#Colorado’s updated #climate projections: The future? Hotter, yes. Precipitation? A fuzzier picture — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate

Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

What can Colorado expect of its changing climate going forward?

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has commissioned a study overseen by Becky Bolinger, the assistant state climatologist, and Jeff Lukas, whose business is called Lukas Climate Research and Consulting, to update projections from two previous studies, in 2008 and again in 2014.

Newer climate models have been issued, they explained in a presentation at the Colorado Drought Summit on May 31, and more weather data has been accumulated to compare against what had previously had been projected.

Rising temperatures in the last 20 years  roughly align with what climate models had suggested would happen. That falls short of verification of the models, said Lukas, but it does suggest stronger confidence in what the models today say about the future.

The base period is 1970 to 2000. Against the historical record, temperatures have been 1.5 degrees F higher in the 21st century. The best estimate is for another 2.5 degrees of warming by mid-century, but warming of 5 to 6 degrees is possible. “That is an uncomfortable future,” said Lukas.

“Climate models were very clearly telling us to expect more heat proportionate to the amount of emissions,” said Bolinger. If 2012—a year of wildfires—remains the warmest year in records, it likely won’t stand.

“By 2050 and beyond, things really be different,” she said, depending upon continued emissions. Earlier in the month, gauges on volcanoes in Hawaii recorded at 424 parts per million, the fourth highest rise since measurements began in 1958.

Another way of understanding this warming is to look at the warmest four-day periods of a year above a certain threshold. That threshold was achieved maybe once a year before the turn of this century. It has now accelerated and will increase to about five times a year by mid-century.

As for precipitation, that’s still unclear. It might produce more. The models have no consensus. Even if winters do produce more precipitation, though, that gain will be offset by impacts during other seasons beginning with earlier runoff. Warming alone also increases the thirst of the atmosphere, which dries out plants and soils and causes water to evaporate.

“It’s very certain that we are going to get a couple of degrees more warming over the next several decades, and that will continue to dry our watersheds, our water cycles, our crops,” said Lukas.

Impacts to river flows in summer and fall could be particularly severe. And droughts will be intensified.

“The worst droughts of the next several decades will likely exceed those of the past 100-plus years,” he said.

Jeff Lukas explains what can be said with high confidence about the evolving climate in Colorado and what can be said with only low confidence.

Lukas and Bolinger emphasized that their conclusions, a synthesis of other work, remained preliminary. Just prior to their presentation at the drought conference, they had sent their report for review by 50 others. The final report is to be issued this summer.

A few of the projections as defined by confidence levels: low, medium, high, and very high:

  • In runoff, the recent trend has been toward earlier in spring, and there’s high confidence that runoff will occur even earlier.
  • Evaporative demand similarly has been trending higher, robbing the soil and plants of moisture, and all the available literature points in the same direction with a
    very high confidence level.
  • Snowpack has been trending lower (this year being a notable exception), and that’s the projected future trend, too, but this projection has only a medium confidence level.
  • Heat waves? They’ve become more frequent and intense, and that is the projected change for the future — this coming with a very high confidence.
  • Cold waves. Fewer of them as compared to a half-century ago, and even fewer in the future. That comes with a high confidence.
  • Wildfire threat? The risk has grown, and it will continue to grow even more. This comes with a high confidence level.
  • Windstorms. The recent trend is uncertain, and the future change is uncertain. That comes with a low confidence level.

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 720.415.9308.

Colorado statewide annual temperature anomaly (F) with respect to the 1901-2000 average. Graphic credit: Becky Bolinger/Colorado Climate Center

Developers behind Renewable Water Resources contribute thousands to Douglas County #water district races — @WaterEdCO #SanLuisValley #RioGrande

The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

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

Real estate developers interested in exporting water they own from the San Luis Valley to fast-growing, water-short Douglas County have contributed thousands of dollars to candidates for the Parker Water & Sanitation District Board, one of the largest water providers in the county.

Last month, Robert Kennah won a seat on the Parker water board and had received two donations from partners in Renewable Water Resources, a real estate development group whose principals include former Colorado Governor Bill Owens. The contributions were made by RWR principals John Kim and Hugh Bernardi, according to filings at the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

A second RWR-backed candidate, Kory Nelson, also received $10,000 in donations from RWR, but did not win a seat on the Parker water board. Nelson is contesting the results of the election.
If Nelson had won, RWR would have ties to three members of the five-member board, according to Parker Water and Sanitation District Manager Ron Redd.

Parker board member Brooke Booth is related by marriage to RWR principal Sean Tonner, Redd said.

Big money

Neither Booth, Kennah nor RWR responded to a request for comment. Nelson could not be reached for comment.

Such large contributions are unusual in low-profile water district board elections, where candidates often provide their own funding for their campaigns of a few hundred dollars, rather than thousands, according to Redd.

“That’s a lot of money for a water board race,” Redd said.

The donations come after Douglas County Commissioners last year declined to invest in RWR’s controversial $400 million San Luis Valley pipeline proposal using COVID-19 relief funding. Douglas County Commissioners Lora Thomas and Abe Laydon voted against the funding, while Commissioner George Teal supported the proposal.

San Luis Valley Groundwater

Among other objections, the county said that RWR’s claim that there was enough water in the San Luis Valley’s aquifers to support the export plan, was incorrect, based on hydrologic models presented over the course of several public work sessions.

The county’s attorneys also said the proposal did not comply with the Colorado Water Plan, which favors projects that don’t dry up productive farmland and which have local support.

Opposition to the proposal in the San Luis Valley is widespread. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District in Alamosa argues that no water should be taken from the San Luis Valley because it is already facing major water shortages due to the ongoing drought and over-pumping of its aquifers by growers. The valley faces a looming well shutdown if it can’t reduce its water use enough to bring its fragile water system back into balance.

Out of compliance

That lack of compliance means that Douglas County would likely not win any potential state funding for the export proposal.

Last year, after the county rejected the San Luis Valley proposal, RWR said it would continue to work with Douglas County to see if its objections could be overcome. It has also maintained that the agricultural water it owns in the San Luis Valley would be pulled from a portion of the valley’s aquifer system that is renewable, minimizing any damage that might occur from the project, and that even though farmlands would be dried up when the water is exported, the valley’s water situation would benefit from a reduction in agricultural water use.

RWR’s water rights, however, have not yet been converted to municipal use, as is required under Colorado law. That process could take years to complete and would likely be fiercely contested by farm interests in the San Luis Valley, as well as other opponents.

Still RWR continues to deepen its ties to Douglas County water districts. RWR principal John Kim, one of the contributors to the Parker water board elections, won a seat last year on the Roxborough Water and Sanitation District Board, according to the district’s website. Kim lives in that district. He declined a request for comment.

Douglas County government does not deliver water to its residents, but relies on more than a dozen individual communities and water districts to provide that service.
Fast-growing towns and water districts early on simply drilled wells into aquifers, but the aquifers have been declining and water districts have been forced to implement aggressive water conservation programs, water reuse programs, and use of local surface supplies to meet their needs.

Lawn sizes in Castle Rock are sharply limited to save water, with some homeowners opting to use artificial turf for convenience and to help keep water bills low. Oct. 21, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

No support

Two of the largest water providers in Douglas County, Parker Water and Sanitation District and Castle Rock Water, have said they would not support the RWR proposal because they had already spent millions of dollars developing new, more sustainable, politically acceptable projects. Those projects include a South Platte River pipeline that is being developed in partnership with farmers in the northeastern corner of the state.

A host of politicians across the political spectrum came out against the RWR proposal as well, including Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Lauren Boebert, who represents the San Luis Valley.

Still, Douglas County’s Teal, who has also received funding from RWR principals, said he believes the RWR water could have a role to play in helping ensure the county has enough water to grow over the next 50 years.

“I don’t know [if we have enough water,]” Teal said. “That is part of what makes me wonder if we do have enough. Water projects take time. There is no snapping your fingers and then delivering 10,000 acre-feet of water.”

But Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas says the county’s water providers are well prepared for the future and there is no need to spend money on a project that has little public support and which may never come to fruition.

“We are secure without it,” Thomas said. “But I think that RWR is doing everything it can to get Douglas County to buy into their scheme.”

Long shot?

Floyd Ciruli, a pollster and veteran observer of Colorado politics who has done extensive work in the past for Douglas County water providers, said the RWR initiative faces an uphill battle.

“They have resistance at both ends,” Ciruli said, referring to opposition in the San Luis Valley and in the metro area. “It’s interesting that [RWR] is contributing to these boards. It’s is a real long shot.”

Parker Water and Sanitation District says it plans to continue its development of the South Platte pipeline project in northeastern Colorado and to craft deals with farmers so that agricultural water won’t be removed from farmlands, helping preserve the rural economy there. Most of Parker’s water rights have already been approved for municipal use, according to Redd.

“We’re concerned because Parker water has no interest in the RWR project and we basically stated that a year ago when Douglas County was looking at their project. It has no clear path to being done. It’s years if not decades before they could even get started,” Redd said.

“We have a clear path. We already have the water. I am not sure what the intent was to try and get people on our board. It is just concerning.”

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

Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources