#Drought news January 5, 2023: 1-category improvement in W. #Colorado. Beneficial precipitation also prompted improving drought conditions across north-central and northeastern Colorado

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 atmospheric river (AR) led to heavy rain and high-elevation snow across the West with the largest amounts throughout California on December 30 and 31. Preceding this AR, enhanced onshore flow also resulted in widespread rain and high-elevation snow from the West Coast eastward to the Continental Divide. 7-day total amounts (liquid equivalent), from December 27, 2022 – January 2, 2023, ranged from 2 to 6 inches (locally more) across much of California, western Oregon and Washington, and parts of the Great Basin and central Rockies. A pair of low pressure systems brought widespread, heavy rainfall (1 to 3 inches, locally more) from the lower Mississippi Valley northward to the Ohio Valley. A winter storm affected southern South Dakota and western to central Nebraska where 6 to 18 inches of snowfall occurred on January 2. Mostly dry weather prevailed along most of the East Coast and southern Great Plains. Following the Arctic air outbreak during late December, a rapid warming trend began during the final days of 2022. 5-day temperatures (December 27, 2022 – January 2, 2023) averaged more than 10 degrees F above normal across the central and eastern U.S…

High Plains

Based on heavy precipitation (1 to 3 inches, liquid equivalent) this past week along with above-normal snowpack, a 1-category improvement was made to western Colorado. Beneficial precipitation also prompted improving drought conditions across north-central and northeastern Colorado. A decrease in the spatial coverage of extreme (D3) drought was made to central Nebraska. 12-month SPI and the long-term blend support the continued widespread severe (D2) to exceptional (D4) drought coverage for the central Plains. Norfolk, Nebraska, with a period of record dating back to 1888, had its driest year on record in 2022…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 3, 2023.


A long-term drought, dating back to the 2019-2020 winter, continues across California, the Great Basin, and parts of the Pacific Northwest. One-category improvements to severe (D2), extreme (D3), and exceptional (D4) drought made this week in California, Nevada, and Utah balanced recent heavy precipitation with 24 to 36-month SPIs. As of January 4, snow water equivalent (SWE) is running 133, 182, and 205 percent of normal for the Northern, Central, and Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, respectively. Water-year-to-date (WYTD) precipitation, valid since October 1, 2022, has averaged more than 150 percent of normal across central California. Despite this favorable start to the wet season across California, a number of major water supply reservoirs remain below 60 percent of their historical average. The Trinity reservoir in northern California was only 38 percent of average, as of January 3. The lowest 36-month SPIs (< -2) are focused across northern California and south-central Oregon. In addition, WYTD precipitation remains below-normal across northwestern California despite the heavy precipitation at the end of December 2022. Elsewhere, across northwestern Oregon and western Washington, improvements were necessary after above-normal precipitation this past week and the short-term drought impact was discontinued given the recent wetness. Near and to the east of Seattle, 28-day streamflows remain below the 20th percentile, supporting moderate (D1) drought. Abnormal dryness (D0) was maintained for the Olympic Peninsula where SWE is running below-normal. A mix of small improvements and degradations were made to Montana based on SPI/SPEI at various time scales and current snowpack…


Widespread heavy rainfall (2 to 6 inches) resulted in a broad 1-category improvement to the lower Mississippi Valley and eastern Texas, which makes much of these areas drought-free. Degradations made to central and southern Texas were based on SPI at various time scales and 28-day streamflow. Following a dry week, much of Oklahoma and northwestern Texas remain designated with severe (D2) to exceptional (D4) drought…

Looking Ahead

During the next five days (January 5-9), enhanced onshore flow is forecast to bring additional heavy rain and high-elevation snow to California and the Pacific Northwest. According to the Weather Prediction Center, the heaviest amounts (more than 7 inches, liquid equivalent) are forecast across the coastal ranges of northern California and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Periods of snow may spread inland over the Great Basin and central Rockies. Light to moderate rainfall is expected to accompany a low pressure system as it tracks across the lower Mississippi Valley. Elsewhere for the central and eastern U.S., little or no precipitation is forecast.

The Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 day outlook (valid Jan 10-14) depicts a persistent pattern with enhanced onshore flow affecting the West Coast. Probabilities exceed 70 percent for above-normal precipitation throughout much of California with increased probabilities for above-normal precipitation forecast for the West and central Great Plains. Above-normal precipitation is also favored for much of the East. Below-normal precipitation is slightly favored for much of Texas, the northern high Plains, and Great Lakes. The long duration of Pacific flow and persistent pattern continues to increase chances for above-normal temperatures for nearly all of the contiguous U.S.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 3, 2023.

Just for grins here’s a gallery of early January US Drought Monitor maps for the past few years.

Can the West save the #ColoradoRiver before it’s too late? Here are 8 possible solutions — The #Denver Post #COriver #aridification

A coiled distillation membrane system for desalinating hypersaline brine. Rolling the system into a coil demonstrated the possibility of adopting a common space-saving, water-filtration format. (Photo by Kuichang Zuo/Rice University)

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


The gist: The Pacific Ocean has more than enough water to supplement whatever the Colorado River has lost. But, as it is, ocean water is not safe to drink, nor can it be used on crops. Running ocean water through a desalination plant can filter out its dangerously high salt content, bacteria and other impurities to make it safe for use…

The recently opened PUR Water facility in Oceanside turns blackwater into potable water, or toilet to tap as it was once called, by pumping it into the ground then filtering it through a warehouse full of white filtration tubes. The colored pipes represent the different types of water at different stages. his facility in Oceanside, California turns recycled water into potable water by running it through filtration tubes. TED WOOD

Reuse and recycling

The gist: Collect water that’s already been used and use it again

This proposed pipeline divert water from the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and up to the Glen Canyon Dam. Credit: Don Siefkes

Importing water

The gist: If the Colorado River is losing water so fast, why not take water from the places that have it and transport it into the basin that needs it, likely with a system of pipes?


Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

Cloud seeding

The gist: By spraying a chemical compound — typically silver iodide — into certain types of clouds, seeders can agitate super-chilled water particles inside, causing them to freeze and fall to the ground as snow…

The downtown Denver skyline from Arvada. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Managing growth

The gist: The more people, industries and businesses that call the American West their home, the more water those communities will need. Cities and states can encourage current residents to use less water, especially with aspects like water-dependent lawns. And they can require new homes and businesses to ensure they have a water supply before building…

Photo of Crowley County by Jennifer Goodland


The gist: State and federal officials could use huge chunks of now-available money to “buy and dry” farmland, farmers could periodically let their fields lay fallow or they can switch to less water-consumptive crops. Likely, the basin needs a combination of all of these combined with efficiency improvements throughout the industry to save water from the irrigating process…

Wildlife biologist Bill Vetter and Western Rivers Regional Program Manager with Audubon Rockies Abby Burk walk along an irrigation ditch in Grand County. An avian monitoring program aims to learn more about how birds use irrigated agriculture. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Demand management

The gist: Pay people not to use water or to use less. Or hike the price of water to encourage less use…

From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

Native American tribes

The gist: By legally cementing the water rights for the tribes depending on the Colorado River, state and federal governments could begin to lease, buy or otherwise compensate the tribes for their water. In addition, this would give the tribes better access to their own water, which they need to drink, farm and develop their communities.

CRES history Part 7: Next steps? #Colorado is briskly decarbonizing electricity, but huge challenges remain. What is the role for a grassroots group like CRES? — @BigPivots

Click the link to read the article on the the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

In Colorado’s energy transition, some work has advanced at a remarkable pace in the last 15 years. Other aspects are as perplexing now as in 2011 when Dave Bowden interviewed Matt Baker, then a Colorado public utilities commissioner, for a documentary film commemorating CRES’s accomplishments on its 15th anniversary.

Baker described a two-fold challenge. One was to achieve the legislative mandate of getting 30% of electricity from renewables while keeping the cost increase below 2%.

Check that box. In 2021, renewables provided 35% of Colorado’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration, even as costs of wind, solar and batteries continue to decline. And utilities now say they can achieve at least 70% by 2030 (and some aim for 100%).

With its sunny days and its windy prairies, Colorado has resources many states would envy. Plus, it’s nice to have NREL in your midst.

Clean energy technologies can and must ramp up even faster. At one time, the atmospheric pollution could be dismissed as unpleasant but worth the tradeoff. That debate has ended. The science of climate change is clear about the rising risks and unsavory outcomes of continuing this 200-year devotion to burning fossil fuels.

Big, big questions remain, though. Some are no more near resolution than they were in 2011 when Baker, who now directs the public advocates office at the California Public Utilities, identified the “desperate need to modernize the grid,” including the imperative for demand-side management.

Leave that box unchecked. Work is underway, but oh so much remains to be figured out.

For example, how much transmission do we need if we emphasize more dispersed renewable generation? Can we figure out the storage mechanisms to supplement them? Might we need fewer giant power lines from distant wind and solar farms? This debate is simmering, on the verge of boiling.

In buildings, the work is only beginning. Colorado has started, in part nudged by the host of laws adopted in 2021, among them the bill that Meillon had worked on for a decade.

John Avenson took a house with strong fundamentals, most prominently southern exposure, and tweaked it until he was confident that he could stub the natural gas line. Photo/Allen Best

Others had been working on the same issue in a different way. Consider John Avenson. Now retired, he was still working as an engineer at Bell Labs when he began retrofitting his house in Westminster to reduce its use of fossil fuels.

The house had a good foundation. It was built in the early 1980s in a program using designs created in partnership with SERI, the NREL precursor. It was part of a Passive Solar Parade of Homes in 1981. And unlike about 80% of houses in metro Denver according to the calculations of Steve Andrews, it faces south, allowing it to harvest sunshine as needed and minimizing the need for imported energy.

Avenson then tweaked and fussed over how to save energy here and then there. Finally, in 2017, he convinced himself that he no longer needed natural gas. He ordered the line stubbed.

To those who want to follow the same path, Avenson has been generous with his time. He can commonly be seen pitching in on other, mostly behind-the-scene roles, for CRES and affiliated events.

CRES’s membership is full of such individuals, people committed to taking action, whether in their own lives or in making the case why change must occur in our policies.

Graphic credit: The Nature Conservancy

But what about the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere? Can it be mopped up just a bit? Certainly, it’s better to not emit emissions. But we’re cornered now. Focus is growing on ways to return carbon from the atmosphere into the soil. Revised and rewarded agricultural practices may be one way. That will be a component of a major bill in the 2023 Colorado General Assembly climate change docket.

This is also a topic that Larson, since his time in Africa after the Reagan administration short-sheeted the solar laboratory in Golden, has avidly promoted. In 2007, the idea got a name: biochar. It is one technique for restoring carbon to soils. Today, it remains an obtuse idea to most people. It may be useful to remember that a renewables-powered economy sounded weird to many people in 1996, if they thought about it at all.

CRES has been regaining its financial health. “Through disciplined and lean operations, we have been able to slowly grow our annual income to nearly $40,000 a year,” said Eberle, the board president at a 25th anniversary celebration in October. “We have a solid financial base to not only maintain our current programs but consider new opportunities.”

The question lingers for those deeply engaged in CRES about what exactly its role can be and should be.

Always, there are opportunities for informed citizens such as those who are the lifeblood of CRES. Mike Kruger made this point clear in a CRES presentation in October 2022. As the executive director of COSSA, he routinely contacts elected officials and their staff in Washington D.C.

“The same thing happens at the State Capitol,” he said. Two or three phone calls to a state legislator has been enough to bring to their attention a particular issue or even change their vote.

And that takes us to the big, big question: What exactly has CRES achieved in its 26 years?

In this history you have read about a few salient elements:

  • the shove of Xcel into accepting Colorado Green;
  • the passing of Amendment 37, which raised Colorado’s profile nationally and set the stage for the election of Bill Ritter on a platform of stepped-up integration of renewables;
  • the work in recent years to revamp the calculations used in evaluating alternatives to methane.

Teasing out accomplishments, connecting lines directly can be a difficult task. Perhaps instructive might be a sideways glance to other major societal changes. Much has been written about the civil rights movement after World War II that culminated in the landmark federal legislation of the mid-1960s.

There were individuals, most notably the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and, in some contexts, his key lieutenants, John Lewis and Jessie Jackson.

But there were others. Consider the march from Selma to Montgomery. There were strong-willed individuals such as Amelia Boynton Robinson and, at one point in the Selma story, the school children themselves who took up the cause as their parents and other elders hesitated.

Civil rights and the energy transition have differences. The former had a deep moral component that was not yet clearly evident in energy when CRES was founded in 1996. The seriousness of climate change was not at the same level then, although arguably it is now.

Now Colorado has emerged as a national leader in this energy transition. For that, CRES deserves recognition. It’s not a singular success. CRES has had teammates in this. But it can rightfully take credit.

Other installments in this series about the history of CRES:

Part 1: A coming together of minds in Colorado.

Part 2: Why note wind?

Part 3: Why note wind?

Part 4: The path to the governor’s mansion

And also: How Bill Ritter rode wind

Part 5: Growth, a stumble, then new chapters

Part 6: Influence in the Polis years

Or download the whole series in one e-magazine of Big Pivots 64.