#AnimasRiver: The 1911 Flood: Could it happen again? — @Land_Desk (Jonathan P. Thompson) #SanJuanRiver #RioGrande #DoloresRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver

Flood damage wrought by Junction Creek in October 1911. This is looking south down Main Avenue from around the current location of Durango High School.

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

At around four a.m. on October 6, 1911, Navajo Methodist Mission Superintendent J.N. Simmons woke up to find himself and the mission near Farmington, New Mexico, surrounded by water. It wasn’t a total surprise. He and two other staffers—Frank B. Tice and Walter Weston—had received the flood alarm the previous day, but had chosen to stay, certain that the San Juan River’s waters would never reach them, and if they did, the brand new, three-story cement-block mission building, watched over by God, would provide an unsinkable refuge. They were wrong.1.

The rain began in the San Juan Mountains late on the morning of October 4, 1911. It came down gently at first, slowly gaining intensity over the course of the day. By evening the tropical storm was a torrent, dropping two inches of precipitation on Durango in just 12 hours, nearly twice what the town normally gets during all of October. Weather watchers in Gladstone, above Silverton, recorded eight inches of rain on October 5—a virtual high country hurricane.

Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

Once-gurgling streams jumped from their banks and twisted steel railroad tracks into contorted sculpture, decimated roads and bridges, and demolished barns. Junction Creek tore out the Main Avenue and railroad bridges before adding its load to the Animas, which carried an estimated 25,000 cubic feet per second of water as it ran through town. It’s an almost incomprehensible volume. A good spring runoff these days might lift the waters to 6,000 cfs, high enough for the river to leave its banks and spread across the floor of the Animas Valley, and to turn Smelter Rapid into a churning hellhole for rafters.

The water unmoored the railroad bridge near Durango’s fish hatchery and carried it downstream, despite the fact that two full coal cars had been parked on the bridge to provide ballast. The river jumped its channel and headed onto 15th street, creating a five-foot-deep river that today would go right through a Burger King. further downriver the waters washed away 100 tons of toxic slag from the Durango smelter, and carried away several homes from Santa Rita, on the opposite shore.

The Animas River rushing beneath the Main Avenue bridge in Durango, Oct. 1911. Note the partially submerged house located about where the VFW is now and the water crossing Main near where Burger King is currently located. Photo credit Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College.

Sixty miles east of Durango, in Pagosa Springs, the upper San Juan River swept away more than 20 structures and destroyed the town water plant, hospital, and jail. Its power plant “was wiped out of existence, nothing left but the water wheel.” The Bayfield Blade called Arboles, a village near the junction of the San Juan and Piedra Rivers, “a thing of the past.” That was a bit of hyperbole, but maybe also prophetic: the community survived that flood, but was later buried under the waters of Navajo Reservoir. Further east the Rio Grande grew even grander and threatened to carry parts of Española, Bernalillo, and Albuquerque down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Over in Dolores, Colorado, the river peaked out at 10,000 cfs, more than 20% greater than the second highest peak hit in 1949. The raging river of sorrow ripped out railroad tracks, washed out roads, and inundated the town under four feet of water and four inches of mud, carrying away houses and the boardwalk. My great grandfather, John Malcolm Nelson, had come down from Ouray in early October to look at buying land in the Ute Strip — and he did, down at Sunnyside Mesa. But his trip back north was delayed by the fact that every bridge and road in the region was washed out.

In Farmington the seething monsters of the upper San Juan and the Animas joined forces, spilling over the banks and onto the flats on either side of the river, where the Navajo mission sat. Simmons and his fellow staffers sent the children to higher ground at about midnight as a precaution, equipping each with a blanket and loaf of bread. Then they went to bed, not realizing their own mistake until they awoke four hours later.

Somehow, Weston was able to quickly escape on horseback (he may have snuck out earlier). Tice chose to stick around, heading for the top floor of the structure. Simmons ran out and climbed atop an outhouse, apparently in order to launch himself onto a horse. Simmons missed the horse and ended up in the water, instead, carried rapidly downstream alongside dead animals, haystacks, and pieces of people’s homes.

Tice, it seemed, was the only survivor, and as the sun came up, onlookers gathered on the opposite shore. They watched Tice climb from the second story to the third, finally climbing onto the roof with his dog. It seemed safe enough; the water stopped rising after it inundated the third story. Little did he know, the waters were slowly dissolving the building underneath him, and it, the roof, the dog, and finally Tice were all swallowed up by the current.

The Shiprock Indian School campus was covered with water five feet deep, washing away several adobe buildings, and the fairgrounds, prettied up for the annual fair, were covered with a torrent of muddy water. Every bridge in San Juan County, Utah, where a miniature oil boom was on, was torn loose and carried away by the angry torrent; 150,000 cubic feet of water shot past the little town of Mexican Hat every second, according to a 2001 USGS paleo-flood hydrology investigation. That’s about 100 times the volume of water in the river during a typical March or April, a popular time to raft that section. It took out the then-new Goodridge bridge — some 39 feet above the river’s normal surface — tore through the Goosenecks, backed up in Grand Gulch, deposited trees on sandstone benches high above where the river normally flows, and finally combined with the raging Colorado River to create a liquid leviathan of unknown volume that wreaked more havoc through the Grand Canyon and beyond.


The 1911 event is typically considered to be the Four Corners Country’s biggest flood, based on streamflow estimates, anecdotal accounts, and the damage wrought. Since then it has been rivaled only by the June 1927 flood, when the Animas River in Durango reached 20,000 cubic feet per second; and in 1949 and 1970 when the high-water mark was about 12,000 cfs and 11,600 cfs, respectively. That might make 1911 seem like a freak event — a once-in-a-millennium confluence of factors. Combine that with the fact that the river’s annual peak streamflows have trended downward over the last century or so, and a 1911 repeat seems less and less likely.

But these waters are muddied, so to speak, by the relatively short timeline and limited geographical scope we’re working with. Many streams didn’t have gages on them at the time, and even those that were present weren’t always accurate (most of the 1911 figures are estimates, not actual measurements). Even though most of the “old-timers” said it was the biggest flood they’d ever seen or heard of in these parts, we have to remember that they tended to be white guys, and white settler-colonists had only been in the area for four decades or so. Not that memories of weather events are ever all that reliable.

A swollen San Juan River nearly wiped Montezuma Creek and Bluff City, Utah, off the map back in 1884 (the 1911 flood wreaked less destruction). Yet there were virtually no stream gages, so the magnitude of that earlier event is hard to quantify and, besides, maybe the later flood was less destructive because there were fewer homes and infrastructure in the flood’s path by then.

Also, when one looks beyond the San Juan Basin watershed, one finds streamflows that far exceed those of October 1911. On the USGS stream gage on the Green River in Green River, Utah, the 1911 flood (which was at the beginning of the 1912 water year, by the way) ranks as just the 5th largest flow since 1895. And 1911 places fourth overall on the Rio Grande at Otowi Bridge, outdone by 1920, 1941, and 1904.

We can extend the timeline dramatically by turning to paleoflood hydrology, which is sort of like dendrochronology, except instead of looking at tree rings to understand past climate, it uses geological evidence — slackwater lines, debris — to reconstruct the magnitude and frequency of past floods. I skimmed the available literature, including this Bureau of Reclamation survey of studies, and here’s what stood out:

  • The 1911 flood was likely the largest on the Animas River over the last several hundred years or more. On the San Juan River near Bluff, researchers found no evidence of floods higher than the 1911 debris, indicating it “may represent the largest flood on the San Juan River for a much longer time period than 1880-2001.” In any event, 1911 was larger than the 1884 flood, even in Bluff.
  • On the Colorado River at Lees Ferry the 1884 flood was most likely the largest during white settler-colonial times, with an estimated flow of about 300,000 cubic feet per second (there were no gages there, yet), which would have provided quite the ride through the Grand Canyon. Some researchers believe an 1862 flood had a flow of about 400,000 cfs. Holy big water, Batman!
  • Extend the timeline further and the ride gets even wilder: A 1994 USGS paleoflood study found evidence of a 500,000 cfs flood at Lees Ferry between 350 and 750 A.D.; and a 2018 reconnaissance found slackwater deposits indicating a flow of 700,000 cfs. I’m sure it provided quite the scene for Puebloan observers looking down from the canyon rim. If you happened to be in the canyon at that time? Yikes.
From: “A 4500 Year Record of Large Floods on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, Arizona,” by Jim O’Connor et al.
  • study of floods on the Colorado near Moab found that, as is the case on the Animas River, there were a lot of large floods between the 1880s and 1930s, but peak streamflows have followed a decreasing trend ever since. One study suggested this resulted from: land-use changes, particularly a severe reduction in grazing after 1932; greater regulation of the river by upstream dams and so forth; greater upstream water consumption; and a decrease in intense, large flood-producing storms.
  • The Colorado River near Moab has experienced 44 floods during the last two millennia with flows ranging from 63,500 cfs to 325,000 cfs. (For context, the 1983 runoff, which threatened Glen Canyon Dam, reached 62,000 cfs on this stretch of river and in 1984 it hit 70,300). Most of those floods occurred during the last 500 years.
From “A 2000 year natural record of magnitudes and frequencies for the largest Upper Colorado River floods near Moab, Utah” by Greenbaum et al.

Warming temperatures, like those resulting from human-wreaked, fossil fuel burning-exacerbated climate change, can increase the intensity of storms and the amount of precipitation. That could, potentially, lead to bigger floods. So even though climate change has mostly manifested as drought in the Four Corners Country, it could also have the effect of putting a 1911-like storm on steroids. And with El Niño brewing in the Pacific, we might see some whopper storms sooner rather than later. Or not. Either way, though, it seems silly to assume the 1911 flood won’t repeat someday. Maybe next time it will be even worse.

That 1911 storm dissipated over the next couple of days, leaving a bright sun to illuminate the river valleys, newly scoured of the roads, houses, bridges, railroad tracks, and other detritus that humans had littered the valleys with over the previous decades. But the folks of the San Juan Basin soon went to work rebuilding — quite often in exactly the same spots that had flooded so catastrophically.

I used to see that as a combination of foolishness, hubris, obliviousness, and stubbornness all woven into a tapestry of denial. Surely they couldn’t have believed a flood of that magnitude would never occur again.

Looking from Main Avenue in Durango (or thereabouts) toward the Day House. The Animas Brewing Co. now stands about where the right, foreground house is.

And yet, now that I’ve fallen victim to a flood, or at least my home has, I finally get it. What do I know about their circumstances? Maybe they had invested everything they owned into this little plot of land and a home, and they have nowhere else to go. Maybe they are just so wedded to this particular place that they figure it’s worth the risk to build in a 100-year flood plain. Maybe they were just tenacious bastards shaking their fist at the sky in defiance.

What I do know is that if and when there is a repeat of the 1911 flood, or that whopper that sent 700,000 cfs into the Grand Canyon, it will leave some serious destruction in its wake.

The 1911 flood wrecked a lot of infrastructure, but the human death toll was much smaller than one might have expected. Among the handful of fatalities was Frank B. Tice, of the Navajo Methodist Mission, whose body was found 20 miles downstream from where he was swept away.

But there was something else, too. On an island in the San Juan River, somewhere between Farmington and Shiprock, a man huddled next to a small fire, cooking apples that he had snagged as they bobbed past. After falling in the water he had grabbed ahold of some debris, and it had carried him for miles until he finally reached the island, cold, wet and hungry but, maybe miraculously, alive. It was J.N. Simmons, of the Navajo mission.1

A 1998 paleo-flood investigation determined the measurement was in error and it was more likely that about four inches fell across a wider area. In any event, the author of the report does not dispute the magnitude of the flood that resulted.

Are we the last generation — or the first sustainable one? — Hannah Ritchie #sustainability #ActOnClimate

We have the opportunity to be the first generation to build a sustainable world but it is not inevitable, and we must get much faster.

Plastic Cloud: New Study Analyzes Airborne Microplastics in Clouds — Waseda University

According to the findings of a new study, AMPs were detected in cloud water samples from mountain summits in Japan, which confirms that they play a key role in rapid cloud formation. Credit: Hiroshi Okochi from Waseda University

Click the link to read the release on the Waseda University website:

Researchers from Japan examine the presence of microplastics in cloud water and their contribution to climate change

Plastic waste that accumulates on land eventually ends up in the ocean as microplastics. However, it is now speculated that microplastics are also present in the atmosphere, contained in clouds. In a new study, researchers analyzed cloud water samples from high-altitude mountains in Japan to ascertain the amount of microplastics in them. They also shed light on how these airborne particles influence cloud formation and their negative impact on the climate.

Plastic particles less than 5 mm in size are called “microplastics.” These tiny bits of plastic are often found in industrial effluents, or form from the degradation of bulkier plastic waste. Research shows that large amounts of microplastics are ingested or inhaled by humans and animals alike and have been detected in multiple organs such as lung, heart, blood, placenta, and feces. Ten million tons of these plastic bits end up in the ocean, released with the ocean spray, and find their way into the atmosphere. This implies that microplastics may have become an essential component of clouds, contaminating nearly everything we eat and drink via “plastic rainfall.” While most studies on microplastics have focused on aquatic ecosystems, few have looked into their impact on cloud formation and climate change as “airborne particles.”

In a new study led by Hiroshi Okochi, Professor at Waseda University, a group of Japanese researchers has explored the path of airborne microplastics (AMPs) as they circulate in the biosphere, adversely impacting human health, and the climate. Their study was recently published in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters with contributions from co-authors Yize Wang from Waseda University and Yasuhiro Niida from PerkinElmer Japan Co. Ltd. “Microplastics in the free troposphere are transported and contribute to global pollution. If the issue of ‘plastic air pollution’ is not addressed proactively, climate change and ecological risks may become a reality, causing irreversible and serious environmental damage in the future,” explains Okochi.

To investigate the role of these tiny plastic particles in the troposphere and the atmospheric boundary layer, the team collected cloud water from the summit of Mount (Mt.) Fuji, south-eastern foothills of Mt. Fuji (Tarobo), and the summit of Mt. Oyama – regions at altitudes ranging between 1300-3776 meters. Using advanced imaging techniques like attenuated total reflection imaging and micro-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (µFTIR ATR imaging), the researchers determined the presence of microplastics in the cloud water, and examined their physical and chemical properties.

They identified nine different types of polymers and one type of rubber in the AMPs detected. Notably, most of the polypropylene that was detected in the samples was degraded and had carbonyl (C=O) and/or hydroxyl (OH) groups. The Feret diameters of these AMPs ranged between 7.1 – 94.6 µm, the smallest seen in the free troposphere. Moreover, the presence of hydrophilic (water loving) polymers in the cloud water was abundant, suggesting that they were removed as “cloud condensation nuclei.” These findings confirm that AMPs play a key role in rapid cloud formation, which may eventually affect the overall climate.

Accumulation of AMPs in the atmosphere, especially in the polar regions, could lead to significant changes in the ecological balance of the planet, leading to severe loss of biodiversity. Okochi concludes by saying “AMPs are degraded much faster in the upper atmosphere than on the ground due to strong ultraviolet radiation, and this degradation releases greenhouse gases and contributes to global warming. As a result, the findings of this study can be used to account for the effects of AMPs in future global warming projections.


Title of original paper : Airborne hydrophilic microplastics in cloud water at high altitudes and their role in cloud formation

DOI : 10.1007/s10311-023-01626-x

Journal : Environmental Chemistry Letters

Article Publication Date : August 14, 2023

Authors : Yize Wang1, Hiroshi Okochi1, Yuto Tani1, Hiroshi Hayami1, Minami Yukiya2, Naoya Katsumi2, Masaki Takeuchi3, Atsuyuki Sorimachi4, Yusuke Fujii5, Mizuo Kajino6, Kouji Adachi6, Yasuhiro Ishihara7, Yoko Iwamoto7, Yasuhiro Niida8

Affiliations :

1. Graduate School of Creative Science and Engineering, Waseda University
2. Faculty of Bioresources and Environmental Science, Ishikawa Prefectural University
3. Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Tokushima University
4. Faculty of Science and Engineering, Toyo University
5. Graduate School of Humanities and Sustainable System Sciences, Osaka Prefecture University
6. Meteorological Research Institute
7. Graduate School for Integrated Sciences for Life, Hiroshima University
8. PerkinElmer Japan Co. Ltd., Kanagawa, Japan

#Colorado Parks & Wildlife announces discovery of Rusty Crayfish in Lake Granby

Rusty crayfish. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website (Rachael Gonzales):

GRAND LAKE, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife announces the discovery of rusty crayfish in Lake Granby, south of Grand Lake, Colorado.  

Multiple crayfish were found at Lake Granby during routine Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) sampling by CPW’s ANS Sampling and Monitoring team near Sunset Point campground, on Aug. 17. Samples were collected by the tam, preliminary species identification was performed at CPW’s ANS laboratory and suspect specimens were sent to Pisces Molecular in Boulder for genetics testing, where the samples were confirmed to be rusty crayfish on Aug. 31. 

CPW’s ANS Sampling and Monitoring team and area aquatic biologists set multiple crayfish traps around Lake Granby and other waters in close proximity to determine the extent of the rusty crayfish population in the area during the week of Sept. 11. Sampling traps were left overnight before being collected. Crayfish traps collected from the surrounding lakes did not contain crayfish; however, two traps from Lake Granby did contain rusty crayfish. A trap was set below the dam on the Colorado River in addition to the lakes. No crayfish were found in this trap upon removal.

“While this is not the first time we have found rusty crayfish west of the divide here in Colorado, it is the first detection in the Upper Colorado River basin,” said Robert Walters, CPW’s Invasive Species Program Manager. “While finding any invasive species is detrimental to our state’s aquatic ecosystems, finding rusty crayfish in Lake Granby, which feeds into the Colorado River, poses an even greater threat to the entire Colorado River Basin.” 

Rusty crayfish were first discovered in Yampa River and Catamount Reservoir in 2009.They are a la​rger, more aggressive freshwater crayfish, native to the Ohio River Basin. The rusty patches on either side of their body can sometimes identify them. They are believed to have been illegally introduced to Colorado by anglers ​​as bait.

The public is reminded by following these simple steps, they can prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species in Colorado.

  • Use only bait that is legal in Colorado! Never bring in live aquatic bait from another state.
  • Do not throw unused bait of any kind, back in the water alive.
  • Clean, Drain, and Dry your gear and water craft before heading to the next body of water.
  • Do not dispose of pets or unwanted aquarium plants or animals in natural systems. 

“When you follow these simple steps, you’re not just protecting the lake or river you’re recreating in, you’re protecting every water body in Colorado,” said Walters.

Crayfish of any species are not native west of the continental divide. CPW reminds the public the live transportation of all crayfish from waters west of the Continental Divide is prohibited. All crayfish caught west of the Continental Divide must be immediately killed (by removing the head from the thorax) and taken into possession, or immediately returned to the water from which they were taken. To learn more about the rusty crayfish and what the public can do to prevent the spread, visit our website.

ANS Sampling and Monitoring team members separating and identifying crayfish from Lake Granby during trapping efforts the week of Sept. 11. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife
Empty crayfish traps used in trapping efforts at multiple sites at Lake Granby, and additional bodies of water nearby. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

#Drought news September 28, 2023: #Colorado and parts of #Wyoming and #Kansas received little to no rain, abnormal dryness and moderate drought expanded in Colorado

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

The upper-level circulation over the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week (September 20-26) consisted of an upper-level ridge of high pressure, that extended from the southern Plains to Hudson Bay, and a low-pressure trough over the eastern Pacific. The trough sent weather systems spinning across the CONUS, with their fronts and surface low pressure systems generating areas of rain across the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, and Great Plains to the Mississippi Valley. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Ophelia moved up the East Coast, spreading rain from North Carolina to southern New England. These areas were wetter than normal for the week. Some of the rain was locally heavy, with over 5 inches reported in places. Much of the rain fell over severely dry areas, which resulted in contraction or reduction in the intensity of drought in parts of the Great Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, and Mid-Atlantic states. It was drier than normal across the rest of the West, large parts of the central to southern Plains, and most of the country between the Mississippi Valley and Appalachians. The continued dry conditions from the Ohio Valley to central Gulf of Mexico Coast resulted in expansion or intensification of drought and abnormal dryness in these areas. Temperatures averaged warmer than normal beneath the ridge across the Plains, Mississippi Valley, and Great Lakes. The week was cooler than normal in the West and across the East Coast states…

High Plains

Northern and eastern parts of the High Plains region received half an inch to over 2 inches of rain this week, while Colorado and parts of Wyoming and Kansas received little to no rain. D0-D4 contracted in Nebraska, D0-D3 were reduced in Kansas and North Dakota, and D0-D2 shrank in South Dakota. On the other hand, abnormal dryness returned to Wyoming and abnormal dryness and moderate drought expanded in Colorado. Two-thirds (67%) of the topsoil in Kansas was still short or very short of moisture, according to USDA statistics…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 26, 2023.


The southerly flow ahead of the eastern Pacific trough created an atmospheric river event that resulted in half an inch to 2 inches of precipitation across coastal areas from northern California to Washington. While the precipitation was helpful, it did not make up for deficits that have built up over the last several months; parts of Washington are still 10 inches or more below normal over the last 6 months. Severe drought was eliminated over southwest coastal Oregon where rainfall totals exceeded 3 inches and the total for the month was above normal. Much of Montana and parts of the northern Rockies received widespread 1 to 3 inches of precipitation; this resulted in contraction of D0-D2 in Montana. The rest of the West region received little to no precipitation. Abnormal dryness and severe drought expanded in Arizona, and extreme to exceptional drought expanded in southern New Mexico. USDA statistics indicated that three-fourths or more of the topsoil moisture was short or very short in Washington (82%), New Mexico (78%), Montana (77%), and Oregon (74%)…


Bands of heavy rain fell across eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas, and the ArkLaTex, with amounts over 5 inches recorded. Amounts of half an inch to 2 inches extended outward from this central band. But the western half of Texas and Oklahoma, and much of Mississippi and Tennessee received little to no rain. Hydrological impacts were severe in parts of the South region, with Falcon International Reservoir in south Texas near record-low levels, comparable to the levels reached during the droughts of 2002 and 1956 (during the Great Plains 1950s Drought). Temperatures were warmer than normal across most of the region, with anomalies reaching 8 to 12 degrees above normal over Texas. Moderate to exceptional drought expanded in Mississippi, extreme drought expanded in southwest Oklahoma and southern Texas, and abnormal dryness and some moderate drought spread across parts of Tennessee. Abnormal dryness and moderate to exceptional drought were trimmed in parts of Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana, with 2-category changes occurring in places. Arkansas had contraction of drought in the west and expansion or intensification in the central to eastern parts. The lack of precipitation and persistently hot temperatures during the last several months in the South have severely dried out soils. According to September 24 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, 80% of the topsoil moisture in Louisiana was short or very short (dry or very dry). The statistics were 75% for Mississippi, 66% for Texas, 63% for Oklahoma, 62% for Arkansas, and 38% for Tennessee…

Looking Ahead

In the two days since the Tuesday valid time of this USDM, the atmospheric river continued in the Pacific Northwest and rain has fallen across parts of the Midwest, Texas, and Florida. For September 28-October 3, a slow-moving weather system will drop 1 to locally 2 inches of rain across the Ohio Valley and parts of the Upper Mississippi Valley, while a Pacific weather system will move across the northwestern CONUS, spreading 1 to 2 inches of precipitation across the Pacific Northwest and Montana, with heavier amounts (up to 4 inches or more expected) in coastal areas of Washington and Oregon. The Florida peninsula is forecast to get 2 to 4 inches of rain, while the Gulf Coast, Rio Grande Valley, and Mid-Atlantic states can expect an inch or less. The Southwest, New England, Carolina Piedmont, and most of New York and the southern Plains to Iowa are predicted to receive little to no precipitation. Temperatures are progged to be above normal from the Plains to Northeast and near to below normal across the Southeast and West.

For much of the next 2 weeks, the atmospheric circulation will consist of an upper-level trough over the western CONUS and a ridge over the Mississippi Valley. The trough/ridge system will slowly shift east during the period. The Climate Prediction Center’s (CPC) 6-10 Day Outlook (valid October 3-7) and 8-14 Day Outlook (valid October 5-11) favor a fairly stable pattern of warmer-than-normal temperatures from the Plains to East Coast and cooler-than-normal temperatures over the West and over the southeastern half of Alaska. The outlook is for above-normal precipitation over the Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, northern half of the West, and most of Alaska. Odds favor below-normal precipitation over the Northeast and Appalachian Mountain chain, extending into the Ohio Valley and to the central Gulf Coast, as well as in the Alaska panhandle.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 26, 2023.

Report: Agricultural #water user’s preferences for addressing water shortages in the #ColoradoRiver Basin — University of #Wyoming #conservation #COriver #aridification

Young farmers

Click the link to read the report on the University of Wyoming website (Drew E. Bennett, Max Lewis, Hallie Mahowald, Matt Collins, Travis Brammer, Hilary Byerly Flint, Lucas Thorsness, Weston Eaton, Kristiana Hansen, Mark Burbach, and Elizabeth Koebele). Here’s the executive summary:

The Colorado River Basin is in crisis. There is no longer enough water for all of those who depend on it. The agricultural sector is the largest water user in the Colorado River Basin, meaning that farmers and ranchers are central to both the impacts of and solutions to water shortages. Their involvement will be key to developing effective policy solutions to today’s water crisis.

We surveyed 1,020 agricultural water users throughout six states in the Colorado River Basin to understand their perspectives on the present crisis, their current water conservation practices, and their preferences for strategies to address water shortages going forward. Agricultural water users were primarily concerned about how the current situation could impact water policy, constrain irrigators’ own water use, and constrain other agricultural water users. We also conducted qualitative research to capture preferences for local approaches to managing water and provide additional context on dynamics in the Colorado River Basin, including interviews with 12 agricultural producers and water experts and a focus group with 10 agricultural water users in Colorado.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found agricultural water users are already responding to water shortages. Roughly 70% of surveyed agricultural water users have already adopted one or more water conservation practices or adaptation strategies. Importantly, many would consider adopting additional practices. Despite this, few respondents participated in or were aware of formal programs to support water conservation. One exception, however, was the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). A third of respondents currently or previously participated in EQIP and an additional 37% were aware of the program. Information gathered from interviews and the focus group identified multiple burdens to participation in EQIP and similar programs, and several participants thought the benefits were not worth the effort. These insights suggest an opportunity for revisiting how formal programs meant to incentivize water conservation connect with water users.

Most survey respondents were unlikely to adopt water conservation practices as part of formal demand management or system conservation programs to address water shortages. Only one of eight practices included in the survey – enhancing water delivery systems – had a majority of respondents state that they were likely to adopt the practice. The remaining seven practices had a considerably lower likelihood of adoption. Respondents were also generally opposed to water transfers as a solution to shortages. Opposition was strongest to permanent transfers broadly, as well as to temporary transfers from agricultural to non-agricultural uses. Only temporary transfers from agricultural water users to other agricultural water users had less than 50% opposition. Major barriers to supporting water transfers included concerns about losing water rights, even in temporary transfer arrangements, as well as insufficient financial compensation. Addressing these concerns will be critical to increase participation of agricultural water users in demand management or system conservation. Still, although support for temporary water transfers and demand management practices was low, even equivalently low participation (e.g., 10% to 20%) could help address water shortages as part of a portfolio of strategies for the Colorado River Basin.

We also documented an overwhelming preference for local approaches to managing water shortages and a trust gap with non-local agencies. This was evidenced by respondents’ preference for the local management of formal programs, such as some of the demand management and system conservation
programs under consideration, as well as for the administration of funding for water conservation and other programs. Qualitative research participants communicated that strategies to address water shortages must account for the diversity of local contexts across the Colorado River Basin. These strategies could therefore be best implemented at the local level through existing delivery infrastructure and by managers with track records of success. State and federal water managers and agencies involved in program delivery should emphasize building trust with agricultural water users and gaining knowledge about unique features of local contexts. Simply providing additional funding for formal water conservation programs may be inadequate to meet the diversity of challenges across an area of 246,000 square miles. Developing opportunities for dialogue and listening can help foster relationships and improve trust among key stakeholders.

Given the importance of agriculture as the primary water user in the Colorado River Basin, proactively engaging agricultural communities will be critical to successfully managing water shortages. Understanding the perspectives and preferences of agricultural water users, as documented in this report, can help guide the development of solutions that work for producers and other users in the Basin.

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

The latest seasonal outlooks through December 31, 2023 are hot off the presses from the #Climate Prediction Center

NIDIS Invests Approximately $2 Million to Build Tribal #Drought #Resilience

West Drought Monitor map September 19, 2023.

Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website:

NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) has announced approximately $2 million in funding for projects to support tribal drought resilience as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda. This investment will help tribal nations address current and future drought risk on tribal lands across the Western U.S. while informing decision-making and strengthening tribal drought resilience in a changing climate. 

Proposals may request funding of up to $700,000 total to be disseminated in the first year and expended over three years in the form of cooperative agreements. A total of 3–5 projects may be funded depending on the project budget requested. 

Applications should be developed by or in full partnership with tribal nations to fund the implementation of activities that address current and future drought risk in the context of a changing climate on tribal lands across the Western U.S. 

For the purposes of this competition, the “Western U.S.” is considered to be the areas within the following five NIDIS Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) regionsCalifornia-NevadaIntermountain WestMissouri River BasinPacific Northwest, and Southern Plains

Competition activities could include but are not limited to conducting drought vulnerability assessments; developing drought plans and communication plans; and identifying primary drought impacts, optimal drought indicators, and/or triggers. Additional activities could include improving drought monitoring; developing drought dashboards with relevant drought data and real-time information; and demonstrating the application of drought data and information to enhance decision-making.

If the primary applicant is not a tribal government, full partnership with a tribal nation can be demonstrated by including at least one full investigator representing a federally recognized tribe on the project, and indicating through the budget and budget justification how funds are being disseminated to the tribal nation.

“NOAA’s Climate Program Office and the National Integrated Drought Information System take the responsibility to engage with tribal partners very seriously, and this funding opportunity is an example of that commitment,” said Wayne Higgins, Ph.D., director of the Climate Program Office. “With climate change impacts further stressing the water supply in the West, it is imperative that we work together to take on the drought challenges in our tribal communities.”

Important Dates:

  • Letters of Intent (LOI) are due on Thursday, November 2, 2023 by 11:59 p.m. ET
  • The deadline for application submission is Thursday, February 15, 2024 by 11:59 p.m. ET.
    • Letters of Intent or applications received after the above deadlines will not be reviewed or considered.

NIDIS will also be hosting two informational webinars:

Both informational webinars will be recorded and posted on the competition web page.

Read the NOAA press release, view the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) Announcement, or learn more about the NIDIS Coping with Drought Competition.

Western states vote to narrow focus of #ColoradoRiver program: #Colorado’s commissioner, Becky Mitchell, supports ‘#drought #resilency tools’ — The #Telluride Daily Planet #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River is a source of irrigation, hydropower and drinking water for 40 million people in seven Western states. Source: The Water Desk via the Water Education Foundation

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

Water commissioners from Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming are focusing on water demand management in the future of a conservation pilot program. The Upper Colorado River Commission met for a special meeting on Sept. 21 and heard an update regarding the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP)…Ultimately, the water commissioners unanimously voted to support narrowing the program in 2024 to focus on water demand management and tools for innovation and local drought resiliency. There was also emphasis during the meeting on improving upon what was learned in 2023…

Collum reviewed three options the commission had on the table for 2024. The first option was to have no program in 2024, but no commissioners spoke in favor of that option. The second option was to maximize water conservation.

Option three, unanimously favored by the commissioners, was presented during the meeting as: “Narrow the 2024 SCPP to explore Demand Management (DM) Studies and Support Innovation & Local Resiliency – implement recommended SCPP improvements AND narrow project criteria towards remaining DM questions and supporting innovation & local resiliency resulting in water conservation.”


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

“…I think when we specifically look at the change in hydrology (and) the definite need for the cuts to happen where the cuts are needed in the lower basin,” Mitchell said. “I really want to think about resiliency on the home front and the thing that we do being focused on building security for our own states and our own water users. And so I think when we look at the implementation with the recommended improvements and the narrow project criteria that are focused on supporting innovation and local resiliency that results in water conservation.” — Becky Mitchell

Map credit: AGU

The hopes and good cheer of Charles Wilkinson — @BigPivots (Allen Best)

John Echohawk. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

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

Eulogists gathered at the University of Colorado in Boulder remembered the visions, passions, and well-grounded mentoring by the law professor who knew how to use words and make a difference

Charles Wilkinson arrived in Boulder during 1971 as a young staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. In 1975 he left Boulder to teach in Oregon, but then returned for good in 1984 and, according to his eulogists at a memorial on Saturday, created a lasting legacy on the human and physical landscape of the West.

He did so with his words, said Terry Tempest Williams, paraphrasing what she heard Wilkinson tell his own law school students many years ago.

This was on a field trip to Utah’s Canyonlands, such field trips being a crucial part of Wilkinson’s instruction, she explained.

“It felt like family, so much more than a class,” she recalled. “He told his students beneath the stars along the San Juan River, ‘As an attorney, all you have are your words,’ he said. ‘Remember that what you say and how you say it will become truths. Your words may begin as aspirational, but if you back up your word with ground-truthing the beauty and brokenness of the land, the waters and the people you represent, those words will become law, horizon-bidden truths that will come to you from the land itself if you listen and live with an open heart.”

Williams, explained that she had consulted her journal from that trip, which reminded her that his words had felt dangerous She asked for clarification.

“He looked at me. ‘As a writer, you surely know this,’ he said. I didn’t. And then he said, ‘If you say something and know where your words are rooted, and the words will become alive and become true. Aspirational words have the potential to become facts of the future.’ He paused. ‘We just have to make certain  the words we choose come from the depth of an ethic of place.’”

The lesson she drew was that there can “be a straight shot from writing to real-world results.” “That,” she added, “changed everything for me as a writer.”

Wilkinson died at the age of 81 in early June, just days before the annual Western water conference sponsored by the academic institution that partly bears his name: the Getches-Wilkinson Law Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment. This year might have been special for him had he lived as there was a lengthy afternoon panel with representatives of many of the tribes in the Colorado River Basin.

John Echohawk and David Getches had founded the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder in 1970. They had some success, but “nobody knew anything about us, and Charles really picked up on that and decided he needed to go into teaching and writing and scholarship,” said Echohawk (seen in the photo above) in his eulogy.

In that, he succeeded. Returning to Boulder, Wilkinson became affiliated with the law school in 1987. In time, Wilkinson and Getches put the University of Colorado Law School on the map as “basically the greatest law school in the West when it comes to federal Indian law. That is the reputation of this law school,” said Echohawk during the sunshine-swathed memorial held outside the architecturally-commanding four-story CU Law School building.

“Our friendship spanned 50 years,” said Echohawk. When I would think about trying to draw tribal leaders together to develop consensus about building a political agenda for Indian country or planning education or institutes focusing on specific topic areas important to tribes, I would call Charles to see his advice. When we talked, he would listen for a while and suggest what we had to do. He was always spot on. He was always supportive and somehow made time to be an essential part of the many meetings we held across Indian country and Washington D.C.”

Wilkinson, said Echohawk, “always knew how to laugh and joke and appreciate life.”

All 11 of the speakers told stories or shared observations about Wilkinson’s boundless enthusiasms, including the outdoors. He taught Echohawk how to flyfish. His enthusiasm could be traced to a love for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

“You have to pay attention to nature, every piece,” he had instructed.

This enthusiasm extended to his family. One of his sons told about Wilkinson’s efforts to get another son into an elite summer camp designed for high school basketball stars. Wilkinson succeeded and then traveled to New York so he could watch the proceedings courtside. That was not something parents normally did. He did that with most everything.

“My dad was very good at being a dad,” said his son Seth. “He was emphatically present with us.”

Those enthusiasms continued into his more advanced years. Sarah Krakoff, a professor at the CU Law School and former director of the law school’s American Indian Law Clinic, told of meeting him as he walked up the law school steps a decade ago. She asked him how he was doing.

“Life just keeps getting better and better,” he replied. “But only up to a point.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Wieser, a former l dean of the law school, reported that as a law professor he only once got a 6.0, the highest course evaluation possible, from his students. It was for a course he co-taught with Wilkinson.

“All the students knew that he cared deeply about them,” Weiser explained.” He respected them. He empowered them. And that’s something I will carry with me.”

It was not, he went on to say, just in the classroom. “Charles made everyone feel important. Charles cared about everyone and people loved working with Charles, and that is something else that will stay with me. His presence and his ability to be present were truly exceptional. “

And Wilkinson could be determined. Weiser said he was there as Wilkinson lobbied Mike Conners, then an undersecretary in the Interior Department, for designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. “He was persistent, and he was going to win.” He also credited Wilkinson with leading the fundraising effort for the law school building, a very challenging task. Students — not just law students — voted to raise their own fees to pay for the building built to the highest green-building standards of the time.

Wilkinson’s optimism was a theme noted by many speakers. “Charles Wilkinson was an unwavering optimist,” declared Lolita Buckner Inniss, the current dean of the University of Colorado Law School. “ He never tempered his enthusiasm in any way.”

Several identified a link to the late writer Wallace Stegner who taught at Stanford University when Wilkinson graduated from law school there in 1966.

“One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope,” wrote Stegner in one of his most celebrated essays. “ When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”

Said Weiser, “Light in time of darkness is precious. It always matters. Charles, through his optimisms, through his humbleness, through his romantic spirit and aspirational spirit for a better West, for a better humanity, made us better.”

Vast swath of #Colorado public lands would be off limits to oil and gas leasing under federal plan: BLM acreage available for leasing in a western section of stat would drop from 85% to 20% — The #Denver Post #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

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

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

Federal land managers have proposed blocking future oil and gas development on more than a million acres of Colorado’s Western Slope as they reshape how they handle energy development in the face of a drying and warming West. The Bureau of Land Management’s draft management plan for a swath of land between the Utah border and Eagle would close 1.6 million acres to potential oil and gas leasing. If approved, the plan would forestall the drilling of hundreds of future wells.

“What we’re seeing here is a draft management plan that is really reflecting the changing economy of the region, which is becoming less dependent on oil and gas extraction,” said Erin Riccio, advocacy director for the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop

The management plan would drastically reduce the percentage of land available for leasing — from 85% of the area to 20%. It would block roughly 599 new oil and gas wells over the next 20 years, according to the BLM. Currently, 125,400 acres in the area already are closed to oil and gas leasing. If the BLM enacts its proposed plan — called “Alternative E” based on its review of multiple possibilities — an additional 1.4 million acres would be closed…

There was another option considered by the BLM, labeled Alternative F, that would close even more land to oil and gas leasing. That plan would block about 95% of the Western Slope area at issue to leasing, leaving only 104,100 acres open to development. Alternative F would add protections for habitats of endangered species such as the humpback chub, a river fish, as well as for recreation areas, the Dolores River corridor, watersheds for municipal water supplies and habitats for trout, birds and bighorns. The plan would block the creation of about 779 wells, the BLM estimated.

Opinion: How does #water law handle #ClimateChange? Watch the #EncampmentRiver — @WyoFile

Wyoming angler Jeff Streeter’s shadow casts over the shallow flow of the Encampment River, a tributary to the North Platte River, July 21, 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Anne MacKinnon):

Climate change poses challenges for Wyoming water law, seen these days on the Grand Encampment River southwest of Saratoga.

The Encampment River valley is like many small, irrigated valleys in Wyoming. It was once the home of a few pioneer ranches that built a network of ditches, but the ranches have been divided up, the river has moved over time, and people have kept irrigating using the old ditches, sometimes with a little jerry-rigging. The Encampment valley is also narrow, with usually more than enough water, so state water officials haven’t had to “regulate” to keep water use in line with water rights. 

Enter the Sinclair Refinery near Rawlins, Carbon County’s biggest employer. Its workforce includes people from the Encampment valley, located some 40 miles away. In just the last year and a half, the oil company that took over the refinery bought a ranch on the Grand Encampment River.

The attraction: the old water rights on the ranch. The goal: to bolster the refinery’s water supply in the face of climate change.

Two years out of the last six, the Upper North Platte Basin has seen climate change in low snowpack. It has meant that in spring, the refinery couldn’t legally use its own 100-year-old water rights. Refinery managers had to arrange for temporary use of older water rights from elsewhere. Buying the Encampment ranch offers the new refinery’s owners, called HF Sinclair, a more permanent solution for those low snow-pack years. 

That has some neighbors worried. Now, how water works in the Encampment valley — which lands are irrigated or not, when and through what ditch — must be examined. 

It might seem neighboring irrigators wouldn’t care if a ranch won’t use its water rights in some years. But in a classic Wyoming spot like the Encampment valley, where the water rights and ditches and the irrigation practices and the water table and the water runoff from irrigation are interwoven, the refinery’s water use could disrupt the current pattern. 

The HollyFrontier Sinclair refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming as seen in July 2011. (James St. John/FlickrCC)

HF Sinclair’s plan will test the capacity of Wyoming water law to serve both the refinery and the Encampment irrigation community in the era of climate change. Will water officials’ decisions start to unravel the fabric of the community, as some fear, or will it leave that fabric substantially intact?

Map of the North Platte River drainage basin, a tributary of the Platte River, in the central US. Made using USGS National Map and NASA SRTM data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79266632

Most climate change headlines in Wyoming have focused on the Colorado River Basin, but the Upper North Platte River Basin — embracing both the Sinclair refinery on the North Platte and the Encampment River, a North Platte tributary upstream — has also gotten steadily hotter in the last 20 years.

HF Sinclair’s proposal to move water rights from one location to another — in response to the impending climate crisis — is a prospect that has long alarmed Wyoming irrigators. The fear is that “drying up” a ranch can damage local economies. Such moves were once mostly illegal in Wyoming, and many irrigators believe they still are. But 50 years ago in another national crisis — rising energy prices, creating demand for power plants in Wyoming — the state changed its law to allow such moves if they meet strict standards. There must, for instance, be proof of how much water was consumed at the original spot — no more can be consumed at the new spot, and the amount of water that used to return to the stream from the original irrigation must be left in the stream at that point. 

Notably, HF Sinclair is not proposing to dry up its ranch with any such permanent move of water rights. Only in low snowpack years would the refinery activate a new arrangement — a proposed “exchange.” The plan is that in those years the refinery would legally get to use its rights on the North Platte despite low flows, while it would not irrigate its Encampment ranch at all in spring or summer. That would allow Encampment water unused at the ranch to flow down the North Platte to Pathfinder Reservoir as “makeup” water, as required by the Wyoming water exchange law. 

HF Sinclair also says it will invest in the interconnected headgate and ditch system on the Encampment to make sure that when the ranch does not tap the Encampment River at all for a year, neighbors still get water for their rights.

There is heavy pressure for an uncomplicated review of HF Sinclair’s plan. The company does not hesitate to underline the implications for sustaining local jobs. To get approval, the company has hired a phalanx of high-powered law and technical people, including a former Wyoming State Engineer.

But leading irrigators on the Encampment have asked state officials for a thorough review — they don’t, however, want the cost and trouble of hiring lawyers and engineers to fall on them. The Wyoming Stock Growers, meanwhile, this summer called for public meetings on water changes as a review of Sinclair’s plans got underway.

Neighbors don’t have grounds to complain if a ranch just decides not to irrigate in a few years. But because HF Sinclair is proposing a legal change, the ranch neighbors have brought concerns to the state water officials who must decide whether to approve the exchange.

To get that approval, HF Sinclair must take two steps: first clean up the water rights on the ranch, and then get the exchange petition granted.

Cleanups are standard in places like the Encampment River, since actual use of old water rights in Wyoming often changes over decades, as streams move a little and ditches fall into disuse. Often old water rights must be identified and nailed down to the current use, at the expense of the right-holder. Sometimes, cleanups get complicated. The strict standards of Wyoming’s water-moves law can apply, if change over time includes water moving some distance. 

HF Sinclair is asking for a simple cleanup, which could avoid that scrutiny. The company has filed documents to show that only relatively insignificant changes in irrigation have taken place in over a century of ranch operations — nothing that should invoke the scrutiny required for serious movements of water rights. 

There are, of course, all kinds of questions that could arise in HF Sinclair’s cleanup: How much of the ranch’s Encampment River rights have actually been used, where and from what headgates? Does the groundwater level in low-lying lands mean that water consumption there can’t really be stopped, and maybe fields there haven’t required much irrigation water? Has enough irrigation water been used on other ranch fields to provide the proposed “makeup” water for the exchange? 

How intensely to review HF Sinclair’s cleanup is a decision for the state Board of Control (the State Engineer and the superintendents of Wyoming’s four geographical water divisions). Then HG Sinclair’s separate request for an exchange – a transaction expressly encouraged by state law – goes to the State Engineer alone to decide.

It will take months or years to see how Wyoming’s water rights review process plays out in this case. And the practical impact may finally depend on how many low snowpack years the future holds for the North Platte Basin. But ultimately, what happens on the Encampment will say a lot about how the state’s water law system will handle the pressures on water that are brought by climate change. 

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

Relatively smooth approval of an exchange on the Encampment could encourage towns and industries in Wyoming’s Green and Little Snake River basins to seek their own exchanges. For them, exchanges could be a solution to water supply shutdowns threatened by climate change on the Colorado River. In recent years the State Engineer’s Office has suggested that exchanges could be useful for that purpose, using reservoirs as makeup water.

On the Encampment, HF Sinclair’s experts include former State Engineer Pat Tyrrell, former Division I Water Superintendent Brian Pugsley, and veteran water lawyer Dave Palmerlee.

The facts on the ground may well be such that the refinery’s proposal would easily survive any tough scrutiny. But the way the consultants have couched the requests makes it appear they’re betting they won’t trigger that kind of review, so they get approval — and relatively quickly.

The Encampment community’s fear of local damage has brought an audience to the normally unnoticed Board of Control meetings, however.

Nearby ranchers would like to see Sinclair offer a signed contract for the investment in headgates and ditches to secure access to all neighbors’ water rights. They don’t want to contend with Sinclair’s experts in formal hearings or appeals. But they do want a very careful state review.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

5 Big Threats to Rivers: Human activities have imperiled our waterways — along with almost one-third of freshwater fish and many other aquatic species — The Revelator #ActOnClimate

Dam on the Kennebec River in Skowhegan, Maine. Photo: Jimmy Emerson, DVM (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Click the link to read the article on The Revelator website (Tara Lohan):

If we needed any more motivation to help save our ailing rivers, it should have come with the findings of a recent study, which revealed that “Nowhere is the biodiversity crisis more acute than in freshwater ecosystems.”

Rivers, lakes and inland wetlands cover 1% of the Earth but provide homes for 10% of all its species, including one-third of all vertebrates. And many of those species are imperiled — some 27% of the nearly 30,000 freshwater species so far assessed by the IUCN Red List. This includes nearly one-third of all freshwater fish.

How did things get so bad? For some species it’s a single action — like building a dam. But for most, it’s a confluence of factors — an accumulation of harm — that builds for years or decades.

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

1. Dam Obstructions

One of the single largest threats to river biodiversity comes from dams, which provide humans with electricity, water reserves and other benefits but come with ecological costs. The loss of free-flowing rivers divides watersheds into unconnected fragments and changes water flow, quality and temperature. It also blocks the transport of sediment, and can obstruct the movement of animals, including migratory fish — and the species like freshwater mussels — which depend on those fish.

In the United States, dam-building has imperiled Atlantic salmon on the East Coast as well as many runs of the West Coast’s five salmon species. But the ripple effects can extend to aquatic insects, birds and riparian plants.

If we needed any more motivation to help save our ailing rivers, it should have come with the findings of a recent study, which revealed that “Nowhere is the biodiversity crisis more acute than in freshwater ecosystems.”

Rivers, lakes and inland wetlands cover 1% of the Earth but provide homes for 10% of all its species, including one-third of all vertebrates. And many of those species are imperiled — some 27% of the nearly 30,000 freshwater species so far assessed by the IUCN Red List. This includes nearly one-third of all freshwater fish.

How did things get so bad? For some species it’s a single action — like building a dam. But for most, it’s a confluence of factors — an accumulation of harm — that builds for years or decades.

The Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952. The river caught fire at least 13 times and helped spur an avalanche of water pollution control activities such as the Clean Water Act. Photo via the Environmental Protection Agency

2. Pollution

What happens on land doesn’t stay on land.

The Clean Water Act, passed 50 years ago, has done a lot to improve the water quality of rivers in the United States, as have similar regulations around the world. But we still have a long way to go.

Some waterways remain a dumping ground for toxic chemicals, even decades after those threats were identified. Others face new threats from pharmaceuticals that pass through water treatment facilities (after passing through our bladders) and accumulate in the bodies of aquatic animals. Fish full of antidepressants is no joking matter. Neither are PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals,” that end up in rivers — and aquatic animals — after leaching from industrial sites, military bases or incinerators.

The nutrients we use on farms and livestock operations also wash into rivers and streams. That runoff, full of nitrogen and phosphorus, fuels an overgrowth of algae which deprive the waters of oxygen, driving away or killing marine life in so-called “dead zones.” The situation is likely to get worse as climate change fuels stronger storms and warmer waters.

Beef cattle on a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle. Photo credit: Wikimedia

3. Grazing

Waste from animal feedlots pollutes rivers, but cattle that graze on millions of acres of public and private lands across the American West — and in many other nations — are a threat, too.

The livestock can overgraze and trample riparian areas, leading to the loss of plants, an increase in erosion and reduced stability of streambanks. A loss of vegetation along banks increases water temperature — a detriment to cold-water fish. And the sediment — and sometimes waste-fill runoff — threatens water quality and fish, including native trout.

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

4. Climate Change

The effects of climate warming are already being felt around the world, with rivers drying up in the United States, China, Germany, France and many other nations over the past few months.

That’s only going to get worse: In the United States, where projections show western mountains will experience a significant loss of snowpack in the next 35 to 60 years. Less snow and an earlier snowmelt will alter river flows and groundwater, which will affect numerous plants and animals across the region.

Some of those same species are already suffering from other harms from human development. Salmon, for example, that have been cut off from cold-water upstream habitat by dams are now further imperiled as low water flows heat up the rivers to temperatures that endangered the fish.

A view of Foothills Mobile Home Park, which suffered a total loss during the September 2013 flood in Lyons. (Courtesy of town of Lyons)

Heavy rainstorms supercharged by climate change can also cause flooding that sweeps sediment, chemicals and other harmful runoff into rivers and creeks. These storms can cause municipal sewage systems to be overwhelmed and discharge untreated water into rivers.

Warming temperatures can also exacerbate droughts, limiting water for drinking, irrigation and maintaining healthy flows in rivers and streams to support wildlife.

Magpie river. Credit Boreal-River via The Conservation Alliance

5. Not Enough Protections

We may love our rivers, but we simply don’t afford them enough protection. Laws and regulations offer piecemeal measures, and funding for river-conservation programs remains elusive. Efforts to establish legal “personhood” for rivers haven’t gained much traction and some of our existing tools haven’t been utilized effectively.

In the United States, far less than one-half of 1% of the country’s river miles have been protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, established in 1968. The law can help protect rivers and their banks from new dams and mining claims, and often from logging and roadbuildling. New legislative efforts in Congress to expand the program, including the River Democracy Act, have yet to move forward. Other nations have proposed their own new laws, but whether they’ll pass — or do enough — remains to be seen.

Of course, the risks to waterways are as varied as the ecosystems themselves. To find out more about threats to our rivers — and ways to protect and restore them — check out this selection of stories from our archives:

Set It Back: Moving Levees to Benefit Rivers, Wildlife and Communities

A Historic Chance to Protect America’s Free-Flowing Rivers

Another Dam(n) Extinction

Let Rivers Flood: Communities Adopt New Strategies for Resilience

Hundreds of Planned Dams Threaten Central America’s Last Free-Flowing Rivers

What Happens to Wildlife Swimming in a Sea of Our Drug Residues?

Strengthening Mussels for Cleaner Rivers

Granting Legal Rights to Rivers: Is International Law Ready?

Is it Too Late to Save ‘America’s Amazon’?

Could Cleaning the Tigris River Help Repair Iraq’s Damaged Reputation?

On the Clean Water Act’s 50th Birthday, What Should We Celebrate?

California’s Reliance on Dams Puts Fish in Hot Water

‘There’s No Memory of the Joy.’ Why 40 Years of Superfund Work Hasn’t Saved Tar Creek

Joni Mitchell in 1970: “I really don’t know life at all”

Mrs. Gulch’s Maximilian sunflowers September 24, 2023. Helianthus maximiliani is a North American species of sunflower known by the common name Maximilian sunflower. Helianthus maximiliani is native to the Great Plains in central North America, and naturalized in the eastern and western parts of the continent. It is now found from British Columbia to Maine, south to the Carolinas, Chihuahua, and California. The plant thrives in a number of ecosystems, particularly across the plains in central Canada and the United States. It is also cultivated as an ornamental

Please enjoy Joni Mitchell performing “Both Sides Now”.

Open wounds: #Colorado wildfire experts worried by lack of new vegetation in burn areas — The #FortCollins Coloradoan #ActOnClimate

A burnt sign on Larimer County Road 103 near Chambers Lake. The fire started in the area near Cameron Peak, which it is named after. The fire burned over 200,000 acres during its three-month run. Photo courtesy of Kate Stahla via the University of Northern Colorado

Click the link to read the article on the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Mile Blumhardt). Here’s an excerpt:

Recent flights over Colorado’s historic Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fire burn scars revealed a troubling observation: Three years after the state’s largest wildfires scorched nearly 400,000 acres, nearly half of those acres are still so severely burned that little to no regrowth has taken place. That has caused concern among a cadre of local researchers from federal and state governmental agencies, Colorado State University, conservation groups and private industry studying the vast scar from 2020.

Sarah Beck, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests fire recovery coordinator, said more precise aerial mapping of the scar will be forthcoming, but for now, large areas of the burn scar are not seeing expected revegetation recovery.

“These patches of high burn severity are so large there is a real possibility of recovery taking 50 years or longer,” she said. “It’s really concerning. I don’t think we have seen this in North America. I think this is a new condition in complexity.”


With the enormity and complexity of post-fire impacts still looming three years later to human safety, critical water supplies, recreational facilities and fish and wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service has begun a new approach. In August, it announced a partnership with the nonprofit conservation organization American Forests to develop a longer-term reforestation strategy for the burn scars. The planning will continue to be developed collaboratively with input from community-connected partners, research institutions and local and state agencies.

“The problem is really big, and it is not something we have the capacity to tackle alone,” Beck said.

Water managers vote to continue #conservation program (SCPP), with tweaks, in 2024: Water users in upper basin can again get paid to conserve — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

These sprinkler guns irrigate fields outside of Carbondale. The Upper Colorado River Commission voted on Thursday to continue a federally funded program in 2024 that pays water users to cut back. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

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

Colorado River managers on Thursday [September 21, 2023] decided to continue a water conservation program designed to protect critical elevations in the nation’s two largest reservoirs.

The Upper Colorado River Commission decided unanimously to continue the federally funded System Conservation Program in 2024 — but with a narrower scope that explores demand management concepts and supports innovation and local drought resiliency on a longer-term basis. This was the third of three options that commissioners had regarding SCP and whether they would continue it next year. The other options, which commissioners rejected, were to not do a program in 2024 or to maximize the program, with a focus on increasing the amount of water conserved.

Becky Mitchell, Colorado’s commissioner to the UCRC, said she could support doing system conservation again since it will now be focused on water security and innovative conservation for upper basin water users.

“We have an opportunity to do better this time around and learn from last year’s experience and do it in a way that’s responsive to the input that we heard across the upper basin,” Mitchell said. “Option 3 has modified the program in a way that with that prioritization of projects that support innovation of water conservation and development of drought-resiliency tools, it’s something that I can support.”

The System Conservation Program is paying water users in the four upper basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — to voluntarily cut back with $125 million from the Inflation Reduction Act. According to UCRC officials, nearly $16.1 million was spent on system conservation in 2023. Nearly $1 million of that went to 22 project participants in Colorado, resulting in a water savings of about 2,517 acre-feet. (An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land to a depth of 1 foot and can supply one or two families a year).

Project participants in Colorado are being paid an average of about $394 for every acre-foot of water they conserve in 2023. Officials say the average price per acre-foot across the upper basin is $422. Although water users from all sectors can participate, all of the projects in Colorado this year involved agricultural water users on the Western Slope. 

System conservation was first tried in the upper basin from 2015 to 2018 and saved an estimated 47,000 acre-feet, at a cost of about $8.6 million. Last year, the UCRC announced it would restart a system conservation program as part of its 5-Point Plan, aimed at protecting critical elevations in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which have fallen to record-low levels in recent years because of overuse, drought and climate change.

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

The program for 2024 is being rolled out sooner than the one for 2023 was, giving irrigators more time to plan for next season, which could lead to more interest and enrollment. UCRC Executive Director Chuck Cullom gave commissioners a timeline proposal: an announcement of the 2024 program Oct. 2; request for proposals issued Oct. 10; project applications due Dec. 11, followed by a nearly two-month review period of applications by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the upper basin states and UCRC’s consultant. Contracts are slated to be executed by March 15.

“We believe that this draft timeline would significantly address the shortcomings that we had identified in the lessons learned report and provide the improvements in the application and review process for a more successful program in 2024,” Cullom said. 

The 2024 program’s focus on studying demand management addresses an often-heard criticism of SCP: Any water conserved in a system conservation program is not guaranteed to make it to Lake Powell and could just be picked up by the next downstream user. Conceptually, system conservation and demand management are the same: paying irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to conserve water. 

But there’s an important legal difference. If water conservation is done under the umbrella of an official demand management program, that water can be “shepherded” to a special 500,000-acre-foot pool in Lake Powell. 

The 2019 Drought Contingency Plan created the possibility of this demand management pool for the upper basin states to protect against a compact call. Although Colorado studied the issue extensively from 2019 to 2021, including with nine workgroups, the upper basin states have so far not implemented a demand management program to take advantage of this pool in Lake Powell. 

Cullom said the third option will also implement recommendations for improvements that came from interviews with program participants, nongovernmental organizations, tribes and water managers across the upper basin. These include a more transparent and upfront pricing process; more education and outreach to water users; and more information about project applications in Colorado and opportunity to provide comment.

Missouri Heights resident Cassie Cerise pets her dog Dinah on her ranch outside of Carbondale. Cerise enrolled the field behind her in the Upper Colorado River Commission’s System Conservation Program in 2023, getting paid to not irrigate it. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Local concerns

During the 2023 project approval process, the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District — whose mission is to lead in the protection, conservation, use and development of water on the Western Slope — and the Durango-based Southwestern Water Conservation District voiced concerns about a lack of transparency. 

Mitchell had also promised the districts that they could participate in the review and approval process for applications, thereby securing a measure of local control. But she later walked back that commitment, saying the UCRC had sole authority in the approval process.

Information about project specifics is still scant, with much of the information about the exact location of projects, how much participants are being paid, names of participating ditches, and information about water rights such as priority dates and decreed amounts of water in the contracts blacked out. 

Mitchell has publicly stated that this second round of the SCP reboot would be more transparent, at least in Colorado, but has not said exactly how.

Paying water users to irrigate less continues to be controversial on the Western Slope, with fears that these temporary and voluntary programs could lead to a permanent “buy and dry” situation that would negatively impact rural farming and ranching communities. Water managers have repeatedly said that large amounts of water cannot be saved through system conservation in the upper basin and that cuts are needed from the lower basin — California, Nevada and Arizona — to bring the Colorado River system back into balance. 

At an August meeting of the Water Resources and Agriculture Review Committee of the Colorado legislature, Sen. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat whose District 8 spans several Western Slope counties, including Routt, Garfield, Eagle and Summit, asked Mitchell and Cullom if Colorado would engage in system conservation prior to the lower basin implementing substantial and permanent reductions in water use. 

Mitchell replied that system conservation is done with the goal of learning what lessons can be gleaned about Colorado’s water resilience and to offer flexible tools for irrigators, not to enable continued overuse in the lower basin. 

“We need to ask ourselves: Is it good for Colorado?” she said. “We realized that there was only so much we could do. People wanted to do something, but they wanted it for Colorado.”

Map credit: AGU

Implementation of System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) for Water Year 2024 — #Colorado Water Conservation Board #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Raymond Langstaff irrigates his fields outside of Rifle in May 2022. A water conservation program that pays irrigators to use less water from the Colorado River (SCPP) will be offered by the upper basin states starting in October 2023. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Katie Weeman):

September 21, 2023 (Denver, CO) – the Upper Colorado River Commissioners voted to implement the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) for the 2024 Water Year. SCPP provides Upper Basin water users with the opportunity to participate in temporary, voluntary, and compensated water conservation. SCPP simultaneously allows the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC) and Upper Division States to learn from the piloted conservation efforts, expanding knowledge on aspects like monitoring, measurement, and local benefits or impacts. For water users, it provides opportunities to develop tools to build resilience and adapt to long-term drought.

The revamped SCPP integrates input from Upper Basin water users. Changes include:

  • An earlier application window, beginning in October 2023, to provide operational certainty for applicants.   
  • A transparent pricing mechanism to provide clarity to applicants.  
  • Increased education and outreach to ensure water users are fully informed.
  • Expanded information about project applications in Colorado with the opportunity to provide comment.  
  • Prioritization of projects that support innovative water conservation and development of drought resiliency tools.

“We learned a lot about SCPP last year, so this year’s revamp integrates a lot of input from Colorado water users,” said Becky Mitchell, Colorado River Commissioner for the State of Colorado. “SCPP should—and can—work in a way that makes sense for Colorado. The pilot program can provide flexibility for Coloradans who want or need to explore innovative conservation projects. As we continue to learn together and do what we can to be part of the solution, I continue to push for reductions where it matters most: in the Lower Division States.”  

 “There is no silver bullet for drought resiliency in Colorado,” said Lauren Ris, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “SCPP is one tool in the State’s toolkit that we can all learn from. It can fund innovation, letting water users try something new, because they have that financial certainty. And, because it’s totally voluntary, temporary, and compensated, SCPP lets Coloradans choose for themselves.”

At the September 21 UCRC meeting, Commissioner Mitchell strongly advocated for SCPP reforms that would be responsive to Colorado water users’ input. More information on the revamped SCPP process will be available in the coming weeks. The Congressional reauthorization for SCPP expires in Fall 2024.

Map credit: AGU

Browns Canyon National Monument — Bureau of Land Management #ArkansasRiver

Browns Canyon National Monument protects a stunning section of Colorado’s upper Arkansas River Valley. The area is a beacon to white water rafters and anglers looking to test their skills at catching brown and rainbow trout. Photo by Bob Wick / @BLMNational

Navajo Dam operations update September 22, 2023 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The San Juan River, below Navajo Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

September 21, 2023

Due to forecast sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach of the San Juan River, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs for Friday September 22nd, at 4:00 AM.

Reclamation continues to release project water to fulfill a project water release request by the Jicarilla Apache Nation’s subcontractors, The Nature Conservancy and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, in addition to the normally scheduled release required to maintain the minimum downstream target baseflow.  

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. 

Making the switch to save #water: Prairie grasses take root in first year of landscape transformation in Arapahoe County — News on Tap #conservation

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Jay Adams):

What a difference a year makes for the front of Arapahoe County’s Administration Building in Littleton.

Since the 1970s, the west side of the building had been covered by a 3-acre field of unused, water-intensive Kentucky bluegrass.

Recognizing the need to set a positive example regarding water conservation for the long term, in August 2022 the Arapahoe County Commissioners launched a plan to seed the field with a mix of prairie grasses in an effort to transform the bland expanse of bluegrass into a more natural ColoradoScape that will use less water.

Learn more about ColoradoScaping at denverwater.org/Conserve.

The project is part of Arapahoe County’s broader sustainability initiative that includes reducing water consumption indoors and outdoors.

One year later, all the planning has paid off and the grasses are flourishing.

Arapahoe County’s Administration Building in Littleton has a new ColoradoScape with its prairie grass field on the west side of the building. The transformation is a part of the county’s sustainability efforts to reduce water consumption. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“We’re very pleased with how the grasses have come in and are thriving,” said Lisa VanderHeyden, senior project manager of facilities and fleet at Arapahoe County. “We were lucky and got a nice boost from Mother Nature with all the rain in May and June, which really helped the grasses grow in their first season.”

The old field was chosen for landscape transformation because it was considered to have “nonfunctional grass,” which is grass that requires frequent watering from an irrigation system but is not used for activities or events.

The old Kentucky bluegrass field as seen before the transformation in 2022. The field required extensive watering to stay green and was considered nonfunctional grass because it was not used for activities or events. Photo credit: Arapahoe County.

The new field contains a mix of grasses with varying heights and textures. It resembles what the field looked like before people settled the area and started irrigating the land.

It typically takes about three years to fully establish a native grass area, in which the grasses fill in and squeeze out the weeds. Once established, the grass should be able to survive solely on the moisture provided by Mother Nature.

This is how Arapahoe County’s ColoradoScape is going. See how it started.

Arapahoe County’s staff will actively manage the field and the county anticipates saving approximately 1.5 million gallons of water per season due to the switch from the bluegrass.

“The field will have a very natural look and, like other prairie grass fields in the area, the colors will change depending on the amount of precipitation throughout the year,” VanderHeyden said.

The field, seen here in August 2023 after it was mowed for the first time. The field, which will be mowed once a year, has a mix of native prairie grass seeds including blue grama, buffalo grass, sideoats grama, western wheatgrass, green needlegrass and sand dropseed. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Changing landscapes across the Southwest

The building is in Denver Water’s service area and is a great example of a greater push across the Southwest to reduce the amount of nonfunctional grass and help boost the struggling Colorado River, where Denver Water gets half of its water supply.

“We’ve been really impressed with Arapahoe County’s efforts to examine their nonfunctional grass areas and make water-saving changes,” said Austin Krcmarik, water efficiency planner at Denver Water.

The landscape transformation in front of Arapahoe County’s Administration Building includes a garden that features low-water-use plants designed to do well in Colorado’s semi-arid climate. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“For decades, Kentucky bluegrass has been the default landscaping option for many government buildings and now we’re seeing a shift to more natural looking, water-saving ColoradoScapes.”

So, how do you start a new prairie grass field? Hear Arapahoe County officials discuss the project:

Creating a long-term plan

Krcmarik and Arapahoe County agree that there are a number of steps to take when doing large landscape transformation projects:

  • Check with the local water provider for ideas and resources.
  • Consult with the growing number of landscape experts who support water-saving transformations.
  • Work with landscapers who are willing to research what will work best and commit to support the transformation beyond the initial implementation.
  • Get the full support of management.
  • Think the project through, from start to finish and consider long-term maintenance.
Mature trees remain in front of the building. Arapahoe County has experimented with different types of irrigation techniques to ensure they stay healthy as irrigation to the field is reduced. Photo credit: Denver Water.
  • Inform the public about the reasons behind the landscape change.
  • Develop a plan for how to prepare the site for new seeds and plants.
  • Upgrade and/or modify irrigation systems to protect mature trees if the new landscape will use less water.
  • Develop a plan to manage weeds during the early years.
  • Choose plants that can survive without irrigation after establishment.

Denver Water and Arapahoe County are part of the Colorado Native Grass Working Group, which includes dozens of other cities, landscape and water professionals to put together a guide on best practices for installing low-water grass landscapes. You can check out their resources and sign up for their email list at coloradonativegrass.org.

Signs point out the challenges weeds present during landscape transformation. Grasses typically take around three years to become fully established and squeeze out the weeds. Photo credit: Denver Water.

State support

The turf replacement project was awarded a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for supporting the Colorado Water Plan’s goal of encouraging municipalities to reduce water use through landscape change.

“It’s been great working with Denver Water, and we appreciate their support and also the grant from the CWCB,” said Anders Nelson, Arapahoe County public information officer.

“While this is a relatively small field, we hope to learn from our work, share and improve the processes and continue to look for other opportunities to reduce our water consumption here in Arapahoe County.”

Mrs. Gulch’s landscape September 14, 2023. Note the freshly mowed Blue gramma area at center left.

Douglas County Commissioner George Teal proposes campaign donors for Douglas County #water commission — #Colorado Politics

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

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Politics website (Marianne Goodland). Here’s an excerpt:

A Douglas County commissioner recommended individuals who contributed to his campaign to sit on a new water commission that would be tasked with ensuring sufficient future water supply for the county. The individuals included two principals of a water development firm that has been trying to get buy-in for a proposal to pipe water from the San Luis Valley into Douglas County, a move that has been met with stiff opposition from governments in the valley.

Douglas County commissioners, from left: George Teal, Lora Thomas and Abe Laydon. Courtesy Douglas County

Douglas County’s commissioners met earlier this week to begin deciding who they would put on the new 11-member water commission, which will include three representatives of each district and two at-large members. The nominees were among those who submitted applications for the water commission, a list that has been kept confidential. 

During Monday’s discussion, Commissioner George Teal announced his eight picks for members: Three for his district, three for another district, plus two at-large members. Five of his picks have made substantial contributions to his political campaigns, including two principals from Renewable Water Resources, the firm that pitched moving water from San Luis Valley’s groundwater to Douglas County…On Aug. 13, 2021, Renewable Water Resources principals, their spouses and friends contributed to pay down Teal’s 2020 campaign debt. The contributions totaled $16,000. Among the funders were Tonner and John Kim, both RWR principals, and Craig Broughton, an associate of Tonner’s. All three are on Teal’s list for the water commission. He also named Castle Pines City Councilman Roger Hudson, who is deputy chief of staff for the House Minority caucus at the state Capitol and who also made several contributions to Teal’s campaign for the 2020 election. Teal also recommended Harold Smethills, who doesn’t live in Douglas County but owns property in Sterling Ranch. Smethills has also contributed to Teal’s campaign. In a previous discussion, Teal had proposed allowing people who don’t live in the county but own property there to apply for the water commission.

San Luis Valley Groundwater

#Drought news September 21, 2023: Rain trimmed D0 in southern #Colorado and contracted D0-D1 in southwestern #KS, half an inch to locally 2+ inches of rain fell over parts of #AZ, #NM, and #UT

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

Several Pacific weather systems moved through the jet-stream flow during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week (September 13-19). The upper-level circulation still consisted of an upper-level ridge over the western contiguous U.S. (CONUS), but it was weakened by the traversing Pacific weather systems. The ridge kept most of the western U.S. dry with warmer-than-normal temperatures from northern California to Montana. Cold fronts and surface low-pressure systems, that accompanied the weather systems, brought rain to the Southwest, southern Plains, Southeast, and Northeast. Heavy rain fell across western to central Texas, improving drought conditions. The rain in the East fell mostly on non-drought areas. The fronts kept temperatures cooler than normal from the Southwest to most of the southern Plains and across much of the country from the Mississippi River to East Coast – only the Gulf of Mexico coast and New England had a warmer-than-normal week. In addition to getting rain from frontal systems, parts of New England were soaked by the remnants of Hurricane Lee over the weekend. The northern Plains and parts of the central Plains, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys had a drier-than-normal week. The dryness this week was a continuation of dry conditions that have lasted for several months – in some cases for years – across parts of the country and that have dried out soils across more than half of the CONUS. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, 58% of the nation’s topsoil moisture and 59% of the subsoil moisture was dry or very dry. For topsoil moisture, based on data going back to 2015, this amount is second only to the drought of 2022, which peaked at 68%. The continued dry conditions resulted in expansion or intensification of drought and abnormal dryness across parts of the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys, Mid-Atlantic states, and Pacific Northwest…

High Plains

Half an inch to locally 2 inches of rain fell over western and southern parts of the High Plains region, mostly in Colorado, southern Kansas, and parts of Nebraska. But most of Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas were dry this week. The rain trimmed D0 in southern Colorado and contracted D0-D1 in southwestern Kansas. D0 and D3 expanded in eastern Kansas. D0 expanded in parts of southwest Nebraska, but the compounded effects of excessive summer heat and overall dryness over the last 1 to 2 years resulted in expansion of D3 and D4 in parts of southeast Nebraska. Sporadic summer showers have not had much of an impact on the multi-year drought, with low soil moisture continuing and stressed vegetation as seen on satellite-based indicators. A farmer/rancher in Nuckolls County, Nebraska reported stock ponds had never gone dry in his 65 years living in the county until this summer and his crops were all burned up. Reports like this are typical across the region. According to USDA statistics, 50% or more of the topsoil moisture was short or very short in Kansas (68%), Nebraska (60%), North Dakota (51%), and South Dakota (50%), and 50% or more of the subsoil moisture was dry or very dry in Kansas (75%), Nebraska (65%), and North and South Dakota (52% each). Half (50%) of the pasture and rangeland in Kansas was in poor to very poor condition…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 19, 2023.


Half an inch to locally 2+ inches of rain fell over parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, but most of the West received no rain this week. High evapotranspiration due to persistently hot temperatures, low streamflow and soil moisture, and lack of precipitation over 1-month to 12-month time scales resulted in the expansion of D2 and D3 in northwest Washington, expansion of D2 in eastern Washington and the Idaho panhandle, and expansion of D1 and D2 and the introduction of D3 in western Oregon. Rain from weather systems in past weeks, especially the remnants of Hurricane Hilary, resulted in contraction of D1 in central Oregon, D0 and D1 in Utah, and D0 to D3 in western Montana. While parts of New Mexico received rain this week, other parts were dry. The weather system that dumped rain on Texas also soaked east-central New Mexico, so drought contracted there. But prolonged dryness resulted in expansion of D1 and D2 in central to northeast New Mexico and D3 in northwest and southern parts of the state, as well as D3 expansion in adjacent southeast Arizona. According to USDA reports, more than two-thirds of the topsoil was short or very short of moisture in New Mexico (87%), Washington (83%), Montana (82%), and Oregon (74%), and more than two-thirds of the subsoil moisture was short or very short in New Mexico (87%), Montana (79%), Washington (78%), and Oregon (75%). Half or more of the pasture and rangeland was in poor or very poor condition in Washington (65%) and Arizona (57%)…


A large part of Texas received over 2 inches of rain this week. These areas included western to central Texas and parts of the Southeast and Far South. Over 5 inches of rain was reported at stations near Lubbock, Austin, Houston, and Galveston Bay, with the CoCoRaHS station at Nassau Bay 0.9ENE reporting 9.57 inches. The rain resulted in the contraction of D1-D4 in western to central Texas and in the southeast and far south sections of the state. Areas of half an inch to 2 inches of rain occurred over parts of western and southern Oklahoma. But most of Arkansas and Mississippi, parts of Louisiana and eastern Oklahoma, and much of the Rio Grande Valley were dry this week. The compound effects of the excessive heat and dryness of the summer and early fall prompted expansion of abnormal dryness and moderate to exceptional drought in Mississippi, Louisiana, northeastern Texas, and southeast Oklahoma, with abnormal dryness and moderate drought expanding in Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. The high evapotranspiration and lack of rain has dried out soils and resulted in impacts that include low or dry streams and cattle ponds, desiccated pasture and cropland, and stressed vegetation dropping leaves. Reports include: hay and grasses are short and insufficient for cattle; soils are so dry that the ground is as hard as concrete. Reports like this are typical across the region. According to USDA reports, topsoil moisture is short or very short across 80% of Louisiana, 74% of Mississippi, 72% of Oklahoma, 69% of Arkansas, and 59% of Texas. The subsoil moisture statistics are: 87% Louisiana, 73% Oklahoma and Texas, 67% Mississippi, and 55% Arkansas. Over 60% of the pasture and rangeland is in poor to very poor condition in Texas (71%) and Louisiana (68%), and over 40% in Oklahoma (49%) and Mississippi (41%)…

Looking Ahead

In the two days since the valid time of this USDM, rain has fallen across parts of the West, parts of the Plains to Mississippi Valley, and parts of Florida. For September 21-26, a strong weather system will slowly move out of the Rockies into the Plains and spread heavy rain across much of the Plains to Mississippi Valley, while a low-pressure system moves along the East Coast, spreading heavy rain to coastal areas, and a third Pacific weather system brings rain to coastal areas from northern California to Washington. Weekly precipitation totals could range from 1 to locally 5 inches or more in these regions. Other parts of the Far West, the Four Corners states, much of the Southeast, and the Appalachians to eastern Great Lakes are expected to receive little to no precipitation. Temperatures are expected to be warmer than normal across parts of the Plains to the Mississippi River Valley and Great Lakes.

The Climate Prediction Center’s (CPC) 6-10 Day Outlook (valid September 26-30) favors above-normal precipitation from northern California to North Dakota and across much of the Southeast, with below-normal precipitation centered over Colorado and extending from Missouri to the Great Lakes and New England. Odds favor near normal precipitation for Alaska. The outlook is for below-normal temperatures over southwest Alaska and the Far West in the CONUS, and above-normal temperatures from the Rockies to Appalachians and over northeast Alaska.

The temperature pattern favored in CPC’s 8-14 Day Outlook (valid September 28-October 4) is a continuation of that in the 6-10 Day Outlook, with cooler-than-normal temperatures extending to the Rocky Mountains and the warmer-than-normal area extending to the East Coast. The area favored for above-normal precipitation extends across the Great Plains, while the below-normal area extends to the Lower Mississippi Valley. Odds favor above-normal precipitation for most of Alaska.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 19, 2023.

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping down to 850 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):

September 19, 2023

Due to the forecast for the coming week indicating sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach of the San Juan River, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs for Wednesday September 20th, at 4:00 AM.

Reclamation continues to release project water to fulfill a project water release request by the Jicarilla Apache Nation’s subcontractors, The Nature Conservancy and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, in addition to the normally scheduled release required to maintain the minimum downstream target baseflow.

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.  

Say hello to “The Ditch Project”, 150 years of ditches: Boulder’s constructed landscape

Rough and Ready Ditch – Photo courtesy of the Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection

Click the link to go to The Ditch Project website:

In May of 2009, three concurrent venues each showed different artwork, photo essays and educational material about ditches.

Exhibits and featured events at the Boulder Public Library drew crowds of curious Coloradans, while visitors to the Dairy Center for the Arts enjoyed eclectic displays inspired by local water scenes. Various bits of sculpture lined Boulder Creek near the headgates of the Boulder and Left Hand Ditch.

Special programs included tours, storytelling, films, and a symposium of expert speakers. Here, you can revisit parts of the Ditch Project with our comprehensive archive of images, podcasts, and movie clips.

New content will be added here sporadically. Check back here for more updates.

Forest Service spends nearly $70 million to plant trees in Mountain West — KUNC #restoration #ActOnClimate

Mrs. Gulch’s landscape in Denver September 14, 2023.

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

The Forest Service is awarding more than $1 billion nationwide in grants to plant trees in cities, tackle climate change and make green spaces more accessible to less wealthy neighborhoods. Nearly $70 million will go to more than 30 projects in the Mountain West, which include expanding urban orchards in Nevada, improving tree canopies in Colorado and adding education programs in New Mexico. The goal is to help communities that do not have easy access to parks and forests, and are more vulnerable to the urban heat island effect. These areas have historically been overlooked when it comes to adding green spaces, and as a result, residents face increased energy bills, bad air quality and a greater risk of sickness and death…

“You’re focusing on places and welcoming people who might not have felt at home in the fancy neighborhoods with the big trees and making sure that people know that they deserve that, too,” [Xochitl] Torres Small said when announcing the funding. “That there is an opportunity for a cooler place for their kids to enjoy in a park nearby shaded by the trees.”

It’s all part of the agency’s Urban and Community Forestry Program. It received more than 800 applications requesting more than $6 billion in funding – showcasing the desire to grow more trees in urban areas. The grants are funded by the federal Inflation Reduction Act. Colorado and New Mexico received the most grant money in our region – more than $20 million each to fund green spaces projects. Nevada was not far behind with nearly $16 million, whileIdaho, Utah and Wyoming received less than $6 million each.

Torres Small said representatives are already knocking on people’s doors to ask if they want to plant a tree.

Denver skyline, view is west from City Park. Photo credit The City of Denver.

Reclamation awards second construction contract for Arkansas Valley Conduit #ArkansasRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

Click the link to read the article on the Reclamation website (Anna Perea and Darryl Asher):

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law supporting major water infrastructure project to provide clean, reliable drinking water to 39 communities in southeastern Colorado

Sep 15, 2023

LOVELAND, Colo. – The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a contract for the second segment of trunkline of the Arkansas Valley Conduit to Pate Construction Co., Inc. for $27,216,950.00. This contract, partially funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, funds construction of Boone Reach 2, which includes a 5.4 mile stretch of water pipeline and 7.4 miles of fiber conduit. Construction will follow Colorado State Highway 96 from North Avondale to Boone, Colorado.

President Biden’s 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. 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. An overall $160 million has been allocated so far from the Law to complete the Arkansas Valley Conduit project.

This is a major infrastructure project that, upon completion, will provide reliable municipal and industrial water to 39 communities in southeastern Colorado. The pipeline will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. It is projected to serve up to 50,000 people in the future; equivalent to 7,500 acre-feet of water per year.

“We’re looking forward to this next project milestone,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado area manager. “Today’s contract award allows the project to maintain the momentum we’ve built over the past year and helps us achieve the ultimate goal of bringing clean and reliable water supplies to the people of southeastern Colorado.”

“The Arkansas Valley Conduit is vitally important to the people of the Lower Arkansas Valley, so it is very rewarding to see the Bureau of Reclamation moving ahead,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, local sponsors of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. “The Southeastern District also is working to complete this project as quickly as possible to provide a better quality of water for the people of the valley.”

Work on the first segment of trunk line began in spring of 2023 with completion anticipated in 2024. Reclamation expects work on the second segment, Boone Reach 2, to begin in late 2023 with completion slated for late summer 2025.

As the Arkansas Valley Conduit project moves forward, under existing agreements, Reclamation plans to construct the trunkline, water tanks, and related components, while the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coordinates with communities to fund and build the project’s water delivery pipelines. Eventually, the Arkansas Valley Conduit will connect 39 water systems along the 103-mile route to Lamar, Colorado. 

The project will use Pueblo Water’s existing infrastructure to treat and deliver Arkansas Valley Conduit water from Pueblo Reservoir to a connection point east of the city of Pueblo along U.S. Highway 50. The project will use water from either the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project or from a participant’s water portfolio, but not from Pueblo Water’s resources.

Congress authorized Arkansas Valley Conduit in the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project legislation in 1962 (Public Law 87-590). This project does not increase Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water diversions from the western slope of Colorado; rather, it is intended to improve drinking water quality.

Currently, many people in the areas that will be served by the Arkansas Valley Conduit rely on groundwater supplies that contain naturally occurring radionuclides, such as radium and uranium, or use shallow wells that contain harmful microorganisms and pollutants. Alternatives for these communities consist of expensive options such as reverse-osmosis, ion exchange, filtration, and bottled water.  

If you have questions or need more information, please contact Anna Perea, public affairs specialist at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office, at (970) 290-1185 or aperea@usbr.gov. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability, please dial 7-1-1 to access telecommunications relay services.

Pueblo Dam. Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Objections to #RioGrande SCOTUS settlement could drop in October — Source #NewMexico

The Rio Grande at Isleta Blvd. and Interstate 25 on Sept. 7, 2023. (Photo by Anna Padilla for Source New Mexico)

Click the link to read the article on the Source New Mexico website (Danielle Prokop):

The clerk of the Supreme Court granted an extension for parties to submit arguments against a settlement proposal in the decade-long lawsuit over Rio Grande water.

U.S. 8th Circuit Judge Michael Melloy – overseeing the case as a special master – gave the nod in early July to a plan proposed jointly by attorneys from New Mexico, Texas and Colorado to settle the dispute.

The federal government argued for Melloy to toss the settlement, saying that issues about the administration of the terms would violate their status as a party to the lawsuit and would impose new burdens on federal agencies.

Melloy’s 123-page report recommended the Supreme Court accept the lawsuit over the U.S. Department of Justice’s objections.

In a Sept. 5 letter to the court, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar requested the date for arguments taking exception to the special master’s report to be pushed back to Oct. 6. Then other parties have a chance to reply in December, with one final round of arguments in January.

All parties agreed with the schedule changes according to the letter.

What happens next depends on the high’s court’s opinion of any objections to the special master’s report – which would most likely come after all arguments are filed in early January.

The long history and new settlement

This leg of the dispute started in 2013 when Texas sued New Mexico in the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case officially called Original No. 141 Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado . Texas alleged groundwater pumping from farming and other uses below Elephant Butte Reservoir shorted Texas of its fair share of Rio Grande water.

The river was split by the 1938 Rio Grande Compact signed by Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

Texas’ lawsuit was an escalation of decades of lawsuits in different layer of court, which intensified as the megadrought’s grasp on New Mexico’s water supplies has intensified in the last 30 years.

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the federal government to join as a party. The federal government’s argument’s mirrored Texas’ claims, saying New Mexico’s pumping threatened a U.S. treaty with Mexico and contracts with irrigation districts in southern New Mexico and far west Texas.

In 2022, after pivoting between settlement talks and heading back to trial, the state’s presented an eleventh-hour settlement proposal, which laid out how the Rio Grande would be split below Elephant Butte Dam. New Mexico would receive 57% of water, and Texas would receive 43% (all excluding Mexico’s share). A new index based off of the drought period from 1951-1978 would factor in groundwater pumping. The agreement lays out penalties if deliveries are above or below the agreed amount.

It also would require establishing the El Paso Gage, just past the Texas-New Mexico state line.

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

2023 #COleg: Stream restoration evolves to include beaver imitation, gets boost from #Colorado Legislature — Fresh Water News

A beaver dam analog in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Kawuneeche Valley. Photo by Eric Brown, courtesy of Northern Water

Click the link to read the article on the Fresh Water News website (Moe Clark):

Over the course of two decades, David Cooper, a senior research scientist emeritus of wetland and riparian ecology at Colorado State University, returned to Rocky Mountain National Park’s Kawuneeche Valley to map a visual timeline of the ecological collapse occurring before his eyes.

Bypass structure Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Cooper’s research team found that the 86-year-old Grand Ditch—a 15-mile water diversion that siphons 20,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River and transports it to the arid Eastern Plains—had dried out the valley floor, making it difficult for riparian trees and shrubs to grow. Swelling elk and moose populations were overgrazing the remaining vegetation, leaving an already dwindling beaver population with few building materials for their dams. The area’s beaver population was critical to keeping the ecosystem healthy. Without beavers’ careful stewardship, their ponds drained, decreasing the amount of surface water in the area by 95% and dramatically altering the hydrology of the valley, according to Cooper.

It’s a reality that plays out across Colorado and the West. Riparian areas—the lands along the edges of rivers and streams—and wetlands, have been degrading for decades due to mining pollution; overgrazing; flow alterations from dams, diversions and roads; and historical and present-day farming and timber management practices. Approximately 61% of smaller streams and 97% of major rivers in Colorado have experienced floodplain alterations, rendering them partially or wholly nonfunctional, according to a 2017 analysis for the Center for American Progress.

David Cooper talks with members of the Kawuneeche Valley Ecosystem Restoration Collaborative during a tour of the valley in July 2022. Photo by Eric Brown, courtesy of Northern Water

Cooper’s decades-long research helped inform the creation of the Kawuneeche Valley Ecosystem Restoration Collaborative, which is working to restore four riparian areas within the valley by protecting vegetation and mimicking beaver activity in hopes of luring nature’s master river engineers back to their historical homes. The project, which is primarily using low-tech, process-based restoration methods, is one of dozens of such projects occurring across the state—bolstered by a recent influx of state and federal funding.

Process-based restoration, of which low-tech, process-based restoration is a subset, targets the root causes of ecosystem change with a goal of restoring a river’s natural processes.

Research shows that connected floodplains and healthy riparian areas provide valuable ecosystem services such as capturing sediment as it heads downstream; filtering out pollutants; storing more water on the landscape to increase vegetative growth and biodiversity; and moderating soil moisture, streamflows and temperatures throughout the year. All of this combines to make the watershed more resilient to floods, wildfire and drought.

But research surrounding low-tech, process-based restoration is fairly limited, especially as it relates to how projects might impact downstream water availability and the timing of flows.

Because of this, in part, the process for getting restoration projects approved in Colorado has been somewhat opaque and challenging for practitioners to navigate, prompting state lawmakers to draft a bill last session that sought to clarify the process in order to scale up efforts across the state. The final bill was amended by those who were concerned with how the projects might impact priority water rights, so work continues to determine whether more restoration projects can be better facilitated with policy that makes them easier to permit while still protecting water rights.

Scientists and restoration experts are pushing forward with projects, given the scope of riparian degradation and the strain climate change and population growth continue to have on water resources and the ecosystems that support them.

Beaver mimicry as restoration

Jackie Corday, a land and water conservation attorney based in Montrose, has been an enthusiastic proponent of low-tech, process-based restoration since 2018, when she first saw the impact that these low-tech projects could have. “I could see the difference. It just made sense,” Corday says.

While working at Colorado Parks and Wildlife as a water resource manager, she began to research the benefits—and potential legal barriers—for scaling up those types of restoration projects.

Through her research, which culminated in the 2022 report for American Rivers, “Restoring Western Headwater Streams with Low-Tech Process-Based Methods: A Review of the Science and Case Study Results, Challenges, and Opportunities,” Corday found dozens of promising projects in California and across the western U.S. that successfully “turned back the clock” on the damage done to riparian areas, streams and wetlands in a more cost-effective way.

“You can do it the fast way and come in with a big excavator and try to reset the elevation to what it would have been,” Corday says. “But that’s very expensive. It’s like $600,000 to $1 million a mile, and there are thousands of miles. It’s not even a possible approach [on its own].” By comparison, low-tech, process-based approaches can be cheaper and faster, at $50,000 to $100,000 per mile.

“Also, the science was showing that [a high-tech approach] wasn’t necessarily always bringing back the [ecosystem] that you were hoping for,” she adds.

“What these researchers were showing was that, well, there’s actually a better way to do this. You mimic beaver.”

A beaver dam on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Beaver dams have been shown to retain sediment and nutrients, as well as heavy metals, which can improve water quality.

Construction of Beaver Dam analogue Photo courtesy of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.

An example of a low-tech, process-based method would be to install posts vertically into a creek bed to catch wood and debris floating downstream, mimicking natural log jams. This can jumpstart a beaver’s home. In other cases, structures that mimic a beaver dam, called a beaver dam analog, are installed in the stream to slow the flow of water to allow it to pool and rehydrate the soil.

While low-tech, process-based restoration is seemingly growing in popularity, it’s not always the right tool. Sometimes, higher-tech engineering is needed, such as after major flooding events, below dams that alter flows, or when a river’s natural processes have been strained to the breaking point, rendering them unable to self heal, according to a design manual created by Joe Wheaton, an assistant professor of fluvial geomorphology at Utah State University.

The Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool was designed by Wheaton and his colleagues to help land and water managers identify the historical capacity of streams to support beavers and locate where they might feasibly be able to return. Since 2021, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program at Colorado State University has hosted a state-adapted version of the beaver assessment tool for the perennial stream network in Colorado.

Low-tech, process-based restoration also may not be appropriate near housing developments or busy roads, where there is the potential for flooding and infrastructure damage, according to Corday.

“So we have to look farther up the watershed in the public lands and the private lands, the big ranches where there is space for the river to be natural again and to reconnect with its floodplain,” Corday says.

Legislation to pave the way for minor stream restoration projects 

In 2019, Corday helped create Colorado’s Healthy Headwaters group, which included conservationists, academics, NGOs, state and federal agencies, and water stakeholders, to come up with policies and strategies to scale up riparian restoration projects throughout the state. The group influenced legislation that was introduced by state lawmakers in April 2023 as SB 23-270. But amendments reduced the bill to include only “minor” restoration projects—and removed language related to low-tech, process-based restoration projects.

“Those [low-tech, process-based] projects were the least understood and raised the most concerns for water users,” says Kelly Romero-Heaney, the state’s assistant director for water policy with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “And so that’s why we ended up having to amend coverage for those projects.”

The bill, which was signed into law on June 5, clarifies that minor stream alterations such as bank stabilization or restructuring a channel after it’s been damaged by wildfire or flood are presumed to not impact water rights users.

“The key [in the final bill] is there can only be an incidental amount of flooding or pooling with those structures and they can’t exceed the ordinary high water mark, so they can’t push water outside of the natural channel,” says Romero-Heaney.

For minor restoration projects defined in the bill, a person or group does not need to go to water court, obtain water rights or get a plan of augmentation, according to Romero-Heaney. Projects established before August 2023 are also “grandfathered in” meaning they are presumed to not impact water rights and can move forward.

Those who sought to amend or defeat the bill included various agricultural groups, cities, water districts, and some environmental groups.

“Their concerns are that their water rights may be injured by a stream restoration project that changes the timing in flow or increases evapotranspiration associated with the growth of trees and shrubs along the river corridor,” says Romero-Heaney, who also sits on Gov. Jared Polis’ policy team as a special advisor on water policy. “What we hear a lot is it might be ‘death by 1,000 cuts.’”

Tyler Garrett, the director of government relations for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union—a group that represents 17,000 farmers and ranchers across Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming—told state lawmakers that his main concerns with the original bill were related to what recourse a person could seek if their water rights were impacted by a restoration project, and the amount of time they had to file a complaint or lawsuit.

“The geomorphic changes may not even be completed during this two-year window and injury may not be realized,” he said during the bill committee hearing this spring. “We also need to ensure the water right holders have time to collect the proper data and build a proper suit when they are injured.”

Romero-Heaney says it will take time for the Department of Natural Resources to interpret the new law in order to provide guidance to existing project managers and other entities interested in restoration

In the meantime, Corday says the Colorado Healthy Headwaters group is continuing to have conversations on how to streamline the process for restoration projects in the hopes of potentially introducing another bill next legislative session to expand the existing law’s scope.

Romero-Heaney is excited to participate and help coordinate field trips for members of the water community to see process-based projects in action.

She hopes the conversations help bridge the divide between the ecological community and the water attorneys who work on protecting water rights portfolios.

Colorado River Kawuneeche Valley May 19, 2023.

Progress in the Kawuneeche Valley

Back at Rocky Mountain National Park, the Kawuneeche Valley Ecosystem Restoration Collaborative—which includes the National Park Service, Northern Water, the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado River District, The Nature Conservancy, Grand County, and the Town of Grand Lake—is installing beaver-like structures within Beaver Creek to slow streamflows, catch sediment, and promote vegetative growth farther from the banks.

Members of the Kawuneeche Valley Ecosystem Restoration Collaborative walk along an abandoned irrigation ditch during a tour of the valley in July 2022. Photo by Eric Brown, courtesy of Northern Water

“We’re really looking to improve the habitat, kind of the Field of Dreams approach, where if we improve the habitat in the area, then hopefully beavers will come back on their own,” says Kimberly Mihelich, a water protection specialist with Northern Water, a water conservancy district that serves eight counties in Northeastern Colorado.

The group—funded by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Northern Water, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board—isn’t looking to re-introduce beavers into the ecosystem since the environment wouldn’t be able to support them given the lack of vegetation available for them to build dams. But beavers have started to show interest.

In summer 2021, the group stumbled upon something they hadn’t seen in nearly two decades—an active beaver dam. The beaver home was nestled within a 35-acre, fenced-in restoration area in the valley that had been installed a decade ago to keep moose and elk from overbrowsing the willow trees. The fences have gaps in the bottom so small animals such as beavers can slip through.

“We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, these fences work!’” Mihelich says. “There was so, so much excitement.”

“[The beaver dam] did get washed away in some of the spring runoff,” she quickly adds. “But it was really exciting to show that if the habitat is there, beavers in the area might make it home.” This isn’t unusual: Beaver dams are often damaged during large floods, but the beaver are able to rebuild if the environment can support them.

This summer, the team installed more fence enclosures to keep moose and elk from overgrazing the restoration areas and continued using herbicides to kill off invasive plants.

Mihelich says Northern Water is involved in restoring the riparian areas because it’s a way to improve drinking water quality. The Colorado River, which winds through the Kawuneeche Valley, is part of a storage system that includes Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir on the Western Slope. The system has struggled with poor water quality due to increases in fine sediment loading, debris and nutrients, all of which impair water quality and can clog up water infrastructure. The system has also been impacted by recent wildfires, which are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change.

But restoring the riparian zones and changing the hydrology of the valley will take time, says Koren Nydick, the resource stewardship manager for Rocky Mountain National Park, especially since the damage has spanned decades.

And efforts to replace natural processes aren’t always as effective as the real thing, she adds. “We aren’t beavers. We can’t do it all,” she says. “The hope is that they come in and do it better than we could ever do it.”

Fresh Water News is an independent, nonpartisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed at wateredco.org.

An earlier version of this article first appeared in Headwaters magazine’s summer 2023 issue.

More by Moe ClarkMoe K. Clark is an independent journalist based in Denver. She covers topics related to the criminal justice system, environmental issues and housing/homelessness.

American beaver, he was happily sitting back and munching on something. and munching, and munching. By Steve from washington, dc, usa – American Beaver, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3963858

How can #solar energy installations prioritize ecosystems? — #Colorado State University #ecovoltaics #ActOnClimate

Solar installation with the Front Range mountains. Photo credit: Colorado State University

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado State University website (Allison Sylte):

Solar energy will be an integral part of a more sustainable future, but with current technology, generating the amount of power needed in Colorado alone would require using roughly the land area of Denver.

That’s a lot of space – and potential disturbance to ecosystems, especially when you consider that in the past, energy companies have typically first graded the land and then put gravel or short, easy-to-mow turf grass beneath their solar panels. 

Agrivoltaics – the dual use of land for both solar installations and agriculture – offers an alternative way to generate renewable solar energy. Now, two Colorado State University researchers are proposing taking this a step further through what’s known as “ecovoltaics,” which co-prioritizes energy production and ecosystem services during the design and management phases of solar development.

“It’s important to talk about the sustainability of the solar industry so it doesn’t make the same environmental oversights as oil and gas,” said Matt Sturchio, a Ph.D. student in Biology and the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. “With ecovoltaics, we hope to encourage an ecologically informed approach to solar array design and operation.”

Sturchio and CSU Biology Professor Alan Knapp outlined this concept in a recent article in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution

“It will take a lot of solar panels and a lot of land to produce the electricity our society needs,” Knapp said. “As a land-grant institution, we see ourselves as stewards of the land, and it’s our job to offer sustainable solutions about how to use land wisely.”

Solar panels create unique microenvironments

Students study with solar panels. Photo credit: Colorado State University

While agrivoltaics is a step in the right direction, Sturchio said in many applications, it still prioritizes producing the most electricity possible in a given land area. This allows for the use of land beneath solar panels but overlooks opportunities to manipulate array designs in ways that might benefit the plants and animals beneath, especially in water limited ecosystems like the grasslands of Colorado. 

With ecovoltaic designs, solar energy production and preserving the landscape go hand-in-hand.

The ecovoltaic concept is partly informed by the researchers’ current work at Jack’s Solar Garden in Longmont, which is the largest commercially active site for agrivoltaics research in the U.S. 

Here, the CSU team studies how solar panels affect sunlight patterns and redistribute rainfall to create microenvironments that influence grassland ecosystem processes. These microenvironments promote diversity within solar installations and are a cornerstone of the ecovoltaics concept.

“What we’re trying to do is show the potential impacts of solar energy on our land, and how we can mitigate and potentially leverage them to reach desired outcomes,” he said. 

And perhaps most importantly, these approaches can be used to restore severely degraded or abandoned agricultural lands – which are prime candidates for large solar installations.

“Ecovoltaic approaches could help restore and even enhance biodiversity in these places, while providing much-needed clean energy,” Sturchio said.

“It’s a climate solution”

Solar panels and natural grasses. Photo credit: Colorado State University

Sturchio and Knapp will continue their research at a new facility in the plains east of CSU’s campus in Fort Collins.

 Here, solar panels will be installed in a native grassland environment – offering new insights about how they impact the ecology of places that are known to be harsh and dry, and where conditions are expected to become more volatile as climate change worsens in the future.

“Building our own research solar arrays will allow us to discover better ways to use this amazing energy source and will help us determine what we can do to make sure large-scale solar installations have less of a negative impact,” Knapp said. “We will study the impacts of placing solar panels farther apart, changing their orientations, and orienting panels vertically during rainstorms – there are many potential options.”

Sturchio said he’s hopeful that energy companies will use some of these principles as they build future installations.

“This research is really important because it’s a land use solution for a climate solution,” he said.

Study finds human-driven mass extinction is eliminating entire branches of the tree of life — Stanford University #ActOnClimate

Illustration of Thylacinus cynocephalus from John Gould’s The Mammals of Australia. This genus, also known as the Tasmanian tiger, was hunted to extinction by humans. (Image credit: Henry Constantine Richter and John Gould/Public domain)

Click the link to read the release on the Stanford University website (Sean Cummings):

A new analysis of mass extinction at the genus level, from researchers at Stanford and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, finds a “mutilation of the tree of life” with massive potential harms to human society.

The passenger pigeon. The Tasmanian tiger. The Baiji, or Yangtze river dolphin. These rank among the best-known recent victims of what many scientists have declared the sixth mass extinction, as human actions are wiping out vertebrate animal species hundreds of times faster than they would otherwise disappear.

Yet, a recent analysis from Stanford University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the crisis may run even deeper. Each of the three species above was also the last member of its genus, the higher category into which taxonomists sort species. And they aren’t alone.

Up to now, public and scientific interest has focused on extinctions of species. But in their new study, Gerardo Ceballos, senior researcher at the Institute of Ecology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Emeritus, in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences, have found that entire genera (the plural of “genus”) are vanishing as well, in what they call a “mutilation of the tree of life.”

“In the long term, we’re putting a big dent in the evolution of life on the planet,” Ceballos said. “But also, in this century, what we’re doing to the tree of life will cause a lot of suffering for humanity.”

“What we’re losing are our only known living companions in the entire universe,” said Ehrlich, who is also a senior fellow, emeritus, by courtesy, at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

A ‘biological annihilation’

Information on species’ conservation statuses from the International Union for the Conservation of NatureBirdlife International, and other databases has improved in recent years, which allowed Ceballos and Ehrlich to assess extinction at the genus level. Drawing from those sources, the duo examined 5,400 genera of land-dwelling vertebrate animals, encompassing 34,600 species.

Seventy-three genera of land-dwelling vertebrates, Ceballos and Ehrlich found, have gone extinct since 1500 AD. Birds suffered the heaviest losses with 44 genus extinctions, followed in order by mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

Based on the historic genus extinction rate among mammals – estimated for the authors by Anthony Barnosky, professor emeritus of integrative biology at UC Berkeley – the current rate of vertebrate genus extinction exceeds that of the last million years by 35 times. This means that, without human influence, Earth would likely have lost only two genera during that time. In five centuries, human actions have triggered a surge of genus extinctions that would otherwise have taken 18,000 years to accumulate – what the paper calls a “biological annihilation.”

“As scientists, we have to be careful not to be alarmist,” Ceballos acknowledged – but the gravity of the findings in this case, he explained, called for more powerful language than usual. “We would be unethical not to explain the magnitude of the problem, since we and other scientists are alarmed.”

Next-level loss, next-level consequences

On many levels, genus extinctions hit harder than species extinctions.

When a species dies out, Ceballos explained, other species in its genus can often fill at least part of its role in the ecosystem. And because those species carry much of their extinct cousin’s genetic material, they also retain much of its evolutionary potential. Pictured in terms of the tree of life, if a single “twig” (a species) falls off, nearby twigs can branch out relatively quickly, filling the gap much as the original twig would have. In this case, the diversity of species on the planet remains more or less stable.

But when entire “branches” (genera) fall off, it leaves a huge hole in the canopy – a loss of biodiversity that can take tens of millions of years to “regrow” through the evolutionary process of speciation. Humanity cannot wait that long for its life-support systems to recover, Ceballos said, given how much the stability of our civilization hinges on the services Earth’s biodiversity provides.

Take the increasing prevalence of Lyme disease: white-footed mice, the primary carriers of the disease, used to compete with passenger pigeons for foods, like acorns. With the pigeons gone and predators like wolves and cougars on the decline, mouse populations have boomed – and with them, human cases of Lyme disease.

This example involves the disappearance of just one genus. A mass extinction of genera could mean a proportional explosion of disasters for humanity.

It also means a loss of knowledge. Ceballos and Ehrlich point to the gastric brooding frog, also the final member of an extinct genus. Females would swallow their own fertilized eggs and raise tadpoles in their stomachs, while “turning off” their stomach acid. These frogs might have provided a model for studying human diseases like acid reflux, which can raise the risk of esophageal cancer – but now they’re gone.

Loss of genera could also exacerbate the worsening climate crisis. “Climate disruption is accelerating extinction, and extinction is interacting with the climate, because the nature of the plants, animals, and microbes on the planet is one of the big determinants of what kind of climate we have,” Ehrlich pointed out.

A crucial, and still absent, response

To prevent further extinctions and resulting societal crises, Ceballos and Ehrlich are calling for immediate political, economic, and social action on unprecedented scales.

Increased conservation efforts should prioritize the tropics, they noted, since tropical regions have the highest concentration of both genus extinctions and genera with only one remaining species. The pair also called for increased public awareness of the extinction crisis, especially given how deeply it intersects with the more-publicized climate crisis.

“The size and growth of the human population, the increasing scale of its consumption, and the fact that the consumption is very inequitable are all major parts of the problem,” the authors said.

“The idea that you can continue those things and save biodiversity is insane,” Ehrlich added. “It’s like sitting on a limb and sawing it off at the same time.”

Paul Ehrlich is also president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford.

We can help shape this #Utah monument — Writers on the Range #BearsEars

Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the Range website (Jonathan P. Thompson):

When President Joe Biden restored the original boundaries of both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in 2021, public-land lovers felt they had achieved a lasting victory.

Biden’s action reversed the Trump administration’s shrinkage of these protected areas in southern Utah, and once again put those spectacular canyons off-limits to mining and energy development. The victory was confirmed in August, when a federal court dismissed Utah’s lawsuit attempting to overturn Biden’s action.

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. By Bob Wick – By the Bureau of Land Management published on Flickr under a CC licence., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52982968

But in some ways, the crucial work of preserving these places has just begun. The proclamations establishing and restoring the two national monuments are lofty documents that make the case for wielding the Antiquities Act to protect the landscapes in question. But the real test is always what happens on the ground.

We have a clearer picture of that now, because this August, the BLM released its draft resource management plan and environmental impact statement for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The public has until Nov. 9 to make its wishes known.

The local environmental community sees the agency’s “preferred” alternative, which “emphasizes the protection and maintenance of intact and resilient landscapes …” as a vast improvement over the status quo. Though it’s less restrictive than one of the other four alternatives, this approach would significantly limit grazing, motorized vehicle use, and target shooting across the monument.

State and local politicians who subscribe to the Sagebrush Rebel ideology have been attempting to dismantle the national monument ever since then-President Bill Clinton established it in 1996. Neither Congress nor even the George W. Bush administration would accede to their demands, but over the years the monument has been starved of funds, lost valuable staff and its management has been influenced by the local culture, which is generally hostile to federal land management.

Then two decades after Grand Staircase-Escalante was established, Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch convinced President Donald Trump to drastically shrink it. The legality of the move was questionable at best: The Antiquities Act gives the president the power to establish national monuments, but not to rescind or dismantle them. The Trump administration’s management plan also gutted protections for what remained — especially relating to grazing.

The livestock industry has long claimed that the national monument’s grazing rules would destroy local ranching. Yet Clinton’s proclamation clearly stated that grazing would continue under the existing BLM rules. In fact, the national monument helped a handful of ranchers who were ready to get out of the marginal business of running cows in inhospitable — yet beautiful and sensitive — terrain. The ranchers struck a deal to retire their grazing permits along the Escalante River and some of its tributaries in exchange for a generous cash payout from the nonprofit Grand Canyon Trust.

Even after the buyout, more than 95% of the monument remained open to livestock, and the number of cattle — or animal unit months — permitted on the monument is about the same now as it was in 1996. Today, though, fewer cattle run on nearly every permitted grazing allotment. It is clear that the livestock operators themselves are the ones limiting the number of cattle.

But here’s the problem: Biden’s restoration of the monument did not repeal the Trump-era plan that opened up retired grazing allotments. Now the public has an opportunity to do that.

The agency’s “preferred” alternative — which the document is quick to point out is merely a starting point for discussions — would divide the monument into four management areas, with different levels of development and access in each. Grazing allotments not currently under permit would be permanently closed to livestock. New range improvements would be limited or prohibited. And off-road vehicles would be banned from the Primitive Area and selected other areas and limited to designated routes in the rest of the monument. 

Jonathan Thompson

It’s a lot less than most conservationists were looking for. It would leave 85% of the monument open to tens of thousands of grazing cattle trampling fragile cryptobiotic soils. But Scott Berry, board president of the Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, a nonprofit founded to protect and preserve the monument, urges the environmental community to get behind the plan.

“Political forces in Utah are going to do everything in their power to prevent the new plan from being adopted,” he said, “which would leave the Trump (plan) the controlling authority.”

To comment, visit the Bureau of Land Management’s planning site by Nov. 9: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2020343/510 

Jonathan Thompson is a contributor to writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. His newsletter The Land Desk covers the region.

Arapahoe Basin sees first real snow of the season — Summit Daily News #snowpack

A snowboarder prepares to ride into Montezuma Bowl at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. Photo by John Arnold

Click the link to read the article on the Summit Daily News website (Cody Jones). Here’s an excerpt:

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area has seen its first “real” snow of the season with rain storms producing snow showers in areas above 10,000 feet throughout the morning on Friday, Sept. 15. The snow comes after A-Basin and Summit County’s other ski areas saw a dusting of snow on Monday, Sept. 11. The first real snowstorm of the season points to the promise of more snow on the way and the beginning of snowmaking season at A-Basin.

Mount Evans renamed Mount Blue Sky: Federal geographic naming board makes it official — #Colorado Politics

Mount Blue Sky September 17, 2023 from Denver.

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Politics website (Marianne Goodland). Here’s an excerpt:

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names put a period on the dispute between two tribal groups on the new name for Colorado’s Mount Evans, selecting Mount Blue Sky on Friday. The vote was 15-1, with three abstentions. Last November, Colorado’s Geographic Naming Advisory Board unanimously recommended approving the change to Mount Blue Sky, a name supported by the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma. The recommendation went to Gov. Jared Polis, who forwarded it to the federal naming board.

But a request from a tribal government for a “government-to-government consultation” regarding the renaming abruptly halted the federal board’s vote in March. The vote has been held up for the past six months because of objections from the Northern Cheyenne of Lame Deer, Montana, the only original Colorado tribe, which is vehemently against the Mount Blue Sky name. The phrase “blue sky” is part of the sacred Tribal Arrow Ceremony and, thus, the Northern Cheyenne believe it would be “sacrilegious” for it to be spoken in common language, the tribe argued.  Northern Cheyenne tribal leaders have, instead, long advocated to rename Colorado’s most famous peak to “Mount Cheyenne-Arapaho.”


“This renaming was the result of a thoughtful process, led by local communities and Tribes, and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed,” added U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. “As we work to address the wrongs done to the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes, and to Native people across the country, this is a strong first step.”

At considerable risk, Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians traveled to Denver in September 1864 to seek an understanding of peace. Front row, on left, John Wynkoop, the commander at Fort Lyon, in southeastern Colorado, and Silas Soule. Behind Wynkoop was Black Kettle. Photo via The Mountain Town News

“Mount Soule” was the first name change submission, intended to honor Capt. Silas Soule, the whistleblower whose missives to Washington D.C. resulted in a federal investigation of the 1864 Sand Creek massacre, where 230 peaceful Cheyenne women, children and elders were slaughtered by Colorado troops under the command of Col. John Chivington.

The latest #ElNiño/Southern Oscillation (#ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion is hot off the presses from the #Climate Prediction Center

Click the link to read the discussion on the Climate Prediction Center website:

ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory

Synopsis: El Niño is anticipated to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter (with greater than 95% chance through January – March 2024).

In August, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) were above average across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, with strengthening in the central and east-central Pacific. All of the latest weekly Niño indices were in excess of +1.0ºC: Niño-4 was +1.1ºC, Niño-3.4 was +1.6ºC, Niño-3 was +2.2ºC, and Niño1+2 was +2.9ºC. Area-averaged subsurface temperatures anomalies increased compared to July in association with anomalous warmth in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. Tropical atmospheric anomalies were also consistent with El Niño. Over the east-central Pacific, low-level winds were anomalously westerly, while upper-level winds were anomalously easterly. Convection was slightly enhanced around the International Date Line, stretching into the eastern Pacific, just north of the equator. Convection was mostly suppressed around Indonesia. The equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) and the traditional station-based SOI were both significantly negative. Collectively, the coupled ocean-atmosphere system reflected El Niño.

The most recent IRI plume indicates El Niño will persist through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2023-24. Despite nearly the same ensemble mean amplitude as last month, the shorter forecast horizon means that the odds of at least a “strong” El Niño (>= 1.5C for the November-January seasonal average in Niño-3.4) have increased to 71%. However, a strong El Niño does not necessarily equate to strong impacts locally, with the odds of related climate anomalies often lower than the chances of El Niño itself (e.g., CPC’s seasonal outlooks). In summary, El Niño is anticipated to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter (with greater than 95% chance through January – March 2024).

Watching Albuquerque’s #RioGrande go dry — John Fleck (InkStain)

Albuquerque’s Rio Grande, drying September 3, 2023. Photo credit: John Fleck/InkStain

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

There’s so much going on in this picture.

The buildings on the horizon, downtown Albuquerque, are a couple of miles away – foreshortened by the camera’s zoom. It’s a modest downtown, which grew up in that spot 140 years ago because the real estate entrepreneurs collaborating with the newly arrived Athchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway were able to get the land cheap. The spot where Albuquerque’s downtown sits today was basically a swamp.

If you look closely in the picture above, you can see a bit of water, a languid meander across the sand beds of a rapidly shrinking river. When I went out this morning (Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023) the Rio Grande through the Albuquerque reach was still “connected”, in the words of the river managers. But barely. The river that is central to this community’s creation story is about to go dry.


In the parking lot by the old Barelas Bridge this morning, I ran into one of the members of the RiverEyes team, a young person of my acquaintance who bicycles through the riverside woods, checking at regularly spaced access points to see if the river is still connected. The operation is part of the staggeringly complex social-hydrological-institutional apparatus around this stretch of the river.

The RiverEyes observations feed into the elaborate effort to stave off the extinction of a fish called the Rio Grande silvery minnow (Hybognathus amarus), which survives only in a couple hundred miles of the Rio Grande through central New Mexico. And in hatcheries. We’ve been doing RiverEyes-like monitoring since 1996. River drying is common south of town, but last year was the first time we needed to monitor here, through Albuquerque. This is the second.

On Friday, there were 30.6 miles of dry channel in the San Acacia Reach 75 miles downstream from Albuquerque. There were 3.6 dry miles in the Isleta Reach, 20 miles downstream from Albuquerque. Sampling in one of the wet parts of the San Acacia reach found 615 juvenile silvery minnows and 14 adults.

Here, we count fish.


Some years ago, a consulting firm ran a series of interviews and focus groups among Albuquerque residents to try to better understand their attitudes toward the Rio Grande. They found that residents viewed water issues – their supply – as a major concern. The river, not so much.

The Rio Grande, in fact, was kind of an embarrassment to local residents, the consultant found – small and struggling, not what a “real” river is supposed to look like.

Though, to be fair, even with lots of water, the Rio Grande here looks nothing like what a “real” river is supposed to look like. In a more natural state, before we built a city here, the Rio Grande wandered a broad flood plain, five miles wide in places. The narrow 600-foot channel you see in the picture at the top is a 20th century creation, begun in the 1930s with levees, expanded in 1959 in a project the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation called “channel rectification” meant to turn a meandering river into a more efficient water delivery canal.

In response, the flood control works created ideal habitat for the development of the cottonwoods you see flanking the river, and the magnificent gallery forest we call the “bosque” grew alongside the river for most of its 200-ish miles through central New Mexico.

I’m hunting for a good jetty jack photo for the book. This isn’t it. Photo credit: John Fleck/InkStain

Riding this morning with a friend on a twisting path through the bosque, looking for spots to get out to the river channel to see for ourselves, we had to periodically stop and carefully navigate through “Kellner jetty jacks”, big metal contraptions installed in the ’50s as part of the “rectification” effort. Their job was to slow water and hold sediment and enhance the narrowing of the river channel. In so doing, the trapped sediments made ideal seed beds for the opportunistic cottonwoods. They also can be gnarly if you’re cycling, with cables that can snag a pedal, and sharp edges that can cut out a chunk of flesh if you’re not careful.

They also are a reminder of how profoundly unnatural this lovely natural-seeming park, which I so love, really is.

In the circles in which I spend my time, there’s a lot of talk about how to maintain a “living river” here, which is an interesting conceptual framework. Maybe it means simply continuous flowing water? But the whole system is so completely hydrologically (and therefore ecologically) altered by human interventions that we quickly end up down a deep and confusing conceptual rabbit hole when we try to think too hard about what “natural” and “living river” might mean. The terms might help us think well about desired future conditions. But they also can mislead.


Weirdly, the Rio Grande is going dry this year through Albuquerque for the second time in the last four years because of a lack of plumbing. El Vado Dam on the Rio Chama, a tributary, is under repairs. Normally we’d store water from the spring runoff, using it to stretch out the river’s flows into the dry months of late summer and early fall. If we’d had El Vado storage this year, I’m told, the river would have been still flowing in the spot where I was standing to take the picture at the top of the post.

Without El Vado storage, the river here will likely dry through the lower end of the Albuquerque reach early next week. The RiverEyes team is on it. They’ll let us know.

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping up to 900 cfs September 16, 2023 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Aerial view of Navajo Dam and Reservoir. Photo credit: USBR

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

Reclamation will be releasing additional water over the next two weeks to fulfill a request by the Jicarilla Apache Nation’s subcontractors, The Nature Conservancy and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. 

The release will be increased to 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Saturday, September 16th , at 4:00 AM.  The release may vary slightly as weather and river flows dry out next week, but should remain near this elevated level through 4:00 AM on September 27th.

#Drought news September 14, 2023: Much of the West was status quo this week as #Monsoon2023 rainfall begins to decrease during September

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

Widespread precipitation amounts of 0.5 to 2 inches (locally more) were observed across much of the Great Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, and East. Improvements were made to areas that received the heaviest amounts. In the wake of a cold front, 7-day (September 5 to 11) temperatures averaged near to slightly below normal for the Northern Great Plains and Upper Midwest. Farther to the south, above-normal temperatures continued across the southern Great Plains and western Gulf Coast. Since early August, persistent excessive heat coupled with a lack of adequate rainfall led to a rapid onset and intensification of drought from Texas eastward to the Lower Mississippi Valley and parts of the Southeast. Monsoon rainfall began to decrease throughout the Four Corners region and Southwest during early September, while seasonal dryness prevailed along the West Coast…

High Plains

Heavy rainfall (1.5 to 3 inches, locally more) prompted a 1-category improvement to southwestern Kansas along with parts of Nebraska. Also, NDMC’s drought blends were a factor in these improvements. Conversely, 30-day SPEI and soil moisture supported small degradations across eastern parts of Kansas. Worsening soil moisture indicators led to an expansion of severe drought (D2) across northeastern North Dakota…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 12, 2023.


Much of the West was status quo this week as Monsoon rainfall begins to decrease during September and this is a drier time of year for California and the Pacific Northwest. However, low 28-day streamflows and SPEI at various time scales led to an expansion of severe drought (D2) across coastal Washington and northwestern Oregon…


The rapid onset and intensification of drought continues throughout central and southern Mississippi. According to the NCEI, numerous counties in the southern half of Mississippi had their driest August on record and many of those counties have received less than 0.5 inch of precipitation during the first ten days of September. Along with this dryness, persistent above-normal temperatures have led to high evapotranspiration rates and worsening impacts to agriculture and high fire danger. Little change was made to Louisiana this week since the previous USDM map matches up well with the indicators (NDMC short-term blend and soil moisture) and many areas received at least a 0.5 inch of precipitation this past week. A 1-category degradation was warranted for southeastern Oklahoma and parts of Texas due to the prolonged excessive heat this summer and lack of adequate precipitation. The expansion of extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought across central and eastern Texas was based largely on the 90-day SPEI and soil moisture indicators. Despite heavier rainfall (more than 1 inch) across west-central Texas, soil moisture indicators, 90-day SPEI, and NDMC’s drought blends support a continuation of D2+ levels of drought. More than 1.5 to 2 inches of precipitation prompted a 1-category improvement to northwestern Oklahoma and the northeastern Texas Panhandle…

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending September 12, 2023.

Weather Whiplash Roundup — @Land_Desk

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

I suppose it goes without saying, but just in case you haven’t noticed: We live in interesting times climate- and water-wise. And by interesting I mean whiplash-inducing and uncertain; downpour mingled with drought; massive flash-floods in the same region as dried out river beds. 

Tropical storm Hillary wreaked havoc in southern and central California even as massive wildfires burned through tens of thousands of acres in the north. Flash flooding caused so much damage in Death Valley that the entire national park remains closed, weeks later.

Flood damage in Death Valley National Park, which remains closed weeks after Hurricane Hilary brought widespread flooding and damage to the park. Source: NPS

A successive wave of storms brought more rain to Nevada, turning Burning Man into a mud-and-poop fest from which celebrants couldn’t escape (God’s punishment, according to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed). Las Vegas Wash, which carries treated wastewater from Las Vegas back into Lake Mead (credited against Nevada’s Colorado River allocation), swelled up to 14,100 cubic feet per second on Sept. 2, the second highest flow since 1957. 

A woman and her dog were caught in a flash flood in Mary Jane Canyon near Moab and was swept about 200 feet downstream before escaping the rushing, muddy waters. She lost her shoes, was covered with mud, but otherwise escaped mostly unharmed, according to reports. 

The southern San Juan Mountains and headwaters of the Rio Grande have received about 40% more precipitation than normal this water year. And yet the Rio is nearly dry through Albuquerque. In early July, about 44% of New Mexico was in moderate drought; today the entire state is gripped by drought, with 20% at extreme levels.

It’s a similar story on the Animas River in southwestern Colorado, which had its healthiest spring runoff in years, only to see flows drop below median levels in August and September as the monsoon failed to deliver its usual deluges. Inflows into Lake Powell were far above average this spring, but in August they were back down to the median levels and on a par with last year. The surface level is now sitting at about 3,573 feet above sea level. That’s a lot better than last year at this time (3,530), but still 43 feet below what it was on Sept. 12, 2019.

Phoenix’s high temperature has reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter on 55 days so far this year, breaking the 2020 record. And at least 194 people have died from heat-related causes in the metro area this year, with 351 fatalities still being investigated. Pikes Peak experienced its first snow of the year, with a few inches accumulating on top.

Things might get even crazier. Forecasters say there is a greater than 95% chance that the El Niño climate pattern will continue through the winter. Typically that means more moisture than normal for the Southwest, less for the Northwest, and about average in between. But what does “typical” even mean in these climate-crazy days, anyway? 

How rising water vapour in the atmosphere is amplifying warming and making extreme weather worse

Kevin Trenberth, University of Auckland

This year’s string of record-breaking disasters – from deadly wildfires and catastrophic floods to record-high ocean temperatures and record-low sea ice in Antarctica – seems like an acceleration of human-induced climate change.

And it is. But not only because greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. What we are also observing is the long-predicted water vapour feedback within the climate system.

Since the late 1800s, global average surface temperatures have increased by about 1.1℃, driven by human activities, most notably the burning of fossil fuels which adds greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane) to the atmosphere.

As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more moisture in the form of water vapour, which is also a greenhouse gas. This in turn amplifies the warming caused by our emissions of other greenhouse gases.

Some people mistakenly believe water vapour is a driver of Earth’s current warming. But as I explain below, water vapour is part of Earth’s hydrological cycle and plays an important role in the natural greenhouse effect. Its rise is a consequence of the atmospheric warming caused by our emissions arising especially from burning fossil fuels.

Water vapour: the other greenhouse gas

For every degree Celsius in warming, the water-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by about 7%. Record-high sea temperatures ensure there is more moisture (in the form of water vapour) in the atmosphere, by an estimated 5-15% compared to before the 1970s, when global temperature rise began in earnest.

Water vapour is a powerful greenhouse gas. Since the 1970s, its rise likely increased global heating by an amount comparable to that from rising carbon dioxide. We are now seeing the consequences.

In many ways, water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas as it makes Earth habitable. But human-induced climate change is primarily caused by increases in the long-lived greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

As a general rule, any molecule with three or more atoms is a greenhouse gas, owing to the way the atoms can vibrate and rotate within the molecule. A greenhouse gas absorbs and re-emits thermal (infrared) radiation and has a blanketing effect.

Clouds have a blanketing effect similar to that of greenhouse gases but they are also bright reflectors of solar radiation and act to cool the surface by day. In the current climate, for average all-sky conditions, water vapour is estimated to account for 50% of the total greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide 19%, ozone 4% and other gases 3%. Clouds make up about a quarter of the greenhouse effect.

A pie chart showing the components of the total greenhouse effect, with water vapour responsible for 50%
Water vapour plays a significant role in Earth’s natural greenhouse effect, and it amplifies current, human-induced warming. Adapted from Trenberth (2022), CC BY-SA

Why is water vapour different?

The main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone – don’t condense and precipitate. Water vapour does, which means its lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter, by orders of magnitude, compared to other greenhouse gases.

On average, water vapour only lasts nine days, while carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries or even millennia, methane lasts for a decade or two and nitrous oxide a century. These gases serve as the backbone of atmospheric heating, and the resulting rise in temperature is what enables the observed increase in water vapour levels.

The rise in carbon dioxide doesn’t depend on weather. It comes primarily from the burning of fossil fuels. Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from pre-industrial levels of 280ppmv to 420ppmv (an increase of 50%) and about half of that increase has happened since 1985.

This accounts for about 75% of the anthropogenic heating from long-lived greenhouse gases. The rest of human-induced atmospheric warming mainly comes from methane and nitrous oxide, with offsets from pollution aerosols.

The extra heating from water vapour has been on a par with that from increased carbon dioxide since the 1970s.

This graphic explains the water vapour feedback: increased heating promotes increased evaporation and higher atmospheric temperatures, which in turn lead to higher levels of atmospheric water vapour.
The water vapour feedback: increased heating promotes increased evaporation and higher atmospheric temperatures, which in turn lead to higher levels of atmospheric water vapour. Author provided, CC BY-SA

Water vapour and the water cycle

Water vapour is the gaseous form of water and it exists naturally in the atmosphere. It is invisible to the naked eye, unlike clouds, which are composed of tiny water droplets or ice crystals large enough to scatter light and become visible.

The most common measure of water vapour in the atmosphere is relative humidity.

During heatwaves and warm conditions, this is what affects human comfort. When we sweat, the evaporation of moisture from our skin has a cooling effect. But if the environment is too humid, then this no longer works and the body becomes sticky and uncomfortable.

This process is important for our planet, too, because about 70% of Earth’s surface is water, predominantly ocean. Extra heat generally goes into evaporating water. Plants also release water vapour through a process called transpiration (releasing it through tiny stomata in leaves as part of photosynthesis). The combined process is called evapotranspiration.

This graphic describes Earth's hydrological cycle.
Water vapour is part of Earth’s hydrological cycle, Author provided, CC BY-SA

The moisture rises into the atmosphere as water vapour. Storms gather and concentrate the water vapour so that it can precipitate. As water vapour has an exponential dependence on temperature, it is highest in warm regions, such as the tropics and near the ground. Levels drop off at cold higher latitudes and altitudes.

The expansion and cooling of air as it rises creates clouds, rain and snow. This vigorous hydrological cycle means water vapour molecules only last a few days in the atmosphere.

Water is the air conditioner of the planet. It not only keeps the surface cooler (albeit at the expense of making it moister) but rain also washes a lot of pollution out of the atmosphere to everyone’s benefit.

Precipitation is vitally important. It nourishes vegetation and supports various ecosystems as long as the rate is moderate. But as the climate warms, higher moisture levels increase the potential for heavier rainfall and the risk of flooding.

Moreover, the latent energy that went into evaporation is returned to the atmosphere, adding to heating and causing air to rise, invigorating storms and making weather extremes greater and less manageable.

These changes mean that where it is not raining, drought and wildfire risk increase, but where it is raining, it pours.

Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Scholar, NCAR; Affiliate Faculty, University of Auckland

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

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping down to 700 cfs on September 14th #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The outflow at the bottom of Navajo Dam in New Mexico. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

With the current rainfall pattern adding sufficient hydrology to the river system, flows downstream in the critical habitat have increased and are forecast to remain high. For this reason, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs for tomorrow, September 14th, 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. 

Looking back on #Colorado’s 2013 flood, one of the state’s most damaging natural disasters — The #FortCollins Coloradoan #SouthPlatteRiver

Upper Colorado River Basin September 2013 precipitation as percent of normal. Graphic credit: Wendy Ryan

Click the link to read the article on the Fort Collins Coloradoan website. Here’s an excerpt:

The historic 2013 flood in Colorado occurred over a week, Sept. 9-15, 2013, but the bulk of the more than 18 inches of rain in some locations occurred during a 30-hour period Sept. 11-12. An extremely moist, subtropical airmass ignited by a cold front parked over Colorado through much of the week, resulting in rainfall approaching totals that statistically would happen once every 500 to 1,000 years. Here’s a snapshot of one of Colorado’s most devastating natural disasters, including a lasting look at its impacts on Larimer County:

  • Nine fatalities, including two in Larimer County.
  • Around $4 billion in estimated damage (in 2023 dollars). Only the 1965 flood had higher damage estimates than the 2013 flood at around $5 billion (in 2023 dollars).
  • 1,750 people rescued.
  • 19,000 people evacuated.
  • 2,006 homes destroyed.
  • 26,000 homes damaged.
  • 200 business destroyed.
  • 750 businesses damaged.
  • 200 miles of road damaged.
  • 50 major bridges damaged.
  • 15 counties included in a FEMA disaster declaration, from Larimer in the north to El Paso (Colorado Springs) in the south.

Rainfall records shattered during the 2013 flood

  • The heaviest rainfall totals of 12 to 18 inches were widespread through much of central Boulder County, stretching from Boulder north and west toward Jamestown, Lyons and into central Larimer County, including the Estes Park area.
  • The 24-hour state precipitation record was broken at the Fort Carson military base near Colorado Springs, with 11.85 inches of rain falling on Sept. 12.
  • Boulder set a calendar day all-time rainfall record of 9.08 inches and monthly record of 18.16 inches.
Air search for flood victims September 2013 via Pediment Publishing

Big brown trout are declining in one of #Colorado’s iconic reservoirs. New fishing rules may be coming — The #Denver Post

Dillon Reservoir stores water from the Blue River Basin in Summit County for Denver Water customers on the Front Range. Photo credit: Denver Water.

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

For decades, Dillon Reservoir has been a place where anglers could hook the fish of a lifetime — a 10-pound, 30-inch wild brown trout. But the brown trout population in one of Colorado’s most visible and accessible mountain reservoirs has declined in recent years, prompting state wildlife officials to consider stricter fishing regulations on the reservoir and seasonal closures on nearby waters. It’s unclear exactly what is causing the decline, said Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist at Colorado Parks and Wildlife. But increased fishing during the pandemic, and after, may be a factor…

Other potential causes include a change in water quality, development along the rivers and streams where the trout spawn, and stress from higher water temperatures caused by drought, Ewert said…

The number of brown trout measuring more than 14 inches long has declined for four consecutive testing years, according to population surveys conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The agency conducts surveys every two years. In 2014, trout larger than that size made up 62% of all brown trout caught in the survey nets. By 2022, they made up only 33%…The brown trout in the Blue River upstream from the reservoir also have experienced an “obvious and significant decline,” according to a 2019 CPW report…

The proposed rules would require anglers to immediately release brown trout that are longer than 14 inches, with the rule applying to the reservoir, to sections of the Blue River south of the reservoir and to Tenmile Creek. Fishing would be banned entirely from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1 in two places where the trout spawn in the fall: the Blue River between the reservoir and three miles north of Breckenridge, and West Tenmile Creek from Copper Mountain to the reservoir.

Map of the Blue 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=69327693

The Colorado River District presents:The 2023 Annual Water Seminar #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link for all the inside skinny from the Colorado River District website:

Across Colorado, this water year was a gift. It delivered unexpected bounties of a healthy snowpack, a cool, wet spring and early summer, and reservoirs which filled and spilled. Water managers at local, state, and federal levels exhaled a collective breath.

Yet this year was likely only a temporary reprieve. Aridification of the American Southwest remains our long-term reality, and new water management strategies and solutions must reflect that. The decisions we make today need to be able to weather both storm and drought – durable solutions for a hotter, drier future instead of reactive stopgap measures to the crisis we collectively face.

As water leaders and as water users, we must proactively plan for the success of future generations and the hotter, drier landscape in which they’ll live throughout the Colorado River Basin. Durable solutions hold space for the uncertainty ahead and the fast-growing communities dependent on a rapidly diminishing water source.

The Colorado River District is thrilled to announce its highly anticipated Annual Water Seminar, where experts, stakeholders, and community members will come together to explore the pressing issue of securing durable solutions for the Colorado River.

Percent of normal U.S. precipitation over the past 30 days (December 25, 2022, through January 23, 2023) after a series of weather events known as atmospheric rivers, fueled by tropical moisture, flooded the U.S. West with rain and snow. Places where precipitation was less than 100 percent of the 1991-2020 average are brown; places where precipitation was 300 percent or more than average are blue-green. NOAA Climate.gov image, based on analysis and data provided by the Climate Mapper website.

#ClimateChange: how bad could the future be if we do nothing? — The Conversation


Mark Maslin, UCL

The climate crisis is no longer a looming threat – people are now living with the consequences of centuries of greenhouse gas emissions. But there is still everything to fight for. How the world chooses to respond in the coming years will have massive repercussions for generations yet to be born.

In my book How to Save Our Planet, I imagine two different visions of the future. One in which we do very little to address climate change, and one in which we do everything possible.

This is what the science suggests those very different realities could look like.

Year 2100: the nightmare scenario

The 21st century draws to a close without action having been taken to prevent climate change. Global temperatures have risen by over 4°C. In many countries, summer temperatures persistently stay above 40°C. Heatwaves with temperatures as high as 50°C have become common in tropical countries.

Every summer, wildfires rage across every continent except Antarctica, creating plumes of acrid smoke that make breathing outdoors unbearable, causing an annual health crisis.

Ocean temperatures have risen dramatically. After repeated bleaching events, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been officially declared dead.

Dead coral rubble smothered in algae.
Tropical coral reefs are vulnerable to rising ocean temperatures. Rich Carey/Shutterstock

Frequent and prolonged droughts torment vast swathes of the Earth’s land. The deserts of the world have expanded, displacing many millions of people. Around 3.5 billion live in areas where water demand exceeds what’s available.

Air pollution has a new major cause outside the traffic-choked cities: dust whipped up from now-barren farmland.

The Arctic is free of sea ice every summer. Average temperatures in the far north have risen by over 8°C as a result. The Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets have started to melt, releasing a huge amount of freshwater into the oceans.

Most mountain glaciers have completely melted. Skiing is now a predominantly indoor sport which takes place on giant artificial slopes. Most of the Himalayan plateau’s ice has disappeared, reducing the flows of the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra and Yamuna rivers which over 600 million people rely on for plentiful water.

The extra heat in the ocean has caused it to expand. Combined with water from melting ice sheets, sea levels have risen by more than one metre. Many major cities, including Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro and Miami, are already flooded and uninhabitable. The Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and many other small island nations have been abandoned.

Many coastal and river areas are regularly flooded, including the Nile Delta, the Rhine valley and Thailand. Over 20% of Bangladesh is permanently under water.

Winter storms are more energetic and unleash more water, causing widespread wind damage and flooding each year.

Tropical cyclones have become stronger and affect tens of millions of people every year. Mega-cyclones, like 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, have become more common, with sustained wind speeds of over 200 mph.

South-east Asian monsoons have become more intense and unpredictable, bringing either too much or too little rain to each region, affecting the lives of over three billion people.

Food and water insecurity has increased around the world, threatening the health and wellbeing of billions of people. Extreme heat and humidity in the tropics and subtropics has increased the number of days that it is impossible to work outside tenfold – slashing farm productivity. Extreme weather in temperate regions like Europe has made food production highly unpredictable. Half of the land devoted to agriculture in the past is now unusable, and the capacity of the rest to grow food differs widely from season to season. Crop yields are at their lowest levels since the middle of the 20th century.

Fish stocks have collapsed. The acidity of the ocean has increased by 125%. The ocean food chain has collapsed in some regions as the small marine organisms that form its base struggle to make calcium carbonate shells and so survive in the more acidic waters.

Despite advances in medical sciences, deaths from tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses are at their highest levels in human history. Extreme weather events – from heat waves and droughts to storms and floods – are causing large loss of life and leaving millions of people homeless. Disease epidemics have plagued the century, spreading among populations beleaguered by widespread poverty and vulnerability.

Year 2100: humanity rises to the challenge

This is what our planet could look like if we do everything in our power to contain climate change.

Global temperatures rose to 1.5°C by 2050 and remained there for the rest of the century. Fossil fuels have been replaced by renewable energy. Over a trillion trees have been planted, sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The air is cleaner than it has been since before the industrial revolution.

Cities have been restructured to provide all-electric public transport and vibrant green spaces. Many new buildings have a photoelectric skin which generates solar energy and green roofs which cool the cities, making them a more pleasant place to live. High-speed electric trains reaching 300 mph link many of the world’s major cities. Intercontinental flights still run, using large and efficient planes running on synthetic kerosene that’s made by combining water and carbon dioxide sucked directly from the atmosphere.

Vegetation covers the exterior of a building in a Japanese city.
Urban life must become greener, with cleaner air and zero-carbon public transport. Yyama/Shutterstock

Global diets have shifted away from meat. Farming efficiency has greatly improved during the transition from industrial-scale meat production to plant-based sustenance, creating more land to rewild and reforest.

Half of the Earth is dedicated to restoring the natural biosphere and its ecological services. Elsewhere, fusion energy is finally set to work at scale providing unlimited clean energy for the people of the 22nd century.

Two very different futures. The outcome your children and grandchildren will live with depends on what decisions are made today. Happily, the solutions I propose are win-win, or even win-win-win: they reduce emissions, improve the environment and make people healthier and wealthier overall.

This article is based on Mark Maslin’s latest book, How to Save Our Planet: The Facts.

Mark Maslin, Professor of Earth System Science, UCL

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

‘Almost unimaginable’: The 2013 #Colorado flood, 10 years later — Colorado Newsline #SouthPlatteRiver

Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Shannon Tyler):

Lyons and Estes Park community members reflect on damage and recovery from deadly natural disaster

In early September 2013, after a storm stalled over the Front Range, rivers rose out of their beds and rushed right through several Northern Colorado communities, resulting in one of the state’s worst floods. 

Meteorologists classified it as the kind of flood that happens only once every 500 or more years.

From Sept. 9 until Sept. 16, the Front Range experienced uncharacteristically heavy rainfall, which flooded several communities, resulting in nine deaths, 11,000 people evacuated, 1,850 destroyed homes and about $4 billion in damages across the state, with 18 counties declared federal disaster areas, according to the Colorado Encyclopedia

From the initial damage of the flood and the difficult recovery period to later commemorations, the 2013 flood has stayed with many people as a painful memory 10 years on. On this anniversary, communities are reflecting on lessons of the flood and its story of resilience amid tragedy.

A ‘biblical’ flood

Sitting at the intersection of the North St. Vrain and South St. Vrain creeks, the small mountain town of Lyons was one of the hardest hit communities. 

Victoria Simonsen, the town administrator for Lyons, stepped into the role in 2013 prior to the flood and stayed in the position, helping the town recover ever since.

She said the whole town went to bed the night of Sept. 11, 2013, with the creeks at a normal level and no suspicion of the disaster that was to come. 

“We were watching the creek, but we were not in any kind of panic mode at all,” Simonsen said. 

It was in the late hours of that night, however, when the flooding started. At about 11 p.m. the water rose above the river beds, Simonsen said.

Usually local creeks hit low flooding levels when the water flows at 1,200 cubic feet per second, she said. By the end of the event, Lyons’ two creeks were flowing at 26,000 cubic feet per second. Simonsen said it was true flash flooding, and the water went from ankle deep to 12 feet deep very quickly. 

“This was classified as between a 500 and 1,000 year event. The National Weather Service actually called it biblical in Lyons,” Simonsen said. 

But it wasn’t until 2 a.m. that the town’s flood sirens actually went off, Simonsen said.

That was also when the water, which was rushing down from 14,000-foot mountains to the town at 5,300 feet, completely isolated neighborhoods and took out all three access points into town.

“The water came through the town at 2 a.m. and it literally divided our community into five islands,” Simonsen said. 

Planet Bluegrass during the September 2013 flood. The Wildflower Pavilion is the building at center. (Courtesy of town of Lyons)

The siren system sounded based on population, not location along the rivers, and when many residents woke to the sirens, Simonsen said she got calls from people saying the river was flowing in front of their homes, trapping them.

“We were stranded on our island for about 36 hours before we were able to get contact, and then the National Guard started arriving by helicopter and high water vehicles,” Simonsen said. 

About 20 miles northwest, further into the Rocky Mountains, the Big Thompson River rushed through Estes Park and communities along the Big Thompson Canyon around the same time. 

“It was the middle of the night I got a call saying it’s gonna be bad, so we opened up an emergency operations center,” Frank Lancaster, the Estes Park town administrator at the time and current trustee. 

In the tourist town outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, two rivers and several creeks run through town, and one after another started flooding. 

“We were dealing with one and then the other one came up and then basically all hell broke loose everywhere and couldn’t get in or out of town,” Lancaster said. 

The only road in or out of Estes Park was Trail Ridge Road, a winding, small road that goes through the national park. 

September 2013 flooding via AWRA Colorado Section Symposium

“Because the flooding was so widespread, the county was affected everywhere. So we really didn’t have much assistance from the county, because they couldn’t get up here and they were dealing with other places,” Lancaster said. 

The National Park Service became their lifeline. Rangers helped sandbag the town to protect vital infrastructure and bring in materials. 

Lancaster said the population in Estes Park is older, and when he went door-to-door to check on people he was surprised to find a lot of residents who were isolated and didn’t realize there was flooding.

Around Boulder County and Larimer County, communities large and small started calling for help. 

Joe Pelle, then the Boulder County sheriff, said it was the first time in his career that deputies were unable to get to people in need. 

He said during his tenure, he helped create a robust emergency management system and even went through several simulations of floods. None of these simulations could have prepared deputies for this kind of catastrophe, because almost all access to mountain communities was wiped out. In all of the simulations, Pelle said, first responders were able to create an alternate route.

“That night, one after another, all of the canyon roads failed or washed away in places and within a matter of a few hours,” Pelle said. “There was literally no access to our folks who live in the mountains.” 

First responders couldn’t reach people in medical emergencies for a day and a half, Pelle said.

Click the image to go to the Colorado Newsline website to view the timeline graphic.

The unusual weather pattern, a prolonged rain storm in early September, that loomed over Northern Colorado was what experts call a cut-off low pressure system, according to Andreas Prein, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.  

Prein said these systems can be dangerous, because whatever weather the system brings, it will last for days. 

The storm lasted from Sept. 9 to Sept 16 with persistent rain throughout the seven days, accumulating into torrential rain Sept. 11 and 12. 

At the end of the event, Boulder County recorded 18.1 inches of rain and Larimer County recorded 12.4 inches.

“That night, Sept. 11, when those two storms collided over the top of our county, the rain was something I’d never seen happen throughout my entire life. It was just torrential,” Pelle said. 

Prein said there are two factors that created that much rainfall. The first was the cut-off low pressure system that didn’t move, and the second was the warm sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf region, which contributed to the amount of moisture in the atmosphere and then the amount of rainfall over Colorado. 

“It’s almost unimaginable how strong the force of nature is in these kinds of events and how fast this can evolve, because there was a heat wave and very warm temperatures before the event,” Prein said. 

A view of Foothills Mobile Home Park, which suffered a total loss during the September 2013 flood in Lyons. (Courtesy of town of Lyons)

Communities coming together

Lesly Fajardo-Feaux and her family lived in downtown Lyons at the time of the flood. She had two children, and one of them was just two-and-a-half months old.

It was the noise that woke her up that night. 

“I thought this is so weird, and I heard the sirens and I went to see it, and there was water all over,” Fajardo-Feaux said. “I couldn’t believe what was happening.” 

The whole street had flooded, she said. The river rerouted itself in front of their house, which trapped them that night and early the next day. Her house sat on a hill, which she said made it difficult to get up to in the winters with icy roads, but she was thankful for the hill during the flood. 

That night she watched the street flood and her neighbor’s furniture flow past her. 

“We were seeing refrigerators coming down the street and sofas and people’s furniture and people’s lives floating by,” Farjardo-Feaux said. 

By the next afternoon, they were able to leave their home, and she saw the aftermath of the flood in the daylight. 

There was no running water, no electricity, no internet and no phone service. About 20% of the town’s housing was destroyed, Simonsen said. 

A view of a neighborhood in Lyons after the 2013 flood. (Courtesy of town of Lyons)

Although Lyons didn’t look like a town anymore, Farjardo-Feaux said the community really came together. There was even a community barbecue to use the food that would have gone bad. 

“Lyons was a town where people are so happy all the time having music and people and all. There was a feeling that like, OK, everything is gonna be good, things are gonna be OK,” she said. 

During those first couple of days, Simonsen said the community, which was already close-knit, came together to survive the isolation. 

“When you’re facing actual life and death situations, you get pretty close, and our community really pulled together,” Simonsen said. 

Pelle said he made it a priority to get a declaration of a federal disaster as soon as possible to get funds for what would be an expensive search, rescue and recovery operation. 

An emotional sight he remembers was when the National Guard units were sent from Kansas and Utah. He couldn’t believe the size of the convoy and the amount of equipment they brought with them, he said. 

“It was just incredible, and it was a couple of miles long with a military police escort, and it’s like the cavalry had arrived,” Pelle said. “Then within a matter of days or weeks all those roads that had been washed out were at least temporarily recovered.”

Air search for flood victims September 2013 via Pediment Publishing

The National Guard coordinated one of the largest air lift evacuations since Hurricane Katrina to get people out of the mountains, according to Pelle. 

For Fajardo-Feaux and everyone in town, that was just the beginning. 

Fajardo-Feaux and her family cried as they drove down the mountain, unsure of where they would go and for how long. They spent the next few months couch-hopping and staying in hotels and rentals. 

When Simonsen told residents they had to leave, she had no idea how long it would take to repair the damage and put in utilities. It ended up being about seven weeks, and Simonsen said families started coming back by Thanksgiving, and most were home by Christmas. 

But for those whose homes were destroyed, coming back to Lyons wasn’t in their future. 

Damage during the September 2013 flood on U.S. 34 leading up to Estes Park. (Courtesy of the town of Estes Park)

Road to recovery

The process of repairing and recovery was another mountain of challenge the communities had to face. 

Where to even start — that was the first obstacle. But Simonsen and her team created a comprehensive plan that she now sends to flood victims across the country as an example. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency showed up in Lyons in October, and the town got to work putting in temporary utilities. 

Simonsen said it was a difficult process, because the flood in Boulder County was different than others FEMA had dealt with. Permits, permissions and impact studies stood in the way of recovery. 

Lancaster experienced similar challenges with Estes Park’s recovery. He said FEMA understood flooding in the midwest and coastal areas, where water rose and went back down, not where water rushed through destroying anything in its path. 

Both communities had to fight for recovery of recreational attractions that fueled much of their towns’ economies — white water rafting features, trees, wildlife habitats and parks. These were things FEMA didn’t originally cover. 

During the early period of recovery from the flood, Simonsen set a goal of being back to normal in four years. But Simenson said FEMA agents told her it would take much longer. 

“I said, ‘No way, we’re really close, we’ll get it done.’ And they said, ‘No, you’re not understanding the financial part, this will be a six to 10 year event.’ And it was nine years,” Simonsen said.

The small town of Lyons was able to leverage $75 million in federal funds to recover from the flood, according to Simonsen. At the time, its annual budget was $1.2 million with $4 million in reserves. The recovery funds, though, are all reimbursement-based, and it is still waiting for reimbursement from the federal government for some projects. 

Simonsen said there were very positive moments throughout the recovery process, but the community went through many low points. 

“You start this rebuilding phase and then you, of course, have setbacks. They say anniversaries are usually low points for people where they’re reflecting. But, you know, very gradually you make your way back up. But it’s a long, long process,” Simonsen said. 

One of those low points was when neighbors realized some people weren’t going to come back. 

“At some point, you have to move on with your life if you aren’t able to rebuild,” Simonsen said. 

The issue of affordable housing haunts Lyons. The flood wiped out the town’s mobile home park, Riverbend, and 32 families lost their homes there. 

For Craig Ferguson, founder and owner of Planet Bluegrass, which hosts beloved bluegrass and folk music festivals in Lyons, the flood was an attack on his home and business. He decided to stay when the whole town evacuated and started right away on the road to recovery. 

“Once you clean it up,” Ferguson said of his house in Lyons, “it’s pretty comfortable. I’d rather live here. I’d rather camp in my house and take showers elsewhere than go live somewhere else.” 

Ferguson didn’t wait to ask for permission before getting to work on his Planet Bluegrass property. He said he had a deadline in sight to be open for the next festival in the summer. 

Before him was about $2 million in damages, mountains of flood-deposited sand and damaged utilities. 

So, Ferguson said he bought one of the last available backhoes in the state and got to work. 

“We fixed up our place pretty aggressively and we just had to do it that way in order to survive,” Ferguson said. 

Ferguson put on the bluegrass festival that summer as usual. 

“That was the biggest celebration you can imagine. You know to the bluegrass world this is a pretty special place,” Ferguson said. “No one thought it would happen during the first two months, seeing the pictures, even most of my partners (said) we couldn’t do it.” 

Lancaster said during this period, people’s creativity really shined. 

He said the Estes Park community also came together and during its annual Thanksgiving parade, when people decorated their neighborhood-assigned Porta Potties to bring some joy to the difficult times. 

“You know, people could be really frustrated and angry instead, but they said my Porta Potty is prettier than your Porta Potty and they decorated them and some of them put them on wheels and brought them in the parade,” Lancaster said. 

Estes Park took severe hits to its roads, especially up the Big Thompson Canyon, which was severely damaged during the flood of 1976, when the road was completely wiped out. It was rebuilt with a promise it was floodproof, but in 2013 it was again wiped out. 

The water undermined the canyon walls and rockslides completely covered the roads in certain areas. 

“There was a section down in the Big Thompson in the narrows where you couldn’t tell there was ever a road there,” Lancaster said. “It wasn’t like the road was missing or damaged, there was no road and there was no sign of it either.”

Lancaster said he remembers after the 1976 flood the road wasn’t back to normal for years, so he could not imagine the road being back up for a while after the 2013 flood. But crews got U.S. 34 repaired by the new year. 

“They got it up, and they did it right this time, and that’s why they made so many changes. They worked a lot on making the road a lot more resilient,” Lancaster said. 

He said resiliency was their priority. Everything was about how to repair and make infrastructure more resilient. Bridges, riverbeds and buildings all went through a process to ensure the community could last through more floods. 

“There’s still some other things we really need to do. We need to deepen this channel (along the local riverwalk) and have it handle more water. There’s a couple more bridges we need to replace even 10 years later,” Lancaster said. 

For Lyons, Simonsen said the last flood-recovery project wrapped up in October, but she is still waiting for reimbursements from the federal government. 

With the end of the last recovery project, she said the town can finally move on. 

“Now that the projects are actually all done, we can actually kind of close that chapter, but we will always be recovering in different ways,” Simonsen said. 

The town plans to hold a commemoration and remembrance of the flood this year for the 10th anniversary. 

Simonsen said, however, community members remember the flood in different ways. For some, every time it rains they get nervous. Others still hold a barbecue on the night of Sept. 11, like they did 10 years ago. 

Simonsen said she knew she had to see the recovery through in Lyons during the last decade.

Now, she said the community can focus on other parts of town that need attention. 

“Pretty much the rest of town was kind of neglected the last 10 years. So now we have lots of work to do on streets, sewer and water lines, where we simply did not have funds to put toward it the last 10 years,” Simonsen said. 

The issue of affordable housing still looms over Lyons, which lost nearly all its affordable housing to the flood. 

Many families couldn’t afford to come back to the community. With disagreements on how to achieve affordable housing, the town is just now starting to see less-expensive units come in. 

Ferguson worked to provide affordable housing downtown at a property that used to be a bank. He worked with Habitat for Humanity to bring back people who lost their homes to the flood. 

Recently, Simonsen said the town started on a project to get 40 units of affordable housing built on a property donated by someone who lives in Kansas and has land in Lyons. The first eight opened and more are due to open soon. 

“The community thought there’s not going to be anyone left who wants to come back because people had to move, but I’m happy to say that over 30% were here 10 years ago,” Simonsen said. 

A bridge over St. Vrain Creek in Lyons, July 31, 2023. (Shannon Tyler/ Colorado Newsline)

Looking to the future

After the rebuilding and mitigation efforts, communities still consider what would happen if another event like the 2013 flood were to happen. 

“It’s not a question of will this happen and will we be ready or even when it does happen again. Will it not be as devastating?” Lancaster said. 

Prein, of NCAR, researches climate change’s effects on major weather events like the flood. He said if another low pressure system stalls over the Front Range, there is likely to be even more rainfall because of the effects of a warming climate.

“The answer will almost certainly be there will be way more rainfall, because it’s really this moisture that you get from the south from the Gulf. Moisture increases with warming,” he said.

Researchers are not certain about how climate change affects the likelihood of cut-off low pressure systems, he said. But, if one does happen again, it is likely to be more devastating. 

Colorado authorities built bridges higher, moved buildings out of the floodplains, carved further into the mountains to lay roads, and completely rebuilt stream banks. Yet, Simonsen, Lancaster and Ferguson all said another flood will happen, and they can’t fully prepare for what it will bring. 

“What you try to do is minimize the risk, but you can’t avoid the risk, there will always be risk, and you have to balance that with the other needs of the community,” Lancaster said. 

Preparing for the damage that comes with flooding of that magnitude isn’t possible, but in the last 10 years communities focused on mitigating what risk they could. 

“It’s been a wonderfully challenging 10 years, and I think my goal always as a city manager is you leave the community better than you found it, and I think we did,” Simonsen said.