When [Michael] Vicenti turns toward field No. 2180 [on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation], the condition of the road deteriorates and his knowledge of the plot before him starts and ends with water. He can’t tell the two crops planted there apart, he said. The field was planted for the first time in four years last month because the farm lacked adequate water to irrigate it until this spring. Now, among abundant patches of weeds, tender seedlings are sprouting in neat rows. Half the field, just 23 acres, is planted with sainfoin, a forage legume for animals. The other half bears Kernza, the trademark name of an intermediate perennial wheatgrass developed by the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. Those delicate sprouts are an experiment on every level, says the farm’s general manager, Simon Martinez. But they hold the promise of water reduction, increased drought resiliency, and the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of adaptation to the changing climate…
With the farm’s full water allocation – 24,500 acre-feet – flowing down the canal from McPhee Reservoir, this year was the time to test out these two new drought-resistant crops…But not every year brings ample snowfall to the peaks above McPhee, and as the Colorado River basin charges through year 23 of a historic megadrought, Martinez is starting to tinker Kernza and sainfoin as possible resilient alternatives to alfalfa and wheat.
The experiment is just one step of several the farm has taken. Outside grants have helped fund micro-hydroelectric units, which harness the power of the irrigation canal’s natural downhill flow. The farm was also outfitted with new nozzles on its center pivots that reduce water delivery from 8.2 gallons per minute to 7.5. Corn, for example, is watered in a pattern of three days on, two days off. By reducing the flows from each nozzle by 0.7 gallons per minute, Martinez said the farm is saving thousands of gallons of water across the farm. Although it cannot be attribute only to the water-saving nozzles, Vicenti and Martinez estimate the farm will use only 80% of its allocated water this year, leaving roughly 4,900 acre-feet in McPhee…
“We’ve never, as Ute people, never been farmers,” Chairman Heart said. “We were put into the position of becoming ranchers and farmers in the 1800s (after) what happened up in Meeker and as a Ute people in general. … It’s (Farm and Ranch) trying to do what we can in this arid soil reservation that we’ve been put in.”
Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):
The use of artificial intelligence is creating vast improvements in data processing and forecasts that will give Western states the tools they need to better manage their scarce water supplies, according to Richard Spinrad, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Machine learning and deep learning are actually the places where I think we’re going to see extraordinary improvements,” Spinrad said at a meeting of the Western Governors’ Association in Boulder last week.
AI refers to computer systems that perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, while machine learning is a form of AI that focuses on the use of data and algorithms to imitate the way humans learn, gradually improving accuracy, according to the Oxford Dictionary.
Spinrad credited the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 with giving the National Weather Service, an agency housed within NOAA, the resources it needs to develop a new Hydrologic Ensemble Forecast System that will provide highly accurate forecasts for more than 3,000 locations across the nation.
“Governors need actionable information, especially in times of crisis,” he said. “It is critical to have credible, reliable, actionable information. And at NOAA, we take that responsibility extremely seriously. We’re doing it for the needs of today and tomorrow, but also in terms of infrastructure development, we are working to develop the projections 10, 20 and 50 years out as well.”
Big breakthroughs that allow super-fast processing of large sets of data, satellite-based monitoring, as well as models that can precisely predict landslides and summer monsoons should vastly improve the ability of weather and water agencies to manage their supplies better and respond to emergencies faster.
At the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) there has been a push to increase the presence of weather radars, including in Colorado’s Rio Grande River Basin. Everette Joseph, director of NCAR, said work already has significantly improved forecasts.
Working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, NCAR has improved its techniques for forecasting summer monsoons, which can produce 60% to 80% of total annual precipitation in the desert Southwest.
The scientists emphasized that much of their work in delivering models is focused on helping the states understand the risks and uncertainties in managing water.
And that means getting data faster and using it to make decisions and develop policies faster as well, according to Yvonne Stone, a senior manager at Deloitte, an accounting and consulting firm.
“Quicker, faster, better, more connected,” she said, in describing advances in data collection and management. But for it to be useful, it must be curated and analyzed in a way that provides a framework for making a decision. Once that policy decision is made, then outcome needs to be measured. Did it produce the expected results? That, in turn, means the need for more data.
“The problem is that there’s a fundamental tension between data and policy decisions. Water data is extremely complex and nuanced. Even just to understand the amount of water. Are you talking the flow? Are you talking the melt? How much of that was absorbed into the soil? What was the soil moisture content? How much of evapotranspiration happened? It’s enormously complex,” she said.
But on policy, it all boils down to a decision, a yes or no. “Are we going to curtail this year? Who are we going curtail? What thresholds are we going to set for groundwater pumping? What’s an acceptable level of nutrients in water or temperature for water discharge? And so it requires a lot of work to connect those pieces, to connect analysis through data policy decisions and study the outcomes to see whether they’re on track or not,” Stone said.
This was originally published by Fresh Water News, a service of Water Education Colorado.
One year ago today, nearly 98 percent of Colorado was experiencing drought conditions. Now, for the first time since August 2019, there’s no drought conditions anywhere in the state. Statewide drought levels have been steadily dropping over the past several months, as heavy rains picked up across the state. The July 4 update from the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that it had indeed disappeared completely…Colorado’s snowpack and rainfall levels have been higher this year than previous ones, due to constant and intense storms this spring and summer, which has helped pull the state out of current drought conditions…
“To have a good picture on the drought, that’s honestly gonna require a bunch of winters like this last winter we had with huge snows in the mountains,” [Russ] Schumacher said. “It could happen, but it probably isn’t real likely to have year after year of really snowy conditions.”
“If we zoom out to the Colorado River Basin, there’s still very significant issues there,” Schumacher said. “The reservoirs we have in Colorado, for example, have all filled up after our big snow this year, but those big reservoirs downstream, Lake Powell, Lake Mead are still way below average, let alone being full.”
At the confluence of the Roaring Fork and the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, it’s clear that a big, snowy winter has turned into a big spring and summer for local streamflows, too. On June 23, the water was 50 percent higher than it was at the same time last year, flowing twice as fast, according to a sensor monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey. Provisional data shows the water was colder, too, by a few degrees Celsius. That’s all good news for the fish that call these waters home — at least for now.
“My impression is that it’s a good year in a bad pattern,” said Clay Ramey, a fisheries biologist with the White River National Forest, in an interview in the U.S. Forest Service office in Aspen…
…streamflows in the Upper Basin were nearly 20% lower than the last century’s average, the worst 15-year drought on record. Researchers from the Colorado River Research Group in Boulder estimate that between one-sixth and half of that loss was due to warmer temperatures — nearly one degree Celsius hotter than averages in the 20th century. Their study reported that those higher temperatures were tied to human-caused climate change and increased greenhouse gas emissions, and that “future climate change impacts on the Colorado River will be greater than currently assumed.”
Data from the Western Water Assessment through the University of Colorado Boulder shows similar patterns on the Roaring Fork River. Since the year 2000, streamflows have been 13% lower on average than the 20th century — even though the amount of rain or snow falling didn’t change that much. Wildlife managers have seen the impacts firsthand, throughout an interconnected river system. In 2019, Ramey was counting cutthroat trout in West Divide Creek, which flows into the Colorado River near Silt. In a 100-meter stretch of stream, where fish-counters used to find 30 to 40 adult fish, Ramey said they found just one during that count. Another coldwater species, the mountain whitefish, is struggling too. They’re native to other Northwest Colorado rivers and were introduced to the Roaring Fork in the 1940s. And their populations here have plummeted in the past 15 years or so, which researchers attribute to warmer temperatures in the Roaring Fork River, along with increased sediment flushes from monsoon rain events. One of those researchers is Kendall Bakich, an aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Click the link to read the article on The New York Times website (David Gelles). Here’s an excerpt:
Catastrophic floods in the Hudson Valley. An unrelenting heat dome over Phoenix. Ocean temperatures hitting 90 degrees Fahrenheit off the coast of Miami. A surprising deluge in Vermont, a rare tornado in Delaware. A decade ago, any one of these events would have been seen as an aberration. This week, they are happening simultaneously as climate change fuels extreme weather, prompting Governor Kathy Hochul of New York, a Democrat, to call it “our new normal.” Over the past month, smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketed major cities around the country, a deadly heat wave hit Texas and Oklahoma and torrential rains flooded parts of Chicago.
“It’s not just a figment of your imagination, and it’s not because everybody now has a smartphone,” said Jeff Berardelli, the chief meteorologist and climate specialist for WFLA News in Tampa. “We’ve seen an increase in extreme weather. This without a doubt is happening.”
It is likely to get more extreme. This year, a powerful El Niño developing in the Pacific Ocean is poised to unleash additional heat into the atmosphere, fueling yet more severe weather around the globe.
“We are going to see stuff happen this year around Earth that we have not seen in modern history,” Mr. Berardelli said.
And yet even as storms, fires and floods become increasingly frequent, climate change lives on the periphery for most voters. In a nation focused on inflation, political scandals and celebrity feuds, just 8 percent of Americans identified global warming as the most important issue facing the country, according to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. As climate disasters become more commonplace, they may be losing their shock value. A 2019 study concluded that people learn to accept extreme weather as normal in as little as two years.