Community summit kicks off talks on how best to protect #CrystalRiver: Some say Wild & Scenic is not the only way — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Spring runoff is just beginning in the Crystal River Valley (April 2023). A group of nearly 140 people gathered in Marble Thursday to voice their values and concerns as part of a stakeholder process aimed at exploring protections for the river. Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

Keeping the Crystal River free-flowing with no dams and preserving its scenic qualities, ecosystems and water rights for agriculture were values that nearly all the attendees of a Thursday community summit at the Marble Firehouse agreed on. How best to achieve those goals is another matter.

The summit was organized by the Wild & Scenic Feasibility Collaborative, which is made up of representatives from the town of Marble, Gunnison County, Pitkin County, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and American Whitewater, and was facilitated by staffers from Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and P2 Solutions. The meeting drew nearly 140 people — more than double the number expected — and sent organizers scrambling for more chairs.

The summit kicked off a much-anticipated public stakeholder process aimed at evaluating community interest in pursuing protections for the Crystal River, which flows through the towns of Marble and Redstone, as well as Gunnison and Pitkin counties. In small groups, attendees outlined their most important values, long-term aspirations, biggest concerns and criteria for evaluating management options.

A faction of residents and conservationists, including Pitkin County, is pushing for a federal Wild & Scenic designation, which it says would carry the strongest protections for preserving the river in its current state. Pitkin County, through its Healthy Rivers program, has funded a grassroots campaign by Carbondale-based conservation group Wilderness Workshop to drum up support for Wild & Scenic, and has secured a resolution of support for Wild & Scenic from Carbondale Town Council.

But some say that approach is jumping the gun and that the stakeholder process should include other options for protection without the federal government’s oversight.

Representatives from Pitkin County spoke about threats to the Crystal and the need for Wild & Scenic at a Gunnison Board of County Commissioners work session Tuesday.

“One of the concerns we are having is that the only foregone conclusion is that Wild & Scenic is the only tool,” Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck told them. “It’s going to be tough if people feel like the foregone conclusion is Wild & Scenic.”

Although there may not be imminent, specific threats of dams or diversions on the Crystal, Wild & Scenic proponents say that doesn’t mean there won’t be threats at some point. A hotter, drier future under climate change could push Front Range cities or downstream water users to look to one of the last rivers without a dam or transmountain diversion — a rarity in western Colorado — as a means to quench their thirst.

“Today, there is nobody trying to take water out of the Crystal River basin,” Pitkin County Commissioner Francie Jacober told Gunnison County commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting. “But I don’t have faith the Crystal River or the Roaring Fork or the Gunnison won’t be targeted. I want to do everything we can to protect the Crystal River before the threat is at our doorstep.”

One of the biggest threats of a dam on the Crystal was removed a decade ago when, after a legal battle with Pitkin County, the River District and Rifle-based West Divide Water Conservancy District relinquished water rights tied to a potential reservoir at Placita, just below McClure Pass. In 2012, the River District walked away from rights tied to a second reservoir, Osgood, that would have inundated the town of Redstone.

Pitkin County Healthy Rivers administrator Lisa Tasker, left, and Matt Annabel of Back 40 Stories, write down their most important values about the Crystal River at a community summit in Marble on Thursday. The summit was the kickoff event in a stakeholder process aimed at exploring protections for the river. Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Designation details

The U.S. Forest Service determined in the 1980s that 39 miles of the Crystal River was eligible for designation under the Wild & Scenic River Act, which seeks to preserve rivers with outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, and cultural values in a free-flowing condition.

According to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System Guide for Riverfront Property Owners, one of most important provisions of the act protects rivers “from the harmful effects of project proposals within the river’s bed or banks” and projects that need a federal permit or loan are subject to review under the act.

Any designation would take place upstream of the big agricultural diversions on the lower portion of the river.

There are three categories under a designation: wild, which are sections that are inaccessible except by trail, with shorelines that are primitive; scenic, with shorelines that are largely undeveloped but are accessible by roads in some places; and recreational, which are readily accessible by road or railroad and have development along the shoreline.

The initial Forest Service proposal for the Crystal included all three designations: wild in the upper reaches of the river’s wilderness headwaters; scenic in the middle stretches; and recreational from the town of Marble to the Sweet Jessup canal headgate. Each river with a Wild & Scenic designation has unique legislation written for it that can be customized to address local stakeholders’ values and concerns.

A first attempt at a Wild & Scenic designation around 2012 couldn’t get buy-in from Marble residents or Gunnison County. Suspicions of the federal government still run high for some residents, even as they say they want to see the Crystal protected.

Larry Darien, who owns a ranch on County Road 3, which borders the river, has long been an opponent of Wild & Scenic. But he said he would be in favor of alternate protections. He does not want to see the river dammed or its waters transferred out of the basin and said the summit was a good start at working toward solutions.

“It seems to me like there’s a consensus on what we want and there’s more than one way to get there,” Darien said. “There are other options [besides Wild & Scenic]. I’m not in favor of the federal government helping me with my property.”

Facilitators will bring people together again in September to evaluate what those alternative management options might be. In the meantime, they plan to form a steering committee — on which Darien plans to serve as a representative of private-property owners — to collect input and lead the process.

In addition to county officials and residents, the summit drew people from a wide range of water interests, including influential Boulder water attorney Glenn Porzak; managers from Crystal River Ranch, which has the largest agricultural diversion on the river; representatives of U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican; local business owners; a representative from Colorado Stone Quarries, which operates the Pride of America Mine above Marble; environmentalists; and anglers and kayakers.

Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury was pleased with the high turnout.

“[Wild & Scenic] is what we feel like our constituents have wanted for a long time, but we know that we don’t own the solution by ourselves,” she said. “That’s why we have been willing participants in this process to evaluate what’s going to work best for the community. … There feels like a shared love for the river in this room tonight, and I think that is the most important thing to inspire the good conversations ahead.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is supported in part by a grant from the Pitkin County Healthy Community Fund.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

#ElkRiver peak flow expected to be one of the highest in 53 years — Steamboat Pilot & Today #YampaRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Suzie Romig):

Hydrologists with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center are predicting the fourth-highest peak runoff of the Elk River in the 53 years of available U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge data.

“There is strong potential for the Elk River to crest above flood stage,” said Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist with the forecast center, a federal agency that is part of the National Weather Service.

The only stream gauge on the Elk River is located along County Road 42 west of the Marabou Ranch subdivision and has recorded river flows consistently for 53 years. The water level at the gauge at 11:15 p.m. Thursday showed a peak of 5.5 feet or 2,900 cubic feet per second, or cfs, following significant increases the previous three days. The high water forecast through the next 10 days at the stream gauge is for 6.85 feet or 4,581 cfs on May 4. The river can fluctuate approximately 1,000 cfs from the warmest to the coolest parts of the day, hydrologists say, and the flood level at the gauge is 7.5 feet or 5,916 cfs.

Biden-Harris Administration breaks ground on Boone Reach trunk line of Arkansas Valley Conduit #ArkansasRiver

The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Anna Perea):

Major water infrastructure project funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to provide clean, reliable drinking water to 50,000 Coloradans once completed

PUEBLO, Colo. – The Bureau of Reclamation today broke ground on the Boone Reach trunk line of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), a major infrastructure project under President Biden’s Investing in America agenda that will bring clean, reliable drinking water to 39 communities in southeastern Colorado.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Gary Gold and Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton joined local and Federal leaders at the groundbreaking ceremony where they highlighted the $60 million investment provided through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the project. When completed, the project’s 230 miles of pipeline will deliver as much as 7,500 acre-feet of water annually from Pueblo to Lamar, where water providers in Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties will serve a projected future population of 50,000.

“The results of the historic investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are evident here today as we see this project moving forward,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Gary Gold. “This project will bring a long-term, clean water supply to so many communities in southeastern Colorado.” 

“Through the President’s Investing in America agenda, Reclamation is now well positioned to help advance these important water projects that have been paused for decades,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Our investment in this project, dedicated by President Kennedy more than 60 years ago, will provide the path forward for safe drinking water to so many residents of this area.”

“This long-awaited project is a vital step forward for the Arkansas Valley and shows what can be accomplished through a strong coalition of federal, state, and local partnerships,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager.

“Generations of people of the Lower Arkansas Valley have waited for the AVC for more than 60 years, and now with construction starting, we are seeing the realization of that dream,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “This is the culmination of years of determination on the part of Reclamation, the District and the AVC participants to get this job done.”

“This is a truly monumental achievement and marks the culmination of decades of hard work, dedication, and collaboration by those who have devoted their lives to the business of water,” said Seth Clayton, executive director of Pueblo Water. “Pueblo Water is proud to be an integral participant in this important time in history.”

The Arkansas Valley Conduit was part of the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, and its construction represents the completion of the project. Once complete the project will replace current groundwater sources contaminated with radionuclides and help communities comply with Environmental Protection Act drinking water regulations. The connection point for AVC is at the east end of Pueblo Water’s system, at 36th Lane and U.S. Highway 50, and follows the Arkansas River corridor from Pueblo to Lamar, with spurs to Eads and Crowley County. Reclamation is building the trunk line, while the Southeastern District will build the spur and delivery lines. Estimated total cost is about $600 million.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects over five years to advance drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers, and wildlife. The investment will repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, and complete rural water projects, and protect aquatic ecosystems. The funding for this project is part of the $1.05 billion in Water Storage, Groundwater Storage and Conveyance Projects provided by the Law.  

Michael Bennet, Colorado Senator; Bill Long, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District; Camille Calimlim Touton, Reclamation Commissioner; Rebecca Mitchell, Director Colorado Water Conservation Board stand with pipe for the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Photo credit: Reclamation

Click the link to read “Arkansas Valley Conduit project breaks ground” on The Pueblo Chieftain website (James Bartolo/USA Today). Here’s an excerpt:

Advocates of the Arkansas Valley Conduit celebrated the groundbreaking of the conduit’s Boone Reach 1 trunk line, which will connect Pueblo’s water system to Boone, on Friday, April 28, at Martin Marietta Rich Sand & Gravel east of Pueblo. The trunk line is the first 6-mile piece of the conduit’s planned 230mile project stretching from Pueblo to Lamar and Eads. Once completed, the conduit will send up to 7,500 acrefeet of Pueblo Reservoir water to about 50,000 southeastern Colorado residents. WCA Construction LLC., a Towaoc, Colorado-based company owned by the Ute Tribe, was awarded a $42.9 million contract from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in September 2022 to complete construction of the Boone Reach 1 trunk line.

Communities benefitting from the conduit include communities in eastern Pueblo, Crowley, Otero, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers counties. Drinking water in many of these communities currently contains contaminants like radionuclides and selenium, according to Bill Long, board president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

Estimates for the total cost of the project are between $600 and $700 million, Long said. Project leaders hope to receive upward of $500 million more from the federal government. After receiving $60 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package, the Arkansas Valley Conduit continues to be a competitive project in the fight for future federal funding, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camile Touton.

Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

Reclamation initiates construction on the Arkansas Valley Conduit Boone Reach April 29, 2023

Can a new rule fix the Bureau of Livestock and Mining?: Proposed Public Land Rule’s potential impact isn’t clear — @Land_Desk #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Consider me adequately freaked out. Substack now has an AI image generator, about which I’m pretty damned ambivalent, at best. But I wanted to try it out, so I asked for a picture of a cow grazing in the desert in the style of Georgia O’Keefe. This is what it came up with. On the one hand, no one would ever mistake this for an O’Keefe. On the other hand, it’s not terrible or even obviously generated by a machine. Which worries me (and makes me uncomfortable about including it here, even to question the technology behind it). I did ask it to draw me a picture of Glen Canyon Dam after being blown up. It failed. And then I asked for a dam with a crack down the middle. Still didn’t work. That gives me some hope that the art apocalypse isn’t upon us … yet.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan P. Thompson):

When the Interior Department issued a draft of a new Public Lands Rule, designed to “guide the balanced management of public lands” and put conservation on a par with other uses, like oil and gas drilling, grazing, and mining, I thought I had been transported back in time to 1976. That’s when Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, or FLPMA, which was supposed to elevate conservation and rid the Bureau of Land Management of the well deserved monicker: Bureau of Livestock and Mining.

FLPMA didn’t always do the job it intended: While the BLM as a whole has progressed, many of the agency’s field offices still behave as if it’s the 1950s, prioritizing drilling and grazing above all other uses, regardless of what policies are handed down from Washington.

Given that history, I wondered whether this proposed rule really amounted to more than merely “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” as the Center for Biological Diversity put it. If it was just reiterating FLPMA policies, how could it make any difference on the ground now? I don’t have the answer, but I did dig into the rule and looked at some of the details in a recent High Country News column.

To sum it up, the rule would elevate conservation by:

Vernal pools form in winter and spring and support many types of animals and plants. Photo credit BLM.
  • … applying land health standards and guidelines to all BLM-managed public lands and uses; current BLM policy limits their application to grazing authorizations. The problem is that the agency is doing a piss-poor job applying land health standards to rangelands. So how can we expect them to do any better with other lands?
  • … making conservation leases available to entities that seek to restore public lands or provide mitigation for a particular action. A nonprofit could lease a parcel, pay rent, and post a reclamation bond to do riparian area restoration, for example, or a solar company might lease a parcel to do some land-healing to offset its impacts to other public land.
  • … amending the existing Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) regulations to emphasize the areas as the primary designation for protecting important natural, cultural, and scenic resources and contributing to ecosystem resilience by protecting intact landscapes and preserving habitat connectivity. It would also establish a more comprehensive framework for identifying and evaluating these areas.

The biggest change, then, appears to be the conservation leases. But it’s still unclear exactly how they’d work or what could be done with them. In theory, someone could lease out a parcel for conservation, thereby precluding grazing or oil and gas leasing from the parcel during the lease. But what happens when the lease term ends? Josh Osher, Public Policy Director for the Western Watersheds Project, pointed out that an organization could use the leases to, say, do a regenerative grazing project, and cynically use it to lock the land into a grazing lease afterwards. He also noted that even though oil and gas drilling and mining are restricted in ACECs, grazing typically is not.

This only reinforced my skepticism about the rule. But then I started looking at industry’s reactions to the rule and I have to say, I was a little taken aback.

Sen. John Barrasso, the Wyoming Republican, compared the bureaucrats who wrote the “decree” to the tree-spiking eco-warriors of the 1980s, while the ranching industry feels “betrayed” by what it says is a plan to “eradicate” grazing on public lands. Say, what?!

Chris Saeger, an advocate and consultant from Montana, gathered some more responses and sent them my way, including these gems:

“‘[T]he administration is making a policy shift of gigantic proportions with this proposed rule by giving conservation equal footing to all other public land uses.’ – Mallori Miller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America

“‘The rule would make conservation one of the uses on equal footing as the uses listed above [grazing, water rights, oil, gas and mining].’ – Rancher Rachel Gabel 

“‘[W]hen BLM is analyzing projects and uses because they are mandated as a multiple use public land agency, conservation will now have as much standing as recreation, grazing, mining and other uses as outlined in FLPMA.’ – Blue Ribbon Coalition Action Alert email, titled: Proposed BLM Rule to Devastate Public Land Access

“‘The Biden Administration has proposed significant changes to how federal lands are managed…with the department to issue conservation leases on par with grazing and mineral leases.’ – Rancher Cat Urbigkit

And then there’s the reaction by Rep. Matt Rosendale, a Montana Republican. In a hearing, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the rule would put conservation on equal footing with other uses. Rosendale responded, rather testily: “Well, they’re not supposed to be on equal footing.”

Wow. Just wow. See, here I thought that conservation already was on an equal footing with drilling, mining, and so forth, as mandated by FLPMA. Obviously I was wrong! All of these folks are acknowledging that, in fact, the agency has been kowtowing to the oil and gas, drilling, and livestock industries all along while shirking their duties as stewards of the public’s land.

In that case, this new rule might actually have some real on the ground impacts. That is if the Biden administration implements it quickly enough to insulate it from future efforts to rescind it. And if they can ensure that the new policies are implemented on a field-office level rather than sitting around moldering on some Washington D.C. desk.

Piñon pine (Juniperus_occidentalis). Photo credit: Wikimedia
Piñon-Juniper Watch

Speaking of the BLM, rules, and conservation … Back in 2020, the Trump administration (of course) quietly enacted the “Pinyon-Juniper Categorical Exclusion Rule.” It allowed the BLM to cut, hydro-mow, chain, or otherwise mechanically raze up to 10,000 acres of piñon-juniper forests without environmental review or even notifying the public. The BLM justifies these types of projects by saying they allow sagebrush to establish itself and benefit mule deer or sage grouse. They also can convert forest land into foraging land for cows.

Of course, these brutal and violent projects destroy not only the targeted trees, but also all of the other vegetation and the cryptobiotic soils. And they harm other species that rely on them for habitat, such as the piñon jay.

That’s why Defenders of Wildlife and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance challenged the rule in court, which in turn led to a court-approved settlement: The BLM has agreed to drop the rule. That won’t stop the projects altogether, but it will require the agency to analyze the environmental impacts before proceeding. It’s an important victory. But, to the Biden administration’s credit, it actually directed the agency to discontinue the use of the categorical exclusion rule in December.

Land Exchanges serve the wealthy — Writers on the Range

Old growth Ponderosa pine on public land that would be transferred to private ownership in proposed Valle Seco land trade, photo courtesy of Colorado Wild Public Lands

Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the Range website (Erica Rosenberg):

In 2017, the public lost 1,470 acres of wilderness-quality land at the base of Mount Sopris near Aspen, Colorado.

For decades, people had hiked and hunted on the Sopris land, yet the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) handed it over to Leslie Wexner, former CEO of Victoria’s Secret and other corporations, at his request. The so-called “equivalent terrain” he offered in return was no match for access to trails at the base of the 13,000-foot mountain.

Carbondale is a town of 6,500 people located 30 miles west of Aspen. That’s Mt. Sopris, Colorado’s loveliest mountain, in the background. Photo source/Wikipedia – See more at:

This ill-considered trade reveals how land management agencies pander to wealthy interests, do not properly value public land, and restrict opportunities for public involvement. It’s an ongoing scandal in Colorado that receives little attention.

Since 2000, the BLM and the Forest Service have proposed over 150 land exchanges in Colorado. Last year alone, the agencies proposed to trade more than 4,500 acres of public lands, worth over $9 million, in three major Colorado land exchanges.

Land to be traded away includes precious riverfront, lands recommended for Wild and Scenic River designation, and hundreds of acres of prime hunting and recreation territory.

Open meadows and mixed forest are common among the parcels Denver Water is conveying to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Public land exchanges can be a useful tool. Federal agencies use them to consolidate land holdings, improve public access, reduce management costs and protect watersheds.

By law, the trades must serve the public interest, and the land exchanged must be of equal value. The agencies are supposed to analyze, disclose and mitigate the impacts of relinquishing public lands in exchanges, and also solicit public input on whether a trade makes sense.

But here in Colorado — and elsewhere around the country — this management tool has been usurped by powerful players who aim to turn valuable public lands into private playgrounds. 

Often, the deals proposed sound good in terms of acreage. In the Valle Seco Exchange, for example, the San Juan National Forest in southern Colorado would trade 380 acres for 880 acres of prime game-wintering habitat. But the trade mostly benefits the landowners pushing the exchange.

Public lands for trade in the Valle Seco Exchange include river access, corridors considered for Wild and Scenic River designation, wetlands, sensitive species habitat, and significant cultural sites.

Alarmingly, the Valle Seco exchange also includes more than 175 acres of a Colorado Roadless Area, a designation meant to block development of high-quality land. The exchange would allow a neighboring landowner to consolidate those 380 acres with his 3,000-plus acre ranch, opening the door to development.

The Valle Seco Exchange follows a long-standing pattern. “Exchange facilitators,” people familiar with the land-acquisition wish lists of agencies, help private landowners buy lands the agencies want. The landowners then threaten to manage and develop those lands in ways that undermine their integrity.

The Valle Seco proponents did this by closing formerly open gates and threatening to fence the 880 acres for a domestic elk farm and hunting lodge. This is blackmail on the range. 

While catering to these private interests, the agencies suppress public scrutiny by refusing to share land appraisals and other documents with the public until afterthe public process has closed — or too late in the process to make it meaningful.

The proponents and their consultants have ready access to these documents, yet the public, which owns the land, does not. In Valle Seco, appraisals were completed in August 2020, but they weren’t released to the public until December 2021, just a few weeks before the scheduled decision date for the exchange. Advocates managed to pry the appraisals out of the agency only after submitting multiple Freedom of Information Act requests and taking legal action.

In another deal, the Blue Valley Exchange, the BLM also withheld drafts of the management agreements until just before releasing the final decision. This is hardly an open and fair public process. 

The federal government presents what are, in effect, done deals. Development plans and appraisals are undisclosed and comment periods hindered. By prioritizing the proponents’ desires over public interests and process, the land management agencies abdicate their responsibilities.

Erica Rosenberg. Photo credit: Writers on the Range

The result is that too many land trades are nothing less than a betrayal of the public trust as the public loses access to its land as well as the land itself.

Erica Rosenberg is a contributor to Writers on the Range,, an independent nonprofit that works to spur lively conversation about Western issues. She is on the board of Colorado Wild Public Lands, a nonprofit in the town of Basalt that monitors land exchanges around the state.

2023 #COleg: ‘It’s water vapor’: More GOP climate denial precedes Colorado greenhouse gas bill’s passage: SB-16 would set net-zero target, boost clean energy and carbon-capture efforts — #Colorado Newsline

Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Chase Woodruff):

In what’s become an annual tradition in the Colorado General Assembly, Democrats in the majority are spending the final weeks of the legislative session passing bills aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while their Republican colleagues persist in outright denial of the scientific consensus on manmade climate change.

Senate Bill 23-16, which would set new targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts while boosting clean energy and carbon-capture efforts, was given initial approval by the House on Wednesday evening — but not before Colorado GOP lawmakers reiterated their rejection of mainstream climate science.

In a nearly hourlong speech in opposition to the bill, state Rep. Ken DeGraaf, a Colorado Springs Republican, offered a grab-bag of debunked climate-denial talking points and half-truths, rehashing decades-old myths as he described concern over carbon dioxide’s role in global warming as “hysteria around a trace gas.”

“Carbon dioxide, god bless it — great for growing plants, but does really very little in terms of greenhouse gas,” DeGraaf said in his speech on the House floor.

It was the latest in a long series of reminders that GOP lawmakers remain committed to all-out climate misinformation as they battle Colorado Democrats’ clean-energy agenda at the Capitol.

“The crisis that we have is to spend as much money on the green energy cartel before everybody becomes aware that it’s not a real threat,” added DeGraaf.

In 2021, GOP Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert said of “so-called climate change” during a floor debate on an environmental justice bill that he did “not believe that it is man-made.” State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, who lost narrowly last year to Democratic U.S. Rep. Yadira Caraveo in the race for the new 8th Congressional District, falsely claimed during her campaign that “to what extent any warming is a result of man-caused activity is unknown.”

In fact, climate scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that the Earth has warmed at an unprecedented rate since 1850, and the evidence of human influence is “unequivocal.”

“Evidence is overwhelming that the climate has indeed changed since the pre-industrial era and that human activities are the principal cause of that change,” concluded the IPCC’s 2021 report on the physical science of climate change, which was authored by 234 scientists from around the world and compiled the results of thousands of studies conducted over many decades.

SB-16, which had been poised to win final passage in the full House this week, would commit Colorado for the first time to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, revising the state’s current target up from a 90% reduction by that date, and setting other interim emissions goals.

“We know we need to get to 100%,” said state Rep. Karen McCormick, a Longmont Democrat, one of the bill’s House sponsors, during Wednesday’s floor debate. “We really need to set these goals out there, so that we’re aiming to get them, and having interim targets makes sure we’re on track.”

Denialist talking points

Telling his fellow lawmakers that he had “been studying this stuff for a long time,” DeGraaf read at length from printed material authored by prominent climate deniers and skeptics, including Judith Curry and Howard Hayden. Curry is a former atmospheric scientist with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hayden, a Pueblo resident, is a retired physics professor who has self-published a number of books denying the science of climate change, including “Bass Ackwards: How Climate Alarmists Confuse Cause with Effect.”

DeGraaf began his speech with one of the most frequently repeated talking points in climate-denial circles.

“Fifty years ago we were talking about global cooling, and now we’re talking about climate change,” he claimed.

2008 paper published by the American Meteorological Society called the past existence of a global-cooling consensus a “pervasive myth.” The hypothesis attracted only scant news coverage in the 1970s and was not at any point embraced by the scientific community at large. One of the most widely circulated claims involving global cooling — a purported Time Magazine cover warning of a “coming Ice Age” — is a hoax.

State Rep. Richard Holtorf, a Akron Republican, joined DeGraaf in denouncing the bill and repeating the global-cooling myth, arguing that “none of these predictions will come true, as they haven’t come true in the last 50 years.”

DeGraaf also argued that variations in solar radiation, rather than greenhouse gas emissions, have been responsible for the global temperature increases recorded over the last two centuries. In fact, the IPCC concluded again in 2021 that there has been “negligible long-term influence from solar activity” since 1900.

And DeGraaf’s repeated claim that global warming is driven by water vapor, rather than carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by human activity, is another assertion that has been widely shared among conservatives on social media and consistently debunked by climate scientists.

“Without the water vapor, global warming is a nonstarter,” DeGraaf said. “That’s the actual climate science. It’s water vapor.”

Water vapor makes up about 4% of the Earth’s atmosphere. Because it stores heat, it can be considered a greenhouse gas, and the potential for feedback loops caused by rising temperatures and a wetter atmosphere is an important factor in the climate models used by scientists to make long-term global warming projections.

But climatologists say there is overwhelming evidence that the “radiative forcing” of rising atmospheric concentrations of gases like carbon dioxide and methane is the primary driver of global warming. A researcher told AFP in 2021 that water vapor’s categorization as a greenhouse gas is “a great example of the practice of trying to confuse the public with information that is true but totally irrelevant.”

In February, DeGraaf, a first-term lawmaker who was elected in House District 22 last year, introduced a bill that would have “prohibit(ed) the classification of carbon dioxide as a pollutant” in Colorado. The bill was defeated in the House Energy and Environment Committee, with all three of the committee’s Republicans voting in favor.

Rising global temperatures are the main driver of an ongoing “megadrought” in the Colorado River Basin more severe than any dry spell the region has experienced in at least the last 1,200 years, scientists say. Warmer, drier conditions have increased wildfire risk, and all of the 20 largest wildfires in Colorado history have occurred since 2000.

SB-16 contains provisions aimed at boosting decarbonization efforts across a wide variety of industries, including tax incentives for electric-powered lawn equipment; measures to accelerate the construction of electricity transmission infrastructure and rooftop solar installation; stricter requirements on large insurance companies to assess climate risk; and more authority for state regulators to oversee carbon-capture projects.

“There’s probably something in here for everyone,” McCormick said Wednesday. “If you look, you’re going to find a section that you like.”

If passed by the House, the amended SB-16 would need to return to the Senate for a final vote before heading to Gov. Jared Polis for his signature.

The Global Monitoring Division of NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory has measured carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases for several decades at a globally distributed network of air sampling sites. Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

The very bad math behind the #ColoradoRiver crisis — Grist #COriver #aridification

Arizona Navy photo via California State University

Click the link to read the article on the Grist website (Jake Bittle & Daniel Penner):

California and Arizona are currently fighting each other over water from the Colorado River. But this isn’t new — it’s actually been going on for over 100 years. At one point, the states literally went to war about it. The problem comes down to some really bad math from 1922.

To some extent, the crisis can be blamed on climate change. The West is in the middle of a once-in-a-millennium drought. As temperatures rise, the snow pack that feeds the river has gotten much thinner, and the river’s main reservoirs have all but dried up. 

But that’s only part of the story: The United States has also been overusing the Colorado for more than a century thanks to a byzantine set of flawed laws and lawsuits known as the “Law of the River.” This legal tangle not only has been over-allocating the river, it also has been driving conflict in the region, especially between the two biggest users, California and Arizona, which are both trying to secure as much water as they can. And now, as a massive drought grips the region, the law of the river has reached a breaking point.

The Colorado River begins in the Rocky Mountains and winds its way southwest, twisting through the Grand Canyon and entering the Pacific at Baja California. In the late 19th century, as white settlers arrived in the West, they started diverting water from the mighty river to irrigate their crops, funneling it through dirt canals. For a little while, this worked really well. The canals made an industrial farming mecca out of desert that early colonial settlers viewed as “worthless.”

Even back then, the biggest water users were Arizona and California, which took so much water that they started to drain the river farther upstream, literally drying it out. According to American legal precedent, whoever uses a body of water first usually has the strongest rights to it. But other states soon cried foul: California was growing much faster than they were, and they believed it wasn’t fair that the Golden State should suck up all the water before they got a chance to develop. 

September 21, 1923, 9:00 a.m. — Colorado River at Lees Ferry. From right bank on line with Klohr’s house and gage house. Old “Dugway” or inclined gage shows to left of gage house. Gage height 11.05′, discharge 27,000 cfs. Lens 16, time =1/25, camera supported. Photo by G.C. Stevens of the USGS. Source: 1921-1937 Surface Water Records File, Colorado R. @ Lees Ferry, Laguna Niguel Federal Records Center, Accession No. 57-78-0006, Box 2 of 2 , Location No. MB053635.

In 1922, the states came to a solution — kind of. At the suggestion of a newly appointed cabinet secretary named Herbert Hoover, the states agreed to split the river into two sections, drawing an arbitrary line halfway along its length at a spot called Lee Ferry. The states on the “upper” part of the river — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico — agreed to send the states on the “lower” end of the river — Arizona, California, and Nevada — what they thought was half the river’s overall flow, 7.5 million acre-feet of water each year. (An acre-foot is enough to cover an acre of land in a foot of water, about enough to supply two homes for a year.)

This agreement was supposed to prevent any one state from drying up the river before the other states could use it. The Upper Basin states got half and the Lower Basin states got half. Simple.

But there were some serious flaws to this plan. 

First, the Law of the River overestimated how much water flowed through the river in the first place. The states’ numbers were based on primitive data from stream gauges placed at arbitrary points on the waterway, and they took samples during an unusually wet decade, leading to a very optimistic estimate of the river’s size. The river would only average about 14 million acre-feet annually, but the agreement handed out 15 million to the seven states.

While the states weren’t able to immediately use all this water, it set in motion the underlying problem today: The states have the legal right to use more water than actually exists in the river.

And you’ll notice that the Colorado River doesn’t end in the U.S. — It ends in Mexico. Initially, the Law of the River just straight-up ignored that fact. Decades later, Mexico was squeezed into the agreement and promised 1.5 million acre-feet, further straining the already over-allocated river.

On top of all of this, Indigenous tribes that had depended on the river for centuries were now forced to compete with states for their share of water, leading to these drawn-out lawsuits that took decades to resolve.

But in the short-term, Arizona and California struck it rich — they were promised the largest share of Colorado River water and should have been primed for growth. For Arizona, though, there was a catch: The state couldn’t put their water to use.

The state’s biggest population centers in Phoenix and Tucson were hundreds of miles away from the river itself, and it would take a 300-mile canal to bring the water across the desert — something the state couldn’t afford to build on its own. Larger and wealthier California was able to build all the canals and pumps it needed to divert river water to farms and cities. This allowed it to gulp up both its share and the extra Lower Basin water that Arizona couldn’t access. California’s powerful congressional delegation lobbied to stop Congress from approving Arizona’s canal project, as the state wanted to keep the Colorado River to itself.

Arizona was furious. And so, in 1934, Arizona and California went to war — literally. Arizona tried to block California from building new dams to take more water from the river, using “military” force when necessary.

Arizona sent troops from its National Guard to stop California from building the Parker Dam. It delayed construction, but not for very long because their boat got tangled up in some electrical wire and had to be rescued.

For the next 30 years, Arizona and California fought about whether Arizona should be able to build that canal. They also sued each other before the Supreme Court no fewer than 10 times, including one 1963 case that set the record for the longest oral arguments in the history of the modern court, taking 16 hours over four days and involving 106 witnesses.

That 1963 case also made some pretty big assumptions: Even though the states now knew that the initial estimates were too high, the court-appointed expert said he was “morally certain that neither in my lifetime, nor in your lifetime, nor the lifetime of your children and great-grandchildren will there be an inadequate supply of water” from the river for California’s cities.

A few years after that court case, in 1968, Arizona finally struck a fateful bargain to ensure it could claim its share of the river. California gave up its anti-canal campaign and the federal government agreed to pay for the construction of the 300-mile project that would bring Colorado River water across the desert to Phoenix. This move helped save Arizona’s cotton-farming industry and enabled Phoenix to eventually grow into the fifth-largest city in the country. It seemed like a success — Arizona was flourishing! 

But in exchange for the canal, the state made a fateful concession: If the reservoirs at Lake Powell and Lake Mead were to run low, Arizona, and not California, would be the first state to make cuts. It was a decision the state’s leaders would come to regret.

US Drought Monitor June 25, 2002.

In the early 2000s, as a massive drought gripped the Southwest, water levels in the river’s two key reservoirs dropped. Now that both Arizona and California were fully using their shares of the river, combined with the other states’ usage, there suddenly wasn’t enough melting snow to fill the reservoirs back up. A shrinking Colorado River couldn’t keep up with a century of rising demand.

Today, more than 20 years into the drought, Arizona has had to bear the biggest burden. Thanks to its earlier compromise decades earlier, the state had “junior water rights,” meaning it took the first cuts as part of the drought plan. In 2021, those cuts officially went into effect, drying out cotton and alfalfa fields across the central part of the state until much of the landscape turned brown. Still, those cuts haven’t been enough.

This century, the river is only averaging around 12.4 million acre-feet. The Upper Basin states technically have the rights to 7.5 million acre-feet, but they only use about half of that. In the Lower Basin, meanwhile, Arizona and California are gobbling up around three and four million acre-feet respectively. In total, this overdraft has caused reservoir levels to fall. It’s going to take a lot more than a few rainy seasons to fix this problem.

So, for the first time since the Law of the River was written, the federal government has had to step in, ordering the states to reduce total water usage on the river, this time by nearly a third. That’s a jaw-dropping demand!

These new cuts will extend to Arizona, California, and beyond, drying up thousands more acres of farmland, not to mention cities around Phoenix and Los Angeles that rely on the Colorado River. These new restrictions will also put increased pressure on the many tribes that have used the Colorado River for centuries: Tribes that have water rights will be pressured to sell or lease them to other water users, and tribes without recognized water rights will face increased opposition as they try to secure their share.

And Arizona and California are still fighting over who should bear the biggest burden of these new cuts. California has insisted that the Law of the River requires Arizona to shoulder the pain, and from a legal standpoint they may be right. But Arizona says further cuts would be disastrous for the state’s economy, and the other five river states are taking its side.

Either way, the painful cuts have to come from somewhere, because the Law of the River was built on math that doesn’t add up.

Albuquerque’s aquifer recovery seems to be returning — John Fleck (InkStain) #groundwater

Albuquerque’s aquifer recovery continues

Click the link to read the article on the InkStain website (John Fleck):

After a couple of years of setback, the aquifer underneath the University of New Mexico neighorhood is rising again.

The spring measurement shows that it’s risen three feet since last year around this time.

The annual variability (the graph’s ups and downs) are the result of regional groundwater pumping for our municipal supply – more pumping in summer, less in winter. It’s fun to see how the regional aquifer responds, like a big bathtub filled with gravel and sand.

The long term upward trend, beginning in 2006-08-ish, is the result of a) significant conservation reducing overall municipal demand, and b) a shift to imported surface water via the San Juan-Chama Project.

The dip in 2020-21 is because we had a badass drought that required us to shift a significant amount of our supply off of that imported surface water and increase our groundwater pumping. The aquifer here dropped five feet from 2021 to 2022, for example.

This is a great example of polycentric governance. Absent a top-down (read state government) regulatory framework, our local water utility, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, has taken it upon itself to serve as a sort of de facto manager of this aquifer – not because it’s our legal responsibility (though there are some legal entanglements with the state water rights regime) but because we, as a community, concluded a number of years ago that it was in our best interest to take care of the aquifer. (Disclosure: I serve on the ABCWUA Technical Customer Advisory Committee.)

This is just one measurement point, because one of my intellectual tricks is to pick a gage (usually a river gage, but also this one for groundwater) and pay attention to it. This is tricky, because what if it’s not representative? But there’s been a lot of work by the USGS and others looking at our groundwater network as a whole, and the trend holds in general in the big, deep aquifer beneath Albuquerque. (One of my other favorite wells, City #2, which goes back to the 1950s, is up 6 inches year-over-year. Another favorite is City #3, which is located at the heart of one of the thick geographies I’m writing about for the new book, and is really close to one of the ABCWUA well fields, which tells another fabulous story as a result, but I’ve got a chapter to finish today so I’ll leave that for another day.)

#Colorado leaders are rallying against a railway project that would carry crude oil along the #ColoradoRiver — Colorado Public Radio #COriver #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Photo shows the Colorado River flanked by fall colors east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Photo credit: USBR

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Tom Hesse). Here’s an excerpt:

The Uinta Basin Railway project would build around 80 miles of train tracks connecting oil production to America’s rail network. That would allow producers to ship crude oil on trains through Colorado to refineries elsewhere in the country. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board and the United States Department of Agriculture have given the project the go-ahead, prompting a letter from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse criticizing the federal review of the project

“First, it focused solely on the Project’s risks in Utah with no evaluation of its potential harm to Colorado, including the risk of a derailment and oil spill in the headwaters of the River”, the March 28 letter read. “Second, this review also failed to include any analysis of the Project’s effect on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. We urge you to conduct a supplemental review to fully account for these potential harms.”


While opponents of the project note the catastrophic consequences of a major spill into the Colorado River, those working to get the rail built say the likelihood of contamination is overstated. That’s because the crude oil is high in paraffin wax content, which means it turns to a solid below about 110 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Keith Heaton, director of the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition in Utah that’s advocating for the rail. 

“The only times that the crude is a liquid is when it is heated and loaded into the railcars and when it is reheated back above the 110 degrees pour point, so it can be unloaded and processed,” Heaton said in an email. “In short, Uinta Basin waxy crude is transported as a solid, not a flammable or hazardous liquid. It does not present an environmental concern if there were a derailment.” 

Luis Zerpa, associate professor at the Colorado School of Mines Petroleum Engineering Department, says those waxy properties have historically been seen as a barrier to shipping that type of oil. 

“So that’s the problem with the waxy oils is they have a lot of these paraffinic molecules or components … that create the petroleum jelly or the candles, that when the temperature decreases it will solidify,” Zerpa said, adding that those properties make it very difficult to move the oil via a pipeline. 

However, what makes the crude oil difficult to ship, should make it easy to clean up — at least in the event of a spill. Heaton says the studies done on the rail estimate less than one derailment a year and, if there was an accident, clean-up would be like “picking up a bunch of candles.” 

“This is the safest and most ecological way to transport material. And the material, the waxy crude that we have in the basin, is a much sought after and superior product in ways when it comes to environmental concerns and those types of things. I guess you could characterize it as a little bit perplexing from time to time that there’s so much opposition to this,” Heaton said in a phone call with CPR News. 

The #YampaRiver was graded for the first time ever. What score did the waterway earn? — Steamboat Pilot & Today #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Yampa River. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Suzie Romig). Here’s an excerpt:

In the first official scorecard of Yampa River system health, the middle section of the Yampa earned an overall score of B. That B means the middle Yampa River from Pump Station boat launch east of Hayden to South Beach about 2 miles south of Craig is a “highly functional river where some stressors are present but in general it remains largely resilient to disturbances and may rely on limited management,” said Jenny Frithsen, environmental program manager with Friends of the Yampa, which is managing the scorecard project. Within the overall score of B as part of the Yampa River Scorecard Project, the middle Yampa earns an A for dissolved oxygen, PH levels and metals in the water, “the only ecological indicators that got an A,” Frithsen reported.

The first results of the long-term scorecard project will be released fully in early May with information available at Data collection started in the middle Yampa in summer 2022, and the overall project will include five river sections.

During summer 2023, data collection will focus on the stretch starting from Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area to the Pump Station boat launch.

The river scorecard is derived via approximately 45 different indicators in and around the Yampa River that fall under three main areas: ecological health and function, river uses and management, and people and community benefits.

“By seeing what areas are a C, D or F, we can now focus on action and how to improve these numbers,” said Lindsey Marlow, executive director for Friends of the Yampa. “We now have a template to start conversations with people in this basin about the health of the river and its ecosystem services.”

Marlow said another key finding that stands out is riverscape connectivity, or a measurement of the ease in which a river can move around such as a connected flood plain and river channel.

“There are areas that score so well at 95% and others that need help at 65%, and now we get to embark on the exciting task of figuring out how to improve floodplain connectivity,” Marlow said.

Record #snowpack expected to put 14.5 million acre-feet of water into upper #ColoradoRiver, lift drought-depleted reservoir from its record low — The Salt Lake Tribune #COriver #aridification

Glen Canyon Dam high flow release photo 2018.

Click the link to read the article on The Salt Lake Tribune website (Brian Maffly). Here’s an excerpt:

Under a plan approved in 2012, the bureau had been conducting high-flow experiments almost annually until 2018. Since then, a string of dry years and excessive water use have depressed levels of Lake Powell, which today is only 23% full, sitting at 3,525 feet above sea level. That is about to change drastically in the coming weeks as the upper Colorado basin’s snowpacks, which are 157% of normal, melt and flow into Powell and upstream reservoirs. The lake level is projected to climb by more than 50 feet this year, according to Bart Leeflang, the CRAU’s hydrologist…What happened in those months was a big snowpack getting bigger, holding twice as much water in some places as normal for this time of year, coming after back-to-back years of skimpy snow accumulations. According to Bureau projections, the lake level is expected to peak in July at 3,591 feet, 71 feet above its historic low recorded April 13…

At 3,576 feet, Powell would still remain 124 feet below full pool, holding just 39% of its capacity. This year’s bounty doesn’t put an end to the crisis on the Colorado River, which supplies 40 million Westerners and irrigates 5 million acres, but it buys Utah and the six other basin states time to find a lasting solution to the river’s chronic deficits. It may even rescue boating this summer at Lake Powell, among Utah’s top recreation draws, where most of the ramps are high and dry and marinas are unusable…This year, the Bureau plans to increase releases from Glen Canyon Dam to 9.5 acre-feet to bring up the level of Powell’s downstream big sister, Lake Mead. That’s the maximum amount released under the dam’s operating guidelines and 2 million more than what is typically released in a year. The big spike in Lake Powell’s projected “regulated” inflows, expected to total 13.2 million acre-feet, has enabled federal river managers to resume the high-flow experiments.

Construction of an underpass for the High Line Canal trail at US 85 (Santa Fe Drive) is underway #bicycle

Construction of an underpass for the High Line Canal trail at US 85 (Santa Fe Drive) is underway! The underpass is a component of a CDOT & Douglas County project to widen US 85 from Highlands Ranch Parkway to C-470. A trail detour will be in place into 2024. Photo credit: Highline Canal Conservancy

From the latest Highline Canal Conservancy Newsletter:

Construction of an underpass for the High Line Canal trail at US 85 (Santa Fe Drive) is underway! The underpass is a component of a CDOT & Douglas County project to widen US 85 from Highlands Ranch Parkway to C-470. A trail detour will be in place into 2024.

Click the link to go to the Douglas County Project webpage.

Highline Canal trail map. Credit: Google maps via Water Education Colorado

Romancing the River: Beginning to Face Reality — Sibley’s Rivers #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Graphic credit: Sibley’s Rivers

Click the link to read the article on the Sibley’s Rivers website (George Sibley):

As you no doubt already know, if you follow Colorado River news, the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Interior have issued a ‘Near-term Colorado River Operations: Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement’ (SEIS) analyzing two alternatives for making massive cuts in the consumptive use of the Colorado River’s waters, beginning in 2024. The SEIS analyzes strategies for cutting use by two million-acre feet (maf) next year, with cuts up to four maf in following years if the water supply in storage continues to decline – roughly a third of the total volume of the river as it has run since the turn of the century.

Table of Cuts
2025-26 cuts

​The alternatives discussed in the SEIS will look familiar to those who have followed the river news for the past couple months; they are similar to the plans for large reductions created by the seven River Basin states: one plan by six of the states, the other by the seventh, California. One of the Bureau’s ‘action alternatives’ divides the big cuts equitably among the three states based on the size of their allotments, like the six states’ plan; the other adheres mostly to priority of water rights in dishing out the cuts, like the California plan.

If there is anything to be learned for the future from the past, it should be noted now that this sudden dramatic need for really major cuts in consumptive use in the lower part of the river basin is the consequence of problems that could have been dealt with gradually – intelligently, one might say, far-sightedly – over at least the past 30 years, if not the whole last century since the discovery that the Colorado River Compact was based on false numbers.

​But through the 1940s and 50s, there was a lovely sense of abundant water in the Lower Basin. The four states of the Upper Basin were considerably slower in developing than the three in the Lower Basin, so a lot of the river was still flowing freely to the desert states below the canyons and eventually being ‘wasted’ to the ocean, then regarded as a sad end for freshwater.

​Even before Hoover Dam was completed, the Californians, with Bureau permission, decided to borrow some of that water to grow on – with really no firm plan about what to do when the Upper Basin developed its water. They did not really know how much (or how little) water the river really carried, and the spirit of the times decreed that the engineers would figure something out to solve the problems of the future. California’s 1931 ‘Seven Parties Agreement’ divvied up more than 900,000 af  of borrowed water – and built their permanent systems large enough to carry that along with their legal allotment.

The structural deficit refers to the consumption by Lower Basin states of more water than enters Lake Mead each year. The deficit, which includes losses from evaporation, is estimated at 1.2 million acre-feet a year. (Image: Central Arizona Project circa 2019)

The Lower Basin states were also, kind of semiconsciously, depending on that ‘surplus’ water to cover all of the substantial ‘system losses’ in the Lower Basin – evaporation and conveyance losses – and also the Lower Basin’s 750,000 af share of the commitment to Mexico: all told, at least 2 maf of water for which the Lower Basin states were accountable, but none of which was deducted from their allotments as set by the Boulder Canyon Project Act. They developed their 7.5 maf Compact allotment to the max, and this ambiguous but very real 2 maf became known as ‘a structural deficit,’ as though it were just inherent in the structure of the system and nothing could be done about it, not unlike an Act of God.

​But the Upper Basin states eventually got up to around 4 maf of consumptive use (including Upper Basina system losses) late in the century, with big out-of-basin projects like the Colorado-Big Thompson, San Juan-Chama, Dillion Reservoir, Homestake, and Arizona’s big Central Arizona Project came on line in 1993 – and everyone knew by then how little water the river actually carried, with no big river augmentation projects on the horizon…. Common sense would seem to dictate that, at least by the 1990s, the Californians would have begun a schedule for weaning themselves from the borrowed water, and all three Lower Basin states would have begun figuring out how to deal with the ‘structural deficit.’ But that kind of sense was of course completely contrary to the naive energies of the Early Anthropocene that still prevailed in the Basin, and the Lower Basin states – graciously enabled by the Bureau – continued using consumptively somewhere around 800,000 af of borrowed Upper Basin water in addition to their full 7.5 maf Compact allotments, and ignoring any responsibility for the 2 maf structural deficit.

During the 1983 Colorado River flood, described by some as an example of a “black swan” event, sheets of plywood (visible just above the steel barrier) were installed to prevent Glen Canyon Dam from overflowing. Source: Bureau of Reclamation

​The water, by then, was no longer flowing freely through the canyons to the Lower Basin, but was being released by the Bureau from Powell Reservoir, requiring some complex definitions of ‘surplus’ – possibly trying to disguise its decline – and some big water years in the 1980s and 90s allowed them to continue to cover the profligate release of more than 10 maf to cover Lower Basin’s legal allotments, plus borrowings, plus ignored system losses.

Updated Colorado River 4-Panel plot thru Water Year 2022 showing reservoirs, flows, temperatures and precipitation. All trends are in the wrong direction. Since original 2017 plot, conditions have deteriorated significantly. Brad Udall via Twitter:

But the climate and the river turned against them with the turn of the century. For the five water years 2000-2004, inflows into Powell Reservoir averaged a measly 6 maf, less than two-thirds the 20th-century average inflows. Meanwhile, however, the Bureau continued to release more than 8 maf annually from Powell to Mead, and then the usual Compact allocation plus borrowings from Mead to the desert states with no accounting for the system losses: basically, 6 maf in, and 10+ maf out of the system. Predictably enough, storage took a dive in both reservoirs, and everyone realized that something different needed to be done soon.

​The first thing done was in 2003; Interior Secretary Gale Norton, mustered the gumption to tell California that it was time to stop borrowing no-longer-existing surplus water. To the surprise of all the Caliphobics, California complied, and began to work its way back to its 4.4 maf allotment. But nothing was said then about the ‘structural deficit,’ so between their full consumptive use of their 7.5 maf Compact allotment, and the 2 maf of system losses and Mexican obligations for which they continued to decline responsibility, the Lower Basin states were still consuming between nine and ten million acre-feet annually; storage was still declining and something really different still needed to be done.

For two years representatives from the seven states and other stakeholders met with the Bureau, to address that need, and the result was a 2007 agreement called ‘Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.’ This was essentially an attempt to try out some ideas for more carefully coordinating the use of the two big reservoirs while encouraging Lower Basin users to cut their use and leave some of their water in Mead (‘Intentionally Created Surpluses), making it possible to draw less from Powell. The ‘interim’ for these temporary guidelines was the 20 years to 2026, at which time, according to plan or hope, the Bureau and the seven states would have developed a new longterm management regime that actually incorporated the realities of a desert river.

​The Interim Guidelines rely on a ‘balancing’ of the water in the two reservoirs, to keep both reservoir levels high enough so the generation of electric power can continue – an elevation of 3,490 feet (above sea level) for Powell Reservoir and 1,000 feet for Mead Reservoir. And if that proved to be impossible in an extended period of aridification, then the last-ditch effort would be to keep levels above each reservoir’s outlet works – an elevation of 3,370 feet in Powell and 895 feet in Mead. If the reservoirs fell below those outlet levels for either dam, then it would be impossible to convey any water at all beyond the dam. Dead pool.

A complex table of ‘Lake Powell Operational Tiers’ is the heart of the Interim Guidelines, defining the various levels at which releases from Powell should increase or decrease depending on both the level in Powell and how the level in Mead was increasing or (generally) decreasing. And if levels continued to decline (which they have), the grinding gut of the Interim Guidelines is a set of ‘shortage conditions’ – levels at which delivery cuts will be imposed on the Lower Basin states. In 2022, the Bureau finally acknowledged the reality of the situation and declared the first level of cuts, on Arizona and Nevada.

Hoover Dam’s intake towers protrude from the surface of Lake Mead near Las Vegas, where water levels have dropped to record lows amid a 22-year drought. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

​Why not California too? More history: Back in 1968, when Arizona was lobbying desperately for approval of the legislation that would finally enable the CAP, California had said that it would only support the project if Arizona would accept a junior status for the CAP to all of California’s Colorado River water rights. For Arizona, even in the late 1960s, that seemed like a gamble worth taking; who could imagine water shortages that might shut down Hoover Dam and the vast array of urban-industrial development it watered? So the Arizonans agreed to California’s condition – and half a century later the unimaginable happened.

But California did not entirely employ the Shylock gambit; they reluctantly agreed in a neighborly way to accept some Interim Guideline cuts before Central Arizona was completely dried up; their cuts begin at about the fourth level of escalating cuts for Arizona and Nevada.

​Everywhere in the Colorado River region today, it is entirely too easy to get lost in the numbers, all those abstract thousands and millions of acre-feet. Suffice it to say for now that under the Interim Guidelines, by the time the balanced levels of Powell and Mead Reservoirs dropped to within 30-40 feet of the power generation cutoff levels, central Arizona would be giving up 720,000 af, Nevada 30,000 af, and California 350,000 af, for a total of 1.1 maf. Substantial pain – but only about half of the 2 maf structural deficit, the number to keep in mind for this unfolding melodrama. Because there is simply no way, short of constant climate miracles, to avoid an eventual dead-pool situation if the Lower Basin continues ignoring the structural deficit, with inflows to Powell way below the outflows plus system losses from the Lower Basin storage and distribution systems.

What about the Upper Basin states? They get a bye on this round. For one thing, the federal government does not control their water supply, nature does; and they are also way under their 7.5 maf Compact allotment. Also since the beginning of the drought period, the Bureau had already let more than 10 maf of ‘their’ water flow down to Mead above and beyond the Compact requirement. They also have no ‘structural deficit’; their usage includes their system losses – although the half-million acre-feet, plus or minus, evaporated out of Powell should probably be included in the unaccounted-for reservoir system losses since it occurs after the measured inflow. But people in the Upper Basin know their opportunity to participate in the reductions will come.

Even as the first level of shortages was being executed on Arizona and Nevada in 2022 (with the second level promised for this year), Powell was in its third consecutive year of inflows of 6 maf or less with outflows and system losses from Mead still in excess of 9 maf, and the Bureau realized that even the Interim Guidelines reductions might not get them all the way to 2026. Facing that, the Bureau and Interior Secretary issued a somewhat desperate announcement that it would be necessary to quickly implement much heavier cuts – at least two and maybe four million acre-feet. The Bureau Director and Interior Secretary asked the seven states to come up with a plan for how that might happen – and said that if the states did not come up with a plan, they would impose one of their own.

Graphic credit: Colorado Water Wise

​They actually said this twice, midsummer in 2022, and midwinter in 2023; the first time I think the states were too stunned to respond, and no plans emerged from either the states or the Bureau. But now, after the second call, there are four alternatives on the table, two from the states and two from the Bureau. Two of these alternatives argue for using the foundational ‘Law of the River,’ the appropriation doctrine, to distribute the necessary cuts; a big faction (mostly those with senior water rights) believes appropriations law can and should resolve every issue involving water in the arid West.

The other two alternatives seem to see the 2 maf structural deficit as a foundational mistake that needs to be corrected outside or below the rules governing the use of the river’s water; the structural deficit is water that isn’t there to use, and therefore shouldn’t be dealt with through the laws for the use of water. It thus makes the most sense to share those ‘structural’ losses out proportionally among the three states rather than trying to apply the use-allocation law to them.

​It is clear enough that the resolution will have to involve a middle ground, similar to that arrived at in the Interim Guidelines, when California’s priority was acknowledged but the state conceded to take some cuts before completely drying up the CAP. The Bureau’s second alternative comes closest to seeking that middle ground. If it were implemented, that accommodation to seniority would be carried forward with reduced assessments to California despite their use of more than half the Lower Basin’s water. In getting to the 2.083 maf goal, Arizona would take the hardest hit (1.087 maf), more than a third of their 2.8 maf allotment; and California would lose 927,000 af, only a fifth of their 4.4 maf allotment. Nevada would lose 69,000 af, about a fourth of their 300,000 af allotment.

Ultimately something along those lines has to sound better to California than going to court on principle for the usual decade, and driving the river into a dead-pool status under which they would get no water at all much of the year. Laws that can’t bend or open up to fit changing situations eventually break under the stress.

​And then – well, the 20-year interim period for the water mavens to figure out what to do for the next century has shrunk to three years. And the last I heard, they are still trying to figure out who does and doesn’t get to sit at the table to figure it out the future.

​The Bureau encourages comments on the SEIS, by May 30:

Map credit: AGU

#Drought news April 27, 2023: No change in depiction for #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

Heavy precipitation fell on areas of dryness in the Northeast, the southern and northern Plains, the northern Rockies, northern Intermountain West, and Pacific Northwest, and more-scattered areas in the mid-Atlantic Region and Florida. Enough rain fell on some extant areas of dryness and drought here to improve drought designations, including parts of the D3 and D4 areas in central to southern Texas. In contrast, the D3 to D4 areas in the rest of the Plains and the northwestern Florida Peninsula and recorded little or no precipitation, keeping extreme to exceptional drought in place with a few areas of deterioration, especially in central Nebraska and the northwestern Florida Peninsula…

High Plains

The general pattern observed during the past few weeks continued. Unusually deep snowpack was melting in the central and northern Dakotas, leading to some improvements there, including the removal of all moderate drought (D1) from northern North Dakota.

In the Great Plains from central and western South Dakota southward through Kansas, the continued lack of substantial rainfall led to intensification over a relatively large part of these areas. In particular, D3 expanded through most of central Nebraska, and lesser expansion of D3 and D4 reported in central Kansas. To the west, conditions remained generally unchanged in eastern parts of Wyoming and Colorado, with deterioration (to D2) limited to a small area in southeastern Wyoming. In the other area of extant dryness and drought in western Wyoming – adjacent to Utah and Idaho – some areas saw improved conditions, as did states to the north and west.

The Department of Agriculture reported 62 percent of Kansas winter wheat in poor or very poor condition, as was 42 percent of Nebraska winter wheat. Only 7 percent of Colorado winter wheat was in very poor condition, but almost one-third of the rest of the state’s crop was in poor condition…


Areas of moderate to heavy precipitation brought some improvement across western Oregon and portions of Montana, while melting of the deep snowpack farther south eased conditions in parts of southeastern Idaho, much of the western half of Utah, northeastern Oregon, and small patches in the southern Great Basin and Southwest. This included the removal of moderate drought (D1) from parts of northern California, continuing the trend of improvement there since heavy precipitation became a frequent occurrence starting in early December 2022. The only area in the West Climate Region that noticeably deteriorated was some D0 expansion in southeastern Montana, where conditions have been similar to those in the central and southern High Plains Climate Region…


Locations from eastern Texas and Oklahoma eastward through Mississippi and Tennessee remained free of any designation on the Drought Monitor, though a number of areas reported that short-term dryness – on the order of a few weeks – was becoming noticeable over northern stretches of this area. Thus dryness and drought were again limited to areas near the Gulf of Mexico and over central and western sections of Texas and Oklahoma.

Heavy rain eased dryness-related impacts over much of central and southern Texas. Several inches of rain in eastern parts of Deep South Texas allowed for 2-category improvements, with much of the area going from D1 last week to no designation this week. Still, large areas of D3 and D4 remained over central and western parts of Texas and Oklahoma, with more limited reductions occurring in these areas. But enough rain fell to pull D4 out of Bexar County, Texas.

To the north and west of central Texas, little or no rain fell this past week to the 8 am EDT April 25 valid period of the Drought Monitor, keeping conditions essentially unchanged in most areas, though some degradation was noted in small sections in west-central and northern Texas. Most of the northern tier of Oklahoma remains entrenched in exceptional (D4) drought, in addition to a few scattered areas farther south. According to the Department of Agriculture, 63 percent of Oklahoma winter wheat was in poor or very poor conditions, as was 55 percent of Texas winter wheat…

Looking Ahead

During the next five days (April 26 – May 1, 2023) moderate to heavy precipitation (over 1.5 inches) is expected along the southern tier of the Nation from Texas and the lower Mississippi Valley through central and northern Florida, and along the Eastern Seaboard from Georgia through New England. Parts of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan are also forecast to receive 1.5 or more inches. Very heavy precipitation (3 to 5 inches) are expected in part of northeastern Texas, the central Gulf Coast Region, and southern Georgia. In contrast, little or nothing is anticipated from the High Plains westward, over the central and northern Great Plains, parts of the middle Mississippi Valley, and the southern Great Lakes Region. Moderate to locally heavy precipitation was observed from the Colorado Rockies through the south-central Great Plains and adjacent areas shortly after the Drought Monitor valid period (8 am EDT Tuesday, April 25) ended, with over 1.5 inches observed in scattered areas of central Arkansas, near the Oklahoma/Kansas border, west-central Kansas, higher elevations in the Rockies, and isolated sites across northern Texas. This precipitation will be considered for the Drought Monitor valid May 2, 2023 (next week). Other areas in dryness or drought should see one-tenth to locally one inch. Below-normal temperatures are expected over the southern Great Plains and most of the eastern half of the contiguous states outside the immediate coast in the South Atlantic Region. Meanwhile, warmer than normal weather is anticipated from most of the Plains through interior sections of the West Coast States. Cooler than normal conditions are expected along most of the immediate Pacific Coastline.

The Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 day outlook (valid May 2 – 6, 2023) Identifies enhanced chances for above-normal precipitation in most of New England, the lower Mississippi Valley, Texas, the southern half of the High Plains, and from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast (except northwestern Washington). Odds for significantly above-normal precipitation exceed 50 percent in the Great Basin, most of California, and some adjacent areas. In contrast, subnormal totals are favored in the Southeast, the lower mid-Atlantic Region, and from the central and southern Appalachians northwestward through most of the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes Region, northern half of the Mississippi Valley, the northern Plains, and the Upper Midwest. Enhanced chances for cooler than normal weather cover California and adjacent areas in the Southwest and Great Basin, and in most locations from the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast. Meanwhile, unusually warm weather is expected from the northern Rockies and Intermountain West through most of the Rockies and the southern half of the High Plains.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending April 25, 2023.

#Colorado’s big #snowpack powers massive “pulse” of #water being shot through #GrandCanyon — The #Denver Post #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Glen Canyon Dam, January 2022. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

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

The water gushing out of dam jets this week normally would have flowed gradually over the month of April out of Lake Powell into the river. Eventually, the water will end up in Lake Mead, the key supply for Arizona, California and Nevada. Federal officials based their recent decision to allow the simulated floods on the relatively heavy high mountain snowpack this year along headwaters of the Colorado River, which begins west of Denver near Grand Lake…

Federal hydrologists have estimated 14.7 million acre-feet of water this summer will flow from Colorado, Wyoming and Utah into Lake Powell. Since 2018, federal dam operators have declined to release water for simulated flood surges due to long-term drought and anxieties around record-low reservoir water levels, linked by scientists to climate warming and aridification of the Southwest — transformations that have left Lake Powell and Lake Mead less than a quarter full. Yet the nation’s 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act requires efforts to ensure ecological health in the canyon, and officials established a program that includes simulated floods…

Denver Water “is supportive of the environmental flow program” in the Grand Canyon, utility manager Jim Lochhead said, lauding the effort by multiple agencies that “come together to shift water releases — not increase overall releases — in order to mimic spring hydrology through the basin, which helps to improve beaches, sandbars and aquatic habitats.”


In 1963, the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam atop the Grand Canyon disrupted essential natural processes and created Lake Powell. Sand and other sediments that for centuries moved downriver, scouring surfaces and creating beaches, suddenly were backed up on the reservoir side of that dam. And the regularized, steady flows of clear water, devoid of sediment, gradually are transforming the canyon.

2023 #COleg: Lawmakers propose #ColoradoRiver #Drought task force as session nears an end — Water Education #Colorado @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Website (Jerd Smith):

A new, late-session bill creating a statewide task force designed to shore up the state’s Colorado River drought protection efforts will be heard this week by Colorado lawmakers, with the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee considering the bill today.

The Colorado General Assembly adjourns May 6, giving lawmakers just days to deliberate on the bill.

Senate Bill 23-295 is sponsored by Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon; House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Summit County; Sen. Perry Will, R-New Castle; and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose. It would create a task force that has six months to come up with ways to protect the state from water shortages due to the ongoing megadrought in the Colorado River Basin, and to ensure that efforts to temporarily fallow West Slope farms and ranches to help keep more water in the Colorado River don’t impose undue burdens on West Slope farms and ranches and other water users.

“This legislation … will bring us one step closer to addressing one of the most pressing issues our state has ever faced – the endangered Colorado River – and ensure every Colorado community has access to the water resources they need now and into the future,” Roberts said in a statement.

The Colorado River Basin covers seven states. The Lower Basin is made up of Arizona, California and Nevada, and the Upper Basin comprises Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The majority of the river’s supplies are generated here in the Upper Basin, with Colorado being the largest contributor to the system.

And the majority of the river’s water, roughly 80%, is used to grow food. If states can find ways to reduce agricultural water use, it would help rebalance the system. But it is a complicated undertaking, and could harm rural farm economies and food production if not done properly.

Map credit: AGU

Major water districts on Colorado’s West Slope, including the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, as well as the Durango-based Southwestern Water Conservation District, represent many growers who rely on the Colorado River. They have been frustrated by what they say is a failure by the state to include them in decision making about new federal farm fallowing pilot programs, among other things. The proposed task force would be charged with devising a formal structure for including water districts and other interested parties.

Last month these districts were alarmed when the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water policy body, opted not to give them the opportunity to review fallowing proposals submitted to the Upper Colorado River Commission as part of what is known as the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP), a short-term initiative that would pay growers to voluntarily fallow their fields, or switch crops, or use other techniques to reduce their use of Colorado River water.

Steve Wolff is general manager of the Southwestern Water Conservation District. He said state water officials need to be more inclusive and transparent about decisions being made about the Colorado River.

Wolff said the CWCB’s decision to exclude the water districts from the SCPP review process is an example of the lack of transparency that is driving concern on the Western Slope.

He said the task force bill is a major undertaking and may not be finished before the session ends.

“It’s moving very fast,” he said.

The CWCB did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But CWCB Director Becky Mitchell has acknowledged previously that the SCPP initiative was rolled out very quickly, and its processes could be improved. Mitchell also represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

This year, due to historically deep mountain snows in Colorado and elsewhere, lakes Powell and Mead, the two largest reservoirs in the Colorado River system, will see more water flowing in than they have in decades. But because both reservoirs have sunk to less than 30% full, the bountiful runoff won’t be enough to restore the system.

In the coming weeks, major decisions loom on how to restore the river and to sustain it as climate change and lingering drought continue to sap its flows.

This week, for instance, the Upper Colorado River Commission, which represents the four Upper Basin states, will likely make decisions about which growers will participate in the $125 million SCPP.

Later this summer, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will announce how much Lower Basin states will have to cut their water use and which states will take the largest cuts.

Last summer, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton ordered the seven states to cut 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water this year, but negotiations have failed to produce a consensus.

The Upper Basin states, along with Nevada and Arizona, have agreed to a six-point plan that includes the SCPP, as well as a longer-term plan to create a special protected drought pool in Lake Powell, an initiative known as demand management. At the same time, California has offered its own plan that proposed cuts that are largely opposed by Arizona.

The new Colorado task force, if approved, would include West Slope and Front Range water district members, as well as environmental, agricultural and industrial interests.

Brad Wind is general manager of the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservation District. It is one of the largest users of Colorado River water on the Front Range, and serves hundreds of farmers and more than a million urban water users.

He said his board won’t have time to take a formal position on the bill, but he said he’s concerned that it favors West Slope districts over those on the Front Range.

“There will be a lot more work between now and then [the end of the session],” Wind said. “It’s going to be a lively discussion.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at or @jerd_smith.

Bosque Del Apache overbanking as the #RioGrande rises — John Fleck (InkStain) (April 25, 2023)

Rio Grande overbanking, Albuquerque, April 22, 2023. By John Fleck

Click the link to read the article on the Inkstain website (John Fleck)

In the early 1990s, a group of New Mexico scientists set up experimental plots at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque for in an effort to determine what might happen when water was reintroduced to the flood-starved woods flanking the river. Their description of what happened is a delight:

From time immemorial, this must have been a near-annual event, as the crickets and spiders scurried ahead of rising water each spring as the Rio Grande spread across the valley floor – bad for people trying to live here, great for the flora and fauna. From the same group of authors:

This changed in the early 1930s, dramatically, in an ecological instant as the newly formed Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District dug drainage ditches on either side of the Rio Grande and across the valley floor, throwing up the excavated dirt in spoil bank levees flanking the river’s then-main channel.

We understand what happened next thanks to a University of New Mexico biology student named Marjorie Van Cleave, who for her 1935 masters thesis documented the change. In that historic moment, plants and animals dependent on the wetlands spread across the valley floor disappeared.

Cattails – gone. Sedges, with deeper roots, hung on for a bit longer before fading into the ecological mists. Cocklebur, Russian thistle, lamb’s quarters, sunflowers, and pigweed colonized the old marshlands of the valley floor. We are forever in Van Cleave’s debt.

What we’re seeing this spring on the fringes of the Rio Grande bears so little resemblance to the valley-wide ecosystem that it seems cheap to even compare, but the careful work of Cliff Crawford, Manual Molles, and their colleagues three decades ago trying to address this question – What would happen if we reintroduced just a bit of flooding to the forests on the river’s edges? – nevertheless draws a critical connection between the Rio Grande and the community that surrounds it.

For our forthcoming book Ribbons of Green, Bob Berrens and I are interested in that critical moment in the 1930s when, with levees and drains, the valley floor around Albuquerque was disconnected from the river. The ecology was changed, suddenly, as was the connection between human communities and their river.

Much of our modern understanding of the bosque ecosystem is built on the work of Crawford and Molles, who started taking students down to the river in the 1980s. For much of the time between Van Cleave’s exhaustive work and the return of Crawford, Molles, and their students in the 1980s, little scientific attention seems to have been paid to the riverside ecosystem.

I can’t find the newspaper story I wrote based on a visit to the bosque with Cliff Crawford and his then-grad student and now my good friend Mary Harner. But I did find the obituary I wrote when Cliff died in 2010.

It’s a model in my mind for public-facing science, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot as Bob and I wrestle with how to explain, in our book, Albuquerque’s modern relationship with the Rio Grande.

Mary has done an amazing job with her Witnessing Watersheds project of thinking about and documenting Albuquerque’s historic relationship with the river, and the time I have spent with her – mostly walking in the bosque, some to think of it – has been a huge influence on how I think about and approach this question.

Given flood control flow constraints, it’s hard to to get enough water through town to rise up out of the main channel and get back into the woods these days, to get it to “come alive with hopping crickets and running spiders,” but with 2023’s big snowpack, but there enough low spots providing delightful exceptions, and we’re already starting to see it rising up into those. Lissa and I were on a bosque trail near downtown Saturday when we were stopped by the water you see in the picture at the top of the blog.

There’s a sciency thing going on here – nutrient cycling, clearing out all the dry crud built up on the forest floor that in a more “natural” system would be wetted most years. (It was, in fact, Mary Harner who turned me on to the Molles et al paper I quoted above, with the hopping crickets and running spiders, when I asked for help running down the nutrient cycling piece. It turns out to be super nerdy and I probably won’t put it in the book.)

But it’s the cultural piece that I’m more interested in – the way we as a community have shifted from a desire in the 1930s to fence ourselves off from the river completely, to embracing overbanking with delight.

As often happens with these little mini-essays – sketches, really, for the book – this didn’t end up where I expected. I started with the intention of writing about nutrient cycling – printouts of research papers scattered across my desk, underlined bits, an excessive number of browser tabs.

But I realize that this is, in fact, a story about the relationship between a community and its river.

A cottonwood forest in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Matthew Schmader/Open Space Division

2023 #COleg: These bills aim to address growing #wildfire risks in #Colorado — Colorado Newsline

Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Sara Wilson):

As the Colorado Legislature this session grapples with headlining issues such as land use, firearm violence reduction and reproductive health care access, a batch of bills is also trying to pump resources into wildfire mitigation and resilience.

Experts agree that the wildfire season is longer and more intense in Colorado and the rest of the West due to the effects of climate change. The three largest wildfires in state history all occurred in 2020, and the most destructive fire — the 2021 Marshall Fire — leveled entire subdivisions in an urban area once thought relatively safe from wildfires.

It’s an issue drawing attention from statewide, regional and national leaders.

“We must continue strengthening our aerial capabilities, supporting our professional and volunteer firefighters, and preparing for a hotter, drier climate,” Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said in his State of the State address to the General Assembly in January. “Getting this right is critical for the health of our communities and the future of our state.”

While there are many more than just five bills this session concerned with wildfire prevention, mitigation and containment, the five detailed below are noteworthy in their scope. Additionally, there is legislation related to buying another firefighting helicopterexempting some taxes for people rebuilding their home after a wildfire, and adding fire damage as a condition that makes a housing unit uninhabitable, among others.

There are just two more weeks of the legislative session.

HB-1288: Fair Access To Insurance Requirements Plan

Colorado home and business owners who cannot secure adequate property insurance because of wildfire risk could obtain an insurance plan of “last resort” under a bill from Democrats House Speaker Julie McCluskie of Dillon and Rep. Judy Amabile of Boulder.

“The overarching goal is that we don’t have another Marshall Fire experience where people wake up after the fire and realize that they’re dramatically underinsured,” Amabile told reporters last week.

Roughly two-thirds of the homes lost in the Marshall Fire may have been underinsured, according to data collected by Colorado’s Division of Insurance.

The bill would set up a board to run that quasi-state insurance plan for property owners who can prove they are unable to get insurance from a private company. As the threat of wildfires grows in Colorado, the bill sponsors said it has become more challenging for certain property owners to get coverage as private insurers become skittish.

“Even if that hasn’t happened yet, we can see that that is what is on the horizon. This bill helps us get out in front of a looming problem so that we will be ready when we need it,” Amabile said on the House floor last week.

The program would be a safety net, not intended for widespread use instead of private insurance.

The bill passed through the House 48-15 on third reading on April 21. Its Senate sponsor is Sen. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat.

SB-166: Establishment Of A Wildfire Resiliency Code Board

Perhaps one of the most sweeping bills related to wildfires this session aims to create a new board to adopt a statewide building code for wildfire resiliency. The 21-member board would be tasked with defining high-risk areas in the wildland-urban interface — that transition area between wilderness and developed land — and creating a minimum building and landscaping code for local governments to adopt.

“There’s a lot of data that this is one of the very best ways we can prevent fires from devastating our state. A minimum code is hugely impactful,” bill sponsor Sen. Lisa Cutter, a Littleton Democrat, said on the Senate floor earlier this month. A similar effort was abandoned last year towards the end of session.

Bill sponsors point to data that shows $1 spent on hardening homes can prevent between $4 and $8 in damage.

The bill is also sponsored by Democrats Sen. Tony Exum of Colorado Springs, Rep. Meg Froelich of Englewood and Rep. Elizabeth Velasco of Glenwood Springs.

“This is about community resiliency. This is about community safety and making sure we are ready for the next event,” Velasco told reporters last week.

The bill, which has cleared the Senate, passed through the House Appropriations Committee on April 21.

The East Troublesome Fire burns north of Granby on Oct. 22, 2020. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

SB-5: Forestry And Wildfire Mitigation Workforce

bipartisan bill aims to bolster the state’s workforce as related to wildfire mitigation, specifically when it comes to timber and forest management. It would authorize the expansion and creation of forestry programs at higher education institutions, with some receiving financial support to train students quickly.

“In Colorado, we’re estimated to be 20 to 50 percent understaffed in peak wildfire season, so we must do everything we can to increase educational resources and the recruitment of our frontline firefighters,” bill sponsor Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Longmont Democrat, said on the Senate floor earlier this month.

The bill would also include high school outreach and set up internships with the timber industry in partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service.

The bill is also sponsored by Cutter, House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, a Wellington Republican, and Marc Snyder, a Manitou Springs Democrat.

It has already passed the Senate and passed on third reading in the House on Monday.

HB-1273: Creation Of Wildfire Resilient Homes Grant Program

Snyder was Manitou Springs mayor when the Waldo Canyon fire devastated the community in 2012, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate and destroying 346 homes. This year, Snyder is running two wildfire-related bills in the Legislature.

HB-1273 would create a grant program to help homeowners make their houses more resilient against wildfires. The grants could pay for best practices and materials for new builds, as well as retrofitting and structural improvements to existing houses.

“A lot of this is common sense — you mitigate 100 feet from your home any vegetation that’s flammable. But there’s a lot of other small changes that you can make,” Snyder told reporters earlier this month. Other improvements could include replacing roofing and siding material or closing open soffit vents to prevent embers from getting inside a house.

It would be housed within the Division of Fire Prevention and Control in the Department of Public Safety.

The grant program would have $2 million to start, but Snyder thinks that getting it up and running will make it easier to effectively use incoming federal dollars.

The bill made it through the House Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources committee on April 13. Democratic Rep. Junie Joseph of Boulder is also sponsoring the bill.

HB-1075: Wildfire Evacuation And Clearance Time Modeling

Another Snyder bill would direct the state’s emergency management office to study the feasibility of an evacuation and clearance time modeling system that would help residents understand various evacuation routes and the time it might take to evacuate during a wildfire.

Snyder said that a public-facing interface with that information could be a helpful pre-evacuation tool for residents in high-risk areas.

“When they ask everyone to leave at once, it can be a real nightmare. We saw what happened in Paradise, California, when a lot of people perished in their vehicles trying to flee,” he said, referring to a 2019 fire that killed 85 people.

The bill is also sponsored by Joseph and Democratic Sen. Tony Exum of Colorado Springs.

It made it through the House on April 11 on a 51-10 vote. It passed through its Senate committee on April 20 and was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Guest post: How land use drives CO2 emissions around the world — Carbon Brief #ActOnClimate

Click the link to read the guest post on the Carbon Brief website (Dr Clemens Schwingshackl, Dr Wolfgang A. Obermeier, Prof Julia Pongratz):

Around 10,000 years ago, the Neolithic revolution saw many human cultures end their nomadic lifestyles of hunting and gathering to settle and begin farming.

This onset of agriculture has seen humans reshape the Earth’s surface – cultivating crops to provide food for people and animals, grazing livestock on pastures and cutting wood to be used as construction material or fuel.

What started as a gradual process has grown more intensive over time.

These interventions into natural ecosystems provide the foundation for modern society, but they also come with some unwanted side effects. One of the most dramatic is the tremendous amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that is released through the way that humans use the land.

As the global community tries to get a grip of its CO2 emissions, understanding where they are coming from is key to stopping them – and to increasing the amount of atmospheric CO2 taken up by the land.

In this article, we show how we can track the ups and downs of CO2 emissions and removals from land-use change in six very different parts of the world – Brazil, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Europe, Indonesia and the US.

Past, present and future of land-use emissions

Globally, the largest share of humanity’s CO2 emissions stems from burning fossil fuels, which made up about 87% of CO2 emissions over the past 20 years. Land-use emissions are responsible for the remaining 13%. 

Historically, land use was even more important, with land-use emissions being larger than fossil emissions until the 1950s. Collectively, one-third of CO2 emissions since 1750 are due to land-use change.

Although the share of land-use emissions has gone down in recent decades, their importance might increase again in the future due to the potential reduction of fossil fuel emissions in line with global climate mitigation policies. 

Likewise, reducing CO2 emissions from land use is a key factor for meeting climate targets – for example, the Glasgow Declaration on Forests, agreed at COP26, calls on countries “to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”. 

These intended emission reductions can be complemented by taking up and storing additional carbon in biomass and soils – for instance, via forestation and forest management. Sustainable land use can, thus, itself become a key element for climate mitigation. 

CO2 emissions to the atmosphere and carbon uptake by vegetation and soils are known as carbon fluxes. The balance between all of these fluxes determines whether the land is a net “source” of carbon or a net “sink”. 

Drone photo of deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon for soybeans. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

To reverse land use from being an overall global source of CO2 to being a sink, it is essential to understand the various drivers of these fluxes.

Furthermore, as mitigation policies are mainly implemented at the national level, estimating land-use CO2 fluxes for individual countries provides important insights into the effectiveness of mitigation efforts.

Estimating CO2 fluxes from land use

Global estimates of land-use CO2 fluxes are often based on computer models that provide a consistent method of quantifying fluxes for all countries. 

Of particular importance are “bookkeeping” models. These track changes in the carbon contents of soil and vegetation that occur due to land-use changes (such as deforestation, where forest is converted to agricultural land) or land management (such as wood harvest, where forest remains forest) based on spatially explicit data

The resulting CO2 fluxes between land and atmosphere are calculated as the changes in carbon contents of soil and vegetation. 

Bookkeeping models account for various processes – ranging from the fast emission of CO2 due to fires, to the rather slow decomposition of long-lived wood products, to the gradual regrowth of forest. They are complemented by CO2 emissions from peat drainage and peat fires from existing estimates.

The Global Carbon Budget (GCB) – published each year by the Global Carbon Project – currently uses estimates from three bookkeeping models to provide land-use CO2 fluxes at global level. 

These models have been improved in recent years and now include more detailed data for specific countries. As a result, the most recent GCB of 2022 extended its assessment to include land-use CO2 flux estimates at the country-level.

Land-use CO2 fluxes in individual countries

In the chart below, we take a closer look at six countries and regions with distinct land-use flux dynamics. The chart shows annual land-use CO2 fluxes for each region. Lines above the zero line indicate a net source of CO2, while lines below indicate a net sink. In all countries, land-use CO2 fluxes show substantial year-to-year variability. 

Time series of net land-use CO2 fluxes for Brazil (blue), Indonesia (red), the DRC (yellow), China (dark blue), US (orange), and the EU27 of Europe (purple) over 1950-2020. Lines denote the average land-use CO2 flux estimates and shaded areas represent the uncertainty of these numbers (minimum-to-maximum range, as estimated by three bookkeeping models). Chart by Tom Pearson for Carbon Brief.

Brazil (blue), Indonesia (red), China (dark blue) and the DRC (yellow) have had the highest land-use CO2 emissions in the last 70 years – representing around 45% of all emissions from net-emitting countries.

Europe (purple) and the US (orange) have had the largest net CO2 removals – representing about 90% of all removals from countries with a net sink. China switched from net land-use emissions to net removals in the 2000s. 

Drivers of land-use change

The models we use allow us to estimate the impact of specific drivers of CO2 fluxes for individual countries. The chart below illustrates the variations that this analysis reveals.

The bars for each region show average CO2 fluxes from deforestation (blue), forestation (dark blue), wood-harvest emissions (yellow) and removals due to regrowth (orange), peat fires and drainage (red) and other transitions (purple) for 1950-2020. 

These other transitions include the transformation of shrubland to cropland or pasture or conversions between cropland and pasture. Bars above the zero line indicate sources of CO2, while bars below indicate sinks. The grey bars show the overall net fluxes from land use for each region.

Components of land-use CO2 fluxes in Brazil, Indonesia, China, the DRC, the US and Europe (EU27) averaged over 1950-2020. The individual components are deforestation (blue), forestation (dark blue), wood harvest (yellow for emissions and orange for removals), peat drainage & peat fires (red) and other transitions (purple). Net fluxes for each country are shown in grey.

In Brazil, land-use emissions were high, but relatively constant, between the 1960s and the 1980s. In the 1990s, emissions began to rise and reached a peak in the early 2000s, as deforestation rates accelerated. In the following years, deforestation and emissions decreased substantially under the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), but they have started to increase again in the most recent years due to less-stringent forest protection policies under former president Jair Bolsonaro. 

While deforestation clearly dominates CO2 emissions in Brazil, substantial emissions also stem from wood harvest and from other transitions.

In contrast, CO2 uptake due to forestation and regrowth after wood harvest only plays a minor role in Brazil. It is noteworthy that the large emissions from deforestation in Brazil (and Indonesia) are not only due to domestic consumption, but are also substantially driven by the demand for agricultural products in Europe, the US and China. Efforts to reduce land-use CO2 emissions thus need to consider that emissions may be partly embodied in international trade.

For Indonesia, emissions are characterised by a quick increase in the 1980s, which was predominantly due to deforestation for the expansion of palm oil plantations and cropland. This was followed by several large emissions peaks starting in the late 1990s, caused by widespread peat fires used – on top of drainage – to convert peatlands into agricultural land. 

In 1997, remarkably high emissions were apparent resulting from the interaction of land-use changes and an extremely dry El Niño year. Strikingly, Indonesia has the largest CO2 uptake due to forestation of all countries displayed. However, regrowth after harvest only partly offsets wood harvest emissions, pointing to unsustainable forestry practices.

The DRC has had low emissions throughout the 20th century, but emissions increased substantially in the late 2000s and remain high to this day. 

Emissions from deforestation dominate land-use fluxes in the DRC, but they are largely counterbalanced by removals due to forestation. Farmers in the DRC often apply shifting cultivation, an agricultural practice in which forests are burned down to obtain arable land (causing CO2 emissions), which is in turn abandoned after a few years, allowing forests to regrow and take up CO2 again. This results in high CO2 fluxes from both deforestation and forestation, respectively. Other fluxes are mostly negligible in the DRC.

China saw a sharp increase in emissions due to deforestation in the 1980s. However, large uncertainties exist regarding the timing and extent of the deforestation activities, which is reflected in the large uncertainties of China’s emissions in that period. Economic reforms starting in 1978 led to decreasing deforestation rates and to forest expansion, causing a decline in CO2 emissions from the 1980s onwards. 

In the last 20 years, land-use fluxes in China have remained close to net-zero, as emissions due to deforestation and wood harvest have been largely offset by CO2 uptake from forestation and regrowth after wood harvest.

In the US, emissions decreased in the 1950s, and land use has been a relatively small net carbon sink from the 1960s onwards, albeit with substantial uncertainties. Wood harvest causes the highest emissions, although these are counterbalanced by subsequent regrowth.

Rainforest logging Sumatra, Indonesia. Credit: Sumatran Welfare Society

Collectively, Europe (specifically, the 27 countries that now make up the EU) had a constant carbon sink throughout the last 70 years, mainly due to forestation. Europe has a long history of deforestation, going back to Roman times and intensifying until it reached a peak at the onset of the industrial revolution. In the years that followed, forests in Europe started to regrow again, leading to large-scale CO2 removals. The balance of emissions and removals from wood harvest suggests that forestry in Europe is sustainable.

It is worth noting that the uncertainties around the land-use CO2 fluxes shown here are substantial for several countries – particularly in Brazil, China and the US. These large uncertainties are due to various reasons, but mostly stem from differences in land-use change data used by the different bookkeeping models and differences in process implementation – such as in the consideration of fire management in the US. There are also varying assumptions on how much carbon is stored in soils and different types of vegetation, and on how quickly vegetation and soils emit carbon (after deforestation) or take up carbon (after reforestation) following land-use changes.

Importance of national mitigation plans

Emissions from land-use change can be expected to decrease substantially in the coming years – as long as countries put the land-use commitments within their Paris Agreement climate pledges into action.

Detailed knowledge of the changes and drivers of land-use CO2 fluxes in individual countries provides a key element to monitor and assess the country-specific measures to cut emissions and increase removals.

Specifically, splitting up land-use fluxes into their components allows for a separate assessment of emissions and removals. Net CO2 sinks are only possible if CO2 removals from forestation exceed the sum of emissions from deforestation, peat emissions and other emission-causing land-use transitions. 

Furthermore, the split into components makes it possible to compare model-based estimates with the land-use CO2 fluxes that countries report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in their national greenhouse gas inventories.

A comprehensive and reliable quantification of land-use fluxes is also essential in light of the increasing importance of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies, since the vast majority of CDR currently stems from conventional management of land, such as reforestation.

Reclamation awards $4 million for new and innovative #water treatment technologies #PFAS

Salt mine at Sambhar Lake in daytime. Sambhar, Rajasthan, India. Photo credit: Life Brine Mining

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Chelsea Kennedy):

The Bureau of Reclamation awarded funding for 15 projects under the Desalination and Water Purification Research program. The research projects are innovative solutions that seek to reduce water treatment costs and improve performance.  

“Developing new technologies that can treat currently unusable water will help communities worldwide,” said Research and Development Program Manager Ken Nowak. “These technologies have the potential to increase water supply flexibility under the risks of climate change and drought.” 

The Desalination and Water Purification Research Program provides financial assistance for advanced water treatment research and development, leading to improved technologies for developing water supply from non-traditional waters, including seawater, brackish groundwater, and municipal wastewater, among others.  

In addition to the $4 million in federal funding provided for selected projects, recipients have committed an additional $3 million of non-federal cost share to further support these research efforts.  


  • University of Alabama ($249,966 federal funding, $499,932 total project cost) : Engineering Sustainable Solvents for Brine Desalination. This project seeks to improve solvent performance in temperature swing solvent extraction for brine desalination through experimental and computational techniques.  


  • Pacifica Water Solutions, LLC ($350,000 federal funding, $700,000 total project cost): Field Pilot Testing Electrically Conducting Nanofiltration and Reverse Osmosis Membranes. This project will field test innovative anti-scaling and antifouling electrically conducting desalination membranes against commercial membranes for reverse osmosis concentrate minimization and produced water applications.  
  • University of California, Riverside ($250,000 federal funding, $390,754 total project cost): Development of a Novel Vacuum-ultraviolet Photochemical System for Treatment of Nitrate and Per Fluorinated Substances from Inland Desalination Brine. This project will test a novel laboratory-scale vacuum ultraviolet light-driven photochemical process for treatment of nitrate and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) from inland desalination brine. 


  • University of Colorado ($592,703 federal funding, $756,246 total project cost): Concentrate Minimization: Pilot Testing of Improved Static Mixer Crystallizers. This project will perform pilot scale testing and evaluation of improved in-line, static mixer elements to accelerate the desupersaturation of reverse osmosis desalination brine. 
  • University of Colorado ($250,000 federal funding, $396,501 total project cost): Robust Surface Patterned Membranes for Membrane Distillation of High Salinity Brine with High Efficiency. This project aims to develop and test scalable, robust, surface-patterned microporous membranes that are designed for a membrane distillation process treating highly concentrated brines. 
  • Mickley & Associates LLC ($111,500 federal funding, $234,150 total project cost): Brine Mining. The project will gather, analyze, and synthesize information from the literature, websites, and interviews to bring clarity to many issues involving brine mining, such as potential benefits, feasibility, applicable technologies, recoverable compounds, and more. 


  • Purdue University ($250,000 federal funding, $465,799 total project cost): Batch Counterflow Reverse Osmosis. This project will develop lab-scale demonstration of batch counterflow reverse osmosis to achieve high recovery and efficiency and develop a fundamental understanding of fouling kinetics for the process. 


  • Tufts University ($249,994 federal funding, $407,733 total project cost): New Fouling-Resistant, Anti-Microbial Membranes for Pretreatment. This project aims to develop and demonstrate ultrafiltration pretreatment membranes that resist organic fouling and biofouling through dual mechanisms, manufactured through a novel scalable manufacturing process. 


  • University of Minnesota ($249,853 federal funding, $249,853 total project cost): Crystallization Kinetics: Toward the Useful Separation of Salts in Enhanced Evaporation Systems. This project seeks to leverage the research team’s detailed understanding of the spatial and temporal temperature variation and brine evaporation behavior in enhanced evaporation systems to intentionally, and selectively, precipitate salt in distinct locations for collection and reuse. 

New Mexico 

  • New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology ($249,896 federal funding, $499,792 total project cost): Advanced Hybrid Membrane Process for Simultaneous Recovery of Clean Water and Lithium from High Salinity Brines. This project seeks to develop an innovative hybrid membrane process for simultaneous recovery of clean water and lithium from high-salinity brines. 


  • Temple University ($250,000 federal funding, $500,972 total project cost): Synergistic Integration of Electroactive Forward Osmosis and Microbial Desalination Cells for Energy-Neutral Desalination. The goal of this project is to develop an energy-neutral seawater desalination system by integrating electroactive forward osmosis and microbial desalination cells. 


  • Vanderbilt University ($250,000 federal funding, $518,463 total project cost): Selective Removal and Degradation of PFAS via Cyclic Adsorption-electrooxidation on Conductive Functionalized Cu-MOF-aminated-GO. This project aims to develop a fundamentally new approach to selectively remove PFAS from water using a metal organic framework and degrade it to ensure complete removal. 


  • William Marsh Rice University ($250,000 federal funding, $332,842 total project cost): Ion Exchange Membranes with Tunable Monovalent Ion Permselectivity to Maximize Water Recovery in Desalination. This project seeks to improve the performance of electrodialysis technologies by developing ion exchange membranes with tunable ion permeability and permselectivity for desalination applications. 
  • Freese and Nichols, Inc. ($231,710 federal funding, $539,945 total project cost): Strategies for Gaining Pathogen Removal Credit for Reverse Osmosis in Potable Reuse in Texas (and Beyond). This project will facilitate the identification and evaluation of strategies for gaining pathogen removal credit for reverse osmosis in potable reuse applications in Texas and beyond. 


  • George Mason University ($250,000 federal funding, $500,203 total project cost): Engineering Spatial Wood Carbon Scaffolds with Nanocellulose Fillers for Water Deionization. This project seeks to create an innovative and energy-efficient capacitive deionization process with the help of biomass-based advanced porous structures for water desalination and purification. 

For more information on Reclamation’s Desalination and Water Purification Research Program visit

The Topsoil Percent Short to Very Short shows driest conditions in the Central and Southern Plains and increasing dryness in parts of the Eastern US — @DroughtDenise

The Subsoil Percent S/VS map shows conditions drying most along parts of the East Coast.

The percent of winter wheat in poor to very poor conditions is highest in the Central and South Plains and increased by 2 to 10 percentage points in those states — @DroughtDenise

Nationally, 41% of the winter #wheat is P/VP, up 2% from last week.

The #PuebloWest Metro District Board narrowly approves new #water, sewer fees in 3-2 vote — The #Pueblo Chieftain

Pueblo West. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0,

Click the link to read the article on The Pueblo Chieftain website (Tracy Harmon). Here’s an excerpt:

The board voted 3-2 to pass a resolution setting new water rates. Members Joe Mahaney and Nick Madero voted against the resolution. The raise in rates includes a 94-cent monthly fee for residential water users and a $3.17 monthly fee for residential sewer customers. The fees are described as “readiness to serve” fees, which represent the fixed costs the utilities providers experience getting the services to customers, said Jim Blasing, utilities director for the district.  The rates will go into effect in May…New residential customers will see an increase in the residential water resource fee and tap fee, totaling a little more than $1,000. Those increases are designed to have new residents help pay for the growth of the system…

Board member Jami Baker Orr said the district has “among the lowest paid district employees” and has been trying to bring those wages up. She also said that the rates are “based on the advice of a water expert” and noted that the district’s facilities are getting older and will need to be upgraded in the near future.

Supreme Court Rejects Big Oil’s Bid to Review Landmark #Climate Case — City of #Boulder #ActOnClimate

Denver, Colorado, USA – January 12, 2013: The Suncor Energy refinery in Denver, Colorado. Based in Calgary, Alberta, Suncor Energy is a Canadian oil and gas company with revenues of over 35 Billion Canadian Dollars. Photo credit: City of Boulder

Click the link to read the bulletin on the City of Boulder website (Christian Herrmann, Emily Sandoval, and Kate Fried):

Boulder County’s case to proceed in local court; stage set for similar cases across US

The United States Supreme Court delivered a critical victory to those suffering the harms of the climate crisis. The Court rejected ExxonMobil and Suncor’s petition for certiorari seeking to force three Colorado communities — who sued the companies for their role in the climate crisis and the local impacts the communities suffer — into federal court. The result of the Supreme Court’s denial is that the cases brought by Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder will proceed in Colorado state court.

In June 2022, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit decided that the case belonged in state court, the companies sought Supreme Court review on two questions – whether federal common law actually governed the municipalities’ state law tort claims and whether federal courts thus have jurisdiction over the case. With the Supreme Court rejecting their petition, Exxon and Suncor can no longer forestall Colorado state courts’ consideration of the case. The cases will now proceed in the Colorado court system.

The Supreme Court also rejected petitions in four similar climate cases where the fossil fuel companies pressed the same arguments for federal jurisdiction. More than two dozen similar cases were filed in state courts across the country. Other high-profile climate litigation cases include those in Rhode Island, Baltimore, Hawai’i, and several California municipalities.

EarthRights General Counsel Marco Simons issued the following statement:

“Since the Colorado communities filed this case in 2018, ExxonMobil and Suncor have consistently sought to delay the litigation—moving the case from court to court and losing each step along the way. Today’s development brings these communities one step closer to holding fossil fuel companies accountable for their misconduct and obtaining remedies for the serious climate harms Colorado residents face.

“Every court that has reviewed this case has come to the same conclusion–that it should be heard in a local court, by a local jury. The Supreme Court’s decision today confirms that. This case is not about changing national climate policy — it’s about accountability for the climate harms in Colorado that companies like Exxon and Suncor are responsible for.”

Boulder County Commissioner Ashley Stolzmann issued the following statement:

“Boulder County is thrilled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to take up this case. Our lawsuit against Exxon and Suncor should be determined in Colorado state court – where the actions of these companies are negatively impacting our residents. Communities like ours are exposed to destructive climate change impacts caused by the actions of fossil fuel companies while they reap record profits. These companies need to pay their fair share to deal with the climate chaos they’ve created and take responsibility for the climate impacts. Local governments cannot shoulder the price tag of climate change alone.”

The City of Boulder issued the following statements:

“Today, the court affirmed what we know to be true – our case deserves its day in local court, where our communities experience the impacts and costs of climate change,” said Boulder Mayor Aaron Brockett. “Oil companies are making record profits while our planet continues to warm. It’s only fair that the companies that profit from irresponsible actions compensate communities for the harm they cause.”

“There’s no doubt that climate change is very costly for local government. Taxpayer dollars are stretched to support key services, and the costs to prepare for and recover from climate disasters are too much for communities alone to bear,” said Boulder City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde. “Today’s decision is a step toward justice. Colorado communities will have the chance to hold oil companies responsible for the hundreds in millions in damages their actions cause.”

San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper issued the following statement:

“This is excellent news for San Miguel County. It’s only fair that our lawsuit against Suncor and Exxon be heard not before the U.S. Supreme Court but in Colorado, closer to the communities where the impacts of climate change are most acutely felt. Enough with the delays. It’s time for fossil fuel companies to help local governments with the costs of addressing climate change in the name of protecting the health and well-being of our residents.”


In 2018, Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder—with legal support from EarthRights International, the Hannon Law Firm, and the Niskanen Center—filed a lawsuit against Exxon and Suncor for their decades of misinformation and other contributions to the climate crisis. The communities, which are already experiencing significant climate change impacts, demanded that these companies pay their fair share of the costs associated with these impacts so that the costs do not fall disproportionately on taxpayers.

Shortly after the communities filed their case in Colorado state court, defendant fossil fuel companies sought to remove the case to federal court. Both the federal district court and Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the case should proceed, as filed, in state court. However, the Tenth Circuit needed to revisit this jurisdictional issue after the Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in BP v. Baltimore.

In February 2022, the Tenth Circuit ruled that the Colorado climate case should indeed proceed in state, not federal, court. Defendants ExxonMobil and Suncor then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the Supreme Court to hear the case and answer two narrow questions related to federal removal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court’s initial reaction was to ask the U.S. Government for its views; in March 2023, the Solicitor General submitted a brief agreeing with the Colorado communities that the Supreme Court should not hear the case and that it should proceed in state court.

Representation of the Colorado communities at the Supreme Court has been led by Kevin Russell of Goldstein, Russell & Woofter LLC.

Celebrate! A spring high flow experiment in #GrandCanyon — @AmericanRivers #COriver

Rafts in the Grand Canyon | Photo Amy S. Martin

Click the link to read the article on the American Rivers website (Sinjin Eberle):

Last week, the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal government agency that oversees and manages operations on the Colorado River, announced the authorization of a spring High Flow Experiment (HFE) in the Grand Canyon. This is a big deal since the last time an HFE was conducted was in the fall of 2018, and the last time a spring HFE was executed was in 2008. And with the COLORADO RIVER IN THE GRAND CANYON NAMED AS AMERICA’S MOST ENDANGERED RIVER® just last week, we are thrilled that this action is happening to benefit the ecosystem in the canyon.


A High Flow Experiment is in essence a simulated flood being conducted through Glen Canyon dam. In practice, the dam releases a high volume of water, usually through both the hydropower turbines and the bypass tubes, which are lower-elevation tubes through the dam that are usually only used for these short duration floods or in other unique situations (like releasing water during the extreme inflows of 1983) over a limited period of time. HFE’s are extremely important to the management of sand in the canyon and the healthy functioning of the Grand Canyon riparian ecosystem overall.

To set the stage even further, let’s go back to the time before the creation of Glen Canyon Dam. The Colorado River traditionally carried millions and millions of tons of sediment down the river each year. Since Glen Canyon was built, most of that sand has been trapped in the upper reaches of Lake Powell – as flows slow down as the river becomes the lake, the sediment drops out and settles (up near Hite and Halls Crossing and then the San Juan as it enters the lake as well.) The result is that the water coming through Glen Canyon dam is very clear, lacking the traditional sediment that would be carried by the river and maintaining beaches and sandbars and the natural ecological benefits of that silty, sediment-laden water throughout the canyon. This clear water erodes sand from beaches and sandbars, and for decades in the 1970’s and 1980’s was causing real problems with the canyon’s ecology. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, some experiments were conducted to begin to learn how these floods might act and how they might contribute to sand and other ecological functions within the canyon. Then, in 2016, the Long Term Experimental and Management Plan (LTEMP) was completed and set the guidelines for how and how frequently future HFE’s could be conducted.

Now, the Paria River, which is about 17 miles downstream from Glen Canyon dam (and about a mile below the put-in at Lee’s Ferry) is the main source of sediment into the Grand Canyon. When the Paria River flashes (most commonly during the summer monsoon season) it can deposit tons of sand – sometimes more than a million tons of sand – in a summer. This sand is what can be pushed downstream in an HFE to rebuild beaches and sandbars, and aid in the protection of cultural resources throughout the length of the canyon.

The author preparing to measure the volume of sand at this Grand Canyon beach using geodetic survey techniques | Photo by Katie Chapman

One of the elements within these LTEMP guidelines is how and when these HFE’s may be conducted, and how often the program should try to make them happen. Sadly, they have not happened often enough, and the canyon is really suffering because of it. Since the last HFE in 2018, there have been complications with declining water levels across the basin but felt most acutely in Lake Powell as elevations have declined to record lows. Then in 2021 and 2022, the monsoons delivered abundant sand through the Paria into the Colorado River, but unfortunately also caused a lot of erosion of beaches downstream as these monsoon storms ripped across Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau.

Today, we are celebrating the decision by the Bureau of Reclamation to use this opportunity to trigger one of these HFE’s to move the volume of sand currently sitting near the mouth of the Paria to rebuild beaches and sandbars, repair the ecology, and aid the protection of cultural resources downstream.

Glen Canyon Dam | Photo courtesy of National Park Service

Reclamation was able to make this decision based on several factors. First, due to the drought operations conducted over the past two years, there is a good amount of water parked in Lake Powell to protect the hydropower infrastructure at Glen Canyon dam that had to be moved downstream sometime this year. Second, the sand is there and the damage to the beaches in the canyon is glaring. Third, the water sitting in Lake Powell right near the dam (in an area above the dam called the “forebay”) is quite cold, which could aid aquatic species downstream. And lastly, there is a window of time where Reclamation and the hydropower providers can shift the timing of some needed maintenance at the dam to free up the opportunity to have all 8 hydropower penstocks and some of the bypass tubes available to actually conduct the high flows through the dam.

This week’s HFE will be pretty dramatic, both visually and scientifically. The flow will begin early Monday morning (April 24, 2023) and last into Thursday evening (April 27, 2023.) The dam will ramp up releases to 39,500 cubic feet per second (CFS) and hold that for 72 hours straight creating a flood that will flow all the way to Lake Mead over a period of about a week, rebuilding sandbars and beaches along the way (and giving rafters in the canyon an exciting ride!) One additional key point to understand is that HFE’s consume no net loss of water in Lake Powell – after the HFE occurs, Glen Canyon dam will release slightly less water than normal over a period of weeks, in order to make up that amount of water that is shot downstream, yet another benefit in the design in these critically important High Flow Experiments.

High Flow Experiment Pattern

Again, we applaud the Bureau of Reclamation, the scientists at USGS’ Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, and everyone else who has been working hard to make one of these HFE’s happen for years. We are looking forward to seeing the great results that will come out of this event very soon.

(To learn more about the Grand Canyon’s history and ecosystem, check out our new STORY MAP, CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE – we think you will love it!)

Feds start 3-day flood experiment of the #GrandCanyon to improve #ColoradoRiver conditions in the canyon — #COriver

Glen Canyon Dam during high flow experimental release about a decade ago. These occasional releases are just about the only time the river outlet works (where water is gushing out above) operate. Photo credit: Jonathan P. Thompson/The Land Desk

Click the link to read the article on the website (Shaun McKinnon). Click through for video and a photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

The Bureau of Reclamation opened the bypass tubes at Glen Canyon Dam early Monday and began three days of high water flows from Lake Powell to help improve environmental conditions on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. It’s the first such high-flow experiment at the dam since 2018 and the first during spring runoff season. The goal is to move accumulated sediment downstream and begin to rebuild beaches on the river that have eroded in recent years. The engineered flood mimics some of the river’s pre-dam flows, when snowmelt runoff from the mountains far upstream would raise water levels and redistribute sediment. Since Glen Canyon Dam’s completion in 1963, the water flowing into the Grand Canyon has carried less sediment, much of the river’s sand and other materials trapped behind the dam.

Releasing more water from Lake Powell won’t change the total amount of water that flows through the system this year, bureau officials said. The water will arrive at Lake Mead earlier than it would have otherwise and remain there until it’s needed downstream. Dam operators began raising water flows early Monday, first through the power plant turbines and then through bypass tubes on the side of the dam. By mid-morning, water gushed from the tubes into the river at the dam’s base, the start of a journey downstream through the Grand Canyon toward Lake Mead. The amount of water released will fluctuate over the three days, but the bureau said the high flows will peak at about 39,500 cubic feet per second, or as much as quadruple the average output from the dam. The water releases will return to normal operations by Thursday.

Why average #snowpack in #Colorado is something to celebrate this year — CBS Colorado #runoff

Click the link to read the article on the CBS Colorado website (Spencer Wilson). Here’s an excerpt:

Let’s get to the good news: Colorado got snow this year, and it’s going to help fill up our reservoirs, some of them almost to average! Yes, that doesn’t sound great, but considering our last few years, the average is something to celebrate. Travis Thompson, Denver Water spokesperson, pointed to the snowpack just starting to melt into the Colorado River Basin, where he said Denver gets about half its water.  If these next rounds of storms coming through are able to drop off some moisture, our pack levels will likely hit 100% normal and we’d be in good shape, for this year at least.,,

…in Colorado, it’s more spread out, some parts got hammered, like the San Juan Mountain Range, and some parts of Colorado got what they usually got, or even less in some spots. To look at an overall state average would to be instilling a false sense of confidence, Thompson said.

Elkhead Reservoir expected to top spillway again this year similar to 2011: Streambank erosion expected in lower #ElkheadCreek — Steamboat Pilot & Today #runoff

The Colorado River Water Conservation District predicts Elkhead Reservoir will overtop its spillway in mid-May with water exiting the spillway and outflow at a combined rate of about 2,000 cubic feet per second, or about the same level of peak water as in 2011, shown here on June 14, 2011. Stream bank damage is expected downstream in Elkhead Creek in May. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Conservation District

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Suzie Romig). Here’s an excerpt:

Last year, Elkhead Reservoir operators carefully managed the reservoir that straddles the Routt and Moffat countyline due to low water issues, but this year reservoir managers are facing challenges due to high water from abundant snowmelt in the Yampa Valley. Managers predict Elkhead Reservoir will top its spillway in mid-May with water exiting the spillway and outflow at a combined rate of about 2,000 cubic feet per second, or cfs, or about the same level of peak water as in wet 2011, said Don Meyer, senior water resources engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation District based in Glenwood Springs.

“The current outflow is about 550 cfs with valves 100% open,” Meyer said. “When (the reservoir is) full, the release will be 590 cfs. When spilling, we will likely keep the outlet discharge at 590 cfs, and the rest will go over the spillway.”

Meyer, who has managed Elkhead Reservoir releases since 2007, said high water flows in 2011 recorded 1,800 cfs on May 8 and more than 2,000 cfs on May 16, May 24 and June 4. He expects 2023 spillage will follow a similar path…

The watershed upstream of Elkhead Reservoir drains a 205-square-mile basin, according to the river district that owns or controls water supplies that are available for contract to agricultural, municipal, industrial and other water users.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

Southern and northern lights sweep planet in stunning display of auroras — The Washington Post #aurora

Click the link to read the article on The Washington Post website (Matthew Cappucci and Kasha Patel). Click through for the video, photos, and Twitter stream. Here’s an excerpt:

A ‘severe’ solar storm triggered the outburst of auroras. Even California, Arizona, Arkansas and Virginia reported sightings.

Skywatchers in Europe, Asia and North America were treated Sunday night to perhaps one of the most widespread displays of the northern lights since the autumn solar storms of 2003. Equally impressive shows of the aurora australis, or southern lights, were spotted in Australia and New Zealand.

The northern and southern lights, collectively known as the aurora, are most common in the high Arctic and Antarctic regions around the poles, but they can venture to the middle latitudes on rare occasions during potent geomagnetic storms. The storms are caused by magnetic energy and electrons that are hurled into space by the sun. The stronger the solar storm, the greater the effect — particularly if the resulting outburst is directed toward Earth. Forecasters at the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., issued warnings for a Level 4 out of 5 “severe” geomagnetic storm, which happens on average only 60 times every 11 years. The episode may have been even more intense at times, sparking auroral displays as far south as California, Arizona, Arkansas and Virginia…

On Friday afternoon, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite recorded an explosion on the surface of the sun. The flare, rated an M2 on an ascending scale that climbs A, B, C, M to X, caused a radio burst on Earth eight minutes later. That clued NOAA forecasters into the fact that the energy was directed toward Earth…The flare was followed by a coronal mass ejection (CME) — a mass of solar plasma, charged particles and magnetism — that headed directly toward Earth at speeds of roughly 1.5 million miles per hour. That interplanetary shock wave collided with Earth’s magnetic field on Sunday afternoon Eastern time, which was after dark in Europe and in the early hours of Monday in China. Brilliant apparitions of the northern lights quickly appeared. The CME brought “severe” geomagnetic storming, stronger than what the Space Weather Prediction Center forecast when the CME left the sun Friday…

The colors of an aurora correspond to the type and altitude of the element that is excited in Earth’s atmosphere, Murtagh explained. Excited oxygen atoms glow red above 120 miles and glow green between 60 and 120 miles. Excited nitrogen atoms below 120 miles can glow pink or purple. Murtagh said a more intense aurora is typically higher, so lower latitudes will see more red.

“The bigger storms can light up the higher altitudes, which is largely going to [excite] the oxygen causing that red,” he said. “The further you are away, down south that is, you’re going to not see the green and yellow in the lower altitudes.”

How do you tackle microplastics? Start with your washing machine: Simple filters could help remove microfiber pollution from your laundry. But experts say a broader portfolio of solutions is needed to address the problem — Grist

Credit: EPA

Click the link to read the article on the Grist website (Saqib Rahim):

As environmental challenges go, microfiber pollution has come from practically out of nowhere. It was only a decade or so ago that scientists first suspected our clothing, increasingly made of synthetic materials like polyester and nylon, might be major contributors to the global plastic problem.

Today a growing body of science suggests the tiny strands that slough off clothes are everywhere and in everything. By one estimate, they account for as much as one-third of all microplastics released to the ocean. They’ve been found on Mount Everest and in the Mariana Trench, along with tap water, plankton, shrimp guts, and our poo.

Research has yet to establish just what this means for human and planetary health. But the emerging science has left some governments, particularly in the Global North, scrambling to respond. Their first target: the humble washing machine, which environmentalists say represents a major way microfiber pollution reaches the environment.

Late last month a California State Assembly committee held a hearing on Assembly Bill 1628, which would require new washing machines to include devices that trap particles down to 100 micrometers — roughly the width of human hair — by 2029. The Golden State isn’t alone here, or even first. France already approved such a requirement, effective 2025. Lawmakers in Oregon and Ontario, Canada have considered similar bills. The European Commission says it’ll do the same in 2025.

Environmental groups, earth scientists and some outdoor apparel companies cheer the policies as an important first response to a massive problem. But quietly, some sustainability experts feel perplexed by all the focus on washers. They doubt filters will achieve much, and say what’s really needed is a comprehensive shift in how we makeclean and dispose of clothes.

The wash is “only one shedding point in the lifecycle of the garment. To focus on that tiny, tiny moment of laundry is completely nuts,” said Richard Blackburn, a professor of sustainable materials at the University of Leeds. “It would be much better to focus on the whole life cycle of the garment, of which the manufacturing stage is much more significant in terms of loss than laundering, but all points should be considered.”

Today, some 60 percent of all textiles incorporate synthetic material. Anyone who’s worn yoga pants, workout gear or stretchy jeans knows the benefits: These materials add softness, wicking and flexibility. Under a microscope, though, they look a lot like plain old plastic. From the moment they’re made, synthetic clothes — like all clothes — release tiny shreds of themselves. Once liberated these fibers are no easier to retrieve than glitter tossed into the wind. But their size, shape, and tendency to absorb chemicals leaves scientists concerned about their impacts on habitats and the food chain.

Anja Brandon is an associate director for U.S. plastics policy at the Ocean Conservancy who has supported the California and Oregon bills. She concedes that filters won’t fix the problem, but believes they offer a way to get started. She also supports clothing innovations but said they could be years away. “I for one don’t want to wait until it’s a five-alarm fire,” she said.

Studies suggest a typical load of laundry can release thousands or even millions of fibers. Commercially available filters, like the PlanetCare, Lint LUV-R and Filtrol, strain the gray water through ultra-fine mesh before flushing it into the world. It’s the owner’s job, of course, to periodically empty that filter — ideally into a trash bag, which Brandon said will secure microfibers better than the status quo of letting them loose into nature.

Washing machine manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe have pushed back, saying the devices pose technical risks, like flooding and increased energy consumption, that must be addressed  first. University experiments with these filters, including an oft-cited 2019 study by the University of Toronto and the Ocean Conservancy, haven’t found these issues, but it’s not a closed case yet: Last year a federal report on microfibers, led by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called for more research in this vein.

Manufacturers also argue that microfibers originate in a lot of places, but washers are a relatively modest one. As self-serving as that sounds, people who study the issue agree there’s a huge hole in the available science: While we know clothes shed microfibers throughout their lives, we know surprisingly little about when most of it happens.

Some evidence suggests that the friction of simply wearing clothes might release about as many microfibers as washing them. Then there are dryers, which some suspect are a major source of microfiber litter but have been barely studied, according to the federal report. There is also limited knowledge about how much microfiber pollution comes from the developing world, where most people wash by hand. (A recent study led by Hangzhou Dianzi University in Hangzhou, China pointed to this knowledge gap – and found that hand-washing two synthetic fabrics released on average 80 to 90 percent fewer microfiber pollution than machine-washing.)

To Blackburn, it’s obvious that most releases occur in textile mills, where it’s been known for centuries that spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing fabric spritzes lots of fiber. “Where do you think it goes when we get it out of the factory?” he said. “It goes into the open air.”

He calls filter policies “totally reactionary,” arguing that they would at best shave a few percentage points off the total microfiber problem. But there is one area where Blackburn is in broad agreement with environmentalists: In the long run, tackling the issue will take a lot of new technology. No silver-bullet solution has appeared yet, but a slew of recent announcements reveals a vibrant scene of research and development attacking the problem from many angles.

Some best practices already are known within the industry. For example, more tightly woven clothes, and clothes made of long fibers rather than short ones, fray less. But for years, popular brands like Patagonia and REI have said what they really need is a way to experiment with many different materials and compare their shedding head to head. This has been tricky: Microfibers are, well, micro, and there’s no industry standard on how to measure them.

That might be changing. In separate announcements in February, Hohenstein, a company that develops international standards for textiles, and activewear brand Under Armour revealed new methods in this vein. Under Armour is targeting 75 percent “low-shed” fabrics in its products by 2030.

These approaches would at best reduce microfiber emissions, not eliminate them. So another field of research is what Blackburn calls “biocompatibility”: making microfibers less harmful to nature. California-based companyIntrinsic Advanced Materials sells a pre-treatment, added to fabrics during manufacturing, that it claims helps polyester and nylon biodegrade in seawater within years rather than decades. Blackburn’s own startup, Keracol, develops natural dyes, pulled from things like fruit waste, that break down more easily in nature than synthetic ones.

New ideas to dispose of clothes are also emerging, though some will cause arched eyebrows among environmentalists. This year U.S. chemical giant Eastman will start building a facility in Normandy, France that it claims “unzips” hard-to-recycle plastics, like polyester clothes, into molecular precursors that can be fashioned into new products like clothes and insulation. Critics charge that such “chemical recycling” techniques are not only of dubious benefit to the environment, they’re really just a smokescreen for fossil-fuel corporations trying to keep their product in demand.

Lest anyone forget about washing machines, there’s R&D going after them, too. In January Patagonia and appliance giant Samsung announced a model that they claim cuts micro plastic emissions up to 54%. It’s already rolled out in Europe and Korea. At around the same time, University of Toronto researchers published research on a coating that, they claim, makes nylon fabric more slippery in the wash, reducing friction and thus microfiber emissions by 90 percent after nine washes. In a press release the researchers tut-tutted governments for their focus on washing-machine filters, which they called a “Band-Aid” for the issue.

One continuous thread through all these efforts, of course, is that everyone is working with imperfect information. The emerging science on microfibers – and microplastics in general – suggests they’re a gritty fact of modern life, but doesn’t yet show the magnitude of their harm to humans and other species. For the moment environmentalists, policymakers and manufacturers aren’t just debating whether to put filters on washing machines, but whether we know enough to act. In 20 years, when scientists know a lot more, it’ll be easier to judge whether today’s policies represented proactive leadership on an emerging environmental problem — or a soggy Band-Aid.

Using solar farms to generate fresh desert soil crust: Arizona State University researchers discover new way to replace biocrusts damaged by human activities

Biological soil crust in Natural Bridges National Monument near Sipapu Bridge. By Nihonjoe – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Click the link to read the release on the Arizona State University website (Richard Harth):

In the arid regions of the American Southwest, an unseen world lies beneath our feet. Biocrusts, or biological soil crusts, are communities of living organisms. These industrious microbes include cyanobacteria, green algae, fungi, lichens and mosses, forming a thin layer on the surface of soils in arid and semiarid ecosystems.

Biocrusts play a crucial role in maintaining soil health and ecosystem sustainability, but they are currently under assault. Human activities including agriculture, urbanization and off-road vehicle use can lead to the degradation of biocrusts, having long-term consequences for these fragile environments. Climate change is also placing stress on biocrusts, which struggle to adapt to sunlight and searing heat in arid landscapes like the Sonoran Desert.

In a proof-of-concept study, ASU researchers adapted a suburban solar farm in the lower Sonoran Desert as an experimental breeding ground for biocrust. During the three-year study, photovoltaic panels promoted biocrust formation, doubling biocrust biomass and tripling biocrust cover compared with open areas with similar soil characteristics. Graphic by Shireen Dooling

To help with this issue, Arizona State University researcher Ferran Garcia-Pichel and his students have proposed an innovative approach to restoring healthy biocrusts. The idea is to use new and existing solar energy farms as nurseries for generating fresh biocrust.

Safely shielded from the sun beneath arrays of solar panels, like beachgoers under an umbrella, the biocrusts are sheltered from excessive heat and can flourish and develop. Ultimately, the newly generated biocrusts can then be used to replenish arid lands where such soils have been damaged or destroyed.

Help for desert soil

In a proof-of-concept study, ASU researchers adapted a suburban solar farm in the lower Sonoran Desert as an experimental breeding ground for biocrust. During the three-year study, photovoltaic panels promoted biocrust formation, doubling biocrust biomass and tripling biocrust cover compared with open areas with similar soil characteristics.

When biocrusts were harvested, natural recovery was moderate, taking around six to eight years to fully recuperate without intervention. However, when harvested areas were reinoculated, the recovery was much faster, with biocrust cover reaching near-original levels within one year.

The researchers emphasize that the use of similar, but larger, solar farms could provide a low-cost, low-impact and high-capacity method to regenerate biocrusts and expand soil restoration approaches to regional scales. They have dubbed their pioneering approach “crustivoltaics.”

The study estimates that use of the three largest solar farms in Maricopa County, Arizona, as biocrust nurseries could empower a small-scale enterprise to rejuvenate all idle agricultural lands within the county, spanning more than 70,000 hectares, in under five years. Among many environmental benefits, this restoration effort has the potential to significantly decrease airborne dust presently impacting the Phoenix metropolitan region.

“This technology can be a game changer for arid soil restoration,” Garcia-Pichel said. “For the first time, reaching regional scales at our fingertips, and we could not be more excited. To boot, crustivoltaics represents a win-win approach for conservation of arid lands and for the energy industry alike.”

Garcia-Pichel is a Regents Professor in the School of Life Science and the founding director of the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics. The center amalgamates researchers that study assemblages of microbes, or microbiomes, acting in unison in various settings, from humans to animals and plants, to oceans and deserts. Garcia-Pichel’s lab has specialized in the study and applications of desert soil microbiomes. 

The group’s findings appear in the current issue of the journal Nature Sustainability, in a publication co-lead by graduate student Ana “Meches” Heredia-Velásquez, and former graduate student Ana Giraldo-Silva, now a professor at the Public University of Navarre in Spain. A separate briefing of this contribution appears concurrently in Nature.

Living matrix

Biocrusts are complex ecosystems researchers have only recently begun to explore. Among their many functions, they act to stabilize soil by binding soil particles together, minimizing the loss of topsoil caused by wind and water. They contribute to nutrient cycling by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, a process where nitrogen gas is converted into ammonia, making it available to plants. Cyanobacteria, which are present in biocrusts, are the primary organisms responsible for this process.

Photosynthetic activities within biocrusts play a role in carbon storage by fixing atmospheric carbon dioxide. This process can help mitigate some of the effects of climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Biocrusts also increase the soil’s water-retaining capacity, allowing more water to infiltrate the soil and reducing runoff. This helps to improve water availability for plants and other organisms in arid ecosystems.

Finally, biocrusts support a diverse community of microorganisms that contribute to overall ecosystem biodiversity and resilience.

Drylands, which make up approximately 41% of the Earth’s continental area, are experiencing severe degradation due to human activities and climate change. The communities of microorganisms on soil surfaces are vital to protect and fertilize these soils and are essential for dryland sustainability. However, current biocrust restoration methods involve high effort and low capacity, limiting their application to small areas. Existing methods have struggled to replenish more than a few hundred square meters of land.

Solar solutions

The research suggests that solar farms serve as biocrust hotspots, as the elevated photovoltaic panels create a greenhouse-like microclimate promoting biocrust development. Although crustivoltaics is a slower and weather-dependent method compared to greenhouse-sized biocrust nurseries, it has many advantages. The technique requires fewer resources, minimal management and no upfront investment. Indeed, the use of crustivoltaics is 10,000 times more cost effective than current methods, according to the research findings.

The next steps will involve implementing crustivoltaics at regional scales through the cooperation of scientists, collaborative agencies, land users and managers. Use of the technique can provide incentives to solar farm operators, including reduced dust formation on solar panels and increased revenue from carbon credits.

The crustivoltaic approach has the potential to offer a dual-use solution for both solar power generation and biocrust restoration on a large scale while also providing socioeconomic benefits. This method could play a significant role in the restoration and sustainability of dryland ecosystems.

Learn more about the The #ColoradoRiver Cooperative Agreement — #Colorado #Water #Wise #COriver #aridification

Denver Water is one of 18 partners who signed the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement in 2013, ushering in a new era of cooperation between the utility and West Slope stakeholders, all with the vested interest in protecting watersheds in the Colorado River Basin. As part of that agreement, a process called “Learning by Doing” was created, which has helped the utility stay better connected on river conditions in Grand County. The partnership is a collection of East and West Slope water stakeholders who help identify and find solutions to water issues in Grand County. “Denver Water has been part of Grand County for over 100 years, and we understand the impact our diversions have on the rivers and streams,” said Rachel Badger, environmental planning manager at Denver Water. “Our goal is to manage our water resources as efficiently as possible and be good stewards of the water — and Learning By Doing helps us do that.”

The 2023 Secretarial #Drought Designations include 523 primary counties and 277 contiguous counties through April 12 — @DroughtDenise

For more details on the Emergency Disaster Designation and Declaration Process, please visit…

Upper #ColoradoRiver states add muscle as decisions loom on the shrinking river’s future — Water Education Foundation #COriver #aridification @WaterEdFdn

Flows in the White River (pictured above) and other Upper Basin tributaries have declined dramatically over the last 20 years, a trend experts warn will worsen as the West becomes hotter and drier. (Source: The Water Desk)

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Foundation website (Nick Cahill):

Western Water Notebook: Upper Basin States Seek added Leverage to protect their river shares amid difficult talks with California and the Lower Basin

The states of the Lower Colorado River Basin have traditionally played an oversized role in tapping the lifeline that supplies 40 million people in the West. California, Nevada and Arizona were quicker to build major canals and dams and negotiated a landmark deal that requires the Upper Basin to send predictable flows through the Grand Canyon, even during dry years.

But with the federal government threatening unprecedented water cuts amid decades of drought and declining reservoirs, the Upper Basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico are muscling up to protect their shares of an overallocated river whose average flows in the Upper Basin have already dropped 20 percent over the last century.

They have formed new agencies to better monitor their interests, moved influential Colorado River veterans into top negotiating posts and improved their relationships with Native American tribes that also hold substantial claims to the river.

While the Upper Basin has had a joint-bargaining arm in the Upper Colorado River Commission since 1948, the individual states are organizing outside the commission and doing more to look out for their own interests.

Pat Mulroy, who helped shape Colorado River water policy for nearly 30 years as former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the moves signal a political shift in the Upper Basin to become a tougher negotiator and force California, Nevada and Arizona to live with less.

“I see [the Upper Basin states] absolutely gearing up and being ready for a full-blown confrontation with the Lower Basin,” Mulroy said.

Unprecedented Federal Action Looms

The 1922 Colorado River Compact divided the river into Upper and Lower Basins and entitled each with 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year. While the Upper Basin routinely uses far less than its yearly apportionment, the Lower Basin commonly uses its full share even during dry years. The discrepancy in usage as drought depletes key reservoirs on the river remains a chief source of discontent between the two Basins, a century after the Compact’s signing.

Currently, the seven Basin states and tribes are negotiating immediate water-use reductions. They must reach a deal in the coming months to fend off the federal government, which is threatening to intervene if the Basin’s water users don’t come up with an acceptable plan to address chronic water shortages.

Long-term drought, rising demand and the changing climate have severely diminished the river’s main reservoirs, Lake Powell behind Glen Canyon Dam on the Arizona-Utah border and Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam near Las Vegas.

A key negotiating priority for the Upper Basin is forcing the Lower Basin to shoulder evaporative losses at Lake Mead (pictured above) and elsewhere downstream of Lee Ferry, the dividing point between the basins. (Source: The Water Desk/Lighthawk)

With both reservoirs falling to record-low levels, the Department of the Interior gave the Basin states and tribes an ultimatum: Agree to buoy the reservoirs and keep the giant dams producing hydropower, or we’ll unilaterally decide who takes cuts. Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation directed the parties to trim their combined usage by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet, or 16 percent to 33 percent, of the river’s average annual flow dating back to 2000.

Earlier this month, Interior officials presented three options it may take absent a seven-state consensus. One would cut supply to senior water-rights holders, including California’s Imperial Irrigation District, the biggest single user of Colorado River water. Officials said they will make a final decision this summer and that the revised rules will go into effect next year if the states can’t make a deal.

Mulroy, a senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, called the plans “ambitious” and said they would likely spark a lawsuit from California if senior rights are targeted. She said the federal government’s probable goal is to push the states into further negotiations. 

JB Hamby, chair of the Colorado River Board of California, pushed back on the federal proposals and argued that they wrongly shield the Upper Basin.

“The pain is moved around between the three Lower Basin states without even modeling or considering participation from our partners in Mexico or the Upper Basin states,” Hamby said.

In addition to a short-term drought fix, the Basin states and 30 tribes are also scrambling to replace the river’s operating rules, which expire in 2026. The states have a golden opportunity to craft a framework that addresses climate change and the river’s changing hydrology, said Eric Kuhn, a former Colorado water manager and co-author of a book on the 1922 Compact.

“There’s a structural deficit that needs to be solved and we have to go beyond the structural deficit because we allowed reservoirs to get as low as they are without taking action,” he said.

Muscling Up to California and the Lower Basin

California, the largest user of Colorado River water with a 4.4 million acre-feet annual entitlement, has been a dominating presence in the Basin dating back to the 1870s when Palo Verde farmers and miners filed the first claim to the river’s water.  

The Colorado River Compact divided the basin into an upper and lower half, with each having the right to develop and use 7.5 million acre-feet of river water annually. (Source: U.S. Geological Survey via The Water Education Foundation)

California lawmakers played a pivotal role in convincing Congress in 1928 to help fund construction of the All-American Canal and Hoover Dam. Nine years later, in 1937, the state created the Colorado River Board of California to protect its water rights.

In the current negotiations over a dwindling river, the Upper Basin states are seeking to maximize their leverage by taking a page from California’s playbook.  

In 2021, the Utah Legislature approved the Colorado River Authority of Utah, a seven-member board created to manage the state’s river interests. Founded during an extended period of population growth, the authority was tasked with improving Utah’s bargaining position on the river. Utah is entitled to 23 percent of the Upper Basin’s river share and uses around 1 million acre-feet per year.

The creation of the authority has given Utah for the first time a united approach to handling Colorado River issues, said Gene Shawcroft, who chairs the authority. He added that the 2021 law removed some red tape and gave the authority more flexibility than the state engineer, who previously led Utah’s river management.

“The state engineer was woefully underequipped to deal with the issues on the river,” said Mulroy, the former Nevada water official. “The [authority] will hopefully provide some level of forum for unified decision-making.” 

Utah diversified the authority in 2022, adding a board seat designated for a tribal member. The inaugural seat is held by Paul Tsosie, an attorney who is a member of the Navajo Nation and previously served as Interior’s Indian Affairs chief of staff.

Pat Mulroy, former general manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority, has helped make water policy on the river for decades. (Source: Water Education Foundation)

“My service does not replace official Native American tribal consultation, but I will serve as a voice to ensure that Indian Country is included in decisions made by the Colorado River Authority,” Tsosie said in a statement.

As the largest user of river water in the Upper Basin, Colorado is also attempting to increase its political clout.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has asked the Legislature to expand the Colorado River Water Conservation Board and create an executive position within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources that would focus directly on river issues. If lawmakers approve the budget item, Rebecca Mitchell would move from director of the conservation board into the new executive position this summer.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers want to create 15-member task force that would study Colorado River issues. The panel would include the state’s top water officials and managers and representatives from tribal, farming and environmental groups.  

“I see it as the Upper Division states and the Upper Colorado River Commission scaling up to respond to the importance of these negotiations,” said Mitchell, the state’s main river negotiator and representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

The river’s main reservoirs are expected to get a boost in the coming months from the Basin’s largest snowpack since 1997, but Mitchell said keeping the pressure on the Lower Basin to rein in its usage is one of Colorado’s top priorities.

“We need to head-on address the overuse in the Lower Basin and provide for a complete accounting of depletions and evaporation,” she said.

Currently, Upper Basin states are charged for evaporation losses but the Lower Basin is not. Federal officials estimate as much as 10 percent of the river’s flow evaporates annually, including more than 1 million acre-feet from the Lower Basin.

Arizona and Nevada have said in the past year that they are open to new rules that would account for water lost to evaporation, seepage and other system leaks in the Lower Basin, but California remains the lone holdout. 

Hamby, California’s new top negotiator, cast the push to pin evaporative losses on California as an oversimplified argument that punishes the state for developing its rights to the river faster than others. He said projects that were developed well after California’s, such as the Central Arizona Project, which serves more than 80 percent of Arizona’s population, have added to the imbalance between what Mother Nature provides and what the Lower Basin states, tribes and Mexico use.   

While he agrees that fixing the structural deficit in the Lower Basin will be a key piece of the ongoing negotiations, Hamby hinted that progress is drying up on an evaporation deal. “The [existing evaporation proposals] would hit California, Mexico and Lower Basin tribes disproportionately hard. Is that an equitable approach?”

Crafting a path for tribes to be included in water policy decisions has been a high priority recently for Colorado as well as Utah.

In March, Lorelei Cloud of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in southwest Colorado became the first tribal member appointed to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Cloud was also among the tribal participants in a historic forum last August hosted by the Upper Colorado River Commission that focused on tribal water issues.

“It’s essential that the seven Basin states include and consult with the Colorado River Basin tribes in the post-2026 reservoir operations negotiations,” Mitchell said.

New Mexico & Wyoming

Wyoming (14 percent) and New Mexico (11 percent) receive the smallest portions of the Upper Basin’s annual apportionment but are nonetheless looking to play big roles in the discussions.   

To bolster its stake in the river, New Mexico last year reappointed Estevan Lopez, a former Reclamation commissioner, to handle its river negotiations. Lopez, who as Reclamation commissioner helped negotiate the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan that was eventually signed in 2019, said New Mexico wants to see evaporative losses in the Lower Basin settled. 

Estevan Lopez, New Mexico’s top river negotiator and former head of the Bureau of Reclamation. (Source: Water Education Foundation)

Securing federal resources to improve tribal water development, particularly a drinking water pipeline for the Navajo Nation, is another top priority for New Mexico. Lopez said the state is doing more now than ever to involve tribes that hold rights to the Colorado River – Navajo Nation and Jicarilla Apache Nation – in water policy conversations. 

“I think we have as much transparency with the tribes as we’ve ever had and we’re trying to build on it,” Lopez said.

Meanwhile, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon last month approved an advisory committee that will aid the State Engineer’s Office in river issues. The 11-member committee includes farmers, environmentalists, municipal water managers and elected officials. Gordon also approved legislation that funds studies for new water developments and creates a full-time position that will focus partly on Colorado River issues.

The Upper Basin states are digging in, solidifying their bargaining capabilities and pushing for new rules that reflect the West’s changing climate and hydrology. They hope the added focus will result in a new approach that avoids litigation and causes everyone on the river to tighten their belts, regardless of priority rights. 

“Everyone recognizes that we’re going to have to learn to live on less, I think that’s a given,” said Shawcroft, Utah’s top water official. “We’ll get there on a deal there’s no doubt about it, but everyone will have a little less water.”

Reach Writer Nick Cahill at

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Flooding in the county from rapid snowmelt primarily poses a flood threat on the #ColoradoRiver and the #GunnisonRiver — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification #snowpack #runoff (April 23, 2023)

Click the link to read the article on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

The county Department of Public Works says in a news release that the threat of flooding in the county from rapid snowmelt primarily poses a flood threat on the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, but several creeks and washes also can be at significant risk of flooding.

Colorado’s snowpack on Friday was at 133% of median for that date, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Snowpack is at 143% of normal in the Yampa/White river basins, 123% in the upper Colorado River Basin in Colorado, 159% in the Gunnison River Basin and 184% in the combined San Juan/Dolores/San Miguel/Animas basins…Snowpack at three measurement sites on Grand Mesa ranges from 137% to 238% of normal. The Columbine Pass site on the Uncompahgre Plateau is holding four times the normal amount of snow for this time in April.

Flooding already has occurred in places such as Dolores, Montrose County and Hayden in Routt County. Delta County and the city of Delta have been making preparations for high waters on waterways including the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers, through measures ranging from checking and cleaning culverts and storm drains…Gudorf said anywhere from Palisade to Fruita along the Colorado River has potential for flooding in lower-lying areas…Among other areas she is concerned about are Plateau Creek, and the Dolores River in Gateway. She said drainages in the Redlands area also may be susceptible to high waters from snow melting at higher elevations…

Gudorf said that when temperatures started warming up quickly a while back she got nervous about rapidly increasing runoff, but the cooldown that followed gave her some hope for a slow but steady runoff season. But she said a lot of snowmelt needs to come off Grand Mesa. Another concerning factor is a recent windstorm that deposited dust on a lot of Colorado’s mountains, which can accelerate snowmelt as the dark dust absorbs heat from the sun.