Wet Winter Brings #Arizona’s #SaltRiver to Life — @Audubon #GilaRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Green Heron. Photo: Dennis Widman/Audubon Photography Awards

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Sam Draper, Arizona Policy Manager, Audubon Southwest):

**Este artículo se puede encontrar en español.**

Throughout the Colorado River Basin, it’s been a wet winter. There is great snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, where the Colorado River and many of its tributaries begin. And in Arizona, the Salt and Verde Rivers benefited from the above average winter precipitation. This spring, Phoenix Valley residents received a beautiful reminder that there is a river running through the heart of the region—the Salt River, or Rio Salado.

Map of the Salt River watershed, Arizona, USA. By Shannon1 – Shaded relief from DEMIS Mapserver (which is PD), rest by me, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14995781

The river, which is typically dry due to damming and water demands in the Valley, has been flowing through the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the cities of Mesa, Tempe, and Phoenix since late March. The Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center sits on the south bank of the river, just two miles south of downtown Phoenix.

Spring flooding used to be a regular occurrence before dams were built in the 1900s on the Verde and Salt Rivers. Indigenous communities have thrived in the region for millennia thanks to these rivers. Spring floods benefit the ecosystem by hydrating the soil, germinating riverside plant seeds, replenishing groundwater, and attracting birds like Great Egrets and Green Herons.

Here are some questions asked and answered about the Salt River/Rio Salado: 

  • Why is the Salt River flowing now?
    • The Salt River Project (SRP) manages the Salt and Verde reservoir systems that bring water into the Phoenix region. This winter created an impressive snowpack that resulted in a special occurrence—the SRP reservoirs filled up to near-capacity. In early March, to prepare for spring’s rising temperatures and increasing snowmelt, SRP began releasing water—from the Verde River through Bartlett Dam and on the Salt River through Roosevelt Dam—to create additional storage capacity within the reservoirs to safely capture the upcoming snowmelt and river runoff.
  • How much water has flowed down the river so far?
    • According to SRP, more than 700,000 acre-feet of water from the Salt and Verde Rivers has been released from their reservoirs downstream. This has meant there is enough water to flow to the Gila River, and the Gila River has rejoined with the Colorado River near Yuma. One acre-foot of water can provide for approximately 3.5 Arizona households per year. 
  • Will the Salt River flow like this every time we have a wet winter?
    • It depends. When there is more water than the reservoir systems can hold, SRP has to release water into the riverbed (yay!). SRP is also planning infrastructure projects to raise the height of Bartlett Dam to increase the water storage capacity in Barlett Reservoir. This will capture and store more water on the Verde River, for delivery to water users. This could also mean less water released downstream into the Salt River, depending on rain and snowfall amounts. 
  • Will this wet winter bring us out of drought?
    • While this winter provided relief to our short-term drought conditions in Arizona and throughout much of the Colorado River Basin, it would take many years of greater-than-average snow and rainfall to recover from the record-breaking megadrought we are experiencing. To stabilize Lake Mead and Lake Powell, we need to use less water.
  • What can we do to support birds, people, habitat, and rivers?
    • We can turn towards our waterways—by reinvesting and revitalizing key stretches of rivers with habitat restoration projects to bring back the trees and plants that once thrived, creating not only habitat, but green spaces, bike paths, and community amenities as well.
    • We can also manage groundwater throughout all of Arizona. Right now, in more than 80% of the state (outside of the “Active Management Areas”), a landowner can drill a well and pump unlimited amounts of groundwater, even if it causes declines in or dries up neighboring wells; even if it leads to the depletion of a nearby community’s water supplies; and even if the pumping depletes the water flowing in connected rivers.
  • Where can I enjoy the Salt River near downtown Phoenix?
    • You can visit the Rio Salado Audubon Center at no cost. Located along the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, you can use the accessible trails. Come experience native plants and wildflowers, wildlife like racoons and beavers, and of course, birds—more than 200 species of birds have been sighted along the area. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Abert’s Towhees are frequent visitors to the Rio Salado Audubon Center.

We are grateful for years like this one when we see the Salt River come back to life. And while we don’t expect years like this all that often, it reminds us of the importance of rivers, lakes, and steams—for people and birds.

Watch the recent local news coverage of the flowing Salt River / Rio Salado near the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center:

2023 #COleg: How well did the #Colorado legislature protect Mother Nature in 2023? Environmentalists saw some missed opportunities but enough victories to be encouraged — The #Denver Post #ActOnClimate

Coyote Gulch’s shiny new Leaf May 13, 2023

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

Environmental advocates said the Democrat-controlled General Assembly created some new policies that should help chip away at air pollution, but the legislators missed out when making changes that could have a sweeping, long-term impact. The successes included a push toward expanded use of electric-powered cars and trucks, lawn equipment and home appliances that should eliminate some greenhouse gas emissions as the state weans itself from a reliance on fossil fuels. But the failures, environmentalists said, hurt the state’s overall goal to get into compliance with the federal Clean Air Act by reducing ozone pollution. The Front Range is listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as being in “severe non-attainment” for failing for years to meet federal clean air standards. On that front, HB23-1294, a bill that would have closed loopholes for new oil and gas permits, was gutted in order to win over Gov. Jared Polis’ support. And a massive land-use bill, which would have benefitted the environment by building more dense housing projects and encouraging people to drive less, failed…

The land-use bill, which would have reshaped how the state plans housing development, was mostly discussed as an answer to Colorado’s affordable housing issues. But SB23-213 was backed by environmentalists, who believed it would reduce sprawl and eliminate people’s reliance on cars by building more dense housing around places where people live, work and play. Denser development also means buildings use less energy and water, said Matt Frommer, senior transportation associate at Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. Frommer said he was so disappointed in the bill’s failure that he had to step away from talking about it for a few days after the session ended…

Kirsten Schatz, a clean air advocate for the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, was pleased that the legislature approved tax credits of up to 30% for Coloradans who buy electric-powered lawn and garden equipment…

Mauna Loa is WMO Global Atmosphere Watch benchmark station and monitors rising CO2 levels Week of 23 April 2023: 424.40 parts per million Weekly value one year ago: 420.19 ppm Weekly value 10 years ago: 399.32 ppm 📷 http://CO2.Earthhttps://co2.earth/daily-co2. Credit: World Meteorological Organization

SB23-016: Greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures

This lengthy bill created multiple measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and changes the goals for how fast the state must meet certain benchmarks between 2035 and 2045. The bill created a 30% tax credit for electric lawn and garden equipment and added regulations to how the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulates greenhouse emissions from fracking. Polis signed the bill on Thursday.

Hydrocarbon processing in the Wattenberg Field east of Fort Lupton, Colo., on July 2, 2020. Photo/Allen Best

HB23-1294: Pollution protection measures

This bill requires the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to conduct a rulemaking to define, evaluate, and address the cumulative impacts of oil and gas drilling by April 2024. It also updates the complaint process by requiring the commission to respond to public complaints within 30 days, requiring the commission to consider credible evidence of pollution violations.

The bill eliminates a statute of limitations loophole as well as what’s known as the “start-up, shutdown and malfunction” loophole. It also establishes an interim legislative committee to craft more comprehensive legislation tackling these air pollution problems.

The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature and proponents believe he will do so.

Air-source heat pumps at the home of Joe Smyth and Kristen Taddonio in Fraser, Colo. Photo/Joe Smyth

HB23-1272: Decarbonization tax credits

The bill creates a package of tax credits for consumers who buy climate-friendly technology such as electric cars and trucks, electric bicycles and heat pumps. Polis signed the bill on Thursday.

Top view of an induction cooktop. By Erik1980, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1835324

HB23-1161: Environmental standards for appliances

The bill sets tougher emissions standards for new gas furnaces and water heaters sold in Colorado, phases out the sale of fluorescent light bulbs that contain mercury and sets new energy- and water-saving standards for appliances. The bill is on the governor’s desk but has not been signed.

Leaf charging in Frisco September 30, 2021.

HB23-1233: Electric vehicle charging and parking requirements

This bill accelerates the implementation of new electric vehicle charging requirements for new buildings, increasing the availability of charging stations at apartment buildings and condominiums. It also created a standard definition of disproportionately impacted communities to guide the state in establishing environmental programs in the areas that need them the most. The bill has not been signed.

Xcel truck at Shoshone plant. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

SB23-291: Utility regulation

The bill’s goal was to lower utility bills for Coloradans but environmentalists liked it because it pushes the state further away from a reliance on natural gas. It prohibits utility companies from charging their customers to subsidize natural gas service for new construction projects and requires the Public Utilities Commission to stop charging customers who choose to stop using natural gas. Polis signed the bill on Thursday.

HB23-1134: Electric options in home warranties

A homeowner with a warranty contract can opt for electric alternatives to gas-fueled equipment such as heat pumps. The governor signed the bill on March 31.

Volunteers help to construct the solar system at a low-income, rental-housing subdivision in La Plata County. Photo/LPEA

HB23-1234: Solar permitting

The bill streamlined solar permitting and cut red tape to accelerate the use of solar energy. Polis signed the bill on Thursday.

Graphic credit: City and County of Denver

SB23-253: Compost labeling

The bill creates a standard for labels on products that can be composted, such as trash bags, paper plates, disposable cups and utensils. The bill has not been signed by the governor.

Pesticides sprayed on agricultural fields and on urban landscaping can run off into nearby streams and rivers. Here, pesticides are being sprayed on a soybean field in Iowa. (Credit: Eric Hawbaker, Blue Collar Ag, Riceville, IA)

SB23-266: Pesticide restrictions

This bill limits the sale of neonic pesticides, which are harmful to bees and other pollinators. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Geothermal Electrical Generation concept — via the British Geological Survey

HB23-1252: Thermal energy

The bill advanced the adoption of clean geothermal energy heating and cooling systems. Polis signed it on Thursday.

#SouthPlatteRiver still handling runoff from last week’s rains: River levels already dropping above #Sterling — The Sterling Journal-Advocate #runoff

Graphic courtesy NOAA

Click the link to read the article on the Sterling Journal-Advocate website (Jeff Rice). Here’s an excerpt:

According to a statement issued by Logan County Emergency Management Officer Jerry Casebolt Monday afternoon, the river level at the Atwood Gauge had peaked at 7.45 feet, nearly two feet below any level requiring action.

Casebolt said the high water had made it to the Crook bridge on County Road 55 early Monday, with river flow rising from 323 cubic feet per second on Sunday to 2,180 cfs on Monday. He said the Fort Morgan gauge was reporting 12.11 feet on Monday afternoon, down from 13.72 ft yesterday at this time. Meanwhile, the gauge at Kersey also had leveled off at 5.45 ft, which is down from its peak of 8.41 ft on Saturday morning. The high water was caused by nearly two days of continuous rain along the Front Range, The hardest rainfall seemed to occur in the central metro area, with Aurora recording 5.1 inches of rain between May 9 and May 12. In that same time period Denver reported 5 inches, Boulder 2.5 inches, Longmont 2.3 inches, Broomfield 3.5 inches, Loveland 2.4 inches, Fort Collins 2.25 inches and Greeley 4 inches.

While the runoff will subside over the next day or so, it will be followed by snowmelt as temperatures become warmer in the coming week. Daily highs along the Front Range should be in the upper 60s and upper 70s the rest of the week, with periods of possible thunderstorms at the end of the week.

The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.