Part of the deal Wyoming struck for sending its water down the Colorado River was that state residents would be able to tap electricity generated at Glen Canyon Dam. But that arrangement is becoming less tenable as water levels at Lake Powell required for hydro-power production continue to drop.
Sinjin Eberle, southwest communications director with the group American Rivers, explained in order to be able to generate electricity, Lake Powell can drop no lower than 3,490 feet.
“Figuring out how we’re going to manage this system in the face of a much smaller river is what everybody in the Colorado River Basin, whether you are in Wyoming or California, need to be concerned about,” Eberle said.
Glen Canyon Dam currently generates energy for nearly 6-million households in Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Lake Powell water levels dropped to their lowest point since 1967 last summer, reaching 3,533 feet, and some warn the lake could dip below levels necessary for power generation as early as this spring, and have proposed demolishing the dam to help restore the Colorado River’s health and long-term viability.
If Lake Powell drops below Dead Power to Dead Pool status at 3,370 feet, water would no longer be able to flow through the dam to lower basin states. This year’s higher-than-average snow pack may provide short-term relief, but Eberle said it could take years of above-average precipitation to reverse decades of drought across the region, and added the challenges facing Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam are multi-faceted.
“Water-supply issues from a lingering 23-year drought, with impacts from climate change continuing to exacerbate those drought conditions,” Eberle said. “And then (we have) some of the fastest growing areas of the country demanding more water.”
When the Colorado River Compact was first negotiated in 1922, there were just 475,000 people living in the seven-state basin. Then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover projected that population could swell to two million people over time. But there are now at least 40-million people across the basin that depend on water from the river, Eberle said.
“This framework that was built in 1922 has lasted 100 years, but is also trying to support a system that is many, many times larger than the wildest imaginations of the framers when they built this compact,” he said.
Disclosure: American Rivers contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Click the link to read the post on the NOAA website (Emily Becker):
La Niña—the cool phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern—weakened over the past month, and forecasters expect a transition to neutral conditions in the next couple of months. We’ll check in with the tropical Pacific to see how things are going before continuing the journey into understanding winter daily temperature variability that I started in December’s post.
The sea surface temperature in the Niño-3.4 region in the tropical Pacific came in at 0.75 °C (1.4 ˚F) cooler than the long-term average in January according to ERSSTv5, our most consistent historical dataset.
This is the second month in a row with that the Niño-3.4 anomaly (anomaly = ”difference from the long-term average”) has weakened, but it still exceeds the La Niña threshold of -0.5 °C. The most recent weekly Niño-3.4 anomaly, which comes from the OISST dataset, was just at that threshold, measuring -0.5 °C. (Take a look at Tom’s post for more details on the various datasets we use to track temperatures in the Pacific.)
Weekly measurements tend to bounce around (weather!), while ENSO is a seasonal pattern (climate!). Therefore, we won’t declare La Niña is over the moment the weekly value crosses the threshold—we’ll wait to be sure that the monthly average anomaly is in the neutral range (between -0.5 °C and 0.5 °C). The last time neutral conditions were present was summer 2021.
The atmospheric response to La Niña’s cooler-than-average ocean surface is an amped-up Walker circulation: stronger trade winds, stronger westerly (west-to-east) winds high up in the atmosphere, more rain and clouds than average over the far western Pacific, and drier conditions over the east/central Pacific. All of these characteristics were evident through January, indicating that the atmosphere is still reflecting La Niña.
Okay, okay, so La Niña is still here. But forecasters expect that a change is imminent, with an 85% chance that the February–April period will be neutral. This is based on the consensus of our computer models and bolstered by some physical observations, including the weakening oceanic anomalies at the surface and subsurface.
The subsurface provides a source for the surface. If there were still a lot of cooler water under the surface, we might be more hesitant to conclude that the transition to neutral conditions would happen soon. But as the animation above shows, the cold pool is getting smaller.
But will the neutral conditions we expect for spring precede an El Niño?? Tell us what we really want to know! Currently, El Niño has odds of about 60% for next fall—and after three La Niña winters in a row, it might seem inevitable—but there are some factors that provide uncertainty. There’s our old friend, the spring predictability barrier. Forecasts made in the spring tend to have lower accuracy, at least in part because spring is a time of transition for ENSO (other possible factors are still being explored), making it harder for models to get a grip on what direction things are going.
Also, the wide range of potential outcomes from the models (shown below) tells us that there is still a lot of uncertainty.
Each line in that graph shows a possible scenario for next fall and winter. The scenarios begin to diverge for two main reasons: the differences in how each model simulates certain small-scale physical processes and, for a given model, the very-slightly-different starting input that accounts for the fact that we can never observe the current state of the climate system perfectly. The predictions span from strong El Niño to (gasp!) a 4th-year La Niña. These extreme scenarios are unlikely, though, and the majority of the forecasts are in the neutral to moderate-El Niño range. More on climate models in this post.
In summary: La Niña is waning, and confidence is high that neutral conditions will be in place soon and will last through the spring and early summer. Chances for El Niño next fall are increasing, but we’ll have a better picture as we progress through and past the spring predictability barrier.
Daily temperature variability or bust!
To recap: over the last couple of posts, I’ve been looking into how ENSO affects the range of daily temperatures within a season. When it comes to ENSO impacts, we usually talk about the seasonal average temperature, but—as vividly illustrated by the two extreme cold-air outbreaks in the U.S. this winter—daily temperature is how we experience weather. So I examined the variability or range of daily temperature each winter over 1950–2020 and then checked if the range of variability was different in El Niño winters or La Niña winters compared to neutral winters. Details of my analysis are in the footnotes.
In December, I showed that the range of daily average temperature is wider during La Niña winters than during El Niño winters in nearly all of North America. The only geographic exceptions are the north-central region of the continent, Florida, and southern Mexico, all of which have lower variability during La Niña and higher variability during El Niño winters.
Then, in January, I checked out the average range of daily minimum and maximumtemperatures. It turned out that there is a very wide range of daily minimum temperatures (usually the overnight low temperature) in the center of the continent, with less variability toward the coasts, especially the Southwest. Looking at daily maximums (usually the daytime high), we found that there was less variability overall than with the minimum, except for the subtropical regions.
Breaking down the patterns into ENSO phase, the first thing we can say is that El Niño and La Niña have approximately opposite effects on both daily maximum and daily minimum, much as they did on the average temperature variability I showed in December. Where El Niño reduces variability, La Niña increases it, and vice-versa.
However, things are a little noisier than those average daily patterns were. This is expected; any time you get into more granular data—whether you’re talking about area or time span—your results get noisier. (Another example of this is the weekly vs. monthly sea surface temperature I talked about above.) I’ll make a few quick observations about these maps but leave you to compare them for your hometown or other areas of interest.
Looking first at the maps for La Niña winters, we find that much of the U.S. and Alaska experience an increased range of daily lows. The pattern of La Niña’s impact on the daily high temperature range is somewhat different, with variability decreasing in the northern half of the U.S. and increasing in the Southeast. However, there are some regions where both daily highs and daily lows change the same way during La Niña winters (increased range in the Southeast and in Alaska).
During El Niño, the range of daily low temperature is substantially reduced across most of the U.S. and Alaska. The range of daily highs, however, is slightly expanded or only slightly reduced over the U.S.
That’s all there’s space for this month. What ideas do you have for why these patterns vary the way they do? Let us know in the comments! Then next month, I’ll wrap things up with some explanations and thoughts about ENSO’s impact on daily temperature. Until then, stay cozy!
Details on the analysis:
The maps show the standard deviation of daily maximum or minimum temperature for each winter averaged over all winters 1950–2020 and the averages for La Niña and El Niño winters, as determined by the Oceanic Niño Index.
Daily temperature data: I used Berkeley Earth daily average temperature dataset. It’s also available here.
Years included: 1950–2020. Berkeley Earth is available through near-present, but the data I downloaded ended in 2020. I’ll update with 2021–2022, but I don’t expect the overall results to change.
Programming language: I used Python. Jupyter notebooks available upon request.
Click the link to read the article on The Gunnison Country Times website (Bella Biondini). Here’s an excerpt:
“We can only save the Colorado River system if we act together,” Upper Colorado River Commissioner Becky Mitchell said in a press release. “The CBMA (Consensus-Based Modeling Alternative) approach appropriately distributes the burden across the Basin and provides safeguards for the Tribes, water users, and environmental values in the Upper Basin.”
‘Who’s using all the water?’
Water use by basin has been historically uneven, but dry conditions along the Colorado River have continued to reduce the amount of water available for all users. While each basin is entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet per year under the 1922 compact, only the Lower receives that much. And its use has been steadily increasing. At the same time, approximately 1.5 million acre-feet is lost to evaporation or in transit as it travels to large desert cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas. The Lower Basin gets to keep this bonus, and its total allocation is not charged with the losses. Although Lower Basin users can pull more from large buckets of water upstream like Lake Powell in times of drought, those located at the headwaters of the Colorado River take their shortages directly from Mother Nature. Since 2019, use in the Upper Basin has declined by 22.5%, according to data from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The Upper Basin states have consistently argued that the source of the problem is overconsumption downstream, said John McClow, general counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. During the same time period that use in the Upper Basin declined, use in the Lower Basin increased by 7% — equivalent to approximately 638,000 acre-feet or twice the current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir.
“Who’s using all the water? It isn’t us,” McClow said. “But we have no choice. We can’t decide how much we’re consuming. We can only consume what melts into the rivers.”
Reclamation has committed $125 million to a voluntary consumption reduction program in the Upper Basin through a partnership with the Upper Colorado River Commission. The Commission will select projects for implementation beginning in 2023 — reimbursing selected water users per acre-foot of water saved for the greater system. Exactly how many users will participate is unknown. There’s agreement that the Upper and Lower Basin states must work collectively to address the risk in the Colorado River system, said Executive Director Chuck Cullom.
“There’s also recognition that the Upper Basin activities are only effective if there’s companion action in the lower basin,” Cullom said.