#Drought news August 31, 2023: For the week, some light precipitation accumulations (generally < 1 inch) were observed in isolated areas of the Four Corners states and Intermountain West

Click the link 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

This U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week saw continued intensification of drought across areas of the Midwest, South, Southwest, and the Pacific Northwest. In the Midwest, extreme heat impacted areas of the region including Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Illinois with temperatures soaring 6 to 10+ degrees F above normal. Daily high temperature records were broken across the region during the past week including in Chicago (98), Milwaukee (101), Minneapolis (101), and Des Moines (100). Similarly, areas of the South including the northern Gulf Coast of Texas, Louisiana, and southern Mississippi saw continued drought-related deterioration on this week’s map as the heatwave continued to push high temperatures over 100 degrees F with numerous records broken during the past week. Record daily highs were set or tied in various southern cities including Houston (109), San Antonio (104), Austin (107), Dallas (109), Baton Rouge (106), New Orleans (103), Jackson (106), and Mobile (101). In Louisiana and southern Mississippi, the continued hot and dry conditions have led to numerous wildfire outbreaks as well as widespread poor hydrologic conditions and severe impacts within the agricultural sector. In the Southwest, monsoon precipitation has been well below normal across much of the region with areas of southern Arizona and New Mexico reporting rainfall deficits ranging from 3 to 6 inches since the beginning of July. In the Pacific Northwest, areas of drought expanded on the map in Oregon, Washington, and Montana in response to a combination of above-normal temperatures over the past 90-day period, precipitation shortfalls, and poor surface water conditions. Conversely, some areas saw improved drought-related conditions on the map, including southern Texas where heavy rains, in association with Tropical Storm Harold last week, provided much-needed moisture to the region. Rainfall accumulations along the southern Gulf Coast and South Texas Plains regions ranged from 2 to 6 inches. In the Southeast, areas of Florida braced themselves for the impacts of Hurricane Idalia as it intensified rapidly early this week. The hurricane made landfall in the Big Bend region of Florida early Wednesday morning (8/30) as a dangerous Category3 hurricane bringing a life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds, and severe flooding…

High Plains

On this week’s map, degradations were made in northern portions of North Dakota and in eastern Kansas. Conversely, recent precipitation during the past 30-60-day period led to some minor improvements on the map in drought-affected areas of southeastern Nebraska. Across most of the Plains, hot and dry conditions prevailed this week except for some isolated shower activity along the Kansas-Nebraska border region where 1 to 3 inches were observed. Average temperatures for the week were well above normal (2 to 8 degrees F) with the greatest departures observed in northwestern North Dakota and eastern portions of Nebraska and Kansas…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 29, 2023.


On the map, degradations were made across areas of the Southwest and Pacific Northwest including New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. In the Pacific Northwest, an area of Extreme Drought (D3) was added in the North Cascades where precipitation has been below normal both in the short and long term. Moreover, 7-day average streamflows on numerous creeks and rivers were below the 10th percentile and numerous other drought indices were supporting deterioration in the Cascades as well as other areas in the state. Likewise, poor soil moisture and low streamflow levels led to expansion of Extreme Drought (D3) in northwestern Montana. In New Mexico, the combination of short- and long-term precipitation deficits, poor soil moisture, and impacts in the agricultural sector (eastern New Mexico) led to continued deterioration on the map across parts of the state. For the week, some light precipitation accumulations (generally < 1 inch) were observed in isolated areas of the Four Corners states and Intermountain West…


In the South, the heatwave continued across the region during the past week with record-breaking temperatures observed across the eastern half of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. On the map, areas of Extreme Drought (D3) and Exceptional Drought (D4) expanded along the northern Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana as well as areas of Severe Drought (D2) and Extreme Drought (D3) in southern Mississippi. According to the latest U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) Weekly Weather and Crop Progress Bulletin (8/29), the percentage of topsoil in Texas rated short to very short was 92%, while neighboring Louisiana was rated 88% short to very short. In addition, Water Data for Texas was reporting (8/30) reservoirs in the Edwards Plateau Climate Division were 35.9% full, while the South-Central Climate Division reservoirs were 44.2% full. In terms of drought-related impacts, the National Drought Mitigation Center’s Condition Monitoring Observer Reports (CMOR) were reporting hundreds of impact reports from across Louisiana and Mississippi during the past 30 days. For the week, average temperatures across the region were well above normal across most of the region with temperature departures ranging from 2 to 10+ degrees F above normal. In terms of precipitation, the region was generally very dry except for some isolated areas of light to moderate accumulations observed in areas of Texas (East Texas, Trans-Pecos), Louisiana, and southern Mississippi. In South Texas, some locally heavy rainfall was observed in association with Tropical Storm Harold making landfall and providing beneficial rainfall to drought-affected areas…

Looking Ahead

The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for heavy precipitation accumulations ranging from 4 to 10+ inches in association with impacts of Hurricane Idalia, which is forecast to bring very heavy rains across the Big Bend region of Florida as well as across areas of the Coastal Plain of Georgia and the Carolinas. In the Northeast, dry conditions are expected, while most of the South, Midwest, and the Plains states are forecasted to experience generally dry conditions. In the West, some light to moderate accumulations ranging from 1 to 3 inches are expected across portions of Arizona, Utah, and in isolated areas of the central and northern Rockies. The CPC 6-10 Day Outlooks call for a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal temperatures across much of the conterminous U.S. in an area extending from the Rocky Mountains to the Eastern Seaboard, while near-normal temperatures are expected over the remainder of the West except in Washington state where temperatures are forecasted to be below normal. In terms of precipitation, below-normal precipitation is expected across much of the southern tier of the conterminous U.S. as well as portions of the Mid-Atlantic, Great Basin, and Intermountain West. Meanwhile, above-normal precipitation is forecasted for areas of the Upper Midwest, Northern Plains, and the Pacific Northwest.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 29, 2023.

Sackett v. EPA: How the Supreme Court Decimated the Clean Water Act — Getches-Wilkinson Center #WOTUS

Credit: Earth Justice

Click the link to read the article on the Getches-Wilkinson Center website (Andrew Teegarden):

August 22, 2023

After reading, rereading, and rereading again, I can’t help but conclude that the Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA makes no sense. The case presented the decades-old question of which waters, and by extension, the wetlands adjacent to those waters, are considered “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) and therefore subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Section 404 of the CWA requires operators to obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) before beginning dredge and fill operations on WOTUS. But the confusion surrounding the meaning of WOTUS, most of it caused by the Supreme Court itself, puts anyone potentially subject to regulation under the CWA in a difficult spot. If they fail to get a permit when one is needed, they could be subject to fines and ordered to restore any land or water they disturbed. The Corps has also been placed in the untenable position of not being able to ascertain what lands and waters are deemed WOTUS.

The Supreme Court has now issued four decisions addressing WOTUS. With each decision they seem to show greater hostility towards the law, even as they fail to offer clear guidance to the public and the agency about what activities, lands, and waters are subject to regulation.

Riverside Bayview Homes was the first of these, issued in 1985. It was a unanimous decision upholding the Corps’ authority to regulate the proposed filling of wetlands adjacent to a navigable stream. Although Riverside was arguably an easy case, the Court signaled its intention to support a broad reading of the WOTUS, consistent with Congress’ declaration in the conference report to the CWA that they intended “the broadest possible constitutional interpretation” of federal jurisdiction.

But in its subsequent 5-4 decision in SWANCC, which came down in 2001, Justice Rehnquist, speaking for the Court, narrowly construed the CWA because it believed that a broad reading might violate the commerce clause of the constitution. Specifically, the Corps struck down the “migratory bird rule,” whereby waters used by migratory birds were deemed WOTUS. Oddly, the Court failed to even assess the scope of the CWA against the commerce clause or other constitutional authorities like the treaty clause. Had it done so, it surely would have found grounds to uphold the statute under the constitution.

The SWANCC decision forced the Corps to develop a process whereby a party could seek a “jurisdictional determination” from the Corps. This added another bureaucratic layer to the policy of protecting our nation’s waters and forced the Corps to back-off from claiming jurisdiction where the administrative cost of doing so was simply too high.

Five years later, in 2006, a divided Court once again narrowly construed the CWA in Rapanos. Justice Scalia’s plurality opinion for four members of the Court held that only those wetlands with a continuous surface connection to a traditional navigable water would be deemed WOTUS. In a concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy held that wetlands should be deemed WOTUS if they have a “significant nexus” with traditionally navigable waters. Kennedy based his opinion in part on the CWA’s main purpose of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters. But like Scalia, and Rehnquist before him in SWANCC, he ignored Congress’ admonition that it intended WOTUS to have the “broadest possible constitutional interpretation.”

SWANCC resulted in confusion across the country for the interested public, regulated parties, administrative agencies, and the courts. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers took the position that Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test would control the issue moving forward, but the application of that new rule, forced upon federal and state agencies by the Supreme Court, would prove to be a costly and uncertain process.

That tortured history set the stage for the Supreme Court’s most recent opinion in Sackett, in which the Court compounds these mistakes by ignoring the science and prior precedent by further narrowing the CWA’s reach by defining “adjacent” to mean “adjoining.” Even using a plain meaning of the word, adjacent realistically includes wetlands that are ‘next to’ or ‘beside’ a navigable water. However, relying on Justice Scalia’s decision in Rapanos, the Court held that WOTUS covers only those relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water with a continuous surface connection to a traditional navigable water body. According to the Court, the surface connection must be so extensive that it is difficult to determine where the water ends, and the wetland begins.An even larger problem with the majority approach is their use of section 404(g)’s parenthetical reference to ‘adjacent wetlands’ as the justification for limiting the jurisdictional reach of the CWA. According to the Court, “because section 404(g) includes adjacent wetlands within WOTUS, these wetlands must qualify as WOTUS in their own right, i.e., be indistinguishably part of a body of water that itself constitutes waters under the CWA.”

Ephemeral streams are streams that do not always flow. They are above the groundwater reservoir and appear after precipitation in the area. Via Socratic.org

Limiting the Corps jurisdiction to only those wetlands with a continuous surface connection will result in catastrophic damage to our nation’s waters because many ecologically important areas will not be protected by the CWA. The ruling goes even farther than the Trump-era Navigable Water Protection Rule which removed protections from 51% of wetlands nationwide.

In a few weeks, the EPA and the Corps will release a proposed rule to clarify the meaning of WOTUS and issue guidance to States and Tribes looking to assume their own 404(g) permitting and compliance program. Given that EPA plans on issuing a new operational definition of WOTUS without public comment, we encourage all partners to read the pre-publication version of the § 404(g) rule which solicits comments on each area of the program, particularly funding, operations, and judicial review of final determinations. The Getches-Wilkinson Center plans to submit a comment to the EPA on this proposal. If you have any comments or concerns that you believe we should address in our comment, please feel free to reach out to me via email to andrew.teegarden@colorado.edu.

Download the document here.

Justice Scalia’s opinion in the Rapanos case, and now Alito’s in the Sackett decision, would remove most or all intermittent or ephemeral streams from Clean Water Act protections. That would leave 94% of Arizona’s streams more vulnerable to development. Source: U.S. EPA.

Forests to Faucets (and Headgates!) — John Fleck (InkStain) #SanJuanRiver #RioGrande

Informal collaborative governance in action. Photo credit: John Fleck/InkStain

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

I spent a couple of days last week out of Pagosa Springs in southern Colorado, touring forest restoration work in the headwaters of the San Juan-Chama Project, which produces critical water supplies for central New Mexico. In others words, water for my neighhbors and me.

We’ve learned over and over in the last couple of decades the risk to city water from wildfire in our headwaters, and the benefits of forest restoration. But the institutional path to restoration is challenging – because of cost, because of the complicated mix of land ownership, and because of the distance (both physically and also conceptually) between the mountain watersheds and the people who depend on the water they supply.

I came away optimistic about the creative problem solving I saw. This stuff’s hard, especially to do at the scale needed, but the efforts are impressive.


A few years back, my University of New Mexico collaborator Bob Berrens helped guide a research project intended to flesh out the relationship between Albuquerque and the distant headwaters (a ~200 mile drive away) that provide a critical piece of our water supply.

That’s from the resulting paper, Adhikari, Dadhi, et al. “Linking forest to faucets in a distant municipal area: Public support for forest restoration and water security in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Water Economics and Policy 3.01 (2017): 1650019. Using a contingent valuation survey (a technique Bob’s used for many years to help us get our heads around non-market values of stuff related to water resources, see for example here on the endangered Rio Grande Silvery minnow), the research group found:

  • a mean willingness to pay of $64 per household, which equates to $7 million a year flowing out of Albuquerque to help support forest restoration in the watershed on which we depend, and
  • even households far away from watersheds support shelling out cash to pay for the work – not just communities like Santa Fe that can look up from their back porch to see their watershed (more on this later – in addition to its back porch watershed, Santa Fe also gets water from the San Juan-Chama headwaters)


While in Pagosa Springs and the surrounding watersheds, we got to see and learn about an amazing set of collaborations involving the Forest Stewards Guild, the Chama Peak Land Alliance, and The Nature Conservancy’s Rio Grande Water Fund, which provides a crucial conduit for the “payment for ecosystems” model Bob’s work talks about.

Bobcat® Compact Track Loader with Masticating Attachment. Photo credit: Wilderness Forestry, Inc.

One of the keys to making this work is a business model – the money supports folks in communities like Pagosa Springs who actually drive the masticators (big machines that grind up overgrown forest stuff). It’s part of the rural-urban social contract Bob and I talk about in the UNM Water Resources Program class we’re teaching this fall.


Bob’s called this stuff “forests to faucets”, but what we’re seeing this year on the Rio Grande through central New Mexico is a reminder that the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, and the river channel itself, also depend on the importation of San Juan-Chama Project water across the continental divide. Absent the SJC water over the last couple of months, the MRGCD’s ditches would have gone dry sooner, as would the river channel. (Both ditches and river channel are starting to go dry as we speak, after MRGCD’s San Juan-Chama water ran out, but that’s a topic for another blog post.)

The organizer of last week’s tours was the San Juan-Chama Contractor’s Association, a group formed several years ago to try to create a framework for collective action among the New Mexico water agencies that use this imported water. Other states have umbrella agencies to organize big parts of their Colorado River water management – the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (“CAP”) in Arizona, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Southern Nevada Water Agency (Las Vegas NV). In New Mexico, we have a bunch of separate San Juan-Chama Project water users, each with their own contract with the Bureau of Reclamation. The SJC Contractors Association has created a framework for thinking about collective action on things like physical infrastructure costs and maintenance – and forest restoration!

Key Rio Grande Valley players in attendance were leadership from Albuquerque, Santa Fe (which in addition to San Juan-Chama water, gets supplies from its own local Sangre de Cristo watersheds, which have forest health challenges too) and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.


In addition to spending time in drop-dead gorgeous mountain watersheds, last week’s tours and meetings also created a great framework for sitting out on the back patio at Motel SOCO in Pagosa Springs eating delicious bar food and drinking our choice of beverages and building social capital. Bonus points for the tours organizers for getting the forest nerds and the water nerds talking.

Great fun was had by me.

Near Pagosa Springs. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

2023 #COleg: New #drought task force supports river’s revival: The 17-member task force will provide recommendations to #Colorado’s state legislature in mid-December 2023 — The #Telluride Daily Planet #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

State Capitol May 12, 2018 via Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on The Telluride Daily Planet website (Sophie Stuber): Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado’s legislature recently approved a new Colorado River Drought Task Force that will help provide guidelines and recommendations to manage the state’s water supply from the river as dry conditions continue. The aim of the task force is to give recommendations for state legislation and to develop additional tools to help address drought in the Colorado River basin.

“Since the early 2000s the Colorado River basin has been experiencing an unprecedented drought,” Colorado Representative Julie McCluskie, one of the bill’s sponsors, told the Daily Planet…

The 17-member task force is composed of representatives from local governments, agricultural water users, environmental groups, water management boards and the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes. There will also be a sub-task force to focus on tribal water rights and to provide additional recommendations for state legislation…Members met for the first time at the start of August. The task force will issue recommendations in mid-December…

Seven states are part of the Colorado River compact. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming represent the Upper Basin, and Arizona, Nevada and California comprised the Lower Basin. The majority of the Colorado River’s water originates in the Upper Basin, but the Lower Basin is currently using more than the river can supply. Along the river, agriculture takes up 80% of the Colorado River’s water. The Colorado River Drought Task Force will focus on the Upper Basin, as it only will be providing recommendations for the state of Colorado…

All of the task force’s meetings are open to the public. People can attend either in person or online. McCluskie encouraged people to be involved.

“There are ample opportunities for public participation. All of us should have interest in the Colorado River,” [Kathy] Chandler-Henry said.

Map credit: AGU

52% of the US is experiencing very short to short topsoil moisture conditions, a 5% rise since last week — @DroughtGov (August 27, 2023)

Click the link to read the Tweet from @Drought.gov:

Credit: USDA

At 52%, this August is higher than all end-of-August percent short to very short values since the USDA began tracking this data in 2015. Map, graph and stat from @usda_oce.

Credit: USDA

Historically, how has #ElNiño influenced summer temperature and precipitation around the world? — NOAA #ENSO

Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website (Rebecca Lindsey and Brian Brettschneider):

Ever since NOAA declared El Niño to be officially underway in June 2023, people have been asking us what it would mean for summer heat. For most of the United States, the short answer has been “probably very little.” Or as the experts put it, El Niño doesn’t have a strong summer climate signal for most of the country. That’s true whether we look at departures from average temperature (anomalies) in summers leading up to El Niño, or whether we look at the frequency of warmer-than-average summers, which is what we are showing here. 

For parts of the tropics, it’s a different story. Northern Hemisphere summers that lead up to El Niño winters do tend to be hotter than average across parts of northern Africa, India, and Central and South America. They also tend to be drier than average. 

Exactly how often do these patterns occur? These maps show the scorecard for all 29 El Niño summers on record, 1950–present. For this analysis, which was done by Brian Brettschneider, a climate expert with the National Weather Service-Alaska, what we are calling an “El Niño summer” is any summer (June-August) leading into a winter (December-February) with El Niño conditions, regardless of whether El Niño was officially in place in the summer. (See “additional details” for an explanation of why Brettschneider chose to look at things this way.) 

On the top map, red areas mean that out of the 29 El Niño summers on record, more were hot than cold. Blues mean cold El Niño summers outnumbered hot ones. (“Hot” and “cold” are shorthand for hotter and colder than average; “wet” and “dry” are shorthand for wetter and drier than average.) On the bottom map, brown areas mean El Niño summers were more often dry than they were wet; green areas mean wet El Niño summers outnumbered dry ones. In both maps, the darker the color, the more lopsided the count. In other words, the darker colors indicate how reliable or frequent the specific climate anomaly was at a given place, not how intense it was. The point of looking at the patterns this way is to emphasize that El Niño and La Niña may increase the chances for above- or below-average temperature or precipitation in different parts of the world, but they don’t guarantee it. Credit: NOAA

Not surprisingly, the only place where an El Niño summer was nearly always hotter than average (26 or more out of 29 years) was in the heart of the tropical Pacific, where above-average temperatures are literally part of the definition of El Niño. (If the coming winter wound up having El Niño conditions, the warmth would have been building there in summer, even if the temperature hadn’t reached official El Niño status at that time.) Across the tropics in places as scattered as the African Sahel and Hawaii, 20 or more out of 29 El Niño summers on record (close to 70 percent) were warmer than average. For many of those same areas, dry El Niño summers far outnumbered wet ones. Together those conditions significantly would have raised the risk of drought and fires in

Annual Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference wraps up — Ark Valley Voice

Sunset on the Colorado River at Silt September 2022. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Ark Valley Voice website (Jan Wondra). Here’s an excerpt:

At the conference, [U.S. Senator] Bennet addressed his priorities for the return of Congress after the August break. At the top of the agenda will be writing the 2023 Farm Bill; which is normally approved and funded for a five-year period of time. This is expected to include protecting the $20 billion for agricultural conservation in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and $10 billion for forestry in the IRA and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law…Both [U.S. Senator] Hickenlooper and Bennet have advanced the role that must be played by the 30 tribes of the Colorado River Basin; recommending a permanent seat at the table on water renegotiations. The tribes did get attention from the infrastructure bill with about $5 billion set aside for their projects, said Bennet. But in Colorado River Basin negotiations, they have had no voice…

How much money? Bennet has estimated about $4 billion from the inflation bill for permanent and long-term reductions in the lower basin states, as well as $8 billion from the infrastructure legislation. The next step is to try to forge a consensus among the seven basin states of the Colorado River about how to reapportion the water, that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can ratify. That could be easier said than done, given the friction between the Upper Basin states and the Lower Basin states. The Biden Administration has directed the Bureau of Reclamation to get the seven states to agree on a plan to handle the water crisis on the Colorado River. It’s not that they don’t agree on the science and the diminished flow of the Colorado. Regardless of being red or blue states they do — they are just not yet at the point of agreeing on what to do about it…

By the end of 2023, the Bureau is expected to have some rulemaking in place that will cobble the agreement among the states to the year 2026. But that is the limit of the extension because the current operating guidelines for the Colorado River expire then and there is no choice: they have got to be renegotiated.

Bennet is on record saying, “I do not want the Bureau telling the American West what this will look like.”

Native America in the Colorado River Basin. Credit: USBR

#Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference emphasizes collaboration, cooperation, urgent need to address Colorado #water issues — Steamboat Pilot & Today

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

Rep. Joe Neguse, who represents the second congressional district including Routt County, Rep. Lauren Boebert as well as Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet discussed the importance of Colorado River water as a national-level concern…

Neguse, who once served on then Gov. Hickenlooper’s cabinet, said, “The governor would remind us that there was no margin in making enemies and that collaboration was ultimately the key ingredient to solving any problem or challenge facing our state.”


Neguse, Hickenlooper and Bennet used the word “we” repeatedly in their short remarks focusing on the importance of cooperation in complicated water issues. The four elected officials listed Colorado water projects that garnered millions of dollars in federal funds. Hickenlooper said the bipartisan Infrastructure Law in November 2021 included $300 million for Colorado River Basin drought contingency plans, and the Inflation Reduction Act from August 2022 included $8 billion for water infrastructure funding…

After the senators and representatives spoke and answered several questions from panel moderator Christine Arbogast, vice president of the Colorado Water Congress, Gov. Jared Polis addressed the ballroom full of hundreds of attendees for about seven minutes…Polis listed various active water-saving measures ranging from leak detection programs to “Colorado-scaping” education to swap turf for water efficient and climate-appropriate landscaping including tax credits for turf replacement. The governor encouraged people in the water community to speak up about the need to integrate water usage and planning, noting integration “had been done on a haphazard basis before but is at the level that we have to do this thoughtfully as a state.” The governor called housing a very important example of how to “achieve solutions that make sense” such as constructing more water efficient housing options such as duplexes, quad-plexes and multi-family housing…

The governor said the Colorado Department of Agriculture is hiring for the first time an agriculture water advisor.

Map credit: AGU

Management of John Martin Reservoir State Wildlife Area to revert to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Aug. 31 — #Colorado Parks & Wildlife #ArkansasRiver

Credi: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website (Bill Vogrin):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is ending its management of the John Martin Reservoir State Wildlife Area on Aug. 31 after 55 years after being unable to reach a new agreement with the property’s owner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

CPW will continue to manage John Martin Reservoir State Park, which is operated under a separate agreement with the Corps.

The 19,471-acre wildlife area surrounds the reservoir west of the state park and is a destination for hunting, fishing, boating, camping and wildlife viewing.

Beginning Sept. 1, any questions about the wildlife area should be directed to the Army Corps.

This view is from the top of John Martin Dam facing west over the body of the reservoir. The content of the reservoir in this picture was approximately 45,000 acre-feet (March 2014). By Jaywm – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37682336

Increased attention on issues evident at #Colorado Water Congress 2023 Annual Summer Convention — The #Aspen Daily News #cwc2023

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

The Colorado Water Congress annual summer conference in Steamboat Springs this week saw its largest-ever attendance. Speakers said the event’s size reflects a growing public attention to water as climate change and population growth put pressure on the state’s water resources…Speakers said they are seeing more public attention to water than they ever have in the past. Historian of the American West Patty Limerick, who delivered the first speaking event of the conference, said that when she first moved to Colorado in 1984, she saw a great deal of “complacency and taken-for-grantedness” in Coloradans regarding water. Now, she said, there is much more awareness of the issue…

[U.S. Senator] Hickenlooper noted that he convened a new Colorado River Caucus in the Senate this year, which includes senators from all seven states in the basin. [U.S. Representative] Neguse, whose district covers Boulder and much of north-central Colorado, has followed suit by convening a similar caucus in the House of Representatives…

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

Colorado State Climatologist Russ Schumacher affirmed that Colorado’s water supplies face a troubling future as he shared findings that Colorado State University is expecting to include in their 2023 Colorado Climate Change Report, which they plan to release in October. While precipitation doesn’t show a clear upward or downward trend, Schumacher said temperatures are trending upward. That means that soils will dry out, hotter air will cause more evaporation and rivers will run lower earlier in the summer.

One Eagle County stream is getting healthier quickly, but #GoreCreek still needs work — #Vail Daily

Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.

Click the link to read the article on the Vail Daily website (Ali Longwell). Here’s an excerpt:

Since 2012, the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment has listed Gore Creek as an impaired waterway due to low aquatic life. In the ensuing years, the town of Vail and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District have been working to get the waterway off the list. Restore the Gore activities have included education efforts around pesticides and landscaping as well as the recent installations of gutter bins to reduce pollution flowing through its its stormwater drains. One of the main metrics the two entities use to track the progress of such efforts is the health of macroinvertebrate species in Gore Creek, Black Gore Creek, Red Sandstone Creek and Booth Creek. To track the abundance and diversity of these species, the water district conducts sampling at several sampling locations each September. This data has been collected since 2009 and includes eight sites on Gore Creek…

Pete Wadden, the town’s watershed health specialist, recently presented the full data from Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s 2021 sampling as well as gave some insight into the 2022 results to the Town Council. Overall, samples from the last two years showed that the creek is “moving in the right direction, albeit at a modest pace,” Wadden said, later adding that the data shows an “upward trend over time, but it’s very gradual and still in most cases, in most years, pretty far from reaching what CDPHE defines as attainment.”

Map of the Eagle River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69310517

Guardians of the River — @AmericanRivers #KlamathRiver

In this film by American Rivers and Swiftwater Films, Indigenous leaders share why removing four dams to restore a healthy Klamath River is critical for clean water, food sovereignty and justice. “Guardians of the River” features Frankie Joe Myers, Vice Chair of the Yurok Tribe, Sammy Gensaw, director of Ancestral Guard, Barry McCovey, fisheries biologist with the Yurok Tribe, and members of the Ancestral Guard and Klamath Justice Coalition.

Prepared remarks from Upper #ColoradoRiver Commissioner Becky Mitchell at the 2023 #Colorado #Water Congress Summer Convention #COriver #aridification #CWC2023

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

From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Katie Weeman):


Good morning. My name is Becky Mitchell and I am proud to be joining you as Colorado’s first, full-time Colorado River Commissioner. This change took effect on July 1st. With thanks to the General Assembly and Governor Polis, I stepped out of the CWCB Director role – which is now in Lauren’s very capable hands – and have dedicated myself full-time to protecting our state’s significant interests in the Colorado River. The Commissioner role is a unique one. I am charged by the Governor to represent the state in interstate Colorado River matters, which includes all of our diverse water users, sectors, and geographies. It is not a role that I take lightly. And I truly appreciate the support that so many of you have lent as we shape the future of the Colorado River. I’d like to take “the last word,” as the agenda says, to update you on interstate Colorado River matters; plus, what I’m doing to push everyone in the basin to live within its means –- something we in Colorado have always done.

The past year has been tumultuous for the Colorado River. Last summer, when we gathered here in Steamboat, the Upper Division States had just completed the Five Point Plan in response to Commissioner Touton’s call for the basin states to conserve 2 to 3 million acre-feet. To put that in perspective: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – combined – used three and a half million acre-feet in 2022.

The current water level of Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam July 2023. Photo credit: Reclamation

You’ll remember how bad the situation was. The reservoirs were declining quickly, with daily headlines in the papers. The federal government took emergency action to reduce releases from Lake Powell. The Upper Division States provided DROA water from Upper Basin reservoirs to prop up elevations at Lake Powell. You might also remember how the Lower Basin was unable and unwilling to reach agreement to do their part to conserve water.

Water users are urgently trying to keep Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border from dropping to a point where Glen Canyon Dam can no longer generate electricity. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

The Five Point Plan showed the federal government that the Upper Division States are united, committed to being part of the solution, and limited in the scale of what we can do.

One of the five points was a commitment to pursue water conservation on a voluntary, temporary, and compensated basis through the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP). After an incredibly fast reauthorization by Congress, the UCRC launched SCPP earlier this year. Contracts were temporary – for just one year; completely voluntary; and fairly compensated – on average, $422 an acre-foot. All conserved water became system water, used to mitigate the impacts of drought in the Upper Basin. In total, the Upper Basin conserved less than 38,000 acre-feet of water in 64 projects; 2,700 acre-feet of which was conserved by 22 projects in Colorado.

A second point in the Five Point Plan was to continue the Demand Management Feasibility Investigation. Like SCPP, Demand Management would be a temporary, voluntary, and compensated program. The difference is that water conserved in a Demand Management program would be stored in a pool to ensure ongoing Compact compliance for the Upper Division States. Each Upper Division State must find that a Demand Management program is feasible for their state, before any such program could be established. We’ve been discussing Demand Management for a few years now. I want to take a quick second to thank you all for your continued engagement on the topic. Regardless of whether Colorado moves forward with any such program, your input – and debates – have shaped our state’s understanding of conservation programs overall.

Then – and now – the Upper Division States recognized that we did not cause and cannot solve the problem. Overuse in the Lower Basin has driven the Colorado River System into crisis. But inaction is not the answer.


I want to pause here to emphasize something that is so, so important to say: even in the driest of years, the Upper Division States have never been out of compliance with the Compact. We are not even close. If flows at Lees Ferry fall below 75 million acre feet over a 10-year period, it would prompt an inquiry into the cause. If the cause is something other than our depletions, we have not violated the Compact. Remember, we are currently using less than half the flows of the River and less than half of what the Compact apportioned to us.

My team takes the importance of protecting Colorado’s legal interests very seriously. The Compact assures us the ability to develop our half of the river into perpetuity – at our own pace, without risk of a Lower Basin giant guzzling up our share.

I can’t say this clearly enough: Colorado is not at risk of Compact curtailment. We do ourselves a disservice by suggesting otherwise and play right into the Lower Basin’s strategies.


Now, back to our recap of the last year. Even to those who actively read about the Colorado River, the issues have been complicated by two distinct federal processes

The first process – the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to revise the ‘07 Guidelines – started in late 2022 to provide the Bureau of Reclamation with additional tools to protect Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams between now and 2026. Specifically, the SEIS could change operations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead in the near-term to allow for lower releases out of those reservoirs. Last January, I was driving back-and-forth between Water Congress and a Basin States meeting, trying to reach an agreement with our neighbors about what input to provide to the federal government on this process. Ultimately, six states signed a letter urging the Bureau of Reclamation to consider several options for reductions in uses in the Lower Basin, including assessment of evaporation and transit losses. Fast forward to spring, and Reclamation released a draft SEIS with two action alternatives and one no-action alternative. No alternative reached upstream to the Upper Basin – each was focused on reducing uses downstream of the reservoirs. In response, the Lower Basin States negotiated a different proposal, which they say will conserve 3 million acre-feet. The Upper Division States agreed to transmit that plan to Reclamation for analysis. We are expecting their findings in the coming weeks, and a revised Draft EIS should provide this analysis. To be clear: while we applaud our downstream neighbors’ efforts to conserve water, the Upper Division States did not, and cannot, endorse the Lower Basin’s proposal. We have not yet seen enough detail about the conservation efforts.

But please keep in mind: this SEIS would develop a short-term fix for the ‘07 Guidelines, which have proved inefficient to protect the System.

This year’s hydrology has given us a much-needed reprieve, but it has not changed the fundamental challenges we still face. We must re-focus our efforts on developing longer-term solutions for management of Lake Powell and Lake Mead. This is the only way to stop living crisis to crisis on the Colorado River.

That brings me to the second federal process – in June, the federal government announced the Post-2026 Environmental Impact Statement Process, which will develop new operating guidelines for Powell and Mead. To be blunt: this is the process that matters the most for Colorado. The current guidelines, the ‘07 Guidelines, have been gamed by the Lower Basin. They have knowingly maximized releases from Powell for decades, simultaneously draining Mead and ignoring basic physics like evaporation and transit losses. The silver lining is that the ‘07 Guidelines were interim, by design, so that we could learn from their implementation – and we did learn a lot.


The ‘07 Guidelines have illustrated why Colorado and the Upper Division States must care about sustainable operations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead. We cannot have our fate tied to continued Lower Basin overuse.

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

I met with many of you, with the Tribal Nations, with entities like the Basin Roundtables, IBCC, and conservancy districts, to develop my guiding principles for the post-2026 negotiation.

First, we must acknowledge that climate change is real. We can’t count on decades like the 80s and 90s; we need to be prepared for years like the early 2000s. Our future is going to be drier and more variable.

Second, water users in the Lower Basin are not more important than water users in the Upper Basin. The Upper and Lower Basins have equal apportionments to the river in perpetuity, established by the 1922 Colorado River Compact. We are not re-negotiating the Compact, and any guidelines for post-2026 operations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead must be rooted in the Compacts and the Treaty with Mexico.


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: https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1593316262041436160

Third, the Colorado River is not providing enough to sustain overuse in the Lower Basin. We’ve seen the reservoirs crash to critically low levels. Water use in the Lower Basin cannot continue to exceed available supplies and operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead must better respond to actual hydrology. The Lower Basin must account for all depletions, including evaporation and transit losses.

Fourth, Compact curtailment is not an option. The Upper Basin is apportioned half of the river’s flows in perpetuity, and we are using a lot less that.

Fifth, operations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead must respond to actual hydrology and available water supplies. This will be hard for water users in the Lower Basin because it will demand change. Lake Powell releases must be determined by actual hydrology and protecting storage rather than by Lake Mead conditions.

Native America in the Colorado River Basin. Credit: USBR

Sixth, the Tribal Nations have federal reserved water rights that must be preserved. The Tribal Nations have water rights that they are entitled to use. Solutions for overuse in the Lower Basin cannot continue to depend on Tribes’ undeveloped federal reserved water righ.

And finally, we need solutions that comply with federal environmental law and advance coordination between the United States and Mexico.

I am honored to be Colorado’s interstate negotiator, and will stand firm by these principles. Future operations must live within the means of the river.


We are in difficult negotiations with the Basin States, and I suspect things will get harder before they get easier. From experience, I know we are better when we stand together as seven basin states. But I also know we must be ready to stand alone when necessary to defend our significant interests in the river. The only way that I can stand alone in the basin is if Colorado can stand together as a state.

I have worked hard to facilitate unity across our state – and a huge thank you to you who’ve organized meetings, rearranged agendas, and teed up discussions with me. Unity is a two-way street. While I work to understand the needs and concerns of Colorado’s diverse water users, diverse water users work to understand the needs and concerns of other people in the state. Unity does not necessarily mean agreement. It’s not an echo chamber – Coloradans have never seen eye-to-eye on all of our water issues, and the post-2026 negotiations will be no different. But unity does mean that we’re good-faith actors with one another; that we agree to protect Coloradans’ rights on our namesake river; and that we commit to finding shared values where we can.

As Commissioner, I represent the entire state – all of our diverse interests and needs. It is so important that we put our best foot forward on the matters where we are unified, while leaving room for difficult discussions to continue within our state.


The post-2026 negotiations matter to Colorado: we must seek operations that are responsive to climate change and actual hydrology. I hope you’ll stay interested, involved, and committed to a future where all in the basin live within the means of the river. You have heard me say it before, but I am going to say it again: we are at a critical juncture on the Colorado River. We have an opportunity to negotiate a better deal on how Lake Powell and Lake Mead are operated – a better deal for our State and also for the 40 million people who depend on this critical resource. I am bringing all of myself and the State’s resources to this effort, and I will need each of you, too.

Thank you all for your continued support.

Map credit: AGU

Summer flooding challenges the United States’ #ClimateChange readiness — @AmericanRivers #ActOnClimate

Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service

Click the link to read the article on the American Rivers website (Eileen Shader):

The flash flooding currently happening in Southern California and Nevada is the latest example of why we must transform the management and health of rivers and streams to strengthen communities in the face of climate change.  Tropical Storm Hilary was the first tropical storm to hit California since 1939 and it has dropped historic amounts of rainfall on parts of communities from southern California to Las Vegas and across the Southwest. This event follows just weeks after major floods caused widespread damage across Vermont and the Northeast.  

Climate change is fueling more frequent and intense storms, putting pressure on federal and state agencies to help communities manage the runoff and stormwater from these extreme events. This means adapting our existing infrastructure–elevating roads, expanding bridges, setting back levees- and it means making smart decisions about how we are developing along rivers and throughout watersheds.  

American Rivers is calling on federal, state, and local governments to protect communities from increasingly severe flooding. Decision-makers must:  

  1. Give rivers room to flood safely: Naturally functioning floodplains (the low-lying lands along a river) are a community’s natural defense against flooding. These areas soak up and store floodwaters and reduce downstream flooding. Keeping floodplains natural and undeveloped is the best way to avoid flood damage to begin with. Governments must prioritize protecting undeveloped floodplains and putting in place policies like the FEDERAL FLOOD RISK MANAGEMENT STANDARD that require development to be resilient to Increasingly severe floods. 

    The fact is, many communities have already developed in their floodplains and have channelized and leveed their rivers, disconnecting them from their floodplains. All of this puts people and property at risk. Wherever possible, communities must work with residents and landowners to find solutions that improve their resilience and leverage state and federal funding to restore damaged floodplains to give rivers room to flood safely.  
  1. Protect wetlands and small streams: The Supreme Court’s recent Sackett v. EPA ruling stripped federal Clean Water Act protections for small streams and 50% of the nation’s wetlands. These wetlands, along with perennial and ephemeral streams, are critical to public safety because they absorb and store floodwaters. By leaving streams and wetlands vulnerable to destruction and pollution, more communities are now at risk. State and federal decision-makers must shore up protections for wetlands to safeguard public health and safety.  

    This record Southwest flooding highlights the important connection between rivers and the ephemeral and intermittent headwater streams that lost protection under the Sackett case and are now at risk of unregulated development. Ephemeral and intermittent streams are dry for much of the year but fill with water during heavy rains. These headwater streams make up 81% of the arid and semi-arid Southwest and are the source of drinking water for people in the Southwest. Unchecked development on headwater streams could further increase future flood damage. 
  1. Remove unsafe, outdated dams and levees: More frequent extreme rain storms mean more risk of dams, levees, and other infrastructure being overtopped or failing resulting in catastrophic loss of life and property. We cannot wait until dams fail to take action. Poorly maintained and improperly designed dams and levees need to be removed to protect downstream communities and infrastructure before they fail. States need programs that work with dam and levee owners to provide technical and financial support to remove dams and levees that they no longer want or need.   

    In addition, many dams are outdated and unsafe. Hundreds of dams have breached or failed in recent years because of heavy rainfall and flooding, putting communities at risk. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that aging dams across the nation need more than $70 billion in repairs.   

Communities are not prepared for the increasingly frequent and severe flooding fueled by climate change. Our infrastructure was not built for this. We must help communities prepare, and that means protecting and restoring rivers. A healthy river is a community’s best and first line of defense against flooding and other climate impacts. When we pave over streams, disconnect floodplains, and destroy wetlands, we strip communities of these vital defenses. We must protect and restore rivers to make our communities stronger, safer, and more resilient. 

These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Water Corner: Grand County’s Stream Management Plan undergoing an important update, includes stakeholder outreach — Sky-Hi News

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.”

Click the link to read the article from the Colorado Basin Roundtable (Anna Drexler-Dreis) via the Sky-Hi News website:

The Grand County Stream Management Plan was created in 2010 and was the first of its kind in Colorado. Since the inception of the plan, changes have occurred throughout that warrant a necessary reexamination of the technical aspects of the stream management plan to better reflect current river conditions.

In addition, a significant amount of new data (macroinvertebrates, fish, sediment, stream temperature, stream flow and water quality) has been collected that supports a robust watershed assessment to improve characterization and prioritization of areas of concern. The plan update is focused on river health and needs, and the goal is to make general improvements to support stream health for aquatic habitat. 

The Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort is a nonprofit made up of partner organizations from both sides of the Continental Divide in Colorado, and its overarching goal is to maintain, and when reasonable, possibly restore or enhance the aquatic environment in Grand County. For more information, check out the website at GrandCountyLearningByDoing.org

Learning By Doing’s focus is the Cooperative Effort Area, which includes over 100 river miles in Fraser and Williams Fork River basins upstream of the Colorado River’s confluence with the Blue River in Grand County. Since it was formed in 2013, it has made significant progress in establishing a long term scientific-based program to collaboratively monitor and address changes in the area.

Each year, it designs, funds and implements a plan for field data collection that achieves the goals of monitoring key aquatic metrics in Grand County streams and rivers consistent with the stream management plan. The intergovernmental agreements that founded Learning By Doing state that it is the task and responsibility of the cooperative to update the Grand County Stream Management Plan. 

Updating the plan includes a robust stakeholder outreach program that allows Learning By Doing to engage with a broad diversity of interest groups to inform and support the plan’s update. Peak Facilitation Group, a professional public outreach facilitator, is organizing the stakeholder outreach program. The stakeholder outreach process consists of three groups: a stakeholder group, which has open membership; an advisory board of representatives, a smaller subset of the stakeholder group selected by stakeholders to represent the diverse field of interests involved in the update; and Learning By Doing working with all the groups as the project manager.

The first open house meeting was held in early May. At this open house, Grand County’s Manager Ed Moyer and Grand County Water Quality Specialist Kayli Foulk presented the history and background of the stream management plan, an overview of Learning By Doing and its role in managing the update to the plan. Then, Peak Facilitation Group presented the overall purpose and scope of the update. The meeting concluded with Northern Water’s Jen Stephenson and Trout Unlimited’s Katie Schneider presenting a high-level summary of the objectives and methods for completing a comprehensive watershed assessment of data collected within the Cooperative Effort Area. 

The second open house meeting was held on July 18 at the Granby Library and was well attended by stakeholders. This meeting included a presentation by Seth Mason from Lotic Hydrological on the background chapter of the comprehensive watershed assessment. Samuel Wallace from Peak Facilitation presented an overview of the stakeholder survey results. The meeting ended with an exercise where the stakeholders were encouraged to share their vision on stream and aquatic health within the Cooperative Effort Area. 

The next chance for public engagement will be at an open house in September. Please email grandcountysmpupdate@gmail.com for general information or to be added to the email distribution list to be involved in this stakeholder process.

For additional ways to support waterways in the Colorado River Basin, consider getting involved with the programs of the Public Education, Participation and Outreach (PEPO) Committee of the Colorado Basin Roundtable (CBRT). The roundtable is a group of water managers, users and stakeholders who work to solve water-related issues within the Colorado River Basin in the state of Colorado from its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park to the Utah state line. Their goals are to protect, conserve and develop water supplies within the Colorado Basin and the Western Slope of Colorado for future needs. For more information visit ColoradoBasinRoundTable.org.

The confluence of the Fraser River and the Colorado River near Granby, Colorado. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50012193

#Drought news August 24, 2023: In the Four Corners states, the poor #monsoon2023 season and related precipitation shortfalls led to introduction of areas of Moderate Drought (D1) in southern and central #AZ as well as in south-central #Colorado in the #SanLuisValley.

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

This U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week saw drought-related improvements on the map across southern portions of California and Nevada in association with the impacts of Tropical Storm Hilary, which made landfall in Southern California over the weekend and into Monday. The tropical storm, the first to make landfall in Southern California since 1939, brought record-breaking rainfall accumulations leading to widespread life-threatening flash flooding, mud and rockslides, and debris flows to parts of the region. Rainfall totals for the event ranged from 2 to 12 inches with the heaviest accumulations observed in higher elevations including the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Ranges, southern Sierra Nevada, Panamint Range in Death Valley National Park, and in the Spring Mountains near Las Vegas. In terms of the urban areas, the Los Angeles Basin received totals ranging from 2 to 5 inches, while the greater San Diego area received 1 to 3 inches and Palm Springs 2 to 4 inches. The rainfall led to removal of lingering areas of drought across the Mojave Desert and southern Nevada. In the Southwest, conditions in New Mexico saw statewide degradation on the map in response to a combination of both short- and long-term dryness across the state, including a weak monsoon season with 60-day rainfall deficits ranging from 2 to 6-inches. In the South, drought-related conditions have deteriorated rapidly during the past month across areas of Texas and Louisiana where persistent heat and rainfall shortfalls have led to drought expansion and intensification on the map this week. During the past two weeks, average maximum temperatures were 6 to 10+ degrees F above normal across Texas, southern Oklahoma, Louisiana, and southern Mississippi with reports of impacts related to human health as well as severe impacts to agriculture, vegetation health, and surface water conditions. Looking at the latest climatological data released by NOAA NCEI (through July 2023), Louisiana Climate Division 7 (Southwest Louisiana) observed its warmest May-July period on record, while Texas Climate Division 8 (Upper Coast) experienced its warmest June-July period on record. In the Midwest, continued areas of dryness led to degradations in portions of Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. In the Eastern Tier, some minor deterioration in drought-related conditions occurred in areas of the Carolinas as well as in the Panhandle of Florida…

High Plains

On this week’s map, no changes were made across the Plains states while some minor improvements were made in northwestern Wyoming and some degradations in south-central Colorado. Across the Plains, hot and dry conditions prevailed across much of the region this week with well-above normal temperatures (2 to 8 degrees F) observed, except for areas of the Dakotas where temperatures were a few degrees below normal. In terms of the overall drought situation, the past 60-day period has been marked with some improvements in response to above-normal precipitation across areas of Kansas and Nebraska. However, the longer-term dry signal has remained intact across areas of the region and continues to be reflected in various drought indicators including soil moisture and streamflow levels…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 22, 2023.


On the map, widespread improvements were made in drought-affected areas of southern California and Nevada in response to heavy rainfall accumulations associated with Tropical Storm Hilary and its remnant moisture that pushed northward across the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and into the Pacific Northwest. The severe weather event helped to eliminate areas of lingering drought on the map across the Mojave Desert and in areas of southern Nevada. Likewise, conditions improved on the map in west-central Idaho and northeastern Oregon in response to this week’s rainfall. Conversely, continued dryness and below-normal streamflow activity led to an introduction of Extreme Drought (D3) in the Northern Rockies around Glacier National Park where streamflows on the North Fork of the Flathead River at Columbia Falls, Montana were in the 4th percentile. In north-central Montana, areas of Severe Drought (D2) expanded on the map due to a combination of factors including dry soils and below-normal precipitation during the past 60-day period. In the Four Corners states, the poor monsoon season and related precipitation shortfalls led to introduction of areas of Moderate Drought (D1) in southern and central Arizona as well as in south-central Colorado in the San Luis Valley. In New Mexico, the combination of short- and long-term precipitation deficits, poor soil moisture, and rangeland conditions led to widespread deterioration on the map across much of the state.


In the South, drought-related conditions continued to deteriorate as the hot and dry pattern continued across most of the region. Many impact reports came in this week emphasizing the rate at which the impact of the persistent heat is taking its toll. In both Louisiana and areas of Texas, numerous impacts are being observed including declining soil moisture, poor vegetation health, impacts within the agricultural sector, and poor surface and groundwater conditions. The combination of these factors led to expansive deterioration on the map in areas of Texas, Louisiana, and southern Oklahoma including expansion of areas of Extreme Drought (D3) and the introduction of Exceptional Drought (D4). For the week, average temperatures across the region were above normal with Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas observing temperatures ranging from 4 to 10+ degrees F above normal. Conversely, temperatures were near to slightly below normal across northern portions of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. In terms of precipitation, the region was very dry except for some isolated areas of South Texas and southeastern Louisiana which received light accumulations…

Looking Ahead

The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for light-to-moderate precipitation accumulations ranging from 1 to 3+ inches across portions of the Four Corners states as well as areas of Far West Texas. Likewise, similar accumulations are expected across areas of the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and the Northeast. In the eastern and northern portions of the Midwest, lighter accumulations (< 1 inch) are forecasted. The CPC 6-10Day Outlooks call for a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal temperatures across much of the conterminous U.S. including the West, South, Southeast, Plains states, and western portions of the Midwest. Conversely, below-normal temperatures are expected across the Lower Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and the Northeast. In terms of precipitation, below-normal precipitation is expected across the Plains states, Midwest, and far western extent of the Northeast, while above-normal precipitation is forecasted for much of the western U.S. and across much of the Eastern Seaboard.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 22, 2023.

Federal court vacates approval of #Utah oil-train project opposed by #Colorado local governments: Court of Appeals finds ‘numerous NEPA violations’ in analysis of Uinta Basin Railway risks — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #ColoradoRiver #COriver

A Union Pacific train travels along the Colorado River near Cameo on May 16, 2023. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

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

A federal court on Friday [August 18, 2023] sent regulators back to the drawing board on their approval of a new short-line railroad in the oil fields of eastern Utah, finding major flaws in how the federal Surface Transportation Board analyzed the risks of increased oil-train traffic through western and central Colorado.

The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is a victory for Colorado local governments and environmental groups who oppose the construction of the Uinta Basin Railway, an 88-mile rail extension that would allow drillers in Utah to ship large volumes of crude oil to Gulf Coast refineries. An estimated 90% of the resulting traffic — as many as five fully loaded, two-mile-long trains of oil tankers per day — would be routed through Colorado.

The ruling, issued by Judge Robert Wilkins, grants in part a petition filed by Eagle County against the STB’s approval of the railway’s construction, and the environmental impact statement supporting the approval. Eagle County was joined by five environmental groups in suing to block the project, which is backed by a public-private partnership between Utah county governments and industry.

“The deficiencies here are significant,” the Court of Appeals ruling states. “We have found numerous (National Environmental Policy Act) violations arising from the EIS, including the failures to: (1) quantify reasonably foreseeable upstream and downstream impacts on vegetation and special-status species of increased drilling in the Uinta Basin and increased oil-train traffic along the Union Pacific Line, as well as the effects of oil refining on environmental justice communities the Gulf Coast; (2) take a hard look at wildfire risk as well as impacts on water resources downline; and (3) explain the lack of available information on local accident risk.”

In a joint statement, Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse, who have urged multiple federal agencies to put a stop to the railway project, called Friday’s ruling “excellent news.”

“The approval process for the Uinta Basin Railway Project has been gravely insufficient, and did not properly account for the project’s full risks to Colorado’s communities, water, and environment,” said Bennet and Neguse. “We’re grateful for the leadership of Eagle County and the many organizations and local officials around Colorado who made their voices heard.”

The court’s ruling vacates key sections in the EIS conducted by the STB prior to its 4-1 vote in December 2021 to approve the railway, as well as a so-called biological opinion prepared with the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to evaluate “downline” risks to endangered species and critical habitats along the Colorado River. It also faults the STB for failing to scrutinize what critics have alleged is the Uinta Basin Railway project’s shaky financing.

“The Board failed to weigh the Project’s uncertain financial viability and the full potential for environmental harm against the transportation benefits it identified,” the ruling concludes.

The ruling remands the project’s application for approval back to the STB “for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.”

The Price River near Kyune, Utah, where the proposed Uinta Basin Railway would meet the existing Union Pacific line, is pictured from an Amtrak passenger train on June 5, 2023. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

New #Colorado #climate report says state will continue to heat up, but whether it will dry out is unclear — Fresh Water News #ActOnClimate

A rancher digs a boot heel into the dry ground of the Little Bear Ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colo., during the Northwest Colorado Drought Tour on August 11, 2021. Credit: Dean Krakel, special to Fresh Water News.

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

Colorado will certainly grow warmer between now and 2050, but whether it will become wetter due to this warming isn’t clear yet, according to a new state climate report due out next month.

The draft report, 2023 Climate Change in Colorado, shows that scientific models predict with high confidence that the state will see temperatures rise 2.5 degrees to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, but models looking at how this warming trend will impact water are much less clear. Some projections indicate the state could see more precipitation, and others show it will get less, according to Becky Bolinger, assistant state climatologist and an author of the new report.

“Some models are showing wetter, some drier, and we have a lot of uncertainty about which direction it is going to go,” Bolinger said.

“Since 2008 we have consistently experienced drier conditions. If you were to do a simple trend, it would appear we have gone drier, but there is a lot of variability. It is possible we will end this dry period and go into a wetter period. It is also possible that we could go into a drier period,” she said.

The Climate Change in Colorado report was produced by the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, with support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Denver Water.

Bolinger said that this new third edition of the climate report, two previous editions were published in 2008 and 2014 respectively, is designed to serve as a guide for any community, or farm, or industry in Colorado working to prepare for a warmer future.

Despite the uncertainty about water, new modeling shows that snow, soil moisture and streamflows will likely decline, heat waves, fires and droughts will increase in frequency, and extreme rain storms and flooding are also likely to worsen.

Among the hardest-hit sectors will be agriculture, Bolinger said, in part because evaporation rates will rise as temperatures rise. As larger amounts of water are lost to the atmosphere, plants will need more.

In addition, because spring snows will melt and peak runoff will occur sooner, farmers will likely have to change planting schedules and figure out how to make their irrigation water last longer.

“It’s going to get harder to farm,” Bolinger said.

Out on Colorado’s Eastern Plains, at the Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, that’s not necessarily a surprise.

Crop residue November 4, 2021. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

Randy Ray, executive director of the district, said farmers have already begun using comparatively new methods to stretch their water supplies and to help the soil retain moisture. These techniques, which include dramatically reducing the tilling of soils and using compost to help them retain water, are becoming more and more common, Ray said.

Irrigators also continue to call for more storage, whether it is in a reservoir or an aquifer, to give them more flexibility in how they manage irrigation water.

“I’m confident that the American farmer is going to be able to adapt,” Ray said. “It probably isn’t going to be easier and they are going to adapt with different crops and different methods of irrigation.”

Water utilities across the state have already begun analyzing what the dramatic warming trends mean for urban water supplies.

The City of Grand Junction has done forecasts that show worst-case drought scenarios could slash annual water supplies by more than half, to 6,400 acre-feet, down from the 15,000 acre-feet its system generates and stores each year. It also figures that long-term warming will drop the number by an additional 10%, according to Mark Ritterbush, Grand Junction’s manager of water services.

“By 2039, we may need to develop a different water supply in the event the worst-case scenario happens. We have the water rights, we would just need to upgrade our treatment technology to utilize those new sources,” he said.

Having more refined climate data and experts, such as those available at the Colorado Climate Center, is going to be helpful, he said.

“I feel good about [our forecast], but you never really know,” he said. “I’d like to know if that 10% we came up with is accurate.”

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.

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

Topsoil Moisture % Short/Very Short (S/VS) by @usda_oce

For the week ending 8/20, 47% of CONUS is rated short/very short, a 5% increase compared to last week. More short soil moisture emerged in mid-Atlantic states & worsened across the S & SE U.S. with TX, NM & LA hit hard.

Lauren Ris Named New Director of the #Colorado Water Conservation Board @L_Ris @CWCB_DNR

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

August 22, 2023 (Denver, CO) – The Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board announced that Lauren Ris has been selected as the next Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. 

Lauren Ris, who has held the position of Deputy Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) since 2017. She is a water policy expert who is passionate about solution-focused water resilience in the state. 

”We are excited to welcome Lauren Ris at this important time as we continue to take bold and innovative action to preserve and protect Colorado’s precious water resources. We know that here in Colorado, water is the lifeblood of our state and we will all benefit from Ris’s leadership and expertise on this issue,” said Gov. Polis. 

“What’s most inspiring to me about working in the water sphere, is the high degree of collaboration that’s required. It’s not a political issue, it’s a geographical issue—and water is a resource that every sector in Colorado can’t do without. It requires us to work together and find win-win solutions for hard problems,” said Lauren Ris, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Having grown up in Colorado, it’s important for me to see that we have a continued pathway for economic growth, agricultural viability and environmental resiliency in our state.”

Ris holds a Bachelors in English and Environmental Science from Willamette University and a Masters in Natural Resource Policy and Conservation Biology from the University of Michigan. She previously worked as a Committee and Policy Staff Fiscal Analyst for the Colorado Legislative Council, a Legislative Liaison for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Assistant Director for Water in the DNR, and most recently, the Deputy Director of the CWCB. 

A major priority, Ris says, is continuing the momentum of the Colorado Water Plan. “We are positioned well with the recent release of the updated 2023 Water Plan, and it’s absolutely critical that now we check off the boxes and make real tangible progress.”

“I would like to see us find creative solutions that allow us to maximize every drop of water in Colorado,” said Ris. “That includes doubling down on municipal conservation efforts like urban landscape transformation. I’d also like us to take a hard look at some of the barriers that are impeding water sharing agreements–the creative, collaborative agreements that allow municipalities to lease water from agricultural operations during times when they aren’t irrigating while continuing to have viable agriculture.”

Ris also plans to ensure CWCB continues to support former CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell in her new role of the State of Colorado’s Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission—by providing the best policy and technical expertise to the state on the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin.

“I am extremely excited about Lauren Ris’ elevation to Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Her leadership, insight, strong relationships, collaborative nature, and  deep knowledge of Colorado water issues will enable her to seamlessly step into the Director role,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Colorado faces many future water challenges, but Lauren has the experience and skills to help our state build on the great work of CWCB while ensuring the future sustainability of our critical water resources.”

“Ris has played a pivotal role in the agency for years and has provided seamless support as Interim Director,” said Greg Felt, Board Chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “The agency, and Colorado’s water future, will be in good hands under Lauren’s leadership.” 

Lauren Ris, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board

Former #HurricaneHillary brought Southern #California its first-ever tropical storm watch — NOAA

Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website (Haley Thiem):

Hurricane Hilary made waves last week as it churned off the west coast of Mexico and tracked north toward Southern California. The tropical cyclone rapidly intensified, which is an increase in maximum sustained winds at least 30 knots (35 mph) in a 24-hour period, peaking at major, Category 4 hurricane status on Friday. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued its first ever tropical storm watch for parts of southern California (later changed to a warning) as the system approached the coast.

Hurricane Hilary in the eastern North Pacific south of California on August 18, 2023. NOAA Climate.gov image, based on NOAA-20/VIIRS data.

While Hilary did not make landfall in southern California, it did make landfall over the northern Baja California Peninsula in Mexico as a tropical storm on Sunday according to the NHC, and maintained tropical storm status as it crossed into Southern California on Sunday.

Hilary has made a very short list of storms that have maintained at least tropical storm status while tracking across parts of Southern California, the last of which was Hurricane Nora in 1997, according to NOAA historical hurricane track data.

It is quite rare for a tropical storm or hurricane to maintain its strength and tropical characteristics in this part of the world, due to cool ocean waters and currents as well as prevailing trade winds that blow from east to west in this area.

Cool ocean waters

Tropical cyclones need warm ocean waters, of at least 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius), to develop and/or maintain their strength. Waters off the U.S. West Coast generally do not reach this threshold in large part due to the California Current which brings cold waters from Alaska south along the West Coast and northern Baja California.

Sea surface temperatures are typically in the 50s and 60s off the central and southern Pacific Coast, according to data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. However, in late summer and into September, the waters may sneak into low 70-degree territory, which is the most common time to see remnants of tropical systems impact this region.

Waters in the eastern North Pacific near California are generally too cool to support hurricane formation. This comparison shows how even though there was a larger pool of hurricane-friendly water (yellow and orange colors) south of Baja California in mid-August 2023 than this time last year, waters off Southern California were still too cool (blue) to allow Hilary to maintain strength. NOAA Climate.gov images, based on Climate Data Record data from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Despite current sea surface temperatures being slightly warmer than normal just off the Baja California Coast and portions of the Southern California Coast, according to NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, sea surface temperatures were only registering between 65 and 72 degrees over the weekend. This is one reason Hilary was weakening as it approached Mexico and the United States.

Prevailing winds

Another reason it is very rare to see tropical cyclones impact the US West Coast is that the region’s prevailing winds—the northeast trade winds—blow generally westward, away from the coasts of the United States and Mexico. These winds tend to steer any tropical systems toward the open Pacific Ocean. They also aid upwelling ocean currents along the coast. The winds push water from the ocean’s surface westward, which allows deeper and cooler ocean waters to rise to the surface.

With Hilary, the normal easterly winds were shifted farther away from the coastline. Instead there was a strong ridge of high pressure over the south-central United States and mid- to upper-level low-pressure system off the West Coast, which allowed the storm to be pulled much farther north in the flow between the two systems, as was noted by a NHC discussion on Friday.

Despite weakening, Hilary brought flooding rains and gusty winds to Baja California and Southern California an area that is not used to seeing tropical rainfall, especially in their dry season, which typically runs from May to September.

So even though direct hurricane or tropical storm landfalls to the West Coast are quite rare, even indirect impacts from tropical cyclones can have a major impact, especially when it comes to rainfall. For rainfall and other forecast information for your area, visit Weather.gov.

Help for tribes to electrify homes available through new grant program — Source NM #ActOnClimate

The construction project to build the Kayenta solar farms on the Navajo Nation, shown here in 2018, employed hundreds of people, nearly 90 percent of whom were Navajo citizens. Renewable energy is drawing increasing attention from tribes and others as a way to build jobs for the future. (Photo from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority / Navajo Nation)

Click the link to read the article on the Source NM website (Shondin Silversmith):

Thousands of homes across Indian Country are still not connected to electricity, including an estimated more than 14,000 on the Navajo Nation alone.

That accounts for more than 80% of the tribal homes in the United States that aren’t electrified.

But it could all change with the launch of the Tribal Electrification Program by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which will provide funding to help tribal nations get connected to electricity.

“The goal of the funding is to get electricity to homes,” Onna Lebeau, director of the Office of Indian Economic Development (OIED), told the Arizona Mirror. “We do see the electrification need in Indian Country is in a critical state.”

The Department of the Interior launched the Tribal Electrification Program on Aug. 15 with $72.5 million that will directly help tribal nations electrify homes and expand the availability of clean energy in Indian Country.

“This funding from the president’s Investing in America agenda will bring electricity to homes in Tribal communities that have never had it,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said in a press release. “It will have a fundamental and significant impact on businesses, communities, and families.”

Newland added that this historic investment is one of many the department is making to fund long-overdue infrastructure needs in Indigenous communities.

Regarding connecting homes to electricity within Indigenous communities, Lebeau said the need has long been there, and through the funding available from the new program, they can prioritize this need.

It will help the homes within tribal communities that not only need updating, Lebeau said, but the homes that need to be connected to the grid for the first time.

In 2022, the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy released a report about Tribal Electricity Access and Reliability, where they found 16,805 tribal homes were not connected to electricity, resulting in 54,209 residents living without electricity. The price of electricity on tribal lands, according to the report, is 56% higher than the national average.

The Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe have some of the highest numbers of homes not connected to electricity, and together account for nearly 90% of all unelectrified tribal homes nationwide.

According to the report, there are 68,101 homes on the Navajo Nation, with an estimated 14,063 without electricity and about 45,001 people living without power. For the Hopi Tribe, there are 2,508 homes located on their tribal land, with an estimated 878 homes without electricity and about 2,810 people living without power.

Between the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, that is roughly 15,000 homes and nearly 48,000 people between just two communities living without power, compared to the approximately 16,800 homes and more than 54,000 people living without electricity in the U.S.

The funding comes via the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which was signed into law last summer. It is part of an overall $150 million investment from the IRA to support the electrification of homes in tribal communities.

The new program increases efforts to electrify Indian Country to provide reliable, resilient energy that tribes can rely on, Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. The program will also advance the department’s work to tackle the climate crisis and build a clean energy future.”

“Climate change is the crisis of our lifetimes and has left far too many communities managing for worsening water challenges, extreme heat, devastating wildfires, and unprecedented storms,” Haaland added. “Every action we take now to lessen the impacts for future generations is critical.”

The program will work to provide electricity to unelectrified homes located on tribal land through zero-emissions energy systems, and it will transition electrified tribal homes to zero-emission energy systems, including the associated home repairs within homes to install necessary systems for zero-emission energy.

The program will work to meet the unique needs of individual tribal communities, according to the Department of Interior, because the demand for electrification across Indian Country is significant, and each tribe has its own energy and electrification-related needs and implementation capacity.

Lebeau said a unique component of the program is that it will also coordinate financial and technical assistance to tribes to increase the number of tribal homes connected with zero-emission electricity.

“We do understand each of our tribes are at various levels within their development,” she said. “The technical assistants will be able to support those tribes who need additional guidance through the program.”

Lebeau said there are tribal nations that have the infrastructure set in place, such as wind power or solar energy, but then there are others that need help getting their projects off the ground, which is where the technical assistance from the program comes in.

“The technical assistance will be able to support them,” Lebeau said. “We are doing our best to meet the needs of each community.”

Lebeau said that when tribes start applying, they need to state their unique needs to meet their capacity within their community.

“The primary goal is to get electricity into the homes. That’s what’s driving this program,” Lebeau added. “The individuality of each need of each community is so important when it comes down to truly understanding how we’re going to be able to support everyone.”

The Department of the Interior stated that the program expects to obligate roughly half of the funding by the end of the year.

As part of the program, the Office of Indian Economic Development will select a range of tribal communities in stages ranging from early planning to already implementing plans and actions for household electrification.

There are two deadlines tribal nations should be aware of when applying for the program. The first deadline is for the pre-application process, due by Sept. 18, and the second is for the full application, due Dec 22.

Applications will only be accepted by eligible applications, which include federally recognized Native American or Alaska Native tribes or an approved tribal entity. Applicants must demonstrate need, community impact, and capacity.

To learn more about the application process, visit the Tribal Electrification Programs website.

This story was originally published by Arizona Mirror. It is republished here with permission.

Deadpool Diaries: rekindling optimism? — John Fleck (InkStain) #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead used to be here (October 2022). Photo by John Fleck

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

Something remarkable is happening this year in the Lower Colorado River Basin that provides both a glimmer of hope about what durable basin solutions might look like, and also a clear demonstration of the obstacles still standing in their way.


Southern Nevada’s projected 2023 use right now (the following is based on Reclamation’s Aug. 14 water forecast run) has dropped below 200,000 acre feet, sitting today at 199,943 af. That would be Nevada’s lowest take on the Colorado river since 1992. Southern Nevada’s population (Clark County, basically “greater Las Vegas”) has nearly tripled in that time.

Nevada has demonstrated its ability to take deep cuts without jeopardizing the structure and function of the communities that depend on Colorado River water.


Arizona’s projected 2023 use, 1,974,819 acre feet, has dropped below 2 million acre feet, also the lowest since 1992. The Central Arizona Project, which supplies the Phoenix-Tucson area, is projected to take just 605,171 acre feet this year. That is 40 percent of CAP’s 21st-century average.

Arizona has demonstrated its ability to take deep cuts without jeopardizing the structure and function of the communities that depend on Colorado River water.


California’s use has dropped below 4 million acre feet, which would be the first time that’s happened since 2019, currently 10 percent below the state’s 21st century average.

Ok, the comparison is striking, right? Some states are doing a lot, other states are doing less. But I’m trying to be optimistic here, California’s water use reductions aren’t nothing! Everyone’s using less water!

But the relative depth of California’s cuts has not yet demonstrated its ability to take deep cuts without jeopardizing the structure and function of the communities that depend on Colorado River water.



The premise of a piece I wrote earlier this year in the New York Times is that there’s no way we can fix the Colorado River supply/use imbalance if California insists that the burden of overallocation and climate change fall on everyone else.

The new Schmidt/Yackulic/Kuhn paper puts the needed cuts at 20 percent just to stabilize the system – more if we’re going to rebuild a buffer against a repeat of last year’s shit show. Arizona and Nevada have figured out how to cut a lot more than that.

California, not so much.


The above picture, which I took in October, no longer represents reality. Based on the latest Sentinel satellite imagery, a bit of water has returned to Boulder Harbor on Lake Mead’s western shore.

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: https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1593316262041436160

2020 #COleg: #Gunnison ranch to loan #water for the environment — @AspenJournalism #Tomichi #GunnisonRiver

Kathleen Curry, owner of Peterson Ranch in Gunnison County, stands by a fence on her ranch on a breezy summer day. Peterson Ranch has an agreement to temporarily loan its agricultural water to the state’s instream flow program for the benefit of Tomichi Creek. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

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

A Gunnison County family ranch plans to use a relatively new tool to help keep water flowing in a chronically dry section of creek while still irrigating their hay crop.

In dry years, the Peterson Ranch will temporarily loan some of the water it diverts from Tomichi Creek to the state’s instream flow program, which is aimed at keeping water in rivers for the benefit of the environment. The agreement was approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board this year under legislation passed in 2020 designed to make the water loans more attractive to water-rights owners and effective as a conservation tool.

“We don’t like to see the fish suffer, so we thought this was one way to allow us to continue with our operation and do something for the creek,” said ranch owner, former legislator and Colorado River Water Conservation District board member Kathleen Curry. “For us, it was a way to make a contribution.” 

Historically, Curry and her husband, Greg Peterson, have flood irrigated their 220 acres of river bottom ranchland, about 15 miles east of Gunnison, beginning in the spring until the end of July. The end of spring runoff, combined with irrigation season, can cause river flows to plummet during the hottest time of year, which is bad news for fish.

“Historically, Tomichi Creek dries up in several locations,” said Tony LaGreca, a project manager for the Colorado Water Trust. “A dry-up is the complete worst thing to happen for an aquatic ecosystem because everything that needs water to live does not live.”

In late July, Curry and Peterson normally stop irrigating to allow their fields to dry out for a few weeks so that they can get their one annual hay cutting in August, during which time — with the help of monsoon rains — creek flows tend to rebound. They resume irrigating in the fall to regrow some pasture grass and to replenish the groundwater for the next season, which leads to another dip in river flows.

But with the lease agreement enacted, Curry and Peterson would turn off their four ditch headgates at the end of June and keep them off for 37 days — usually the hottest, driest time of year and when Tomichi Creek could most use a boost. By turning water off a month early, they expect to lose about 20% to 25% of their yield, for which they will be compensated nearly $25,000 by the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust. 

A second part of the agreement would let them irrigate in August and leave the water in the creek in September, when streamflows are lower. Peterson Ranch could get $2,500 if it enacts the lease in the second operational window. If they do both windows, they could get $30,000.

Over seven miles of Tomichi Creek would benefit from the loan of water. Depending on the location in the stream and time of year, the project could add between 2 and 18 cubic feet per second back to the stream for a total of 116 acre-feet of water conserved.

“It’s a win-win,” Curry said. “We can go with a little bit less yield and they are compensating us very fairly.”

Tomichi Creek, a tributary of the Gunnison River, runs through the Peterson Ranch property. The Colorado Water Conservation Board holds an instream flow water right for 18 cfs on the creek in this stretch. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Legal pathway 

The statute that allows irrigators to temporarily loan their water to the state’s instream flow program was originally crafted in 2005 with the help of Curry when she was a state representative. (Curry this week told Colorado Politics that she intends to run in 2024 to represent House District 58.)

The instream flow program allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board to appropriate water rights to “preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree.” Since it was created in 1973, the CWCB has appropriated water rights on nearly 1,700 stream segments, covering more than 9,700 miles of streams, according to its website. But because these rights are so junior compared with most other water users, their effectiveness as a tool for keeping water in rivers is limited. 

Under the prior appropriation system — the cornerstone of Colorado water law — the holders of the oldest water rights, which usually belong to agriculture, get first use of the river. That means in many locations across the state, the much younger instream flow water rights — 18 cfs in the case of Tomichi Creek, with an adjudication date of 1980 — are not met. Temporary leasing of agricultural water to the instream flow is one way to remedy the problem. 

Still, the tool is not widely used, despite tweaks to the legislation in 2020 with House Bill 1157 that allowed projects to expand to being used five of every 10 years from three of every 10 years. The Peterson Ranch lease is one of just three projects using the five-in-10 lease program, according to CWCB staff. There are six other similar projects across the state that came about under the previous three-in-10 legislation.

“It doesn’t appear at the rate it’s being utilized, it’s going to solve environmental problems all across the state just like that,” said Kate Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust. “But on the streams and rivers where it’s used, it’s transformative. It makes a huge difference.”

The graph shows how, even in a wet year, a “July hole” sends Tomichi Creek flows below the targeted instream flow of 18 cfs. Credit: Colorado Water Trust

State Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, who represents District 8, was one of the sponsors of HB 1157. The bill also made it possible to renew loans for two additional 10-year periods, meaning that holders of agricultural water rights can theoretically loan their water for the benefit of the environment for 15 of every 30 years. Roberts said he has heard positive feedback about the expanded loan program.

“We’ve cut down some of the barriers and made it easier to participate but the whole time we’ve kept it voluntary,” Roberts said. “I think the tool is only going to become more important as we head further into drought and dry summers.”

Curry said she got involved with the original bill that created a legal pathway to loan water to ensure that it was workable for livestock producers. 

“The state is changing, and we have to face that there are other values for water,” she said. “We just need to make sure if we go down this path, these types of projects need conditions: They wouldn’t hurt ag, they wouldn’t hurt your neighbor, it’s voluntary — things like that.”

State engineers at the Division of Water Resources still need to give their final sign-off for the Peterson Ranch project to move forward. In the spring, Peterson Ranch will decide whether to enact the lease for 2024’s irrigation season. Ideal conditions for the agreement would be a below-average runoff year but not in the bottom 10%. 

Despite the lease program’s limited use so far, Ryan said she has seen more interest lately in partnerships among water-user groups. 

“We don’t have to choose between ag and the environment,” she said. “I think water users are seeing there is a natural partnership between ag and the environment. But it’s still complicated and takes a lot of work.”

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping up to 700 cfs August 22, 2023 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The San Juan River near Navajo Dam, New Mexico, Aug. 23, 2015. Photo credit: Phil Slattery Wikimedia Commons

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

August 21, 2023

The precipitation that was forecast did not materialize this weekend, and the coming forecast precipitation has been reduced. For that reason, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam back to 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) from 600 cfs for tomorrow, August 22nd, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.  

Farm bill timeline in flux as a messy September for Congress nears: Omnibus spending package last passed in 2018 expires on September 30, 2023 — #Colorado Newsline

Bill Fales cutting hay near Carbondale August 2020. The summer’s drought led to a 40% smaller crop than what he would normally harvest at the first cutting of the season. “I’m going to have to sell cows because I just don’t have enough hay and it’s too expensive to buy to feed to cattle,” he says. Photo credit: Laurine Lassalle / Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado News line website (Ashley Murray):

The roundtables, listening sessions and appearances at farm shows have largely wrapped up and lawmakers tasked with reauthorizing the nation’s agriculture and nutrition programs are comparing notes and beginning to draft the massive, multi-year farm bill.

The 2018 version expires Sept. 30, just as many urgent priorities compete for floor time in Congress — namely the government funding bills that, if not passed by Oct. 1, could mean a partial government shutdown.

The expansive agricultural and food policy bill covers farmer safety net programs, conservation and sustainability incentives, international trade, rural area development, and food and nutrition programs for low-income earners — the last of which by far accounts for the largest portion of the bill. The legislation is one of Congress’ omnibus packages, meaning it’s made up of numerous provisions from many lawmakers.

Staff working on the respective House and Senate agriculture committees expect a roughly $1.5 trillion price tag over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office baseline scores for SNAP and mandatory farm programs.

Both parties have rallied around ways to make the government safety net more reliable for farmers facing rising production costs. Differences surface when discussing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, or food stamps, and how to spend conservation and climate dollars earmarked in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.

While the outlook for when the farm bill reaches the floor is “murky,” committee leadership “has committed to bipartisanship,” said a Republican House aide knowledgeable about Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson’s negotiations. The aide did not want to be identified because of ongoing discussions.

Thompson, of Pennsylvania, chairs the House Committee on Agriculture.

Some worry that despite Thompson’s goal for bipartisanship, the omnibus to continue America’s farm and food programs will become another battleground for far-right lawmakers.

If Congress does not pass a final farm bill by the end of September, lawmakers will likely will enact program extensions as they have in the past. Aides say the situation becomes more worrisome if lawmakers cannot finish the omnibus by the end of the calendar year.

“Once it leaves his committee it’s at the mercy of the Rules Committee and right now the Freedom Caucus is — not just with the farm bill, and not just with the agriculture appropriations — but pretty much every bill going through, (they have) some of their unrealistic demands on required amendments,” said Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers.

“I’m worried it’s going to not only stall the farm bill, but it’s also going to make the farm bill a partisan bill, which is not good for anyone in agriculture,” he said.

Food assistance

Nutrition initiatives were added to the farm bill in the early 1970s, expanding the scope of the legislation that previously focused on support for certain commodities, including corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, dairy and others.

Nutrition programs are projected to comprise 84% of the 2023 farm bill, compared to the 76% in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, the official name of the most recent omnibus. The increase reflects pandemic-related spending and an adjustment to benefits meant to better reflect grocery store prices.

While the farm bill authorizes policy, a separate agriculture appropriations process greenlights the dollars for farmers and SNAP, as well as the Food and Drug Administration. Talks to advance the funding bill collapsed before lawmakers left for August recess as far-right conservatives pushed to ban the availability of mifepristone, the abortion pill.

Cutting SNAP funding in the agriculture appropriations bill is also a target for the GOP-led House.

Among the Republican proposals are “right-sizing” funding to reflect pre-pandemic levels and adjusting the administration’s Thrifty Food Plan, which increased benefits to match healthy food prices.

Another proposal Democrats are criticizing is limiting state waivers that allow certain adults to be exempt from work requirements because of labor market conditions. Currently 13 states, the District of Columbia and two territories have statewide waivers.

They include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Another 16 states have partial waivers in certain areas.

The GOP already moved the needle this year on SNAP work requirements when House Leader Kevin McCarthy of California won a provision in the debt ceiling deal to increase the work rules age ceiling from 49 to 55 for adults without dependents.

As for the farm bill debate, “Mr. Thompson has been clear: he is not interested in further debate of the age of someone participating in a work requirement,” the GOP aide said.

Democrats are warning McCarthy and GOP leadership that inserting the SNAP debate into the farm bill process could hamper progress.

“The continued threat of making additional changes to SNAP eligibility and benefits is not helpful and even undermines Chairman Thompson as he works with his Democratic and Republican membership to bring a bipartisan farm bill out of the Agriculture Committee,” wrote the committee’s ranking member, David Scott of Georgia, in an Aug. 7 letter co-signed by two dozen Democratic colleagues.

Aside from work rules, the GOP would like to see some policy changes in the farm bill’s SNAP title, including more resources directed toward fraud prevention and “health and wellbeing,” or restricting what people can buy with SNAP benefits, according to the Agriculture Committee.

The United Council on Welfare Fraud, a group representing state and county investigators, met with GOP lawmakers multiple times this year ahead of farm bill negotiations to push for more robust prevention of underground SNAP benefits trading and complex retail skimming schemes that strip benefits from recipients’ EBT cards.

“You have legitimate people who go to buy milk and groceries for their children and they have a zero balance on their card,” said Dawn Royal, the group’s director and past president.

“In recognizing that there are legitimate victims, the government decided to reissue benefits on those cards to the victims up to twice and that’s great, right. So now mom can buy milk for her children and that’s great, but they (the government) did nothing to prevent it,” she said.

The USDA spends less than 1% on fraud prevention and prosecution, according to the group.

Farmer safety net

Another major area of concern for the farm bill among GOP leaders is updating guidelines that trigger risk protection programs for several commodities, including wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, peanuts, sugar and dairy.

Farmers and lawmakers maintain the prices — referred to as reference prices — are outdated. Despite market fluctuations, severe drought or natural disasters, the protections aren’t set in motion until crop prices drop to a certain level.

Irrigation in the San Luis Valley in August 2022. Photo/Allen Best

“Everything we’re doing on the farm now costs a whole lot more money when it comes to planting the crop. But the reference prices for when some type of disaster program would kick in haven’t changed. So it’s much more costly to put a crop in and to protect that crop,” said Josh Gackle, a North Dakota soybean farmer and vice president of the American Soybean Association.

Prices have to dip to $8.50 per bushel before government coverage begins. Gackle says in North Dakota it costs him $12 per bushel to produce the crop.

“The data that was used (for reference prices) goes back to 2012. The world is very different now than it was in 2012,” Sen. John Boozman told Agri-Pulse in an April interview.

“So I can tell you, there is not going to be a farm bill that I vote for that doesn’t take care of the safety nets,” continued the Arkansas Republican who is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Boozman is also eyeing “producer focused” policies in the trade title of the bill, said Patrick Creamer, the committee’s communications director for the minority.

The senator wants to focus on “things that really impact farmers, whether it’s market access overseas or research to help increase their crop yields,” Creamer said.

One of the Colorado Orange apples collected from an ancient tree in Fremont County, Colorado. (Provided by Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project)

Democrats agree that farmer safety net programs are falling short. However, they want expanded protection for crops — like apples, for example — that are outside of the major commodities.

“Both program crops and specialty crops have to have some kind of safety net and access to whether it’s (for) conservation research, anything that will make those farmers profitable and able to stay in business,” said a Democratic House aide who did not want to be identified because of ongoing negotiations.

The Senate returns Sept. 5. The House returns Sept. 12.

Feds ease up on #ColoradoRiver restrictions — for now: This year’s wet winter helped save the river from collapse. But a reckoning is on the horizon — Grist #COriver #aridification

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

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

The water shortage crisis on the Colorado River is improving, but it’s far from over.

That was the message from the Biden administration on Tuesday, as officials announced they would loosen water restrictions on the river in 2024. Thanks to robust winter snowpack that provided about 33 percent more moisture than the average year, the water levels in the riverʻs two main reservoirs have begun to stabilize after plummeting over three years. This has lessened the need for states in the Southwest to cut their water usage.

The total cuts will be about 20 percent lighter than they were last year, requiring three Southwest states and Mexico to save around 600,000 acre-feet of water — enough to supply roughly 1.2 million homes.

Even so, the administration left some mandatory restrictions in place to account for the fact that the reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are still emptier than they have been at almost any point in history. That’s due in large part to a millennium-scale drought that researchers believe was made much more likely by climate change. And even as federal officials eased up on mandatory restrictions, they were also preparing to dole out billions of dollars to the region’s farmers and cities in an effort to further reduce water usage on the river.

“The above-average precipitation this year was a welcome relief,” said Camille Camimlim Touton, the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the river, in a press release. “We have the time to focus on the long-term sustainability solutions needed in the Colorado River Basin.”

During the past three years, as the Colorado River has dried up, the federal government has used the elevation of Lake Mead as a benchmark to determine what restrictions it needs to impose on Arizona, Nevada, and California, the three states in what’s known as the riverʻs “Lower Basin,” as well as Mexico. In practice, the state that has suffered the most under this system is Arizona, which has junior rights to the river as a result of a compromise it made in the 1960s to secure funding for canal infrastructure; it has borne almost all the early cuts.

The Biden administrationʻs announcement this week, which will move the river from a “Tier 2a” shortage back down to a “Tier 1” shortage, should give Arizona cotton farmers and Phoenix-area cities a little more breathing room next year. But the river’s long-term prognosis means that it may not be wise for farmers to start planting more fields, or for cities to keep adding new golf courses and lawns.

“I’d say it’s probably not going to help that situation much,” said Paco Ollerton, a farmer who grows cotton and other crops outside the city of Casa Grande, south of Phoenix. “The acreage has dropped quite a bit. We’re probably about 25 percent fallow in the district this year.” The easing of drought restrictions might help some farmers increase their acreage, Ollerton added, but many will hold off on replanting because they’re wary of future cuts.

Even as the Biden administration sets a more relaxed standard for 2024, officials are preparing to roll out a larger series of water cuts that will last for the next three years. These bigger cuts, which the administration hopes will lift the river out of the drought-induced crisis of the past few years, were the result of a hard-fought compromise between the seven states that use the river — and in particular between the two largest users, Arizona and California.

The announcement of the compromise plan in May brought an end to a year of tense negotiations between the states and the Biden administration, triggered by unprecedented fears that Lake Powell and Lake Mead would bottom out altogether. In that doomsday scenario, hydroelectric plants that provide power to millions of people would have shut down, and water might not have been able to move past the reservoirs at all. The compromise plan uses about $1.5 billion in drought funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to compensate farmers and cities for using less water over the next three years. 

This was a welcome outcome for farmers in places like Imperial County, California, who had expected to take uncompensated water cuts for the first time in history, as well as for city leaders in Arizona, who had stood to lose a huge share of their Colorado River water during the negotiations. The compromise was only possible because of this year’s wet winter, which deposited enough snow to prop up water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. With reservoirs recovering, the states could get away with more modest cuts — and pay for them with money that Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona secured within the Inflation Reduction Act last year.

Even so, the compromise leaves several questions unanswered. The biggest question is how the states can reduce usage over the long term to account for the gradual aridification of the river. Farmers and cities can save water through techniques like drip irrigation or wastewater recycling, but these technologies are expensive to implement. In all likelihood, some places will have to farm less or build fewer houses. Furthermore, many tribal nations along the river still can’t access the water to which they have legal rights, and satisfying those rights could mean taking water away from other non-tribal users.

The federal government needs to hash out answers to these questions with states and tribes by the end of 2026, when the current operating guidelines for the river will expire. The Biden administration already kicked off that process last month when it asked stakeholders to weigh in on the river’s future. The negotiations won’t kick off in earnest for months or even years, but the administration’s goal is clear: avoid a repeat of the past yearʻs crisis at all costs.

Map credit: AGU

How #climate scientists feel about seeing their dire predictions come true — The Los Angeles Times #ActOnClimate

Click the link to read the article on The Los Angeles Times website (Corrine Purtill). Here’s an excerpt:

You are correct. It is, in fact, extremely unusual to be on hurricane watch in Southern California. If Hurricane Hilary continues on the trajectory forecasters are currently predicting, it will be the first tropical storm to make landfall in California since 1939, and only the second one to do so since the 19th century. If this seems like a worrying development to you, one in a string of recent climate-related disasters that seem to portend the arrival of a deeply unpleasant future, you are right about that as well. And the people who have spent careers thinking about climate change and its likely consequences, who have read the papers and reviewed the models and warned about these potential catastrophes for years — they’re worried too…

The Times spoke with several researchers and climate experts about how the recent string of record-breaking, precedent-setting events feel to them. Their comments have been lightly edited for clarity.

Daniel Swain is a UCLA climate scientist who studies how climate change affects extreme weather events.

This seemingly constant onslaught of extremes, unprecedented weather and climate events — yes, it is different. Yes, extreme weather disasters happened previously. But we really are seeing a pretty dramatic escalation. It’s gotten less coverage, but the majority of the population of the northwest territories of Canada were evacuated last night [Wednesday] because all of the major settlements are threatened by separate fires. All of them. It’s an example of how there is now so much going on that it is difficult even to digest it all. There’s just too much. It’s everything everywhere all at once when it comes to extreme climate events this year.

It’s time for an update to the #ColoradoRiver/Lees Ferry flows chart, showing the April High Flow Experiment and elevated releases from #LakePowell this summer — Lauren Steeley #COriver #aridification

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.

Navajo Dam operations update August 18, 2023: Bumping down to 600 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The San Juan River near Navajo Dam, New Mexico, Aug. 23, 2015. Photo credit: Phil Slattery Wikimedia Commons

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

August 17, 2023

In response to the precipitation forecast and increased observed flows in the San Juan River Basin and its tributaries, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs for tomorrow, August 18th, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. 

#ColoradoRiver restrictions eased thanks to “lucky” rain and snow but negotiators race toward long-term fix: Colorado River’s biggest reservoirs at 36% capacity despite wet year — The #Denver Post #COriver #LakePowell #LakeMead #aridification

The current water level of Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam July 2023. Photo credit: Reclamation

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

Federal officials on Tuesday temporarily eased Colorado River water use restrictions due to a “lucky” year of increased precipitation, but drought and overuse remain a crisis as officials begin negotiations for the future of the river on which 40 million people in the West rely for drinking, agriculture and water. Colorado’s top water officials on Tuesday submitted the state’s first formal comments on negotiations that will govern the use of the river after current guidelines expire in 2026. They urged change in how Lake Mead and Lake Powell — the two major water storage reservoirs on the river — are operated as the West becomes hotter and drier…

Negotiations for a new plan to replace a 2007 agreement began in June between federal officials, tribal leaders and the seven basin states — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California. The groups must come to an agreement by 2027, when the current guidelines established in 2007 end. New operating guidelines must account for climate change as well as “recognize that Lower Basin overuse is unsustainable and puts the entire system at risk,” according to the letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from Mitchell and Lauren Ris, acting director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board…

Water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell rose this spring due to increased snow and rain in the region. The wet winter and spring mean for the next year Lake Mead will operate in a Level 1 Storage Condition, a “significant improvement” from the Level 2 Shortage Condition implemented in 2022, the Bureau of Reclamation announced Tuesday…That means two Lower Basin states that rely on releases from the reservoirs for water — Nevada and Arizona  — will have a little more water to work with this year. Cuts don’t affect allocations to the Upper Basin states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico or Wyoming — because they are upstream of the reservoirs…

Heavy snowfall and increased rains helped boost flows in the Colorado River Basin this winter and spring, raising the water levels of reservoirs across the system.  Lake Mead rose more than 10 feet and Lake Powell rose more than 50 feet.

“We were on the verge of a crash,” said Matt Rice, director of the Colorado Basin Program at American Rivers. “There’s no doubt we got lucky.”

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: https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1593316262041436160

A carbon tax on investment income could be more fair and make it less profitable to pollute – a new analysis shows why — The Conversation #ActOnClimate

Investor pressure could drive down greenhouse gas emissions. Tippapatt/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Jared Starr, UMass Amherst

About 10 years ago, a very thick book written by a French economist became a surprising bestseller. It was called “Capital in the 21st Century.” In it, Thomas Piketty traces the history of income and wealth inequality over the past couple of hundred years.

The book’s insights struck a chord with people who felt a growing sense of economic inequality but didn’t have the data to back it up. I was one of them. It made me wonder, how much carbon pollution is being generated to create wealth for a small group of extremely rich households? Two kids, 10 years and a Ph.D. later, I finally have some answers.

In a new study, colleagues and I investigated U.S. households’ personal responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2019. We previously studied emissions tied to consumption – the stuff people buy. This time, we looked at emissions used in generating people’s incomes, including investment income.

If you’ve ever thought about how oil company CEOs and shareholders get rich at the expense of the climate, then you’ve been thinking in an “income-responsibility” way.

While it may seem intuitive that those getting rich from fossil fuels bear responsibility for the emissions, very little research has been done to quantify this. Recent efforts have started to look at emissions related to household wages in France, global consumption and investments of different income groups and billionaires’ investments. But no one has analyzed households across a whole country based on the emissions used to generate their full range of income, including wages, investments and retirement income, until now.

We linked a global data set of financial transactions and emissions to microdata from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly labor force survey, which includes respondents’ job, demographics and income from 35 categories, including wages and investments. People’s wages we connected to the emission intensity of the industries that employ them, and we based the emissions intensity of investment income on a portfolio that mirrors the overall economy.

The results of our analysis were eye-opening, and they could have profound implications for producing more effective and fair climate policies in the future.

A view from the top 1%

Both our consumption- and income-based approaches reveal that the highest-earning households are responsible for much more than an equitable share of carbon emissions. What’s more surprising is how different the level of responsibility is depending on whether you look at consumption or income.

In the income-based approach, the share of national emissions coming from the top 1% of households is 15% to 17% of national emissions. That’s about 2.5 times higher than their consumer-related emissions, which is about 6%.

In the bottom 50% of households, however, the trend is the exact opposite: Their share of consumption-based national emissions is 31%, about two times larger than their income-based emissions of 14%.

Why is that?

A couple things are going on here. First, the lowest earning 50% of U.S. households spend all that they earn, and often more via social assistance or debt. The top income groups, on the other hand, are able to save and reinvest more of their income.

Second, while high-income households have very high overall spending and emissions, the carbon intensity – tons of carbon dioxide emitted per dollar – of their purchases is actually lower than that of low-income households. This is because low-income households spend a large share of their income on carbon-intensive basic necessities, like home heating and transportation. High-income households spend more of their income on less-carbon-intensive services, like financial services or higher education.

Implications for a carbon tax

Our detailed comparison could help change how governments think about carbon taxes.

Typically, a carbon tax is applied to fossil fuels when they enter the economy. Coal, oil and gas producers then pass this tax on to consumers. More than two dozen countries have a carbon tax, and U.S. policymakers have proposed adding one in recent years. The idea is that raising the price of these products by taxing them will get consumers to shift to cheaper and presumably less carbon-intensive alternatives.

But our studies show that this kind of tax would disproportionately fall on poorer Americans. Even if a universal dividend check was adopted, consumer-facing carbon taxes have no impact on saved income. Generating that income likely contributed to greenhouse gas emissions, but as long as the money is used to buy stocks rather than consumables, it is excluded from carbon taxes. So, this kind of carbon tax disproportionately affects people whose income goes primarily toward consumption.

A profit-focused carbon tax

What if, instead of focusing on consumption, carbon taxes addressed greenhouse gases as an outcome of profit generation?

The vast majority of American corporations operate under the principle of “shareholder primacy,” where they see a fiduciary duty to maximize profit for their investors. Products – and the greenhouse gases used to make them – are not created for the benefit of the consumer, but because the sale of those products will benefit the shareholders.

If carbon taxes were focused on shareholder income linked to greenhouse gas emissions rather than consumption, they could target those receiving the most economic benefits resulting from these emissions.

The impact

A couple of interesting things might result, particularly if the tax was set based on the carbon intensity of the company.

Corporate executives and boards would have incentive to reduce emissions to lower taxes for shareholders. Shareholders would have incentive, out of self-interest, to pressure companies to do so.

Investors would also have incentive to shift their portfolios to less-polluting companies to avoid the tax. Pension and private wealth fund managers would have incentive to divest from carbon-polluting investments out of a fiduciary duty to their clients. To keep the tax focused on large shareholders, I could see retirement accounts being excluded from the tax, or a minimum asset threshold before the tax applies. https://www.youtube.com/embed/CgA0UgSEDjI?wmode=transparent&start=0 Jared Starr explains the new study’s findings and the implications.

Revenue generated from the carbon tax could help fund adaptation and the transition to clean energy.

Instead of putting the responsibility for cutting emissions on consumers, maybe policies should more directly tie that responsibility to corporate executives, board members and investors who have the most knowledge and power over their industries. Based on our analysis of the consumption and income benefits produced by greenhouse gas emissions, I believe a shareholder-based carbon tax is worth exploring.

Jared Starr, Sustainability Scientist, UMass Amherst

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

#Drought news August 17, 2023: The #Monsoon2023 remains suppressed with increasing short-term drought across #Arizona, #NewMexico and southwest #Colorado

Click the link to see a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.

Click the link to read to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

Conditions continued from last week with the southern part of the country, where above-normal temperatures and mostly dry weather across the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and the lower Mississippi Valley saw drought conditions continue to deteriorate. Drought intensified across Texas and the lower Mississippi Valley, particularly in eastern Texas, Louisiana and south-central Mississippi. The Monsoon remains suppressed with increasing short-term drought across Arizona, New Mexico and southwest Colorado. Frequent rounds of heavy rainfall occurred from the Northeast into the central Mississippi valley, into southern Missouri and the upper Midwest. The continuing west conditions are improving drought across parts of the Corn Belt and much of the southern and central Midwest. Farther to the north, drought continues to intensify across northern Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana and Washington. Hawai’i continued to experience dry conditions, particularly on the leeward side of the islands. Conditions that came to a peak on August 8th with deadly Lahaina Fire on Maui…

High Plains

Eastern parts of the High Plains saw the benefits of this week’s precipitation along with below-normal temperatures. Kansas saw heavy precipitation continue from last week, bringing further improvements to the east and central regions. Areas near Kansas City saw upwards of 3 inches of precipitation, while the southeast areas received 4 to 7 inches of rain, carrying over improvements seen in Oklahoma. Some improvements occurred along parts of the Nebraska-South Dakota border. Both southeast and northeast South Dakota saw improvement from heavy rainfall and improving soil moisture. This improvement bled over in southeast North Dakota, where areas of D0 were removed due to heavy precipitation. Little precipitation was received further north. Continual soil moisture and streamflow impacts led to D1 and D2 expansions. Southeastern Colorado received spotty precipitation, adding to the already-degrading conditions and resulting in expansion of D1 and D0…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 15, 2023.


Much of the continental West remained status quo, with small improvements in central Utah and near Yellowstone National Park into Butte, Montana. Areas in The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and in the east near Fort Peck Indian Reservation also saw improvements with the removal of D0 conditions. Northwestern Washington state saw continued above-normal temperatures, as high as 8 degrees above normal, and little measurable precipitation, resulting in slight expansion of D0-D2 from the Okanoga-Wenatchee National Forest to Puget Sound. The dry conditions experienced in Texas continued into New Mexico. Above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation in the eastern part of the state has led to further degradations, with the expansion of D1 near De Baca, Chaves and Lincoln counties. New Mexico has been on water restrictions for several months, with lake levels falling further below average…


Much of the South, from Texas to Mississippi, saw temperatures of 4 to 6 degrees above normal for the past two weeks. While northeastern Mississippi, Tennessee, northern Arkansas, and northeast Oklahoma, much of the rest of the south missed out. Northern Oklahoma and Arkansas benefited from this above-normal precipitation, allowing for the removal of D0 conditions. Meanwhile, D0 expanded in eastern Arkansas into northwest Mississippi due to continued dryness over the last 30 days, combined with extreme temperatures. A widespread expansion of dry conditions occurred from southern Mississippi into east-central Texas due to a continued lack of rainfall (about 8 – 14 inches over the last 90 days) combined with above normal temperatures. For example, rainfall in Southern Mississippi is well below normal for the year, with Crystal Springs only seeing 2.99 inches of rain for July and August. At the same time high temperatures of over 95 degrees have been recorded over 26 days — with 14 of those days over 100 degrees. Nearly all counties in southeastern and south-central Mississippi are in a burn ban, a commonality seen across the rest of the South. Many livestock producers are having to feed hay and have begun selling their livestock, leading to record cattle sales in various communities. Conditions from western Louisiana into eastern Texas continued to deteriorate, with D3 (extreme drought) expanding from the Louisiana boot heel into Houston, down to Corpus Christi. In Shelby County, Texas, little to no rain has fallen in the last 30 days, which has been accompanied by weeks of triple-digit heat. Agriculture across the southern Gulf Coast has seen enormous impacts due to this lack of precipitation and extreme heat. Eastern and central Texas also had extensive degradations with expansions of D2 (severe drought) through D4 (exceptional drought). Presently, Austin’s precipitation from June 1 to August 15 ranks as the fourth driest on record. Belton and Stillhouse Hollow reservoirs are also the driest on record for this time of year. Near Midland, Texas, conditions have been compared to the record-breaking drought of 2011. To the far West, parts of the Big Bend region have received 600% of normal weekly rainfall in the last week, resulting in improvement from D1 to D0. The Edwards Plateau saw some rainfall, but it was not enough to improve the long-term regional dryness. Soil moisture and streamflows through the region continue to decline. Southern Oklahoma also felt the effects of low precipitation and high temperatures, resulting in widespread expansion of D0 and degradation of areas of D0 into D1…

Looking Ahead

According to the Weather Prediction Center (WPC), during the next five days (Aug. 17-22, 2023), significant rainfall is expected across parts of the Southwest and California as Tropical Storm Hillary approaches the California-Mexico border. While the storm is expected to reach hurricane status, forecasts call for it to weaken before making landfall due to cooler ocean temperatures and land interactions. Rainfall totals of 2–4 inches with isolated areas over 6 inches are expected — a considerable amount of rain for the dry Southwest. Rain is also expected across the Northwest and northern Rockies. Much of the rest of the country looks to remain mostly dry, with the exception of Florida and the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, a heat wave will build over the southern and central U.S. into the Midwest. Daytime highs are expected to be 10-20 degrees above normal in some places, equating to highs near 100 degrees in places such as the upper Midwest.

Moving into next week, the Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 day outlook (valid Aug. 22-26, 2023) calls for an increased probability of above-normal temperatures throughout most of the Lower 48 states and much of Alaska. The only areas where below- or near-normal temperatures are favored include the Northeast, western Alaska and parts of the Southwest. Above-normal precipitation is favored across much of the western half of the U.S., parts of the Northeast, south Texas, South Florida and much of Alaska.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 15, 2023.

#ColoradoRiver Basin ranks among the world’s most #water-stressed regions, analysis finds — The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridification

Screenshot of the Aqueduct World Water Risk Analysis website August 16, 2023.

Click the link to read the article on The Los Angeles Times website (Ian James). Here’s an excerpt:

The analysis by researchers with the World Resources Institute found that all seven states that rely on the Colorado River face high or extremely high water stress. Arizona ranked first for the most severe water stress in the country, followed by New Mexico and Colorado, while California ranked fifth.

“When I put the results on a map, the first thing I saw was the Colorado River Basin,” said Samantha Kuzma, the nonprofit group’s data lead for the assessment, called the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas.

The analysis found that 25 countries, with about one-fourth of the world’s population, are exposed to extremely high water stress. Those countries include Bahrain, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Chile, Jordan, Greece and Tunisia, among others. The United States as a whole doesn’t meet the threshold to be considered a country with high water stress.

“But if you were only to count the Colorado River Basin, it would be one of the most water-stressed countries in the world,” Kuzma said. “It ranks at the top of the list with the other extremely high countries.”

But the analysis highlights warnings from experts who say that even though the Colorado River has benefited from one of the wettest winters in years, the long-term gap between heavy demands and limited supply will require significant reductions in water use. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two largest reservoirs in the country, remain at historically low levels. Even with the rise in water levels this year, the reservoirs are at 36% of capacity.

“The problem on the Colorado River does not get erased with one wet year. And in fact, climate change pretty well ensures that this problem continues,” said Jennifer Pitt, director of the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River program. “While there is a temporary reprieve, and while there will always be wet years and dry years, the overall trend is warmer, drier, and less water availability.”

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

The First People, Part 2: The Reservations — Sibley’s Rivers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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

The last post here began an exploration of tribal issues in the Colorado River region, where 30 ‘First People’ nations have been put on reservations throughout the region. We looked at some of the precolumbian history in the Southwest, to emphasize the human diversity that existed in the region when European peoples invaded the continent beginning 500 years ago. ‘The Second People,’ I guess we could call the invaders – a single people instead of many like the more than 700 distinctive First Peoples; most of our ancestors seemed willing to let go of their Old World identities and assimilate to a common ‘American dream’ in the New World, e pluribus unum. This does not mean, I hasten to add, that we consistently act as ‘one people.’ But our differences today are ‘New World conflicts,’ not those stemming from ‘Old World’ distinctions between English, French, Italian, Spanish, Slavic, and the other hereditary European national stocks.

From the beginning till now, the relationships between the First and Second Peoples have been mostly ambiguous at best. Until the 20th century CE, their interactions almost always devolved into conflict and warfare, conflicts the native people always eventually lost, despite occasional battle victories, to the sheer mass of the invaders and their superior firepower, not to mention their virulent diseases unknown in the New World.

Native land loss 1776 to 1930. Credit: Alvin Chang/Ranjani Chakraborty

The conflicts were eventually settled with treaties in which the First Peoples, one by one, yielded most or all of their old hunter-forager territories to the invaders in exchange for much smaller ‘reservations’ managed through a ‘trust’ relationship with the United States government. In the best resolutions, the First People got the least desirable part of their former homeland as their reservation; in the worst resolutions, they were forcibly moved to strange and generally undesirable places beyond the settled area. Out of sight, out of mind.

In its broadest terms, a ‘trust’ is a legal arrangement between a benefactor and a beneficiary that is administered by a trustee. Given that the reservation trust arrangement had the First People giving up most of the land they had inhabited for many generations, in exchange for a small piece of that land and freedom from further invasive pressure, one wonders who should be called the benefactor and who the beneficiary.

But the trust arrangement between the First and Second Peoples was defined in 1831 by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, in deciding a suit filed by the southeastern Creek Nation against the State of Georgia. The Creek People were one of the ‘Five Civilized Tribes’ in the southern states who had tried hard to fully assimilate to European ways: taking up farming, speaking English, even dressing European – and being civilized enough to know they needed to lawyer-up in civil situations like loss of their land. But they were still ‘Indians,’ and therefore subject to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, to free up more land for white settlers.

When that suit went to the Supreme Court in 1831, Chief Justice Marshall – probably the first real ‘activist justice’ – declared that all situations involving the First Peoples should be negotiated and resolved as between nations, not within state jurisdictions. But it would not be nation-to-nation negotiations between equals. The First Peoples he declared to be ‘domestic dependent nations’ whose ‘relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian. They look to our government for protection; rely upon its kindness and its power; appeal to it for relief to their wants; and address the President as their Great Father.’

There is a sad irony to the fact that this articulation of a guardian-ward relationship concluded with the ‘Five Civilized Tribes,’ who had tried to follow the ways of their ‘guardian’ nation, removed from their homes and force-marched on the ‘Trail of Tears’ to strange lands across the Mississippi. More power than kindness.

An Office of Indian Affairs was created to administer the reservation trust model; the nature of the trust relationship is indicated by the fact that OIA was in the War Department. In 1849 the Interior Department was created, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs was moved into that.

Devastated as the First Peoples were at that time by European diseases, continual conflict and retreat before the waves of ‘unsettlers’ swarming over the continent, the ‘guardian-ward’ foster-parent relationship was probably an accurate enough description of the reservation life imposed on the First Peoples: a relationship historically marked at best by what could only be described generously as tough love, too often by blatant exploitation, and most often by indifference and negligence. That they survived at all with so much of their spiritual life and heritage still burning within is a measure of the cohesive strength possible in small tight societies that mass societies can never really achieve.

Through time, the undercurrent of vengeance leached out of the trust relationship, but a full legal definition of the trust remained somewhat ambiguous, and the treaties on which the trusts were based had varying degrees of legal explication. And until well into the 20th century, the reservation trust relationship was rooted in a belief – a benefactor belief, of course – that the best resolution for all concerned was total cultural assimilation of the First Peoples – essentially, elimination of them as distinct peoples: it was no longer ‘kill the Indians,’ but ‘kill what’s Indian to save the people.’ This included measures like the 1887 Dawes Act that ‘subdivided’ the reservations into individual plots to make the Peoples understand the blessings of private property, and laws that moved children from their families to boarding schools where they were given haircuts, immersed in industrial culture, and punished for speaking their own language. This was all done with a virtuous sense of Christian duty to the heathen.

The 20th century also saw some of the worthless land the First People had been relocated to turn out to have valuable deposits of oil and gas, uranium, and other basic industrial resources. The Peoples were of course judged to be unable to develop and manage these resources themselves, so that was done under the trust by the BIA and other Interior agencies, with all the revenues supposed to go to the Peoples of the reservation exploited: some into tribal funds, and some into individual funds where the reservation had been successfully subdivided – funds to be kept separate from other expenditures and revenues associated with regular reservation activity.

This was a daunting accounting challenge, but the BIA seemed to go above and beyond the challenge in messing it up. By the 1990s, it was obvious that this was a complete mess,  and a $100 billion class action suit was filed in the mid-1990s on behalf of all the tribes and half a million individuals who should have been getting resource revenue, but weren’t. Investigation showed an array of misdirection of funds, malfeasance on the part of some of the private contractors holding back funds, some money just going into the general treasury funds, but mostly it was just terrible non-management of the trusts.

The judge who evaluated the $100 billion suit came up with a figure of only $455 million. Faced with the probability of a court appeal, keepng a truly embarrassing situation in the public mind longer, Interior offered a settlement of $1.4 billion in direct payments, plus $2 billion to try to unsnarl some of the Dawes Act reservation fragmentation, and a $60 million scholarship fund to educate reservation youth.

But – meanwhile, what about the most important western resource for the reservations: water? (You knew I’d eventually get around to it.) In 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a seminal decision on water for reservations, to resolve a Montana water situation, that was really the first government action showing empathy for a First People trying to make a life in circumstances made difficult both by antipathy from the larger society around them and by the always ambiguous trust relationship with the government.

Early in the 20th century, Montana settlers had began using water from the Milk River above the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation (north of the Missouri River, primarily Gros Ventre People). The settlers were told to stop because it was taking water needed by the First People in their own efforts to become ‘civilized’ farmers. The settlers – faced with the possible loss of their own land, worthless [without] the water – sued, Winters v. the United States; and the case went to the Supreme Court.

The Court affirmed that the water the settlers was using belonged with the reservation, even though the Indians were not using all of the water yet, and had filed no appropriation claim on it. When the federal government reserved land for some purpose, the Court declared, such as the settling and ‘civilizing’ of a People, the reservation of a sufficient quantity of water to carry out that purpose was implicit in the reservation of land. The water thus reserved, with creation of the reservation, was to be exempt from appropriation under the laws of the state in which the reservation was located; and the appropriation date for thatreservedwater would be the date of creation of the reservation, whether the water was yet being used or not. Given that most reservations were created before their former land was opened to settlers, these became very senior water rights – and the right didn’t even require the water to immediately be put to beneficial economic use; it was to be there whenever the reservation People were ready to learn to use it.

One can imagine the shockwave this sent through the arid West where appropriation law was foundational to practically all development – first come, first served for the use of water, so long as the claim was properly filed and adjudicated. Now the federal government, which still owned most of the Interior West and Southwest, was being given, by the highest court in the land, the prerogative of elbowing its way to the front of the line by reserving land for specific purposes thar required a quantity of water.

The Supreme Court that issued the Winters decision may have engaged in a little judicial activism – taking upon itself something that would have been more properly addressed by Congress. But the Court essentially argued that its decision was obviously implicit in the Congresssional ratification of each reservation: Congress would surely not ‘take from [a First People] the means of continuing their old habits, yet not leave them the power to change to new ones’; therefore the reservation of the water along with the land was surely presumed by Congress. This may be a more idealized view of the rationality and integrity of Congress than many people then or now have, especially where the First People were concerned, but so the Court decreed. It was basically a majority of justices making a judgment call on behalf of equity, fairness and decency: how could the nation take away the free-ranging hunter-forager way of life from the people of another nation, and not give them the wherewithal to forge a new, more ‘civilized’ way of life?

The Winters decree did leave the First Peoples with a couple of difficult challenges, however, and no instruction on how to address them. They had to get their water rights quantified, in order to begin planning their development – and how much water did it take in the desert to convert a whole people to agricultural and industrial civilization? Then they had to figure out how to finance the development of their rights. And they had to do both of these things in a larger water-culture environment less than happy with the whole Winters decision.

This is where the ‘trust’ relationship with the federal government, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, should have worked better than it in fact has. Next post, we will look at some of the trials and tribulations the First Peoples in the Colorado River region have experienced in working through those two challenges – a struggle most recently manifested in June this year, with a new Supreme Court decision declaring that, the Winters decision notwithstanding, nothing else  about the trust relationship can be considered implicit in the fumbling-forward effort to work out the whole relationship of the First Peoples and the Second People. If something like assisting in determining a People’s basic rights isn’t explicit in the century-old establishing treaties, then no trust responsibility for that exists.

Reclamation announces 2024 operating conditions for #LakePowell and #LakeMead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The current water level of Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam July 2023. Photo credit: Reclamation

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

Significant improvement for Lake Mead due to improved hydrology, ongoing conservation efforts. Operating guidelines in effect until Reclamation finalizes SEIS, including analysis of consensus-based state conservation agreement.

August 15, 2023

BOULDER CITY, Nev. – The Bureau of Reclamation today released the Colorado River Basin August 2023 24-Month Study, which determines the tiers for the coordinated operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead for 2024. These operating conditions, which are based on existing agreements under the 2007 guidelines and lower basin Drought Contingency Plans, will be in effect until the near-term guidelines from the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) are finalized. Reclamation is currently analyzing the consensus-based Lower Division States proposed alternative for the SEIS.

Based on projections in the 24-Month Study, Lake Powell will operate in a Mid-Elevation Release Tier with a 7.48 million acre-feet release in water year 2024. Consistent with existing agreements, Lake Mead will operate in a Level 1 Shortage Condition – an improvement from the Level 2 Shortage Condition announced last year – with required shortages by Arizona and Nevada, coupled with Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan water savings contributions. Mexico’s water delivery will be reduced consistent with Minute 323.

Lake Mead’s release in 2023 is projected to be the lowest in 30 years, approximately one and half million acre-feet lower than an average normal year, reflecting extensive, ongoing conservation efforts in the Lower Basin states funded in part by President Biden’s historic Investing in America agenda, above-normal inflows in the lower basin below Hoover Dam, and conservation in Mexico.

Investments in system conservation and improved hydrology this year have provided an opportunity to recover some reservoir storage. At the same time, the Colorado River system continues to face low elevations, with Lake Powell and Lake Mead at a combined storage of 36%.

“The above-average precipitation this year was a welcome relief, and coupled with our hard work for system conservation, we have the time to focus on the long-term sustainability solutions needed in the Colorado River Basin. However, Lake Powell and Lake Mead – the two largest reservoirs in the United States and the two largest storage units in the Colorado River system – remain at historically low levels,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “As we experience a warmer, drier west due to a prolonged drought, accelerated by climate change, Reclamation is committed to leading inclusive and transparent efforts to develop the next-generation framework for managing the river system.”

The Development of Near- and Long-Term Guidelines

Reclamation is simultaneously developing both near- and long-term guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead operations. The supplemental SEIS in progress focuses on near-term actions, which would be applicable from 2024 through 2026 based on potential changes to limited sections of the 2007 Interim Guidelines. Reclamation temporarily withdrew the SEIS so it could fully analyze the consensus-based Lower Division States proposed alternative and will publish an updated draft SEIS for public review and comment with the consensus-based proposal as an action alternative later this year.

In addition to several agreements that have already been finalized, a consensus-based proposal – agreed upon by the three Lower Basin states earlier this year – commits to measures to conserve at least 3 million-acre-feet (maf) of system water through the end of 2026, when the current operating guidelines are set to expire.

The long-term guidelines, informally referred to as Post 2026 Operations, will revisit the 2007 Interim Guidelines in full, as well as other operating agreements that expire in 2026, including Drought Contingency Plans and Minute 323. In June, Reclamation initiated the formal process to develop the long-term operating guidelines.

Reclamation is committed to an inclusive and transparent process that enhances meaningful Tribal engagement as well as collaboration with all stakeholders in the basin. In response to Tribal feedback, the Department of the Interior established the first-ever Federal-Tribal-State partnership to promote equitable information-sharing and discussion among the sovereign governments in the Colorado River Basin. All 30 Colorado River Basin Tribal Nations and the seven U.S. basin states were invited to participate in this new group. The group met for the first time last week with Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, Commissioner Touton, and other Department leaders. The formation of this new group does not replace any independent consultation with either Tribes or states.

2024 Operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead

Until the updated near-term guidelines are finalized once the supplemental SEIS is complete, Reclamation will continue to implement the plans developed over the past two decades that lay out detailed operational rules for these critical Colorado River reservoirs through 2026:

  • Lake Powell Mid-Elevation Release Tier: The 24-Month Study, with an 8.23 maf release pattern in October – December 2023, projects Lake Powell’s January 1, 2024, elevation to be 3,568.57 feet – about 130 feet below full and about 80 feet above minimum power pool. Based on this projection, Lake Powell will operate in the Mid-Elevation Release Tier in water year 2024 (October 1, 2023, through September 30, 2024). Under this tier, Lake Powell will release 7.48 million acre-feet in water year 2024 without the potential for a mid-year adjustment in April 2024. Under the most probable scenario, and with a 7.48 maf release pattern in October – December 2023, Lake Powell’s projected elevation on January 1, 2024, is 3,573.68 feet.
  • Lake Mead Level 1 Shortage Condition: The 24-Month Study projects Lake Mead’s January 1, 2024, elevation to be 1,065.27 feet – about 10 feet below the Lower Basin shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet and about 25 feet below the drought contingency plan trigger of 1,090 feet. This elevation is based on a 7.48 maf release from Lake Powell in water year 2024. Based on this projection, Lake Mead will operate in a Level 1 Shortage Condition for calendar year 2024 (January 1, 2024, through December 31, 2024). This is a significant improvement from the Level 2 Shortage Condition announced last year. The required shortage reductions and water savings contributions under the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, 2019 Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan and Minute 323 to the 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico are:
    • Arizona:  512,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 18% of the state’s annual apportionment.
    • Nevada:  21,000 acre-feet, which is 7% of the state’s annual apportionment.
    • Mexico:  80,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 5% of the country’s annual allotment.

Lower Basin projections for Lake Mead include updated water orders to reflect additional conservation efforts and new completed system conservation agreements under the Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program.

President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda

System conservation and efficiency programs in the Colorado River Basin are being strengthened by President Biden’s Investing in America agenda and will invest in long-term durable system efficiency improvements that result in quantifiable, verifiable water savings in the Basin.

The Investing in America agenda represents the largest investment in climate resilience in the nation’s history and is providing much-needed resources to enhance Western communities’ resilience to drought and climate change, including protecting the short- and long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Reclamation is investing a total of $8.3 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects, including water purification and reuse, water storage and conveyance, desalination and dam safety. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing an additional $4.6 billion to address the historic drought.

To date, the Interior Department has announced the following investments for Colorado River Basin states, which will yield hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water savings each year once these projects are complete:

Credit: Reclamation
Credit: Reclamation

The #Runoff: Non-depletion vs. delivery obligation — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River from Navajo Bridge below Lee’s Ferry and Glen Canyon Dam. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

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

Colorado River politics is heating up with the looming negotiation of the post-2026 operational guidelines and state representatives are laying the groundwork to get Colorado’s water world on the same page regarding the state’s position and talking points. 

Colorado’s now full-time commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission Becky Mitchell has embarked on what she called a road show, meeting with water managers and organizations around the state to open the lines of communication and share news related to the negotiations. Among what she called her “irrefutable truths” is that according to the 1922 Colorado River Compact that divided the waters equally (7.5 million acre-feet per year to each) between the upper and lower basins, the upper basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) do not have an obligation to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower basin. What they have is a “non-depletion” obligation. So long as the upper basin uses less than 75 million acre-feet over 10 years, there’s no compact violation. I doubt the lower basin sees it that way.

What the compact actually says is this: “The States of the Upper Division will not cause the flow of the river at Lee Ferry to be depleted below an aggregate of 75,000,000 acre-feet for any period of ten consecutive years…” 

Its actual meaning has long been a point of contention for Colorado River scholars. Many people believe the language represents a de facto delivery obligation, with the upper basin required to send 75 million acre-feet over 10 years to the lower basin. 

This delivery obligation interpretation favors the lower basin and the non-depletion obligation interpretation favors the upper basin. It’s important because whether the upper basin violates the compact, which would trigger mandatory cutbacks, may hinge on this interpretation.

Also, presumably in an effort to communicate the state’s positions going into the post-2026 negotiations — while presenting it as the Law of the River 101 — representatives from the Colorado Attorney General’s office made an appearance at the Colorado Basin Roundtable meeting in July and pushed the non-depletion point of view as the law of the land. While seeing it as a non-depletion obligation is a very good political messaging strategy for the upper basin, it is in fact an unsettled legal argument. 

Another wrinkle in the non-depletion vs. delivery obligation debate is climate change. Scientists have found that Colorado River flows have declined nearly 20% from the 20th century average and that higher temperatures are responsible for about one-third of that. The compact clearly says that the states of the upper division will not cause flows to be depleted, but what if it’s not the states’ water use (which remains well below their 7.5 million acre-feet per year allocation), but climate change that causes flows to be depleted? Would that still be considered a compact violation? Colorado River expert and author Eric Kuhn has been asking this question for years, but he isn’t ready to test it. 

“Will it survive legal scrutiny? I’m not sure I would want to be the attorney that leads with that argument,” he said.

The #Runoff | Big #water year begins to fade away — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Colorado Drought Monitor map August 8, 2023.

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

As water year 2023 wraps up, water managers are coming off a high, with the Colorado River crisis temporarily warded off thanks to a record-breaking snow year. But the basin may already be slipping back into conditions reminiscent of 2019, another big snow year that was followed by dry conditions, which set the basin up for a disastrous 2020 and 2021. Despite a few afternoon rain (and hail) storms, the monsoon in western Colorado has not set up with any consistency; aside from a few north-facing gullies, the snow has all melted in the high country; and abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions have crept back into southwestern Colorado, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Not to mention that in terms of global average temperature, it was the hottest July ever recorded. Next year’s conditions depend not solely on snowpack, but on what the rest of this summer and fall bring, and water managers are eagerly watching the forecasts.

2023 #COleg: #Water-short cities in the West want to use every last drop, even when it comes from sewage — KUNC #reuse

Graphic by Chas Chamberlin, Source: Western Resource Advocates

Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:

In the Western U.S., there’s more demand for water than there is supply, particularly in the Colorado River basin. While the region’s policy makers are mired in standoff about how to fix that imbalance at a broad level, cities with finite water supplies are finding creative new ways to stretch out the water they already have. In some places, that means cleaning up sewage and putting it right back in the pipes that flow to homes and businesses. In January, Colorado passed a new law with regulations for cities that want to take advantage of direct potable reuse. The rules set standards for water quality and require cities to do public outreach about the filtration process. Arizona, Texas, Florida, and California have published guidelines for the technology, but Colorado is the first state to implement a set of mandatory rules. The process is expensive, and the new standards are stringent. But for growing cities with limited water, the opportunity to squeeze every last drop out of that finite supply is an attractive proposition…

Designers of the state’s new regulations for water reuse said the high cost of equipment was part of the reason they issued the rules in the first place.

“The treatment required to do direct potable reuse is expensive enough that they need to understand where the goalposts are going to be so [municipal leaders] can put it in their long range budget and make it economically viable,” said Tyson Ingels, lead drinking water engineer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Ingels said there aren’t any Colorado cities currently using direct potable reuse, but there could be “anywhere from three to several dozen” with water recycling systems down the road. Castle Rock, for one, plans to get a system online in 3-5 years. Before Colorado passed new reuse guidelines in January, state law divided all drinking water sources into two categories – groundwater and surface water – each with its own set of standards for making water safe to drink. The new rules add a third source, “treated wastewater.” That new category has to go through extra treatment and filtration steps before it’s considered safe for consumption.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces $50 Million to Enhance Key #Water Infrastructure in the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin Through President’s Investing in America Agenda: Historic investments are helping to protect and sustain the #COriver System #aridification

The downstream face of Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell, America’s second-largest water reservoir. Water is released from the reservoir through a hydropower generation system at the base of the dam. Photo by Brian Richter

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


WASHINGTON — The Department of the Interior today announced $50 million over the next five years to improve key water infrastructure and enhance drought-related data collection across the Upper Colorado River Basin. The Bureau of Reclamation is making an initial $8.7 million investment in fiscal year 2023 to support drought mitigation efforts in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming that will help ensure compliance with interstate water compact obligations, maintain the ability to generate hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam, and minimize adverse effects to resources and infrastructure in the Upper Basin.

President Biden’s Investing in America agenda represent the largest investment in climate resilience in the nation’s history and is providing much-needed resources to enhance Western communities’ resilience to drought and climate change, including protecting the short- and long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Reclamation is investing a total of $8.3 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects, including water purification and reuse, water storage and conveyance, desalination and dam safety. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing an additional $4.6 billion to address the historic drought. Today’s announcement is one of the many historic investments the Biden-Harris administration is implementing as part of an all-of-government effort to make the Colorado River Basin and all the communities that rely on it more resilient to climate change, including the ongoing drought in the West.

“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to bringing every tool and every resource to bear to as we work with states, Tribes, and communities throughout the West to find long-term solutions in the face of climate change and the sustained drought it is creating,” said Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau. “As we look toward the next decade of Colorado River guidelines and strategies, we are simultaneously making smart investments now that will make our path forward stronger and more sustainable.”

“Resources from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda are allowing us to meet a number of program needs across the Colorado River System, including expanding the Basin’s existing network of instrumentation to improve water accounting, weather predicting and monitoring,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Today’s funding will enhance critical data and empower us with the best-available science and technology to more accurately measure the Upper Basin’s consumptive water use.”

The initial $8.7 million announced today will purchase and place 12 new eddy covariance stations. Reclamation will locate the stations throughout the basin to measure evapotranspiration, a key measurement for determining consumptive water use. There are currently four of these stations in the Upper Basin, one placed in each of the Upper Basin states. Reclamation and the Upper Basin states, along with other partners, studied evapotranspiration in the Upper Basin from 2018 through 2020. The data that was collected and analyzed provided critical insight and demonstrated the need and value of expanding the data gathering ability.

This funding helps further Drought Contingency Planning activities in the Upper Colorado River Basin and is consistent with the obligations of the Secretary under the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act (P.L. 116-14) and related agreements.

To date, the Interior Department has announced the following investments for Colorado River Basin states, which will yield hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water savings each year once these projects are complete:

Upper Colorado River basins. (The border of Wyoming and Colorado is mislabeled.) (U.S. BOR)

A dogged reporter covers our roiling world — Writers on the Range

Dave Marston has written a profile of friend of Coyote Gulch Allen Best. Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the Range website (David Marston):

Usually seen with a camera slung around his neck, Allen Best edits a one-man online journalism shop he calls Big Pivots. Its beat is the changes made necessary by our rapidly warming climate, and he calls it the most important story he’s ever covered.

Best is based in the Denver area, and his twice-a-month e-journal looks for the radical transitions in Colorado’s energy, water, and other urgent aspects of the state’s economy. These changes, he thinks, overwhelm the arrival of the telephone, rural electrification and even the internal combustion engine in terms of their impact.

Global warming, he declares, is “the biggest pivot of all.”

Whether you “believe” in climate change — and Best points out that at least one Colorado state legislator does not — there’s no denying that our entire planet is undergoing dramatic changes, including melting polar ice, ever-intensifying storms, and massive wildlife extinctions.

A major story that Best, 71, has relentlessly chronicled concerns Tri-State, a wholesale power supplier serving Colorado and three other states. Late to welcome renewable energy, it’s been weighed down with aging coal-fired power plants. Best closely followed how many of its 42 customers — rural electric cooperatives — have fought to withdraw from, or at least renegotiate, contracts that hampered their ability to buy cheaper power and use local renewable sources.

Best’s first newspaper job was at the Middle Park Times in Kremmling, a mountain town along the Colorado River. He wrote about logging, molybdenum mining and the many miners who came from eastern Europe. His prose wasn’t pretty, he says, but he got to hone his skills.

Because of his rural roots, Best is most comfortable hanging out in farm towns and backwaters, places where he can listen to stories and try to get a feel for what Best calls the “rest of Colorado.” Pueblo, population 110,000 in southern Colorado, is a gritty town he likes a lot.

Pueblo has been forced to pivot away from a creaky, coal-fired power plant that created well-paying jobs. Now, the local steel mill relies on solar power instead, and the town also hosts a factory that makes wind turbine towers. He’s written stories about these radical changes as well as the possibility that Russian oligarchs are involved in the city’s steel mill.

In 2015, signs supporting coal were abundant in Craig, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

Best also vacuums up stories from towns like Craig in northwestern Colorado, home to soon-to-be-closed coal plants. He says he finds Farmington, New Mexico, fascinating because it has electric transmission lines idling from shuttered coal power plants.

His Big Pivots may only have 1,091 subscribers, but story tips and encouragement come from some of his readers who hold jobs with clout. His feature “There Will Be Fire: Colorado arrives at the dawn of megafires” brought comments from climate scientist Michael Mann and Amory Lovins, legendary co-founder of The Rocky Mountain Institute.

“After a lifetime in journalism, his writing has become more lyrical as he’s become more passionate,” says Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for the Aspen Ski Company. “Yet he’s also completely unknown despite the quality of his work.”

Among utility insiders, and outsiders like myself, however, Best is a must-read.

His biggest donor has been Sam R. Walton’s Catena Foundation — a $29,000 grant. Typically, supporters of his nonprofit give Big Pivots $25 or $50.

Republican River in Colorado January 2023 near the Nebraska border. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Living in Denver allows him to be close to the state’s shot callers, but often, his most compelling stories come from the rural fringe. One such place is the little-known Republican River, whose headwaters emerge somewhere on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. That’s also where Best’s grandfather was born in an earthen “soddie.”

Best grew up in eastern Colorado and knows the treeless area well. He’s written half a dozen stories about the wrung-out Republican River that delivers water to neighboring Kansas. He also sees the Eastern Plains as a great story about the energy transition. With huge transmission lines under construction by the utility giant Xcel Energy, the project will feed renewable power from wind and solar to the cities of Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins.

Best admits he’s sometimes discouraged by his small readership — it can feel like he’s speaking to an empty auditorium, he says. He adds, though, that while “I may be a tiny player in Colorado journalism, I’m still a player.”

He’s also modest. With every trip down Colorado’s back roads to dig up stories, Best says he’s humbled by what he doesn’t know. “Just when I think I understand something, I get slapped up the side of the head.”

Dave Marston is the publisher of Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He lives in Durango, Colorado.

Subscribe to Big Pivots here.

Just for grins here’s a gallery of Allen’s photos from the Coyote Gulch archives.

Gunnison County falls back into #drought: Dry conditions ideal for new wildfire starts — Gunnison Country Times #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Colorado Drought Monitor map August 8, 2023.

Click the link to read the article on the Gunnison Country Times website (Abby Harrison). Here’s an excerpt:

Despite a season of abundant spring rainfall and runoff in the Gunnison Valley, the late arrival of monsoon season has set the stage for fire, robbing the basin of the moisture it relies on each year to reduce the chance of starts. After nearly a month of little-to-no precipitation, the valley started registering drought conditions in mid-July. Lack of monsoon rains and high temperatures have exacerbated and prolonged the drying pattern, bringing drought back to the county and setting the stage for multiple fire starts around the Western Slope. Although a few storms have graced the valley recently, more significant precipitation is not expected for at least a week…

These lingering high pressure systems have ushered in record-breaking temperatures for both Gunnison and Crested Butte. Cities all over the Western Slope set temperature records this year, Sanders said. Thunderstorms that follow prolonged periods of drying tend not to bring “deep moisture,” he said. Dry air at ground level prevents moisture in the atmosphere from reaching the ground, causing dry thunderstorms. Fire officials have stated that the Lowline Fire burning north of Gunnison was likely started by a lightning strike, and most fires burning around the state have also been started this way. The high pressure system finally moved out in late July, bringing some moisture. Even then, rain fell in a few isolated incidents while darker storm clouds hung along the edges of the valley and didn’t quite make it into town. 

Gunnison River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

Interview: Lorelei Cloud makes history in a critical time as first tribal council member on the #Colorado #Water Conservation Board — Colorado Public Radio

Lorelei Cloud. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

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

Lorelei Cloud joined the Colorado Water Conservation Board in March as the first tribal council member to serve in the position. Cloud, the vice chair of the Southern Ute Tribal Council, was appointed to the position by Gov. Jared Polis. She joins the board at a critical time for water not just in Colorado, but across the American West. As the representative for the San Miguel-Dolores-San Juan drainage basin, she represents land that covers not just the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute reservations, but also 10 counties in southwestern Colorado. She spoke to Colorado Matters about including Indigenous voices in water discussions and the challenges ahead for the Colorado River…

Historically, tribes have been left out of the process of negotiating these Colorado River issues. Do you feel that’s going to be different this time around?

I’m hopeful that we are going to be included in those conversations. There has been a lot of effort going forward historically in making sure that tribes are included in those broader conversations. There currently is still no formal written document or no formal process for tribes to be included in those conversations. The Colorado River Compact was created in 1922. It wasn’t until 1924 that Native Americans became citizens of this country. And so with that and our tribal history, I think that plays a big part in why we were not part of those conversations at the very beginning. And so now, being included in those conversations is going to be critical. And, because we know that we are sovereigns — and for the federal government and the Bureau of Reclamation and the Upper Colorado River Commission to recognize tribes as sovereigns — and having those government-to-government discussions when it comes to water, I think is critical.

Last fall, we learned that Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming for the first time began formal negotiations with tribal governments over water. How is this going to affect the broader water conversation now that tribes are formally being brought into discussions that they’ve so long been left out of?

I think it’s going to have a positive impact. You know, when we talk about these state officials finally having conversations with tribes, again, it’s been historical. We’ve been meeting with the Upper Colorado River Commission. They’re the commissioners from each one of those states and the six tribes in the upper basin. We’ve had some really good conversations, but we’ve had to get through a lot of tough conversations to get to that point. And I think that since these state officials were still willing to take that on, we’re going to make a really big impact for the Colorado River Basin, not just for the upper basin because it shows that there are four states that are willing and able to work with tribes in their respective areas.

And I’m hoping that creates leeway for other tribes, other states, particularly in the lower basin, to find ways to work together and have positive outcomes. Again, I think it’s going to be a positive outcome when you stand together as a group, as a collective, even though you may not see eye to eye or agree with decisions or the understanding of where somebody is coming from. If you can put that aside and create the trust that’s very much needed, we can do just about anything. And I think we all have the same mind frame of protecting the river and making sure that all of the water users have the water that they need.

After decades of gravel mining, stretch of #AnimasRiver eyed for restoration — The #Durango Telegraph

Animas River just north of downtown Durango. By Ahodges7 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26602754

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Telegraph website (Jonathan Romeo). Here’s an excerpt:

…among the most significant issues, is the impact of historic gravel mining on the 6-mile stretch from Bakers Bridge to Trimble Lane, north of Durango. Over the years, gravel mining has completely altered the function of the river and turned it into what looks like the surface of the moon…the damage left by gravel mining between Bakers Bridge and Trimble has gone largely unnoticed and unaddressed – in part, because that stretch, hemmed in by private property, is relatively unused for recreational purposes such as river running or fishing.

But that all might soon change. Recently, a number of stakeholders invested in the Animas River began the process of forming a stream management plan (SMP) for the waterway, which will likely address lasting impacts caused by historic gravel mining.

“It’ll be in there,” Warren Rider, coordinator of the Animas Watershed Partnership, which is leading the SMP process, said. “Too many people are justifiably concerned about how the river is behaving in that area and the consequences of it. It was eye-opening when I first saw what the impacts have been.”

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

R.I.P. John Fielder

John Fielder

Here’s the release from Governor Polis’ office:

“I am saddened by the loss of John Fielder, who captured Colorado’s iconic beauty during his 50 years as a nature photographer. His unique talent and work allowed him to showcase our state to millions across the world and he will be dearly missed,” said Governor Polis. “My condolences to his family and friends. I hope that we can all follow his example to appreciate and preserve our outdoor lands.”

“I last saw John two weeks ago at the opening of the ‘REVEALED: John Fielder’s Favorite Place’ exhibition at History Colorado. On behalf of the state, I thanked him for donating his life works to History Colorado.”

More of Fielder’s photos that have made into the Coyote Gulch archives from one direction or another.

The West — and the Alfalfa Wars — heat up: #Drought returns after a little vacation — @Land_Desk #ColoradoRiver #COriver #Aridification

Credit: The Land Desk

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

This week two reports on agriculture in the Colorado River Basin popped into my inbox. It was quite interesting to read them back to back, given the similar topic and the wildly diverging slants:

That these two papers dropped at almost the same time is mere coincidence, I’m sure, but it still gave the effect of a brutal water-policy cage fight in which the alfalfaphiles go up against the alfalfaphobes and innocent folks like yours truly get caught in the crossfire. Which is not to say the reports are brutish in the way that, say Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk — those other wannabe cage fighters — are. Anything but. Both papers are informative, make good points, and are well worth a read.

I’m not going to rehash all of their arguments here. I’ve covered both sides of the alfalfa debate pretty thoroughly in the past (links below). What’s interesting to me is how much attention the alfalfa/water use issue is getting these days after long wallowing in relative obscurity. One of the Land Desk’s first Data Dumps was on alfalfa and water use and a lot of the responses to it were along the lines of: Finally, someone’s talking about alfalfa! That was just two and a half years ago. Now, everyone’s talking about alfalfa.

And a lot of that talk irks the Family Farm Alliance’s Dan Keppen, a noted alfalfaphile. His report claims that urban interests and junior water rights holders — with support from journalists — “have mounted a sustained campaign against agricultural water use in the basin, often pointing to alfalfa as one crop that uses too much water … .” He even calls me out by name!

I’m flattered. Really. But to be fair, I wasn’t being sensational. I was simply doing the math. Fact is, alfalfa and other forage crops use a lot of the Colorado River’s water, and the only way to cut 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of consumption is to stop irrigating a lot of that alfalfa.

Keppen goes on to suggest that the purpose of this “demonization” of Western agriculture is to take water from farmers and use it to fuel urban growth. That has certainly happened in the past, usually in the form of buy and dry. But the Colorado River situation is a bit more dire: There simply isn’t enough water to irrigate all of the existing crops and serve all of the existing people. It’s just not there — the water, I mean.

As the title implies, the Food and Water Watch report targets factory farms and industrial-scale agriculture, not small farms, even ones that grow only alfalfa. Long-time Land Desk readers will be familiar with most of the numbers and information in the report: alfalfa is thirsty; agriculture — specifically forage crops that feed dairy and beef cows — is the biggest user of Colorado River water; some of that alfalfa — along with Colorado River water — is being shipped overseas; the Colorado River Compact is riddled with flaws, the most egregious being its exclusion of the tribal nations that should rightfully control all of the river’s water; and so on.

But the report isn’t merely an indictment of the current system. It also suggests reforms, including:

  • ban new factory farms and limit expansions of existing facilities;
  • stop using federal funds to prop up factory alfalfa farms;
  • restrict alfalfa exports;
  • help small- and medium-scale farmers shift to more geographically appropriate crops;
  • define water as a public trust resource, not a commodity.

For a bit more reading:

Alfalfaphobia? In which I play the role of Colorado River Tsar–and defend the vilified crop — @Land_Desk

The Growth Machine Churns On: At the expense of us ‘all

Aridification Watch

“Another record-breaking drought,” wrote Dan Keppen in the report referenced above, “is now in the rearview mirror for many parts of the Western U.S.” Perhaps. But to carry the metaphor into the present: That drought has rushed right back up the highway and is once again riding our bumper like a jerk-ass motorist from (fill in the state/region of your choice).

How can that be, you might ask, given our wet and wild winter and spring? The answer: July. It was hot. It was dry. Oh, July. Basically, the entire West — save for Wyoming and a little portion of the Colorado plains — was warmer than average (with record-breaking heat in the Southwest) and drier than average.

The dastardly climatic duo sapped the streams and the soil of a lot of the winter and spring moisture. And now the drought is creeping back into the region.

August 2023 #ElNiño update: back to school — NOAA #ENSO

Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website (Emily Becker):


It’s that time again! And by “that time,” I mean the El Niño forecast update, of course. The chance that El Niño—the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (aka “ENSO”) climate pattern—will continue through the winter is greater than 95%, so let’s sharpen our pencils and get into the details of what that means for upcoming seasons.


Greater than 95% is a very strong chance! Forecasters’ confidence that El Niño will continue is based on a few factors. First, the east-central tropical Pacific is quite warm. Specifically, our primary El Niño-monitoring metric, the Niño-3.4 Index—the average sea surface temperature in the Niño-3.4 region in the east-central tropical Pacific—was 1.0 °Celsius (about 2 °Fahrenheit) warmer than the long-term average in July, according to our most reliable dataset, ERSSTv5. (Long-term = 1991–2020.)

2-year history of sea surface temperatures in the Niño-3.4 region of the tropical Pacific for all events evolving into El Niño since 1950 (gray lines) and the current event (purple line). NOAA Climate.gov image based on a graph by Emily Becker and monthly Niño-3.4 index data from CPC using ERSSTv5.

The three-month-average Niño-3.4 Index, the Oceanic Niño Index, was 0.8 °C above the long-term mean for the May­–July average, the second three-month-period in a row above the El Niño threshold of 0.5 °C. We need to see five consecutive three-month averages above this threshold before these periods will be considered a historical “El Niño episode” and colored red in our ENSO record). Two is a good start, especially with the 0.8 °C recording from May­–July. If this El Niño were to collapse after hitting this high, dropping back below the threshold of this magnitude before next winter, it would be the first time in our historical record, dating back to 1950.

Social studies

El Niño is a coupled phenomenon, meaning the changes we see in the ocean surface temperature must be matched by changes in the atmospheric patterns above the tropical Pacific. The average atmospheric circulation over the tropical Pacific, the Walker circulation, is like a conveyor belt: rising air over the very warm far western Pacific, west-to-east winds high up in the atmosphere, descending air and dry conditions over the east-central Pacific, and returning east-to-west winds near the surface—the trade winds.

Generalized Walker Circulation (December-February) during ENSO-neutral conditions. Convection associated with rising branches of the Walker Circulation is found over the Maritime continent, northern South America, and eastern Africa. NOAA Climate.gov drawing by Fiona Martin.

During El Niño, the warmer east-central tropical Pacific Ocean surface leads to lower surface air pressure and more rising air, clouds, and rain over that region, weakening the overall circulation. The trade winds slow, and drier conditions and higher-than-average air pressure are observed over the western Pacific and Indonesia. The ocean-atmosphere coupling is both how El Niño perpetuates itself, as the atmospheric changes feed back into the oceanic changes, and how El Niño affects global weather and climate.

Generalized Walker Circulation (December-February) anomaly during El Niño events, overlaid on map of average sea surface temperature anomalies. Anomalous ocean warming in the central and eastern Pacific (orange) help to shift a rising branch of the Walker Circulation to east of 180°, while sinking branches shift to over the Maritime continent and northern South America. NOAA Climate.gov drawing by Fiona Martin.

In July, we observed more rain and clouds over the central Pacific, with somewhat drier conditions in Indonesia, and some reduced trade wind activity in the western Pacific. The Equatorial Southern Oscillation Index, which measures the relationship between surface air pressure across the Pacific, was -0.9 in July, indicating weaker pressure in the eastern Pacific and higher in the western. Taken together, these are all signs of the atmospheric component of El Niño, providing more confidence that the system is engaged and that these conditions will last through the winter.

Computer science

Our global climate models are predicting that the warmer-than-average Pacific ocean conditions will not only last through the winter, but continue to increase. There is a good chance—approximately 2 in 3—that the peak Oceanic Niño Index this winter will match or exceed 1.5 °C, our informal threshold for a “strong” El Niño event. This is more confident than last month, in large part because the peak of this El Niño is one month closer, and, as I mentioned above, the surface is already 1.0 °C warmer than average.

Animation of maps of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean compared to the long-term average over five-day periods from the end of May to early August 2023. The waters in the key monitoring region, which scientists call “the Niño-3.4 region,” progressively become warmer than average (red) as El Niño builds. NOAA Climate.gov, based on Coral Reef Watch maps available from NOAA View.

The sea surface temperature changes associated with El Niño events usually peak in November–January or thereabouts. Why? We still don’t know exactly why ENSO’s seasonal cycle is timed the way it is, with most events peaking in the winter and decaying through the spring. There is still a lot to learn!


El Niño’s most extensive impacts on global climate also occur during the winter and early spring. (I’m using Northern Hemisphere seasonal terms here.) Typical impacts include more rain and storms across the southern tier of the United States, southeastern South America, around the horn of Africa, and eastern Asia. Drier conditions are often found in December–February during El Niño through the Maritime continent/Indonesia, southeastern Africa, and northeastern South America. El Niño affects summer (June–August) climate, too, including drier conditions through the Caribbean, Indonesia, India, northern South America, parts of Central America, and eastern Australia.

These maps show winter and summer global ENSO impacts.

El Niño is also known to interact with the Atlantic and Pacific hurricane seasons, with El Niño years tending to be less active in the Atlantic. In the hurricane season outlook released in May, NOAA scientists expected the potential suppressing effect of El Niño may be offset by the much warmer than average Atlantic Ocean surface, as warm water provides fuel for hurricanes. NOAA’s update to the outlook will be released later today, so be sure to keep an eye out for that!

Experimental psychology

Speaking of the warm Atlantic, you’ve probably heard about the recent unusually high global average temperatures. Some of the world’s oceans are extremely warm (North Atlantic, Southern Ocean, and so on), and there have been long-lasting heat waves across many land regions. El Niño is linked to higher global averages, although this El Niño is just getting going and can’t be blamed for all the heat events that have occurred already this year. (In fact, over North America, impacts tend to be very weak during the summer). There’s a good chance, though, that it will contribute to (at the very least) a top-3 average temperature for 2023. In a guest post in June, Karin Gleason discussed how NOAA predicts the global average temperature.

But what are the computer climate models predicting? Michael Tippett of Columbia University, noted friend-of-the-blog, took a look at some of the predictions from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble. These graphs are a lot, so bear with me!

Global average temperature forecasts from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble, from an original by Michael Tippett of Columbia University. Each panel shows the forecast from one model, relative to the “pre-industrial” period—that is, the increase in global average temperature since 1850. The black line shows the observed global temperature, from the Hadley Center’s HADCRUT5 temperature record. The gray lines are forecasts starting in April, May, June, July, and August from previous years, starting in 2013. The most recent forecasts, from April, May, June, July, and August of 2023, are on the right-hand end, in colors. For most models, the forecasts extend out 12 months—for example, the forecast made in June 2014 goes out to May 2015. These forecasts have the same structure as our Niño-3.4 forecasts, but instead of predicting the average sea surface temperature in the Niño-3.4 region, they’re predicting the average temperature over the entire globe. For help visualizing the separate forecasts, take a look at this animation showing Niño-3.4 forecasts from 2015–16. Figure by climate.gov based on data from Michael Tippett, obtained from the IRI Data Library.

Each panel shows the global average temperature forecast from one model, relative to the “pre-industrial” period—that is, the increase in global average temperature since 1850. To see how the predictions vary from month-to-month, Mike has included forecasts made in April, May, June, July, and August of each year, starting in 2013. The most recent forecasts, from April, May, June, July, and August of 2023, are on the right-hand end, in colors.

The gray lines are forecasts from previous years. For most models, the forecasts extend out 12 months—for example, the forecast made in June 2014 goes out to May 2015. The black line shows the observed global temperature, from the Hadley Center’s HADCRUT5 temperature record. These forecasts have the same structure as our Niño-3.4 forecasts, but instead of predicting the average sea surface temperature in the Niño-3.4 region, they’re predicting the average temperature over the entire globe. (For help visualizing what I mean, take a look at this animation showing Niño-3.4 forecasts from 2015–16.)

The different models and the different monthly forecasts show that there is some variation in the predictions overall. Most models suggest that the global average temperature will substantially exceed that of early 2016, our last strong El Niño event, but not all of them. Month-to-month, the predicted average can shift around. You can also see that the 2016 record was pretty well predicted by the models. There are a lot of things to note in these graphs, but I’m running out of space here, so I leave you to your studies. What do you observe? Let us know in the comments!

Campaign against more #Colorado mountain freight trains advances in litigation and letters: #ClimateChange, other environmental risks spur opposition to proposed Uinta Basin Railway — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Anglers fish on the Colorado River near an idle Union Pacific freight train in western Grand County on June 12, 2023. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

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

Elected officials in Glenwood Springs are quite certain of two realities facing the largest town between the Denver metro area and Grand Junction on Union Pacific’s Central Corridor rail line: Freight rail, especially for fossil fuels, is king. And climate change is an everyday reality.

“Glenwood Springs is the poster child for climate change,” said former Glenwood mayor and current City Council member Jonathan Godes, an outspoken opponent of the proposed Uinta Basin Railway oil-train project in Utah. “Something that contributes 53 million metric tons of carbon a year … is absolutely something that our community and every other mountain community in Colorado that relies on it not being 100 degrees every day in the summer or 50 degrees in the winter should be fighting on its face.”

But the fact that the new 88-mile railroad in northeast Utah would send up to five fully loaded, two-mile-long oil trains a day through Glenwood and Denver on their way to Gulf Coast refineries has prompted the Colorado River city of 10,300 in Garfield County to support Eagle County’s litigation opposing federal approval of the project, and, more recently, to fire off letters to federal officials opposing tax-exempt funding for the railway and a Utah loading facility expansion.

On Aug. 3, Glenwood Mayor Ingrid Wussow wrote U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging him to “deny issuing funding through tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds (PABs) to the Uinta Basin Railway Project. The approval of and funding for the Railway carries grave implications for both the environmental health and economic stability of Glenwood Springs and other communities along the Railway’s corridor.”

Wussow added she’ll be in Washington, D.C., Sept. 18 to 20, with a delegation from the city and requested a meeting with Buttigieg to discuss the oil train project, which would travel along the climate-change endangered Colorado River for approximately 100 miles. In a separate letter dated Aug. 7, Wussow wrote Greg Sheehan, Utah state director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to request a full environmental impact statement for an oil truck and rail loading facility on BLM land in Utah rather than a less-intensive environmental assessment.

“Glenwood Springs is a world destination for outdoor recreation and the home for irreplaceable natural wonders,” Wussow wrote. “Given the magnitude of the Railway project, these risks to the natural environment are significant.”

Godes can doom scroll through a long list of climate calamities in Glenwood Springs he says are directly attributable to the burning of fossil fuels, rising temperatures and increased aridification of Colorado. He points to the Storm King Fire in 1994 that killed 14 wildland firefighters, the Coal Seam Fire in 2002 that burned down 29 Glenwood structures, and the Grizzly Creek Fire in 2020 that scoured Glenwood Canyon and shut down Interstate 70 for two weeks. The following summer, a 500-year rain event hit the burn scar and dumped mud and rock on the highway and train tracks below, shutting down I-70 for another two weeks.

“So climate change, it’s not just, ‘It’s hot in America right now,’” Godes said. “Climate change is something that threatens us in Glenwood Springs on a year-in and year-out basis. It’s ever-present. It is where our insurance rates are determined. It is where we allow houses to be built. It is where streets are contemplated for escape routes.”

One might think the environmental benefits of trains — up to 75% lower greenhouse gas emissions than moving freight by truck, according to the rail industry — would ease some of Glenwood’s concerns, but Godes argues that depends on the freight. The Uinta Basin oil should stay in the ground to begin with, he argues, while also scoffing at the notion of enhanced passenger trains as a potential tourism-boon side effect of increased rail traffic overall. [ed. emphasis mine]

“My mom comes from Iowa every year on the California’s Zephyr,” Godes said of the daily Amtrak service through Glenwood to Chicago and San Francisco. “She gets on near Burlington, Iowa, and then she comes out here, and it’s always four or five hours late. And most of the time it’s because somewhere in Colorado, and most likely between Denver and here, there was a train with a higher priority, whether it was oil or coal or other materials or commodities.”

While there are specialty tourist trains such as the Denver-to-Moab, Utah, Rocky Mountaineer and the seasonal Denver-to-Winter Park Express ski train — a partnership with federally run Amtrak — talk of a daily Colorado Zephyr from Denver to Grand Junction and back has largely remained just talk. And the broader push for intercity Amtrak expansion under President “Amtrak Joe” Biden is focused on Front Range Passenger Rail.

In 2020, a billionaire New York real estate tycoon and owner of vast swaths of agricultural land in southeastern Colorado promised Pueblo-to-Minturn daily passenger service in his plan to revive the long-dormant Tennessee Pass rail line that connects to the Central Corridor at Dotsero, but he’s since pulled the plug on that concept.

“I’d love to have some kind of passenger rail like the California Zephyr be able to service the tourism industry to get tourists from the Front Range to Vail, from Pueblo, Colorado Springs, over Tennessee Pass,” Godes said. “That’s all fine and dandy. It’s a really nice, fun idea that could be helpful to our tourist economy. But if it comes with the risk of opening the door, even a crack, to regular freight rail on the Tennessee line, I think that is going to be incredibly — and it doesn’t affect me because we get that freight rail through Glenwood no matter what — but I think that is incredibly problematic for Eagle County, Chaffee County, for all the communities on that line.”

Fears about derailments

Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry, whose government is the lead litigant in efforts to block the Uinta Basin project from sending oil trains through a corner of the county, was initially open to passenger rail but very leery of freight returning to the Tennessee Pass tracks along the Eagle River, which bisects the county before flowing into the Colorado River.

“If there’s going to be cargo trains and no passengers, then all we have is the impacts of noise and train crossings to deal with again,” Chandler-Henry said in 2020. “But if we also have people moving on those lines, I think this could be a great benefit to us.” A small segment of Union Pacific’s Tennessee Pass Line is currently leased by the scenic Royal Gorge Route

Beginning in the 1950s, the United States government, at the behest of the auto and aviation industries, prioritized interstate highways and airports over passenger rail, relegating rail to primarily freight lines with little tolerance for passenger service. In 1997, the only other rail line through the Colorado Rockies — the Tennessee Pass Line — was mothballed in favor of the Central Corridor. But it had not seen passengers on its tracks since 1964.

Terry Armistead, the Minturn mayor pro tem and a member of the Minturn Railroad Committee, does not speak for the whole committee or the entire town council, but she does not want to see the revival of either freight or passenger service in the former rail and mining town off the back side of Vail Mountain.

“We’re not Europe. I just was there riding the trains, and it was incredible. But this mountain corridor is really problematic for commuter traffic and any kind of freight traffic,” Armistead said. “I have real fears about derailments, and Minturn is finally recovering from the disaster that was the Eagle Mine, with the river running orange. We can’t afford to do that again.”

Eagle Mine

The Eagle Mine is an EPA Superfund site.

“People have this romantic idea of it, but they don’t really quite understand the logistics of this rail line. I don’t think it will work for commuter traffic,” even for people who live in Leadville and work in Vail, Armistead said. “If you drove the Leadville 100 at 8 a.m. or 5 p.m. back up to Leadville, you’d understand. People aren’t giving up their cars to spend an extra hour on a train every day. I mean, people are not going to do it. They don’t have the time.”

Sal Pace, a former Pueblo County commissioner and state lawmaker who serves on the Front Range Passenger Rail board of directors, said in a previous interview that the primary focus of FRPR is passenger rail along the Front Range between Pueblo and Fort Collins, where more than 80% of the state’s population is located.

But Pace acknowledges his group has been, to a much lesser degree, exploring connectivity to the west, including the passenger trains already using Union Pacific’s Central Corridor through the Moffat Tunnel, but also by connecting to Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which cuts through southeast Colorado on its route between Chicago and Los Angeles.

“We’re also going to explore other potential opportunities,” Pace said of currently active segments of the Tennessee Pass Line. “There’s already potential for connectivity from Pueblo to the Royal Gorge Route and it’s not out of the question that individuals could purchase a train ticket from Denver to the Royal Gorge after we build out Front Range Passenger Rail, where in Pueblo they’d change trains. The infrastructure is there, and it’s something that needs to be examined and explored.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation has identified the Tennessee Pass Line as a priority alternative to the Central Corridor line and in the past suggested the state should attempt to purchase the dormant line if it ever becomes available.

But until passenger service becomes the top-line priority over freight on Colorado’s historic rail lines, fears of frequent derailments and toxic spills in headwater rivers will color perceptions in the state’s mountain towns, especially as federal rail safety legislation languishes amid relentless lobbying by the freight-rail industry.

R.I.P. Robbie Robertson: “Who else is gonna bring you a bottle of rain”

Bob Dylan and the Band performing at the Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois, on the 1974 reunion tour, Robbie Robertson is second from the left. By Jim Summaria – Wikipedia:Contact us/Photo submission, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5626785

Click the link to read the obit on The New York Times website (Jim Farber). Here’s an excerpt:

Robbie Robertson, the chief composer and lead guitarist for the Band, whose work offered a rustic vision of America that seemed at once mythic and authentic, in the process helping to inspire the genre that came to be known as Americana, died on Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 80…

The songs that Mr. Robertson, a Canadian, wrote for the Band used enigmatic lyrics to evoke a hard and colorful America of yore, a feat coming from someone not born in the United States. With uncommon conviction, they conjured a wild place, often centered in the South, peopled by rough-hewed characters, from the defeated Confederate soldier in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” to the tough union worker of “King Harvest Has Surely Come” to the shady creatures in “Life Is a Carnival.” The music he matched to his passionate yarns mined the roots of every essential American genre, including folk, country, blues and gospel. Yet when his history-minded compositions first appeared on albums by the Band in the late 1960s, they felt vital as well as vintage.

Marveling over where life had taken him, Mr. Robertson once told Classic Rock magazine: “People used to say to me, ‘You’re just a dreamer. You’re gonna end up working down the street, just like me.’ Part of that was crushing, and the other part is, ‘Oh yeah? I’m on a mission. I’m moving on. And if you look for me, there’s only going to be dust.’”