Epic snow from all those atmospheric rivers in the West is starting to melt, and the flood danger is rising

Tulare Lake is reemerging as flood water spreads across miles of California farmland. Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Chad Hecht, University of California, San Diego

To get a sense of the enormous amount of water atmospheric rivers dumped on the Western U.S. this year and the magnitude of the flood risk ahead, take a look at California’s Central Valley, where about a quarter of the nation’s food is grown.

This region was once home to the largest freshwater lake west of the Rockies. But the rivers that fed Tulare Lake were dammed and diverted long ago, leaving it nearly dry by 1920. Farmers have been growing food on the fertile lake bed for decades.

This year, however, Tulare Lake is remerging. Runoff and snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada have overwhelmed waterways and flooded farms and orchards. After similar storms in 1983, the lake covered more than 100 square miles, and scientists say this year’s precipitation is looking a lot like 1983. Communities there and across the West are preparing for flooding and mudslide disasters as record snow begins to melt.

Satellite images show farmland with only a few small lakes in early March, then a larger lake covering that farmland by early April.
Tulare Lake, long dry, begins to reemerge in March 2023 as flood water spreads across farm fields. NASA Earth Observatory

We asked Chad Hecht, a meteorologist with the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, how 2023’s storms compare to past extremes and what to expect in the future.

How extreme were this year’s atmospheric rivers?

California averages about 44 atmospheric rivers a year, but typically, only about six of them are strong storms that contribute most of the annual precipitation total and cause the kind of flooding we’ve seen this year.

This year, in a three-week window from about Dec. 27, 2022, to Jan. 17, 2023, we saw nine atmospheric rivers make landfall, five of them categorized as strong or greater magnitude. That’s how active it’s been, and that was only the beginning.

Map of where atmospheric rivers arrived through the end of March 2023
Where atmospheric rivers hit during the first half of the 2023 water year, which started Oct. 1. The arrows show where the storms were strongest, but their impact reached far wider. Center For Western Weather and Water Extremes, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

In all, the state experienced 31 atmospheric rivers through the end of March: one extreme, six strong, 13 moderate and 11 weak. And other storms in between gave the Southern Sierra one of its wettest Marches on record.

These storms don’t just affect California. Their precipitation has pushed the snow-water equivalent levels well above average across much of the West, including in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Idaho and the mountains of western Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Snow water equivalent is a measure of the water in snowpack. Many basins across the West were well over 200% of average in 2023. NRCS/USDA

In terms of records, the big numbers this year were in California’s Southern Sierra Nevada. The region has had 11 moderate atmospheric rivers – double the average of 5.5 – and an additional four strong ones.

Overall, California has about double its normal snowpack, and some locations have experienced more than double the number of strong atmospheric rivers it typically sees. The result is that Northern Sierra snow water content is 197% of normal. The central region is 238% of normal, and the Southern Sierra is 296% of normal.

What risks does all that snow in the mountains create?

There is a lot of snow in the Sierra Nevada, and it is going to come off the mountains at some point. It’s possible we are going to be looking at snowmelt into late June or July in California, and that’s far into summer for here.

Flooding is certainly a possibility. The closest year for comparison in terms of the amount of snow would be 1983, when the average statewide snow water content was 60.3 inches in May. That was a rough year, with flooding and mudslides in several parts of the West and extensive crop damage.

This year, portions of the Southern Sierra Nevada have passed 1983’s levels, and Tulare Lake is filling up again for the first time in decades. Tulare Lake is an indication of just how extreme this year has been, and the risk is rising as the snow melts.

The transition from extreme drought in 2022 to record snow was fast. Is that normal?

California and some other parts of the West are known for weather whiplash. We frequently go from too dry to too wet.

2019 was another above-average year in terms of precipitation in California, but after that we saw three straight years of drought. We went from 13 strong or greater magnitude atmospheric rivers in 2017 to just three in 2020 and 2021, combined.

Map showing well-above average precipitation across California, Nevada and Utah in particular.
The onslaught of powerful atmospheric rivers pushed precipitation to well above average across large parts of the West in 2023, following three years of severe drought. Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

California relies on these storms for about half its water supply, but if the West gets too many atmospheric rivers back to back, that starts to have harmful impacts, like the heavy snowpack that collapsed roofs in the mountains this year, and flash flooding and landslides. These successive storms are typically referred to as atmospheric river families and can result in exacerbated hydrologic impacts by quickly saturating soils and not allowing rivers and streams to recede back to base flow between storms.

Are atmospheric rivers becoming more intense with a warming climate?

There’s been a lot of research on the impact of temperature because of how reliant California is on these storms for its water supply.

Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow corridors of water vapor in the sky that typically start in the tropics as water evaporates and is pulled poleward by atmospheric circulations. They carry a lot of moisture – on average, their water vapor transport is more than twice the flow of the Amazon River. When they reach land, mountains force the air to rise, which wrings out some of that moisture.

In a warming climate, the warmer air can hold more moisture. That can increase the capacity of atmospheric rivers, with more water vapor resulting in stronger storms.

An animation shows two atmospheric rivers moving across the Pacific Ocean from the tropics.
An example of an atmospheric river approaching the West Coast. Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Research by some of my colleagues at Scripps Institution of Oceanography also suggests that California will see fewer storms that aren’t atmospheric rivers. But the state will likely see more intense atmospheric rivers as temperatures rise. California will be even more reliant on these atmospheric rivers for its snow, which will result in drier dries and wetter wets.

So, we’re likely to see this whiplash continue, but to a more extreme level, with longer periods of dry weather when we’re not getting these storms. But when we do get these storms, they have the potential to be more extreme and then result in more flooding.

In the more immediate future, we’re likely headed into an El Niño this year, with warm tropical Pacific waters that shift weather patterns around the world. Typically, El Niño conditions are associated with more atmospheric river activity, especially in Central and Southern California.

So, we may see another wet year like this again in 2024.

Chad Hecht, Research and Operations Meteorologist, Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, University of California, San Diego

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s happening: County sees first round of flooding from heavy #snowpack as runoff roars down — The #Montrose Daily Press

Click the link to read the article on the Montrose Daily Press website (Katharhynn Heidelberg). Here’s an excerpt:

When Luz Marquez returned to her Heritage Estates home off Marine Road Wednesday morning, she was prepared for an ordinary day. What she found was water — lots of it, pooling in her backyard, flowing under a raised shed, and carving small trenches through her parking area to dump the gravel there into the street…

Montrose County had been anticipating flooding this year, based on high snowpack and the potential for a quick melt and runoff. The county was getting sand and sandbags ready for distribution, cleaning ditches and had a contractor lined up for the work. But the water came even sooner than expected.

“It came a little quicker than we thought,” Montrose County Road and Bridge Superintendent Brandon Wallace said, as he and other county staff worked at Heritage Estates. “We watched all night and it decided it really wanted to release. We were trying to get a game plan to clear out some of these drainage ditches cleaned out to alleviate some of this water.”

Montrose County was on alert for weeks, in light of intense snowpack, which just weeks ago stood at record highs in parts of the Gunnison River Basin…The water came roaring about a week sooner than was expected, upending the county’s plans to clear out drainage ditches when things are a bit drier. “The water just beat us to it. We really thought we had a little bit bigger window to get it cleaned when it was dry,” Hawkins said.

Snowmass topped 400 inches of snowfall before closing — The #Aspen Daily News #snowpack

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

Snowmass ski area reaped another 36 inches of snow before it closed last weekend, boosting its 2022-23 season total to 409 inches, according to Aspen Skiing Co. Snowmass was at 143% of its season average for October through March, based on records back to the 1994-95 season…The season started with a bang and never let up. There were 35 inches of snow in October, or 137% of the average of 28 inches. The 53 inches in November were 121% of the average of 44 inches…December brought 66 inches of snowfall to Snowmass, or 136% of the average of 49 inches. Another 72 inches of snow fell in January, or 141% of the average of 51 inches. In February there was 60 inches, or 110% of the average of 54 inches. March was the big winner with 87 inches of snowfall, or 151% of the average of 57.5 inches, according to data shared by SkiCo. For those five months, Snowmass collected 372 inches of snow compared to the average of 260.5 inches.

Meanwhile, the snow keeps falling. Aspen Mountain was prepped for closing weekend with 9 inches of fresh snow on Wednesday and Wednesday night. More snow is forecast for the closing weekend.

Big snow means big water, and local outfitters are happy to see it — The #Montrose Daily Press

Click the link to read the article on The Montrose Daily Press website (Kylea Henseler). Here’s an excerpt:

A way-above-average snowpack has already begun melting, meaning rivers on the Western Slope will likely be rushing this year — and some nearby adventure outfitters will be happy to see it.  The increased flows will likely have both positive and negative impacts on the services, but owners and managers agreed: southwestern Colorado needs water, and nobody’s complaining about it…

As of March 21, the Daily Press reported SnoTel sites above nearby waterways and their reservoirs show big-time snowpack, with the gauge at Columbine Pass sitting at 262% of normal and more than 41 inches of snow water equivalent on the Uncompahgre Plateau. It’s already melting, as evidenced by the flooding seen earlier this week at the Heritage Estates neighborhood off Marine Road.

San Juan Mountains #snowpack yields healthier stream flows on #Rio #Grande and #ConejosRiver — @AlamosaCitizen

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

COLORADO is estimating 750,000 acre-feet on the Rio Grande and 405,000 acre-feet on the Conejos River, both dramatically up from a year ago thanks to healthy snowpack in the San Juan Mountains, State Engineer Kevin Rein told the Rio Grande Compact Commission on Friday.

“Forecasted river flows are much better this year, especially for the rivers starting in the San Juan Mountains,” Rein said. “Streamflows from the San Juan Mountains are estimated to be 130 to 250 percent of the last 30-year average.”

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are at near average snowpack conditions, but still better than recent years, Rein said. 

Streamflows on the Trinchera, Culebra, and Crestone creeks are forecasted at 90 to 120 percent of the last 30-year average, he said.

In 2022, the Rio Grande had 442,000 acre-feet and the Conejos 266,000 acre-feet for a third straight year of below average stream flows.

Rein’s presentation to the Rio Grande Compact Commission, which manages water on the Rio Grande for the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, included a report on the San Luis Valley’s subdistrict system and Colorado’s groundwater pumping rules that Valley irrigators have to follow.

Subdistrict 1, which is the biggest land subdivision in the San Luis Valley with 3,000 water wells and where farmers hold contracts with entities like Coors, Walmart and Safeway, has submitted a fourth plan of water management to Rein and the Colorado Division of Water Resources in its effort to meet the sustainability requirements for Upper Rio Grande’s unconfined aquifer.

“It is struggling with meeting its sustainability requirements in the unconfined aquifer,” Rein told the Rio Grande Compact Commission. 

The proposed fourth plan of water management by Subdistrict 1 would require irrigators to cover groundwater withdrawals with natural surface water or through the purchase of surface water credits. The plan calls for a 1-to-1 augmentation, meaning for every acre-foot of water used, an acre-foot has to be returned to the unconfined aquifer through recharging ponds.

In the San Luis Valley, well owners must replace their injurious river depletions by participating in a subdistrict or by getting a court-approved augmentation plan. The subdistricts, governed by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, must get state approval for annual replacement plans that show how farmers and ranchers are covering their water depletions.

There are three upcoming state water court cases involving irrigators in Subdistrict 1 who filed their own augmentation plans in an effort to stay out of the subdistrict. 

The largest of the three cases involves the Sustainable Water Augmentation Group (SWAG), which consists of 17,000 irrigated acres in Subdistrict 1. That case is set for a five-week trial in July and will be closely watched to see how a proposed augmentation plan this large is reviewed by state water court.


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2023 #COleg: #Drought task force to consider #conservation programs: 15 water leaders to provide recommendations on legislation — @AspenJournalism

The Colorado River from Navajo Bridge below Lee’s Ferry and Glen Canyon Dam. The proposed Marble Canyon Dam would have been just downstream from here. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

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

Colorado legislators on Thursday [April 20, 2023] introduced a bill that would create a drought task force with the aim of providing recommendations about how to implement water-conservation programs and avoid a compact call.

A draft of Senate Bill 295 says the purpose of the task force is to provide recommendations for state legislation to develop programs that address drought “and interstate commitments related to the Colorado River and its tributaries through the implementation of demand reduction projects and the voluntary and compensated conservation of the waters of the Colorado River and its tributaries.”

District 8 State Sen. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat, is a sponsor of the bill, along with other Western Slope legislators: District 5 Sen. Perry Will, who is a Republican; District 13 Rep. Julie McCluskie, the Democrat speaker of the house; and District 58 Rep. Marc Catlin, a Republican.

The bill resurrects a yearslong, ongoing and controversial conversation about a potential “demand management” program, which would pay water users to cut back on a temporary and voluntary basis.

“We absolutely want them to consider what a demand-management program would look like,” Roberts said. “If we can create a voluntary and temporary program that is well compensated, I think it will be much more successful and less damaging to Western Slope agriculture interests and Western Slope economies.”

The task force would have 15 representatives from a wide swath of the Colorado water world, including the Department of Natural Resources, the state engineer’s office, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, Front Range water providers, environmental groups, agricultural producers and industrial water users.

The task force would begin meeting no later than July 31 and may hold up to 12 meetings throughout the rest of the year. Members must submit a written report that includes recommendations and a summary of their work to the Water Resources and Agriculture Review Committee no later than Dec. 15. Roberts said the task force meetings will be open to the public.

Bruce, Ron, Billy, and vehicles with ferry at the Bullfrog Basin Marina. By The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company from Claremont, California, United States – 201812_0106, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78352599

Demand-management redux

The option for demand management was laid out in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan and established a special 500,000-acre-foot pool in Lake Powell, where the upper basin states could store water to protect against a compact call. If the upper basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) were not able to deliver the 75 million acre-feet of water over 10 years to the lower basin states (Nevada, Arizona and California), as required by the 1922 Colorado River Compact, it could trigger involuntary cutbacks in water use.

With climate-change-fueled hotter temperatures robbing the upper basin of streamflows, the possibility of a compact call becomes more of a looming threat each year.

The state of Colorado spent over two years investigating the feasibility of a demand-management program, forming eight work groups that considered various aspects and challenges of a potential program. But the Colorado Water Conservation Board shelved the investigation last year in favor of exploring a drought resiliency toolkit.

Demand management has many skeptics, especially in western Colorado where some worry that temporarily compensating irrigators to use less could be a slippery slope toward “buy and dry,” stripping communities of their water.

In response to the federal government’s announcement in June that basin states needed to cut 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water use, the Upper Colorado River Commission unveiled its 5-Point Plan. One leg of that plan is implementing a program that is conceptually the same as demand management (paying water users to cut back), but with one important difference: it does not have a specially designated pool in Powell to store the water. Any water conserved under the System Conservation Program, which is being funded with $125 million from the Inflation Reduction Act, just stays in the stream and can be picked up by the next water user.

Head of the CWCB and Colorado’s Commissioner to the UCRC Becky Mitchell had promised the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District they could have a say in approving projects within their boundaries. But with an announcement in March that applications would be considered solely on criteria developed by the UCRC, Mitchell walked back her commitment, effectively cutting the conservation districts out of the process. The UCRC is in the process of finalizing contracts with selected project applicants.

Senate bill 295 explicitly instructs the task force to include the CWCB and districts in its process, saying it must specify their respective roles and obligations in the development, implementation and operation of any conservation programs.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District, based in Glenwood Springs, has not taken a formal position on supporting or opposing the creation of a demand-management program, but the organization has been a leader on the topic, producing reports and studies, such as one on the secondary economic impacts of a program on communities. River District leaders have said that if a demand-management program comes to pass, it must be done with careful guidelines that prevent harm to water users and to ensure that conservation doesn’t happen disproportionately in one geographic area.

River District board members Wednesday voted unanimously to support the Senate bill 295.

Zane Kessler, River District director of government relations, said the bill codifies a collaborative path forward.

“This is a broad-based and bipartisan effort with support from Speaker McCluskie and Representative Catlin, senators Roberts and Will. That’s about as balanced as it gets,” Kessler said in an email. “We believe it provides an important seat at the table for agricultural producers, West Slope communities, and the conservation districts charged with protecting the Colorado River’s water resources, and for engaging and working with other interests across the state to navigate a complex and rapidly evolving water future.”

The Colorado Farm Bureau supports the bill. Environmental groups are also supporting the bill, including Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates. Environmental groups want to ensure that any water saved through conservation programs could also benefit the environment by boosting streams at certain times of year.

“We are very encouraged that a task force is being set up to address one of the most challenging issues we are facing as a state,” said Bart Miller, director of Healthy Rivers at WRA. “We are looking forward to being part of that discussion and to make sure as that’s happening we are keeping rivers, recreation, local economies and all the things that depend on flowing streams in mind.”

The nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, both on the Colorado River, have plummeted to record-low levels, threatening the ability to make hydropower. In order to keep the system from crashing, the federal government has issued warnings to the seven basin states to cut their water use. Throughout the basin, there is a growing recognition that those cuts will come from agriculture, by far the largest water-use sector.

Roberts said the current crisis on the river, coupled with an unprecedented amount of federal funding, brings new urgency to conservation discussions.

“We are now in a situation where the Bureau of Reclamation and the federal government are looking at the Colorado River and forcing the states to try to figure this out like we’ve never seen before,” he said. “There is significant federal funding available, and we want the task force to come up with recommendations on how we can maximize Colorado’s benefit from that federal funding to make a demand-management program incredibly well compensated and successful.”

Aspen Journalism is a nonprofit, investigative news organization that covers water, the environment and social justice. To support this work or learn more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

A hayfield near Grand Junction irrigated with water from the Colorado River. State officials are now exploring a demand management program that would pay willing irrigators to fallow hay fields and send the water otherwise use to Lake Powell. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

#Colorado adopts new measures to increase availability of zero-emission trucks that offer lower operating and fuel costs — Colorado Department of Health & Environment #ActOnClimate

Trucks are loaded up. During the day, four semi-trucks will make the trips to the saw mill on the Valley floor, each hauling eight loads a day. Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

Click the link to read the release on the CDPHE website:

State health department proposed the rules to protect air quality and address climate change

REMOTE (April 21, 2023): Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission today adopted new rules to promote access to zero-emissions trucks. The state health department’s Air Pollution Control Division developed the rules and proposed them to the commission following extensive public engagement. These new measures will:

  • Give Colorado businesses and consumers more options when buying zero-emission trucks.
  • Reduce maintenance, operating, and fuel costs for zero-emission truck owners.
  • Dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, that cause climate change.
  • Reduce air pollution emissions, like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, that lead to the formation of harmful ground-level ozone pollution

The air quality benefits are particularly important for further protecting Coloradans living in communities disproportionately impacted by pollution. Many of these communities are located along heavy traffic corridors.

“We’re always looking for new ways to address environmental and health inequities that still impact many Colorado communities today. By encouraging more zero-emitting trucks on the road, we take another step towards realizing clean air for all Coloradans no matter where they live,” said Michael Ogletree, director of the Air Pollution Control Division. “We’re proud of our part in developing these policies that will benefit Colorado’s air quality for years to come and save Coloradans money in the long run.”

The independent commission unanimously approved three rules after a robust, multi-day hearing. The hearing included opportunities for public comment and consideration of alternate proposals from other organizations. Ultimately, the commission voted to adopt the two most impactful rules as the division proposed them, which include the Advanced Clean Trucks rule and the Low NOx Truck rule.

The Advanced Clean Trucks rule sets a sales standard for manufacturers to make more zero-emission trucks available in Colorado. It takes effect for trucks starting with model year 2027, and the sales standard percentage grows incrementally through model year 2035. This rule will only apply to manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks. It does not impact farming equipment or off-road construction equipment. The sales standard does not require Colorado businesses or consumers to purchase a zero-emission truck.

The Low NOx Truck rule sets more stringent air pollution emissions standards for heavy duty vehicles, improves testing requirements for engines, and extends warranties. It takes effect for trucks starting with model year 2027. NOx refers to nitrogen oxides, which form ground-level ozone pollution when they react with other pollutants in heat and sunlight. Most trucks run on diesel, which generates even more nitrogen oxide emissions than vehicles that run on gas. The rule will lower the nitrogen oxide emissions standard for new vehicles by 90% compared to the current standard.

The commission made some changes to the division’s proposal for the last rule, the Large Entity Reporting rule. It will still only apply to operators with a fleet of 20 or more trucks. As the Public Service Company of Colorado suggested, the division will collect this information twice, instead of once. The first reporting deadline is November 30, 2024. The second reporting deadline is December 31, 2027. As the Environmental Justice Coalition suggested, the division will also make all of this data publicly available. 

The division proposed the clean trucking rules to help meet goals in the Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap. The roadmap directed the division to develop a holistic Clean Truck Strategy and to consider proposing these rules as part of that effort. 

Zero-emission vehicles can lead to savings on maintenance and fuel costs for owners. Cleaner vehicles also offer savings through avoided health impacts and avoided climate impacts. The air division completed a Final Economic Impact Analysis that shows total savings could be more than $15.6 billion through 2050.

To help cover up-front costs, the division recently opened two grant programs for applications to fund clean vehicles. The federal Inflation Reduction Act created significant incentives for zero-emission trucks. These include up to $40,000 off the purchase price of clean trucks through a new federal tax credit. Colorado is also positioned to access significant federal funding to assist in deployment and reduce up-front costs for zero-emission trucks.

Colorado adopts ‘Advanced Clean Trucks’ rule to speed transition to heavy-duty EVs — #Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #Electrification

Part of the Amazon fleet at a warehouse along I-70. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

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

Air quality panel unanimously approves California-style standards after yearlong delay

Colorado air quality regulators on Friday approved a pair of rules aimed at reducing pollution from truck engines and speeding up adoption of medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles — albeit a year or two later than many environmentalists hoped.

In a unanimous vote after a three-day hearing, members of the Air Quality Control Commission adopted the Advanced Clean Trucks and Low-Nitrogen Oxides rules largely as proposed by state staff, with only minor tweaks to certain data-collection provisions in the proposal requested by environmental groups.

The move makes Colorado the eighth state to follow California’s lead in adopting the Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which requires manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to sell an increasing percentage of zero-emission models in the coming years. The rule’s mandate for clean trucks, buses and vans is similar to the approach Colorado and many other states have already taken towards passenger cars with their Zero Emission Vehicles rules.

While the transition to fully electric truck fleets could take decades, the Low-NOx rules, also pioneered by California, establish new standards for gas- and diesel-powered truck engines, lowering emissions of a hazardous air pollutant that contributes to ground-level ozone formation.

The rules, AQCC commissioners said Friday, will be key tools for the state in its efforts to reduce both ozone pollution and emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases.

“We know that transportation sources are huge for both of these,” said commissioner Patrick Cummins, a senior policy advisor at Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy. “Transitioning to a clean transportation system, we’re really at the very beginning of that. It’s going to take time, and we need to get going.”

There are about 480,000 trucks, vans and buses registered in Colorado, according to state data, and together they emitted more than 5.3 million tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases in 2019. That’s far less than the 17 million tons emitted by the state’s millions of light-duty vehicles, but cuts will need to be made in all areas of the transportation sector if Colorado hopes to achieve its statutory goals of a 50% reduction in statewide emissions by 2030, and a 90% cut by 2050.

In addition to broad climate effects, environmental-justice advocates and experts say the trucking sector has a disproportionate impact on low-income communities and people of color who live near the highways, depots and industrial facilities where heavy-emitting trucks largely operate.

Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office and the state’s top climate official, highlighted new grant programs to incentivize the purchase of clean trucks and buses and other policies that will help manufacturers and fleet operators meet the targets set by the ACT rule.

“Colorado has established a strong foundation for a successful transition,” Toor said. “We’re very much taking a whole-of-government approach, with interagency coordination and planning to support ZEV adoption, multiple pieces of legislation that have created dedicated revenue streams both for charging infrastructure and vehicle purchase incentives, and … significant utility engagement and investment to support transportation electrification.”

‘Shocked, in a good way’

Environmental groups had urged Colorado policymakers to move forward with the ACT rule as early as 2021, and were dismayed by state officials’ decision last year to push back the rulemaking to 2023. Officials said at the time that the delay would allow for a more “robust stakeholder process.”

In the end, however, there was little controversy over the rule’s adoption this week. The Colorado Motor Carriers Association, a group representing the state’s trucking industry, asked commissioners to consider an alternative plan that would have included longer phase-in periods and more exemptions, and joined representatives of Weld County in requesting that cleaner-burning natural gas vehicles count towards the rule’s requirements. Neither alternative proposal was adopted.

But vehicle manufacturers themselves offered no testimony in opposition to the rule, a fact that Garry Kaufman, a deputy director of the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, said showed that the market stands ready to comply with its targets.

“If we can’t meet them, why isn’t Dodge, and Ford, and some of these other companies that produce heavy vehicles — why aren’t they in here screaming bloody murder that there’s no way we can achieve this?” Kaufman said. “I think the answer is because they can.”

“The fact that not one vehicle manufacturer or engine maker showed up here to voice any concern or opposition to these standards — honestly, I’m shocked, in a good way,” Cummins agreed.

Colorado’s clean-energy industry hailed the new electric truck standards, which will go into effect in 2026, as a watershed moment in the transition to a zero-emission transportation system.

“Colorado’s adoption of ACT is a windfall for Coloradans who want to see the state meet its climate goals, avoid shouldering increasing costs from climate-related disasters, and live in an overall healthier environment,” Susan Nedell, an advocate with the industry group Environmental Entrepreneurs, said in a statement. “This rule gives businesses the tools they need to work with the state to drive its transition to clean transportation and widen the path for fruitful innovation and investment in the nascent clean transportation industry already in Colorado.”

A coalition of environmental and social-justice groups, including Conservation Colorado, the Colorado Sierra Club, GreenLatinos and the Rocky Mountain NAACP, applauded the adoption of the rules while noting the “work still to come.”

“This is by no means the end of our fight to make Colorado’s air safer to breathe and to reduce the toxic pollution accelerating the worst effects of climate change, but it is a step in the right direction,” the coalition said in a press release. “To meet the state’s emissions reduction targets, we need those in positions of power to hold polluters accountable to the rules that already exist; our economy and future generations of Coloradans depend on it.”

Denver’s Brown Cloud via the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Over $140 Million for #Water #Conservation and Efficiency Projects in the West

Photo credit: Reclamation

Click the link to read the release on the Department of Interior website:

84 projects in 15 western states expected to conserve over 230,000 acre-feet annually once completed 

WASHINGTON—The Department of the Interior today announced a $140 million investment for water conservation and efficiency projects as part of the President’s Investing in America agenda to enhance the resilience of the West to drought and climate change. Funding for 84 projects in 15 western states, provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and annual appropriations, will go to irrigation and water districts, states, Tribes and other entities and are expected to conserve over 230,000 acre-feet of water when completed. This is equivalent to 77 billion gallons of water, enough water for more than 940,000 people.

“As we work to address record drought and changing climate conditions throughout the West, we are bringing every resource to bear to conserve local water supplies and support the long-term stability and sustainability of the Colorado River System,” said Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau. “The projects we are funding today are locally led and will support increased water conservation through innovative efficiency measures.”

“Delivering water more efficiently is key to helping Western communities become more resilient to drought,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “For more than 120 years, Reclamation and its partners have developed sustainable water and power solutions for the West. With increased funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, we’re able to expand that work, extending collaboration and expanding conservation.”

The leaders returned last week from visits across the West as part of the Administration’s Investing in America tour to highlight the opportunities that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act are creating.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $8.3 billion for 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 revitalize water delivery systems, advance water purification and reuse techniques, expand water storage capacities and complete rural water projects. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing another $4.6 billion to address Western drought. Combined, these laws represent the largest investments in climate resilience in the nation’s history and provide unprecedented resources to support the Administration’s comprehensive, government-wide approach to make Western communities more resilient to drought and climate change.

In the Colorado River Basin, 12 projects will receive more than $20 million in federal funding from today’s announcement, resulting in more than $44.7 million in infrastructure investments. Once completed, the projects will result in a combined annual water savings of more than 29,000 acre-feet in the Colorado River System. Another 32 projects selected in California will receive $46.7 million in federal funding. The projects will result in more than $164.3 million in infrastructure investments in the state and a combined annual savings of more than 65,000 acre-feet once completed.

Today’s announcement is part of the efforts underway by the Administration to increase water conservation, improve water efficiency, and prevent the Colorado River System’s reservoirs from falling to critically low elevations that would threaten water deliveries and power production. The ongoing implementation and effectiveness of these essential efforts through new investments, as well as any voluntary system conservation agreements between Basin states, will help determine the degree to which revised operations will be implemented.

Selected projects include updating canal lining and piping to reduce seepage losses, installing advanced metering, automated gates and control systems, and programs in urban areas to install residential water meters and other water conservation activities.

One-third of the selected projects advance the Administration’s Justice40 initiative, which aims to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of climate, clean energy and related investments to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, overburdened and underserved.

This funding is part of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program, which focuses on collaborative efforts to plan and implement actions to increase water supply sustainability, including investments to modernize infrastructure. More information is available on Reclamation’s WaterSMART program webpage.

Map credit: AGU

Running and cycling to raise awareness of global #water issues — The Los Angeles Times #ActOnClimate

Click the link to read the article on The Los Angeles Times website

Dustin Garrick, an associate professor of water and development policy at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, has started an initiative called Water Cycles Expeditions and recently led a group on a five-day cycling trip in Southern California and Arizona. The journey took riders from Joshua Tree to the Coachella Valley, and beside the Salton Sea, which is fed by water draining off farmlands. The cyclists also rode next to the U.S.-Mexico border, stopping to see the area where the last of the Colorado River dries up in the desert, becoming a sandy riverbed fringed with vegetation.

“It was really a profound experience,” Garrick said.

Bicycles allow people “to get on the ground and get close to the issues,” he said. He values that perspective as a water researcher, and believes it also helps those who are interested in learning about water sources and challenges.

“The bike brings what I call the bike’s eye view,” he said.

Isabel Jorgensen, a doctoral researcher at the University of Waterloo who grew up in Southern California, said pedaling by the Salton Sea “offered a slower pace to really examine the landscape, both natural and human.”

Jorgensen studies saline lakes, among them the Salton Sea. She said being on a bike helped her notice the shift in desert vegetation as they descended toward the Salton Sea and also gave her a closeup view of Slab City, where people have erected makeshift homes near the lake.

She said cycling provided a different perspective than by car, in part because the group rode into strong winds and dust.

“The sheer force of the wind on the high wind days was knocking our bikes back and even out from under us,” Jorgensen said. “It blew dust everywhere.”

Arapahoe County Divides on Gas & Oil — The Buzz #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Click the link to read the post on The Buzz website (Floyd Ciruli):

A surprising 3 to 2 vote against a moratorium on gas and oil drilling in Arapahoe County highlighted a board of commissioners with many new members and seldom seen in Arapahoe County’s history – a Democratic majority. The commissioners voted against the moratorium that would have stopped a potential drilling application for 174 wells east of Aurora and the Aurora Reservoir.

Bill Holen, a moderate Democrat, and Jeff Baker, the only Republican, joined with new commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully to defeat the moratorium. Leslie Summey, who represents the most Democratic district, voted in favor with Jessica Campbell-Swanson, who won Republican Nancy Sharpe’s Greenwood Village seat very handily last fall.

Arapahoe County continues to drift to the political left but has unpredictable variations.

Holen is term limited in 2024 and Baker will likely have a competitive reelection (won by about 200 votes in 2020, had a recount).