Click the link to view the graphs on the Eagle River Water website.
Click the link to read the article on the Colorado State University website (Anne Manning):
Becky Bolinger, assistant state climatologist and a drought specialist at CSU, contextualized what this storm did for anticipated snowpack this year, and how this January has compared to previous ones on record (it depends where you look).
SOURCE: What has this latest winter storm meant for snowpack for Colorado and the subsequent drought outlook?
Bolinger: Thanks to an active storm pattern throughout December and January, our statewide snowpack is currently (as of Jan. 18) at 134% of average. With the latest storm numbers still coming in, that number is likely to go up. Statewide, it is very likely that peak snowpack, which usually occurs in early April, will be near or above average. This is great news. Because of this consistent storm activity, we have seen improvements in drought conditions over our Colorado mountains for the past two months.
This latest storm has been very beneficial, particularly for our northern Front Range communities and northeast Colorado. It’s likely we will see improvement in the drought depiction for parts of northeast Colorado over the next week.
Unfortunately, southeast Colorado has been missing out on a lot of events lately, and this latest storm was no exception. Snowpack for the Arkansas basin is currently at 84% of average. It is the only basin below average at this time. The lower elevations of southeast Colorado have seen developing drought conditions over the past few months, with very dry conditions dominating.
SOURCE: Was the heaviness/wetness of the snow that we got anything to write home about?
Bolinger: While some snow totals may be less than some anticipated, this was still a great accumulating event. And the snow was a lot wetter than Coloradans might be used to. Definitely not common for January. Colorado is known for a dry and powdery snow – great for skiing on – especially during the winter months. A general rule-of-thumb meteorologists use is a 10-to-1 ratio – for every 10 inches of snow, you’ll get 1 inch of liquid. But for Colorado, especially near the middle of the snow season (December-February), that ratio tends to be higher. Getting into those warmer spring months of March and April, we expect that ratio to be a bit more representative.
SOURCE: Has this January been unusually snowy compared with previous years on record?
Bolinger: It depends on where in the state you look. For our higher elevations, January is a big time for snow. But for our lower elevations, January tends to be a lower snow total month, taking a back seat behind November, December, February and March. While this storm was hyped, many of our lower elevations haven’t had a lot of snowy days this January. In Fort Collins for example, our average snowfall from Jan. 1-17 is 3.5 inches — and before this storm, we were below average at 2.1 inches. So, this storm will bump us up above average, but it’s not anything spectacular. In northeast Colorado though, there are locations that have seen 10 inches this January so far, when their normal for the entire month is around 4 inches.
It turns out this was one of the biggest January snows for Denver in 30 years. So, while January as a whole hasn’t been incredibly snowy, this storm still stands out.
Click the link to read the article on the IOP website (Daniel J McEvoy and Benjamin J Hatchett). Here’s the abstract:
Throughout the western US snow melted at an alarming rate in April 2021 and by May 1, hydrologic conditions were severely degraded with declining summer water supply forecasts compared to earlier in the winter. The objectives of this study are to (a) quantify the magnitude and climatological context of observed melt rates of snow water equivalent (SWE) and (b) underpin the hydrometeorological drivers during April 2021 based on atmospheric reanalysis and gridded meteorological data. Peak SWE indicated snow drought conditions were widespread (41% of stations between 5th and 20th percentile) but not necessarily extreme (only 9% of stations less than 5th percentile). Here, using observations from the Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) network we found record 7 day snow melt rates (median of −99 mm; ±one standard deviation of 61 mm) occurred at 24% of SNOTEL sites and in all 11 Western states. Strong upper atmospheric ridging that began initially in the north Pacific with eastward propagation by mid-April to the Pacific Northwest Coast led to near-surface conditions across the western US conducive to rapid snow loss. One heat wave occurred inland across the Rockies the first week of April and then later in April, a second heat wave impacted the Cascades and northern California. We find that ripening of the snowpack by both record high surface solar radiation and air temperatures were factors in driving the rapid snow melt. Equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures and the La Niña pattern that peaked in winter along with an eastward propagating and intensifying Madden–Julian Oscillation were likely responsible for driving the placement, strength, and progression of the north Pacific Ridge. This study documents the role of two extreme spring ‘sunny heat wave’ events on snowpack, and the cascading drought impacts which are anticipated to become more frequent in a warming world.
In a building dedicated to all things water is a first-of-its-kind lab dedicated to developing innovative ways to clean and reuse humanity’s most precious resource.
The Water Technology Acceleration Platform (Water TAP) lab is housed in the newly opened Hydro building on the CSU Spur campus. Here, a team of researchers led by CSU Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Sybil Sharvelle will test a variety of water treatment technologies on six different sources.
It’s part of a variety of programming inside Hydro by the One Water Solutions Institute.
The lab’s indoor and outdoor spaces won’t be fully operational until later this spring, but Sharvelle sat down with SOURCE to offer a glimpse of what will happen at Water TAP in the coming months.
SOURCE: What are the six types of water sources that will be used at the lab?
Sharvelle: Those sources are stormwater, graywater, roof runoff, wastewater, river water and water that is actually trucked in from a variety of different sources, which could encompass everything from hydrofracking waste to agricultural runoff to various industrial sources.
Hydro is the only building nationally – and maybe internationally – that has access to this many types of water. This is truly a unique facility, and something that we’ve envisioned for a decade.
The space has been designed to accommodate systems that process nearly 1,000 gallons per day of each source of water.
What happens after all this water gets to the lab?
We have tanks where the water is stored, and can pump it through a variety of different treatment systems. Those systems could include physical and chemical-based systems (e.g., membrane filtrations or ultraviolet treatment) as well as nature-based solutions. We can even test constructed wetlands that actually have plants incorporated in a growth media.
What’s a constructed wetland?
These are a lot like actual wetlands, where we’ll dig out a space for the water in the form of ponds where we grow plants that can be very effective for treatment.
For example, storm runoff from from Hydro’s roof could be collected and diverted into these ponds, and later used for irrigation.
The backyard of the Hydro facility will actually have multiple flexible plots where we can test nature-based solutions.
It’s also unique in that the facility is on the edge of the South Platte River, and we have the ability to test and treat water directly from this source.
Let’s take a bigger picture look at the research that is happening at Water TAP. What types of problems is this trying to solve?
We are trying to make use of local water sources so we can reduce the demand on imported and freshwater sources, like the Colorado River.
We’re figuring out ways to leave water in the environment and instead make use of water sources like stormwater, graywater and roof runoff – all of which are readily available in urban areas.
Of course, different water has different applications, and water used for flushing toilets doesn’t need to undergo the same treatment as water that’s used for drinking.
The whole purpose of the lab is to enable the testing of technology to move technology development and policy forward.
Click the link to read the article on The Greeley Tribune website (Trevor Reid). Here’s an excerpt:
More than 3,500 students are expected to get out of the classroom and into the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area after the area received a grant from the National Park Foundation.
The foundation, the nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, awarded a $26,800 Open OutDoors for Kids grant to the national heritage area as part of the foundation’s Youth Engagement and Education Initiative.
The funding will support the heritage area’s Learning in Our Watershed program, providing scholarships to public, charter, home and online schools for field trips to locations throughout the heritage area. Scholarships are available for all grades, but fourth-grade classrooms from Title I schools receive priority.
On-site field trips for the program include the Poudre Learning Center, the Environmental Learning Center, Centennial Village Museum, the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, the Windsor History Museum and Study Outdoors Learn Outdoors. Learning in Our Watershed has initiatives for learners of all ages.
Turning the tables: reporters covering the Colorado River explain their challenges to Colorado River water usersTurning the tables: reporters covering the Colorado River explain their challenges to Colorado River water users — Arizona Water News
Upper Colorado River Basin states, including Wyoming, are looking for agricultural irrigators, municipalities and other water users interested in a volunteer program that pays them to leave water in streams flowing to the troubled Colorado River.
But with just two weeks left to enroll in the System Conservation Pilot Program, water users still have myriad questions regarding eligibility, how water savings are measured and what participation in the program might mean to their operations.
Given the short timeframe, the Upper Colorado River Commission, and the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, which oversees the program in Wyoming, are urging interested water users to submit project proposals by the Feb. 1 deadline, even if they’re unsure whether their water savings plans qualify.
“We can still take incomplete applications by Feb. 1, and we’ll work with you to complete those, finalize them and get you into the system,” UCRC Deputy Director Sara Larsen said during a public question-and-answer webinar Wednesday.
The UCRC staff, along with state-level water officials, will verify qualifications and otherwise help applicants complete their proposals — post-submission, if necessary — in order to enroll as many participants as possible, according to the commission.
Successful applicants for the 2023 program will be notified by the end of February.
Water conservation rush
The SCPP is one of five short-term strategies that Upper Colorado River Basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico — have offered to help meet a challenge by federal officials to conserve 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water in the over-taxed system this year.
The UCRC announced a call for SCPP proposals Dec. 14 with a filing deadline of Feb. 1.
The quick turn-around stems from intensifying drought conditions that helped drain Lake Powell and Lake Mead — the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River — to historic lows this past summer, threatening water availability for some 40 million people who depend on the river. Interior Department Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo announced drought response actions in May intended to maintain hydropower generation at Powell and Mead, which included taking extra releases from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Wyoming-Utah border.
“More needs to be done as the system reaches critically low water levels,” Trujillo testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in June. “The system is at a tipping point.”
Though Wyoming and its upper basin partners didn’t commit specific water-saving volumes in response to the Interior Department’s call for conserving 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water this year, the UCRC put forth a 5-point plan. The SCPP is the first to be implemented.
“Upper [Colorado River Basin] states have made no commitment with regard to the number of [SCPP] projects or target volumes or anything other than adapting to the interest from willing partners among water users and tribes in the upper basin,” UCRC Executive Director Chuck Collum said during the Wednesday webinar.
Addressing the short turn-around for SCPP proposals, applications don’t “have to be perfect,” Collum said. “But it needs to be in the hopper [by Feb. 1] so we can work with you to refine it.”
The UCRC and Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, however, are not beginning from square one. Wyoming enrolled a couple dozen water users in the program’s initial iteration from 2015 through 2018, and found exponential interest among irrigators — particularly in the upper reaches of the Green River and its tributaries, according to state officials.
How it works
To qualify for the SPCC in Wyoming, a water user must have a valid water right within the Little Snake or Green River basins and demonstrate that that right has been exercised in recent years, according to state officials. Participants are credited only for voluntary reductions of “consumptive use,” which is described as Colorado River-bound water “that can be estimated or measured,” according to the UCRC.
In the case of industrial and municipal water users, consumptive use is generally measured by determining how much water is diverted and not returned to the river system. Water reuse and recycling may qualify, however, according to the UCRC. For agricultural irrigation operations, consumptive use, generally, is measured by determining how much diverted water is consumed by crops.
For example, an irrigator might divert 10 acre-feet of water but 2 acre-feet returns to the system. Water officials would credit the irrigator for volumes of water allowed to flow downstream that would otherwise normally have been consumed.
For now, the UCRC envisions a “fixed term” compensation of $150 per acre-foot of water under the SCPP in 2023, although it may consider higher rates based on circumstances, according to the agency’s request for proposals. The UCRC secured $125 million from the Inflation Reduction Act to support the program — an amount that water officials say is more than enough to cover payments and expenses in 2023.
In the first iteration of the SCPP — from 2015 through 2018 — a total 23,886 acre-feet of water was conserved among 26 projects in Wyoming, according to a report by the upper basin commission. It paid water users a total $4,079,233 — about $171 per-acre foot.
Priority for SCPP proposals in 2023 will be given to “projects that are likely to mitigate impacts of the ongoing drought,” larger volumes of water to be conserved and the ability to verify water savings, according to the request for proposals.
Further details about how the program works in Wyoming and what qualifies can be found on the Colorado River Working Group’s website.
Click the link to read the article on the Reclamation website:
The 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act has had a significant impact on the development and management of water in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The 1956 act authorized construction of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) which allowed for comprehensive development of the water resources of the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) by providing for long-term regulatory storage of water for purposes including, regulating the Colorado River, storing water for beneficial use, allowing Upper Basin States to utilize their Colorado River Compact apportionments, providing for the reclamation of arid lands, control of floods and generation of hydroelectric power. The Colorado River Storage Project is one of the most complex and extensive river resource developments in the world.
There are four initial storage units built as part of the CRSP:
- Wayne N. Aspinall Unit in Colorado (Blue Mesa, Crystal, and Morrow Point Dams),
- Flaming Gorge Unit in Utah,
- Navajo Unit in New Mexico,
- Glen Canyon Unit in Arizona;
and a number participating projects (16 of which have been completed or are in process of completion). The purposes of the CRSP identified in the 1956 act include regulating the flow of the Colorado River, storing water for beneficial consumptive use, providing for reclamation of arid and semi-arid lands, providing flood control, and generating hydropower. The CRSP also provides for recreation and improves conditions for fish and wildlife.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, public concern over the environment resulted in new federal environmental laws. The enactment of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act outlined new requirements for the protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife, and the environment. Administration of these laws has modified the operation of CRSP facilities.
The dams of the CRSP main storage units have a combined live storage capacity of 30.6 million acre-feet and power generation capabilities to provide over five billion kilowatt-hours of energy annually. Glen Canyon Dam is the largest of the CRSP facilities and is the key unit for controlling water releases to the Lower Basin. In 1970, the Criteria for Coordinated Long-Range Operation of Colorado River Reservoirs (Operating Criteria) was established to provide for the coordinated operation of reservoirs in the Upper and Lower basins and set conditions for water releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead. In accordance with the Operating Criteria, an objective release of 8.23 million acre-feet per year is targeted for downstream delivery.
The multipurpose CRSP has not only been integral to the development of the arid West, it has also played a vital sustaining role through extended periods of drought. The many benefits provided by the CRSP are essential to life in the West today.
Click the link to read the guest column on The Denver Post website (John Fielder). Here’s an excerpt:
For 40 years, I have worked as a nature photographer and publisher to promote the protection of ranches, open spaces, and wildlands in Colorado and beyond. Humanity will not survive without the preservation of biodiversity on Earth, and I have been honored to use my photography to influence people and legislation to protect our natural and rural environments. I am humbled that these photos have spurred the passage of the 1992 Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund Initiative (GOCO) and Congress’s Colorado Wilderness Act of 1993 among other land protection projects across this state that I love.
I have decided to donate my life’s work of photography to you, the people of Colorado. As our state’s historical preservation arm, History Colorado will be the repository of this collection of more than 5,000 photos distilled from 200,000 made since 1973. Their digitization and exhibition development is made possible by a grant from the Telluray Foundation.
Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):
Changing climates have started disrupting schedules of almost everything everywhere. As temperatures rise, spring snow in the Rocky Mountains melts earlier. How has this changed the dance between birds and bees, flowers and the trees?
Plenty, according to a new study of research conducted in Colorado during the last half-century, and in far more complex ways than you might think.
Published by the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a scientific journal of papers in life sciences, the study examined the voluminous evidence accumulated by 15 scientists since 1975 at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte. The scientists have studied plants, insects, and birds in the outdoor laboratory amid the forest and meadows at an elevation of about 9,500 feet.
RMBL, pronounced “rumble,” also has a continuous record of temperature and other weather data beginning in 1975. Average summer temperatures at the lab, which is headquartered at the old mining hamlet of Gothic, have increased 0.4 degrees C each decade. Those in autumn rose 0.2 degrees per decade.
Something similar is happening with snowmelt. The date of bare ground has arrived an average of 2.4 days earlier per decade. With this earlier snowmelt, first spring activity advanced significantly across all the species examined except migratory birds. This makes sense because bird migration is determined by cues along their travel from winter grounds farther to the south and not solely by conditions in their breeding grounds in the Gunnison River Basin.
The study found that this shifting climate has not had uniform effects on the plants, insects, and birds that have been studied since Gerald Ford was president. Some interactions, such as those between particular wildflowers and pollinators, may no longer occur. Hummingbirds may no longer arrive while glaciers lilies are in bloom, for example. And, taking cues from the shifting climate, new species may be entering into the mix in different ways.
Rebecca M. Prather, one of four lead authors of the study, compares what has been observed at RMBL to the dining schedule of two people who had habitually gotten together for lunch at a restaurant for a long time. Suppose one of the patrons had a disruption, causing the person to cancel their noon get-togethers. The second person might take up with others, and the one with the disruption might instead arrive in evening.
In the natural world, the warming climate is changing the timing of interactions — or causing missed dates.
Prather explains that a specific flower can rely on a specific pollinator. And if the flower starts flowering before the insect arrives—well, the flower may not be able to reproduce, because it needs that insect to help it accomplish that task.
The study also emphasized the importance of examining which cues are driving a species’ entire distribution of seasonal activity. For example, first date of flowering by a wildflower may not be a good predictor of its peak flowering.
The study yielded some surprises, said Prather, a post-doctoral researcher at Florida State University’s Department of Biological Science who first studied the effects of changing climate on prairie ecosystems in Oklahoma.
Before the data collection began in 2021, she says, researchers assumed the earlier snowmelt in spring and the accompanying warmer temperatures mattered almost entirely in determining how the birds, insects, and plants interact. They do matter, but the study instead found that other things were also at play. For example, precipitation and temperatures from up to 18 months before can alter interactions among actors in the natural world.
“While we didn’t test the mechanisms for why climate in both short and longer time frames matters, we do know that cues can accumulate over time and interact with an organism’s physiological demands,” Prather explains.
“Extended lag times may be more common at high altitudes or latitudes because there is a shorter growing season, or time for organisms to obtain and store energy. An example that we use in the paper is that alpine bistort pre-forms its leaves and inflorescences four years prior to blooming.”
The study was not focused on quantity, such as the number of bees or flowering lilies, but only the timing of their interactions – and, on the flip side, non-interactions.
David Inouye, another of the study’s authors, began spending his summers at Gothic in 1971 studying bumblebees, flies, and hummingbirds, as well as their interactions with the plants that can, in extremely warm years, such as was the case in 2022, flower in the high mountain meadows into October.
Now living in semi-retirement in Paonia after a teaching career at the University of Maryland, Inouye similarly stresses the greater complexity of interactions that the study found. “Individual species do not all respond in the same way,” he says.
For example, migrating hummingbirds might arrive after the flowers, blooming earlier than before, have disappeared. Bumblebees wintering underground might also have jostled timings relative to their vegetative hosts.
“This points to a more complicated picture than we assumed at first,” he says. “It makes it more complicated, but also more interesting. It also points to the need for detailed long-term studies, to tease apart these interactions.”
Why might somebody in Boulder or Durango care about this?
“A lot of people, no matter where they live, have an appreciation for nature and a curiosity about how nature works and curiosity about how things are changing due to climate change,” he says.
“Anybody who spends time outdoors and has done that for a decade or more has a personal understanding that nature is changing. And I think they will also have an appreciation for learning some of the details about how it is changing that we have gained from decades-long studies like ours and with a variety of species.”
Ian Billick, executive director of RMBL, said the study demonstrates how the laboratory is uniquely positioned to provide a systems-level understanding of how ecosystems around the world will respond to a changing climate.
In terms of climate, the lab’s 45 years of data is but a glimpse. Other records go back much further, especially when considering ice cores and coral reefs.
“But from an organismal perspective, this is the gold standard,” he explains. “There are very few organismal studies that go back 50 years.”
Billick also emphasizes the importance of the study at two levels. If not the first such study, it nonetheless provides a “powerful example of how we can start to integrate across individual studies to develop and better predict how species will respond to climate change.”
Second, he says, this study will help climate scientists broaden their understanding of what lies ahead. Today’s climate change models focus on atmospheric conditions. They must also include earth-system models. In other words, they must incorporate what is happening on the ground—and underground, too—and the interaction with the atmosphere.
“Organisms are a huge driver of carbon cycles, and there are strong feedback loops between organisms and carbon/climate,” Billick explains. “We’ve made a lot of progress on climate models abstracting away the organismal component, but bringing biology back into those models will be very important to reducing uncertainty.”
This paper, while not focused on climate models predicting the future, “is a step in harnessing that complexity in the service of more predictive earth-system models,” he says.