Such a water aqueduct system might cost on the order of $14 billion-23 billion, a small amount for a $5 trillion bank and also small compared to cutting off water supplies to farmers in the Southwest who produce $39 billion worth of our annual food supply. Without new water in the Colorado, food prices will skyrocket more than they already have, and we will all needlessly suffer. It is also unthinkable to allow water levels in Lakes Mead and Powell to fall to the point where the dams can no longer generate electricity or provide drinking water.
We don’t think anything about pumping crude oil and gasoline through 190,000 miles of U.S. pipelines from areas that have oil and gasoline to areas that don’t. We certainly can do the same with water.
All U.S. senators and representatives, regardless of party, should get behind HR 3339 and vote for the National Infrastructure Bank.
Alphecca Muttardy is a Macroeconomist with the Coalition for a National Infrastructure Bank (NIBCoalition.com), and 25 year veteran of the International Monetary Fund. Don Siefkes is an MIT-trained chemical engineer who represents the Coalition for the NIB in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their emails are, respectively, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Click the link to access the article on the MDPI website (Fred D Tillman, Natalie K. Day, Matthew P. Miller, Olivia L. Miller, Christine A. Rumsey, Daniel R. Wise, Patrick C. Longley, Morgan C. McDonnell). Here’s the abstract:
The Colorado River is a critical water resource in the southwestern United States, supplying drinking water for 40 million people in the region and water for irrigation of 2.2 million hectares of land. Extended drought in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCOL) and the prospect of a warmer climate in the future pose water availability challenges for those charged with managing the river. Limited water availability in the future also may negatively affect aquatic ecosystems and wildlife that depend upon them. Water availability components of special importance in the UCOL include streamflow, salinity in groundwater and surface water, groundwater levels and storage, and the role of snow in the UCOL water cycle. This manuscript provides a review of current “state of the science” for these UCOL water availability components with a focus on identifying gaps in data, modeling, and trends in the basin. Trends provide context for evaluations of current conditions and motivation for further investigation and modeling, models allow for investigation of processes and projections of future water availability, and data support both efforts. Information summarized in this manuscript will be valuable in planning integrated assessments of water availability in the UCOL.
Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Sam Metz). Here’s an excerpt:
Scientists will get $25 million to study salt lake ecosystems in the drought-stricken U.S. West, as President Joe Biden signed legislation Tuesday allocating the funds in the face of unprecedented existential threats caused by the lack of water.
The funding allows the United States Geological Survey to study the hydrology of the ecosystems in and around Utah’s Great Salt Lake, California’s Mono Lake, Oregon’s Lake Albert and other saline lakes.
Amid a decadeslong drought, less snowmelt has flowed through the rivers that feed into the lakes, causing shorelines to recede and lake levels to plummet. Dwindling lake levels jeopardize the people, animals and businesses that rely on maintaining the ecosystem. The lakes often serve as critical habitats for migratory birds. Dust exposed by receding water levels can be blown into the air and have dangerous health effects on surrounding communities. And further depletion threatens the canals and infrastructure that a multi-million dollar mining industry needs to extract salts from the lakes…
In Utah, the Great Salt Lake shrunk to its lowest point in recorded history, posing threats to economic output, snowpack, public health and wildlife…In eastern California, state officials have dramatically curtailed the amount Los Angeles can divert from the creeks and tributaries that feed Mono Lake in the eastern Sierras…
Marcelle Shoop, the Saline Lakes Program Director for the Audubon Society, said in a statement that the funding would complement existing conservation efforts. “The Great Salt Lake and the network of saline lake ecosystems in the arid West face very serious challenges with increasingly low water levels, placing local communities and millions of migratory birds at risk,” she said…The bill adds to $40 million that Utah lawmakers allocated to the Great Salt Lake for watershed enhancement programs this year and supplements $10 million in Army Corps of Engineers funding for the saline lakes passed as part of a defense spending bill.
From the latest newsletter from Northern Water:
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers have detected the presence of a nonnative invasive plant species in Boulder Reservoir.
The plant, Eurasian watermilfoil (EWM), was detected during a routine inspection at the reservoir in the summer of 2022 and confirmed during a follow-up survey in the fall. The plant is established primarily along the western coves of the reservoir and in areas along the southern and northern shorelines, according to a release from the City of Boulder. It is not harmful to public health and at its current growth levels, there are no impacts to recreation use at the reservoir or its use as a municipal and irrigation supply.
If the growth becomes very dense, the plant could impact swimming and boating and cause taste and odor issues with drinking water.
“While the survey confirmed the presence of EWM at the reservoir, we don’t know how it arrived. It can easily be transported by wind, connected waterways, humans fishing, dogs, watercraft, or wildlife, so we encourage anyone who recreates in the water to be vigilant about checking for aquatic nuisance species,” said Boulder Parks and Recreation Director Ali Rhodes. “The survey did find that there are no other aquatic nuisance or invasive plant species in the reservoir, which is good news.”
According to the city, recreation users will see a continuation of changes put in place in summer 2022. Upon initial detection of the plant, the city adjusted operations to include exit inspections on watercraft, increased education to users and added notification signage.
Can our planet recover from climate change? Commissioning Editor, Kofoworola Belo-Osagie, asked scientists to share the reasons they believe there is hope.
Jennifer Fitchett, Associate Professor of Physical Geography, School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
People are starting to notice the weather and climate, and to understand climate change better than ever before.
It is very difficult for humans to feel the 1.1℃ post-industrial warming. In Johannesburg, our diurnal temperature range is often more than 20℃. From day to day our maximum temperatures can differ by over 10℃. This makes climate change seem intangible. However, over the last few years, the public has become far more aware of the weather and climate, and the impacts of climate change are becoming more tangible, more easily observed, and more measurable by the person on the street.
We are noticing, for example, that jacarandas are flowering earlier than they used to. We are aware that floods are evidence of extreme climates, and that extreme climate events are affecting southern Africa more frequently than they used to.
The tone of public discourse is starting to shift. Sometimes this leads to single events not-quite-correctly being attributed to climate change. But it shows that people are aware and concerned about their climate future. This public awareness is a crucial first step in addressing climate change.
While is it very important to recognise the immense value of young climate change activists like Greta Thunberg, we often don’t notice the many students across the world who are choosing to pursue degrees in fields relating to climate change. The University of the Witwatersrand launched a short course that was offered to over 5,000 incoming first year students in 2022, and which was taught by a PhD student in climate change. This large cohort of students passionate about understanding climate science, avenues for adaptation, and innovations for mitigation is our future!
Patrick Omeja, Senior Research Fellow, College of Agriculture and Environment, Makerere University, Uganda
There is an urgent need for far-reaching change. Government action on climate change is slow as their hands are often tied by stringent bureaucracy, big business and the need to please all of the electorate.
However, I am optimistic that climate action will happen because communities, businesses and foundations around the world are seeing the need for action and doing their part.
For example, in Uganda, solar panels are appearing everywhere. Large companies like Coca-Cola Africa, Nile Breweries, Unilever and Nations Media Group are supporting efforts to restore natural ecosystems and putting the environment before profits. And, for example, the Ivey Foundation in Canada is liquidating its entire endowment to promote climate action now. The funding from these companies is supporting many innovations and solutions, from refugee communities creating forests in the deserts to innovators turning plastics into boats and building materials. They are finding ways to save energy and reduce the footprints of carbon emissions.
Africa is just awash with new ideas and initiatives that are turning environmental challenges into new sources of livelihoods, and adapting to and mitigating the impacts of a changing climate. If many small groups take action, it will make a real difference.
Generally, if humans are the primary cause of a globally warming climate, that means we can also be the architects of its undoing. I think people know that action needs to urgently happen, so people from all walks of life will volunteer to help. I believe human nature “overall” is good and the degraded ecosystems are resilient to recovery, given time and support.
Desta Mebratu, Professor, Centre for Sustainability Transitions, Stellenbosch University, South Africa; Fellow, African Academy of Science
The Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted in 2015, brought a new sense of optimism in terms of addressing the challenges associated with climate change. Unfortunately, the gap between pledges and commitments made by national governments and concrete actions on climate change continued to widen in the subsequent years. This has made the possibility of limiting the planetary temperature rise to 1.5℃ more remote.
Over the last couple of years, we have witnessed increased engagement and leadership of non-state actors, including businesses, civil societies and major groups such as youth groups and local communities. This has led to a plethora of initiatives and partnerships aimed at fast-tracking climate actions and has created a new sense of optimism.
This, coupled with the increasing motivation and creativity displayed by youth groups across the world around climate action, gives me a great sense of hope about our collective future.
Ultimately, however, it all depends on how fast national governments take concrete climate actions.
Yimere Abay, Research Fellow, Centre for International Environment and Resource Policy, Tufts University, United States
The sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2022, described a gloomy future for life on planet Earth. The report detailed the irreversible impacts of change on ecosystems, human life and biodiversity, along with disproportionate impacts across regions, sectors and communities. It called for urgent decisions by world leaders to minimise the adverse consequences. Disappointingly, the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change didn’t agree to phase down all fossil fuels.
Yet there are still reasons to be hopeful for progress from COP.
First, the cost of wind and solar technologies is plummeting. Technologies for carbon capture, utilisation, storage and transmission are rapidly progressing to foster transformation into a low-carbon market. Africa has an opportunity to use its massive renewable energy resources, harness its minerals and metal resources to develop solar photovoltaic systems and wind turbines, and address the barriers in the way of clean energy development. The turning point will be when fossil fuels become less efficient and more expensive than renewables.
COP27 called for reforms in multilateral development banks. Reforms could address Africa’s reputation of being “riskier” for climate investment by providing guarantees. Africa needs US$2.8 trillion from 2020 to 2030, whereas the yearly climate finance flow is only US$30 billion.
COP27 also introduced a new holistic approach towards food and agriculture. The aim is to boost the finance for agricultural transformation and adaptation. This is another reason to be optimistic, since about 70% of the continent’s population depends on agriculture.
Finally, it’s encouraging to see social movements, particularly among the youth, taking action on climate change. These social movements, including indigenous peoples’ alliances, have self-organised across all regions without discrimination of faith, race, colour, age, gender, ideology, or education and have become the guardians of the future.
Patrick Omeja, Senior Research Fellow and Field Manager, Makerere University Biological Field Station, Makerere University; Abay Yimere, Postdoctoral Scholar in International Environment and Resource Policy, Tufts University; Desta Mebratu, Professor and United Nations High Level Champions (UNHLC) Lead on Waste, Stellenbosch University, and Jennifer Fitchett, Associate Professor of Physical Geography, University of the Witwatersrand
Wyoming moved to expedite the construction of a 280-foot-high concrete dam in the Medicine Bow National Forest last month by proposing a 6,282-acre land exchange.
The state wants 1,762 acres of federal property for a dam and reservoir on the West Fork of Battle Creek in the Sierra Madre Mountains, according to a Nov. 30 letter and map from Jenifer Scoggin, the director of Wyoming’s Office of State Lands and Investments. In exchange, Wyoming would transfer ownership of up to 4,520 acres of state school trust lands to the federal government. That school trust land lies inside the boundaries of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.
The Medicine-Bow announced the application in a press release setting three public meetings that will be held on the evenings of Jan. 10, 11 and 12 in Craig, Colorado, Baggs and Saratoga respectively. The dam would be built on a tributary of the Little Snake River that flows into the Yampa, Green and Colorado Rivers.
“Conveying this parcel out of Federal ownership would eliminate the need for a USFS special use permit for the reservoir as well as provide for efficient management of the reservoir and surrounding lands,” states the 19-page notice of intent and proposal, which Scoggin sent to Brush Creek/Hayden District Ranger Jason Armbruster in Saratoga. Wyoming needs the federal property to construct the reservoir and meet “fiduciary obligations to produce income to support public schools and other state institutions,” the letter reads.
WyoFile obtained a copy of Scoggin’s letter, the proposal and map Tuesday from deputy director Jason Crowder.
The state Board of Land Commissioners last summer conceptually approved investigating a land exchange that would have covered some 24,000 acres. That approval allowed state officials to offer a smaller exchange in an effort to accelerate the West Fork Dam and reservoir project, Crowder said.
Smaller would be faster
“[T]he reality of getting something like that [larger exchange] done isn’t all that hot,” Crowder said. The Forest Service would have to examine a larger exchange through the National Environmental Policy Act process, which would take considerably longer than what’s being proposed, he said.
“Something that large isn’t anything that could get done in a timely fashion,” Crowder said. “It’s probable that a larger exchange … wouldn’t be feasible or successful in the near term.”
Instead, an exchange “that was more narrowly focused [on the land] needed for the reservoir construction and implementation would be OK,” he said.
Instead of writing an environmental impact statement that’s common for major proposals under NEPA, the Forest Service will instead conduct a “feasibility analysis/study,” Medicine Bow officials said in a statement. “The resulting product is referred to as a Public Interest Determination,” that would approve or reject the exchange, the Forest Service news release states.
The Forest Service study will focus on the future use and management of the lands and the effect of the exchange on the lands that adjoin them, the Medicine Bow release said.
Estimated in 2017 to cost $80 million, the proposed West Fork Reservoir would serve 67 to 100 irrigators. A 130-acre reservoir would hold 10,000 acre feet of water primarily for irrigation. The project is sponsored by: Savery-Little Snake Conservancy District and Pothook Conservancy in Colorado, the Forest Service said.
The proposed reservoir would impound and divert water from the troubled Colorado River Basin where residents in seven states and Mexico are at odds over how to use dwindling flows.
“It is important to note that the Forest Service has not yet determined if this is a feasible exchange, nor has the agency agreed to initiate it,” the Medicine Bow statement reads.
The Jan. 10 meeting in Craig will be from 5-7 p.m. at Colorado Northwest Community College. A virtual option will be available through the Forest Service website.
The meeting Jan. 11 in Baggs will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Valley Community Center. The Saratoga meeting the following day will be from 5:30-7:30 at the Platte Valley Community Center.Land exchange proposal details will be available the week of the public meetings on the Forest’s project website, the Medicine Bow announcement stated.