#Drought news (January 26, 2023): Moderate to extreme (D1-D3) drought and abnormal dryness (D0) was contracted in #KS, #Colorado and #WY where #snowpack is above normal and soil moisture conditions are improving

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

Over the past few weeks, a series of atmospheric rivers brought significant amounts of rain and snow across parts of the West leading to improvements in soil moisture, streamflow, reservoirs levels and snowpack. This above-normal precipitation led to abnormal dryness and drought improvements in California, the Pacific Northwest, Great Basin and the central Rockies. Despite these improvements, long-term drought persists across much of the West. In the eastern United States, winter storms brought cooler temperatures and above-normal precipitation from the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast, leading to abnormal dryness and drought improvements in the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast. Meanwhile, persistent dryness led to the expansion of drought in the southern Plains and northern Rockies, while much of the Southern and High Plains regions remain largely unchanged…

West snowpack basin-filled map January 25, 2034 via the NRCS.

High Plains

A half an inch or more of precipitation fell across parts of Kansas, eastern Colorado, southeast Wyoming and Nebraska. Parts of northwest Nebraska, western Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana received less than half an inch of precipitation. Moderate to extreme (D1-D3) drought and abnormal dryness (D0) was contracted in Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming where snowpack is above normal and soil moisture conditions are improving…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 24, 2023.


Half of an inch or more of precipitation fell in the Coastal and Cascade ranges of the Pacific Northwest, and southern Rockies while more southerly parts of the West, from southern Nevada to southern Arizona, received no precipitation. Moderate to severe (D1-D3) drought and abnormal dryness (D0) were trimmed in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. Extreme drought shrank in southern Oregon, Nevada and Utah. Some of the drought contraction was due to drought indicators showing slightly less severe conditions. In California, improvements were made based on multiple weeks of above normal precipitation and improving reservoirs, streamflow and indicators. In the drier areas of the West, severe drought was expanded in western Montana while moderate drought was expanded in eastern New Mexico. In Utah, much of the state has above normal snowpack but few improvements were made this week based on the current issues with groundwater and depleted reservoirs…


Precipitation fell across much of the South, halting most degradations or improvements this week. Up to two inches of precipitation fell from central Louisiana to southern Mississippi while much of Texas and Oklahoma received less than half an inch of rain. Precipitation over parts of southeast Oklahoma and eastern Texas were below normal, resulting in the expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) in this area. Severe (D2) drought and abnormal dryness was expanded in southern Texas in response to below-normal precipitation, declining streamflow and drying soils…

Looking Ahead

The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center has forecasted a winter storm (valid January 25 – January 26) that will track through the eastern Great Lakes overnight. Bands of heavy snow are expected over northern New York and New England. A second area of low pressure will develop over Southern New England and move into the Gulf of Maine by early Thursday where over 10” of snow is forecasted for interior locations. Moving into next week (valid January 28 – February 1), the forecast calls persistently cold temperatures from the northern/central Rockies into the Upper Midwest, while the West will trend colder. the Southeast on the warmer side of normal, especially after the weekend. At 8 – 14 days, the Climate Prediction Center Outlook (valid February 2 – February 8) calls for below-normal temperatures over most of the country except for the Southeast and Alaska. Parts of the Northeast, southern Southwest and central Alaska can expect near-normal temperatures, while parts of the Southeast and western Alaska have the greatest probability of warmer-than-normal temperatures. Most of the U.S. can expect near- to slightly above-normal precipitation with the probability of near-normal precipitation occurring from the northern Plains to the Northeast and from southern California to the southern Plains, including western and southeast Alaska. Southern parts of the Southwest and Alaska have increased odds for below-normal precipitation.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending January 24, 2023.

@DenverWater scientist earns a rare slot on Congressional commission: The commission will recommend steps to reduce #wildfire threats to #water, land and people

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Todd Hartman):

Watershed scientist Madelene McDonald started at Denver Water as an intern while wrapping up graduate school in 2019.

Just four years later, she’s representing the agency — and utilities across the West — as one of just 18 primary nonfederal members appointed to a nationwide commission advising Congress on reducing the threat of wildfire to land, water and communities. 

It’s a big role.

Denver Water’s Madelene McDonald, one of the utility’s watershed scientists, takes part in a U.S. Forest Service prescribed burn near Bailey, Colorado, in 2021. Photo credit: Madelene McDonald.

More than 500 people applied for the federal Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission. Of those, 18, including McDonald, were chosen to team with 11 federal representatives on the commission, a product of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2021. 

McDonald is one of the 18 primary, nonfederal members. There also are an additional 18 members assigned as alternates should primary members be unavailable for a commission vote. 

Their task: To spend a single year developing a list of recommendations for Congress to implement as it grapples with the increasing risk of wildfires amid rising temperatures and drought triggered by climate change.

Join people who are passionate about all things water, at denverwater.org/Careers

The commission has been meeting virtually since late summer. This week, (Wednesday and Thursday) one of the commission’s three in-person meetings will be held at Denver Water’s Operations Complex. 

The first in-person gathering was in Salt Lake City in September. McDonald has been leading organizational efforts for the gathering at Denver Water’s Three Stones building this week. 

One big thing going for McDonald during the commission’s competitive application process: Denver Water has carved out a national reputation for its work protecting water resources from the impacts of wildfire via its From Forests to Faucets partnership. And McDonald also was one of very few utility specialists focused almost solely on addressing wildfire risks to water supplies.

Listen to Denver Water’s watershed scientist Christina Burri talk about why protecting forests protects our water supplies:

Asked her reaction when she learned she had been appointed to the commission, McDonald admitted: “I saved that voicemail for sure,” when she was phoned by federal officials last summer with the news.

She’s modest about the achievement, citing Denver Water’s long and high-profile experience with wildfire impacts as a key factor. She also credits her supervisor Christina Burri, who oversees Denver Water’s From Forests to Faucets partnership, with pushing her to apply for the commission and for Burri’s efforts to work across agencies to promote the importance of watershed protection. 

McDonald said her appointment also suggests there’s a new, wider recognition of the threat wildfire poses to water supplies. 

Madelene McDonald at a Colorado State Forest Service project called “Heavens.” The 2019 project was in the Upper South Platte River watershed near Conifer and inside an area that’s above Denver Water’s Strontia Springs Reservoir. The work was funded by the From Forests to Faucets partnership. Photo credit: Madelene McDonald.

Protecting communities, property and people have long been at the forefront of wildfire risk planning. But Denver Water’s own experiences with fires that threatened water supplies on the South Platte River in the late 1990s and early 2000s, along with threats to water in New Mexico and Arizona, have expanded the thinking on reducing wildfire risk.

“The wildfire community does understand now that water needs to be at the table,” she said. 

The commission faces a tall order in developing wide-ranging recommendations in just a year’s time. 

But McDonald, who calls the commission’s work “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape federal wildfire management policy,” is impressed with the resolve and work ethic of her colleagues. 

“Starting with that first gathering in Salt Lake City, I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a meeting more encouraged that a group of people could tackle such big challenges,” she said. “The collective expertise that’s been assembled is outstanding. I do think this group is probably our best shot at solving some of these systemic barriers to more efficient wildfire policies.”

Denver Water’s watershed scientists hosted Denver Water board members and U.S. Forest Service personnel on a half-day tour of a From Forests to Faucets project south of Bailey on Aug. 26, 2022. Pictured from left: Alison Witheridge, Christina Burri, Denver Water Commissioner Craig Jones, Commissioner Dominique Gómez, Madelene McDonald, Commissioner Tyrone Gant.

McDonald serves on three of the 10 work groups that the commission formed to divide up the workload and said those work groups are moving at a “breakneck pace.”

The commission’s focus, she said, is on “sweeping, impactful actions,” that would provide direction for future legislation out of Congress. The commission will issue its first report on its efforts Jan. 31, when it provides recommendations for improvements to aerial firefighting.

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McDonald, herself, is largely focused on recommendations that will take water supplies into greater account when considering federal approaches to fire prevention and post-fire rehabilitation work. She said even today, some federal policies focus solely on communities and property, without sufficient consideration to wildlife habitat, recreation, and reservoirs and the landscapes that impact them. 

“Ensuring these recommendations take water supplies into greater account is one of my top priorities,” McDonald said. 

With the commission nearing its halfway point, “I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet full of water-specific recommendations.”

Denver Water’s Three Stones building will host two major federal wildfire discussions the week of Jan. 23. 

On Jan. 23-24, the Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group, a federal entity established by President Joe Biden in 2021, will meet for a workshop, along with federal, state and local partners from Colorado and New Mexico. The focus will be on learning from post-fire recovery work in Colorado and New Mexico

On Jan. 25-26, the federal Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, the group described in this TAP story, will hold one of its three in-person meetings slated for the commission’s 12-month project. The commission and its sub-groups meet virtually for most of its work but gather in person to take votes and have broader discussion. 

Denver Water’s Madelene McDonald (right), with the group involved in a U.S. Forest Service prescribed burn near Bailey, Colorado, in 2021. Photo credit: Madelene McDonald.

Importing water to #NewMexico? Challenges are stunning — The Albuquerque Journal #MissouriRiver #RioGrande

Lake Sakakawea location map. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77572471

Click the link to read the guest column on The Albuquerque Journal website (Bruce Thomson). Here’s an excerpt:

Probably the most feasible option for bringing water from the Mississippi River basin would be to transfer water from Lake Sakakawea, a huge lake on the Missouri River in North Dakota, to the middle Rio Grande. The distance from Lake Sakakawea to the middle Rio Grande is approximately 1,000 miles. More importantly, it’s located at an elevation of 1,800 feet above sea level which greatly reduces pumping requirements.

A recent study done by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources suggests that water supply in the middle Rio Grande will decrease by about 30% over the next 50 years. That deficiency is approximately 300,000 acre-feet per year…Transferring 300,000 acre-feet of water from the Missouri River during six months of high flow each year, requires a flow of 830 cubic feet per second, similar to today’s flow in the Rio Grande at Albuquerque. This is far too much water for a pipe – it requires a canal 25 feet wide and eight feet deep. To pump this water, 650,000 horsepower or 500 megawatts of power will be needed. This is roughly half the power generated by a single unit at a nuclear power plant…

Transporting water from North Dakota to New Mexico would involve a canal that passes through or near seven states; North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Bringing water from Louisiana to the Colorado River will require passing through or near Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Each of these states face serious water shortages. It is inconceivable to imagine that each of them won’t demand a proportionate share of water passing over or near their lands.

We must recognize that multistate interbasin transfers quickly become impractical when factoring in the water demands for all participants. The volumes of water in the Missouri River, Atchafalaya River and other North American rivers are large, but they are nowhere near sufficient to meet the demands of the arid West. We simply need to learn to live with what we’ve got, accept the fact that future shortages are inevitable, and then manage this most precious resource wisely and equitably.

Bruce Thomson, Ph.D., P.E., is a research professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and in the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico.

Map of the Mississippi River Basin. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47308146

Discussion ready to roll on #CrystalRiver — #Aspen Daily News

An image of the Crystal River Valley from an EcoFlight mission in August 2022. The view is downvalley, toward Mount Sopris. A group is exploring a federal designation of wild and scenic for the Crystal River in Gunnison and Pitkin counties. Courtesy of Ecoflight

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Daily News website. Here’s an excerpt:

The effort to explore getting a federal designation of wild and scenic for the Crystal River is about to get turned up a notch. The Wild and Scenic Feasibility Collaborative announced Monday it has selected Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and P2 Solutions to facilitate and lead a community engagement and stakeholder process. American Whitewater, a national nonprofit that advocates for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers, will support Wellstone in the administration of its outreach efforts…

Denver-based Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and Loveland-based P2 Solutions were selected for their experience and competence in facilitation and community engagement. Both Jacob Bornstein, founder and principal of Wellstone Collaborative Strategies, and Wendy Lowe, owner of P2 Solutions, have demonstrated exceptional facilitation skills and experience shepherding broad community conversations to successful outcomes, according to a statement from the selection committee, according to an announcement. The principals in the businesses have strong backgrounds in natural resource issues and direct knowledge of the Crystal River…

With a goal of identifying long-lasting river protection, the collaborative envisions the creation of a stakeholder group that would engage in fact finding, identification of overlapping interests and concerns, and a robust discussion of shared goals and strategies. The initial phase of the stakeholder process will bring together a representative cross section of interested individuals to provide informed input; examine, explore and investigate river protection; access and rely on experts in river and riparian health; engage experts to provide factual information relevant to protective designations; agree upon rules of engagement; be a process grounded in the highest integrity and inclusiveness; and result in identification of shared principles for protection of the Crystal River.

New Model Could Help Break Through Inefficiencies of Common #WaterTreatment Systems (Reverse Osmosis) — NREL

Click the link to read the article on the NREL website (Caitlin McDermott-Murphy):

In April 2022, a team of engineers hiked into California’s Sierra Nevada mountains to hunt for snow. Instead, they found mostly bare, dry dirt and only a few of the snow patches that provide one-third of California’s water supply.

In the coming decades, water scarcity and insecurity are likely to intensify across much of the United States. In California, the Sierra Nevadas are expected to lose a staggering 65% of their snowpack over the next century, said Hariswaran (Hari) Sitaraman, a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That loss, plus political, economic, and other challenges, is making it essential for drought-prone states, like California, to tap alternative water sources such as brackish (or salty) waters and agricultural runoff.

And yet, the most common way to treat and reuse nontraditional water supplies is through a process called reverse osmosis, which can be both expensive and energy intensive.

As a water crisis looms, drought-prone states like California must adopt technologies that can treat and recycle alternative sources, like agricultural runoff or seawater. Now, two researchers have used supercomputers to study a common (but expensive and energy-intensive) water treatment method and discovered a way to significantly improve these valuable systems. Photo from Ross Stone, Unsplash

Now, Sitaraman and Ilenia Battiato, two members of the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI) research consortium, have used supercomputers to study reverse osmosis systems as a whole—a first for both the type and scale of reverse osmosis research. With their new technique, the duo also discovered a new system design that could make these technologies about 40% more energy efficient—and therefore more cost-effective—while producing the same amount and quality of clean drinking water.

“Until now, people have been looking at a tiny piece of the entire reverse osmosis module and drawing conclusions from that,” Sitaraman said. “But we looked at the entire thing.” 

The results are published in a new paper in Separation and Purification Technology.

Along with Battiato, an assistant professor of energy science and engineering at Stanford University, Sitaraman created a fluid dynamics solver—a numerical tool that can analyze how fluids, like salty water, flow into a reverse osmosis system, pass through several membrane filters, and come out clean on the other side.

With their solver, Sitaraman and Battiato studied reverse osmosis systems with high precision, enabling them to uncover any snags or inefficiencies. For example, to filter brackish waters, reverse osmosis systems use high pressure to push the water through several membranes, which, like sophisticated coffee filters, block salts and other minerals from passing through. That process cleans the water, but it also creates thin layers of salty buildup on the membranes. And that buildup can affect how well the water flows, potentially reducing the system’s efficiency.

“That thin layer needs to be measured correctly to understand how much pure water you get out of salt water,” Sitaraman said. “If you don’t capture that right, you cannot understand how much it costs to run a reverse osmosis plant.”

A more efficient reverse osmosis system is more cost-effective, too.

Yet, most reverse osmosis plant owners do not have a high-performance computer to replicate Sitaraman and Battiato’s high-fidelity simulations—which so accurately mimic real-life reverse osmosis technologies—to uncover snags in their own systems. So, Sitaraman performed the complex work of creating a simpler model equation that can predict a system’s mass transfer, estimating how much pure water can be filtered out of brackish water. With his model, engineers can now discover how to improve the efficiency (and cost) of their own systems.

“If the economics improve,” Sitaraman said, “then of course reverse osmosis systems will be more widely used. And if they’re more energy efficient, they will contribute less to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.”

Hari Sitaraman and Ilenia Battiato have, for the first time, analyzed an entire reverse osmosis system, like the one seen here, with the greatest precision yet. With their simulations, the duo identified a new structural design that could improve the energy efficiency of these systems by a whopping 40%. Photo from Hari Sitaraman, NREL

That is a huge win, but Sitaraman and Battiato’s tools can benefit far more than reverse osmosis plant owners. Other researchers can build on their work to study the efficiency and cost of all kinds of reverse osmosis filtration technologies beyond those used to treat unconventional water sources. The food industry uses these filters to create highly concentrated fruit juices, more flavorful cheeses, and much more. Aquariums need them to remove harmful chemicals from their waters. And reverse osmosis systems can even extract valuable minerals and other substances that could be used to make cheap fertilizer or fuel.

One huge advantage of high-fidelity simulations, Battiato said, is the ability to study a vast range of reverse osmosis system configurations without investing the time and money required to build and experiment with real-life systems.

“We want the system to correctly capture the physics,” Battiato said, “but we are theoretically not constrained by manufacturing.”

With simulations, the team can quickly explore far more potential designs and home in on the best. That is how Battiato and Sitaraman identified their potentially more effective arrangement of spacers (which are bits within the reverse osmosis system that create turbulence and keep channels open to help water flow through). Their new spacer arrangement not only improves the system’s energy efficiency by 40%, but it also produces the same amount of equally pure water.

Although the duo’s simulations accurately replicate real-life systems, they are still theoretical. Sitaraman hopes another research team will build their design and evaluate how closely the real system matches their models. In the meantime, their higher-resolution (or more precise and comprehensive) simulations could help researchers avoid making inaccurate assumptions about how reverse osmosis systems work and, in so doing, learn how to improve the technologies.

Today, most engineers use trial and error to discover how to improve their reverse osmosis systems. But that process is slow, and water shortages are coming fast. With Battiato and Sitaraman’s simulations, engineers could speed up the development of more efficient and cost-effective technologies, so the country can access unconventional water sources when communities—like drought-stricken western towns—desperately need them.

“Water is a scarce resource,” Battiato said. “I don’t think we can afford to do coarse optimization anymore. We need to save every drop of water that we can.”

Learn more about the National Alliance of Water Innovation and their efforts to secure an affordable, energy-efficient, and resilient water supply for the United States.

The National Alliance of Water Innovation is a public–private partnership that brings together a world-class team of industry and academic partners to examine the critical technical barriers and research needed to radically lower the cost and energy of desalination. The alliance is led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in collaboration with the National Energy Technology Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office.